Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Fantastic Food

With this kind of title, I feel like I should be writing a children's book. Who knows, maybe I will! But actually, this is about some fantastic dinner parties I went to recently.

I met my friend Alvin at swing. He's super fun and quite hospitable, and he's thrown a succession of dinner parties in the past few weeks. The food was so amazing, that I thought I should share its greatness with you!

The first party was a turducken party! For those of you who don't know, a turducken is a turkey stuffed with a duck stuffed with a chicken. To make it even more epic, there's also a different stuffing for each bird, and a lot of bacon to fill in the holes. Or just because bacon makes it better.

All the ingredients before assemblage.

It was an amazing feat of cookery, and all us guests were excited by the results. To top it all off, we even had the party on a rooftop! I've always wanted to go to a rooftop party, since I always hear my neighbors having parties, and they sound fun. Finally, my dream was realized! I had to waddle home, but I was happy.

Can I get an "ooh"?

See all the layers?

Our view from the rooftop.

The happy people.

This last weekend, Alvin decided to attempt a fish! I showed up a little early to see if I could help, and things were crazy! Apparently the outlets stopped working so that the convection oven would no longer work. Also, the crock-pot that was supposed to be cooking the ratatouille up and died. Wonderful. Iman, the guy whose house the party was at, called in some guys to fix the power problem so we were up and running again.

Cooking with Alvin!

The fish amazed me! Alvin stuffed it with herbs and garlic and then buried it in salt! I really mean buried, since he used TWO POUNDS! That's a cooking method I'd never heard of, but after tasting it I decided I was a fan. After cooking, he unearthed the fish and carefully peeled back the skin, revealing perfectly cooked fish that wasn't salty at all!

The fish, drowning in salt.

Excavating the the fish.

Oh, I should also tell you that it was a chocolate-themed dinner party. Alvin whipped up a sauce of white chocolate with shallots, herbs, cream, olive oil, and other things to go with the fish. I was skeptical, but it was really good! There was also chocolate/balsamic dressing for the salad, a chocolate apple pie, and chocolate chip oatmeal cookies! There was also the ratatouille and mashed potatoes with bacon, but I'm thankful that those dishes didn't include chocolate.

A plate of mashed potatoes, salad, and fish with chocolate sauce. You can see the pies in the background.

I was once again happy and satisfied at the end of the night. Not only was the food delectable, but the people were really fun as well. A successful evening. Although now I am much more dissatisfied with my own culinary exploits.

Music Monday: American Folk Songs

Wee Sing. Does it ring a bell? It's a set of audio books that teach kids classic songs, poems, and quotes. The set includes Wee Sing Fun and Folk, Wee Sing Silly Songs, Wee Sing Animals, Wee Sing Around the World, and others.

My all time favorite, though, was Wee Sing America, a collection of patriotic and folk songs. I loved the history, the stories, and of course, the music! What is really cool about it, is that they're all real folk songs. They may have been re-produced for a young audience, but they're still legit songs!

I've recently been searching for other versions of some of my favorite songs, and I thought I'd share them with you!

Revolutionary/Civil War
Yankee Doodle. I guess you can't get away from this one, and I don't really want to! It's pretty fun! This video is also cool, and it even has a little history lesson with it!
Dixie. I'm definitely not a Southerner, but I still like this song. It's so catchy! And this old recording is pretty awesome too.
When Johnny Comes Marching Home Again. Another classic song. This video has such awesome photos (and another history lesson). The first part is purely instrumental, but turns to singing around 2.20. I never knew that this song was actually about a Union soldier named Johnny, not Johnny Reb!

Railway Songs
Paddy Works on the Railway. I loved the old man voice that was on the Wee Sing tape, but this is a great version too.
Drill Ye Tarriers. This was one of my favorites of all! I would sing it when I was digging holes in my backyard (to make a pillhouse, of course). I often don't like live songs, but I like this guy. Also, fyi: tarrier was the nickname for the Irish immigrants who worked on the railroads.
John Henry. This was also a favorite of mine, and I learned all of the verses (in the Wee Sing book, at least). There seems to be a ton of different versions with varying tunes and lyrics. Here's just one (and I had trouble finding a version I liked), so look up some others to see the differences.

Well, I'll leave you with those for now. Next week, look forward to songs about settlers, pioneers, cowboys, and the like!

