August 31, 2016

ACCAN, Epigenetics, & Missing Children

Conference week is going great! Not only was I able to see three old friends from college on Sunday and Monday nights (at delicious restaurants: Taj Mahal and Pantry Crest), catching up with one another's lives and each other's opinions on the state of America, etc., the conference itself has been extremely worthwhile too. I was even proud of myself this evening after spending over two hours at a table with a current employee of a previous organization I've worked for (whom I'd never met) and a presenter from the conference - social anxiety out the roof that they were interested in my opinions aside, we had some really great conversations I can't imagine being brought about in any other environment.

Monday was technically a professional development day for my specific program, which was revitalizing as it's the only time each year we all get together - it was the first time I'd met most of my fellow educators. We shared what we've learned so far and brainstormed how to make our program even more effective than it already is. We watched an incredible documentary, initiating a discussion over epigenetics and reminding us that nurturing mitigates metabolic syndrome - that it does not change your genes, but it changes the way they're expressed. That nurturing is the most powerful thing, regardless of money or environment, in rearing a child but that a mother has little time for nurturing if she's frantically trying to provide basic necessities like shelter. That everything we do is backed by science.

Onto the conference itself. The first day alone I've heard speakers like Dr. John Murphy of my alma mater discuss solution-focused helping and Chief Jim Holler inform an audience how suffocation is the most difficult child murder to prove as homicide and how they do it. But perhaps the most moving was the keynote speaker: Colleen Nick.
Age Progression to Present Day
Now, if you're not from Arkansas, or maybe even if you are, you may not be familiar with the Morgan Nick Foundation or the case that began it all. In June 1995, a 6 year old girl was kidnapped from a baseball game in Alma while catching fireflies with two friends, after her mother had told her no several times before finally caving to her daughter's pleas. She has been missing ever since (despite many leads and false confessions), and Colleen has never stopped searching for her. When people ask her why she doesn't just move on, doesn't she wonder that she must be dead, etc. -- she chooses to look at it as: what if she's still out there? Not only has she never given up hope on finding her daughter, she has truly taken a tragedy and turned it into something powerful by developing the Morgan Nick Foundation, which has aided in other children being returned safely home.

This really hit home for me, so I introduced myself and thanked her for her work after her presentation.

144 days prior to Morgan's kidnapping,

August 29, 2016

Beaver Lake, Arkansas

Happy Monday! This morning I'm waking up a little sore from the sunburn I earned over the weekend...despite wearing sunscreen, I guess my pale skin is just too fragile for this August sun!

Friday and Sunday were mostly lazy days (though Pete did make an excellent beef tenderloin for me Friday night - he doesn't cook specifically "for me" very often, but when he does, I always say he should do so more frequently, mm-mm!). But Saturday morning we wrapped some breakfast burritos in aluminum foil after having our morning coffee and drove out to a new section of Beaver Lake for some bass fishing. We try not to go to the same spot twice (I guess we'd do differently if we found a really lucky spot).

Beaver Lake is a huge (to me) 31,700 acre reservoir lake, and serves as the drinking water for most of Northwest Arkansas. It's created by a dam on the White River, which starts up here in the Boston Mountains and flows up to Missouri before coming back down for a total of over 700 miles. It's actually rumored to be a great trout spot but we've yet to verify this.

Anyways, this was actually the best luck we've had so far - and I like to think it's because I told Pete we should use live bait as opposed to his fancy lures (because that's how I fished as a kid). Having said that, I didn't catch anything - but I did get lots of bites & lost wormies, which hadn't happened until now. Peter caught several fish, one of them being decent enough to keep - and we only spent a few hours total because we wanted to get back in time to get the fish on some ice because he wasn't prepared to catch anything.

