Saturday, August 15, 2015

My Charming Little Town

Midwesterners are a quietly clever bunch of folks. All of my preconceived notions of life in Kansas now seem absurd and narrow-minded. We have spent very little time at home over the past couple of months. Although Neal has officially started school, Blue and I find ourselves on the road to KCMO (Kansas City, MO but pronounced "K-C-MO" - which is not particularly creative but crazy-fun to say) at least 2 or 3 days per week. But this weekend, there is a hometown treasure hunt right outside the gate!

The Leavenworth Charm Hunt is a scavenger hunt of sorts that takes you through many of the locally-owned businesses in the downtown area. Downtown Leavenworth is not especially large so as long as you have older kids or a stroller or a babysitter, you should be able to walk it and complete the hunt in about 2 hours. I had none of the above so I ended up carrying Blue about 1/2 mile total. I'm going to pay for that later.

Blue and I met our neighbors at Harbor Lights Coffeehouse on Shawnee St. for a quick snack around 9:30 this morning. We were not the only ones with that idea, but even as the cafe filled, the staff was welcoming and the mood was festive. Harbor Lights maintains an entire rack full of kids' toys for the younger ones so Blue spent most of his time on the floor, surrounded by "new friends" (we've been working on calling people by their names instead of "hey" or "new friend"'s a never-ending struggle). When 10:00 rolled around, the cafe emptied and we strolled down a block to Queen's Pantry on Delaware Street to get a map of the participating stores (most of the shops on the hunt are displaying an orange star balloon outside but some did not so a map is rather essential. Also, the number of maps given out = the number of charms each shop has on hand. When the maps run out, so do the charms. This new method of tracking participation is in response to last year's complaints that some of the stores ran out of charms before people had completed the hunt).
The line at Queen's Pantry (the mandatory starting point and a precious little tea shop featuring British pantry items, tea sets, coffee mugs, aprons, serving trays and anything else that would help a Brit in Kansas feel right at home) stretched through the store and out the door as groups of 3 or 4 received their maps and instructions for completing the hunt. Although a toddler in a tea shop only spells disaster, Blue was able to "keep calm" and, thankfully, the line moved quickly.
It got a little warm in the shop and Blue always responds by turning bright red and going completely deaf to the sound of my voice...especially if the words coming out include "LOOK WITH YOUR EYES!!" 

With our maps and the first charm in hand (a sweet little tea cup and saucer to represent our first stop on the hunt), we carefully chose our route for the next 17 shops. We would visit all of the shops on Delaware first and then walk one block down to Cherokee. There were some stores on the periphery. We would decide what to do about those later. Because Blue couldn't care two squats about charms, I had been referring to the event as a "treasure hunt" and the orange star balloons became our clues that treasure was hidden inside. I didn't plan it that way but for a 3-year old, it couldn't have worked out better.
I will say that most of the participating stores are stroller friendly, with double doors leading in and wide aisles that even accommodated the double strollers we saw. There were a few exceptions, of Queen's Pantry (with aisles of china on either side), The Book Barn (whose narrow aisles spilling over with stories for all ages is like falling down the rabbit hole of reading and wonder) and The Turquoise Fish (which has several steep stairs leading up to its only entrance). On the whole, though, it seemed like the moms were maneuvering the shops OK and other participants were patiently waiting while they got in, out and around. (I can't tell you what a game-changer it is to have people show a little empathy towards a mom with a stroller. For the love of all that is good and under the age of 5, please don't throw elbows, give the stink-eye or let a door shut on a mom with a stroller, even if it's roughly the same size as a city bus. Sometimes it's the only thing that allows us to get out of the house once in a blue moon and do something fun. If your child is a teenager and you've forgotten what it's like, at least teach him/her to hold the door for us and we will be immensely grateful now and pay it forward in 10 years.)

The premise of the charm hunt, which is now in its 12th year, is to introduce the 1500 or so families that descend upon Fort Leavenworth every summer to the downtown area. Although I'm sure these business owners understand that they are in stiff competition with KCMO shops just 30 minutes across the state line, it's their way of getting you in their store at least once during the year. It's brilliant because now that we've been in, we are sure to return...even if it's just to have Lulu fitted for a new kitty harness from Kansas Country Store or pick up a darling summer dress from Lavender Moon Clothing Company or take a sewing class at Meadows Quilting and Sewing. Most of the shops encourage browsing during the charm hunt by placing the charm pick up station near the back of the store. It's almost impossible to walk all the way to the back of these shops and not find something you love on the way. To entice you further, when you spend $20 in any of the participating shops, you get a free bracelet for all of your new charms. Otherwise, the bracelets are $5 each. Some stores also had charms from years past available for purchase. We picked up an extra horse charm from Kansas Country Store for $1.10. We browsed as much as we could, but as the morning turned to afternoon and Blue was grazing on apple sauce packets and fig bars stashed in my purse, I had to make more promises to return on a day when I was alone.

