Bienvenido a Casa!

What a whirlwind!  It’s been two weeks already since I returned from a fabulous volunteer trip with Habitat for Humanity‘s Global Village program in Nicaragua.  In the course of just 5 days, 14 volunteers joined together to build a home for Gloria and Freddie – and had a little fun along the way. 🙂

After meeting in Managua, we traveled about 1.5 hours southwest of the capital to the municipality of San Rafael del Sur, where we would spend the next week working on our project.  After settling in at a fabulous hotel on the Pacific coast, we geared up for our first day of work.

Upon arrival, we met our the homeowner Gloria and had a chance to learn more about her current living conditions.  She is currently unable to work due to a medical condition and her husband, Freddie, works as a night security guard at the chicken processing plant for a national fast food chain.  Their daughter lives with them in the community of San Ceyatano but was visiting her grandmother during the week we were working.

Their current home consists of a small metal shack.  Within one room (separated by curtains), all three family members sleep, eat and relax.  The roof has many leaks and the walls are not secure.


As we started out, there were all of the usual Habitat tasks…

Moving blocks:

5 4

Sifting sand and moving rock:


Mixing mortar and concrete (again and again and again):

10 11Cutting and tying rebar to reinforce the house:

12 13

Pouring the foundation:

14And laying block after block after block:

1516We were constantly running out of water so it was delivery after delivery to unload:

17And don’t forget about the preparation of the floor…

18But despite all of the hard work, there was always time to jump rope or color with the kids:


To take lots and lots of photos or to find a quiet moment:


Or to mess around in the wheelbarrow (I’m coming for YOU! 🙂


How does all of this come together to build a house?  Check out my lo-tech timelapse for a condensed view of our five days of hard work. 🙂

At the end of the week, the most important goal was met:  a new  home for Gloria, Freddie and their daughter.  The doors, windows and roof would be installed by the masons within a few days of our departure and the family should move in within 3 weeks!  We had a ceremony to bless the house:

26Then Gloria cut the ribbon!

25Such smiles, that’s the best part about the whole week. 🙂
27 28

Good job team!



The Joy of Coloring

Coloring and drawing are some of the first ways children express themselves. It’s fun, easy, and even if initial attempts are not much more than scribbling, there is no denying that creativity and imagination are developing! You can find all kinds of articles and charts about when your child should start coloring if that’s your thing….   And of course even in such a seemingly simple pleasure there can be controversy about the importance and benefits of this activity.

But really….isn’t it just fun?

Lately, even adults have gotten in on the act.  Adult coloring books were one of the “it” gifts for Christmas 2015 and the #grownupcoloring hastag is popular on lots of social media outlets (Pinterest , Twitter, Instagram, Tumblr,  and more).  Adult coloring centers are opening at libraries and many workplaces offer coloring stations in their break areas.  I even was seated next to a passenger on a recent flight who was getting in on the action.IMG_4864Adult coloring has been touted as a stress reliever but of course this comes with more controversy… “Are adult coloring books the stress relief tool they’re hyped up to be?” You can decide for yourself. But I digress.

On a recent volunteer trip to Zambia with Habitat for Humanity’s Global Village Program, I witnessed the joy of coloring first hand. During my stay I spent one week living with 13 other volunteers in a very poor (by monetary standards only!) rural community.  The children were naturally curious about the foreigners who were visiting for the week and our house was a mob scene every day – in the best of ways. 🙂  We were escorted to and from meals and work by hoardes of children who wanted nothing more than to hold our hands and practice their English.  And each night when we came home, there were many curious eyes watching our every move.


One night, we had a surprise for them – coloring books! We brought them out and immediately the joyful ball tossing, jump roping, chasing and laughing stopped. Silence descended on us all and eager eyes were glued to the prize.

