December 29, 2012

Hugging the Gorilla

I stood in the post office, my stack of 48 Christmas cards on the counter as I counted out rupiah for postage.  The young postal worker took my money, nodded politely and pushed several sheets of stamps my way.  Four stamps for each card.

“You don’t mind putting them on yourself, do you?” he asked as he handed me a wet sponge for the stamps (sadly, self-adhesive stamps have yet to reach Indonesia).  I could feel sweat trickling down my back.  It was noon, a bazillion degrees, and no fan circulated in the tiny cramped room.  Off in the distance, a mosque was sounding the call to prayer.

I just wanted to go home and cool off, but thinking he must have asked me because he had some other important postal job to do, I gave Zoe a stack of cards and we started swiping stamps across the sponge and slapping them on the envelopes.  And the postal guy just stood there, a big grin on his face, and watched us the whole time.  He even called his coworkers over to enjoy the show.

I paused and had one of those “I’m not in Kansas anymore” moments that still hit me every so often, even after 11 years overseas.  Life here is just so, so different.  And I wonder how long do I have to do this crazy expat life before I stop wishing, even just a little bit, that it didn’t have to be so different?

I think it’s especially hard this time of year, because I know that back in the states, the weather is cooler (even in my native coastal Georgia), families are getting together, lovely Christmas music wafts through grocery stores stocked to the rafters with all kinds of goodies, and people are putting self-adhesive stamps onto Christmas cards in climate-controlled post offices. 

I want to embrace the culture here in Papua, but sometimes it’s like trying to hug a gorilla – it’s bigger and louder than me, it’s kinda scary, and it’s going to do pretty much what it wants to do whether I like it or not.

For example - Christmas fireworks.   Now I love fireworks.  As a child we had to cross the border into South Carolina to buy fireworks (the thrill of it!) and I loved shooting off bottle rockets and waiting for the big finale – the Roman candle. 

Here in Papua starting the first of December, all day and especially all night, fireworks that we probably couldn’t buy legally in the U.S. have been shot off constantly.  To put it lightly, fireworks have lost their appeal.  David and I decided we’re giving each other a case of ear plugs for Christmas.  When I see the fireworks stands on the side of the road I have to fight the urge to run them over with the car.  It’s hard not to wish that Christmas could be celebrated here in a more peaceful, quiet, “Silent Night, Holy Night” way.

But I’m not giving up on hugging the gorilla.  I will keep on putting my arms around it, brush its fur out of my eyes, and maybe even imitate it (i.e. Today, with my blessing, David went out and bought some fireworks).

Ok, the gorilla analogy has gone far enough.  You get the idea.  Natalie is dealing with a bit of culture shock, which still happens even after years of living abroad.  And she will do what she has always tried to do – vent, breathe deeply, laugh, and move on.

December 11, 2012


My dad wrote and asked me what I was going to do to commemorate today’s date of 12-12-12.  I hadn’t really thought about it, but now that he’s mentioned it, it’s eating me up that I’m not really honoring this rare event.  He is planning to do something like eat a dozen eggs or a dozen doughnuts.  Eggs have been too hard to come by around here lately, and Dunkin Donuts too pricey. He also mentioned running 12 miles, and performing 12 acts of kindness.  Running 12 miles - no.  Acts of kindness? That I can do.

In observing Advent with my family, I have been ruminating on Christmases past.  So in a nod to today's Dozen Date, here are a dozen memorable Christmas moments:

1.  The year my grandfather almost shot us. I must have been five or six, and we were driving from Savannah to Mississippi to visit my grandparents for Christmas.  We decided to arrive a little earlier than planned and surprise them.  I remember arriving in the middle of the night, giggling and shivering as we tiptoed up to the back door to let ourselves in.  We pushed the door open, and there were Mamaw and Papaw, peeping out from behind a wall, Papaw's pistol pointed straight at us.  We learned our lesson - no more surprise arrivals in the middle of the night.

2. The Christmas our dog was eaten.  We went interior in Kalimantan for Christmas, leaving our dog and house helper at home.  When we returned, we noticed the dog was missing.  My beloved helper Orpa came to me in tears, saying that she thought I had been serious when I joked a few weeks back about eating the dog, so she had given it to some friends for Christmas dinner.  