By the time we reached The Pot Rack (which, oh my cute kitchen), Blue was rubbing his eyes and begging to go home. We had 4 stops left and 2 of them were several blocks in opposite directions...which brings me to my suggested route for the 2015 charm hunt. We parked on the street, directly in front of Queen's Pantry and then worked our way down to one end of Delaware and then back up the other side. We then walked one block down to Cherokee and did the same. However, some of these shops on Delaware and Cherokee are waaaaaay at the end with not much in between. So, if I were to do it again, I would start at Queen's Pantry and do the following Delaware St. shops first (not necessarily in this order - refer to your map for exact street numbers):
1. Euro-Pottery (beautiful Polish pottery in all shapes and sizes)
2. Leavenworth Antique Mall (4 floors of antiquing. FOUR!)
3. The Party Store (due to their store layout, they are handing out charms at the cash register at the front, which causes a little bit of a bottleneck. Patience is not just a Guns n Roses song, y'all.)
4. Meadows Quilting & Sewing (Technically on 5th St. but it's on the corner of Delaware and 5th so it's still right there...and I wish I had bought my last batch of RV valance fabric there. So. Much. Cute. Fabric.)
5. Bisque-It (Bonus: you can sign up for painting or pottery classes while you're picking up your charm. I'll be celebrating part of my birthday weekend painting sunflowers with them!)
6. Nibbit Works (Besides being a new shop featuring beautiful blown glass and a coffee-table sized drum at the back of the store, they were also offering cookies from Sis' Sweets, which is currently ranked #1 restaurant in Leavenworth on Trip Advisor.)
7. The Book Barn (If you eat, sleep, breathe books like we do, this may be a good place to spend your $20.)
8. C.J. Gift Co. (Adorable home decor plus a floral umbrella opened and suspended upside down in the doorway. I call this bad luck but Blue calls it fascinating. Probably because he's my son and he's never seen an umbrella opened inside. This is also your one stop shop for all Rock Chalk Jayhawk gear...if that's your...thing. If UK loses to KU again this year, I'm going underground like it's a nuclear war.)
9. 3 Ladies Sewing Shoppe (One day with them ends in 3 finished projects. Gonna cross that "learn to embroider" task right off the 101 list this year!)

At this point, I would be tempted to move the car down to Cherokee St. I know there's one more shop on Delaware, but trust me, there's plenty of parking and it's a bit of a hike.

On Cherokee St. (again, not necessarily in this order)
1. First Taste Olive Oils and Vinegars (In addition to a tasting room, they also have a small cafe that serves lunch. If your children are hanging in there or you're charm hunting sans kids, this is a tasty lunch treat as it will be around 12ish if you started on Delaware at 10.)
2. The Pot Rack (Complimentary tea and coffee were served near the rear of the shop. This place reminds me of Paula Deen's gift shop next door to The Lady and Sons in Savannah, but without the sticker shock or kitschy southern crap that no respectable southern lady has in her house anyway.)
3. Kansas Country Store (Like Tractor & Supply, but way cooler.)
4. Lavender Moon Clothing Co. (A small store but big on artistic talent. The clothing is well-made and modern and the jewelry is handmade by an artist who works out of the back of the shop. They just moved so their new address is 700 Cherokee St.)

I would suggest perhaps driving to the last 4 shops.
1. dorMail Gallery (At the end of Delaware, closest to the tracks. They had some books and puzzles out for the kids, which was greatly appreciated. They will also be offering a paper marbling class this fall. I don't know what I'm going to do with marbled paper, but I'm sure I can find a way to use it for some project.)
2. Leavenworth Floral and Gifts (All the way at the OTHER end of Delaware. I'm not much of a cut-flower girl but they have these super cool ribbon flame candles that I would buy in a heartbeat if I wasn't so afraid of a toddler + open fire in the same house.)
3. The Turquoise Fish (All the way at the other end of Cherokee, going away from the railroad tracks. They are also handing out charms at the register but take a few minutes to walk around anyway. So many handcrafted goodies in one little spot. I've already added this to my Solo Saturday Shopping Trip.)
4. Sunflower Sister Vintage (This shop sits a few streets off of downtown, in a somewhat commercial section of Leavenworth. The outside looks a little questionable but inside, it's a vintage chick's paradise. Shabby chic with a splash of color, plus if you have any Pinterest projects that require a vintage suitcase, this is your place.)

And with that, you're all done! When the map is full of stamps, just leave it at the last shop you visit so you can be entered into a drawing for gift cards to the participating stores!

The charms are mostly packaged in small baggies with a jump ring included in the bag. I heard some people grumbling about receiving charms with jump rings unattached. People never cease to amaze me. Get yourself some pliers and follow this tutorial and you're good to go. Not only is this useful information post-charm hunt, but also good for minor repair of your jewelry in general. But if you are completely uninterested in creating your own bracelet, you can deliver your bag of charms to Bisque It and they will assemble it for $10. Now, the most important question...what do the charms look like? Here are the 18 charms for the 2015 Charm Hunt (+1 horse charm for this Kentucky girl):
Cute, right? My favorites are the muffin pan, the margarita glass and the paint brushes in a can but they are all precious. The bottom row includes a cracked marble bead, which I've seen on Pinterest and have been meaning to try but just haven't had time. At least now I know what it's supposed to look like. And the bunch of grapes at the top is so large that I think I'm going to string it onto a 1.0mm sterling silver bead chain all by itself!

