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One of the demons I wrestled with on my driving trip out west in January–and one of the biggest reasons for my pissy attitude at the time–was the overwhelming feeling I’d had for the previous six to eight months that it was way beyond time for me to stop being a burden on society and find something constructive to do with my time, talent, and experience (other than writing this blog–ha, ha). Don’t get me wrong, I’m grateful I was able to “retire” there for a bit and do nothing more constructive than read and write to my heart’s content…go out to lunch with my friends…play golf…travel when I wanted…and…and…wait a minute, what am I bitching about? Oh, yeah. Activity dedicated to little more than self-gratification. Yeah, yeah, that. Well, believe me, it’s only fun for so long. Really. I’m not kidding.

Thankfully, those long miles alone in the car gave me the time and space I needed to properly sort my thoughts and to come to some conclusions about what my future might/could/should look like. The result: I applied to the Master of Social Work program at the University of Kansas shortly after I got home. Then I waited…and waited…and waited to find out if they’d take me. Every day since late March–when I was told letters of acceptance would start going out–I’ve gone out to the mailbox with high hopes of finding The Letter. And every day since late March, I’ve been disappointed. Walking back into the house, I’d repeatedly ponder all the possibilities for why I hadn’t yet heard from the school, comforting myself with the fact that I’d also been told that letters would continue to go out through the end of April. I’d wring my hands and wonder what I’d done wrong on the application that would cause the powers-that-be to question my suitability for the program and my qualifications to be a social worker. ARGHHHH! It was torture.

Finally, yesterday, as I walked out to the mailbox, I told myself that if The Letter wasn’t there (and it wasn’t), I was going to call the Dean of Admissions today and just ask. Put myself out of my misery. So I did. Call, that is.

See, I told you I have no patience.

Turns out none of the letters have gone out yet. The first batch, which includes mine, gets mailed tonight. More importantly though, I learned that I am, in fact, being offered a spot in the program for the fall semester. Woooo Hooooo!

So, if all goes according to plan, three years from now I’ll walk through the campanile and down the hill as a KU graduate and licensed clinical social worker; ready to start re-paying the universe for the untold blessings that I have enjoyed throughout my lifetime; ready to put my life experiences as a wife, mother, daughter, sister, aunt, friend, community and school volunteer, neighbor, former teacher, student, business woman, reader, writer, life-long learner, instructional designer, and walking peri-menopausal hormone to good use. The relief is overwhelming. Truly.

Tom’s excited, too. Now he can tell everyone he’s dating a grad student.

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I took piano lessons for seven years when I was a kid and generally hated it. Piano teachers who insisted on perfect fingering and ramrod straight posture, endless–and mindless–scales up and down the keyboard over and over again, forced practicing nearly every dang day (sorry I was such a brat, Dad), and humiliating piano recitals. It’s a wonder I survived to tell the tale.

The magic keys

But survive I did. Moreover, I regretted quitting almost from the day of my last lesson and have thought numerous times about how wonderful it would be to start again. I just never managed to get around to making it happen. Until now. Finally, 38 years later, I’m once again at the keyboard, taking lessons…of my own volition…even paying for it out of my own pocket…and I’m loving it. LOVING IT! Don’t get me wrong, I still suck, but I don’t care. I really don’t. Making music is a magical power even when the music is lousy.

In my defense, some of the lousy is due to the fact that my piano is waaaay out of tune and some of the keys are sticking, but the piano tuner is coming. I know I may be singing a different tune after he gets here and I can no longer blame the piano for the strange sounds and missed notes, but I don’t think so. I can make music! Really. Whole songs that Tom, Brian, and Dad have all said they enjoy hearing me play. Of course, they’re a biased (and captive) audience, but still. Music! That I’m making! All by myself!

Luckily for me, I’ve found a wonderful piano teacher who is not only talented and knowledgeable, but also extremely patient and kind. Even better, she’s willing to make allowances–bend the rules, if you will–for her “non-traditional” students. Translation: no scales. Oh, and did I mention that she’s patient? AND she said I don’t have to participate in the piano recitals if I don’t want to. Suuuu-weeet! On the downside, she doesn’t give her “non-traditional” students stickers when they’ve mastered a piece. Sigh.

So why am I telling you this? Because I want to challenge you to do something you’ve wanted to do for a long time. Now that you’re an adult, you can do things you’ve been dreaming about and do them just for fun. At this point, no one will expect you to become an expert. No one will expect you to get a college scholarship or turn your passion into a career. You can just follow your passion for the pure enjoyment of it. In other words, you’re free to be totally stink-o and totally happy being totally stink-o. You get to call the shots! Go on. I dare you. Then write and tell me what you’re doing.