3. Skiing on Christmas. When I was 15 our family went to New York for Christmas - we toured NYC, saw Lake Placid, and on Christmas Day we went cross-country skiing and I fell in love with lentil stew.

4. Snow in Savannah. One blessed Christmas it actually snowed in Savannah.  Three glorious inches.  It shut the city down and it was wonderful.  Dad took us sledding by pulling us behind the van up and down Daffin Drive.

5. Our duet. When we lived in Tennessee, David and I were youth leaders at a local church. For their Hanging of the Greens service, a very solemn affair, we were asked to sing "What Child is This?"  We had barely started singing when something cracked David up and he laughed the rest of the song, while I soldiered on, singing harmony all by myself.  It was mortifying. And yet hilarious.

6. My first Christmas as a mom. I remember holding baby Carter, just a few weeks old, feeling clueless, exhausted, and enraptured by this tiny baby. I was able to imagine better than ever how Mary must have felt, and realized that Incarnation - Christ coming in human form - was a messy yet glorious business.
My dad and Carter

7.  "Snow" in Singapore.  Two of our kids were born in Singapore in late November, and the famous shopping street Orchard Road was totally decked out for the holidays.  We took the kids down to stand in front of one of the big malls and play in the "snow" - soap bubbles that were sprayed out.

8. "Merry stinkin' Christmas!" In 2002 we ventured interior to the village of Long Layu to celebrate Christmas with the people there.  We were fed copious amounts of food - including snails and water buffalo and rice in every form imaginable - and serenaded all night by bamboo bombs, dogs barking under the house, loud music, and chainsaws being revved.  After a sleepless night we stumbled onto the porch Christmas morning and were greeted by our MAF teammate with a line that has become a classic in our family: "Merry stinkin' Christmas!"

9. Christmas card photos.  An annual tradition, our Christmas photos tend not to capture us at our best, but just as we are.  Screaming toddlers, big ears, closed eyes, wigs and all.  

Awkward Family Photos, meet the Beams.  

And the Holstens.

10.  Christmas visiting, Indonesian style.  Go to your friend's house.  Sit on the floor.  Eat soto ayam (Indonesian chicken soup), drink pop, eat cookies.  Chat.  Get back on your motorcycle and go to your next friend's house.  Repeat at least 17 times or until you can no longer eat another spoonful.  Really, it's fun!!  We learned our first Christmas in Tarakan that the key is to pace yourself.

11.  Year of the pogo stick.  One Christmas my cousins got a pogo stick from Santa and brought it to our house.  We all had great fun with it, but the best part was when our grandfather Pop got on it.  We staged a video so that it looked like he was doing all these crazy tricks on it.  

12.  Christmas Eve Gift!  Some of the women in my family have a tradition of trying to be the first person to say "Christmas Eve Gift" on Christmas Eve.  Whoever says it first has to give the other person a gift.  I have the definite advantage living overseas because Christmas Eve happens here half a day before the East coast, but collecting my winnings has proven tricky.

Remembering good times together with family is one of my favorite Christmas traditions.  I look forward to seeing what memories we make this first Christmas spent in Papua.

December 05, 2012

7, 15, 9

Oh, November, you slay me every year.

Three of our four kids have their birthdays in the last two weeks of November, right around Thanksgiving, and it makes for a crazy month.

Birthdays are a pretty big deal to me.  I guess it's because they were a big deal growing up, with quirky traditions like sitting on a balloon at breakfast and incessantly asking the birthday celebrant, "What do you think it is, your birthday?"

And so I have made birthdays a big deal for my kids.  We plan themed parties and I cook whatever meal they request.  On Birthday Eve I decorate their chair at the table, complete with a balloon taped to their seat for them to pop.  I like to be up and ready with a camera when they first wake up, and if possible, I like David to be there, too.  We, after all, were there when our kids first entered the world, and I like us to be the first to greet them on their birthday morning.

