Items for Sale

We’ve got a bunch of things we need to sell before we leave!  You can kill two birds with one stone…relieve us of these items while helping fund our trip!

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Meru Video

Here’s a short little informative clip about Meru, the town we’ll be in.  There appears to be a series for the area towns, I’m betting little infomercials shown on TV.  At least it gives everyone a view of why Meru is an important area – it serves as a business, cultural and educational center that impacts several areas around it.

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Our Move to Kenya – What We’ll be Doing

Kenya map

A map of Kenya, located in eastern Africa. Meru is the town we’ll be working in, located right in the middle of the map.

Yes, we’re moving to Kenya! My last post explained the long story of why and how. In this post I’ll talk about what we’ll be doing and how you can help!

We will be volunteering for the Miriam Kanana Mubichi Foundation (MKMF), a small non-government, non-profit organization based in Meru, Kenya. It was

founded in 2003 with the mission “to promote socio-economic development in Kenya by concentrating on three areas that we believe will have the strongest impact: literacy promotion, health education, and resource management training.”

While the organization was founded on Christian principles and values, it is not directly affiliated with any religious organizations, better positioning MKMF to serve as a vessel that unites people of all nationalities, religions, ages and ethnicities in the common vision of sustainable development. Volunteers for the organization have come from all walks, from United Methodist Volunteers in Mission (VIM) teams across the United States to students and interns from several international locations. We hope to expand that volunteer base as many people have approached Dale and me about coming for a period of time.

So what will we be doing? Hmmm, no short answer to that one! We’ll tackle some of the projects through each of the mission areas.

Literacy Promotion

worn-out shoe

The worn-out shoe of a Kenyan child.

Education is seen as a key component to combating poverty. Kenya provides free primary education, and has an amazing 85% literacy level. However, many students do not continue their education past the 8th grade or even take advantage of the free education offered to them. Some of the barriers include the very long distances some children have to travel, and lack of money to pay for the required uniforms. Students are even sent home if their uniforms are in disrepair.

MKMF has numerous programs to promote education and to keep children in school. They have assistance programs for families who cannot afford uniforms. The organization has also sponsored the development and staffing of libraries, and has plans to build a large resource center serving Meru’s numerous schools and institutions of higher learning. Reading barazas

Children at a reading Baraza in a library MKMF funded.

Children at a reading Baraza in a library MKMF funded.

(fairs) are one way to encourage children to read with guest readers, free books, and fun activities.

Other projects have focused on improving conditions at the schools themselves by helping build pit latrines, and digging wells for clean water. Another ongoing project as funding is available is to pave classrooms. Most school rooms are dirt floors, which harbor diseases and parasites and can become muddy in the rainy season. As you can imagine, such a simple thing as concrete floors can make a big difference!

A new concrete floor at Kathithy Primary School

A new concrete floor at Kathithy Primary School  will solve this problem.  Rooms are paved as funding becomes available.

A recent drought hit the rural regions on the outskirts of Meru very hard. Many families are subsistence farmers, and could not provide food for their families.  Children were going hungry, and certainly did not have the energy to stay in school. MKMF

Children drinking porridge

Children fed with porridge from MKMF’s food drop program during the recent drought. (Photo courtesy Gwen Kidera.)

jumped in by providing porridge to schools in areas hardest hit. For many children, this was their only meal of the day. This helped meet some of their dietary needs while enabling them to continue their education.

Finally, an area Dale and I really hope to contribute to is with the development of science and technology clubs. Kenya has challenges in their education system similar to a trend we’ve started to see in America – where students are “taught the test” and not necessarily how to use logic and reasoning to arrive at the answer themselves. The form of education established through British colonization can be even more restrictive and harsh. (One of the reasons we plan to home-school Riley, at least initially.) While Kenya is working to overhaul their system, we hope to have a safe venue to help children explore, ask questions, and go through the scientific process to arrive at solutions. Dale and I both have a strong science and math background, and between the two of us bring expertise in earth sciences, chemistry, mathematics and biology. More recently I’ve been working to develop an understanding of electronics and robots as I try to meet Riley’s interests, so we have even more possibilities for future projects! Oh, and for those of you who don’t know, Dale is also a high school math teacher, and has most recently been the chair of the math department at Carl Albert High School, so our education projects will naturally fall in his arena of expertise.


As a nurse, health education is a big component of the projects I’ll be working on. Previous workers have started up health clubs in the schools where students learned everything from how disease is spread to how to address challenges facing adolescents such as peer pressure and long-standing myths about AIDS and pregnancy. Gwen Kidera spent several months volunteering with MKMF, and did some wonderful work with the health clubs. I was amazed at her creativity, but also at some of the conditions many children faced, such as lack of access to soap, and toothbrushes, let alone toothpaste. We hope to address some of these areas with supplies and creative alternatives. (You can see Gwen’s blog here – it served as a wonderful orientation for me and Dale!)

