Thankful

We don’t always celebrate Thanksgiving with a big meal, but we did this year! We have a couple visiting CAPA professors, Aaron Johnson and Myral Watson, staying with us, and Chris and Ashley Mullins joined us too.

We have already established that I’m a kitchen nerd, so I’m ok showing you my detailed schedule.

I found myself a couple of helpers, and they did a fantastic job!

Sweet potatoes! Secret: I could only find white sweet potatoes, so I used food coloring!

After a while, I had so many dishes that I started stacking them on the floor. And then Martha called to say she had stayed in Salima (1.5 hour drive away) and would be late for work. Oh boy, if I ever needed someone to wash dishes for me it’s on Thanksgiving day! Hurry back, Martha!

And then she came and rescued the day! Whew! I was using toddler forks to whip eggs! No time to wash dishes on Thanksgiving day!

In the late afternoon Matt, Aaron, and Myral set up the outdoor lights and moved our table and chairs onto the lawn. We love eating outdoors, and it felt fitting to do so on a holiday! Matt read a devotional for us on God-centered rather than self-centered thankfulness. It was a good reminder for us all!

Then to dinner! Ashley brought yummy salad, rolls, and pumpkin pie, and the girls helped me make the rest. It was quite a feast!

With pie, ice cream, and stories, we enjoyed a special time of thanksgiving long into the night. We are very blessed to share this holiday with friends and family, near and far. Happy Thanksgiving everyone!

Season(ing)s

It’s spring here in Malawi, and things are starting to grow! It’s also harvest time too. I know, I’m confused too. I grew up in Kansas where harvest time and most growing things were ripe mid-late summer or in the fall. I thought that when I moved to the Southern Hemisphere that I could just flip the calendar to know the seasonal foods schedule. Not so. I’ve had to relearn seasonal foods. I’m not an expert, but I’m starting to figure it out. The step after figuring it out is taking advantage of fruits and vegetables when they are available. So that’s what I’m trying to do.

Lemon juice and zest from Shannon’s lemons will become lemon bread this afternoon.

Leftover lemon/lime rinds…

became lemon vinegar for cleaning.

Great celery is a rarity here, so when I find it I buy it. We’ll eat some this week, but I’m stocking up in the freezer for soups and such throughout the year.

Our friends the Misomalis have a farm north of town, and they grow enormous zucchinis! I’m making most of what I get into zucchini noodles (“zoodles”) with a spiralizer, but I’m also freezing some and making zucchini breads and muffins – to eat and freeze. Looks like it’s about time to make some more…

The Misomalis also have great cucumbers, so we’re enjoying them in salads but also pickling some.

The MacPhersons sell eggs year round, so they’re not seasonal so to speak, but they are really great eggs. Especially soft boiled – yum!

And those tomatoes are from the Lloyd’s little garden, which is languishing in their furlough-absence, but producing wonderful “baby tomatoes” that the girls enjoy picking after ballet class!

That’s enough stockpiling for this week. Next week I’m in search of rhubarb to add to our freezer stock, and I might look into freezing broccoli too because it’s so good right now. Anyone know: do I need to blanch it first?

UCLA Team

For the last week and a half we have had 6 of the 15 member team from Grace Community Church staying at our house. They’re all part of the Grace on Campus Bible study at UCLA, and this is the 4th time that group has sent a team to Malawi. They come every year now for the first module of CAPA (Central African Preaching Academy) to help with student registration and to interview the students.

Tuesday night was our turn to have the whole group over for dinner, so we hauled everything outside and had a great time enjoying the cool evening with this team!

Rachael brought over some sugar cane, so Matt taught everyone how to “eat” it.

Eat isn’t really the word, because you chew up the pulp to suck out the juices, then spit the pulp out. Just imagine liquid sugar… which is exactly what it is!

The texture is about like chewing on toothpicks, but that doesn’t stop anyone!

Though it does take a while to get the knack of things!

Dinner was a hit, and I won the game. Anyone else play “the game”? It’s when you estimate food for a group, and you hit it perfectly. We had 20 people for dinner, at 2 tables, and we had 4 1/2 pieces of chicken left over – 2 at one table, 2.5 at the other. You don’t win the game if there’s no food left: you didn’t make enough. And you don’t win if you have lots leftover. You don’t even win it you have 1 piece leftover: that’s the “Christian piece” that no one wants to take because it’s the last piece. 😊 So 2 or 2 1/2 pieces of chicken per table is perfect. Everyone had enough and we didn’t run out! Yes, I’m a kitchen nerd.

