Thursday, December 31, 2009

Lately, I've been a little obsessed with Chicken Salad. I know it's the middle of winter and I should be doting on soups and winter vegetables like squash or beets or something, but instead I've found comfort in light, springy, tangy, oh-so-yummy chicken salad. I better not be pregnant.

I've also started to read Barbara Kingsolver's now somewhat classic book on food, Animal, Vegetable, Miracle. Thus my guilt complex about eating a few out of season vegetables. But I've barely begun the book so I'm telling myself I have a little time before knowledge becomes a means of indictment. I've also been reading Leon Kass's insightful and (to me) inspiring book on food, The Hungry Soul- but more in a philosophical way. Food is such a trendy topic and "interest" these days and I guess I should reluctantly lump myself in with that trend. But Kass's book is more the vein that I enjoy thinking about: how the WAY in which we eat distinguishes us, affects us, unites us, improves (or ruins) us. 

But before you begin to roll your eyes at what may seem high minded thinking about food, I have to tell you that I am constantly challenged to make these thoughts practical too. I am living in a house (and eating with) three toddlers remember? Often when I start to think about how things like eating together, conversation over a meal, taking time to enjoy the creation of and the created origin of my food I am reminded that dinnertime is mostly a quick, chaotic, mostly-reminding-them-to-get-back-in-their-chairs ordeal. Another case-in-point: I am currently writing this blog while sitting at the table feeding my 13 month old in her high chair. It occurs to me that perhaps I should choose to focus solely on her... talking to her, helping her to learn simple table manners rather than trying to squeeze in a few moments of peaceful typing. 

So, maybe more on Barbara and Leon later. Let's get back to Chicken Salad! I'm telling you, it hits the spot these days. My latest delight includes throwing in some cilantro. Here is a simple recipe if you feel inspired.

2-3 chicken breasts, boiled and shredded
1/2 cup chopped celery or green pepper or both
1/2 cup chopped chives

1/2 cup sour cream (about... I use a little less sometimes)
1/2 cup mayonnaise
mix sc and mayo together, then add:
2 or so Tbsp. lemon juice
1 tsp. salt
ground fresh pepper to taste
couple tsp of freshly chopped cilantro!
mix together with chicken and enjoy...

Monday, December 28, 2009


Today I am cleaning. I can't believe it has already been over 2 months since Brian and Josey and little Judah arrived and plopped down into our lives and cozy little home. They left this morning to return to the States where a new job and aisles of cold cereal options await them. I've been doing laundry since the moment they walked out the door. It's currently four in the afternoon... and the machine is still spinning. I've put Sadie back in her bedroom already, and good riddance! I love that girl but I need some sleep. I've vacuumed, dusted, put blankets and pillows away, un-re-arranged some of the furniture and made a loaf of bread for dinner. But, no one will be here to eat it except us. Just us. No Judah asking if there's more rice and no Josey moaning secretly at the thought of another bite. None of Brian's Fargo-tainted wisecracks or petitions for more hot chocolate. We can't stay up late watching Pride and Prejudice and discuss who plays a better Darcy, or stumble bleary eyed into the kitchen together searching for the first cup of precious coffee.

I'm cleaning, and even though it feels good, I'm kind of sad. In some ways it's bittersweet because living in close quarters for many weeks with lots of people and even more small children is bound to need an end at some point. And we're all a little grateful for our space and routine to return to normal... but it also means we say goodbye for another couple years. So, I'm thankful for our shared time together, full of tight squeezes and compromises, cups of tea (and coffee and chai and hot cocoa) and conversation, eating out and feasting in, sleepless nights and kid-free flights, cousin games and cousin fights, and always lots of joy. Thank you for making this trip happen Brian and Josey and Judah. We love and already miss you!

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Curled Around My Finger

Sometimes it curls around my finger. Smooth and silky, whispering in fleeting pirouettes as I try to grasp it’s honey strands. When she wakes up from a deep sleep, eyes puffy with dreams unfinished and warm, moist hands trying to rub them back into reality, the curly-q dance gives its best performance. She’ll totter unsteadily, peering anxiously over her crib slats and draw her lips into a puckery groan, begging me to free her from unnecessary time served behind bars.

I don’t always run to these moments with my heart and arms wide open. Often I am battling disappointment from the fact that she woke up earlier than I had hoped and my precariously balanced plans come crashing down around me like a barrage of post-nap crab apples. In those moments I can feel the frustration with my life like a hammering Morse code in the back of my head. I can sense the meaninglessness of the minutiae I deal with hour after hour and start to question if the core of my existence was created for this kind of work. Or if I’m feeling slightly less dramatic, I’ll at least begin spinning some sad, whiney tale in my mind in preparation for when Josh arrives home and I can unleash all details of how our brood of conniving children have conspired together to drive me to insanity.

In my more lucid moments, when the mid-afternoon cup of tea has found its rightful resting place and my nerves have paused from their tireless battles against unraveling, I greet her flushed, waking face with a more peaceful, welcoming countenance. I find delight in her slender little arms reaching up towards me with eager expectation, her eyes meeting mine as they do no one else’s, because I’m her mother.

I remember when I first looked into those eyes, all swollen and beat up with a little red birthmark stamped below her right eyebrow and another above the bridge of her nose. She reminded me of a Japanese sumo-wrestler, and that didn’t strike me as a good thing seeing as she was a newborn, Caucasian female. But it didn’t really bother me, though I did wait until the swelling went down to book any photo sessions. She was given to me and I loved taking care of her every need. It didn’t mean I never felt tired, or frustrated, or thankful for a break to get away. But, she is one of the most precious things this created world has to offer- a life, knit and fashioned and given for a time, for a purpose- the range of which we have only begun to see and may never fully realize.

And then, sometimes, her hair curls around my finger. And she looks like her father, with her startling, deep blue eyes that pull you down, down into hidden depths and dark swirly waters. She’s a complicated little bird. And so is he… so, I love her: her sideways glances and glowering, cranky pouts, her panting wide open smiles and sweet, soft, misplaced kisses. I love when she runs full steam ahead to join in her brother’s wrestling match, her legs like wooden trunks pounding stiffly as they propel her into their fun with abandon. I love that she is flung here and there by said brothers and rarely seems inconvenienced by the bumps and knocks she receives. I love her diaper clad bottom, struggling to remain in the confines of her made-for-little-people pants and the way she shamelessly shuffles it around, or burrows it in your lap for momentary respite. I love the sweet curve of her rosebud lips and the sad, downward slope of her contemplative eyebrows. I love that she can wear pink and skirts and jewels in her ears; but will run and climb and play ball with the best of them.