Another major project has been to battle child malnutrition. MKMF has supplied special formula to the government hospital that serves the most low-income

Grannies celebrating at a food drop for elders during the drought.

Grannies celebrating at a food drop for elders during the drought. (Photo courtesy Gwen Kidera.)

families in the region. Many didn’t know their child was so dangerously malnourished until they brought them in for another condition. Sometimes mothers would abandon their child at the hospital, knowing they could no longer provide the care the child needed. Gwen did a lot of research on the problem, and recently completed a report that will help to guide us in future work.

Another interesting project crosses health and education – MKMF recently helped install a fish pond for the Meru School for the Mentally Challenged. The goal was to create sustainable food for the school, encourage development of life skills for students, and provide a dietary source of fatty acids essential to mental development.

I will also be continuing work that my friend Mattie Tolley started many years ago as a community health missionary with the Maua Methodist Hospital. She worked hard to educate villages about nutritional needs and to help them work foods into their diets that were high in protein and vitamin A (night blindness is unfortunately pretty common for children) and other necessary nutrients. As she tells me her stories, I’m awed by her creativity and ways of overcoming misconceptions and reluctance to eat certain foods. I can only hope to help carry the torch in this area.

Resource Management

The ladies of Makena Textiles

The ladies of Makena Textiles, the co-op I created a website for.

Resource management is an area that Fridah (CEO) is especially equipped to work with, as this is much of the focus of her graduate work and business experience. This is where the vision for sustainable communities will really be developed, from guiding villages in development of more sustainable and profitable agricultural practices to helping a women’s co-op get visibility in a larger market.

One of the recent projects I got to be a part of was to help Makena – a co-op of about 15 women, many who are the wage-earners for their families. Gwen created a logo, business cards, and brochures for them, and I developed a website to advertise their products across the globe. We are also working to help them get more national visibility through the many groups that promote women’s industries. You can visit their site at



And that’s just the day job! We hope to get quickly established in a local church and expect we’ll dive right in to ministry as we do here. Hopefully there will be a place for us in music ministry, but I also anticipate I will eventually teach women there too. The majority of the population claims to be Christian (45% Protestant and Roman Catholic 33%), but as in America, there is a need for more depth of understanding of the scriptures and how they apply. Kenya also has refugees from unrest in surrounding areas such as Sudan and Somalia, providing unique opportunities to minister to populations that may otherwise be hard to reach.  We can only imagine what doors will open and what other work God has in mind for us there. All we can do is answer His call to go!

 Want to Help?

There are going to be numerous ways everyone can get involved.  I know Dale and I have both had tons of interest for future mission trips, internships, etc., and we can’t wait to get on site to start coordinating that.  One of the goals with the upcoming resource center is to also have housing for volunteers.  That will be wonderful, especially for those who want to stay longer than the typical 1-2 week mission trip.

The #1 need we have is for prayer.  We have a lot of hurdles to overcome with work permits, transportation, and big concerns like selling our house and a piece of land in eastern Oklahoma.  These past few months have been a time for us to grow in faith as we have already seen answers to prayer and are learning to trust God to work out the rest of the details.  But there are sooooo many details, it’s hard not to try to take some worries back to ourselves!

If some of you are handy, we could really use help getting our house up for sale early this summer.  Since we are trying to put as much money into our moving and travel expenses as possible, we are doing much of the needed renovations ourselves.  Projects include painting, replacing flooring, and replacing windows. We hope to have a couple of work days when we could use volunteer assistance the most.  If you’re interested, let me know, and I’ll inform you when we’re ready!

Of course financial help is appreciated.  We have our immediate needs as a family to raise enough for plane tickets.  The last we checked, it will cost us about $1,200-1,500 per person, or up to $4,500 total.  We also may need to ship over a few basic items that would cost too much to replace locally.  While labor is cheap in Kenya, manufactured goods cost about as much as they do in the US, so for some things it may be more economical to ship than sell for less than what it’s worth, then turn around and purchase it again!  A small shipment will cost us around $2,000.  And even though we won’t be paid by the foundation, we still have to apply for work permits, which cost $1,000 a piece.

Ideally, we need to have a few people who are willing to support us long-term to cover health insurance.  We have found a very reasonable plan for only about $300/month.  If we can just find 30 people willing to donate $10 a month, that would cover it!  Thankfully God has provided for our other needs from an unexpected place – my VA medical pension from having breast cancer while in the military!  (See this blog entry for the story on that.)


For donations, you can go through Seeds of Grace, the 501(c)(3) which provides tax-deductable credit for donations to MKMF. Donations can be made online through this link.  The advantage is you can also opt to have a monthly deduction, which is a great way to be a long-term partner in MKMF’s work.

You can also mail donations to:

Seeds of Grace
P.O. Box 9534
Naperville, IL 60564

Just be sure to mention how you want the money to be used, especially if it is to help us in our transportation and moving expenses.  Thank you so much to those of you who wish to help in this way!