Although I’ve had nearly two days to recuperate and gather my wits after three days on the road, I’m still not feeling particularly coherent. Moreover, I’m not feeling at all motivated to be coherent, so I’m just going to bullet-point a few random thoughts and observations about our adventures thus far:

  • T. Boone Pickens–or someone similarly inclined–has covered a large portion of central Texas with wind turbines. For miles, you see them perched on the mesas and lined up across the cotton fields. Hundreds of them in every direction. Almost makes you feel like aliens have invaded. Eerie, but very ecologically minded. Brownie points–I mean, Greenie Points–for Texas.

Texas going green

En masse, the turbines look like an army of giant aliens

  • Anyone who bemoans the desolation of western Kansas and eastern Colorado has never driven across the west half of Texas. Seriously. Nothing…nothing…and more nothing…sprinkled with an occasional oil refinery. Personally, I’d rather see the nothing.

The nothingness of western Texas

  • Right smack dab in the middle of all the nothing (translation: Midland, Texas) are three of the nicest people I’ve ever met. On Wednesday afternoon, Teddy and I pit-stopped at the Texas Visitors’ Center there, desperately in need of a wee. The Visitors’ Center was the only place we could find that had anything approximating a grassy patch for Teddy’s…uh hum…convenience. (Do you have any idea how hard it is to find a grassy patch of any kind–either green or brown–anywhere south and west of Gainesville, Texas?) Anyway, after Teddy had taken care of business, I decided to loop his leash around the base of a tree so he could sit outside and enjoy the fresh air and sunshine–as opposed to sitting in the car–while I went inside for my own pit stop. He wasn’t having it. Barked like a maniac, so I took him up to the patio in front of the building and tried looping the leash around a park bench set in concrete by the front door. Again, Mr. Separation Anxiety wasn’t going for it, so I poked my head in the door and asked if pets were allowed in the Center. A very sweet-looking lady looked up and shook her head slowly, but when she saw the desperation in my face and the Tedster sitting out on the sidewalk, she jumped up from the desk, saying, “If you have an dog out there, I’ll be happy to watch him for you,” followed by, “He doesn’t bite, does he?” as she headed for the door. She was outside introducing herself to Teddy before I could even answer. By the time I got back outside less than five minutes later, all three employees (the only three people within 50 miles of the Center) were out on the patio, fussing over His Royal Fuzz-Buttness–one of them snapping pictures of Teddy like he was a visiting dignitary. Of course, in Teddy’s world, he is. What a ham! He has yet to meet a stranger. I wish I’d gotten a picture of those lovely people. You need to stop in and meet them.

"Hey! Don't you walk away from me. Do you hear me?"

  • In a related observation, I can’t prove this, but I’m convinced that Teddy makes an extra effort to turn on the charm around pretty girls. I caught him making bigger and sadder than normal I-sure-could-use-an-ear-scratchin’ eyes on two different occasions when cute girls were nearby. Both efforts resulted in said ear-scratching, clucking, and cooing. He’s absolutely shameless. I’m betting Teddy wishes I’d gotten pictures of them.
  • We were only on the road for a few hours before Teddy figured out we were going to be in the car for a while and he quieted, but it took him a day and a half to finally find the optimal position for nap-taking. Once he figured it out, he napped with gusto.

"Close, but nope."

"Dang, this isn't it either."

"Ahhhh, there we go."

  • Teddy is also confused. All the landscaping in Dad’s condo complex is a variation on the same theme: rocks. Big rocks, little rocks, black rocks, red rocks, medium rocks. In a word, rocks. Worse, none of the trees or bushes in and amongst the rocks are even slightly familiar. Some are even prickly. More than once, Teddy has looked up at me as if to say, “What the hell?” Certainly an adventure for a little guy with Midwestern sensibilities who is used to having an acre of thick grass on which to poo and wee. He is, however, thoroughly enjoying the sunshine. Yesterday, we sat out on the front stoop for nearly an hour just watching the world go by and soaking up the warmth, thankful to be out of the weather mess back home. To those of you in the Midwest, I’ll do my best to bring some sunshine home with me.
  • If you survive the tedium of nothing and get far enough west in Texas, you’re treated to some really lovely mountains.