Also, this wasn't in a Charm Hunt store but there are no words for how much I love this sign:
So, happy hunting...tomorrow and beyond!

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Just Do It: The Wine Cork Ring Tutorial

You may have noticed that we've hit the ground running in Kansas. Whatever they say about tornadoes and cornfields and cowtipping for fun is just hogwash. These folks know how to keep a family busy. Last weekend, we attended a morning at the ranch on Friday and then a festival for new-comers on Saturday. I haven't had much time to work on my personal jewelry so I've been relying on a few staples to keep me accessorized...a koa wood beaded necklace from our vacation in Hawaii, a couple of Alex and Ani bangles and this wine cork ring I made last year. The "T" stands for Talon Vineyard, which is tucked away on Tates Creek Road in Lexington. Talon makes some of my favorite wines and the staff has always been warm and welcoming, whether we are there for a tasting or just want to enjoy a bottle of Bluegrass Blush on a picnic blanket in the vineyard. I chose this cork because the "T" makes it unique and it's a piece of Kentucky that travels with me all over the world.

To make your own wine cork ring, you will need the following supplies:
1. A 22mm wine cork. Believe it or not, size does matter and they aren't all the same. Champagne corks are too big and some red wine corks are too small (you may notice that the red wine cork in the above picture is slightly smaller than the white wine one. I pulled it out of my bag-o-corks to make a red wine cork ring but it's too small and leaves a lot of space between the cork and the ring. I'm looking into ways to fill that space but for now, it just looks weird).

2. A non-serrated knife for a clean cut.

3. The ring base, which can be purchased at Hobby Lobby:

Go to the jewelry supply aisle and look for the section with the green tags that say My Jewelry Shop. Make sure you purchase the ring bezel that has a 22 millimeter center. The actual ring is adjustable. As you can see here, they are normally $1.99 but if you buy them when My Jewelry Shop is 50% off, then this entire project will only cost you about $3.00, plus the cost of the wine which you were going to drink anyway.

4. E-6000 glue. This is specific craft glue that lasts fooorrrrreeeevvvveeeerrrr. I've used Super Glue for some jewelry projects before but repeated exposure to water and a variety of temperatures seem to weaken the bonding power of Super Glue. Since this is a ring and I wash my hands no less than 65 times a day, I needed something that could withstand repeated exposure to water. Interestingly, the water doesn't effect the cork, other than to give it a lovely aged crackle. E-6000 can be purchased at any craft store and at Hobby Lobby, it's in the same aisle as the jewelry supplies.

Putting your ring together:
1.Place your whole cork inside the ring to make sure it will fill the bezel enough. This was about the moment when I figured out that the diameter of my red wine cork wasn't wide enough. Dang. I will have to drink another bottle and hope that cork is bigger.

2. Use a pencil (or pen...we tend to hide the pencils in this house because Magic Eraser is awesome on pen, but we've had mixed results with toddler pencil art on the walls) to mark where you are going to cut with your knife. I usually just make a mark right at the top of the ring bezel.
 See the pencil mark? Right....THERE...(where's a pointy finger emoji when you really need one?)

3. Set the ring to the side and use the knife to slice off the end of the cork right above your pencil mark. This may be a good time to mention that the part you've just cut will be the bottom of the ring so make sure that the end of the cork you want to show on your ring is facing down into the bezel when you measure and mark. 
4. Spread the E-6000 inside the bezel (mostly on the flat bottom, not so much around the sides). I didn't get a picture of this part because E-6000 is a lot runnier than Super Glue and God only gave me 2 hands. A picture at this point would definitely have required 3.

5. Before you put the cork into its final spot, put the ring on whichever finger will wear it most. I tend to wear this ring on my right ring finger, so I turn the T a little more counter-clockwise than I would if I was going to wear it on my middle finger. This is more important when you are centering a letter or geometric pattern and you want it to sit straight on your hand while you're wearing it. It doesn't mean you can't switch fingers, it will just sit a hair crooked if you do.
6. Remove the ring and set it upright to dry. I use a ring mandrel, but I know not everyone has one of those so a Sharpie pen also works....or anything that is roughly the same size as your fingers. It takes about 12 hours to fully cure so make sure it's up and out of grabby-finger-reach.
Part of my fun in drinking a bottle of wine now is checking out the cork to see if it has any special markings. I found one in a bottle of 2006 white with the date stamped on the cork. That happens to be the year we got married so that's my next project!

A word about the ring bases: they are silver plated and not even sterling silver plated. If you have a nickel allergy, you would be better off searching Etsy for a 22mm bezel ring in sterling silver. They make them. They're out there. Order one of those to keep your hand from swelling up and falling off. I'm all for sacrificing for beauty but there are limits. If you don't have any metal sensitivities, this is a great ring base. I've been wearing my wine cork ring for about a year now and aside from the cork falling out (which is fully attributed to Super Glue + water + time), the ring base itself hasn't tarnished or worn much. It still looks pretty great, which is not always the case with base metals.