And someday, when her plump, dimpled thighs have faded into baby book history I know I’ll get to learn the kind of stories that make her cry, or the first book that makes her soul grow older, the people she struggles not to impress and the words that will hurt her most. I hope I always get to look into those deep, watery eyes and know all that makes them stir and swirl, to hold her slender hands and learn what makes them clasp in anxious petition or clap and sing for joy. She’s a gift, given for a time and treasured for each hard and beautiful moment.

Today she turns one. My Sadie, and I love her.

Saturday, October 31, 2009

They Are Here


It's been almost a year in the making with the last few months being full of preparation, all leading up to the moment when we saw their tired but excited faces round the corner and exit the airport baggage claim. They are here: my younger brother Brian, his beautiful wife Josey, and their sweet little boy, Judah (plus one in the oven).

For me, one of the greatest difficulties in making the decision to move to a place like China was the realization that few, if any of our family and friends would be able to visit us and we had to accept the fact that some of our most important relationships would change, or at least have to survive on a different type of communication. So, when the possibility came up of Brian coming to Qingdao for his student teaching, we got pretty excited. Not only would that mean they would be able to come here to see this country and experience our day to day life, but they would be doing it for a long time. 69 days to be exact. 69 DAYS! In some ways I feel like we're right back home in the States, sharing birthdays and Christmas, Thanksgiving and Sunday afternoons after church.

For the last couple weeks leading up to their arrival, I had many last minute details to pull together. We live in a nice, spacious apartment (for China) that has three bedrooms and 1 plus 1 sort of bathroom (by that I mean that it also doubles as a laundry room/mud room and the shower head shoots water down directly onto the toilet). This is absolutely sufficient for our family of 5 but with adding two more adults and a 2.5 year old, there was some re-arranging that would need to be done. So after multiple bed swaps, and re-organizing of wardrobes, etc. we were ready to add another family to our home.

Riley and Ari had been watching it seems. They had their own list of preparations to make which included making messages to tape to the outside of our door to be opened upon the Miller's arrival, making name tags for the doors so they could find out where to sleep, brainstorming about "arrival plans" which included "quiet time instead of showing them all the stuff we made for them so they can just RELAX," and of course, telling literally every human body they came into contact with that their "favorite wrestler" was coming to visit. Most people became somewhat surprised and intrigued, perhaps expecting that the latest WWF wrestler was coming to Qingdao for a tour. When it was realized that Riley was merely referring to "Uncle Brian," their interest understandably waned.

They are here, and we are thoroughly enjoying having the extra laundry, longer grocery lists, and early morning wake up calls. Hopefully they are enjoying the three extra kids to antagonize Judah, the severe shortage of western food, and the serious lack of personal space. I'm trying to convince Josey to do a "guest blog" while she is here, where you might be able to hear more of how they are faring. For now, 11 days into it, we are feeling blessed and grateful for a rare and unique time with family, and I'm pretty sure we'll be saying the same when the next 58 days comes to an end.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Grow Baby, Grow

The air outside today was a bit cooler than it has been in recent weeks, a sign that the season is changing- and one of the only signs as the leaves here do little more than shrivel into brittle, brown remnants of their former selves and fall unhappily to the ground. It's a sign that the growing season is coming to an end. I think of my dad's garden at home in Indiana and all the beautiful, fresh vegetables and colorful flowers he always plants to accompany them. Soon, he'll be tilling it all under again.

My thoughts today, however did not flush with the impending doom of summer. I am in growth mode. And who wouldn't be with a little brood of flourishing children, a packet of cherished herb seeds, and a soul in need of the Gardener's touch.

Grow Baby (Spinach), Grow
So, when I set out to find myself a little herb kit this summer to take back with me to China, I found that I had to pick from sets- none of which contained exactly the combination I wanted. After some agonizing moments, I settled on my top priority- basil. It seemed a little odd to me that she (basil is feminine, right?) was paired with none other than catnip. Catnip? Seriously? I didn't realize that this was allowed to be consumed by humans. I guess I just naively assumed it was only put in those nasty little cat toys, not grown as a savory herb for the adorning of dishes eaten by homo sapiens. I guess I was wrong.

So, reluctantly I attended to my little soil pellets, watering and watching anxiously for several days until the seedlings started to poke their heads through the topsoil. Now, a couple months into the project, wouldn't you believe which one is flourishing like a bed of overgrown weeds... that's right, the catnip. Anybody have any recipes you want to send me?

I also started a small container of spinach. The growing season may be a bit late so we'll have to see if it finished okay indoors. My dream is to someday have a little container garden on the narrow patio outside our apartment. I read last year in the biography of Nelson Mandela how in his final place of imprisonment he had dozens of 5 gallon buckets in which he grew a whole slew of fresh vegetables. I'm not imprisoned for standing against apartheid, but I do aspire to be a gardener even though I have zero soil/land to my name. So in that regard, Nelson Mandela is my hero.

Grow Baby (Girl), Grow
When she arrived I have to admit that I did not think she was that attractive. She was a bit beat up, huge (10.3 lbs, or 4.75 kilos), bloated, and the word that best seemed to describe her to me was "beast." I apologize if this offends any of you mothers who deems it crime not to fall instantly in love with the sight of your child, but I knew I would come around in time and she just honestly scared me at first.

We're good now though- in fact, although we had some rough months of travel and sleep-deprivation this summer- I just can't get enough of cuddlin' and kissin' her now. She makes the funniest, expressive little faces- scrunching her nose and puckering her lips at me in mock frustration, then smiling with a twinkle in her eye- I swear she has a good sense of humor already- something I highly value in other people. I love that she already likes to kick a ball around with her feet and wants to tackle and wrestle with her brothers. She's rockin' the girly thing with her pierced ears and pretty blue eyes, but I think she's going to be fun and sporty and full of spirit.

Grow Baby (Faith), Grow
I am nearing the end of a personal decade this year. That's right, I am 29. If I think about it too much or for too long, I can start to get really discouraged about where I'm at in comparison to where I should be at as far as spiritual maturity. I'm pretty sure this is the WRONG way to be thinking about it... didn't C.S. Lewis say something about the truly humble person is not the one who thinks little of himself, it's the one who doesn't think of himself at all. So, I'm clearly not that person yet because I'm thinking about what a loser I am!

