Won’t You Be My Neighbor?

A few nights ago hubby and I went to a training with Spero Project, the refugee organization here in Oklahoma City. The training was called Restorative Relationships and focused on how our job is not to “save” the refugees but rather to become their neighbor. The discussion made me realize that I need to change my own perspective and reflect on the composition of a neighbor.

We moved to Oklahoma City just a year and half ago. The move was tough as we didn’t know anyone here. But in the midst of the challenges, there was our neighbor Lynda, who has showed me repetitively what being a neighbor really means. The night we moved in, she brought us dinner. When I was outside picking the pecans in our front yard, she came and joined me. She’s offered to watch Eleanor, asked if I needed anything from the grocery store, and we regularly meet for coffee. Lynda has never made me feel like she was “saving” me but rather that she has been in my shoes and knows that a little extra help would be nice. Personally, I feel like this kind of neighborliness is a dying art in the US. So often we don’t even know the names of our neighbors.

After watching the relationships within the refugee community, they also seem to get the meaning of neighbors. They watch out for each other’s kids, give each other rides to work, and always are ready to boil a pot of tea for a spur of the moment conversation. I think Spero has to do the Restorative Relationship training with us because in all honesty, the refugee community has a lot to teach us about being a neighbor. It is so often our tendency as Americans to walk in and try to fix things rather than to build relationships. We see an under-resourced community and forget that the community has so much to offer us as well.

Every year in Oklahoma City we get 165 new neighbors who are refugees from Myanmar, Iraq, Afghanistan, Eritrea, and several other countries. So as hubby and I get more involved with Spero, our hope is we can reach out to our new neighbors and make them feel as welcome as Lynda made me feel last year when we were new to town.

Have a great weekend and if you have a chance, try to meet your neighbors!

Ending the Holidays with Día de los Reyes

One of my least favorite activities of the year is taking down my Christmas decorations. I love the holidays, so putting everything back in the tupperware bins feels like such a downer compared to all the joy, family, and food that comes with Christmas. So last year when I heard about Día de los Reyes (also known as Three Kings Day or Epiphany) and the opportunity to extend my holidays a little longer, I knew I wanted to add the celebration to our family traditions.

Caspar, Melchior, and Balthasar are from Aunt Ethel's nativity set. They are one of my favorite parts of Christmas.

Caspar, Melchior, and Balthasar are from my Aunt Ethel’s nativity set. They are some of my favorite Christmas decorations.

Held on January 6th, Día de los Reyes is officially the 12th day of Christmas. It celebrates the coming of the three wise men to worship the Christ child and give him the gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. Three Kings Day is widely celebrated around the world, particularly in Latin American countries. In Argentina, children put grass and water outside the door for the wise men’s camels. In Mexico, the three wise men are added to the nativity scenes on the eve of Día de los Reyes. And in Peru, they actually make taking down the Christmas decorations on Día de los Reyes a celebration in itself and call it Bajada de Reyes (Descent of Kings).

To celebrate Día de los Reyes at our house, we will be doing our own Bajada de Reyes tonight. In addition to taking down the Christmas decorations, we’ll also enjoy a modified Three Kings Cake, sing We Three Kings, and exchange small gifts between us. But most of all, I hope to remember that the season doesn’t really have to end just because the decorations come down.  While maybe we can’t eat like we did during the holidays, the joy of Christmas, family, and friendships are things I don’t have to pack up with the ornaments.

Three Kings Cake

Tradition calls for a porcelain baby Jesus to be put in the Kings Cake but we are improvising and I’ve put a paper one in the bottom of one of the cupcakes. Whoever gets the baby Jesus is supposed to make tamales on Candlemas (Feb. 2nd).

Three Kings Cupcakes

Unfortunately the real Three Kings Cake takes hours to make so we modified our version. These cranberry cupcakes will serve as our individual Kings Cake for tonight.

Click here for more country-specific Three Kings Day traditions and check out these other Epiphany blog posts:

 

 

A New Year of “Globalness”

2013 was a momentous year in our family. We moved into a new home, our little girl, Eleanor Grace was born in August, and I started a new part-time position as a study abroad advisor at a small university in Oklahoma City. With all that was going on, I decided to take a year away from blogging. But now that I’m finally getting my little one on a schedule, I want to bring “globalness” back into our household. I’m sure my posts will be a little less regular than before, but I really want my daughter to be exposed to the world beyond our little city and for this blog to be a record of all we do together.

