Wednesday, January 30, 2013


Apparently today's posts are all about obsessions.

You guys know that Pride and Prejudice (the Keira Knightly version) is one of my favorite movies, right?  Don't pretend you don't love a good "tea and crumpet" movie too!  Well, there's a YouTube channel called the Lizzie Bennet Diaries I've recently discovered, and I love it.  The premise is that a grad student has to do a MassComm project and chooses to do a video blog with a modern-day twist on the Pride & Prejudice theme.  It's so smart and fabulous!!  It's super funny and done really well.

There's a lot of episodes but totally worth it.  Definitely start from Episode 1, or you'll be totally lost.  I actually haven't finished them all yet, but here are some of my favorites so far:

Episode 15--Mr. Darcy sees his crush, Lizzie Bennet, approaching and "fake texts" so he doesn't have to talk to her.  Basically, Mr. Darcy is a male me.  That is TOTALLY my M.O. when it comes being interested in someone.  It goes something like this, "Wow, I think I might like him.  I must NEVER talk to him again!!!"  So you'll be surprised to know I'm still single.  I know!  Weird, huh?!  Yeah, I never said it made sense but then again, reality never does.

Episode 12--Lizzie's trying to figure out if Bing's sister, Caroline, is genuinely being nice to her sister, Jane, or just being snarky.  She tells herself, "Okay, I'm going to be positive. *doubtful look on face* Pooooosssssiiitive."  
That, basically, has been my mantra for most of my adult life.  The fact that it's still my mantra tells you how well it's been working :)

*Disclaimer: when sister Lydia Bennet makes an appearance sometimes there's some brief language.  It's few and far between, but if you're concerned about your conscience, don't tune in.


Hi, readers!  You guys know I love to cook and have always been addicted to cooking shows.  Weeeellllll, now I'm starring in one of my own!  I've started a YouTube channel where I'm the star.  It's specifically geared towards expats in Central America trying to cook favorites but with local ingredients.  I really want everyone to check out my first video, and let me know your response.  This is the first time I've ever done anything like this and am super excited about it, so reeeallly need to know how I can improve or even recipe suggestions.  If you have a recipe from home you haven't figured out how to make here, let me know!  It's called Familiar Foreign....won't you follow me?  Check it out!

Tuesday, January 29, 2013


If you're a regular follower of this blog and a personal friend of mine, you've probably already caught on to how important my faithful companion, Ollie, is to me.  I know she's practically got her own fan club out there, so I wanted to give a brief update.

Ollie is getting up there.  I've had her since 2004, and she was an adult when I found her, so you do the math.  You can see from her recent picture above that practically her whole face is grey now :(  Well, a couple weeks ago, we were coming in from doing her business outside, and she was having trouble getting up the stairs.  I picked her up to help her, and she started to yelp.  This continued all weekend.  (Side note:  why is it that any time an emergency occurs, it's always on the weekend when nothing's open??)  So Monday morning, I took her to the vet and got the prognosis....arthritis.  I couldn't help myself and just burst into tears.  My vet was like, "Shawn, what's the deal?  It's like with people.  It just means she's getting old.  She could live for years with this."  Rationally, I know this.  But it was just a wake-up call that my little baby's days are numbered.  Frankly, I'm tearing up just writing this blog.

So now she's on a vitamin regimen of glucosamine, and I have to limit her walking and jumping on the bed.  All I can say is that my baby has had a good life, and I'll never once not for one minute feel guilty about providing that for her.  I think I've needed her as much as she's needed me all these years, and I feel very thankful for the experience.

Monday, January 28, 2013


Saturday, January 26th, Shelina and I had to make our quarterly trip to the Costa Rican border to renew our visas. A lot of need greaters already serving here and in Costa Rica have to do a similar process every three months.  So I wanted to describe our experience so you all know what's waiting for you the next time you cross.  It was a COMPLETE nightmare!

Just about everything in Nicaragua is a game to see how much extra money they can extort out of you and unfortunately, we gringos are often prime targets for these games.  Now, I lived in Memphis eight years so I thought I could spot a player and a game, but all I can say is that Memphians need to come to Nicaragua to get schooled.  Let me explain what happened.

