Leap year hair

on Tuesday, February 28, 2012
Happy Leap Year! In honor of the occasion (we won't live this day of the calendar for another 4 years!) I made (one of my favorites) carrot cake cookies. Our kitchen and fridge and freezer is overflowing with coconut products so I try to put them to use.

One of my latest discoveries is making coconut whipped cream. Just refrigerate coconut milk (I use the fresh stuff because that's what we have here but the canned stuff will work too), skim the water off the top, add a bit of powdered sugar and vanilla and blend! It takes a few minutes and nearly kills my blender in the process, but it eventually comes to the consistency of whipped cream. Only it tastes WAY better! Especially on pie or my mango-pineapple crisp (with coconut butter topping). Death by coconut and tropical fruits!

In other exciting news, it was a week ago today that I decided to quit my shampoo/conditioner cold turkey and go baking soda/apple cider vinegar. I went into it completely prepared to throw in the towel when I needed to (or at least do it every OTHER washing), but it turns out that it is completely amazing! Some people say that they have a few weeks' transition before their scalp stops overproducing the oil that the shampoo strips every day (hence your need for conditioner to repair the damage done by the shampoo - a Hair Care Conspiracy!). But I must have great luck because my head is not greasy at all! It's actually quite soft like how your hair feels when you come home from a salon.

Downside: Showers just aren't as enjoyable as they used to be. As crappy as Sodium Laurel Sulfate is, I love lathering. Baking soda does no such thing. The most effective way I've found to do it is to put a small palmful of baking soda into the palm of my hand and add a little bit of water to make a paste, which I then rub into my hair (mostly roots). It feels a bit like I'm rubbing grains of sand into my head, but I think I might not be watering down the paste enough. I made up a 1 T. Apple cider vinegar to 1 cup water solution that I've been putting on the ends (I've read putting it on the scalp will increase oil). It's actually been very effective in detangling my hair, which is a huge problem for me with the swimming and running that I do that makes my poor ponytail all sweaty and gross. TMI.

Anyway, my hair never feels squeaky clean as it used to when I finish washing it, but it always proves me wrong when it's dry. It's definitely worth a try!

Malaysia 101

on Sunday, February 26, 2012
I've been making a lot of lists lately. My way of ordering my scattered thoughts, I suppose. On that note, I put together a couple of interesting facts that I have gathered about Malaysia:

History: Colonized by the British. It was occupied by Japan for several years during WWII. Independence came in 1957.

Sport: One of Malaysia's proudest moments was earning a silver medal in the 2008 Olympics in badminton (the first medal I think they've ever won). Badminton is a seriously competitive sport here!

Industry: Major exports are rubber (at least used to be) and palm oil. In fact, much of Malaysia's forests have been cut down to grow palm plantations. IT is also a growing industry here. In Penang, we have Intel, Dell, Motorola and Sony factories which make & assemble electronics parts like microchips. And yet...electronics aren't any cheaper here!

Politics: Malaysia is technically a democratic parliamentary system, but the locals are always complaining about politics and that democracy actually takes place. The British handed over their authority to the Malays, and the Malays have ruled ever since. There are elections this year, and there's talk of them being voted out for the first time. It's illegal to speak against the ruling party, so there's not much the opposition party can do in terms of campaigning against them. (Sidenote: This is a quote from the prime minister last week when someone suggested that the electoral candidates hold a public debate: "Malaysians are far too sentimental and emotional to appreciate arguments that are presented rationally. The Malaysian public is not yet that mature. This is not America. And even in America, the debates all expose how stupid the candidates are, that’s all." Wow, definitely not America, indeed!)

Justice system: Drug trafficking is punishable by the death penalty. Even foreigners! Death is by hanging. They also utilize corporal punishment by caning.

Shoe Designers: Jimmy Choo is from Malaysia.

In the news: Just read this on BBC this afternoon.

Entertainment: A movie ticket costs $3-4 dollars, depending on the day. I've been seeing commercials for the movie "SeeFood" for a few months now, and I assumed it was a Pixar film. Turns out it is Malaysia's first animated feature film!

Haves & Have-nots

on Saturday, February 25, 2012
We're lucky that we can get almost anything here in Penang. *Almost everything, that is. I was thinking recently about this and started making a list in my head....