But sometimes I can be a tad oversentimental and hang on to traditions a little too tightly.  When David told me he needed to fly early on the morning of Zoe's birthday, which was a Saturday and not a normal flight day, I would like to tell you that I, after pausing to think to myself, 'it's only a few hours of the day,'  said, "Sure, babe, no problem!"  

Sadly, this was a case of missionary-pilot-wife-good-attitude-FAIL.  Inwardly I grumbled, and grudgingly acknowledged that David needed to do this flight.  For two days, he had tried unsuccessfully to get into the village of Kiwi with the family of Jack and Corky, a missionary couple who were preparing to retire after 40 years of service.  Their adult daughter and her kids were coming out for the celebration, but weather and sickness delayed the flights in to Kiwi.

 Zoe's 7th birthday dawned clear and beautiful, and as I carried out my silly birthday traditions alone with Zoe and the other kids, David took off for another try at Kiwi.  And inwardly, I was still grumbling.

Mid-morning David returned, downright emotional after witnessing the reception Jack and Corky's daughter and family received at the airstrip.  Men in gourds and ladies in grass skirts danced around the plane, celebrating their arrival.  The daughter had not been back to Kiwi since she was a teen, and it was a tearful reunion for her and the villagers.

I watched the video footage David took and was shamed.  Shame on me for being grumbly about him missing a balloon popping when he had the opportunity to enable and then witness the culmination of years of service for this couple.

And what a great photo opportunity he got!  I picked the most G-rated photo of the gourd men that he took.  As David says, these men are not lacking in self-confidence.
David said Jack and Corky told him that without MAF, their forty years in Kiwi would not have been possible.  Well, now, that just makes missing a few hours of a Saturday morning bearable!!

And now, for the Birthday Celebrants:

Zoe, age 7.  Flower party.  Don't let the bows and flowers and panda bears fool you.  This child is feisty!

Carter, age 15.  Yes, it's official.  He is taller than his mother. I think this look on his face says, "Man, I wish I could see the Hobbit movie when it opens." 

Luke, age 9.  Angry Birds party.  Lego master. Aspiring geologist.

November 15, 2012

I'm busy, I'm tired, what's new?

I feel like I could start every one of my blog posts with: "Man, I've been busy, and I've been tired."  I could certainly start this post that way, because man, I've been busy, and I AM tired.  Once again, I find myself overcommitted and stretched to the max.  This is no way to live, and I am hopeful that in the near future, when I get out from under some of my commitments, I can scale back my schedule, figure out what my non-negotiables are, and "simplify, simplify" as Thoreau said.  

I'll keep you posted.  In the meantime, here are some fun pictures from the past few weeks:

Do you know who Sadie Hawkins is?  I didn't either, but I knew she was associated with girls asking boys to an event.  Google her and see what you learn - girls chasing boys and forcing them into marriage; it's scary stuff.  Thankfully the Sadie Hawkins event at the kids' school here involves a girl asking a boy to go with her to a costume party.  No long-term commitments.  It always amazes me what we can come up with here for costumes, without the benefit of costume shops, Wal-Mart, or second-hand stores.  I think Carter and his friend Mikah made a fine pair of hippies.
But we couldn't let them have all the costumey fun.  I know Halloween can be a touchy subject, but it's not even celebrated in Indonesia so we are able to avoid all the negative associations that go with it, and just celebrate what's really at the heart of the holiday (for me, anyway) - costumes and candy.  And it was fun that several moms and dads dressed up with the kids.  You know you're trick-or-treating in the tropics when Canadian Cowgirl wears sandals, and in Little Red Riding Hood's basket is bug spray to ward off malaria-carrying mosquitoes.

I've been living out a little bit of a dream these past few weeks as I fill in for the high school English teacher at the kids' school.  It has been fun, but it's made for some long days.  I don't know how working mothers do it; getting me and the kids out of the door and to school on time each morning is a minor miracle.  Carter's freshmen class, pictured above, is very international, with kids from the U.S., Canada, Netherlands, South Africa, Singapore, and Malaysia.

