Kemper Outdoor Adventure

One hot afternoon at the end of June, we found ourselves set off for another adventure to fulfill out Kansas City Passport to Adventure book.  This time we stepped into the scenic landscape near Lake Jocomo in Blue Springs, Missouri at the Kemper Outdoor Education Center.  It was clear they had amazing day camps where kids were canoeing on a pond andkemper-outdoor friendly camp counselors aimed us on path to hike.  The path took us over a marshy area with a long wooden boardwalk and lead to prairie and forest areas.  With the heat and hungry irritability, we decided we had seen enough and retreated to the cabin to collect our passport stamp.  Inside the kids not only got a stamp, they got to select a small nature figurine.  Parker got a turtle while Jones picked up a plastic ant to take home and fool Mom when she walked in the door.

We were also instructed to not miss the hoofed animal enclosure just a short ride around the lake.  There Jones fed an antelope through the fence with some other patrons who brought carrots.  Since Parker’s mood reflected the heat of the day, I required her to ride with her eyes closed home from Kemper (in hopes she would nod off and get some much-needed rest.)  Jones softly sang a lullaby about stop lights to the tune of “Twinkle Twinkle” to her the whole way home.

Kemper Outdoor and the hoofed enclosure were two unique finds for outdoor fun in Kansas City.  I would take advantage of participating in the activities they offer, enjoying another hike or returning to check on the antelope up close – this time I will know to bring some carrots.kemper-outdoor3

Gorman Passport Adventure

Our next trip for the Kansas City’s Passport to Adventure was to the Anita B. Gorman Discovery Center.  I was most surprised and slightly embarrassed to find this little eight acre gem nestled into the city near the Country Club Plaza.  There is no telling how many17anitabgordonILKC times I’ve driven right by it and never paid attention.  This discovery center has both indoor and outdoor adventures to explore.  Inside there were classrooms (I imagine were for scout meetings, field trips and summer camps) filled with nature experimentation and live animals.  On a separate wing of the building we could hear the high energy fun of a group of day campers.  A gift shop and information counter are to the right at the entrance for anyone looking for information on wildlife, plants and conservation.  The person at the information desk was excited to greet the kids and patiently answered their four and five year old questions, she also offered each kid an animal temporary tattoo.  The building had a formal presentation area facing a wall of windows where my two adventurers found entertainment in performing dances and songs to an audience of one after our hike outdoors.  The building also is an example for sustainable features like geothermal and water waste systems.   18anitabgordonILKC

The eight acres outside provides nature trails lines with native plants to demonstrate how beautiful nature can be in an urban setting.  The kids enjoyed picking the paths and alternating between the wood chip trails through the foliage and the paved walkway.  We hopped over a creek, watched water bugs on the ponds, identified details on flowers and plants, and climbed logs in the outdoor classroom.  Now that I am aware of the Anita B. Gorman Discovery Center, I look forward to checking out more events there.  Next month alone they will have several story times, a presentation on Missouri Bats and Monarch Mania.19anitabgordonILKC

Following our outing to the Discovery Center, we cooled off at Loose Park’s splash pad.  One thing I love about Kansas City is the many free splash park areas were kids, and parents alike, can go to play during the summer time.  We made a quick wardrobe change in the car, brought in our water bottles and some water toys and smiled through the rest of the afternoon.

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KC Passport Stamp #2

Our second stop with the Kansas City Passport to Adventure took us to the Beanstalk Children’s Garden.  It is a small community garden we have passed nearby dozens of times, with it’s close proximity to the Kansas City Zoo, though we never knew it existed.  Thankfully our Passport to Adventure book brought us in search of the welcoming plot filled with raised gardens, cheery volunteers and a small water feature.  We were encouraged to explore the plants and invited to pick ripe raspberries to eat fresh.  15jonesIL

I quizzed the kids with age appropriate questions about where fruits and vegetables grow, we looked at the shapes of leaves and memorized the names of some of the grain plants – a necessity for earning a stamp at the Beanstalk Children’s Garden.  Unfortunately due to the outside temperature the day we visited, we did not stay for long and the kids seemed to enjoy their hands in the fountain the most while requesting that I feed them raspberries.

