Friday, May 30, 2014

Home Running

This recent trip back to the hometown yielded many an opportunity to run AND walk 'round St. Marys, including an unplanned Alumni 5k.....unplanned for by me, that is. The weather was pretty darn spectacular for the most part, so I took advantage and plotted out some in-town runs to see what the week would yield.

The first run's starting point was inspired by Maw Reckard who encouraged me to visit the St. Marys Marina and check out some of the upgrades there.  I ran around the marina and up through Second Street; back through downtown and then a short bit on Ingram's island. Not my best mindset, not enough water beforehand and surprise, surprise, not my best run by a longshot. Inspiration came later that night with some encouraging messages from my longtime friend and classmate Sara who was cajoling me toward running the approaching Alumni 5k. Inspiring my friend is, but its funny how no matter how one might love his hometown; long-nurtured self-doubt born during childhood and fully ripened during middle school can seep right back into my now older and more addled brain. Well, good to know something can still seep back in the old cerebellum at least; Lord knows enough keeps seeping out...

No matter what stinking thinking may be floating around the brain matter, I didn't outright turn Sara's suggestion down either. Newly challenged, I went for a longer, better run the next day. I ran the streets of Belmont and checked out the changes at the middle school. I ran by houses and yards I remembered well.....there's the Hendrickson's house...the Doty's house...the Fitzpatrick's house...oh, the flood of memories that accompanied each fleeting pass. Before I knew it, I had run my 3+ miles at a fair pace. That night, I agreed to the 5k.

The Friday before, bestie Kristy and I did our traditional power walk through the steep hills of Pleasants County Park. It was not our best effort, thanks to me and my latest struggle with this particularly wretched allergy season. A certain concentration of boxwood can apparently close my throat right up and for the third time in my life, that occurred on this walk just south of Gobbler's Knob. We have walked this route many times and it goes to show this allergy season is just killer, because it kicked my ass right back down the hill. All said and done, we still got a great workout and the hills were good training for the next day...

...which came at the "crack of crazy", as my friend Michelle calls it.  I met Sara at the Alumni 5k Classic at Dewey Avenue Church of Christ bright and early and caught up with her and several other longtime friends like Julie and Kelly whom I hadn't seen in many a moon. We got chipped and numbered and soon were on our way. Mind you, I was trying to get under 34 minutes in my 5k time.  My younger compatriots were striving to get under 30 minutes, so I thought I that the inspiration I would glean from them would help me to keep up with them. This little pipe dream lasted about half a mile, by the way. Dang, soon it seemed that not just my friends, but everyone was passing me up. Down Route 2 we went, up Stadium Drive, down the long length of 6th street and the rest of the group just looked smaller and smaller in the distance...ahead of me. At this point, I watched as a soldier in full fatigues carrying an imposing load passed me up. Talk about inspiration. I would learn later this is a regular sighting in races and is part of the Wounded Warrior project. I'd never been so honored to be passed up in my life.

On we trudged, sweat rolling, back up Morgan Ave, when I noticed everyone ahead of me was turning right. Aw hell no, are we going up to the park? First panicked moment came out of fear I'd have an allergy attack because I wasn't sure where in the park we might be going. Sure enough, we ran past the cemetery and up that first steep hill. As the pain hit my legs, I saw where someone wrote "dig deeper" in chalk on the roadway we were running up. I heard myself grumbling...aloud..."why would I think a 5k in my hometown...St. Marys, West Virginia....TAYLOR country...would be an easy one?"  I think my muttering old man routine just might have inspired those few running directly ahead of me to step up their own get away from me.

Yes, there is a family with the last name of Taylor in my hometown who are absolute local running legends. Their names are etched in years of races and meets and competitions and one of the most noted was Steve, who graduated with me. Thanks in large part to the Taylors and decades of other superior runners, St. Marys, West Virginia has an utterly legendary status when it comes to running.  Running these hills in a race actually feels like I'm running on hallowed ground.

