a new kind of Christmas party…

’tis the season to celebrate.  we do that in all sorts of ways, most include lots of eating and giving gifts to one another.  but what if you decided to use that money to build gifts for a stranger? i’m so thankful that I have friends that are willing to sacrifice to make the world around them a little better.

<p><a href=”http://vimeo.com/114488658″>Spreading Holiday Cheer</a> from <a href=”http://vimeo.com/tiffanylo”>Tiffany Lo</a> on <a href=”https://vimeo.com”>Vimeo</a&gt;.</p>

 

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contrast

I started writing this the day after I got back from Nicaragua.  With the passing of my grandmother, my writing was halted, but I wanted to keep the spirit of this post the same.  That is why I have not changed some of the references in the following words…

As I sit here in my office in Santa Monica, it is hard to imagine that just over 24 hours ago my friend, Cami and I were still in Nicaragua. The contrast of the two worlds sometimes makes the last eight days feel like a dream.  And it’s an amazing, life-altering dream that is hard to put into words.

This wasn’t my first trip to Nicaragua, in fact, this was my 4th time to this beautiful country.  However, it was my first time on the ‘front lines’ of some of the real issues in the capital city, Managua.  My other trips involved loving on kids in the morning, and laying by a pool once 3pm came around at a beautiful compound built for missionaries. Don’t get me wrong, those trips were amazing in their own right, and opened my eyes to what real poverty and desperation looks like which completely changed my life.  But this was different.

We slept in the same neighborhood that the children we worked with lived.  We ate the same food, walked the same streets, and had the same drunks and thugs as neighbors for a week.  This community is considered by some as the “ghetto” of Managua.  We were not allowed to go outside of the school’s walls without a “bodyguard.”  We were not to be on the streets in the dark at all, yet children as young as 5 run the dirt alleyways until 11 pm (or later) without supervision.

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view from inside our walls looking out into the community.

We were completelty immersed in their culture, and I loved it.

The first time we got to meet the children, they greeted us with hugs without even a second thought to who we were or if we even wanted to be hugged.  You could tell their hearts ached to be loved, to be noticed.  None of their clothes matched, their skin was covered in dirt, their eyes were heavy, but their faces carried smiles. With every hug and kiss on the cheek, my heart ached more for these kids.

We started out the week with a little clean-up project at the school.  We wanted to engage the kids in doing the work with us, and give them a sense of ownership over the new ‘landscaping’ and clean play area.  They helped gather rocks, pick up trash, kill cockroaches that were the size of my fist (true story), and planted flowers.

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We were pleasantly surprised with how much they enjoyed the work, and it was fun to see the children in action and get to know them in this relaxed setting.

The next morning we were able to visit a project that we had worked with during my first three trips to the country.  It was amazing to see how much the children had grown up and how some of them remembered us from our past visits.  I brought them some brand new soccer balls and in true Nicaraguan form, the garage was immediately cleared out for them to play an exciting game of futbol.

The afternoon brought another new experience as we got to meet all of the children involved in the project and witness what a normal day at the school looks like.  Children go to school year round in Nicaragua, so the kids that attend this project go to public school in the morning.  This project was established to feed the hungry kids lunch, keep them off of the streets, and provide educational re-inforcement.

First, all of the kids come for lunch.  This is cooked by one person, who’s name is Julio.  He is the ‘groundskeeper’ of the school who also doubled as our bodyguard for the week.  Meals almost always consists of rice, beans, and ketchup in some form.  Yes, ketchup.  If you are lucky, some plantains will be thrown in there (yay for carbs!).

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Once lunch is over, the older kids go home, while the younger kids stay for their afternoon class.  The ages in this class range from 4-10.  The teaching consists of the teacher writing math problems, or stories up on the board, while the children simply copy them.  That’s it. Most of them don’t even know what they are writing down.  And someone of them can’t even write their letters or numbers correctly.  Even though there was a language barrier, it was surprisingly easy to help and encourage them through their challenges.  We were desperate to provide a more efficient way to help these kids learn.  And with exciting news, we learned that after we left, some of our money was used to purchase workbooks for everyone!

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The afternoon consisted of two hours of the same kind of teaching, just at a somewhat higher level.  Cami and I were challenged to go back to high school when some of the older girls had questions about their algebra homework.  It’s still pointless (my apologies to math teachers all around the world).

Everyday looked the same from the outside, but each day was a new experience as we became more comfortable with the community within and beyond the project’s walls.  We befriended our neighbors, and became close with our host, Tom’s family.  We learned more about the culture, and the real needs of each of the children and their families.