It was a unique spot in Kansas City I was happy to get to see and may be some place to return in the future for another adventure.

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Summer Passport

I am grateful for the time I get this summer to spend with my five-year-old daughter and my friend’s four-year-old son.  The two have grown up together and lovingly refer to each other as “Brother” and “Sister.”  They do behave a lot like siblings when spending any volume of time together; they truly adore each other though the laughter can easily turn to bickering and arguments – especially when not properly fed, hydrated and entertained.  At the start of the summer, the plan was some weeks I would have the two together three days during the week.  I knew this would require some thrifty creativity.

In the first week we had already gone to some of our favorite and free spots; Matt Ross Community Center (for their indoor play gym), Kaleidoscope (the art activity center at Hallmark), and Crown Center (The Adventures of Mr. Potato Head Exhibit).  I knew the air conditioned play would not last and we would have to be finding some unique outdoor activities too.  After the first few days of making it up as I went along, I stumbled upon an idea which would help guide our summer experiences.  I found Kansas City’s Passport to Adventure created by The Interpretive Site Coalition; “a not-for-profit organization comprised of historical sites, museums, nature centers and like agencies in the Kansas City region.”

I picked up two passports and have each child bring their own on each adventure we attend now.  The passport contains nineteen different locations to visit around the city, information about each location including address, hours of operation and admission fees (though most are free).  At each location there is a question for the kids to answer about what they see or learn on the visit and they provide their answer to an employee to earn a stamp.

While the kids are excited about earning stamps and playing, I am interested in checking out places in Kansas City I have never visited and avoiding fussing between the two by keeping our adventures fresh and new each day.

Our first adventure was to Burr Oak Woods, or as Jones called it, “Broke.”  This park contains 1,071 acres of forest and prairie, with hiking trails, picnic areas and a discovery nature center.  Upon entering the park I encouraged the kids to look for wildlife and to my surprise, the four year old voice in the back seat quickly responded with “There’s a deer.”  I put the car in reverse and we sat to watch a deer in the prairie for a few minutes before continuing on our path.  We started with a short hike on the trail so I packed chemical free bug07jonesIL spray and bottles of water to stay comfortable in the heat.  Because of the tree coverage and small breeze the June temperature didn’t feel as bad as I dreaded.  We listened to the sounds of nature, climbed on logs and held hands until their little legs were tired and then we went to explore the nature center.08jonesIL

Inside the nature center there was a 3,000 gallon aquarium with Missouri fish, smaller tanks for snakes, frogs and turtles and a long wall of windows for wildlife viewing out back.  Along with hummingbirds, squirrels and finches there also happened to be a gang of wild turkeys wondering through.  The kids turned every knob, flipped every switch and pulled every lever to explore all of what the exhibit offered.  They had the children’s play area all to themselves where they put on a puppet show from a hole in a log they could crawl into.  The kids had a blast sliding down the slide and using their imaginations to learn and grow.

Burr Oak Woods is definitely worth the trip to Blue Springs to enjoy the hiking and the nature center.  You can also pick up a passport there to begin your own summer adventures.

Camping Cheers and Six Years

Camp Site“This is one of Mommy and Daddy’s favorite things to do.  We want to share it with you and have fun together.”  I explained to Parker as she completed round 2 of timeouts in the car.  She nodded and smiled, apologized for whining and fussing, and we returned to blissfulness at the picnic table.

Camping is one of our favorite past times and this was our practice run for Parker.  My husband figured it would be better to start with a day trip to a camp site and see how she managed.  Although, right away she began asking where is the tent and how are we going to sleep?  Her curious mind was satisfied with our explanations to only stay out a while and not all night, then she jumped right into collecting twigs for helping Daddy to start a fire.