The Guadalupe Mountains in far west Texas

The Guadalupe Mountains basking in the sun

  • Travelers’ Advisory: Even if you’re bone-tired and don’t think you can drive another mile; even if the caffeine you’re mainlining is no longer working and you’re in peril of driving off the road if you don’t stop immediately, do not stay at the Guesthouse Suites in El Paso. Keep driving. That’s all I’m saying. I’ll let their little “welcome” sign in the bathroom say the rest–except to add their towels and pillows were total crap. And the room wasn’t all that clean. But that’s all I’m saying.

Dear Guesthouse Suites El Paso Management, I must both compliment your unfaltering ineptness while checking me in and thank you for the lovely welcome sign in the bathroom. I was charmed.

  • For the first time in all the years I’ve been coming out to Arizona, I finally got to see snow in the mountains. How ironic. I drive 1,500 miles to get away from the snow and the cold and then nearly drive off the interstate trying to take a picture of the snow. Brilliant.

Yes, VIrginia, that's snow in southern Arizona

  • I recommend driving into Arizona on I-10 West. You go through Texas Canyon, one of the prettiest places in the state. A place where it looks like the desert gods have been playing with Silly Sand on either side of the highway. You remember Silly Sand, don’t you? You know, the stuff we used to play with back in the 60s? As an aside, you can still buy this vintage toy…if you have a mere $200. For those of you too young to remember Silly Sand…my sympathies. Playing with Silly Sand was a blast. A messy blast that typically pissed off the parents, but a blast!

Some of the formations in Texas Canyon

Hundreds of teetery rock formations seemily rise up out of nothing

More soon…

Maybe it’s my hormones. Maybe it’s these goofy braces that cause me to make highly embarrassing, cow-stuck-in-the-mud sucking noises unwittingly in public. (Ever had a toot or a belch sneak out on you? Yeah, it’s like that.) Maybe it’s the fact that we’ve had less than a total of six hours of sunshine here in Kansas City since Christmas Eve. Maybe it’s because I’ve given up sweets and haven’t had a Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup since December 21. (Yes, it’s pathetic. I actually remember the exact day–and time–I ate my last one. Consider yourself warned.) Maybe it’s cabin fever. Maybe. Or maybe I just have a pissy attitude.

In any case, it’s time to stop wallowing in the funk and get over it.

To that end, I’m going to start by focusing on the good stuff and share it with you here. Reinforce the high points, so to speak.

Let’s start with the snow…or lack thereof. With the exception of some humongous piles still heaped in the parking lots around town, the snow that started falling Christmas Eve has finally melted.

The biggest upside to the snow melting is I can drive my car again. That’s a good thing. I’m not very good behind the wheel of the pickup, my backup vehicle. Don’t get me wrong. I’m grateful to have a backup vehicle, but the darn thing is just too big. Way too big. Stupid, damn curbs.

Plus, it’s wonderful to be able to see the deck and the backyard again.

We thought it would never melt!

Just in case you’ve forgotten, the pile in the picture above was easily two and a half feet tall at its zenith.

It was unbelievable!

But…before the snow melted, Teddy gave us a valentine in the snow, albeit a few weeks early. Still, what a sweetie! I love Teddy.

Teddy loves me!

Just ignore the poo piles.

Bless his heart, Teddy was a real trooper in the snow. We worried about his ability to navigate through the deep drifts with only three wheels, but with one exception–when he got high-centered on the drift just off the patio–he managed quite well.

Three-wheeling through the snow

Of course, all that three-wheeling required extra naps to recuperate. And snacks. Don’t forget the snacks.

Who turned off the sunshine?

I also got to babysit my grand-dog, Otis, a couple of days last week. He’s always good for a laugh or two.

Otis, a.k.a. Mr. Cool

I love Otis.

Then there’s the kids. They never fail to amuse me…or baffle me. Either way, they’re a diversion. How could I not love them?

I have no idea what this is all about

Oh, and Tom bought me a kick-ass Le Creuset casserole dish. Spicy red. One day I mention how nice it would be to have one; three days later, the UPS guy is bringing it to my door. It’s fabulous! It’s definitely making the other casserole dishes around here feel like wimps. Tom’s a good egg. I love him, too! Even when he doesn’t buy me fancy, French ceramic cookware.

Nice? Oui?

So, see. I’ve had lots of reasons to smile in the last few weeks. There’s no excuse for my foul mood. Still it’s undeniable. I’m currently the poster child of pissy attitudes. Time for drastic measures. Time for a…

ROAD TRIP!

