Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Going Dutch

Over the weekend, thanks to a long drive by Blue's grandmothers to babysit while we attended the Sustainment Ball and Neal's last-minute offer to blow off the ball completely so that we could take in some of the lesser kid-friendly sights that Kansas City has to offer, we were able to experience a date night that ranked right up there with that one time we blew our own glass Christmas ornaments and spent the night at 21C. In other words, extraordinary. And, though I hate to say it, far better than any ball we've ever attended.

When we first arrived in Kansas, we acquired 3 memberships immediately: The Kansas City Zoo, Union Station/Science City and the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art. The first two, obviously, were Blue-inspired purchases. I love a zoo and science museum as much as the next nerdgirl, but I seldom felt the need to visit more than once. Children, with their short attention spans and even shorter memories, however, are the prime target for museum memberships. Oh you need to fill an hour after church? Great! Let's just pop into the Nelson-Atkins story time/art hour. No, we don't need to pay for parking. We're members. There's a new baby penguin, you say? Well, we are on that side of town anyway, we'll just run by and check it out! No admission fee for us. We're members. And if Blue loses his ever-lovin mind before we get around to Africa, we can threaten to leave (and make good on it) without much anguish about how much we paid to get in.

As they say, membership has its privileges.

Over the year, we've certainly gotten our money's worth from the zoo and the science museum, but the art museum has been more challenging. Although Sunday's art and story hour at the Nelson-Atkins is well worth it, the art classes for Blue's age always filled before I could get him enrolled. And touring an art museum with a 3 year old is kind of like doing yoga in a room full of naked people; one of us wants to really focus, one of us is bored and in the end, something important is going to accidentally get touched. So, we just tend to avoid it altogether. Or hope that nap time in the stroller coincides with a new exhibit. (Although that's harder, too, because we moved from the jogging stroller to the umbrella stroller a tad late in the game and now his feet drag the floor, often halting the wheels, which he thinks is hysterical.) When we planned our date night in the big city, I was quick to add the new exhibit at the Nelson-Atkins, Reflecting Class in the Age of Rembrandt and Vermeer to the agenda.

I will be the first to admit, I'm not well-versed in the Dutch masters. I can spot an Impressionist painting from 50 paces and I love to judge the contemporary artists with their canvases painted entirely in black or their ABC intestines (no really, it's a thing...)
Claes Oldenburg’s late pop-art sculpture Alphabet/Good Humor, as viewed at Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art in Bentonville, Arkansas a few weeks ago. 

And I can usually spot a Vermeer, even if the subject isn't wearing a pearl earring. However, whenever I encounter a gallery of Dutch artists, I usually play Spot the Famous Ones, take a quick picture, if allowed, to prove to Facebook that I was there and move on. This was an entire exhibit of Dutch artists with only a couple of paintings by Vermeer and a handful of pieces by Rembrandt on display. Well, this will be fast, I thought. We checked in at the front desk, picked up our free tickets, two iPod audio guides and headed down the hall. 

I was immediately struck by the size of the exhibition, which examines "17th century Dutch paintings through the lens of social classes". The largest room held paintings of and commissioned by the upper classes (presumably the best represented in the exhibition because the upper class were the most interesting to paint and they could afford to pay the artists). The Princes of Orange (the de facto rulers of the newly established Dutch Republic), nobility and aspiring nobility can be seen throughout the upper class gallery. The audio guide does a wonderful job of drawing your eye to details in each painting - tiny clues that indicate the subject's status in life, like the presence of a slave or a harpsichord or a foot warmer (foot warmers end up being like moles by the end. Once you see it, you can't unsee it. And you see it in everything. Mooooooole). True nobility were most often the subjects of portraits because, y'know, they had time to sit for hours each day and just...pose. But they also wanted to document their lineage and used art as a way of publicly establishing the family tree. Aspiring nobility posed with horses and hunting dogs, alluding to the idea that they filled their day with leisure, as well. They sometimes asked the artist to take some creative license with the painting, adding a slave here or a beautifully imagined and outrageously expensive tapestry there. They posed with coats of arms, albeit recently purchased and not exactly handed down by landed gentry.

And you learn the story of how Rembrandt lost the patronage of the entire upper class, all due to the placement of a single glove. Oops.

Toward the end of each gallery, there are a couple of glass cases that show examples of dining utensils and serving ware commonly used by each class. I paused, in awe of a hand-laced table cloth from 1650. 

1650, y'all. 1-6-5-0. That's almost 400 years ago. And it was in impeccable condition. Let's just allow that to sink in for a moment. 

Visitors also see an elite, but working class consisting of civic and political appointees and wealthy merchants in this gallery. They often headed charitable organizations and were depicted by painters in these roles. It is here that Vermeer's A Lady Writing (not as striking as Girl With a Pearl Earring but still recognizable as one of his more famous pieces) and The Astronomer (another obvious Vermeer that was on display at the Louvre the last time we saw it) hang. 

The next gallery, paintings of the middle class, included men and women who were both professionals and educated small business owners. From ministers and notaries to shopkeepers and craftsmen, these paintings depicted scenes of daily trade in growing Dutch communities like Holland. Rembrandt's The Ship Builder and His Wife hangs in this gallery, as do two lesser known paintings (to me, anyway), Interior with Women Beside a Linen Cupboard and Courtyard of a House in Delft. These pieces, both by Pieter de Hooch, are compared in the audio guide, giving the viewer a better idea of how to distinguish the house maids from the ladies of the house in Dutch paintings. As I stepped back to take in both works, I thought about how, aside from the presence of maids (an important and unfortunate distinction), these scenes could have just as easily shown my life. How often do I reach into the closet to put away or take out towels and sheets? How many times a week do I walk through the courtyard, holding Blue's hand and talking about what we see? By today's standards, we aren't even middle class, but people are people and some of our routines look exactly the same as they did 400 years ago. No, we don't have to wash our clothes next to the well, but we still sing to our children and provide for our families and drink a beer with our friends. We have evolved, but we are still recognizable. 

The lower class gallery takes up much less space than the first two because, although it was the most common sight, it was the least painted. Most of the art shows poverty, either deserved (such as drunks and gamblers) or undeserved (elderly and orphans) in a harsh light. Scenes of hard labor (like the brutal work of laying out heavy, soaking loads of linen to dry in the sun - a step in the linen-making process) are interspersed with drunken brawls, complete with vomit in the background. There is very little to love about how the lower class is depicted, but quite a bit to observe in the details each artist decided to include. 

The last gallery, Where the Classes Meet, looks at situations when the various classes would have encountered one another. From traveling musicians singing at the threshold of a wealthy home, to the winter leisure activities they all participated in on the same frozen canal, to the annual local fair, these paintings show how the social classes mixed while still retaining very distinct and understood rules for each one. It's a bittersweet end to a magnificent art exhibition. You want the lady of the house, who sits in a chair by the door offering a coin to her toddler to give to the street musicians, to invite them offer them tea. But that won't happen. This is a brief encounter, a rare overlap of social class, and a moral lesson, encouraging the wealthy to be more charitable. It's not often that we catch such a clear glimpse of the 17th century, but this exhibition gives us art and a context through which to view it. 

