Thursday, March 31, 2011

Packing Challenges

In about 36 hours, we leave for our long-awaited family ski trip out west!  I’ve been looking forward to this trip since Christmastime, when it all started to fall into place so that almost my entire dad’s side of the family will be able to spend some time on vacation together in Colorado.  If I counted right, when we are all together, there will be 20 of us (those who are not coming – you will be missed!).  I’ve never been on a family vacation of this magnitude before, but it’s sure to be a good time.  The last time Tom and I were out in Colorado was in 2006 – we took a road trip with some friends, and met my dad and some other friends out there.  

Me, Brandon, Jake, Tom - Driving out to Colorado in 2006!
We were at Breckenridge, which is where we’re going back to this year.  Out of the places I’ve been, Breckenridge is my favorite place to ski.  They have a good variety of runs, with varying terrain and difficulty levels.  The runs are well laid out on the mountain, and the views are beautiful.   
 
I’m not the best skier, but I’ve been skiing since I was about 4 or 5 – so, I’m at least to the point where I can get down almost any hill…I just don’t look very pretty doing it!  I’m thinking this year I might make a goal of getting down every run at Breckenridge--minus any that resemble death traps.  We have three ski days in which to get this accomplished.  If I can get others to go along, it could be fun! 

But, before we get to those choices, I am facing the difficult decision of what to bring with me!  I started packing a couple days ago, but this trip poses a few special challenges.

Challenge #1: It’s a Ski Trip
Ski trips require lots of extra gear that you don’t have to bring on most vacations.  This includes skis, poles, boots, winter coats and other warm outer gear and clothing.  We are also bringing my dad’s skis along with ours, and will likely be returning with some of his other gear, as he’s headed straight to Canada for work after our trip.  Skis are probably the hardest challenge.  It took us a while to find the proper size ski bag that was long enough and also big enough to hold three pairs of skis and poles.  After buying the longest one at one store, bringing it home and finding out it wasn’t quite long enough, my dad was finally able to find one that fits everything properly:


I have a boot bag for my boots; Tom does not.  I put my boot bag, stuffed with other winter gear, and Tom’s boots together in a very large duffle.  Fortunately, we are allowed two checked bags each on our flight.  The ski gear takes up two – that means we each get one checked suitcase.

Challenge #2: It’s a Family Trip
What I really mean by this is that my family loves games.  We plan on playing lots of them, as we are sharing lodging and will have lots of hangout time in the evenings and non-ski days.  While our typical games of choice are card games, board games are fun, too.  The only problem is that those take up a lot more space.  I’ve narrowed it down to a select few games, and have removed some of the parts and pieces from their boxes to minimize their space requirements.  Here’s what I’m bringing:

-          2 decks of playing cards
-          Yahtzee (dice and score pad)
-          Blokus
-          Ticket to Ride (European Edition)
-          Curses (just the cards)

Challenge #3: I’m a Woman
Yes, in this instance I am a typical woman and tend to over-pack.  I like to think of it as being prepared.  I don’t know right now what I’m going to want to wear on Wednesday – I don’t even know what we’re doing Wednesday, so I’d better have some options on hand.  Do I need to bring some nice clothes?  What about shoes?  Then don’t forget the toiletries, hair dryer and flat iron – those all take up room.  I also don’t want to be re-wearing stinky ski clothes – and warm clothes are bulky.  Plus, it’s going to be “layering” type weather out there.  So, I’ll need sets of warmer and cooler clothing.  I usually end up making stacks of all of the clothing I’d like to bring – then whittle down each category just a little.  I also stole the nicer/bigger suitcase for this trip.  Sorry, Tom!

Challenge #4: I Just Can’t Carry it All
I thought things were looking good when I realized our tickets came with two checked bags, plus you’re always allowed to bring two carry-ons.  Then I realized that there’s no way I’m going to be able to carry all that – and it probably is overkill.  So, no carry-on suitcase for me this trip.  I’ll bring a backpack and my purse.  Then I should be able to roll my suitcase and the ski boot duffle along with those.  I learned from a few past trips the importance of packing some extra clothes in a carry-on in case of lost luggage.  An extra set of clothes, books, camera, and a few other small items will go in the backpack.  Purse will hold…you know…pursey stuff.

