Christmas in Kenya

Christmas in Kenya, in some ways, was not so different than it would have been in the US. In some ways, it was a LOT different!

Differences: 1. Eric was requested to play the music for a Kenyan nurse getting married on Christmas Eve day, 3 hrs away. Who gets married on the 24th of December? (I'm sure the same was said of us getting married on New Year's Eve) But he made it home in time for dinner.
2. It was 70 degrees and raining. No White Christmas here (which I'm sure these cows appreciated)
3. No family (but we did skype). :(
Similarities: 1. Candlelight Christmas Eve service
2. Opening gifts!

3. McLaughlin family tradition of cheese and sausage snacks on Christmas Eve.


An Obstetrician's Thoughts on Christmas

I was walking home from the hospital last week, after my third C-section of the day. It was dark, the stars were out, and I picked my way over a rocky downhill road to my house while my own baby kicked inside of me. The day and the environment made me start wondering about Mary. The Bible is notoriously absent of all the details we seem to want to know. Why are some passages repeated in great detail, sometimes retold in multiple passages, and some are far too sparse (in my opinion)? Perhaps it wasn't so important to know the details of Jesus' birth. In fact, I am as an obstetrician probably more curious than most.

What I do know is that birth is a messy, noisy process. "It was not a silent night, there was blood on the ground" starts one of our favorite Christmas songs, "Labor of Love" off of Andrew Peterson's Behold the Lamb of God CD. So much more true than visions of a baby Jesus slipping quietly into a peaceful looking stable. First of all, to walk or ride a donkey long distances over bumpy roads in your third trimester is excruciating (well, I can't speak from experience about the donkey part, but it's pretty bad even in a car over rough Kenyan roads). Cramping, back aches, contractions, going to the bathroom (by the side of the road while squatting I'm sure) every several hours. Sleeping on the ground. Hip pain. Swollen ankles. Blech. Poor Mary. And as I work in a developing world situation, where many women die in childbirth and many more babies die during that same process, I wonder what she was thinking. Was she afraid? Did she have assurance that everything would go well? Did she know what to expect? Was she sure that Jesus would be ok but not so sure about her own well being?

When labor started, how long did it take? Did God give her a break? Was she one of those lucky women who have a quick and low pain labor and delivery? Was it a typical first labor with stops and starts, "false" labor, days of contractions, two hours of pushing? Was there anyone there to help her? Was it Joseph, or a midwife or other kinswoman, or was she alone? Did she know what to do and when to push? How did they cut the cord? Was Jesus BREECH?! If she had delivered in this day and age would she have ended up with a C-section? An epidural? Was there fetal distress? A cord around his neck? Meconium stained fluid? Was he on time or early, or late? Did he cry right away?

Yikes. I think of more details than most, probably. But in the end, what matters is that THAT DAY, in Bethlehem, all of God's promises began to be fulfilled. For thousands of years, God had been spinning his plan of redemption. For thousands of years, His people had been waiting for this Savior. That day, His Son came into the world, to set us free. Light into the darkness. Hopes fulfilled. Amen and amen. Merry Christmas, friends.

Labor of Love, lyrics by Andrew Peterson
It was not a silent night
There was blood on the ground
You could hear a woman cry
In the alleyways that night
On the streets of David's town

And the stable was not clean
And the cobblestones were cold
And little Mary full of grace
With the tears upon her face
Had no mother's hand to hold

It was a labor of pain
It was a cold sky above
But for the girl on the ground in the dark
Every beat of her beautiful heart
It was a labor of love

Noble Joseph by her side
Calloused hands and weary eyes
There were no midwives to be found
On the streets of David's town
In the middle of the night

So he held her and he prayed
Shafts of moonlight on his face
But the baby in her womb
He was the maker of the moon
He was the author of the faith
That could make the mountains move

It was a labor of pain
It was a cold sky above
But for the girl on the ground in the dark
Every beat of her beautiful heart
It was a labor of love
For little Mary full of grace
With the tears upon her face
It was a labor of love


Why I Can't Stop Reading Buechner

When I was at Belmont University, I kept hearing about this author named Frederick Buechner from the religion majors. I first read "Son of Laughter", probably because it was required reading for some religion class, and thus ended up in the free book pile at the end of the semester, and I had a habit of scavenging.

Later I read "Godric", and it remains one of the best novels I've ever read. From there, I've moved on to his non-fiction, and now our quotables page has a disproportionate amount of Buechner. Truth be told, I would quote him more, if I didn't feel weird about it. And now, like CS Lewis, Thomas Hardy, and Stephen Lawhead, I'll read anything that has his name on it, regardless of topic or genre.

