Last Week’s Good Things

weekThe weeks of 2014 are dwindling to nothing. There are many things that I promised myself that I would accomplish this year that I have not. There are some things that I pulled off this year that I am more than proud of. One thing that I have almost always stayed true to during this year is to pay attention to the good things that show up in bold or quiet ways during my days. Last week, I had more than my fair share so I have had to do some ranking to get it down to five to write about. I hope that anyone reading this finds goodness throughout your days.

In no particular order, here are some of my good things from last week:

  1. Kappa Kappa Gamma Holiday Homes tour – I kind of love to see how other people decorate for the holidays, so the idea of going into a stranger’s house to see what they have going on, always kind of appeals to me. Because this year, the Kappa Kappa Gamma sorority holiday home tour benefited Dan’s organization, it was a good opportunity to buy tickets and go look at some pretty houses. The four houses that were on the tour ranged from really nice to wowza. What was best about each home, however, was that each felt like a home. There were pictures of happy family members, personal touches to the decorating that spoke more to passion than designer labels (lots of KU love going on!), and you could envision families living and having fun in each. I wondered how Dan would react to the tour as it is not really his thing, but he caught the same thing I did. How can you not react positively to an event that raises money for good causes, is staffed by friendly and helpful volunteers, and you get to see some loveliness?goat
  2. The Goat – On Saturday we went out on a cold, gray day to get our Christmas tree. We typically go to Soil Service Garden Center where the friendly staff is ever present. Our tree criteria are pretty narrow since we have a small space, and I am picky about the kind of tree. We pretty much found our tree immediately, but I felt the need to scope out the whole area. It was in doing this that Dan laid eyes on the goat. It was standing out under a shelter among other metal animals and whatnots. As soon as Dan saw him, he was in love. He tried to talk himself out of it, but we both knew that goat was coming home with us. I am still not sure why, but goodness that goat is funny. He has been in our backyard, he then showed up in the house. He has been up in the chair looking out the window, and is now poised at our french doors guarding us from all. We think he name is Gus.
  3. Transition clinic – Over three years ago, I started working on a project where we wanted to find out what survivors of childhood cancer need as they become adults. What we thought we knew, and what we confirmed is that taking care of themselves is difficult when caregivers don’t necessarily know what the implications of your prior treatment is. Out of that little project has come friendships, publications, new colleagues, and finally, a clinic for survivors to transition into when they are ready to leave pediatrics. Last week, the newspaper did a great story on the new clinic and the work being done. While my part in this was miniscule, it made me so proud!

  4. adventAdvent Calendars – I don’t think I ever had an Advent Calendar growing up, but we had them for the kids as they were growing up. Once they went to college and settle away from home, I still tried to send them one each year. There is just something fun and exciting to opening up a surprise each day – even if it is just a new picture. This year when I ordered Advent Calendars for the kids, I ordered one for us. It makes me happy!
  5. Crossroads Academy Event – For the third year, we attended the Crossroads Academy Dream Big event. Crossroads is a wonderful charter school in the heart of downtown with a mission of bringing quality education to the urban center. To see the product of the work that the staff at the school  does, combined with the enthusiasm of the downtown core leaders, is darn exciting. Celebrating this while, at the same time, catching up with friends from many areas of my life, eating delicious plates from area chefs, and having a glass or two of wine, closed my work week on a very sweet note.

As I noted, there were many more things that stood out. Like Christmas stamps! Ali’s classroom’s Elf on the Shelf who the kids call Justin Bieber! Those lemon ricotta bars I made! So much!

Last Week’s Good Things

 

apr6It was 80 degrees in Kansas City on Saturday. It was a day that I should have had the top down on my car, mowed the grass, planted something, had a drink on the patio, or washed my car. I didn’t do any of those things, but here are some other good things that happened during the week.

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1. Union College wins the Division I Hockey Championship – Little Union College in Schenectady, NY is where both Dan and I went to school. It is an idyllic little liberal arts school in the middle of a very working class town. It is known much more for academics than sports. But this week, the Union College Dutchmen (yep, you read that right), plowed past Boston College and the University of Minnesota to be the victor of the Frozen Four. Saturday night, we had friends over and watched the game over cocktails and locally made kielbasa. That’s the way it should be done.

