Day 382: Cook Molokhaya

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Since the Greeks, Romans, Brits, French, Arabs, Turkish, and more all spent time ruling Egypt over the past couple thousand years, the culture has elements that are very distinct… and very similar to other regions of the world.  Much of the food is shared with other regions of the Middle East and Mediterranean and there are very few dishes that are distinctly Egyptian.

And then there’s molokhaya!

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This dish is made of a plant that I’ve never heard of elsewhere called jewt.  When added to chicken broth it makes a magical soup that looks a little like snot and is guaranteed to end up all over your teeth!  Always a fan favorite!

This was my first time making it and I hope I made my Aunt Wadia proud!  Here it is served over rice!

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Day 260: Play Wheelchair Bumper Cars with Jesus

My typical work day doesn’t involve breaking a sweat from wheeling disabled children around a concrete courtyard.  Today wasn’t a typical work day, however.  Today I was visiting OSSO, a home for children with physical and mental disabilities who have been orphaned during my visit to a study abroad program in Cuenca, Ecuador. 

I like to think of myself as someone who can smoothly interact with just about anyone.  But, if I were to be completely honest, initially it was very challenging (read: awkward) to interact with children who mostly grunt or scream in response to anything and everything.  I love kids, and wanted to play and laugh and have fun with these kids but the limitations far beyond their control have meant they can’t act and play and respond the ways most kids have.

And that’s what brought them to the children’s home – their families have abandoned them because they don’t talk and act and move in same way as many other children!

Part of the challenge is our economical perspective of love – so often, I want a good return on investment (ROI) when I love.  I am very happy to love as long as someone loves me in return.  Loving when someone dislikes me, or loving when someone can’t show me love as I’d expect is very challenging.  It’s not a very “practical investment” to love a child who will still be confined to a wheelchair, unable to dress themselves, unable to feed themselves tomorrow or the day after or a month from now or 30 years from now!

And then it struck me, these aren’t just some children – these kids are Jesus!

Jesus said, “I tell you the truth, when you [cared for] one of the least of these my brothers and sisters, you were doing it to me!” – Matthew 25:40

So today I played wheelchair bumper cars with Jesus.  And Jesus (also called Brian, Christian, and Laura) laughed a lot!!

While I didn’t get any practical “returns on my investment,” the truth is, I NEED these kids!  I need to learn from them and need to learn to love them.  If I can’t love a kid in wheelchair who can’t show me love back in a way I’d typically expect, can I really love?!?!?

Day 208: Roast a Turkey

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Turkey.

The most iconic holiday food in North America.

The fatted calf of feasts.

The cornerstone of the Thanksgiving feast…

…And I volunteered to make it!

Not having any prior experience cooking a turkey, besides seeing my mother slave over it multiple times a year, and my father carve it, I decided it was time to become a grown up — time to prepare a Thanksgiving turkey!

My “Life Group” (a fantastic group of people that meets together weekly to laugh, share in each others’ lives, and together learn more about God) was having our very own Thanksgiving gathering and I agreed to bring the turkey.

Silly me, I had no idea you had to thaw the turkey for days before.  I had no idea what “brine” meant.  I had no idea how big a turkey to get! But thanks to the wise counsel of my dear friends Dorothy, Kadian, Katie… and Alton Brown, I was very proud to produce a successful Thanksgiving turkey!

Thanks also to my Mom who thanklessly invested hours to produce it year after year!

 

After much searching in the interwebs I went with Alton Brown’s method of preparing the turkey.  Ok, I didn’t really follow his recipe, but I used it as a guideline:

Ingredients

  • 1 (15 pound) frozen young turkey

For the brine:

  • 1 cup kosher salt
  • 1/2 cup light brown sugar
  • 1 tablespoon black peppercorns
  • 1 gallon heavily iced water

For the aromatics:

  • 1 red apple, sliced
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • 1 cup water
  • Canola oil

Directions

2 to 3 days before roasting:

Begin thawing the turkey in the refrigerator or in a cooler kept at 38 degrees F.

Early on the day or the night before you’d like to eat:

Combine the brine, water and ice in the 5-gallon bucket. Place the thawed turkey (with innards removed) breast side down in brine. If necessary, weigh down the bird to ensure it is fully immersed, cover, and refrigerate or set in cool area for 8 to 16 hours, turning the bird once half way through brining.

Preheat the oven to 500 degrees F. Remove the bird from brine and rinse inside and out with cold water. Discard the brine.

