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a poem, based on isaiah 12

15 March 2013
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i praise and give thanks to God, for

his anger turned away and

now he comforts me.

God has saved me, so

i will trust, and

i will not be afraid.

the LORD, the LORD is my strength.

the LORD, the LORD is my song.

i joyfully draw water from the depths of the wells of salvation.

i now say, “thank the LORD!”

“call upon his name!”

“tell the nations what he’s done!”

“proclaim that his name is exalted!”

let this be made known: God. has. done. gloriously!

shout and sing for joy –

great is the Holy One who lives in me!


funky fresh kitchen challenge #1

4 September 2012
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yesterday i opened up in order to double-check the tomato soup recipe i was planning to make, and i discovered that september is the “month of the funky fresh kitchen” – a month of challenges, giveaways, and posts to help us all get a fresh start in the kitchen, with the goals of health & functionality. the first challenge was: “toss it out – make a switch!” the idea is to get rid of something that’s been lurking in the kitchen that is not good for you and replace it with a healthier option. the listed ideas include:

– replace sugary cereal with homemade granola
– replace bottled salad dressing with homemade dressing
– replace plastics with glass
– replace white rice with brown rice
– replace chemical cleaners with non-toxic cleaners
– replace boxed mixes with homemade treats
– replace chips with fruit
– replace sugary beverages with water

after taking a moment to reflect, i was so grateful to realize that over the last few weeks i’ve already taken the step to toss out several non-healthy items and replaced them with better options, including:

+ replace msg-laced soy sauce with traditionally fermented soy sauce
+ replace white sugar with palm sugar, honey, and the local equivalent of rapadura
+ replace semolina (processed white flour) pasta with brown rice pasta
+ replace pure white rice with a mixture of red (whole grain) rice and white rice
+ replace refined (heat-treated, bleached, deodorized) palm oil with homemade coconut oil

because of their absence, boxed mixes, sugary cereals, and bottled dressings don’t pose a threat here on this island (though i’d be lying if i said i wouldn’t be tempted if they were around). we very rarely have soda or pre-packaged snacks in the house – they’re more of a weak spot when we’re out and about…

my new challenge: when we moved here i made homemade cleaning products (recipes from “green up your cleanup“) with the exception of floor cleaner. i felt that making my own was going to be too much work and my ingredients were too expensive to have them all used up so quickly (remember: my entire house has to be mopped). but now, with this challenge, i’m going to look into making a homemade natural floor cleaner for mopping to replace my chemical-filled store-bought bottle.

the time frame for completing this challenge is september 7 – i only have three more days!

what about you? what will you toss & replace?

the grilled cheese remake

3 September 2012
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this week’s menu plan (also posted at modern alternative kitchen) begins with a simple meal – grilled cheese and tomato soup. a match made in heaven. today, though, i discovered the effort involved in the “real” version of this classic, as i worked harder than ever  to serve and enjoy it. growing up, grilled cheese & tomato soup was a standard “quick and easy” meal to throw together on a busy day. as i thought about it today, though, i realized that it’s probably one of the most processed meals i ever ate:

– canned tomato soup
– white bread
– margarine
– american cheese


today’s version could have been simpler if i had made the ingredients ahead of time, but since i’m a procrastinator (without much freezer space), the process was one that took all morning (but not a lot of active cooking time). step one: make bread (unfortunately still ‘white’ because i ran out of wheat flour, but atleast all the other ingredients were healthy). step two: chop up tomatoes, onions, and basil and make tomato soup. step three: slice mozzarella cheese & butter the bread (note:  butter) & fry it up!

even though it took considerably more time and effort, the end result was not only much more nutritious than what i remembered, but about 100 times more delicious too! as a kid, i would only serve myself about two tablespoons of tomato soup – just enough for dipping my sandwich – but this time i helped myself to a second bowl!

menu plan september 3 – 8 (we’re headed out of town on the 9th so i didn’t include sunday)

breakfast all week: homemade granola

monday –
lunch: grilled cheese and tomato soup
dinner: moroccan chicken, veggies, mashed sweet potatoes

tuesday –
lunch: (eating out on our way to another village to visit friends)
dinner: chicken noodle soup & grilled pbj

wednesday –
lunch: tempe chili & cornbread
dinner: aji de gallina

thursday –
lunch: leftovers
dinner: beef stew

friday –
lunch: sweet potato burgers & carrots
dinner: pollo saltado with french fries

saturday –
lunch: potato soup & crackers
dinner: tuna & veggie pasta


what’s for dinner?

