How We Can “End It” in Our Everyday Lives?

Today is the day thousand wear red x’s on their hands, shirts, and hats to raise awareness that slavery still exists.

Our family has participated in this day several years running.  My kids know that slavery still exists, and that it’s happening in our country.  We support organizations that are a part of the end it movement.  I love the difference this day and movement has made in awareness of the issue.

ImageBut every year, my fear is that one day of social media blitz and flash and show will fade and people will forget in their everyday routines.  I’m sure I am not alone in this fear.

So now that we’ve gotten a foothold in awareness...how can we transition our knowledge into action?  I love the song Albertine by Brooke Fraser, and the line that says “now that I have seen, I am responsible”  We now know there is slavery.  We are responsible. So how do we actually end it?

First off, make sure you are fully informed.  That you have seen, eyes wide open to the atrocities that are occurring.  Don’t be naive.  Don’t stick your head in the sand. This is not an issue for other countries, this is happening in your backyard.  If you live in Georgia, this just happened.  Florida had this repulsiveness exposed.  The obscenities that occurred in New York around the Super Bowl are appalling.  Pick a state and you can find slavery.  

While we seem to be most informed about sex slavery, we also employ slaves in our daily lives.  From our electronics, to our food and our clothes, we have the ability to impact the slave trade with the choices we as a consumer make.  Here are a few areas you can be more informed about:

Your clothes.  This website is an incredible resource of information about brands and their manufacturing processes.  I loved being able to look up how some of my favorite brands were ranking in this, and was quite pleased to see some of my favorites like H&M and Gap scored B’s.  I know I will not be purchasing from Abercrombie and Fitch, Lacoste or Sketchers, and I will be looking into etsy variations of the princess dresses my daughter adores since Disney ain’t sitting so pretty either.  I look forward to using informed decision making in my voice as a consumer when it comes to the clothing items we purchase as a family.

Your chocolate.  Did you know that a preteen child is working over 80 hours a week without pay, enduring beating all to provide you with your chocolate?  Are you familiar with the companies that are the biggest offenders, and the ones that are taking action to stop this?  I know that our family will not be purchasing anything Hershey thanks to their blatant disregard of their involvement in slave labor.  This will be hard with Easter around the corner, and come next Halloween, but the voice of my dollar can help save a child being beaten at the expense of suburban kids to continuing their sugar high.

Your coffee. The coffee industry is one of the largest in slave employment.  After some research it looks like I will need to drastically scale back my trips to a certain coffee store (UK gets certified Fair Trade coffee, but not USA?!) that’s on every corner and change up my in store purchases as well.

Some other foods that are typically associated with slave labor are sugar, bananas, rice, and beef. You can purchase these items with a Fair trade Certified symbol on the front of them.  I buy my fair trade bananas at Whole Foods, rice, and sugar as well. I’ve seen fair trade coffee and sugar in most regular grocery stores. I purchase local, grass fed beef, which you can find at Whole Foods, and lots of co-ops near major cities.

Finally, and it disgusts me to say this, but pornography.  I could write for hours about the damage pornography does from creator to consumer, and all involved…not to mention society.  However I will try to keep my focus on how we can be a part of ending it.  The rise in pornography and sex slavery go hand in hand.  As pornography has increased so has the industry for sex slavery (see US Dept. of Justice article below for supporting statistics).  It is not an exaggeration to say by viewing, or purchasing pornography of any sort, you are contributing to sex slavery.  Especially when you consider that most of pornography is women and children forced into the act.  Watching a teenage girl be raped for your enjoyment is every bit of a participant in sex slavery.  Supply and demand, and if you view pornography you are creating the demand.  There is lots of research that verifies it’s addictive tendencies.  Get help.  It’s not ok, no matter how TV and movies may joke that it is. “Pornography rewires the male brain to become dependent on chemicals. This de- pendency is linked to negative perceptions, attitudes, and aggression toward women.” Shared Hope

 

Take time to visit this website.  It has you take a brief survey, and based off answers you input, gives you an idea of how many slaves you employ.  At the end it gives you the option to send notes to the companies affiliated with employing slaves.  If we are going to fight this, we need to do it with eyes wide open.  Know how your decisions impact the lives of others.  Know that where you put your dollar impacts others lives.  The difference of a few dollars in your grocery budget, or clothing budget can be one of the best monthly donations you can make.  Just as powerful as the organizations fighting slavery are our day to day choices of choosing to support and fight against modern day slavery.  Your voice, your dollar, and your actions matter.  Use them for good.

