Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Parades, Pageants and Pies

My mom, sister and I at the Ethel Harvest Jubilee in tiny Ethel, Missouri.

Choosing the cutest, most vibrant baby during a beauty pageant is a nearly impossible task. I should know. Not only have I been sucked in to watching multiple episodes of Toddlers & Tiaras, my mom, sister and I judged the Parade Floats, the Ethel Harvest Jubilee Queen Contest, and the beautiful babies during the 52nd annual Ethel Harvest Jubilee this past weekend.

Ethel is charming, and you should see the surrounding countryside!

 Ethel is a picturesque Missouri town of 62 residents (according to the last census). The place is gorgeous, and the townsfolk are friendly and welcoming. Because Ethel is too small to have a football team, the Jubilee is kind of like a fair and Homecoming combined. The townsfolk were kind to us even after we judged three of their finest young women during the Jubilee Queen contest on Friday night. The town may not have been so forgiving if we had judged their babies first. 

Brandi kicks off the 52nd annual Ethel Harvest Jubilee.

Some of our favorite entries in the Parade.

 Accessible only by back roads and winding state highways, Ethel is not the kind of place most people visit. We ended up there only because the Jubilee’s emcee was my sister’s good friend and co-worker Brandi. Brandi hails from Ethel, and she wanted to get some unbiased minds involved in the Queen contest. We decided judging a beauty pageant was just one more unique and unexpected bonding experience for the three of us. It turns out, we were slated to judge the Jubilee Parade floats and the baby pageant, as well.

Going over the judging guidelines with Brandi and Bill.

Where the interviews took place. I'm glad I wasn't in the hot seat!
Never in my life did I imagine I would judge a beauty contest. Yes, I watched my share of Miss America pageants as a kid, hoping I would someday grow up to be as well-spoken, talented and beautiful as the contestants were. However, pageants have never been part of my life, and judging one has never been on my bucket list. I found the experience to be surprisingly rewarding. It was wonderful to spend a little time getting to know the girls. We put each on the hot seat and asked them as many questions as they could answer in four minutes. Believe me, four minutes can be a VERY LONG TIME. I found that when spending time with the three highly talented Queen candidates, I (obviously) focused more on their words and goals than I did on their looks or dresses. I was influenced by how poised and confident they seemed in front of the crowd and before us, their judges, though. Basically, the girls were all bright, talented and lovely, so the smallest details made a difference in how we appraised the overall character of each. 

The band played oldies, and inflatables were provided for the kids.
We visited the Food Tent for homemade frito and fruit pies and biscuits and gravy.
The Jubilee Queen coronation occurred Friday night. My mom, sister and I held places of honor during the parade, were introduced before a live audience, interviewed the contestants, devoured frito and fruit pies, and met a lot of good people. After our duties were finished, we stayed in a 4-star hotel run by the nicest hosts you could imagine. When I say 4-star, I mean the well-decorated and thick-toweled home of Kim and Kevin, longtime friends of Brandi’s family. We were supposed to stay at a well-known local hunting lodge, but, apparently, the whole place had been rented out by a film crew. I guess outsiders do know about Ethel. We were really grateful to Kim and Kevin, as they opened up their home without having had much time to prepare for visitors. 
When we got to the Jubilee grounds in the morning, we were treated to biscuits and gravy and Cokes. After taking in some sustenance, we were ready to judge the babies. The babies were divided into several age categories, and each was more difficult to judge than the last. Babies are adorable and just shouldn’t be pitted against each other. Everyone placed from 1st to 3rd, which you would think would make everyone feel good. It was horrible to see the faces of the mothers whose children received 3rd place, though. They would look morosely at their children as if wondering why we judges didn’t see their babies as the most special and darling in the world. And they all were. That was what made our positions as judges so incredibly difficult!

All in all, I had fun, but I don’t think I’ll quit my day job to become a full-time pageant judge. It’s just too much pressure!

With good ol' Missouri soil beneath my feet.
Also, while I hardly ever leave Missouri and haven’t ever left the continent, I find myself having the most interesting experiences despite these geographical limitations. I hope to be a world traveler someday (sooner rather than later), but I think, in many ways, you really can experience the riches of the world in your own backyard.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Analogia - Joni Mitchell : The Mamas and the Papas

The other night while I was organizing my closet (The people who know me well are recovering from a faint right now.), I listened to The Greatest Hits of The Mamas and the Papas following Joni Mitchell’s Ladies of the Canyon. I noticed both Joni Mitchell and The Mamas and the Papas were inspired by Laurel Canyon, Los Angeles, a location important to pop musicians during the 1960s. I only knew of the status of Laurel Canyon because I recently watched a biography about Joni Mitchell which mentioned it. I realized The Mamas and the Papas'  song “Twelve Thirty (Young Girls Are Coming to the Canyon)” must be referring to the same canyon as Joni Mitchell’s song “Ladies of the Canyon.” After doing a little research, I found this was, in fact, the case.  I also thought it interesting that both Joni Mitchell and The Mamas and the Papas expressed their longing for California through songs.