Soon as our feet hit ground in Penas Blancas (the border) we had guys following us around.  Their official title is "tourist guide" but their actual job has nothing to do with that title.  They want to give you immigration forms or carry your bags for you or show you where the offices are.  This wasn't my first rodeo so I firmly said no to them and kept steppin'.  Why?  Because at the beginning of it all, they tell you they're volunteers there to help, but when everything's said and done, they've got their hand out for money.  On top of it, everything they try to charge you for is free and easy.  For instance, those immigration forms? Free at the immigration window.  Not sure where the offices are?  There's only one road in and out and it leads straight to the offices. Games!

So I get through the Nicaraguan side and make my way over to Costa Rica feeling confident.  Not to last, though.  In Costa Rica, they tell us they want proof we won't be going over our 90 day visa time limit there.  We explain we want in and out in one day and don't even have bags so obviously, we're leaving.  Costa Rica says nope!  They want to see either bus ticket or plane ticket out.  We say we're going to take the city bus Penas Blancas-Rivas-Granada.  Not good enough.  So what do we have to do?  Shell out $25 apiece for a TicaBus ticket from San Jose, Costa Rica to Managua, Nicaragua.  Games!

So we enter Costa Rica and turn around to come back into Nicaragua.  Enter group of guys again following you around offering to "help" for a charge for stuff that's already free.  Here's where the real fun begins.  The first official we meet (a police officer by the way which is the really scary part) sees my passport and sees I didn't spend the "required" 72 hours in Costa Rica.  Now, this is normal.  They always complain about this.  They usually make us spend 3 hours there and then let us come back.  But oh no!  Not this time!  I'm explaining that we're JWs and volunteers and eager to get back to our assignments.  He says no many times and then says, "Go with this guy (dude charging for free stuff).  He's gonna get an official to pass you through, but you'll need to pay a "tip.""  This is when I knew I was in trouble and was about to see the Nicaraguan corruption I've always heard about at work firsthand.

So we go with the guy and he's explaining he'll arrange it all for us, we won't have to stand in line again, etc etc.  The problem is, after he talks with the immigration official he says we'll have to pay the standard $12 visa fee + a $20 tip apiece.  We say no way!  We've already had to pay an additional $25 for a bus ticket we don't need, and negotiate this tip down to $6 a person.  So he explains we'll get in line, put the money in our passports, official will write a receipt for only $12 a person (duh!), and we'll get our stamp.  I, of course, am praying this entire time because I NEED to get back into Nicaragua but feel VERY uncomfortable being in a situation for the first time in my life where I'm told to pay a bribe.  Well, Jehovah answered my prayer in a very crazy way.  As we get up to the immigration window, guy comes back over and says to take the bribe out because the manager just walked in.  We did so and got our stamp to re-enter Nicaragua.  As we walk away, guy is asking for his money etc etc and we're explaining that no, what he calls a "tip" we call a bribe and refuse to pay it, we already have our stamp, we're outta here.  He's like, "No, you have to pay.  The only reason you couldn't in the office is because manager was there."  Shelina tells him, "No, the only reason we couldn't is because IT'S ILLEGAL!!!"  His response?  "Fine!  I'll pay the official out of my pocket.  God sees everything!"  Little does he know....Games!

No, my conscious does NOT bother me that we never paid the guy.  I actually feel so good I've yet to have to pay a "tip" or "tax" or "help" to an official yet.  I'm positive they're making my portion and more from all the other gringos here.  Case in point?  The two guys in front of us were pay $45 for their visas when the visas themselves are only $24 together.  You see?  Games!

Thursday, January 24, 2013


OMG we're famous!  Click here to see where Nicaragua ranks on the 46 best places to visit in 2013.  You might be surprized at our ranking....


While we were at Rancho Santana resort in Las Salinas (southwestern coast), we ate a lot at their on-site restaurant, La Finca y El Mar (Surf and Turf).  It's a great restaurant which, according to their website, has a head chef who used to work at a Michelin star restaurant in the US.  Some of the stuff we ate which isn't featured on my blog was a lobster omelette with bacon and avocado with a side of fruit salad for $10 and a four meat omelette with a side of fruit salad for $8.  Click here to see their full menu which doesn't include a variety of specials each night.

Lately, I've been toying with some online ideas on how to feature my cooking skills and I've been playing with a lot of recipes.  The idea is that I want to try to make US comfort food and ethnic foods hard to find down here but with ingredients you CAN find here. Let's just say that the photos you've seen below have definitely been an inspiration for me.  By the way, subscribers, tell me what you think about that idea.  Is that something you'd like to follow?  Any requests or suggestions?  I'll be putting a sample video up on YouTube soon so you can watch it and let me know your thoughts.  Thanks for your interest!

