Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Sharing a Bit of Our Home--Nepal

We have lived in Nepal for three years now, and it has become our home.  There has been much going on here in the last six months or so.  As most probably are aware, we had a major earthquake on April 25 (you can read my post about our personal experience with that here), the country adopted and signed a constitution in September after a long process of many years and many challenges, and now, we are facing a blockade from India in which critical supplies are not being allowed to cross the border.

I find that few people actually know very much about this small nation, though, and in spite of all that has gone on and is going on, it very often barely makes a blip on the news cycle.  Even after the earthquake (a 7.8 in which nearly 10,000 were killed, homes were destroyed, and many villages were literally wiped out) the earthquake, international news had moved on within a couple of days.
In the midst of the fuel shortage crisis we are now facing from the blockade, the first news story to pop up on international news was actually about possibly climbing restrictions for Mt. Everest, the only point of reference many people tend to have for this small nation.

But, this is an incredible place, and while it is not a major player in the world political scene, it is filled with such rich culture and history and absolutely beautiful people.
It isn't my desire to try to educate or unravel current events here; instead, I would like to just start a series of posts that give a glimpse of what we see here in this place we now call home.  Some may focus on the joys and challenges of living overseas and outside of our home culture, but primarily, I would like to just show a bit of our Nepal!

To start off, I'd like to share something that we finished soon after the earthquake actually and is long overdue for me to share.  There is a simple and lovely children's book called I See the Sun in Nepal

The story is written in both English and Nepali, but given that Nepali uses a different script (called Devanagari), you can't really attempt to read it unless you have learned the script.

I had some of our friends from our office here read the book and made a recording of it.  Originally, it started as a present for some in our U.S. office to have for the arrival of new babies, but I really wanted to share it with any who would enjoy it to give one little glimpse and experience into life in rural Nepal.  It is not a professional quality recording, but we had a fun time making it!  I recommend the book itself to experience it through the illustrations as well, but you can also just enjoy the story through the recording itself.  I have shared it here as an audio file on google drive.  I hope you enjoy the story and a little glimpse into our lovely Nepal!

Finding My Voice and Doing "Us"

I haven't updated anything here for quite awhile.  We were traveling for the summer, but also, the truth is that I've been pondering some shifts for quite awhile for this blog.  There are many, many people who blog about school and who do it much better than I do.  Parents and friends have often enjoyed seeing glimpses of what we do, but I can just do some pictures in other contexts for them to see.  Most of the things we do for school are ideas I have collected and maybe slightly adapted from other wonderful sources and not made myself.
Also, I find myself still on very much of a journey as to what school looks like for us and how we homeschool in a way that fits our circumstances, my personality, and the personalities and learning styles of my boys.  Most people, I think, find themselves in some sort of mix of styles and approaches and often changing and growing as they continue the homeschool journey.  That is true for us as well, and as we get a few years "under our belts," I feel more freedom to explore and am enjoying the process of connecting more and more all the time to what fits for us.  
Having taught in public schools as my profession before having kids, there have been certain aspects of homeschooling that have come quite easily for me and some that have been a great challenge.  I love the lesson planning and research and preparing and instructing.  I can confidently say that I was good at that, and I still am.  However, being a mom who is just loving on my boys well in the midst of it is, honestly, not as easy or natural for me.  As much as I am thankful for the freedom to just take joy in exploring and learning and not feel bound to a traditional school model, I also sometimes find myself very uncomfortable and insecure in that less defined space.  How will I be able to show how productive we've been?!  What about all these things on my checklist (most of which are solid things, by the way)?!
Particularly in this most recent season, I find myself being stretched and growing in grace for myself and my boys.  I am learning to be more at ease and release some of the pressure from my ideals of perfectly educating my kids.  Like Jen Hatmaker phrased it in her recent book, I am (slowly) learning to "quit trying to be awesome and instead be wise."
I recently read Teaching from Rest by Sarah Mackenzie.  It is possibly just the season I find myself in and what God is already stirring in me, but it was SUCH a great read!  I can look back even on my times of teaching as a (paid) profession and see my desperate attempts to pour out everything I had to be an amazing teacher and still feel like it was never enough.  I was good.  I can say that because I believe it is a gift God has given me.  But, I am coming to terms with not being "enough."  I bring my best, and on some days, I find myself bringing a basket fairly void of patience, grace, or affection for my boys, but trusting that God is at work and has got this thing of raising and educating my boys is something in which I am finding increasing freedom.
Where does that leave this little blog?  Well, I'm not entirely sure yet.  I no longer feel the need to chronicle everything we do (or even the highlights).  I am not the one to write the deepest insights into this new-to-me aspect of freedom and grace and rest in our schooling.  There are others far more gifted at writing and sharing both of those and really pursuing excellence in blogging about it.
For now, I feel released from any pressure to be a homeschool blogger and only focus on sharing what may be unique for us.  I don't feel the pressure to share super regularly or frequently in hopes to keep people reading.  If what I do share is valuable to some, I trust it will find its way to them.
I may share more about cooking adventures, as I did really enjoy the series of trying to cook "around the world" with my younger son last winter/spring.  The main things, though, that I think are unique to us from the other multitudes of blogs are living here in Asia and doing school and life here, natural math and engaging kids in loving math, and perhaps my passion for having kids experience the broader story of the Bible.  We may share some other bits and pieces along the way, but we'll mainly keep on our journey to find our way in what school looks like for us, and I'll share when it seems we have something that might be unique or connected well to our passions, or I just had a bit of extra time and something fun for me to share.    We'll keep pursuing "doing us" and invite you into some pieces of that journey along the way.