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One particular story captured my heart.  Pictured above is precious Yaritza.  She is seven years old, and a complete terror :).  She reminds me a lot of myself at that age, always wanting to be the center of attention.  But I could see the deep sadness in her eyes, and knew that her behavior was merely an outpouring of the life she had been handed.  She lives with her dad who is a drunk, her mom who is a prostitute, and her aunt (22) who tries to provide for the family by selling food on a street corner.  Yaritza was always one of the dirtiest children in the class, and the most stubborn.  She stole my heart.

While on the trip, I decided to become her sponsor.  I am so excited to get to know her and love on her from afar until I get to see her again.

On the 4th of July, we decided that we needed to throw a true American party.  We bought 300 hotdogs, an obseen amount of rice, and some classic fireworks to entertain the entire community.  We enlisted the kids of the project to help us again.  It was so fun to see how serious they were about their tasks.  I got yelled at more than once for my bun-splitting skills. If the bun broke in half, they were not happy with me.  They wanted it to be perfect. I would simply shrug and exclaim “accidente!!”. They would just roll their eyes and laugh.

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community nica

It was a joy to watch the children serve their community, but it was heartbreaking to see poverty stricken people face-to-face.  There are several kids that the project can’t serve, due to financial or scheduling reasons.  Do these children simply go hungry?  Do the babies have a way to get proper nutrition?  How many of these drunks and theives are parents to the faces that I have grown to know and love over the past 7 days?

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Everyday presented us with a new challenge that we dreamed about overcoming.  What can bring real change in this broken community that seems to be content with their brokeness?

Thank God for the blessing of technology and ways to communicate with those that are working on the front lines every day to combat these obstacles.  I love continuing these conversations from afar.

Although we go days without a real shower, without a good nutritious meal, without many of the luxuries we are used to here in the states, I am always desperately sad to leave this country and its people.

It’s a harsh reality when re-entering a first world life.  I landed at LAX with tears in my eyes, as I overheard people complaining about petty things. Yet, here I am almost two months removed from the trip, and I am again complaining about those same meaningless things right alongside of them.  That is why I strive keep these children in my thoughts and prayers daily.  It is a beautiful thing to realize that they help me as much, if not more, than I get to help them.  Their joy helps me to find joy on the dark days and their smiles help me to smile through the tears.

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A HUGE thank you to everyone who donated to this cause in honor of my birthday in February. None of this would have been possible without you.  We were able to clean the school, and update the landscape to make it safer for the kids to play in.  We bought each of the kids a Spanish, children’s Bible – all of their faces lit up when they got their hands on something of their very own.  We fed the entire community on the 4th of July, and we got to take the kids away from their neighborhood on an adventure to a beautiful park for the day.  We were also able to leave money to purchase the much needed workbooks, and provide funds for meals over the next month.

Each and everyone of you had and continue to have a part in this journey. I am excited to see what our God has planned for this community, and how you can be involved.  You never know, you could end up in these children’s arms before you know it.

If you want to hear more about the trip (there is a lot more to tell), please feel free to shoot me an email: kellyn.robison@gmail.com.

Be sure to visit my friend, Cami’s blog as well to hear about the trip from her perspective. You can view the re-cap video that she created below.

Please follow Tom (the man behind the project) and find out how you can get involved. http://onlyinnica.wordpress.com/  .  I encourage you to also check out Cassidy Maynard’s blog: http://cassidymaynard.blogspot.com/.  She is living and working at the school for the next few months.  

 

granny jo

the hardest song to sing…

performing is no stranger to me.  while i never fail to get nervous, i have sung at my fair share of events.  whether it has been in a musical, at a major sporting event, or in a small dive bar – i’ve done it.  although singing at an SEC football game was nervewracking, it pales in comparison to the event i sang at a few weeks ago: my granny jo’s funeral.

she was a spunky woman full of southern class and charm.  she was a sports fan, an unwavering democrat, and i’m pretty sure that Neil Diamond and Tiger Woods were here two favorite humans (yes, even after the Tiger Woods scandal – “he forever changed the game of golf,” she would say in his defense).

she used her life as a service to others.  her days were filled with volunteering, serving on various boards, and cooking meals for events.  i remember being at her house one day asking what she was up to and she responded, “well, i didn’t have anything to do on tuesdays, so i started volunteering at the hospital.”  because heaven forbid she rest a day.  she genuinely enjoyed using her talents and time to serve others, and she was the type of person that i wanted everyone to meet.

Little Women is one of my favorite movies, and when i think of Granny Jo, i am often reminded of the line at the end of the movie when Fredrich says to his love, Jo… “such a little name…for such a person.” she was a true one-of-a-kind <–read more about her here.

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here favorite people to serve was her family…especially her grandchildren. we all have unique memories of her that have spun us into the people that we are today.  unbeknownst to anyone in the family, Jo had her funeral planned out, down to the last detail.  the only people she wanted officiating the service were her four grandchildren.

