13 August 2016

Kenya 2016 And The Lunch With Thirty-Something Chickens

Now this feels more like it: writing a post or two (or five) about Kenya...

When I was offered my job at Download Youth Ministry, I mentioned to my bosses that I would like to go to Kenya once or twice a year. They said, "That's great! Our wives would love to go, too!" Fast forward a few months and we purchased tickets for a quick trip in-between kid's graduations and Student Leadership Conferences.

We departed early on a Thursday morning--we arrived so early that the airport wasn't even really open yet!--ready for a very long day of travel. 

On Saturday afternoon (three flights, a good night's sleep in Nairobi, another flight, and a van ride later) we made it to Kitale! In the process, we met up with Cody and Taylor (who you'll see in photos) in Nairobi, were picked up by our friend Mike in Eldoret and taken to Sammy's house where we met up with the half dozen college students spending pieces of their summer in Kitale. (You'll see them in pictures, too!)

I, of course, couldn't wait to get to Precious Kids Center to see Suzie, and the team--though dead tired--was so gracious to let me take them on a crazy detour before dinner.

Look at her! She's getting so big! And squirrelier than ever, if you can believe it!

We had a delicious dinner of Indian food at my favorite restaurant in town--I'd had dreams of this place nearly every night for the week before we left! I couldn't wait for garlic naan and chicken korma!--before calling it a night. (Cody and Taylor had been up for nearly two days straight!)

Fortunately, we could ease our way into Sunday. Since we didn't have to leave for church until about 10am, everyone slept in and took their time getting ready. I wanted to make sure they had the full Precious Kids Center Sunday experience--and they wanted to see Sammy's boarding school kids--so we loaded up two vans with kids--plus a third car with Americans--and headed to church. We were, obviously, a spectacle rolling in.

Sammy surprised me by bringing Suzie (who doesn't get to come to church often since she's such a handful). During music, she was so excited that she would switch off jumping up and down and running back and forth across the back of the church...it was hilarious and exhausting just watching her! Finally, one of the greeters grabbed her hand and let her jump and spin with him for a good five minutes. But when it came time for the message, she wanted nothing to do with sitting in a chair. I held her in my lap and tried the old go-to tricks: my phone camera, a piece of dental floss (she loves to wrap strings around her fingers), but nothing worked quite like this tiny mirror. She played with this thing for nearly an hour! I could not tell you what the message was about because I was having such a great time watching her!

After service, I made my way out to the vans to corral my very hungry people, but I didn't want to rush out, since this was our only Sunday in town and would be my only opportunity to see these friends and hear about their lives.

Veronica stopped me to say her business is going very well! She's been frying fish and selling them to passersby on the road near her home. She's done so well that she's even upped the amount she's purchasing each week! Also, her two boys are getting so big! (Though still uninterested in/afraid of taking a photo with me.)

We loaded up two cars (having sent Sammy on ahead to make arrangements and place our gigantic order) and headed to town for lunch. 30-something orders of chicken and fries!

Suzie is a girl who knows what she wants. And what she wanted was food. Since she typically stays home on Sunday mornings, this was a late lunch for her--and though she couldn't tell us in words that she was hungry, she definitely showed it! Needless to say, we made her a plate as fast as we could!

After lunch, we dropped most of the boarding school kids back at Greenfields, changed out of church clothes, and loaded up the van for a trip down to Shimolatewa slum. 

Many of the families we've built relationships with over the years are from this part of Kitale, so we try to visit at least once each time we're in town. Many of the college students staying with Sammy hadn't been yet, so we had to take a walk to the famous Shimo bridge!

Taylor stopped to play with some kids

The families we wanted to visit on the other side of the bridge were too far to walk to, but I couldn't pass up the opportunity to take everyone to the middle of the bridge, to show water sources old (dirty) and new (clean). Plus, climbing the steep and clunky stairs gives a deeper understanding of the effort it takes for families (mostly mothers and children) to carry that clean water back to their homes.

We ran into a few kids Sammy knew from years ago. And even saw Newton, one of the kids who stays at Sammy's while his mom is in school, but goes home to be with her on weekends and holidays.