Our MAF staff in Sentani recently dedicated the newest Kodiak to arrive in Papua - Mike Papa Xray.  We had a time of singing and prayer followed by a pizza party.  Yep, we can order pizza here.  It's not the greatest, but after years of making my own pizza in Borneo, I am not complaining.
Last weekend Zoe and I went to the wedding of Ika, one of our MAF office workers.  My buddy Erica took these next two pictures.  I love the one of Ika and her grandmother.  At several Indonesian weddings I have seen the bride and groom, during the ceremony, go to each set of parents or grandparents and tell them thank you and receive a blessing from them.  It was very touching to watch, especially knowing both Ika's parents have passed away already.
Yesterday I was out in the yard and could hear a pig squealing like it was butchering day, so I grabbed the camera and headed over to the hanger, where three massive pigs were being weighed in preparation for flights interior.
Who doesn't want their picture with a big smelly pig?  Quite a crowd gathered to gawk at these pigs, which were flown out today to a church conference that will be happening in Mamit.

October 26, 2012


I am happy to report that our lives have returned to normalcy after the flash-flood experience two weeks ago.  My mind still sometimes wants to camp out at that awful moment of hearing David shout and seeing the wave of water, but I am battling the flashbacks with remembering how we all came out safely. As a family and with our friends who experienced it with us, we have had lots of conversation about it, and I think we are dealing with it in a healthy way.  No one is ready yet to run up to any waterfalls, but we can talk about it without crying, and even with a few laughs.  

I feel like I need to counter the heaviness of my last post with something light.  There's nothing like a traumatic experience to remind me of how precious life is, and how marvelous, insanely glorious the little things in life can be.  

Little things like eating markisa (passion fruit) that friends from interior brought to us.  It looks like frog eggs, but I promise you it's yummy. Carter and I practically fight over them when we have any around.

A highlight last week was celebrating the solo flight of Daniel P., a new pilot whose initial checkout was David's responsibility. In a few weeks the Perez family will move to the MAF base at the interior town of Wamena, and we are going to miss them here in Sentani.

This week there was a half-day of prayer for all MAF staff and national workers, then in the afternoon we helped teach the national workers how to play ultimate frisbee.  It was hot as blazes, but fun to interact with our national friends in this way.
One afternoon I found myself looking up into our very tall avocado tree, imagining all the guacamole I could make if I could just reach the fruit.  I tried whacking at some low-hanging avocados with our rake and managed to knock one or two down.  Then David came out and improved on the rake by inserting it into a long PVC pipe.  Unfortunately when he then tried to whack at the fruit, the rake-pipe combination was terribly, hilariously wobbly and I about fell down from laughing so hard (a testament no doubt to my fatigue and stress levels).  Our neighbor noticed what we were doing and ran over with his far-superior bamboo pole with hook attachment.  And this is what we got:

Two more things to be thankful for: the girl (who is having a great year in grade 7) and the unexpected little beauty she's holding - a real pumpkin!  In all our years in Indonesia I've never seen one so round and orange.  
Another unexpected find was pine cones last weekend when we went up to the school with friends to play a frisbee golf course.  The last hole is in a little grove of pine trees and the ground was covered with mini-pine cones.  And so Zoe-who-loves-crafts wanted to make something with pine cones and Craft-Challenged-Mama came up with this:

October 14, 2012

 “God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble.
Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea,
though the waters roar and foam and the mountains quake with their surging.” Psalm 46:1-3

This past weekend, these verses, which Zoe and I learned together a few weeks ago, became very real for me.

We decided to go on an outing with some friends to a local swimming hole located on a military base.  However, when we got there we were told we couldn’t go in because the Pramuka (Indonesian version of Boy scouts) were still having their jamboree there and it was closed to the public.

We then decided to go to another waterfall, which involves a longer hike and is a bit more precarious. As we were hiking up the trail, my ever-worrisome mind was conjuring up all kinds of potential disasters that could befall us at the waterfall – mostly kids falling, cuts, broken bones.

And so I did what I try to do when I am battling fear – I prayed.  “Lord, please protect us.” And then I focused on the trail ahead, and kept an eye on Zoe.

We got to the spot where we usually go to play, but it was overrun by Papuan boys who had stopped off for a swim after school, so we kept going  on to a higher spot in the river where there’s a high waterfall.