But, even though this "I'm not what I should be" kind of thinking does seem to plague most of us once in awhile, I am equally encouraged by seasons of change that I sometimes sense God is bringing about in my thinking and faith. Last year Josh and I were so thankful to be a part of a small group that really challenged and changed some of our thinking through a great study of Galatians and a good friend who led the way by sharing his own journey and growth in faith.

Recently, I've picked up a book I've had forever and have even read parts of before- but only in the last month has it clicked in a really impactful way. Sometimes a good book needs to be met at the right time, that moment in life when you are somehow ready to receive it differently than if you just took in the information for the sake of writing a paper, or to grow in knowledge. For me, this is just such a time and the book is The Believer's School of Prayer by Andrew Murray, a classic on prayer- and highly recommended if you are also at just such a place in your life.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

homemade headache

I read something recently about sewing. Now, I am not a sewer, and there is a reason for that. I can't finish anything, and don't have the fortitude or desire or whatever is needed (like interest) to take the time and read the directions and see the project to its bitter end. But this piece I read was giving some advice for those would-be sewers and some ways to get through the inevitable frustrations that it can bring. Like, stopping before that "hit the wall" mark. Or, carving out a space of time instead of starting 10 minutes before your baby wakes up from her nap.

Well, I don't have a sewing machine and I'm not planning on starting anything thread-related anytime soon, but I did take some of these tips to heart as I headed into a weekend of way too much homemade cooking.

That may sound like I'm being pretentious. "I'm so tired and weary of creating an oasis of Martha Stewart-like ambiance and deliciously healthy homemade meals for my family." But I assure you I am being very sincere. I wish I could say that every homemade attempt of mine is a shocking and stellar success. But, in fact, they are not.

So, at the risk of boring you with the details of my weekend, let me share with you some little tips I learned along the way on my Way-T00-Much-Homemade-Food Weekend.

Tip #1 Once uncorked, wine cannot be stored at room temperature.
Okay, maybe most of you are laughing at me right now, but I'm not a big wine drinker, okay? In our house, a nice brew usually wins the day. Anyway, I do buy wine for cooking but I'm embarrassed to admit that I have normally left it out on the counter after opening it. My friends Carolyn and Steph were here for dinner the other night and informed me of their similar infraction- but they at least found out what the appropriate time frame was for an opened bottle. So, I've been cooking with bad wine. I discovered this AFTER I had made a whole big batch of from-scratch spaghetti sauce as well as a whole batch of marinara sauce for pizza.

Tip #2 Too much bread can be too much of a good thing
When I make spaghetti I like to make Focaccia bread to go with it. I've also been searching for a good pizza crust recipe, since I've yet to be satisfied with all the bland ones I've tried. Since I was already spending the time on the Focaccia, I thought I'd double the recipe and make the other half into pizza crusts. Spaghetti and bread on Sat. night, spaghetti leftovers for lunch on Sunday, and by the time Sunday night rolled around and I was pulling big hunky, crunchy pizzas out of the oven, our eyes were bulging with the sight of yet more carbohydrates to digest. Here's another tip: pre-cooked pizza crusts are way too dried out and crispy if they are cooked a second time. I told you this was not a glamour show of homemade food.

Tip #3 If you are stuffed with Carbs by Sunday night, don't make waffles on Monday morning.
That's right, as a "gift" to Josh I bought him a rare find... a waffle maker here in China. My plan was to get up bright and early with Riley and Ari to whip up some fantastic waffles. That may have been a great idea if we were not all bloated from a weekend of starch. And let me tell you something about homemade waffles- they don't tread lightly. Lots of oil, eggs, sugar, ugh- I'm sick just thinking about it again. And to go with this heart-healthy breakfast we had to make, you guessed it- homemade syrup!- another missing delicacy in our city (well, you can get it for a price$$). I know store-bought syrup has a lot of sugar and other chemicals, but for some reason the homemade kind seems ten times sweeter. Way too much of a good thing. Next time, stick with a fruit bowl and yogurt.

This sad tale does have a happy ending. I went to the market later that Monday and bought lots of fresh, yummy greens and colorful vegetables and we had big bowls of salad for dinner that night. This was topped off with Josh's favorite dessert- cheesecake. You may be wondering how we were able to stomach it... and I'm not sure how either but it's amazing how quickly your body can recover:)

With all the missteps and frustrations that filled my Homemade Weekend, I was thrilled to finally have a winner with this cheesecake. The crust was my favorite part- a mixture of three kinds of nuts (almonds, pecans, and walnuts) and my own special twist- pretzels. It turned out so creamy and smooth. Mmmm... with a mug of strong, hot java to round out the moment.

Here is to hoping your homemade attempts, whatever they may be- are much more successful, enlightened, and healthy than mine!

Saturday, September 12, 2009

A Tale of Two Languages

One of the things you often notice here in China is the funny and often very inaccurate translations from Chinese into English. I know the reason for this is the diametrical difference in the way our two languages "think." Mandarin truly is a language of pictures and this becomes more and more impressed upon me the more I learn of it.

My language tutor, Eileen (her "English" name) was talking with me this week and asking me how I was doing. I was explaining to her that the beginning of the year is always hard. She said, "I know. You have three kids- you must be very tired." (This by the way is probably by far the most common phrase I hear coming from a Chinese person when they talk to me!) I replied that the kid thing isn't really that big of a deal (ha!) but more it is because I've just ended a summer full of rest and time with my husband, and now the busyness of school has begun again and there is too little time for us- which inevitably creates issues! A wave of recognition and understanding swept over her whole demeanor and she started explaining how she experiences the same dynamic when life is busy with she and her husband as well. "Gou tong" is what we need, she said.

The meaning of "Gou tong" is a beautiful picture of two rivers flowing and as they meet together they interconnect, or latch on to one another. Like if you take your arms and have them clasp each other in a lock. It's hard to fully describe because the character for "gou" and for "tong" both have their own separate descriptive meaning. But the best translation maybe is just simply "conversation." After seeing her describe these different words though, I felt like "conversation" did not do the beauty of the Mandarin meaning justice.