Eventually, uphill goes downhill, no allergies attacked and I was propelled through Cherry St.and eventually back to Dewey Avenue where I finally reached the finish line. I was so convinced at this point that I was in last place, that I didn't even notice my time. It took a quick walk around to Sara's car for some killer healthy cookies...

               (I scored the recipe)
 ....before she reassured me not only was I not in last place but I beat the 34 minutes I was looking to beat....32:21 to be exact and it was the first time I had finished a 5k in the 10-minute mile range (10:26). And there were park hills involved!  Well, whaddya know...yes Sara, I will have another cookie. Speaking of Sara, I might also add that she kicked serious booty in this race and got a medal to boot.

This hometown visit was special on many levels.  Not least of which is rediscovering it as a running destination.

Thursday, May 29, 2014

The Heart Of A Rinehart

My mother's maiden name is Rinehart.  I grew up the youngest Rinehart cousin of a plethora of Rinehart cousins when considering my Mom was one of seven brothers and sisters. Of the brothers and sisters, three settled in my hometown of St. Marys, West Virginia: my Uncle Albert, my Aunt Bonnie and of course, my mother. I was also the youngest by a stretch; the closest to me in age were my cousin LJ (Bonnie's youngest) and Julie (Albert's youngest).  Many of my cousins had moved away while I was growing up, to locations including Florida and Illinois. My sisters, who were older than me by more than a decade, were closest to the older siblings in Uncle Albert's family as they were similar in age and therefore classmates as well. 

Growing up, it was Uncle Albert's family who largely moved to Florida over the years. I vaguely remember being at their Belmont, West Virginia home when I was young, before they moved away.  Despite my fuzzy memories of those youthful days, even then there was something about this branch of the extended Rinehart clan that seemed almost...mythic. Uncle Albert and his boys Albert Wayne, Jerry, Joe and Tom seemed larger than life with personalities to match, while Aunt Carrie was like a goddess with her beautiful blonde hair (as was her daughter Julie) that stood out like sunlight amongst the more brunette shades of the Rinehart women. Already seemingly sun-kissed and super-powered, it was no wonder that many of this Rinehart clan would head to the Sunshine State, where their existence seemed to almost make more sense in a backdrop of brilliant sunsets and crashing ocean waves. This is certainly not to imply that this family was too good for their beloved hometown, though...they were proud of their Mountain State heritage, to be sure.

Throughout my life, I was regaled with stories about the Rinehart boys. Tales included athletic excellence in high school and college as well as some gasp-inducing recounts of some of their wilder days. I would get lost in the riveting retelling of storied careers involving everything from NASA at the time we put a man on the moon to dangerous missions in foreign lands. Tragedy claimed one of the Rinehart boys far too young when Joe was wounded in Vietnam in 1967 and became the first in our county to be a casualty of that war.  He died on Memorial Day, while the fatalities of previous wars were being honored. 

Joe's tragic loss and the further adventures and exploits of his brothers seemed to elevate them all to a legendary status. I grew up reading comic books about superheroes, but there was a clan of them right in my own family.  I talked about them all with an almost hushed reverence; all puffed up with pride that I was even related to these guys.  At the same time, when I was around them, I was typically a combination of awe and terror. The fact that I was nervous around them, though, was all on me. Uncle Albert and his boys may have been tough guys, but they were always awesome to me, my sisters and my folks. They also always had that signature Rinehart sense of humor that we all share and we all know can range from the ornery to the deranged, but damn, can it light up a room when its present. 

As I had mentioned in previous posts, my cousin Albert Wayne, Uncle Albert's oldest, recently passed away, and three weeks later, Uncle Albert himself died. It was an absolute bracing tragedy for my Aunt Carrie to lose both her beloved husband and her son, but the family surrounded  her as expected, and they weathered this as they have everything else: together. There were services for father and son in Florida and this past weekend there was an internment service for Albert Wayne in St. Marys that my sister Shirley and I attended.