So, get thee to the liquor store. You have accessories to create!

Monday, August 10, 2015


Last week, we celebrated Blue's 3rd birthday. THIRD. 0-3.

How in the hell did that happen?

Wasn't he just a few days old, sucking passionately on a pacifier and waking up every 3 hours on the dot? How did he become a strutting, singing, ball of energy? Did I blink and miss something?

Oh, no wait...I didn't miss a thing. I remember it all now...just like it was yesterday. Three years of self-doubt, anxiety, wonder, giggles, heartache, fear, laughter, tears, lack of self-confidence, hopes, power struggles, losing patience, finding patience at the bottom of an afternoon espresso, building confidence, tearing down stacks of blocks, regret, tender kisses on the cheek, first words, angry words, cuddles, new toys, old habits, finding my feet as a mother, trusting my husband to find his.

Three years of parenting, starting from scratch.

Throughout it all, the underlying thread of my time as a mother has been fear. Fear that I will drop his tiny 8 lb body during a hand-off in the hospital. Fear that he will choke on a Cheerio and die. Fear that the scratch on his leg is actually a brown recluse spider bite or that the fall he took off the couch will result in internal bleeding or that he's going to develop rickets because he's such a damn picky eater. Fear that I will have to say goodbye to another child. Tami, a friend and Gold Star Mother, said it best. She commented on her blog one day that the only time she didn't worry about her grown son was after he was killed in Afghanistan. I didn't get it then, but I live it everyday now. I am always aware that we've put all of our eggs into this Blue basket and even if he had a sibling, I would be just as anxious about his/her safety and well-being.

After Blue turned 1 week old, Mom and Anna went home. When he turned 3 weeks old, Neal went back to work. And I began my new that I was completely unqualified for with no prior training or experience. I had taken 8 years to finish college. I had quit my career as a fitness professional. I had bailed on my career as a massage therapist. I was an incoherent disaster in the morning. Every morning. I had a tendency to cuss with the slightest provocation.

I was going to completely eff this up.

When Blue was about 6 months old, after I had accidentally dropped my iPhone on his head in the park and introduced avocados 3 months too early and watched helplessly from across the room as he rolled off the bed and onto the slightly padded hotel room floor, I messaged my friend. Her daughter was about 5 at the time. She must have some answers. I asked her when she felt comfortable as a mom. At what point did she feel like she had this? Her reply? About 6 months.

I was so screwed.

For the next 18 months, I felt frumpy, hormonally imbalanced, anxious, worried and utterly unfashionable. I wore my black yoga pants until they sprang a hole in a rather conspicuous spot. All of my clothes were snug, except for my sports bras, which stretched and sagged under the new weight. I refused to buy anything bigger because any day now, all of this extra baby weight I had picked up in the last 8 weeks of pregnancy was just going to drop right off as I jumped over a mud puddle or something. It had already over-stayed its welcome so annnny day now....

Was I depressed? Yes, somewhat. Was I overwhelmed and completely exhausted? Absolutely. Did I contemplate taking Blue with me into the river? No. Not for one single second. I was in complete awe of this tiny human we created and I woke up each day eager to see what he would do next. It was all a big adventure, albeit an anxious one fraught with danger and peril from the outside world. We waded in cautiously and congratulated ourselves heartily when we found we had survived another day. Sometimes, though, we didn't wait until Neal was walking in the door. Some days were bad and he found me pacing the driveway, ready for a hand-off and the keys to any car without an infant seat. Some days I understood how women could cross over to the darker side of motherhood.

If I could write a letter to Blue's Mommy of 3 years ago, I would tell her that:
1. At 1 day old, he's never going to leap from your arms to his death on the tiled hospital floor.
2. Ignore the voices and skip the articles that suggest you are abusing your child by giving him formula for the first year. He is in the 81st percentile for weight and 90th percentile for height. Similac didn't kill him.
3. Let him be naked more. And if pedophiles freak you out that bad, just close the damn blinds.
4. Wear him more and get more done. Gazing lovingly upon an infant who's thrashing about on a play yard makes a great Johnson & Johnson commercial but it's not realistic. There are better ways to bond.
5. Ignore the co-sleeper critics. He will become an epic cuddler and it will give you immeasurable joy.
6. Play more, worry less. Neal will show you how.
7. Let others care for him, too. He will show you, eventually, that he thrives even when you aren't there to see it. He can be cared for by other adults and you need that space from time to time. Find a babysitter. Pay her well.
8. Read to him more. At 3, he only wants to sit still for books on his terms. Enjoy those times when you can still do things at your will.
9. Not every outfit has to match. Not every shirt has to have a collar.
10. Let him see you sweat. Even if it's Wii-Zumba in the living room. Make a little time each day to work out. And this is no time for Mom Guilt. Neal's got this. He will show you a thousand times over that he knows how to be a fantastic dad.
11. PBS has not ruined a child yet. Someone will comment on your lax TV rules, but there is much to learn from Daniel Tiger, Cat in the Hat and Curious George.
12. Juice is not the devil. Neither are hotdogs, s'mores, gummy snacks, popcorn, chocolate chip waffles nor cheese. He hates ice cream, cotton candy and pasta but loves almost every fruit you set in front of him. These are all small victories that you will learn to celebrate.
13. You don't need a house full of toys. You need a couple of worms, a frog or 2, a box of sand and some measuring cups. Save the thousands of dollars you'll give to V-Tech, Thomas the Train, Melissa & Doug and fly yourselves to somewhere exotic.
14. Trust in yourself. Know that when you are in the moment, you will find the right words to say or the right thing to do. And if you don't find them in that moment, you will find them in the next one. Others may criticize, pass judgment, question or even doubt what you are doing, but you are his Mommy. You will always do what you think is best for his well-being so everyone else can eat rocks.