Eleanor got a B. Global Glowball for Christmas from her Auntie Karen. Now she's really got the whole world in her hands.

Eleanor got a B. Global Glowball for Christmas from her Auntie Karen. Now she’s really got the whole world in her hands.

I’m excited to get Global from Home back up and running and can’t wait to see what adventures lie ahead for Hubby, Eleanor, and me.

What “global from home” adventures did you have in 2013?

 

Abroad Blog of the Week: Life Out of the Box

Two twenty-somethings give up their lives in California to move to Nicaragua to start a business which gives back to the community. They know little Spanish, have a very modest budget, and have never been to the country, but somehow end up running a hostel and making a real contribution to education in their new home. Now you know why I chose Life Out of the Box for this week’s Abroad Blog of the Week. I was actually introduced to this entrepreneurial duo from a nomination by a reader. I’m so glad too because Quinn and Jon of Life Out of the Box are doing incredible things. Whether you are of the Millennial generation or not, you are bound to be inspired by their interview and blog.

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How did you decide to start your business in Nicaragua?

We have always wanted to start a business of our own since we were kids, so the idea of creating a business of our own was one that had been in the works for a while. Our ideal lives consisted of traveling to new countries and learning about new cultures. We wanted to travel the world, be our own boss, and live overseas. After lots of brainstorming, we decided that our ideal business to start would be one that integrates giving back into the finances from the very beginning. We wanted to search for unique handmade products that would appeal to people in the States and be able to give back to every new country we visited. So we decided that for every handmade product we would sell in the States we would give back an educational product to that country.  

We knew that we needed to dedicate all of our time to create this business, but we didn’t want to borrow money from family or take out a loan. Therefore, in order to save our money through the startup phase of the company where we wouldn’t be making money, we decided that living somewhere with a lower cost of living than California would give us the best opportunity to do what we wanted.

So we took a map of the entire world and ultimately chose Nicaragua. There were several factors and a lot of research that went into the decision, of course, as we were leaving everything stable that we had ever known to start something of our own. Neither of us had ever been to Nicaragua before and had done as much research online to be able to understand the culture as we could, but there wasn’t much. This made us want to go discover it for ourselves even more–the unknown was exciting. We both knew some Spanish, but thought that this would be the perfect opportunity to improve it. We also learned that the average person lives off of $2 a day in Nicaragua as it is the second poorest country in Central America. We knew we could find a way to give back which could make a big difference. A little goes a long way in Nicaragua and we think that is such a beautiful thing–it’s the small things that matter the most. Within a month of making the decision to move and pursue this dream of living overseas and starting our own business, we quit our jobs, packed one backpack of clothes, said goodbye to family and friends, and hopped on a plane to Nicaragua.

What are the challenges and highlights you’ve experienced in trying to start a business overseas?

The highlight for us both was the day that we launched our online store, sold our very first bracelet and then gave our very first notebook to a sweet Nicaraguan girl named Naomi. It was one of the greatest and most rewarding days of our lives. Naomi, 6 years old, was absolutely ecstatic when she picked out a notebook and found out that it was a gift from someone in the United States. She started dancing around and laughing. I cried. It was so beautiful to see how much a single notebook meant to a little girl here. They can draw in it, write in it, use it for school, use it as a journal, write song lyrics in it–the possibilities are endless. It allows kids to be creative, use their imagination and gain confidence in their talent and skills. It’s an opportunity that many people get as a kids in the first world without thinking about it, but an opportunity that unfortunately doesn’t exist for everyone worldwide. 

The challenges here we’ve experienced have all taught us both that patience, persistence and the ability to adapt are keys in creating a business, especially when you’re in a third world country where you don’t have everything at your finger tips. We’ve had internet outages when we needed it the most–the day we were going to Skype with a high school class in LA, our Internet was of course out all day! So we improvised and searched everywhere for a place with WiFi and finally found a little coffee place with it. We’ve also hunted for days searching for product material, product designers and packaging. One day something or someone will be there and the next they won’t. They have a thing here called “Nica time” which basically means there is no structured time. It took a while to adjust from the States where we’ve been trained that punctuality is key in business: if you’re on time, you’re late and if you’re early you’re on time. We still believe this, but when it comes to people here we’ve learned to just be patient and understand that it is a different culture. Overall though, people here have been so helpful and welcoming; we both feel very lucky to have encountered everyone we’ve met along the way.