My sister and I had a treasured few moments on a bench with our cousin Jerry (pictured above in the parade) and his amazing wife Marylou by the lake at the Greenhouse on the Saturday before the service. As Jerry and Marylou recounted the last days of both men, tears welled up and we caught our breaths at times, but true to Rinehart form, even this grave, meaningful conversation didn't come without a laugh...especially when a certain revelation about my Dad and my Aunt Carrie came to light.

The service for Albert Wayne became a bit of a family reunion as cousins I hadn't seen for many years came in to attend. The photo at top is from the program for the service, which was blessedly like I would expect a Rinehart service to be: touching and irreverent and full of stories.  Many centered on Albert Wayne's astounding football career and John Tice's descriptions of those days on the football field even solidified that mythic image so many of us had of the Rinehart boys....John remembered the first time he saw Al Jr. in his football gear and told of how he looked like a gladiator. Sure enough, some of the tales involved some classic Rinehart craziness, including a story that involved Albert Wayne's retaliation for his brother Tommy's practical joke of smashing an egg on his head.  Let's just say the revenge involved a Hammett's Dairy Bar hot dog and a really long earthworm and we'll leave the rest to the imagination.  After the service was a quiet burial on a pristinely clear day and then a reception that was fittingly held at the Fireside restaurant. Noshing on the Fireside's signature broaster chicken and seeing Sandy and Michelle there; I was reminded of those last Fireside meals with Dad before he died and how so many family memories echoed from within those walls.

Throughout the day and into the evening, I realized what else really set this Rinehart clan apart. We all love our families, but the toughness inherent within Uncle Albert and Aunt Carrie's clan was also apparent in their utterly fierce devotion to each other. I had always admired the lifelong love affair that Uncle Albert and Aunt Carrie enjoyed and I was fortunate to often bear witness to how much Jerry and Marylou continue to cherish each other as they approach a half-century together.  This was the first time, though, I really got to see much of the extended family interact and their intense devotion to each other is evident in every generation. I watched as Jerry, who has been in countless death-defying situations during his own career, failed to stop the tears that overcame him as he introduced Al's children and grandchildren at the service. I caught glimpses of their interaction at the burial and the reception and their familial bonds are just inspiring to see. So, tough and bigger than life the Rineharts were, but I think I have figured out their secret weapon: their hearts, which were also bigger than life. Even when, in some cases, those hearts threatened to physically fail them, they seemed to always beat strong and fast for each other. The love and devotion of this family for each other has carried them through so much and it will continue to heal the hurt left in the wake of each loss. 

I have written much about that Rinehart reunion growing in the stars and I continue to take solace from the thoughts of how its evolving with each loss we suffer here.  Oh, what a grand reunion that one will be....

RIP Uncle Albert and Al, Jr. 

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Alumni Weekend 2014: Chicken Soup for the Homecoming Soul

This weekend every May; this beloved, cherished institution called Alumni weekend that falls on Memorial Day weekend every year is one weekend my hometown truly shines. St. Marys, West Virginia certainly is a special place and rarely more so than on Alumni weekend.

Alumni weekend is a time when we who live or lived in St. Marys host our class reunions and join other Alumni of St. Marys High School to reminisce and recount the countless SMHS memories and stories we all carry of those days of wide-eyed yore. We catch up with family and old friends and adorn and visit the graves of our lost loved ones. We celebrate our rituals and reflect on the many moments that helped shape us into the adults we would become. Alumni was a bit different for me on multiple levels this year. We had a family funeral happening amidst the weekend and old friends talked me into running the Alumni 5k, but more on these in later posts.

While there are plenty of Friday night festivities, the centerpiece of Alumni Weekend is the Saturday morning Alumni parade. I've blogged about this parade before and the joyous and somewhat overwhelming rapid-fire succession of long-time-no-sees that always take place here. This year was no different and amongst the mini-reunions, there were certainly moments to give me chills as well. At one point, the St. Marys High School and Alumni marching bands gather together to play the SMHS Alma Mater song.

