Our First Visitors in Kansas

Believe it or not, Fort Leavenworth is not as popular of a travel destination than our previous assignment, Washington DC. During our almost-three-years in our nation’s capital, we had no shortage of visitors and took full advantage of the frequent TDYs and business trips that brought our family and friends near. But things are quieter in Kansas – our visits with family and friends may be less-frequent but just as much appreciated.

IMG_7332Clay’s parents hold the honor of being our very first visitors since our arrival at Fort Leavenworth. They arrived this past Friday afternoon and stayed until Monday morning. We did our best to pack as much as we could into the 50 hours they were with us and judging by how tired we are were by the time they left, I’d say that we succeeded.

After participating in Oktoberfest activities on post that Friday evening, we were up-and-at-’em on Saturday morning. We took Clay’s parents on a long walk around the historic area of Ft. Leavenworth, which happens to be where we live. Fort Leavenworth is the oldest active United States Army post west of the Mississippi and has been in operation for over 180 years. Because of this, there are some wonderful old buildings that are filled with stories from throughout the years.
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Fort Leavenworth is home to the United States Disciplinary Barracks (USDB). Here we are pictured in front of the original USDB, which started construction in 1875 and was completed in 1921. Prisoners built most of the USDB and the famous Leavenworth United States Penitentiary, which is located just outside the post. When the new USDB opened in 2002 (located further away from main post), the historic prison buildings were converted and are currently used by a variety of organizations on Fort Leavenworth.

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Fort Leavenworth (first known as Cantonment Leavenworth) was established in 1827 by Colonel Henry Leavenworth, 3rd Infantry Regiment, as a forward base to protect the Santa Fe Trail. In May 1829, the post was evacuated and occupied by Kickapoo Indians until the fall of 1829. Pictured above is the former site of the Old Blockhouse. The wall was built in 1827 as a defense against the indians, apparently it didn’t do as good of a job as intended.

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Because I am a sucker for historic churches, one of my favorite buildings on post is Memorial Chapel. Built in 1878 by prison labor of stone quarried on post, Memorial Chapel currently holds Lutheran and Episcopal services. Over 10 years ago, we were married in a Presbyterian church built in 1909 that reminds me of Memorial Chapel. Cue warm and fuzzy feelings.

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Pose with a cannon overlooking the Missouri River? No problem, Mom!

After walking around old post, we ventured over to the Frontier Army Museum, which is just down the street from our house. The free museum is home to weapons, uniforms equipment, vehicles used by Frontier Army soldiers, and even the wagon used to transport Abraham Lincoln to Aitchison, Kansas in 1859 during his campaign.

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It would have been cruel not to have introduced the gloriousness known as Bassa Prua donuts to Clay’s parents. I believe these donuts to be among the best I’ve tasted in this country – on par with Congdon’s in Wells, Maine.

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Newest fans of deep-fried jalapeños at All Slabbed Up!

We also made sure to introduce Clay’s parents to Boulevard Brewing Company, a Kansas City Brewery that happens to be the largest specialty brewer in the Midwest. And of course we ate barbecue. Clay’s parents currently live outside of Wilmington, NC so they’re no stranger to North Carolina barbecue. But Kansas City is a different ballgame. They take their barbecue very seriously here. We took them to All Slabbed Up in Leavenworth and Joe’s KC in Olathe. Clay and I are not terribly impressed with Arthur Bryant’s or Jack Stack so we feel confident that we showed them good examples of Kansas City barbecue.

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Clay at Joe’s KC with his Z-Man sandwich (with Anthony Bourdain states is one of the best things he’s ever eaten) and a Boulevard Tank 7 Farmhouse Ale.

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My idea of barbecue – pulled pork with lots of burnt ends, coleslaw, and spicy tomato-based sauce. Toss in a wheat beer and it doesn’t get much better than that, folks.

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You know what’s better than eating barbecue? Eating barbecue outdoors.

