Thursday, December 22, 2011

Cool beans

Do "the kids" even use that phrase any more?!?

We love our life in the village, and one reason is the food we eat.  I recently watched the documentary "Food, Inc." and realized how fortunate we are to live where we do.  For example, in our own little yard we have green beans, papaya, pumpkins, mangoes and soursop growing (I am anxiously awaiting our first crop of lemons - probably a few more years away).  I find it so cool that we literally walk out of the house, pick the ripe produce, bring it in the house, and cook/eat it.

Besides those items, we have very generous neighbors who share with us from their gardens.  We enjoy fresh pineapple, yams, sweet potatoes, tomatoes, peppers, spring onions, coconuts, corn, peanuts, peppercorns, and watermelons.  Free-range eggs and grass-fed beef are the norm in Vanuatu.  Wanna come visit and try some?

Green beans on the vine

Recently planted peppers (protected from the cat and chickens)

Papaya almost ready

Soursop ready to be picked

Pumpkin - tastes great sauteed or in a cake

Friday, December 2, 2011

Oh, what a night

You may have read about Titus’ first sleepover - Rensly spent the night with us to celebrate Titus’ 5th birthday.  It was an unusual night for us, but it was as we like to say, “very Vanuatu.”

To set things up, you need to know that a week or so before, I had killed a centipede in the house.  Centipedes are probably Vanuatu’s most dangerous pest, except for maybe malaria and dengue fever carrying mosquitos.  There are two varieties - unscientifically known as “big” and “small” .... haha.  We had seen a few small ones in the house over the past year, but this was the first big one.  And let me just tell you, they are intimidating suckers.  This one was about 6 inches long, and you can actually hear their legs hitting the ground as they slither along - gives me the willies just thinking about it!  I am not sure whether they bite or sting, and don’t really want to find out.  If they do get you on the leg (most common), you will swell up and limp for a few days - very painful.

Anyway, all that to say that we were especially vigilant that night since Titus and Rensly were sleeping on the floor.  Maybe this stuff goes on every night and we just don’t realize it?  Either way, we did realize it on November 24.

First was the sound of the cat chasing something, then eventually catching it, and then crunching the bones ... it was a mouse (the cat has caught no less than five in the house in the last month - she is definitely earning her keep).  A few hours later we woke up to a good-sized mud crab walking along the floor.  In a bit of a daze, I hopped up and grabbed a stool and corralled it out the door.  Once outside, I scooped it up and flung it as far as I could into the bush.  Trying to get settled back into bed, I heard an odd scratching sound coming from “the kitchen.”  Shawnda said she’d been hearing it all night, but didn’t know what it was (I am not sure she slept at all the entire night).  I got back up to investigate (the cat was very interested as well). 

It soon became evident that the noise was coming from underneath our gas-powered refrigerator (about the size of a “bar-fridge”).  The open space underneath is only accessible from the back side, so I maneuvered it around as quietly as possible, as the boys were asleep only a few feet away.  I finally got it turned around, pushed the cat out of the way, and hesitantly shined my light inside.  As soon as my light came on, the sound stopped.   At first I couldn’t make out anything underneath, so I turned my light off to wait for the sound to return.  It did, and I quickly turned on my flashlight.  The noise stopped, but I finally noticed a shell in a jumble of wires at the very back of the cavity.  Now that I knew where to look, I again extinguished my light and waited for the noise.  When the scratching resumed, I quickly shined the same location in time to see legs and antennae sticking out - a hermit crab had crawled back in there and gotten stuck.  He was a pretty good sized crab, with his shell halfway between the size of a golfball and a tennis ball. There was no way to get him out without taking the fridge apart, so I resigned myself to the fact that we were just going to have to endure the scratching for the rest of the night.  At least we knew what it was, and that it wasn’t going to do any harm.

After what seemed like only a few precious minutes of sleep, I heard the sound of something creeping along our bamboo wall.  My first assumption was that the crab had gotten loose and was attempting to leave the house, but upon looking with my flashlight, I couldn’t see a thing along the entire wall.  That meant that it was on the outside, and since there is a gap between our walls and our roof, it meant that it could be something on its way inside.  So, I mustered up the will to get out of bed yet again to see what it was and attempt to keep it outside.  It turned out to be another mud crab.  I assume it could have been the same one as before, but this one seemed to be a bit bigger (8 or 9 inch wingspan).  They are really fast, and very timid, so as soon as he realized I was there, he came scampering down the wall.  I was able to pin him between a cardboard box and the wall before he made it behind our 50 gallon drum of rain water.  Problem was, what was I going to do now, as I sure wasn’t going to grab him with my hands - his pinchers were clicking frantically.  I really didn’t want to kill him, but I DID want to make sure he was going to leave us alone.  I must have loosened my grip as I was trying to decide what to do, as he came free and fell to the floor behind the drum.  He must have felt safe down there, because he didn’t move for several minutes.  He was boxed in on three sides (two walls and the drum), and I was growing impatient.  I grabbed a lead pipe and skewered that dude, and flung him out into the bush.  I accomplished my goal: he wouldn’t be bothering us again that night (or any other night).