I'm a little sad for the Ally of 3 years ago. I wish she had felt more empowered to raise up a child. I wish she had put on a pantyliner and gone for a run. Or maybe hired a babysitter and taken an art class. She was consumed to the point of burning. It was not sustainable.

Today, my walking, talking, skipping, jumping, singing, screaming, story-telling, loving, kind, silly three-nager said to me, "Mommy, we're a team." He has no idea what it means, but he couldn't be more accurate. Hand-in-hand, we cross roads, walk through doors, learn from one another and teach each other. We've both come a long the moon and back, in just 3 years.

Friday, July 31, 2015

Book Club Review: 'An Astronaut's Guide to Life on Earth' by Col. Chris Hadfield

Full disclosure: I'm not sure you can refer to it as a book club if the only member is you. And you read approximately 2 books per year. Although I sped through this one in about 5 months so I'm actually ahead of the curve for 2015. Also, my wine to pages read ratio is a bit skewed. But that may be par for the course for most book clubs.

Space. It is our, seemingly, final frontier. We found the gold in California and tamed the waters of the Colorado River. Naturally, our gaze would shift upward...toward Heaven. Or as close as we can possibly get and still be able to return. I remember when shuttle launches were still a topic of conversation around the dinner table. An entire day was planned around being able to be in front of the TV by T-5 minutes. The rockets blasted, the fires blazed, that blinding white projectile shaking visibly as it inched upward toward a cloudless Florida sky. I remember holding my breath...especially after the unimaginable tragedy of the Challenger Shuttle. We, as a nation, began to doubt the space program. Was it worth the risk? Can we send robots instead? Over time, the shuttle launches that followed barely registered on my radar. NASA wasn't relevant to me. What's the point anyway? And how hard could it possibly be to be an astronaut? I've flown on airplanes dozens of times. So that one just goes a bit faster. You get the invaluable reward of being weightless when you reach the other side. Isn't that worth a few g's? I can drink Tang. I can totally be an astronaut.

My parents used to tell me that I can be anything I set my mind to. It's a great sentiment and I'm sure Dr. Sears would be proud, but it's total horsecrap. I can't be anything I set my mind to because genetics has blessed me with strengths in some areas and severe, debilitating weaknesses in others. Like geography. And physics. And calculus. One of my bucket list items is to someday understand the purpose for sin and cos. (And to my high school boyfriend from Spain, I'm terribly sorry that I thought you were from South America.) So, obviously I'm never going to be a mapmaker or a neurosurgeon or an astronaut. And Blue probably won't be either. But that's OK because we can become equally important and contributing members of society in other fields. We can also read books by people like Col. Chris Hadfield and appreciate what it takes to accomplish so much at such a young age. Spoiler alert: it takes more than a jug of Tang and a couple of round trip tickets to Chicago.

I first heard Col. Hadfield interviewed by Terry Gross on NPR's Fresh Air last fall. He was clever, insightful and delightfully engaging. As a Canadian, he was an astronaut-wannabe without a space shuttle. Canada had a space program but nothing to launch. So, after watching the Apollo 11 moon landing, he began making decisions that would hopefully set him on a course that intersected with NASA. In high school he earned his glider pilot's license with the Royal Canadian Air Cadets then went on to earn an engineering degree and an advanced aviation degree. In the meantime, he became a fighter pilot and a test pilot with the Royal Canadian Air Force...all the while just hoping it would lead to a spot in Houston. No guarantees. Ultimately, he completed 3 space missions; the third trip lasting 5 months. He performed 2 space walks, which are infinitely more tedious than I had ever imagined. And he has worked on the the ground crew for countless other space missions...providing insight, solutions and invaluable support.

Throughout his book, Col. Hadfield draws many parallels between life in space and life on earth - most of which are counter-intuitive. Sweat the small stuff...because that could head off disasters that loom down the road. Think negatively...what's the next thing that can kill you? And then develop plans A-D for dealing with that scenario (OK, in this regard, I could have totally been an astronaut). But what resonated most with my view on the human race was aim to be a zero. Simply put, approaching any situation with the attitude that you will neither cause great harm (-1) or bring about great good (+1), you will become a zero and that is ideal. We encounter this +1 attitude a lot in the Army...more so on the Soldier side than the spouse (although I have come across some annoyingly competitive spouses). When the brass enters the room, everyone is quick with a question that is sure to make that 2-star look twice at the person asking it. I've witnessed Neal return home from many drill weekends weary from Soldiers trying to prove their knowledge, skill or military prowess. Ironically, when you work so hard to be a +1, it usually results in others perceiving you as a -1. Aim for zero and sometimes you will end up as a +1 in everyone's eyes.

