Simple Salsa

Since moving overseas I’ve had to add quite a few things to my weekly to-do list. One very important addition has been making salsa. We use salsa a lot. It’s not just a taco or rice bowl topper, it’s in lots of my recipes for soup and other dishes. I think I can buy salsa somewhere around here, but I’ve heard it’s overpriced and not really good anyway.

So I’ve experimented with a few recipes and methods and have landed on something that’s a combination of simplicity and flavor. When you’re making everything from scratch, learning ways to save time on individual recipes is crucial.

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Reduced chopping–Many folks I’ve talked to here chop all of their ingredients by hand. I don’t want to take the time to do that, so my recipe calls for quartering the vegetables and then using a food processor or blender to purée.

Longevity–I hate making a big batch of something only to have it go bad in a couple of days. By cooking most of the ingredients at high temp the finished product seems to last longer than all-fresh ingredient salsa does. Mine typically lasts about two weeks.

Roasting–other recipes call for stove top cooking, but you have to pay attention to that. I just tuck my veggies in the oven and ignore them until the timer goes off.

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On to the recipe.

Simple Salsa
4 large tomatoes
1 large mildly hot pepper (This our preference because we use our salsa in a variety of recipes that our very young kids eat. Go spicier according to preference)
1 large red or yellow onion
3-6 cloves garlic, unpeeled
1 bunch cilantro
1 – 2 T lime juice
2 – 4 t brown sugar
1 t cumin

Preheat oven to 450. Quarter tomatoes and wedge onions. Arrange tomatoes & onions cut side up on baking sheet. Place whole pepper and garlic cloves on sheet with tomatoes and onions. Place in oven and roast for 20 minutes or until tomatoes are soft and have released their juices, onions are beginning to char and pepper is browned and bubbly.

Remove from oven and allow to cool. When cooled, peel garlic cloves and place roasted vegetables and all remaining ingredients in a food processor or blender. Purée until desired consistency is achieved. Refrigerate in a close-lidded container for up to two weeks or freeze until needed.

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Jesse Tree Ornaments–Complete Set


So I sort of faded off last year when it came to my Jesse Tree posts. Sorry! Here is the final set with a few close ups of leaves that came later. I hope to do a little more work on the tree banner before this Advent, but we’ll see what time allows in my new place. It will be a joy to have this little bit of handmade home when the seasons change.

Sorry for the crummy pictures, I had to take them on my phone :(.

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Day 18: Esther Esther 4:1-20IMG_0698

Day 19: Habakkuk Habakkuk 1:1-2:1, 3:16-19IMG_0707

Day 20: John the Baptist Luke 3:1-20IMG_0701

Day 21: Mary Luke 1:26-38, 2:15-20
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Day 22: Joseph, the Father of Jesus Matthew 1:19-25IMG_0702

Day 23: The Three Magi Matthew 2:1-12
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Day 24: The Baby Jesus Luke 2:1-17
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Day 25: Jesus the Son of God John 1:1-34
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Local Fun

Since we arrived here a few months ago, we’ve taken some time to explore local attractions. The kids have loved the local aquarium/zoo place called Polar Ocean World, an awesome new play place a half mile from our house and some local green spaces (and brown ones).

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It’s really interesting living right on the ocean. We get refreshing or chilling sea breezes depending on the day, hear the surf beat against the rocks and we can even see huge sprays of water when the ocean gets tumultuous. I’ve heard the winters are really cold, but we’ll hang on to memories of summer when the freezing winds hit!

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One thing we didn’t expect but have been delighted to find is that there are lots of other little kids in our neighborhood. J and N can play with other kids to their heart’s delight just about every day of the week. It’s been great living so near friends. We pick each other’s kids up from the bus, swap groceries and easily gather to pray. 