It was fun to sit around and chat with this group, to hear what they’ve been learning and experiencing. Having interviewed some of the same students for multiple years, they are seeing growth in the lives of the CAPA students! They were also able to go to some of the students’ churches this weekend, and have been thinking through their experiences and pondering the ways in which they have seen God working – here in Malawi and in their own lives. You can check out the group’s blog here: http://malawi2017stm.wordpress.com.

As the sun set and dinner ended, the twinkle lights began to show in the trees. It’s hard to believe that there were no trees in the yard when we moved here! It’s such a nice space now!

No outdoor meal is complete without a bonfire, so we brought out the marshmallows and had some s’mores. We even had mice shaped marshmallows for the more Malawian s’mores experience!

We are thankful for the work this team is doing. They have conducted and transcribed 100+ interviews with the CAPA students this year. As the team finishes up the interviews and posts them online, you can get to know the students and hear their testimonies at: http://capa.prayformalawi.com/students

Going Out to Eat

There are a lot more restaurants here in Lilongwe than when we moved here years ago, so every once in a while we go out to eat as a family. Yesterday was a bit sad for our family, so Matt took us all out for dinner, to one of our favorite places.

Kortasia is a Korean restaurant with a decidedly African motif. We love their sesame chicken, their sweet and sour chicken, and their bibimbap. It does seem like an odd atmosphere in which to eat Korean food, but it’s fun – and the food is great!

The girls enjoy the adventure of going out to eat, but they especially enjoy the little goodies I keep in my purse for such times. A family of bunny finger puppets, some plastic lizards, a little tub of Play-dough, and the current favorite, which has been nicknamed “stencil and a pencil.” Abigail and Matt use the stencil to write codes to each other, and Naomi and I draw pictures for one another.

Pictures and a few letters. She thinks it’s so great that she can write “Omi” all on her own. Yep, a little bit of school, even on a night out!

For the Love of Toast

We have British outlets and plugs here in Malawi, leftovers from the days when Malawi/Nyasaland was a British Protectorate country. They're big and chunky, but generally work well.

The tricky part is that we live closer to South Africa than England, so most electronics come to Malawi with South African plugs: two round prongs instead of three rectangles. They fit, but it takes a little work. You have to use a small object, say a key, to depress the safety button in the top hole so that the bottom two holes will open for the South African plug to go in the outlet.

Don't let your children see this picture! Yes, I'm putting my keys in the outlet! But it's ok. The outlets here are switched, as in the red button next to my finger can switch the outlet off and on. And the hole my key is in is the ground, so there's no power going to that hole anyway, even if the outlet is switched on. Honestly, it took me a couple years before I was willing to do this with keys – I would always run and find a chopstick… just in case!

So with all the issues with South African plugs in British outlets, we really like it when we can get a good appliance that has a British plug. For instance, a toaster. We have had an American toaster oven for years. I love it. But, we do have to run it on a transformer here, and it only toasts 2 pieces of bread at a time. That's ok until you have more than 2 people in your toast-loving family. Enter the British toaster.

Isn't she a beauty? Well, she is to me! When I was getting ready to go to England in May to hike Hadrian's Wall, Matt and I realized that this was our chance to get appliances with British plugs – from England! So Matt bought this beautiful red toaster, and a new hair dryer, on Amazon UK and sent them to a "parcel pick-up" (American: locker) location. After the hike, I found the parcel pick-up location near Kings Cross Station, tossed my new toaster and hairdryer in a duffel bag, and took the Underground to Heathrow to fly home.

This pic was proof to my family that I had the toaster and was on my way home. And the extra effort has been worth it. Did I mention that we are a toast-loving family?!

Drinking Water

Remember summer days of drinking straight out of the garden hose? Well, we don't do that here in Malawi! We have a great water filter for our drinking water and for years we only filtered. However, about 9 months ago the city stopped treating the water for a period of time and we started researching the boil and filter option.

Ugh. Boil water every day? Not me, not in my house. I don't want to pay more for gas to boil 20 liters of water every day, and I REALLY don't want to heat up my house every day with 2 huge pots of boiling water! This is Africa, in the tropics, we're already hot enough! I'll just clean those filters again, and we should be fine!

But then I learned the difference between how to get bacteria out of your water and how to get viruses out of your water. Our Katadyn Gravidyn filters remove something like 99.95% of all chemicals and bacteria from the water. But viruses are so small they just go straight through the filters. Boiling kills viruses. Done. End of discussion. I became a firm believer in boiling AND filtering water that day! I'm not even going to get into the details of the sewer pipe that leaked into the water main of the neighborhood just north of us… Boil and Filter is my new mantra!

