Silencing the Noise

20190106_124029.jpg

It’s funny how a brain dump at 10 PM after a long week can, unexpectedly, result in a slew of responses from friends who are having the same thoughts and feelings. I fully expected to piss off a lot of people with that last post. It was just a cathartic ripping open of my heart, with little regard for who would be reading it or what their reactions would be. It wasn’t journalism. But it made me feel a helluva lot better. And I slept great that night.

One of the comments I got on my last post was from a friend in my neighborhood. Also a writer, she said something about how interesting it is to watch someone sift through their emotions through writing. And that’s exactly what this blog is for me. It’s a place to sift and sort, to proclaim and then sit with it for awhile. And to absorb your reactions, let them sit with me for awhile, too. Maybe I did piss off some people. They just kept scrolling. After all, who wants to be told their hometown sucks? I can still see the faces of people back in Pennsylvania when I would tell them (usually after they had apprehensively asked me how we liked it there) that we love it so much we want to retire in the area. They absolutely glowed. Pride leaked out of every pore and they stopped dismissing its beauty, if only for a little while. The Lebanon Valley in Pennsylvania is not New York City or Chicago or Los Angeles. It’s not even Atlanta or Nashville. But it is picturesque and quiet. People take pride in their homes and cars, even if the homes are small and the cars are old. We also loved Kansas, Virginia, and Georgia and every resident that I talked to was always braced to hear the worst, but practically giddy when I told them how much we were enjoying the area. I was unprepared to have the opposite conversation here.

And, really, when we get to the heart of the matter, isn’t that the problem? Expectations. I have always placed a high value on knowing what to expect and, intentional or not, I have passed that on to Blue. I mentally prepare myself for whatever I am getting ready to face; from going to the dentist, to moving across the country, to driving on the 405 at 5 PM. It’s why, even before we have orders in hand, I’m on area Facebook pages asking spouses where to live, what the schools are like, where to find great pizza and what we can do as a family. Six times I’ve done this and six times I’ve realized, after about 6 months of living in the new area, that my expectations were wrong. Five of the six times, I had actually underestimated an area. Man, it blows when you overestimate it.

But how do you not overestimate a place like southern California? Palm-tree lined streets everywhere, not just on Rodeo Drive or Sunset Boulevard. Movie stars that could show up at your famer’s market at any time. Old VW buses parked down at the beach with a surf board strapped to the top and 2 guys in the front who may have just started a band in their parents’ garage. Seafood on the pier and taco trucks down the street. And realizing that you know exactly what they are talking about when Jimmie Allen sings, “I see the sun sink down on a coast in California” or when Kenny Chesney sings, “Baby, here I am again/kicking dust in the canyon wind/waiting for that sun to go down./Made it up Mulholland Drive/hell bent on getting high/high above the lights of town.” When Maverick pulls up to Charlie’s house on PCH and when you find out that all of the campus scenes of Larry Crowne were filmed at the college in the next town over, it does make you feel like you are in the middle of something bigger than yourself. Tiny fish in a fast-moving ocean. This is where it is all happening and I think a lot of people crave that atmosphere. It’s just that I don’t. I should have known better. My favorite film maker is Ken Burns and the only series I’ve seen every episode of is M.A.S.H. Sometimes I flip through People at the check-out line and realize I only recognize the actors who are older than me. I’m doing good to remember the names and faces of people we were stationed with 10 years ago, there’s just no space left for famous people. Except Gary Sinise.

Today is one of those days that is saving me, though. It’s January 24th and if we lived almost anywhere else, we would be bundled under at least 3 layers. Our faces would be chapped from winter winds, practically frozen in place, and I would only leave the house if I absolutely had to. But here, today, it is 75 degrees and full sun. Low humidity and warm enough to have all the windows open in the car and still drive with a breeze. It is, dare I say it, perfect. It is that first really warm spring day in Kentucky – when the girls are out on the quad with blankets and bikinis and the convertible top drops for the first time since September. When music of every genre can be heard at a stoplight because everyone has their windows down. It’s the first day of spring break when summer is actually a possibility and not just a promise. And I turn up the country music because that’s what spring break is to me – Shania Twain, Kenny Chesney, George Strait and Dierks Bentley. Take off your socks, pour a margarita, soak up the sun before it turns chilly again.

Days like this aren’t enough to keep me here, but they are enough to get me through. I’m going to get off this bucket list hamster wheel for a little while. It will never be completed anyway. I’m going to stop trying to do everything that’s uniquely California…or even uniquely L.A. I don’t need to go to a cat-themed pop-up that’s sponsored by Fresh Step or to a movie premiere every month. I need to find the nature that is out here and remember that that is why people flocked here. For the unpredictable Pacific and the whales that fluke as they pass through on their way to Mexico. They came because you can hike a mountain in the morning and build a sand castle after lunch. And because the fruit trees grow like crazy and the grapes make the best wine. All of this stuff that’s man-made? The museums and the shopping centers, the tourist destinations and the boutique cafes? Those are distractions from what is truly beautiful about California. That is not where my time is best spent and that will not refill my cup. I need to go to the places where I can see God and I need to show the light of Jesus to those who have been kicked down while living here. The rest of it is just noise.

Thank you for always supporting me, even as I publicly sift through this rollercoaster of emotions. While I was at the dentist’s office getting my teeth cleaned this morning, I was chatting with my hygienist, who is 30 weeks pregnant with her second child. We had a good laugh about how completely lost we were with the first child. Those first few weeks of motherhood with a newborn are frightening, exhausting, and overwhelming.  If I learned anything from giving birth, it’s that I want to get this right the first time. I don’t want to look back only to be disappointed by the fact that I didn’t put more effort into finding the good. And just like childbirth, I won’t get a second chance to do it again. This is it and I need to make it count. I have adjusted my expectations and I’m ready to start over.

Advertisements

A Cloud Over SoCal

img_0001

I’m going to let you in on a little secret. One of my truths when playing 2 truths and a lie is that I changed my major 5 times and have been engaged 4 times. The four engagements is a story for another time, but 1 of my 5 majors was journalism. When I left the University of Louisville (and my theater major aspirations) in the rear view mirror, I set my sights on the University of Kentucky and a journalism degree with a minor in telecommunications. I lasted exactly one semester. And I can’t even remember why.

My frantic desire to excavate the truth of a matter has often, interestingly enough, made me gullible and naive. Even when the logical and analytical traits of my Virgo nature kick in, I haven’t fared much better. Did the explanation seem rational? Possible? Ok then. End of story. No questions left to ask. I have fallen for so many schemes and untruths over the years, that I’m quickly overtaking my husband in the race for Most Cynical Person Living in This House. And every day there seems to be a new reason to hold my tongue, wait for more evidence, ask more questions, withhold judgment.