The streets are silent and the familiar refrain echoes down the street.  This year, the song was conducted by Tre and Rachel, the nephew and niece of my former classmate and field commander Libby.

We lost Libby to cancer while she was still in high school, and as it was also a reunion year for Libby's class, the class of '84, it was a lump-in-the-throat moment. Getting to see Libby's mom Shari after kinda kept the lump from leaving, but it was so good to see her.

Multiple reunion parties abounded throughout the region including the one for the Class of '79 at The Greenhouse. Friends gathered, reminisced and caught up while aromas wafted from the grill where JB was whipping up grilled goodness made with Greenhouse products like the grilled roasters with Victoria Gourmet Toasted Onion and Herb with cream cheese and sour cream. Inside the Greenhouse were more creative hors d'ouerves such as the marinated cheese with Stonewall Kitchen Classic Greek dressing and Urban Accents Fisherman's Wharf spice.

My bestie Kristy has become quite the photo chronicler of my hometown and several of the photos from Alumni are hers.  To somewhat quote her, Alumni Weekend is also Memorial Day weekend, and this is often forgotten.  St. Marys also holds a Memorial Day parade and ceremony and Kristy captured this as well.  After all, how can we reminisce on lives made possible because we're free without recognizing those who bravely kept us safe to be free?  This ceremony provides a poignant end to a weekend filled with memories. The next several posts will recount much of the week in greater detail.  In all, Alumni Weekend 2014 sent me back to KC as it always does:


Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Home Again: Bright Wings, Grilled Oysters and A Bowl Of Soup With Maw

It was a grueling drive home yesterday, but as always, the end result is well worth it once those West Virginia hills rise into view. I got into Abicht's Landing last night and not long after, JB the Grillmaster was whipping up some spicy goodness.

Everyone knows JB makes killer wings, but the ones he grilled last night with the Dizzy Pig Jamaican Firewalk Fiery Hot Island Rub were simply stellar. The citrussy brightness of the rub with that wake-you-up spiciness was just excellent.

These were quickly followed by Kaki and JB's twist on the charbroiled oysters from Drago's in New Orleans.

Succulent oysters rubbed with the Bayouish blackening spice from Dizzy Pig, bathed in garlic butter and topped with Romano and Parmesan cheese; these were served with grilled cayenne bread and it was flavorful goodness.  The Greenhouse carries these awesome Dizzy Pig rubs and I am stocking up before I go back to KC.

Today, I visited with my Mom who, while certainly feeling her now 90 years, still remains as vibrant as ever.  We laughed and reminisced and my breath was taken away by an old anniversary card Mom had found given to her by Dad.  His handwritten "57, let's go for 60" made me chuckle and they did indeed celebrate their 60th anniversary.

I came back to prepare for an afternoon run and while driving up to the house, I was thinking I needed some grub, and what did I discover upon entering the house but the incomparable Barbara "Maw" Reckard whipping up a healthy, hearty pot of curry chicken soup.  It was delicious and the perfect pre-run meal. Sharing the soup with the ever-entertaining Maw makes it the perfect bowl of soup. The run starting at the St. Marys marina felt great.

This Memorial/Alumni weekend will once again be, as it always is, a mix of emotions. Kak and JB's pup Shadow is ailing and it's always so hard to watch our furry friends wrestle with health challenges. Then there is the main reason I shifted my time off to cover this weekend: on Sunday, we will be attending a celebration of life for my Uncle Albert and cousin Albert Wayne who recently passed away within weeks of each other.

In the meantime, it is always hugely gratifying to spend time with my bestie Kristy, Kak and JB and reunite with loved ones I haven't seen in a long time.  Hopefully, one of these will be the Divine Ms. Dot, as it wouldn't be a trip home if she and I didn't get one prom picture in like this one from the last visit.

I am also contemplating running the Alumni 5k on Saturday, so who knows what's about to happen in the next few days.

For now, its just good to be home.

