Christmas

We had a nice Christmas. It was cozy, and we felt at home. Enjoying this Christmas showed the dual personalities that make up who we are as a family.

On Christmas Eve we ate pizza and roast duck with our coworkers (they made the duck, I made the pizza).
Christmas morning we opened presents in front of the lit Christmas tree. We enjoyed a Western breakfast.
Mid-morning we walked to church and enjoyed the Christmas service that they hold every year.
Like always, we ate Christmas lunch with hundreds of our mountain village friends. We enjoyed rice with various sauces. The boys happily heaped fish and instant noodles on their rice. Michael headed for the bitter greens. I reached for grated green papaya mixed with a dark coconut sauce. The boys told me that they were a little sad that there wasn’t breadfruit curry (Grey) or cassava greens (Jude) this year.
Evening was for playing with presents, and making a Christmas lasagna. I’ve included the recipe for my lasagna below.

Do you think Western style comfort food is worth the effort?
Cassava and greens takes less juggling, and planning ahead.

At another Christmas celebration I realized the importance of also eating my friends’ comfort foods. A lady asked our house helper, “do they eat cassava?” To which she replied, “Oh yes of course. They love cassava. They eat it all of the time.” I realized that we had, in a small way, made further steps towards belonging here. “Yes, yes we do eat YOUR comfort foods.”

What would YOU do? Would you eat locally all of the time? Would you put the work into eating comfort foods from your home culture? Or would you do like we do, and do a mix of both? Spaghetti sauce and noodles with a side of rice and greens.

RECIPE for Christmas Lasagna (with “lots of red sauce because that’s a Christmas color” —Jude)

Sausage
Purchase pork in the city and grind it
Mix ground pork with approximate amounts of:
garlic powder
onion powder
fennel seed
sage
thyme
oregano
paprika
small pinch of salt, pepper, and sugar.
Divide into 250 gram portions, place in freezer bags, and take to your friends’ house. They’ll store it in their freezer until you are ready to use it.

Tomato Sauce
1/2 kilo tomatoes (approximately), roughly chopped
2 smallish carrots, shredded
2 Garlic cloves
6 small Shallots
2 Tablespoons Tomato paste (purchased in the city, and brought to the mountains on the back of a motorbike)
Pinch of Sugar (or palm sugar)
Italian seasoning (or a mix of basil, oregano, thyme, parsley, and rosemary)
Fennel
Pepper
Salt
Olive Oil (2 liter bottle purchased in the city)
“Sausage” (brought up from our friends house 3 days before Christmas, sautéed the day it was brought up, and then made up into sauce the next morning)
Pound the garlic and shallots in a mortar and pestle (or use a garlic press). Sauté in 1 tablespoon of olive oil and a dab of butter (optional). Add tomatoes and carrots, and cook until soft, mushy, and the tomato skins are easy to remove (optional). Add tomato paste, sugar, and spices. Taste. Add cooked sausage. Bring to a boil, remove from heat, and cover. Let sit until night. Heat to a very bubbly boil. Turn off. Because we don’t have refrigeration we’ll repeat in the morning and evening until we need to use the sauce. Our Christmas lasagna sauce lasted for about 56 hours before using (the sausage wouldn’t have lasted from market day until we needed it..so I made it into the sauce to “preserve” it).

Ricotta
4 cups of water
2 cups of powdered milk
2 tablespoon of vinegar
Bring milk to the just about to “pop into bubble” stage. Add vinegar. Let sit for 2-12 hours. Strain through a cloth dish towel. It makes about 1/2 cup of ricotta.

Layer lasagna noodles(purchased in the city, brought to our mountain home, and stored until we needed them), Tomato Sauce, olives (optional), crumbled Ricotta, and Parmesan(purchased on another island, brought to the city, stored in our friends freezer until Michael got it on market day). Top with parmesan.

Bake in an aluminum box on top of your stove. You might want to bake it along with homemade garlic bread. But that’s a recipe for another day.

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Merry Christmas

…to you from our family.

May you remember the Reason why we celebrate.
May you remember the people who don’t know the Reason. And who don’t know Hope.
[Do you have a way of showing them hope?]
May you remember the people living in a land that is not their own, and in a language and culture that isn’t always comfortable.
[Do you have neighbors or friends from other countries that you could include in your celebrations?]
May you remember the poor, the widowed, the orphans.
[Do you feel a nudging to reach out to someone specific?]