We hope all of you will consider yourself partners in the work we’ll be doing, whether by donations, prayer, coming in person or even just by reading our posts and sending your greetings from all over the globe!  We can’t wait to take you on this journey with us!

Categories: Kenya, MKMF | Tags: , , | Leave a comment

Our Move to Kenya – The Long Story

What? You’re moving to Africa? Although it’s been in the works for several months, many of you are just now finding out. So here’s a post to explain everything from the beginning.

The VERY beginning would be when I was very young…I had my own personal relationship with God since I was about 5. For my 7th birthday, my parents gave me a diary, which launched me into a lifetime of writing and journaling. Later that year, amidst entries about Bible verses I read and silly poems and short stories, I recorded my conviction that I was going to be a missionary to Africa.

That calling has been in the back of my mind my entire life, but my path never seemed to lead to missions. Through high school and a meandering college career I began to wonder if that little girl misunderstood. Maybe it only meant short-term mission trips, or perhaps the location was wrong…we had a deep desire to return to minister to the German people we came to love so much. But even when I tried to do those, I seemed to meet road blocks. Looking back, I know God had a bunch to teach me first, and what may have seemed like pointless wanderings were really experiences that would culminate to a wonderful toolkit for the work I would eventually be doing. Who would think you could connect my childhood farm, meteorology, the military, cancer, and nursing? That same winding path brought be exactly where I needed to be to meet a family that would change my life.

Florence Mubichi

Florence Mubichi

Meantime, in Kenya…a story unfolds of a missionary nurse named Mattie Tolley who served most of her life in Africa. When she came to work as a community health nurse at the Maua Methodist Hospital in central Kenya, she selected nurse Florence Mubichi to help her with orientation.  She became good friends with Florence and her husband Stephen, and was like a second mother to daughters Fridah, Miriam Kanana, and Ravena. Mattie also arranged for churches from her home state of Oklahoma to fund Florence and family to come to Oklahoma so she could earn her Masters degree in nursing. Florence eventually became faculty at the nursing school at OU, which is how our paths eventually crossed.

Tragedy hit when daughter Miriam Kanana was killed in a senseless accident when she was struck down by a motorist as she walked to take an exam for graduate school. The family created the Miriam Kanana Mubichi Foundation (MKMF) in 2003 to honor Kanana’s earnest desire to help the poor and disadvantaged. MKMF’s mission is drawn from her diary entries and life’s focus: to promote socio-economic development in Kenya by concentrating on literacy promotion, health education, and resource management training.  (More in MKMF in the next post.)



Only a few years later, Florence – the driving force behind MKMF – was diagnosed with late-stage ovarian cancer, and passed away in spring of 2010. I never got to meet Florence, but witnessed her legacy through several faculty and former students at OU. I came on staff at the college of nursing just after she had returned to Kenya to spend her final days with her loved ones. I learned more about her as I helped plan to honor her memory by creating a lactation room filled with her soapstone carvings and batiks from Kenya which celebrated motherhood. Florence’s daughter Fridah came to speak when we dedicated the room, and it was there I learned more about MKMF. As Fridah spoke, I felt a faint sense that perhaps this was the opportunity I had been waiting 30 years for. During the reception, I spoke to her about my desire to serve in Africa, and that perhaps someday when we’re between moves we would like to come out for a couple of years. (It would be easier to go when we have no house payments, etc.) She responded that if we could get ourselves there, they would provide a place for us to stay. That sounded great to me! But she didn’t think much of it…I’m sure she gets lots of people talking like that, never to hear from them again, or they only come for two-week mission trips.

In the meantime, I got accepted to nursing school, finished my degree, and got accepted to the PhD program. I was on the fast track with plans to work in cancer and palliative care research. It looked like I was going to be in Oklahoma for a long time! But even though this path made sense and the opportunities were laid out in front of me like stepping stones, in my heart I just didn’t feel at peace about it. Dale also had a growing sense that our lives would soon change. He was feeling like this would be his last year of teaching, and he felt a call to ministry. What next? He had no clue. Every door he explored just didn’t seem right.

Fridah Mubichi

Fridah Mubichi, CEO of MKMF, quickly becoming my best friend and spiritual sister.

What finally put us on our new path? Okay, so don’t laugh – God can speak to us in some strange ways! Dale and I both grew up in places with terrain (Colorado and the Ozarks) and cooler climates. We missed ready access to hiking trails, camping, and tolerable summers. We were also miles away from family or even my Missouri hometown friends. Then came the hottest summer on record in 2011…we finally reached our breaking point! We had to leave Oklahoma! I started looking at grad school in the mountain states – Montana was looking really good, plus it put us closer to family! But then I revisited my thoughts from a couple of years before – if we moved it would be the perfect time, Riley was a great age, and Dale was ready to move onto something new too. I fired an email to Fridah to explore the possibility of coming out for a couple of years, and received an enthusiastic response. Who knew the journey that inquiry would set us on!

