Steppe…Fish?

23 Aug

These are not two words I associate each other, and I was surprised when we were served fish.  I should have remembered the photos of the big hauls of large fish my Mongolian friend has caught for in both Kazakhstan and Mongolia lakes and rivers contain numerous fish.  Kazakhstan also has the Caspian Sea as a western border and the Aral Sea in the southwest; there are numerous large and small lakes in the southeast and north.

IMG_0611 We went with our host family to Burabay National Nature Park one weekend.  A three hour drive north from Astana through the steppe on a brand-new six lane highway, it is a summer vacation destination.  Along the highway, in rest stops, parking areas, or just wherever, people come from local villages vending locally harvested mushrooms (pickled) and honey (absolutely delicious). Burabay was full of people.

IMG_0613In one of the bazaars it finally dawned on me that the local lakes were not just for swimming.

IMG_0612These huge crayfish were boiled.  And delicious.

IMG_0839We eventually went swimming at a smaller lake which was not crowded further away through the steppe.   And came back to our rented log home to eat a feast out doors which included dried smoked fish.  Also delicious.

The other event where fish was served was the large gathering of women to celebrate and bless my goddaughter.  During the first course, there were little tarts filled with some cheese and topped with roe and two kinds of cured fish.

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The third course was this beautiful presentation:

IMG_1737Salmon on rice in cream with a parley-oil emulsion and roe.  Quite marvelous.

Astana also  has a wonderful Oceanarium, the furthest from any ocean in the world.  One walks through a tunnel with fish enclosing you on both sides and from above.  The fish found in the Oceanarium are not natives.  Nor are they eaten.

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There was a man in scuba gear feeding fish when we went.

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Where horses are Food, not friends

19 Aug

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Let me get this right out in the open.  Kazakhstan is not a place for vegetarians or animal rights activists.  The population was halved by Stalin using starvation and gulags.  Kazakhstan values its children.  They are a main priority.  Animals are primarily for food.  In Kazakhstan people eat horses, cattle, sheep, goats, fish, chickens.  Though I never saw any pigs or pork I was told it, too, is available.  On the vast steppe one sees herds of hundreds of cattle, or horses, or sheep and goats grazing without fences in the care of one to three herders.

Horse meat is readily available in the bazaars.  Along with horse sausage.

IMG_0591Horse has yellow fat, which similar to venison, is around the outside of muscles rather than in the muscle tissue itself (like beef).  It is a lean meat.  The horse meat we ate was either boiled, steamed, or in some kind of sausage.

IMG_0340Behold Beshbarmak, literally “five fingers”.  Historically (and even currently) eaten with the hands, hence the name.  The horse is boiled in salted water, removed and large thin rounds of home made noodles are added to the salty broth to cook.  Meanwhile, thinly sliced onions are cooked in horse fat.  When the noodles are done, they are placed on a platter, then the horse, then the onions scattered over the top.  It is delicious.  Sometimes potatoes were cooked before the noodles and added.

IMG_1639Another bishbarmak, with horse sausage.   And yes, most people eat at least some of the fat.

IMG_1664My plate at a party.  Yum!

IMG_1797The other main way we ate horse was in manti, steamed dumplings filled with chopped horse, potato and, onion.

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Isabelle and I had fun learning to package the manti correctly.

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Manti were very popular.  Eaten hot right out of the steamer, maybe with a little hot pepper sprinkled on.

And here is another boiled horse dish which has thin noodles (they were called strudel) that are layered and boiled after the horse meat and potatoes.

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Here is a link to an old NYTimes article on Kazakh horse use.

Large Land, Large Hearts

12 Aug

The hearts of our Kazakh friends are as broad and open as their land.  Generous, loving, kind, they enfolded us into their family and insisted on our rest and comfort.  To spend this significant chunk of time with their extended family, including my goddaughter and her cousins, was a blessing.

IMG_0240We spent the majority of our time in Astana, which replaced Almaty as the capital of Kazakhstan 15 years ago.  We lived in a micro-district close to where lots of high-rise housing is built (and continues to be built), on the far side of the southern bank of the Ishim River where the new part of the city is.  The old Soviet part of town is on the northern bank.IMG_0277This is Khan Shatyr, the King’s Tent, a large modern shopping mall filled with higher-end European stores. It the building that anchors a line of new impressive government buildings bisecting the city.