So we fill up our two 10L pots with tap water almost every evening and bring them to a boil (which takes about exactly 67 minutes). We crack the lids and let them cool overnight, and in the morning we pour the cooled, virus-free water into the top part of our two filters. Over the next couple hours, the water works its way through the filters and stores in the bottom of the unit for easy access. Is it a process? Yes. Do we have fewer tummy bugs now? Actually, yes. Do I carry the water on my head. Um, yes… a 10L pot of water is too heavy to carry in front of me without spilling, so I lift it up on top of my head to carry it across the kitchen. Sorry, no selfies of that – I'm not that coordinated!

And that's how we get drinking water here in Lilongwe! We drink it, cook with it, and wash fruits and veggies in it. I'm thankful for the modern technology of such great filters, and for the ancient technology of fire that now rounds out our water treatment process. I do think that all that work makes the water taste just a little bit sweeter!

Church Family

We had a church picnic yesterday!

This was the second time during the school break that we got to spend a Sunday afternoon with our church family, picnicking on the lawn.

It takes a lot of hot dogs to feed this crew, so we've learned a few tricks. Did you know you can cook 60-70 hot dogs in a crockpot? The ones on the edges even get a nice sear!

I brought some bunting for a festive look, but needed a little help to tie it up. You never know when your husband's tree climbing skills will come in handy!

It's always good to spend time with church family, but this day was especially sweet. Just before the picnic, one of our elders, Gideon Manda, had preached on the unity of the body of Christ from Ephesians 4:4-6. For such a diverse church, this was an important reminder, and made our fellowship time a reminder of our unity!

As I looked around at the people on the lawn at lunch, I thought about how some of them are more comfortable eating their lunch with forks and spoons, some with chopsticks, and some with their bare hands. It's the times when we focus on those differences that we miss the beauty and eternality of the unity Scripture says we have as the body of Christ. One body, one Spirit, one hope, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all.

This picnic was just a foretaste of heaven, when people of every tongue, tribe, and nation will join together to worship the Lord!

Cheap Lunch

At $1.23/pound, crocodile tail is the cheapest meat in town. We usually eat more beef, chicken, fish, and pork, but every once in a while we have crocodile. Like when my 6 year old asks for it.

And in case you have the idea that we go hunt crocodile, skin it, and eat it, I'm sorry to disappoint you. We buy it at the grocery store!

There aren't a lot of recipe blogs that tell you how to cook crocodile. A few years ago I found a few adventurous cooks who gave some great pointers and came away with this: crocodile is like pork. Cook it quick and fruity. So until today I've done just that. Barely defrost, cover in fruit chutney, and fry in a skillet or grill it.

Today, I decided to do a quick sear and finish it in the oven. Power is off (no defrosting), and we don't have much chutney. So, a little experimenting.

This shot give you a good idea of the cross-section of the bone in crocodile tail, as well as the rings of fat that run through the meat sections.

The verdict:

It passes the 3-year-old test! We decided it is good with mustard, and really great with homemade barbecue sauce!

My favorite part? The timer. Seriously. My hands were full with 9 crocodile steaks and two kiddos, so I told Siri to set a timer for me:

Just another lunch in Lilongwe!

Grocery Day

Grocery shopping day, and Naomi is ready! One can always use an extra pair of shoes with a day as busy as we had!

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I woke up having forgotten that I had 13 meters of fabric spread around our living room. Priscilla had washed and hung it to dry yesterday, but even with using the full clothesline it was still a little damp by the end of the day from being folded on itself at several points. So it spent the night getting out the last dampness in our living room. It was a strange site to wake up to though! I folded it up and set it by the door – it was going with us today…

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Breakfast was a family favorite – oatmeal. With a new not-favorite – chewable dewormer. Think bitter pepto bismol. Thankfully we only had to take these at breakfast and dinner today and we’re done. The girls didn’t balk at all, after a brief discussion of what worms are and why we don’t want them.

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School first before grocery shopping! Abi loves school and is especially good at memorizing, so we recently added catechism with corresponding verses. It’s been great, and especially fun because we have songs to go with every catechism and verse! Dana Dirksen put together the songs into 6 albums, and is in the process of producing the same albums in several different languages – including Chichewa!!! The first album in Chichewa is already finished, so once we’ve mastered English, we’ll work on the same catechism and verses in Chichewa!