Why? Well, he is a certainly an amazingly talented author, but there seems to be something more, and I've been trying to figure out what that something is. I recently finished "Alphabet of Grace", and I probably couldn't tell you exactly what that book is about, but as I finished, I was pretty overwhelmed with the beauty of what I just read.

His chief theme seems to be the grace of God in the everyday, the seemingly mundane. Now and then, he says, some ordinary event, a dream at night or two branches hitting against each other, break for a moment to reveal a weight of glory underneath that seems to have been there all the time. He even goes on to say that perhaps the reason we don't see it more is that, in our mortal frame, we couldn't handle more than the brief glimpses we get.

He is honest. Even to the point that some might call him crude. He doubts aloud, he bares his faults. And not only in this refreshing, in and of itself, but without this commitment to honesty, his assertion that God's grace is present in the everyday would ring hollow. As it is, his honesty brings it alive.

And then there is his method. He is indirect, and he purposefully strives to project the emotion of the thing he is stating, even above the rational "word" of it. And thus I am left at the end of a book, not sure of what he was saying, but feeling it with full force nonetheless. And I think his indirect method brings it alive as well. He presents little to no argument as to why he is speaking the truth. You don't have to be convinced. He just names it. And I think, "Oh, right, it actually has been there all along."

All this put together means that, when I set down his books, I can't help but look at my own life with a different lens. I can't help but sense the undercurrent of the omnipresent love of God, that breaks through every now and then. I rarely have to remind myself, and I never have to convince myself. It just sneaks in, like the light of the world on the darkest night of the year. And thus his work emulates the Christ he has served these many years.


Christmas Decor (Part 2)

Since our last Christmas decoration post, things around here have gotten even MORE festive (I know, is it possible?). We got a brand new ornament in the mail from Eric's sister Mariah...the three snowmen that Maggie is pointing to, with our names and 2010 written on it.Then, Eric got the brilliant idea of where to put our Christmas presents. Since we never use our fireplace, it seemed the logical place to store our gifts. We put the grate in front and for some strange reason, Maggie has not disturbed it in the least. It's like the "gift cage" or something.
On Saturday, a fellow missionary family loaned us a small tree that they weren't using. We place an angel from Bangladesh atop, wrapped 1/2 string of lights around it, and fashioned decorations out of wrapping paper (creating a paper chain) and green snowflake ribbon bows. Ooh! says Maggie.
And finally, let the Christmas baking begin! So far, buckeye balls and Russian tea cakes have been checked off the list. Sugar cookies (cut-outs) and molasses cookies to go.


Tasty Croc

Long has it been one of my stated aims in life to eat as many different animals as possible. However, I admit to a noted complacency on this goal overall. Thus, 3 months or so ago, we visited Gilani's Butchery in Nairobi, which is where we normally get most of our meat. I had noted that you can get several unusual meats there, including pigeon, ostrich, and rabbit. You can also get crocodile, which is probably quite expensive, but they had these little nuggets for only about $2, so I picked it up, just for the next time you thought "Hey, I wish I had a crocodile steak."

Well, as you might have anticipated, that moment never really comes. But yesterday, we were getting together to do some cooking with our friends the Popps, and I thought "It's now or never."
After some quick research on the web, along the lines of "how to cook crocodile", I discovered a few fun facts:
-it's better cooked frozen than thawed.
-go easy on the marinade, for the croc hath a subtle taste.
-apparently it's pretty healthy meat
-Australia is big in this industry.

So, I made up a marinade of soy sauce, lemon juice, and olive oil, and stuck my frozen croc in for thirty minutes, followed by a quick searing on both sides, and voila!

As the more anatomically astute may notice, it appears that we had a slice of the tail, and that the central bone was a vertebra. We all went around and tried a bit, which was quite yummy, an odd cross between the texture of fish, but the taste of chicken.

Maggie got in on the action, and promptly requested "more".


Prestigious Alma Mater

So, someone just brought this to my attention today on facebook. Can you guess the college/university that produces the highest paid grads in the US? It's not any of the Ivy League schools or the big university schools. Surprise, surprise. It's Loma Linda! I guess it makes sense from the standpoint that they have almost no undergrad programs, and the largest schools are the schools of Medicine and Dentistry, two well paid professions.
No wonder I keep getting letters asking me to donate money to the school. All I can say is, I guess I'm bring the average down. WAY down. :) See if your school made the list by clicking the link below.