Place the bird on roasting rack inside a half sheet pan and pat dry with paper towels.

Combine the apple, onion, cinnamon stick, and 1 cup of water in a microwave safe dish and microwave on high for 5 minutes. Add steeped aromatics to the turkey’s cavity along with the rosemary and sage. Tuck the wings underneath the bird and coat the skin liberally with canola oil.

Roast the turkey on lowest level of the oven at 500 degrees F for 30 minutes. Insert a probe thermometer into thickest part of the breast and reduce the oven temperature to 350 degrees F. Set the thermometer alarm (if available) to 161 degrees F. A 14 to 16 pound bird should require a total of 2 to 2 1/2 hours of roasting. Let the turkey rest, loosely covered with foil or a large mixing bowl for 15 minutes before carving.

 

Day 201: Here comes the story of the hurricane

I was never supposed to go to New Jersey to help clean up after Hurricane Sandy.

I was supposed to be in Toronto for my mother’s birthday.  Things changed, however, and Thursday, November 8th I found myself in a truck with Jeremiah and Oakes on our way to deliver a trailer full of supplies and help those hit by Hurricane Sandy.

Like many, I had seen the CNN footage, but I had no concept of the depth of damage.  I had no idea how many people lost nearly all of their earthly belongings.  While I was excited with the opportunity to help people gut their homes and begin rebuilding, I was most struck by my interactions with two groups of people – those tragically impacted by the hurricane and the body of Christ reaching out to those hardest hit.

We met many people who had been affected by the storm.  People like Brian and Linda who barely escaped their Staten Island home with their lives as water surged to a height of 11 feet in mere seconds.  While I was amazed to see the destruction to their home caused by “mere water,” I was even more amazed to see their hope, peace, and even joy among the chaos as they clung onto God for answers of what comes next.

Connecting with Powerhouse Christian Church in Wyckoff, New Jersey we also met many brothers and sisters in Christ.  People like Vito, Alyssa, Betsy, Brian, Elias, Alvin, AC, Grace, and many more!  A few days prior they were total strangers – now we are united through the Life of our Savior Jesus Christ!  We were invited into their homes and lives and together we prayed, laughed, tore out peoples’ rotting drywall, and saw the body of Christ at work.  I do believe that unity is a glimpse of what heaven will look like.

I went to show God’s love to people in need, but left seeing and tasting it firsthand.

Day 199: Clean Up After Hurricane Sandy

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Sitting off the tip of Manhattan, Staten Island, NY, is referred to as “The Forgotten Boro” of New York City.  A week and a half after being slammed by Hurricane Sandy, it would seem that it has already been forgotten by much of the world.  Twelve days ago the United States held its breath as it prepared for “Frankenstorm” to hit the Atlantic coastline.  CNN declared the foreboding news of in the impending storm.  The nation watched… and then returned to fighting over the elections and complaining about gas prices.

But Staten Island remained paralyzed along with much of New Jersey.  Since Sandy hit, over 110 people have died and over 100,000 people are displaced.  It would be easy to forget about the people impacted by this tragedy, but today I had the chance to see things firsthand.  I joined a team of two others that came to New Jersey with a trailer full of clothes, diapers, water, and food.  Over the past couple of days we have been involved in helping people clean up their homes and lives after the effects of the storm.  Today we visited Staten Island and were shocked by the impact that “mere water” could have on buildings designed to be permanent.

Beyond the damage and devastation, it has been incredible to hear people’s stories through the chaos.  Like the story of Brian and Linda whose home we helped to gut.  They lost everything in their home, and barely escaped with their lives.  They stayed past the evacuation warnings, but once they decided to leave, it was only a matter of seconds before the water surged rising feet within a few seconds nearly overcoming them and their truck entirely.  Their truck began to power down but came back to life after Linda sincerely shouted “Jesus!”

As they begin to rebuild their lives, they point to the grace of God that they are alive.  Today they shared about how they have been moved by how people have helped them rebuild their home, as it may be months before they are able live in it once again.

Roofing and sheds picked up and dropped hundreds of feet away in fields by the water!

An uprooted tree and relocated shed.

Boats picked up over the house, and dropped off hundreds of feet from the normal coastline.

A tree lodged on a fence from the water.  Water levels were said to have reached 11 – 12 feet.

Debris from the storm.

A home moved off of its foundation from the water.

Completely gutting a home that had water damage throughout.

Our team of people.  Nearly all are brand new friends I met within the past two days from a church in Wycoff, NJ.  It has been an incredible opportunity to see people who love Jesus come together to love people within their region.

