Sunday, September 14, 2014

Rockhaven camp trip

 Last weekend brought fantastic weather to the area, and so we decided to take an impromptu Saturday night camp trip out to Clinton Lake State Park in Kansas, specifically the Rockhaven area. So often, when we talk about camping with friends, they express how they find it difficult or unpleasant. I'm pretty convinced that this comes from not having the right gear, or not knowing how to camp with ease. When I observe other people's sagging tents or a layout of snacks on the picnic table, I see a damp tent interior (dew will soak the interior of your tent if the two layers aren't tight and separated, easily done with proper set up) and a bunch of racoons and mice (keep food sealed up and in a container). A few easy fixes- like putting away chairs beneath the picnic table at night to keep them dry, using a self-inflatable mattress to prevent sleeping on rocks, and ventilating your tent will make camping much more enjoyable. Learning how to build a proper fire (without the cardinal sin of lighter fluid) and bringing along proper dish-cleaning materials will also bring amazing rewards.

We really enjoyed our time in the woods, and even had a visit from friends who live in Lawrence and brought their kiddos out for a campfire dinner and smores. We took a short mile-long hike through the woods in the late afternoon, and had a lovely time relaxing with coffee and pancakes in the morning. There really is nothing like fresh air and time outdoors to recharge the soul.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

September First Friday

Hung Liu at Sherry Leedy

September's First Friday was my first since being back, and it was a good one.

The two highlights of the evening were Hung Liu at Sherry Leedy and the various shows at the Belger, including Wordplay, Shae Bishop and Emily Duke, and William Christenberry (open since February, about to close). 

Hung Liu's work was powerful and visually striking- especially her multi-layered paintings which use glass to create three dimensionality and a recession of space (above). I also enjoyed her use of gender, class, and history- the juxtaposition of historic signs of Chinese culture with the varied figures found in society created an interesting statement on the turmoil of the twentieth century and the interplay of the many faces found within said society.
Hung Liu at Sherry Leedy 
Joe on a lovely KC evening
The Belger Wordplay exhibition included a fantastic variety of art, all organized around the theme of text and image, much of which had interesting political content.

Wordplay at the Belger 

Friday, September 12, 2014

Two Bean Chili

The first chilly autumn days have arrived!

Fall is my favorite time of year- I love the cool weather, changing leaves, football, and sweaters. I also love transitioning into fall foods. Yesterday was the perfect day for a slow cooker pot of chili- I soaked black and kidney beans overnight and tossed them into the slow cooker with a bay leaf and a bunch of water in the morning. Canned beans truly have nothing on dried- the flavor and texture is so much better, and the amount of effort that dried beans take is minimal. Bonus- it's better for the environment (less shipping weight and packaging), and better for your health (no BPA lined cans, etc.). At lunchtime I sauteed an onion and some garlic and drained the beans, then put the beans back into the slow cooker with the onion, garlic, two cans of crushed tomatoes, a bit of water, and a liberal amount of cumin, chili powder, cayenne, basil, and oregano. Total preparation time- less than 10 minutes. By the end of the day the house smelled fantastic, and I threw together a quick batch of cornbread around 5:30 pm. I love trying new chili recipes, but this is my own stand by favorite. The best part was the huge hug I got from little dude, who proclaimed chili his favorite and thanked me for cooking "such yummy food." The greatest!

Friday, September 05, 2014


Thursday here was a day different than most- I had to commute a long distance.

This post could easily be a complaint or rant about the experience- I went through atrocious construction and traffic, and encountered any number of terrible drivers, people texting, etc., but I'd rather reflect on why so many Americans hold to this way of life when there are so many better models out there. 

We live in the city. This is a choice that allows both Joe and I really short commute times and distances. On any given day neither of us drives more than 20 minutes one way- and this is significantly longer now that his job has moved locations. This also gives us public transportation options, and allows us to walk to a variety of local businesses (the gym, coffee shops, a variety of restaurants, CVS, Walgreens, etc. are within a few blocks of our house). Honestly, I can't imagine living in a place where driving is required, and I don't understand why people make the choice to live in such places (I know many low-income people don't have a choice, that is a separate issue). After spending time doing a "normal" American commute yesterday I came home both physically and mentally tired, irritable, and significantly poorer, as I spent so much on gas. The physical and mental exhaustion was what really shocked me.

This is not how people in other countries live. There are amazing public transport systems in Europe and Japan, and we could do this as a nation if we so desired. Yet, for some reason people cling to their cars. A car culture is wasteful, bad for the environment, bad for your health, expensive, and inconvenient. It promotes no sense of community. It makes social mobility increasingly difficult. I had to run an errand in the suburbs yesterday- it was a nightmare. When I had to run errands or do some shopping while living in Japan, it was much easier, more convenient, and more relaxed. People can sleep, text, play games, read a book, stand up, and do all manner of pleasant things while riding a train.  There simply is no benefit to the people from a car culture, yet our pervasive give-everything-to-corporations way of governing gives huge benefits to oil companies at the detriment of a true public transportation system. Most of my Japanese and European friends still own a car (one for the family), and use it for family outings to the country, or to haul large items, etc. The difference is that the car is not required or necessary. So, why do we allow ourselves to be martyrs to oil companies, forced into the inconvenience of car-centric communities when we could be living healthier, better lives? Why do Americans convince themselves that they like their cars to much? Surely we are smarter than the car-maker and oil company propaganda. Surely we can see beyond our current predicament to a better way. There is some hope in the generations under age 30, who repeatedly report that they don't care about cars and who are moving back into the urban core at high rates. Hopefully that means that we can look forward to a more urban, convenient future, free of cars and strip malls, and full of trains and walkability.

PS- Kansas City is starting to invest in the future with the current streetcar project, something that I'm very excited about. There is a good deal of outside money fighting the project (!), but I'm hopeful that we can expand the routes, and I know that this will be a great addition to the city.

Tuesday, September 02, 2014

A new semester

Somehow, the busyness at the start of the new semester always takes me by surprise. There are syllabi to plan, readings to get organized, appointments and field trips to set, and people to catch up with. Having been overseas for a year, I think that it really took me by surprise this year. Plus, it's only been about three weeks that I've been back in the U.S., so I'm still trying to settle in to life and do things like find certain pairs of shoes or find the time to go purchase a new work bag (ah, the things that were tossed in the great luggage purge). After a week back, everything is starting to settle into a routine- I know the quirks of all the projectors in my classrooms, I've got that copy machine code down, and I'm even starting to learn some of my students names. It's hard to believe that summer is just about done, but I'm very much looking forward to my favorite season and all the joys of autumn.