Col. Hadfield offers many other nuggets of not-quite-common-sense advice. Sprinkled throughout are chunks of wisdom that he has garnered from working with colleagues in a strict and structured environment. From maneuvering around certain personality types to dealing with your own reaction to criticism, it's just as much a self-help book for the workplace as it is entertaining storytelling. He has also included a few more intimate passages that offer a glimpse into his family life with a wife and 3 kids. Much like life in the military, Col. Hadfield missed countless birthdays, anniversaries and graduations because he was training, supporting a mission or flying a mission. He is honest about how his absence affected his family, which is a refreshing change from pretending that homecomings are easy and transitions are painless.

When the book goes out of print and the space program shifts in a whole new direction, Col Hadfield will still be famous for his rendition of David Bowie's Space Oddity as performed from an orbiting International Space Station. If you haven't had the pleasure, here you go:
He credits much of the post-production work and cult-like success of the video to his son, who has mastered the art of social media. But I'm not on Twitter or Instagram so I totally missed it. I'm sharing with you because it will be the best 6 minutes of your day.

Col. Hadfield has become an ardent spokesperson for NASA. His unmatched enthusiasm for the space program and what we are capable of (even as NASA's budget is constantly whittled) is contagious and by the end of the book, I became aware of a growing, insatiable craving to know more about space, the solar system and what we are doing up there. This book does that to people. Space could not possibly be further from your mind and suddenly it is all you can think about. You begin watching videos about how to brush your teeth in space, how to sleep in space, even how a wet washcloth behaves in space. Three minute snippets of your day that affect how you think about everything else that day. I read to be amused. I read to learn. I read to reach some deeper understanding. This book did all of that and more. 5 stars and a fist bump to Col. Hadfield, an astronaut rockstar who also has a way with words.

If you haven't yet fallen down the rabbit hole that is the Chris Hadfield-in-space videos, I encourage you to step in. It doesn't hurt and you may really like it once you get here. 

If you are interested in a more cohesive and academic review of this book, Adam Savage (of MythBusters fame) wrote a most brilliant piece for The Wall Street Journal here

Monday, July 27, 2015

Item #1: The National WWI Museum and Memorial

The First World War.

The Great War.

Also known as...the war that was barely mentioned in high school history...never to be studied again unless your college major was history (which it probably wasn't because, let's face it...that's every parent's worst nightmare. And WHAT are you going to do with THAT, missy? Huh?? Why don't you just go ahead and change your major to liberal arts so you can send me to an early grave? Because you'll NEVER be able to afford my long-term living expenses. In case you're wondering, when you tell your parents you would like to be a theater major, the response is almost exactly the same.) But if you do hold a History degree, good for you because it means you are probably quite passionate about history and you are exactly the person I want to teach my son.

The WWI Museum and Memorial was designed, seemingly, by some very passionate History majors. It's ranked #1 on Trip Advisor for Things to Do in Kansas City, MO. Therefore, it seemed fitting that it would be our first stop after lunch at City Market in Kansas City. We were traveling without Blue for the day, which worked out perfectly. Although this museum is not one shrouded in sensitivity and fresh wounds (like trying to navigate the 9/11 Museum with him last spring), there is a lot of reading (especially if your knowledge of WWI pre-dates 9/11). Stopping and reading with a non-reader is hard (even if that non-reader is not a toddler). We saw a couple of families with kids and they were sort of hammering through, stopping for the videos and anything shiny but sailing right past the reading and the smaller displays. My advice? Find a sitter or strap your child in a stroller and give them a new episode of Dinosaur Train and some headphones (for the record, I'm not a fan of that second option but sometimes the first option just doesn't exist). Although, if you are visiting with kids, check the website for Hands-On History opportunities. Generally at 1 PM on these days, staff will bring artifacts from the collection out and kids are encouraged to touch and explore these items. I don't know about you, but I had Blue at "touch".

Parking wasn't a problem because it was 2:30 PM on a Thursday during the summer when all of the kids are down the street at Crown Center. There is some parallel parking in front on both sides of a grassy median so I slid right in (thanks to my superb parallel parking skills). The Liberty Memorial is the most recognizable structure of the museum and strongly resembles Coit Tower in San Francisco. The museum and research center are housed below the tower and it's an easy stroll from the museum exit to the elevators that take you to the top of Liberty Memorial, which offers the best 360 degree view of Kansas City.
It was a stifling, yet overcast day so this isn't the most picturesque photo of the museum and Memorial but it gives you an idea of what you'll see upon approaching the building. Once inside, a greeter (I'm assuming a volunteer and veteran, judging by his age and the way all service members tend to sort of stand at attention when "at work"...even when they are 65+) met us at the door and quickly explained some pointers for navigating the museum. Most importantly, there are no bathrooms once you enter the main building. And where to stand to take the iconic photo of the Liberty Memorial's reflection against the field of poppies.

Oh, the field of poppies.