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2. Flowering Kansas City – I always think that there is one week in Kansas City that outshines all others as far as showing off its beautiful nature. Maybe there will be better, but it is going to be hard to beat last week for the best. Magnolias, Bradford Pear, Forsythia, Redbuds, daffodils, tulips, hyacinths! Even the dandelions looked bright and cheery. Well done nature!

3. Pattie Mansur wins a school board seat! – I met Pattie when her daughter became a member of my Girl Scout troop. It was such a gift to me to become acquainted with such a caring and fun family. There are always people in your life that you know you can count on. That is the Mansur family. Even though Girl Scout days are long past, I  still run into Pattie occasionally. We always eagerly catch up. When she announced that she was running for school board, I was so excited for our city. This week, voters came out and elected a wonderful advocate for all of the children of our city.

s4. S. by J.J. Abrams and Doug Dorst – I love to read and I love pretty books. When those two elements are combined, it is more than delightful. This week I finished reading S.. I can’t really adequately describe what an amazing book this is. There is marginalia of several different colors snaking its way around most every page of the book. Tucked inside you will find mass cards, napkins with maps, letters, code solvers … You just don’t know what is next. I must say that I enjoyed the experience of reading the book more than the book itself, but that is not really fair. I know he is J.J. Abrams, but the fact that publishers still gave the okay for this makes me optimistic about the future of book books.

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5. 10,000th Blog View – Early this week, someone clicked on my blog for the 10,000th time. That is pretty cool to me. It is not the sign of a hugely successful blog, but it is a sign that many of you read what I write and choose to come back. There are weeks that I don’t feel like posting this or anything. I usually convince myself that my being there is both good for me, and for the people who might read it and recognize good things that they otherwise may not have. Thanks for being part of my second 10,000!

Have a good week and be aware of the good things!

 

 

Last Week’s Good Things

Peach

1.  Jeff Tweedy Solo Show at the Uptown – In 2002, when he was in high school, Sam asked me if I would go to a concert with him. For some reason, I thought that the band that we were going to go see was Weezer (of The Sweater Song fame). I was wrong. It was another W band — Wilco. It was a small venue. We were right up front/ Sam even got the set list at the end of the show. Since that night, I adore Wilco, and I always think that Jeff Tweedy is one of the most romantic, swoon-worthy song writers around. I have gone to a couple more Wilco concerts since then, and they never disappoint. Last week we got to see Jeff Tweedy play the first show of his solo tour. He came out on the stage in the beautiful Uptown Theater and played guitars and sang songs for close to two hours. His conversation ran from putting a loud mouth person in the front in his place, to admitting that he probably was going to suck, but he was going to play anyway. I loved it all!

Marquis

2.  Good Citizen – Before the concert, I had stuck my license and a credit card in my pocket so I didn’t have to carry a purse. At some point – probably when I pulled out my credit card to buy something – I lost my license. I realized it soon after I got home.  I hoped that there might be a chance that it would come back to me. The concert was on Tuesday, and I told myself that if I didn’t have it back by Friday, I would go to the license bureau and get a replacement. Friday’s mail did not yield my hope, so I went to the license bureau and got myself a duplicate. Saturday, my old license returned to me. It came in a plain envelope – no note – no return address. Rather than worrying about the trouble a lost identification can cause, I got to be thankful for a kind person who took the time to return my license and piece of mind.

3.  Crossroads Academy Dreaming Big in Downtown Kansas City Event – On Thursday night, we got to attend the second annual event celebrating the work that is being done at Crossroads Academy. It was an evening of seeing some dear friends, eating great food from many Kansas City restaurants, and hearing about the work being done at this young charter school. I wrote about this same event last year. Again this year, it warmed  my heart to be in a room filled with so many good people doing good things. Bringing education to children in the heart of downtown is exciting. Having community members supportive and enthused about it is the best.

