Friday Favorites

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

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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.

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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.

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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

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Day One in Disneyland: Part One

The 2nd and 3rd Disney posts are taking me forever to write. That has nothing to do with finding the right words to describe the experience and everything to do with whittling down the 1,973 pictures to what I want to use for my posts. That isn’t an exaggeration. My photo software conveniently counts them for me, in (I feel) a somewhat judgmental and deriding way. Sooner or later it’s going to completely lock up, give me the black screen of death, and I will feel some guilt about my photo hording habit.

This post will recount our experience in Disneyland, from the rides to the food. We spent the third day in California Adventure and that will be a separate post.

All of my research, up until the day we left, told me that Disneyland was going to consume 2 solid days. And even then, because some rides don’t have the FastPass option, we weren’t going to get to it all. And we didn’t. We completely skipped Mickey’s Toontown (an executive decision I made based on the face that Blue is right on the cusp of aging out of their target audience) and Pirates of the Caribbean (something I deeply regret and will remedy when we return at Christmas). There were also several rides that were in and out of commission, based on the Disneyland app, and Matterhorn Bobsleds is being renovated so it was down the entire time we were in the park (not that we were going to ride it anyway…speed + scary = 3 in the bed and the littlest one said Roll over, roll over).

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Birthday buttons on, ready for Day 1! It was overcast but this is southern CA and we knew we would stay as dry as the Sahara. No ponchos needed!

The Monorail

Is there anything more iconic in Disney than the Monorail? Coupled with the teacups and It’s a Small World, there is just no Disney without that holy trinity. By the time we arrived Friday morning (after the “magic hour” – the hour before the park opens officially to the public and only available to guests staying in one of the resort hotels), Downtown Disney was already hopping. We decided to hop on the Monorail to see where it went.

It dropped us at Tomorrowland, which is themed around space and the future. It also happens to be one of the five original “lands” of Disneyland, but the Imagineers of Disney have striven to keep the land relevant with a ride centered around Buzz Lightyear, as well as the new Star Tours. But more on that in a bit.

Autopia

Our first stop was Autopia, a slow, driving ride through the “countryside”. Autotpia is the only existing attraction in Tomorrowland that dates back to Opening Day in 1955. But you would never know that this ride is 63 years old! Sponsored (I assume) by Honda, it features Honda’s Humanoid Robot and Bird, guiding you along the “path”. The old-timey cars at Hersheypark was Blue’s favorite ride last year so we knew this would win him over right from the start. The only rules were: no bumping the car in front of you and keep your seat belt on. Both translate nicely to real life and this was the least stressful drive I’ve taken since we arrived in SoCal.

 

Finding Nemo Submarine Voyage

The next ride was the one attraction that every Disney blogger on Pinterest said was a waste of time. But Blue wanted to go and this was 93% about him, so I acquiesced. Most bloggers said something along the lines of, “It’s a cramped, smelly space where everyone gets a tiny portal to peer into a fabricated underwater world.” Well, it’s Disney…everything is fabricated, but usually to a satisfying degree of detail. I was willing to try it once. The submarine has 4 or 5 narrow steps you must descend/ascend and once inside, it is a bit cramped. If you are severely claustrophobic, this may not the ride for you. Mom is claustrophobic, but in that “don’t-close-me-in-this-cell-at-Alcatraz” kind of way and she was just fine. As we embarked on a “research expedition” to an “active” volcano site, we encountered several characters from Finding Nemo, who were on their own underwater adventure. The entire cruise lasted about 5 minutes and is a welcome break from the thrill rides and lines, which explains why, even though this ride is criticized by Disney bloggers, the wait time can still creep up to 30 minutes or more.

 

Buzz Lightyear Astro Blasters

One of the handful of rides we went on more than once, this slow-moving attraction with its shooting gallery element was a huge hit. Once we figured out what our intended target was (the Zurg insignia: a square with a “Z” inside), it was game on! After we battled the Evil Emperor Zurg and emerged victorious (of course), the next words out of Blue’s mouth was, “Can we do that again?” Fortunately, it has a FastPass option.

 

After our intergalactic battle, it was time to refuel. Eating at Pizza Planet has been on my bucket list since before I knew there was a Pizza Planet to eat at. Throughout the first Toy Story, I was fixated on how much I wanted to eat at Pizza Planet. As it turned out, it was right next door to Buzz’s ride. Unfortunately, they were experiencing (what I would consider) a major flood.