How did you come to run the Life out of the Box restaurant and bar? How has it impacted your lives in Laguna de Apoyo?

That is a great story of randomness and spontaneity–one that wouldn’t have bee able to happen had we not set up our lives to being open to any and all opportunities. That’s one of our favorite parts about being entrepreneurial and being our own boss, at the drop of any opportunity we can take it. We had just moved from San Juan del Sur to head up to Masaya, but wanted to make a stop in Granada so that we could travel with all of our new friends for a few days longer. We ended up staying at Oasis Hostel, which is a well-known and very nice hostel in the heart of Granada. We stayed there just one night with our friends, but as we were checking out the next morning we noticed a sign on the walls saying that their other hostel in Laguna de Apoyo was looking for a couple to run the hostel, bar & restaurant for 90 days. Free room & food. It sounded great for 3 months and we knew we’d have a good time with it as we each had experience in hospitality & guest services. So we called the owner, she put us up at the hostel for a couple of days, we fell in love with the resort and jungle and decided to have a go at it. The staff only knew Spanish, so that was a huge learning experience. It’s one thing to try to order food in Spanish, but it’s quite another to manage people in a language you’re not completely fluent in. We learned a lot about how business is done in Nicaragua and how to manage our own staff. We were able to get our name out to many of our guests and improve our website in the time we lived there. We are very thankful to have been able to live in such a beautiful serene place as long as we did. It really is one of Nicaragua’s hidden gems.

How has this experience differed from your previous international ventures?

Well this is certainly the longest we’ve ever stayed in one place internationally. The longer you live in a place, the more necessary it is to learn the language, so being immersed and forced to speak a foreign language has been very different from our other international travels where we weren’t there long enough to feel like we needed to know the language. Living here we’ve had the time to actually explore and truly feel what it’s like to live like a Nicaraguan. We have the time now to be able to do that rather than before when we traveled it was much faster, on a timed and planned schedule–aka binge travel. Because we couldn’t do it very often and for very long, we felt like we had to cram as much as we possibly could into the short time frame that we had. It’s something we didn’t realize we were doing until we actually had the time to make no plans and just explore. We’re thankful that we have the time to travel the way that we do because it allows us to learn more about the people and the different cultures–something that was very important to us as we defined our ideal lives. We certainly plan to make sure it stays this way everywhere we go all around the world. 

What advice would you give other 20 somethings with the hopes of living abroad and helping the local community?

Get out there and do it. Just do it. One of our favorite quotes is, “Sometimes you just have to take the leap and build your wings on the way down”. It’s very true and we promise you, if you do make the leap of living your own life overseas to do what you want, you won’t regret it. You can always go back, but if you never go, then you’ll never know. Pushing yourself out of your safety zone will make you grow more than you’ll ever know. You get stronger. Once you take big leap like this and see that you actually can do it, you’ll be able to make other difficult decisions more easily as well. As for helping the local community, always know that you can make a difference. Even the smallest difference helps. Our biggest piece of advice is to help a cause that you are truly connected to. If you are personally connected to the cause, then your passion will drive you to succeed. It’s not always easy, so you need that passion and connection to keep you going when things are hard. Giving back to people who need it is the most rewarding experience either of us has ever had. It doesn’t matter where it is. In giving back selflessly, you receive just as much in return. We have a lot of faith and hope in our 20-somethings and even the younger teens–we are the Millennial Generation. 

To this new generation, money is no longer the bottom line. Making the world a better place is. I’m proud to be apart of this generation and think that together we really can change the world. We want our story to inspire others to go out and make a difference themselves–if we can do it, so can you. 

 

Homemade Scones

I fell in love with the flaky pastry that hails from Scotland while living in New York City. I would walk to this cute corner coffee shop owned by a Brit couple and order a scone and latte to enjoy while I journaled about my summer in the big city. While I’ve been a connoisseur of scones for quite some time, I’ve never attempted to make my own. So I added scone-making to my goals on my Thirty-One List.

