I love Chinese food. Or at least, my American rendition of Chinese food. :-) This recipe is NOT for those of you living in Asia - I don't mind if you laugh at the severely non-authentic dish I'm about to share! But it's a family favorite at my house, and even yummy enough to serve to company if you're living in Africa.

 

Sweet & Sour Chicken

1 onion, chopped

1 green pepper, chopped (or any color sweet pepper)

1 clove garlic, minced

1" ginger, grated

1/2 pineapple (or a whole small one)

1 c green beans or other veggie (optional)

1-2 c. cooked chicken, chopped (pork is good also)

1/4 c. soy sauce

1/2 t.salt

1/2 c. vinegar

1/3 c. brown sugar (white is fine too)

1 c. chicken broth or water w/chicken bullion (if using bullion, reduce salt)

3 T. cornstarch

 

Fry onion and green pepper in a small amount of oil until soft. Add garlic & ginger for the last few minutes, but be careful because they burn quickly. Add remaining ingredients EXCEPT cornstarch. Cook 20-30 minutes, or until pineapple and green beans are tender. Add more water if needed while cooking. Just before serving, mix cornstarch with a small amount of water (1/4 c.) and slowly add, stirring vigorously to avoid lumps. Serve over steamed rice.

This recipe can also be used to cook chicken legs or breast pieces, if you want to serve more meat with your meal (nicer for company meals.) Follow the same instructions, except add raw chicken pieces instead of chopped meat, and use water without bullion. Be sure to cook at least 30 minutes, or until chicken is done.

Several years ago, I heard a sermon preached on parenting according to Psalm 23. I did not take notes, and do not remember the details well, but it made a strong impact on my parenting, and also on how I looked at this Psalm. So I started writing this article several weeks ago, and since then a similar article came out on another blog that I follow. I considered deleting my writing, so that it didn't look like plagurism . . . but the way we applied the Psalm was very different, so I decided to go ahead and publish my article after all.

Psalm 23 for Parents

The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want. Are we meeting the needs of our children? Life overseas can make even meeting physical needs more challenging, but as parents we are pretty good at making sure our children are fed, clothed, warm, and healthy. What about their emotional needs? Do they feel 'want' in their souls? Or are their love-tanks full? It's so easy as parents to focus on the physical needs but neglect the emotional wants of our children. Try to see the world through your little one's eyes and consider what is important to them. When our children know that their needs - both physical and emotional - will be a priority to their parents, it gives them peace and security in spite of other circumstances.

He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters. Is your home a peaceful place? Especially in the chaos of living overseas - transitions, new friends, new culture - your family needs the home to be a place of peace. What does this mean?

  • Find a routine that works for your family, so that your days are peaceful. When children know what to expect and what's expected of them, it brings peace to their hearts.
  • Teach your children to resolve conflict in a peaceful manner.
  • Notice when there is unrest in your children's hearts or actions, and help them resolve it.
  • Keep your heart peaceful (this is the hardest one, right?!) because your children take their cues from you.

He restoreth my soul: Provide soul-food for your children. I don't think this just means have family devotion time or make them read their Bibles (isn't that feeding their spirits?) Consider what ministers to their hearts - good books, creative activities, special family traditions, bedtime cuddles with Mommy or Daddy. Make sure you're feeding their souls.

He leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name's sake. Lead,guide, show the way, lead by example. One of the struggles that adults, as well as children, face in moving overseas is discerning between good and evil. Things in your home culture that you never questioned suddenly look wrong . . . and you are faced with new things in your host culture that might seem wrong to our American mindset, but are actually not evil. Help your children learn to recognize good and evil seperate from the cultural trappings around them - whether at home or abroad.

Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; In a very real way, fighting sicknesses like malaria or typhoid, our children may walk through the valley of the shadow of death. But I think this can also apply to the countless losses, and the often unresolved greif that children deal with in moving overseas. It is impossible to keep our children from expereincing these things. But we can give them the support and direction and comfort and understanding that they need to get through it. Be WITH them in their valley.

Thy rod and thy staff they comfort me. The rod and the staff were for protection, although also for direction and chastening. Are we protecting our children from the evil around them? This doesn't always mean sheltering them - but sometimes it does. Are we aware of the dangers, the temptations, the wrong influences, even the potential for abuse? Do our children have the comfort and security of our protection?

Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies: thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over.  Do you abundantly bless your children? Do they feel like their lives are full and overflowing with love and security? Do you give them things to be excited about, things to look forward to? Is your home a place of joy and abundance? This will look different in each family, but again, this is a focus on the emotional and spiritual needs of our children. Let's make sure their little lives are overflowing with peace and joy.

Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the Lord for ever. What a promise! When we shepherd our children in the ways of God as described here, goodness and mercy will surround them, and they will dwell in God's house forever! What more could we want for our children?