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That lady in the black wasn’t super pumped about me taking this picture. She looked up right as I took it and said, “Do you need some help?” Well, no…but I document everything, so #sorrynotsorry. Here’s the thing, though…this was a significant water event. They had jackhammered part of the sidewalk up and there were sandbags everywhere. However, when we returned the next day, it was as if nothing had ever happened. There has to be a place in federal government for that kind of expedited problem solving.

Because Pizza Planet was temporarily incapacitated, our only real food option was Galactic Grill, just a few steps away. I had categorized Galactic Grill under “foods that we should only eat in an emergency because there is really nothing special about them.” It was 12:15 PM and our last meal was at 6:15 AM. This was a true hangry emergency. I took that list of Disneyland foods we must eat and chucked it in the trash with the burger and fries wrappers. It felt like I was disposing all of the impending disappointment from preconceived notions. I should do that more often.

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We were also just in time to watch the 12:40 performance of the Jedi Training Academy. With 6 training opportunities per day, it’s pretty easy to catch one as you’re passing by and/or get your tiny Jedi registered for one (as long as you do it earlier in the day). This worked out perfectly because Blue likes to know what to expect before diving into something. I have no idea where he gets that…

After lunch, having done just about everything we wanted to do in Tomorrowland on our first day, we began making our way down the street to Fantasyland, another one of the five original “lands”. The official entrance to Fantasyland is through Sleeping Beauty’s Castle, unless you come in the back way like we did. It is home to many of the classic Disney stories that we grew up with, from floating over London in Peter Pan to trying to evade the evil witch in Snow White’s Scary Adventures. And these rides almost always have escalating wait times as the day goes on. We were able to step right on (or wait for 15 minutes or less) for several rides on Friday and then used the FastPass on Saturday for the rest.

It’s a Small World

This attraction was both bigger and more annoying than I remember from my youth. First of all, it would be awesome if the song had at least 6 more verses. Secondly, I understand what they were doing by incorporating some of the Pixar characters into the scenes, but I wanted this ride to be 100% vintage Disney. When Jesse and Woody showed up in the “heartland of America” display, it sucked just a tiny bit of the joy out of it…for me. Blue, on the other hand, was delighted. I see what you’re doing there, Disney. Always pander to the one who is the youngest. But I loved seeing so many nations, cultures, and skin colors represented, all side-by-side and joined in cherubic chorus. It’s a ride full of hope, even if that is also fabricated. Also, could the outside of this experience be any more beautiful? I am looking forward to seeing it decorated for Christmas next month!

And the inside…

Also, the site of the most awkward family selfie we took during the entire trip…

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Storybook Land Canal Boats

Another slow ride through the bedtime stories of our childhoods, the Storybook Land Canal Boats sail right into the mouth of Monstro, the whale, and past the miniature recreations of such classic tales as The Three Little Pigs, Alice in Wonderland, Peter Pan, Pinocchio, and The Little Mermaid. The designers have also included the village of Arendelle from Frozen. To add to the festive Halloween feel, several tiny pumpkins were hidden throughout the ride, ready to be discovered by observant visitors. To get us started, our captain/guide pointed out the first one. If you are the first kid on the boat (I’m assuming around 4′ or taller), you can ride on the bow. I’m a little surprised this isn’t some sort of safety violation, but Blue was thrilled and wasted no time climbing up.

 

Mad Tea Party

I did mention in my last post that none of us were interested in spinning for 90 seconds, but I had to make an exception. How do you come to Disneyland and not do the tea cups? I just couldn’t justify skipping it. Even when Blue was fiercely opposed. I vowed not to use the center wheel to make the cup spin any faster than it was already and by the time he had launched his argument, we were at the front of the line. Mom has a video of this and it’s irrefutable proof that once on, Blue had a blast. I’m keeping it forever and replaying it every time he fights me about trying something new.

 

Random Odds and Ends

As I wrap up this post at around 2000 words (because no one is going to sit and read a post that takes 15 minutes to get through…not even the most ardent Disney guest), here are a few photos from the things and people we stumbled across as we made our way from ride to ride. This is the stuff that you can’t plan for and part of what makes this place so stinkin’ magical. You just never know what (or who) will be around the corner.