Since I can now get my car out on the road again, I’m going to pack my bags, throw Teddy in the passenger seat, and head for the sunshine and warmer weather in Arizona before the snow comes back. Get the heck outta Dodge while the gettin’s good. So for the next few weeks, feel free to travel with us. We can’t promise to cure your winter blues, but we might be able to divert your attention from the lousy winter weather for a bit. That is unless you live where the weather is already and/or always nice, in which case, you have no earthly idea what I’m talking about and you get no sympathy from me. Still, join Teddy and me. We’d love the company.

I’ve sat down to blog several times since confessing my little episode on the treadmill last week, but I couldn’t think of anything to write about that didn’t sound like whining. For crying out loud, I’d already come clean about nearly sanding the bottoms of my feet off after walking barefoot on the treadmill for an hour. Surely I could come up with something to share with you to prove I have at least half a brain in my head. But no, it wasn’t that kind of week, so here goes…

With more than a foot of snow still on the ground, we got hit with another snowstorm on Wednesday. Accounts differ on the amount because the wind was blowing so dang hard the snow never really piled up in a fashion suitable for getting a fixed measurement. In one spot, you might find only a few inches whereas three feet to the left you could easily find…well, three feet. Thursday morning, Tom woke up to find a huge drift blocking all three garage doors, so, for what seems like the hundredth time this winter, out came the snow blower. After clearing the driveway all the way out to the street, Tom took off for work in the truck, preferring its higher clearance and weight (700 lbs of sand in the bed) to his car. Brian got up an hour later and, without incident, backed out of the driveway and headed to work in his four-wheel drive Subaru, both exacting a promise from me that I was canceling my appointments for the day and wasn’t going to need either vehicle.

Here I should probably explain that I drive a car that has to be parked when it rains. It’s a fabulous little car–I love, love, love my little car–but the low-profile performance tires that make it so much fun to drive on a sunny, warm spring afternoon are completely useless when the pavement is even thinking about getting wet. Forget ice and snow. So when the weather gets crappy, I typically drive the truck. As I’ve said, since I insisted I wasn’t going anywhere, Tom took the truck, leaving me the option of driving his car if I changed my mind. At 7 a.m. I had no intention of changing my mind. By 11 a.m, I wasn’t so sure.

You see, Thursday I was scheduled to get my braces. Not that I was excited about getting my braces, mind you. At one point, I’d actually told my dentist, who also happens to be my brother-in-law (thank god), that I was as excited about getting my braces as I was about getting my colonoscopy last summer. In my defense, it was his fault for asking, but, needless to say, I hurt his feelings. Truth be told, I’ve been balking at getting braces and being a real pain in the butt about the whole thing for more than 10 years already, so I hated to make another stink by asking his nurse to reschedule me and prolong the whole ordeal for us all, especially when other people were out braving the elements. First mistake.

Second mistake: I opened the garage door behind Tom’s car and checked to be sure the wind hadn’t created another drift in front of the door since he had cleared the one earlier that morning. Nope. No drift. I got in the car and backed out…right into a big-ass drift at the end of the driveway. Buried the car up to the axle. Stuck halfway out into the street. Hell’s bells.

So, with no one else in sight to push or offer any other advise, I began rocking the car back and forth with the transmission. Drive…vroooom…spin. Reverse…vroom…spin. Shit. Drive…vroooom…spin. Reverse…vroom…spin. Crap. Drive…vroooom…spin. Reverse…vroom…spin. Sigh. Not an inch. Periodically, I’d glance up and down the street to be sure I wasn’t going to hit anyone else who’d been dumb enough to get out and drive around in the mess. Fortunately–or maybe unfortunately in this situation–our street is really quiet, so it was a pretty safe bet that no one had been up or down the street in some time. For sure, the snowplow hadn’t been. Imagine my shock when–after just having thrown the car in reverse and gunning it–I looked up to see the neighbor kid behind the car pushing with all his might. I never saw him until it could have been too late. I nearly threw up. I think he felt much the same when he realized those were my backup lights shining, not my brake lights. Poor kid. Covered with the snow thrown from my frantically spinning tires and with the wind chill well below zero, he was shaking for more than one reason.

I implored him to save himself (he’s a nice kid–and was very kind to offer his help–but he’s not big enough, even on his best day, to push a fully loaded grocery cart much less my car) and went back to rocking the car while he stood shaking behind the mailbox in bemused silence, watching my efforts. I’m pretty sure he was rolling his eyes, but I tried not to think about that.