For a four year old, who seems constantly stimulated by toys, puzzles, books, electronics, music etc.  It was quite an adjustment for her to create her own fun, to explore in nature and to sit still to watch the fire (for about 20 second intervals at a time).  In hindsight, I could have brought more toys to help her stay content.  After all, there are only so many times you can fill a hallowed acorn shell with water for the Frozen Anna doll before that gets old.  Or maybe it was just a perfect way to demonstrate to her, you don’t need “things” to have a good time with people you love.  During our camping adventure, Parker and I hiked in the woods.  Or On Our Adventure Hike Lake Clintonshould I say she waddled down to the lake and then clung to my back like a koala bear while I clawed my way back up the steep ravine.  She assisted Daddy with gathering supplies and cleaning up.  She observed other camp goers and commented on the super swanky RV’s, “Can we get one of those?” And of course, she devoured the always necessary camping dessert.  Except as soon as her s’more started falling apart and getting her fingers sticky, I had to be the holder while she took bites and then carefully wiped her fingers and lips back to unsticky perfection.

Smores Attack

It was a wonderful idea my husband initiated on a beautiful fall day.  The outing was a reminder of what we do together when we are having fun, being adventurous and working well together as a team.  On our sixth wedding anniversary, I am so thankful to continue to do the things we love to do together and to get to share this experience with our daughter.  Cheers to six years, to camping out, to cheese and crackers, to being more of the best and less of the rest, cheers to daily celebrations of happiness and to many more anniversaries (and campouts) in the future.

Camp Kiss

The Ants Go Marching

suttaMy Basics of Buddhism class finished last week at the Rime Buddhist Center in Kansas City.  I’d highly recommend taking the course if you are interested in becoming Buddhist, are spiritually/religiously curious, or just need an excuse to commit to get out of the house once a week for twelve weeks – which all three was the case for me.

Since learning the basics, I recognize my thinking about life and relationships matches well with Buddhism.  I know my Buddha-nature is begging to come with the combination of cultivating wisdom and generating loving compassion.  Ultimately meditation is critical and needs to be part of my life as much as food.

Yet, while I agree with so many of the Buddhist philosophies I cannot call myself Buddhist and cannot accept all of the vows.  As part of the vows taken by a wanna-be Buddhist, Eight Mahayana Precepts are agreed upon.  The first precept is not killing and this is a no brainer when it comes to humans, and even most animals for this vegetarian.  Except in the Buddhist tradition not killing includes all sentient beings, from the largest whale to the smallest maggot.  According to the teachings, one-act of killing can carry 500 lifetimes of karmic retribution.

I learned about these vows several weeks back and they were steady on my mind while I was out raking one day.  The spring weather was finally getting warm consistently so I knew the conditions were finally right for the garter snakes to be emerging.  The snake population in my neighborhood is so high it could fill a hundred reptile centers and still have snakes left roaming.  I have wanted them gone since the first sighting.  After four years of living in my home the surprise in seeing them slinking around the grass, sunning on the bushes, and climbing up my fire pit chimney has worn off.  I no longer get the chills or feel the need to run screaming, okay maybe I do get the chills and stay at least five feet away.  On this day out in the yard I pondered how a Buddhist would view the snake problem, accept them as part of nature and not be ill willed towards them?  Sure enough, when my raking was nearly done I turned back towards what I had already cleared to see a garter snake freshly risen from his winter estate.

Feeling as if this was a test I had predicted for myself, I gave the snake a half-smile and decided it would be Buddha-like enough to help him move out of my raking path to the other side of the fence.  I gently used my rake to encourage him to the fence line where he briskly slithered through the chain-link.  Pleased with my acceptance of nature and assistance

The actual snake from my yard, picture taken from a safe distance away by camera phone.

The actual snake from my yard, picture taken from a safe distance away by camera phone.

towards my not so favorite creature I went on with my chore until I heard some rustling in the area I had sent the snake. What a miracle it would be if another animal had found the snake to make a meal out of.  It would still mean good karma for me since I helped him with good intention, I figured as I made my way to the fence to check.