A few hours later, at the slightest hint of a sunrise, the boys were awake - talking and giggling not-so-quietly.  Oh, what a night!  But, we’d do it all over again because Titus thought his first slumber party was way-cool.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Happy 5th Bday, Titus

by: Shawnda

I truly can’t believe our “little” Titus-boy is 5 years old! But he is, and we have the cake to prove it. :o) This is really the first year that Titus has been “into” his birthday. He’s been planning and talking about his birthday for the entire month (b/c he knows his birthday is in November). His number one request was to have a friend spend the night.

On Wednesday night, we got one last 4 year old cuddle from him and put him to bed. Then we went to work on the verandah putting up a few decorations for the morning. On Thursday (24th) morning, as soon as the first rays of sunshine shone through the woven bamboo walls (at half past 5, mind you), he was awake and asking, “Am I 5 now?” :o) We delayed him for a few minutes while I snuck out to put his presents on the table. He was all smiles and excitement as he opened his presents of some new matchbox cars and a little flashlight.  After a round of “Happy Birthday to You,” the kids were off to school and I started on the icing for his cake. Having no powdered sugar, I made an icing that starts with a flour base. Don’t laugh, it’s actually really good. is supposed to be mixed with an electric mixer, on high for 7-8 minutes! Yeah, I did it by hand and MAN was my arm tired. I even had to have Eric relieve me a couple of times during those 7-8 minutes. :o) After tasting it to make sure it was edible (ha) I put it aside to wait for the afternoon (that’s another good thing about this recipe - it’s to be kept at room temp - don’t have to worry about it melting). Anyway, so I quickly mixed up some dough for the cheese-less pizzas I planned to make for lunch and then headed up to volunteer at the kindy. Titus gave all of his classmates a little lollipop to celebrate (which they loved) and we headed home for lunch.

As is their usual after-school custom, Titus and Lexi came home, deposited their backpacks, grabbed a quick drink, and then headed off to play with a couple of friends. I got the cheese-less pizzas ready and went outside to call them. I found out that while I was cooking the pizzas, they had been eating laplap at one of their friends’ houses :o) Well, so much for a “special” birthday lunch from mom...they already got what they wanted! Haha. They would much rather have laplap than “American food” any day - crazy kids! So Eric and I enjoyed the little pizzas and the kids each had a piece when they came home 30 minutes later. :o)

The rest of the afternoon was spent trying to make Titus’ cake. Now just a few months ago this would have been no problem, but due to a sad turn of events, our “dutch oven” (a big aluminum pot with sand in the bottom that we used on the stovetop), is out of commission - I burnt a hole in the bottom. So, I asked Abu Mommy (literally translated, “Grandma Mommy” - the name our kids made up for the woman Eric and I call “Mama” here in the village) if I could make the cake in her outdoor kitchen. I mixed up the batter and Titus and I headed down there while Lexi was napping. When we got there, we had several ladies giving us advice on how to cook it. We ended up cooking it like they sometimes cook laplap in a saucepan. We put a laplap leaf (like a banana leaf) inside of a saucepan, spread oil on it, and then poured the batter in. Abu Mommy made a fire on top of some stones, waited till it burned down and then we placed the saucepan on top of the hot stones (with several more of them on top of the saucepan lid). It turned out perfectly! I was so excited (and relieved) that it worked! Titus was just beside himself with excitement...he kept wanting to sneak tastes. I took the cake home, stuck it in our fridge to cool it off, and got to work on dinner preparations. Titus helped me “decorate” the cake with the icing (cut out a “5” from plastic, stuck it on the cake, sprinkled some cocoa over it, took the plastic “5” off, and “VOILA” - we had a great 5th birthday cake in the village!)

For Titus’ big celebration, we had our village family and Titus’ best buddy, Rensly (he’s his “brother” in our village family) over for dinner. We had rice, chicken wings, soup, pineapple and cake. It was a good dinner and we all had a nice time visiting and laughing together. I had Eric show a few videos of Titus from the last 5 years on his laptop. We enjoyed walking down memory lane and they all enjoyed seeing Titus when he was a baby. After goodbye handshakes and “Happy Birthday” wishes, the rest of the family went home, but Rensly stayed to spend the night. Titus and Rensly read some books while we set up their beds (slept on the floor in the “other room”) and then watched a short video before they were off to bed. No giggling or talking that night. All three of the kids were “plumb tuckered out” after all of the excitement of the day. Definitely different than any birthday experience we’ve had thus far...but fun none-the-less. A special day for a special boy.

Happy 5th birthday, little man. We thank God daily for the blessing He gave us in you.