 

Please check back for part 2 of Disneyland. And possibly part 3. Hopefully not. But…maybe. It might be a small world, but Disneyland is a huge park.

Mastering the Magic of the Mouse

I meant to write this last night, but then I was wooed into watching Elon Musk launch things into the sky over our house. As SpaceX sent a satellite into orbit and successfully landed the booster back on earth, the 3 of us sat on the balcony mesmerized. And then I took 14,000 pictures on my cell phone and attempted to capture it all on my Canon, without the help of a tripod because it’s still packed in a box somewhere, probably labeled “kitchen towels” by the movers. And then Neal and I got sucked into RBG: The Movie and I fell asleep on the couch about 10 minutes from the end. So, here we are.

The last time I went to Disney World, I was 10 and although I’m sure it was magical, I remember very little of it. I can faintly recall riding the teacups and some mini-coasters. And, of course, all of my memories from that trip play out over a continuous loop of It’s a Small World. I don’t remember Mickey-shaped food or meeting any of the characters. And because it was the age of 35mm film, there just aren’t that many pictures. Most were blurry and got tossed years ago, I assume. And I had never been to Disneyland. When Mom suggested we go for a long weekend and stay in the Disneyland Hotel to celebrate our birthdays, I was hesitant. It was so. much. money. The pressure to plan each moment perfectly weighed heavily on my mind. So, I sat down with a legal pad and pen and went to work.

My first call was to Carrie Garcia, a Travel Consultant for The Magic for Less Travel. I had gotten her name from a friend who frequently works with her to book their hotels for Disney vacations. We spoke for about an hour on the phone about where we wanted to stay, what we wanted to do and what our budget looked like. Since I was in the very beginning stages of planning, my questions were based solely on what I had read so far by Disney bloggers. What is a FastPass? Can we easily get from Disneyland to California Adventure? What are the character dining experiences like? Where else can we eat? How far or close are the hotels to the park? She patiently answered each question and I furiously scribbled notes in the margin of a Lands’ End catalog I found next to the bed. We ended the call with her promise to send quotes for the 3 hotels in the park and the information regarding the character dinings by the end of the day.

I was aware that Disney has been supporting military personnel and their families for years, with discounted park tickets and Shades of Green (the DoD-owned resort on the Disney World property). But I didn’t know to what extent those discounts spread to the Disneyland park hotels. We ultimately decided to go with Disneyland Hotel, with the Paradise Pier Hotel being a little less than what we wanted for these milestone birthdays and the Grand Californian being way more than we would ever spend unless one of us hit the Powerball. A 2 night/3 day stay with a standard view (as opposed to a pool view) was $800 for 3 adults, 1 child. It could have totally been worse. So, thank you, Disney for your unwavering support of military families.

With the hotel booked and the deposit paid, my attention turned to the dining packages that needed to be reserved well in advance. At Disney World you can secure a reservation months beforehand but at Disneyland, the bookings begin 90 days out. And Carrie was on top of it. She emailed me the day before our window opened to remind me of our options. We chose Goofy’s Kitchen (because it was a brunch that would bring us back to our hotel mid-day on our only full day at the park, forcing us to rest and take a dip in the pool before heading back out) and dinner the first night at Cafe Orleans (as opposed to the ever-popular Blue Bayou with its $30/entree prices). Carrie booked both of these meals and then linked the tickets to my Disney account, which I set up on the app on my phone. This was immensely helpful as it meant I didn’t have to keep up with paper tickets all day. I was already keeping up with an autograph book, 2 park maps and every little trinket Blue was picking up along the way. That bag was getting heavy.

Carrie also asked if we were celebrating any special occasions during the trip. Well…as a matter of fact… We decided to lump all 3 of our birthdays into the trip: Mom turning 70, me turning 40 and Blue turning 6. “You will get birthday buttons,” Carrie mentioned. “You should definitely wear them. Sometimes you’ll get free stuff or extra attention from the characters!”

Now the hard part: planning out each day in a way that didn’t absolutely exhaust us but took advantage of as many rides and experiences as possible…without having any idea of the lay of the land for either park. I needed to speak with an expert. Lucky me, I knew two. So, I set up a conference call with my childhood friends, Dan and Lori. They are on the east coast, but declared they would stay up until the wee hours of the morning if it meant they got to talk Disney.