Peaking over, it was clear my original prediction was far from true.  I had helped the snake move directly into the path of another snake waiting and ready to mate.  My practice at being more Buddha-like was resulting in snake babies.  Challenged and not defeated by the incident with the snake, I continued to try to make efforts in my daily life to consider what would a Buddhist do?  And the challenges grew from an abundance of hated snakes to hundreds of seemingly insignificant ants.  I first spotted one ant on my kitchen floor.  Then a few ants on the floor.  Then an ant on my kitchen counter and two in my bathroom.

In the Buddhist tradition, each living creature has a connection to you and through the cycle of death and rebirth each living creature has shared a past life.  Meaning the ants, the snakes and my least favorite people in the world have all been my mother and have all been your mother in a past life.  This newly learned belief was present on my mind while I wiped them clean off the counter and rinsed them down the sink, feeling slightly more guilty about a few deaths in the insect world.

I tried to keep my killing to a minimum, except this past weekend I couldn’t take it any longer.  The ants must have sensed my trepidation and had infiltrated my kitchen, marching in one long line up my dining room wall and along a floorboard.  All apprehension of killing living beings and any thought to the ants being my loved ones was lost in the excitement of wanting them all dead.  I excessively laid out poison and gleefully spoke to my tiny relatives – “Drink up guys and bring your friends.”

Buddhist, I am not.  And if I am reincarnated into an ant for my karmic retribution, I promise to stay out of your kitchen.

Other Posts Reflecting My Experience in the Class:

March Against Monsanto: Kansas City

In Kansas City a crowd gathered at J.C. Nichols fountain to share their concern about our food industry with fellow residents and to join in with millions of others marching today in protest against the GMO giant Monsanto.  Here are some pictures from the days event.  To learn more about Monsanto and the dangers of GMOs click here or begin your own internet search for the truth, you won’t catch it on any television broadcast.

Round 2: Winter Wins

Okay, round 2 of snow in one week is unusual for Kansas City, especially in the amount of snowfall we have seen. Never again will I say out loud “I think we are done with snow for the year.” Because after the simple phrase was uttered from my mouth, nearly 2 feet fell, multiplying snowfall totals for Kansas City’s winter.

Monday night we were buzzed about when the storm should come and how much more could it really snow after last week. When I went to sleep there was only a few flurries and when I woke up it was white out conditions and another 10 inches of accumulation. The street in front and on the side of the house only had a few tire tracks, signaling most of the city rightfully opted to stay in for the day.

05In our backyard a tree branch had fallen square on my daughter’s play house/slide and tore down phone lines with it. I feared they were power lines and quickly text my neighbor where the lines connected to ensure she had power. She told me her land-line phone was not working and her cable was cutting in and out. We made mention of the downed lines to the online city reports, though it’s unlikely we will see anyone out to fix it soon as there are still so many more people without power in the city.

This round of snow was heavier and more hazardous than last week’s due to the weight and wetness. It clung to the trees, sagged branches to the ground and snapped limbs over cars, houses and power lines. Roofs even collapsed from the volume of snow it was unable to withstand. This snow would have been much better for snowball, snowmen and forts too except I couldn’t convince anyone to come out and play with me.

I spent about four hours off and on throughout the morning shoveling my driveway, my deck and my neighbor’s driveway and sidewalk – it’s only fair since it was our tree to knock out her cable and phone, right? In breaks I would go into the house and plead with my two-year old to put on some snow pants and come play. She adamantly said no and I would go back outside again, hoping she would change her mind and want to come along. One time I even tried to force her into her winter attire which only caused a two-year-old fit and mommy failure.

My husband, also home for snow day, stationed our toddler at an open window in the living room. She stood on a chair supervising my shoveling job and jabbered to me loud enough for our whole block to hear. She had enormous burst of laughter when my snow balls hit the screen for her entertainment. And she called “where’s Harper?” to alert me when my only snow pal pup ventured too far from the yard so together we whistled for him to come back.