The majority of teachers in my son’s school district are on strike right now. Maybe you’ve seen something about it on the news. Los Angeles Unified School District is the second largest school district in the country with about 650,000 students. Only New York City outranks us with almost a million students in the district. On day one of the strike, UTLA (United Teachers of Los Angeles), the union that represents many of the educators in LAUSD, set forth their reasons for striking: smaller class sizes (many high school classrooms in L.A. exceed 40 students but the overpopulated schools seem to be an issue throughout the district), more counselors, deans, librarians, and full-time nurses, (some schools share the staff that fill these roles so a librarian or nurse may only be on hand 1-2 days per week), smaller special education case loads and, of course, an increase in pay (6.5% that would not be contingent on district finances).

But it has only been in the last 2 or 3 days that everyone has started to discuss the elephant in the room: charter schools. And to my husband’s credit, he made this argument over a week ago. When you release the reigns on charter schools, public schools will hemorrhage students who come from households where the parents are educated, value education, and can afford to pay for that education (or whatever booster clubs are created by the charter school). Parents will flock to charter schools out of fear for what a public education will fail to provide or to cash in on the promises made by these privately run institutions. Either way, the result is the same: the money that the state has set aside for his/her child is taken away from the public school and given to the charter school. And while most economists would argue that the free market system is king, it certainly isn’t doing any favors for anyone who is left behind in the public education system. The unrestrained growth of charter schools is one of the reasons that LAUSD is searching for a spare billion in the couch cushions and Californians are just now, one week into the strike, willing to discuss what they have done to themselves.

But, per usual, I spent at least a week convinced that the arguments presented from both sides were complete and transparent. There couldn’t be anything else to the story because everything sounded logical. I would have gotten eaten alive in journalism school.

But honestly, while we are temporarily inconvenienced by the strike, homeschooling our kids in a show of solidarity with the teachers walking the picket lines, we don’t really have any skin in this game. For better or worse, military families are in and out so fast it makes an administrator’s head spin. Since October, 2 of our neighbors in Blue’s class have moved and just as quickly, 2 more moved in. We are not here for the long game so while I support teachers in general, it is my opinion that whatever mess the district has created financially, this is the bed they have made after years of bad (and, perhaps, politically corrupt and greedy) decisions. The schools are obviously over-crowded, the teachers are clearly at a breaking point, and the funds are being funneled elsewhere. Easy for me to say, but I don’t know that the 70 degree weather makes up for all the other shit shows that debut daily around here. And what passes for public education in this country (which has already been whittled down to what’s on the test, thanks to funding based on school performance), is further reduced to a sliver of leftovers after the charter schools in L.A. have carved out their slice. It’s hard to watch, even harder to live and certainly not what we want for our child’s education, even if it is only for a couple of years. I may have become complacent about dressing fashionably, eating a plant-based diet, and watching less TV, but I think this where I draw the line.

I didn’t mean to take several weeks off from blogging. I have found it unusually difficult to organize my thoughts lately. Mostly, I’m just incredibly frustrated…with the fact that my neighbors and friends are starting to feel the harsh effects of a government shutdown while their husbands go on to work for the FBI or the Coast Guard…with local businesses who have come out of the woodwork to support L.A. teachers but have actually turned away Coast Guard families seeking the same support…with local parents who are begging for gift cards to give teachers because they aren’t paid as long as they are striking, but, practically in the same breath, are admonishing military families for sending their kids “across picket lines” when they really have no other choice. If your Coast Guard husband must still report to work but isn’t getting paid, there’s a chance you will have to go get a job. Paying for child care when the schools are still open is just not an option. But mostly I’m frustrated that I don’t feel like we have been able to live our best lives, be the best version of ourselves out here. I am depressed that the homeless community is so massive. It feels hopeless. Seeing garbage piled up on streets and in green spaces everywhere is a bleak reminder of how many people don’t care about our environment or take pride in the place where we live. And depleting our savings just to do a few fun things here and there steals the joy from those memories.

Part of me was terrified of living in Los Angeles and part me was electrified by the idea that, for the first time ever, we were going to be in the middle of it all. But after almost 8 months, I feel like I’ve opened the portal, had a solid peek in, and observed the wizard of L.A., furiously pulling this string and pushing that button to make everything appear far more glamorous. These streets of gold are paved with $63 parking tickets and washed clean by the tears of an army who just can’t get back on their feet. Coastal winds whip hypodermic needles under the fence of a public park while someone barely making rent dresses up as Cookie Monster and posts up outside the zoo, making rude comments to children when their parents don’t stop for a picture and offer a tip. Maybe you pass Angelina Jolie on the Runyon Canyon trail. And maybe you see Bruce Willis buying his daughter an empanada at The Grove…but so what? They are probably sending their kids to charter schools and your kid, in the same district as them, is taking the hit. And the house cleaner’s daughter? The gardener’s son? Are they in charter schools? No, they are in LAUSD, waiting for things to get better. This strike is their saving grace because they are finally being heard. Over the drug-related shootings, the car chases through Long Beach, and the sirens racing to someone who was just robbed, they are being heard.

Whatever Los Angeles used to be, this city of angels, this wild west, it is not for me. I will walk her beaches and hike her trails, maybe spot a celebrity and buy an overpriced cupcake in Beverly Hills, but when the time comes, I will close this chapter and shed tears only for the people we leave behind. The next place will have greener pastures if only because it won’t be plastered with the incessant evidence of overpopulation.

Know Better, Do Better: The Christmas Edition

The question came up last week, as was inevitable: “What does Blue want for Christmas?” My mind went absolutely and completely blank. Because what I heard was not, “What does he want for Christmas,” I heard, “What does he need for Christmas?” And honestly…nothing. Our child wants for nothing. Sure he will tell you that he needs another Star Wars Lego set or some more Jungle in My Pocket toys. He will beg for a laser tag set and a whole semi-truck full of stuffies. But all he truly needs is an attitude of gratitude. Santa baby, can you slip that under the tree?

IMG_2119

I understand that this problem is almost 100% of our own doing. From the time we found out I was pregnant, we have been buying for him. First it was all the toys that, according to numerous mommy bloggers and the Today Show, he had to have. I rolled my eyes at the wipe warmer, but he had a giraffe teething toy (but no teeth), the cutest little shoes (before he could even crawl), and a crib full of stuffed animals (many were bigger than him). Over the years, we’ve tried to supplement the growing footprint of toys with “educational” gifts. An entire library full of all of the “recommended” books, “brainy” toys – some requiring batteries and some made of wood, marble runs, and bins upon bins of Lego. There were plastic animals of every size and species, Army men and all of their accessories, Hot Wheels cars with the accompanying track and even a suitcase to carry them all. Ironically, nothing has made all of that seem excessive like living in and exploring around Los Angeles.

