Thoughts on Mississippi

Well, my last post here was in August. As in, nearly eleven months ago. John had just been through track select and was settling into the final phase of pilot training. Approximately one million things have happened since then. While the days of pilot training can be incredibly long, the weeks are mysteriously fast. They melt into months at quite the alarming rate so that before you know it, it’s all over. A new chapter begins.

So far, that chapter has been unbelievably hectic and overwhelmingly good. We find ourselves on the brink of many, many life changes. In light of this, it seems all the more necessary to take a step back and reflect. To take a breath. To pause from organizing suitcases and attempt to organize my thoughts about what this year has been and all that lies before us. First up, a few thoughts on Mississippi.

Oh, Mississippi.

I’d be lying if I told you we’ll really miss it. The place, that is.

We don’t love mosquito bites in January. We’re convinced that Mississippi drivers are some of the worst in the country. We don’t particularly care for Southern food. We really miss mountains and large bodies of water. We realized that for most of our lives, we’ve taken for granted access to airports and larger cities with a greater variety of opportunities- theater, music, art, culture, etc. My insect tolerance is pretty remarkable right now.

But the people make a place, and we know that this will be true of any assignment, anywhere. C. S. Lewis said that “friendship is born at that moment when one man says to another: “What! You too? I thought I was the only one…”

Until this past year in Mississippi, we had yet to experience a military community. We’d heard time and again that this community becomes your family. I’ll freely admit that this seemed a bit too mushy to be true- we already have family. We even like our families.

But there is no doubt that we have begun to see the truth in this. We’re so thankful that despite our original intentions in moving to Columbus, we lived on base. It was refreshing to live among people encountering the same challenges and celebrating similar joys. I was encouraged by the common understanding shared among the wives- women who in nearly every way could say “me too”.

I’m thankful for these women who were willing to meet each week for Bible study over a pot (or several) of coffee. I’ll miss the days when we were still together five hours later with no shortage of things to talk about. I’m grateful for honesty and transparency and discussions about identity and value and purpose, about finding our place during a very busy, transient year. I’m grateful for people willing to plant roots and invest, all the while knowing that we’d eventually be sent our separate ways.

I’m thankful for spontaneous day trips to Tuscaloosa for the sake of Target and Starbucks, or outings to Starkville for an afternoon at 929 Coffee Bar or just a change of scenery. We loved shared dinners and evenings of board games. When the heat really arrived, spending free afternoons at the pool with friends was just about perfect.

I’m thankful for Kaia, who has brought such joy into our lives. She has been an especially wonderful companion to me while John is away. We enjoyed many hours at the swamp lake together.

I’m thankful to have had the freedom this past year to support John through a rigorous yet rewarding program. I watched a little boy several days a week- a schedule that allowed me to be out of the house and busy, yet available to adapt to John’s ever changing schedule. It often meant 4 AM breakfasts one week and 10 PM dinners the next… and while far from perfectly, we made the most of it. John worked incredibly hard and put in long hours studying and preparing for flights. Our conversations mostly revolved around future assignments. Somewhere deep down, I’m hopeful we still have the social skills to discuss something other than airplanes!

It was a year of creating home…again. We hung photos and rearranged furniture and tried to garden–mostly unsuccessfully. Mississippi’s heat and humidity were not kind to our vegetables, though our indoor herbs and succulents thrived. We also learned enough woodworking to build a table together.

It was, all in all, a good year. We left Mississippi with such incredible blessings. We have a wonderful dog and good friends. John finished pilot training and earned his wings just as I completed my degree through Moody. We’re welcoming a baby in only a few short weeks. God is good!

Rachel’s Visit

My best friend Rachel made it down for a visit Easter weekend! From her college in Greenville, it’s only an 8 hour trek- a bit more manageable than the trip from Greenville to Los Angeles.
We broke out our grill for the first time that weekend for ribs. 
Rachel and I wandered downtown Columbus, drinking coffee and seeing the sites, including this massive elephant head at a local antique store. Apparently, it lights up and moves. The price tag simply says, “Make an Offer”. Just a little terrifying. 
She got to meet the puppy, of course. Kaia provided most of our entertainment. 