 

Further research:

Department of Labor’s list of goods produced by child and forced labor

Blood Diamond, the movie

The US Dept. of Justice National Strategy for child exploitation prevention

Nefarious, documentary

The Dark Side of Chocolate, documentary

Chosen, a documentary about sex slavery in America

How does your state rank in slavery laws, and how you can help

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Beautiful

My daughter has been covered in prayer long before her conception.  She was longed for, prayed for, desired and adored. We had two miscarriages before she was conceived, one of which was on the way to my grandmothers funeral.   We are well aware what a beautiful and sacred gift life is.

Which is why she is told every day how beautiful she is, inside and outside.  We affirm that she is smart and beautiful, many times a day.  So imagine my surprise when my not yet three (at the time) daughter asked me out of the blue “am I beautiful?”

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Photo: Christy Martin Photography

I quickly affirmed her yet again, “yes love, you are beautiful, and your heart is beautiful, and you are smart and funny…”  She seemed content with the answer, but I was not.  What was it in her, that despite being constantly affirmed of her beauty, caused her to doubt it?  Is it the curse of women to not be able to see our beauty?  To constantly question it?

Of course our culture communicates to us on a daily basis that unless we are 5’9 or taller weigh 120 pounds or less and impeccably dressed, we aren’t beautiful.  We go to the mall and the standard of beauty is wearing racy lingerie and posing provocatively.  In the grocery store line we see that unless we have an intense work out plan and aren’t back to pre-baby weight 3 months after having a baby we aren’t beautiful.  If we happen to turn our tv on, it is vacant of real women…everyone with their hair done and make up on, perfectly dressed and no one over a size 6. With everything around us communicating that we aren’t beautiful we have to fight to believe that we are.

I went to my sons school to take valentines cupcakes in.  Y’all, we had 4 snow days and the very first day back I spent almost the entire day at their school, that is sacrificial love!  While I was at lunch with my oldest, he decided he needed a second lunch, because boys really do eat you out of house and home.  While in the lunch line the lunch lady commented on how beautiful my daughter was and then said “just like her mom, you’re beautiful too” to which I retorted “as are you, you are beautiful!”  And she was, she was about 60 years old and was rocking the cutest pixie cut. The graying color of her hair brought out the pinkness in her lips, and the wrinkles around her eyes told of a face that at one point had smiled a lot, and she had the most clear and striking blue eyes.  And yet she denied it.  She denied her beauty, refused it.

How often do we do the same?  Our husband walks in and says we look beautiful and because we are wearing sweats and have no make up on, we deny we are beautiful.  When our friends tell us how good our hair looks we excuse it away, rejecting the idea of beauty being found in us.

My biggest fear is not just that we refuse to see our beauty, but that we have let society define beauty in our minds as well, and that we no longer see it in each other.  That we have become so accustomed to denying beauty in ourselves, we deny it in others.  

Maybe this is more important than seeing it in ourselves.  Maybe by starting to see beauty in each other, verbalizing it, confirming it, claiming it, we may simultaneously free the scales from our own eyes to see our beauty as well.  What if being a beauty seer, keeps me from being a beauty denier?

My husbands grandmother is dying.  She is like my own grandmother, and introduces me as her granddaughter, which I adore.  The legacy his grandparents are leaving is incredible.  They have lost two children, and yet praise the name of Jesus, they love their children, grandchildren and great-grand  children well and fiercely. While on the phone with grandpa (who is at the same time undergoing chemo for cancer) he was talking about what was going on, how she’s struggling with bed sores, is hardly awake, how he has to carry her to the bathroom, feed her, and in the midst of that, he broke down and said “she’s just so beautiful.”

