Friday, August 26, 2016

Growing up in Nepal

We have been participating in a reading challenge this summer put together by Jamie Martin of Simple Homeschool and Sarah Mackenzie of Read-Aloud Revival, connected to the launch of Jamie's book Give Your Child the World:  Raising Globally Minded Kids One Book at a Time.  To wrap up the series, people are sharing a bit about what it is like to live in their various places, and we are always glad for the chance to share about this place that has become our home!  The questions she provided are a good guide to share a bit about our lives and this place, so here is a bit about our wonderful home here in Nepal!
Tell us about your family.
My husband John and I have two boys, Isaiah (8) and Ezekiel (5).  John works for a tech business called CloudFactory, and I homeschool the boys.
Tell us about where you live and how long you’ve lived there.
We live in an area just on the south edge of the capital city of Kathmandu in Nepal.  We have lived here for 4 years, though we also did spend four months here before moving hee.

  – What do you think is unique and special about living where you do?
Flag of Nepal.svgOne fun fact is that Nepal has the only non-rectangular flag of any nation in the world!
It is also the home of (or shared home of) EIGHT of the ten highest mountains in the world, including Mount Everest!  On a good clear day (we don't get as many of those anymore), we can see the Himalayas from our home.

Nepal has some of the most stunning landscapes and natural scenery in all of the world, and with two little guys in tow when we moved here, we have barely scratched the surface of exploring that!


What languages are spoken there? If it’s different from English, can you help us learn a few common phrases?
The primary language is Nepali, and Newari is also used or spoken by some, particularly in the Kathmandu Valley.  There are also many other dialects and regional languages.  Because of the popularity of yoga and other Eastern meditation practices, it is not an entirely foreign phrase for Westerners, but "Namaste" is the common greeting.  Its literal meaning is "I bow to the divine in you," and it is used both in greeting and in parting.  
Alternatively, Christians here in Nepal will often use the phrase "Jai Masi" (shown below in the Devangari script in which Nepali is written) to greet one another.  Basically, it means "Messiah is victorious."

What are some traditional foods there?
Every meal of every day, Nepalis eat "dal bhat" (which is lentils and rice).  There are other foods as well for special occasions and many snacks, but it would be a very rare occasion to have a day without dal bhat!  When we first arrived and would have people over to our home for dinner, they would graciously eat the more Western food we served...and then go home and have dal bhat!
There is usually a vegetable ("tarkari") served with it, and often there is something akin to a condiment (usually a very spicy sauce or something pickled) served with it, generally called "achar."
A typical plate for a meal at home--lentils over rice, vegetables, and this one also includes some chickpea curry.

At a restaurant or for special meals, you can have "thali set," which is a nice (usually brass) plate with a variety of dishes served on parts of that plate and other small bowls to match the plate.  It is one of the things my younger son and I absolutely love to order!  It always includes rice, lentils, and then a variety of vegetables (sometimes meat) and pickles.  Commonly, they will refill any of the dishes that you would like to have more of.
The most popular snack or light meal is momos.  They are a kind of dumpling, similar to something like gyoza/potstickers but seasoned differently for the filling.  The most common fillings are either ground "buff" (water buffalo--beef is never eaten by Hindus!) or ground chicken.
 Image result for momos