Challenge #5: Medications
I am going to attempt for the first time to bring my Enbrel injection (my weekly medication for rheumatoid arthritis) with me on the airplane.  I realized earlier this week that my Enbrel day is Tuesday.  If I didn’t bring it with me, I’d be almost a week late on getting my next injection, and would likely not be feeling my best for skiing.  Skiing is hard enough on healthy joints, let alone trying to ski with flaring RA joints.  So, I’m going to do my best to feel my best and bring my shot along with me so that I can take it on time.  The main challenge here is getting it through security.  Not only does it contain a needle, the medication is also supposed to be kept refrigerated.  I’m going to pack it in a soft cooler with an ice pack and see what happens.  The best I can tell, the TSA shouldn’t have any problem with my medicine itself.  I am making sure to bring it in the original box with the Rx label.  I’m not sure how friendly they’ll be about the ice pack, though.  It’s not really liquid…and hopefully it’ll still be frozen when we go through.  Oh well, we’ll see what happens.  The meds will be okay, but I’d prefer to have something keeping it cold since I won’t be using it for a few days, and we’ll have a long ways to travel with it still once we land in Denver.  At any rate, this will be a learning experience!

Whew!  After that…I think I’d better get back to packing!  Look for some fun mountainous pictures coming soon!

Thursday, March 24, 2011

The Beauty of Winter & The Hope of Spring

As we approach the end of March and have officially entered the season of spring, I long for the green grass and flowers that come with warmer weather.  However, spring in Michigan often bears a striking resemblance to winter -- at least for a while.  I always wait for the seemingly obligatory winter storm that never fails to come shortly after the advent of spring.  This year, though, instead of a snow storm, we got an ice storm.  It was like a battle between winter and spring -- snow, sleet, and freezing rain shower down on us, accompanied by thunder and lightning.  The result was a dazzling display of ice covered trees and plants that sparkle in the sunlight like crystal. 





After seeing how beautiful the result of the storm was, I had a hard time being upset at the wintery weather.  Besides, signs of spring are popping up, too – quite literally.  I planted TONS of flower bulbs in the fall in my perennial garden (probably too many), and they are starting to pop up through the ground!  


 Before I know it, my garden will be filled with tulips and daffodils and gladiolus.  I can't wait!

Monday, March 21, 2011

The Rise of the Super Moon (and other adventures in astronomy)

I was excited to see all of the hype created by the so-called “super moon” – even if there wasn’t anything drastically different to see.  I like it when the general population gets engaged in astronomy, as well as any opportunities to learn new things myself. 

This past Friday was one of the best clear night skies we’ve had in a while.  Winter tends to be very cloudy in West Michigan (and cold!), so I don’t get to enjoy the starry skies very often this time of year.  Because Friday night was not only clear, but also happened to be warm-ish, and a day before the rise of the super moon, I decided it was high time to get my telescope back out!  The moon was almost full, and was so bright.  It’s so cool to be able to see so many details of the lunar landscape through the telescope. 

I didn’t stop there, though.  I realized that Saturn was also visible in the night sky, not too far from the moon.  Last summer was the first time I’d ever picked out Saturn in the sky or seen it through a telescope.  It’s so far away, and it still looks tiny through my telescope, but it’s so amazing to see those rings!  There’s no mistaking Saturn for anything else – that’s for sure.  What I just learned, however, is that Saturn was on edge for the past two years, so you couldn’t see the broad array of its rings like you normally can.  Fortunately, that’s changed this year!  I have a feeling I will be coming back to Saturn often this year like I did Jupiter last year.  The night sky never ceases to fill me with wonder.

Okay, back to the Super Moon.  In case you missed all the hype, the moon was at its closest point to Earth (perigee), and also happened to be a full moon on Saturday.  It was the closest full moon we've seen since March of 1993.  It rose on Saturday evening, not too long after it turned dark.  It was really perfect timing.  It was also a pretty clear night, with just a bit of haze.  So, I tried to take some pictures with my camera.  Here are some of the better ones I ended up with:






I spend so much time looking at planets and stars, and often don’t take time to reflect on the splendor of our own moon.  It really can be quite beautiful.

As the weather warms up, I’m hoping to be able to get my telescope out on a regular basis and learn to identify some new things in the night sky.  I found a list of things to look out for this month, so I’m hoping to be able to spot some more of those shortly.  Primarily, I hope to be able to find Mercury – I’ve not been able to identify Mercury in the sky before.  I also learned that spring is a good time to spot galaxies – namely the Coma/Virgo Super Cluster, also known as the “Realm of Galaxies.”  After accidentally stumbling upon Andromeda last year, the idea of finding some other galaxies gets me excited!  It’s simply amazing and humbling when you realize the enormity of what you are looking at, and to know that God created it all and still cares deeply for each one of us. 

“When I consider your heavens,
   the work of your fingers,
the moon and the stars,
   which you have set in place,
what is man that you are mindful of him,
   the son of man that you care for him?”
--Psalm 8:3-4

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Broccoli Pasta

This is probably the most basic meal that I make.  The very simplest version of Broccoli Pasta is actually Tom’s invention, and it’s how he got me to start eating broccoli!  There are multiple ways to spice this up and make it interesting, but if you’re really in a time crunch, try this super easy recipe:

Cook desired amount of spaghetti according to package directions.  Cut broccoli into small florets; add to pasta pot for the last few minutes of cooking.  Drain.  Add butter, salt and pepper to pasta and mix.