This is a challenge to me. May I remember these things, and not let Christmas be all about the presents. May I encourage my kids to think of others, and not just themselves.

Advent

When we spend the Advent season in the village, we like to make an Advent calendar. We try to do activities and traditions that create special memories for the boys. We don’t have the same kind of Christmas programs at church and school, we don’t have the same kind of Christmas parties, we don’t have snow, we don’t have Christmas carols playing in the stores, and we don’t have stores.

But what we do have is time…time to spin small things into magic.
And in absence of all the other the small things really are magical.

Advent Activity: Reading Christmas and Winter themed books by candlelight.

Advent Activity: Watching Christmas movies, drinking spiced tea, and eating popcorn. Ezra got in on the fun, but standing and feeding himself popcorn (we were all quite amazed).

Advent Activity: Telling the nativity story with Shadow puppets.

Advent Activity: making Star Wars themed snowflakes.

Advent Activity: making “snowballs”, and listening to Christmas music.

Other Advent activities:
Setting up the Christmas tree.
A simple scavenger hunt to find small presents.
A family game night.
Making Christmas cards.
Drinking hot chocolate.
Making Christmas crafts that were sent to us in a package.
A night to work on presents for one another.

These last few Advent cards have been empty as I’ve run low on creativity.
Some of the nights we have had to give up to uninvited guest that have shown up and wanted to spend the night with us.
But, each of these have been opportunities for the boys to be gracious, to be kind, to be welcoming, to not be frustrated.

I’m starting my list of activities for next year, any suggestions for bigger boys? Most of my ideas were just a little bit young for the nine year old.

Drought. And continuing the gratefulness.

Maybe it’s because of Thanksgiving, maybe it’s because of the Advent season, maybe it’s just time for me to be GRATEFUL. For whatever reason I’m still thinking about food + being grateful in everything.
This post has been simmering on the back burner of my mind for quite awhile now. I think it is time to finally “serve it up.”

Last year our friends went through a long drought. We were back in our home country, so when we returned the stories flowed.

For seven months it did not rain. The ground dried up and cracked. Dust clouds filled the air. The green vegetables all died. The cassava and taro food staples all but died. The clove trees died. The coconut trees shriveled up and refused to produce. Malaria mosquitos took over. The river got low. Hundreds of people got sick with malaria and typhoid. The sickest ones hiked down to the hospital to be treated. An overflow camp was set up on the banks of the river. People lay in shacks made of coconut leaves. A baby was born in the shacks, and lay attached to its placenta for several days until it’s parents could find someone to cut the cord (they couldn’t afford the $10 that the local medical worker charged).

Our friends ate ondote: a large poisonous root that has to be soaked in the river for three days before it becomes edible. Ondote makes the skin on your hands thin and painful when you work with it. But ondote is always around, even during the drought.

When we were teaching about the children of Israel in the desert, my co-teacher compared ondote with mana. She said that they are both Gods provision. Mana allowed the Israelites to survive the long and dusty wandering. Ondote is the food that allows them to survive through long and dry and dusty days.

Well that’s a big fat dose of perspective for me. I wouldn’t consider poisonous-root-ondote a blessing. It made me think: are there things in my life that are blessings or provisions, but because of my materialistic mindset I see them as hardships? Do I hold to tightly to my definition of comfort, and then get caught up in complaining when life becomes uncomfortable? Should I be grateful for the ondotes in my life?

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Thanksgiving

Our Thanksgiving was less than traditional this year. I guess that is usually the case here in the village…one year we had a Thanksgiving duck…another year two Thanksgiving chickens. But, this year was the most lacking in tradition. This year we had my pumpkin mole soup and pumpkin cake. We love my pumpkin soup, but it was strange to be fowl-less. No turkey, duck, chicken, or even turduckens in sight.

As I was mentally preparing for a small, low-key Thanksgiving, I wasn’t really wishing for turkey, cranberry sauce, or stuffing. I was wishing for someone that we could share it with. Other village Thanksgivings we have happily shared our bounty with friends. This year, though, they all couldn’t make it.

For weeks beforehand I kept thinking of the loneliness of the holiday. No friends (who know what Thanksgiving is). No extended family. No other Americans for kilometers and kilometers.