27 August 2012
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i’ve toyed with the idea of putting our menu plan online for a few weeks now. i’ve been browsing menu plans on various blogs for several months, and i appreciate the ideas that it gives me for possible meals at our house. but to be honest, one of the reasons i haven’t posted mine yet is that, despite my best efforts, i never manage to get my act together on a monday, to join the “meal plan monday” bandwagon. the second reason is that i’m not sure it’s a particularly interesting read. so, it may only be my mom who’s interested in knowing what we’re eating this week, but just in case it’s helpful to somone else, i’ve also posted this at modern alternative kitchen.

i made this plan for friday – thursday, and i’ve worked towards one meatless meal & one meal with meat (chicken, because there was no beef at the market this week) each day.

breakfast all week –
granola as long as it lasts, then i plan to make some coconut flour muffins

friday –
lunch: tuna patties & carrot sticks
dinner: chicken stir-fry with noodles

saturday –
lunch: chicken enchiladas
dinner: baked sweet potatoes & salad (fresh green peppers & tomatoes from our garden!)

sunday –
lunch: orange chicken with rice & veggies – recipe below!
dinner: curried kacang hijau (mung beans) with tortillas & rice

monday –
lunch: chicken noodle soup & biscuits
dinner: sweet potato chili (from storms stories) & biscuits

tuesday –
lunch: huevos rancheros with tortillas
dinner: honey mustard chicken with rice & veggies

wednesday –
lunch: orange-glazed tempeh with rice & veggies
dinner: chicken spaghetti & salad

thursday –
lunch: leftovers/eat out
dinner: “jerk” chicken with carribean rice & beans

recipe – orange chicken

heat 1T butter & 1T olive oil in a skillet

1 small onion, then add
1 pound cubed chicken

cook until almost cooked through.

then add:
zest of 1/2 an orange
1T minced fresh ginger (optional – hubby doesn’t like ginger so i don’t use it)
1 cup chopped veggies (carrots, snow peas, green beans, etc)

cook until veggies are tender and chicken is cooked through.

meanwhile, combine in a bowl:
2/3 cup orange juice (i recommend fresh-squeezed)
1 T sweetener (sucanat, coconut sugar, or honey)
1 T soy sauce + 1t sweetener OR 1 T sweet soy sauce
1t fermented fish sauce OR sea salt
pinch of black pepper
3 garlic cloves, minced
2t cornstarch (or arrowroot powder)

pour over chicken & veggies and cook until sauce is thickened and bubbly. serve over rice & enjoy!

a lesson learned

26 August 2012
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on august 11, i said the following in a post about the ocean: “tomorrow i’ll share more about how locals here have raised the bar for eating seafood!” that was more than two weeks ago. as it happened, we had an unexpected opportunity to skype with friends in california, so the post about seafood simply didn’t happen. then, for two weeks, every time i thought about writing something, i would remember my promise to post about seafood, and i was immediately uninspired. thus, i have learned a very valuable lesson of blogging: don’t promise to post anything you haven’t already written!

i’m often learning lessons, it seems. a typical scenario involves a convicting sermon or scripture passage, followed by a distinct awareness of my own spiritual immaturity. in these moments when i become aware of a flaw in my character, the common proverb rings in my ears: “now you know, and knowing is half the battle.” (i just learned from the internet that this phrase is from the public service announcements following each episode of g.i. joe!)

the problem is, winning half the battle often seems like enough. i get a glimpse of my inner depravity, feel humbled for a moment, and think: “i really have so far to go on this journey to christian maturity.” but in the next moment, i think: “i’m so glad to have learned this lesson,” as if i’ve fully internalized all that the holy spirit was showing me a few minutes before, and that awareness has cured me. perhaps it comes from over a decade of small group gatherings where we share “what we’ve been learning” — too often it sounds like this:

“last week God was teaching me contentment, and this week i’m learning forgiveness.”

of course none of us consciously believe that we’ve mastered these virtues in a week’s time, but i do think we talk as if the awareness that God is trying to teach us something is synonomous with our having learned it.

c.s. lewis describes the growing awareness of our depravity in a way that i found quite convicting. he says,

“i have been trying to make the reader believe that we actually are, at present, creatures whose character must be, in some respects, a horror to God, as it is, when we really see it, a horror to ourselves. this i believe to be a fact: and i notice that the holier a man is, the more fully he is aware of that fact. perhaps you have imagined that this humility in the saints is a pious illusion at which God smiles. that is a most dangerous error. […] it is practically dangerous because it encourages a man to mistake his first insights into his own corruption for the first beginnings of a halo round his own silly head.” (the problem of pain)

too often i “mistake my first insights into my own corruption” as a sign that i am, in fact, spiritually mature. after all, isn’t that half the battle? i don’t want to be the kind of person who imagines a halo around my own silly head – when i start to see myself as a holy, mature person, it’s all too clear that i am not! so, i’m all for learning lessons. it’s good to be aware of what God’s spirit is trying to impress upon us – but what about the second half of the battle?