4.  Patrick is Back! – Just about every Sunday, Dan and I go to 75th Street Brewery for lunch. We have done it for many years, and during those years, we have seen favorite servers come and go. There have been some great ones and some memorable ones. The most memorable was several years ago when the kid who was waiting on us didn’t quite seem to have his dots all in order. When we asked what the special was, he couldn’t come up with what its name, but he drew us a picture of it. It was brilliant. For the past few years, we typically see Patrick the bartender on Sundays. Patrick greets us by our names when he sees us. He is friendly and attentive. It’s because of someone like Patrick that we return each week. It’s comfortable. In October, Patrick hurt his leg at work. He had been gone since then.Sunday we walked in and heard the familiar “Hi Dan! Hi Robin!” Patrick is back and that is a good thing!ibuprofen

5.  Ibuprofen – Every now and then, my back gives me trouble. I had my first go with it in college when I ended up out of commission for several days. I had one bout of it once when we were visiting New Orleans. That time, I would inexplicably fall down. It was around Mardi Gras time, so a person falling down was not all that uncommon. This week’s back pain is not that bad. I have managed to stay vertical when I wished to. It is, however, enough to make me know that it’s a problem. I have been pretty religiously pumping the ibuprofen and that certainly helps so much. Isn’t it great that things like ibuprofen are around? Aspirin wasn’t around for pain relief until the late 1800s. Ibuprofen came around late in the twentieth century. Going into a store, you can pick up a bottle of pain reliever for a reasonable amount of money and it usually goes a long way in making one feel better.

I almost picked the Hungarian Goulash that I made as my fifth good thing. I had to, however, give props to Ibuprofen!

Last Week’s Good Things

Nov 17

This week brings us Thanksgiving. For a few different reasons, this past week was a challenging one to identify my good things. I am glad for Thanksgiving because I think that gives a good opportunity to regroup in thinking about how important it is to be attentive to the good things that are in our lives everyday. I wish all of my readers a happy Thanksgiving, and I hope that each of us finds many good things each day!

bread

Breakfast – Dan was sick this week, which meant that my breakfast service was put on hold. That could have been a disaster, but fortunately for me, we had the delicious Farm to Market/ Roasterie coffee limited run Black Russian Bread and over the top, Shatto butter. Each morning, I put a slice of this dark, rich bread in the toaster, and when it came out, spread it with the creamy tasty butter. The bread itself has coffee overtones combined with the typical richness of a dark bread. It is speckled with juicy raisins, that I am typically not a big fan of, but it works here. The butter is a product of Shatto dairy that has transformed how we think of dairy products in Kansas City. I remember the getting a bottle of cream from Shatto for a dessert that I was making. I can’t recall what the dessert was, but I sure do remember the cream. It was/is heavenly! Our loaf of bread is now gone and it is not expected to reappear again anytime soom. Lucky for me, Dan is better and he should be back on breakfast duty this week.

 

phillyReading Great non-fiction science – I finished The Philadelphia Chromosome this week. This is a book about the discovery of the genetic malfunction that is unique to people diagnosed with a certain kind of leukemia. Because of this discovery and the research that occurred because of it, a medication was developed that could curtail the chain reaction that created the out of control cancer. Jessica Wapner does an incredible job of explaining a very complicated story. I think for the first time, I understand what a kinase is and what kinase inhibitors do. As I was finishing up this book, I also picked up the latest Esquire and read an article in the latest issue of Esquire. Patient Zero tells the story of Stephanie Lee. Stephanie Lee was profiled in an earlier Esquire issue because of her Hurricane Katrina experience. This story deals with her being diagnosed with late stage liver cancer and being enrolled in a clinical trial in Memorial Sloan Kettering that may build a treatment specifically for her disease. This is amazing stuff, and when it is reported well, it does the reader such a great service.

Haircut, etc. – My hair is problematic. It is fine, kind of thin, and curly. It doesn’t grow fast, so my thought that I will just grow it long and make that my style doesn’t really work. Every six months or so, I go in to get my hair cut. I usually just go to a chain operation. Usually, I can’t see any reason to spend more money on this than the $15 that the shops offer. Saturday was my six month appointment. I told the woman that I wanted a shampoo and a haircut. The shampoo was the best. She spent 15 minutes washing my hair twice, putting in conditioner, and massaging my scalp!!! Oh dear god!