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Some of the stellar advice they gave me included:

  • Which rides have the FastPass option and which ones don’t (like Peter Pan and Pirates of the Caribbean), as well as which rides you need a FastPass for (like Toy Story Mania). This is something you could ultimately figure out from the app, but certainly handy to know in advance.
  • Where is the best place to sit for Soarin’ in California Adventure (and that the staff or “cast” will accommodate you when they are able).
  • What a “magic hour” is and what to do during it.
  • Some of the rides that are less popular but provide a much-needed break from the line-waiting and crowds, like Tom Sawyer’s Island and the Mark Twain riverboat.
  • How and when to sign up for Jedi Training.
  • How to get inside Sleeping Beauty’s castle.
  • What they wish they had done on their last trip to Disneyland.

I coupled those suggestions with a list of food recommendations I had found from a Disneyland Annual Passholder blogger and then I sat down to figure out what it all meant. I think we want to eat at Hungry Bear, but probably not Bengal BBQ. Definitely pick up something sweet from the Jolly Holiday Bakery, but hard pass on The Golden Horseshoe. None of this meant anything to me, but I wrote it all down anyway. Now to figure out the rides.

There are people in this world who will get on a ride at Disney and video the entire thing, from start to finish. Then they post it on Youtube for everyone to see. I watched those cell phone videos, for every ride in both parks. Although I cut some of them short. No one in our group wanted to spin around in circles (especially the 40+ crowd) so that instantly eliminated about 20% of the rides. The Matterhorn Bobsled was out based purely on how horrifying the Abominable Snowman was when he sprang out of dark corners and loomed larger than life. And anything that had the word, “coaster”, specifically the Incredicoaster, was out. So, that left almost 2 dozen rides where guests are immersed in the reality of the story, from soaring over London in Peter Pan, to deep-sea diving with The Little Mermaid, to sling-shotting through an action-packed (and bumpy, thanks to hydraulics-enabled cars) adventure with Indiana Jones. I made a note of the ones that wouldn’t permanently terrify Blue and then set it all to the side…for almost a month.

As the trip inched closer, I decided to look through my notes again. How would this all come together to create a complete itinerary? As much as I leafed through the pages and poured over blog posts written by Disney aficionados, it was still just bits and pieces of information floating freely in my head. This had never happened to me before. I had planned dozens of trips for our family and even some for other people, why couldn’t I hammer this down into a solid schedule? You are probably asking yourself right about now why I didn’t contact our Disney Travel Consultant? One simple reason: pride. She would have, without a doubt, helped me sort and schedule all we wanted to do. But I had never needed assistance before, I wasn’t about to start now. Also, I stumbled upon a blog post titled “Five Ways I Almost Ruined Our Disneyland Vacation”. The last bullet point? I Over-planned the Trip. And with that, any chance that I may have called Carrie, panicked and begging for advice, disappeared. I was prepared and the rest would just have to take care of itself. What would be, would be.

I was up at 6:15 AM on our first day at Disney. I still hadn’t packed bags for me or Blue. The cat needed medicine and her litter box cleaned out. Neal packed the cooler and Mom tried to keep Blue moving in a forward direction. With a 45-minute drive to Anaheim during Friday morning traffic, we weren’t going to make it to magic hour. It wasn’t how I wanted to start the vacation, but as we barreled down the I-5, I had to remind myself that we would make the best choices based on what I had learned in the past 3 months, how much time we had in the day and what our energy levels were. I had come to accept the fact that we weren’t going to get around to doing it all. We would even miss some of the “highlights” that other bloggers raved about. But what we did do would be perfect because we would be doing it together.

If you are interested in speaking with or booking a Disney vacation with Carrie Garcia, you can email her at carrie@themagicforless.com. She is a wealth of knowledge about all things Disney and I would strongly encourage you to allow her to help you more than I did. Also, I got no compensation for writing this post or sharing the love. It’s just what I do.

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.

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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.

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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!

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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.

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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?

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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.

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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.

Where Art Intersects With Life: Our Customized Narrative Illustration (a Review)

Last Christmas we received the most unique Christmas card from my friend, Brooke.