As we delved deeper into what we would be doing and how our skill sets dovetailed so nicely with the mission and needs of MKMF, it soon became apparent to both Dale and I that it would be very difficult to come back to a “normal” life in America after doing such work. We’ve had a growing sense that our time in Kenya will be much longer than 2 years. With the cost of long-term storage, we really needed to make some decisions about our belongings, so we took a leap of faith and are jumping in headfirst, expecting to stay for many years. Besides an incredible need, wonderful people, and important ministry, we’ve heard nothing but good about Meru itself.

Stephen Mubichi and Alexia

Part of the family who is adopting us - Stephen Mubichi and Ravena's daughter Alexia ("Munchie"). She is growing fast, and is a bundle of entertainment...I know she and Riley will be good friends!

As a meteorologist, I was quick to look up the climate…Meru is located literally on the equator at about 5,000 feet in elevation. Many years ago I did forecasting for missions in Africa staged out of Kigali, Rwanda which was also near the equator at similar elevation. The average high every month was a wonderful 75 degrees! I thought back then, what a perfect climate, and now, I get to live in such a place! Meru has two rainy seasons that can also make it rather cool, down to the 50’s, and a lush green fading into the savannas that contrast sharply with the deserts to the north and east. We will be living near the slopes of Mount Kenya, the second-highest peak in Africa, and will also be within a day’s drive of beautiful coastline along the Indian Ocean. I wish I could say we were sacrificing a lot to be missionaries, but that wouldn’t quite be true! I’m so glad God is placing us somewhere that matches our desires – to be near mountains and wonderful outdoor activities, to be able to have a farm, and to live somewhere that moves at a slower pace but still have access to modern amenities. (Yes, we’ll be living in a house with running water and even broadband internet, not a hut!)

The most beautiful part of this story returns to the Mubichis. Fridah, who is currently working on her PhD in the USA, now carries the torch as CEO of MKMF. In light of all the tragedy and lack of on-ground support, she was feeling frustrated and wondered if they could keep the foundation going. I learned of a conversation she had with Mattie long before Dale and I came into the picture, “What you need is an American couple who are willing to come out there and work.” Fridah thought that was a big dream, it seemed so impossible…who on earth would be willing to do that? It’s so amazing to be part of God’s answers to their prayers, and such a specific answer! Yet we’re the ones who feel blessed. I have already been adopted by a loving family, and in the process have gained a sister. I can’t wait to see what the future holds for our two families!In the next post I will explain what we will be doing and more about the foundation and Meru itself.

Categories: Kenya, MKMF | Tags: , , | 4 Comments

2011 – A Year in Review

As we start the venture into a new year, I wanted to update everyone on our past year’s events (especially since I’ve been so terrible about blogging!).  We’ve also got some big news of how our lives are going to change over the course of this year.

Crazy Weather and…Earthquakes?
As a meteorologist, you know I have to talk about Oklahoma’s incredible weather this year, with several extremes.  We started off the year with two major winter storms, coined “Snowmaggedon.”  The first was blizzard and ice storm at the end of January, followed by another blizzard and extreme cold in February.  A new record was set for the lowest recorded temperature in Oklahoma at -31o F.  Shortly after that, we moved into a very active severe weather season.  No tornado chasing this year…they were chasing us!  We had a harrowing evening when we left home with the dog and some of our valuables to dodge the multiple tornadoes heading right for our area.  Due to the high clay content of the soil, basements are very rare, and we don’t even have a storm shelter.  These storms were not the type you could survive in a closet or bathtub.  Thankfully they either turned or dissipated before they got to us, but hundreds of people were not so fortunate.  Then if that wasn’t enough weather for one year, we also had the hottest summer on record, with 63 days over 100 degrees!  Hopefully we won’t see temperatures like that again for a long time!

And while we’re talking about weird weather, it’s a good place to talk about another strange occurrence this year…our rash of Oklahoma earthquakes!  We also had the strongest earthquake in Oklahoma  history, rocking us with a 5.6 magnitude.  I felt a strong foreshock – originally thought to be the main quake – the evening before.  Then the next night, I was putting Riley to bed, and we heard a boom followed by a deep rumble and bouncing movements.  Then it kept going on and getting stronger – I could actually see the objects in the room rolling like a boat floating on ocean swells!  Now that was freaky!  Dale woke up a couple of nights later saying there was another quake, but we had a good laugh realizing it was just our monstrous cat Chewy jumping on the bed and cleaning herself…it really did shake the bed exactly like the quake I felt a couple of nights before!

It’s been a busy year for all of us.  I was in an accelerated track for a bachelor’s degree in nursing, so was either studying or in clinicals nonstop.  But it was worth it…I was done in just over one year, and graduated at the end of July.  I was honored with a couple of awards – I was inducted into the Sigma Theta Tau International Honors Society last spring, selected for a palliative care nursing award, and also received an award for community health nursing.  I applied and was accepted into the BSN to PhD program, but decided to defer for several reasons.