It is impossible to go anywhere, besides within the gates of our own neighborhood, and not see a member of the homeless population. Whether you drive or walk, you will see at least one person who is homeless every single day. Across the street, across town, in the parking lot of the vet’s office, outside of Starbucks, in the park next to the aquarium, sleeping on the beach. They live all along the L.A. river, under wind-shredded tarps that are strewn across sun-faded tents. They usually aren’t asking for money or help, they are simply moving about their day, just as we are. Some are passing the time by watching traffic, some are sleeping, and some -judging by their awkward propped positions – look like they may have passed on. I don’t know any of their stories, but I hear the locals talk about their “favorites”. Most are known, many are liked, some are helped. It has taken me months to be even a little bit OK with this. I want Oprah and Ellen to give every single homeless person a house, but the reality is that isn’t the root of the problem or even a viable solution. And the most difficult part for me to accept? There are so many homeless children.

When the school year started, I had to log into an L.A. school district website and confirm that we have a home. The default was not that everyone lived in a house, it was that everyone lives in something other than a house or apartment. The school district wanted to know if we were living with friends or family, in an RV, in a tent or in a shelter. I almost felt guilty by the end. No, no, no, no…no to all of that. We have a house. I’m so sorry, I wish they all did. And the truth is, there are children in Blue’s school, children he sees and plays with everyday, that are homeless. And I don’t think he had ever noticed. I wasn’t about to bring it to his attention, but a few weeks ago he began saying variations of, “This is the worst Christmas ever.” I let it go (for probably longer than I should have), but by the second week, I had had enough. We had a chat.

“Do you remember the people we see living in tents on the side of the road? Did you know that some of those people are kids? Did you know that those kids don’t have toys or stuffies or even a bed to sleep in? Did you know that those kids sometimes only eat when they are at school?” Once I got started, I couldn’t stop. Tears welled up in my eyes and a look of remorse washed over Blue. Homeless had become part of his lexicon, just as Amish had in Pennsylvania. The difference, he was beginning to understand, was that one chose the life and one did not. Sometimes I have serious doubts about moving every two years. Like when I remember fondly the Christmas traditions we shared with my grandparents and cousins when I was growing up. I become nostalgic for a time when my grandmother would stick the Bing Crosby 8-track tape in the player (which was installed in the wall) before decorating the tree. And I think, “Blue will never have this to reflect on each Christmas season. We are ruining his childhood.” But then we have a Come-to-Jesus about how he is not having the worst Christmas ever, although there are kids in his class who certainly are. Like Billy from The Polar Express….Christmas just doesn’t work out for them. And because he can look out of the car window every single day and see someone having the worst Christmas ever, he has stopped saying that. Next week it will be something else, but at least he has come around on this topic.

All of this was spurred by a Facebook post shared by a friend this morning. It urged people to stop giving Santa credit for the expensive gifts their children received. The iPads and gaming systems, the 52424-piece Lego kits and the new iPhones. Because when kids talk (as they inevitably do), it will appear that Santa is more generous to the families with more money. How old were you when you realized this? I was today years old. Why? Because our child has never wanted for anything, just as I never wanted for anything when I was a child. I never wanted a pony, but I wanted a My Little Pony. When I was Blue’s age, I got an entire stable full. One Christmas, the hot item was a Cabbage Patch doll. I received three. And now I’m doing the same thing. We wait for Blue to tell Santa what he wants for Christmas and then we order it from Amazon, with Prime shipping of course. The greatest irony is that for Blue’s third Christmas, we began the rule of 4: something you want, something you need, something to wear and something to read. Then Santa gave him everything else. We seriously restricted what he got from us and let Santa have a field day. Up until this morning, I thought we were doing what was best for him.

We are all doing the best we can as parents, which is sometimes a train wreck, often a fly-by-night operation, and occasionally flashes of brilliance. I’m certain we are going to look back in 20 years and regret many of the decisions we’ve made along the way. But if we’re lucky (and willing to accept that we are learning as he learns), hopefully the result will be an empathetic, kind, generous, well-rounded, and productive member of society. Blue may remember the countless renditions of A Christmas Carol that we dragged him to, the hours we spent sipping hot chocolate while strolling through the most decorated neighborhoods, Jingles the Elf fishing for marshmallows in the toilet, eating candy thrown from floats in Christmas parades, meeting reindeer at the zoo, sitting on Santa’s lap at the Macy’s in New York City, and any number of other unique experiences that we treat him to every Christmas season, but hopefully he will also remember dropping a $5 in the Salvation Army bucket, collecting food for a family in the church, buying toys to donate, making a meal for a friend, and sending care packages to our troops overseas. He will remember that at the center of Christmas is Christ and the light that He brought to a dark world (we can certainly argue until the cows come home about when Christ’s actual birth was – but that’s for another post). And when Blue has a family, he will share the traditions that we got right, change the ones that we got wrong, and do something for those who are having the worst Christmas ever. (And if there is karma in parenting, he will get to have a similar conversation with his own child.)

I love this post by Karen, whose blog, And Then We Laughed, is full of insights about life’s little moments. She and her husband have made the commitment to make more purposeful decisions and this post reflects that change. The Christmas season is full of things we do on auto-pilot, much we do because that’s how our parents did it. But there is no shame in stopping to take stock of our family’s needs and changing our traditions so that they represent what Christmas…Christ’s birth…means to us.

When It’s More Than a Cup of Coffee

I’m not going to sugarcoat it…the week leading up to Veterans Day was pretty brutal in Southern California. It began with a mass shooting in Thousand Oaks (about 90 minutes up the 101 from us), which was carried out by a decorated former Marine with PTSD. Before the first funeral could be held, a spark from a fire in Malibu jumped the 101 and scorched a wide swath through the same region. All the while, the Camp Fire absolutely leveled Paradise, California and took dozens of lives in the process. Although our home on the south side of Los Angeles was never in any danger, the air quality took a hit as the smoke hung ominously between us and Catalina Island. It blotted out the sun and the ocean seemed to glow with shades of yellow and orange. Simultaneously beautiful and devastating. We weren’t impacted, but we were definitely affected.

IMG_1143

So, when the box arrived from Blue Star Families in the middle of the week – a volunteers’ kit with buttons to hand out at Starbucks on Veterans Day, I was filled with a sense of dread. The death toll north of us was climbing daily and I was supposed to hand out buttons to people buying coffee and thank them for supporting military families? I hadn’t really laughed in a week. The last thing I wanted to do was half-ass something for Blue Star Families, an organization that has given our family more than we could ever give back. But I had no idea how I was going to pull out of my funk enough to be convincing. I set the entire box to the side and decided I would worry about it later.