Finally, after much rocking (the car), cursing (me), and eye-rolling (the neighbor kid), the car was free and sitting in the middle of the street with me aboard, contemplating my next move. Third mistake. Euphoric from conquering the snow drift, I decided to go ahead and go to the dentist.

Getting braces sucks. I have a new-found respect for those–including my own two kids–who wear or have worn braces, especially the kind with brackets and wires. I’m wearing Invisalign braces that are, for all practical purposes, invisible and that require little more than some tooth-colored wart-like attachments to a few teeth, so I shouldn’t complain. Still, it sucks. I have jaw issues, so holding my mouth wide open for long periods of time is really uncomfortable. Plus, according to my brother-in-law, my mouth is really small. I have trouble believing that–as will those of you who know me–but I can confirm that every instrument they pull out to use on me comes out of a package labeled SMALL. I know. I know. The irony is almost too much to bare. Anyway, the process of putting the little wart-like attachments on my teeth required that the teeth stay really dry, so the hygienist had this contraption they were going to put in my mouth to hold my lips back. It looked like a diaphram with the back punched out. You’ve seem a big-mouth bass, haven’t you? That’s what I would have looked like if they’d ever managed to get it in. My poor brother-in-law fumbled around with the goofy gizmo for several minutes, trying desperately to get it squeezed small enough to put in my mouth. To my tremendous relief and the hygienist horror, the thing snapped. While she ran off in a dither to find another, my brother-in-law chuckled, crammed my mouth full of cotton, and got on with things.

A little more than an hour later, I was back in my car, braces in place, drooling out of the corners of my mouth, on my way home. Now, considering what I went through getting out of my driveway, it’s reasonable to assume that I would take a different tack getting back in. Nope. I wish. But nope. As I neared the house, I noted that the drift across the driveway was much deeper on one side than the other, so I aimed for the other and gunned it. Made it halfway in.

I’ll spare you the details, but suffice it to say freeing the car the second time around was a bit more involved. I finally freed it on my own–with the help of a shovel, lots of snow-melt pellets, and a sailor’s dose of blue language–but not before making a desperate call to Tom and lisping and slobbering into the phone, “Pwease, come home and hewp me!”

The following day, Tom, Brian, and I repeated the whole what-car-will-you-need-today conversation. After assuring both of them repeatedly that I intended to cancel my piano lesson and stay home–and confident I wasn’t stupid enough to repeat the previous day’s antics–they left in the truck and Subaru respectively.

They don’t know me very well, do they?

Later that morning when I called my new piano teacher, whom I’m never met face-to-face, and told her I thought I’d better cancel my lesson because of road conditions, she offered me an alternate time for a lesson early this week. Before hanging up, however, she informed me that her other students were making it to her house and into her driveway without problems and encouraged me to give it a try. Not wanting to look like a total wimp, I got in the car and drove over there.

I’m happy to report, I got out of my driveway and into hers without incident. It was the lesson that posed the challenge. Not playing the pieces I’d prepared so much as playing them without drooling on myself or all over the poor woman’s piano. A few bars into the first piece, I realized that it was going to be nearly impossible to think about what I was doing while at the same time concentrating on sucking in the spit that threatened to roll down my chin. At the end of the first piece, I turned toward her, head lowered, and mumbled, “Sowwy,” as I wiped the corners of my mouth and tried not to spit on her. She was very kind and…to my total amazement…smiling. Since most of her students are kids, I’m guessing she’s seen it all before.

It’s nearly a week later, and I’m still slobbering and lisping. Worse, my teeth are loose, so eating has become more of a chore than a pleasure. The one upside is I’m having one hell of a good time playing the piano. You’ll just have to ignore the dish towel I have tied around my neck. Oh, and the spit. I apologize up front for the spit.

I’ll admit that I’m quick to point out the missteps of others, including those of family and friends, so in the interest of fairness, I must reveal I’ve recently been victimized by my own lack of judgment. More specifically, the soles of my feet have been victimized…or brutalized. I share this with you as a warning.

Sunday’s paper contained an article about the growing number of runners who have discovered the joys–and benefits–of running barefoot. Although I typically don’t take the time to read articles about any form of strenuous exercise in which I have no intention of ever participating, I read this one just to satisfy myself that the folks involved were, in fact, the nut jobs I imagined them to be. To my shock, they weren’t. They were runners of all shapes, sizes, ages, and experience levels–not just 83-year-old ultra-marathoners who ingest nothing but vegetable smoothies and vitamins every day–so I pointed the article out to Tom, a runner, and asked what he thought. He didn’t have much to say, but instead tossed his January issue of Runner’s World my direction with the comment that it also had an article about running barefoot. I didn’t read the Runner’s World article because…well, because I was already way over my quota of exercise articles for the month. Instead, I made the assumption that RW was also promoting barefoot running and went on reading the rest of the Sunday paper.