Pina colada french toast.  The french toast batter has Nicaraguan Flor de Cana rum in it, the bread is thick and homemade, and it's topped with fresh coconut and local pineapple.  10 stars

My very health-conscious mother ordered this but I have to admit it was delish.  Natural yogurt with homemade granola, fresh fruit, and honey.

This was my breakfast one morning.  Breakfast bagel with cream cheese, a TON of avocado, onion, tomato, and cucumber.  It didn't come with bacon but I added it for a dollar more and it was soooo worth it.  Yum!

Tuesday, January 22, 2013


Are you absolutely, positively sure you don't want to visit me?  ;)
 So I've been to quite a few beaches since I've stayed here and I've finally found the ultimate--Rancho Santana.  I've been to San Juan del Sur, Las Maderas, Las Penitas, Montelimar, and Popoyo, but Rancho Santana blows them all out of the water.  Mainly because they have EXCELLENT facilities mixed with activities and a great beach.  They're located practically in Las Salinas about two hours from Granada by car.  If you want more information, here is their website but in general I'll enumerate what makes them special:

  • rentals anywhere from a small casita, a duplex, or a big secluded house on a cliff overlooking the ocean
  • ocean AND pool
  • clubhouse with great restaurant and bar
  • 5 beaches making both swimming and surfing possible
  • nature trails full of monkeys
  • horseback riding
  • exercise/pilates/dance classes
  • grocery store on-site
  • close to other hotels/restaurants
  • spa

Clubhouse with bar. Right side opens out to dining and ocean. Behind me is billiards room.
We had some great meals here but the highlight was one night when we walked along the beach a bit until we encountered Buena Onda Hostal.  There, I had red snapper fish tacos for $8 and my parents had four lobster tails apiece for $10.  Soooo good.
My idea of vacation....sun, beach, and a good book!
I just have to make a side note here in ode to my friend Brenda.  When I think about our tropical adventure of beaches, tanning, and horseback riding, I think of her.  I've come away with so many good stories with her after inner tubing in Belize, rum-factory touring in Puerto Rico, and sunning ourselves in DR, I can only imagine the stories we'd have here in Nicaragua!  Are you listening, Brenda?  I'm waiting for you :)
Dining room.  Don't you love that ceiling?

Our rental
 This was our casita (for more pix and a more detailed description, click here).  We rented from a gentleman named Patrick Kearney.  He owns this casita but rents it out himself through VRBO.  What's the advantage in that?  $75!!  If you rent through Rancho Santana itself the casitas are the most economical option at $200/night but through VRBO you can the exact same rentals for $125/night.  When we first arrived, I thought we made a big mistake renting through VRBO because the concierge was telling us we couldn't book horseback riding or massages since we didn't book through Rancho Santana.  However, one quick call to Patrick and he ironed it all out for us.  Definitely 5 star.  Not just nice for Nicaragua, NICE.  If you'd like similar rentals on the same property, here's the VRBO link.
Bar with a view.  Can't you just see yourself with a  mojito, Nica Libre, or pina colada here gazing out at the ocean?!

These guys on the rocks were fishing with just wire and pole needed!  This was our view from our breakfast table every morning.

Horseback riding on the beach--how romantic!
Thursday morning we booked horseback riding at 10:30am for $25 per person per hour.  Definitely worth it!  The guides introduced us to all the horses and matched us up according to skill level.  I love horses, but during my ride I learned I need to do more inner thigh exercises.  Ouch!  I wasn't sure I'd ever walk right again and am grateful I don't want children because I'm fairly certain that would be an impossible option now.  It was great to see strong, well taken care of animals and we got to meet a fair share of babies too!  Definitely my favorite moment of the vacation.
Me and my steed Salasana.  When we rounded the road to come back to the stables a colt came running up to the fence neighing and my horse started to trot.  One of the stablehands explained that was my horse's baby and they were eager to see each cute!


If you've read my blog calling all need greaters and have questions on how life or preaching would be here, I encourage you to check out this blog post full of FAQs and responses.  She's open to suggestions in case you have further questions not addressed.

Monday, January 21, 2013


My Missouri friend, Tami, and I preparing for our ziplining adventure.  Don't we look tropical?

