Monday, January 27, 2014

Romania Mission Trip, Part 1

Late last August, we went on a short-term mission trip to Romania with a team from our church. We were hosted by Heart to Heart International Ministries (H2H) and got to work with them for a little more than a week, ministering to orphans and abandoned children. We met Jim, a co-founder of H2H, and Corny, one of the Romanian H2H staff members, at our church about a year before the trip. H2H is one of the ministries our church regularly supports, so they were visiting for our missions emphasis program. They encouraged us to come on a short-term trip, and we knew we had to go. We had talked for years about going on a ministry trip together, and we finally felt like God was clearly calling and enabling us to go to this place at this time. Our motivation for going was to participate in the work that God is doing in Romania and to share His love and His Word with the children there.

We flew into Bucharest, Romania, and the H2H staff took us to their team house, which served as our lodgings most of the time we were there. It was very nice and spacious.
Team house

The H2H staff briefly trained us and Jim took us on a tour in downtown Bucharest. He talked about the Romanian revolution, which helped us to better understand the orphan situation in Romania.

Arcul de Triumf (triumphal arch)
Piața Revoluției (Revolution Square), an important site of the Romanian Revolution of 1989

To summarize briefly, economic conditions deteriorated during the Communist rule in Romania. While the country is slowly recovering from this period, the effects of many years of repression still exist. Due to many years of control, many of the people still lack the knowledge and the will to better themselves. Thousands of Romanian children are currently living in state-operated orphanages, some are living on the streets, and many babies and children are relinquished to state care each day. Many of these children and youth are not taught basic skills to prepare for adulthood, and many physical, emotional, and spiritual needs are not being met. H2H reaches these children through several programs and through short-term ministry teams.

We went to a few orphanages several times throughout our stay and played, talked (through H2H staff, who served as translators), did Bible lessons (also translated), led games, and did craft projects with kids of varying ages. They also enjoyed making bracelets, coloring, getting piggy-back rides, and playing soccer. They were very energetic and wore us out!

Making paper flowers
The girl on the right styled my hair in a French braid
When we would go to an orphanage for the first time, the kids would get really excited and were eager to play and visit with us complete strangers! It was an indication to us that H2H has developed and maintains a good relationship with the orphanages and with the kids.

Ed enjoyed talking about spiritual things with this young man, with Rebecca (H2H staff member) translating
This boy also braided my hair. They really liked doing my hair!
Bible lesson for the younger ones, given by a couple of our teammates

We went to a baby hospital one afternoon. Smaller groups of three or four team members went there throughout the week. We cared for several babies by holding them, feeding them, and changing their diapers. While we were there, I overheard Corny say "Jesus loves you" to a baby in Romanian. It was really touching. (Sorry, we were told they didn't want us to take photos.)

Some of the people on our team, including us, went with some of the H2H staff to a town a couple hours' drive south of Bucharest for a couple of days. We got to visit with some more kids there, and we also got to lead a Bible study time during a youth group gathering. Ed taught them about when Paul and Barnabas disagreed and parted ways and how a seemingly bad situation turned out to be good, because God used it to expand the church. We had some good discussion with the teens about how they can apply what they learned, and some of them were asking questions about the Bible and spiritual things. This was definitely a highlight of the trip for us.
Making bracelets
Longest paper chain winner
We really enjoyed talking with her about the Bible at the youth group gathering.
It was cute watching him figure out how to blow up his balloon.
In the last photo, a couple of things were happening. While everyone was bouncing balloons around the room with paddles they had made and decorated, Mark (H2H staff member) was amazing the kids with science. He rubbed balloons on his hair and stuck them to the ceiling. Then they wanted to do it, too. This kept them entertained for a while!

There's more to share, so I'll do another post in a few days to wrap it up.

Monday, January 13, 2014

Squirrel Stew

Yes, we ate squirrel. It was good.

squirrel stew
Squirrel Stew
I don't think we've really talked about Ed's hunting on here yet. He occasionally goes pheasant hunting in the winter. He unexpectedly brought a squirrel home last year (in addition to pheasants, of course) and cleaned it, and it sat in our freezer for quite some time while I tried to figure out how to best prepare it.

We were told by some friends who had tried squirrel before to try slow cooking it, because when they had it fried or grilled, it was very tough. So last week I decided to finally cook it, since I hadn't left the house in days (due to the weather--on Monday morning, at one point the temperature was reading -18 and the wind chill was -44) and was using what we had on hand.