Which brings me to yesterday. I’ve been wearing the same ol’ pair of nappy walking shoes for my daily walks on the treadmill now for more than two years. Weeeell, truthfully, I suppose it’s a bald-faced lie to call them “daily” walks, but still I have been walking on a fairly regular basis for about an hour most days of the week. If I’m lucky, I get on the treadmill when the Barefoot Contessa’s show starts at 4 p.m. on the Food Network and walk right through Jeopardy at 4:30. I’m so absorbed in what I’m watching, I’m done before I know it. Encumbered with insipid facts, inspired to cook something yummy for dinner, and feeling pretty cocky for having exercised at all.

Right after Christmas, Tom and I went shopping to find replacements for my beat-up old walking shoes. I couldn’t find any I liked, so yesterday as I got ready to walk…you see where this is going, don’t you…I decided to do my walk barefoot, figuring walking barefoot couldn’t be any worse that walking in those broken-down shoes. Besides, I figured if “research” has shown running barefoot is “safe,” barefoot walking should be too, especially indoors where there aren’t any rocks, glass, or well-hidden tree roots. (Gives you butt squench just to think about it, doesn’t it?) Anyway, I figured wrong. It probably didn’t help that I managed to get on the treadmill in time to catch the Contessa’s opening spiel and walked right through final Jeopardy. By the way, how could anyone not know F.Scott Fitzgerald had flappers in his novels? But I digress.

Just to clarify, my knees, ankles, legs, and hips all felt fine after my hour-long barefoot walk. They still feel fine today. The parts of my body screaming in agony are the soles of my feet. I might as well have walked on a belt sander for an hour. What a dumbass. Seriously. Consider yourself warned.

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!

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.”

Before I get too far, several of you have inquired about the state of Brian’s digestive tract after the ostrich episode. Suffice it to say even after swigging half a bottle of Pepto Bismol within hours of wrestling the thing down, he didn’t feel normal again until early the next afternoon. Ostrich-on-a-Stick? You might want to think twice. I’m just saying…

Now back to our regularly scheduled posting. Sadly, this will be my last post about the food-on-a-stick available at the Minnesota State Fair. Brian got called back to Kansas City to work on another project earlier than he’d originally expected, leaving more than three dozen skewered possibilities un-sampled. He got home last night in time for dinner, extremely tired and–amazingly enough–hungry. The smart-aleck part of me wanted to fix a meal of fried-everything, but my mom side won out. Stupid mom side. So, instead, he was served lots of fresh fruit and raw veggies. Tom, however, did try to skewer Brian’s serving of meatloaf before carrying it to the table.

Even though he didn’t get to sample everything before leaving, Brian did find several more things to share with us. You’ll never believe a couple of them.

First on the line-up: Cheese-Curd-on-a-Stick. He had already sampled this particularly nasty sounding option–and had sworn he would never eat it again–but, at my request, he did find someone else who was eating it and managed to get a picture. I don’t know exactly what I was expecting, but, sadly, Cheese-Curd-on-a-Stick looks just like every other stabbed, battered, and fried grub-on-a-stick offering we’ve already seen. Sigh.

Cheese-Curd-on-a-Stick

Cheese-Curd-on-a-Stick

The same is true for Mac-and-Cheese-on-a-Stick. Phooey. I really had high expectations for this one, as well as for Spaghetti-on-a-Stick (which Brian never managed to find, but which I found a picture of on the Minnesota State Fair website). Unfortunately, neither is the culinary marvel I imagined. In both instances, it appears the pasta is scooped into a tight ball, dipped in the ever-ubiquitous batter, and deep fried. Are you sensing a pattern here? Even worse, the mac and cheese wasn’t even of the homemade variety. Brian said it tasted just like it came out of a blue box. It’s an OUTRAGE! I have no choice but to assume the spaghetti comes out of a Chef Boyardee can? Honestly!