If this isn't a fun-loving face, what is?  Or bat crazy...jury's still out

It's not what it looks like, I promise
My parents are here right now visiting from Missouri, USA, and we've been doing a lot of touristy stuff.  Today, we went with Va Pues tours out of Granada to Volcan Mombacho.  We left the house at 8am and did a hiking tour of the first crater (there are three) of the volcano.  We finished about 11:30am, grabbed a coffee at their cafe (they grow coffee on site) and then started our ziplining adventure.  Here they call it a canopy tour.  Only Tami and I participated in that part while my parents waited in the cafe.  We were finished with everything and home by 1:30pm.  My parents paid $40 apiece for transportation up/down the volcano and a guided tour of the crater in English.  Tami and I paid an extra $20 apiece for the ziplining part.  I had gone before just to do the crater tour with Mombotours, but I really think VaPues was a better deal--they were definitely cheaper once the ziplining was added in.

Ziplining adventure.  They had us do all kinds of crazy combinations along the way like superchica (Superwoman), an upside-down monkey looking thing, rock & roll where they move the line while you're on it etc.  The instructors were really nice, made us feel safe (it was our first time), and had great English.  We got to see howler monkeys up close and really enjoy the lush volcanic landscape.  It was a nice change from the hike because it had rained and was slippery, so my attention during the hike was almost completely on the ground, and I couldn't focus on the landscape around me much.

If you're trying to decide whether to visit Volcan Mombacho or Volcan Masaya, I'd definitely pick Mombacho.  It's a totally different experience.  While Masaya is desert-like and hot, Mombacho is windy, brisk, and lush.  It's very green and parts of it are a cloud forest.  And they're both active, so don't think that in visiting Mombacho, you're missing out on seeing an active volcano.  You'll be able to experience sulfur-filled fissures and thermal holes.  Check out pictures from my first visit to Mombacho here.

Oh, and if you're thinking of skipping the tour companies and hiking up Mombacho yourself....may God be with you.  It is straight up the entire way and then when you get to the top, you have to hike around an entire crater.  That's just not my idea of a vacation.  I have a friend who did it and it took her 4 hours to get from Guanacaste (where the welcome center is located) to the first crater.  Ouch!

For information on booking with Mombotours click here.  Right now, Va Pues doesn't have a working website but if you're in Granada, their office is in Central Park directly south of La Catedral (big yellow church on east side of park).  They share an office with Paxeo and BiciMaximo.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013


Can you imagine this being your need-great territory?  San Juan del Sur calling....

Some of the sights you'll see if you choose to serve in Bluefields

Circumstances are always changing, and it may be that you readers are looking for opportunities to serve where the need is greater without a really long commitment.  Right now, Nicaragua has multiple exciting opportunities available during Memorial season.  Here, just like in the U.S., we always do a campaign three weeks before the Memorial.  However, there are some congregations that are just too tiny to reach all their territory but still end up with HUGE turnouts each Memorial.  Think about what the attendance could be with just a few more helping hands!  So if you're weighing your options and have only maybe 1-3 weeks that you can spend away from home, please consider us *me on bended knee begging*.  Every place I mention I have contacts in I can connect you with for questions on lodging and prices.  Here's some places to think about:

I know not all my readers are Spanish-speakers or are possibly bilingual.  If that's your case, you've got a great opportunity.  In a prior post (here) I told you there's a new English group in San Juan del Sur.  This year, they'll be doing their first Memorial.  Wouldn't it be exciting to be a part of history?  There's a TON of foreigners who live in San Juan del Sur and oh, did I mention you'd be right on the beach?!  One of the prettiest beaches in Nicaragua.  Look on the map below and you'll see it's location on the southwest coast of Nicaragua.  Currently, there's a ton of Australians in SJDS serving in English so you'd get to see our international brotherhood firsthand as well as make a big impact on a brand new congregation.  

Nicaragua uses their own sign language but if you already know ASL it's supposedly veeerrry easy to pick up NSL as they only have about half the signs.  There's quite a few in the congregation who know ASL also so you'd have support to help you if you got stuck.  There's three foreigners serving there already so you wouldn't be alone.  Although their congregation is in Masaya (see map below and look between the 2 lakes) their main need is in my city of Granada.  That's part of their territory, but they only have one publisher (my roommate) living here right now.  That means all 100 deaf in the community are her responsibility to invite.  Nicaraguans can't always afford the bus transport between the two cities to be of regular help.  The two cities are about 20-30 minutes away from each other by bus.