Monday, May 19, 2014

Go East, Old Man

That challenge of writing every day has definitely fallen by the wayside...I am officially crying "Uncle!" after this arduous pre-vacation work week. That said, I am on the road tomorrow eastbound and down to the beloved hometown and all of the welcome respite that brings. Can't wait to see my family and friends and enjoy some anticipated down time with them. And of course, those rolling West Virginia hills...

Thursday, May 15, 2014

The Awesomeness That Is Ben's Chili Bowl

Ben’s Chili Bowl, Washington, DC

Bon Appetit has a terrific article on their website about the 10 Fast Food Restaurants that treat their workers really well.  It is an inspiring article that also makes for some positive contrast to the recent news of striking fast food workers. Of the places mentioned, I have not or may not visit most of them in my lifetime due to location, but if in their areas, I would seek them out not just because their food sounds awesome, but because I know how well they are treating their associates. One of the joints mentioned I have been to a few times though, and I'm proud to say I have.
The K-Man and I lived in the Washington, D.C. area for a couple of years and during that time, I visited the famous Ben's Chili Bowl more than once. I truly revel in little independents like this, particularly when they come with a storied history and Ben's certainly has written quite the tale for itself in its 55-years. 
Opened in 1958, Ben's Chili Bowl has truly seen it all. Ben's opened in the U Street Corridor and this was known as "Black Broadway" at the time.  Typically performing nearby, everyone from Duke Ellington to Miles Davis to Bill Cosby hit up Ben's for one of their soon-to-be-famous chiliburgers or half-smokes. Dr.Martin Luther King was also a customer. In 1968 after Dr. King's assassination, DC was nearly undone from the rioting but when the city closed down, Ben's stayed open.  Ben's obtained special police permission to stay open to serve the firefighters, police and the activists all during those tumultuous days. U Street, like much of DC, struggled to survive after the rioting, but Ben's stayed open through it all.  Bill Cosby, who courted his wife at Ben's remained a lifelong fan and in the 80's, promoted the Cosby Show from Ben's.  U Street was revitalized years later, and while Ben's enjoyed the fruits of the revitalization they remained, and continue to remain, blessedly the same.  Their website tells of how customers asked them repeatedly to never change a thing and they listened. The booths are original and that secret sauce has never been altered. Family members of founders Ben and Virginia Ali still roam the floor, demonstrating the same warm service.  Ben's Chili Bowl celebrated their 50th anniversary in 2008 with a big bash emceed by Cosby. Ten days before his inauguration, Barack Obama had to visit Ben's for a half-smoke.
And speaking of half-smokes, Mr. Cosby's favorite was also mine....the signature dish of half pork, half-beef smoked sausage with mustard, onions and that spicy homemade sauce that is to die for. Ben's uses 100% certified Angus beef and local produce to create their little wonders.  And yes, there are turkey burger and vegetarian options on the menu, but the original eats have not changed a lick and this is a very good thing, Martha. It's all enough reason to admire Ben's, but hit that link at the top of the page to read why Ben's (among others) is also known for treating their associates well. There are reasons why the average Ben's employee has been there for more than 16 years.  Ben's is a pristine example of how happiness and love can also certainly translate to killer flavor.
Carry on, Ben's Chili Bowl!  May you continue to be the example of what a business should do...and be... for the rest of your days. 

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

A (Hilarious) Tour of Kansas City

Massive props to KC's own Bottoms Up Sketch Comedy troupe for creating this rib-tickling (because its KC, what else would it be?) Tour of Kansas City video.  So funny and makes me love KC even more. 

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Lovin' Me Some Food Republic

There are many things to love about the always informative and entertaining website Food Republic, not least of which is the endless points for creativity they earn for their many articles.  I particularly enjoy the marvelous Illustrated Guides through various recipes, like this whole artichoke gratin..

artichoke gratin

Oh, and you want food photos that will slap you right in the chops?  Get thee to Food Republic.

