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.