Now it was my turn. My ayi has been watching me for the past few weeks as I have attempted to plant some of the herb and vegetable seeds I brought back from the States this summer. It probably seems like a hilarious charade of events to her as I attempt to buy the correct soil and pots, place them in the correct place, instruct her what not to water, etc. It's a delicate if not difficult task to grow something here since I can't read any directions or descriptions of product, and there is no Lowe's or friendly neighborhood greenhouse to help me out. I've managed to keep a few alive but there have been several casualties. She must wonder if I'm cut out for this.

So in an attempt to let my ayi know that I know I may not be able to cut it as a horticulturist, the other day I attempted to explain to her some of our favorite idioms. Specifically, the old phrase, "Green Thumb." I thought it would be cute to let her in on our little nickname for a Gardening Goddess (and the fact that Josh had told me I might not be one)... but instead it came out more like...

"At America, if person good at grow (here used hand motion for grow) flower, we say they have a thumb (here I ask how to say thumb), the thumb is green. They have a green thumb. You understand? My husband say maybe I not have one."

She laughed politely. You might be doing the same. I somehow doubt she had the same awestruck feelings of wonder at the beauty of our language that I had experienced for hers the day before.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

First Days of School

Do most mother's dream of the first day they send their children off to school? I have to say I didn't. Even though we spent the last couple years agonizing (it seemed) over whether or not we should send Riley early, or make him wait another year, the first day of this momentous occasion seemed like it snuck up on me.

The first clue that I was not planning for this day as I ought was when I caused him to miss the bus because of my lackadaisical preparations, i.e. never actually checking the bus schedule. This resulted in me guessing based on when I saw the kids walking up the hill to catch the bus last year, and I was off by about twenty minutes- twenty minutes too late it turned out. My sweet boy was un-phased by this mistake on my part and we quickly recovered by borrowing money from another mom (I was toting Ari and Sadie in my running garb) and hailing a taxi for the 25 minute ride to school. Not long after getting on the taxi I realized First Day Failure #2: Forgot to take picture of first child on their first day of school heading out the door.

When we arrived the excitement that had been building in Riley's psyche for almost two years now all dwindled in a matter of seconds when he surveyed the crowd of what seemed like thousands of children (in reality maybe around 100?) gathering in the main courtyard. They were filing nicely into their classes and looked excited, cheery, maybe a little nervous for the first day to begin. Riley was nearly in the fetal position. By now, sobbing and stating quite firmly he was not staying and was returning home with me and the rest of his comrades from the womb. Looking back, I think it was a Divine change of plans that we missed that bus and I was able to be there with him to work through those first tough moments. Finally, a couple friends who are teachers came over and offered to stay with Sadie and Ari while I went with Riley to his classroom, which we did- with him still firmly believing that he would not be staying. But it is amazing what a few well-placed name tags will do for a 4 year old and it was not long after finding his personal cubby, seat, coat hook, and who knows what else, that he was waving goodbye while hurriedly wiping tears from his face in an effort to become the mature Pre-K'er he now believed he had always been.

With the traumatic beginning behind us, the days have continued with little incident. The makeup of his class makes for some funny stories. It's quite diverse: 6 kids with four languages (Korean, Chinese, German, and English). Riley stated that they all speak Spanish. His Chinese is improving little by little though, which is encouraging. Today he also asked me if he could have some alone time in his room, building with blocks... "like, this could be the Building Center and you and Ari could go to the Cooking Center in the kitchen like we have at school."

Though I failed to look sentimentally ahead to this day with any real emotional preparation, I do find that my heart twinges a bit when he kisses me goodbye in the morning, sounding so old and adult with his questions about what he has for lunch and telling us he'll miss us but not to worry about him. And I've been trying to make up for my initial lack of enthusiasm by working on ideas to restore myself to status of Supermom... at least in my son's eyes. One idea that I thought was pretty ingenious but was quickly corrected otherwise was making super healthy, sugarless oatmeal cookies! What good mom doesn't try to provide healthy, heart-conscious snacks for her growing, brain and muscle-developing children? Riley was not fooled. A request was put in for the "OTHER oatmeal cookies, mom!" I have pressed on though. With a little tweaking of the recipe I think it's pretty good now and the boys seem satisfied- or at least they are eating and not choking or gagging... and sometimes ask for more.

So, in honor of the First Day's of School here is a new, healthy, not-too-bad-tasting recipe for Oatmeal Cookies.

1 cup whole wheat flour (perhaps 1/4- 1/2 cup more depending on the moisture of the dough)
1 1/2 cups rolled oats
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1 T. cinnamon

1/2 cup honey
1/2 cup olive oil (can also use some applesauce in place of oil if you want)
1 T. molasses
2 eggs (beat with 1 T. water)
1 tsp vanilla

can also add raisins or walnuts OR I added about 1/2 - 1 cup small, diced apples.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Returning to China for those whose home country is elsewhere must always have strong sensations associated with it. There are smells and sounds and sights that are so particular to this place and can overwhelm you with their reality when you are flung back into their presence. For me these past two weeks, they included some of the following: the sound of a xiao (chinese flute) being played by an elderly man as I ran along the ocean path early one morning, the pungent odor of feces and garbage accentuated by the oppressive heat as I walked to the store, a mini van slowing down to my walking speed and following me for several minutes simply in order to stare at me- a waiguoren (foreigner), fresh steamed vegetables and jiaozi with rice for dinner!, the smiling face of our ayi and her genuinely delighted hugs and kisses for the kids upon our return, pushing my cart through hoards of sweaty crowds as I fought with pushy old ladies to get my vegetables weighed at the grocery store, a broken air conditioner.

But for all the beautiful, easy, convenient things I miss about life in the States, there are many things I love and appreciate about the people and pace of life here in China. I love the simplicity of our schedule and the close fellowship we share with our friends. I love the cheap food and the fact that I'm forced to make many more things by hand. I love the friendliness of the people and the way they love children and the fact that I feel safe most of the time. I am grateful that because life is not easy for so many around me, it forces me to think about my own life and the life of others in a different way.

The days continue to resume a bit more normalcy and routine. Riley started school last week. Sadie began sleeping through the night again. I was able to stay awake past 7:30pm. Chinese lessons start again in a couple weeks and I'm reinvigorated to start studying again. On our flight back to China, after finishing a bowl of yogurt, Riley looked up at me with his empty bowl and said "Mom. meiyou (meaning " have none"). My Chinese is back!"