Dale is in his second year as head of the math department at Carl Albert High School.  He is also the school’s team lead for a prestigious grant to increase graduation rates and college attendance for students near military bases.  He’s teaching an AP Statistics course as well as Geometry.  He continually gets feedback from parents and students that he is the best teacher they’ve ever had, and was nominated as Teacher of the Year for both 2010 and 2011.  Last spring was his final year as junior class sponsor, and he went out in style with an incredible junior-senior prom with a masquerade ball theme.

Riley is in 4th grade, and has been getting great grades.  He also started their gifted program, SEARCH, last year.  It was great for this future engineer/architect as the emphasis last year was on architecture.  They studied famous architects like Frank Lloyd Wright, learned about the golden ratio and golden spiral, drew buildings like the Eifel Tower, and even drafted their own designs and made 3-D models.  This year they are studying Greek culture.  I’m excited to see what they learn before this school year is over!

Fun times!
We sure made the best of our time off this year!  For spring break, Dale went on a mission trip to help a sister church in Utah with construction projects to expand their ministry.  While he was gone, Riley and I got down to Texas to visit Uncle Steve and Grandma and Grandpa Stone.  We got to fit in a little fishing, fixed a fence, and planted flowers for them to enjoy.  Then we went to our land at Flint Ridge to go camping.  The weather was beautiful!

Summer started off with a big block party for Memorial Day.  Our former neighbors were visiting from Nebraska, so our whole cul-de-sac we all gathered in their honor with a barbecue, homemade ice cream, and water balloon fights.

For the 4th of July we packed our bags for Colorado for a Troup family reunion.  Riley stayed on with Grandma and Grandpa Troup for the next month while I finished my last month of school and Dale left the country.  (The dog!)  Dale was the sponsor for a high school trip to Europe, and got to travel through Switzerland, Germany, and France.  Like all organized tours, it was a whirlwind, but he had a great time.  I finished school a week before Dale got back, so decided to head back out to Colorado to stay with the Troups.  While there, Riley and I took a nostalgic trip to Rocky Mountain National Park and camped out with a wonderful view of Long’s Peak.  We spent the night at the Troup’s cabin in Southpark on the way home where Riley actually got to feed a chickadee out of his hand!

Our last vacation of 2011 was our second annual trip to Silver Dollar City over fall break.  We stayed at a cabin on Indian Point a couple of nights.  SDC is really at its best in the fall – the trees are beautiful and the air is filled with the aroma of apple butter, cinnamon bread, and grilled corn on the cob…as well as screams from the awesome roller coasters!

I have to mention our little bit of fun on Halloween night.  Dale and Riley went to a church block party, and I stayed home to man the fort.  Then I got to thinkin’ I had to be a little more creative than just hand out candy.  I stuffed some of my old clothes, work gloves, and a hoodie sweatshirt and used our talking skeleton for a face.  Then I donned something similar with a mask and sat next to skeletor on our porch with the candy bowl in my limp arms.  I wish I had a video!  It reminded me of the Halloween my sister Rachel and I dressed up as mannequins in the window of our store in Branson and scared the pants off some tourists who were admiring our outfits…until we jumped out at them!

Photography Awards
Another fall event of note was the county fair, in which Riley and I had entries for photography.  I was so sad Riley’s age group could only have one entry…he has taken so many great photos!  But the one we entered won first place!  I also had entries in several categories and took a first, second, and third place.  I also got invited to have a few pieces in a gallery as a breast cancer fundraiser for Komen.  It was the first time I actually framed and marketed some of my photos, so it was a great experience for me.  One of the pieces sold, and I get to enjoy the other two!

Spare time?
We’ve been pretty busy elsewhere too.  Dale and I continue to be involved in our church’s music ministry.  Dale sings and plays awesome guitar leads, I sing harmonies and occasionally play bass.  We’re also on a rotation to lead worship on Sunday nights.

I am still involved with SHOUT, a nonprofit group I co-founded to support young women with cancer.  I am also on the steering committee for our state’s cancer coalition, and have been busy as we rewrite the State’s cancer plan as well as direct projects to meet our goals to reduce the cancer burden in Oklahoma.  I’ve been working part-time in palliative care research, and was planning to fill the other portion of my time with a new research grant.  That’s unfortunately been developing very slowly, but I’ve enjoyed having the time to dedicate to other projects and especially to be there to see Riley off to school and again when he gets home.

The Big News
So, the big news is that we will be moving to Meru, Kenya next fall!  I’ll be making another post with the specifics, but we’ll be working as volunteers with the Miriam KananaMubichi Foundation (MKMF), directing programs in health and education, and economic sustainability.  In other words, just about everything you can think of to make life better for these people, from feeding programs to digging latrines, to helping local cottage industries get on their feet.  We are so excited, so as one year winds down, we are looking expectantly to the big change ahead.  This blog will become a forum to share what we’re doing, so you can make the journey with us!

Here’s some photos from this past year.  If the slideshow below doesn’t display, you can access the album here.  Enjoy!