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when i first heard the news, i was somewhat upset.  i had thoughts like, “how in the world did she expect us to hold it together?” and “this is going to be a blubbering mess.”

she wanted me to sing “Amazing Grace,” following my brother’s beautiful prayer, that had me in tears.  once i reached the stage, knees shaking, it took me a moment to reel in my emotions.  i couldn’t look out into the crowd without seeing a life that she hadn’t left an imprint on.  it was the toughest two minutes of my life.

my cousins followed up with some perfect words while attempting to sum Jo up through their tears, but if i do say so myself – the service was beautiful, personal, and a true celebration of the incredible woman she was. the church was standing room only, and i’m not sure that there was a dry eye in the house. as someone mentioned to me after the funeral, she was showing off her legacy, letting the world see what she was leaving behind.

i love that. and i feel so honored to be a part of Betty Jo Crass’ legacy.

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a special note of gratitude to everyone that has made these past few weeks a little bit easier.  it is so comforting to know that we have each other in these tough moments of life.  feeling loved goes a long way.  you will never know how much every note, text, flower, and hug has meant to everyone in my family.  love you all…  xoxo

#STORYChicago

since starting this blog a couple of years ago, i have learned a few things. the most important of them being… it’s really hard to blog. in case you haven’t noticed, it’s been months since i have taken the time and the energy to sit down and write, and it is because of this lost time that this post is no longer relevant. however, i write on…

a little over a month ago i attended a conference in the stimulating city of Chicago called STORY. this is a place where creatives from all walks of life come to draw inspiration from their surroundings, from art, from pioneers, and from each other. it is a place where i have come to expect the unexpected and i wanted to share with you a few of my favorite moments and quotes from these incredible two days.

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The event started at a beautiful Cathedral with the showing of the Sundance Award Winning documentary, Blood Brother. [[If you have a heart for the nations, i highly reccomend that you check it out]]. but before that screening, we were welcomed to the event with the most extravagant display of art projected onto the ceiling, choreographed to the glorious sounds of a magnificent symphony.  as the production simulated a storm shaking the earth, actual thunder rolled in over the skyscrapers of Chicago. impeccable timing.

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after being completely humbled by the film, we woke up to a humid morning walk through the city to make our way to the House of Blues, Chicago.  It was here that our minds were stretched and our hearts were opened to new ideas and thoughts beyond our current understanding…

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“Dreams don’t fade, we simply trade them in for a standard of living” – @BenArment, Creator of @STORYChicago

“Obsession leads to authenticity. Authenticity leads to connection.” -Howard Lichter, Global Director of Creative Outreach @Nike

“Maturity is overrated. The team that generally wins is the team that is having the most fun.” -Howard Lichter

“If you haven’t done something that people love or hate – do something else.” – Howard Lichter

“You guys are so easy to please. I wish you were my parents, that would be amazing.” – @tomthummer, beatboxing extraordinaire.

“Toothpaste is peddled with far more sophistication than the life-saving work of aid groups.” – Scott Harrison, Founder and CEO of @charitywater

“Water has the power to make you feel beautiful” – Scott Harrison

“If not us, then who? If not now, then when?” – Scott Harrison

“Your life is a story being written by heavenly hands that you can’t see, but you have to trust” – @dannygokey, recording artist and philanthropist

“Write about how the world is and how the world should be” -Dan Hassletine, Lead singer of Jars of Clay and Founder of Blood Water Mission.

“Shyness is not encouraged” – Drew Holcomb, recording artist

“You are a novel in a sea of magazines” – Drew Holcomb and the Neighbors

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“It sounded like what it looked like, what it felt like. That was a moment for me.” – Gillian Ferrabee, Creative Labs Director at Cirque Du Soleil

“Giving up control to take in the whole experience = proprioception” – Gillian Ferrabee

Gillian ended her enlightening talk by showing this inspired video from a former Cirque performer who has now taken on the alias of a dandy punk.

beyond these inspirational moments, i was given the chance to explore the city with some incredible people and that included a midnight donut run and the traditional visit to “the bean.”

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i hope you were able to draw some inspiration or encouragement from this post ‘better late than never’ post.  and if it sparked your interest in STORY, please check out the conference at www.storychicago.com . maybe i will see  you in chi-town next year!

we like mandolins.

this week’s songs both feature instruments like the madolin and banjo.  for me, they bring a sound of comfort and love.  a reminder of simple things.