This is also a new group that's sprung up recently.  Bluefields is on the eastern coast of Nicaragua (see map below) and supposedly is gorgeous; I personally haven't seen it yet.  It's a really unique place because the residents are black and speak Creole English.  So if you only know ASL and English; it'd be a perfect match for you.  It's a very different feel there--more Caribbean, less Latinoamerica.  You'd be getting to see a very special place in Nicaragua while serving a new group that needs a lot of help and frolicking on the beach at the end of a long day in service.  Doesn't sound too bad, huh?

La Savana is a small town located about 20 km outside of Somoto (see the northwest part of map below).  There's a couple in my congregation who just went there to serve in December for a month and said they had GREAT response; so great they themselves are going back during Memorial season.  The congregation is only about 12 publishers with 6 students who regularly meet with them, but they have a HUGE territory.  You would have an opportunity to speak to people who quite possibly haven't heard the Kingdom message in years.  Another benefit is back, being up north, you'd be in a cooler area of Nicaragua.  Something to think about as March/April starts our hottest time of the year.

You can read about the special pioneer couple already serving there in this former post of mine.  But just to refresh your memory, El Almendro has only about 6 publishers and a very large territory with great response.  My friend Yahoska has dozens of studies; so many she only studies with them about 15 minutes at a time or does group studies to get them all done.  And her husband Jairo is the ONLY brother there.  If you're a brother reading this, just imagine....EVERY public talk, EVERY part on the service meeting, EVERY WT's just you!  Can you imagine the pressure?  Wouldn't you love to help him?  :)

Saturday, January 5, 2013


I've been trying something new with my students since the approach and start of the New Year.  Most of my students are pretty new so I've been trying to play off their desire to make New Year's resolutions.  You know how during the intro to the Bible Teach book there's the box that explains how to use the Bible?  There's a suggestion there about reading the Bible in a year and how by reading 3-5 chapters a day, one can achieve that goal.  Well, on our new website there's a download for a Bible reading schedule.  I've been gifting it to all my students and explaining how to use it to reach their goal.  My students have actually been really excited about it.  

My new student, Deysi, just had her 4th study on Friday.  She took the schedule out because she had a question on how to use it, but I noticed she's checking off the boxes as she reads and is already done with 25 chapters in Genesis!!

And then my other student, Modesto, emailed me the other day excited because his Mom gave him a Bible for Christmas so now he can follow his schedule.  Before, he was using his cousin's Bible and had to ask every time to use it.

If you want to download it, just look on the site under Publications/Books and Brochures/Schedule for Bible Reading.


This is the first recipe I want to try.  Sweet and sour pork

No, this post isn't about a Robin Williams movie set in the '70s.  I actually wanted to turn you on to a great website I've recently discovered.  You guys know I'm obsessed with ethnic foods and reeeaaallly miss being able to cook them here.  Ordering in a restaurant is even more difficult because sometimes there's only one option and it's in Managua (about an hour from me by bus).  Well, my local supermarket recently started to carry some Asian basics like fish sauce, hoisin, rice paper wraps, bean sprouts, and rice noodles.  I was searching online to see what dishes I could make with those ingredients mixed with local favorites.  I stumbled across a site from a Vietnamese couple living in L.A. and discovered that most of recipes are Nica-friendlly.  We actually have a lot of fruits and vegetables in common, probably because of the tropical climate similarities.  Cooking with ketchup, ginger, pork, soy sauce, tomatoes, and tamarind is easy here; not only are they plentiful but cheap!  I am suuuuper excited to try these recipes but wanted to say that the website in itself it really classy, interesting, and well done.  If you love to experiment with cooking and are into Asian influences, check it out:


It's been a while since I've posted some service/territory shots, so here's a new batch:

Studying with Don Rodolfo.  He's not my student but sometimes I'm his teacher when his own can't come by.  He's in a wheelchair because he's a diabetic and recently had the lower part of his left leg amputated.  You know what, though?  He comes to every single meeting and freely identifies himself a one of Jehovah's Witnesses even though he's not even an unbaptized publisher yet.  He even took a stand for blood when it came time for his surgery.  We study outside his house because it's cooler.