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I stared at it for a long time, trying to absorb the combination of details, all of which embody Brooke and her family; her husband’s tattoos, Brooke’s appreciation for a nice glass of red and the color purple, their three furbabies with three very distinct personalities. “I took thorough pictures of my husband’s tattoos and the house is perfect, right down to the metal art between the windows,” Brooke mentioned. “And Clover barks at the TV. I think that’s the big detail that made me cry when I saw it. Like YES! That’s my family!

Then I had a thought. I must have one of these. It was the perfect 50th birthday gift for the man who now owns a Big Green Egg and all the accessories, a complete beer-making kit and a subscription to Audible.

I texted Brooke immediately and she put me in touch with the artist, Jarrett Rutland, a Maryland Institute College of Art graduate and Asheville, North Carolina resident who illustrated the children’s book Alligator Wedding

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before writing and illustrating 2 children’s books of his own: I Love You No Matter What: A Prince Chirpio Story 

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and Chilly da Vinci (due out December 4th, but you can pre-order here).

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Jarrett is also the creator behind Escapist Comix (or click here for non-Facebook folks), home of the Robot Samurai Penguins comic book series. And now he is creating customized narrative illustrations for families worldwide.

I had no idea what to expect regarding Jarrett’s process, but Brooke mentioned that he communicates mostly through text messaging and he may friend request me on Facebook so he can develop a sense of our personalities and interests. I readily agreed to the first, I had to think for a minute about the second. Admittedly, my Facebook friend group isn’t exactly restricted to the inner circle, but I had reservations about granting access to a complete stranger. Isn’t that how Dateline starts? It also gave me pause to think that someone could learn more about me through my Facebook page than from my answers on a questionnaire. But for about 90% of us, this is our truth. We live online and if you are hiring an artist to draw an accurate impression of your family, something that exceeds caricature, you should let him in.

My first text conversation with Jarrett discussed, naturally, his prices. After all, it is a custom piece of artwork by a published artist. How much was this going to set me back? Jarrett charges $260 for a 10″x12.5″ piece and $290 for an 11″x15″ piece. As anyone with a Business 101 class under their belt will tell you, charge just slightly more for the bigger product and people will almost always veer in that direction. I was already spending $250+…what’s another $30? Also, that was still within my This is a big birthday budget. And as I type this post, when I glance at our artwork hanging on the wall, I can’t imagine it being anything but what it is, which is perfect.

But I’m getting ahead of myself.

After I sent a deposit to Jarrett through PayPal (which officially placed our order in his queue), he emailed me a questionnaire. It included fairly basic questions like Describe the members of your family and What are some of your interests? Initially, I was going to surprise Neal with this gift so I was going to answer all of the questions on my own. But as I thought about it hanging in our house, I decided we should do this together. So, one night after Blue went to bed, we sat down with a bottle of wine and a pen and answered each question with excessive (bordering on obnoxious) detail. I wanted to cover all of our bases. Brown paper packages tied up with string, these are a few of our favorite things…

Seriously, it was at least 2 paragraphs for each answer. But I write a blog and no one has ever accused me of being shy, humble, or brief.

And then I sent a ton of pictures; 20, to be exact. Pictures of our RV and my hair and Blue’s bike and Neal’s uniform (with close-up pictures of his patches). I sent pictures of my favorite Birkenstock sandals and the Little Free Library Neal built in Leavenworth and my favorite UK hoodie. Jarrett asked for clearer pictures of Blue’s Cub Scout hat, which I had to go looking for because it had fallen behind the bookshelf after the last den meeting. And then I asked him to please include our angel baby, but not in an obvious way because I was still not ready to answer a 5 year-old’s questions about the son that came before him. I mentioned that Mom and I both have blue butterfly tattoos to symbolize Shepherd’s life and that he could use that somewhere in his narrative.

And then I waited.

One morning I got a text. “What do you think?”

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I didn’t answer right away. I sat down for a minute and just took it all in. It wasn’t at all what I was expecting. It was so much better. There we were, perched atop Delicate Arch at Arches National Park, where we had dragged Blue on a 5 AM hike up a rock face so we could see this icon before the Moab heat overwhelmed us. The Big Green Egg was smoking meat below and Blue was feeding the wildife. A beer, a bourbon and our precious butterfly. It was almost perfect.

“I LOVE IT! But, um, can you add our cats? Lulu is the Tortoise Siamese and Poppy is our angel kitty,” I asked Jarrett. He answered immediately. “Of course!” I understood how important it is to be happy with the first draft. Everything builds from this and it is sometimes impossible to make changes after the ink is on. I needed to be sure this is what I wanted. Jarrett sent a second proof with both kitties depicted and I was sure…now it was perfect. Time to paint!

