Thursday, April 25, 2013

East African Chai Tea

One of my favorite drinks in Uganda was the chai tea commonly served in the mornings and evenings. How it was prepared varied slightly depending on who was making it, but it's very simple to make, and I thought I'd share the recipe with you, too!

Okay, but here's the thing. There isn't really a recipe...

Much like my explanation on how to make Ugandan rolex, there aren't exactly precise measurements, and everyone makes their tea differently. So! With that being said, here are the basic steps on how to make your own Ugandan chai tea.

You'll need:
  • milk
  • water
  • loose-leaf black tea (strong Lipton tea bags would also work)
  • tea masala 
  • sugar
  • mesh strainer

1. In a pot, combine equal parts milk and water. For a more authentic version, use whole or 2% milk. For the MOST authentic version, buy your milk fresh from the milkman in the morning from the back of his delivery bike.

2. Add a pinch or teaspoon (or two... depending on how much tea you're making and how spicy you like it) of tea masala. This is what gives the chai its yummy, aromatic flavor.

In Uganda, we use Tropical Heat's tea masala mixture.* It is made up of ginger, cinnamon, cloves, cardamom, black pepper, and nutmeg. Go ahead and experiment with creating a balance of flavors that you like best! Normally, ginger and cinnamon would be the strongest flavors.

A homemade mixture might look something like this: 2 tsp. ground cinnamon, 1-2 tsp. ground ginger**, 1 tsp. ground cloves, 1 tsp. ground cardamom, 1/2 tsp. nutmeg, 1/4 tsp. ground black pepper.

3. Heat mixture over a medium heat, watching it carefully so it doesn't boil over and giving it an occasional stir. Bring the mixture to a simmer, and add loose-leaf black tea... approximately one teaspoon per cup of liquid.

4. Allow it to steep on low heat for 5-8 minutes or until tea reaches desired strength. I like my chai stronger, so I let it steep until the milk is a nice tan color.

5. Strain tea through a fine, mesh strainer into individual glasses or into a thermos.

6. If you take it like most Ugandans and I do, you'll want to sweeten your cup of chai with sugar before drinking. Preferably raw cane sugar. And lots of it!

cup of bliss

* I cannot vouch for the authenticity of this website :)
** grated, fresh ginger would also work

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Can't Live Without It

Have you ever experienced something so wonderful that to have anything less in the future is a disappointment? A let down? It just can't compare.
Like powdered lemonade after fresh-squeezed.
Like manual car windows after power windows. 
Like your local theme park after Disney World.

This is kind of how I feel about living in community now... except on a much larger, more significant scale than lemonade and car windows.

Attending a Christian college, the idea of community was regularly forced on us as students. We had all sorts of mandatory hall meetings and events and requirements all in an effort to create a sense of "community" on campus. "Community" was such a buzz word, and apparently mandatory "fun" was how we were going to achieve it. I think you can guess how well that worked. 

This is how Paul of the New Testament describes living in community: 

So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy, complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing from rivalry or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus,... Philippians 2:1-5

Living in Mbarara last year was where I truly first learned the value, pleasure, and purpose of living in intentional community with other believers. I experienced the bonds that form when you share life's joys and struggles, ups and downs, frustrations and celebrations with those around you. I learned what it looked like to worship together on Sunday morning and keep on worshiping together all week long, carrying each other's burdens and delighting in each other's triumphs. Living in this community was authentic. It was messy, and it was real. And it was beautiful!

It was what I was going to miss the most in returning to the States, specifically to a place where I hadn't really lived in the last six years.

But God, in His infinite faithfulness, started providing a community for me right away. He reminded me of the few precious, old friends I still have here in town and gave me ample time to reconnect with them.
I was also able to get connected with and involved in my church here right away, and just like that, the Lord provided a beautiful group of new friends to do life with this year.

One of the most powerful game-changers for me this year was joining a growth group. It's more than your typical weekly meeting for Bible study and prayer (which we have and love); it's getting into one another's lives on all levels.
Though our lives intersected just nine short months ago, I feel like I've known these friends for a long time. With these brothers and sisters, I have experienced deep, meaningful conversations, hashing through tough decisions and life's questions.
We have game nights, dinner outings, girl's lunches, baking days, and go to classes at the gym together.
We share music and ideas. Wisdom and experiences.
We discover new places together and peel back the layers of our lives.