We were a group of 10 kids and 6 adults, and the kids immediately jumped in the river to play and climb on rocks.  The adults mostly hung out on a cement box built into the river to collect water for the city.  After 30 minutes, the kids got hungry and we all gathered on the box for a picnic lunch.

There were dark clouds on the mountain above us, and it looked like it might rain where we were.  We started debating packing up and leaving.

One of our group commented on a strange mist above us.   The next thing I remember was looking at David as he pointed to the falls behind me and yelled, “Look out!  The water!!!!”  And I heard a huge rushing sound – like an airplane was zooming low over us.  I turned around and time stood still.

A huge mountain of water was surging over the top of the water falls.  It took me a few seconds to realize it was a flash flood, and it was headed straight for us.

I have never felt such fear, such panic, in my life.  My first thought was, we can’t outrun this, and the little ones won’t be able to swim it, probably not the adults, either.  

My next thought was, this is the day we all die.

Most of our group froze, and then David started yelling, go up! Go up!

I don’t remember exactly what I did.  I know that I grabbed Zoe like she was a sack of potatoes, and ran up the hill to a large rock.  The water was rising rapidly.  In less than a minute, it rose two meters. I know at one point I was praying out loud, “help us, Lord! Help us!”

Once on the rock I looked around to see where the other kids were.  One of the kids had been in the river playing when it happened and his dad ran to him and crossed safely to the other side, but then the water rose so fast they were stuck there (eventually they would make it down safely).  All the other kids made it safely up to the rock.  The Papuan kids who had been playing below us came running up to where we were.  They were concerned about us, and urged us to follow them to the trail.  I thought it was so cool and kind of them to do that.

The kids were all crying and freaking out, but we kept reassuring them we would be okay, and we started down the trail.  We made it down safely, but we were all very shaken up by the whole experience.

I have been battling the “what ifs” – what if the kids had been all spread out in the water playing?  We never could have gathered them in time.  What if the older kids had been climbing higher on the falls, like they wanted to but we wouldn’t let them?  They would have been washed away.  What if, what if, what if?  But there are no “what ifs”; there is only what happened. 

My mind keeps wanting to replay that awful moment when I turned and saw the water and realized what was happening.  I am stuck there, contemplating losing those most precious to me.

I have to keep going back to Psalm 46 – the waters roared and foamed and I felt like my “mountain” – my family, my friends, myself – was about to fall into the heart of the sea, but the Lord was our help in trouble.

We have been hugging each other a little tighter the past few days.  Praise God for his protection over our family.

October 09, 2012

It's October again (sigh)

It's October again, when living in the tropics kind of stinks if you grew up loving autumn, even a half-hearted mostly-warm-till-December Georgia autumn.

I miss the changing colors, the pumpkins, the brisk air in the morning.  I especially miss it if it's blazing hot like it's been in Sentani the past few days.  

So what does one do when one yearns for fall in the tropics?  You pull out the plastic pumpkin, you hang a fall wreath on the door, you make you and your hubby a pumpkin spice latte (made with home-cooked squash, which is close enough to pumpkin, but it was a bit pulpy and we gagged on the last few sips), then you go hide in the air-conditioning.

Ok, enough whining, Natalie.  Here's the latest.

Zoe and I spend our mornings doing school together.  On this particular day she was a pirate and wanted to do her work in her pirate ship.  I love her imagination and enthusiasm for life. 

We are now taking care of this lovely parrot "Kwik" for some friends who have gone on furlough.  Our friends are Dutch, and so Kwik speaks Dutch.  I'm hoping to have it saying, "Hey, y'all" by the time our friends return in five months.

This lovely lady is my new helper, Ibu Lora.  For our first eight months in Papua, I have not had a helper, by choice.  Maybe it was pride, but I just wanted to see if I could do it on my own.  Even with David and the kids helping around the house, I was about half-dead trying to stay on top of everything and then Ibu Lora providentially came along.  She works for me two days a week, and came to me blessedly well-trained, and she's a good cook.  She is a native of southern Papua but has lived in Sentani for many years.  