I was so struck by the profoundness of it.  When most people would see no beauty, love sees beauty.  

I want to see like that, to live like that.  If we believe (I do) that we are created by a great and magnificent God, made in his image, than we have to believe that each person we meet has a bit of their creator in them, beauty.  I don’t think it’s enough to just believe it though, we need to practice  seeing it.

 

The seeing gives way to believing, for others and ourselves.

 

I want to look at the lunch lady and see the beauty of her laugh wrinkles, and servant hands.

Go to my sons’ room and watch his teacher laugh a big beautiful laugh that lights up her whole room, and see beauty.

At the grocery store, see the beauty in the worn hands of the checkout lady who serves her family well, in her face that glows as she talks about her daughter.

Observe the beauty of my friend as she graciously disciplines in love and grace, acting as Christ does with us.

Gather in community and watch heads thrown back in laughter, shy smiles and interaction, awkward interjections, new friends becoming old ones, conversation among sisters, and be overwhelmed at it’s beauty and sacredness.

To see stretch marks, a pouchy belly, mandatory support and incision marks as a reminder of life, and the body that grew and birthed it.

To see each wrinkle as a lesson life has taught, and wisdom born.

To see calloused feet as reminders of hard work that was done, and a body that enabled it.

Each gray hair as a reminder of a hardship overcome.

To see dirty and ragged fingernails as a reminder of the beauty of time spent playing and not in perfection.

To see dark circles as proof of motherly sacrifice loosing sleep while feeding, soothing, loving.

To see the twirling, dancing and singing of my daughter, and the beauty that she really believes she is a princess, just because her daddy told her so.

 

I want to see the beauty in others so that maybe I will be more believing of the beauty in me.  

I want to be a beauty seer, and not denier.

For myself, my daughter, my friends, my sisters, for women everywhere and for love.

 

Because love sees beauty, when it seems like there is none.

Day of Love

When I was in high school, some brilliant person (heavy sarcasm) on the student council thought it would be a great idea to sell carnations for Valentine’s day. For several days you could make your way up the to the STUCO table, amidst watching and wandering eyes, and purchase a carnation for the person of your choosing with a note to be attached to the flower delivered on Valentine’s Day.

carnations-3_300Lucas Allen

I remember that day every year. In my memory it feels like I was always in Spanish class. Maybe because few classes made me feel like a failure quite like Spanish did, except maybe Algebra, and Geometry….but I digress. What impressed me most as a perpetual people watcher was the reaction after those flowers were handed out. When the deliverers hands were emptied, so were the spirits of so many in the room. The door opened in expectation and closed in defeat.

I saw friends, acquaintances and complete strangers feel rejected that day, years in a row. It wasn’t uncommon to see tears in the hallways amidst the slamming of lockers and rush to class.

Unfortunately as I got older, I continued to see a lot of sadness and hurt intertwined with the romance and chocolate.

Even as a parent, I thought maybe I’d entered a new phase for this holiday…it’s all fun and sugar, hooray! Until the teacher tells you they expect your child to hand write all the Valentine’s to a class of nearly 30. If you’ve never had to force a 5 year old to write their name 30 times, I promise, there is no lovey dovey sort of feeling that is in the air after this task is completed!

I am a big fan of love! It’s my favorite thing. It’s what created me, breathes life into me, shows grace to me, and spurs me on. It’s what I pray I exude to all those who come in contact with me. I want to celebrate it, draw attention to it, feel it, show it, and enjoy it.

This is why I’m sad that there’s this day that is supposed to be all about love, and yet for some, seems to leave disappointment in its wake.