Monday, May 12, 2014

Thoughts in Orrick

The National Weather Service said the tornado was part of a super cell storm that formed over the Kansas City metropolitan area earlier Saturday and continued eastward, spawning at least one more tornado that also struck near the town of Marshall.

Thoughts and prayers are with the good folks of Orrick, MO, not far from Excelsior Springs where I work.  They weathered an F2 tornado that scored a direct hit on their community and over 100 businesses were damaged or destroyed.  Thankfully(and astoundingly), no one was hurt or killed.  We have employees who live there and are grateful everyone is OK.  To help the Orrick community with their recovery, contact the Salvation Army at 1-800-SAL-ARMY to make a donation as they have been providing food and drink to those affected.

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Happy Mother's Day!

Happy Mother's Day to all of the mothers out there! I hope your day is relaxing and spectacular. Special shout-out to my friends and family who are missing their beloved mothers...I hope your day is filled with peaceful, happy memories.

And to the lovely, funny, precious woman in these photos; the one who's cutting up and showing off her new Mother's Day chapeau, I am counting the days...and there's just a few left....until I see that gorgeous smile and hear that laugh again on my next trip back to St. Marys.

I love you, Mama.  Happy Mother's Day and see you soon!

Saturday, May 10, 2014

Market's Bounty

Keith works a few hours every Saturday at the Liberty Farmer's Market and I'm always psyched to see the bounty from each week.  

Fresh asparagus and tomatoes came home this week and the window boxes are now dotted with herby goodness like garlic chives, curry, rosemary and pineapple sage. 

 The aromas from the herbs alone are so delicious that the anticipation on what role they'll assume in a future feast is off the charts. Damn the allergies; I so love this season.

Friday, May 9, 2014

TGIF Thought of The Day

Too funny!
And with those words of wine-soaked wisdom, 'tis the weekend indeed.  Go forth and make merry, friends.

Thursday, May 8, 2014

A Healthy Dose Of Fallon

I have long been an unabashed pop culture junkie, but life makes it difficult to stay on top of the many shows, films, books and various entertainments I relish so. My DVR is overburdened with scores of episodes that I'm long overdue to catch up with.  In certain examples like Game of Thrones, I'm saving them so I can one day revel in an indulgent binge watch. Most though, are simply still there because I don't have time to watch them. One thing I do try to stay up on is a regular dose of Jimmy Fallon on late night.  From SNL through Late Night, I have long enjoyed the comedic euphoria that is Jimmy Fallon. I call myself a pop culture junkie, but young Mr. Fallon is that to the Nth degree and one with talent to burn.  I've loved it all; his perfect impressions, his channeling of musicians, his uniquely geeky charm and his always brilliant moments with Justin Timberlake. Fallon caught a lot of flack over the years (chiefly from himself) for cracking up during skits, but to me its just another example of his bright, shining unfiltered joy for what he does.  In all of that late night institution's long, storied history (that I've been alive), I have never been more excited about the Tonight Show than I am now. Oh, and did I mention Fallons' a foodie?  Here he is as a Top Chef Judge.

Already, Fallon has produced gem after gem on the Tonight Show and generous host that he is, typically ends up showcasing the talents of his many spectacular guests.

The above video caught my attention courtesy of our F&B Director Terri. This great Fallon moment brought us a personal connection.  Bryan Cranston is a guest on Fallon's show and Cranston tells of his current Tony-nominated role as Lyndon Johnson.  Cranston also speaks of a noted way that the former president used to cajole and persuade people to do things his way called the "The Johnson Treatment".  Fallon asks Cranston to demonstrate how this works and wants convince him whether he should be drinking margaritas on the rocks or frozen margaritas. The result is magical; Jimmy gets charmingly geeked out and Cranston demos why he just might deserve that Tony. The particularly striking aspect of this performance to us is how this demonstration of The Johnson Treatment is quite evocative of well, just about any conversation those of us at work have with our Director of Sales Tom.