On our way to dinner, we talked about how hard it is for parents of very young children to remember to slow down and look at things. A child's attention span is understandably short; so much to see, feel, smell, do in just 10-12 waking hours each day. There's simply not enough time to stop and ponder, especially on something as one dimensional as a painting. And that's OK. There will be time for that later. But as parents, we must not forget how to stop and ponder or we won't be patient enough when the time does come. Sometimes I feel like it's a sprint to keep up with Blue's interests and questions. The end of the day often finds me exhausted and sprawled out on the couch watching the History Channel. We fill our days with field trips to farms and libraries and, yes, even art museums. Sometimes we stop and look and listen, but never for as long as I would like. I remind myself that this is all practice for the day we wander into an exhibit and as I'm bristling past, he grabs my arm and says, "Mom, LOOK. This was made in 1650!

Photography is not allowed in the exhibit but they do give you a fun selfie photo op at the end...y'know, for Facebooking purposes. 

This exhibition, which originated at the Boston Museum of Fine Arts,  includes Dutch art from all over the US and many pieces from Europe (some of which have never been to the US). The exhibition is curated by Dr. Ronni Baer, a specialist in 17th-century Dutch and Flemish art and a Senior Curator at the Boston Museum of Fine Arts. She also narrates the audio guide, which I highly recommend, unless you are also a specialist in 17th-century Dutch art.

Tuesday, February 23, 2016


Two weeks ago, as Coldplay and Beyonce and Bruno Mars were thrashing about on stage while millions of Americans critiqued the half-time show between bites of spinach dip and chicken wings, the world went dark for all of us who loved Traci Davis. Although her spirit fought on, her body had said enough. Racked with cancer that spread more rapidly than most of us wanted to admit, she said goodbye long before any of us were ready to hear it.

Knowing Traci was either a "God thing" or a complete twist of great luck. Opening my email one morning, I saw a headline from Clicking on that, I found a blog post written by a Marine wife, recently widowed after an IED explosion in Afghanistan. Moved beyond tears, I began following her blog and then her mother-in-law's blog. I began commenting. I became Facebook friends with her mother-in-law, Tami. And then Tami introduced me to her bestie, Traci. I don't remember the exact progression but our friendship simply grew and deepened (mostly through Facebook posts, texts and blog posts) over the next several years. By that point, Traci had already been diagnosed with breast cancer and I knew her as a breast cancer survivor who was in remission. I launched the Pink Campaign through my Daisy & Elm jewelry site and for several years made a unique piece of jewelry for each day in October. The money raised from the Pink Campaign benefited whichever charity Traci deemed appropriate. She was particularly fond of Making Strides Against Breast Cancer and the American Cancer Society and was often interviewed by the local television stations as events drew near. She was passionate about fighting and curing cancer.

But she was even more passionate about her boys.

Her sons and her husband were her life. They gave meaning to her days and, I'm sure, gave her a reason to keep fighting sometimes. Watching her 2 elementary school-aged kids bouncing on the trampoline in the backyard while their new puppy ran circles underneath and Blue observed hesitantly from the porch last fall, it seemed nothing could crack the bubble of childhood joy that surrounded us all. As the sun began to set and the October night chilled us, we coaxed our boys inside for Domino's pizza and baths. Blue and her youngest played in their whirlpool tub, all the while spraying water to the ceiling with a basting syringe they had found in the kitchen drawer. When I scolded Blue for soaking the ceiling, I heard a voice from the bedroom. "Hey it's OK to get water on the ceiling at Aunt Traci's house. It's just what you do." She didn't mind because in the grand scheme of things, it wasn't a big deal. She had bigger fish to fry.

At some point, Traci was diagnosed with Li-Fraumeni syndrome which causes multiple cancers to form, usually simultaneously. She didn't tell me the details until we met up in Wamego, KS last fall for the Oztoberfest (not to be confused with Ozfest...which, we all agreed, sounded far less fun as they would not have any of the Munchkins or flying monkeys of Oztoberfest). She already had one tumor growing on her outer thigh, which they couldn't do anything about because she was undergoing treatment for a second cancer that had developed. And the worst part...this was genetic. Her babies may someday experience the same agony.

I thought back to February, 2014. Everything suddenly made so much sense.

Out of winter blahs and boredom, I had posted on Facebook that I was going to shave my head for St. Baldrick's, a foundation that raises money to fund pediatric cancer research. It's the only organization that focuses solely on children's cancer research and they are 100% volunteer-run so the money raised goes straight to grants. There is a tab on their website called "See the Impact". By clicking on that, you can view the grants they've funded, read about their research priorities and meet the pediatric oncologists who are evaluating every trial to decide where each dollar should go. Traci believed that if this genetic mutation was fated for her boys, the only organization that would fund the research that might cure them was St. Baldrick's. I got a text within minutes of my Facebook post. I want to shave my head, too.

We had one month to raise as much money as we could before the head shaving in Elizabethtown, Kentucky around the middle of March. Traci and her boys decided they would shave their heads at home and post pictures (although she first spent about 30 minutes looking for reasonable air fare to Louisville, It did not exist.). We got a little a lot of help from our friends. After we settled on our team name, The Pixie Chicks (for 2 southern girls who love some country music, I couldn't think of a better name), Kelly worked her graphic design magic and gifted us the best logo we could have imagined.
Between a Facebook auction (featuring everything from handcrafted burlap wreaths and monogrammed Chucks to Coach purses and It Works wraps) and donated profits from a Thirty-One party hosted by her dear friend, Allison, and random donations by family and friends, we raised over $6000 in 30 days. Our initial fundraising goal was $1000. We had to increase it 3 more times and still busted through our final $5000 mark. We were second only to a team of 15 individuals for most money raised at the event in Elizabethtown. And we didn't look half-bad bald.
On the list of most rewarding moments of my life, this definitely ranked near the top. I spent the next year growing my hair and keeping tabs on Traci as our boys grew and life evolved.

In January of 2015 I texted Traci, begging her to do St. Baldrick's again the following March. She texted me back: Ally, it's much easier to shave your head when you don't have any hair. Let's do it again next year to celebrate my 40th birthday because I'm not supposed to see 40. I reluctantly agreed.

Traci passed away 50 days short of her 40th birthday.

Although we hadn't talked about doing St. Baldrick's again since last October, I know that if she had been feeling better these past few months, we would have already been making plans. I think she was making plans of a different sort...ones that kept her from making any promises to me because she just wasn't the kind of girl to break a promise. It's hard to see that now - that she was always trying to prepare us for this day while still living each moment to its absolute fullest. We only saw her vitality, not the frailty that lay just below it. Nevertheless, I made a promise to her and I intend to keep it.

I asked her husband, Brian, and her sister-in-law, Belinda if they would mind being involved in one more head shaving for St. Baldrick's, in honor of Traci. They both emphatically agreed. I was hoping they would. So, once more, The Pixie Chicks page will spring into action, accepting donations for auction items immediately. The auction will begin Friday, March 25th at 8 AM EST and close on Sunday (Easter), March 27th at 9 PM EST. At that point, I will tag the winners and you will have 48 hours to post your payment directly to the St. Baldrick's fundraising page. As soon as I see your payment, I'll notify the person donating the item that they can ship. I am also open to additional fundraising opportunities. I'm setting the bar at $5000 but I would like to blow through that as soon as possible. Hopefully, on April 2nd, we will be having our very own St. Baldrick's head shaving event at Traci's salon with all who want to participate. I hope I have to wait in a long line.

