America, Animals, Culture, Family, Food, Health, Mexico, Summer

T-Shirt Trade

I traded a t-shirt for a grilled chicken salad. And, it was a great swap. We were at a teacher’s fair (which basically amounts to a bunch of crazed teachers trying to get free stuff as quickly as they can) and our shirts were the most popular item.

As we were setting up our table, (pre- crazy teachers) a girl from another table representing a local restaurant came over and asked to swap gift cards for a shirt. She held out 4 cards for free salads, which just happens to be my favorite meal, and I gladly gave her a shirt. I’ll trade veggies for t-shirts any day! 

We had our family reunion this past weekend and my grandma was telling a story about how even when I was little, I’d eat anything. For me, that pretty much sums up my family reunion experience. Inevitably, the conversation turns to what weird things I’ve eaten over the past year since everyone last saw me. I’ve told the dog and egg story quite a bit. If you didn’t catch those the first time around, check them out here and here.

After being at the family reunion, Monday and Tuesday were pretty hectic, just trying to catch up. One of the churches we work with called on Tuesday afternoon (after the teacher fair that morning) and said, oh, by the way, those 400 shirts we ordered: we need those in 3 hours. And we need them delivered to the church (which is one hour from our shop). No big deal. 

Jake’s hands after printing 400 custom dyed shirts


After delivering them, we were exhausted. And, I needed a reward for surviving the day. And the reward I chose? Tacos. 

Jake and I typically eat at the Mexican restaurants that you actually have to speak Spanish at to order. Not really your run of the mill places. We order things like huaraches, tlacoyos, and chilaquiles. This place was an in between place. Not commercialized, but not way off the map either. There were a couple things on the menu I didn’t recognize though. 

Listed under the taco fillings, it had mulitas. I took Spanish in high school and Jake took German, so occasionally, I will recognize Spanish words that he doesn’t. But when he asked me if I knew what it was, I didn’t recognize that one. So, he looked it up on his phone. 

And this is what showed up. 


Armadillo tacos, anyone? 

My first thought was: surely they aren’t really serving that here. My second thought was: should I order it? 

I realized the issue though. Mulita and mulitas are two different things. It turns out that mulita is the name for an armadillo in Uruguay and Argentina). Mulitas, however, are more like tortilla sandwiches. Almost like a quesadilla, but not quite. Either way, mulitas have nothing to do with armadillo. Unless you made them with armadillo meat. So, I guess you could have mulita mulitas in Argentina. 

I played it safe and just had chicken. 

And, I was pleased to find out the next day that the church we made a late delivery for gave us a sweet gift. Gourmet popcorn. 

Trading food for t-shirts? A yes every time. Just maybe not for armadillo tacos. 

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America, Culture, Farm, Food, Garden, Health, Summer, Travel

Leading the Whey

I’ve been a lot of places in the world, but I’ve yet to find a place that I like better than home. 
I don’t know if it’s the people or the place or a combination of both, but there’s just something special about the place I come from.

This time of year is especially beautiful because everything is green and growing. I left a few weeks ago, with freshly planted seeds in the ground (literally, I planted the watermelon, cantaloupe and squash the day before I left) and came back to a pretty little garden developing. Also, my sweet potato slips are in full growth mode, in case anyone was wondering. 

That first row is my baby sweet potato plants that will soon take over everything

The people make our little corner of Arkansas pretty unique too though. I’m not just talking about my family. They’re definitely unique, but when you come from a tiny farming community, you know most people like family. Farm people are a special breed. They’re raised on hard work and sweat and a little bit of gossip.

I love the barter system. They talked about it in history class like it was an ancient thing. The trading of goods or services for other goods or services. But, the barter system very much lives on. People around here trade work for work, milk for eggs, garden produce for fresh bread, the list goes on. Last night, we traded one of the neighbors some fresh raspberries for some work on my car. Not kidding, that’s really the way it works. And, we’ve learned to trade t-shirts for just about everything.

