Adventures in solar cooking

on Thursday, December 11, 2008
Reuben just finished what he considers the grand pearl of all his creations, a solar oven. It would work great here, except for the fact that it's mostly cloudy these days. Dependent on the weather, he tries at every opportunity to make use of this new solar cooking device. I don't have an oven, so I also think it is a great idea. Let the sun do all the cooking. I see a lot of potential in this when January comes and the sun's blazing all day long. He got permission to put the oven up on the roof. Notice the waterfall in the's only a trickle because we haven't had much rain lately.

The first thing we tried was shortbread cookies. On a sunny afternoon, one pan of cookies took about an hour. Too bad my recipe was bad; the cookies were no good :(

Christmas explosion

I went to the post office this morning thinking that I had received a package but I ended up taking home THREE enormous parcels from my mom. It cost her $50 for shipping alone!! Now I feel bad. But I heard jingles from inside one of the boxes so I got really excited.

These boxes exploded Christmas cheer all over my dining table:

It was just like Christmas morning, except 2 weeks early. I listened to "It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas". Now I have Christmas stockings, Christmas cookie cutters, Christmas Peeps, Christmas decorations, Christmas chocolate, Christmas candy canes etc. Oh the Christmas joy! Plus the taco seasoning that she always sends me, which comes at just the right time (chicken tacos tonight!) So much for a 'simple' Christmas.

My Christmas tree looks a lot better now.

Oh Christmas tree

on Wednesday, December 10, 2008

My Christmas tree was finally unveiled tonight. Actually it's been sitting there for awhile, but I only now got around to putting the red lights and the ornaments it is officially done. I was at the mall the other day and I found this cute little charlie brown tree for 10 ringgit...about 3 US dollars. A Christmas tree for less than a Starbucks frappachino! Here is my tree going down the grocery belt:

Those malls are just so dang hard to resist all that Christmas stuff when they are decked out in all their Chris
tmas spirit. It sucks you in. So here is this tree of mine, and there are exactly five presents under it. My sister got a package to me early and it included four Christmas presents and one birthday present, which also found its way under the tree. I just got a package from my mom but it's waiting for me at the post office.

Now that the tree finally sits in all its festive glory, I get to enjoy it for about one week before we head off to KL. I don't understand those people who go out and chop down their tree on Christmas Eve. It would be a great family tradition and all, but then you get to enjoy the tree for one whole day. One day wouldn't be enough for me.

14 days till Christmas!

Taj Mahal for the poor

on Tuesday, December 9, 2008

What the heck. It seems as though some idiot had a brilliant idea to build a life-size replica of the Taj Mahal in Bangladesh, of all places. This guy, a Bangladeshi film-maker, decided to spend $58 million dollars saying: "I am doing this only for the poor. They cannot travel. They cannot see this historical wonder."

You're doing this for the poor, Mr. Ahsanullah Moni? You think seeing the Taj Mahal is really going to make a difference?

$58 million dollars could go a long way in a country where 55% of its people (not counting children under 5) are illiterate. It could go pretty far in the lives of people who earn about 10% of what Americans do. Some estimates say that 40% of Bangladesh lives below the poverty line. I don't know if the poverty line they're talking about is absolute or relative, but it's certain that if these people are in poverty even by Bangladesh's definition, they're pretty dang poor. Let's not forget that the Western world's well-drilling craze of the past few decades basically destroyed Bangladesh's water supply, polluting it with arsenic. Maybe $58 million could go towards that damage and the resulting health problems. It makes me sick to think that this person is so jaded to think that a building in and of itself is going to do anything. Yes, it might be pretty to look at. And yes, it will bring foreign tourists in, which will in turn bring $$ to the country. That's great.

It reminds me of the UNs bright idea in the 80's to build a $73 million conference center in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. Like a huge conference center for the rich expats is really going to improve the lives of Ethiopia's urban poor. It's just another way to segregate themselves even further from the poor, or in Graham Hankocks words, “so that they can stand on the 29th floor and watch the rest of the country starve to death”. Ouch, that's a hard punch.