Day 175: Save Big Bird

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Growing up, PBS was likely the TV station I watched with the most consistency.  From Mr. Rogers, to Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego?, to that one show with the math detectives, I learned a lot from high-quality, educational television.  As an adult I often find my radio tuned to NPR to get what I feel is the most well-rounded, and least sensational news reporting.  I have also seen and heard many what I refer to as “give us money weeks.”  I have often ignored the sincere pleas of radio and television hosts to contribute to the programming they were providing.  I always thought someone should give — just not me!

Today, I gave.

Not in the conventional way, however. Instead of giving my money I gave time.

After being compelled by my friend Kate, I volunteered from 6-9 am this morning answering calls from people making donations.  It was a fun experience, a great chance to see some of the inner-workings of WPSU, and a wonderful opportunity to meet some of the fine folks that make public radio possible.

I hope I played a small part in keeping Big Bird on the air!

 

PS It’s not too late to contribute.  Call 1-877-420-9778 or online: http://www.wpsu.org/contribute

Day 172: Brew Beer

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Having spent two years working in Alcohol Education, I have had many conversations about the positive and negative effects of alcohol.  I can share with you more information about BAC (Blood Alcohol Content), Biphasic Response (alcohol acts first as a stimulant, then as a depressant depending on how much you drink), and the tragic realities of alcohol overdoses than likely anyone you know.

I also recognize that while there are many potential negative consequences to dangerous drinking there are positive aspects to certain alcoholic beverages when treated respectfully.  Kings have united over them.  Monks have brewed them.  Jesus produced it as his first miracle.  And, in many cultures around the globe, it can bring people together unlike few other liquids.

Beer is also one of the few beverages around that involves a skillful craft in its production.  Apart from wine, liquor, and possibly coffee or tea, few drinks involve such a process of production.  Today I tried my hand at trying to produce beer.  With the keen insight from a few friends more skilled in this production than myself (Ben, Matt, Josh, and Pat), we were able to start the process of producing a German Hefeweizen.  While ordering a prepackaged beer making kit is a little like cheating, it still provides the all the necessary steps to produce our very own beer.

The process is as follows:

1) Open beer kit.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

2) Sterilize everything.  If bacteria gets in it will beat out the yeast eating the sugars making your beer taste like bacteria instead of beer.

 

3) Boil water.

 

4) Add German wheat extract to water.

 

 

5) Smell hops

 

6) Let hops soak in boiling wheat/water mixture for an hour, stirring every 10 minutes.

 

7) Cool wheat/water/hops mixture in a cold water bath.

 

8) Once liquid has cooled add it to 5 gallon bucket where it will ferment for 2 weeks before being put into bottles.

 

9) Add yeast

 

10) Seal tight and leave for at least 2 weeks!

 

11) Check something about the gravity (truthfully this step was lost on me)

 

12) Try the pre-fermented wheat juice!  Not bad, actually.

 

In reality, beer is basically a fermented, watery loaf of bread.  Hopefully, however, after a few weeks of fermentation it will be a delicious tasting beverage.

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I am now accepting name suggestions for this particular brew!  Please comment with your ideas below!

Day 170: Deliver a Dissertation

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P – H – D

Three little letters that take many years of hard work to obtain.  In some of my weaker moments I do wonder about continuing in the academy and pursuing a doctoral degree.  While I have not yet succumb to that temptation, I am delighted to support and encourage my friends who are in the thick of chasing this degree.  And, when it comes to the close of the program, it is a pleasure to celebrate with them!

So, it was a treat to deliver my friend Nelli’s completed dissertation to three of her committee members.  Nelli is out of down, so I got to print out and drop off this precious 181 page document.  While she has not defended her dissertation yet, the title “doctor” is within reach!  She can breathe a momentary sign of relief as she looks at these final few hurdles that remain until she completes her program.

Trust her… she’s almost a doctor!

Day 160: Sign up for the 100 Push Up Challenge

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I was feeling especially motivated one Saturday evening after reading a story in Chicken Soup for the Soul.  It was about a man who decided to write a list of things to do before he died.  I was 16 and no one told me 16 year olds were supposed to be out with their friends on a Saturday night not planning out their lives — so I made a list.  “My To-Do in Life List”  (Yes, they are more commonly called “Bucket Lists” now, but this list pre-dated the movie, Bucket List.)