IMG_0294Astana is in the middle of the steppe.  It is windy, like Chicago.  Temperatures range from +40 to -40 degrees C.  Though it rained almost every day, it is almost arid.  All the trees one sees in the city have been planted by hand.  With intention.

IMG_0325There are fountains and flowerbeds galore.  And not just any old flowerbeds: these have designs, curliques, spirals, outlines using flowers of different colors, heights, and texture.  They are lovely living ornaments.IMG_0305There is also a lot of sculpture.  Indigenous animals, people, mythological figures, cultural symbols, historical statues: all sorts and of varied quality.  These are horses, a popular theme.IMG_0357Colored glass is also used prominently in the new buildings.  And at night many buildings either have lights which emphasize ornamentation on the building, or have a colored light display which travels and changes on the side of the building.  Ornamentation for beauty is apparent almost everywhere:  even elevator doors and walls are inscribed with geometric patterns to please the eye.

IMG_0289This is looking from Khan Shatyr towards the President’s palace.  The tower is Bayterek.

Adult/ Last Section

11 Jul

DSC_0849What Jay said at Isaac’s memorial service:

Hello, I am Jay Miller, Isaac’s Dad.  To all of you who are Isaac’s friends, I invite you to our home.  Stop in and talk any time in the weeks, the months, the years ahead.  Deborah and I would love to hear your stories about Isaac, and about yourselves. You also come with beautiful  purposes  written on your hearts, written on your souls, with possibilities only you can hold.

We spent years loving and raising Isaac and awoke last Saturday to news of his death.  Immediately devastating.  Long-term life changing.  The precious, the irreplaceable—gone.

The law of sowing and reaping works even if one ignores it. Like gravity, it does not care if you are a Christian.  My hope is in God’s word: that in everything God works for good for those who love him, who are called according to his purpose.

The death of a young person tests our convictions.  His death forces our real beliefs into the open.  What is the meaning of life?  Can Isaac’s death fit into it?

I serve a God of love and mercy who raised Jesus from the dead.  Isaac’s whole life with us, and even before he came to us, was surrounded with grace and with God moving powerfully on his behalf.  The loving merciful God kept our boy from an early death in Bolivia and placed him in a loving family.  God gave him many friends, great experiences and opportunities, and meaningful work.

Our culture says that Isaac’s life was cut short, that his life was incomplete.  Those thoughts assume we are masters of our own destiny.  It assumes we can fix ourselves rather than God fixing us.

I will not let Isaac’s death erase the joyful memories of years gone by.  God’s word says not one sparrow falls to the ground without our Father’s notice.

To find our own meaningfulness we must acknowledge our Creator.  It is good for us to know we can do nothing.  Why should we think death stumps God?  It stumps us, not him. God does not make mistakes.  He decided Isaac completed his purpose here on earth.   Who is like God?  Not one of us.  God had a good plan for Isaac.

As a childless couple we waited and suffered for years before Isaac came to us. We had him with us twenty years.   We believe we will all be together again in our far home.  Our best wishes for you would be that you would be there, too.

__________

1 Corinthians 15

35 But someone may ask, “How will the dead be raised? What kind of bodies will they have?” 36 What a foolish question! When you put a seed into the ground, it doesn’t grow into a plant unless it dies first. 37 And what you put in the ground is not the plant that will grow, but only a bare seed of wheat or whatever you are planting. 38 Then God gives it the new body he wants it to have. A different plant grows from each kind of seed. 39 Similarly there are different kinds of flesh—one kind for humans, another for animals, another for birds, and another for fish.

40 There are also bodies in the heavens and bodies on the earth. The glory of the heavenly bodies is different from the glory of the earthly bodies. 41 The sun has one kind of glory, while the moon and stars each have another kind. And even the stars differ from each other in their glory.

42 It is the same way with the resurrection of the dead. Our earthly bodies are planted in the ground when we die, but they will be raised to live forever. 43 Our bodies are buried in brokenness, but they will be raised in glory. They are buried in weakness, but they will be raised in strength. 44 They are buried as natural human bodies, but they will be raised as spiritual bodies. For just as there are natural bodies, there are also spiritual bodies.