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Successful Cooking Experiment

After traveling the world and tasting some unique combinations of flavors, I’ve been a little more bold in my food experiments of late.  I tonight’s venture was quite a success, and I thought I’d share it!

Pork is fun to experiment with because it tastes good with a little bit of sweetness.  This is what I went for – a sweet and salty mixture.

I started with thick butterfly chops, and split them in half along the middle of the “butterfly.”  Then I sliced a pocket into each one, connected on one edge.

I made a stuffing mixture with the following ingredients:

– Chopped bacon
– Finely minced dried apricots (the secret ingredient!)
– Sliced green onions
– Crispy bread crumbs (I improvised with smashed croutons)
– Marjoram
– Thyme
– Salt
– Black pepper
– Dried minced garlic & bell peppers (I think it’s a McCormick seasoning mix)
– Small amounts of paprika, ground cloves, nutmeg, and ginger

Of course I didn’t measure the amounts – sorry!  But it there were roughly equal amounts of bacon, green onions, and apricots, and enough bread crumbs to mix.  I actually added more apricots after sampling to better balance out the saltiness of the bacon.  The nutmeg, ginger, and cloves add an unexpected flavor, but it needs to be subtle…just tiny amounts.

I put two slivers of butter in each pocket followed by a handful of the stuffing.  I put toothpicks through the end to keep the stuffing from leaking out, sprinkled Mrs. Dash on the tops of the chops, then baked at 300 degrees for about 60 minutes.

I was amazed how well the flavors blended.  It went quite well with my first attempt at school cafeteria-style yeast rolls, sweet corn on the cob, and sweet tea.

I also added a little bit of feta cheese to one chop to see what the extra tanginess was like.  I think it overpowered the more subtle flavors I was going for, so wouldn’t recommend it for this mix.  But I’m thinking of doing this again with a Mediterranean flavor – feta, black olives, diced tomatoes….

Let me know if any of you try this!

Categories: Food | 1 Comment

Remembering 9-11 and our response

Where were you on 9-11?  This is the question for our generation as we remember the horrors of this day ten years ago.  This photo journal answers that question, retraces my involvement in our response, and honors those who are still fighting to protect our freedom.

Sandi at weather desk

The fall of 2001, I was a lieutenant in the Air Force serving as a weather officer at Scott Air Force Base, just east of St. Louis.  We provided weather support to all the Air Force and Army bases across the entire northeast U.S., from North Dakota to Nebraska to the Eastern Seaboard.  We also delivered all the mission briefings for guard and reserve flight operations.  I was 7 months pregnant with Riley, working night shifts as floor manager in charge of about 20 personnel involved in weather forecasting and mission support.

World Trade Center impact

The World Trade Center

Pentagon damage

The Pentagon

The morning of September 11, I was sleeping after working a night shift.  Dale was unaware of the events until a colleague called and asked if he was going to be able to come to work.  Soon after he came frantically in and woke me up, saying, “We’re under attack!”  We watched in disbelief as the news unfolded and our sense of security unraveled.  The base went into lockdown, and no one was able to come or go.  The impact hit home when I learned one of our young airmen lost his father, who was on the 104th floor of one of the towers.

The military response came quickly.  Combat Air Patrols (CAP) were established over NYC and Washington, D.C. in addition to other possible targets.  This was called Operation NOBLE EAGLE, and we were intimately involved in the CAP missions.  My duties that evening involved posting guards, coordinating mission briefings to the aircrews flying the patrols, and providing briefings to the Pentagon.

Combat Air Patrol over the East Coast

One of the combat air patrols we supported flying over the East Coast. (Photo from U.S. Air Force)

Within a few months, I was stationed at Ramstein Air Base, Germany, where we supported numerous airlift and airdrop missions across Europe and Africa.  One of our C-130’s honored the timeless words of Flight 93, “Let’s Roll!”  To us, this symbolized our resolve and our continuing mission against terrorism.

Let's Roll C-130

In the summer of 2003, I was deployed to Manas Air Base, Kyrgyz Republic to support Operation ENDURING FREEDOM operations in Afghanistan.  I was in charge of a small combat weather team that provided mission support to C-130’s, KC-135’s, and F-16’s from United States, Dutch, Danish, Italian, and New Zealand forces.  It was meaningful to finally be directly involved in our counter-terrorism efforts on such a gobal scale.

Ganci Air Base

The unofficial name of our air base, named after the NYC Fire Chief who died in the trade towers.

Man with laser rangefinder

One of my troops taking a visibility measurement at the airfield.

Sandi at forecasting desk

My weather desk with weather satellite and instrument readouts in the background.

Manas was the longest runway servicing Central Asia, allowing large planes such as AN-124’s, 747’s and C-5’s to bring their cargo for troops in the theater.  C-130’s then shuttled supplies and troops to the many unimproved runways in Afghanistan and surrounding areas.  We had four C-130 squadrons: U.S. active duty, U.S. national guard, New Zealand, and an Italian squadron.

