Letters from the Front

Collection at the WWI Museum in KC

Collection at the WWI Museum in KC

Museums don’t always thrill me, with their guards and heavy silence and collections of objects trapped lifeless behind glass.  But I was pleasantly moved and surprised by a visit to Kansas City’s World War I Museum during a recent trip to my hometown.

Housed in the Liberty Memorial, this is the only museum in the U.S. dedicated solely to World War I.  Featuring exhibits and interactive displays that engage all senses, the facility appeals to history buffs and those who aren’t so enamored with conflicts and hard-to-remember timelines (like myself).  I always enjoyed living history, oral history and first-hand accounts that told individual stories.  Primary resources like diaries and letters speak to me and I like candid photos, music and letters that describe the laughter, love and pain absent from textbooks.

A collection of envelopes that had encased letters from a father on the front to his son in San Antonio caught my attention.  Skillfully drawn and addressed to Private Walter L. Myers, these miniature works range from comical to patriotic and capture remarkable everyday experiences, from one soldier to another.  The sketches carry a message through time and space, so that a century later we understand at first glance.  Connection in the face of conflict.  Textbooks document the dates and timelines, victories and losses, nationalities, maps, destruction and casualties.  But a comical sketch sent from “somewhere in France” or a photo of the artist drawing in a distant combat zone soars above boundaries like the hot air balloons depicted by Myers, an artillery scout.  It doesn’t matter if the soldier is French, American, German or Russian – he’s a man and a father, far away from home.

After touring the museum, I visited the post office and bought 2 books of “vintage seed package” stamps.  I haven’t written to my daughters in awhile – maybe I’ll get out the colored pencils today and get drawing.

Badges and Treasure

Girl Scout Badges

Self discovery takes many forms.  Assessments can be helpful to uncover your strengths, interests and abilities. You can be a tourist in your own home and examine bookshelves and spaces, music and tools.  But I found the most helpful clue hiding in my closet and discovered that my interests and passions were there all along.

My mom had kept my Girl Scout sash for safekeeping and I was a little startled when I looked more closely at the collection of badges.  It was all there.  The hobo bandana (it’s called a bindle – there’s an official term) hinted at my inner vagabond and the footsteps and tent foreshadowed my cross-country walk and many camping adventures.  There is the dutch oven and grill, different than my titanium cookware and compact camping stove, but with the same function and simple pleasure.  The sculpture, palette and brushes, tools, basket and yarn doll bring back memories of craft-making with my daughters and a forgotten love of drawing, painting and clay.  The treble and bass clef are a nod to my enjoyment of music and the ingredients are evidence of the beginning of a lifetime of cooking and culinary exploration.  I don’t experience much of the four seasons down here in Texas, but remember watching in anticipation for the first spring flowers and loving Indian summer, cool weather and autumn leaves.

What are your badges?  What activities do you enjoy?  Look closely and find the treasure of you.

Entering the Neutral Zone

Night Shining Clouds

We’re not talking about the space separating the Romulans or Klingons from the Federation.  It has nothing to do with outer space all.

Instead, the Neutral Zone is inner space and it’s not an easy place to be.

In his book, “Managing Transitions”, William Bridges outlined 3 stages that people go through when experiencing change.  As opposed to your typical story structure of beginning, middle and end, the initial stage of the Transition Model is Ending.  This stage is marked by resistance and upheaval and involves loss and letting go.  Stage 2 is the Neutral Zone, a time of confusion and uncertainty.  The final stage of this model is one of New Beginning, when one has finally accepted the change, has a new sense of energy and experiences rebirth.

As its name implies, the Neutral Zone is neither positive nor negative and can feel more dark than light.  The Neutral Zone feels something like a forest; a symbol used often in ancient mythology and fairy tales.  In “The Uses of Enchantment,” Bruno Bettelheim writes, “Since ancient times the near-impenetrable forest in which we get lost has symbolized the dark, hidden, near-impenetrable world of our unconscious.”  In our 24/7 world focused on productivity and doing more, it’s difficult not to get impatient at this point and to want to just get on with it. 

But that would be a mistake.

This phase is a bridge between the old that we’ve lost and the new that is not yet clear.  As Bridges points out, change is just something that happens – a situation.  However, transition is internal.  It’s important to stop, acknowledge that transition is not easy and to fully feel it before moving on.  Otherwise, we’re not fully open to the new beginning that lies ahead.  Transition and transformation share a common root which means “across” or “beyond,” but also implies that we must move “through.”

So I enter the forest unafraid and with no expectations.  I stand on the bridge with open heart and beginner’s mind.  And I trust that I’ll emerge in a better place.

Mothering

We have mothers, we are mothers, we’re connected no matter where or when by the common experience of mothering or being cared for.  I’m thankful for a mother whose love, acceptance, creativity, sense of humor and encouragement shaped me as a person and a parent.  And the joy that motherhood has brought me for all of these years leaves me lost for words.