Thursday, June 11, 2015

Middle Eastern Cooking

It's been a strange season for us, post-earthquake, but we've tried to get back to some routines and things that feel "normal" for us.  So, a lower maintenance stop on our food tour for the Middle East, and without a lot of flowery writing, here are our food adventures from the Middle East.
I didn't get a ton of kid action shots this time, and honestly for some of it, they weren't interested in the cooking, so they just did the eating. :)

The one food I have always remembered from a trip to Egypt many years ago and that I used to cook with some frequency is koshary.
 There are a bunch of recipes out there with slight varieties, and given that it is a basic and simple street food, any of them would probably work.
This recipe from Food.com is easy to follow.  I actually modified one from Extending the Table, which is a great cookbook.  It actually wasn't in my updated version of the book.
Basically, for the sauce, I combined a couple tablespoons of tomato paste and about a cup of fresh cooked tomatoes I had pureed, about a teaspoon of sugar, cumin, and salt each.

For dessert, we made basbousa.  I had never had it before, but it turned out quite nicely.  I just used all-purpose flour instead of semolina since that is what we had, and it worked fine.  Also, I clearly let my simple syrup simmer too long, and once it cooled, it turned completely solid.  But, I just added a bit more water and remelted it, and it was fine.

Qatar is kind of a big deal in this part of the world, as it is a center for a lot of heartbreaking issues that affect Nepalis very dearly.  It is hard for me to celebrate it, but I know there are good people and good things there as well.  We did pray a lot, though, for justice to break through in this place.
We ended up not getting things together to pull off the food tour stop here, but here are a few links I had that we were going to try.
This link has a list of some key foods that you "must try" in Qatari cuisine, and here is a recipe for balaleet, an intriguing sounding breakfast in Qatar.

You have to get around to some good pita bread for this region.
While this isn't the most traditional version, we really like this recipe for flat bread.  It is a bit more Greek in style, I suppose, but we've made it a few times and know it comes out well.  I have always doubled the recipes, which makes for some time rolling and cooking, but then we have one batch to set aside for later or even freeze.
We also made Palestinian kufta (or kofta, I've seen it spelled either way).  We didn't have fresh mint, so we made it without, and it was still really flavorful.  For getting ground meat, it is not always easy to find mutton, so I made these with half beef and half pork, which is a bit laughable since it is probably the one meat you would see LEAST--if at all--in most of the Middle East, given that it is neither Kosher nor Halal!  But, the beef here isn't the best quality, and the pork mix makes it more palatable.  I would definitely recommend going another route for the sake of authenticity, if you have access to other meat options!  :)

And, topping it off, we made sufganyot!  This was definitely the favorite, and the boys got really into helping make these!  

It would seem that they are mainly a Hanukkah treat, but people, they are DONUTS!  How can you pass up the excuse to make donuts?!  All in the name of culture. :)
They didn't actually seal very well on many of them, so if we try these again, I'd look for tips for getting them to seal around the edge better to keep them more like a ball and keep the jam inside.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Our European Cooking (Part 1)

We really dropped off on our cooking last month when we were focusing on Pakistan and then some nations from Central Asia!  We had a super science-heavy month, and our social studies diminished a bit.  We do have some friends here who make amazing Lahori biryani, so we did get to have some tastes from Pakistan at least.

We've moved on to Europe as our social studies focus this month, and we're back on the cooking tour!  :)
We started with England, as we have many friends here in Nepal who come from there.  It's not quite as exotic as many of our cooking pursuits but still hold some new explorations for these Americans!

I didn't get a photo of it, but we did make a dish we make fairly regularly, which we call Shepherd's Pie, but in searching, it seems that would be something else, and ours would more likely be called Cottage Pie.  Here's our recipe for it.
For dessert that day, we made some apple crumble (just a bit different than apple crisp, which we would commonly make) and custard.  The custard is not common for us but seemed to be quite the common pairing in England.  It was delicious!  And, it was easier than I expected.  Zeke really did almost all the steps himself for the crumble and custard (other than putting things in/on or taking off from heat sources).