Wangari Maathai, Kenyan nobel peace prize winner says that sustainable development, in the minds of the poor, is simply survival. That's all they care about. They don't care about a Taj Mahal, they don't care about a huge conference center, they just want to feed their families for one more day. They don't care about long-term development and how the country's GNP is going to be in 20 years, because they're so caught up in surviving TODAY. I wish the UN and the other big aid bureaucracies could understand that.

It's a shame that so much money, resources, and time has been spent on this, instead of actually looking at what the poor really want or need. Take a poll of the people in that country and see what they really want. I would be very surprised if they said, "nope, I don't want money, food, clothing, or shelter, or anything that would make a better life for myself and my family. But what I really want is a Taj Mahal".

Whatever. I, myself, have not even seen the Taj Mahal. And I don't think that fact has significantly lowered my quality of life. I hear it's beautiful though, if not quite the tourist trap.

Great idea, Mr. Ahsanullah Moni. Let's see if the poor people of Bangladesh can even afford a bus ticket to come see it.


I woke up at 3am this morning from a bad dream, and now I can't go back to sleep. It was one of those dreams that you wish you could fall asleep again so the awful story would come to an end, instead of ending so abruptly. Ugh the tragedy!!

After making sure that none of the 4 channels on my TV are on at this hour, here I am back at my computer. With my new favorite hot drink of the season, hot chocolate with a cinnamon stick. Deliciously festive.

And I'm staring at my newly decorated Christmas tree (a plastic 3-footer sitting on a table) decorated in red lights with no ornaments as of yet.

I've been making a huge deal out of Christmas this year. I think that the craft-making and the decorating (although I don't have much to decorate with at this point) is sort of a coping mechanism for me. It's one thing that is familiar, one thing that is similar to how Christmas would be at home. But because I know that it'll never be the same, this season has taken a huge toll on me emotionally. I get myself worked up thinking about home and all that I'm going to miss. That if Christmas isn't going to be just like it has been for the past 24 years, it's a failure.

I need a kick in the pants. Hello...I of all people should understand that Christmas is not about the crafts, it's not about the decorations, or the tree. Christmas CAN be Christmas (and it is celebrated through most of the world) without all this crap. Christians worldwide (besides the Western world) don't celebrate Christmas with Santas and Elves and reindeer and chimneys because, frankly, that's not what Christmas is about! Most of the world doesn't have chimney's, anyway. The rest of the world doesn't care about eggnog lattes or Starbucks peppermint hot chocolates (with the peppermint sprinkles on top!!) And let us not forget that most of the world could live for a week off of the cost of one of these drinks, plus maybe a muffin.

But this is what Christmas is so often made to be. I think that people believe in the principle of Christmas without all of the stuff. Every year, people say that they want to cut down on the commercialism and celebrate what this season is really about. But on December 23, they're just as frantic as everyone else to get their shopping done, to buy the perfect last-minute presents. I have made it to be this way too, because I have made a huge deal about the "stuff". The stuff that Christmas isn't about. Even if I didn't put up a Christmas tree, and even -God forbid - if Starbucks didn't bring out their red cups this year, Jesus still would have been born. Thank God. And thank God that the rest of the world doesn't depend on these things to celebrate the birth of Christ like we do. I don't think Jesus drank his hazelnut lattes out of red cups.

So what can I do this season? What can I do to make sure that Christmas isn't depressing, and that I don't miss out on the Christmas that is celebrated HERE by wondering what could have been. It's going to be a day to day struggle for me, to intentionally get my mind off of home and into the present moment. To remind myself that here, Christmas won't be bad, it will just be....different. Reuben's mom works at a Childrens home and I get the chance to celebrate Christmas with his family and with the kids this year. How cool is that. Ok so these kids aren't my own family and my own nieces and nephews that I miss so much. But they, just like any child, need family. They need someone to celebrate Christmas with, someone to make those cherished Christmas memories with.

