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When I was a kid in the 1960s, going to downtown Kansas City was a big deal. We always knew a week or so in advance that we were going and, on the big day, had to dress in our Sunday school clothes and nice shoes. We rarely went unless it was for a special occasion like back-to-school shopping or to take out-of-town company to do a bit of sightseeing, but at no time was downtown more fun to visit than during the holidays. Back then, suburban malls were starting to catch on, but downtown was still where the real magic happened.

At Christmas time, giant crowns hung over all the major intersections and twinkly Christmas lights lined both sides of the streets. Retailers battled one another to see who could create the most enchanting window displays. Although they were all worth stopping to ogle, my favorites were always the moving mechanical displays of Santa’s elves making toys in the windows at Harzfeld’s. Or was it Adler’s? Shoot, I was a little kid. I can’t remember. All I remember was being jostled by all the other people–big and small–who wanted to press their noses to the glass just like I was doing.

The other mechanical must-see was the giant laughing Santa at Emery Bird Thayer. The enormous Santa still laughs today, only now he’s at Crown Center for a whole new generation to enjoy.

Of course, no visit to downtown at Christmas was complete without a visit to see the big guy himself at the Jones Store. Looking back, I’m awed by the amount of work the folks at Jones did to create pure Christmas delight for the children of Kansas City every year. What seemed like one whole floor of the store (although I’m sure now that was just a child’s perspective) was turned into Santa’s Village complete with a train that took us, mouths open and eyes bugged, through the North Pole and Santa’s Workshop before dropping us off to stand in line to share our wish lists with the jolly old elf.

If my sister and I were extra good (or lucky), we’d also get to visit the Christmas Fairy Princess at Kline’s. The beautiful Fairy Princess would ask us to make a wish, and then she’d wave her sparkly magic wand over our heads and give us a present. Really. It couldn’t get much better.

And then, by the time I’d graduated from high school, most if not all the big department stores in downtown Kansas City had fled to the suburban malls, and the area was well on its way to becoming the ghost town it was for nearly 30 years.

Not anymore. I am thrilled to tell you that while no large department stores have returned to the area yet, many smaller retailers have along with a host of restaurants, lofts and condos in every price range, a grand public library, a 18,000-seat multi-use arena, a state-of-the-art movie theater, and a food-lovers’ grocery store. Most of the existing performance venues have been refurbished in the last ten years, and the new Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts is scheduled to open in the fall of 2011.

Downtown Kansas City is well on it’s way to being fabulous. Maybe not the vibrant downtown of my childhood yet, but it’s getting there. A real downtown again! There are even Christmas lights!

Tom and I were down there on Monday afternoon and evening, and the place was bustling. On a Monday! In frigid temperatures! I’m telling you, people, if you live here in Kansas City and haven’t been downtown yet, escape from the ‘burbs and go. If  you don’t live here in Kansas City, please come visit us soon. Enjoy the amenities of our new downtown. Yes, you may have to pay a little bit for parking, but it’s worth it. I promise. Here are a few pictures to tempt you:

Looking south on Main Street

Ingredient - a yummy local restaurant with a terrific menu

Cosentino's Market - they have everything...we checked!

The streets are lined once again with Christmas lights and people

A great theater for date night

What are you waiting for? GO!

We don’t get big snows that often around here, but this snowstorm is one I’m sure most of us will remember for a long time. For those whose Christmas plans and /or travels were grievously disrupted by the weather, the memories probably aren’t going to be all that pleasant, but for those of us lucky enough to be able to stay tucked inside, it’s been quite a show. Tom and I–who fall into the latter category–haven’t had to get out into the cold and onto the snow-packed streets unless we really wanted to, so we’ve enjoyed nearly every frosty, wind-blown moment of it. Tom’s even gotten to use his snow blower, and  I just can’t seem to stop taking pictures. Here are just a few of my pictures:

Christmas snow aftermath

Christmas Snow 2009

All the white has provided quite a backdrop for the “wildlife” around here. For instance, as I was working in the kitchen yesterday afternoon, I looked out and saw what I thought was a coyote chasing a rabbit through the snow in our neighbors backyard. I ran for my camera and shot a dozen or so pictures of him frolicking in the snow. We watched him for nearly 10 minutes and then were sorely disappointed when the neighbors let him into their garage. Either they’re bigger nature lovers than they’ve let on, or they’ve gotten a new dog. Check the animal out in the picture below. Help me out, here. That looks like a coyote, doesn’t it? If you think so, tell Tom. He’s still laughing at me.

