Monday, January 09, 2017

Book List: 2016

    Another year has come and is gone. I'm not big on making resolutions, but I do like to take some time at the beginning of a year to reassess and make plans and goals. Last year I decided I wanted to carve out more time to read. I do plenty of reading aloud to my kids, and more than enough reading of articles, blogs, and Facebook posts, but somehow that rarely leaves me feeling satisfied, nourished, or rested. There is something to me about having a real book in my hands, turning pages one by one, seeing the progress as my bookmark slowly moves from the front to the middle to the back. There's nothing like closing the book for the last page and reluctantly placing it back on the shelf or returning it to the library or a friend. A good book will stay with me, will plague my thoughts, will become a part of me somehow.

    I began 2016 with a list of nine books I hoped to read during the year. Some I finished, one I read twice, and a few I never started. (They can go on this year's list!) I found others that weren't on my original list, and as I finished each I jotted down the name and the date. At the end of the year I was thrilled to have read nearly 30 books! When I shared my happiness on Facebook recently, several people asked if I could share my list, so I thought I'd do it here, on my largely neglected blog. These are in no particular order. Enjoy!

  1. The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down: A Hmong Girl, Her American Doctors, and the Collision of Two Cultures. This is a true story of a Hmong refugee family with a young daughter who has epilepsy. I found it absolutely fascinating, and would consider it an important read for anyone wanting to understand cultural differences. 
  2. My Grandmother Asked Me to Tell You She's Sorry. This was a fun read by a Swedish author. I enjoyed it and would recommend it. Part fairy tale, part mystery, quite endearing. 
  3. Heavy Earth, Golden Sky: Tibetan Women Speak About Their Lives. This was a loan from a friend who is married to a Tibetan man, and it was very eye opening. Tibetan beliefs and culture tend to be glamorized in the West, and it was a fascinating glimpse into the real lives of several women. 
  4. A Midwife's Story. Another true story, this one of a midwife who moves to Amish country and begins work there. Interesting and enjoyable. 
  5. Teaching From Rest: A Homeschooler's Guide to Unshakeable Peace.  I actually read this one twice, as I felt I needed to re-read it before starting our school year last fall. I'd highly recommend it to any homeschooler! 
  6. Climbing the Mango Trees: A Memoir of a Childhood in India. This is the memoir of Madhur Jaffrey, a well known cookbook author from India. Having traveled in India years ago and being a lover of Indian food, I enjoyed it very much. 
  7. The Life Giving Home: Creating a Place of Belonging and Becoming. Sally Clarkson has been such an encouraging and inspiring voice in my life the past few years. I was able to attend her conference last winter, and am so exciting that she's doing a retreat in Portland this year. Check it out here.) This book is broken into monthly sections, with ideas and stories to inspire us to create a home that gives life to those who live there and those we welcome. I'm re-reading it this year, a month at a time. 
  8. Life of Pi. I'd watched the movie on an airplane, coming home from Thailand, and when the kids and I were studying India last summer, I picked up the book. It was well written and easy to read, thought provoking and somewhat disturbing. 
  9. At the Foot of the Snows: A Journey of Faith and Words Among the Kham-Speaking People of Nepal. This was a fascinating, true story of a family who lived among the Kham people and did translation work. Nepal is one of my favorite countries, so naturally it was of interest to me, but it was also well told and an interesting glimpse into a people group who at the time were still largely untouched by modern civilization. 
  10. The Lure of the Chilcotin. This is the story of a friend of a friend. I found it interesting because her story in some ways paralleled that of my parents, who lived off the land in British Columbia, Canada, and came to know Christ there. It wasn't particularly well written, but I enjoyed the story. 
  11. Snowflower and the Secret Fan. Set in China, an old woman remembers her life growing up and learning the secret women's writing, nu shu. The kids and I were studying China and so I chose a couple books set there to enhance my own learning and understanding. 