Because of the large number of kids, we needed a system. We literally drew a line in the sand in our yard and asked them all to line up, which they did quickly and efficiently .:-)

IMG_6387Next they were asked to choose a “Spiderman” or “Animal” and one coloring book page was given to each child.  Nobody ran off.  Still standing perfectly still in line…  A few milled planks were in the yard and served as a table for the kids. We distributed a few crayons and let them have at it!


IMG_6390The result was a bunch of happy kids as well as a group of amazed adults. I guess coloring really is for everyone. 🙂



Can’t top that smile. :-)

Just last week I posted an update detailing a Global Village trip with Habitat for Humanity to Kyrgyzstan during August 2014.  You can read more about how our team helped to make Jolboldu’s dream of owning a safe and decent home for his family here.

This morning I got the final piece of the puzzle – photos of Ryskiul hosting her welcome/New Years party in her new home! What a great way to ring in 2016. 🙂



Best wishes to you and your family as you celebrate the holidays too!



A Home for the Holidays (and Beyond!)

What great news I received this week – Jolboldu and his family moved into their brand new Habitat for Humanity home two weeks ago!  They are excited beyond words…and so am I!!!  How did this happen and what makes it so exciting?  Ah…read on. 🙂

I first “met” this family when I began planning a Habitat for Humanity Global Village trip to Kyrgyzstan.  Yes, that’s right, Kyrgyzstan.  I had heard good things about this place, it was a “unique” destination (to say the least) and I am always up for a challenge so I thought – let’s go!

Imankulov Jolboldu and his wife Ryskiul live with their children in Barskoon village near Lake Issyk Kul (a beautiful place!).  Jolboldu works in the town administration.  Ryskiul cares for the children during the day and earns extra income for the family as a night watchman at the local pharmacy.  They were living in a home that is very old and deteriorating –  irreparable cracks in the walls and roof are constantly expanding.  It is also quite small for the family and to make matters worse, only one of the two rooms is heated.  Here are some photos of the house where the family lived in for 10+ years:


Jolboldu and Ryskiul desired a safer place for their children to grow up and applied for a loan from Habitat for Humanity Kyrgyzstan  under their New House Construction Program.  When I arrived in Kyrgyzstan in August 2014 with 10 other volunteers, we were the 4th Global Village team to work on this home.

02-IMG_0391We spent two weeks doing what we could to bring their dream of owning a safe home closer to reality.  The home is different in many ways than others I worked on during previous Global Village trips.  For one thing – there was wood. 🙂  Kyrgyzstan is in an earthquake zone and housing recipients are trained in building techniques designed to withstand the forces of nature.  Walls in Habitat homes in Barskoon are constructed by affixing wood strapping to each side of the studs and then filling the ~6 inch gap in between with a mud-straw mixture (a different technique is used in the urban areas of the country’s capital, Bishkek – a subject for a future post).

Our first task was to complete the exterior walls.  Jolboldu was an expert at the pitchfork-mud-throw technique…and under his tutelage, Tony soon became an expert too.  The rest of us relied on the more traditional “mudball stuffing” method. 🙂


05-IMG_0441After about 2 days, we finished the exterior walls and thought we were really getting ahead!  But not so fast…the interior walls needed stuffing next.  Oh my!

We were undaunted…and very safe.  Don’t worry Terry, there’s only about a 10 foot drop under your round-barrel scaffolding.  Jolboldu won’t let you fall!  We also recruited extra help from every extended family member who stopped by the worksite.   Well, it was more like we couldn’t keep them away, they were so excited. 🙂  How does she stay so clean when I have mud in my hair, in my mouth, even on the inside of my glasses…???


By the time Pat and Julie placed the final mud ball, we all felt like we had accomplished so much!  And Ryskiul, who was sidelined with a broken arm while we were working, was all smiles. 🙂 🙂  I mean who wouldn’t be – the walls were complete, the roof was going on and check out the view from the bedroom!