An Italian C-130J returning from a mission downrange.

An Italian C-130J returning from a mission downrange.

The Italian C-130 squadron just before they rotated out.

The Italian C-130 squadron just before they rotated out.

Dutch and Danish F-16’s provided support for ground operations and had important air strike missions on the Taliban.  I wish I could somehow share the excitement of combat operations.  Weather, base operations, and intelligence were all grouped in the same secure facility.  I got to see incredible gun camera footage of, for example, a F-16 patrol protecting a convoy.  One of the vehicles had a flat tire, and the gun camera showed the pilot’s view scanning the treeline and area around the convoy for hazards to the ground troops.  Another time we were on the edge of our seats as we monitored real-time updates coming by secure chat for a big airstrike on a major Taliban cell.

A Danish F-16 returning from a mission.

A Danish F-16 returning from a mission.

F-16's viewed from a tanker through night vision goggles.

F-16's viewed from a tanker through night vision goggles.

F-16's taking off

F-16's taking off

We also supported KC-135 tanker squadrons that refueled the F-16’s stationed at Manas as well as other fighters and bombers in theater.  Tanker forecasts were some of the most challenging I’ve done because we had to be precise not only in cloud coverage but the cloud layers.  This was all done with little more than a distant satellite image.  (I have to admit I enjoyed the challenge!)

A KC-135 taxiing at the Manas airfield.

A KC-135 taxiing at the Manas airfield.


One of our KC-135's refueling a B-1B bomber over Afghanistan.

I was actually serving on September 11, 2003, the 2-year anniversary of the attacks.  This was special for everyone supporting Operation ENDURING FREEDOM.  We had a special ceremony honoring those who died or gave their lives in the attacks as well as those who fought to bring justice to those who carried them out.

A KC-130 crew receiving their weather brief before they departed early on the morning of 9-11.

A KC-130 crew receiving their weather brief before they departed early on the morning of 9-11.

9-11 refueling operations.

9-11 refueling operations.

We will never forget the sacrifice of the countless servicemen, fire and rescue, and civilians who gave their lives in the aftermath of 9-11.  I hope this day always serves as a reminder of the price of freedom and as a prompt to appreciate the ongoing efforts of troops waging the war for now 10 years.

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Time with the Family

Monday we were so proud of Riley – he was one of only 3 in his class selected for a “Citizenship Award” for leadership, scholarship, and citizenship.  And Dale is finally over his ear infection so can enjoy his newly-acquired bike, so we decided to have a family day to celebrate.  We had a nice long ride to Brahm’s in Midwest City, then came back via Stanley Draper Lake – a beautiful ride.  As I wrote about earlier, the air was so fragrant with the spring blossoms, and it was the perfect temperature.  A gorgeous, sunny, windless (rare in Oklahoma) day.

After our ride, we packed up Riley’s new rocket (now 24″ compared to the 3″ one we started with) and took it to the hillside by our church to launch.  We could actually see this rocket as it climbed high into the air, then the chute opened and we could follow it down.  (We appreciate that after the little one – it shot several hundred feet so quickly, we couldn’t keep track of it.)  It was so much fun to see Riley enjoying it.  Mocha had a great time too – maybe we can train her to fetch the fallen rockets?? 🙂

Enjoy the video!

From Videos
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A ride through the country

I treated myself to a lovely 50+ mile ride in the countryside today. The air was saturated with the intoxicating aroma of damp woodlands, fresh-cut fields, and honeysuckle that seemed to line the roadways everywhere. The bright green fields were spotted with every imaginable color: indian paintbrush, buttercup, cornflower, daisies, and countless other blossoms. The greatest treat of all: I saw a bright blue indigo bunting sailing ahead of me into the woodlands. Wish I could share it with you all!


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One last big vacation while we’re in Europe. We traveled via Ryan Air to London Stansted, and took a train, then subway (the Underground) to our hotel in the Bayswater region. It was great to not need to struggle with a new language, but we did learn some funny differences like “que” for line, “trolley” for stroller, and “Way Out” signs instead of Exit. Here’s the trip details!

Day 1

After close examination of the weather before we left, I knew a cold front with wind would hit in the morning around 10 am. I’m glad we knew what was coming…we would have been fooled by the clear blue sky, warm temps, and singing birds that we woke up to. Since the sun was out, we headed straight to the landmark I wanted pictures of the most: Big Ben. About an hour later, the front moved through, but thankfully didn’t bring any rain – only occasional sprinkles – so we still got to see a lot. We walked about 6.5 miles that day!