Tell us about the climate where you live.
There are really five distinct seasons here in Nepal:  spring, summer, monsoon, fall, and winter.  It is currently nearing the end of monsoon season.  It is the rainy season, and we get a LOT of rain!  It is hot and humid.  It is tapering off now, and one great benefit of monsoon is that it really clears the air here, so if the clouds clear, you can get some amazing views of the mountains.  
Fall is my favorite.  It starts to cool off a bit, and the air is still clearer and fresher from the monsoon.  It is also some of the best season for vegetables here. 
Winter seems cold, but it mostly is cold at night and indoors.  Most houses are constructed in a way that they stay a bit cooler in the hot weather, but they stay quite cold during the winter, and very few places have indoor heating.  During the day, it is sunny and usually quite pleasant temperatures (commonly in the 60's F, and sometimes a bit warmer), but at night it drops to the 30's.  We don't get snow, and it isn't often below freezing temperatures, but at night, it is usually only a few degrees warmer INSIDE than it is outside.  During the day, everyone goes outside in the sunshine to get warm.  It is the only place I have ever lived where people go OUT to warm up in the winter!
Spring warms up but with still cool nights, and then it moves quickly into an earlier summer in which it is hot and dry.  Toward the end of summer, we start to get evening thunderstorms, leading us back into monsoon.
What does school look like for the majority of kids where you live?
There is a wide range of schools here.  Most schools do have students wear a uniform.  Some students travel quite far to get to the schools they choose.  Government schools don't have a particularly high reputation here, but they are the affordable option for many.  There are many private schools, and costs vary for those.
There is a 6-day school week (Sunday through Friday), though there are many holidays.  The school year begins after the new year on the Nepali calendar, so it runs from around mid-April through sometime in March.
Students have very large exams multiple times a year, even for the younger grades, and their marks on these exams are very significant.  Many schools will even post photos of the students with their exam results quite large on the side of the school at the end of the year.
What does school look like for your family?
We homeschool.  It is not very common here, though there is an increasing homeschool community among expats.  Still, for most locals, it is quite an odd concept!
Are there any special festivals or traditions you’d like to tell us about related to where you live?
Nepal is the land of festivals!  There are SO many festivals and holidays, and so many of them involve very colorful and interesting traditions, but there are way too many to mention all!  The "high" holiday season is coming up soon.  The Nepali calendar is lunar (and it's actually the year 2073 here!), so the holidays shift on the Gregorian calendar, but generally it falls sometime in October/November for these holidays.  The two biggest festivals are Dashain and Tihar (commonly known as Diwali in India).  The majority religion in Nepal is Hindu with Buddhism being second.  These holidays are very significant religious holidays, primarily for Hindus.  Schools are often off for around a month during these holidays, and there are huge celebrations.  Dashain is a 15-day festival with each day celebrating certain things, and some days are of particular significance.  Even within this holiday, there are so many traditions, but a few of note that we have enjoyed during this time are the kite contests and the huge swings they build each year out of bamboo!

 Tihar is a shorter festival (5 days) but also very significant.  One day is called Laxmi Puja (worship of the goddess Laxmi), in which homes and shops clean thoroughly and decorate with many lights, colors, and marigold or other flower garlands.  Designs of colored powder, called rangoli, are made outside of the doors, and lights and/or footprints make a path to the door of that home/shop, inviting Laxmi to visit the home and bless it with prosperity and wealth.

Perhaps the most significant day of Tihar is the last day, which is "Bhai Tika," and it is a huge family celebration and time of blessing each other.

One holiday that is often enjoyed by kids in the spring is Holi, during which people throw colored powders at each other and have huge water fights.

If you ever had to move away from where you live, what do you think you’d miss most?
People!  Without a doubt, it would be people!  The culture here is incredibly hospitable and very communal, so you are never a "stranger," and life feels very connected and rooted in relationships.
We have met and shared life with so many amazing people who are from here, as well as other expats from all around the world, and it would be a huge loss to leave them.
Another aspect of life that I would miss is the freedom and adventure that my boys have here.  Because we don't live right in the city center, they have a lot of freedom to explore, and I think it is a place that breeds a sense of adventure and exploring.
We would also miss the slower pace of life.  It is funny because, as a Westerner, it can also be one of the biggest challenges at times, and it was hard for me to adjust to it, but now, I am so thankful for it, and it would be hard to re-enter the rushed, packed-full "norm" of American schedules and life.
– Do you have a favorite book that takes place in your region/country?
There aren't a lot of children's books about Nepal.  There is one simple and sweet book called I See the Sun in Nepal, and it is written in both English and Nepali, so last year, we had some friends actually help us record an audio of the book in both languages.  It is not a professional recording, but we have shared it in this post for any who would enjoy hearing it!

There are absolutely SO many things I would love to share about this amazing country that often gets very little international attention.  It has become our home.  Life here has had its challenges, but we absolutely love this place!  If you have any interest in more about it, I have written some little bits on this blog with the label "Nepal," thoughts and reflections ("life in this land") about our experiences here over at my other blog, and early on, I actually wrote a little blog as if it was the boys writing it, called Sherpas in Training, and I was thoroughly enjoying rereading those and laughing recently.

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

The Green Ember Book Club

I have been really wanting to do a book club for my kids and friends, and with our great love for The Green Ember and the sequel coming soon, it seemed the perfect place to start!