The other thing we made we were all super excited about, which was Bubble and Squeak!  The boys thought it was the best name for food they had ever heard!  :)
There are so many variations on this, as it seems to have evolved really as a way for using up leftovers, but in my Midwest American mind, how do people actually ever end up with enough "leftover" mashed potatoes to make something like this?!  Ha.  So, we made ours from scratch.  Ezekiel loves using the mixer, so he enjoys making mashed potatoes.

Unfortunately, my "nonstick" pan is getting quite old and wearing off, and it totally failed me on the bubble and squeak and just turned into a big blob with the golden bits all stuck firmly to the pan! :(  Still tasted good, though.

For week two, we moved on to France.  I had grand plans for all the delicious things we should make.  I mean, how do you even narrow it down?!  Well, having a horrible cough and cold for the week took care of the paring down for me, unfortunately.  :(
We still fit in a few treats, though.

We often make sweet crepes for breakfast (which all of our English friends here just call pancakes), so we made those.

We also found a neat recipe for what is, allegedly, a traditional cake for children to make.  This recipe for French yogurt cake even had a printable for the recipe that was cute and easy for kids to follow.  We don't have the same little yogurt containers here, so we just used a half cup for the "container."

It was a nice simple cake, and Ezekiel really felt proud to have done it nearly all by himself, including "reading" the recipe.  Our overly sugared American palettes found it to be not a terribly sweet dessert (confession: we topped it with powdered sugar), but it would be a nice cake to eat with tea/coffee.

 We tried this recipe for quick cassoulet.  We cheated even further and used pureed tomatoes, as half of my family don't like whole tomatoes.  It was edible, but it was a bit disappointing, which I suppose should be expected for an admitted shortcut on such a wonderful dish.

 We ended the week with some savory buckwheat crepes.  

I have had and enjoyed these many times (though this was the first time making them), so I don't know if it was the recipe or the quality of the buckwheat flour we got, but we didn't enjoy these that much.

Even though we had a few disappointments in our French cooking, it was a fun journey, and we have moved on this week to Italy and will head next week to Spain, so European Cooking, Part 2, will be coming soon!

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

China and Japan Studies

I posted already about our food journeys through East Asia, but I thought I would do a quick highlight of some of the other things we did to study Japan and China.

There is no way we could study Japan without some good study of ninjas!
We read Magic Treehouse #5:  Night of the Ninjas.  We had read it before, but now, she has a Fact Tracker to go along with it, which was super exciting!  There are also lesson plans to go along with the book at the Magic Treehouse site.  Of course, we had to do a little ninja training camp!

We made some origami turtles, which Isaiah decided needed some masks and weapons to be Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.

I found a link from an art teacher talking about the art of making fake food, which is called gyodan and is a true art form!  We did a bit of research and watched a video from youtube and then had some playdough time to make some fake food.

Shrimp and noodles
Shrimp, noodles and sauce, sushi, and the boys were determined all the containers needed to be included for "sauces"

We watched a video about the Japanese tea ceremony, and I had a tray for Zeke to do some scooping with marbles and his plastic playdough tea set.

Much of our time studying China centered around Chinese New Year, about which I already posted, but I didn't include a couple photos of the Singaporean CNY tradition that we got to participate in, which is called Lo Hei.  It was a very cool time of mixing this elaborate salad together, each part symbolizing something.

Isaiah has also really enjoyed making some lapbooks, and he put a lot of work into this one that we made about China.  

Most of the pieces were from Homeschool Share, but I did also include the Chinese Animals portion from Homeschool Helper Online because I know how much Isaiah loves animals.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Cooking through Japan

I didn't get as many photos of our Japanese cooking adventures, but we certainly did enjoy them, and I'll share a few recipes that we used.  

We actually had some friends over for dinner and did a cooperative effort for our Japanese food.  She made hibachi chicken and sauce (which was DELICIOUS but turns out to be an American invention).  We made some fried rice to go with it.
One of my favorite things about Japanese restaurants is getting those multiple small dishes of the salads/side dishes, so we decided to make a few of those.  We made daikon salad (not sure our radishes are exactly daikon, but they are similar and work well) and sunomono (cucumber salad).  The recipes on that site Japanese Cooking 101 were easy to follow, and they had a ton of recipes.  My boys really loves eggs, and my oldest is a bit picky with things, so I thought the little wrapped omelette (apparently, called tamagoyaki) would be a good one to make.  She even warned in this recipe that it takes a bit of technique to get it right, and I should have heeded the warning.  I don't recommend trying this one for a beginning adventure.  Ours ending up tasting good, but it certainly was not pretty!
We also used my friend Lizzy's recipe to make miso soup.  She does a great job of figuring out what works well for cooking in our part of the world and adapting recipes for ingredients we have available.