  12. The Good Earth. Pearl Buck's classic, Pulitzer prize winning novel follows the life of a man and his family in China. I really enjoyed this one.
  13. Peace Like a River. I'd read this one a few years ago and loved it. I don't re-read a lot of books, but this one is worth it. The writing is evocative, the story both touching and humorous. It stayed with me for a long time. Read it. 
  14. Mrs. Mike. This has been one of my favorite books since I first read it when I was 12 or 13. Based (loosely, I think) on a true story, it's set in Alberta, Canada, where I grew up. A young woman from Boston goes to live with her uncle and ends up marrying a mountie, and together they live and work among the native people, experiencing deep love, tragedy, and growing together through it all. I hadn't read it in years and it was fun to revisit a story so familiar and beloved. I highly recommend this one, but don't bother with the sequels that were written in later years. 
  15. Adventures in Saying Yes: A Journey From Fear to Faith. The story of a family living in Lebanon, this one was recommended by a man I greatly admire. It was a good read. 
  16. The Awakening of Miss Prim. A fun story with nods to Jane Austen; enjoyable. 
  17. Sold. A quick and heartbreaking read, Sold tells the story of a 13-year old girl from Nepal who is sold into prostitution in India. Written with sensitivity, difficult but important subject matter that is a reality for far too many girls and women the world over. 
  18. The Chosen. Chaim Potok's classic novel about two Jewish fathers raising their sons in WW2 Brooklyn.  I read this in my late teens, and reread it since it was one of Peregrine's literature assignments this year. Excellent glimpse into a different culture and time period. 
  19. The Scent of Water. A charming story set in England with great insights into human nature. 
  20. Hope and Other Dangerous Pursuits. This one follows the stories of a group of people who illegally cross from Morocco to Spain seeking a better life. An interesting and worthwhile glimpse for anyone who wants or needs to put a face on the "undocumented" among us. 
  21. Divergent. Because any well balanced literary diet must include some young adult fiction, right? Peregrine wanted to read these and I previewed them. 
  22. Insurgent.
  23. Allegiant.
  24. Notes From a Blue Bike: The Art of Living Intentionally in a Chaotic World. This one resonated with me on many levels and I could relate to a lot of Tsh Oxenreider's stories and aspirations. 
  25. Mission of Motherhood: Touching Your Child's Heart for Eternity. I love, love, love Sally Clarkson and highly recommend any and all of her books. She has a way of calling me to excellence and holiness without heaping guilt or heavy burdens on me. I'm so thankful for her voice in my life. 
  26. Windows to our World: Sarah's Journal: Growing Up, Crossing Oceans, Finding Love, and Giving Life to 10 Children. A fun and inspiring read and glimpse into the life of an interesting family. 
  27. Nearly Orthodox: On Being a Modern Woman in an Ancient Tradition. A friend lent me this after a conversation we had. It touched on some things I've struggled with and I enjoyed it. 
  28. Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore: A Novel. Kind of silly and light hearted. Okay. 
  29. Own Your Life: Living with Deep Intention, Bold Faith, and Generous Love. One more by Sally Clarkson, our Momheart group went through this together. It was my second time though, and it's an excellent read. 
   So there you have it! It's a good feeling to have committed myself to the written word. I have a few I'm in the middle of that I started in 2016, so they'll be a good start on this year's books. I guess people keep lists and notes on Goodreads, but I kind of like my pen and paper. I probably read this many chapter books again aloud to the kids, and hundreds of picture books. Hooray for books! 


Monday, September 26, 2016

Masala Chai: Memories of India, and a Recipe

Masala Chai in the afternoon.

    We are firm believers in siesta, that marvelous time every afternoon where everyone takes a break, retreats to their rooms, and is quiet for a while. I haven't quite convinced the kids, yet, that it's a privilege and a blessing, and they often go with a bit of complaining, but this doesn't deter me. I'm a better mama for having a little quiet in the afternoon, and it follows that everyone is happier that way!  I usually make myself a cup of tea, sit down, and relax for at least part of this time. 