One Year Anniversary

One year ago, we packed up 8 suitcases and departed the US for Tenwek Hospital. We celebrated this morning by having a candle-light breakfast (because the power was out, not because we were really all that festive). Hard to believe it's been a year, in some ways. Seems like quite a long time in others. Next year at this time, we'll be drinking egg nog that we bought in the store. Adding flavored coffee creamers to our coffee that we didn't have to make ourselves. Eating cereal for breakfast, because it's not $8-10/box. Driving around in a car on the right side of the road, to do something frivolous like running to Target for one thing. Strapping TWO kids into their carseats to make the short trip.

One year from now, we'll have said goodbye to many friends. Wearing heavier coats because it won't be 7o degrees every day. Unable to walk to most of our errands/to work. Buying milk at the store instead of having it dropped off at our door every morning. In transition once more. We have enjoyed many parts of living in Kenya so far, and saying goodbye in another year will be bittersweet, I'm sure. Thanks for your prayers. We continue to seek the Lord's guidance on next steps, and will keep you updated.


It's Beginning to Look a Lot Like...

Here in Kenya, there are not necessarily a lot of "Christmas cues." The weather is just about the same, 70s and sunny with afternoon rains most days. We don't have TV or radio, or get the newspaper, so no ads. We haven't been to a store outside of Bomet since October, so haven't seen any stores selling Christmas stuff or putting up decorations. So all that to say, we have to take steps to make ourselves feel like it's Christmas! Many missionary families around here have a lot of traditions that help. We're trying to make some.

Last year we made sure to bring a small box of favorite ornaments with us to Tenwek, although there are no Christmas trees for sale here. We hang them up on a long ribbon above the fireplace. This year it was a LOT of fun to unpack the box with Maggie. There were many "ooohs" and "wows". She especially liked anything with bells. Here she is, getting ornaments from the box and handing them to Daddy to hang up. Not sure why she looks so distressed, since she was rather enjoying herself. :)
Here you can see Eric working on the arranging above the fireplace. Also on the mantle are featured our stockings. Everyone's mom made them one, including Maggie's. :) And one extra stocking, to remind us of the new kiddo we'll have next year at this time!
Right after we got home from Thanksgiving dinner, Eric put on Christmas music for the first time. We always put up our tree in the US (always meaning the 4 years we were there for Christmas) to Christmas music and drank egg nog. Mmm. Well, the egg nog is a little harder to come by (I made it last year for New Year's Eve, but it was a bit extravagant with its 12 egg yolks...we may save it for another special occasion), so we went with hot chocolate instead. I made some whipped cream from skimming our cow's milk, and added a festive touch.
Something else we always liked to do in the States was make an Advent wreath out of fresh greenery and celebrate the Sundays of Advent with devotions. We had a wire frame that we used in the States, but here Eric just cut down some branches and fashioned a circle with some green twine. We put the candles (could only find white) in little glass ramekins. Nice, huh?
Every day when Maggie gets up, she walks into the living room and says, "Oooh!" We're teaching her to be "gentle" with the ornaments and stockings. It's been fun to feel like Christmas really is on its way, and fun to see it through Maggie's eyes, too.
Oh, and one last picture. It wouldn't be Christmas without cookies, right? Here is Maggie, helping me make molasses cookies. She really liked licking the molasses jar lid (I needed something to keep her distracted). It was actually quite surprising to me how much she liked the taste of molasses. :)


Maggie's Favorite Book

Over the past year, Maggie has had several books as her favorite. In fact, her normal mode seems to be that she has a favorite book (or 2 or 3), and that is the only one that she wants to read. This changes roughly every 2 weeks.

Past favorites have included "Go, Dog, Go", "A House is a House for me", "First Signs", "Mr. Brown Can Moo, Can You?", and others.

Yet her current favorite is lasting longer than any of the predecessors. It is "Jonathan Scott's Safari Guide to East Africa Birds." There are some great birds around here, and we didn't know anything about them, so we picked up a colorful bird guide in Nairobi. We've learned a lot, and are learning more every time Maggie wants to read the bird book. Which is all the time. She lets us know this by pointing to the upper shelf and saying "Caw! Caw!" Apparently to Maggie, all birds sound like crows. She just can't seem to get enough of the birds, either in the book, or when we see some outside. Her favorites are the hornbills, the owls, and the cranes.


Bling and Praise

Last Monday I traveled a few hours away to attend a faculty meeting for the small department of Family Medicine at Moi University School of Medicine. This being Kenya, 10 o'clock meant chai break, and as is invariable, the chai milk/water mix came in the obligatory thermoses. You aren't really Kenyan if you don't have a thermos.