One of my prize pictures of Big Ben in our hour of sun!
Westminster Abbey after the front brought the clouds.
Next we went through St. James’s Park on the way to Buckingham Palace to watch the Changing of the Guard ceremony. This unfriendly goose hissed at Riley – he’s trying to get me to come experience it for myself.
The Changing of the Guard was not just one single event – it was a managerie of motions occuring at different locations. Dale and Riley sat in front of the Buckingham gates while I roamed and was able to catch several things on camera. One of the first to occur was the procession of the Horse Guard from the palace down The Mall to their grounds. These were dressed in black – another set going the opposite direction at the end of the ceremony wore red coats.
Foot soldiers marching down The Mall to the palace. At this time (and in the picture above) I was just east of the palace.
A view of the palace nearby where I stood for the above pictures. The Queen Victoria Memorial stood in front, and Dale and Riley were just on the other side of it. A Bobby (policeman) referred to it as “the wedding cayke” when he described the best place to be to watch the ceremony.
Next came a band from south of the palace leading the replacement regiment. For this picture I’m on the steps of the memorial on the left side.
A closeup of the regiment members.
Here the officers touch hands, symbolically handing off the keys as one regiment relieves the other.
Next we visited Trafalgar Square, had fish ‘n chips at “The Sherlock Holmes,” then headed back to the Thames to see the London Eye. It’s a huge ferris wheel with pods the size of a small room that offers a great view of the city. Big Ben is the tower on the right, with parliament just to the left of it.
Here’s the view from the top – you can see how big the pods are and how high above the Thames they get (see the bridge on the lower right).
Riley sure had fun…you can see the wonder on his face as we rotated around from the bottom. Every time we talk about or see pictures of the “big wheel” he says, “I like it.”
We finished out the day with a ride to a subway stop on a double-decker bus. Here’s Dale as we paused en route to the bus stop for a good view of Big Ben, Parliament, and Westminster Bridge.

Day 2

This day was rather rainy, but we packed umbrellas and headed out to hit the landmarks we missed. We did so much the first day, we really got to throttle the pace back and had a pretty fluid agenda. As we tend to on trips like this, we made some unexpected discoveries that end up being our best memories.

We first visited the Tower of London. The tour entrance fee was outrageous, so we settled for a book and pictures of the outside. What attracted us was the boat cruise that left from the pier on the river right by the tower – it was a great price, and was even less with our metro travel passes.
Since we had already seen the other end of the River with the London Eye, we opted to go east to Greenwich and back. This was the unexpected treasure of the day…the Cutty Sark, a tea clipper from the 1800’s, was on display there. We were able to explore the decks, including the hold which still held a slight fragrance of tea!
Riley in front of the wheel on the “old boat.” I took so many cool shots of the rigging, it’s hard to not show them here!
The sun popped out for a brief time, making me wonder if we overdressed for the previously cold temperatures. After the Cutty Sark, Riley took a nap in the stroller while we walked through lovely green parks. In the middle was the Greenwich Royal Observatory, set as the originator of the Prime Meridian and Greenwich Mean Time (GMT).
After Riley awoke from his nap, we caught the next cruise boat back to London Tower. We were living large, with a table to ourselves on a nearly vacant boat (the advantage of travelling off-season). Both to and from Greenwich, we went directly under Tower Bridge, giving us a neat view of the intricate details.
Riley on the boat showing me a trinket we got on the Cutty Sark. Tower Bridge is in the background. We went from there to Picadilly Square and Carnaby Street, then finished out the night letting Riley feed ducks at Kensington Gardens, just a few blocks from our hotel.

Day 3

Even though we had an afternoon departure, we didn’t have much time to spend in London with all the travel required to reach our plane. We tried to take it easy, and spent the morning in Hyde Park where Riley fed pigeons the rest of our bread loaf.

Riley feeding pigeons near Lancaster Gate and the fountains. He played in an adjacent playground for a while before we headed back to our hotel to retrieve our suitcase for the journey home.
Riley mailing a postcard in a signature postal box just a block away from our hotel in the Bayswater region. Nearly every building in the surrounding blocks looked like the one in the background – beautiful white townhouses, many of which were converted to hotels.
One of the many forms of transportation we used – here is the famous Underground, or “the tube.” This was actually one of the cleanest subways we’ve traveled on, and we came to laugh like many Londoners at the automated warning before you disembark to “mind the gap” between the train and the platform.
Riley enjoying the train ride from London to Stansted Airport.
Yet another form of transportation – a plane! Riley was pretty excited, saying “yeehoo!” as we walked on the apron to the plane. For the first time, he took the window seat and watched everything on the departure and landing. He especially liked the “little doors” (spoilers) that opened when the plane was slowing down. Here he is as we’re taxiing – you can see the control tower on the left. The next morning after we arrived, he woke me up and said “I closed my eyes, and had dream about the hairpane!”

That’s it for this trip. What I love is that our little Riley has become quite a traveler. Our satellite network for Americans overseas can’t show commercials, so instead they show little informative segments and pictures of places like Maine, the Blue Ridge mountains, etc. A couple of days after our trip, they showed something about Belgium with the Brussels town square. Riley said “Look – pree cool! Maybe go there later!” Funny thing…if we have time before we leave, that’s exactly where we wanted to go next!

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