When the actual day arrived it wasn’t a bit sad. By God’s grace, the loneliness had dulled. As we created our Thanksgiving art projects, I was able to remember the many things we have to be grateful for. It helped my heart to see the boys enjoy themselves, and to throw their heart into being thankful.

Now we are in full-on Christmas mode. Bring on the Christmas music.

Minimalist Baby gear

We bring everything to our mountain home by motorbike. Because of that it has caused me to rethink what baby things are necessary, which things are nice to help keep our sanity, and what things are really only clutter.

  1. Somewhere for baby to sleep. We have a borrowed pack n play. All my babies have slept in them. I don’t love them because…ugly. But, I always end up giving in to the practicality. We also have a few sheets, blankets, a wool waterproof pad, and a mosquito net.
  2. Somewhere to bathe the baby. We have a plastic tub inside the shower.
  3. Baby food gear. For us it’s a small metal bowl, a camping spoon, a blender, and a pot. We don’t even need a bib since it’s warm enough to just strip him down. We just bought a sippy cup that he’s learning to use.
  4. A baby carrier. I LOVE my Ergo.
  5. Diapers. We use cloth diapers (Flips) in the village, disposable when we are traveling. We also have a plastic lidded bucket for the dirties, cloth wipes and bottom spray, and we already had a “diaper” sprayer.
  6. Clothes. We get away with a few rompers, a few long sleeve pajamas and pants, and a few pairs of socks. It’s nice not to need much.
  7. Toiletries. We have baby soap, saline spray, baby Motrin, a snot sucker, chest rub, eucalyptus oil, a thermometer, and Medicine Mama’s sweet bee magic.

Non necessities that we have because we were given them, or because it helps our sanity.

  1. Toys. Ez likes the plastic clip rings, his bear, and Duplos. Period. Well he also loves anything that isn’t a toy like potatoes, pot lids, string, or trash. But we have Sophie, other squishy toys, board books, and cars if he ever decides to play with them.
  2. High chair. Sure we could feed him on the floor like we did for the first while.  But it’s nice to have somewhere that he stays put.
  3. Baby hammock. This isn’t so much for me, as it is for the ladies who help around the house. They don’t like to hear a baby crying on his own in a crib, and they love bouncing Ez to sleep…the hammock is a win for them.
  4. Baby book. I TRY to keep track of the milestones that so quickly go wizzing by.

I realize that everyone’s definition of minimal is different, and that actually our baby gear is quite extensive compared to our neighbors. Baby prep in the village mostly involves buying a bunch of sarongs, some baby soap and eucalyptus oil, and maybe buying or making a baby hammock. The sarongs serve as clothes, blankets, diapers, and carriers for the first months.

Is there anything that I’ve forgotten? Any gear that you think we should add?

 Life. Daily.

What our daily life looks like in our village home.

Ezra and Jude wake up before the chickens. Literally. We sit Ezra in his high chair in front of the open door. He watches the dawn, and the chickens flying down out of their tree.

Jude reads cartoons in his bed until six. OCCASIONALLY he will fall asleep again.

Then it is time for Breakfast. On this morning we eat a sailors’ breakfast of “hardtack”, salted meat, and cheese. We are studying explorers in History. Ezra enjoys papaya, sweet potato, oatmeal, or rice.

Next it’s time to get ready for school. Which mostly just means brushing teeth, clearing off their desks, and folding their blankets. Then school. Dad teaches Bible and then Science. 

Then it is mom’s turn. If Ezra is napping, it is relatively easy to read through history, help Jude with his daily five, and oversee Grey. If he is not, it gets more complicated. 

Michael begins language study around eight. He might walk to the village, or he might have a friend come by to study with him. His schedule is another post for another day.


We usually finish school by eleven. I will either quickly prepare something, or if I have help, the ladies will. They will wash dishes, wash clothes (and the cloth diapers), mop, and cook. It is SO much nicer when they are around. 
After lunch the boys will often go swimming.


I might be able to get some language study in. Sometimes I rest while Ezra is napping. When it’s dry season we would probably go visiting. But, since its slippery, slick rainy season, we hang around the house. 

Our house becomes the play zone for all of the kids coming home from school.

It gets dark at six, we turn on the generator, eat dinner, and watch a movie. At eight we turn off the generator, and go to bed. Bed comes early in the dark jungle after a full day.