Easter Sunday after church, John studied while we played Scrabble. 
We also spent quite a bit of time on the back porch watching the birds, coffee or tea in hand. What more could I ask for? 

Acorn Squash with Quinoa, Apricot and Sage Stuffing

2013? Seriously?

It’s been a whirlwind month. I got home from South Africa (more on that to come), we had Christmas with our families (also more on that to come) and moved to Mississippi (definitely more on that to come). It’s been raining nonstop for a week, which means we haven’t been too motivated to get much done in the way of unpacking and organizing. Instead, we’ve been playing plenty of board games and I’ve been spending more time in the kitchen.

We had this for dinner the other night and, although it wasn’t the first time I’ve made it, I was struck by how fast it all came together. 30 minutes from gathering the ingredients to sitting down to eat? I’ll take it! As per request, here’s the recipe, adapted from Terry Walter’s Clean Food. You could probably use just about any small squash; the original recipe suggests buttercup. The stuffing is excellent as is, but I’m sure you could swap out ingredients as needed. For example, mirin is sometimes hard to find- it’s a sweet, white cooking wine common in Japanese recipes.

Acorn Squash with Quinoa, Apricot and Sage Stuffing

2 small acorn squashes
2 T extra virgin olive oil, plus more for rubbing the squash
1 cup quinoa
1 1/2 cups water or vegetable stock
6 shallots, chopped
2 stalks of celery, chopped
6-8 dried apricots, chopped
2 T chopped fresh sage
2 T chopped fresh parsley, plus whole sprigs for serving (I’ve used cilantro before, too)
1 T mirin
zest of 1 lemon and 2 tablespoons of lemon juice
salt and pepper
1/2 cup toasted sliced almonds (I definitely used more, but we really like almonds)

Preheat oven to 375

Wash the squash and cut it in half. Scoop out the seeds and rub the skins with olive oil. Place open side down on a parchment lined baking pan. Roast for 25 minutes or until soft throughout. Turn off heat, but leave squash in the oven to stay warm until it’s ready to be served.

In the meantime, combine quinoa in a pot with water or vegetable stock and a pinch of salt. Place over high heat and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium-low, cover and simmer until the liquid is absorbed (this should take 10-15 minutes). Remove from heat and set aside.

In a dutch oven (a.k.a. large pot) over medium heat, saute shallots and celery in 1 tablespoon olive oil until soft. Then add the apricots, sage, parsley and mirin and saute for another 3 minutes. Fluff the quinoa and add to this mixture. Add lemon juice, zest and the remaining tablespoon of olive oil and saute until heated through. Fill individual squash bowls with stuffing, garnish with toasted almonds and parsley sprigs and serve. Delicious!

Newly Nomads

Well, it’s official. We are nomads.

We emptied our first home together,  turned in our keys, said our goodbyes and drove nearly 4,600 miles across the Northwestern United States. We enjoyed such a variety of unique, beautiful places! That trip probably merits its own post, so I’ll stop now.

Our last few weeks in Los Angeles were very, very full. John defended his dissertation and officially became Dr. Langley- I’m so, so proud of him! We stuffed our faces with friends at Maggiano’s to celebrate.


That same day, my sister Kaitie arrived to spend a few days with us. We enjoyed plenty of beach time, a day in Sequoia National Park, a Dodgers game (my first time at professional sporting event in the US!), sushi, and a few other famous California sights, including the John Langley star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame (which, in our humble opinion, is probably the only thing worth seeing in Hollywood- not impressed). It was fun to be able to have all of my sisters come visit this summer!

The next week, we managed to get down to San Diego to take advantage of free military admission to Sea World, 
and then spent the next day exploring Legoland. John was in heaven. 

