Tuesday, December 22, 2015

FSD Nicaragua

We moved to the bay area because I got a great job with an organization I really believe in. The Foundation for Sustainable Development celebrate it's 20th year this year, which was really exciting for me to hear about the history of the organization and how we are remaining true to it's original mission. In my work, I oversee all of FSD's Latin American offices. We have four in Latin America: Ciudad Sandino, Nicaragua; Tola, Nicaragua; Salta, Argentina; and Cochabamba, Bolivia. 
I had the privilege of visiting our sites in Nicaragua this summer/fall and working with a group of consultants from Deloitte. Our site in Ciudad Sandino was the founding site for FSD. Our Program Director, Maria, has been with FSD for 17 years, and her experience shows in her work. FSD works in all development sectors: gender equity, micro-enterprise, education, health, environment, youth, human rights, appropriate technology, etc. I love being able to support work in all sectors as part of my job. And I love being able to visit the site teams and give support in their work. 

This last time I went to Nicaragua, I decided I should try and document my visit a little bit more. Here are a few pictures from my trip:
The breakfast in Nicaragua is out of this world. I could never finish an entire plate. On my first morning they brought me an egg, cheese, gallo pinto (rice and beans), fried plantains, sausages, papaya, and water. When they asked me if I'd like coffee or juice, I told them I just liked a lot of water. They brought me the biggest bottle of water they could find. They were so sweet to me. 
Our site in Ciudad Sandino also encompasses Masaya, which is a town we visited on our backpacking trip. I love being able to go back and explore some of the familiar sites but through a different lens. I had never worked in Nicaragua until joining FSD, so it has been a great learning experience since development work is different in every community. One of the most important elements to FSD is that we use an asset-based community development approach, meaning that we let the community identify their needs and tell us what development they would like to see in their community, rather than coming in and telling them what they should do. This is the most successful approach to development I have ever seen, and these communities are thriving. 
Taking Deloitte consultants to Nicaragua is a great experience. I don't know if you have ever had any encounters with Deloitte before, but they are a group of highly talented, extremely hard-working individuals that want to produce high impact results. We spend 4 days working from morning until night (with a few recreational activities as well) and the outputs from the trip are substantial. We work with local organizations and they rave about the results they see after Deloitte has finished. 
As part of the Deloitte trip, we go on a few cultural excursions, and one of my favorite is going to the city of Granada. I really love Granada and could see Caitlin and I living there one day. On the first trip I went on with Deloitte we did a horse-drawn carriage ride, but the second group opted out of the ride, so we did a walking tour instead. I love the old colonial towns with cobblestone streets and elegant architecture. I especially love the cemetery and could spend hours there. Actually, Caitlin and I did spend hours there the first time we went. 
I also have a phenomenal team I work with in Nicaragua. In the photos above are Mary, FSD's Finance and Operations Officer; Karolina, the International Program Coordinator in Ciudad Sandino; Ramiro, the Program Director in Tola; and Maria, the Program Coordinator in Ciudad Sandino. There are more staff members in Nicaragua, but I only managed to snap a few photos while on the trip. I absolutely love working with this team. It is a challenge working across cultures, but I enjoy that type of challenge and Maria and Ramiro are such a perfect fit for the work they are doing. 
If you are looking for a charity to donate to this holiday season, you can donate to the work we are doing at FSD. It really is an amazing organization. 

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Dia de los Muertos Sugar Cookie Style

We love continuing traditions we have learned in our various travels. One of those traditions has been to celebrate the Day of the Dead. When we lived in Mexico, we went to a cemetery in Zinacantan and spent the holiday with our friends Xunka and Yoli. Last year we spent part of the Day of the Dead in Old Town San Diego. This year, we got a little more creative and we invited our friends over to decorate sugar cookies like sugar skulls. 
We had our friends James, Kathryn, and Catherine come over for the festivities. This was their first time decorating a skull for the Day of the Dead, so it was a lot of experimenting on our part. 
Caitlin was by far the most meticulous about her skull. She perfected every last inch of the intricate designs, whereas James decided to adorn his with leftover Halloween candy. He definitely won for most creative. For some reason we have a surplus of aprons, so everyone got to wear an apron for the occasion, and we used a special frosting for the cookies that would harden so we could enjoy our skulls for many days after el Dia de los Muertos. 
We spent about 45 minutes decorating our cookies, and in the end they were all so beautiful, I don't think any of us wanted to eat them. Good thing we prepared extra cookies just for eating. Nothing like coming off a sugar high of Halloween and then eating a couple handfuls of sugar cookies. :) 
Feliz Dia de los Muertos a todos!