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Worship/My Story

I just got back from a city-wide worship night! There's a whole worship conference going on (which I can't go to, sad day), but a friend got me a ticket for the first night. It was awesome to see people from many different countries and ages and walks of life all worshipping our God together. That's beautiful.

One thing that's stuck with me is a line from the last song we sang. It goes "I want to be a speaker of truth to all mankind." I realized on the bus-ride home (I have many epiphanies on buses) that that's what I want. I love writing, but I don't want to do it just for myself. I want my writing to speak truth. When I write poetry or songs (or even this blog), I hope that I would write words that are beautiful and true. Maybe sometimes a little weird, but true nonetheless.

On a side note, one of my friends has been working on an awesome project where he records people's stories of how they've found and grown in God. His blog, Unshattered Hope, is a huge collection of testimonies. I love reading them. They remind me that while we have one God and Father, all of us are different. God works in different ways in all of our lives to call us to himself and make us more like him. Check out his blog, if you have time.

Also, this week my story is being featured! Pop over and give it a read, if you feel the urge. It's definitely the Cliff Notes version, so feel free to ask me anything if you have questions or whatnot.

Woot woot!

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Nathan's (2nd) Visit

I'm a little late on the draw, but here's my post about my brother's visit. Yes, my sister's still here, so I'll have to do another, possibly longer, post about her visit, but I figured I should at least go chronologically.

Nathan came to visit with his friend Dan. They were here for a few days and then headed to the Mainland to see Guilin. It's where Avatar was filmed, and it's supposed to be the most beautiful place in the world.

They got in on Friday night (I think?), and the next day was a public holiday, so I didn't have to work! In fact, for Easter holiday I had Friday, Saturday and Monday off! It was pretty glorious.

We kicked off their visit by wandering around Aberdeen on Saturday morning, of course riding the sampan (ferry) across. We walked through the Aberdeen wet market, which was pretty neat. There are SO many kinds of fish! After that we went to a restaurant called Greenland for specialty milk teas. You can probably guess why I like a place called Greenland!

Fish and clams (oysters?) at the wet market.

Delicious drinks at Greenland.

See why I like it? Of course, the bows make it look more like Christmasland.

After that, we met up with Mom and Dad and went to the Jumbo for a dim sum lunch. The Jumbo is a famous floating restaurant next to our house. I pass it every time I go to Hong Kong island (which is usually several times a day), but I'd never eaten there (it's expensive). We decided since Nathan and Dan were here, we should finally try it. It ended up being an interesting experience. It was very fancy, but the dim sum was SO STRANGE! We ordered spring rolls, and they had cream cheese and mango in them! Weird! I tried ordering something normal like shrimp dumplings (har gow) but it was $60 for three! Apparently it had gold flakes on it. Who puts gold flakes on shrimp dumplings anyway?

The Jumbo. It floats!

Seriously, have you ever seen cream cheese in a spring roll?

At least they had some normal things like chicken feet.

After our interesting experience, we met up with one of mom's friends. She has a car and was showing two other guys around town and invited us along. She took us to Deep Water Bay and then Stanley where we wandered for awhile, and then over to the Tai Tam reservoir. It was pretty cool. Then we ate dinner at MX, a Chinese fast food place (which the guys loved), and rushed over to TST to watch the light show. Fun times.

Deep Water Bay. It's a pretty ritzy place.

All of us (minus Dad) at Tai Tam.

Dan taking pictures at the light show.

Thankfully it cleared up!

The next day we went to Mom and Dad's church for Easter. After the service, we rushed off to Cheung Chau for the day. I think everybody and their mother had the same idea, because I've never seen crowds like this! The weather had started heating up and it was really humid. I was wearing jeans and felt pretty miserable. I had to will my legs to walk. We ended up going to the "pirate cave" where a historic pirate used to hid his treasure. Once again, everybody and their mother had the same idea, so we ended up waiting almost two hours to get into the cave, and it took less than five minutes to get through the cave. Oh well. After riding the ferry back to Hong Kong Island, the guys and I took a bus up to the Peak to take some pictures. I was pretty tired at that point, and we were all ready for bed, so we scurried back home after taking a few pictures.

Our ferry.

Hi everyone. Hi mothers.

They have all sorts of cool balconies on Cheung Chau.

I really liked this tea table and chairs. It has a great harbor view as well.