We hopped back in the van and drove to the homes on the far side of the slum. When we arrived, Cody was greeted in the sweetest way by Esther, Jennifer and Celinah's mom--whom he's known for years--she ran toward him on the dirt road with her arms open and a huge smile on her face. He took off running toward her and they met in a big embrace. They walked to her new home and he asked her questions about her life and five children while we all smiled at neighbors and tried to convince Lauren to pick up a very protective (and angry) mama chicken.

As we waited to head home, Brittan played games with the neighbor kids.

Sunday night is chapati night at Precious Kids Center...so I knew exactly where I wanted to be. As usual, I was surrounded by children with big smiles and sweetly longing eyes as I ate my dinner. They'd finished theirs a few hours earlier and, though they were plenty full, would happily overstuff their bellies with an extra bite or two of chapati. I get it! That stuff is delicious.

We sat for another half an hour or so as they watched TV and we took some pictures.

Dorcas, Meshack, and Trizah

Since Sammy moved into the new house this year, about ten new children have moved in, too. (Many of whom you'll see in photos throughout the rest of the trip.) I did my best to learn their names and hear the stories of how they came to live at PKC...but even I was a little overwhelmed trying to keep them all straight on that first night! I knew it had been a long day, so we headed home early and climbed in bed to rest up for another full day Monday!

07 August 2016

Konnichiwa Tokyo!

Over Memorial Day weekend, my roommate, Caroline, and I took a spur-of-the-moment trip to Tokyo. 

Let me back up a bit and explain how it came about...

We knew there was a long weekend coming...we had a half-day on Friday and would have Monday off, so we started researching various options for a weekend getaway. Initially, we looked at Nashville, New York, Portland, Seattle--but tickets were a little higher than we'd expected. Then we thought, "if we're going to pay $300 for a domestic flight, why not pay a bit more and go somewhere international?!" 

We searched GoogleFlights and found round-trip tickets to Tokyo for $450! Cheaper than nearly every major city in the continental United States! So, we jumped on them!

We had some really great connections who'd been to or lived in Tokyo and sent us recommendations on places to visit, places to eat, and even some tips on how to get around with ease.

We bought the tickets on Sunday morning and departed around 11pm Thursday night! (Keep in mind, we had to be back at work Tuesday morning...)


We landed mid-afternoon and were ready to make the most out of our three days in town.

 We checked in to our hotel, changed clothes and headed downtown. First stop: gyoza!

We ate our weight in gyoza and walked around for a little while after--popping in shops and crossing the small bridges over traffic...at least until it felt like a reasonable hour to call it a night. We were wiped out from the red eye flights and knew we had a full few days ahead of us. Our hotel room was tiny, but had a great shower and nice bed, which was all we'd really need.


We were up bright and early Saturday morning. And by early, I mean, about 3:30am. So, by 5am we were out the door and on our way to the Tsukiji Fish Market--by far the top recommendation from our friends on Facebook. And, not without reason!

We stopped by 7Eleven to grab some coffees on our way to the metro.

Several sites and apps had stressed the importance of arriving at the market early...and, though it was just after 6am when we walked up, the place was already bustling! We wandered up and down the aisles doing a mix of shopping and checking out the restaurants. Caroline announced, pretty quickly, that we'd be having sushi for breakfast!

We waited in line for seats in this small sushi restaurant. I was pretty new to the world of sushi, so Caroline ordered for us. It tasted even better than it looks, so I'd say she did a pretty great job! 

 vvv the old man waiting his turn

After breakfast, we went to Ueno Park. We walked through stalls of vendors selling everything from plates to statues and only bought one thing: a giant snow cone.

From there we headed to Senso-ji or Asakusa Kannon Temple. (I should mention that, in addition to being the cleanest major city I've ever visited, Tokyo was also one of the most easily navigable. We only got turned around twice--and, each time, someone in the station came over to assist us!)

I tried my best to convince Caroline to purchase (or rent) a pair of kimonos for the day, but we compromised with this photo instead.

At that point it was only 11am, but we'd already been awake for several hours--and seen so much!--so we went back to the hotel for a nap. Two hours later, we were back at it.

Up next: The Owl Cafe. We'd heard about several types of cafes in town: cats, rabbits, reptiles. With the hope of taking a photo with Hedwig, I convinced Caroline to visit an owl cafe.