I’ll just show you what I mean.

Mom and Grandmother

Mom and Grandmama

Me and Grandmother

Me and Grandmama

Young Family

Young Family

Me and Mom

Me and Mom

By 25 my mom had three!

By 25 my mom had three!

My mom and sister

My mom and sister

3 Generations

3 Generations

Long Day

Long Day

Family Portrait

Family Portrait

Signs of the Times (& VW Vans)

These landmarks, signs and vans caught my eye on a recent trip to Austin.  My husband says that if I had my way I’d live in a VW van.  He may be right.

Johnny's Bike Shop.  Classic.

Mellow Johnny’s Bike Shop. Classic.

What's Your Favorite?

What’s your favorite?

Hut's Hamburgers

Totally Austin

Totally Austin

Lucy's Retired Surfers Bar & Restaurant

Where retired surfers go to eat

Saturday Morning Market

Sun-ripened tomatoes, yellow squash, swiss chard with wet mud still clinging to the roots…  I love visiting the farmer’s market on Saturday mornings.  Today’s top find was fresh peaches and last week we discovered homemade apple pie and new potatoes.  I can still smell the beeswax candles that I tucked into a package for Mom.  And my family can tell you about my somewhat irrational love affair with Berryhill grilled (really – grilled)  “fish tacos of the gods” (according to the Houston Chronicle).  Berryhill’s cooks must sign a non-disclosure agreement and the recipe for their secret sauce is closely guarded.  The tacos are that good.  And they’re available for only $2.00 at my local market.

I appreciate the seasonal variety, just-picked produce, handmade goods and regional specialties.  What I enjoy most is the energy and the human interaction.  It’s nice to place money in the hands of the person who baked your pie and to see the regulars that line up to buy kettle corn, Texas BBQ sauce or Philly water ice.  I like getting tips from the shopper standing next to me and to learn how to cook the vegetables available this week from the people who planted and picked them.  There are musicians playing, food cooking, talking and laughter.  It’s a sunny Saturday morning and it feels like community, celebration and home.

Sugar Land Farmer's Market

Sugar Land Farmer’s Market

Squash & Carrots

As delicious as it looks...

As delicious as it looks…

Water Ice with a Philly Accent

Water Ice with a Philly Accent

Grower & Buyers

Berryhill Baja Grill

Berryhill Baja Grill

Swiss Chard & Carrots Haul of the Day

Sowing Beauty: The Unofficial Story of Lady Bird and the Texas Wildflowers

LBJ_convertible

This time of the year, when wildflowers are in their prime along the Texas highways, I think of Lady Bird Johnson.  Now my version of the story bears no resemblance to the truth, but I’m sure it’s a much livelier picture than the weeks of debate in Congress, the budgeting and resulting projects.

I imagine the First Lady getting up one fine morning late in September and saying, “Lyndon, I can’t stand it.  The Highway Beautification Act was passed by the Senate weeks ago, but y’all are still talking.”

“You know I’m pushing as hard as I can – these things take time…”

“Well, my dear, I got tired of waiting.  I figure if you want something done, best do it yourself.  Keys to the Caddy?’

“Oh Lord, what now?”

“If you can help me move that big bag from the trunk, I’ll get someone to drive.  Here’s a cup.”

“What the hell for?”

“I’ll leave getting rid of those ugly billboards and junkyards up to you.  I’ve got a project of my own and I’m using my own special blend.”

“Of what?”

“Seeds, Lyndon.  Seeds!  This is exactly the right time to sow wildflowers in Texas, and I’m going to do some beautification of my own.  No public works projects or construction crews needed.  You’ll see it – about March or April.  Hop in.”

I imagine Lady Bird and LBJ riding along the highways of Texas for a few days in September, laughing and talking and sowing beauty from their Cadillac convertible.

Now for a little of the real story.

Before signing the Highway Beautification Act on October 22, 1965, President Lyndon Baines Johnson made some remarks that are still relevant today.  “In our eagerness to expand and improve, we have relegated nature to a weekend role, banishing it from our daily lives. I think we are a poorer nation as a result.”  After signing the bill, he planted a kiss on Lady Bird’s cheek.

Lady Bird Johnson made it clear that “beautification” was the wrong word and not the “cosmetic” solution she had in mind.  She pushed for “clean water, clean air, clean roadsides, safe waste disposal and preservation of valued old landmarks as well as great parks and wilderness areas.”  She succeeded in making this country a more beautiful place and was known as The Environmental First Lady.  Her legacy lives on in the bluebonnets, scarlet Indian Paintbrush and pink primroses that bloom each year along the roadside.  You can also get a glimpse of the flowers she loved so much and feel her spirit at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center in south Austin, Texas. 

Thank you, Lady Bird.  Earth Day should be dedicated to you.

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