Photos courtesy of Break the Mold Photo

I waited and Jarrett worked.

I had to do a lot of things to distract me because the anticipation was almost too much. I didn’t get any of these updates until after the piece was completed and I mentioned to Jarrett that I would like to write a review for my blog. So, in the meantime, I knitted a triangular washcloth and watched old Mr. Rogers episodes on YouTube with Blue.

Then one morning I got a text. “What do you think?”

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Yes. Yes. Holy crap how did you do that? YES!
Although…could you add a little more brown to Lulu’s fur…and maybe give my pants a hem? I felt it was risky to even question, considering the paint was already dry, but you never know until you ask. The worst he could say was no, I’m sorry and I was OK with that, too.

Jarrett managed to adjust the hem and he added a little mottling to Lulu’s fur. He even added some stars and connected them, forming constellations out of all our previous duty stations. I actually cried.

People may see this piece hanging above our couch and think it’s a fun depiction of our family; a unique piece of art that illustrates our appetite for smoked meat, Blue’s obsession with animals and my love of reading, but the more subtle details are precisely what make it so special. There is an inside joke (about the squirrel), a big brother keeping watch over baby brother, and dawn breaking behind us, which is exactly how it looked when we rounded the final turn to Delicate Arch. And who could know when we received the completed piece that Blue would be catching lizards in Southern California just 6 months later? This duty station wasn’t even on our radar at that time. He has yet to try to feed one baked goods. I think it just hasn’t occurred to him.

34016690_10216386411948545_5999496179191119872_nOf all the things in our house that spark joy, this is at the top. It is our family: a family of 4 with 2 furbabies.

Here is the genius behind Jarrett’s talent: this could have easily become a painting that featured us in the middle, surrounded by all of our favorite things. And I sent him a lengthy list of our favorite things. He didn’t include all of them. He used about 1/3 of what I sent him, but he chose the perfect 1/3. I couldn’t narrow it down, but he could. He didn’t include my camera or the RV or our bikes or the map of all the places where we’ve been. I was picturing a campground scene with us huddled around a fire roasting s’mores, while the lights of the RV glowed from a distance. Obviously, this is nothing like what I imagined. But depicting us lounging on top of Delicate Arch lends a magical quality to the entire piece. We would never realistically sit in this particular spot, but it certainly represents how relaxed we feel in nature, especially in our national parks, and how accomplished we felt after conquering this hike with a 3 year old at 5 AM. It isn’t a collage of interests, it’s a snapshot of this moment in time. Neal won’t always be in the Army, Blue won’t always be fascinated by lizards and someday Lulu will cross the rainbow bridge, but right now, this is our life together. It was intended for Neal, but it ended up being a gift to all of us.

Since completing our narrative illustration, Jarrett has finished dozens more, most of which can be seen on his Facebook page under the Customs Album. These are just a few of my favorites from his recent work:

This last one…that sky. Don’t you just want to pull up a chair and watch the sunset?

Many thanks to Jarrett for capturing the absolute essence of Team Miller. If you would like your own customized narrative illustration, mention this blog post when you book and get 10% off your order! 

You can email Jarrett at jarrettrutland@gmail.com or message him on his Facebook page. If you are interested in checking out exclusive, behind-the-scenes footage of Jarrett’s work, you can subscribe to his Patreon page here

 

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.

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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.

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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.

This Little Light of Mine

I, like probably many of you, watched an unhealthy amount of Hurricane Florence coverage this past weekend. I laughed at the Facebook video of the news correspondent fighting to stand in hurricane-force winds while teens strolled effortlessly past in the background. I shared the Facebook photo of Florence’s striking resemblance to a penis preparing to penetrate the Carolinas. I giggled at “Aunt Flo coming to town” and the onslaught of period-related comments that followed.

But what is happening to cities like Swansboro and Wilmington is not funny. In fact, it has turned life-threatening and the rest of us can only watch through a screen, helpless and anxious. We have prayed for them. We have asked our friends to mark themselves safe on social media. And all over the country, husbands and wives are seeing their spouses rush into danger as they answer the call: Active Duty and Guard/Reserves Servicemembers, utility workers, and a slew of first responders. While residents are fighting to get out, they are scrambling to get in.