Let me say, this was definitely an animal rights violation in action, so while we are smiling in these pictures, we talked about how heartbreaking it was for hours (and have mentioned it every time we show the pictures). I know we're contributing to the violation by paying to visit, so you don't have to mention that...and we probably wouldn't do it again. We paid the lowest amount: they gave us a glass of water and, once we completely finished our drinks, we were allowed 15 minutes in the owl room.

But, aside from the rope on his leg, this owl is beautiful! And heavy! Just look at those big, lovely eyes!

He was very heavy...and pretty intimidating.

This sweet white bird was more Caroline's style.

After the owls (and some hand sanitizer!) we visited Takeshita Street, famous for the shops that sell Harajuku style clothing and accessories. 

An hour or so of people-watching later, we made our way to a highly recommended ramen restaurant. The line was out the door and across the street, but we each had a book to read, so we were fine to wait. (One of my favorite parts of traveling with Caroline is how comfortable we felt just sitting, drinking coffee, and reading a book--no need to talk every second of the trip!)

Once we walked in, the line continued around the back of the restaurant. We placed our order (and paid) in a vending machine near the front door which printed small tickets that we handed over to the cook when we reached the front of the line. They sat us and handed us our order within a minute or two. Their system was incredibly efficient!

Ramen with bamboo shoots!

After dinner it was, once again, time to go to sleep. We slowly made our way through the streets and back to the metro with ease.


Sunday morning began beautifully: with a breakfast buffet overlooking the city! The hotel restaurant has floor-to-ceiling windows on one of the top floors--a 360-degree view of the city. Oh, and they played Mariah Carey's Greatest Hits through the whole thing! It was the best. We had several cups of coffee, eggs and toast, and even tasted some octopus pastries while we talked about how we'd spend our last full day. The plan was to site-see until lunchtime and then head out to Tokyo Disney.

But, first things first: donuts and Godzilla.

We then headed to a gorgeous park, filled with gardens with flowers from around the world.

There was another Shrine in a park closer to Takeshita Street that we'd hoped to see, but after walking a half mile around the gate, looking for an entrance, we gave up and made our way back to do explore more of the area we'd rushed through the night before...and have lunch.

While waiting in line for another round of gyoza and some celebratory sake, we ran in to someone Caroline knows from a salon in CA. Crazy to be so far from home and hear her say, "Hey, I know that guy!" (As it turns out, he and his friends were on our flights home the next day, so we hung around with them in the airport.) They told us Tokyo Disney was a little further outside of town than the map had shown, so after lunch, we headed over to a 5-story mall for a Frappuccino and souvenir shopping. (My cup says, "Arigato" or, "Thank You!")

When we left the mall, we knew there was only one more big tourist spot left to see: Shibuya Crossing. We'd read online that the best view of the street was from the Starbucks on the 2nd story of the record store, so we ran straight up to grab a spot by the window...

After watching the madness unfold a couple of times, we went down to join the action!

With very tired feet, we walked down the street to a sushi place for dinner. The line was super long (a sign that the place would be good!) but moved quickly--and we each read our books while we waited. The food was delicious and just what we needed to get us back to our hotel for one final night's sleep.


Our flight on Monday was at 4pm, so we had the morning to do some exploring. We'd been told that Tsutaya Bookstore was "the most amazing bookstore you'll ever see" and for two big readers, this was the perfect last stop.

Three two-story buildings, connected by bridges and walkways make-up what is now my favorite bookstore ever. I spent at least twenty minutes walking through the Children's section looking for books I recognized...and looking through many I didn't.

This display was my favorite!

Though we spent three hours there, it was not nearly enough time. I can't wait to spend a whole day browsing and reading in the lounge next time! I bought a book for our flights and a copy of The Great Gatsby in Japanese because I loved that I knew exactly what it was from its cover.

And with that, our time was coming to an end. We went back to our hotel to change and pick up our bags, then shared a quick order of fries while we waited for a taxi. 

Obviously, we couldn't leave Tokyo without one more round of gyoza. 

During our layover in China, we made friends with one of the employees in the gift shop, who happily took some photos of us. 

We landed at LAX at 6pm, had Chipotle with my mom, and made it home in time to catch my friend Ethan's show and for Caroline to watch The Bachelor. We were back at work the next morning like it had been any old weekend.