Wile E. Coyote, a.k.a. Damn Dog

A closer view for your consideration

It's going to be a long time before we can go out our back door again

Yes, it's as cold as it looks, but at least the wind stopped blowing for a while

Any one want to hazard a guess as to how long it's going to take for these busters to melt?

The weather wonks were right! I give them so much grief, I thought it only fair to acknowledge when they are, in fact, correct. We woke up to snow this morning. It’s hard to tell exactly how much because it’s blowing and drifting like crazy, but we have a pile on the deck that’s probably at least 18 inches deep. It really is a white Christmas!

Snow pile on the deck

Snowy Christmas decorations

Merry White Christmas!

For the moment, our plans to go to Tom’s folks are on hold. The highway patrol in both Kansas and Missouri are asking people not to get out and drive unless they have to, so we’re not…at least this morning.

Merry Christmas, everyone!

The UPS man delivered the last box of gifts an hour or so ago. Whew! All the presents are now wrapped and under the tree. Dinner is in the oven. Dessert is cooling on the counter top, and–as the weather wonks predicted–the sleet and ice have begun to fall.

A white Christmas?

We woke up to temperatures in the 50s this morning, but it’s well below freezing now. If the local meteorologists are right, we’ll wake up to a white Christmas tomorrow morning. I’ll believe it when I see it, but they get Brownie points for being right about the sleet. Hey, it’s Christmas. I’m feeling generous. Brownie points for everyone!

The halls--and the tree--are decked...finally

All that’s left to do is fix a nice glass of egg nog with a splash (or a big glug) of rum, take a long, hot shower, and get ready for dinner, but I just had to stop long enough to wish you all a Merry Christmas. I really hope you’re tucked in someplace warm and toasty, surrounded by the people you love–or at least like a lot. May your entire holiday season be filled with family, friends, laughter, good music, and lots of yummy food. And maybe a little rum.

Ho! Ho! Ho!

I had the pleasure of hearing Greg Mortenson, the author of the number one bestseller Three Cups of Tea, speak last night. He’s currently on a book tour promoting and signing his newest book, Stones Into Schools: Promoting Peace with Books, Not Bombs, in Afghanistan and Pakistan which came out two weeks ago. He’s also giving away copies of the book, but I’ll get to that in a minute.

I just got my copy of his new book yesterday afternoon, so I haven’t read it yet. I did, however, read Three Cups of Tea a couple years ago and was awed by both Mortenson’s story and by the wisdom of what he’s doing in Afghanistan and Pakistan. If you’re not familiar with Mortenson, you might want to check out a short profile ABC News did on him back in March 2009 when he was selected as their Person of the Week.

In a nutshell, after a failed attempt to climb K-2 in 1993, Mortenson found himself being nursed back to health by the residents of Korphe, a poor mountain village in remote northeastern Pakistan. During the weeks he spent recovering, Mortenson established a rapport with his hosts and was introduced to their custom of serving tea to guests. Specifically, if they serve you one cup of tea, you are considered a guest. If you are offered a second cup of tea, you are considered a friend. By the third cup, you are family. Three Cups of Tea focuses on the importance of establishing the kind of relationship with the people of that region in which you are offered the third cup of tea.

For Mortenson, his third-cup-of-tea relationships were crucial to his quest to fulfill a promise–a promise he made to the villagers before he left–to build a school for their children. As a new member of the village family, Mortenson was saddened to discover that even though the children of Korphe were anxious to learn and their parents were anxious for them to be educated, the village had no school and only a part-time teacher. Classes were conducted in the open air. Assignments were completed in the dirt with sticks. Moreover, Mortenson learned, the arrangement was typical in rural Pakistan.

After he got back to the States, Mortsenson spent three back-breaking, spirit-crushing years raising the funds for the school. He was met by obstacles and his own inexperience at every turn, but he never gave up. Finally, in 1996, he was able to return to Korphe and build the school. What he learned from the experience fills the pages of Three Cups of Tea and created the foundation of the Central Asia Institute (CAI), a nonprofit group he formed in 1996.