When I first read about this museum on Trip Advisor, I noticed many reviewers mentioning the field of poppies under the bridge at the entrance. A field of poppies? How beautiful! I wonder if you have to go at a certain time of year to catch them in bloom? Certainly they will be brown and wilty after the sweltering heat we've had for 2 weeks. Maybe we should wait until spring to go. But I wanted Shana to experience the museum and I don't know how many KC trips she has in her, so we added it to the list. As it turns out, I don't think the poppies are real. I could be wrong but we discussed it and we both agreed that, even from 15 feet above, they looked rather...silky. The poppies represent the service members killed in WWI...each poppy representing 1,000 combatant deaths, totaling 9,000 poppies under the glass bridge. That's a lot of poppies to keep alive. So, am I a brat for being disappointed that they weren't real? Yes, probably. But I got over it pretty quickly and was still sobered by the idea that each one represented 1,000 lives.
Before crossing over the bridge and into the museum, we stopped by the ticket desk to pick up the audio guides. When there's an audio guide available, I splurge for it because it's such an inexpensive way to enhance the experience. Often there are interviews with people directly associated with the museum, as well as tips for navigating the exhibits. Audio guides at the WWI Museum are $5 each and a regular adult admission is $14 (good for 2 days). If you are active duty military, your admission is always 50% off and spouses are $2 off. Wednesdays are always 1/2 price for everyone. Kids under 6 are FREE!

If you are in the 30-40 something set, chances are, you had a grandparent or great grandparent who served in some capacity during WWI, but you know nothing of their experiences because they died before you cared enough to ask. As it was, I couldn't even remember how the US ended up entering the war. Apparently, I'm not alone as this is the very first topic addressed in the audio guide. The war began on July 28, 1914 and the US didn't declare war with Germany until April of 1917 so much of the museum and guide are focused on war between the French, English and Germans. For example, the foxhole made its debut during WWI and each country's military had a different strategy for constructing one. A good deal of space was used to recreate each country's distinctive foxhole design. Small portals are inset within the walls with motion-activated speakers above so as you stick your head in to observe the design, it triggers the sounds of war and a narrator's voice describing the scene.

With trench warfare, came the inevitable...
 Nerve gas was first used during WWI and, as a result, the gas mask made its debut.
And, for the first time, America was truly united behind the cause. Everyone was enlisted to help fight The Great War. Housewives gladly collected their copper and aluminum. Civilians forfeited many comforts and luxuries for the sake of war.

One of the largest wall-mounted exhibits is a map of the countries involved in WWI, which is everything in red.

Countries in black remained neutral.
The largest group of neutral countries during WWI now spend all of their time trying to annihilate one another. Everyone who finds this deeply ironic, please raise your hand.

Throughout the museum, there are a few interactive displays (which we cruised past because that's where the kids flocked) and a couple of 10-15 minute videos. Both were well-done and actually enhanced the experience, as opposed to simply restating what was already presented. One of the films was projected onto a screen above life-size mannequins of troops in battle. If you are unmoved by this scene, there is no hope for you in this life.
Blue Star Moms was founded during WWI and they still profoundly affect our lives today. Every summer, they ask a lengthy list of museums in each state to offer free admission to active duty military and their dependents. From Memorial Day to Labor Day, Neal, Blue and I dash around, visiting as many Blue Star Mom Museums as possible. This is just one of their many positive contributions but it is one that we are highly appreciative of every year.

The number of stars indicates how many sons (or daughters, now) you have serving overseas.

Of course, with war comes casualty and wounds. Amputations were common and military hospitals were archaic. Penicillin wasn't discovered until 1927 but Marie Curie did bring her x-ray technology to the front lines of WWI, which saved many.

One other display that I felt indicated the highest attention to detail was a wall of unit photos. They are mostly 5x7 pictures, each containing 100 men or more. It's hard to see much more than a sea of faces and uniforms. However, the museum added large magnifying glass that slides vertically and horizontally so that visitors can truly examine each photo.
What a unique and effective way to engage visitors. It's hard, as a mom, to not look at these photos and imagine these are someone's sons. It makes this Army Wife sad that war is ever waged.

As we finished up, we rounded the corner to a room that displayed full wall-size photos of the 3 cities that dominated the world at the end of WWI...which differed from the 3 cities in power at the beginning of WWI, posted in the first room of the museum. The final room leaves the visitor with a sense of hope for the prosperity that followed WWI, but also a sense of doom as we all know WWII was not far down the road.
We returned our audio guides and exited the side entrance, headed for the elevator that would take us to the top of Liberty Memorial. Once you reach the top, there are still about 40 cramped stairs to the observatory. They are sure to tell you this at the bottom, just in case you can't do the 40 stairs. And the elevator is still manually operated. There is no narration by the museum volunteer but he is happy to answer any questions you may have about the museum or the memorial. Once you reach the top, Kansas City is laid out before you.

Again, no filter. Just the haze of July and a bit of the smoke from wildfires in Canada drifting through.