When I woke Sunday morning, I was no more cheery than when I went to bed on Saturday night, but I put on the t-shirt from the box. The front of the t-shirt read ” It’s more than a cup of coffee.” The back proclaimed, “It’s all about communities.” The Blue Star Families and Starbucks logos almost seemed to be holding hands. I felt a little better. I picked up the bag of buttons and started walking out of the neighborhood, to the Starbucks across the street (where we all go because it’s so dang convenient). When I entered the store, I asked to see the store manager and when I introduced myself, her entire face lit up.

“Thank you so much for doing this,” JayIssa said. “I’m so glad you’re here.”

I felt the some of the week’s burdens let loose and float away.

“Me, too. Thank you so much for supporting military families. It means everything.”

The lunch rush began and 2 of my neighbors, Ashley and Candace, joined me. We distributed the buttons while mentioning that if they purchased a tall brewed coffee that day, 15 cents from each cup would benefit Blue Star Families. We also let Servicemembers and their families know that Starbucks was offering them a free, tall cup of brewed coffee to celebrate and honor their service. I certainly wasn’t at the top of my game, but with each smile, with each thank you, with each proclamation of “Happy Veterans Day”, the load seemed lighter. We were all neighbors and we were gathered at our Neighborhood Starbucks. It was about the coffee and it was about communities.

When we ran out of buttons, we chatted a bit more with JayIssa, who is eager to partner with and support the military community. She showed us the postcards that are available for customers to write notes to Servicemembers who are deployed or injured and the gift cards that were available for purchase, which also benefit military families.

She mentioned future possibilities like providing coffee and baristas for military events. Her passion for linking civilian and military communities is exciting. JayIssa’s offer to provide her store and staff as a way to do that is a substantial commitment to supporting military families.

Finding the places where civilian and military communities intersect and looking for ways to broaden that overlap is one of the many strengths of Blue Star Families. But they also work diligently to improve the quality of our lives, including sharing data results from the Annual Military Lifestyle Survey (which I completed last spring) with Congressmen and women so they have a better understanding of our challenges and ways in which laws can be crafted to address those challenges. They also partner with the National Endowment for the Arts to host Blue Star Museums every year and the National Parks Service to provide the America the Beautiful Park Pass. Their partnership with Disney has allowed us to visit Disneyland FOUR times this year, which would be out of our price range otherwise since every little thing costs more in Southern California, but Neal’s income doesn’t reflect that steep increase in the cost of living. We have not yet taken advantage of Blue Star Theatres, but as soon as the holidays have passed and life calms down a bit, we will get tickets for a children’s play that Blue has been asking to see. But they also provide support in other ways, like the Caregivers programs, which are so important for military spouses who have become caregivers for one reason or another. They truly address all of the challenges that come with serving our country.

There’s no doubt that of all of the military focused, non-profit organizations out there (and there are a lot), Blue Star Families is the one that we feel most directly impacts and improves our daily life. Because of that, we are happy to support their #GivingTuesday challenge on Tuesday, November 27th. This actually links to Ashley’s Facebook event so if you are having problems viewing or donating, please let me know and we’ll fix that. The funds raised on Facebook will be matched by Facebook and PayPal so your donation is actually doubled! And it directly benefits military families through the work Blue Star Families does on our behalf everyday. Funds raised will create more programs like Blue Star Museums, Blue Star Books, Blue Star Parks, and Blue Star Theatres – all of which are available to the entire family, not just the Servicemember. If you are going to give on Tuesday, this is a great organization to give to!

Things have started to calm down a bit around here. Blue and I took my mom to Santa Barbara yesterday, straight up the 405 to the 101 and although you can still see where fire suppressant was dropped by helicopters to protect the towns, the air has mostly cleared and it’s business as usual. The cloud has lifted, it’s once again sunny in SoCal and we are grabbing a coffee from our Neighborhood Starbucks on the way to the beach today!

Friday Favorites

I’m taking a tiny break from Disney posts to share my favorites from this week….

20181005_184004

We had a girls’ night out on Friday to say “See ya later” to one of our Momfia. She and her family are headed to the other side of the world, where they will have grand adventures and eat phenomenal food (and *ahem* have a driver…color me jealous). Until then, we got to have one last meal with her under the stars and on the bluffs above the Pacific Ocean. I had been wanting to eat here so this evening checked another box for me. The food wasn’t as divine as I had hoped, but the company more than made up for it.

 

On Saturday night, the Moravian/Episcopalian church that we attend hosted their annual lobster dinner. It was my intention to just help serve, but with 3 lobsters left, waiting to be claimed and enjoyed, I decided to pay my money and dig in. I needed some lobster extraction lessons, but by the second claw I had a pretty good idea of where to find the meat. Then they convinced me to eat the tomalley (the lobster’s liver and pancreas). Someone said, “It’s like eating the ocean.” And I can’t think of a better description. I ate some ocean and then got a bit of melted butter for the rest. Also, even though I was wearing my UK blue, we still lost to Texas A&M in overtime and now I owe my neighbor a Facebook live video of me singing the A&M fight song. That was a bitter pill to swallow…on many levels.

Towards the end of the evening, we were treated to a 20-minute concert in the sanctuary given by Katherine Cash on the violin and Norm Freeman on the vibraphone. Together they make up the duo “N2K”. A soulful excerpt from Dearest to Me can be watched here. It is a lovely way to spend 3 minutes on a Friday afternoon.

20181007_160619

After church on Sunday, we called into our book club discussion and then headed down to Corona del Mar for their 57th Annual Sandcastle Contest. After we checked out the larger-than-life sculptures, we were inspired to try our hand at some castle building. Or hole-digging. Whatever. Turns out, creating something that resembles…well…anything…is significantly harder than it looks. I’m not sure the winner earned $100,000, but they definitely should have gotten a bucket of tacos.

20181008_114146

On Monday morning, Neal and I took to The Strand, a cycling/pedestrian path that runs parallel to the Pacific from Torrance to Santa Monica. We turned around at Manhattan Beach because about 20 minutes into the ride, we realized that 44 miles roundtrip is far. Too far to be back in time for school pick-up, actually. But next time we’ll start at Manhattan Beach and see how far we can make it before we have to be back…kind of like hiking the Appalachian Trail, but with less humidity and blood-sucking insects.

 

We spent a lot of time at the beach this week and that always sets my soul at peace. Every time Blue gives me grief about hitting up the beach after school or church, I gently remind him that going to the beach in 18 months is going to take major planning and at least a week’s worth of vacation days. He doesn’t get it so I just drag him along anyway. Someday he will thank me. Right?