How many snakes do you see???  Carter has borrowed a male snake from a friend and is hoping it will mate with his female.  They seem to like each other.

There's a band teacher at the school this year, so Grace is learning to play the flute!  Here she is, checking to see if she has proper placement.  I love hearing her descriptions of what a room full of 7th and 8th graders learning to play instruments sounds like - it's very comical.

Most Fridays I try to do an art project with Zoe and two other girls on base who are homeschooled.  These owl paintings were the first thing we did together, and I got the idea from this super-fun website deep space sparkle

Yesterday I was helping Carter with his algebra when the table starting shaking.
"Stop shaking the table," I told him.
"I'm not," he replied.  Then he and I looked at each other wide-eyed and said, "Earthquake!"
And we shimmied for a few seconds and it was done.  I guess it wasn't really an earthquake, but more of a tremble.  This is the third one I've felt here, and each time I vascillate between wanting to bolt outdoors, and wanting to stand up and "surf" the tremor.  It's cool and scary all at once. 

So we may not have lovely autumn to enjoy, but we have our tremors, cute owl pictures, lovey-dovey snakes, Dutch parrot, flute-playing, and new house helper to enjoy and be thankful for.  Life is good.

September 28, 2012

My dad retires today, and so my tenure as a judge's daughter comes to a close.  I am so proud of Dad, and his accomplishments through the years.  He is a man of integrity and has been passionate about his work and the young people of Chatham County.
Last December we took Carter and Grace to watch him in action, and we got to see him do what he's been doing for 32 years - listen to evidence, speak to the kids and caregivers involved, and make decisions that are hopefully in their best interest.  I love how along with his judgments, he dispensed advice and encouragement to the kids and their parents or grandparents. 

"Remember this one simple thing - keep your hands to yourself to school."
"Look at your mom.  She loves you, and you need to respect her."
"Honesty isn't the best policy.  It's the only policy." (Boy did I hear that one a lot over the years).

It's killing me that I can't be there for the retirement ceremony.  My mom, my two brothers and their families, Dad's brother and sister, they all will be there.  This is one of the really hard things about life overseas - missing out on family milestones.  I've missed the births and infancies of numerous nieces and nephews, weddings, graduations, birthday parties, and the funerals of my beloved grandmothers.  The funerals were probably the hardest to miss.  

I know Dad understands, but I really, really wish I could be there.  

I love the Vintage Beam picture from 1980 below - my dad, so uncharacteristically serious; my mom, so pretty and put together, as always; my grandparents; Jonathan sporting the Peter Pan color and knee socks; my older bro Ken, the lucky one who got to hold the Bible; and me, in the fluffy pink dress. 

Happy Retirement, Dad!  I love you!

September 23, 2012

Please Pray for Esther

A school with no teachers.

A clinic with no doctors or nurses. 

A library with no books.

These landmarks were on the tour of Mamit my friend Esther gave me last week.  As she and I walked around the village where she and her husband teach at a Bible school, David circled overhead in the plane, checking out two new pilots at the airstrip.  

Situated on a hill at 5,000 feet in the Swart Valley, Mamit is home to several hundred souls, scratching out a living as subsistence farmers.  There is a government-provided school and clinic, and teachers and doctors receive wages to work here, but they rarely make an appearance in this remote spot.  

And so, babies are dying of curable diseases and children are growing up illiterate.

While Wes teaches a group of Bible school students that attend the school from surrounding villages, Esther teaches the students’ children.  She currently has 50 kids, from babies up to older elementary age.  The older kids tote their bare-bottomed baby siblings along to Esther’s classes, where she teaches them the basics of reading, writing, and math.
She spoke of her frustration with starting over new with the kids each year, how they just haven’t been taught anything – discipline, letters, group play, Bible stories – it’s all new to these kids.

And yet, she sees breakthroughs.  She had one of her students demonstrate for me her ability to write.  The child beamed at me as she wrote in her Lani language, “my mother, my father.”

When I told Esther how much I admire her and Wes and their sacrificial lives lived in service of a remote people group, she told me, “It’s only through the Holy Spirit pouring out in his love in our hearts.”