August 25, 2016

4 Years Ago Today...

...I went to my first big Hendrix College event. I had technically been to one of their smaller parties before, but it was finally time (and my last chance) to attend their famous Shirttails event - which has been celebrated since 1913 (though I'm sure very differently back in the day). It gets its name from the uniform all the first years wear for their dance competition/serenade: a long-sleeve Oxford button-down shirt with a tie (and shorts/boxers with tennis shoes).

I believe I caught the end of the dancing in the Brick Pit but mostly arrived fashionably late for the real party that happens afterwards all over campus (truly, from the main concert on the lawn to dorm-parties everywhere). I wasn't a big party kid in college... I really was something of a goody-two-shoes, to be honest. I tried going to a frat party once and absolutely hated it - I was more for the small get togethers where you can actually talk to one another. But my senior year (after approaching legal drinking age), I knew it was my last chance to see how the other half had been spending the past three years.
Alissa & I before the party. 
I still didn't go all out...if I remember right, my group was tired and left early (ha!) and when Trent & I went back to a different area, I was the DD, so... well, let that tell you whatever it tells you. But I enjoyed my first enormous college party experience, which finally felt like the ones you see in movies, but that's not why I enjoyed it... it was because it was there I met Peter. 

August 23, 2016

My Days are Long

Though we're still in August, I think Mother Nature is ready and headstrong for Autumn. Each morning I pass ochre fallen leaves on the stone pathway to my gate, and I look at the crispy ones brought inside by friends Saturday night I've yet to sweep up. Confusing with the juxtaposition of lush greens and fresh blooms. The last few nights no air has been needed as temperatures drop to the 50s; good for the environment, good for my wallet, everyone's a winner - sleep on top of the burdened comforter, trading in a light blanket.


School bells are buzzing again and we're slowing down in the designated zones now that children are present. And due to the children being back in their desks, my days are long, for while many of my clients do not work or work often, we now wait for them to arrive off their mango buses to start our family sessions.

My mornings are quiet, though, and there's a silver lining when you're arriving home at 8:30 nearly every weeknight, past the sunset and apologizing to your dog as you let him out the front door and pour his supper, too exhausted to play the round of fetch he is aching for. I love quiet mornings. It's been a long time since I awoke chipper to my dad playing the piano... I now prefer coffee and space. (It's not even that I need the caffeine, but rather the ritual. I often drink half a cup, and it's cold by the time I reach that point.) Shh... I wish to tell my co-workers... Come find me again in an hour. I need time to adjust to the new day, to update myself on the world while I slept.

August 22, 2016

Chocolate Cream Cheese Raspberry Cake

For Peter's birthday, I gave him a few different presents - he gets to fly a plane tomorrow! That was the big one. But since I gave it to him early (in failed hopes he could schedule the flight for his actual birthday while everyone else was at work), I felt the need to supplement on his actual birthday. I altered my schedule so I could cook him breakfast without making him wake up at the crack of dawn - chocolate chip waffles with homemade syrup, eggs, hash browns, mm-mm! During this time I gave him a tick key! That might sound gross to serve with breakfast but he had made several comments about wanting one, so I thought it would be a nice little surprise to add on without breaking the bank, so I could still feel like I gave him a present on his birthday. Perfect timing for our upcoming off-roading adventure in Colorado.

Later that night, I also presented a previously purchased cigar after dinner with his mother at Deluxe Burger and we went to Open Door Cigars' Sweet Seven Lounge. Afterwards, we finally got to taste this delicious chocolate cake I made! The point is that this was part of his present, and I'm not just saying the ingredients were pricey - he gifted me an empty recipe book a while back and has been hounding me to use it. 

I didn't feel right about writing in recipes I didn't have any influence on... and I haven't been cooking for very long, and am not entirely confident in my ability to play with ingredients, other than adding a little extra spice to a mildly bland recipe (for instance, added a lot more salt, pepper, nutmeg, garlic powder, shallots, and caramelized onions to this recipe and it was deceptively scrumptious - but I was not at all paying attention to how much of anything I added). Whenever I do alter a recipe I don't pay attention to what I've done. 