We still had a few work days left and spent them installing the concrete floor.   If you’ve never participated in a bucket brigade, you’re missing out.  We passed buckets of sand, leveled the base layer, laid insulating foam and a waterproof barrier, then passed what must have been thousands of buckets of concrete.  OK.  Maybe just a few hundred, but it really did seem like a lot…  The floor was finally leveled and – wow, it’s starting to look like a home!

14-IMG_2047By the time we said goodbye, Jolboldu and Ryskiul were much closer to moving in.  They are incredibly kind and we each left a little piece of our heart with them in their new home.


19-IMG_2014In two weeks, we were able to make great progress and met the goals we had for ourselves, but there was still much to do. We left Kyrgyzstan knowing that there was a good chance the house would not be complete before the winter. Two additional teams came but there was simply too much to finish before the cold set in. The family would have to wait a little longer…

And this brings us back to where I started – over the summer, the finishing touches were added and as of two weeks ago, Jolboldu and his family are living in their new home!  Here are some photos of the finished home in all of it’s glory…stay tuned for updates and pictures of this wonderful family at home after New Years Day! 🙂


The Incident of the Raw Horse

One of the best parts of traveling (well, really, of life?) is eating. 🙂  When you travel around the world, you are suddenly exposed to so many new types of food – often some that surprise you, for better or for worse.

When I began to venture out of the US, this proposition was kind of scary…  The first time I remember leaving the country was when I was 13 and we crossed the border to Tijuana.  At the closest border town, my sister and I were commanded by our mom to “eat, drink and go to the bathroom now because you’re not doing it again until we return!”.  Needless to say, I did not sample any Mexican cuisine on that outing.

The next time I left the US was on a school trip to the Soviet Union.  Yes, it was still called “The Soviet Union” at that time.  I don’t remember much about the food, but I’m pretty sure I ate a lot of potatoes and bread (because beets taste like dirt [this article explains why and appeals to my scientific nature] and I wasn’t about to eat little slimy fish with their heads still attached…).  It’s a wonder I didn’t come home with scurvy…  What I do remember is my camera film being confiscated on our “commute home” at the East/West Berlin border crossing (yes…still in existence too…) by a very large German man with a gun.  But that’s a story for another day. 🙂

In my early travel years, I admit to being “one of those people” that sought out the most “American” looking food I could find because it seemed “safe”.  I drew the line at McDonalds, but if there was an American chain restaurant in sight or a recognizable packaged snack at the store, there’s a good chance I headed toward it.  Thankfully that phase didn’t last long – now I am excited to explore everything (everything?) that local cuisines have to offer.  And boy have I sampled it.

It’s hard to describe some of the surprises that have been placed before me.  Rabbit ears, duck tongues, and scorpions (China), mice on a stick (Malawi), termites (Kenya), and a lot of unidentifiable creatures from the sea (Japan) are just a few that are on the list.  Sometimes I can handle it – the rabbit ears were actually cold, pickled, and surprisingly tasty. 🙂  But sometimes there is absolutely zero chance.  Those mice still had FUR!!

This is, of course, balanced by the delicious dishes that make up 90%+ of what I actually eat overseas.  Who can argue with a delicious wine and pasta dinner in Italy?  Or fresh sushi and sake in Japan, ugali and kachumbari in Kenya, homemade bread and apricot jam in Kyrgyzstan??  If you keep your mind open, the possibilities are endless.  In fact, I’m starting to collect these gems on my very first Pinterest board.  Don’t judge – I’m just starting – but what a way to start. 🙂

This finally brings me around to the title of the post.  It’s true.  I reached a new level on my last trip to Japan.  The conversation went something like this:

Him: “we’re going to order this because we love it and you won’t eat it, so we will have it all!”.

Me:  “OK.  We’ll see….”

ONLY with the help of a generous sake selection did the Horse Sashimi have a chance.


And when it happened…it really wasn’t too bad. 🙂  Kind of like beef tartare…

So the moral of the story is?  Don’t be afraid – just eat it! 🙂

Exploring and learning while enjoying life and doing my part. Here, there and everywhere…