The CAI has since built 78 schools in the remote regions of Pakistan and Afghanistan, schools that educate more than 33,000 students and make a real difference in the lives of the of the children and the adults in those villages. The success stories of the students fuel Mortenson’s passion. He is convinced that building relationships and providing education is the best way to purge the ignorance that fuels radical thought and behavior. He is especially keen to educate girls since, he says, some studies have shown that educating girls “to at least the fifth grade level does three important things: one, it reduces infant mortality; number two, reduces population explosion; and number three it improves the quality of health and life itself.” And in Afghanistan and Pakistan, where so many young men are trained to be terrorists, he says, educating girls is important because “In the holy Koran when a young man goes on a jihad he first has to get permission and blessing from his mother. If a woman has an education she is much less likely to condone her son to get into violence or to terrorism.”

Mortenson’s efforts are getting a lot of attention, including from the U.S. military. In a recent interview with, Mortenson explains:

In Three Cups of Tea, although I’m a military veteran, I was a little critical of the military. After 9/11 I went to the Pentagon a couple of times, and I called them all laptop warriors. I can say now that the military has gone through a huge learning curve in the last three to four years—even more than the State Department or our political leaders—and the military really gets it. [They understand that being successful in Afghanistan and Pakistan is] about listening more, building relationships, and empowering the elders. Three Cups of Tea is now mandatory reading for all senior commanders and Special Forces deploying to Afghanistan. I tried to highlight some personal examples of the military’s inspiring work in Stones Into Schools.

So now, Mortenson is back out on the bookstore circuit, tirelessly educating the rest of us about what he believes to be the best resolution to the mess we find ourselves in, a resolution that potentially resolves the problem once and for all. I’m in no position to judge one way or the other, but what he’s saying makes a great deal of sense.

In any case, Mortenson is thoughtful, inspiring and gracious. During the book signing portion of the evening, he not only took the time to shake hands and speak to each of the hundreds of us waiting our turn. He also randomly gave out free signed copies of Stones Into Schools, asking that those who accepted the book donate it to a school or library. I’ve gone to more book signings than I can count, and I’ve never been given a free book for any reason. I’ll be heading to the library tomorrow.

I suspect that, like me, most moms spend half their time worrying that their children will never grow up and the other half wringing their hands that their babies are, in fact, doing just that. Well, at this point in life, I find myself with two grown-up, responsible adult children along with an equally grown-up, responsible son-in-law. Happily, I can also report that even though they’re perfectly able to take care of themselves, they haven’t grown up…completely. Amazing how many different ways you can use a napkin ring.

At the risk of being pelted by a barrage of “ah, moms,” I’m providing the proof right here. As I told you in my About Me page, they’re pips!

My gorgeous daughter, Carey

My adorable son-in-law, Austin

The one and son, Brian

As for Teddy, he was just hovering nearby in case a piece of steak happened to hit the floor.

Teddy waiting patiently for his serving of steak

I grew up during the Vietnam War. As a child, I had no understanding of the politics behind our involvement in a conflict half a world away; but, I was acutely aware that whatever was going on over there was often creating a great deal of conflict here at home. The evidence was everywhere, including at some of our family gatherings. My mom came from a family of highly intelligent, opinionated, and politically passionate debaters who loved to argue every aspect of most any topic, including the war. When I was little, I found their “discussions” fascinating and their anger un-nerving.

Even in the quiet serenity of our own home, getting completely away from the turmoil was difficult. Most afternoons, while Mom fixed dinner, my sister and I watched the kids’ shows which preceded the evening news. Many times, if we didn’t get the TV turned off quickly enough, we were subjected to clips of the fighting in the jungles of Vietnam or footage of anti-war protests here in the States. Why were people so angry and violent?

Not surprisingly, it was with relief that I heard Walter Cronkite declare one evening during his newscast just before the holidays that both sides would be observing a ceasefire for Christmas that year. My relief quickly turned to amazement. Even as a 8- or 9-year old, I wondered why–if they could stop shooting at each other for Christmas–they couldn’t stop the war all together. Couldn’t we pretend that every day was Christmas? It didn’t make sense.

This memory came flooding back on Sunday morning as I scanned the bulletin of the church where we’d gone to hear a good friend sing and play the bells in her church’s Christmas Cantata. As we sat waiting for the service to begin, I read their Christmas Creed:

I believe that Christmas is a spirit…not a season of the year, but a way to live. It comes whenever wise men and shepherds bow down at the same shrine; whenever charity displaces intolerance; whenever old enemies forgive one another; whenever kindliness takes the place of ill will. I believe in the Christmas hope as the way to live for all persons and nations. I believe that peace on earth and good will among all can become living realities in this generation.