I'll share a few of the things we did and used for our celebration.
Preparations included trying to cut a bunch of cardboard swords and wrap the "blades" with foil, as well as drawing the Jupiter's Crossing scene from Lighthall on wax paper to try to imitate a stained glass window.
I had some eager helpers for the preparations.

I made a little patch for each kid of the symbol worn by all in Lord Rake's order--white background with green and red diamonds side by side--and pinned them on each kid's shoulder as everyone arrived.

Here's our finished attempt at the "stained glass window."

As the kids were arriving, I had colored tapes and markers out for them to each decorate the hilts of their swords.

Once the kids had arrived and finished swords, we began our scavenger hunt.  I had taped up these clue stations around our little gated neighborhood.  To make them, I just copied some photos from the book (or sketched a quick image for a few) and wrote the names of the places.  I divided the kids into three teams and gave them a color.  (I had thought it would be fun to give them each a citadel name and symbol, but I ended up going a simpler route with just marking colors.)  Each station had a clue for each team, indicated by their team color.  I did put the clues in different orders for different teams so that they weren't just following each other.  They all ended at Jupiter's Crossing where there was a small plastic jewel (Green Ember!) and some black paper birds hanging from the trees.  The kids were supposed to "fight" the birds and recover the Green Ember!  
Of course before we set off on our quest, we all stood together, and when I put my hand over my heart and said, "I think we should say something together before we go," they all jumped in right away without any other prompt and said, "My place beside you, my blood for yours, 'til the Green Ember rises or the end of the world!"  Seriously, I almost cried.

The clues were not as clever as I had hoped I would come up with, but I have linked to the document for anyone who wants to use them.  The answers are included on one page, and another page just has the clues to print.

Retrieving a clue

Studying the clue and thinking

Fighting the birds of prey to retrieve the Green Ember

After the scavenger hunt, the kids all made their own "stained glass windows."  We adapted a few versions we found to use the supplies I had available here.  The kids drew their design or scene and then traced the lines with black marker and colored the picture (crayon or oil pastels work best).  When they finished coloring, we put the pictures face down onto clear contact paper and rubbed the back of the picture with a paper towel dipped in cooking oil until the picture appeared translucent.  Then they let them dry, and the finished product looks quite nice to see the design on the window.  One tip for a future attempt is that I would go ahead and cut the contact paper to intend to have about an inch extra on each side of the design, which would make it easier to stick to the window.  They did, by the way, take a long time to dry and were a bit oily for carrying home!  Here are is the sample I made and the one my sons made:

Morbin Blackhawk made by my younger son

We also happened to have a pack of gummy RABBITS that my mom had sent us for the kids to enjoy while they worked on their art!

I really wanted to try to include a good discussion of the book in our book club time, and I've been so inspired by Greta Eskridge and her sharing about book clubs and having rich discussions in those times (definitely the inspiration behind me going ahead and jumping in on doing the club), but I still felt a little unsure of how it would all go.  This was the first time we've tried to do something quite like that, and we had kids from 1 to 12 years old (though the littlest were realistically little sibs of kids who were more like 4 and up).  
It was wonderful!  The kids really jumped in and shared and had some great thoughts, and it turned into a really rich discussion.  The moms and older ones jumped in with some good thoughts but without taking over the conversation in any way, and our younger ones shared some surprising insights as well!  I used Sarah Mackenzie's Quickstart Guide to Great Conversations with Kids about Books (included in RAR membership) as a jumping off point.  I allowed time for kids to share some favorite parts or quotes, and then we started by discussing things like "How are Picket and Heather the same (and then how are they different)?"
The richest portion of our discussion started from the question of which character they thought was the bravest and then other characters they thought were brave, and some really interesting things came out of that.  It was just really fun having a room full of 20 kids (not including the toddlers) engaged in discussing a wonderful book!  

Of course we had to have lunch after our discussion!

This is not the greatest picture of our food!  :)  I made some Savory Den soup (basically vegetable soup but making sure it definitely had potatoes, carrots, and mushrooms) and bread.  Then, to remember the sweet bread dipped in peaches (and maple syrup, which we can't get here), I made peach cobbler.
While the kids ate lunch, we did turn on the replay of the Read-aloud Revival author event with S.D.Smith, and that was fun to hear him talk about the book!