 While I love listening to music, and often think about the musical traditions passed from generation to generation and how music evolves over time, I don’t often consider the bilateral relationships - the musicians who knew and inspired each other, the artists who faced similar pressures and cultural experiences, the people who overlapped. However, I always appreciate coming by these little unexpected moments of understanding and clarity.

Here are the four songs that sparked the realization that The Mamas and the Papas and Joni Mitchell shared time and space:

Laurel Canyon

"Ladies of the Canyon"

"Twelve Thirty (Young Girls Are Coming to the Canyon)"

"California Dreamin'"

It's Not Summer

Watching the Royals play. Don't you just love the kid in the background?

Me with winged hair and vintage tee. Kate with hat and special edition tee.

...Until you’ve counted fireflies and attended a baseball game. I got my firefly fix much earlier in the summer, but my friend Kate took me to my first ballgame of the season on a recent balmy Friday Night. The Kansas City Royals played The Detroit Tigers, and, for me, it was a win-win combination. I am a Kansas Citian, but I went to grad school in Detroit. Thus, both Cowtown and The Motor City feel like home to me. I was going to be okay no matter which team won.

The Tigers took an early lead, but the Royals caught up in time for a 10th inning. Rookie Johnny Giavotella spiced up the game when he made his first Major League hit and then later stole third. Despite the excitement late in the game, the Tigers finally bested the Royals 4-3.

My favorite moments of the evening included sharing girl talk and inside jokes (outside) with Kate, people-watching, eavesdropping on nearby conversations, checking out the players’ booties, and, yeah, watching some baseball!

What is your favorite baseball team? What activities make your summer?

Alison :)

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Wreathed in Flowers

What I made this week from paper flowers and a vine wreath.

 Very few things are as satisfying as finishing a handmade project. Because I am fast in thinking but slow in completing, so often on the go, or simply prefer to spend my time reading, I like to pepper my creative life with projects I can finish easily in one sitting. I bought a paper flower-making kit a couple years ago from the wedding section at Wal-Mart. I sat in front of the tv night after night folding flowers (Did I really want to make flowers, or did I just like having an excuse to watch hour and hours of The Ghost Whisperer and Criminal Minds? You decide.). The flowers turned out lovely, and the process was more forgiving than you might expect (no such luck with origami, as my friend Kate and I discovered the other night). I dropped the finished flowers in a vase, and there they’ve been since completion. 

I love these flowers in soft pastels, but brights would look fab, too.

A few days ago I decided I was tired of my vase full of flowers,  and I couldn’t bear to have them on my coffee table for one more minute. However, I had put so much effort into making the flowers, I didn’t want to trash them completely. Instead, I wrapped their stems around a vine wreath I already had. I had just enough flowers to cover the face of the wreath, while sweetly overlapping one another. 

Paper flowers have so much depth. They're great for layering.

It took minutes to transform my vase full of flowers into a pretty wreath. If you want to make your own, you can buy paper or silk flowers pre-made, craft your own paper flowers as I did (although that will extend the length of the project), and wrap the stems around a Dollar Store wreathe. Super easy. Super sweet. Pretty cheap. You could make enough flowers to completely cover your wreathe from front to back if you’d prefer. I don’t mind the “raw” edges on mine. I think wreaths such as this would make beautiful wedding or party decorations, and you can be sure I’m filing the idea away for later.

Have you made any quick and easy projects lately? I’d love some new ideas, if you’d like to share! What tricks do you use to keep yourself motivated to finish longer/larger projects?

Alison :)

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Suzie's Cafe, a Small Town Delight

The exceptional Suzie's, Platte City's new restaurant/coffee shop.

I know Platte City, MO, is not a destination spot for most of you, but it’s my hometown. My parents live there, and I spend a pretty significant amount of time with them. If you should happen to be traveling on I-29, just north of Kansas City International Airport, anytime between breakfast and lunch, I suggest you make a leisurely pit stop in this small town. When you head off the highway, bypass the McDonald’s, the QuickTrip and the Sonic. Instead, head for Suzie’s Cafe.