Mac-and-Cheese-on-a-Stick

Mac-and-Cheese-on-a-Stick

Next up: Nacho-Mama-Dog-on-a-Stick. Pause and say that out loud before continuing. This particular offering isn’t exactly what the name suggests, in as much as there is no traditional hot dog involved. Yes, the “dog” looks like a corndog, and it is, in fact, breaded in cornmeal and deep fried. But where you’d expect to find a frankfurter, you actually find taco meat pressed into the shape of a hot dog…SURPRISE! The faux dog is then piled high with traditional nacho fixin’s, including melted processed cheese food. I was ready to give this entry a few points for its catchy name until I saw the melted cheese food. Velveeta IS NOT CHEESE, people! Geeez!

Nacho-Mama-Dog-on-a-Stick

Nacho-Mama-Dog-on-a-Stick

And what’s a meal-on-a-stick without a dessert-on-a-stick to go with it? In my book, not much. Luckily for fair-goers, there are plenty of speared sweets to pick from. Brian’s choice: Key-Lime-Pie-on-a-Stick, which is strange because Brian doesn’t even like key lime pie. He didn’t like this version either which could mean it actually tastes like the real thing. It could also mean it was just plain awful. Strangely, it appears to be covered in chocolate. I love chocolate, but on key lime pie? What are they thinking?

Key-Lime-Pie-on-a-Stick

Key-Lime-Pie-on-a-Stick

Unfortunately for us, Brian did not sample the Pig Licker, aka Chocolate-Covered-Bacon-on-a-Stick, which several of you asked about, so no picture. Worse luck. The poor boy had actually tried chocolate covered bacon a couple of weeks ago at the Indiana State Fair and just couldn’t make himself go near the stuff again. Understandable. He did, however, man up and give the Foot-Long-Pepperoni-Pizza-on-a-Stick a go which he says tasted like “a Hot Pocket on a stick.” Overall,very disappointing. He was especially put out when he discovered that the stick in the Foot-Long-Pepperoni-Pizza-on-a-Stick wasn’t even a proper stick. The pizza folks were spearing their pepperoni-stuffed blob of dough with flimsy-ass disposable chopsticks. Very un-Italian.

Foot-Long-Pepperoni-Pizza-on-a-Stick

Foot-Long-Pepperoni-Pizza-on-a-Stick

He had no complaints about the Chocolate-Covered-Frozen-Banana-on-a-Stick. In fact, he tweeted, “Chocolate + Frozen Banana = One Happy Kid.”  He does look pretty happy, doesn’t he. I’m guessing he was relieved to be eating something that wasn’t breaded or dipped in batter.

Chocolate-Covered-Frozen-Banana-on-a-Stick

Chocolate-Covered-Frozen-Banana-on-a-Stick

And Brian had absolutely nothing but praise for his next on-a-stick experience. I believe the picture tells you all you need to know.

Beer-on-a-Stick

Beer-on-a-Stick

Clever, is it not? Those crafty folks up in Minnesota have this whole stick business down…really take it all quite seriously…then again…

Brian came home with one more item on a stick, and you’ll never believe what it was. I just hope the folks who were passing these little gems out didn’t put holes in them when they were putting them on the sticks. That could get rather…ummm…sticky.

Condom-on-a-Stick

Condom-on-a-Stick

Kudos to you, son! You survived. Thanks for taking us along on your adventure! I promise to feed you nothing but healthy food the entire weekend…but not on a stick.

According to fair organizers, if it weren’t for the fact that the Texas State Fair runs twice as long as the Minnesota State Fair, the latter would be considered the biggest state fair–attendance-wise–in the country. Based on our conversation last night, I don’t think Brian would argue that claim. He estimates he’s met at least half the people who live in Minnesota plus a number of others who have arrived from neighboring states for the festivities.

Brian, who has attended a number of state fairs in recent years, seems genuinely amazed at how many people are packing the fairgrounds in St. Paul from early in the morning until late in the evening. He is, without a doubt, having fun yakking it up with the fair-goers, but the large crowds do make it difficult for him to slip away from his work to pursue his quest to sample every food-on-a-stick offering at the fair.

Never fear. He’s a Woltkamp and not easily deterred from the task at hand (except, maybe, by pretty girls). He’s a man on a mission, a 23-year-old bottomless pit with an appetite for something more exotic than mere burgers and fries. He’s busy, but, this weekend, he kept his digestive system even busier. So, with a nod to his tenacity and his iron gut, I share with you his findings in the order they were eaten. I hope you yourself are not eating right now.

First up, Meatballs-on-a-stick, a hearty offering of meatballs rolled in garlic bread crumbs, skewered on a stick, and deep fried. Brian declared them “not bad,” but said little else. Obviously, not a terribly memorable option. He made no mention of dipping sauce, but I think, if you’re going to eat one, a bit of marinara on the side might make the thing more palatable. Maybe.