    Years ago I spent several months in India and Nepal where I enjoyed numerous cups of spicy tea sold by "chai wallas", street vendors squatting over steaming pots of sweet, spicy, milk tea. I remember  watching these alchemists as they squatted next to a kerosine burner, toss in handfuls of spices, creamy fresh milk, spoons overflowing with sugar, and little grains of black tea into an old worn pot. A fragrant cloud of steam would rise into the cold morning, luring me nearer. For just a few rupees, the chai walla would ladle the tea into a glass, or, in some places, a small terra cotta cup. Those were my favorite, as they were "disposable", and meant to be smashed on the ground when you were done! 

    Every week I get fresh milk from a friend who has a cow. It's become my Monday tradition to brew up a big pot of chai and keep it in a jar in my fridge. There is nothing like chai made from scratch, with fresh milk, whole spices, and robust black tea. A few people recently asked for my recipe, so I thought I'd share it here. I've adapted it to my tastes from one I found in Indian Home Cooking: A Fresh Introduction to Indian Food. Masala chai is made many ways, and this is my version. You you can easily adapt it to your tastes by changing the amount of spices, sweetener, and ratio of milk to water, or using a milk substitute. I like mine spicy, milky, and not too sweet. 

I crush whole cardamom pods, cloves, and peppercorns in a small mortar and pestle or grind them in a spice grinder. They don't need to be very fine, just broken up enough to release more of the delicious flavor! 

I break two cinnamon sticks into a couple pieces and thinly slice or roughly chop a good chunk of ginger. 

You could use any black tea, but this is what I use. It's what I remember using in India to make chai, and this is the only time I've found it in this form in the US. This happens to be a company that is local to me and I can buy it in bulk at the natural food store, but you can order it from their website or use loose black tea or tea bags. 

Mmmmm.... it smells so good!

Strain out all those delicious spices.

Add milk. It's beautiful. Sweeten to your taste, and enjoy! 

Masala Chai

Adjust the amount of spices to your taste. I use the greater amount because I like it spicy! 

18-22 Whole Green Cardamom Pods
12-15 Black Peppercorns
14-8 Whole Cloves
2 Cinnamon Sticks
2-3" Ginger Root
½ t. Ground Cinnamon (optional)

3 T Chai Patti Assam or Loose Black Tea or 5-6 Bags Black Tea

2 ½ C Water
4 C. Milk
2-3 T Honey or Sweetener of your choice

    Crush cardamom, peppercorns, and cloves in a mortar and pestle or spice grinder until they are well broken up but not too fine. Break cinnamon sticks into a couple pieces. Thinly slice or roughly chop ginger root. Add all the spices, including the ground cinnamon, if using, and the water, to a medium saucepan. Bring to a boil, then take off the heat, add tea, and cover. Let steep for 15 minutes. Strain through a fine strainer, then pour back into the pot. Add milk and sweetener to taste. Heat it back up and enjoy! I keep any extra in a jar in the fridge so I can enjoy it throughout the week. 

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

The Poppy Dresses

    When I was barely pregnant with our second baby, I was telling my niece how the heart was already beating, and only the size of a poppy seed. She said "oh, we should call the baby Poppy!" That became her "womb" nickname, and when our beautiful little girl was born, it only seemed right to add it into her name. So even though it's a middle name, it stuck, and so seven eleven years later she is our Poppy Joy Girl. I've made her a dress with Poppy fabric every year, and here they are all together in one place. (You can click on the pictures to see them bigger.)

Eleven - She still loves pink and purple.
Ten! Fun and bright, just like my girl!

Nine- Something a little more grown up looking.

Eight. I loved the colors and bold prints on this one. 

Seven- I ordered the fabric on Etsy and only one of the prints- the really big one- had poppies on it! I couldn't tell the scale of the fabric online so there are actually only a few poppies on the dress. It also came out way shorter than I thought it would but I like it. I'm glad we're in a warm climate at the moment and she's able to get a little more wear out of it. 