Have not: Pandora does not stream here...boo.
Alternative: Grooveshark. I'm still new to it, but I'm hopeful.

Have not: Netflix.
Alternative: We have friends with very large movie collections.

Have not: avocados.
Alternative: none. But I did make some delicious pineapple salsa last night. I consider that to be in the same 'food genre"

Have not: Jillian Michael's DVD collection. Currently sold nowhere on the island, although I have not tried KL.
Alternative: I will have to stick with the one DVD of hers I do have. It rocks.

Have not: Sidewalks.
Alternative: none.

Have not: Almond milk. I love it!
Alternative: I'm going to try making my own....it seems pretty easy!

Have not: Glee...*sigh. We recently found a knock-off version of the first half of the current season. But it's killing me to have not seen Ricky Martin's guest starring episode (dream come true?)
Alternative: American Idol. I stay up ridiculously late (it usually goes from 10-midnight) watching season 11.

Have not: Whole Living magazine. When we were in CO Springs, I devoured the back issues of the magazine at the library.
Alternative: Wholeliving.com

Have not: Greek yogurt
Alternative: I've made my own a time or two. We got some cheap-o handkerchiefs as wedding favors a few months ago and they serve as perfect strainers.

On the flipside, here are some things that we DO have:

Coffee Bean & Starbucks. A new Starbucks just opened up about 2 miles from us, that has an amazing patio overlooking the marina. Its hours are 10am-midnight. Coffee doesn't seem to be a common morning ritual for people here, unlike in the U.S.

Borders book store. Looks exactly like the one in the states... and didn't those all shut down last year?

Charlie Brown Cafe. How strange and random!

Forever 21, although I think I'm a little too old for that now.

T.G.I. Fridays & Chilis restaurants. If only they would open a Chipotle....

We have very cute monkeys.

Fruit! Delicious tropical fruit.


I've waited years for everything to be just right. When I have a place of my (now our) own, when I have just the right table and plates and seating area, when I have the time, when I hone my cooking skills, and when I have the friends, then I can practice hospitality. Now that I have all of these things (although my cooking skills remain questionable), I realize how none of them are necessary. You don't need to have your own place (although it helps!), you don't need a whole lot of time (when you keep it simple), and you don't need to have Julia Child's cooking skills (can you say, potluck?). Because none of those things are what hospitality is really about.

I recently stumbled on this quote:
Entertaining says, “I want to impress you with my beautiful home, my clever decorating and my gourmet cooking.” Hospitality says, “This is not mine. It is a gift from God, and I’ll use it as he desires.” (Still Living By Faith, Annie May Lewis)

More like Mary and Martha, less like Martha Stewart. I guess all those years I've been assuming that I had to do it Martha Stewart style, all or nothing. People were either going to see my house in order, or not at all. One thing that I do know now is that the 'fussier' you make it, the less inclined you will be to make it a regular habit. I want to learn to think of hospitality as an extension of my regular life. To make food I already know how to cook and enjoy eating. This is not the time to try out that roast duck recipe from Julia Child (I assume this exists?), or to create that perfect tablescape that I saw on Pinterest the other day. Not that those things are bad, but sometimes perfectionism creeps up on me and I get so worked up about all my plans not being 'right' that I end up being convinced in my own mind that the evening is a disaster because that picture wasn't hung, or because I overproofed that new bread recipe and it fell flat.

A "wish I had known then what I know now" lesson for my former-self: Don't wait for the perfect time to be hospitable instead of just using what you've been given at this time. Less is more. I may not know how much I missed out on then, but I don't want to miss out on anything now.


on Tuesday, February 21, 2012
In case you are wondering:

What I am cooking/baking: Homemade Larabars (except no baking/cooking required)

What I am watching: (Note: If you have not discovered TedTalks, you need to!)

What I am reading online: Why "Did you have fun?" is the wrong question. I've never thought about it that way before!

What I am reading that is made of paper: Snow Falling on Cedars by David Guterson. I just stumbled upon this book at a local used book store (which I just discovered!) I don't know why I've never read this book before, but reading this about Bainbridge Island got me super excited to read it.

What I am experimenting with: I am going to attempt replacing my shampoo/conditioner with baking soda/apple cider vinegar. Here I find myself sometimes needing to wash my hair 2x a day because I'm in the pool or because my entire head gets soaked with sweat when I run. Anyway, I've heard it works wonders. Today is day one.