Maybe we’ve forgotten what real love (not romance, or seduction, or persuasion) looks like. Here is a reminder at how the bible defines love:

Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. 8 Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love. 9 In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him. 10 In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. 11 Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. 12 No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God abides in us and his love is perfected in us.
13 By this we know that we abide in him and he in us, because he has given us of his Spirit. 14 And we have seen and testify that the Father has sent his Son to be the Savior of the world. 15 Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God abides in him, and he in God. 16 So we have come to know and to believe the love that God has for us. God is love, and whoever abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him. 17 By this is love perfected with us, so that we may have confidence for the day of judgment, because as he is so also are we in this world. 18 There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love. 19 We love because he first loved us. 20 If anyone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen. 21 And this commandment we have from him: whoever loves God must also love his brother.
1 John 4:7-21 ESV

I know this is a hard “holiday” for a lot of people.

I hope if you are fearful of being alone, you’ll remember that perfect love casts out fear (v.18).

That if you are feeling unloved this day, that you’ll remember God is love, and your desire for love was created by Him and can only be satisfied in Him. (v.7-8).

That if we happen to have love, it is because He first loved us (v.19)

That if you know someone who this is a hard day for, and you love God, you remember we are called to love our brother…and sister (v.21)!

I hope you don’t let what does or does not happen on this day determine if you are loved. You are deeply, passionately, pursued, treasured, and loved! I also hope that we would not make this day just about romance, but about truly loving others and showing them love…especially those who may need a little extra love.

Maybe you could write a note to a single friend telling her how much you treasure her. Grab a coffee for your boss on the way to work. Make your kids a special breakfast or treat and tell them what it is that is special about each one of them. Send a little something into your kids teachers. Drop by some flowers to someone who has lost their significant other. Pick up some extra chocolate for a divorced coworker. Spend some extra time with your spouse reconnecting. Live love.

Lets celebrate this kind of love…real love, today and everyday of the year. Carnations for all!

“Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends.”
1 Corinthians 13:4-8a ESV

The Church, Unity, and IF

For as long as I can remember, this passage in Acts has captivated me. I remember stumbling upon it later in my teenage years and just reading it over and over, trying to figure out what to do with the words.

“And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. And awe came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were being done through the apostles. And all who believed were together and had all things in common. And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need. And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved.” Acts 42-47

I still often pour over this.There’s so much richness here, but the part that has always blown my mind is the fact that they “were together and had all things in common”.

Throughout my life, as I look around the church, the first thing that comes to mind isn’t that we have all things in common. In fact, often it feels like we have nothing in common. We all huddle up in our little circles, where everyone looks similar to us and thinks similar to us. We tear apart those who think differently from us, even if they claim and hold dear the same Jesus we do. Unity has not been something that defines the church in my lifetime…at least not the one I’ve seen.

Yet, I have so desperately longed for it. I dared to hope that this text was descriptive and prescriptive. I doubted God that this was possible…as though maybe it were too much for Him, and simultaneously wanted to will it into existence.

This week seemed no different as the interwebs lit up with debate on what the church was, and was not. To go to, or to be. Everyone chiming in and having an opinion. Tearing down, critiquing, disagreeing. Few really seeing. The people behind the words. Piece by piece we dismantled the church in which Christ is the cornerstone. Everyone with words, cautions and fixes. Few thoughts or dialogue about real issues and concerns facing the modern day church, mainly reprimands. What happened to loving Jesus and people first? Loving Jesus more than our thoughts or opinions? Agree to disagree, and press on together after Christ? Yes, the issue at hand is concerning, but the only way we can face it and change it is together, not divided.

With thoughts and frustrations like this swirling, the church having all things in common once again seeming unfathomable, I walked into the IF gathering.

Several months back I stared to see Twitter buzz on IF, a new thing, different from others. It was about women….from all back grounds, denominations, races…coming together and then being poured out. And unity. It seemed too much, and yet I was anxiously optimistic. It stirred the yearning once more.

I’m still processing so much of the richness, wisdom and raw beauty of this weekend, but I know for the first time in along time, I’m so very hopeful about the future of the church.

This weekend I watched a former prostitute and church girl take the stage together, and not see their differences but their striking similarities. I saw a line up of speakers that included those that leaned right and those that leaned left. There were hand raisers and chair sitters, in attendance. Pentecostal and Episcopalian. Pant suits and leggings. I looked at a room, and a stage and saw the body of Christ.