This is an aluminum bridge in my territory.  Frankly, it scares the crap out of me.  It has no rails and isn't very sturdy.  The most frightening part, though, is that it runs over a causeway that is full of runoff water from people's homes and trash trash trash.  My only comfort is knowing that IF the bridge were to burst under me, I'd die an immediate death of staph and hepatitis.  No suffering, you know?

My student, Karla, nursing her baby, Jimena, while watching  the Organization video.  She's such a sweet soul and has the PERFECT disposition to be one of Jehovah's servants.  Time will tell....

One of my favorite vistas in my territory

Us preaching in a neighborhood just a few blocks from where I used to live.   I always am hoping they'll send me to the shady side of the street!

A very unfortunate neighborhood on the edge of our territory.  If you go any further, you'll fall into the lake.  These homes are made of aluminum sheets or heavy plastic.  They do have electricity and running water but the toilet is usually apart and a latrine.  A lot of people just go down to the lake to bathe and wash clothes.  I had a student who lived in the last house in this row named Yuri Milady.  She moved to Costa Rica last week but gave me her phone# there so she can continue studying.  Yuri Milady lived in a plastic home with a dirt floor with her 3 children.  The entire home was about 1/2 the size of most Kingdom Hall's 2nd school.  In the corner, she cooked on wood.  She literally owned nothing but a mattress, a change of clothes, and the dishes they ate on.  She always made time for her study, though, and was very intelligent.  During our last study together, she brought out a bunch of plastic, woven bracelets and told me to pick one, she wanted me to have it.  She makes them from old plastic bags that she tears into strips and weaves.  This woman has NOTHING and was giving me a bracelet from her only source of income.  It continually amazes me here how it's almost always the families who have the least that are the most generous.


A favorite activity for friends visiting Granada is to do an isleta tour.  I've written other posts about the isletas so I don't see a need to cover it again (click here to read more about them).  After going a few times, I feel a cheated because honestly, it's a real estate tour of who's who in Nicaragua.  "Here's the vacation home of the Pellas Family (who own everything that's anything in Nicaragua)."  "Here's the vacation home of some random, rich foreigner."  You get the point.

But there is one part of the tour that warms my heart every time...isla de los monos (monkey island).  A local vet rescued spider and white-face monkeys and put them on this island to live.  People usually have them as pets here but it's actually illegal.  There's just absolutely no enforcement of that law.  One of the monkeys is tailless because it burned off when he tried to swing from an electrical line.  See why they don't belong in the city?

I've brought tomatoes before to feed them because that's always what the tour guides recommend, but the last time I went, all I had was bananas and thought, why not?  They are monkeys, right?  Turns out there's a reason you associate bananas with monkeys.  They will come right up to the boat and take the food out of your hand.  Once I went and they came onto the boat checking stuff out. Check out these shots above.  Are they not the cutest things you've ever seen? 
*(Scroll down to read some slightly scandalous information about monkeys)

If you're coming to Granada and want to do a tour, the best deal I've seen is from Puerto Asese for $12 a boat.  You can fit about 10 on a boat.  It will should cost you 30cordoba ($1.25) a person one-way for a taxi from city center to the port.  It's kind of far out from the other tour operators but about half the cost even with taxi included.  I've done a few tours, and honestly, they're all the same no matter what you're spending.  And while you're out at the port, check out Villas Mombacho, a great restaurant lake-side where you can pick your fish and seafood before it's grilled or fried up for you.  Yum!

*I debated about adding this to my blog because it's slightly inappropriate but well, you all know me and well, I'm slightly inappropriate so I guess it's ok.  Here's some advice, if you come here and choose to greet a pet monkey NEVER NEVER touch their hands.  This will be hard because they're really handsy.  They're like toddlers and love to touch everything.  I have learned the hard way, though, that they are avid masturbators.  Very awkward when you have an 8-year old with you in service and they're asking, "Why won't he turn around to say hello?"  Yikes!


My brother-in-law recently sent me some shots from the St.Louis Arch and I felt compelled to add them to my blog.  At this point in my life, I'm living in a place where the U.S. is condensed into one word for most people....Miami.  They don't know if it's a city, state, or a synonym for the the U.S. itself, it's just the only word they know to associate with places stateside.  And if someone here has been able to actually visit the U.S., it's never to Middle America.  It's always L.A., Miami, or NYC.  So here's a shout-out, Midwest.  You'll always be cool in my book.