Where I am running:

Just around the neighborhood!'

What I miss about home: I've been missing my friends from Bainbridge lately. And avocados.

What I ate for breakfast: My new fave, oat bakes.

What I am wondering: How I can make 6 dozen cookies to bring to my school tomorrow with only one baking sheet and a very weak oven?


on Monday, February 13, 2012
One of the things that I was most excited about getting involved with here is refugee education. I had heard that a school for Rohingya children called LifeBridge Education Center was just established this past year in Penang, and I planned to jump right into teaching when I arrived. However, things never work out quite as easily as I would have hoped.

One, the school is on the mainland. That means I have to either take a ferry or the bridge (the 13.5km bridge) to the school every day. When I got here to Penang a few months ago, I wasn't even driving yet. The prospect of driving that far terrified me. I tried taking the bus. It took 2 and a half hours to get there, and 2 and a half hours to get back. No, I thought to myself, this will not do. I managed a hefty commute last year, and took plenty of public transportation, but I cannot fathom spending 5 hours on a bus every day. So I decided to come into the school a few days a week. And I've been driving myself!

Being a "Master of education" and all, I really wanted to serve at this school as a teacher. The classroom kind. The normal kind of teacher, for once. Once I visited the school once or twice, I had to let go of that dream. Most of these kids speak Bahasa, and although English is the language of instruction, they really need Malaysian teachers who can explain things to them in a language they understand. I get all the arguments for language immersion, but now I know how frustrating it can be to teach an entire class with no English background at all. Luckily they have 3 Malaysian volunteer teachers and 1 Rohingya teacher who are sacrificing their time for these kids.

One of the components of their learning at this school is a computer program called Read, Write, Type.

It teaches them, you guessed it, reading, writing, and typing with phonics. Which made me realize, that somehow, despite my own upbringing and advanced education, I had never worked with phonics before. What the heck is a "short e" and a "bossy e"? How did I learn to read without this stuff? And why did they never teach me this in my so called "teacher education"? (probably because I avoided most of the classes from the education department. Yea....I should have put more thought into that decision.)

So it makes total sense that I decided to be a phonics coach. I'll get the students that are the farthest behind and work with them one-on-one. I had my first full-day session with my kids today. It went pretty well, but it's very clear that I will be learning phonics along with them. It'll be fun.

We worked on short vowel sounds today. I realized that my name is the perfect example, because it has both a short e and a short i in it. I'm so proud.

In the end, even if I can't be a full-time teacher, and even if it means spending an hour and a half in my car to drive there and back, these kids are worth it. It's their first, and only, opportunity to get an education. I'm happy to be part of their lives!

And with that, I will leave you with a quote from Nelson Mandela:

“Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.”

First day of school

Today was my first day of school. First day substitute teaching at Dalat, that is.

This is what I did for 2 hours:

I 'supervised' an e-learning online class. Meaning, I sat there to make sure students weren't on facebook or using their I-Pads. Yes, I said I-pads...every high school student at this school has one.

Dalat International School is a Christian institution that was started by the CMA church back in 1929 (I used my time during the class to brush up on the school's history) in Dalat, Vietnam. When Saigon fell they got kicked out and moved to Bangkok, then to the Cameron Highlands (mainland Malaysia), and finally to Penang in the 1970's. Since then they've rented a primo piece of property, right on the beach in Tanjung Bungah, under the shadows of the Paradise Hotel. They've made quite a name for themselves in the region, and it is a popular place for missionaries in Asia to send their kids to school (they also board students). It's also part of the reason why there are so many expat and missionaries families working here in Penang.

The school follows an American curriculum and calendar. All of the teachers (with the exception of those teaching modern language like Malay or Mandarin) are Western, they play Western sports, have prom, and even have American Boy and Girl Scout Troops (though I don't think they the sell cookies here, unfortunately). It's pretty much a little slice of America on the beach in Malaysia.

I'm substitute teaching here for the experience. Hopefully it will get better than just sitting at the back of a computer lab!


on Friday, February 10, 2012

This week we had a meeting down in Georgetown, so we took the opportunity to visit Little India to refill our dried fruit supply: gigantic California raisins, juicy prunes, and Iranian dates. I also bought a kg of peanuts that I'm going to make into peanut butter (today, in fact).