My brother and I come up with crazy ideas just about on the daily. If I haven’t thought of it, he definitely has. Generally, he’s the one with the idea and I’m the one he convinces to go along with it. I could list a million of these day dreams: buying a hot air balloon was one we thought about for a few days, starting a farmer friendly barber shop (that one is possibly still in the works).. Starting a screen printing business was one that he came up with about 10 years ago. And, we all see where that’s taken us. 


So, when he said he wanted to try cheese-making, I got on board fairly quickly. Any way to produce farm fresh food is pretty much a sure deal for me. The cheese making supplies arrived in the mail a few days later. 

We’ve been getting raw milk from our neighbors for awhile now. Everyone tells me: don’t drink that, it’ll make you sick! However, I’ve been drinking it daily and feel strong as ever. See, the pasteurization process destroys some of the raw milk’s antibodies in the heating process. So, it’s technically healthier. And, I think it’s pretty safe. It’s how our ancestors drank it and generations of humans have survived since then, so it can’t be that bad, am I right?

Anyway, raw milk. In reading about cheese making, it is the cream of the crop. Pun intended. It makes the most curds, which in turn yields the most cheese. So, since our neighbors milk 21 gallons a week, we have access to excess raw milk. 

Side note: let me tell you a little history about where this milk comes from. These neighbors got a blind dairy cow from another neighboring commercial dairy farm, so they were going to milk it by hand. But, the cow “got down” and wouldn’t get back up. So, these neighbors called us to use our “hot shot” (an electric prod) to get this cow back up. Which is how we ended up in the free raw milk exchange. 

When we decided to make cheese, we knew we’d need extra milk, past our regular weekly gallon. So, we called and they said to come over and get a couple extra gallons. 

Now, it’s country rules that if you ask something from your neighbor, you don’t go without giving something in return. Well, Jake had just baked a few loaves of fresh bread.[He currently has a sourdough starter, for those of you who know what that would be. So, it’s producing three loaves of bread weekly right now] I had some homemade mulberry jam in the pantry, so we decided to take that. But, I also had some raspberries from the garden and Dad caught some catfish, so we took fish and berries too.


When we arrived, the exchange was happily made. We got our raw milk, they got their farm fresh goods and we went on our way. But, not before I got to meet their pet squirrel. I can’t make this stuff up, ya’ll. 

I’m a little sad to say that no one knows how to make cheese any more. I asked both of my sets of grandparents if they’d ever made cheese or seen it made and none of them had. I thought they were supposed to be the ones teaching us how to do this type of thing?
I really thought it would be much more difficult than it turned out to be. You start with a gallon of (preferably raw) whole milk. The cheese process essentially takes all of the milk solids (read: fat) out of the liquid. You will typically yield about a pound of cheese from one gallon of milk. 

(Side story: In Laos, I asked my nutrition training participants what was the first thing they thought of when they heard the word “fat”. Their answer? Cheese. Looks like they were right.) 

You start with citric acid, vegetable rennet, and your milk. Mozzarella is the simplest cheese to make (because it doesn’t have to be aged), so that’s what we decided to start with. 

Note: the cheesecloth was not used in this process. I’m told it’s for “cheddaring”


I’ll condense the cheese making process for you. You dissolve a little citric acid powder into a little bit of water, pour the milk over it, heat to 90 degrees, and watch the milk curdle a little bit.

Then, you pour in a little bit of rennet and water. Wondering what rennet is? I was too, so I did some really official internet research. It’s actually an enzyme that is produced in the stomachs of mammals that consume milk that helps us digest it. Apparently, in ancient times, they somehow harvested the rennet from the mammals stomachs to use. However, these days we might consider some of their methods a little barbaric. So, they figured out how to engineer vegetable rennet, which is essentially molds that mimic the process of breaking down milk. Sounds tasty, right?

Anyway, rennet goes in. The milk gets stirred gently for 30 seconds, then left to set for 5 minutes. It gets to a custard consistency, then you break it up a bit, cook a little longer, and you officially have your curds and whey. 

And yes, I do feel like Little Miss Muffet. Really though, what was she doing eating curds and whey? After seeing this process, there would be no way that I would want to eat curds and whey. 

This is the point at which things become really interesting. You separate the curds and whey, using a slotted spoon and a strainer. And your goal is this: get as much of the whey “water” out of the cheese solid as you can. You can squeeze it, heat it slightly, squeeze it again, whatever method works. 