IMG_0322Finding amusement for the children isn’t quite as easy or cheap here as it was in the US, but we’re making do just fine :)

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Learning to Speak

Have you ever felt entirely and completely like a toddler at some point in your adult life? Right now, Nora’s English skills at a year and a half are way better than my Chinese skills. I’m working to improve that, but I’m making many blunders along the way. A few weeks ago I was brave enough to try purchasing a beverage a friend had introduced me to. So I walked into a drug store and asked for the Apple Cider Vinegar Juice…the clerk gave me a really puzzled look and we went from there, me fumbling over words I’d never used before, the poor lady trying to understand the dumb foreigner. At one point she thought I wanted to pull my pants down…as I gathered by her gestures. Eventually I got the juice, but I really felt like a toddler for a few minutes, knowing that I knew what I wanted, but having no way to communicate it and wanting to throw a tantrum!

Language is kind of important. So Chris and I have committed the first year or so of our time here to my language learning. Not that Chris isn’t trying  to learn language, but we knew that between the two of us, we could only make enough time for one of us to really dig in this first year. So I’m spending 6 hours of week with one tutor, 1.5 hours with another and at least an hour or two reviewing each week. This is a picture of most of the words I’ve “learned” over the last month.GPA Phase 1When I sat down to count everything up, the number I came up with surprised me–over 450! You won’t count that many above, but there are quite a few less concrete words that we’ve added in addition. Now, I couldn’t say every one of these words no problem. In fact, I sound pretty awful any time I try to speak (see above). But I can recognize them and do fun things like “Pick up the large red cow and run to stand next to the window.” Videos may or may not be involved in my language sessions…

We’ve been very blessed with a tutor who is willing to work with this somewhat unusual learning method and who spends a fair amount of time laughing at my mistakes. Like every time I reached for a bird when he said cow…or when I thought he said sit but he actually said walk…or when he made me act out emotions…oh the stories this guy has to tell! This week we add a speaking aspect. I’m sure that my tutor will have many more laughs over the next segment.

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Green Island

Our new city is called the “Green Island.” No, it’s not an island. No, I don’t get it either. But it is green and we really like that part of our new home.  We get a sea view when it’s not obscured by fog, lots and lots of walking paths and lots of opportunities to enjoy new adventures as a family.

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This is our apartment complex. Lots of paths for the kids to run on and a beautiful walk along the sea just outside our gate!

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This was unfortunately my first homemade dinner after we settled in. Import pasta, pricey cheese and a whole chicken landed on the floor when the bowl slipped out of my hands. Wawa. We had been fed well by our new foreign friends in the days leading up to the dropped-dinner incident, so we weren’t hurting for a meal, but it wasn’t my favorite part of our first week!

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There are lots of other little girls here amongst the families we spend time with. Nora has already been blessed with three bags full of hand-me-downs and each time she has tried on everything that interested her before we got all of the clothes put away.

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We debated about sending Jonathan to pre-school before we moved here. Tuition is a part of our benefits package, many other kids his age attend and he is super active. So as hard as it was to send him off to school three days a week, we have been so glad for this opportunity. He LOVES school and is making friends quickly. He gets to learn Chinese, run around like he needs to do and interact creatively with others. And did I mention that he loves it?

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Nora and Jonathan have been able continue some favorite activities…like grocery shopping with the cool car carts.

IMG_0110Our days are full. Chris gets on his bus at 6:20 and gets home around 4:45. J is at school three days a week from 8-3 and Nora and I buy groceries every day…but more on that and other kitchen adventures later. We love our Green Island home and are grateful the Lord put us here!

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Week One: Check!

Have we really only been here one week? It’s amazing how much has happened since we boarded an airplane on Sunday, July 28 and set foot in our new town early early Tuesday, July 30. We’ve been very blessed with support from new friends, visited by family that we now share the continent with, made exciting discoveries in our new city and been incredibly busy so far.

IMG_0040When we, with our 500 lbs of belongings, two small children and sleep deprived bodies arrived in Shanghai after an uneventful 12.5 hour flight, I wondered, “Why are we here?” We were greeted by very helpful airport staff who pushed our mountains of belongings across the entire airport. We didn’t have any problems in customs. Or in baggage. And our kids were relatively happy. Even with all of this, I had my doubts about this venture we’ve embarked on. Why?

China, as you may have heard, is not America. The people here speak Chinese. I can’t even guess at what most of the signs mean since there often aren’t any romanized characters. I immediately felt lost and helpless. I wish that this had made me turn immediately to prayer and more dependence on the Father. Instead it made me want to get back on an airplane and head for some comfort and stability.