But for his birthday I baked him a cake that I could add to the book! I didn't change much, because baking is a science that I'm no graduate scholar of, but I can at least say I adapted this recipe by telling you exactly what I did! My changes to the batter were very mild but very important - the introduction of Turkish Coffee and Cinnamon. And certainly by calling the raspberry liquor non-optional

INGREDIENTS

CAKE
  • 1.5 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 cup cocoa powder
  • 3/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon coarse salt
  • 1.5 teaspoons cinnamon (you can add more if you actually want a prominent cinnamon flavor)
  • 1.5 teaspoons Turkish coffee (or espresso or other finely ground coffee)
  • 1 1/2 sticks unsalted butter, room temperature (temp. is very important!)
  • 1 1/4 cups sugar (I used raw/turbinado because it's what I keep at hand)
  • 3 large eggs, room temperature (temp. is very important!)
  • 1 tablespoon raspberry liqueur (I used di Amore because it's what I had on hand)
  • 1 scant cup milk, room temperature (temp. is very important!)
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice
  • 4 ounces bittersweet chocolate (61 percent cacao), melted and cooled

August 18, 2016

Happy Birthday, Peter!

Pete turns 27 today!

An oldie but a goodie (i.e. trying not to repeat photos from previous posts because I have a billion of him and could put a different one in all of my posts and I'm still not sure if I would run out): the first time we tried all-grain homebrewing after he received an extract kit for his 24th birthday.



August 16, 2016

On Storytelling

It seems like a lifetime ago since I wrote something that was a pleasure to read. During my last semester of college, I wrote a dystopian novel for my thesis (not that it was a pleasure to read; it was, after all, written in under a semester) and I dare say I haven't written anything since. I was a creative writing minor. I was never truly taught, I just was; and something about my writer's voice (heavily influenced by a certain transgressional author) was enjoyed by a select few. Yet something that once came so natural to me escaped down the drain in college - by the end, by the acceptance of that diploma, it was as if any literary talent I'd once held in my fingertips was the water that rushed out of the colander. Long gone, with only starchy, non-nurturing carbs left behind.

I'm sure it has nothing to do with my decline in hours previously devoted to reading.

It is now a tedious chore akin to pulling teeth, a years-long dry-spell I've been ignoring for some time. Not at all like riding a bike, as they say, or maybe precisely this... based on the fact that cycling is not natural for me either. To put it simply, it's rather depressing - one of the few things that once provided a sense of confidence is MIA. While not inviting a pity party, I'm not particularly skilled at many things, but writing used to be one of them.

Where did the words go?

Certainly not a law of the land but a value I personally hold dearly: storytelling is a valuable art-form. Whether oral, written, visual, or some post-modern technique I haven't yet heard of, telling stories is how we share information, feelings, experiences. It's how we connect.

August 15, 2016

Weekend Recap + Supportive Services Rant

So I have no pictures from my weekend... and while I want this to be a space I share photos to document my life (which is quite frankly more fun to read [picture books, anyone?] and it encourages me to take photos, which I'm always challenging myself to do more of because I enjoy it and would like to build the skill). With all of that grammatically-incorrect sentence said, I don't want this blog to be dependent on whether or not I've had a chance to take any photographs - and especially when I'm having camera problems (ugh, just won a camera bag for it too, and I never win anything!). It may not be fun for anyone else to read, but at the end of the day... this is just for me. An online journal, for my thoughts, for my experiences. Something I can share with people I care about so they can see what's going on in my life as I gravitate somewhat away from Facebook - or at least doing so on Facebook. I definitely still spend too much time in that virtual world... but in my defense, I see more news stories than I do friend updates.