03By the afternoon my body was exhausted and I couldn’t wait to nap along with my toddler. While she got a solid two and half hour nap I laid in bed where I could view the intersection outside my window. After only moments of relaxation I watched a car attempt to turn the corner and quickly halted in the deep ridges where only trucks and SUV’s had been able to pass before. Two passengers got out of the car laughing at their situation and tried to push forward and back, it was quite obvious with the spinning wheels and ammeter effort, neither the driver or passengers had been through conditions like this before. I went outside and offered my shovel then went to get my coat and helped push the vehicle on wards.

Further interrupting my nap, not long after, I noticed yet another car begin to drive down the same way as the other car and then reverse back to the intersection to get stuck. For a brief moment I wondered if maybe I should just shut my blinds and get some rest, until I noticed this was an older gentleman with no passengers so I went to get my coat. By the time I reached him an unmarked white truck with a plow on the front happened to arrive also except in his efforts to shovel a path for the man’s car he also got stuck. I provided the man with the truck with my shovel and while he freed his truck he explained he was only in the neighborhood to get to his son, I assumed maybe he plowed parking lots or private drives and did not work for the city. The older man explained he usually didn’t come down these roads and his usual street was blocked by a downed tree. He had to reverse back through the tracks to the intersection because another car was stuck and blocking his path further down the street. 04

Quickly everyone was back to moving and getting to where they needed to go, except the white truck with the plow I kept seeing after this. This generous individual might have made his way to see his son, then continued to drive through the neighborhood with his plow down to clear safe paths and intersections. I felt like cheering, hugging and telling everyone in the neighborhood what this kind stranger had done for us. After living in this home for four years I understand our neighborhood streets don’t see city plows for days after a storm, so this random act of kindness meant a lot to me and made an immeasurable positive impact on my neighborhood’s ability to commute safely.

With the streets cleared and the city resuming to normal, there is still some anticipation of conditions being treacherous as the snow melts and refreezes. And until my yard is a muddy mess of melted precipitation, I will enjoy the beauty of the snow-covered trees.

Thundersnow

02This is what I get for doubting the forecasts.

There is so much anticipation of big storms in Kansas City. Local meteorologists generate the energy of elementary students in their excitement for the possibility of snow. The warning of, “it’s coming, it’s going to be a lot, every county in Kansas has issued a state of emergency” all before a flake had even hit the ground seemed humorous to me. On more than one occasion there has been various other doomsday-like-conditions forecasted resulting in no precipitation at all. Needless to say, late last night after all the hype and not a flurry in sight I imagined this might just be another big weather disappointment.

01Peering out the window this morning I was alarmed to see how wrong I had been to doubt. Soft fluffy white covered the ground across the yard making it indistinguishable from the street and the yard across the street. Snow continued to come down hard with extra falling from the trees and rooftops when the wind blew. And to make this mini blizzard extra unique, the snow was accompanied by a little thunder and lightning.
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Unsure of the snowfall totals from this morning, it has stopped currently and it is forecasted to begin again around 6PM – we shall see…..

If My Dogs Attended School, They’d Be In Special Ed.

I love our dogs, they are a part of our family.  And they are oh so special.  Macy is a mid-sized terrier, loyal, agile, anxious and stubborn x10.  Harper is nearly 90 pounds and although he just turned 3 he seems all puppy, also extremely loyal.  This week’s walk in the park is a prime example of the nut bag behavior I deal with for these lovable clowns.

In lue of getting a work out in at home, pilates with a toddler on the hip is impossible, I figured an escape to nature would serve the same purpose and be fun for all.  I loaded up baby and pups for a ride to our favorite dog park – Shawnee Mission Park.  The parking lot was rather empty on this Tuesday morning, which worked out fine for me I was able to open the back and let the dogs run straight to the gate without leashes.

The dog park area is large in comparison to other parks we have gone to, there is a long wide path down the middle flanked with grassy areas on either side and wooded areas beyond that.  Although there are paths down towards the wooded areas, we have always seemed to stay in the middle as it is the quickest way to the water.  My dogs love to be social with other dogs, although they lack social etiquette and don’t quite get it when other dogs are annoyed with their jovial nosiness.  My husband and I haven’t dedicated adequate time to training our dogs, although, we are pretty proud of them coming when we call (eventually).  On our last trip to the dog park another dog accidentally knocked Parker to the ground, the shock made her cry and our dogs immediately retreated from their playful fun to lay down in front of their baby to protect her.