“darling it’s better, down where it’s wetter…”

11 August 2012

the classic disney movie, the little mermaid, depicts marine life (“under the sea”) as a magical land full of colorful, exotic creatures in a fanciful, vibrant habitat. as a child, i pretty much had to take sebastian’s word for it. i grew up in central illinois, a land of murky ponds and a lake next to a nuclear power plant. now, i’m living on an island in tropical southeast asia, just minutes from tranquil secluded beaches and world-class surf spots. my husband and i help lead small groups of young people on tours throughout the region, visiting a number of beautiful beaches & waterfalls, giving them opportunities to surf, snorkel, swim, dive, and spearfish. the seaside truly is a magical place.

i find myself, however, lacking enthusiasm for the ocean. my landlocked childhood has led me to an i-can-live-without-it attitude towards the beach & even a fear of the waves. my love of comfort and relaxation drives me to avoid the effort it takes to subdue snorkel gear into submission or paddle past the pounding whitewater. also, my lack of knowledge leads me to look right past hundreds of  fascinating creatures every time i plod past the shoreline to sit with a book in the shade.

i’ve long since decided that choosing a hobby or form of recreation is rarely a moral issue. i’m not a bad person for disliking water sports or choosing to stay at home. but i don’t want that decision to be out of fear, laziness, or ungratefulness for one of God’s many good gifts to his children – the ocean. so, over the last seven months that i’ve been living here, i’ve tried to push myself to try the activities i would normally avoid, and i’ve figured out a few that i enjoy:

+ wading & floating close to shore on sandy (not rocky) beaches
+ snorkelling briefly while there are no waves to speak of
+ sitting on the beach watching people surf & watching the tide rush in
+ playing frisbee or soccer on the beach
+ visiting the beach at low tide & hunting for sea creatures in tide pools

sitting on a rock, looking for sea treasures. not a bad way to spend an afternoon!

even better with good company!

this last activity is my favorite – one that dan and i do frequently. a little friendly competition makes it even more fun! it’s slightly more exhilarating than looking for shells, because the creatures can hide and run away from you, or possibly sting you. but you can also possibly eat them, as i’ve discovered…

tomorrow i’ll share more about how locals here have raised the bar for eating seafood!

pick your poison

5 August 2012

our current region in southeast asia is experiencing a gold rush.

there has been an american-owned gold mine in this area for over two decades, but small-scale gold-mining has become very popular in recent years. the large foreign-owned mine has very strict safety guidelines, policies, and checks, especially related to the disposal of heavy metals used in processing ore. this large mine provides many people in this area (including several of our good friends and neighbors) with stable jobs. according to their website:  “we also have spent nearly a decade improving infrastructure, health care and education for nearby villagers.” this is true – even our garbage pick-up service is sponsored by the mine. all this to say, aside from some negative cultural implications, i really have very little against this large, foreign-owned mine.

i do, however, have a big problem with the small groups of gold-seekers who are pitching their tents on every hillside. remember our fun day at the farm? just next door was a group of people working diligently processing ore. we decided to ask some questions and look around. here’s what we found out (it’s not at all technical, given my lack of knowledge, the language barrier, and an inferior memory).

this machine processes ore using centrifugal force

the dirt, rocks, etc are put into these rented “gelondong”s – machines which spin and separate the gold from the other substances. and what do they use to make it happen? mercury.

this mercury, stored in a re-used plastic water bottle, is available to the public for about $200.

once the ore has been processed & the gold extracted, the water is dumped into pits, usually lined with sand, tarps, etc. the mud from these pits is usually taken to be processed again to get more gold out.

not a pretty sight.

mercury is known for causing serious damage to the human body. the famous example is mercury fillings, but there are also plenty of horror stories from gold-mining gone bad, where victims suffer from brain damage and birth defects. so, if you’re anything like me, you are horrified at this point. remember: we were at a picnic 100 feet away! but this wasn’t what horrified me the most (i’ve been living here for six months, so i’ve gotten used to this sight).

what made me cringe was our conversation with the man showing us around. when he showed us the bottle of mercury, we asked, “you do know this is really dangerous, right?” his response: “oh yeah, it’s true. it can have really dangerous long-term effects. but that won’t happen for another 20 years or so.”

he was serious. i was seriously upset.

we have since had a good conversation with our wise neighbor, who works at the large foreign-owned mine, about such practices. it is widely known and accepted that there are many problems with this gold rush. but there are also issues of infrastructure and corruption that stretch even further beyond careless mining. i was atleast encouraged to know that the governor is working very hard to solve these problems. no one wants brain damaged children, but we also don’t want violent riots either.

as i said, though, i was upset. i felt shocked at the carelessness of it all. it seems selfish, foolish, and cruel to pay such a high price in the long-run for something so shallow as profit, especially when you know better!

but here’s the thing i’m realizing as i continue on my real food journeyi do this all the time to myself! i knowingly put “poison” into my body. coca-cola, girl scout cookies (i enjoyed every bite, mom!), ritz crackers, oreos, mcdonalds, and starbucks. i enjoy the experience of consuming them. i know that in the long run the toxic substances in these products will harm my body. in fact, i am no doubt currently experiencing the negative effects of years of these toxins in my system. and yet, i keep on buying them and putting them in my mouth. why? because i’m still somehow convinced that the short-term pleasure justifies the long-term damage. but does it really? 

what “poison” do you pick, even though you know better? are you working to solve the problem?