While I don't normally work Fridays, I had a great opportunity to support one of my clients by being a part of a wraparound team, which was a first for any of our program's educators in the state. If you've never heard the term "wraparound," it's a support group for a client compiled of the many different services in their life. For instance, a client may be involved with the Division of Child and Family Services (often known as CPS in many other states, or simply [read: incorrectly] referred to as DHS in Arkansas), a program like mine or some other type of parenting class, various family members may have their own therapist at a community mental health clinic, a child's teacher could join in, etc., and they're all brought together by the client and the wraparound service's program director (which often provide other "fun" services like maybe funding a child's extracurricular activity). By routinely meeting together, all of these professionals get a better understanding of the family's current life situation and are able to help that client feel supported - and make them accountable with plans they'll all assist with, etc. It's a cooperative and compassionate effort to help get that family's needs met.

You already know that the main reason I love my job so much is that it's a preventative service; the goal is to eliminate abuse and reduce the number of children entering foster care (to which mid/northwest Arkansas is in a home shortage crisis) by supporting and educating families who have open protective service cases. If we give these families the skills and tools they're lacking, hopefully they'll never have a PS case again - and certainly their case shouldn't worsen to the point of children being removed from the home.

There are so many - what I like to call - post-trauma services. We try to help people heal by getting them mental health services, etc., after the damage has been done. And I'm not just talking about child welfare - I mean in general. Take the medical field - we're decent enough at catching a disease once it's made itself known, and we're decent at curing or maintaining those diseases afterwards through medication, diet, physical therapy, and more. We aren't great at preventing those diseases.

We're decent problem solvers but not forward-thinking enough to prevent many of our problems. We know we can throw criminals (and "criminals") in jail should they break the law, but there's not a lot of preventative measures being taken to prevent citizens for choosing that lifestyle in the first place. We don't set people up for success - especially the residents of impoverished zip codes.

August 8, 2016

Last Summer Visit with Family

So, while I sucked at taking pictures this weekend (didn't want to lug camera Friday night and then got rained out, camera battery that was thought to be full had a baby charge on it Saturday, etc.), I had a lot of fun with my mom and nephew who came to visit me Thursday night - even though she was in just a few weeks ago, he begged to come see me before school started because he hadn't visited since last year's spring break (wow!). I was happy to oblige.

But even though I didn't take many pictures, I wanted to share my thoughts about our adventures because we went several places I had never been!

Thursday night I managed to get my nephew, who we'll continue to call S if you recall from my California post, to taste some different things at Thep Thai - he is not an adventurous eater so I was pretty proud of him for at least giving things a try. Plus they have my favorite Thai tea and fried rice in the area - big enough for my mom and I to share. I learned to stick with PQ Noodle House for the shrimp spring rolls, though.

I also remembered that the drive in was open Thursday nights! Even though they'd already seen both Secret Life of Pets and Ghostbusters, S had never been to a drive in before and was more than happy to see them again (how do kids watch the same movies over and over?). Being a bit of a homebody, I think S really liked being in the comfort of our own car during the movie - he thought it was extra fun that we brought some of our own favorite snacks in addition to the popcorn on site. I'm pretty sure his favorite part of the movie was the one-fanged viper being crushed several times in a row because he laughed like a hyena. It was pretty cute for adults to, speaking for one who's often imagined what Kafka is doing at home all day... I was mostly impressed with myself for being the only one who didn't fall asleep during the second movie - even with Peter, I've never been able to make it through both. I partied harder with my mother than I do with my friends, when I'm still usually in bed by 9-something!

After a delicious lunch at Mama Z's in Tontitown Friday afternoon, we decided to surprise my nephew by taking him to Silver Dollar City - I had heard they were in the middle of something called Moonlight Madness where they stay open a little later and more or less charge half price if you come after 5 pm - we figured 5 hours of playtime would be more than enough (he's not a big thrill rider), and the cool evening weather would be more bearable, so it was perfect. We didn't tell him where we were going though! We just told him we were going to a state he'd never set foot in before (Missouri).