Six- I used an Asian inspired pattern from Modkid and fabric I found on Etsy for this one. I love it, and love the way my girl looks in it!

The Five-Year Dress in all it's Poppy splendour! I had ordered the main fabric online and planned to pick a bright green contrast for the trim. But my girl went to the fabric store with me and wouldn't hear of green defiling her pink dress; so here it is in all it's Poppy Pinkness! 

Here is her fourth birthday dress, made with Amy Butler fabrics; I think this is my favorite one so far.

The Third Birthday. You can't see the details on this one very well. The little red flowers are poppies. (Daddy was trying to capture the girl, not so much the dress!) If you look here there is one picture of her where you can see the full length a little better.

The Second Birthday. I wanted to make a classic "little girl" style dress while she was still little. She wore this one for a long time.

The First Birthday. I saw this batik fabric first online, then purchased it in a local quilting shop. I love how it brings out the blue in her eyes. (She got those from her Daddy!) There were yellow bloomers underneath.

So there you have it, the first five eleven, of hopefully many, Poppy dresses. I don't sew for her as much as I'd like to, so I've really enjoyed doing these special dresses for her special days.

Wednesday, December 02, 2015

Thailand: Cooking School

When we decided to come to Thailand, one of the things I knew we wanted to do was take a cooking class. At the time, I thought I would just do it with the older kids, but Raphi and Pearl wanted to join in, and Erik thought it would be fun as well. We found a local restaurant that offers private classes and were able to all go together.  We chose four dishes to make and Nok, who runs the restaurant with her partner, Jo, walked us through the whole thing. The kids were a bit in and out, more interested at some times than others, but it worked out well. Raphi was all about pounding our spices into a nice, thick paste with the mortar and pestle! 

Mise en place. This makes cooking so much easier! (I need someone to come prep all my ingredients and clean up after me at home!)

One of our choices was panang curry, a dish we've been enjoying here in Thailand. We started with slices of fresh lemongrass and galangal root (similar to ginger), garlic, shallots, keffir lime skin, dried mild chilies and hot fresh chilies. Lots of pounding resulted in a wonderfully fragrant, thick paste. The addition of a little bit of shrimp paste added to its characteristically Thai smell!

We heated some nice, thick coconut milk to a boil, and when the oil began to separate, added in our curry paste. 

Oh, the delicious smell! Here Poppy stirs the coconut milk and curry paste into a thick mixture, adding coconut milk a little at a time.  

A little fish sauce, some salt, sugar, and chicken bouillon get added to the mix. (I'm pretty sure this is not a traditional ingredient, and wonder if it's got MSG. I will leave it out at home!) Thinly sliced chicken goes in next, stirring until it's all coated and "dry", at which point we dump in enough coconut milk to cover it. 

I add in some kaffir lime leaves, and then we cover and simmer for a while. When it's time for plating, we garnish with thinly sliced strips of more lime leaves and red pepper. Beautiful and delicious, and hey, that was easy! (Having someone do all the prep work and clean-up makes it seem like it, anyway! I know that at home it will not seem so simple, nor will it taste quite as yummy, but that won't stop me from trying!)

Meanwhile, Nok has a big pot of chicken stock simmering, and she's carefully skimming the scum as it rises. She uses it for soups and sauces, including the pad thai sauce that we're making next. I'm a big fan of bone broths, so I'm excited to see this!

The pad thai sauce starts with fresh tamarind simmering in chicken stock. The tamarind gives it a wonderful sour flavor that gets balanced out perfectly with salty and sweet notes from fish sauce, soy sauce, oyster sauce, and palm sugar. While the sauce reduces, Peregrine chops garlic to fry in a generous amount of oil along with thinly sliced chicken. 