After all of this, we're itching for another trip! There are a lot of Google Flight searches going on at our house these days. I can't wait to share where we choose to go next!

By the way, on our flights, I read The Circle by Dave Eggers. I couldn't put it down and landed at LAX with only 20 pages left! Such a great, captivating story--I highly recommend it.

31 December 2015

2015 In Questions

The end-of-the-year survey tradition continues for a tenth year (!!!)
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1) What did you do in 2015 that you'd never done before?

2) Did you keep your New Year's resolutions and will you make more next year? 
Ooohhh...I'm not sure I made a resolution this year. My words for the year were financial freedom and peace. I think I saw them become reality this year, despite my best efforts to make them a reality, which caused quite a bit of frustration and anxiety. I have made a few for 2016...those will be shared in upcoming posts.

3) Did anyone close to you give birth?
Es had sweet little Arlo.

4) Did anyone close to you die?
No, thank God.

5) What countries did you visit?
UK (London and Ireland) and Kenya

6) What would you like to have in 2016 that you lacked in 2015?
A more stable sense of community. And maybe health insurance?

7) What date(s) from 2015 will remain etched upon your memory, and why?
January 17, my last weekend at Mariners. June 30, when I moved to Kenya. September 30, when I launched the new small business project. December 6th, when I returned from Kenya.

8) What was your biggest achievement of the year?
Beginning 27 small businesses for single moms and struggling families in the slums around Kitale. And picking up conversational Swahili.

9) Did you suffer illness or injury?
I came home from Kenya in March with bruised muscles on my right side (from sternum to spine) which was pretty painful for a few weeks...and had a decently-sized stubborn ringworm on my neck that I battled for about eight months before it finally disappeared. But, other than that, nothing major!

10) What was the best thing you bought?
My one-way ticket(s) to (and from) Kenya. My ticket to London. To Ireland. To Colorado. Our trip to New Orleans...so many good trips this year.

11) Whose behavior merited celebration?
Cathi Workman

12) Where did most of your money go?
Rent. Food. Airline tickets: Kenya, Ireland, Colorado, Kenya.

13) What did you get really, really, really excited about?
14) What song/album will always remind you of 2015?
Justin Bieber's "Baby" and "Sorry." AND Adele's "Hello"

15) Compared to this time last year, are you:
Wiser? Yes. Healthier? Nope. Richer? Nope.

16) What do you wish you'd done more of?

17) What do you wish you'd done less of?

18) How did you spend Christmas?
I was called last-minute to fill in for a sick friend at Mariners Huntington Beach services. Then ran to Christmas at Papa's--which was so fun! Christmas morning, I took the Almquists to the airport, cleaned up the spare room at my mom's, had breakfast at Papa's. Then lunch at my mom's. A Tarantino movie and dinner with my dad. A pretty good day!

19) Did you fall in love in 2015?
Not romantic love, but I sure do love Suzie.

20) What was your favorite new TV program?
The West Wing. The Mindy Project.

21) What was the best book you read?
I loved Bittersweet by Shauna Niequest.

22) What was your greatest musical discovery?
Otis Redding.

23) What did you want and get?
To move to Kenya.

24) What did you want and not get?
To stay in Kenya.

25) What was your favorite film of this year?
Jurassic World...easily.

26) What did you do on your birthday, and how old did you turn?
I turned 33. I bought two cakes and we had a party with all of the Precious Kids Center kids. I talked to both of my parents on the phone, attended a graduation, had lunch in town, and Chinese food for dinner...everything I wanted it to be, for sure!

27) Which celebrity/public figure did you like the most?
James Corden really brought some joy this year.

28) How would you describe your personal fashion concept in 2015?
Dresses and knotted shirts. Multi-colored, self-trimmed hair and muddy bare feet.

29) What kept you sane?
Cathi Workman...and my parents. So many phone calls and emails during an emotional season.

30) Who did you miss?
Ooooh, so many people. Cathi, Cheryl, my parents, my brother, my grandpa, aunts and cousins, my small group girls. I could go on and on, really...it was a six-month stint of missing.

31) What valuable life lesson did you learn in 2015?
I learned so much about myself. Who I am. How I express that. How I express God's love--for me and for others. How to be a more whole version of who God has created me to be.