I invite you to come along on this donate, to bid, to shave, to pray, to send love, to tell others. If you know me, then you know a little bit of Traci, too, for she is always in my head and quite often in my words. And she's forever in my heart.

Saturday, January 16, 2016

How Ally Got Her Groove Back (A Review of Style on the Fly with Kat McNeal)

I think I may have posted here recently that I don't have any New Year's Resolutions except to stop saying whatever within ear shot of my toddler.

That's a total lie.

I have tons.

I would like to:
drink more water than wine
stop having a cup of sugar with a little bit of coffee splashed on top
truly get 10,000 steps on my FitBit instead of just walking circles around the dining room table
floss (more than just the week before my dentist appointment...which, I'm pretty sure, is fooling no one)
stop sneak-eating chocolate in our walk-in pantry
spend less time in the Target $1 aisle
spend more time outside
remember that, before Blue, I had style and it had very little to do with black yoga pants, hoodie sweatshirts and baseball caps

It's a lengthy list that I'm not rushing into because there's still 349 days left in the year. And if I master them all in the first month, what will I do for the next 11? However, I've gotten a lot of help with that last one recently and it's rocking my world in some big ways.

My sister once lamented to me that giving birth to 2 kids had ruined her sense of style. I found this completely unbelievable because she had always been one of the most fashionable women I knew. She stayed on top of the trends and knew how to apply them to her own wardrobe. Her make-up was flawless, her accessories perfectly chosen and her overall appearance was completely polished. Even when she was simply junking on a Saturday morning, she still looked as though she had just stepped off the cover of Glamour.
But having kids changes us all. I used to tease her mercilessly about the "Quaker" denim skirts (in her defense, she is a high school teacher but I think she may have worn them out a time or two, as well), the "Mom" jeans, the yoga pants and all the cardigans. Although she held on to several pairs of strappy stilettos and some slinky tops, her closet was mostly geared toward work and relaxation. But that's what you do when you have kids. You work and then you relax, preferably in something without buttons or zippers. (For the record, my sister never lost her sense of style. She can make a track suit from 1984 look glamorous.)

I had been noticing the same trend in my own closet about 6 months ago. As some of the baby weight finally started to come off and I began to feel more comfortable in pants and skirts again, I realized that my jeans to yoga pants ratio was completely off. Especially considering how much yoga I was doing (read: none). But I was OK with petering around the house in Target stretchy pants or leggings and a sweatshirt. The real panic began when I was going out...for dinner with Neal or to a movie with girlfriends or packing for vacation. One cannot live in yoga pants alone. And I am a jewelry designer. Shouldn't I wear something other than my wedding rings and a pair of CZ earrings from Claire's? I had lost all of the joy I once felt from piecing together my look for the day. It suddenly seemed like a waste of time to put on make-up when I was only going to leave the house to run to the commissary. And would anyone really notice if my boots matched my hoodie? I had one purse which was being used well past its natural life.
Before kid...
After kid. I can't believe I haven't deleted this yet. 
More weight came off and while I was still a far reach from my pre-pregnancy size, I could no longer get away with cinching post-pregnancy pants and referring to my billowing sweaters as ponchos. The Empress needed new clothes. But where to begin? Goodwill, of course. It was the cheapest way to completely re-stock...but not necessarily the most effective, as I soon discovered. Although everything fit, it didn't all fit well . My body was, irreversibly it seemed, changed by pregnancy. Even after losing 20 pounds, everything remained a little fuller. My hips were somewhat wider and I had developed some muscle from hauling around a child for 3 years. My waist had become less defined and my butt had flattened. My body had transitioned from hour-glass to apple-shaped and I had no idea how to dress it. The colors I chose were flattering if I stuck to blues and pinks but sometimes I bought a shirt because the cut favored this new body. And I ended up with a lot of black. Thinking I had nailed this style thing once again, I would pull from my new wardrobe, look in the mirror and think At best, I look tired. At worst, I look sick.  I had a closet full of nothing to wear. I threw my hands in the air and waved the black yoga pants flag of mercy.

One warm, breezy Sunday afternoon this past September, my neighbor came bouncing up the walk with a folder and a smile. She had just been to a style consultation with our neighbor down the street, Kat, owner of Style on the Fly. I perused the contents of her folder and the color swatches Kat had given her. That's nice, I thought. But it's not for me. I know how to dress myself, I'm just too lazy to do it. Over the next several weeks, I saw my neighbor put into action the color and style tips Kat had given her. Her face seemed brighter and she seemed more put together, less thrown together. (To be fair, I had always been a little jealous of my neighbor's wardrobe and her waist to butt ratio, however she now played to these assets and I was shiny green with envy.) Clearly I needed an appointment with Kat.
Style on the Fly is the business Kat created based on her training with Christian beauty speaker and founder of Fashion Meets Faith, Shari Braendel and her book Help me Jesus! I Have Nothing to Wear. Ms. Braendel's mission is to help women embrace their God-given beauty. And yes, we all have God-given beauty. The way God created us is absolutely perfect, even though we dabble in hair color and try out colored contact lenses. The consultation is based almost exclusively on eye, skin and hair color so it's best to be as close to natural as possible. I've only had one set of highlights since I shaved my head 2 years ago so my color is mostly me, gray and all. And although my summer tan had begun to fade to my winter white, Kat promised that wouldn't affect my colors at all.
Teaching the importance of color.
The first step was to determine my 36-color palette. To do this, Kat placed me in a chair in front of a window so I was bathed in natural light. She then wrapped several different colors of pashminas around my shoulders until she found the one that made me look the most radiant. You are a light she told me and handed me a packet with 6 layers of swatches (6 colors per swatch with everything from the best shades of blues, reds and purples for me to the size of pattern that best suits me to the color of jewelry that is most complimentary to my skin tone) and 2 cards, one explaining how the swatches should be used and one offering even more style tips for my palette (steer clear of autumn colors, think of watermelon red if you must wear red, if you insist on wearing black keep it away from your face). And at the bottom, most importantly: Remember that you are beautiful...exactly as you are! Your light coloring is a gift from God and you light up a room when you walk into it. 

Oh my goodness how I needed to hear that. Right then and right there. And probably for every day since my belly (and everything else) grew round and ready. I hadn't felt beautiful in 4 years. Pictures from 2012-2015 reflect my increasing apprehension to be digitally immortalized. Thousands of pictures of Blue and Neal, but only random selfies of me and only from the collarbone up. For me, not feeling beautiful affected every other aspect of my life. My confidence plummeted and my insecurity often crept up in the wickedest ways. I called everything into question, from the fidelity of our marriage to the strength of my mother's intuition. All because I felt like a mascaraed potato sack. I did not feel beautiful.