Indeed. What if we did spread the true spirit of Christmas over 365 days instead of trying to cram all into a few short weeks at the end of the year? What if we all were on our best, most generous behavior all year long? What if we based our decisions not on the almighty dollar, but on the dignity and humanity of others. If you ask me, that would give real meaning to Christmas.

As for the quote itself, I have no idea who wrote it or where it was published originally (if it wasn’t written by someone at the church), and I apologize for being unable to give proper credit, but I sincerely thank the writer for putting the musing of a young child into such eloquent and thoughtful form.

In the most recent post on her website, Caryn Mirriam-Goldberg, the current Poet Laureate of Kansas, writes:

In Kansas where I live, particularly in the western part of the state, the land is curved and lined with beautiful stone fence posts, each one holding the wire fencing from one place to another. We have such fence posts in our lives too: moments, events, occasions that stand as strong posts leading our lives along the same route or turning us new directions…Fence post moments are the times we want to remember because they changed or reinforced something vital about who we are, how we live, why we’re alive.

What an incredibly vivid analogy and beautifully worded thought. (Thanks, Jordana, for introducing me to Caryn’s website!)

In the same post, Mirriam-Goldberg challenges her readers to make a list of their own fence posts moments and to write about them. So, always up for a challenge, I sat down at my computer this morning and began contemplating my own fence post moments, unsure where to start.

About that time, Teddy, who was–and still is–snoozing away loudly under my desk, popped the cheese. Stiiiiinky cheese. As I wrinkled up my nose and began looking for something to fan away the blue cloud, I inwardly grinned when I realized that Teddy is as good a fence post moment to write about as any. A fence post I never saw coming.

Snoozing--among other things--under my desk

I won’t bore you with the re-telling of how Teddy came into our lives. You can read all about that in a previous post titled “Meet Teddy.” But I will tell you this: our decision to adopt Teddy was totally an instinctual response to the moment. All heart, no head. I couldn’t then–and still can’t today–offer up any plausible rationale for why we brought that wrinkly faced, squared-butted little mutt home. Instead, I can give you numerous reasons why we never should have, including–but not limited to–the extremely expensive fence we’ve had to put up; the vet bills for ear infections, skin rashes, teeth cleaning, grooming, et al; the loss of freedom to come and go without worrying about an animal; the interrupted sleep when someone–who shall remain nameless–whines while chasing bunnies in his sleep; and the definite deterioration of the air quality in my office on a darn-near daily basis.

Still, I’d fight you to the death if you tried to take him away from me. To the death.

Teddy reminds me–and everyone else around here–every single day what’s really important.

Had a bad day? The boss making you crazy? You say he’s making you work this weekend? You have to travel to meet clients where? For how long? The doctor made you wait for more than an hour before seeing you? You have to have your blood drawn again, a mammogram, a colonoscopy, and you have to wear braces? Damn. Well, just lie down here on the floor. I’ll curl up next to you and make sure you understand that nothing is more important–nothing–than a good snuggle and a belly rub.

You want me to come inside so you can go run errands? Have you been outside today? Have you felt how warm the sun is and seen how green the grass is even though it’s already December? Have you ever just parked yourself here in the liriope belly up and watched the clouds? No? Well maybe you should consider it. Trust me. The errands can wait.

Still haven’t fixed the splotchy paint in the living room and kitchen? Floors need to be scrubbed? Yeah, those windows are pretty dirty, but how about if we go for a ride in the truck instead? You drive, and I’ll perch myself on the console and nuzzle your arm as we go. I’d be extra happy if you’d turn on the vent so my ears get blown around a little bit. See, isn’t this much better than housework?

Every time Teddy sits up on his square butt in anticipation of a Beggin’ Strip, I’m so pleased I followed my gut instincts and brought him home. Every day, when Teddy is following me around like a shadow, intent on keeping me company, I’m grateful Tom honored my “knowing” and didn’t argue with me about adopting him. Every evening, when Tom and Brian are trying to teach Teddy how to play Gotcha (the poor little guy still doesn’t get it, but he’s trying), I’m giddy that I ignored the perfectly practical reasons we didn’t need a dog. And every time Teddy positions himself between me and a contractor, the mailman, or a delivery person and woofs, I’m thankful to be so well loved.