Always my silly boy
We happen to have a few good Japanese restaurants.  It was a bit pricier than what we would usually do for a lunch, but it was yummy, and we all enjoyed it very much!

Zeke really wanted to try sushi, but good sushi with quality seafood is not so common in this landlocked country, so we tried an avocado roll. :)

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Chinese New Year Cooking Adventure

Continuing our cooking adventures, we have had a lot of fun preparing for Chinese New Year.  We have a very sweet friend here who gave us some tips and amazing treats!  She and her family are from Singapore and are Chinese, so they have been preparing their celebrations.  She sent us a tray of the treats she made, as well as a couple packets of bakkwa, which is not even available here!  She kindly shared a couple packets that they had brought in from Singapore!

Almond cookies, Pork floss and seaweed German cookies, and pineapple tarts
Here are a few of our ingredients as we prepared to start our cooking!  In spite of being located closer to China now, these ingredients were much easier to find in Los Angeles when we lived there!

We made pineapple tarts, which is a traditional sweet for Chinese New Year.  Pineapple paste is not available here.  I found pineapple jam, but it didn't seem quite the right consistency for what the recipes were describing.  So, we made our own!  That was a bit tedious.  We kind of followed this recipe but had to adjust several things.  We didn't grate the pineapple, in spite of her warnings!  Ezekiel wanted to put it in the blender, but the combo of not ideally ripe pineapples and not a super powerful blender didn't do well.  Ezekiel said maybe we should cook it first, so we pulled out the pressure cooker, which I hoped would also potentially shorten the cooking time (and minimize gas use).  We just cooked it until it came to pressure and then released it manually.  Then, we strained off some of the juice to add in later, and it pureed well.
We also reduced the quantity from the recipe.  I used two pineapples (instead of the FIVE suggested in the recipe), and I still have a GOB of it leftover after making the tarts.  This recipe must be if you are making pineapple tarts for every single person you know!  We cut back the spices we put in as well to be one cinnamon stick, one star anise, and two cloves.  I did not measure how much sugar we ended up putting in altogether because I just kept kind of adding it and tasting.  I did BURN the jam, at one point, and I almost cried, but it seemed to recover pretty well and was just a bit darker than expected.  Zeke actually really liked stirring and checking the jam.    My friend actually gave me a recipe for the tarts, but the dough was similar to this one but without the cheese.  And, obviously, we didn't pull off the cute little goat shapes from that recipe.  I was lucky that mine all basically resembled something like spheres!  :)

 We also decided that it would be really fun to make dumplings.  I found a really great recipe for jiaozi (boiled dumplings) or guotie (panfried dumplings).  Really, when given a choice, how do you NOT choose panfried? :)
The recipe was really clear and descriptive, so it was great for our first time making these!
(As a side note:  These are so similar to momos, which is the name for the local dumplings here in Nepal that I feel a little embarrassed to not have tried making THOSE before I attempted THESE!)

Ezekiel helped me mix the filling, and then we put it in the refrigerator.  I made the first round of dough and dumplings myself last night when they were in bed.  I was glad I tried it without them in the mix first to figure it out a bit.  I have serious respect for this process!  I am actually sore from bending over the counter rolling and forming all these dumplings!
A note on the recipe is that I ended up with enough filling to match almost 3 batches of the dough.  I think we may have been a little skimpy on filling ours because they are easier to fold that way (and my boys would probably just eat the wrappers plain!), but still, it would at least probably make two batches.

We had made our treats for a little party with a few friends who also homeschool, and here is our table of goodies (not the abundance or lucky number of 8 proper for a Chinese New Year feast, but it felt like a significant accomplishment!).

 We were seriously invested in our dumpling-making and had plenty of filling left, so the boys and I made more dumplings this afternoon, and it was really fun having them help make these.  Well, that is after a deep breath or two and letting go of some control. :)  It was messy, and it is just not going to all work out quite "right" with little guys making these, but BOTH boys were excited to help.  Isaiah got to use a sharp knife (with a lot of oversight) for the first time to cut the dough, which was an exciting milestone for him.  Here are a few photos of my little dumpling makers:

So, that made dumplings for snack and dumplings for dinner!  And some to put in the freezer for another time.  Can one really have too many dumplings?  Haven't seen Isaiah eat as much for dinner as he did tonight for a long time!

I doubt this is super authentic or traditional, but to make it seem more like a full meal and since I had a ton of cabbage left over, so I did a quick search and threw this recipe for stir-fry cabbage together.  I was even a bit lazy (and literally finding it about 15 minutes before dinner) and made it even less authentic, I'm sure, by using garlic powder and ground ginger instead of fresh!  It still tasted good.  There is something so wonderful about the combo of soy sauce, rice vinegar, and sesame oil!  Yum!