 Tom is a born-and-bred Southerner himself and when he works that honeyed accent of his, I'm sure most folks are putty in his hands. Cranston's performance is a real flash of Tom when we coworkers of Tom watch it....its actually kind of uncanny. I'd ask Tom if he's using 'The Johnson Treatment" on a regular basis, but just posing that question amongst my colorful coworkers would go so far off the rails, I'm just gonna let that go.

So, yeah, I'm a Fallon fan. Obnoxiously so.  Enough...go watch the video. And if I'm gonna post classic Fallon moments that involve Fallon and Bryan Cranston, I might as well post Fallon's brilliant send-up of Breaking Bad from Late Night. Watch for Cranston again....and a pizza.

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Favorite Fictional Food Havens

I wrote a recent post on favorite TV kitchens, and while I intend to write one on some of my favorite TV restaurants as well, this video on is a great look at some of the most popular fictional food havens.  Enjoy.

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

And Now...The Rest Of The Story

Pardon me while I borrow a phrase from Paul Harvey as I tell you that my recent post about my dear friend Lydia's travels here in KC was far more than a mere was the journey of a lifetime for her.  Let me start from the beginning....

First, let me say that Lydia has granted me full disclosure to share my part of the story. As I've mentioned in previous posts, Lydia is a longtime friend of mine dating back to our West Virginia childhood. Sometime after we first met those many moons ago, Lydia admitted to us that she was adopted. Lydia adored her adoptive parents George and Barbara Harris (as did we), and they and her brothers would and will always be her beloved family in every sense of the word.  This has always remained status quo and for as long as I have known Lydia and also know of Lydia's powerful love for her family, this will most assuredly never change. That said, an unexpected twist did indeed occur in her family story a couple of months ago.

Lydia's husband John researched and found Lydia's biological mother.  What an emotional avalanche. Lydia had lost her wonderful adoptive father George just a few years ago and suddenly learns the identity of her real Mom after all this time.  Even more astoundingly, said Bio-Mom was living here in Kansas City!  On the initial night of my corporate conference, my phone was blowing up with questions of whether I knew this woman.  I did not, and needless to say, was gobsmacked to learn as to why Lydia was asking.

So, plans were made and Lydia would be meeting her real mother at my workplace, the Elms Hotel and Spa.  Lydia and I kept in touch as the plans firmed up. All of the laughter and revelry I wrote about Lyd and John's weekend here certainly happened but all of it was tinged with a bit of understandable anxiety and anticipation on our girl's part.  When the hour was drawing nigh on that Sunday afternoon, we returned to the hotel.  We sat in high-back lobby chairs with constant activity whizzing by us while our internal clocks just seemed to tick by so slowly. The wait was darn near agonizing for her, I'd say.  So many questions she had....

The moment arrived and truly, it was indescribable.  It happened in typical surreal fashion...typical for both Lydia and the Elms in that it was the middle of the lobby surrounded by Triumph Car Club members running by here and there.  I saw Bio-Mom first and the recognition of her resemblance to Lydia was instantaneous. The embrace between reunited mother and daughter happened, there in the center of that lobby and for those of us who knew, time seemed to stop in a brief but crystalline moment. 

Hasty introductions were made and I sequestered mother and daughter in the upstairs dining room where they could talk in peace.  John, Keith and I stayed with Bio-Mom's kids....Lyd's new half brother and sister. We all watched the conversation from afar, the two of them in silhouette, only gaining snippets by their actions.  At one point, mother and daughter laughed simultaneously and their mannerisms were so similar, it took my breath away.  Mother and daughter caught up for hours.

The next morning, Keith and I indeed met with Lydia over those smoked salmon bagels I mentioned in the other post. Lyd regaled us with amazing information she had learned and we listened with relish.  It was particularly gratifying to see that worried face now softened by the glow of newfound peace and wonder.  It was truly an honor to share this moment with Lydia and what a gift John bestowed upon her...the generosity just blows me away and also reassures me she is in wonderful hands.

Congratulations, my sweet sister.  What an amazing new chapter in that always-entertaining book that is your life...