After that, out final week was a rush of spending as much time as possible with friends, a day trip to Catalina, sneaking extra Yogurtland trips, and packing procrastinating. 
We flew out to Catalina Island and enjoyed a day of excellent snorkeling, relaxing on the beach,
and trying not to think about leaving.  
We’re really going to miss these people! 
We managed to put off packing until the very last minute and pulled an all-nighter to organize our home before the movers arrived. We had the challenge of determining exactly what we’d need for the next three months, because everything else won’t be seen again until January. I repacked my suitcases at least 6 times trying to figure out the most efficient way to pack for fall on the road (in 10 different states), summer in Africa, and the dead of winter in Illinois come December. We hate packing. We really, really do. We’ll have to develop a system of moving if we’re going to maintain our sanity for the next decade or two. Part of that system should probably be seriously limiting what we own- more on that to come. 

And then, with an empty apartment and a very full car, we left. The next few months will be quite a transition for us. I will spend about seven weeks in South Africa to fulfill my Moody internship requirement and John will drive alone to Mississippi before heading to Colorado for IFS (initial flight screening) until sometime in December. We’ll meet up again then and spend the holidays with our families.

But perhaps a greater transition than the move itself will be the transition into “real” military life. We’ve been so blessed to have the freedom and flexibility for the past year and a half to grow as a couple and enjoy our surroundings. John will transition from being able to work wherever and whenever (as long as he left with a Ph.D.!) to highly structured 12 hour days and a great deal of studying. It will be the first time that we, as a married couple, really create a new life together- choosing a church, a home, friends. We’re certainly excited, yet unsure of exactly what the future holds.

We think we’ve learned a few lessons in all of this; lessons we hope will spur us on to changes in the coming months:

1. “Have nothing in your houses that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful.”                   – William Morris 

We couldn’t believe how much stuff we have. We’ve been married not even a year and a half and our apartment was small and clean, but we were still amazed by how many boxes the movers packed. I delivered four giant bags to Salvation Army and towards the end of our packing, we found ourselves simply leaving stuff in the alley to be claimed.

Aurelius was right- very little is needed to make a happy life. Perhaps more humbling is that millions across the globe are happy with far less than what we have! We hope to make a few more Salvation Army trips as we unpack and reevaluate our possessions. If an item is not useful or beautiful, we have to reason to hold on to it. We want to live simply, without accumulating closets and basements and attics of items we don’t need or love.

2. Find a church and get connected quickly.

John started attending our last church (Pacific Crossroads) shortly after moving to Los Angeles over three years ago. During that time, he was involved in a Bible Study form another distant church and made some wonderful friends- friends we’ll keep in touch with. But it wasn’t until January this past year that we really made an effort to get connected to the church we attended week after week. We were being spiritually fed by excellent music and solid sermons, but we felt like outsiders because we lacked relationships.

After Christmas, we finally joined a community group and have been asking ourselves ever since why it took us so long. We could’ve enjoyed six more months with the friends we made!

3. Don’t be afraid of planting roots for fear of uprooting.

We will probably forever face the temptation to avoid putting down our roots because we know that our time in any given place is short. It was easy for us to say, “we don’t need to join another community group- we’re only going to be here for a few more months.” It was easy to think we didn’t need to be involved in events through our church because it wouldn’t be our church forever. It’s easy to avoid investing in relationships because you’ll have to say goodbye.

Shallow roots, shallow relationships do not offer the nourishment and encouragement we can gain from truly investing ourselves wherever we are. We love that we have wonderful friends in Los Angeles–how blessed we are to have difficult goodbyes.

4. Wait on the Lord.

“Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding. In all of your ways acknowledge him and he will direct your paths.” Proverbs 3:5-6

Somedays, we feel as though we’re trusting him simply for the very next step. We have no idea what the next stage of our life together will practically look like. We’re not sure where we’ll live or what I’ll will do or how pilot training will be on a day-to-day basis. We have no idea where we’ll attend church or what friends we’ll have or how we’re going to get around. We can’t plan out the next few years because we don’t know where we’ll be. We just don’t know, and we’re learning to be okay with that. We’re thankful for our sovereign God who directs our paths, working all things together for our good. We’re in the best hands.