For the next 90 minutes we discussed where hemlines should fall to best flatter my body type and how to accessorize an outfit. Before Blue, I adhered to my Granny's flawless fashion principle: Put on all of the jewelry you want to wear that day and then take one piece off. After Blue, I adhered to the Exhausted Mommy's Guide to Getting Yourself Dressed Enough to Be Seen in Public: You should probably wear a watch so you know what time to feed and nap your baby and your wedding bands because your husband spent a lot of money on them and then maybe a long necklace to show people you still remember what style is. But definitely no dangly earrings of any kind. Ever. Yes, I was still designing amazing pieces for clients and my own wardrobe still boasted quite a few show-stoppers, but they rarely saw the light of day. And who has time for all of that anyway? It will just be more stuff to take off when it's time to nap or bathe or wash dishes. And the only one who will see it is still pooping his pants. Too much work, not enough return.

One of the best pieces of advice from my style session with Kat is a handy guide to accessorizing outfits. It assigns each item a point value and gives you an idea of where your totals should be and how to get them higher (with the idea that a higher number = a more polished look). I use it everyday, even if I only plan to run out and get the mail. I try to get 8-10 points on days where we are at home and 14-16 if we are going out. It seems like such an inconsequential piece but makes a huge difference in how put together I feel when I walk out the door.
Discussing hemlines.
We finished up with some make-up tips (which paid off the first time my BFF said, after seeing a selfie on Facebook, I don't know what you're doing with your make-up these days but you look fabulous!) and any questions that came up during the session. It's a lot of information to take in but all immediately applicable with instant results. I rushed home and cleaned out my closet that afternoon.

New body, new attitude. Not so scared to be in pictures anymore! Also, apparently I can wear gray but not black. Who knew??

Kat just launched her new website, which includes a list of her services (from color analysis all the way to personal shopping), an About Me section and the Style on the Fly blog. If you're local to Leavenworth, she hosts periodic group style classes with the next one occurring Sunday, January 24 from 3:00-4:30. You can email or call Kat to book. If you are reading all of this and thinking I need that in my life! But I live a bajillion miles away, she can complete a color analysis using photos taken in natural light. You can contact her here to get started. Kat is also available for speaking events and has often presented at Mothers of Preschoolers (MOPs) groups and mother-daughter teas (this is particularly effective for encouraging the daughter to dress more appropriately and showing the mother how to help). Her Facebook page is up and running and while she's getting her Pinterest boards in order, you can check out Ms. Braendel's Pinterest page, with many style tips and helpful hints, here

As I wrap up this review, you may be saying to yourself, That's funny...this all sounds vaguely familiar. Like didn't we do this in the late 80's and it was called something else? And yes, you are most likely thinking of Color Me Beautiful. Our mothers spent an afternoon at someone's house and came back flushed with knowledge and declarations that they are a spring! Or a winter! And then a flurry of shopping. Color Me Beautiful still exists, although they are no longer training new representatives. The problem with that program is that within the 4 seasons, there are 4 more sub-categories which makes your palette very specific. A slight tan or a set of highlights would throw your whole wardrobe off. Many women ended up with overflowing closets just to accommodate the slight changes in skin and hair color that occur over the course of a year. And ain't nobody got room (or money) for that. The idea behind Fashion Meets Faith is that less is more and you can go up or down a few shades in skin and/or hair color and your palette still works. Also, your closet becomes more like a capsule wardrobe because everything coordinates, making getting dressed in the morning infinitely easier. I like easy. Because toddlers are not easy. 

I may not be drinking more water than wine (see above statement: toddlers are not easy) and I may still be eating some chocolate in the closet, but I also feel radiant, confident and beautiful, both in and out of the house!

Monday, January 4, 2016

A Sister's New Year's Wish

I meant to write this on Friday, the first day of 2016. But instead, I was grazing on Chex mix and chasing away champagne headaches with a little hair of the dog. I blame my neighbors - one brought the gallon baggie of munchies and the other entertained a total of 15 kids while we washed queso down with wine and critiqued Alabama's defense between runs upstairs to check on the kids. At least I stuck to the clear liquids or it could have all been much worse for me on the first day of the new year. But even through my fog of detox, I could see how lucky we were to land where we did in 2015. We had asked for Newport, Rhode Island, the Navy's approach to this school. We had prayed for Newport, Rhode Island. I found no less than 15 Chip-and-Joanna-approved houses on Newport, Rhode Island. Then one day Neal came home and said "It's Kansas for us." My heart sank. House hunting turned up nothing interesting. I watched The Wizard of Oz after Blue went to bed and leaked self-pity all over my chocolate Cheerios.

I didn't want to live in Kansas. Not for 12 months. Not even for 12 minutes.

Obviously, I was wrong about Kansas. And Missouri, as well, for that matter, since we live less than a mile from the state line. And so I have come to trust the process. Whether it's God's plan for us or the Army's, we are not completely out of control, but we are not wholly in it, either. We must make our wishes known and then accept and bloom in the coming year. And so this note, my 400th post on this blog, is addressed to my fellow Milspouses across the world on the third day of the new year...because my fellow Milspouses made the last night of the last year so knee-walking fabulous that it took 2 days to recover.

Dear MilSisters,
Let me be the first or the twentieth or the eighty-fifth to say Happy New Year! I don't know how 2015 fared for all of you but I hope it was mostly agreeable even if it was rarely boring. Most of all, I hope you awoke on January 1 of 2016 with a song in your heart and a sense of boundless energy for what will be asked of you in the coming year. And if that didn't happen, I hope that at least the neighbor children showed up at your door after you showered and put on a bra to deliver your son's favorite fleece jacket left behind from the night before. I think that's the most any of us can hope for...that the doorbell rings after you've put on a bra.

I know the coming year holds even more changes for our family, most of which have yet to be revealed. We speculate and hope but at the end of the day, we simply don't know until we know. And I know it's the same for yours. Our stages of military life vary so drastically that it seems impossible to feel a sense of camaraderie, to swap similar stories so effortlessly. And yet, we have bonded over something as simple as how much dirt a pair of combat boots can track through a house. (Seriously, I think they looked at tank tread and thought How can we put that on the bottom of a boot?)  But many of us know the feeling of finding a favorite pair of shoes buried under a stack of books in a box. Or the look on your spouse's face when they find us flat on our backs, flapping limbs and making packing paper angels under the dining room chandelier. We are raising kids, gasping at how quickly our kids have grown, moving for the first time or the last, finding comfort in the routine or feeling annoyed that it's interrupted too quickly. We all know what it is to have a closet dedicated to pro-gear and a duty to a mission greater than ourselves. The new year may be full of changes for you, too, or more of the same, at least for another 12 months.

If you are due to move this year, I wish you a flawless PCS. May your driver be on time and not a day earlier or later. May his crew clear the FBI background checks and arrive fresh and ready to work, even when the temperature threatens to hit triple digits and the humidity is already there. May Transportation honor your previously agreed upon delivery date and never once threaten to put all of your stuff into storage for some undetermined amount of time, not to exceed the next time you're due to move. May they not throw your handcrafted burlap tree skirt in the bottom of a box marked "Garage Liquids". May your moving truck be solid, routinely serviced and able to handle the task at hand. And dear God, may they send a truck big enough the first time around. May your new home feel comfy and cozy, even as the unpacking stretches into weeks and then months. May you find the energy to complete your gallery wall, even if you can use number of months instead of number of years to define your time there. May you only need post-it notes to remind you of what's in every drawer and cabinet for a maximum of a week. Unless, of course, you are learning a new language and your cups are now tassens. May you locate the grocery, pediatrician, public library, school, dentist, gym, church, auto repair and no less than 3 coffee shops with relative ease. May they all be conveniently located to your home, just as you had planned. May you find at least one friend who is not crazy, is not trying to defraud the government, understands that their kid is not perfect, will sweat with you, laugh with you, and offer to babysit when all you want is to see Star Wars before it comes to Netflix, will encourage you to take Mommy Time and discourage you from letting the military control 100% of your life 100% of the time. May you never want to leave and when it comes time, may you find the strength to do all of this all over again.