After this weekend, the idea that we could have all things in common doesn’t seem quite so crazy. Even if it is, I know I’m not just one crazy one who wants this, to fight for this, but one of many. I enter this week brimming with hope for unity in the church.

You can listen to talks from the IF conference for free until midnight tonight, and learn more here.

Russian culture night and Borscht recipe

So you know that feeling when you spend 3 hours making something and photographing the process, and then your demon possessed camera deletes all of those pictures?  Well, I hope you don’t, and if you did, I’d make you a chocolate cake…because it seems like that should help.  Praise God for iPhones!

We’ve been getting a head start with some of the Olympics preparation, as this is a crazy time of year for us (birthdays, Valentine’s, consignment, oh my!) and I’m gathering with friends to watch the IF conference this weekend…so stoked about that!

Since the Olympics are taking place in Russia this year, and we have ties to this culture, it seemed only fitting to start there for our first focus night.  We’ve also done a little bit of decorating for the Olympics. I loved this idea of making a flag banner, and my kids enjoyed picking out the countries and looking up the flags they wanted to make.  The crafting process was pretty painless as well, and they can tell you which country each flag goes with.  Art, and education?  Done!

Our menu for Russian focus night will consist of Borscht, and blini with caviar and sour cream.  These are both pretty common dishes in this area.  I also posted some simpler menu options earlier this week.  To be perfectly honest, I’ve been a little over ambitious with all we have going on, and I’m really wishing I would have gone the pierogi/varyniki route!  But the caviar is purchased (only $15 at Whole Foods!), so we are pressing on!

As much as I love structure, and worksheets, I don’t find my kids learn best that way.  They learn best from experience, and dialogue (don’t we all!).  So we are going to eat like Russians would eat, and listen to music Russians would listen to (the classic stuff, I don’t have the patience for a night full of the other), and dance like Russians would dance.  These are all things that are normal in our house, and I want to show our kids what our version of normal may look like in Russia.  You  know…with some added bonuses, like being able to control your own heat.  We will be talking some in Russian (at least as much as we can remember, which will mean full sentences for my husband and one word basics and commands for myself), showing them where Russia is located on a map, what the capital of Russia is, and telling them some of the idiosyncrasies we experienced while there (like the lack of lines, the quietness in public, and how if you go out without a hat on September-April the babushka’s (grandma/old lady) will scold you).

So here are a few ideas and facts to get you started on your Russian night:

Music,  Tchaikovsky, most known for the Nutcracker

Dance, a guaranteed work out!

Language: Da-yes   Nyet (knee-yet)-no   Strasvitchya (stras-vitch-ya)- formal hello   Priviet (pree-vee-yet)- informal hello     Dasvidanya (dahs-vi-dan-ya)- formal good-bye   Paca (packa)- informal good-bye

The capital of Russia is Moscow

A fun movie for the kids to watch would be Anastasia.  It gives a glimpse of Russian history (ushering in the Soviet era), drops some Russian language (mainly “dasvidanya”), and one of the opening scenes is in St. Petersburg and gives a beautiful glimpse into Russian architecture.  It gets a bit dark at times (which are easy parts to fast forward through), but led to a some good conversation for us.

Hopefully those are a few places to start for you.  Figure out what your normal is, and then see what it would look like in Russia!

Besides focusing on specific countries, we also have a few things planned to enjoy the Olympics and countries coming together.

Teachers pay teachers is a great website, that I use quite often.  They have a ton of great worksheets and resources, lots of them for free.  I use it regularly to print practice sheets out for my boys, and to help focus on certain subjects…like the Olympics.  I like this packet,  and I will be including several ideas from here throughout the weeks the Olympics is on.  I love that it has ideas for a variety of ages.

We also have our medal count sheets printed out and ready to track the USA’s wins.  I love that she includes blank ones so you can keep track of other countries wins too!  I also printed out the Olympics schedule so we can know when our favorite events are coming on.  The boys are excited to watch Shaun White, and I think my daughter will be entranced with figure skating.