53 For our dying bodies must be transformed into bodies that will never die; our mortal bodies must be transformed into immortal bodies.

54 Then, when our dying bodies have been transformed into bodies that will never die,[j] this Scripture will be fulfilled:

“Death is swallowed up in victory.[k]
55 O death, where is your victory?
O death, where is your sting?[l]

56 For sin is the sting that results in death, and the law gives sin its power. 57 But thank God! He gives us victory over sin and death through our Lord Jesus Christ.

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Growing Up

8 Jul

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Below are remarks made at Isaac’s memorial service by Susan Barr.  Susan taught and worked with Isaac in 4-H public speaking, church plays and summer children’s programs among others.

Smile of Christ

 

Isaac had a smile that was bigger than his face.  Of all the faces in our congregation, Isaac’s reminded me most of Christ.  His eyes were gentle, his face welcoming, his smile genuine.
Isaac was an enthusiastic children’s church worker in middle school.  He was gentle, encouraging, and compassionate.  He loved the younger children and enjoyed being useful.  Isaac was resourceful.  When glitches arose, he was one of the teens who jumped to resolve them.
I saw Isaac often when he came home from college.  He hurried over to chat in church and at Target.  He was cheerful and full of plans.  He still had a big heart, big ideas.  He knew he was disappointing his parents; there was sadness and wonder in his eyes when he said that.  But he thought he could straddle two worlds.
I knew the world was tempting him.
Parents wish our children came with guarantees.  Do these things, follow these steps, and your children will be safe.  Because what we pray for is faithful followers of Christ.  Jay and Deborah were devoted parents: kind, loving, firm, encouraging, creative, fun, sincere.  They got most things right.  Yet the world dazzles.  Our kids get the idea that Christ can be reduced to something small and manageable, folded into their back pocket, or stored on a shelf for later.  That they can manage two masters.
And so Isaac continued with all his gifts, yet walked a path that caused his friends to worry and pray.
Isaac was a talented pianist.  He played Easter services while he was in high school.  I asked him to play last year and his eyes lit up, a joyful yes.  Deborah was surprised and gratified at his faithfulness in practicing.  Easter morning we waited, . . . and Isaac never came.  He slept through his alarm.  This was a snapshot of his life at that moment.  Joy and potential, acknowledgement of Our Savior, yet missed opportunities, disappointments.
Of all the faces in our congregation, Isaac’s reminded me most of Christ.
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Adoption/Ransom

5 Jul

10

The following is the text of what I shared at Isaac’s memorial service, Saturday, 29 June 2013.  The bits of poetry are excerpts of lyrics from Sarah Groves’ “Add To The Beauty“, which played while the photos for this section were shown.

Scripture readings:

Isaiah 61

61 “The Spirit of the Lord God is upon Me, because the Lord hath anointed Me to preach good tidings unto the meek. He hath sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to them that are bound,

To proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord, and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all that mourn,

To appoint unto them that mourn in Zion, to give unto them beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning, the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness, that they might be called trees of righteousness, the planting of the Lord, that He might be glorified.”

Daniel 4

New Living Translation (NLT)

1a “Peace and prosperity to you!

“I want you all to know about the miraculous signs and wonders the Most High God has performed for me.

How great are his signs,
how powerful his wonders!
His kingdom will last forever,
his rule through all generations.

_______________

God’s love and intervention in the lives of three people rippled out to include all of you. It is an adventure story full of suffering, delays, plot twists, mysteries:

  • The same week I mournfully defiantly wrote of trusting God’s goodness and grace in our suffering, our barren childlessness, a boy baby was born in a far away land
  • God sent us dreams that changed a man’s mind and gave hope to a woman that she had not been forgotten
  • How in the world did we get the information and contacts needed for all this to happen before the age of computers, cellphones, the internet?
  • How did that boy get in that orphanage?
  • How did we choose “He laughs” (Isaac) as our son’s name before we ever met him?
  • In what way was Isaac the first and the last in Oruro, Bolivia?