If you are staying put in 2016 but looking at a move down the road, may you find a way to continue to live in the moment, experiencing some things for the second year but seeing each one from a new perspective or diving a little deeper than the first time around. May you finally have your home arranged and decorated exactly as you want it and have enough time to enjoy it in this "finished" state. May you say hello more than you say goodbye. May you see the virtue in helping new families find their way around, asking nothing in return except a tiny chunk of good Karma. May you have the foresight to begin buying gallon baggies in bulk when they go on sale now. May you relax in this state of calm, simply relishing in the routine of day-to-day life as many experience it regularly but is rare for military families. May your best friend PCS the day after you.

If you are staring at a deployment this year, please know that we are a grateful nation. Every single one of us. Even if we don't shake your hand or hug your neck or even say the words. May you always feel lifted to a pedestal that is impossible to tumble from. May you have casseroles delivered to your door, offers to watch your children whenever it's convenient for you, a good cry when you need it and a good laugh when you don't. May you not feel compelled to watch any show produced by Shonda Rhimes until the end of the deployment or any Homecoming videos, especially between Thanksgiving and New Year's. May you always have a project and a bottle of wine to get you through the day. May your days be short and those nights in an empty bed even shorter. And may your children be obedient, patient, understanding and sweet in an unexplainable, almost other-worldly kind of way. Most of have been there, many of us more than once, some of us quite recently. It's Hell but there is always one of us to walk through it with you. Separation makes the heart grow fonder is absolute BS that prints beautifully on a Hallmark card. Separation makes you bitter and resentful and lose sight of why we are doing this in the first place. But many babies are born 9 months after Homecoming so it can't be all bad.

If you are leaving or retiring from the Milspouse lifestyle, let me hopefully be the first to say Thank You for your tireless service and sacrifice during a time when it was popular to be a Milspouse but not at all easy. If you have been serving for any length of time, you've probably endured at least one deployment and several moves. You may have moved overseas or across the country or simply lost track of how long it's been since you've been home. You've probably heard more than your fair share of references to Army Wives or The Unit and you still feel utterly misunderstood by Hollywood and your extended family. You might be packing trinkets that have traveled thousands of miles or discarding furniture that is being held together by extra screws, several layers of duct tape and a prayer to survive one more move. You are leaving a life that has grown comfortable even when uncertainty was the only certainty. And, without a doubt, you will be missed. May your new life be as blissful as you imagined it would be. May you find a well of patience when asked, for the 20th time, where all you have lived. May you resist the urge to move again after the first 24 months, and for every 12 months thereafter. May you stop storing everything in baskets and plastic bins. May your children's first questions of a new friend be something other than, "What's your name and when are you moving?" May you feel the freedom to register to vote, buy a house, volunteer for future events, join boards and councils, feel grief when someone leaves your community. May you find home.

This year, more than ever, I have felt the blessings that military life sometimes bestows upon us. I have made friends, had experiences and discussed ideas that would have never been possible without this year. I've watched our son grow, in all ways, stronger because of the people surrounding us. This life demands much of us but it gives much to us, as well. 2015 was a year of sadness and joy, goodbyes and hellos, love and loss, burnt dinners and the best butternut squash lasagna recipe ever. It was a rollercoaster ride with the very best of my MilSisters riding in the car beside me. Sometimes it feels like a sorority of sacrifice but I hope we always feel more like a sisterhood of service.

With love, admiration and the very best of wishes,

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Promises, Promises

New Year's Eve Eve. I never quite know what to do with this day as it still holds a shred of the promise of the current year but also begins whispering the commitments I've made for the coming year. I quit making resolutions several years before Blue but had I not stopped then, I would surely have done so by now. Kids have a way of making you want to be a better person but by way of challenging you every second of every minute of every day.

For example, Blue started saying "whatever" to us about 2 months ago. So, imagine a 3 year old, dressed in a John Deere henley and dinosaur pajama bottoms, rolling his eyes with great exaggeration and muttering "whatever" when asked to do anything besides watch Daniel Tiger or eat chocolate chip cookies. Kind of gets your hackles up, am I right? Or it should anyway...because if he's trying this on for size at 3, imagine what will roll off that tongue without a second thought at 13. So, Dear Old Dad and I brought it all to a screeching halt immediately. I quizzed him endlessly about where he had learned such a thing. I named all of his friends (although even in doing so I couldn't imagine any of them were capable of that kind of disrespect). He simply shook his head no with each one. Eventually we settled on a punishment: time-out for every time he said it. Three years old, three minutes. Three minutes alone in a chair in the back of the house, where we seldom turn on the space heaters because time-out shouldn't be tropical temperatures and a room full of toys. Nevertheless, he continued to push us and almost always as we were walking out the door. Putting on shoes and coats, on our way to the gym/church/a meeting/a party/pretty much anywhere with a defined start time. He would cast his eyes in my direction, bow his head slightly and say it. Whatever, Mommy. Dammit. Now we are going to be 3 minutes late. But that's parenting. Consistency or die. I started building in 3 extra minutes after the 3rd time of this little game. Now we are 3 minutes early everywhere. But as they say, early is on time and on time is late. So...silver linings and all that.

About a week after Blue's attitude adjustment, I was working feverishly to get him buckled in his car seat before all of my limbs froze and dropped right off at the joint. He wasn't doing much to help the process along, something he's been doing since, literally, day 2. In frozen frustration I pleaded, "I need you to help me! Put your arm through!" And he answered with, "But I don't know how." And incredulous at this sudden lack of ability, I snorted, "Whatever!"

Oh. My. Stars.

It was me.

I just stood there for a second and looked at him, already knowing that I had rolled my eyes and dropped the W word. It sounded so much worse coming out of his tiny toddler mouth. It sounded dirty and rude, like he was off to punch a grandma in the face right after he stole a bag of Doritos from the 7-11 and mooned the manager on the way out.

So now, Whatever is banned from our house.

May I be the first to tell you that a 30-year habit is hard to break. And Neal's got 10 years on me. He's been busted more times than I can count. Although my slip-ups are legitimate, eye-rolling, huffing events. Neal is generally saying something like, "Oh you're headed to the commissary? Will you grab some breakfast stuff...yogurt, bananas...whatever." Suddenly, from the frozen tundra of our back room we hear, "DADDY!! You said whatever! You need to say sorry!"

There was a time when I thought this child would never talk. As it turns out, my fears were completely unfounded.

