Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Like Stars in the Sky

I haven't shared much about my experience in Nicaragua since I've been back.  Honestly, it's just that I don't even know where to start.  I feel like so much happened, and I experienced so much in one week that I don't know how to share it all.  Even when someone asks me "How was Nicaragua?", I don't even know how to begin, or what else to say other than "It was great!".  Maybe that's what everyone's first mission trip experience is like, and maybe it feels like this each time...

As we set off on the bus ride from Managua to San Ramon on Friday night, I was sitting in a single seat alone preparing my iPod with Brooke Fraser's "Flags" album to keep me company while others chit-chatted around me.  Not long after we took off, a young boy named Johnny (from Florida) came up and sat in my seat next to me and said "Can I sit with you?"  I had met him and his family after arriving to the hotel that Thursday night.  "Of course you can", I replied.  He then let out a big sigh and said "I'm tired".  The next thing I know, his head is laying against my arm while the bumpy bus ride jostled his head around like a bobble-head doll.  He eventually found himself curled into a little ball with his head in my lap.  It was not conducive to a comfortable 2.5 hour bus ride for me, but I feel God sent my little friend to keep me company.

The sky became darker and the stars became brighter as we drove further away from the city.  I'm sure Brooke's voice singing Flags into my ears intensified the moment, but I couldn't help but cry as I gazed at the stars with the anticipation of the week before me.  I knew I was about to have a life-changing experience, yet not quite sure what that was going to look like.  I remember an overwhelming feeling of connection coming over me as I saw those stars...the same stars I see at home in the U.S.  I felt SO incredibly blessed in that moment, and not just because of where I was born.  Yes, I am very blessed to have been born in a part of the world full of so much opportunity and freedom, but I felt even more blessed in that moment to be able to share a piece of my heart with Nicaragua.  Because I was able to go to school and enter into a good career, I am now able to travel to where the hands and feet of God are needed and to share not only my knowledge but a piece of my heart as well. 
Four days later we had a small Bible study at the Quinta led by Pastor Chuck from Colorado.  I was stunned when we turned to Philippians 2:3-4 and Philippians 2:14-18.  Philippians 2:3-4 is one of my favorite pieces of scripture and I also used it in my support letter...

"Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others."

Then came Philippians 2:14-18...

"Do everything without grumbling or arguing, so that you may become blameless and pure, children of God without fault in a warped and crooked generation. Then you will shine among them like stars in the sky as you hold firmly to the word of life. And then I will be able to boast on the day of Christ that I did not run or labor in vain. But even if I am being poured out like a drink offering on the sacrifice and service coming from your faith, I am glad and rejoice with all of you. So you too should be glad and rejoice with me. "

I was so thankful for that Bible study and for Pastor Chuck delivering that message.  I really feel God was confirming my decision to go to Nicaragua.  I thanked Pastor Chuck afterword (and cried yet again...I was just a mess that week!).  Now that I've been home, I think of Nicaragua each time I see the stars; I think of Wendy and Juan Manuel, and all other the other men, women and children I met while there.  I promise I will share in more detail with events of the week.  I just wanted to prelude the with this...stay tuned...

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Radiance Fruit Salad

I found this recipe from Food Network chef Ellie Krieger last summer when searching for a fruit salad recipe.  I was assigned "fruit" to bring to Matt's family's annual summer BBQ and wanted to show up with more than just a watermelon tucked under my arm.  This is now my go-to fruit salad dish and I make it every chance I get.  It's especially delicious when it's sunny and warm out, which it hasn't been much of lately, because the cold fruit topped with mint and lime is incredibly refreshing. If you live in Washington State like us, the only state in the U.S. with temps below 100 degrees right now (we're still in the 60s to be exact, with some random 70-80 degree "scorchers"), you'll still love this...just minus the sun and warm weather.