On to borscht.  Like I mentioned, unfortunately I don’t have a ton of “in process” photos thanks to my camera, plus after comments I got on Instagram on my “in process” shot…that may be for the better.  Apparently borscht is not pretty in process.

I combined two recipes from two babuska’s (grandma’s) that I received the recipe from.  After making the full process they recommend, I’m going to give you my simpler version…because who has 3 hours to go back and forth between a cutting board and dutch oven?  But in case you have that sort of ambition, I’ll give you the lengthier version at the end.

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Borscht

1 pound of beef stew meat, or 1 pound beef shank (with bone in)

1 large onion

3 beets, roasted, peeled and grated (often you can find whole beets like this in the refrigerated produce section, then just run over a grater or pop in food processor grater)

2 potatoes medium to large, chopped

2 carrots, peeled and chopped

2 celery stalks, peeled and chopped

1 small head of green cabbage, chopped

1 can tomato paste

1 carton beef stock

Oil, salt and pepper

Sour cream as garnish

Turn large dutch oven, or stock pot on medium high and allow to heat.  Season your beef with salt and pepper and sear on all sides (if there’s not sizzling and popping when you place meat in the pan, it’s not hot enough, you don’t just want browning, but almost a crunchy outside layer to form).  If you are doing stew meat, this may take several batches as crowding of the pan won’t produce searing.  After you have seared all your meat, set it aside on a plate.  Turn pan down to medium and add 1-2 TBS of oil (if none was produced by your meat), add carrot, celery and onion into pan and saute until onions are translucent, about 5-7 minutes.  After they are done cooking, add your tomato paste and stir to incorporate.  Slowly pour in carton of beef stock (my favorite is Kitchen Basics low sodium) while stirring and scraping up all the bits off the bottom.  Once incorporated, fill your carton up with water and shake a bit, and add the water to the pot.  Add potatoes, beets and cabbage into the pot and stir to combine.  Make sure there is enough liquid to cover all the vegetables, if not add enough to just cover them.  Simmer uncovered on low for 2 hours.  If you used stew meat, lightly press the meat against the sides of the pan to break up the large chunks.  They should just fall apart.  If you used a beef shank, remove from the pot and remove the bone and any fat.  Shred remaining meat, and add back to pot.  Taste and adjust seasonings.  Serve with smetana (sour cream)!

The main step I removed of the original process is boiling the meat for over an hour to form a stock…we bypassed this by just using boxed stock.  One of the recipes called for kidney beans.  When I lived in Ukraine, it was pretty split the amount of borscht served with beans vs non-bean borscht.  I preferred non-bean borscht, so that’s what I made, but feel free to add some, if you like them!

I will say…if you don’t like the taste of beets, you’re probably not going to enjoy borscht.  It’s a hearty, earthy dish that is an acquired taste.  If you want an easier intro dish to Russian food, you might try one of the dishes I recommend here.  The deconstructed galupsy is a great intro to borscht, in fact that’s what we did a couple weeks ago, to start to familiarizing our kids with the tastes.

Whatever you decide to make, and teach your kids about Russia, I hope that you have fun teaching your kids or friends about a different culture, and laughing at yourselves as you try to say silly Russian words or do a crazy dance like they do.  One of the biggest things I learned while living overseas is that how they live isn’t bad or wrong, and what we do isn’t good and right…it’s just different and just like people, all different cultures and people groups bring something to the table.

flagofrussia

Olympics Culture Tour and Menu Plan

It’s Olympics week!

sochi-2014-logo-4

This girl is pumped.

Which is a bit funny to me now, because when I was a kid I remember hating when the Olympics came on. All the adults wanted to do was watch all these boring or weird sports and it seemed to last FOR-EVER.

I think my perspective changed once I was living in other cultures, and fell in love with them. The Olympics is such a fun opportunity to see other cultures and learn about them.

I love how a little bit of knowledge about a culture, it’s cuisine and customs can break down barriers with others from that background or who have visited there.  It’s like an “in” with people, and I like people.