I don't know the secret to contentment, though I did read a great book on it by the Puritan Thomas Watson once. He had some excellent pastoral ideas, but not the magic potion:) There is something simple about doing the thing before you that you believe God has given you to do though. And for us, that is being in this place. In spite of all that is not ideal (is there any ideal place though really?), I continue to find peace and contentment here. It's almost surprising to me and maybe even moreso that it continues! So, the return to the Far East is bagged. I'm glad to be back and ready to embrace the ridiculous humidity, obnoxious stares, and funky smells. I think it helps that I snuck back a few goodies from Target too. Here's to being content wherever in the world it is God places you.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

My Home Away from Home

It has been nearly two and a half months since I've been able to sit down and write something here. The biggest reason for that is that blogspot and a slew of other servers are blocked here in China. The most recent casualty was facebook... something Josh has no problem with since he recently shut down his page out of some highly principled issue with the way it feeds on our narcissistic tendencies (or obsessions). I actually agree with him though it sounds like I'm mocking. But I am less principled than he. And I appreciate the good things about facebook in spite of it's time-sucking, egocentric qualities. Like, the simple fact that I can stay in touch with people and see pictures of their lives and hear little updates on a pretty regular basis. And for me, living so far away and so detached from so many people who are dear to me, this is a very worthwhile and good thing.

So there you have it, life in the PRC means living with blocked internet access on a regular basis. But the other reason for the long hiatus was that we were able to travel home to the States this summer for two months. I could have written while we were there, but somehow in the midst of plane trips and road trips, visiting old friends and soaking in the joys of a summer in places like the Adirondacks of NY, the rolling and historical charm of Philadelphia, the lull of beach life on the Jersey Shore, the simple and yet intriguing college town of Muncie, IN, the northwood beauty of Hayward, WI, and of course- the old standby- my parents back porch in Northwest Indiana, I failed to find the energy or maybe just motivation to put my hand to the keyboard. Apologies to all my faithful readers (i.e. sorry, mom).

Now I find myself back in Qingdao, with a (hopefully) excellent proxy at my side, time on my hands and thoughts in my head. So, I go forth.

I've been reflecting quite a bit on returning home. It's a new experience for me to be on hold for years at a time with things like shopping (fun shopping that is), being with family and friends, enjoying the freedom and ease of being in a land that you understand and that understands you. And it's a challenge to be flooded with all of that for 2 months of gorging and then return to a foreign place... that's really starting to feel more like home too!

So, more to come on that subject. For now, this post is long enough I think. But I will say that 7 days and 7 nights of jet lag later- it is good to be back and yet hard to be away again. Maybe that's a taste of what we should always be feeling, maybe to a greater degree even; at home here where we were made to be (on earth), but not at home because we're really foreigners in a world that is so far from the way it was created to be. Either way, I am truly feeling at home away from Home.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Dill-icious iDeas

For some reason one of the flavors I have missed here in China is dill. I was never it's number one fan previous to moving here or anything, but we had a pretty friendly relationship and absence tends to make the heart, and apparently the palate, grow fonder. Sometimes as I would come out of a store or market I would get a whiff of what smelled very much to me like dill and my eyes would comb the street around me to see if there was someone selling food or vegetables or SOMEthing that would lead me to a place I could perhaps buy this now treasured herb. But did you know that the smell of metal grinding is very similar to dill? I didn't... but now I do.

The last few months I have been preparing a very sacred list on which I put every whim that passes through my head of something that I miss or wish I had... and intend to get when we go home to the States this summer. Probably 95 percent of those items will be crossed off the list when I realize how unnecessary they are to our actual daily life not to mention how much they now cost. As you may have guessed, dill made it on that list. So, try to imagine my delight as I stopped into a supermarket the other day that I rarely get to because of its distance from my house, and came across a deliiciously fresh package of my cherished herb! (I'm not trying to be unfaithful to my true favorite- cilantro- but with cilantro our paths cross daily so the intensity of my feelings when I see it are just not the same)

Nothing says summer to me like the smell of freshly cut grass on an early morning run, watching an evening Little League game with my husband and an ice cream cone, the smell of the grill, worn in flip flops and now, the taste of dill. So, in honor of my excitement about this oft neglected herb, here are a few recipes for some dill inspired dishes... granted it may not be the star player in any of them but it definitely adds some kick and flair and summer goodness! Feel free to add your own or post another dill-icious idea.

Cheddar Cheese and Dill Biscuits
"Fresh dill and chives make these rolls perfect for serving whenever you grill out, or even split and topped with homemade chicken salad"

3 c. all purpose flour
4-1/2 t. baking powder
1 T. sugar
1-1/2 t. dry mustard (I used whole grain)
1 t. salt
1/2 stick unsalted butter, chilled and cut into pieces
(I sub. shortening for this- whatever you have!)
1/4 c. shortening, chilled and cut into pieces
1 c. plus 2 T. milk
1/4 c. fresh chives, chopped
2-1/2 c. sharp cheddar cheese, grated and divided

Sift together flour, baking powder, sugar, mustard, and salt. Cut in butter and shortening until crumbly. Blend together milk, chives and dill, stir into dry ingredients and add in 2 cups cheese. On a lightly floured surface, knead dough lightly. Roll out 1/2 in. think and cut using a floured biscuit cutter. Sprinkle biscuit tops with remaining cheese, place on a lightly oiled baking sheet and bake at 450 degrees for 15 minutes. makes approx. 18 biscuits.

Stuffed Mushrooms

24 large mushrooms
1/4 cup sliced green onions
1 clove garlic
1/4 cup butter or marg
2/3 c. fine dry bread crumbs
1/2 c. shredded cheddar or smoked Gouda cheese
1 T. freshly chopped dill

1. Rinse and drain mushrooms. Remove stems; reserve caps. Chop enough stems to make 1 cup.

2. In a medium saucepan cook the chopped stems, green onions, and garlic in butter until tender. Stir in bread crumbs and cheese. Spoon crumb mixture into mushroom caps. Arrange stuffed mushroom in a 15x10x1 inch baking pan. Bake in a 425 oven for 8 to 10 minutes or until heated through.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

the Importance of Being Eaters

Nothing would be more tiresome than eating or drinking if God had not made them a pleasure as well as a necessity.