I thought it would be really delicate, but it isn’t. You pretty much knead it like bread, until it forms into a solid little disc. You yield just about a gallon of whey water out of the process. Which, I didn’t throw away, of course. This is a really protein rich liquid that has multiple uses. The Swiss actually bathe in this water because it makes your skin really soft. I won’t be bathing in it, however I will attest from handling the cheese, that it does make your skin incredibly soft.


We made the first disc of cheese and it was so easy that we decided to make a second one. The first one took a little bit longer, but by the second round, we had it down to a science. All you need is 30 minutes to go from milk to mozzarella. 


Maysville Mozzarella, coming to a store near you!

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America, Asia, Beauty, Culture, Family, Health, Missions, Travel

Mother Roasting

I saw Mama Lao today. In case you missed hearing about her, you can see Be Nice. for reference. She saw me and immediately said (in Lao): my foreign daughter! I’m so glad to have you back! I’ve picked up the word for foreign: it’s pronounced like falong. So I always know when people are talking about me. Which seems to happen quite often around here.


I’m a little late on a Mother’s Day post. Things move a lot slower in Laos, so according to our standards, I’m probably right on time for Mother’s Day. Plus, they don’t really celebrate that holiday here, or atleast not at the same time as we do. 

It just so happened, though, that my Monday lesson was about pregnancy, breastfeeding, and introducing children to new foods. Did I mention that I was teaching this lesson to a room full of Lao ladies who have almost all been through this process? Did I also mention that I have never been through any of these processes? I think that should go without saying, but still. Book knowledge vs. real life experience never compares. 


And, as with everything else, they had quite a bit to teach me. Our sessions are really informal, with me introducing topics and then asking them questions about it. Then, inevitably, they’ll ask me questions about America and the way we do things. It’s a learning experience from both sides. Which I love. 

They asked me about water births. That’s something that is so foreign to them, so they wanted to know how it works, if it’s beneficial, etc. I know a little about the subject, so I was able to share with them what I knew. 

Then, they said: do you do mother roasting in America? 

That’s the literal translation of it. Mother roasting. 

I had read about it before, so I wasn’t unfamilar with the process or terminology. But, I’d read about it in the context of villagers in Cambodia. So, to be in a roomful of doctors who had experienced this surprised me.

Mother roasting starts right after child birth. They keep the new mother in a room, with coals under her bed and keep the temperature extremely hot. It’s supposed to be a cleansing process for her body. In some cases, the mother is also required to squat over hot coals as well, for cleansing purposes. And, they insist that every new mother take a scalding shower a few days after childbirth with water as hot as they can get it. 

The time for mother roasting varies from woman to woman. It’s essentially a time of confinement for the woman, where she stays in the house, alternating between time on the hot bed. Relatives will come visit and the woman does not cook at all during this time. A lot of them see it as a treat. It’s almost a welcome to motherhood. 

Most of the doctors said they had done it only for about two weeks after birth. Other mothers had their roast for 1 to even 3 months. It’s been 111 degrees here for a few days, so I can’t imagine being trapped in a hot room on top of the already unbearable heat. But, it’s a very culturally accepted and necessary practice. 

So, I’ve decided that I’ll wear the Lao skirt, I’ll eat the Lao noodles, but I don’t think mother roasting is a practice I’ll adopt. Once a falong, always a falong. 

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Asia, Auto, Food, Health, Missions, Religion, Travel

Not of this World

I’ve done it, guys. I think I finally have mastered the art of riding side saddle on a motorbike. Hands politely in my lap, balancing carefully as we go around the corners. I’m officially a Southeast Asian lady. 
So far, I think I’ve had my picture taken about 73 times since I’ve been here. This morning, I saw one of the ladies in our nutrition training session trying to take a picture of me as we were preparing to begin. So, I stopped what I was doing and stood still to smile for a picture. Because, if you’re going to take my picture, I atleast want it to be a good one. Then, that opened the door for personal pictures, so some of the other women took pictures with me. 