Nok brings out a package of fresh rice noodles but includes instructions on how to properly soak the dried ones we buy at home. (And I've been doing it all wrong... maybe that's why my noodles never seem quite right!) The noodles are added in with the chicken and garlic and then you stir, stir, stir until they are soft, adding in the sauce a little at a time as it's absorbed. Nok likes to add cabbage and carrots to her pad thai along with the traditional bean sprouts and green onion. I'm a fan of veggies, so I like that. A little more oil, a few eggs, some peanuts, and chili flakes are thrown in the skillet, and the heat is turned up for one final stir. Mmmmmm..... it looks and smells wonderful!

Erik in the kitchen... now there is a sight I like! He plates the pad thai like a pro, and Nok and some other women rush in with garnishes, fanning out lettuce and bean sprouts. We also made larb gai, a delicious dish made with finely chopped chicken and lots of fresh herbs. I have attempted to make it at home before but was quite disappointed in my results. It has roasted rice, which I did, but Nok taught us to toast uncooked sticky rice along with galangal, kaffir lime leaf, and lemongrass until the rice is brown, then pound it in the mortar and pestle. It gives larb the taste I was missing when I tried it before. 

Last, but most definitely not least, Poppy and Peregrine each make a small pot of warm, sweet coconut sauce to pour over fresh mango and sticky rice. I was introduced to the amazing-ness of this dish on my first trip to Thailand in 2000 by some family friends who lived in Chiang Mai. My life has never been the same since. Seriously, it might possibly be the most delicious sweet treat ever. I'm not kidding. I don't think I've ever made it at home, but really, it's simple. (And it costs $6 or $7 at Thai restaurants in the US, so it's maybe a once a year treat!) But, like so many other things, now that we know, we can make it ourselves!

After all that cooking and sweating (did I mention it was HOT?), we are hungry! I wish I could share the smell, and more importantly, the taste with you! Under Nok's expert guidance, I think we did a pretty good job! It will certainly go down as one of our most memorable meals here, because we made it ourselves! 

I know you're not supposed to feed the wildlife, but.... feed the hungry monkeys! 

Peregrine disappeared for a minute and came back with a tray of soft drinks for everyone. We enjoyed our meal, and our cooking class with Nok, immensely! I'm so thankful for family experiences like this.  

Tuesday, December 01, 2015

Thailand: Snorkeling Racha Island

The beautiful, clear waters off Racha Island. 

Pearl is not quite ready to snorkel, but she had fun trying on fins this morning!  We had to be out the door by 7AM to meet the driver who took us to where we would get on the boa. It was most definitely bright (and hot) and early!

It was about half an hour on the "speed boat" from the southern tip of Phuket to Racha Island. There we found beautiful, clear water and powdery soft sand. The kids were excited to find this big crab, and he actually grabbed Peregrine's fin and held on for a while! 

Do you think this boy was happy to be on a boat?

Another boy who was happy to be out on the water.

After swimming and snorkeling, it was time for lunch! This picture doesn't show how ridiculously hot we were!

There were several cats roaming around the outdoor restaurant, and the kids were thrilled. The staff saw how much they loved the cats and took them over to show them a mama with her little kittens, which the kids got to hold.

Pearl seems to make friends everywhere she goes! There are loads of Chinese tourists here, and they seem largely interested in taking selfies. Lots and lots of selfies. It's a wee bit amusing to watch.

This girl is just on the brink of becoming a little fish like her siblings! She's getting braver by the day. I think that by the next time we go snorkeling, Erik and I will have four strong swimmers and both be able to go out together. That will be fun. We usually take turns going out with whichever kids want to snorkel. I think the only time we've gotten to snorkel together was once when we were in Zihuatanejo, Mexico, and my parents came down for a week. They watched the kids one day while we were all at the beach so we could go snorkeling together.

There were tons of fish just off shore, which made for very fun swimming and snorkeling. Peregrine and Poppy seem to love snorkeling as much as I do. It's such an incredible feeling to be swimming right along with fish we usually only see in aquariums!

On the way back to Phuket, tired, hot, and happy!

 We're so thankful for a fun day out on the water!