 

pretzel

Helping Dan Make Pretzels – For as long as I have known him, one of the things that Dan has enjoyed most in life has been hard pretzels. There was a brand that we ate in college that is the benchmark of all pretzels. No one has met the Gibble standard in all these years. Recently, however, I bought him a cookbook all about making pretzels. It has inspired him. Last week, he made a very nice version. Yesterday, I got to help him make his second attempt. This was the real deal. We had a boiling water bath containing lye. They were twisted. I salted them liberally. When the oven opened, they were brown and crispy. He thinks he is getting close. I think he nailed it!

 

tremeTreme, Season 3 – If you have not experienced the series Treme, you are missing something. Season 3 recently was released and we watched the first 4 episodes this week. Treme takes place in New Orleans in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. Because of that, it makes it an easy program for us to like. We can say “we’ve been there!” “I recognize that”… in every episode. The thing is, there is so much more. Whether you know, and/or love New Orleans, there is much here to bring you in. For one, there is amazing music. This is American music. Think about what that means, and it will lead you to the melodies that you will hear on the streets of New Orleans. I am very much enjoying having the characters of Treme back!

Judging Books By Their Cover

Do you do that? Judge a book by its cover? I certainly do it, with varying levels of successful outcomes. Like wine bottles, a well designed book cover snatches my attention away from its plainer counterparts. It doesn’t have to be flashy or gaudy. It just has to have a certain something – the font, the photo or illustration, the placement… all working together to represent what lies inside. Whatever it is, some book covers just work better than others.

While you may not know Chip Kidd’s name, you have almost certainly seen his work. He designed this:  jurassic

And this: kidd naked

And this: kiddthumb-david-michaelis-schulz-and-peanuts-book

And so much more.

I went to go hear him talk a couple years ago at our local library. He is a good speaker and his description of how he works is inspiring. His TED talk about book design is fantastic. A few weeks ago I heard him interviewed on the Design Matters podcast.  He commented that he got so many requests from people wanting advice from him about their work, that he could not possibly answer them all and still get his own work done. Subsequently, he decided that he would offer an on-line class to teach what he knows and thinks about book design. That class is now available, and I am taking it!

The content is offered by Skillshare. This is actually a pretty cool deal. There are a multitude of classes that are offered by the site, and I don’t know if any of them cost more than $25 (and there are usually discounts available). The classes come via videos and there is an assignment/project associated with each. You have the ability to create your project on the class site so others can give you feedback. While you don’t lose access to the classes once you purchase them, doing them on the schedule suggested makes the interaction with other participants more timely.

Chip Kidd’s class that I am taking is called Introduction to Book Cover Design: Making Stories Visual. The assignment is to redesign a book that we love.

This morning I watched the first two videos. In the first, he gave a history of book cover design in about 9 minutes. This is not a survey college course by any means, but it is a friendly, efficient way to get some new learning into your life and get your own creative process activated.

That brings me to the book that I have chosen for my assignment. Five Quarts by Bill Hayes is one of my all time favorite reads. Its tagline is “a personal and natural history of blood” – of course I love this book! He blends medical history, personal anecdotes, and contemporary investigation to tell a story about blood. He makes it work really well. There are two editions of this book. I have the white one, but I think I prefer the red one. I don’t dislike either of them, but I don’t know that either is as good as the book deserves.

five quarts 2five quarts 1

I have serious doubts as to whether I have it in me to design something that will be better than the current choices, but I am eager to delve into this attempt at creativity.

If you had an opportunity to change a favorite book’s cover, which one would it be?

 

Last Week’s Good Things

I am a little late this week, but what the hey! There were some really good things last week and they are still worth thinking about!