I cut it up and put it in the slow cooker with some baby carrots, onions, red potatoes, two cups of water, and some salt and pepper. I tried something I found in a slow cooker cookbook to thicken it (at the end of the cooking time, mix 1/3 cup of water and 1/4 cup flour, pour in and stir, and cook for 10 minutes more on High), and it worked pretty well, but the gravy was just a bit clumpy (if I try that again, I might use a little less flour). It smelled really good! There obviously isn't very much meat on one squirrel, so we really just had enough to taste it.

squirrel stew

The closest thing we could think of to compare the taste to is dark poultry meat. Slow cooking it definitely did the trick, because it wasn't tough--just right.

We agreed that it may have been more work than it was worth. It was time-consuming for Ed to get it to the point where he could clean and freeze it (I won't go into the details), and it was difficult for me to cut it up before cooking it (completely thawed). We did manage to get two meals out of it, though.

In related news, Ed recently brought home four more pheasants, so maybe I'll take some photos when I fix them. We had some last year, but we never took photos.

In blog-related news, I'm working on a couple of posts about our Romania trip right now and hope to have them on here in the next week or so. We're going to try harder to post things sooner than six months after they happen this year. We still have a few things to catch up on from last year, but we're getting there!

Saturday, January 4, 2014

Alaska: Denali National Park

So, Happy New Year! I meant to finish these Alaska posts, like, forever ago. Sorry about that. This is the last one, though. The one you've all been waiting for, I'm sure!

We drove in our rental car about 125 miles down the George Parks Highway to Denali National Park. There were some nice spots to stop and take photos along the way.

When we got there, we checked into McKinley Village Lodge, which is about seven miles south of the park entrance. Then we went whitewater rafting on the Nenana River canyon (we did the "Paddle Run"). It was lots of fun and good exercise! We hadn't been rafting in probably more than 10 years (!). The scenery was beautiful, and the class III and IV rapids were exciting. And no one fell out! Sorry, we didn't get any photos...we were kind of busy. But here's a shot of the river canyon that we took later in the day:

Nenana River Canyon
The next day, we got up really early for a bus tour into Denali National Park. The tour went all the way to the end of the Denali park road (92 miles one-way) and back. It was a long day, but it was totally worth it. We were blessed with perfect weather all day long. The bus driver and the park ranger we met kept saying they almost never have days like that.

We saw lots of wildlife throughout the day, including moose, brown bears, caribou, arctic ground squirrels, and dall sheep.

Caribou (reindeer)

Dall rams atop a steep cliff

Dall sheep
Arctic ground squirrel
We saw a couple of brown (grizzly) bears in the distance early on, but shortly after that, this one crossed the road right in front of our bus!

The bus ride can seem a bit intense at times, with the high, sharp curves around the mountainsides, looking down at long drops without a guardrail, and occasionally passing another bus on one of those curves. However, the bus drivers really know what they're doing and are safe.

You can see the winding park road in the foreground
There weren't many flowers to see that day. Most were small and in patches, like this.

At the Eielson Visitor Center, there were some nice views of Mt. McKinley, which is the tallest mountain peak in North America at 20,237 feet. These photos are proof that we're now part of the "30% club", which refers to people who have visited Alaska and have actually seen Mt. McKinley. According to our tour guide, there are many days when people are lucky if they get to see it at all, or they only see it for a short time, due to the weather.

As we continued on, we saw a moose in front of Mt. McKinley.

Near the end of the road, we stopped at Wonder Lake to see the Alaska Range behind the water.

When we got to Kantishna, at the end of the park road, a National Park Service interpretive ranger took us on a tour of the Fannie Quigley cabin, then we headed back the way we came. We really enjoyed the tour and took tons of photos.

The next day, we took a quick hike to Horseshoe Lake in the park before heading back to Fairbanks.

Lupines lined our path along the way (we may have hummed the "Dennis Moore" tune when we saw them...).
Horseshoe Lake
Beaver dam at the lake
On our last day in Fairbanks, we went to the Museum of the North at the university. They had some interesting historical, cultural, and biological exhibits for each region of Alaska.

And here's our view from the plane as we left:

Well, that (finally!) wraps up our Alaska trip series!

Note: Sorry if the color seems off or too bright in some of these photos. I'm not sure what to do about it, because they looked fine until I uploaded them to the blog, and further editing didn't help.