That’s it!  It’s very simple, but still makes a tasty light meal.  You can add some extra flavor to that dish by just adding some Mrs. Dash, a couple squirts of lemon juice, or grated Parmesan Cheese.  You can also add chicken, if you so desire.  Use egg noodles instead of regular spaghetti, if you want.  I do a chicken-broccoli-pasta version where I season the chicken with paprika and toss some lemon juice in with the pasta.  It would also be great served with some Easy Garlic Bread.

Next time you think you don’t have time to cook – think again!

Simple Stir-Fry

Stir-fry is a great go-to option for dinner when you don’t know what else to make.  Chances are you have the ingredients for some sort of stir-fry already in your kitchen.  Although it’s simple, I am amazed at how many people have never really tried stir-fry or don’t know where to begin.  So, here are the basics of how to make a simple stir-fry, and some ideas of combinations.

Stir-fry typically consists of some type of meat, vegetables and seasonings, cooked in either an oil or a sauce.  For a vegetarian option, you can omit the meat and if you’re into tofu feel free to try that (sorry, I don’t cook with tofu, so no tips there!).  You can use just about anything you want, but my stir-fries most often consist of one of the following meats:

-          Beef (usually a thin-cut steak, sliced)
-          Chicken (boneless, skinless chicken breast, cubed)
-          Turkey Sausage (sliced into rounds)

You can choose any combination of vegetables that you like.  I usually keep my vegetables pretty basic.  It’s hard to go wrong with bell peppers and onions.  Broccoli also goes great with just about any stir-fry dish. 

Next, choose how you want to season your stir-fry with spices, sauces, juices, etc.  You can cook your stir-fry in a little bit of vegetable oil and sprinkle with salt, pepper, garlic, or any seasonings you like.  Try adding soy sauce or teriyaki sauce for some Asian flair.  Sometimes, I cook my stir-fries in juice – pineapple juice is great for cooking chicken in.  Lemon and lime juice also add great flavor.  You can also use prepared sauces and marinades from the store.  Italian dressing works great. 

Once you choose what meats, vegetables and flavors you want, it’s simple to make.  Follow these basic steps:

  1. Heat oil in a large skillet over medium heat. 
  2. Add meat, sauces and spices.  Cook until meat is almost done, stirring frequently.
  3. Add vegetables.  Cook until vegetables are just tender, stirring frequently.

It’s that easy!  I find that most stir-fries are best served with steamed rice.  Some go well with pasta, and sometimes I add potatoes to my stir-fries.  Here are a few combinations that I like to make:

-          Chicken, cooked in pineapple juice, seasoned with pepper and garlic; use broccoli or green bell pepper for the vegetable.  Serve with rice.
-          Beef, vegetable oil, soy sauce, black pepper, red pepper, garlic, with sliced white and green onions.  Serve with rice.
-          Chicken, cooked in Italian dressing, with onions and bell peppers.  Serve with rice.
-          Chicken, cooked in oil, with a few squirts of lime juice, chopped jalapeno, bell pepper, onion, and cilantro.  Season with pepper, garlic and a dash of cumin.  Serve with rice.
-          Smoked turkey sausage, cooked in a small amount of chicken broth, seasoned with pepper and garlic; with bell peppers, onions, and broccoli.  Serve over egg noodles.
-          Smoked turkey sausage tossed with bell peppers and onions.  Serve with rice, or add cubed potatoes to the skillet.

The possibilities are endless, so be creative and don’t be afraid to try new combinations!

Friday, March 11, 2011

Lessons from Moses

Teamwork gets the job done! (Tegucigalpa, Honduras - 2008)


For some reason, when I was a kid the story of the Exodus was my favorite Bible story.  I think it might have had something to do with watching “The Ten Commandments” every year on TV…

At any rate, I’ve learned a lot over the years by looking at the life of Moses.  I’m reading through my Bible chronologically right now, and recently finished the sections about Moses.  One of the passages really struck me while reading through it this time, in a way it never had before.