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Once school was finished, it was time to get ready to go out. This is how I usually dress when we go out. Malawians dress up to go to town, so I put on makeup, and try to dress nicely. It’s hard work to do the shopping here, and I have 2 little kids in tow, and it’s hot; so my go-to item of clothing is a maxi skirt. It’s modest, stretchy, and not suffocating. Add a top that dresses it up a little and we’re good to go.

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Most Malawians don’t use car seats, but we always have. I pray we never get in a bad car accident here, but if we do, I want every chance possible that these sweet girls will be safe!

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First stop was at the new mall close to our home. Business in Malawi is almost entirely transacted in cash; however, our cell phone company is starting to change that for us! We can put money in our “mpamba” account and then through our phones pay our electric bill, water bill, cell phone bill, and even wire money to someone else’s phone/account. After years of carrying wads and wads of cash, and adding more stops to our grocery shopping day so that we could pay all our utilities in person, this new services is SO NICE. They have nice chairs in the waiting area too. =)

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On to see the Swan Man. For those of you who have followed our blog for a while, no, I still don’t know his name. But he’s still a good tailor, and I took a picture just to show you why he’s called the swan man.

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We’ve been to see the tailor frequently of late, so much so that he keeps pretty and sparkly scraps to give to my girls now! =) Last week we dropped off a suit of Matt’s to be altered, then a few days later half of the cushions that go on our wicker furniture so they could be recovered. We couldn’t drop them all off, because we still had a couple people who would need to sit on those chairs, like the ladies who come for counseling. But we dropped all the rest of the cushions off today (and there’s the 13 meters of fabric sitting on top of the cushions), and should be able to pick up the first batch on Saturday. We’re cushionless for 3 days, but it’s ok.

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From the tailors we made two quick stops: an electronics store to buy a new watch battery for Matt, and a sewing supply store to get some more elastic. We didn’t quite have enough to finish the second set of bedsheets the other day, but we do now. And some pretty shiny red trim for some skirts, and …

And then we drove to the far north end of town to a shop called Carniwors that specializes in meat. By this time we were getting a little tired and very hot, so the Abi and Naomi got granadilla and pineapple “spicy juice” (carbonated). And I let them ride in the cart while I planned out the menus for the team of 8 that is coming to stay with us in just over a week.

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Oh yes, my FBC friends who are coming next week. Yes I did. Think pork – you’ll love it. When else will you get to eat it? And for $1.25/pound, it’s a great deal!

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Finally, with a large ice chest full of meat, we made our way home. We had gotten all the miscellaneous errands accomplished, with only the actual grocery store yet to do. But that would have to wait. Peanut butter sandwiches and a nap were necessary first!

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The girls lay down and both slept for 1 1/2 – 2 hours. I headed into my room and turned on the window box fan and the mister outside the bedroom window to enjoy a little evaporative cooling. I have the greatest husband and he makes some pretty fantastic things! Ahhhh! 

And I found a little friend on the window sill. Little, as in, only about 1 inch long. We’ve seen several of these little praying mantises in the yard lately, and thanks to my inquisitive 5 year old, we’ve looked them up and know that they are actually babies. Various kinds of adult praying mantises can be 1-4 inches long, but you know it’s a baby if it doesn’t have wings yet – like this one.

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After nap time, we were back to grocery shopping, at an actual grocery store this time! Abi is my list checker, and does a great job of keeping me on track. Today she commented “Mom, why are you buying things that are not on the list? You should just buy what is on the list.” Hmm, good point. Thanks. But I’m pretty sure you want toilet paper, even if I forgot to put it on the list. =)

The reason she knows it’s not on the list is because I keep my shopping lists in order of how we walk up and down the aisles in this store and she tracks with the list to know where we’re at in our shopping. I know, it’s nerdy, but it saves so much time running back and forth, especially when shopping with little ones. Even nerdier: I have a series of 4 shopping lists that I cycle through each month. Today was the Week 1 list, when I buy all our meat, milk, cheese, and frozen vegetables for the month. Next week will include a month’s worth of dog food, the following week all the tea supplies for our staff for the month… It just works out better to divide that stuff up and plan to buy in bulk when I can. And because I have a large chest freezer at home, I can.