Wes and Esther live a simple life, eating pretty much the same thing every day – porridge for breakfast, an ubi (sweet potato) and greens for lunch, and noodles for supper.  Lately, Esther said, the sweet potatoes have been scarce.

“I guess we need to pray, ‘and give us today our daily ubi,’” she joked.  But it’s no joke.  On the day we visited we brought seven trays of eggs, and Esther said she would start giving them out to sick people.  “The eggs really make a difference,” she said.

It would be easy to become discouraged looking at the seemingly insurmountable challenges facing the people of Mamit, and knowing their problems are no doubt replicated over and over in villages all over the province.

And yet, what a joy it is to know that we – our family – with MAF is helping to support the ministry of Wes and Esther.  And while it seems like such a tiny scratch on the overwhelmingly needy surface of humanity, it is making a difference.

Just yesterday we heard that Esther has been sick with a bad cough and fever.  Having seen the inadequate medical facilities with my own eyes, I ask you to please join me in praying for my friend Esther, that she would quickly get over this illness and regain her strength, and that she and Wes would be encouraged in their work.

August 24, 2012

My Current Favorite Cake

Sometimes I imagine my blog being something different.  Most of the time I am content for this to be a place to update family and friends on our goings-on, but sometimes I have aspirations to be one of those awesome blogs that has like a million followers with beautiful photographs, giveaways, recipes, links, buttons, etc, etc, instead of here's-more-about-boring-old-us-living-on-the-edge-of-the-world.

I would especially love to be a cooking blog, like the ever-amazing smitten kitchen or my friend's blog The Church Cook with their yummy recipes and photos that make me want to lick the computer screen.

But unfortunately I am not that kind of cook or photographer, but indulge me if you will as I - the Borneo Mama who's been living in Papua for eight months and really needs to change her blog name - share with you a recipe I have become downright passionate about.

Living overseas has been so good for my culinary skills.  If we'd never left the U.S., I wonder if I would ever have taken the time to learn to make sausage, tortillas, bagels, pickles, yogurt, petits fours?  Probably not - most definitely NOT the petits fours.  Here in the land where it's all made from scratch (except pasta - I can buy pasta, hallelujah) it's learn to cook or learn to love Indonesian takeout.  I've learned to do both.

I digress. The recipe is one I've adapted from celebrity chef Nigella Lawson, who, during the closing credits on her tv cooking show, is often shown standing in front of the fridge late at night, eating leftovers.  I love Nigella. And I am in love with this cake recipe, with its chocolatey goodness and hint of orange.  It's easy to make and doesn't leave a ton of leftovers that I will be tempted to consume en masse the next day.  

Cooking overseas, you learn to make substitutions for ingredients you don't have.  Most substitutions don't make a huge impact on the recipe (yogurt for sour cream, milk and vinegar for buttermilk) but some are so far-fetched you don't even want to bother (like the desperate missionary recipe I saw for apple pie that calls for substituting saltine crackers for the apples.  Seriously. ) In this recipe there is no substituting the orange.  I almost did when I made this the other night.  All I had was some random peach juice and I debated using that, but then I thought, no, I love this cake for the orange.  Must have orange.  Fresh orange.  So off went Holsten Child #1 to borrow an orange from a neighbor.  Thank you, neighbor.

So without further ado, Nigella's cake.

1 ¼ sticks butter, softened
2 T. golden syrup (I use honey)
1 c. brown sugar (I use palm sugar)
2 eggs, lightly beaten
Zest of 2 small oranges (1 T.)
Juice of 1 small orange (3 T.)
1 c. flour
½ t. baking soda
3 T. cocoa

Beat together butter, syrup (or honey), and sugar.  In a separate bowl, whisk together dry ingredients, and add to butter mixture alternatively with eggs.  Add orange zest and juice.

Bake 45 minutes in greased loaf pan @ 325.

Best served warm with whipped cream and orange slices.  Next best is eaten the day after with a cup of coffee.


August 20, 2012

I Am An Otter

I have a problem with saying “no” and apparently it’s because I’m an otter.