He figured it out by the time we hit Branson, though, because he started seeing the billboards and that smarty-pants is old enough to read things now. This place really would rival something like Six Flags for families - it was more affordable and even had free parking, and while it still had a few big coasters to entertain the braver folks (ahem, me), it had plenty of in-between and kiddie rides, too. The park is just family-friendly, too - the design and atmosphere of the 1880s, with lots of shows to keep you entertained and characters to meet. One of my favorite parts was watching the craftsmen! In live action you can watch leather craftsmen, chip carvers, glass blowers/cutters, potters, candy-makers, bakers, and blacksmiths!

August 5, 2016

Happy Birthday, Dad!

My step-daddy Jimbo's 62nd birthday is today - I wasn't kidding about most of my family's birthdays falling into the same span of a month! I already talked a lot about Jim back in June for Father's day and I'll try not to repeat myself too verbatim.

He's the absolute best at calling and singing happy birthday to everyone on their birthday - he gets real soulful and oldies with it. I wish I could do the same for him (especially mimicking when he gets background singers in the form of his shop buddies, mom & Spencer, or whoever he's with at the time), but unfortunately I'm just not that gifted. I suppose it's his thing after all.

He's satisfied with very little; he mostly just wants other people to be happy. So long as he gets his second-helping, listens to the news, and bets on a few horses, he's content. A healthy, strong garden is a nice surprise, so he can lay off the envy of the neighbor's garden here and there. A strong cup of coffee and ever flowing glass of tea is a necessity. A little "sadooky" (sudoku) time is always enjoyed. I'm glad he's slowly backing off of work - he's earned this break (though not ready to call it completely quits yet).

We're so lucky to have had him in our lives, and he's had a pretty good long life so far with only a handful of near-death experiences. If he's a great dad then he's an even better paw-paw and I can't wait til he's one of mine's paw-paw one day too.

I hope you have a great day and I wish I could be there with you! I love you!




August 1, 2016

No One

No one coming in behind you and crunching up your laundry out of the dryer before you’ve had a chance to come fold it neatly, always being rushed no matter what day you try to do it on, it’s almost like – hey! She’s doing laundry! What a great idea, I should do some laundry too!

No one eating your food or using your laundry detergent or toothpaste.

No one using any of the things they don't contribute to.

No one creating an ant problem that you never have when living alone. 

No one changing the temperatures to extreme degrees and running up utility bills. 

No one’s fault but your own if the house is dirty since you don’t have to wait around and see if they’ll take their turn contributing to chores.

No one to catch you pooping with the door open and walking around in your underwear.

No one limiting your SPACE.

No one making you late for work because they hopped in the bathroom as soon as they heard you drag yourself out of bed so you don’t make them late for work.

No one to worry about annoying with show/music noise levels or judging what you watch or how long your binge is!

No one to stop you from having parties and guests and game-nights whenever you want!

No one using the spare bedroom so you can make that airbnb money or host a couchsurfer!

No one to be “bothered” by your AMAZING dog.

No one to make passive aggressive or manipulative comments.

No one to pay your rent late that you were depending on, or backdating the check to pretend they gave it to you on time.

No one to run A/C or heat with the windows open.

No one undoing what you did right behind you.

No one loading the dishwasher backwards after you've already started the pattern.

No one leaving cap-able bottles uncapped.

No one breaking things, especially and not telling you afterwards. 

No one doing things you specifically asked them not to do.

No one by the wall next door when you want alone time with your significant other. 

No one to put toilet bowl cleaner outside of the bowl.

No one leaving shaving hairs or makeup/goo in the sink.

No one leaving the shower curtain scrunched up where it can get moldy if it dries that way.

No one stinking up the house, especially when you're out of town.

No one's weird little habits to adjust to.

No one waiting til/past the last minute to do things.

No one taking advantage of you being a young homeowning roommate instead of a legitimate landlord that actually means every word in the lease/Craigslist agreement.