Radiance Fruit Salad

What You Need:
  • 1/3 cantaloupe, cut into 3/4-inch chunks (about 2 cups)
  • 1 (16 oz) container strawberries, quartered (about 3 cups)
  • 5 medium kiwis, peeled and cut into 3/4-inch chunks (about 2 1/2 cups)
  • 3 tablespoons honey
  • 3 tablespoons fresh lime juice
  • 1 teaspoon lime zest
  • 3 tablespoons finely chopped fresh mint leaves
What You Do:
  1. Place all of the fruit into a large bowl.
  2. In a small bowl, whisk the honey, lime juice, zest, and mint.
  3. Right before serving, pour the dressing over the fruit and toss gently to combine.
Excellent Source of: Vitamin A, Vitamin C, Vitamin K
Good Source of: Fiber, Folate, Manganese, Potassium

(HERE is the link to Ellie Krieger's recipe on Food Network)

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Wild Goose Chase

I was playing around with a video program tonight (staying up way past my bedtime) and thought I'd share and little video I made of our Maltese, Goose.  The original video was taken March 2010, and each time I watch it I smile (side note: The song I used for this is also the last song played at our wedding reception, which got everyone to the dance floor one last time).  Our Goose brings so much joy into our lives and keeps us so entertained!  We love him so much, yet understand when our kiddos come along he will be "just a dog".  For now, he's our baby. 

I hope Goose brings a smile to your face today too!

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Pepper-Honey Cedar Plank Salmon

    I haven't done much cooking since I've been back from Nicaragua and I felt the urge to try something new this weekend.  So I was excited when I saw a segment on the morning news which featured a local group of women who call themselves the Make-Ahead Mamas.  They get together every 8 weeks to make meals together in which they can take home to freeze and serve to their families later. 
    I turned the t.v. off fairly soon after the segment started, but looked them up online later and quickly added this salmon recipe to my weekend dinner menu.  The recipe comes from the website and is a tried and family-tested recipe used by the Make-Ahead Momas.  We love salmon and although I mix up the marinades and flavors, I always cook it in the oven.  We have a bit of untreated cedar scraps laying around with the deck finished and the trellis almost complete, so I didn't have to look too far for those.  I have seen cedar planks at Fred Meyer near the deli if you don't happen to have some laying around.
    *Warning:  You WILL smell like a campfire after preparing this salmon...just in case you have plans after dinner.  Also, this salmon has a little "kick" to it, which we like, but if you are not a fan of spicy leave out the cayenne and/or some of the pepper.
    What You Need:
  • 2 (12-inch) untreated cedar planks (I used 3 "planks")
  • 1/4 cup pineapple juice
  • 1/3 cup soy sauce
  • 2 Tbsp white vinegar
  • 2 Tbsp lemon juice
  • 1 Tbsp olive oil
  • 3/4 cup honey
  • 1/4 cup packed brown sugar
  • 1 tsp black pepper
  • 1/2 tsp cayenne pepper
  • 1/2 tsp paprika
  • 1/4 tsp garlic powder
  • 6 (6 oz) skinless, boneless salmon fillets
  • Salt and pepper to taste
What You Do:
  1. Soak the cedar planks in warm water for 1-2 hours.  Add a splash of bourbon to the water if desired.
  2. Bring the pineapple juice, soy sauce, vinegar, lemon juice, olive oil, and honey to a simmer in a saucepan over med-high heat.  Reduce heat to med-low and stir in the sugar, black pepper, cayenne pepper, paprika, and garlic powder.  Simmer, stirring occasionally, until the sauce has reduced to a syrupy consistency, about 15 minutes.  Set the sauce aside.
  3. Preheat an outdoor grill for medium heat.  Place the planks on the grate.  They are ready to cook on when they start to smoke and crackle just a little.
  4. Season the salmon with a light sprinkling of salt and pepper.  Place the fillets onto the smoking cedar planks, close the lid of the grill, and cook for 10 minutes.  Spoon a small amount of the sauce over the salmon fillets, and continue cooking until the fish turns opaque in the center, about 5 minutes more.  Serve with the remaining sauce. 
The cedar soaked in the kitchen sink for a couple hours, turning a few times.

If the cedar catches fire, just blow it out or spray with water from a water bottle.

Matt ate two, and I ate one fillet.  I let the remaining 3 cool, placed them in a Ziploc bag, and then the freezer.  The remaining sauce also went into the freezer.  When I want to prepare, I'll thaw them in the refrigerator and then broil until heated through...I hope that works :)

Salmon Snippets:
  • A 4-ounce serving of salmon provides an entire day's recommended does of Vitamin D (something we've definitely been lacking in the Pacific Northwest this summer).
  • Salmon also has very high levels of niacin and B12.
  • Salmon is loaded with Omega-3 fatty acids which do all kinds of good things for the body:  relieve inflammation, improved memory and focus, help alleviate symptoms of depression, beneficial in cardiovascular health, helps lower risk of stroke as much as 27% when consumed 1-2 times a week, reduces menstrual pain, and more. 
  • Farmed salmon may contain up to 10 times more contaminates (such as lead) than wild-caught salmon, and sometimes dye is added to improve the coloring. 