Now, 14 years later I’ve accomplished many items on this list, for example:

  • Visit 20 countries (completed 11/06/2006)
  • Bike ride to my Aunt Samia’s house (completed 08/16/2006)
  • Go surfing (07/10/04)
  • Drive to Mexico (06/01/06 — with Mark!)
  • Run a half marathon (04/28/12)
  • Complete a triathlon (07/25/04)
  • Fly a plane (completed Summer 1999)
  • Drive a steam roller (completed summer 2000)
  • Go wake boarding (completed, date unknown)
  • Sleep under the stars (completed, date unknown)
  • Read the Bible cover-to-cover (completed 12/06/06)
  • Go some place where I can order “the regular” (1/11/11 — Corner Room — thanks Sharon!)
  • Do 100 sit ups (08/19/06)
  • Do 20 chin ups (01/08/12)

I am not defined by this list, it is great to have a goal to work towards to keep me sharp physically, mentally, socially, and emotionally!  While I’ve made significant progress, I still have many remaining items on the list: run for mayor, run a marathon, have a speaking role in a movie, ride in a helicopter, write a book, throw an opening pitch at a Major League Baseball game and many more!

Since the creation of the list I have had “Do 100 push ups” on the list.  For 14 years I’ve had it as a goal; a fairly attainable goal at that!  But yet, as with many goals, it’s easy to say you want to do something — it’s hard to do it!  One hundred push ups: this is great for my physical well being, mental health, and social and emotional well being to have a goal to work towards.

And so today, after investigating the Hundred Push Up Challenge, I decided I would put my money where my mouth is and actually work towards this goal.

Less talk, more rock!

Experts have said we’re much more likely to complete our goals if we write them down and share them (yes, it’s killing me I can’t cite anything right now, but just trust me, some experts said it).  As a result, I not only decided to do this in my head, I told you about it through my blog, and I “took the challenge” on their website (scroll to the bottom to see my name):

Today I could do a respectable 50 push ups.

I’m going to follow the program and hopefully within the next few weeks I will be able to do 100 push ups!  Who’s with me?

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What life goal do you want to tackle next?

Day 153: Play the guitar for people

I have been “learning the guitar” for the better part of a decade.  This means I pick it up, strum a few chords, and then put it down for another 6 months.  I have thought for many years that I would love to play the guitar to lead people in singing.  It has been my adventure in trying something new everyday that served as a catalyst to actually act on this desire.  That has been the great part of this “adventure” over the past year.  I have been much more motivated to try things that I for so long have laid dormant in the world of “I really ought to do that some time.”

While I fumbled on a bunch of chords and likely am a little ways away from releasing my first record on iTunes, it was a fun experience.  In the process of learning a few new songs I realized that I could play lots of songs.

For the musical time, I actually learned the song “Be Still” by the Fray — a great, hidden gem!  I am excited to try out a few new songs… that is once my finger tips stop hurting and develop some calluses!

 

 

Day 152: Attend a “Stewards of Children” presentation

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Today I attended a presentation called “Stewards of Children.”  This presentation provided insights into the realistic tragedy of child sexual abuse and provided steps that people can take to be aware of problematic situations.  I first heard about the training and thought it sounded like a great cause to be aware of… but I had absolutely no plans of attending.  I don’t have children and don’t work with children with any sort of regularity.  After thinking talking through things with my friend Kate, I ended up deciding on going and trying to encourage others to attend with me.  Here’s why:

 

1) With everything that has happened in the town of State College in the past year it is so crucial for regular people to make a concerted effort to take practical steps towards addressing this tragedy.

 

2) For followers of Jesus: I believe the Church should be taking a proactive stance towards protecting little children (something Jesus addressed specifically).  Recently many horrific actions have taken place when people saying they are followers of Jesus have turned a blind eye to these tragedies.

 

3) For men: Men are far more likely to be the perpetrators of sexual violence.  At the same time, men are awkwardly absent from the conversation on stopping sexual abuse (a friend said that she attended this same presentation once and in a group of 35 people, there was 1 man!).  Realistically shouldn’t we be leading the charge to stop this?  Isn’t protecting those who are defenseless one of the “manliest” things we could do?  We definitely need to “man up” and be involved in these conversations.

 

The fact remains that this is an uncomfortable topic.

 

It’s uncomfortable to hear that 1 in 4 girls and 1 in 6 boys are sexually abused in some way before their 18th birthday.

 

It’s uncomfortable to find out that these crimes aren’t being perpetrated by shady weirdos hanging out in the shadows.  Ninety percent of victims knew their attackers.  They are coaches, family members, and leaders within the community.  They are “trustworthy,” “charismatic,” and manipulative.