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Check out is always a little harried. I had 2 “trollies” of groceries today, so I had to put all the groceries on the checkout counter – but not any faster than the cashier could scan them because it’s not a very big counter! I also kind of keep an eye on whoever is packing my groceries into bags or boxes on the end, as it’s not uncommon for the tomatoes to end up on the bottom, and the dish soap to be bagged with the yogurt and they both leak. Paying for it all takes a bit of time too, as I have to count out the money, then the cashier has to count it all out too. Because it’s all cash. And the largest kwacha bill we have is currently worth only $1.38. So, just imagine paying for all your groceries (and those of a visiting team of 8) with $1 bills. It takes a little time and attention. Not to mention I have 2 little girls who need a little attention too. Thankfully, there’s a TV hanging at that end of the store that always plays the National Geographic channel. It’s always interesting, and evidently a bonding experience too!

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We got home just before 5pm. Whew. Mission accomplished. The girls colored while I put all the groceries away and made smoothies for dinner. Like that cup Naomi has? I think most people just throw those cups and lids away after they use them, but I held on to it after a trip to Jamba Juice when we were in California in 2014. Still going strong!

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The girls did great today. They were both super helpful, very cooperative, and didn’t complain! I’m not used to taking both of them with me, as Matt has set aside a couple hours on Thursday afternoons to spend some undivided time with one or the other of the girls each week. We trade off every second week, and it’s know as Abi and Dad Day, or Naomi and Dad Day. But this week, Abi declared that it was Abi and Naomi and Mom Day. I love it. It was still special as compared to all the other days we have been together this week, and still worthy of a special title!

Sharing, Caring, and Bed Sheets

Tuesday morning brings Priscilla back to our house at 7:30am, so the girls spent their morning coloring, building train tracks, and reading books with her. I was starting to feel the pressure of a backlog of items that needed to be sewn – and the very strong desire to run away from the taxes I probably should have been finishing up today – so I tackled a couple more urgent mending jobs and then immersed myself in a fun sewing spree.

I spent about half the morning with this friend. I have a very old singer sewing machine also, and today they sat side by side as I moved back and forth between the two, but this overlocker machine is fantastic. Matt was pretty skeptical when I registered for it on our wedding registry, and rather shocked when we got it! I’d never had a “fancy” sewing machine before, but after almost 8 years of good use, I can’t imagine sewing without it!

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Today’s fun sewing project also had practical value: bed sheets! Abi had come with me to the old part of town a couple weeks ago to buy fabric to recover the cushions on our wicker furniture, and I think it was she who discovered the sheeting material. She fell in love with the purple stripe, and when I showed her the matching solid purple (her favorite color), she did a little dance and laughed out loud! So she now has a purple fitted sheet and a striped top sheet.  And she LOVES them!

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The other set of sheets is queen-size to replace an old set that was becoming brittle and too thin. But the fabric that I found for that set is amazing. It’s the (blazing brilliant!) white in the first picture, but it’s some of the best sheeting material I’ve ever seen. It’s solid, medium weight, with a smooth almost velvety feel. Think high-end hotel sheets. And the fabric cost me half of what I would pay to buy a mediocre set of sheets in America. My time counts for something, of course, but I did make 2 sets in about 2 hours, so I think I’m ok with the time!

I also ran over to see my friend Susan again. The medicine to treat the bacterial meningitis continues to work, and she was up on her feet to meet me at the door today! She had finished all the books I took her on Saturday, so I brought her 3 more books, and a little loaf of banana bread that we had made yesterday.

The afternoon was back to more routine things – Abi and I did school while Naomi slept and Priscilla cleaned out all my kitchen cupboards. About the time Naomi woke up, I started working on dinner, because I knew I needed a little extra time today. I made a triple batch of rice and Spicy Beef with Peppers stir fry, to keep one batch for us and send the rest home with Carol for her family this evening. Carol works full time and has spent the last 14 months caring for one family member or another, herself included, as their family has experienced injury and illness almost continually during that time. The Lord has chosen a serious path for this family for this time, and I have known the blessing of not only being able to help in small ways, but also to be able to see the Lord strengthen their faith. We love this family so much and it hurts to see them suffer, but we too must trust the Lord, entrusting our friends to Him.

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Then after dinner, this happened:

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Naomi threw a dish towel over a little side table, and Abi and I were joking with her about setting the table for tea, when Abi ran off to the play room and returned with play tea set. They played for a couple minutes, then Abi had to go to the bathroom. I sent Naomi to the playroom to find a couple missing tea set pieces, while I made some tea and filled the milk pitcher and sugar bowl. When Abi came back, her eyes got big and she jumped around and yelled “We’re not playing anymore, Naomi! This is REAL tea! I’ve always wanted to do this!!!”

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So they had their little tea party. Two cups of rooibos tea apiece.

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They were very careful and didn’t spill a drop.

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It is nice to end the day with a cuppa. =)