But this last week has reminded me why we’re here. We love the Father. And we feel that He has brought us here. Would I have hopped on a plane to Asia on my own? Probably not. Through the care of the community and the conversations we’ve had with family, I’ve been reminded of the love of the Son and the effectiveness of the Good News. As we take the time to learn about our new culture, gain language skills and do life in a different context, I hope we don’t lose sight of the Truth.

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Some things we love about our new home:

  • It’s closer to the other Peeks!
  • We have a seaside view and a beach only moments away
  • The community in our city is large and welcoming
  • Our urban environment means we do lots of walking
  • Eggs & produce are cheap :)


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Transition and Chaos

In the last two weeks we have moved out of our home, shipped 500 pounds of stuff to my dad in Washington, driven across the country and spent hours in cross-cultural training. Needless to say, we’ve been going through a lot of transition.

Before we left Louisville I wondered why I felt so scattered and crazy. My friends said, “Well you’ve got a lot on your mind!” They were right, but only partly captured what our family is going through. There’s certainly a lot going on–even moving across town takes work, is difficult and unsettling. But getting rid of everything (minus those 500 pounds), saying lasting goodbyes to all of the nouns in our life, trying to think about life in a foreign country, traveling cross country and all of the details that fill in the cracks between those big pieces, well, it makes life chaos. And we’ve been there for a few weeks now with a few weeks more before we can hope for change.

The training we’re going through right now isn’t giving us too much new information to chew on, but it is providing labels for the things we’ve been experiencing. Yesterday we were introduced to the “chaos bridge” which moves like this: Settled – Unsettled – Chaos – Resettling – Settled. When you’re settled, everything is familiar, comfortable, known. The in-between stages are varying degrees of craziness hanging over an abyss between the two havens of “settled.” Right now we’re smack dab in the middle. Realizing that the stress and exhaustion we’re feeling is a normal part of the leaving process has been helpful. Recognizing that there are tried and true ways to cope with the chaos was encouraging. Looking forward to the being settled in on the other end (as far away as that might be) has made me hopeful. There is an end in sight!

J has responded to our chaos by regressing on his potty training. Nora has put up a fight about everything lately, but especially about being left by mommy–in childcare, at bedtime, when I walk away from the table, you name it. Me, I’m tired and grumpy. Not sure that Chris gets stressed out in himself, but his response to our stress can sometimes lead to paralysis.

We tried to do something “normal” tonight and watch one of our favorite movies together. But instead of a cozy couch to sit on, we looked like this:
Travel MoviesEven our “normal” just isn’t the same.

Things are crazy right now. But our hope isn’t just in getting resettled and making a new home. Our hope is in the God who is making a way for us, who has planned our steps–even the ones that seem crummy to us–and is preparing a place for us in his kingdom. He’s got work for us to do overseas both in our own family and in the lives of others and he’ll accomplish it through us for his glory. We’re not going to Asia to have a cultural experience or make big bucks (hah!) but to follow the Son and do whatever he sets before us. Because that is our hope and our goal, we’re joyfully enduring the chaos, the exhaustion and the uncertainty. But even in our forbearance our prayer is, “Come Lord Jesus!”

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Simplifying for the Big Move

When we started thinking through all of the details of moving overseas early this spring, there were a LOT of questions. Sell the house? Bring the KitchenAid (yes!)? Ship our things? Where do we fly from? What can we not live without? How do we take in our host culture without sacrificing peace & rest at home? When do we sell our bed?

The questions were a little overwhelming for a while, but after making lots of lists, seeking lots of wisdom and spending a lot of time on our knees, we felt a little better about tackling all of the necessary tasks to get out of the country.

Now that we’re a few days away from moving out of our house and into the home of friends our home is nearly empty and we’ve had several weeks to consider the benefits of simplification. I recently read an article about a man who went from owning (and managing) a whole lot to owning very little. And just like this man, our experience in downsizing has been really great. We’re packing all of our things into 8 checked bags and 4 carry-ons. We are storing some handmade items & non-digitized photos with family, but other than that, we’re leaving nothing behind to haul over or pitch out later.