Costly Cinnamon Rolls

When I woke up this morning, all I wanted was a cinnamon roll. A hot, fluffy, lightly frosted cinnamon roll and a cup of coffee. It’s been rather warm here the last few days and I’ve been trying to avoid heating up our apartment with the oven, but this was a truly desperate situation. After finding, at last, a recipe that wasn’t going to take hours, I cranked the oven to 400 and began mixing up the dough. 
Halfway through the preparations, I realized I was short one egg. Knowing that the dough was only supposed to rise for fifteen minutes, I quickly hopped on my bike (because our car is in the shop) and rode to Trader Joe’s. I came out of the store five minutes later and my bike was gone. My locked bike. Stolen in broad daylight in front of a grocery store. I feel as though I’ve finally become a Los Angeles resident. 
I walked around the building a few times, just to make sure I wasn’t crazy and half hoping to see someone with my bike. Of course, I have no idea what I’d do in that situation. Yell “HEY- THAT’S MY BIKE!” and hope that the thief would feel sorry and offer to return it? Right.
I half walked, half ran home, fearing that my cinnamon rolls would be doomed due to over rising. I prayed for the person who felt it was ok to steal my bike (now my last mode of transportation other than my own two feet) and tried my darndest not to be angry, though my confidence in the decency of people has been a bit tarnished. 
Long story short, we filed a police report and were able to sort things out with our insurance company in one painless phone call (how often does that happen? Thanks, USAA!). Given that we bought my bike used for about $100 and they base insurance claims on current market value, I will most certainly be able to get a decent new bike. And, wonder of wonders, after all of this mess, the cinnamon rolls turned out! 
It may have been 4 PM and long, long past when I’d hoped to be enjoying breakfast,
but the coffee and cinnamon roll were still good!

In case you want to try them, here’s the recipe (adapted from Valley Ridge recipes at Just make sure you have enough eggs before you mix the dough. I think I’ve learned my lesson. 
Mix these and let stand for 15 minutes: 
1 3/4 cup warm water
1/4 cup and 3 T sugar
1/4 cup canola oil
3 T yeast
Then add these:
1 1/2 tsp. salt
2 eggs
5 1/4 cups flour
Mix everything together for 10 minutes and then let the mixture stand for ten minutes. Then roll the dough out into a rectangle (or a shape roughly similar to a rectangle) and drizzle with melted butter and cinnamon sugar (I used about 1/2 cup of sugar and 1 tablespoon of cinnamon). Carefully roll up and then divide into individual rolls. Bake at 400 F for 12-15 minutes. 
For frosting, mix 4 oz. cream cheese, 1/4 cup softened butter, 1 1/2 cups powdered sugar, 1 1/2 teaspoons milk and 1/2 teaspoon vanilla. Actually, you could probably cut this recipe in half and still have plenty, especially if, like me, you’re not a huge frosting fan. 

our engagement

We’ve officially been married for over a year now. So surreal. And, as John would love to point out, I still haven’t written about our wedding–at all! I didn’t even really write about our engagement nearly two years ago. Somehow the biggest, most significant events of our lives haven’t been put to blog or jounal or wedding album…maybe we’ll have one of those in time for our 2nd anniversary!

In a few weeks, we’ll be making the trek back to Jackson Hole with my family for vacation. As we prepare for this trip, I am reminded of the time John and I spent in those beautiful mountains contemplating our new life together. How time flies!