But I particularly enjoyed the logos on these thermoses, especially when you saw them both next to each other. That's right: A million dollar bill and then Praise the Lord.



Elated by the success of our Chinese dumplings, we decided to try another "ethnic dumpling" type of recipe: samosas. Now, samosas are MUCH more accessible here in Kenya, due to the high percentage of ethnic Indians in Kenya, and we have actually had a number that were quite tasty. Even so, we thought it would be fun to try our own.

The process was similar to the Chinese dumplings. We made a veggie filling with potatos, carrots, peas, onions, and spices. While it was cooking, we made the dough (notable differences include salt and oil in addition to the flour and water). Then we filled each samosa. I think the next step was the key difference: deep frying.
We have never tried deep frying anything (other than sopapillas once, but the oil wasn't hot enough so it didn't really work) but it is amazing how good deep frying makes something. Guess McDonalds has it figured out after all. :) The samosas got nice and crispy and bubbly.
Maggie very much enjoyed her samosas. We were going to make a dipping sauce out of some dried mint leaves we had on hand, but in the end just went without.
The finished product. Mmmmmmm! Since we now know the "complicated" techniques of deep frying, we are considering Navajo fry bread next. Such healthy eating we're experiencing.



Our friends and fellow missionaries, John and Vera, came into town for some meetings. They live out in Maasai Land. Apparently, way out there. We've never been there. But they have a pet. The kind of pet that you get when you live way out there in Maasai Land. It was given to them by a village kid, who had heard they were looking for one.

Their pet is a Bushbaby, which I think is the smallest of all primates, though Wikipedia couldn't verify that for me (to the extent that it ever verifies anything). They are nocturnal, and we woke this one up in the middle of the day, so it looked a trifle terrified. Or maybe that's how you always look when you have huge eyes and huge bat-like ears, and in almost every other way resemble Harry Potter's Dobby.

Both of us thought it would have little claws, which it apparently does, but instead it felt like nice pad-like hands. As I learned from experience, these little guys can apparently jump 6 ft vertically, despite being minute, and when my grip relaxed a bit and she was a couple feet from her little cage, she burst out of my hand and covered the distance in a split second.

Very fun and very "Oh yeah, I'm in Africa" moment. Thanks, Steurys!


Making the Dumplings

I was commenting to Eric a few weeks ago that one of the foods I miss the most from the US would have to be Chinese dumplings (potstickers). Back in Ann Arbor, we joined a small group at our church that was about 50% Asian in the beginning, and once in awhile they would have dumpling cookoffs. Ah, heavenly. Then we found out that instead of making their own, many "authentic" Asians bought their dumplings in frozen packages. Wow! We would routinely keep 3-4 bags in our freezer for an awesome go-to meal. Here in Kenya, I must admit, I was missing the potstickers, and the sesame oil/soy sauce dipping sauce almost as much.

So, what to do? We toyed with the idea of making our own, but were always a little daunted by the wrappers. Several years ago we did make our own dumplings, which turned out great, but had purchased the wrappers at a Chinese grocery store. Well, last week, we did a little research and finally took the plunge into the world of Dumpling Making.

First step: dough. Just flour and water, surprisingly. Eric made all sorts of little marshmallow-looking blobs and rolled them into circles.
Step two: filling. I mixed ground pork with cabbage, green onions, corn starch, soy sauce, and sesame oil to get this (doesn't it look appetizing?!):
Step three: filling the wrappers. This was not terribly difficult, probably because I didn't do it the "fancy" way. But it was functional.

Step four: I pan-fried each dumpling (used a lot of oil to prevent sticking) then steamed them for another 4-5minutes. Meanwhile, Eric whipped up a batch of dipping sauce. Like riding a bike.
Step five: Ah. Eat the dumplings. With chopsticks, of course. Maggie had one or two, and Eric and I each polished off a good dozen or so.
Culinary success! We will try this again, hopefully soon. Apparently you can freeze them easily, prior to cooking, so we may try that as well.


Reading the Psalms in ESV

A few years ago, my parents gifted me a pocket-size English Standard Version bible, which has traveled far with me since then. It usually matters little to me what version I read, but I had enjoyed the ESV a bit and so had requested it.

I'm sure I've read at least a good number of psalms in this version, but over the past couple months, I've been reading through all of them, and have really enjoyed it, for one particular reason. For some reason, the ESV rendering makes it easier to grasp the entire theme of a psalm.