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via DVIDS
My mind goes back to the residents of Houston and their run-in with Hurricane Harvey at the end of August last year. Harvey would have just been another hurricane, another Ike or Camille or Andrew. Not quite a Katrina. But something that happened to someone else, somewhere else. There would be devastation and barefooted babies on TV. Crying mamas, dazed daddies…all caught on camera and ready for the 5 o’clock news cycle. But Harvey was different because I knew someone in Houston. Not only did I know her, she is the friend I’ve known the longest. We shared a crib in the nursery at church. Monica and I shared almost everything until middle school, when we realized we didn’t share musical tastes and we wouldn’t share boys. She was safe after Harvey, but she had a front row seat to thousands of lives ruined by water.

And then Monica met Penny.

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I wrote about Penny here last November. At that time, she was a full-time volunteer, working day in and day out to help residents of a northwestern suburb of Houston restore their homes. Every morning she rounded up the workers and assigned jobs before moving on to her tasks for the day, which usually meant moving from house to house, doing whatever was needed. She cried with the neighbors, puked from the stench, ripped up carpet, tried to salvage as much as possible, and hauled out the rest. After the houses were gutted and sprayed to kill any lingering mold and bacteria, she coordinated the delivery of donated supplies. And then she learned how to install dry wall. Penny delegated plenty, but she rolled up her sleeves and put on her boots plenty, too. She wrote often hysterical, sometimes heart-wrenching, Facebook posts about what they had accomplished that day. I read them all, even when reading to the end took more time than I had at a stoplight. I started checking Penny’s Facebook page at bedtime, when I could read her posts uninterrupted. After all, she had taken the time to write it, the least I could do was take the time to read it. But I started having terrible dreams…of drowning in rotting drywall and mountains of moldy clothes. So, I started reading her posts over coffee every morning.

And then one day I stopped. It wasn’t intentional. I just forgot. But I forgot the next day, too. And the next, and the next, and the next. And then Monica posted something on the Facebook group we founded together, Fund the Helpers. And that reminded me to read Penny’s posts again. Until we moved across the country and in the chaos of all that, I forgot again.

But isn’t that the way it goes? Our country’s long-term memory has short-circuited. Trained by the media to only pay attention to something as long as it’s getting air time, we forget about yesterday’s crisis as soon as it is replaced by today’s top story. Maybe I focused on Harvey for a lot longer than many other people living outside of Houston, but the end result was the same. There came a day when I forgot.

But Penny never did. She just kept showing up and asking what was next. The camera crews were gone, the volunteers (when they came) trickled in by car loads instead of the initial rush that came by buses. She didn’t keep going because someone promised her fame or even recognition. She kept going because she told the residents of Bear Creek that she would.

And then one year later, Southern Living did a story about Operation Penny, “the Texas woman who is making recovery her mission”. And Penny got the national recognition that she deserved but never once asked for. So now Penny is a little bit famous, but that hasn’t changed things. She keeps showing up at Bear Creek because even though they weren’t her neighbors before, they are now and she will never forget.

I hope there’s a Penny in Wilmington and Swansboro and Onslow County. I hope neighbors become friends and those friends become family. Because tragedy can strike any one of us at any time and the best we can do is remember that no one is an island. God gave us one another because He lives in each of us. When we help one another, when we allow others to help us, we are experiencing the best version of ourselves. That’s when our light shines. I always thought, “Hide it under a bushel? No! I’m gonna let it shine,” meant I had to memorize scripture, highlight my Bible, keep it at the ready for anyone who showed doubt about Jesus. I had a lot of apprehension about that, which is probably why I never moved to Africa to take up missionary work. What I’ve come to realize is sometimes my light shines the brightest when I’m cooking a meal for a new mom or watching a friend’s kids while she goes to a doctor’s appointment. And by allowing others to help me in times of crisis, I’m allowing their light to shine. I’m letting them do for me as Christ intended them to. Yes, Mr. Rogers called us “helpers” but we are also called “Christians”. May there be plenty as residents return home in the following weeks. May we all find one thing that lets our light shine on those who need it most. May we allow others to illuminate us, especially during our darkest hours.