  1. Image 7New shelves – If you know me you probably understand that I have a penchant to buy books. A few weeks ago, Dan and I went to Half Price Books to get a copy of A FAREWELL TO ARMS for our book club. I believe that we left with about 20 books. It was bad? Our books have outgrown available space, so we did what one does when they have too much of something. We got more shelves. By consolidating Dan’s clothes and moving out a little dresser that we had in our bedroom, we had an empty 35 inches of wall space in our bedroom. It is perfect for two of the stackable bookshelves that Amazon Prime could get me pronto. This week those new shelves arrived and I had a dandy time filling them with books. I am not completely satisfied with the arrangement yet, but that will come. In the meantime, now, when I walk into my bedroom one of the first things I see is a lovely tower of beautiful books.
  2. hallsCough drops with a message – This just tickled me. I received Dan’s cold this week so I have been spending some time sucking on Hall’s throat lozenges. I am about halfway through a bag that I started when I had my last cold. The other day when I set the wrapper down, I noticed some words on it that did not look like the normal Hall’s logo. The label was covered with motivational messages! There are a number of different sayings that appear on the drops. It makes you feel like your healing process is getting a little cheer!
  3. Image 6Hummingbirds – We have three hummingbird feeders in  our backyard. We have had them there for a few years, but this year Dan has been keeping them up better since he gave up on feeding seeds to the other birds (they were getting pretty messy). Over the past few weeks, we have been completely entertained by a group of hummingbirds that come and eat at the feeders and then play around with each other. They pester each other and dive bomb and race and then come flying back in for a sip of nectar. We sit on the patio in the evening and enjoy a beverage and the aviary antics. They accept our presence without a care. They get so close it sounds like a huge bee in the ear, and there are times that they swoop in so fast that it seems that they will hit us. I think that it is almost time for them to leave the area, but they certainly have earned their sugar water while they have been here!
  4. Learning Opportunities and Good Teacher – As noted, I have had a little bit of a cold this week. It really manifested itself this weekend. I was scheduled, however, to attend a workshop all day Saturday. Not only was I not feeling great on Saturday, but it was also one of the most beautiful August days on record. I really wanted to attend this workshop, so despite it all, I went. I was so glad that I did. From 8:30 until 5:00 the instructor kept my attention and I learned so much. It is a great thing to be engaged by a good speaker talking about something that is meaningful to you.
  5. Post Office article in Esquire – I somewhat reluctantly say that I like Esquire magazine. I know that they can do their fair share of objectifying women. Aside from that, however, it is a well put together magazine. I like the layout a lot. It has the busyness that really appeals to my design likes. It also has some completely wonderful writing. Esquire does some big time reporting in the midst of some of their fluffier things. This past week I read the article that they did recently on the postal service. I love so much about the US Postal Service. Ben Franklin was the first Post Master General and he is a hero of mine. I think it is amazing that I can spend 46 cents to send a letter anywhere in the United States and it will get there so quickly. I still love hearing the sound of mail being delivered. I would so love to see the machines that do the sorting of the mail because that feeds into my love of automated machines. I could go on. Anyway… in this article, Jesse Lichtenstein writes about the financial issues that the postal service is having (very enlightening), highlights postal employees from the letter carrier to the head person, and most interestingly, he talks about how mail gets from place to place. I would really love to go watch that happen one of these days!

College Acceptance Letter Season

union

My sister’s son got another acceptance letter this week. Like me, she has two children. Like me, it appears that both of her children will be traveling a distance away from their home to go to school. Other parents I know are also waiting to see what their own next year is going to look like. While some are eager for their kids to make the decision that will leave them close or still at home, others are nervous but excited for their kids to stake out new locales. I understand both sides, but I am definitely more in the camp cheering for going a distance away to college. That being said, I don’t think that moving away to go to school means forever. I just think that it means a different kind of opportunity to live, learn and grow.

While it has been 35 years since my own senior year of high school, my college choice and what it all meant is still very clear. Among the things that I knew back then, was that college would be my first step to get out of my small town. Once out of it, I wouldn’t move back. That turned out to be true, but there were many things that Ms. Know-it-all eighteen year old turned out to be wrong about.