"I am only one, but I am one. I cannot do everything, but I can do something. And I will not let what I cannot do interfere with what I can do." ~Edward Everett Hale

Part of me dreads Christmas but most of me is also excited to see what the holiday will bring. To, in my own little way, bring the focus off of the empty traditions and onto what really matters.

By the way, my cinnamon hot chocolate is delicious, particularly at 4:30am.
on Sunday, December 7, 2008
sim·plic·i·ty\sim-ˈpli-sə-tē: the state of being simple, uncomplicated, or uncompounded

Simplicity is a virtue. Not simplicity for simplicity's sake, but because "God made man simple; man's complex problems are of his own devising." (Eccles 7:30) Not to be simple of mind; Proverbs calls that man a fool. The proof of inward simplicity is in how you live. You can think about how much you want to live a simpler life and admire people who do, but that doesn't really get anywhere unless you pursue it yourself, inside AND out. It really is like St. Augustine says: "The best apologetic is a life well lived."

This all comes about because of none other than the Celebration of Discipline by Richard J Foster. There were a few extra mattresses floating around in my place tonight so I decided to move one of them into the living room to sleep in there. And then I got to thinking how ridiculous how many rooms and mattresses I have for so few people. I already have a mattress for myself, and yet I wanted a different one to sleep on. I had, in my apt, 6 mattresses for only one sleeping girl. I thought it rather selfish as I know that there are people around here who could probably use one. So I thought this moment would be a good time to skip ahead to the books chapter on "simplicity".

This is a crazy world. We fill our lives with worthless stuff because we believe that those things will give us some sort of value in life. "We buy things we do not want to impress people we do not like". Most of our society has no ability to see through all their stuff and into the things that give true meaning and value. Henry David Thoreau (author of "Simplify, Simplify!") says: “Our life is frittered away by detail." This how materialistic our culture has become, and because of it, this is also how we are. We cannot escape it.

The Bible talks all the time about the dangers of wealth. The love of money is the root of all evil, "He who trusts in wealth will wither" Prov 11:28, "Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth" (Matt 6:21). James says this: "You desire and do not have; so you kill. And you covet and cannot obtain; so you fight and wage war." (James 4:1-2). He's blaming murder and war on our selfishness and want for more and more stuff.

This is where simplicity comes in. Again, not just simplicity for simplicity's sake, because that would be legalism and I think we would become very judgemental. Not simplicity to prove to others how noble you are. But simplicity for the sake of getting us out of this selfish, materialistic mindset. Intentionally choosing to put God before our wealth. I'm not going to write it all down here (it's rather long), but Foster uses Matt. 6:25-33 as his main point: "Seek first His Kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things shall be yours as well." (v. 33)

Our culture has its own reasons for living simply: Going 'green', and empathy with the poor are two of those. However, if you look at what Jesus says, these are not reasons why we should practice simplicity. But by putting God FIRST, these things will come out of our lifestyle. BECAUSE we love God we should steward the earth. BECAUSE we love God we should care for the poor and the needy. FIRST, seek the Kingdom. And TRUST God with everything you have and everything you need. If God really is who He says He is, then "Do not be anxious about tomorrow." Simplicity is freedom from all this worry about all our stuff. Knowing that, in the grand scheme of things, it really doesn't matter!! Simplicity is not a burden; it's a joy to find release from stuff - from the mindset of needing and wanting more and more and more. Simplicity means living with less, but living more intentionally. "Outwardly Simple, and Inwardly Rich." From Celebration of Discipline: "Experiencing the inward reality liberates us outwardly. Speech becomes truthful and honest. The lust for status and position is gone because we no longer need status and position. We cease from showy extravagance not on the grounds of being unable to afford it, but on the grounds of principle. Our goods become available to others. We join the experience that Richard E. Byrd, after months alone in the barren Arctic, recorded in his journal, "I am learning....that a man can live profoundly without masses of things."