We also made Star Seek, but between having a lot of kids, plenty to fill the time, and super muddy ground from monsoon season, we didn't end up playing.
Just a little extra Green Ember art my son drew when we were rereading the book!

It was a really fun time and a great start to our book club!

Saturday, May 28, 2016

Wingfeather Saga Poetry Tea

We have loved doing poetry tea time in our family.  I wasn't sure how much my boys would enjoy it, but they really do!
Since we were obsessed with all things Wingfeather and having a great time with poetry tea time, I decided to combine them.  I went through and marked with sticky notes all of the songs or poems I could think of in the books.  Isaiah decorated a cereal box to be The First Book, and we painted a big rock gold and put glow-in-the-dark glitter on it to be an ancient stone.

Instead of tea we decided to have "bibes," of course!  We got several varieties of juices and just mixed them with either ginger ale or cream soda to make what we imagined to be things like grape bibes or berry bibes.  Some flavors were a better combo than others with the sodas. :)
Also, in honor of The Orchard Inn and Cookery, we made pumpkin bread.  I use the recipe from the link without the frosting.  And, given that we were still a bit short on cooking gas, I made it in the rice cooker like I've done throughout the winter!

The boys' favorite was definitely the troll poetry, and they decided to "write" their own, which shifted the tone of the tea time just a bit, but who can resist uncontrollable little boy laughter? ;)

Thursday, April 7, 2016

Cheesy Chowder and Butter Bread

Cheesy Chowder
I used the recipe, which I understand is actually Andrew's mom's recipe.
This one is one my son has been asking for since we read about it in the first book.  Ironically, he isn't much of a soup eater.  On top of that, while Nepal has tons of delicious food here, cheese is not a strength!  So, when I imagine a bowl of thick cream chowder with melted cheddar, it was hard for me to let go of that and just embrace the general "cow cheese," which is not great.  Because of that, I did also add a few processed cheese slices to the mix.  Not classy, but it helped it be a bit smoother and make for a more familiar cheese taste.
I also used chicken broth instead of water.

Butter Bread
I used this recipe, but I doubled the butter (both for in and on the bread) because, well, in this Midwestern American girl's mind, if you have something called BUTTER bread, I want to TASTE the butter!  :)
I did then only do 1/4 c water at the end and probably could have skipped it altogether.  It makes a very wet dough, so I kneaded it in the bowl and let it rise there.  It is a different texture than a sandwich bread this way (almost more like a biscuit), and it was falling apart (I might try to play around with that a bit), but we loved it!
One note:  This makes one very large loaf!  I couldn't see anywhere in the recipe where it said what SIZE of pan to use.  I used my larger loaf pan (9x5, I think), and it still filled it to nearly overflowing.

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Legos and Drawings from Wingfeather

(I should note that these drawings and Lego scenes might kind of be spoilers, so wait if you haven't yet read the books!)
When my son is enthusiastic about something, he often kicks into long stretches of drawing or building Legos related to it.  He asked me if there are any Wingfeather Lego sets, and when I told him there were not, he opted to make his own.  He was sure that Andrew Peterson needed to see these, and that these sets should definitely be manufactured!  :)

First, when we were doing book reports for our homeschool co-op, he made a promotional poster for the first book.  He doesn't always take a lot of risks and usually asks for a coloring page of a subject before he'll start drawing it.  We ended up printing out a couple of the illustrations from the Wingfeather Saga site (Pete on Nugget, the toothy cow, and the Fang).  Once he had those, he actually sat for a long stretch of time looking at the drawing in book 2 of Pete's tree house and drew it on his own.

One of the first things he wanted to make was giant Nugget.  Since he wanted it to be much bigger than the usual minifigures, he built it and tried to make a head.

Here is his drawing of Artham and the sea dragons fighting off Fangs on the Enremere.

These are the minifigures he put together.  From left to right:  Leeli, Durgan guildling, Janner, Bat Fang, Bat Fang, and Green Fang.

He spent quite a lot of time on this scene.  It is the Glipwood jail (with Janner) and the Black Carriage with a Green Fang driving.

Just a few things he's been creating as he gets engrossed in the stories.  He also is building Chimney Hill but doesn't want me to take a photo with it not finished. :)

Oh, and I'm adding his Gnag-Dragon that he just finished.