As a mom I especially love this opportunity to teach my kiddos about the way other people live. I hope at some point to immerse them in other cultures of the world, but for now I can suffice for exposure.

When the Olympics roll around, I try to come up with a game plan/shopping list a few weeks out. Wikipedia is my friend. I look up what some of the largest delegations coming to the Olympics are, and start there. I also try to go specific to which season it is. The winter/summer Olympics have very different countries represented, so I try to focus on countries that will be more prominent in the current season. This years choices were:

Russia (of course!)

Germany

Switzerland

Japan (who knew?)

While I want to expose my kids to different cultures, I don’t want them to be completely turned off by them. So even though Norway was a top contender, after researching the food, and knowing my children’s palettes, I decided against that country (for this year). I also don’t want to overwhelm my kids, or myself, so I stick with a handful of countries. Some times you need a breath of normalcy in the midst of a lot of newness. And who can bust out all new meals with foreign ingredients, and a brief teaching on each country fourteen nights in a row?!  Not this girl!

Then comes more research. Again, Wikipedia is my friend. First I search the cuisine for each culture…because that’s my thing. Maybe you’re a gardener and you want to more focus on indigenous plants, or you are a wordsmith and the language is your gig…whatever works best for you and your family. This is about education and exposure, not perfection.

Russia was easy for me, since we lived in Ukraine, which was formerly part of the Soviet Union and has very similar culture. The other countries took a bit more time. Here are the dishes I’m making for each country and some other ideas, if my suggestion seems a bit too daunting.

Russia:

I’m making borscht (recipe coming soon) and blini (small pancakes) with caviar. We love this part of the world and are quite educated about it, it’s culture and want to impart a lot of it to our kids. So we are over doing this night.  Plus the caviar was only $15 at Whole Foods…why not? Easier options are:

Medium-Hard: Beef or chicken stroganoff

Medium: Deconstructed Galupsy (basically a cabbage soup)

Easy: Pierogi, which you can buy in most frozen sections, but are called Vareniki in Russia

Germany:

Well, you can’t go wrong with Wiener Schnitzel (breaded veal cutlet), so I’m making that with boiled potatoes and white asparagus (if I can find it!) Other options are:

Medium: Bratwurst and potatoes

Easy: Pumpernickel bread with sliced cold cuts and cheeses (this is a typical German breakfast)

If I’m feeling extra ambitious, I’ll make a Black Forest cake for dessert, or settle for some yummy German chocolates we pick up at World Market!

Switzerland:

When we were in Switzerland we were served a serval course traditional Swiss Fondue. I will be attempting to recreate that by making a cheese fondue, a fondue chinoise (broth, where you dip meat and veggies in to cook them), and then a chocolate fondue. The tricky part of picking Switzerland cuisine is that Switzerland has regions that are primarily impacted by their neighboring France, Italy and Germany. So their cuisine often resembles more that of these countries. You can’t go wrong with Swiss Chocolate, Swiss cheese (Emmental, Gruyere), muesli, and Ovaltine! Since we all probably have the token fondue pot up in our cabinet, might as well break it out and try at least one of the fondue varieties listed above!

Medium: rösti, which is basically hashbrowns, served with a fried egg and spinach

Easy: quiche, in most frozen sections (although it seems French, apparently quiche originated in Germany, so this country sandwiched between Germany and France has made quiche commonplace.)

Japan:

I’m making a miso soup with chicken thighs, vegetables (carrots, baby corn, daikon or turnip and green onions), with udon noodles. I’m kind of doing my own play on chicken noodle soup, Japanese style.

Medium: chicken yakitori (chicken thighs skewered and grilled, often with a similar sauce to teriyaki)

Easy: take out, store bought sushi, or hibachi

I hope that gives you a few ideas, options and inspiration of ways you can expose your kids to different culture during these Olympics! I’m going to be sharing my recipes, and bits of information I plan on teaching our kids, and some other resources as the week goes on, so stay tuned!