32) What did you gain this year?
A lot of understanding, a lot of new friends...and, unfortunately, some weight.

33) What did you lose this year?
Some fears, some friends, a job.

34) Who was the best new person you met? 
Suzie, without question.

35) Quote a song lyric that sums up your year:
Because life without revision would silence our souls.

30 December 2015

2015 In Pictures

Each year, as December comes to a close, I set aside one day to reflect on the year that is ending and set goals and rough plans for the upcoming year. I also love to scroll through the pictures from the year to remind my heart of all that I encountered, learned, persevered, received...

So, here is a brief run through 2015, in photos.

 I said goodbye to the Mariners Ocean Hills campus. They prayed over me while I, of course, cried.

The team of campus worship leaders honored my departure with style.

The Communications Department arranged for me to meet my favorite celebrity!

I took two friends to Montage Beverly Hills for their birthdays. 

I traveled to London and saw so many dear old friends! Including Chloe and her kids.

And then, on to Ireland. Two very handsome men had me over for a dinner party.

A highlight of the weekend in Northern Ireland was co-leading worship in Church.

After one more night in London--where we watched the Super Bowl halftime show at 2am--I flew to Nairobi!

On a trip up to Northern Kenya, I was surprised at lunch by TEN kids from Oasis of Hope!

I met (and absolutely fell in love with) Suzie

The six week trip was filled with reunions: Jennifer, Esther, and Celinah

I was even asked to sing at the Grand Opening of a restaurant in town...I chose Britney Spears "Sometimes" to mark the occasion.

 Derrick ran in to the dorms and came back with a photo of us taken in 2008.

There were several afternoons when I was covered in kids for hours

I came home (with two spots of ringworm and bruised muscles from sternum to spine on my right side) and still went straight to the beach.

Instead of dyeing Easter eggs this year,  I chose an alternative way to celebrate

I took a road trip to San Francisco with my Papa.

Later in the month, I flew out to Colorado to see the Witts, Tim, and then, surprise guest: Katie!

Grown-up night on the town!

A late-night tattoo session

Announced I was moving to Kenya...and bought a one-way ticket.

 My mom and I took a quick (and cheap!) trip to New Orleans.

One last small group sleepover

 Complete with donuts, bets, and photo shoots the next morning.

Threw a big "see ya soon!" party at Beach Pit BBQ

I was living in Kitale, Kenya. Playing games and making a ton of slo-mo videos for the kids.

And, obviously spending hours of time with Suzie.

I spoke with Hellen and her sister about beginning a women's Bible study in Kipsongo slum.

And learned to drive a car on the left-side of the road.
So much Suzie time...

Led a church filled with women in song (and dance!)

And a team of visitors on home visits in Shimo la Tewa

 Here we are with Brian and his mom

I stitched buttons on, holes closed, and initials in to uniforms for the school kids. This is only about 80% of the items.

I had the opportunity to sit and watch as Sammy gave a BAG of clothing to Quinta, who has been the outcast of her family (locked outside alone all day, fed scraps of food, etc.)

We delivered the first of what would be 27 small business start-up items: a shop for Mama Rispah!

 Visited dozens of homes to talk to women about their entrepreneurial dreams and then deliver the pieces necessary to make those dreams come true! Here's Eve, who now runs her own salon!

I turned 33. We had Chinese food, watched Jurassic World, and ate more birthday cake than any kid needed.

Bre came to visit and helped us find and set up a home for four teenage boys.

In partnership with our local church, we delivered five additional new businesses to women in the neighborhoods surrounding the church. (And, of course, visited adorable Marion!)

 I moved home from Kenya. Just in time to see my girls run the weekend in Mariners HSM.

I accepted a job with my dear friends, Josh and Doug at their company: Download Youth Ministry.

I was asked to fill-in for a sick friend at Mariners Huntington Beach Christmas services before two days of family Christmas celebrations.

Today, as I worked through this year-end workbook, I was reminded of just how much has changed in the last twelve months. If I've quoted it once, I've quoted it a thousand times, "Every new beginning comes from some other beginning's end."

With the helpful and therapeutic process of journaling and prayer, I am looking back on 2015 with gratitude and looking ahead to 2016 with hope.