They were practicing for the upcoming bun festival. During the festival, the tower is totally covered in buns, and climbers have to make it up the tower and collect a lot of buns. Or something like that.

The beach was crowded too.

The night view from the Peak.

We did something on Monday, but I don't remember what. I think they went to look at computer stuff. On Tuesday, we went to Maxim's Palace at City Hall. It's one of the few traditional dim sum places left, where workers push carts of food around and you order off of the carts. I was excited for two reasons. First, it was real dim sum! Second, I could order easily! You just have to point and don't have to worry about the names of everything! It was SO good. After eating, the guys headed off to Avatar-land.

Traditional push-carts. Of course, not too traditional, since it has a tv on it.

One of my favorites: Shanghainese soup dumplings! Whatever you do, don't bite into them directly.

Vegetables. We try to be healthy.

Another favorite: sesame balls filled with either red bean or lotus paste.

Mom and Dan.

They got back from China on Friday, and that night we went out to dessert. I forgot to take pictures of that, so oh well. On Saturday, I had to work all day, but we met up for dinner after work. My friends Lillian and Josh were able to join us, and we all went to an Indian restaurant. Hooray for Indian food! After stuffing our faces, they hurried off to the airport to go home. Thanks for coming, guys! It was pretty fun.

Taking pictures of our Indian food. We were drinking mango lassies.

Lillian and Josh joined us for dinner.

Chicken Tikka.

We were pretty full by the end.

So doesn't this make you want to come visit too?

Monday, May 23, 2011

Music Monday: With Shivering Hearts We Wait

I am one happy camper. Not because I'm camping (I wish), but because I'm LOVING Blindside's new album. You might remember a previous MM post about Blindside. I was pretty psyched for the album, and now I'm just in a happy, blissful state. I thought I'd share some of the goodness with you guys! If you like the songs, buy the album and give Blindside some support!

Our Love Saves Us. I really like the music that goes with this song, but the lyrics are especially powerful. He's singing about his relationship with God, a typical Christian topic, but I love the depths of his lyrics. You can tell that he's had a long, sometimes hard, journey but he trusts God to carry him through. "Don't you worry; it's fine. Your hands not letting go of mine. If worse comes to worse, I'll hold tight even if it hurts. And now the ground is shaking; it's trying to tear us down. But we won't be forsaken because we know what we've found." Isn't it funny how music can somehow make words more meaningful?

Withering. Here's another gorgeous song. Props for the strings! To me, this song seems to be in a similar topical vein to their older song Pitiful. I could be wrong about the interpretation, but it seems that it's about a guy who feels like hiding from God. He knows that he's still God's child, but he feels like his sins are eating at him ("I know I'm still glorious but I'm withering like roses in the fire"). And the last part of the beautiful screaming portion, "...you hold my hand. I scream no. You stare right into my shame and but you stand your ground." Sigh. Feel free to add any other insights on the song.

Bring Out Your Dead. This is a great song to rock out to. While a lot of the album is softer than some of their previous offerings, this song hails back to their heavier past. There's not a ton of screaming, but each and every one is meaningful and adds to the song.

These are just three songs, but the whole album is truly delightful. I hope this post will motivate you to buy the album for yourself!

Now I just have to wait for them to go on tour!

Friday, May 20, 2011

Laura's Austerity Budget

My finances are always a funny thing. I'm usually motivated for a few months (or one month). I write down everything I buy, I order the cheapest thing on the menu, I say no to ice cream. And then....I conveniently forget. Well, I usually don't forget, but I choose to let it go.

Often there's something that starts my downward decline. Maybe I go on vacation or have to buy clothes for work or something. Either way, I let go of my good habits and start to stray. These last couple weeks have been no exception. First, I had to get more summer clothing. The weather is starting to turn HOT. Well, not really too hot yet, but my soul is shivering in fear at the thought of the upcoming summer.

Then I've had two sets of siblings visit (one is still here), so I've spent a little more money doing stuff with them. Also, I've done a few more things with friends that have cost me. It's been fun, but maybe I've had a little bit too much fun. Finally, I've been really bad when I'm at work. When I'm tired or feel like I need a pick-me-up, I've been buying more drinks during the day. Coffee, juice, milk tea. And also, we haven't made stuff to take for lunches, so when I don't take anything, I"m forced to buy something. Aiiyahh!