My only resolution for 2016 is to remove whatevereyerollhuff (and any other Ally-ism that may sound like a hooligan headed out to prowl the mall when it comes out of my toddler's mouth) from my lexicon. At least my mom will thank me. Thirty years too late.

Sorry, Mom

Monday, November 23, 2015

All the Cool Kids Will Be There: CCCUCC's 2015 Kristkindl Markt

Although the turkey is still frozen and we've only watched Polar Express once so far, Kansas City is already beginning to glow with the spirit of the season. And really, who can blame them? There are simply too many holiday bucket list items to squeeze into 4 short weeks. From the Christmas Tree Crawl (like a pub crawl but with illuminated evergreens all over the city...I totally just made that up) to ice skating at Crown Center to the inevitable Breakfast with Santa, the list seems to multiply every year. And then there are the annual holiday traditions that seem to fill the rest of December. Growing up in Kentucky meant a mere 8 hour drive into downtown Chicago. Christmas just didn't seem complete without a trip north to shop, see the lights and windows and eat at California Pizza Kitchen (before they sold their soul to chain grocery stores). But nothing enchanted us more than the German festival known as Christkindlmarket. An open-air shopping experience featuring authentic German food, music and crafts, Christkindlmarket was unlike any holiday festival back home. In fact, it was unlike anything in Macon, Richmond or Ft. Knox. So, we have been in a bit of a Christkindlmarket drought.

Just typing that sentence makes me sad.

However, in less than 2 weeks, it's going to rain down accordian music and brats and gluhwein on this happy face of mine. Goodbye, drought...hello, Bier Garten!
Country Club Congregational United Church of Christ (CCCUCC), located in the Brookside neighborhood of KCMO, will host its 23rd Annual Kristkindl Markt on Friday, December 4 (5-9 PM) and Saturday, December 5 (10 AM - 7 PM). The idea for this 2-day, German Christmas festival in the heart of KC was conceived after Reverend Rodger Kube, a former pastor of the church, attended an authentic Christkindlmarket during his Advent season travels in Germany. Hosting a similar festival on the church's lawn seemed like a spirited way to honor the United Church of Christ's German roots.

The festivities were held outdoors for the first 5 years but in 2009, the unpredictable Kansas City weather finally moved the event inside the church. Although I, too, have German roots, I would prefer to be in a climate-controlled building drinking my Dunkel. However, large quantities of gluwein will keep you warm well into March, I've been told. If you are die-hard Christkindl, though, and want the experience of strolling through a German village on a blustery December night, you may be pleasantly surprised by how the church's interior is transformed into a landscape of Low German houses. Whipping, bitter cold wind not included.

CCCUCC's Kristkindl Markt (apparently, Kristkindl and Christkindl are both correct. Those wacky Germans. And they say English is hard...) features all of the staples of an excellent German holiday market:

* A full menu of German food, including roasted pork loin, brats, hot German potato salad, red cabbage and sauerkraut, traditional Spaetzle, Bavarian pretzels and apple streudel.

*Live entertainment on both days and a marionette show at 1:30 on Saturday. The Happy Wanderers, a local German band with a growing fan base, will perform 4:30-7 PM on Saturday.

*Local artists selling blown glass, art, jewelry, wood crafts, Kansas City-themed apparel, fair trade items and much more!

*A Bier Garten featuring hot, spiced wine known as gluwein and a German-style Dunkel from local beer company KC Bier (which must be amazing considering their slogan is "We put the i back in bier." Nothing is more German then bier.).

*The Christkind Angel, a new addition this year and the first in a series. It was designed by artist Angie Pickman in the scherenschnitte (paper-cutting) style. Ms. Pickman's art was recently featured in Martha Stewart Living and she is frequently commissioned to create designs for festivals and special occasions. Christkind Angel plastic and laser-cut wood ornaments and t-shirts will be available for purchase, as well as a variety of cut-paper trees with LED tea lights.

But Kristkindl Markt offers even more!
*"Cookies by the pound" (But to hear the members tell it, it's really dessert by the pound. Cookies, bars, brownies, puppy chow, quick breads...if it all started with a stick of butter, it will probably be there.)

*Raffle baskets for every interest. Last year there was a Duck Dynasty entry. It included an extension cord, a roll of duct tape, biscuit mix, a honey bear, tea bags, 2 "fine dining beverage glasses - with lids" and 2 Duck Dynasty Christmas albums. I'm sure if I watched that show I would understand a little more, but you had me at fine dining beverage glass with lid.

* 2 words: Wine Pull. The idea behind this activity is brilliant. Church members have donated bottles of wine that are at least $10 each. The bottles are then wrapped in brown paper bags and for $10, you choose a bottle to take home. More often than not, you end up ahead. Way ahead. Don't like wine? I bet your boss does. Fortunately for me, my boss is me and I love wine.

*The Christmas Decor Flea Market, which features gently-used Christmas decorations at below yard sale prices. That set of Christmas pickle placemats will bring someone immense joy this year. I personally plan on sending my 3-year old in with $5 and an eye for treasure so he can pick out his Daddy's Christmas gift all by himself. (Which is how we will end up with a mooning Santa ash tray that we can never get rid of because...nostalgia.)

*Father Christmas (Weihnachtsmann) will be greeting visitors and wishing everyone a Merry Christmas.

*Crafts by the Congregation will include Christmas-themed wreaths and centerpieces and jewelry by Daisy & Elm Jewelry and Rosaries. Oh wait, that's me. Yep, the pile grows tall with freshwater pearl bracelets, hot mess necklaces and wine cork rings!

*And last, but certainly not least, is the Black Forest where children of all ages can descend the stairs to decorate pre-assembled gingerbread houses. A couple of weeks ago, local high school students received volunteer credit for building over 700 gingerbread houses for this event. They now sit, ready to be adorned with M&Ms, Red Hots, pretzels, mini marshmallows and individual tubes of icing that were filled today. This activity is free but donations benefit Operation Breakthrough, the largest single site early education child care and social services facility in Missouri. Their website details the many ways they help children (age 6 weeks-13 years) who are living in poverty to develop to their fullest potential.

My only anguish is that I must wait 2 weeks for all of this fun.

If you are interested in attending, I have a few tips.
1. From Ft. Leavenworth, it takes me about an hour to get to church every Sunday. But CCCUCC is centrally located in Kansas City. It is, literally, minutes from Country Club Plaza, Costco and Union Station so we often combine stops into one trip.

2. Parking is mostly on the street and it can be a bit nuts. There is overflow parking for St. Andrews Episcopal Church less than a block away on Brookside. It's a large lot that our congregation uses every Sunday and it's just at the end of the block, down the hill.

3. With the exception of the vendors (who mostly use Square), cash and check are the most efficient methods of payment. Although credit cards are accepted for food and cookies by the pound, the machines are slow and that can make the lines long. I will list the prices for everything at the bottom of this post so you have an idea of how much to bring.

4. When you enter the church (from the south side), a greeter will be there to welcome you and provide a map to help orient you to the market. But in general, you can expect vendors to be scattered throughout the first floor (with some placed in the small chapel, which is the first door on the left as you enter the church and some in the parlor, which is the next door on the left). Cookies by the pound, raffle baskets, the wine pull and Crafts by the Congregation can be found in the nursery. Dining and live entertainment will be held in the social/fellowship hall. And the gingerbread house decorating occurs in the basement.