Alameda Halloween

I'm pretty sure that nearly every post I write about October starts out with me professing my love for Halloween. But I'm not even sad about that. I do love Halloween. A lot. And I think I'm converting Caitlin to my ways. Luckily, Alameda does a great job at Halloween. Alameda has a lot of old Victorian houses and a great Halloween spirit that everyone gets into. The houses are all decorated with spooky decorations and some even have mini haunted houses on their porches. 
I always try and convince Caitlin to go as something scary for Halloween, but she always wins and we do something cute instead. I don't know how cute I was in tights, but I went as Peter Pan and she went as Tinkerbell. She actually made our costumes out of over-sized t-shirts we bought at Ross and Old Navy. 
We started off Halloween at our church's Halloween party. When we were getting ready to go, Caitlin was talking to Catherine to see if her and her husband Tim were coming. Catherine said that Tim had to work, and she didn't know what to dress up as since they were going to be Aladdin and Jasmine together. We convinced her to go as Tiger Lily from Peter Pan so we would all be coordinating. In just a few hours she was able to put together an amazingly coordinated Halloween costume and we all matched perfectly. 
At the party there were a bunch of Halloween games for kids and a little bit of trick or treating. It was really well decorated and I wish I would have snapped a few more pictures.  Afterward we joined the Langarica and Ravello families to go trick or treating with their kids. The Langarica's are from Mexico and the Ravello's are from Argentina. Catherine is from Ecuador, so we were definitely the gringos in the Latino crowd. We loved it! 
We absolutely loved going trick or treating. This is why you have kids - so you can enjoy the things you loved as a kid all over again. While we were walking around, a little girl dressed as Tinkerbell  spotted me and pointed saying, "look, there's Peter Pan!" She was so excited, and her entire family had dressed up like the crew from Peter Pan, but without a Pan. They asked if they could take a picture with us, and the one from our phone turned out a complete blur. But Tiger Lily, Peter Pan, Captain Hook, Tinkerbell, and Mr. Smee were all in attendance. I loved that I could brighten that girls Halloween (even though I'm pretty sure our photo was overshadowed by the massive amounts of candy she received that night). 
I am really impressed with how well the entire neighborhoods decorated for Halloween. I took pictures of things I loved and can't wait to have a house so one day we can decorate too.

Becoming Cinnaholics

When we moved to New England for my graduate school, we didn't know that we would make lifelong friends while at school. But SIT has really become a community/family for us. We have seen people from SIT in numerous states and countries as we have traveled the globe. 
We are really lucky to have one of our good friends, Nicole, live right here in the bay area! A while back we decided to meet up for breakfast at Cinnaholic, a gourmet vegan cinnamon roll shop in Berkeley. But knowing that we were going to stuff ourselves full of sugary deliciousness, we decided we had better start the morning off by walking a few miles around the Lafayette Reservoir. It was a gloomy Saturday morning, but the weather was perfect for a brisk walk. We had a fun time catching up and talking about everything that had happened since we left school. Nicole and I worked together in the EIL office, so we spent nearly every day together having fun in the office. Then when I left to go to Argentina for 5 weeks, she kept Caitlin company. She was really one of our best friends in Vermont. 
After walking the few miles around the reservoir, we took a drive out to Berkeley for our decadent breakfast. My sister, Carley, had told us about Cinnaholic and that she wanted to try it when she comes down for a visit. They were on Shark Tank a few years ago and have exploded since then. 
 At Cinnaholic there are so many options of frostings and cinnamon roll toppings, we couldn't decide on just one each. So we settled on getting mini cinnamon rolls instead. We each got three and sampled the different flavors. We tried peach, raspberry, blackberry, maple, butter pecan, pumpkin, peanut butter, macadamia nut, and key lime. Or at least those are the ones I think we tried. It has been a while so I can't remember exactly which ones we tried. I do know that Caitlin loved the maple, and Nicole and I liked the peanut butter. I also really liked the blackberry and the peach. Actually, I just like cinnamon rolls. Put any type of frosting on top and it is going to be good. 
We were on a sugar high after eating all those cinnamon rolls, but it was well worth it. If you are ever in the bay area and want to try a sweet treat, check out Cinnaholic. You definitely wont regret it. 