Meatballs-on-a-Stick

Meatballs-on-a-Stick

Next, Scotch-Egg-on-a-Stick. This one is definitely novel. According to Brian, a hard-boiled egg is impaled on a stick, encased in sausage, hand-dipped in a batter tasting strongly of nutmeg, and finally deep fried to a golden brown. His assessment: “intense.” He seemed particularly put off by the nutmeg. If you ask me, that’s the least of this dish’s problems.

Scotch-Egg-on-a-Stick

Scotch-Egg-on-a-Stick

On to the next offering: a Butterscotch-Twinkie-on-a-Stick. Amazingly enough, this one is not fried. It’s served cold and is exactly what the name and the picture suggest. A Twinkie, punctured by a Popsicle stick, covered in butterscotch. Brian wasn’t impressed. Specifically, he called it “gross.” Wouldn’t you think that at some point the folks as Hostess would get tired of having their snack cakes defiled?

Butterscotch-Twinkie-on-a-Stick

Butterscotch-Twinkie-on-a-Stick

After the sugar rush from the Butterscotch-Twinkie-on-a-Stick, Brian opted for a truly unique–and savory–offering found only at the Minnesota State Fair: Hot-Meal-on-a-Stick. And here, I must give the good folks of Minnesota their due. Just when you think there cannot possibly be any other way to combine meat, tater tots, and a can of cream-of-fill-in-the-blank soup into another casserole or repast of any kind, the clever cooks up there devise Hot-Meal-on-a Stick, the extremely popular offering in which meatballs and tater tots are lined up alternately on a stick, dipped in batter, and…wait for it…wait for it…deep fried. Lest the cream-of-whatever soup feel left out, they serve that on the side. Brian said he wasn’t sure what the soup was cream of, but it looked like “snot.” Brian has a way with words, doesn’t he?

Hot-Dish-on-a-Stick

Hot-Dish-on-a-Stick

Brian declared the next speared entree on his agenda, “Delicious!” and “a nice break from fried food.” The Wahoo-Steak-Dinner-on-a-Stick is essentially what the name implies–chunks of steak, potato, onion, and bell pepper skewered on a stick and grilled–a steak dinner on a stick. Nice. Except for the pasty white dinner roll smooshed onto the end of the stick. Couldn’t they just leave well enough alone? Still, Brian gave it two thumbs up.

Wahoo-Steak-Dinner-on-a-Stick

Wahoo-Steak-Dinner-on-a-Stick

Next stop? A Texas-Tater-Dog-on-a-Stick. I have to say, I’m fascinated by this one. Considering the folks in any food booth on the fairgrounds are feeding hundreds, if not thousands, of people in a short amount of time, how in the world do they manage to find the time to get the potato to spiral down the length of the hot dog so evenly? That must take forever. How many volunteers does it take to prep all those Texas Tater Dogs? And how many different ways–you may be thinking to yourself–can a Texas-Tater-Dog-on-a-Stick be seasoned? Well, I’ll tell you. Four: Parmesan garlic, lemon pepper, seasoned salt, and TNT. If you know my son, you know he ordered TNT. Apparently not many folks choose that option. Brian said the woman who took his order raised her eyebrows at him and asked if he was sure. Was he sure. YeeHaw! Stand clear, Robin.
Texas-Tater-Dog-on-a-Stick

Texas-Tater-Dog-on-a-Stick

Before he stopped for the night, Brian went international. The Chinese-Chicken-Dumpling-on-a-Stick and the General-Tso-Chicken-on-a-Stick both received a “tasted-like-it-came-0ff-a-crappy-Chinese-buffet” rating, but the vegetable Eggroll-on-a-Stick got rave reviews.
Chinese-Chicken-Dumplings-on-a-Stick

Chinese-Chicken-Dumplings-on-a-Stick

General-Tso-Chicken-on-a-Stick

General-Tso-Chicken-on-a-Stick

Egg-Roll-on-a-Stick

Egg-Roll-on-a-Stick

Brian ended the weekend with Ostrich-on-a-Stick, which he called a “karate kick to the innards.” When I talked to him late last night–a three full hours after the encounter–he claimed to be still feeling the effects and planned to stop by the tent where volunteers were passing out Pepto Bismol. In fairness to the ostrich, it could have been the Twinkie.
Ostrich-on-a-Stick

Ostrich-on-a-Stick

See, I told you you’d be better off not eating while reading this.
As for you, son, twelve down. Forty-seven to go.