Teddy is a very special fence post for me, one–no doubt–that will lead to many more.

Riding in Dad's car isn't nearly as fun as the truck

For longer than I want to admit, Suzi, my hair stylist, has been trying to get me to stop forcing my hair into a style that goes against “the way it grows.” She’s tenacious. A real trooper. I’ll give her that.

For several years now, after painstakingly cutting and shaping my short locks, Suzi has added a dab of gel or styling mousse to my wet hair and then blown it dry into a soft, easy style, using nothing more than her fingers to finish her handiwork. After a quick toot of hairspray, she sends me out with door with hair I can still run my fingers through. Once home, I have stubbornly re-wet my hair and blown it dry, using a brush, more product, and lots of contortions to “fluff” up the hairstyle Suzi has just given me (and I’ve spent good money for). If I’m lucky, in the process, I’ve tamed the mind-of-its-own cowlick that dominates the back of my head. Suzi has never tried to hide the cowlick. Instead, she has accentuated it…really…like it’s an enviable feature other women should covet. I’m not convinced. Anyway, after I’d get my “do” just like I wanted it, I’d blast it with generous quantities of hairspray to secure my efforts into place, and I’d be happy. I could no longer run my fingers through my hair, but I’d be happy. That is, I thought I was happy.

I don’t know how it happened, but it happened. I finally get what Suzi’s been subtly–and not so subtly–trying to get me to understand. Maybe she wore me down. Maybe all those products have finally seeped into my brain. Who knows, but for some reason, after my haircut last week, I understood, and I’ve since stopped trying to wrestle my hair into a style it has no desire or ability to hold. Now, like her, I give my hair a squirt of gel, blow it dry with my fingers, and give it a light toot of hairspray. As a result, getting ready the last few days has been a breeze, and–with the exception of my goofy-ass cowlick–my hair has never looked better (purely personal opinion). Please understand, I have no delusions, the back of my head still looks like a dog’s butt, but for some reason I don’t care. How did that happen? Why do I know think my hair looks fine–really fine, actually–when before I hated it? I have no answer. The only thing I can tell you is getting ready is now so simple. So very, very simple.

I wonder what else I’m doing in my life that goes against “the way it grows.”

Since both of our condos faced west–and because, as a group, we never managed to get up early enough to go out where we could see a sunrise–we are top heavy with sunset pictures. Now that we’re back home, I’m kind of kicking myself for not making the effort to capture a sunrise, but there’s not much I can do about it now, I suppose. I’m not complaining…really…and I’m guessing that after you see our pictures, you won’t be either. Enjoy.

Sunset from our lanai in Kona - Big Island

We didn’t realize it at the time, but the haze you commonly see in Hawaii is caused by the volcanic ash in the atmosphere from Kilauea. The locals call it “vog.” Clever, no? Not to be confused with the haze we saw in Los Angeles which is neither volcanic ash, nor fog. It’s just nasty.

Sunset over the lava flow - Big Island

Sunset over the lava flow - Big Island

Sunset over the harbor in downtown Kona - Big Island

Sunset over Waikiki through the "vog" - Oahu

The trade winds shifted the third day we were on Oahu and blew the vog away from us, so the sunset pictures from here on out are much clearer.

While shopping in the little town of Haleiwa on the North Shore, a shop owner suggested we join the locals to watch the sunset in a nearby park. I will always be grateful to that guy. We took more than 50 pictures of the sunset over Waialua Bay. I’ll be judicious and only post three.

Sunset over Waialua Bay - Oahu

Sunset over Waialua Bay - Oahu

Sunset over Waialua Bay - Oahu

The next night, we were treated to a fabulous sunset at the luau we attended at Paradise Cove. I can’t honestly recommend the luau, but the sunset was spectacular!

Sunset over Paradise Cove - Oahu

On our final evening in Hawaii, Mother Nature provided a breathtaking sunset over Waikiki to photograph and enjoy. We were grateful.

Sunset over Waikiki - Oahu

The building in Waikiki aglow from the sunset - Oahu

Sunset over Waikiki - Our last sunset in Hawaii

And with that, I bring my posts about our Hawaiian adventures to a close; however, because it was such an amazing trip, I’m sure the stories and pictures will continue to pop up in my blog for a long time to come. Come back and visit anytime.


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