But I have resolved to be better. I've made up a new budget, and I plan to stick to it. I'll write everything down! I'll say "no" to drinks! Well, at least I'll curb my drinking habits to one or two coffees/teas a week. With this new austerity budget, hopefully my paying-off-the-loans plans will keep going forward at a good pace.

Whenever I get frustrated or am craving a milk tea, I'll just tell myself....

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Silence, Again

Sorry, again, for the long silence. And it might even be longer after this. Last time, my brother was visiting, and this time it's my sister. We've been having loads of fun (squid fishing, seeing pink dolphins, going to markets, etc.) but of course that leaves me less time. Which is ok!

The point is that I should have many exciting posts in the future, full of pictures and fun. That's the other problem that I've been dealing with. Since I switched over to a Mac, I've had trouble posting pictures on Blogger. I had a bunch of lovely ones to go with my fairy tales post, and for some reason it wouldn't let me post them. BUT, we can all rejoice because I finally figured out how to fix the problem. If you have the time, wander back over to my fairy tales post and you can enjoy the beautiful pictures I was originally trying to post.

Hopefully I'll start posting more wonderful things. But don't expect me back full-force too soon. My sister will still be here for another week, and then I'm going to TAIWAN! I'm very excited.

Here's a teaser picture for you guys, showing what's to come!

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Fairy Tales

Do you still read fairy tales? I unashamedly admit that I do. I love the C.S. Lewis quote, "When I was ten, I read fairy tales in secret and would have been ashamed if I had been found doing so. Now that I am fifty I read them openly. When I became a man, I put away childish things, including the fear of childishness and the desire to be very grown up." I hope that I'm not too attached to my dignity that I have to be worried about being "grown up." But I suppose there's no danger of me giving up fairy tales; I love them too much! Not only do I love the interesting stories and the beauty of fairy tales, but I also feel like I can learn a lot from them.
Here are a few of my favorites.

The Snow Queen. This awesome story is about a girl who travels to the evil Snow Queen's palace to rescue her best friend.

Snow White and Rose Red. This story is about two sisters who are kind and generous even when they are not rewarded. It's also a great reminder that you can't always go by appearances.

The Twelve Dancing Princesses. In this story a man uses his wits to win a princess' hand and save his life.

East o' the Wind, West o' the Moon. I really like this story. This woman is determined to find her love and has to travel around the world to rescue him.

I love the classics like Cinderella and Sleeping Beauty, but I especially love some of the less popular ones.. I've heard women complain before that they don't want to be like a silly fairy-tale princess who has to wait for a prince (man) to save her. They apparently never read East O' The Sun And West O' The Moon or The Snow Queen or Hansel and Gretel. In all of these fairy tales, it's the woman (or girl) who has to save the man (boy). In ESWM, the princess literally follows her prince to the ends of the earth and then has to outwit a witch to save him. Both The Snow Queen and Hansel and Gretel show a young girl showing bravery, persistence, and wits to save their friend/brother. And don't forget The Little Mermaid. She doesn't exactly rescue her prince, but she does choose sacrificing her own life over betraying the one she loves. Now who dares say these ladies aren't strong?

Almost all of the fairy tales have some kind of good message. Some of the simpler ones, like the Twelve Months or Cinderella, extol readers to always be polite and kind, even when others are mistreating you. Others seem to have a slightly deeper meaning. The Snow Queen is a powerful story of love in the face of difficulty. To me, it's also a picture of how far you're willing to go to save your friend from darkness.

Of course, as many have pointed out before me, fairy tales have their fair share of darkness. In the original Little Mermaid, the mermaid had to cut out her tongue in exchange for her feet. And even after that, whenever she walked it was as if knives were cutting into her feet. This story has no happy ending, unless you think of self-sacrificing deaths as happy. That might be good, but I wouldn't call it happy. In The Goose-girl, the princess's servant has her horse, her only friend, killed and had his head hung on a wall. Of course, justice is served in the end; the wicked, usurping servant is stripped naked and put in a barrel of nails which was then rolled down a hill. I can't wait to tell that to my children. Not. Although I do appreciate some of the more gruesome elements. Fairy tales have no illusions about the goodness of the world. They portray the world as it is, a mix of good and bad, kind people and wicked people, princesses and witches.