 

I understand a man in our session who said that hearing this made him think “he wanted nothing to do with this.”  Nothing to do with looking out for kids.  In this current culture, how can you be genuinely invested in looking out for children without having people think you’re some kind of weirdo?

 

Well, I think we need to start the conversation.  This is a real issue that is causing life-long damage on kids.  It would be easier to address as adults if it wasn’t such an awkward conversation.  So let’s talk about it!

 

Also, let’s be smart and be accountable!  Don’t be afraid to sign up as a Big Brother or Big Sister to kids who need a strong adult role model.  Just be smart, tell parents/guardians where you’re going with the kids, and spend time in public places.  Help out in the nursery, just be sure there’s two adults.  These may seem like common sense, but they go a long way.

 

Finally, let’s act!  If you think someone might be harming a child, don’t assume it’s harmless (something that caused a world of tragedy within our community at Penn State).  Listen to a kid.  Believe them!  If you suspect something is happening, don’t try to investigate it yourself.  Don’t put ideas in the kid’s head but report it.  In the United States, ChildLine (1-800-932-0313) is available 24 hours and will ask you a series of questions to help you identify if this is something that needs to be addressed.  If it is serious, then they will follow up for you.

Let’s bring this topic into the light and together, let’s take care of our children!

Day 147: See Jack Johnson in concert

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Ever since the mid-2000s I had wanted to see three music acts in concert:

1) U2
2) Coldplay
3) Jack Johnson

I saw U2 in 2001….
I saw Coldplay in 2005…

But I had never seen Jack Johnson in concert… until today!

 

 

 

It was also the first piece of “fan mail” I had ever written!  As of the time of writing of this post, Jack Johnson has yet to respond — I’m not holding my breath!

 

 

The gang who braved the line to see a free concert!

Day 112: Submit an article to an academic journal

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The world of academia is a funny one.  Articles are published en mass in niche journals that may or not ever be read!  But alas, it is all in the name of contributing to the greater body of scholarly research.  Now I sit around and wait for a few weeks to see if the article is accepted… and then wait a year for it to be published… and perhaps I’m a little tired after finally submitting this article!

Just wait world… you’re about to be hit with knowledge! <BLAM!>

Day 111: Post a WordPress blog entry by calling a phone number!

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Well… I thought it would post the words.  It does not in fact.  Instead it just takes the words I said and enters them as an audio file!  Forgive me for speaking like a robot!

Day 110: Blaze a new trail: driving through a flooded road

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While out today I noticed a portion of the road was flooded.  It seemed that a water main had broken and water covered a portion of the road.  I also noticed that cars on both sides of the flooded patch were turning around and going the other direction.  I was about to follow suit and take a different path completely when I thought about things.

There were road cones placed on the sides of the road, but not across it.

I looked and the water seemed to be raised just above the level of the curb.

Flooded?  Yes.

Impassible?  No.

Instead of following the others, I took a calculated risk and drove straight through.

While I had my concerns I emerged on the other side unscathed (though a little more damp).

I then looked in my rear view mirror and found that other cars had followed my lead and drove straight through.  By taking a risk I had gotten to my destination faster, started a trend, and grown just a little bit as a person!

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How and when have you taken a risk recently?

Day 92, 93, 94, and 95: Egyptians, Egyptians, Egyptians, and more Egyptians

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Over the past four days I have met new Egyptians every single day.  I was attending a gathering of Egyptian churches from all over the Northeast USA and even Canada.  Being half-Egyptian, it was a great opportunity to connect with that part of my cultural identity.  Often when people see me they assume I am a typical white, WASP.  Being a part of this group I was able to be “more Egyptian” and share in the curious aspects of our cultural identity: sharing thoughts with people whose parents bicker relentlessly over who will bring salad to the next family gathering, or people who have gotten the “random security check” at the airport, or people who don’t think I’m strange for shouting excitedly when talking to my friends!

This was also where I was introduced to the example of the Biosphere – a closed, controlled environment where scientists tried to create the ideal growing conditions for plants. The trees grew very well… and then fell over!  Because they had no wind or storms they didn’t grow deep roots.  The trees needed the storms to grow deep roots and be healthy.  I was struck by this and really felt God indicating that this is what he’s doing in me during this stretching time; growing my roots further into Him and His love.  It was a fantastic analogy that was encouraging even though this time of transition continues to be challenging.

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