There's something so beautiful and real about living in community like this.
It's like my soul is breathing a sigh of contentment and relief, knowing that this... this... is how the Church is meant to be.
This is a reflection of who God is. Who we are as His image-bearers.

And while these friends and I only together like this for a season of life, now that I have experienced something so wonderful, to have anything less in the future just won't do.

Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ... 
Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, 
especially to those who belong to the family of believers.
Galatians 6: 2,10

Monday, April 8, 2013


My last post about the problem with praise appears to have been fairly popular. I love that this research, though scientists and psychologists have been teaching this exact same message for a long time, continues to be so relevant to us today. We still tell children (and employees, co-workers, etc.) "good job" all the time even though we can all agree that it is one of the most empty, overused phrases out there.

It has become a reflexive, knee-jerk reaction!

"Good job on this project."
"You ate all your peas...Good job!"
"Good job picking up your toys!"
"I like how you looked both ways before crossing the street. Good job!"
"This looks great. Good job!"

We typically use this phrase when we want to express happiness, pleasure, and pride.
So what can we say instead of the meaningless "good job"?

1. Say "Thank You." Often we say "good job" when a child does something helpful. Instead of praising them for it, say "thank you!"
  • Thank you for picking up your toys. That's really helpful for me.
  • Thank you for holding my hand when we walked across the street. I love to know you're safe.
  • Thank you for wiping up that spill. Now I can keep working on a clean counter.

2. Make an Observation. Perhaps your comment will lead to further and deeper conversation. Making a neutral statement allows the child to share whatever he'd like, lead the conversation, and tell you what's on his mind. 
  • You used red and blue markers in your drawing today.
  • This block tower is so tall!
  • I see that you're cutting that paper into very small pieces!
  • That was one big jump you just did!

3. Focus on the Action. Rather than focusing on the outcome of a task, notice the process and comment on the action without judgment
  • I see that you're working very hard on your painting.
  • You practiced that song a lot.
  • Wow. That looks tricky!
  • Your concentration got the job done so quickly today.

4. Nurture Empathy. Take the opportunity to encourage pro-social interactions and develop your child's emotional intelligence by pointing out others people's feelings and reactions. Rather than saying, "I like the way you shared your snack with John!" say, "You shared your snack with John, and now he is smiling! How do you think he feels?" This is very different than praise which focuses on how you feel about the action (i.e. sharing). Instead, you're teaching the child to notice the feelings of others and how his actions can influence them.

5. Ask a Question. Take an interest in what the child is doing and learning. Ask open-ended questions.
  • You used red and blue markers in your drawing today. What were you thinking about when you chose those colors?
  • This block tower is so tall! What will you build next?
  • I see that you're cutting that paper into very small pieces! What is your plan for those pieces?
  • That was one big jump you just did! What else can your body do?

6. Remain Silent. Often, we praise children because we feel like we should and not because the children expect or need to be praised. You might be amazed to find that children will continue to build with blocks, go down the slide, and paint on their paper without our empty praises! Staying our praise also allows children to experience the undiluted joy and feelings of competence after completing a difficult task or successfully trying something new. Rather than having them look to us and ask, "Was that good?" they can confidently say, "I did it!"

Thursday, April 4, 2013

The Problem with Praise

In college, I read an article for one of my early childhood education courses about how generalized praise can wind up doing more harm than good for children. Initially, it was a surprising message and a concept that was tough to get on board with. "Of course we should praise children! Why wouldn't we? It's essential to their self-esteem and learning." 

But after further consideration, discussion, and real-world observation, it started making a lot of sense. I became convinced and decided to make a change in the way I interact and communicate with children.

In the past three years, I've intentionally cut way back on my generalized praising of children. This was a habit that was initially very hard to break (though it helped to have a supervisor observing me and counting exactly how many times I said "Good job!" or other empty phrases of praise while interacting with children). But after a lot of conscious effort, I've all but eliminated "good job" from my vocabulary. You'd be hard pressed to hear me saying "I like it!" or "That's a beautiful painting!" to a child anymore. Now before you go thinking I must be a cold-hearted person to deny a child from receiving such praise for their efforts, hear me out.