I hope you all have a fabulous weekend, full of tiny moments that bring you immense joy. Until Monday…xoxo

Friday Favorites

Happy Friday, friends!! It’s a short week for Neal since the Army gives a 4-day holiday for Columbus Day. Blue’s school does not, however, so Neal and I are going to try our hand at kayaking the canals at Long Beach today. I haven’t been in a kayak since 2004, but it’s probably just like riding a bike, right? Get in, paddle and try like hell not to tip over because the Pacific Ocean, in case you didn’t know, is freaking cold. All the time. I don’t know how the kids play in it on our beach days. They say once you get in, you warm up, but I’ve never gone in past my knees so I can neither confirm nor deny that statement.

I think on Fridays I’m going to do a little round-up of my favorite things from the week. Please feel free to send me your favorite things, too! As I’ve been saying all along, this blog is meant to be a community where everyone has a voice. So, please…use it!

I Got Back on Instagram…After a Year Hiatus

I had the opportunity to “take-over” the Blue Star Families’ Instagram for the day. On “Take-over Tuesday”, they posted several pictures and captions from our star-studded evening at the red carpet premiere of SEAL Team. They even included a picture Neal took of me interviewing Judd Lormand and A.J. Buckley! Speaking of the premiere, did anyone watch it? Holy explosions and falling stunts, Batman! When Max Thieriot jumped off that rig, the whole theater erupted in applause and cat-calls. Should you ever get to attend the premiere of any TV show or movie, take it! It is a completely different experience when the cast is in the audience with you. 20180925_213631

I Have Awesome Friends Who Do Awesome Things

A friend of mine in Kentucky posted this picture on her Facebook page this week.

43134074_10155631599991817_1102681399539793920_n

Her husband spent three days repainting the roof of their barn. He had to paint one color at a time. And if you’ve ever heard the expression, You couldn’t hit the broad side of a barn, then you know exactly how big that barn’s roof is. I’m sure this was a backbreaking task, but what a worthy endeavor! And the result is breathtaking. I look forward to seeing it in person someday.

 

M-I-C…K-E-Y…M-O-U-S-E

Fifteen hours after walking the red carpet, I was sitting at LAX, waiting for Mom’s flight to land. We had a hot 3-day date with a couple of mice (and all their friends) down the road. I am going to quietly admit that Disneyland was significantly more fun than I thought it would be. I wouldn’t necessarily say it’s the Happiest Place on Earth (because over-stimulation of a six year old is anything but happy), but it was certainly a good time. I’m not sure I would change my stance on the question: Our family wants to go on vacation…should we go to Disney or the Grand Canyon? But I am finally willing to concede that perhaps the answer is: Both, eventually. These are a few of my favorite pictures from the weekend, but you’ll see many more next week (apparently, I have a media storage limit on my WordPress account and I’m at 12% right now. I am wondering just how long it will take before upgrading is my only option.). Beginning Sunday, I will post a 4-part series that will cover what I planned beforehand, what we learned from each park and what we’ll do differently next time (oh yes, boys and girls…there will be a next time).

 

Because One Blog Just Isn’t Enough

I was channeling my grandmother when I started yet another blog this week. She was a woman who, upon finding shoes or clothes that fit perfectly, would buy it in every color. Why have one when you could have two? Or three. Or four. I enjoy writing (obviously, as most of the time I do it for free), so why not create a space for sharing my love/hate relationship with burpees, kale and all of the essential oils that smell so bad but are so good for me. Most of that happens in our garage, which is too small to fit the Prius but too big to not utilize. Also, I don’t have to scrape ice for 2 years and that was a major factor in choosing to convert the garage into a gym. Playing beat the clock while your windshield defrosts is, I’m sure, a game they play in Hell. My paint job will probably suffer but at least I can squat myself to greatness. If you want to join the fun, come find me Behind the Garage Door. I will post Tuesdays and Thursdays.

IMG_0219

Have a great weekend, lovely people! I’ll see you on Sunday!

 

Our Star-Studded Evening Courtesy of Blue Star Families

If you had told me 6 months ago, as we were following a horse and buggy through downtown Lititz, Pennsylvania, on our way to church, that Neal and I would be mingling with the cast of SEAL Team at their red carpet premiere of season two, I would have slapped you with bread and called you a sandwich. There is no way that was ever going to happen. We aren’t Hollywood. We’re barely Dollywood. But that is exactly where we were last Tuesday night, thanks to a collaboration between Blue Star Families, Academy of United States Veterans (AUSV) and CBS.

The premiere, which was held at the swankiest American Legion I’ve ever been in, kicked off at 5 PM with the press check-in. As the Blue Star Families Social Media Correspondent for this event, I went in search of my spot on the red carpet. I found it right next to a former Marine, who is now reporting for the American Legion, and directly in front of a spotlight that nearly melted both of us by the time we were done. Meanwhile, military families were invited to the lounge downstairs, where they could relax and get a drink.

The cast began arriving around 6 PM, starting with Kerri Medders, who plays Emma Hayes.

This last picture cracks me up because as they were posing, one of the photographers said, “Hold on. There’s a dog’s butt in these pictures.” And that, my friends, is where Hollywood intersects with keepin’ it real.

By 6:15 there was a steady stream of celebrities, each stopping to spend a few minutes answering whatever questions we lobbed at them. Thank goodness I had made the effort to watch all of season one before the premiere so I could ask questions specific to the characters. They weren’t ground-breaking (or even particularly thought-provoking), but they did pertain to how each role addressed military life. And Dita got to give an interview, although as it turns out she’s a pup of few words.

The ladies next to me were asking cast members to record video tweets in the Twitter selfie mirror and create boomerangs for social media. And that is the exact moment when I learned what Twitter selfie mirrors and boomerangs are. I need someone’s tween to school me.

I spent at least 2 minutes practicing my boomerang while I was brushing my teeth that night.

By 6:45 the cast was all there and we finished up our interviews as they gathered for pictures, including several with the Chief Operating Officer of Blue Star Families, Noeleen Tillman!

20180925_190605

By the time I joined my husband and our friends in the theater, they had already met Neil Brown Jr. and A.J. Buckley. And my husband had taken a selfie with Dita, which was really his only bucket list item for the evening.

It’s the world’s blurriest selfie but I couldn’t not share it because he’s just so happy…and that makes me happy.

Soon the lights were dimming and it was time to find our seats. Being able to interact with the cast before the show and then sitting among them as we all watched it together, most for the first time, was electrifying. I had to keep reminding myself as the first few scenes played out that I needed to stop rehashing the last hour in my head and just enjoy the action on the screen. And there was plenty of action to be had. Y’all will not be disappointed by how season two kicks off!

After the credits rolled, the cast made their way to the stage for a Q&A moderated by former Navy SEAL and author of The Terminal List, Jack Carr.