The “where?” to go to college decision was much more limited than what my own kids went through. Unlike them, I did not have guidance counselors and advisors continually encouraging me to expand my world view. At some points in my decision-making,  I thought about applying to schools in Boston, Pennsylvania and Canada.  When I received a New York State Regents scholarship that was only good for a New York State school, however,  figured that it would be foolish for me to not take advantage of that windfall. It turned out that it wasn’t much of a windfall. If I recall correctly, it was $500 per year. For the school that I ended up going to, that did not make much of a difference. No one really explained those economics to me, and I didn’t spend much time with the bottom line.

But, a New York State school it was. My choice was about 6 hours away from my home. I don’t know if it was the perfect choice for me, but it met the geographical criteria. There was a time during my freshman year that I thought I might change schools. I wanted to be someplace bigger with more academic choices. That angst came after my plan to be a doctor hit the skids. I didn’t like the pre-med world. I didn’t want to tie myself to the intense lifestyle that I saw that medicine would be.

But things settled down. I decided what I wanted to do and how I could do it at the school I was at. I had my group of really close friends who became very much a family to me. I was in love and being with him made where I was a good choice. It wasn’t perfect, but it worked and I got through difficult times with the resources that I had. I had tons of amazingly fun times with the people around me. I learned how to learn and I grew up.

By the time I graduated, I was both going to school and working much more than part time.  I am naturally a hard worker, but I really do think that if I had been close to home and able to rely on my family more, I would not have learned as much, grown up as much, or even enjoyed as much as I did by being off on my own.

After I graduated, I moved half way across the country. I have lived in the Midwest ever since. I have missed my hometown at some times more than others. Now that my parents are both gone, there are few roots left there. If I had ever wanted to go back there, it would have been fine and my family would have welcomed it. It just never seemed like a good choice.

My own children made their own decisions to go away to school. They too ended up not coming back after they graduated. But they might at some point. We are all a series of choices.

 

School Days

swinney

Last night Dan and I went to an event to celebrate and raise money for a new charter school in downtown Kansas City. We met the school’s Executive Director through a friend a few years ago. He is as passionate about bringing good education to urban children as anyone that I know. In an incredibly short amount of time, he and the school’s principal worked tirelessly to build an exciting downtown school.

This venture is one of the too few hopeful signs of people working on this amazingly important project. It is astounding to me that we allow our city to continue to not serve its children with quality education. There are only a few public schools in the urban part of our city that really can claim success. That is not right. Signs of hardworking, caring, committed people like I saw last night need to multiply if we want to hope for better things.

Going into the night, I had a pretty good understanding about the school and its mission. By the end of the night, however, I was totally heartwarmed by the degree of enthusiasm for this project and the apparent success that it has already achieved. The other piece of the evening that completely got me was that three of Sam and Ali’s teachers from elementary school are now teaching at the school. We got to talk about then and now.

I think that we all agreed that when it came time for Sam to go to kindergarten, it was a sweet spot of time in the Kansas City, Missouri School District. The district had a disastrous history of decline and mis-management, but a controversial court order infused the district with money and created a magnet school system to draw in more students. When we entered the doors of E. F. Swinney school in 1991, I felt that magnetic pull. We had the best opportunity in the world, and I still believe that is true.

The Kansas City schools that I knew over the next ten years were what you would want for a child. Having grown up in a small town in western New York, I didn’t see people who didn’t look like me. Because of that, as much as I try to be without prejudice, there is absolutely some inherent in me. For my kids, I wanted their worldview to be better. It definitely was.  They would come home and talk about their day and have descriptors of their friends that ran from peach, to tan, to black, to brown, to freckled.

It was not just the racial and ethnic diversity that made the experience a good one. There was the social diversity that helped all of us better understand our community. So many of the teachers in the schools became friends as they led both Sam and Ali through learning and understanding. Parents and children from those days still remain close. The schools were not just our kids’ places – they were our family’s places.

It makes me sad knowing that those days are gone. E.F. Swinney School has been sold and will be turned into office suites. Volker Elementary continues as a charter school, but under a different name. Now when I tell people that my kids went to district schools they seem rather amazed. It really was amazing, but not the way they think.