One of our regular stops in Little India is to Ali Bubur Kacang. Bubur Kacang is a sweet green bean soup made with coconut milk. The man who makes it here has been in business since 1950. At only 1.20rm (35 cents?) a bowl, he certainly has developed a loyal clientele over the years. Including us.

A sweet green bean soup may seem strange, but let me tell you: it's delicious!


on Wednesday, February 8, 2012
When I was young, I learned how to needlepoint (back then I called it "cross stitch", but doesn't needlepoint sound more "professional")? So I learned how to needlepoint and I was obsessed. I would get cross stitch design books for gifts and my mom would take me to the craft store to buy thread and fabric. My 'artwork' was composed mostly of Precious Moments and baby sea otters. I told you....I was young! I gave away most of my finished products. It was my ultimate goal to make a quilt from the collection of 20 baby otter cross stitches that I was going to eventually finish. Yea....that never happened. I built a huge collection of thread at home that I still have. I grew out of the habit and when I thought about it again last year, I tried to find a project that I could do to keep busy. Scouring craft stores everywhere and online, I couldn't find anything that didn't involve Thomas Kincade or cheesy beach/cottage scenes. I just couldn't find anything that I would even want to work on. Sadly, the needlepoint industry hasn't evolved to more *ahem* contemporary trends.

I happened to be reading World magazine back in Yakima this fall and I saw an ad for a needlepoint featuring the six days of creation. No matter what my beliefs on the first chapters of Genesis are, I think these are completely epic (and I don't use the word epic lightly) and completely worth my time and effort. Plus they would take me forever = a good thing! Too bad they are $78 each. I think my parents would faint with excitement if I gave them these (creation pillows for the couch would totally be my parents style, after all) but no, I am not going to spend $500 for the kits alone. Sorry mom and dad! But aren't they amazing?

Where I was going with all of this is that I stopped by Kawan Shop yesterday (the YWAM-run thrift store downtown) and I found a needlepoint kit! It's a super cheesy scene of a light house but I don't care. It will bring back memories of the olden days of Precious Moments and sea otters, and perhaps I can find someone to give the finished product to here that would appreciate it.


on Monday, February 6, 2012
I am a perplexing kind of traveler. When I was younger I had no desire to go to Europe, like most of my friends dreamed of doing. I wanted to go to Africa and travel by bus Dark Star Safari style (great book, by the way!) I wanted to make a jungle hut, or even a slum, my home. Yes, I can honestly say I thought that at one point in my life and no, I don't have the same feelings now. I did the whole "living in the bush" experience and it was hard! Really hard, but better off because of it!

At the same time, I've always liked visiting the fanciest and most expensive hotels a place has to offer. And while I'm not staying there, having white skin makes you welcome almost anywhere (Four Seasons in Langkawi, I'm still bitter you wouldn't let me peek). I remember going to the Sheraton while in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. It's probably the most luxurious place I've ever seen in my life. The contrast between this and the poverty on the street (literally, just across the street) just about made me sick. When we were in Bangkok last week, we paid a visit to the Mandarin Oriental Hotel. And who can go to Singapore without seeing the Raffles Hotel? Holy cow!

And so, when it comes to Penang, I go no further than the Rasa Sayang Resort. It's just about 5km from our house. Our place can get so noisy sometimes and I miss the quiet. I like to make an occasional trip here when I want to veg out on a beach chair or hammock, wear a dress, or just feel fancy.

Bangkok a.k.a. food

on Thursday, February 2, 2012
Back from Bangkok! As I'm looking through pictures from our trip, I realized that probably 80% of my snapshots were of food. So let's just cut right to the good stuff, and, let's be honest, the real reason we chose to go to Thailand: the FOOD.

Rule number 1 of Bangkok is that you must eat from places like this:

and this:

I'm sure that some of the food in Thailand that is served within four walls is delicious, but there is nothing like sitting on a plastic stool on the sidewalk.

And it's even better if there are giant bowls of vegetables on the table, for you to add at your leisure. There's nothing more beautiful and deliciously satisfying to me than a giant bouquet of basil. The ultimate dining experience.

And don't forget the fruit

My eyes nearly popped out of my head when I saw these strawberries. I was just telling Reuben last week that I missed eating them.

And rule number 1.b: eat this. LOTS of it.