Did any of these verses speak to you? What wisdom can you add from shepherding your children? Please share!

Self-care. How does that word make you feel? For the longest time, I catagorized "self-care" with "selfish" - in the list of things I shouldn't really do, or should only do if I had lots of time completely free from responsibilities. (Which never happens when you have children!)

But I've learned something over the last two years of walking through burnout and depression. You ARE responsible for taking care of yourself. No one else will. No one else can. And you know what? It's not selfish. It's part of being the best person you can be, so that you can have something to offer those around you. You are the mom. The world revolves around you. If you crash, you take everyone down with you! Isn't it better to take time for yourself now, rather than find yourself debilitated by depression, or leaving the field because of burnout, or hospitalized with a physical illness a few years down the road?**

I believe ALL moms need to focus more on taking care of themselves. However, this is especially necessary for moms overseas. Why?

  • Our support system is small or non-existent. No grandma to babysit while we go shopping. No best friend to take us out for coffee. Perhaps no Christian community to meet for regular fellowship and encouragement.
  • We're under huge cultural stress, making everything more exhausting.
  • Everyday life is harder. No air conditioning, unreliable eletricity, no convenience foods - you know the list.
  • There's fewer people around us that will notice the danger signs when we're not doing well.
  • There's more pressure on us, from locals and from supporters, to meet up to certain expectations and perform well.

That's a lot of stress on a mom, who ALREADY has enough stress in simply running the home and raising her children! I believe self-care is absolutely essential to survival as a mother overseas.

So what does self-care really mean? How do we DO it?

I am NOT an expert, but here are some things we have been learning. The outworking of these things will look different in each situation.

  1. Draining vs. Energizing Activities - Everything you do is either energizing for you or draining for you. It is different for each individual - for one mom, cooking is a fun hobby, while for another it is a stressful chore. For one person, large social groups are energizing and exciting, for another they are exhausting and draining. Obviously we can't avoid everything that is draining for us, but we can identify those things and make sure to follow them with "recharge" time. If cooking is stressful for you, figure out a way to take a break from cooking one day a week. If large groups are exhausting, make sure you can take some time alone after the event is over. Balance your draining activities with energizing ones, and eliminate any that you can.
  2. Self-Talk - I am finding this to be a huge need in my life. What are you saying about yourself in your head? "I can't keep on top of things no matter how hard I try."  "I'll never be good enough." "I'm such a failure as a mom." Sound familiar? Just this morning I realized that I forgot eggs at the store AGAIN and the words in my head were "Brilliant homemaker, can't even remember her whole grocery list." STOP! Talking this way about yourself (even if you never say the words outloud) is hurting not only you, but your children as well.
  3. Time to Create. You might be thinking, "But I'm not a crafty-type person." Fine. I'm certainly not! But we all need time to be creative. For some this means writing. For some it means drawing, painting, sewing, or craft projects. It might be cooking or home decorating or photography. Whatever it is, you need to have a creative outlet. Even if you can only squeeze in an hour a week, DO IT!
  4. Time to Meet Your Needs - As busy moms, especially in ministry, we often deprive ourselves of the most essential physical needs. This ought to be obvious, but ladies, we need to feed ourselves as well as our children! We need to get enough sleep to keep our bodies healthy. We all need exercize (unless we have a toddler to chase!) These physical needs should be a priority, even on busy, crazy days. But we all have other needs, emotional and spiritual, as well. Don't feel guilty about taking a hot bath, scheduling a coffee date with a friend, or spending the evening reading a good book. Identify what your needs are and make sure they're getting met on a regular basis! Obviously there will be weeks when everyone has the stomach flu, or you're packing to leave on furlough, that everything is upside down and there is no time for you. But don't constantly live in the 'maybe I'll have time next week' mode. Time for you will not happen unless YOU make it a priority.
  5. Time with the Lord. I shouldn't even need to mention this one, right? But it's SO easy as a busy mom to let personal time with the Lord get bumped out by more urgent things. Keep it a priority! And I'm not talking about the legalistic "have to read a chapter" that you can check off your to-do list. That is not life-giving or relationship-building. Do what you need to do to really connect with the Lord and be refreshed by Him: maybe praying the Scriptures outloud, journaling through a chapter of the Bible, reading a devotional, or listening to an audio message.
  6. Get Help. Maybe you need practical help - Are household chores taking all your time? Consider hiring local household help. Do you really need to get out? Find someone who can babysit and give you a break. Or maybe you need emotional help and support. Reach out to a friend. Find a mentor. Join an online community of women who can understand and give support. Find a counselor before you're desperate. Don't be afraid to ask for help.

A closing thought on what self-care is not? Self-care is not self-medicating your stress by spending mindless hours on Facebook or YouTube or reading novels, or whatever your escape might be. I'm not saying that doing something like that to relax is always wrong. But when you find yourself binge-watching a TV series to escape your responsiblities (and emotions), please do not call it self-care. Rather, realize it's a warning sign that you NEED to put some healthy self-care in place before it's too late!