 

We come with beautiful secrets
We come with purposes written on our hearts, written on our souls
We come to every new morning
With possibilities only we can hold, that only we can hold

 

God had a beautiful secret for Isaac. He brought Isaac from a far off land to set him in a family. Being his Mom and Dad was one of the purposes written on our souls.  It was not easy.  Until his death, walking the road to the day of his legal adoption here in the US was the most difficult time of our lives.

 

Redemption comes in strange places, small spaces
Calling out the best of who we are

 

December 17th, 1992 we arrived at a poor, run-down state orphanage in Oruro, Bolivia. There was no glass in the windows. There was nothing but abject poverty.  Children slept on mats on the floor and were fed potatoes.

 

Eventually we were handed a small, ugly, sick Aymara Indian/Hispanic boy. He was severely malnourished and covered with pox scars.  Three weeks shy of two years old he was 29 inches long and weighed 19 pounds. He had a lung infection. He could not walk or speak. There is no doubt in my mind he would not have lived a year in that orphanage.

 

And I want to add to the beauty
I want to tell a better story,
Shine with the light
That’s burning up inside

 

He was named Misael Rodrigo Patino.   I have never met another living soul named Misael.  Misael was the name of one of the three faithful boys taken with Daniel into Babylon to be trained as administrators. Renamed Meshach, he was one of the young men who went into the fiery furnace and then walked out alive. Misael means:  Who is like God?

 

Beauty comes in helping a soul find it’s worth.

 

God gave us a tremendous gift.  He chose our son for us.

 

You are invited for the weeks and months and years ahead to call, visit, write if you wish to know more and share your story with us.

 

We thank the Almighty for His love, mercy and grace to Isaac and to us, for opening the way to him, and forging us as a family through the trials it took to make him our son.

44

 

 

Friday, June 21, 2013

3 Jul

Tuesday morning the dog and I took our usual morning walk.  A wet dragonfly with a gold racing stripe down its back condescended to be picked up from its wet grassy site and carried perched on my fingers for a ways until the sun dried it off and it flew away.  A few enterprising young spiders had built lovely intricate webs across the pathway that we have made up through the meadow, it is a great runway for catching insects, too, so I veered around them further into the tall grass.  In the hedgerow along the lane two adult turkeys and I startled each other.  They ran out into the corn field on the other side of the hedgerow.

Tuesday mid-afternoon T. and I watched a large tractor fitted with three large mowers—one in front and two on either side in the rear—quickly cut all the lower meadow.  Once the tall grass was down it was easy to see the patches of ripe wild strawberries and graze on them.  We went on an errand.  By the time we returned, both upper and lower meadow had been shorn. The tractor was gone, all was quiet again.  Numerous long, wide, neat, flat rows of the cuttings lay on the short stubble, quite the manicured look.

When Hawthorne and I took our walk the next morning, I spent most of my time walking around the fields finding patches of wild strawberries, snacking.  The rest of the time was spent watching and wondering if the Bobolink broods had fledged prior to the destruction of their nests. I counted at least eight birds feeding and landing, some of which were smaller and had the needy gestures of young birds and some of which were larger and noisier and acted like parents.  So I am hopeful.

Late Wednesday morning another large tractor returned, this one outfitted with a machine which swept and turned the rows of grass into large windrows. Only four for the lower meadow.  Then later in the afternoon a truck and tractor with a chopper came and chopped the vast windrows into the trucks.  The haylage was taken to feed cows at the large dairy which rents these fields.

In such short periods of time so much can change.

Around here Jay has been ill for a week with a fever and severe head and neck aches.  By this morning he had lost 5% of his body weight and was in pain even with analgesics.  We had gone to the doctor Monday; this morning the Dr. sent us to the ER where we spent about ten hours.

________________

It is now Wednesday, 3 July 2013.

I wrote the last sentence above after returning home late; Jay was admitted to hospital Friday night, tentatively diagnosed with Lyme disease.  Too tired to explain to finish a blog post, I got ready for bed.  Isaac called at 11.20 to ask about his father and planned to visit Jay in hospital Saturday afternoon.

Saturday morning, June 22nd, I woke at 5.45AM to the sound of a vehicle driving in the driveway and Hawthorne barking madly.  State troopers were at the door.

Our son Isaac, 22, was killed in a motor vehicle accident at about 2.30AM Saturday morning.  He drove into a tractor trailer.  His BAC was 0.23%.

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