While visiting my best friend in Chicago last week, she decided to help me accomplish one of my 31 tasks. Having a culinary degree from Argentina, I agreed that she would be the best person to guide me through the process. We used the Cook’s Illustrated recipe and my BF indicated it is the Bible of all things food. The recipe was precise but actually pretty simple and the scones turned out buttery and delicious…definitely a culinary splurge.

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Orange Cranberry Scones Recipe

2 cups all-purpose flour
1 Tablespoon baking powder
3 Tablespoons sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
5 Tablespoons butter, chilled and cut into small cubes (cut these quickly so they don’t melt in your hands)
1 to 1 1/2 teaspoons grated orange zest
3/4 cup dried cranberries
1 cup heavy cream

1. Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 425 degrees.

2. Place the flour, baking powder, sugar, and salt in the bowl of a food processor fitted with a steel blade. Pulse 6 times to combine. (I counted 1 one-thousand for each pulse.)

3. Distribute the butter evenly over the dry ingredients, sprinkle the zest in, and then combine with a dozen 1-second pulses. Add the cranberries and pulse one more time. Transfer to medium size bowl.

4. Stir in heavy cream with rubber spatula or fork until dough begins to form, about 30 seconds.

5. Transfer dough and all dry, floury bits to countertop and knead dough by hand just until it comes together into a rough, slightly sticky ball, 5 to 10 seconds. Pat the dough into an 8-inch circle (we used a cake pan) and cut into 8 wedges. Put the wedges on the prepared baking sheet.

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6. Bake until scone tops are light brown, 12 to 15 minutes. Cool on wire rack for at least 10 minutes. Serve warm or at room temperature.

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The Magic of Sinterklaas

eliseblalock:

Communicating Across Boundaries hosted a guest post today about St. Nicholas (Sinterklaas) Day as well, but from the traditions of the Netherlands.

Originally posted on Communicating.Across.Boundaries:

Earlier in the fall I asked readers for submissions on Christmas traditions around the world. I am delighted to offer you this post on Sinterklaas by Annelies Kanis who wrote the popular post The Trunk That Traveled the World.

Bright December moon is beaming

boys and girls now stop your play

for tonight’s the wondrous evening

eve of good St. Nicholas day

There is nothing quite like the magic of Saint Nicolas. Or as we say, Sinterklaas.

Nederlands: Sinterklaas tijdens het Het Feest ...

Saint Nicolas was a Turkish Saint from the 4th Century A.D. In the Netherlands we celebrate Sinterklaas on the evening before his name day, which is December 6th. The original Saint Nicolas had a reputation for secret gift giving, such as putting coins in the shoes of those who left them out. And as it goes with legends, the legend of Saint Nicolas got bigger and bigger and somehow…

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Happy St. Nicholas Day!

As a child December 6th was one of my favorite days of the year. On St. Nicholas Day eve (December 5th) we would set our homemade slippers outside of our bedroom door with our Christmas wish lists inside. The next morning we would wake up to find that St. Nick had come for our list and left us candy, a new Christmas ornament, and a chocolate advent calendar in our bedroom shoes. To me, it always represented the beginning of the Christmas season.

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What I didn’t realize as a child was that most of my American friends did not celebrate St. Nicholas Day. My mom, being Pennsylvania Dutch, brought this tradition and several others to our family. While my mother’s family never spoke Pennsylvania German, they did maintain many of the German traditions. My grandmother was definitely a Pennsylvania Dutch cook and made pickled beet eggs, scrapple, and hog maw. Personally, I rarely tried any of these dishes as a child, and at the mention of them my response was always “yuck”. My mom and my aunts still make some of the traditional meals but I think they’ve all let hog maw be a recipe of yore. Cleaning pig stomach  just is not a pleasurable chore.

Now that I am older, I am so grateful for the traditions that have been passed down from my German ancestors and carried on my grandmother and mom. I know when Hubby and I have children we will be celebrating St. Nicholas Day too. If you missed St. Nick’s Day this year, I don’t think he’ll mind if you celebrate it on December 7th or 8th instead.

Happy beginning of the holiday season!