During the summer of 2010, we were tenatively planning a trip to Colorado to visit John’s sponser from his Air Force Academy days. Ok, John was planning. He knew that the stunning natural beauty of the western states would provide ample opportunity to pop the question in an unbeatable setting. Somehow, he managed to purchase a ring without my knowledge and planned a trip home that May to surprise me…, to ask my parents permission for my hand in marriage. John set up a covert meeting over dinner with my parents who happily (and apparently a little tearfully) gave John their permission and blessing.

After dinner, John was on his way to my house to surprise me (I had no idea he was in town at all!) when he passed me on the road! I was surprised for sure, just not in the way he had planned. Though he was disappointed at his failed attempt, John was confident that I still had no idea of the true nature of his trip home. I didn’t. Somehow, I was completely oblivious.

That summer was full of precious time together. Given that our entire relationship was long-distance, it was amazing to have an entire week together in Ocean City, NJ with John’s family and then a weekend in Door County, WI with mine. Then in late July, I flew to LA and we drove for 1,100 miles in the middle of the night straight to Colorado Springs. There we stayed with Col. Dan Yoshii, a retired Air Force officer who had provided a home-away-from-home for John during his time at the academy and graciously offered rooms to us.

On August 2nd, we drove up to Rocky Mountain National Park to do some of the best hiking that can be had in America. The day started sunny and warm – good weather for hiking.

As we approached 11,500 ft., we ascended into a freezing cloud, which rapidly dampened (literally!) John’s plans for a mountaintop proposal by the aptly-named Frozen Lake. We decided to press on to the lake despite the cold rain. John was secretly hoping it would clear up by the time they got there, but it was not to be so. He’d been picturing abundant sunshine over a sweeping vista, yet somehow forgot that Colorado’s weather cannot be depended on for anything! The fog prevented seeing anything beyond 15-20 feet, and it turns out that my fingers were so swollen from the cold and rain and altitude that the ring probably wouldn’t have gone on anyway!

Freezing, drenched, exhausted and hungry, we stumbled back down the 8 miles we’d come to the car, where we blasted the heat full force for at least half an hour before pitching our tents for the night.

Not to be deterred so easily, John chose a different area for hiking the next day and started praying hard for good weather. Good weather came and we opted for a lower-elevation, easier-paced hike through a lusher part of the park, teeming with wildflowers, rivers and waterfalls. John’s search began for the perfect spot. I couldn’t figure out why John had to scramble up every cliff face and path, marked or not, when we had a rapidly approaching lunch date. Honestly, I was starting to feel a bit frustrated! At last, John’s patience was rewarded when we arrived at Ouzel Falls- a thundering torrent that sent up a cool mist to form flickering rainbows in the morning sunlight. John suggested that we take a picture together in front of the falls and proceeded to set up the tripod with the camera, which was secretly set to record a video instead. I couldn’t figure out why John wasn’t hurrying to get in the frame for the picture- or even looking at the camera, for that matter. And then he dropped to a knee and said the words we’d never spoken to each other before: “Kirsten Ann Richards, I love you. I want to spend the rest of my life with you. Will you marry me?”

I always thought I’d cry at this point- possibly the biggest, most emotional, wonderful surprise of my life. Instead, all I could say was, “Are you serious?”

Looking back, I think “Was there any possibility he wasn’t serious, on one knee with a ring? Probably not!” Still, I asked the question again, trying to wrap my mind around what was actually happening. I think the actual exchange went something like this:

Kirsten: “Are you serious?”

John: “Yes…”
Kirsten: “Are you serious?!?!”
John: “Completely serious!”
*….I drag John up, we embrace, laugh, etc…..*
John: “…aren’t you going to say yes?”
Kirsten: “YES!!!”

It was a far cheerier descent to the trail head than the day before and we later called family and friends to share the news from a city park in Boulder where we met John’s brother Michael for lunch. The next day we drove to Jackson Hole, WY to spend the rest of the trip with my great aunt and uncle. Finally we had to say goodbye to the mountains and drove back to LA by way of the Grand Canyon (in one long, 18+ hour stint!), wedding-planning along the way.

Best. Trip. Ever.