Having less stuff has been great. Okay, so getting rid of our organizational furniture hasn’t been stellar (not having a dresser has been interesting), but having less has meant lots of good things:

  • practicing contentment with fewer forms of entertainment
  • quicker home clean-up
  • easier organization of the things we do have
  • thoughtful purchases rather than impulse buys–we’re saving money!

Having an emptier home before we left has shown us what a joy a simpler style of life can be. Yes, having one mixing bowl is a pain in the neck, organizational items will come back in our new place and having enough chairs for everyone to sit on is a plus. But having more floor space for the kids to play? We like it. Less unread books to dust? Great! Fewer dishes to put away (though I do wash them more frequently)? Excellent idea.

If you’re going to be moving soon, take the opportunity a few months in advance to clear your home of things you don’t need or love. It’s amazing how we’ve lived quite comfortably with two garage sales less stuff over the last few months. I wish I’d done this before!

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Empty Nest

No, we’re not empty nesters, but our nest does feel empty these days. I’m pretty bad about spending time with real, live people instead of yarn, food, fabric and other things I find in my house. So in preparation for our move overseas this summer, I decided a while ago to clear out our earthly possessions in record time so that I could say our farewells to people with a little less on my shoulders.

Practically speaking, that means that with just under a month left in Louisville, we have very little furniture left in our rooms and bare bones supplies in almost every other way. The kids still have toys and craft supplies, but my yarn stash has disappeared, my kitchen gadgets are packed or gone (excepting the essentials of course) and our home is starting to feel, well, empty.

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Walking through now empty spaces has brought back a lot of sweet memories–rocking my babies in a glider that’s now in another mother’s home, shared meals over a dining table that has moved on, sitting with my husband after the kids are in bed on a couch that has moved on to some newlyweds.

There certainly are things I’ll miss about my home. Like this view from our picture window. Not glamorous, but look at all that green! And the view comes in handy when I send our kids out into our huge backyard to play virtually unmonitored. I’ll miss that too.

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I have to admit that I’ll miss my kitchen too. After this great big space it’ll be hard to love a tiny kitchen (that hasn’t been redone with love and sweat), but a teeny kitchen is in my future, so I’m praying for a heart of joy with whatever the Lord brings us!

Kitchen!

But we didn’t buy our house for its offerings of creature comforts. I mean, there were like zero of those when we moved in. I’m cringing just remembering how gross this place was when we bought it. We bought this home so we could love people with it. Lots of folks have crashed in our basement, our dining room has hosted countless fellowship meals, the backyard has had visits from dozens of wee ones and we’ve loved all of it. My nostalgia over good conversations in this home will hopefully spur me on to love people in our new home overseas.

As we leave this home for a new one, we remember that ultimately we belong neither here nor there. We are looking forward to a city with foundations, prepared in heaven for us!

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Dirty Brown Rice

I’ve made this dish a zillion times for all kinds of occasions. It’s not a glamorous dish, but it has won over the hearts of millions…okay, so maybe a hundred at best.

I love that it’s easy, versatile, transports well and reheats into awesomeness the next day. The recipe originally came out of some magazine, but it’s morphed so much that I’d call it my own.

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Dirty Brown Rice

  • 1/2 lb crumbled sausage
  • 2 chopped bell peppers, any color
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1/2 c salsa
  • 1 green onion, chopped
  • 2 1/2 c cooked brown rice
  • 1/2-1 c chopped parsley (or cilantro)
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 2-4 cups fresh spinach, roughly chopped
  • optional–diced cooked sweet potato, fresh tomatoes, corn, etc

Brown sausage in olive oil, drain and remove from skillet. Add peppers, onion, garlic and salsa to the pan and cook over medium heat until soft, seasoning with salt and pepper.

Stir in sausage, green onion and 2 Tbsp water. Cook 2 minutes, then toss with rice and remaining ingredients. The spinach will wilt when you toss it with the rice mixture and it all turns into a festive block party in your mouth. It’s prettiest when you use red and orange peppers, in my opinion, but yummy no matter what.

 

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