I forget sometimes that I stand out here. I’m trying my best to blend in. I wear the Lao skirt. I sit side saddle on the back of the motorbike as we navigate the streets of the town. I know their greeting, so I greet the people that I meet in their own language. I fold my hands and bow politely when I meet someone. 

Today, one of the women brought me a Lao traditional basket of black rice (because I had asked some questions about it yesterday), so I took it for lunch. As we were walking from the hospital back to the motorbike, with my Lao skirt on, carrying my Lao basket of rice, I thought to myself, I am blending in. Adopting a few of the customs. Dressing like them. Eating like them. 


Then, I looked up, came out of my day dream, and realized that I am a blonde girl, who is about a head taller than everyone here, and people are still staring at me. Actually, they’re staring at me more than if I were dressed in my normal clothes.

Why?

Because they can see by the way I look, by the way I act, by the way I speak, that I don’t really belong here. Not that I’m not welcome here. I feel very welcomed here. But, by taking on some of their culture and adapting to some of their ways, they’re wondering even more: who is she and what is she doing here? She’s obviously different, why is she trying to be the same?

The Bible speaks about this phenomenon a little bit too. In Romans 12:2, the apostle Paul urges the believers to not conform to the pattern of this world. Again, in John 18:36, Jesus reminds us that His Kingdom is not here in this world, but beyond. 

As believers, we are called to be different. The way that Christ lived, the example that He gave for us to follow, doesn’t look anything like what this world promotes. Where we want to hate, Jesus said to love. Where we want to judge, Jesus said to forgive. Where we want to fight, Jesus said to make peace. 

Like me in a Lao skirt on the back of a motorbike, true believers stand out, even in the midst of the world all around us. Why?

Because we don’t belong here.

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America, Animals, Asia, Food, Health, Missions, Travel

Southern Fried

In the South, we fry things. Like everything. 

I’m pretty sure if it can be dipped in a batter and thrown in hot grease, it’s been tried in the southern states in America. We can all agree on this, right? 

Well, apparently in Southern Laos, they fry things too. 

Like things we’ve never thought of.

Our friend , Jenny


Fried june bugs, anyone? 


Haven’t seen that one at a state fair yet.. 

My real story starts out with me being smart. Like all the best stories do. I thought ahead before I came, planned my packing list, brought smart things. Like a clip fan. Because I knew what the rooms were like and air flow is important, so I thought, this is a smart bring.

And it was. So I got it out once I got here, proud of myself for thinking ahead, plugged it in (using a power adapter that I was smart to bring), and went about getting ready for my day. 

I noticed before I plugged it in that the plastic had broken slightly around the part that attaches the fan to the clip. So, being the smart Arkansas girl that I was, I thought, no problem, I’ll buy some duct tape. 

No problem, quick fix


About two minutes into putting my makeup on, I thought I smelled something. Slightly sweet. Maybe hair spray. But, I hadn’t used hair spray. Maybe my straightener. But, it wasn’t plugged in. Because the fan was plugged in. 

So, I lifted up the fan, no problems detected, went back to my task. But, the smell was getting stronger. So, I unplugged the fan because I thought it was circulating the smell and I wanted to identify what was causing it. Smart idea, right? 

Until I picked up the fan again. 


Fried. Fried in a whole new way. 

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Animals, Asia, Culture, Farm, Food, Health, Missions, Travel

Ride or Die

 I’m still trying to catch up on my posts from Vietnam.We moved around a lot from place to place while we were there, which provided lots of travel time to write. However, what I lacked was the time to actually post what I was writing. If you know me very well, though, my delay should not come as a surprise.

                                                              

I ate a cricket this morning. And it was surprisingly refreshing. Not because it tasted great or anything. But, because I wasn’t going to do it, then I decided that I could handle it. So, I did. Pushing the limits you set for yourself can be a good thing.

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My carefully selected snack

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 I also rode an elephant. It wasn’t a first or anything. But, I was in the hotel room in the middle of the afternoon and I got a phone call. I answered, of course, and the voice on the other end said: “do you want to go ride an elephant?” No hello, no this is so-and-so, just elephant ride? And what’s your natural response for a phone call like that? Sure.