Punished by Rewards by Alfie Kohn has been on my must-read list for two and a half years. I must've checked it out from the library half a dozen times and never got around to reading it. I'm happy to say that I finally finished it and was so encouraged and reaffirmed in my convictions about how, when, and why we should praise children.

Kohn's main premise is that, as a society and culture, we are all functional behaviorists.
"Do this and you'll get that."

We use it to raise children, teach students, and motivate employees. The use of rewards has become such a constant, natural, and inevitable part of life, that even raising the question, "Why are we doing this?" can strike us as perplexing.

Children have a natural desire to please their parents, teachers, and those they care about. They crave approval, but this universal desire to please must be treated with caution. We have an enormous responsibility not to exploit it for our own purposes.
Praise, at least as commonly practiced, is a way of using and perpetuating children's dependence on us... It sustains a dependence on our evaluation, our decisions about what is good and bad, rather than helping them begin to form their own judgments. It leads them to measure their worth in terms of what will lead us to smile and offer the positive words they crave (Kohn, 104).
Kohn presents the reader with so much data by so many researchers.... research that has been taking place for decades and continues to produce the same findings... and yet so many people are still not convinced. I highly recommend that you read the book for yourself, but the following are some of the main points about how we are actually punished by the use of rewards:

1. Every carrot contains a stick. What we've failed to recognize is that "rewards and punishments are not opposites at all; they are two sides of the same coin," (Kohn, 50). Saying "Do this and you'll get that" is really not that different than saying "Do this or here's what will happen to you."

2. Extrinsic motivation (rewards, praise, etc.) kills intrinsic motivation by decreasing interest in the activity, discouraging risk-taking, and harming relationships. The important thing to note, therefore, is that "extrinsic motivators are most dangerous when offered for something we want children to do," (Kohn, 87).

3. Praise implies a power imbalance. Older children and adults may hear praise as condescending, as a reminder of the greater power of the person giving the praise.

4. Asking "How do I get kids motivated?" is still operating within a framework of control, the very thing that crushes motivation. To "motivate a child" is to take away their choice. Instead, we can influence how they motivate themselves by creating an environment that offers appealing options that lead to successful learning and performance.
"When given an environment in which they don't feel controlled and in which they are encouraged to think about what they are doing (rather than how well they are doing it), students of any age will generally exhibit an abundance of motivation and a healthy appetite for challenge." (Kohn, 199).
5. Saying "I like your painting" is a judgment. A value statement. You could just as easily say, "I don't like your painting." And the child knows this. The child is internalizing the message: "She likes my work today, but what if she doesn't like it tomorrow?"

6. Offer comments and observations rather than compliments. "Praise is cheap and easy. By contrast, it takes skill and care and attention to encourage people in such a way that they remain interested in what they are doing and don't feel controlled," (Kohn, 112). When comments are offered with warmth and concern, children will feel encouraged.
Avoid: "What a pretty painting! I like it!" (general, value judgment)
Instead: "I see that you used lots of red paint. Look at all those circles! This one is really big. What were you thinking about while you were painting this?" (specific, neutral comments)
7. Praise what people do rather than the person. Making general, sweeping statements trains children to think globally and make themselves the issue in whatever they do. It becomes harder to separate their actions from who they are as a person, which can lead to grandiosity and self-contempt (Kohn, 108).
Avoid: "You are great at building block towers!" (judges the child's abilities, creates pressure to perform well in the future)
Instead: "That tower you built is very tall. I can see that you worked hard on it!" (specific, encourages their efforts rather than the outcome)
I hope that if this is a new concept for you that you'd let it challenge your thinking and interactions with children. I'd encourage you to read this book and continue to do your own research on the topic if you'd like to learn more. If this concept is a framework within which you already operate, I hope you've been reaffirmed in your efforts!

Click here to discover a better way to affirm children and to  gain some alternatives to the empty phrase "good job."