20180925_201424

Mr. Carr’s questions ranged from how the show was created, to what the technical advisors do to ensure authenticity, to what each character brings to the show. An accurate portrayal of military life seemed to be the overarching theme, with a side of explosions and humor to keep us all coming back for more. One of the directors once mentioned in the special features section of the DVD that it’s challenging to convince people to sit down and watch an hour-long show about war every week. But I think it’s like using Lego men to help our son learn how to add and subtract. When you are entertained, you don’t even realize you’re learning something hard. And learning about what our men and women endure on the battlefield and at home is hard. But it’s the first step in helping civilian communities understand our experience so that we can make more meaningful connections with them. So that we can strengthen their community and they can strengthen ours.

With the scheduled activities wrapping up for the night, everyone began making their way downstairs to the after party. But not before Alex and I scored a picture with David Boreanaz. Because…right?

IMG950990

Don’t worry, Neal. My heart still belongs to you. And Gary Sinise.

And maybe just a little bit to Judd Lormand, but only because Lt. Commander Blackburn kind of reminds me of Neal, circa 2009.

20180925_213631

We were all about to turn into pumpkins, but it was so hard to leave such delightful company. We had discussed everything from deployments to how much homework our first graders have and it had turned into the kind of evening that I didn’t want to see end. But it was a school night and babysitters were waiting. So, we left the party, which was still in full swing and headed home, via McDonald’s. Because if you ever go to the after party at a red carpet premiere it’s hummus and cheese cubes. So eat before you go or pack a hoagie in your purse. We did neither.

For this Kentucky girl, the entire evening was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity that allowed us to fully engage with the community where we are stationed. We weren’t limited by how much money we have or who we know in the industry. We didn’t have to win a radio contest or happen to be in the right place at the right time. We simply had to say yes. And what I’m learning is that if Blue Star Families is involved, I will always say yes. Yes to enhancing life for military families, to creating connections with civilian communities, to reaching out, to strengthening our country by uplifting one another.

Walking the Red Carpet With Blue Star Families

The most ironic part about being stationed in L.A. is that neither Neal nor I have ever paid much attention to celebrities or mainstream television. We haven’t had cable since 2010 so when we’re out with friends and talk turns to the fall line-up or the latest tear-jerking episode of This Is Us, we sit mute and clueless. You want to discuss how Poldark, the period drama from PBS, seems to have jumped the shark in the last couple of seasons? We’re on it. We can also chime in about our hopes for a season 5 of Sherlock or how much that ugly lamp appraised for on Antiques Roadshow. But don’t ask us about crime shows, sitcoms or, especially, military dramas.

I watched one episode of Army Wives, before I was even officially an Army wife, and hated it. “They make us look like goal-digging homewreckers!” I yelled from the living room one night. Neal and I finally did settle on The Unit for a few seasons and then went back to PBS after it was inexplicably canceled. Hollywood just couldn’t seem to zero in on an accurate depiction of military life. They were portraying it from a civilian’s perspective and the last thing we, as military families, needed was civilians perpetuating their own point of view. So, when I noticed signage for a multi-day taping of SEAL Team at the beach where our son had aquarium camp a couple of months ago, I largely ignored it. I posted a couple of pictures of the crew’s trailers on Facebook because that’s a fun perk to being stationed in this part of the country and then forgot about it…until a fellow military spouse tagged me in a Blue Star Families Facebook post about tickets to the upcoming SEAL Team premiere.

20180921_090030

My awareness of Blue Star Families has been largely limited to their summer program, Blue Star Museums. Each year, between Memorial Day and Labor Day, military families can access over 2000 museums across the country, free of charge. Very few discounts have boosted our family’s morale, especially after an arduous PCS, like Blue Star Museums. We look forward to it every year. So, my immediate response to Candace’s tag was, If Blue Star Families is affiliated, this must be worth it. My next thought was, I wonder how they got involved. I contacted a friend who works for Blue Star Families and she put me in touch with Meghan Wieten-Scott, the National Events Manager for Blue Star Families.

Meghan, a military spouse herself, has been with Blue Star Families for 8 years. When I confessed that my knowledge of Blue Star Families has been confined to where they have gotten us in for free, she laughed. “That’s OK,” she assured me. “Programs like Blue Star Museums are great, feel-good opportunities. They are wonderful morale-boosters for military families!” And it certainly opens the door for further conversation about Blue Star Families’ mission; to strengthen military families and our nation by connecting communities and fostering leadership. “It is our hope,” Meghan continued, “that once people find out about us they also find out about other programs we offer, including Blue Star Parks, Blue Star Books, Blue Star Spouseforce, the annual Military Family Lifestyle Survey and Caregivers Empowering Caregivers.” Exclusive events, like the SEAL Team red carpet premiere are just one more way Blue Star Families is supporting and enhancing military life.

“Over the last couple of years, Blue Star Families has worked with several different TV and movie production companies when the show or movie has somehow hit on an aspect of military life,” Meghan mentioned. From an episode of Disney’s Andi Mack where a character’s mom returned home from deployment to an upcoming episode of Magnum P.I., the premiere of season 2 of SEAL Team is yet another opportunity to bridge the gap between military and civilian communities. “What better way to do this than on a celebrity scale,” Meghan explained. “The cast is reaching out, through the show, to say they appreciate military families. They are also gleaning a glimpse into military life by researching and portraying a character in the military or a family member.” For our neighborhood families, it has truly been a win-win.

About a week after we RSVP’d for the event, I decided we should watch the show. I ordered the first season from Amazon and crossed my fingers, hoping it wouldn’t be a bust. From the first 10 minutes of the pilot, Neal and I have been completely sucked in. We’ve watched 2 episodes per night to get caught up before the premiere and we’re thoroughly enjoying the fast pace, the music and the character portrayals. Neal appreciates how accurate each episode has been so far, especially in regards to how Servicemembers speak to and behave around one another. And I applaud any show that can help me better understand his experience as a Soldier. He’s not a SEAL and I’m sure there are differences, but at least once during each episode he is next to me, cackling about some spot-on quip by Jason or Sonny. Last night, he was doing push-ups and sit-ups in preparation for an upcoming PT test while the opening credits rolled. It was very Hooah in our house at that moment.

20180919_202415

As the days tick by, the excitement about this event has been building, both in our neighborhood and in our home. Meghan understands why. “We have found that these opportunities really resonate with our members. How cool is it to go and see a sneak peek of an upcoming episode and interact with the cast. They often will talk about the inspiration behind the show and how they get into character, even when they have had no previous experience in the military.” Sure, being stationed in L.A. has its advantages, but Blue Star Families is also ensuring that those advantages are extended to the military families stationed here.