                                                              

So, we went on elephant excursion number three. This one was pretty typical: elephant, basket, little boy sitting on his head while we trek around. But, the seating arrangement was different. It was a wide metal basket with a narrow bench and no harness or strap of any kind. I’ve only been in bamboo baskets, which create for a little more traction. But with the metal bench and my denim shorts, I was sliding all over the place. Combine this with the fact that we were climbing down a steep embankment and the “driver” kept hitting the elephant on the head with a metal rod: I was sure I was going to topple out of the basket any minute.

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Treacherous looking basket

 But, I survived. Upon dismounting from the basket, the animal wranglers were offering other various rides. I had never seen anyone ride an ostrich, but they had them saddled up and ready to go, so I thought I’d give it a shot. It kinda made the elephant ride feel safe.
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Taking in the view

 The “saddle” has handles on the front and the back, and you are encouraged to hold onto both. Because those things take off like they’re trying to buck you off. Me and my ostrich were pretty in sync though for the most part and it was calm. We settled into a little routine. In fact, in most of the pictures, we even had the same facial expressions.

                                                              

Until the boy with the metal rod came around again and started hitting him. Then he took off and I nearly fell off again.

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Trotting along

I’m thinking some animals just weren’t meant to ride. But, then again, there’s a first time for everything.
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Asia, Culture, Food, Health, Medicine, Missions, Religion, Travel

Be Nice.

The people here are really nice. The thing I fear the most is getting hit by a vehicle. Nothing is off limits. Walking down the sidewalk, I have people honk at me. No, not people from the street. It’s the people on motorbikes who got tired of waiting in traffic and decided to take a “shortcut”, which means nearly running me over on the sidewalk. I really did almost get hit though. By a van. While I was crossing the road. It was a very near miss. I didn’t see my whole life flash before my eyes, but I saw the highlight reel.

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One lesson it does you well to learn early in life: be nice to people. Because for the most part, they will be nice back. And also because being nice to people sometimes has benefits. Call it sucking up, call it teacher’s pet, or climbing the ladder, for better or for worse, it works. A smile and a kind word can do wonders.
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In the security line at the airport, they took out my tweezers and my fingernail clippers from my bag. I thought they were going to take them. But a smile and a nice exchange and he gave them right back to me. See, it works.

At the visa line, smiling gets you through more easily. In Laos, I was the last one because the 4 workers at passport control were teaching me Lao phrases to use, after I spoke the little I already knew to them. How nice!

But, sometimes people are just nice to you for no reason. As we were loading on the boat to go across the Mekong to visit a village, some health officials from the Public Health Office came with us and happened to be on our boat. One of the ladies seemed really concerned with me. She would look at me, smile, pat my leg. She took pictures of me and kept saying daughter. Then, when we were unloading on the other side of the river, she grabbed onto my arm. And we walked up the river bank together.

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I figured she just needed someone to hold onto because it was a steep climb. But, as we were walking, she said Mama Lao, Mama Lao and pointed to herself. So, she had decided I was her daughter for the day and she was my Mama Lao. Which was fine by me.

When we got to the top of the riverbank, she let go of my arm and took my hand instead. So, we held hands as she led us to the village. The rest of the group was straggling behind us, so it was one white girl plus a bunch of Lao ladies leading the pack. She told me about her daughter who is the same age as me and taught me some new Lao phrases as we went along.

 

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Once we got to the village, she introduced me to the tribal chief, then let me go to look around while she directed everyone else. I wandered around the school we were at, taking pictures of the kids and talking to them. A little while later, my Mama Lao came over to me with a cold water and said drink.
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Now, I have to do an aside: cold drinks are hard to come by here. Even in restaurants, it’s likely you’ll get something lukewarm, maybe cool if you’re lucky. But cold, not too often. So, to have a cold drink out in a village (in 100 degree weather, mind you) is a major luxury.

So, I thought it was strange and special that they had cold drinks for our group. A few minutes later, one of our other ladies came over and said: where’d you get a cold drink?! I looked around and realized I was the only one with a cold drink. Everyone else had regular bottles of water. Except for one person. I spotted her across the way: Mama Lao, with her bottle also condensating in the heat.
Looks like I scored rank. And the benefits are pretty nice.

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