At our MAF conference we did some team-building exercises based upon a personality survey we all took called “Leading From Your Strengths.”  According to how you answered questions, you were assigned a certain animal:  lion, golden retriever, otter, or beaver.  I thought this survey far superior to other surveys in which you’re assigned a letter, or a hard to remember acronym (as in “I am an EFTP – no wait, was it ISFJ?”).  Way more fun to be a critter than a letter.

Because I am a serious people pleaser, who likes to party (tamely, of course), overcommit and set ambitious, sometimes unrealistic goals, I get to be that animal that’s so much fun to watch at the zoo – the playful otter.

Taking personality tests always stresses me out a bit.  I want to be honest and forthright in my answers – but I also want to score well and have a "nice" personality (that must be the otter in me).  Here’s an example from this particular test:  Which characteristic describes you MOST: generous, greedy, warm, or negative?

Well, really, who’s going to be honest and say greedy rather than generous?  I was agonizing over some questions when David walked in halfway through my test, looked over my shoulder and “helped” me. 

“Oh no, you’re definitely more disorganized than organized,” he offered.  Thanks, babe.  He, by the way, is not an otter, but a golden retriever – a faithful, dependable, slobbering golden retriever.

I guess I have known deep-down that I am an otter for a long time, but being responsible for the MAF guest house here in Sentani the past few months has only reinforced it for me. 

The MAF Guest House

People email me with reservation requests and I want to accommodate everyone.  I want them to love me for giving them the bigger room, for fitting in their last-minute request.  I have to constantly remind myself that I am not running a bed and breakfast (though wouldn’t that be fun?), and that I’m not doing this job to get the guest house a Top Hotel of Papua rating, but to help out MAF’ers and others in the mission community as we are able.

I don’t want to turn people away, to disappoint them.  I want them to think well of me.  I can’t help it.  I’m an otter.  And I learned through our team-building exercise that otters could learn from the other animals how to say “no” from time to time.

So next time you’re at the zoo and you’re disappointed that the otters don’t seem to want to come out and put on a show for you, give them a break.  Sometimes an otter just needs to say “no.”

August 03, 2012

Family Conference Part 2

After our time at family conference, we took a short plane ride over to the interior city of Wamena, also in the Baliem Valley, for a few days of vacation.  Wamena - the largest city that is totally supported by air travel - is the site of an MAF base, and a hub of sorts for many different mission organizations and NGO's.

I saw something on the MAF base I had never seen before - a house in the tropics with a CHIMNEY!!!  Yes, the nights are cool enough in Wamena for a fireplace, and we sure did enjoy some fires while we were there.

Another thing that was new and different for us was taking a ride around town in a becak, a bicycle taxi.  

Our friends the Ringenbergs took very good care of us - feeding us and taking us on outings.  One night they cooked a turkey dinner, and the electricity went off, as it often does.  If you've never had a turkey dinner by headlamp-light, well, you haven't lived.

One day we went fossil hunting in a river bed and Luke found this really cool fossil.  He's in a rocks and fossils stage right now and so I was happy for his great find.

Another day we went on a drive through the beautiful countryside outside of Wamena and saw honai...

...goats and pigs...
...but the best thing we saw, or at least I thought so, was a man wearing his traditional Dani outfit, consisting of nothing but a gourd.  However, in an effort to keep this blog G-rated, I will decline from posting the picture of the Gourd Guy.

We went with the Ringenbergs to a very cool cave, so cool that David thought he should have an Indiana Jones type moment and fall through the rotting floorboards of a bridge inside it and dangle precariously above a 100-foot ravine.  Okay, there was no ravine, but it was all quite dramatic, and thankfully a Dutch mission doctor was also hiking in the cave and was able to check out David's injuries.

The entrance to the cave looked very Lord of the Rings-ish.  

We were well-equipped with head lamps and flashlights, but we did take a moment to turn off all the lights and experience the spooky pitch-black darkness.

Our time in Wamena seemed to be over way too soon, and then it was back to the big city of Sentani. I can see why tourists spend a lot of money and effort to visit the Baliem valley - it is a wild and beautiful place, and I look forward to going there again.