I have a vintage clutch with a stash of questions for the cast and a back-up battery for my cell phone. My dress, purchased for an Army Ball six years ago, is hanging in the closet. Neal will shave his head and don a suit. We will take a lot of pictures and enjoy this unique experience together, with one another and with other military families. And we salute Blue Star Families for helping to make it all possible.

Movin’ and Groovin’ at the Grammy Museum

Last Monday was the official end of summer, although here in Southern California, it feels like it has only just begun. (Seriously, we were freezing from the time we arrived in May until about 3 weeks ago. I had to locate and then bust into the winter box of clothes. Who saw that comin’? So I’m figuring my white shoes have a solid 3 months of wear left.) Labor Day also marks the end of the Blue Star Museums program for this year. Unlike years past when we’ve managed to hit every museum on the list by the 4th of July, we were really hustling this year to squeeze in as many as possible. We didn’t even get through half of the ones just in Los Angeles alone, much less all of Southern California. I give you props, SoCal, for wholeheartedly embracing this initiative. We salute you right back! It seems we have some catching up to do next summer, but we did visit the Grammy Museum (in downtown L.A.) and the Skirball Cultural Center (right off Mulholland Drive near Bel Air).

20180818_155121

The Grammy Museum was fairly low on the list until our neighbors, who also have a son about Blue’s age, mentioned how interactive the exhibits are. Blue has always loved music (with the soundtrack from The Greatest Showman getting top billing in our house currently), so this seemed like something that he wouldn’t hate…which is kind of where our standards are at the ripe age of 6.

We headed up the 110 after breakfast and found parking at a meter on Figueroa Street (although there is a $5/day parking lot near the corner of Olympic and Figueroa – that’s where we’ll be going next time). The Grammy Museum is located in a complex called L.A. Live, which is adjacent to the Staples Center. There are restaurants, bars, a movie theater, condos, and a hotel. The area kind of resembles Fourth Street Live in Louisville, KY or the Power and Light District in Kansas City, MO. I’m sure a concert at The Staples Center, followed by a yard of beer at The Yard House, has my name all over it sometime before we move.

I always have the Blue Star Museums website pulled up on my phone before approaching the ticket booth because occasionally the staff doesn’t realize they are participating in the program. But there were no questions or issues getting into the Grammy Museum. They showed us where the restrooms were and sent us up to the 4th floor to begin our tour.

So, I’ve written the next portion of this blog post about 5 times. What I want to do is give a beautifully detailed description of everything we learned from each exhibit. What actually happened is more like how it would go if you took a dog to the park and then let loose about 300 squirrels…and maybe a handful of rabbits, just for good measure. Someday, visiting a museum (that is not specifically created for kids) is going to get easier. But since Blue was born, reading the informational plaques that accompany artifacts has become practically impossible. I try to read some, but anything less than about 300-point font tends to get skipped over. (True story: I took a picture of every.single.display at the Cosmosphere in Hutchinson, KS so I could read it later. I looked incredibly suspicious. They probably have my picture up in the break room.) Sometimes Neal and I tag out if it’s something we’re both interested in, but mostly we spend a lot of time reading anything in bold and trying to keep Blue from touching or racing around a corner where we can’t see him. So, what did we learn at the Grammy Museum?

20180818_154935

The “Grammy” is named for the gramophone (yes, that should be something that we already knew, but somehow it just never occurred to me). Also, the award has grown substantially over the years. I sort of went a little starry-eyed over being so close to something that I had only ever seen on TV (although that happens almost daily…last month it was that streets actually are palm tree-lined).

20180818_123655

We loved this room! OK, if you get a little itchy just thinking about germs on museum-provided headphones, maybe bring a baby wipe. Personally, I saw our son pet a lizard and then pick his nose with that same finger soooo…. (I don’t condone this, by the way. Kids are fast and also gross.) There is every genre of music that you can imagine, ready for enjoying at the listening station. It was at this moment that Blue learned about African American spirituals, cowboy country, the blues, and hip hop. He just tapped on the genre and then chose a song and listened for a few seconds. We hung out here for at least 10 minutes.

See that entire wall on the right? That’s an exhibit about Pete Seeger. Blue skipped all of that. But I did see this:

20180818_124559

I never realized that the popularity of We Shall Overcome as an anthem for civil rights is largely attributed to Pete Seeger (who I sometimes confuse with Bob but that’s #childrenofthe80’sproblems for ya).

I also made Blue stop and appreciate this.

When asked, Blue will openly admit to not knowing who Michael Jackson is. But he can break some moves to Thriller and Bad. He always asks me if Jimmy Buffett sings those songs. So it was a real learning opportunity for him. Also, that glove. I just stood for a long time trying to soak in the historical significance of these pieces. What a deeply missed icon of my generation.

There are also several sound-proof recording booths where you can learn how to produce a soundtrack. He skipped right past that, too. But this is why we return to museums over and over…next time he’ll find something new and interesting that seemed boring to him this year.

There is the obligatory dress from Whitney Houston, the lyrics in scribbled loops by Taylor Swift, and an entire exhibit dedicated to John Coltrane (which I will go back and read someday).

But Blue’s favorite part (and perhaps ours, too) was the interactive instrument stations. You can play the piano, drums, or guitar and hear every note or beat by wearing the attached headphones (again, baby wipes). We are not a very musical family so Blue has had limited access to musical instruments. He played the drums for at least 5 minutes, learned a couple of chords on the piano and then we practiced at the mixing booth.

Yep, we could have stayed here for most of the day. But others were waiting so we moved on. But this part right here? Perfect for a hands-on kid who loves music!

The Grammy Museum also has rotating exhibits (which is just one more reason why we tend to stock up on museum memberships). Currently, there is one about Cheech and Chong (which we kind of skimmed because what I know about them involves me explaining things to a 6 year old that I’m not ready to explain). However, what’s not to love about these?

20180818_131104

A decorative light set for your next patio party. And a lunch box that’s just begging for a phone call from the school (even if it did include the metal drink container…I keep my weeeeeeeeed in there).

Also, the World’s Largest Grammy…

20180818_130848

illuminated by a changing spectrum of colors – for anyone who came to the Cheech & Chong exhibit prepared and altered.

But the best surprise was the current exhibit, The Get Animated Invasion, which starts with an ode to Looney Toons (and a giant screen playing some Tom & Jerry favorites)…

20180818_125032

followed by Bugs Bunny on the big screen in the Clive Davis Theater…

20180818_131629

followed by an entire room with popular cartoon activities.