Friday, July 8, 2011

3-in-1 Book Review: The City of Joy, The Year of Living Biblically, and Outlive Your Life

It's been a while since I did a book review, so here are three short reviews from the last three books I've read:

My sister-in-law recommended this one to me and also warned me it was a "difficult read".  This book is amazing, but what makes it a difficult read, in my opinion, is the truth you can't escape while reading it; the poverty that exists in this world.  It's a lengthy and emotional true story about a 32-year-old Catholic priest named Stephan Kovalski who moves to Calcutta to live among the poorest of the poor.  The book also follows Hasari Pal and his family as they do what is needed to survive, as well as those met along the journey.  I agree with my sister-in-law in that it's "a difficult read, but SO worth it". 
Here is the link to Amazon and to read more lengthy reviews than mine.

I read this one with my small group from church and thought it was great.  The only reason I gave it 4 stars was because of the discussion questions.  I found the discussion questions to be rather shallow and repetitive at times, and didn't dive as deep as I would have liked.  Apart from that, I loved it!  This was the first Max Lucado book I have read, although I had been wanting to, and am looking forward to reading more of his work.  I love Max's writing style and story-telling ability, he conveys his points very well by linking them to relatable stories.  This book focuses on what we were put on this earth to God and love others, and gives us tangible ideas in which to do so.
HERE is the link to Amazon and to read more reviews.

After reading The City of Joy, I wanted a light and easy read and this book delivered.  With Jewish roots, agnostic author A.J. Jacobs decides, for various reasons, he wants to explore religion and the Bible.  This memoir is his 1 year attempt at following the Bible as literally as possible.  As the back of the book says, it "...will charm readers both secular and religious.  It is part CliffsNotes to the Bible, part memoir, part look into worlds unimaginable.  Thou shalt not be able to put it down."  Personal beliefs aside, I loved it!
HERE is the link to Amazon and read more reviews.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Home Sweet Home

As my plane flew into Seattle yesterday, I was reminded of the beauty of this Emerald City.  Surrounded by snow capped mountains and tufts of evergreen, the water glistened in Lake Washington as sailboats sailed through the ship canal and ferries glided across the Puget Sound.  I miss Nicaragua and am already looking forward to returning...

but it sure is good to be home.

I arrived back in Seattle about 5:00 last night and was greeted by my Maverick and our Goose.  Matt gave me a hug, a kiss, and surprised me with a bouquet of Sweet Peas and my wedding ring.  He had my ring cleaned while I was away and slipped it back on my finger after giving me my flowers.  Goose, of course had to smother me with kisses when I got in the car too :)  When we arrived to the house I had a wonderful surprise waiting for me...another bouquet of flowers in the kitchen and a spotless house!  Along with working on the trellis; pressure washing the house, the fence, and the driveway; and traveling to California and Portland for work, Matt was Mr. Clean while I was away.  I was so happy to slip into a bed with fresh, clean sheets!  He told me he knew I'd be tired when I got home and didn't want me to worry about anything. 

Momma and Papa B, you did a wonderful job and I thank you!  I am blessed with an amazingly hard-working husband who loves me so much...

and it sure is good to be Home Sweet Home.

Friday, July 1, 2011

Adiós Nicaragua...for now...

I'm alive!  Slightly sunburned, and pretty dang tired and emotionally drained, but I am safe and sound back at the hotel in Managua.  I can't wait to share what I have experienced over the past week.  I have cried tears out of empathy and joy, laughed until my cheeks hurt and my voice became hoarse, sweat more than I have in the last year, and collapsed onto my bed every night out of exhaustion...all with others who were strangers just over a week ago.  I found time to journal each day with the hope to remember everything and also to share this experience with you. 

I am happy to be coming home (and especially can't wait to give my Maverick a giant kiss!), yet sad to leave Nicaragua.  In the 2nd poorest country in the Western hemisphere (after Haiti), my eyes have seen images I will never forget; and I don't want to!  I have shared emotions with villagers in such a way that translators are not even necessary...pain, sadness, sickness, joy, gratitude.  A smile, a hug, and tears are a universal language.  I would love to return in February when there will be dentists with the team so I can do more.  The need is extremely great and it broke my heart to only offer oral hygiene instructions, supplies, and fluoride treatment. 

My plane leaves Managua at 7:15 a.m. tomorrow and I should be in Seattle by 5:00 p.m.  See you soon my friends!