This is in contrast to a common pitfall of only internalizing a given verse. This can still, of course, be of benefit to the reader. However, I'm a songwriter, and thus understand that there is usually an overall theme to be communicated. Sometimes, it can be tough in the psalms, and you end up wondering why the psalmist would follow this cluster of verses with that cluster of verses. But now, I'm catching more and more of the themes, and I'm attributing this to the ESV. An example:

I've always more or less passed over Psalm 85, with the exception of passing notice to the part about "righteousness and peace kissing each other", but this was only noted as a poetic curiosity. But this time, the theme jumps out.

God, you had so greatly blessed us.
How long, then, will you be angry with us?
Show us your love.

And then, out of this contrast of God's great love and the people's great trouble, God's love overwhelms:

He will speak peace to his people.
His salvation is near, that his glory may be manifest.

And then follows the psalmist's poetic outburst of the amazing love, faithfulness, righteousness, and peace of God.

And in the theme is the meaning: Even when we can't make sense of present suffering, the overwhelming goodness of God's character is to remind us that we can trust him to revive us as we need. Look to his character. He will speak peace to his people. His salvation is near to those who fear him.

Thus, my endorsement of the ESV rendering of the Psalms.


Ferocious Freckles

Last June, when Rachel's family came to visit, they brought lots of beanie babies and stuffed animals, so many that they weren't able to distribute them all to the kids in the hospital, and so when my parents were just here, they raided the stash, and made another distribution, which was enjoyed immensely, just as before.

One interesting feature this time, though. There was a consistent aversion to one stuffed toy, namely the above pictured leopard, a beanie baby whose name is "Freckles" based on the tag. It was the source of a lot of fear. This puzzled us, since he looks rather adorable.

We asked the staff why Freckles was not so popular: "It's considered an evil omen."

We asked Rose, Maggie's nanny: "It's because it looks like a snake."

We asked one of the Kenyan docs: "It's because it's a ferocious animal. They would be scared of lions, except that they are often used as logos for marketing different products."

Who knows? At any rate, Maggie has no fear, since she's never seen one in the wild. (Ever elusive) So she now takes Freckles to bed with her, the lonely leopard that none of the Kenyan kids wanted.


Eighteen Months!

I can't believe Maggie has already hit the 1 1/2 year mark! She still seems so small in some ways, but is obviously growing and changing every day. And when we think of a new baby in just a few more months, she seems ESPECIALLY old! :) She now has 10 teeth, enjoys eating most things that we eat, and recently savored her first Tootsie Roll pop on Halloween (where she dressed up as Little Bo Peep, shown below).

She loves playing outside, going to visit the neighbor's turtles, and our friends' kiddie pool, shown here. It was about 50 degrees but that didn't faze her from getting in and splashing for 15-20 minutes! And she loves to play with her buddy Abi.
Maggie has recently started running, and can almost climb onto the couch, and likes to sit on just about anything. Since we don't keep her carseat in the car (we share it with 2 other families and don't drive very much), it sits next to the fireplace. She likes to sit in "her" chair. In this picture, she is actually saying "cheese!" to the camera. Mags has about 25-30 words that we can recognize, and many more that we don't. :)
So cute!

The Week of Salt

It was great having Eric's parents with us for three weeks, and they made it safely home last Saturday...exhausted, but safe. One interesting thing about their visit was that Eric's dad, Tim, has something called Meniere's disease. It's an inner ear problem resulting in vertigo, tinnitus (ringing), and hearing loss. This comes and goes in the form of attacks, and he has found that if he adheres to a low salt diet, the attacks don't come as frequently.

So, we adjusted our diet for the three weeks he was here, and tried to cook low salt style. Have you ever tried it? It would be an interesting experiment to see if you could. There is salt in EVERYTHING these days...canned foods, cheese, processed meats, soups, condiments, etc. Our normal go-to meals (quick and easy) are all very salty. Our Kenyan staple foods are all prepared with a lot of salt. And the soups and stews we make frequently? FULL of salt.

I ended up making more meat, using more fresh veggies (when we could get them), and making homemade salt-free chicken broth to use in soups and such. I'm sure we were all much healthier at the end of the 3 wks. However....

When we returned home after dropping Eric's parents off, the first thing we made was tuna melts. The next day we had grilled cheese and tomato soup. Then pepperoni pizza. And Mexican beef stew. Yesterday we capped off the week by making Chinese dumplings (post to follow)...dipped in large quantities of soy sauce. Eric and I had to stop eating because we were feeling rather salt-saturated. So we deemed it the week of salt. Maybe it will actually become the month of salt...or the year...or the....


Random photos

I just got through sorting through our digital photos for the last 4 months, which were many, and I thought I'd share some random ones that somehow escaped blog fame.

(click to enlarge if you can't read the shirt)