This is also when I realized that we have completely failed as parents. We have forgotten to introduce our child to Space Jam and the Jetsons. And he only knows Fred Flintstone as John Goodman. We will try to do better. I don’t know why Blue insisted I pose with hands together and one foot behind the other while he flung open his arms to the skies above…the whole thing made sense in his mind, I’m sure. I think we would have spent a little more time here, but he was hungry and tired. We did the best we could and then he slept all the way home.

There is so much more to the Grammy Museum than what I’ve included here. Visitors can view the Songwriters Hall of Fame (with samples of handwritten lyrics), Revolutions of Recorded Sound (where you can experience the difference in sound quality from the beginning of recorded music to today and learn how technology has changed how and where we hear music), read the history of the Grammy awards, and view artifacts and footage from the Latin Grammys. Plus, many exhibits that explore the complexities of music (and how it intersects with or influences culture, for example).

If you can’t make it to the Grammy Museum in L.A., there are sister sites in Cleveland (MS), Nashville (TN), and Newark (NJ). If they are half as engaging as this one, they are worth every penny.

THANK YOU to Blue Star Families for including the Grammy Museum in your 2018 Blue Star Museums program and THANK YOU to the Grammy Museum for agreeing to participate!

Kitsch and Class

Thank goodness for the Blue Star Families organization and their collaboration with the National Endowment for the Arts and the Department of Defense. Blue Star Museums, the product of this partnership, offer Servicemembers and their families free admission from Memorial Day to Labor Day. Before I even buy the steaks for the grill that last week in May, I’m searching the website for museums that have, once again, agreed to participate in this incredible opportunity.

As I was telling Neal last night, these programs make it possible for military families all over the country to visit world-class museums. Not every duty station is teeming with free museums, like the Smithsonian Institute in Washington D.C. Not every duty station’s COLA (Cost of Living Adjustment) adequately bridges the gap between what the Servicemember is paid and what it costs to live and thrive in that city, as is the case with Los Angeles. We have become increasingly dependent on Blue Star Museums, the Commissary and the Base Exchange for providing entertainment and necessities at a cost that is consistent with Neal’s pay.

Plus, we find museums that we may have never discovered otherwise.

20180721_151415Like the Velveteria; The Museum of Velvet Paintings in the Chinatown district of L.A.

I would be straight up lying if I said my reasons for wanting to visit this museum were completely honorable. I wasn’t there to discuss the evolution of kitsch art or to debate where velvet painting fits into American art history.  I wanted to see as many Velvet Elvises as possible, even better if one is naked. I wanted to snicker in the back room like a 12-year boy with a stolen copy of Playboy. I wanted to be shocked and wildly amused by the creations of those who live on the artistic fringe. And don’t get me wrong…there was plenty of that to be had.

Not to mention the entire hallway devoted to Elvis, which is ironically (maybe) right next to the restroom…

20180721_145138What’s not to love? What’s not to laugh at? Until you meet the co-owner of the museum, Carl Baldwin, and you inhale a bit of his passion. It’s intoxicating and contagious. He and co-owner, Caren Anderson, relocated the Velveteria from Portland, Oregon to Chinatown in 2013. They have an extensive collection of velvet paintings; over 3000 pieces to date. They proudly display about 400 of them at any given time. And Carl is always on hand to tell you the stories (good, bad and ugly) about each painting.

We met Carl at the entryway of the museum, which is just an unassuming storefront in a Chinatown strip of nail salons, Asian grocers and empty shops. It isn’t in the cleanest area of town. And walking through the door of the museum (which is more like someone arranged 400 pieces of art in a nail salon next door to Office Depot) is overwhelming. Paintings stacked on the floor, overlapping each other on the walls. Don’t touch, I whispered to Blue. But I have to go to the bathroom, whimpered Blue. Carl noticed Blue squirming with his hand on his pants and said Oh you gotta go when nature calls. Right through that curtain, straight back, hang a right and then a left. I took Blue and my phone (just in case). The bathroom did not disappoint.

And it was perfectly clean and well-stocked. This was off to a decent start.

We re-joined Neal at the entrance where Carl was recalling story after story to 2 women who were visiting from out of town. Their genuine interest in each piece kept Carl busy, but Blue was getting antsy so we mentioned we were military and that the museum is listed on this year’s Blue Star Museums registry. That’s when we learned that Carl, a seemingly free-wheeling, possibly VW bus-driving velvet art connoisseur, is the son of a war veteran. He has strong feelings about supporting the military and thanked Neal repeatedly for his service. I thanked him for extending his gratitude to the families. After all, Blue had just finished 6 weeks in a new school and I was still unpacking the garage. Showing appreciation for our sacrifice will win me over every single time.

Then he encouraged us to take pictures and ask as many questions as we wanted. In the meantime, we heard him recounting stories of the many studios who have called to borrow a certain piece for a TV show or movie they were shooting.  He mentioned how he came to own some pieces, their provenance. And he talked about the artists themselves. Carl and Caren’s museum features velvet paintings from every genre and from every period of time.

The velvet painting rendition of The Blue Boy, the non-velvet version hung in my grandparents’ house until they died.

20180721_151010

Michael Jackson, from botox to detox.

20180721_150953

Willie Nelson against a backdrop of incredibly detailed Spaniards and Egyptians.

20180721_150203

And these beautiful pieces by another Veteran. If I wasn’t standing there looking at it, I would never imagine you could get paint such a realistic scene on velvet. What freaking talent.

20180721_151024

But the art isn’t the only thing that draws the eye in this museum. Knick-knacks, tchotchkes and hand-scrawled notes describing pieces adorn the walls and furniture. This is Carl and Caren’s way of curating a museum and it’s absolute charming, if a little mind-numbing. When your eye leaps from this…

20180721_151324to this…

2018-07-21 15.08.42to this…

2018-07-21 15.06.43to this…

2018-07-21 15.04.58

to this…

2018-07-21 15.04.09it’s a little hard to know where to stop.

And then there’s the black-light room.

I would have been disappointed if a velvet painting museum didn’t have a black-light room. This really rounded out the experience. There was also a nude women’s room. And this clever reminder on the restroom door.

20180721_145200

And just so, so, so, so much more. I’m not even sure I can review this museum with the justice and credit it deserves. There are few things in life that must be seen to be believed. This is one of them. After 45 minutes, Blue was over it. He was hungry and, most likely, completely over-stimulated. But if anyone wants to go back, I’m happy to drive. We barely scratched the surface of what Carl knows, what he and Caren own. It is worth checking out during the Blue Star Museums program, but I would also happily hand over my $10 for another walk through.

20180721_150222

If you see Carl, tell him that Army Wife from Kentucky sent ya!

If you go, there is metered street parking on Alpine Street, 2 hour limit. This also 0.3 miles from Olvera Street, in case you hear a churro or taquito calling your name. And check out this little blurb about Velveteria by Atlas Obscura.