I love living out a suitcase. I have just what I need, nothing more. It stresses me out to come home to so much stuff (Although I appreciate my closet full of clothes much more) - stuff that I know I don't need, but can't seem to part with. It's not about envying other peoples' stuff, but enjoying what you have! And appreciating everything that God has given you. What would life look like if we had only what we needed. Well, I guess it would look like the lives of most of the world.

I want to try to put some of my old pictures on here from the past couple of here are a few things that I appreciate about Minnesota (Grand Marais):
Fall colors

Flip Flops and Hot Chocolate on freezing cold days

And the perfectly roasted marshmallow


on Thursday, December 4, 2008
Roughly 1.5 billion people in the world’s consumer class – who drive automobiles, own refrigerators and televisions, and shop in malls – consume the bulk of the world’s fossil fuels, metals, wood products, and grain. A newborn in the US requires more than twice as much grain and 10 times as much oil as a child born in Brazil or Indonesia – and produces far more pollution. In fact, a simple calculation shows that the annual increase in the US population of 2.6 million people puts more pressure on the world’s resources than do the 17 million people added to India each year. – “State of the World”, Worldwatch

What to expect this holiday

on Wednesday, December 3, 2008

This will be my second Malaysian Christmas. My first was Christmas of 2006. So what will the holidays be like for me this year? I'm not quite sure, but I at least now have a better understanding of a Malaysian Christmas.
Malaysians celebrate Christmas at the mall:

One mall in KL even had fake snow, made of bubbles:

They make Christmas trees out of beer bottles:

Even though I don't know what to expect this Christmas, I know what NOT to expect for this year (as opposed to last time):


Hair/Intenstine Soup:

Brad Pitt (I think the billboard has since been taken down):
And monkey attacks:

Oh, life in Malaysia.

Christmas refugee

A story written by a Myanmarese refugee boy:

"...My school was miles away from my house. Even though I had to walk to school I never gave up because I want to be a scientist. I believe Myanmar will be a rich, peaceful and democratic country in the future so now I’m working hard in my studies. I left Myanmar because of the unfair government. One day when we celebrated Christmas we ran out of engine oil so my dad went to the town and bought some oil. While he was away some of the police and soldiers came and ordered us to stop the ceremony and asked who was in charge of it. Two pastors were arrested. I was so worried for my dad and searched for my dad. Fortunately I found my dad on the way. I told my Dad what happened and from that day he left the village. We faced many problems, the soldiers were searching for my dad and threatened us. They forced us to do hard labour. Later we managed to contact my dad who was in Malaysia so we left our country to join him.

My mother, brothers and I took a bus from Myanmar to Thailand. We stayed there for 10 days. Then we went to Malaysia by bus, boat, and on foot. On the way we were very hungry and thirsty. We didn’t eat for 5 days. And we were really, really cold and shivering. It took 20 days to get to Malaysia. We were so happy to see our dad in Malaysia. We feel unsafe here because we don’t have any documents. So we have terrible nightmares everyday. When someone knocks on our door at night we run and hide under the bed. My hope for Myanmar is to be a developed country so I am trying my best. When I am relocated to another country I will study hard and be educated so I can serve my country as much as I can. Please pray for democracy in Myanmar."

And another story from a 13 year old refugee:

"I fled the Burmese government because of the unjust rule in my country. Everyday soldiers were searching for my father. They accused him of celebrating Christmas without permission from the authority."

Both of these boys are refugees because of Christmas. Celebrating Christmas forced them to flee their family and their country. Not for lighting their tree or hanging their stockings or going to see Santa in the mall, but for simply recognizing and celebrating Jesus' birth.

Although I'm sad that I will miss a greater part of my traditional Christmas celebrations this year, at least I have the freedom to celebrate it as I choose. Not the freedom to go see Santa or make Christmas cookies, but the freedom to celebrate the birth of our Lord. So may we appreciate Christmas so much more this year knowing that others are persecuted for it. Let's be grateful for the freedom we have to express our faith in such a way.