I have an eating disorder. Actually, I think we all do. Maybe it was best said by  Lillian Calles Barger in an interview for Mars Hill Audio I listened to recently where she called it "disordered eating." We have taken what is supposed to be not only a necessity, as Voltaire stated, but a beautiful pleasure as well, and have made into, well, here's a couple pictures to get 
you thinking...

I remember a coach I had in high school who talked about her years as a college ball player and how she literally thought about food merely as fuel for the machine that was her body. She was in such a high level of fitness and training that she ate exactly the amount of nutrients and carbs to sustain her body at the level of performance she wanted it at. Sometimes that meant she could get what she needed merely from a power bar and since she dedicated so much time to training and to her sport- a power bar was often all she had time for (hmm... can't really relate much to that scenario).

I  know someone else who desires to lose some pounds and struggles to keep from eating too many sweets. As a result this person finds something that fits the "low fat" calorie count- like fat free microwave popcorn, and eats 10 bags a day. 

We all have some sort of "disordered eating" habits. And by disordered I mean, out of the orderly way we were designed to be in our God-given bodies. Whether it's feeling weary with small children at home and resorting to easy meals full of pre-packaged foods, or coming home to an empty house and eating in front of the TV, or eating in the car on the way to or home from work, we often eat in a way that defies the God-given plan for us to experience our human-ness in it's fullest and most glorious way (I think that way includes Sumatra coffee by the way)

Here's the idea behind it: we were made to live in physical bodies that require physical food, but in the beauty and complexity of that design, we are also affected by how we go about doing that very task of eating. We are not animals. As I'm sure Oprah or some health guru will tell you, our eating habits are closely connected to and tied in with our emotions, our intellect, our psyche and moods and of course our actual physiological well-being. And surprisingly, Oprah did not actually come up with that idea on her own... it's really an age old "Eden concept." Made from the earth, we were made to eat the earth as well. And we were made to eat together.

So, I've been thinking a lot about this whole "way we eat" thing quite a bit recently and there are four areas that are sort of (I hesitate to say goals though that is in fact what they are) some things I want to work towards and maybe they are things you could work towards as well.

Here they are:

1. Eat fresh.
I know it's hard. I know it costs more. I know there are challenges because even when I eat fresh, which is actually quite cheap here in China, I know that what I am eating is actually pumped with who knows how many litres of steroids and is about the furthest thing from "organic" outside of being grown in a laboratory. But back to fresh... it is what we were MADE to eat and we need it! Not only that but the more we eat in delicious, fresh, mouth-watering ways the more we will enjoy the food we were made to be sustained by and to (what a gift!) enjoy to the fullest! Isn't it interesting that so much of celebration in the Biblical tradition is centered around eating. And this is true eschatologically as well. We don't lose our bodies... they are made new, made to enjoy things to the fullest- including food.

2. Eat slowly.
I do not mean to chew your food 20 times or some other crazy diet plan to help you get full before you eat too much. I simply mean that it takes time to make good food, and we need to make the time to do that. I don't know all of what that means, there are probably a million arguments against it for each of our particular lives and schedules. But, if the way we eat is really important, I think the way we prepare for it can be equally so. What we care about, we take pride in. And I think we should care about how we eat, not in a self-consumed diet conscious kind of way, but more in a wanting to eat the way we were ordered (as in designed) to do so: nutritiously, in community with people, enjoying every minute of it. 

3. Eat local.
I'm not a member of the Slow-Food movement. I think it's a great idea but at this point the closest I can get is to buy from my little vegetable man-friend inside our front gate. He's awesome by the way; speaks a tiny tiny bit of English which he likes to practice when I come in, always has a little magic trick to wow the boys with, is cute as a little Chinese button, and I get to see him almost every day. That's what I mean when I say eat local- support your local farmers if you can-- but more importantly, I think you should use the means of getting your food as a way of being a part of the community you've been placed in. And that means getting to know the people who grow or sell you your food. Shop at a farmer's market, or at the very least, try to talk to the man nicely stacking oranges at your local grocery store.

4. Eat together.
To me, this is one of the most important. Maybe you really can't feasibly attempt the other three, but this one you should strive for. I heard something said the other day to the gist of, one of the things that distinguishes us from animals is the way we eat together. We converse, we share, we laugh, we learn, we give and take in conversation. 
People lament the loss of family dinner times and one of the biggest reasons is because that is where the family talked and shared about the day, their lives, the things that mattered in the world. But I don't mean just your family- maybe you don't even have one at this point. Eat with others, including friends or people who need care, or someone you're wanting to get to know. One of the beautiful things about food is that not only is it something we were given as a means to sustain us and to find pleasure in, but also for the purpose of giving to others. The film "Babette's Feast" is one of the most profound pictures of someone literally laying down their life for their friends through the service of a meal. And through this gift a community experiences redemption. You should watch it and then think about how much eating together and preparing food for someone can actually mean! My interview friend, Lillian, said" ...the fact that people eat alone, they eat in front of the television, people eat out of boxes in their cars, eating out of vending machines; this kind of eating is disordered because it is disconnected from a communal nurturance that is needed. People over-eat and under-eat when it is disconnected in this way."

So, I'm going to lay off the food lecture circuit for awhile now. But before I hang my hat I'd like to share one last thing... a recipe. This is my latest favorite bread to make, whole grain hearty goodness. There are probably way better recipes out there but this is one I have that I can actually find ingredients for and tastes pretty good too! Here you go:

Mixed Grain Bread

3.5 to 4 cups all purpose flour
2 packages active dry yeast
1.5 cups milk
3/4 cup water
1/2 cup cracked wheat
1/4 cup cornmeal
1/4 cup brown sugar
3 Tablespoons cooking oil
1.5 tsp. salt
1.5 cups whole wheat flour
1/2 cup rolled oats
1/2 cup sunflower seeds (shelled)
Rolled oats

1. In a large mixing bowl combine 2 cups of the all-purpose flour and the yeast; set aside. In a medium saucepan combine milk, water, cracked wheat, cornmeal, brown sugar, oil, and salt. Heat and stir over medium-low heat just until warm. Add the milk mixture to the flour mixture. Beat with an electric mixer on low to medium speed 30 seconds, scraping sides of bowl. Beat on high speed for 3 minutes. using a wooden spoon, stir in whole wheat flour, the 1/2 cup rolled oats, seeds, and as much remaining all-purpose flour as you can.