5. Drinks from the Bier Garten can be purchased directly from the bartender with cash or with tickets purchased from the food cashier (with cash or credit card). For example, you are only here for the gluwein. Bring cash and buy it directly from the bartender. If you are buying food and drinks together and you want to put it all on the card, then go through the food line and receive tickets for the alcohol which you would then give to the bartender. I swear, no gluwein was consumed in the constant re-writing of this paragraph in an attempt to make it clearer.

6. The gingerbread houses require some dry time. If it were me (and it will be on Friday night as I'll be working the event all day Saturday), I would grab a bier from the bartender, take drink and toddler down to decorate a gingerbread house, do some shopping, eat dinner and then pick up the gingerbread house on the way out.

7. Apparently, the lines can get long. I tell you this because I'm an impatient person who groans at the sight of crowds and lines. Especially if they are between me and food or beer or shopping. But in the end, the experience is always worth it and sometimes the people I meet along the way make it all the more enjoyable. I will pack an extra cup of patience and some Christmas spirit to share. But I will also probably have applesauce and fruit snacks. 

8. Take a minute to enjoy the splendid stained glass windows in the sanctuary. Although the entire building is almost Quaker-like in its simple beauty, the windows bring me many moments of quiet reflection every Sunday morning.

Admission: FREE!
Gingerbread House: FREE!
Christkind Angel T-shirt: $12
Christkind Angel plastic ornament: $8 or 2 for $15
Christkind Angel laser-cut wood ornament: $15
Set of 3 cut-paper trees with 3 LED tea lights: $15
Raffle tickets: $1.00/each

Roasted Pork Loin Meal (pork loin, choice of 2 sides, roll): $10
Grilled Bratwurst Meal (brat, choice of 2 sides, roll): $10
Pork Loin & roll or Brat & roll: $7
Kids' Meal (hotdog, chips and juice box): $4

Hot German Potato Salad: $3
Sauerkraut or Red Cabbage: $3
Traditional German Spaetzle: $3
Hot Bavarian Pretzel: $3

Hot German Apple Strudel: $3/slice
Whole German Apple Strudel: $15

German-style Dunkel (KC Bier Co): $4
Gluhwein (hot spiced wine): $4
Bottled Water: $1.00
Soft Drinks: $1.00
Coffee: $1.00 

As I mentioned, Blue, Neal and I will be attending on Friday night so I'll post a quick update with photos and any additional helpful hints I picked up along the way. Just looking at this menu is making me drool. Does anyone know where I can get red cabbage at 2:06 AM?

I hope to see you there! If you need Facebook to tell your phone to remind you (it's the only way I am on time to anything), there are 2 upcoming events listed on the left side of the Facebook event page, one for Friday and one for Saturday. Click "going" on the day you want to attend and you're all set!

*Many thanks to Karen Plummer for spending her Tuesday night answering all of my Kristkindl Markt questions!


Friday, November 6, 2015

Treated Like Royal-ty

Unless you have been living under a rock (or running for political office), then you know the Kansas City Royals baseball team brought home the World Series trophy on Sunday. After a week of long nights and extra innings for most of them, they shut down the NY Mets, 4-1. 

And now I have a confession.

We only saw about 30 minutes of the entire World Series...and that was just because the University of Kentucky vs University of Tennessee game had become too painful watch. Baseball is simply not my thing...and really hasn't been since the MLB players' strike in 1994. It was all quite complicated but it essentially boiled down to money (which it almost always does) and I didn't think dollar signs should be strong enough to cancel America's past time. So, yes...for 20 years I've been a bit bitter about baseball.

Also, I'm a die-hard, true blue University of Kentucky basketball fan and that has proven to be quite fulfilling, from a sports standpoint. From the night on March 30, 1998, when I stumbled down to the corner of Euclid and Woodland to join the crowd after another NCAA Championship win...
Yes, I'm in this photo. I found me once...across the street beside the blue awning. 
to the time my cousin called me in Georgia to say, "Oh my goodness, they are going to win this  SEC semi-final game! We HAVE to get tickets to the Finals in Atlanta." And then 20 minutes later, I had 3 tickets to the game (thank you, Stub Hub)...
to the time Nana Anna had pity on me and my fractured radius and sent me to the UK vs Auburn game in her place...
...I bleed blue, through and through. Also, I gave thousands of dollars to that school and about 6 years of my life (to say nothing of the hundreds of dollars in apparel I now own). And the crazy part? I'm not alone. University of Kentucky basketball fans are rowdy, faithful and proud (bordering on arrogant). We drive hundreds of miles for games and fill Rupp Arena to capacity, an intimidating sea of blue for any opponent. Well, maybe it's best explained by this t-shirt I wore to announce Blue's impending arrival on the night UK won its most recent title in 2012:
So,'s like that. And I used to think we were alone in our entirely separate dimension of fanaticism.

However, as it turns out, Royals fans may have us beat.

I didn't hear the fireworks downtown, bursting with the news of a Royals victory. And I forgot to pick up a paper on Monday morning; the full-color, printed details of a long-awaited and hard-fought World Series title. I didn't even own a single thing to wear when, at last minute and after learning that every local school would be closed for the day, we decided to join the confetti parade downtown. At 5:30 on Monday night, I found myself huddled around folding tables strategically placed through Dick's Sporting Goods, rummaging through piles of mixed sizes and 20 different t-shirt designs. I found one that looked like it would fit and featured the distinctive Royals crown with a proclamation of a World Series win splashed across the front. After adding a subtle baseball cap to match, I was on my way. But I was the only person in the store not already wearing some kind of Royals apparel. Sorry...I'm not from 'round here. I own loads of royal blue that represents a "K" team, but wrong blue, wrong K.

At 6:30 Tuesday morning, I completed my bootcamp workout in hopes that my new shirt wouldn't be too snug. At 9:30 that morning, we were barreling south on I-29, riding the Kansas state line and trying to avoid the absolute gridlock that had clenched around the city. As we parked near the Kansas City, Kansas police department and started walking toward the shuttle stop, we were met with agitated Royals fans walking briskly back to their cars.

That is not a good sign.

We went on because maybe they forgot to leave their Zombie Apocalypse Kit in the car. Or they wanted to pee in the privacy of a gas station. Who knows. But rounding the corner of the police department lawn, we saw a crisscross of lines with no visible end. The longer we walked, the more the line seemed to trying to find the end of 13 strands of Christmas lights hastily tossed in a bin the year before. City buses arrived one at a time, slowly filling, slowly departing, slowly arriving for the next load. The three moms with the 7 kids, all under the age of 10, quickly decided the shuttle would get us to Grand Boulevard sometime around 11:30..3 days later. Time for plan B.

My biggest fear, as the only parent of a toddler in a party of 700,000, is getting trampled. I'm not sure why I have this fear. I didn't have it before Blue was born. I attended swarming, chaotic events in stadiums, in fields, in the middle of the street. Not once did my heart race with the idea that this calm but cheerful crowd could turn into a deadly mob within seconds of a threat. Maybe it's 9/11. Maybe it's the Boston Marathon Bombing. Maybe it's becoming a mom. I just hate crowds now and it is physically taxing to be in one with a 3 year old in tow, especially by myself. We headed south anyway.