Tiffany’s Pick: Green River Ordinance – “It Ain’t Love”

I think Kellyn actually introduced me to this band a few years ago. Their past albums have been good, but their latest EP, Chasing Down The Wind, is a bit different. It has more of a folkier/country feel to all of the songs including this one. I love the chorus to this song and think it’s so true!
If it can’t make you cry
Make you mad
Or get you high
It’s just a waste of time
Any ol’ fool can go as far
Dress it up and play the part
But it ain’t love
If it can’t break your heart
I introduced this song to our friend, Kristen Castro, and we played it at her goodbye show last week. We also got inspired to film a video of us performing it in the bathroom at the venue as odd as that sounds! Check out the video here.

Kellyn’s Pick: Judah and the Lion – “Our Love”

This is an indie Americana-Rock band out of Nashville that a friend of mine introduced me to.  They recently released their second EP, Sweet Tennessee that was funded by Kickstarter.  My favorite song of the EP is called Our Love.  Not only is the melody beautiful, the lyrics are just as equally capitivating.  To me, it’s about believing in a love that you have for someone, even if it hasn’t fully grown.  Even if you have to let it go first before it can fully bloom.

Like the seas wait
for the dawn to come
I feel hope
in the strength of
Our love

I could only find a live version of this song, but you can listen the recorded version on our Spotify playlist.

set list.

in honor of the fact that Paper Route is playing in their hometown of Nashville, TN tonight…i wanted to share a link to my review of their show here in Los Angeles that happened a few weeks ago. for those of you going to the show tonight, enjoy! it’s sure to be a great one!

http://http://www.grammy.com/blogs/paper-route-and-halfnoise-at-bootleg-theater

As Nashville, Tenn., has been making America aware over the last few years, it’s more than just the home of country music. For example, Music City has been churning out some notable indie rock bands. Two of them invaded Los Angeles on a warm summer night as Paper Route and HalfNoise took the stage at the Bootleg Theater on June 28.

As the lights dimmed, the members of Paper Route, clad in denim shirts and vests, emerged as the violin-heavy lullaby theme of “Once Upon A Time In The West” by GRAMMY-winning composer Ennio Morricone played. The audience was awakened as Paper Route opened with their upbeat tune “Two Hearts,” from their 2012 self-produced and self-released album The Peace Of Wild Things.

Lead singer J.T. Daly didn’t waste time with chatter as he serenaded the packed 250-capacity room with songs of love, hope and heartbreak, complete with catchy melodic choruses, flawless falsetto vocals and groovy electronic beats. Paper Route had the audience dancing and clapping to “Two Hearts” and everyone cheered as Daly jumped onto an elevated platform to play a kid-size drum kit during “Last Time.”

During the intro to their ode to the afterlife, “Dance On Our Graves,” Daly stated, “We’ve always prided ourselves on being an honest band, and this is one of the most honest songs we have ever written.”

Next, Daly couldn’t help but smile as he watched fans sing the lyrics to “Gutter” from of their first full-length album, 2009’s Absence.

Paper Route closed their set with their synth-heavy rock song “Rabbit Holes,” but Daly, drummer Gavin McDonald and bassist Chad Howat didn’t keep the Bootleg waiting too long for an encore as they anxiously filed back onstage and began a “Happy Birthday” sing-a-long to McDonald. The evening ended with the haunting “Glass Heart Hymn,” which led to the entire room singing out the anthem: “Hallelu-Hallelu-Hallelujah! Let it rain, let it pour down on ya!”

Paper Route held true to the tagline that adorns their tour T-shirts: “Fine Music and Performance Art.”

Opening the evening was fellow Nashville band HalfNoise, the new project by Zac Farro, founding member and former drummer of the GRAMMY-nominated band Paramore. Farro formed HalfNoise quickly after his split from Paramore in 2010 and fans anxiously awaited their self-titled EP, which was released in the fall of 2012. Farro fans may have been surprised to hear the airy electro-pop feel of the album, but that didn’t stop them from coming out to his performance that night.

Surrounded by various percussion instruments, Farro and his band members captivated the room with infectious beats, soothing vocals and an energetic stage presence. During “Hide Your Eyes,” Farro simultaneously banged on a floor tom with a drumstick and tapped a cymbal with a tambourine. During multiple songs, including “Free The House,” Farro found himself in a “drum battle” with Paper Route’s McDonald, who serves double duty as the drummer for both bands.

The crowd embraced these Nashvillians, including Paper Route’s parting advice to “tip your bartenders, and love your enemies.”

To catch Paper Route in a city near you, click here for tour dates. To catch HalfNoise in a city near you, click here for tour dates.

Paper Route Set List:

“Love Letters” :: “Wish” :: “Two Hearts” :: “Last Time” :: “Are We All Forgotten” :: “Better Life” :: “The Music” :: “Sugar” :: “Dance On Our Graves” :: “Gutter” :: “Letting You Let Go” :: “You And I” :: “Rabbit Holes” :: “Glass Heart Hymn”