**I certainly do not suggest that every case of deperession or illness is caused by lack of self-care. There are many other circumstances out of our control that can also cause these things. But let's be responsible to do what we can, and that means taking care of ourselves!**

So now it's your turn, ladies! What do you think when you hear the word "self-care"? Do you have some boundaries in place that allow you to take care of yourself? What do you find most helpful to you? Please share in the comments below!

As I was going through my recipes, I realized how many of them depend on my system of cooking meat. So before we go any further, I'm going to talk about that a little bit. Not that you have to do it the way I did, but knowing what I did will help you to understand my recipes better! :-)

For me, one of the biggest challenges of cooking in West Africa was knowing what to do about meat. Where we lived for the first two years there were no nicely packaged fresh cuts at the grocery store. We could get canned meat - sausages, Spam, corned beef, and tuna - but all of those things were expensive, and rather gross, too. There were little "cold stores", which usually consisted of not much more than a deep freezer holding a few boxes of frozen chicken and frozen fish. And then there was the meat market . . . an open air market with bloody chopping blocks, huge dead animal parts, and swarms of flies. I think I might prefer Spam!

But realistically Spam wasn't a good option, so I learned to buy fresh beef in the market. Some tips I learned for buying...

  • Make friends with a butcher and try to go back to the same one over and over. He will [probably] give you a better deal, and learn to understand what you're looking for so you don't have to explain yourself every time.
  • If you have a big daily market, animals are probably butchered fresh every morning. Go early to get meat when it is the freshest, before the hot sun and flies have had time to do their work.
  • If you have a smaller market, find out what day(s) they usually butcher, and buy meat on those days.
  • Don't buy meat that looks dried out, dark red or old
  • Ask for boneless cuts. Cutting huge bones out of the middle of big chunks of meat is not fun.
  • Ask for "no fat". This doesn't mean there will literally be no fat, but it might avoid getting HUGE thick chunks of fat with your meat.
  • If they offer to cut it into pieces for you, graciously refuse. They will indiscriminately cut through bone chips, veins of fat and gristle. I prefer to trim and chop my own meat.

To save the inconvenience of going into the meat market too often, I would buy several pounds at a time. Once I got home, the meat needed to be cooked or frozen promptly. What I usually did was cook it all right away, to be frozen in meal-sized packages for later use. Here's the cooking process I used:

  1. First I would wash it thoroughly with clean water, hopefully getting most of the bone chips and loose dirt off
  2. Next with a sharp knife, I start cleaning off the fat and gristle
  3. As I clean it, I chop it into small peices such as you would use for stir fry or stew meat.
  4. Throw the meat chunks into a big pot with a lid and cover with water
  5. Be sure to wash your hands and disinfect cutting boards or surfaces after handling raw meat
  6. Add a chopped onion or two, a few cloves of garlic, and a generous dash of soy sauce (this will not add distinct flavor, only enhance the meat)
  7. Boil, and boil, and boil for hours . . . literally about 3 hours!
  8. Be sure to add more water as needed so your pot doesn't boil dry
  9. Don't worry about germs, dirt, or bugs . . . the meat will be perfectly safe to eat after boiling for so long!!

If you've eaten local beef, at least in Africa, you know that it's quite tough! But we've found that meat cooked this way becomes nice and tender. If you have a pressure cooker, you can use that instead and shorten the cooking time significantly . . . but I've never used one. When it's done cooking, I package it into meal-size portions, and put it all in the freezer. Then I can pull a package out anytime to quickly add meat to stir fry, stew, spaghetti sauce, rice pilaf, or whatever I might be making for supper. And don't forget to use the rich broth from cooking to make some delicious gravy or wonderful soup! You really can't taste the soy sauce (unless you put way too much in), it just makes the meat/broth taste rich and salty.

The other meat that we commonly ate was chicken. We actually bought frozen chicken leg quarters from those little "cold stores" by the case (25lb box) and it was usually Tyson brand! I would fill up my biggest pot with as much chicken as would easily fit, add an onion and some garlic (but skip the soy sauce) and boil it for about 45 minutes. After letting it cool for an hour, I would debone it, and then package the meat into meal-sized portions and freeze. It's so convenient to use in everything from fried rice to alfredo sauce and even my rendition of some of the local dishes. {I actually still do this now that we're in the States, buying 10-20 lbs of chicken and cooking it up all at once!}

Most of my main dish recipes depend on one of these two meats - cut up and precooked, frozen in meal-size portions, and ready to add to whatever I'm cooking. I found this to be so convenient, significantly shortening prep time for many of my meals. And SO much better than that slimy canned meat at the store! :-)

Any tips to add? Have you used a pressure cooker for meat? How do you get/use meat where you live?