Sunday, May 4, 2014

Seasons of the Plaza


It has been a ridiculously long while since I've spent an evening at the Country Club Plaza. This is sad to me, really, as I used to relish spending time in Kansas City's historic shopping mecca. We used to live in Westport and I worked on the Plaza and it was so gratifying to live and work in one of the most exciting corners of the city. In those days, the Power and Light district was barely an idea and the Plaza was the premier destination. When Keith and I were making the commitment to move to Missouri, we made an initial trip out primarily for Sierra's christening, but also spent a couple of days each in St. Louis and Kansas City. I enjoyed St. Louis, but KC kinda of captured us, hook, line and sinker. Part of it were the old college chums of Keith that showed us around and certainly the Arthur Bryant's barbecue (and experience) were major selling points. It was the Plaza, though, that I found utterly enchanting. How could a shopping center so capture my attention?

Sure, there were fine destination stores at the time like Saks Fifth Avenue and such, but I'm really not a shopper, so the allure of retail names eluded me for the most part. No, it was the design, the architecture, the history that so completely enthralled me.

The Country Club Plaza was built in 1922 and its design was largely inspired by Seville, Spain. The intricacies of the design mean there's something to see on every corner.

        Gargoyle heads peek out from walls and whimsical fountains abound on every block.

The surrounding apartment buildings shared an equal amount of surrealism, including one that had featured bizarre gargoyle heads that looked down at passerby.

It was like nothing I had ever seen, and I absolutely loved it. I often walked to my job here and I used to run in the park across the street. I would finish the run by winding through the streets of the Plaza, ending it at an underground grocery store that had a killer salad bar that I would pick up my lunch from (I don't remember the name, alas). Of course, there were the characters as the man who screamed obscenities at anyone who walked by or the dancing group of Hare Krishnas on another corner. I don't miss these particular characters, but I do miss some of the more independent businesses. I'm glad we tested out some black-and-white photography on the Plaza as we knew it back then.  The Country Club Plaza is never more noted, though, then at the advent of the Christmas season when the entire Plaza is lit up like a fairy-tale village.

Last night, our Posse dinner brought K and I back to the Plaza to one of their newer restaurants, Seasons 52.  Charlotte had met the head chef here and we were also intrigued not just by their commitment to the freshest of ingredients, but their claim to every item being seasonally inspired and under 475 calories.

Our goal of running half-marathons and a generally healthier lifestyle made this an attractive choice for sure. It is located in the old Eddie Bauer store and while I had been in this store before, I had certainly not grasped that this space was so...cavernous. Truly, it was huge, with several dining rooms, an outdoor patio and a sizable bar complete with ivory-tickling entertainer behind the bar. The dark wood from Eddie Bauer remains and Seasons 52 has created a striking and sophisticated space here. We kicked off our evening with their artisanal cocktails, with several of the group going for the Prairie Mule with organic vodka, ginger beer and fresh lime in traditional copper mugs. 

 I selected the more current selection of the mango-jalapeno crush with gin, fresh mango, housemade lemonade and fresh jalapeno, cilantro and cucumber. Appetizers about the table included the awesome artichoke and goat cheese flatbread and the ahi tuna tartare with wasabi-avocado mousse and tropical salsa.

Everyone raved over their dinners: Keith had the cedar-plank salmon with killer dill-mustard sauce and I had the amazing pork tenderloin with portabello, herb polenta and broccolini. Among the other choices at the table were the oak-grilled rack of lamb, grilled rainbow trout and the filet mignon with crimini mushrooms and red wine sauce.

We wound down with the "dessert tree" with had (blessedly) bite-size samples of everything from carrot cake with cinnamon honey, lemon curd with blueberries and Belgian chocolate s'mores.

It was great to be satisfied without being over-full and the flavors were exceptional from every dish we tried. Seasons 52 was packed to the gills, primarily with prom kids, as was most of the Plaza, it seemed.  It was fantastic to be back in the middle of that Plaza energy as well, if only for one night.