And if you have a few minutes, watch the video Southern Living did about Penny and her helpers. It gives insight into and appreciation for what the survivors of Hurricane Florence will come home to after the waters recede.

What Comes After

September 12th

The first day of “after”…a dividing line for our country. A stark and pressing division in the first 5 years, fading to shades of gray as those who remember begin to forget. Not that we mean to. Many Americans in their teens and twenties in 2001 have kids now – maybe 2 or 3 or 4. They are young and busy. Life is chaotic. Americans in their 30’s and 40’s have aging and dying parents now. Life is chaotic. Americans in their 50’s, 60’s and 70’s are aging themselves. Some have passed, some are clinging to life, to any memories that flicker before fading. Life is chaotic.

But there are the ones who won’t forget…who can’t forget. Firefighters and police officers. First responders and ER nurses. New Yorkers, Pennsylvanians, the entire population of D.C. Everyone who knew a person in a tower, in the Pentagon, on an airplane. And the military. Some families experienced great loss. Some welcomed new life. I can’t speak to what it’s like to lose someone in the tower or on a plane, but I can tell you that many military families are intimately connected to what happened on that September day, when the sun shone in an azure sky and smoke and tragedy filled cities and fields. There is at least the possibility that I wouldn’t have met Neal had 9/11 never happened. Without 9/11, there is no war. Without a war, there is no deployment. Without a deployment, there is no introduction, no emails, no R&R to England. No marriage. He is the best thing to happen to me, but I am reminded every year that unspeakable grief and a vow to avenge paved the way for us to meet. Even Blue, born almost 9 months to the day after a homecoming, is a result of 9/11. And I can’t imagine that I am the only military wife to feel this way. We will never be thankful for what happened, but sometimes it’s hard to embrace the fact that some good came from such pain.

On Monday, the L.A. school system took the day off so that Jewish teachers and staff could celebrate Rosh Hashanah. I think that’s fair, considering we will take another 3 weeks off in December to celebrate Christmas and New Year’s. However, when the kids returned yesterday, September 11, there was no mention of why the date was important, those we must stop to remember. No circle time chats or patriotic crafts. Blue’s school in Pennsylvania, which is overwhelmingly civilian, shared photos of their painted flags on Facebook. His school here, which is overwhelmingly military, proceeded with the day as usual. I understand not wanting to slog through the gory details of 9/11, but many of those kids already know a lot. They’ve seen a father or a mother (or both) put on the uniform and board a plane. They’ve seen photos of sand storms and camels and Arabic writings on Pepsi cans. They’ve Skyped after a basketball game, sat next to an empty seat at the dining table for a year, and cried a river of tears at the end of a missed birthday. They know about 9/11 and ignoring the significance of the day has a way of dismissing those children’s sacrifices.

I sort of knew the school wasn’t going to acknowledge it. We get a lot of correspondence from them…about t-shirt sales and PFO events and box tops. We know what the rules are about attendance and how to properly drop off and pick up our kids each day. They didn’t say a word about yesterday. And of the kids I asked in the neighborhood, who span from first grade up to fifth, they all said the same thing, “no one talked about it.” So, I went to Target and bought a piece of white poster board and some Crayola paint. And after school, I asked a few of the neighborhood moms to send their kids to our house for a patriotic craft. A gift from the kids on our side of the street to the fire fighters on the other side of the street. Just a reminder that one set of folks affected by 9/11 remembers and honors another set.

I invited the neighborhood kids into my garage and they came for the art project, but stayed to play hide-and-seek in the house, work out on my elliptical, throw a ball in our front yard, and ride scooters on the sidewalk. These kids who arrived “after” 9/11, who are the beautiful result of grueling deployments or the constant threat of deployments, gave me their hands and showed me their hearts. They came eager to participate and that is how we raise our kids in the military…with a spirit of gratitude for others’ sacrifices.

I was annoyed at the L.A. school district for most of the day. But what I finally realized is they don’t get the final say. For whatever reason, they made a united call to ignore the symbolism of a day that changed many (if not all) of our lives forever…and that’s OK. For most of us, they are just a blip in our child’s education. This school will get two, maybe 3, years of their lives and then we move on. They are not the constant, we are. We will be the ones to remember every year and make sure our children do the same.

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Photo Credit: Jamie Kwiat; taken 9/11/2018

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).

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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?

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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).

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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:

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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?

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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…

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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)…

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

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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!