Kansas City, MO natives are quite proud of the fact that they were able to construct and open the Liberty Memorial Museum by 1926. The Liberty Memorial Association and Kansas City citizens, together, raised $2 million in less than 2 weeks. It was dedicated by President Calvin Coolidge in November, 1926. By 1994, the building had deteriorated so badly that it was closed due to safety concerns. Local malls voluntarily displayed pieces from the museum's collection until the Memorial could be re-opened. Again, Kansas City natives banded together to repair and re-open their treasured museum. In 1998, they passed a limited-run sales tax to support the restoration, but plans to revitalize went international and the funds raised totaled $102 million. Not only did they restore, but they also expanded, now including many documents that had surfaced since the original opening in 1926. In 2004, Congress designated the museum as the nation's official WWI museum. There is also a functioning research facility under the Liberty Memorial.

I imagine that many of my fellow 30 and 40-somethings would view this museum and its collection as a monument to irrelevance. What do foxholes and war bonds have to do with us? Everything has changed. However, I would argue that besides it being a place to honor and pay respect to our WWI veterans, it's also a monument to the adage, "If you do not know your history, you are doomed to repeat it." At some point, we have to take responsibility for our own education. Skipping over it in high school is one thing. Driving your family right past it on the way to a Royals game is something else entirely.

Monday, July 20, 2015

The Flying Monkey Report

We have finally arrived.

I lost one ruby red slipper at a casino in St. Louis.

Toto peed in the RV bed.

And Glenda promises that we will have a bright and sunny year here in Kansas.

So far, so good.

Living on a military instillation after living off for almost 5 years has been a refreshing change. The apartments feel like dorms for the 30-something parenting set - which suits us perfectly. While the boys are training, the ladies can sip sweet tea on our back porch and the kids have freedom to run in the courtyard. Last week, Blue collected roly poly bugs with the boys next door. He's the youngest but manages to find a way to get along, even as his vocabulary is still developing. If you stand at our sun room window, you can see not one, not two, but THREE playgrounds. And a baseball diamond. And a skate park. We watched T-ball camp take place last week (in brutal 100+ degree heat indices, no less. We watched them from the comfort of our 68 degree living room) and we venture across to a playground at least once a day. The Kansas Bucket List is already far lengthier than the Kentucky Bucket List was. Thus far, we have managed to cross off eating award-winning chocolate:

driving to Nowhere:

and getting an overall feel for the layout of the city:

It has been stupid hot (you may think I was using some fancy filter on the above pictures. I was not. That's just the haze of mind-melting humidity). We found and joined all of the air conditioned museums. And we now keep a permanent stash of water bottles in the freezer. But it's July so if it was mild and breezy, I would think Hell was dangerously close to freezing over.

The trip here was not completely uneventful. Soon after we arrived, one of our cats quit eating or drinking and after some rushed bloodwork, we found out that her kidneys were failing. After many tears, several long discussions with the vet and some quiet prayer on my part, we decided to say goodbye to her. There's not much to be done once a cat's kidneys begin to fail and she was in the advanced stages before she ever started showing signs. As Mama Virgo said, "Keeping her alive would simply be Kitty Hospice. Nothing will improve and she will only continue to decline." She's had cats for as long as I've been alive so I think she knows a thing or 2 on the matter. But it doesn't help in moments when I forget why only one cat is purring at my feet. Or every time Blue asks where she is. I miss her terribly and I'll always second-guess my decision. But I also believe that all kids and all cats go to Heaven so I know that Shep was there to greet her and now he has one of our family pets with him. That's oddly comforting.

I will say one word on the mass shooting in Chattanooga last week. What happened is a heartbreaking tragedy and, according to those taking credit, a fulfillment of their intentions - which is to attack our military on their home soil. I don't doubt that if this is mourned and then forgotten, it WILL happen again. Our Congress must act to ensure that our military and their families are able to protect themselves at all times. Tennessee authorized the use of side arms for National Guardsmen last week, to take effect tomorrow. Since many guard and reserve units are mostly open to the public and ALL recruiting offices are wide open, this terrorist attack must be taken seriously. I don't know why more hasn't been done by the White House to honor the victims, but I know enough to know that there is a sea of things going on behind the scenes. We only know a tiny fraction of what is going on in Washington and that's only when they allow us the quickest peek behind the curtain. I'm not one to assume that nothing is being done simply because I don't SEE anything being done. But I can certainly hope that our President has addressed this to the fullest extent of his office. This is truly a wife's deepest fear. You can mentally prepare for deployment and the wages of war. But you can't mentally prepare for a Thursday afternoon. I pray for the families of the fallen. America has lost 5 brave men. What an undeniable loss.

I will begin reviewing some of the area attractions over the coming weeks. We have barely slowed down enough to bathe regularly and brew some beer (by the way, if you ever take up homebrewing, never store the fermenting beer in your pantry. At first, it smelled like freshly baked chocolate chip cookies. Now, it most certainly does NOT). But we have still managed to miss the lavender harvest for 2015 and we didn't quite make it to all of the Amelia Earhart Festival in Atchison (although we caught the fireworks and they absolutely rival those in D.C. on the 4th of July). So, it will be my honor to share photos and thoughts with you should you ever find yourself blowing through Kansas, whether you're on the winds of change, or not.