If you’re like me, when you think of Moses, you tend to think of the burning bush, the plagues in Egypt and Moses parting the Red Sea to bring the Israelites out of slavery and into the Promised Land.  There are a lot of lessons to be learned there, to be sure.  For instance, when I was in high school I heard the saying for the first time that “God doesn’t call the qualified, he qualifies the called.”  I discovered that this saying is totally exemplified in Moses when God called him.  Moses himself said he wasn’t a good speaker; he did not feel comfortable or qualified to approach Pharaoh and tried to come up with excuses to not do what God was asking him.  But God is so much bigger than our shortcomings, and he will give us what we need to carry out his will.  In the end, Moses’ brother, Aaron, helped him and God was able to continue to use Moses in so many ways as he led the people out of Egypt and into the wilderness.  And it’s to the wilderness that I now want to direct your attention.
**As a side note, if you want to learn more from the Israelites’ time in the desert, check out this book my pastor wrote called The Land Between – or download the sermon series

Moses was the leader over Israel and had taken on the duties of a judge – hearing disputes from all the people, and also teaching the people about God’s laws and decrees.  Remembering that the Israelites had just come out of Egypt—a land of abundance—into the desert—a desolate wilderness—you can understand that the Israelites may have been slightly cranky.  They were a quarrelsome bunch, and it seems their complaints were quite burdensome on Moses. 

Exodus 18 talks about a time when Moses’ father-in-law, Jethro, came out into the desert to visit him.  Jethro watched Moses one day as he acted as judge on behalf of the people.  People came to Moses from morning until evening to present their disputes.  When Jethro saw that Moses sat alone as judge over all the people, this is what he said:

 “What you are doing is not good. You and these people who come to you will only wear yourselves out. The work is too heavy for you; you cannot handle it alone.”   
– Exodus 18:18

Jethro then proceeded to give Moses advice on how to help distribute some of his responsibilities among other capable and fully trustworthy people. Although Moses was doing good work, the people would be better served if he allowed others to share in his duties.

I think this resonated with me because I have a tendency to take a lot on myself and not be a good delegator.  I often take the attitude of “if you want it done right, you have to do it yourself.”  Sometimes it is important to get assistance from others, though, because if you are wearing yourself out, not only are you doing yourself harm, but you are not able to give your best to others.  I like this passage because it tells me that it’s okay to ask for help – and the funny thing is, you’ll find that capable and trustworthy people are usually more than willing to give you a hand! 

In Moses’ case, he continued to judge over the more difficult disputes, but his load was greatly lightened by appointing other capable men as judges who could handle the simpler problems.  For me, this really brought to life the expression “many hands make light work.” 

I also really love what Matthew Henry says in his commentary on this passage:

“There may be over-doing even in well-doing. Wisdom is profitable to direct, that we may neither content ourselves with less than our duty, nor task ourselves beyond our strength. Jethro advised Moses to a better plan. Great men should not only study to be useful themselves, but contrive to make others useful.”

We are responsible for not only living up to our own potential, but also for helping others reach theirs by teaching and encouraging them.  What a great challenge!

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Spinach Tortellini Soup


If you’re looking for a fast and delicious dinner – this is it!  It’s particularly great paired with some homemade garlic bread.  I never would have thought of putting tortellini in soup – unfortunately I can’t remember where I saw the original recipe that I adapted this from, so I’m not sure to whom the credit is due.  Cheese-filled tortellini helps add some heartiness to this dish, though and makes for a unique soup.  The best part is it’s ready in just a few short minutes!

Ingredients:

-          8oz. frozen cheese-filled tortellini
-          2 cups fresh spinach, chopped
-          2 cups vegetable or chicken broth
-          2 cups water
-          Salt, pepper, garlic, and any other spices you want (try oregano or parsley)

Directions:
  1. Heat water and broth in a medium saucepan and bring to a boil.  Season to taste with desired spices.
  2. Add tortellini, and cook according to package directions (I buy Meijer brand and it only takes 2 minutes to cook!)
  3. Add spinach – stir and serve!

Easy Garlic Bread

I’m not sure if this recipe truly counts as homemade, because I don’t make the bread from scratch.  However, I find that you save a lot of sodium and preservatives by making your own garlic bread at home (not that my version is healthy...).  Plus, it tastes just as good!  This makes a great side to pasta (for us carbaholics) and soup dishes.
 

Ingredients:

-          1 loaf of French or Italian bread
-          Spreadable butter or margarine
-          6 cloves garlic, minced or pressed
-          Salt
-          Dried parsley flakes
-          Oregano

Directions:
Cut bread loaf into 10-12 inch segments.  Take one segment and cut in half, lengthwise, with a bread knife.  Smother each half with butter or margarine (just remember, more butter makes it taste better!).  Spread garlic evenly over the bread halves.  Sprinkle with salt, dried parsley and oregano.  Bake in oven at 350 degrees for 10-15 minutes.  You can either leave open-faced while baking for a crispier top or you can put the two halves back together and slice before baking, for a softer inside. 

You can also prepare the bread ahead of time and freeze for baking later – this is a good option if you like the convenience of frozen garlic bread from the store.  If you don’t have fresh garlic on hand, you can also just use garlic powder.  I do this frequently, but I don’t think it tastes quite as good.  Another option is to add cheese for cheesy garlic bread.   Mmmm…who doesn’t like that?!