The dogs and Parker were so happy to be out free to run, Parker calling out to her dogs and laughing when they would coming running back towards her.  She alternated between running after them and breaking to be carried.  Needless to say the toddler toddling was not moving fast enough for the dogs.  There were not many other park goers when we first arrived, the dogs greeted fellow pedestrians and pets who passed then happily continued down the path.  Long down the path reaches a wooded area and the trail forks, both sides leading circling to a beach area.  The dogs had been racing forward and back to us until we neared the fork, at this point Macy couldn’t contain her excitement and ran straight out of view towards the water.

Slightly annoyed at her irregular disappearance, I figured no need to worry we would catch up to her.  The beach time was the real purpose of going all the way to Shawnee Mission Park anyway, bringing the dogs out in the heat I knew they would need some time to cool off.  Harper stayed near us, whether to look after the baby or because he is a baby himself – he stayed close.  We took our time and descended the hill down the path I thought was the shortest towards the water.  My memory served me wrong, though the twists and turns eventually got us in sight of the beach to which my daughter exclaimed “Wa wa!”  And finally I was back in sight of my little white terrier sprinting along the shore after a boxer.  A couple more turns and we were at the beach with no sign of Macy.  I called and whistled, no Macy, no boxer and no people.

I knew my anxious mutt probably followed the other park goer and his pooch back up the opposite path when she realized she would be abandoned alone on the beach.  I pleaded with Harper, as if he could suddenly exhibit Lassie’s intelligence, “Go get Macy.”  to no response…  Lugging extra 30lbs on my hip, and a good for nothing beast at my side we began to climb the opposite path, where Macy had apparently gone to join another family.  By the time I reached the spot back where the fork rejoins at the top my cell phone was ringing and I knew someone was calling from the tag on my dog.

A girl with a rottweiler had Macy leashed and was waiting for me up the path, when she realized Macy didn’t belong to the people she was following she stopped to help.  THANK YOU THANK YOU THANK YOU to the stranger who interviened.  She even said Macy was looking around nervously, of course I knew this was between the mindless bounding over the other dogs…  Want to play with me, where’s my mom, I’m so excited, I’m so scared.  

With our group finally reunited we headed back to the water and Macy dove right in.

Parker was dressed in a swimsuit, I assumed it would be wet and messy on the beach even though I didn’t intend on us actually getting deep in the water.  Therefore, I came without a swim suit and felt comfortable in light summer clothes until Harper made me think I might actually have to dive in for him.

Shawnee Mission Park

Despite being half golden retriever sometimes I wonder if he really has any of that blood in him, he doesn’t retrieve and he is scared to swim.  Harper will run along the water and take advantage of the splashes to cool is black furry body, he doesn’t generally go deep enough to even let the water touch his chest.  On this morning he stood in the water facing the shore when some seaweed must have brushed up against his leg.  Panic set in for my giant and he scooted his body back further into the water.  At this point fear increased more because not only was he feeling something on his leg, now he was getting into deeper water.  I called sympathetic and encouraging calls for him to come to me.  I knew if he continued his backward motion I would have to forego my plan of not getting wet in order to save him.  Yet, back further he went until the water was over his back and he appeared petrified putting his head underwater as if to bite at the lake creature pulling him out.

Just before I could leap forward and make the 10 soaked steps it would have taken to reach him, Macy swam out in front of me and snapped Harper to attention.  It was as if in a split second she taught him how to doggy paddle and he could finally make a forward motion in the water again.  She lead him to the shore and as soon as he could reach he practically leapt over her to get to dry ground again.  Macy suddenly made up for her earlier run off and became the Lassie for the day to save Harper from drowning.  Yea, like I said – they are “special” dogs.

Harper refereed a game of Tug-A-War and stayed close to the shore after his terrifying ordeal.