My mom and sister treated me to a lunch at Platte City’s new restaurant/coffee shop on Saturday to celebrate my new job. The space was clean and airy, but the best part was the food. Everything is made fresh daily. We all ordered egg salad salad, which was prepared only after we paid for our meal. The accompanying fruit and vegetables were sliced while we waited. The dessert bread we enjoyed is baked fresh each morning. The results of that personalized labor were fresh, delicious and well-presented. Not only that, but Suzie’s tends to use local ingredients, such as coffee from The Roasterie and natural, no additive meats from a nearby supplier.

I don’t know exactly what was in the egg salad, but it had a rich smoky flavor. Is it possible to be an egg salad addict, because after trying theirs I think I am!? An acquaintance who happened to be in the restaurant at the same time vouched for their barbecue, as well. I love to try out little unassuming restaurants, and I am so glad we went to Suzie’s. The food and service were perfect! I will definitely be back for more!  

Check out Suzie’s Cafe at, or find them on Facebook. They also cater events. Their address is 1302 Platte Falls Rd., Suite A, Platte City, MO 64079. Reach them by phone at 816-858-6050.

What are your favorite small town surprises and delights? Are there any small town restaurants packing a culinary punch I should know about?

Alison :)

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Pinterest Interest??

Hi, Lovely People,

My sister forced me to join Pinterest. She said it was such an awesome site, and I needed to be a member so I could benefit from collective inspiration. Since she twisted my arm multiple times, I finally joined up. To start with, I set up the following pinboards:

Repetition - If you know my artwork or the types of things I’m drawn to, this subject will come as no surprise whatsoever.

Little Houses - From dollhouses to doghouses, I’m into little houses.


Good Reads - I LOVE to read, so expect to see my list grow exponentially.

Anomalies - Another subject I often delve into through my art.

I’ll admit it - my sister wasn’t lying. Pinterest is an awesome place where I can curate a collection of inspirational images, ideas or words. I’ve become an addict in less than 24 hours, with no signs of stopping! Phew!! 

The only problem is that it can be a headache to seek out the original poster when re-posting images. When I have a chance, I will try to hunt down credit information. If you know anything about these images, let me know. I prefer to give image credits when possible.

Are you a member of Pinterest? Find me, or let me know how to find you, so we can follow each other! I would love to know what images inspire you.

Alison :)

A Glamping We Will Go

Based on my little hiatus, you can tell I’ve been living my summer (I can’t quite say I've been enjoying it, at least not completely). However, during any time of  tremendous upheaval, there are bound to be wonderful, never-would-have-missed-it-for-anything moments. And I do not regret this summer.

* * *

Recently, my friend Chalanna invited several of us ladies to go glamping with her. You know, we camped out in her living room, sipped on mojitos or juice, fought a losing battle against hotdogs and s’mores casserole, played girlie games, listened to music, and created blackout poetry. It was delightful!

Chalanna handed out romance novels for two really fun games you could play with any book you don’t mind destroying. I think cheesy thrillers would work just as well. First of all, based on the description on the back of each book (which we had to read aloud in our campiest reading aloud voices), we were instructed to write the likely first lines to that book. It was a great exercise in creative thinking, and some of the first lines we came up with were hysterical.

After we finished rewriting the opening paragraphs, we made blackout poetry from pages in our books. My book by Kelly Hunter was called The Maverick’s Greek Island Mistress. Naughty, no?

Here’s my poetry (I took some liberties with the spacing and punctuation, and I just kind of went by feel. "Poetry" may be an exaggeration; I'm not calling it good.) : 

hands beneath feet
bringing into closer contact
long, deep, delicious
carried all the way to sensory delights
no denying it

form: a canvas glorious
you only brought your urge

lean, sculpted muscle
sheer perfection
its path a reminder smoothed over
satisfaction murmured
the vision splendid to remember

I just love blackout poetry. You start with a certain set of words in a particular order. Within those constraints, you have the freedom to mark out works, thereby creating new phrases, and with them, new meanings. We spent only a few minutes on our poems, but you could potentially spend a lot of creative energy on them. I would probably be long entertained by creating variation after variation from the same text. That could be an interesting, and quite possibly self-indulgent, exercise. But what text to start from?

Have you ever made blackout poetry? What kind of poetry are you drawn to read or write? Who are your favorite poets? Have you ever been glamping? What kind of activities do you recommend?

Alison :)