2. Turn dough out onto lightly floured surface. Knead in enough of the remaining all-purpose flour to make a moderately stiff dough that is smooth and elastic (6 to 8 min total). Shape dough into a ball. Place in lightly greased bowl, turning once to grease surface of dough. Cover; let rise in a warm place until double in size (about an hour).

3. Punch dough down. Turn out onto a lightly floured surface; divide in half. Cover; let rest 10 minutes Meanwhile, lightly grease two 8x4x2 in loaf pans.

4. Shape dough into loaves by patting or rolling. Place shaped dough halves in prepared pans. Cover; let rise in a warm place until nearly double (about 30 minutes).

5. Brush tops of loaves with water; sprinkle with additional rolled oats. Bake in 375 oven for 30 to 35 minutes or until bread sounds hollow when lightly tapped. Immediately removed bread from pans. Cool on wire racks.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Tell me what you eat, I'll tell you who you are. ~Anthelme Brillat-Savarin

I enjoy food. Who, being in their right mind doesn't? I don't think I enjoy it the way some good food lovers do though. My palate is pretty limited and I came to realize this more acutely when I moved to a country that enjoys food found in an entirely different sphere of acceptable edible-ness. This does not mean I hide away in  my closet, stocking it with foreign imported goods. On the contrary, I've really enjoyed getting to know and actually have grown to love some ethnic foods I had not before been exposed to in my midwestern (and then east coast) upbringing. Like Korean food. Who knew that in moving to China I would actually be far more exposed to Korean cuisine? And Indian. I used to wrinkle my nose at the ceaseless smell of curry filtering out from our neighbors door in the first apartment building we lived in. Now it's my food of choice when we eat out. But all this to say that my palate is still limited, especially when I compare it to the bottomless gullet of my husband and his apparent inability to be grossed out or dislike anything- except canned tuna.

So, the Photo Food Challenge began not because I thought I needed to dislike food, but only because I need to eat it- as most of us would like to- appropriately. That of course means with the proper balance of nutrition and proportion. And even though this has been something I have always been interested in since realizing as a 9th grader that my butt would not get any smaller with the second helping of ice cream after dinner (nowadays I think girls are learning it quite a bit younger- too much younger), I became a little more conscious of it recently when I began to realize the baby weight from #3 was not melting off quite as effortlessly as I'd hoped it would. And for all you naysayers out there (again mom- thanks for reading)... I am currently living on two pairs of jeans that fit me- one with some serious holes creeping into an unacceptable area due to extrene overuse.

Thus began the pursuit to eat a little healthier. And one of the biggest areas for me is battling the nightly craving to stuff myself silly with sweets. I never thought of myself as having  a problem in this area but when I mentioned the fact that I think I might to Josh, he kind of reacted in a way that made me think maybe I'd been in the dark on this issue a little too long.

One recent afternoon as I hopped online to check my email, I noticed a link to something talking about using pictures to help curb your diet. I clicked on it and the Photo Food Challenge was born. The idea is that if you take pictures of everything you eat during the day, it will, a) help you to assess what you actually put in your mouth and, b) maybe urge you to think before eating something you shouldn't. I think if you do it, publishing it on the worldwide web is also a great facilitator of restraint.

So here goes. These are the fine photos taken from my entire eating menu yesterday. If they look strangely like a sorry, amateur attempt at a Martha Steward 10-easy (but really ridiculously hard to make with impossible to find ingredients)-meals-for-the-week photo shoot, that's because they are. I tried to have a little fun but am not expecting a job offer any time soon.

One last thing... though this is all a bit light hearted (and hopefully will help me eat in a way that is good for my heart), my reading of Miroslav Volf's book has gotten me thinking about giving... in every area- even food! So, the next post may get a little philosophical on giving and receiving- in the area of food. I know, exciting. Do try and restrain yourselves. 

Breakfast: the same for me, everyday- toast w/ butter and honey. And the best part, a steaming cup of deep, dark, strong coffee with cream. yummm. 

Lunch: leftover rice and stir-fried green peppers (capsicums for all you Aussies) from the night before. Usually I have a midmorning munch crunch but this particular day I was so busy I uncharacteristically forgot about it. 

Water: I have finally become a water drinker. It doesn't matter how many times I read about how good and necessary it is for our bodies to function... I just think it is boring, boring, boring. But nursing has motivated me and somehow when it's in a bottle it seems so much cooler.

Dinner: Curry with chicken and veggies and, what else? you got it- rice. And some spinach and carrots. One winning point for China is her super cheap fruit and veggies and the fact that all the pre-packaged foods are things I don't recognize and am too nervous to try. 

Evening Snack: Normally I would eat several more brownies than this lonely fellow- but thanks again to the worldwide web, I was able to restrain myself. I'd like to give a shout out to my father-in-law as well for inspiring the "fruit cup" which he created a lovely version of for his nightly snack attack and I have continued to copy. I ate it with a little jello actually but forgot to take a picture before gobbling it down.

The more you eat, the less flavor; The less you eat, the more flavor
-Chinese Proverb

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Dependent Living

I woke up this morning with one blissful thought immediately coming to mind- Josh is home. I could smell brewed coffee... no need to get up to a cold apartment and make it myself. I could hear the kids waking up and asking for books to read... no need to crawl out of bed and help them with their "pre" wake up routine of bathroom visits, asking how long until they can come out of their rooms, picking books to put on their beds, etc. I felt that deliciously weightless feeling that comes when the person who shares the load of raising this family with me has once again returned and I am no longer the sole-- well, the sole everything. 

And it wasn't just the help I missed- though sometimes that seems to be the most glaring quality I'm in need of when I have three little ones and only one set of hands. An ironic thought struck me the other day when I was thinking about how you normally tire of someone's company after a certain, "proper" amount of time, but not your mate. I mean, of course most people need time to themselves once in awhile (some more than others), but on the whole you don't find yourself thinking, "okay, it's been a couple months now- we need to spend a weekend away from each other." Now don't go thinking of all the examples you can to trash my ironic thought. I'm saying as gently as possible, without launching into a treatise on marriage, normally

But, back to what I missed. I certainly was missing him when I got home from dinner at a friend's house one evening, thinking it would be a quick-to-bed night because it was late and they'd all played hard. But of course it wasn't. Riley was sobbing about having to go to the bathroom because "it WON'T come!" and he promised me that even if he stood there all night and all the next day, "it would NEVER come!" Meanwhile, Sadie was screaming her head off in bed, clearly overtired and therefore having trouble falling asleep- another thing I find ironic. Ari was peeling off clothes- but only because he wanted to put his basketball jersey on and run a couple sprint sets in our living room before bed- but he couldn't find his "jewsey" because it was being washed. Finally, the issues began resolving. Riley eventually told me he peed in a bush outside our friend's apt. before coming home. Wish he would have mentioned that earlier before I launched into the whole power struggle. I picked Sadie up and rocked her for a minute before her eyes gratefully closed. Ari seemed to get it when I sat his pudgy little naked body down and explained it was pajama-time, not calisthenics-time. Though he needs it. 