What happened next is something straight out of The Road. As we exited off of I-29, we noticed cars parked everywhere. People were seemingly just pulling off the interstate and medians, in ditches. One Nissan SUV was almost vertical on an exit ramp embankment.

Well, if you can't beat 'em, join 'em.

We made a plan to find a patch of grass somewhere between here and there, just wide enough for one mini-van and one SUV. We hopped a drainage ditch, leaving a mud track from squalling tires over the curb of a sidewalk, and found a parking space in a lot that was technically closed. Cars behind us followed and the lot began to fill. They can't tow everybody. At least we didn't abandon it in the emergency lane of I-29. That's something, right?

Snacks? Check.
Water? Check.
Diapers? Check. Wipes? Check.
Jacket? Check.
Cell phones? Check.
Cash? Check.
7 kids? Check.
3 moms? Check.

OK, let's go. We were actually doing this. A collapsible wagon full of toddlers and 4 more double-timing to keep up, we headed to 9th and Oak, the turning point for the parade. 25 minutes to spare. We followed the crowd, thick with families and students and Royals fans, blue from holding their breath for 30 years, to the courthouse. Looking up, we saw people on the roofs, leaning over with sunglasses dangling. I calculated how far a pair of sunglasses would have to fall in order to kill upon impact. We played Spot the Sniper, 3 military moms who were only half-joking. And we let the kids eat lunch in the wagon while the spaces filled in around us and people pressed through, trying to get to the front row 10 minutes before it started. We promised shoulder seats to the smaller kids, but not until the first sign of a parade. I began to regret that 6:30 workout.

The oldest of our 7 began a round of "Let's go, Royals" (clapclap clapclapclap) and the chanting soon spread up the courthouse stairs and into the park beside us. I smiled at the idea of this child leading hundreds of adults in a Royals rallying cry. No one seemed to know that it started with him and if they did, they didn't care. Blue, atop my shoulders at that point for a better look, joined in the chant. Stubby toddler hands were cupped enthusiastically around his mouth, in perfect imitation of this older, wiser boy he has come to adore since becoming neighbors 3 months ago. He couldn't tell you what a Royal was if you drew it, colored it in and tacked it on his bedroom wall, but there he was, cheering them on with admirable energy. My UK Wildcat heart died a little inside because he refuses to recite our rallying cry, which happens every Saturday in the fall and at least twice a week during the winter and spring. (Cheering on UK means learning how to spell CATS, which would also look impressive among my homeschooling peers.)

As a news helicopter circled twice and then came to a hover overhead and the motorcycle police chirped their sirens to clear the path, the first band marched up the hill. I felt the cadence in my feet before I heard the melody of winds and horns. Blue, who was squatted on the pavement, picking up found bits of confetti to toss in the air, clamored back up my shoulders and enjoyed the best view. All around us, adults sacrificed their peek at the parade so that the kids could ride high and take it all in. We held up cell phones and blindly tapped, hoping that something important would pass through the frame. But the best indicator of the parade's progress was the roar of applause from those in front and above. Swells of screaming and clapping, always accompanied by (what we called in college) the "Woo-Hoo Girls". Wooooo-hoooooo!!!!! It sounds ridiculous. It sounds like Parliament on a good day. I wish Americans had a more dignified way to show their approval.

But this is not my team. I could correctly identify one player and that's because his nickname is "Moose" and he rode through the parade in a jeep with giant antlers. Also the crowd moaned "Mooooooooooooose" which, initially, always sounds like booing. When they started this at the Royals vs. Cubs game we attended in September, I thought they were booing the opposing team. Nope, just greeting one of their faves. I guess it's distinctive, even if it sounds overwhelmingly negative to an outsider.

As the last of the most popular players passed by, those near the front began to press their way back out. Much has been said on social media since Tuesday about how gracious and polite Royals fans are. Even at an event with 700,000 people, most squeezed through a crowd saying, "Excuse me, please" and "Thank you". And only a handful of arrests that day. No reports of rioting or looting or burning living room furniture. The Kansas City Star boasted, Royals fans don't burn it down, they shut it down. As someone who has witnessed delirious and drunk fans overturning and torching cars, uprooting and carrying off street signs and smashing storefronts, all in the name of Victory, it's refreshing to not have a repair bill when the hangover wears off.

We, too, decided it was time to head home. Our only objective, to live the hype for a single day and not lose a child in the process, was accomplished. Bucket list item 549: To attend the ticker-tape parade for a World Series Champion Team. Check. But still...these were not my boys in blue. They are certainly loved and respected, both for their successes on the field and the lives they lead off of it. This town loves their team and this team loves them right back. It's hard to not climb on the bandwagon as it rolls by, especially as Royals fans are extending a hand to help you aboard. This is their moment in the spotlight and the more, the merrier. We were joking with one very tall gentleman standing behind us, asking him what he could see since he towered over even the totem toddlers. I asked him who was passing by and he said, "I don't know. I'm not really a Royals fan. I'm from Cincinnati but came to play for Mizzou and I just wanted to see this." I bet he woke up on Wednesday morning feeling just a little more Royal. I certainly did.

The next morning, Blue scrambled down the front steps, Jake the Pirate pajamas askew and carrying a plastic sword from Neal's Halloween props box, to retrieve the paper. As we unfolded it, the front and back page became a panoramic view of Union Station and the World War I Museum, the epicenter of the rally following the parade. A sea of blue with pinpoint heads filled the page. Final attendance estimates topped 800,000. And inside, a few of the stories told about the families who braved the crowds to become part of history. But I like our story the best.

Once upon a time, a boy and his mom went to a parade in the big city. There were a lot of people and his mom looked nervous, but as the boy sat on top of the world and rested his hands in the feathery nest of his mom's hair, everything was perfect. Legs wrapped around neck, hands wrapped around ankles, holding tight to one another. We are a team.

Since my photos of the parade are mostly the backs of heads, I will share with you images captured by local media, as well as my pastor's son who was lucky enough to be in the front row of the parade route. It was a good day to be Royal.

Sluggerrr, the lovable lion (and Blue's most favorite mascot ever...we have to get him to a game where the Wildcat is wearing patch-work overalls. That's pretty lovable...)
 Photo Credit: Julian Peeples

Eric "Hoz" of the favorites.
Ned Yost, the Royals' manager, with the World Series trophy. 
The floating baseball. A highlight for Blue.
Photo Credit: Julian Peeples 
The view of Union Station from the top of the World War I tower observation deck. 
Photo Credit: Julian Peeples 
Salvador "Salvy" Perez...another crowd favorite.
 Photo Credit: Julian Peeples

 The Country Club Plaza Fountain in Kansas City, MO illuminated in blue for the win.
 These kinds of signs are everywhere. 
Union Station lit up in blue and bustling as news crews and event staff prepared for the parade and rally the next day. 
One of the city's most distinctive landmarks: the gigantic shuttlecocks on the lawn of the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, glowing blue for one night. 

The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art is #ForeverRoyal.

Thank you for a great memory, Kansas City Royals!
We now return to our regularly scheduled basketball season.