Monday, December 7, 2015

Best Friends United

This is what it looks like when two best friends get together for an afternoon after a super long friendship hiatus. Maybe friendship hiatus isn't the right combination of words to use, but it had certainly been a long time since Rick Roper and I had gotten together. It was long overdue. 
We decided to drive up Payson Canyon and check out some of the lakes and fall foliage up there. Unfortunately the lakes were a little on the low side. There wasn't much snow in Utah this past winter, so the lack of runoff didn't really help supply much in terms of lake depth.
But since the lakes were empty, we decided to hike the Grotto Trail instead, which is a simple stroll through the forest to a waterfall tucked inside an alcove of rocks. The hike is short, but the waterfall was worth it. I like water, in all forms, so having a waterfall at the end of a hike makes the hike, no matter how short or how strenuous, worth it. 
After going up through Payson Canyon, we went to McCoard's Mystery Corn Maze in order to get our Halloween fix in. October is a pretty warm month in San Francisco, and since it is warm and densely populated, we knew we would probably be surrounded by swarms of people at any Halloween even we attended. So we opted to do those type of things in Utah instead. 
At McCoards, there is a corn pit that we frolicked in for a while.  I can't even describe to you the joy one experiences while playing in a corn pit. I would rather my kids have one of these than a sandbox.  Seriously. Look at how much fun Caitlin and Rick were having in the pit. And they're supposed to be adults. :)
At McCoards we also got to use a corn cannon to shoot ears of corn at various targets. Caitlin was the best shot. I was the worst. I was actually all sorts of upset since I was aiming at a crow, and I really really hate crows. But now I know that I'll need Caitlin by my side if we ever need to defend our home from a crow invasion and all we have is a corn cannon.
Of course, there was also a corn maze as part of these Halloween festivities. The corn maze had several different games you could play as part of the maze. Like certain checkpoints that you had to find, each with a unique hole punch that you used to check off the spots you visited. 
Rick was really good at following the map and understanding where to go in the maze. I was really good at throwing corn around, and Caitlin was good at spotting the checkpoints. We made a really good team.
After finding our way through the maze, we spent time taking pictures with random cutouts...
And practicing our lasso skills. I think this is a dying art since none of us were very expert. 
Afterward we had dinner at Zupas, Caitlin's favorite Utah eatery, visited a closed museum, and chatted all about Rick's love life. I really wish Rick lived closer to us so we could spend more days having adventures, but I doubt we're going to move to Utah in the near future, and I don't think Rick would fit in with the crowd in the bay. So for now we'll just have to suffice with periodic visits packed full of fun.

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

6 Flags Fright Fest

This year Caitlin and I really wanted to go to Fright Fest at 6 Flags, but tickets were nearly $60. So we started researching how we could get a better deal. 6 Flags was offering 2016 year passes for $55, and that included the remainder of 2015 and free parking pass. The only catch was that you had to have 4 people or more to get the deal. We talked to all of our friends but they either already had passes or they weren't interested. We were getting desperate since we really wanted to go. Finally we found a family in our ward that wanted to buy tickets. They bought 7 and we added our 2 to their package in order to get the discounted price. So now we have season passes to 6 Flags!
We went to Fright Fest on the last Friday in October, which was also the Friday before Halloween. It was absolutely packed in the park. They had people dressed up and haunting the pathways. There were haunted houses (which we didn't go to) and haunted walkways (which we did go to). Plus there were roller coasters to enjoy.
Since the park was so crowded, we stood in line for a lot of the time, but the rides were worth the wait. Besides, what else would we be doing on a Friday night. Our friends Tim and Catherine were driving up to join us, and by the time they got parked and we all got our season passes printed out (you had to stand in a super long line for that too), we only had time for one more ride and a couple of haunted pathways.
One of the haunted pathways was full of zombies, which actually really freaked us out. The other ones were cemeteries or spiders which were scary, but not the type of scary to make you jump. More eerie than scary. But the zombie field was filled with flesh eating zombies. Or at least they were humans in very convincing costumes and makeup. 
Caitlin, Catherine, and Tim said they weren't interested in the haunted houses, but after going through the spooky lanes they were more interested. Unfortunately the park was closing soon so we didn't have time to wait in line and enjoy a haunted house. But now that we know what to expect, we will go to Fright Fest earlier in the season and enjoy the haunted houses and roller coasters.