I'm off track again. Maybe I really did just miss the help. 

But truly, outside of all those moments when simply another set of arms and another authoritative voice would have been enough, I found myself once again realizing all the things God has so graciously (and I do mean- without merit, giving me what I do not deserve) given me in the husband he has drugged into marrying me. Just kidding. The calming influence, the stimulating conversation, the probing questions, the challenging force, the willingness to think hard and talk when it's scary, the hilarity, the laughs, and so much more... I just don't want to embarrass him.

It's funny how, with all this "dependent" talk- I can, at the same time, want to be thought of as so strong, independent, self-made. I went out to coffee the other day with a new friend and even though beforehand I consciously warned myself against it, I still found myself feeling like a loser afterwards because I felt like I had been a lame conversationalist... possibly even embarrassing. There's the social awkwardness rearing its ugly head again. But, as this "loser" feeling continued to follow me around the rest of the day and into the next, I started trying to uncover what it was that was really bothering me. It became clear that once again I had set out to present myself as this intelligent, wise, and capable mother of three who had not been swallowed up by my children. When I realized I had failed to present this idea of a woman, because I had simply come across as what I am, I was disappointed, and pretty bummed. 

Today I read a quote by Martin Luther in Miroslav Volf's "Free of Charge: Giving and Forgiving in a Culture Stripped of Grace." They were the last words of a man who had spent his life struggling through and then articulating and fighting for some of the most important truths of the Christian faith. He said, "We are beggars-- that is true." To understand the full context of what he was saying and what Volf was quoting him for- definitely read the book. As I thought about the gratefulness I felt for the return of my husband and all my neediness of him, and the continual struggle I have to be viewed as having little need in the area of intelligence or got-it-togetherness, I was struck by this quote. Beggars before One person. Not self-made, not able to make anything of myself at all, but because of the Person I stand before, this is the "height of human dignity," the very best place I can be. 

Saturday, March 28, 2009

A Fresh Start

Spring is in the air. Even though today was on the chillier side of a spring day, it was still sunny and had that certain smell that makes me think of cherry blossoms starting to bud, pulling on a denim jacket instead of my heavy pea coat, taking an evening stroll with the kids on bikes and in strollers instead of curling up with hot cocoa.  And since spring is in the air and that always brings with it a sense of freshness, new beginnings, cleaning your cupboards and closets... I decided to start a new blog. 

Some of you might wonder why in the world I decided to do that since we had a blog a couple years ago, supposedly to keep all our friends and family updated on our life in China, and we also now have the wonderful world of Facebook. Well, some of you may also have noticed that I haven't done real well on keeping up with that supposed other blog. One of the reasons (the second one being our mac membership expired and I am not about to renew it for 100 bucks a year!) was because I felt an inherent pressure to be writing about all my amazing cultural experiences and things I was learning or being exposed to here in the Middle Kingdom... but all I could find to write about more often than not was the bike Riley was trying to ride or the new soup recipe I came up with, or something totally unrelated to anything cultural. 

The reality is that my stage of life requires me to spend most of my waking hours (and some of the ones I'm supposed to be sleeping) with three kids under 4. I also love living here in China and do in fact have some interesting things that I learn once in awhile about this country. Unlike many of my friends here though, I have been a little more limited in my exploration of the city, and my ability to meet and establish a high number of foreign friendships. Case in point: the eclectic, super cheap shopping district where most people go to buy, well everything outside of groceries... I haven't been there since September of last year. So, instead of feeling the pressure to always be updating about the cultural background of the latest Chinese holiday or the incredible conversation I had with the street vendor, I am going to simply share about what my days hold that I find interesting, or funny, or yummy, or yes maybe even sometimes educational and thought provoking. And maybe it will be fun to read... for my mom. Thanks for reading Luanne:)

So with that Statement of Purpose in mind... here we go. Today's real title is:

Taco Night
Last night we had a bunch of friends over for a much needed dose of Mexican food. On the menu: freshly made bing (tortillas) thanks to my wonderful Ayi, taco meat- beef or chicken (and all the trimmings), fresh salsa, cornbread, spanish rice, strawberry jello, and korean noodles thanks to my friend Tash! One experience that I believe all American expats share here in China is a serious withdrawal of Mexican cuisine. The one restaurant we had here in Qingdao for the longest time served a strange variation of taco meat with a serious absence of cheese of any kind, and yogurt in place of sour cream. It's just not the same. 

I remember the first time we had guests for dinner after moving here and I had decided that tacos sounded like an easy meal to throw together. Still being in the midst of food prep/culture shock I was having a hard time coming up with meals I could conceivably find all the ingredients for. Tacos however, turned out to be an all-day affair. Had to make my own tortillas, my own tortilla chips, chop up all the vegetables for salsa, make sour cream, cut up all the side dish trimmings... the meat was the easy part. But once in awhile I still find it necessary and worthwhile to go through all the trouble. That mouthful of juicy meat smothered in fresh lime juice, cilantro, cheddar cheese and sour cream is enough to make all that prep seem like a faraway dream.

Last night was no exception. But the other, and probably more important element of Taco Night was the simple pleasure of having people in our home. Josh and I both continue to laugh at the irony that we, who feel like the most socially handicapped people, feel this compelling desire to fill our home with people. We love it. There is something important about having people come in and sit in your physical living space, eating food together, talking together, watching your kids bust out a break dance with moves that come out of nowhere, that allows you to know each other differently than being at work or out to dinner. God made us physical people, with bodies that interact with physical environments. Somehow, our souls feed on that time we spend in the physical presence of others, and somehow there is an important difference in being in the places where we live and spend some of our most personal moments. So, bring on the tacos I say. I'll eat my rice and stir fry 6 days a week, but once in awhile I need a little time South of the Border with some pengyou (friends) in mi casa.