I think that the lessons in fairy tales can also be found in many good works of fiction. They can teach us the importance of bravery and kindness and perseverance. Could your life use a little of that? If you look deeper than just the frogs and slippers and axes, you just might learn something.

And the most important message, I think, is that there is good in the world, and it will ultimately triumph over evil. As G.K. Chesterton put it, "Fairy tales are more than true--not because they tell us dragons exist but because they tell us dragons can be beaten."

Friday, May 6, 2011

Travel Bug Bites

I've always been interested in travel, but living over here sure has made me more attuned to it. I'm always thinking about how cool it would be to learn Spanish in Nicaragua or travel through China. I look into being an au pair. I look up ticket prices to random countries even though I have no time (or money) to actually go there.

I guess I've been bit by the travel bug.

It is true that it's much easier to travel in my current location. The nice thing about coming here is that it's opened my eyes to the many possibilities there are for global travel. Why not, right? I've already been able to see South Korea, Thailand (well, Bangkok), Macau (does that count?), and Cambodia. I'm going to Taiwan in June. And there are still SO many places I'd like to see! I guess it's good that I have a long life ahead of me (knock on wood).

I've begun reading several travel blogs and reading lots of articles about travel. They not only allow me to live vicariously through the authors, but also help me plan/dream for the future and learn about other places. When I read these blogs and sites, I'm always reminded what a travel noob I am! Sure, I've been to some places and know some things, but there are so many other places to go and things to learn!

Some of you also might enjoy perusing these sites. I read random articles from many sites, but I regularly read two blogs: Wandering Earl and Migrationology. Both sites are written by guys that have the goal of being permanent nomads. They don't want to have a home address; they want to continue traveling forever with short stays in certain countries before moving on to other places.

I came across Wandering Earl's site not too long ago, but I'm already a faithful reader. He has so many useful articles! One of his most recent ones was about his method for carrying money around. Anyone who has traveled anywhere knows that that is a constant concern. I also enjoyed his tips on getting cheap airline tickets. His articles are not only informative but also filled with amusing anecdotes.

I've followed Migrationology since last summer, and the Mark never disappoints. He's lived in many places across the world and is always writing about them. Food is one of his favorite things, so a good portion of his blog is related to him eating things. He currently lives in Thailand, and he has a vast collection of articles on the wonders of Thai food. He also makes some entertaining videos about his travels (and meals) which can be found either on his site or on Youtube. I always enjoy his videos, pictures, and interesting writing style.

Finally, I just came across a useful site called BootsnAll. You can use it to book flights and hostels (which I haven't done before) and read articles (which I do). I find some of their articles to be extremely informative, like their breakdown of how much money travel actually costs. Some are more amusing like the 10 Backpacker Stereotypes. Americans are apparently loud and "depending on the type, great for partying the night away or discussing the meaning of life." Haha, I can't say that I disagree.

Whether you're planning a trip or aspiring to be an armchair traveler, I hope you enjoy these sites as much as I do.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Terrorists and Adoption

Yeah, these topics don't really have anything to do with each other, but that's what's been on my mind.

Of course, everyone's talking about Osama's death. I was on a hike/picnic with some church people yesterday when I heard the news. One of the ladies asked why this husband had his iPhone out, and he replied that they just heard some crazy news: Osama bin Laden is dead. Wow. One man kept going around going "Obama got Osama." True, it is kind of a funny rhyme.

For me personally, I have mixed feelings. I am glad that justice has been done, but I don't feel like I can necessarily rejoice. Kendra at Subtle Things summed it up nicely, if you'd like to check out her post Blown Away.

I was thinking about Micah 6:8 "He has showed you, O man, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God." I think that acting justly is great, but we can't forget the walking humbling part. Both are important.

On another note, I ran across an awesome blog that talks a lot about adoption. This lady has adopted two children and has four children under the age of five! One adoption was domestic and one was international. She has so many good articles on the process, adoption issues, and daily life. I like that she doesn't sugarcoat anything. She discusses all of the hard things like attachment problems and racism and red tape. She even discusses differing views on things like transracial, international, and celebrity adoption. If you're interested in adoption at all, then check it out! And even if you're not, it'll make you smarter.

If you're not able to adopt right now (or ever), she also talks about ways you can help out. I found this really helpful! If some of you are serious about loving with your actions (not just words) check out this article. And here's her actual blog.

Have any of you considered adoption? Why or why not?