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The little guy really wanted to show his Grandma and Grandpa Union Station and the model train display in downtown Kansas City so we hung around there for a bit and walked the Link before heading to Weston, Missouri.

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While in Weston, we walked around the quaint downtown, popped into a couple of shops, and took Clay’s parents O’Malley’s 1842 Irish Pub, an underground bar entered via a set of caves.

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We had a great visit with Clay’s parents and really enjoyed showing them around our newest digs. Fort Leavenworth may not be a popular vacation destination but it is still a pretty good damn time, especially when we’re involved. Obviously.

The Art of Throwing Peas

Last week I had dinner waiting on the table when Clay and Weston barreled through the door, home from the little guy’s first soccer practice of the season and Clay’s inaugural venture into the world of youth coaching. At one point during the meal, just as Clay was explaining a practice highlight which involved a rowdy crowd of five and six-year-olds kicking soccer balls at him as he ran around the field, Violet found it appropriate to launch a handful of peas into the air while roaring like a dinosaur.

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Crude artist rendering.

Two-year-old Violet is proving to be a challenge in the most wonderful way. Her tenacity is infectious and she is constantly challenging our parenting techniques. I am constantly amazed by Violet’s eagerness and willingness to explore the world around her – no matter how seemingly insignificant her surroundings are perceived by jaded adults. After a half-hearted scolding while stifling laughter, Clay and I glanced at each other and spotted the all-too-familiar mischievous grins. Weston was laughing uncontrollably, which made him an easy target. And that is how our family ended up throwing peas at each other, whooping with joy, and wiping tears from our eyes.

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That dinner was everything a shared meal should be – filled with conversation, laughter, happy tears, and {most importantly} love. While it is our role as parents to teach our children socially-appropriate dining habits, it’s also our responsibility to show them how to find joy admist everyday tasks, how to be irreverent when necessary, and that laughter is the best medicine. I hope we never become the type of parents who choose not to participate in the art of throwing peas when the opportunity to present itself. After all, aren’t these spontaneous little wonderful moments the ones that matter most?

Sunflowers at Grinter Farms

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Over the weekend, our little family was able to walk in fields of gold during our visit to the famed sunflowers at Grinter Farms just outside of Lawrence, Kansas. In 95+ degree mid-morning heat, we soaked in the Kansas prairie view and marveled at the brilliant crops.

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In full bloom for only about two weeks every September, these sunflowers draw visitors from well beyond the Kansas City metropolitan area. Each year, Ted and Kris Grinter plant acres upon acres of sunflowers and open up their land for visitors to experience the majesty for themselves. Our time in the glittering field further convinced me that farmers are truly artists – using empty fields as canvases to produce sustainable products that are beyond beautiful in sight, taste, touch, smell, and sound. Yes, sound – there’s nothing quite like the sound of sunflower stalks dancing in the wind.

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Upon our arrival in Kansas earlier this summer, I was surprised by the lack of wild sunflowers in the landscape surrounding Fort Leavenworth – Kansas is the sunflower state, after all (the sunflower is also the national flower of Ukraine, interestingly enough). So as soon as I read about these fields, we located the field back in July during our jaunt to Lawrence and then I stalked the Grinter Farms Facebook page for the most up-to-date status of the sunflowers.

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The fields were worth the dust, bugs, and excessive the heat, although it sure would have been nice if it were a bit cooler. There are honor boxes throughout the fields – visitors are welcome to cut their own sunflowers with a suggested donation of $1 per flower. We took home five and two days later, they’re still going strong. However, the sunflowers at Grinter Farms are planted for bird seed so they wilt faster than the pollenless hybrids found at florists, so I’m not expecting them to last too much longer.

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The brilliant views are fleeting. In the coming week, bugs will cause the petals to deteriorate and by mid-September, the flowers will droop. Before long, the heads will darken, grow larger, and produce seeds ready for harvest.

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Photo by Rachel Murphy Photography

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Photo by Rachel Murphy Photography

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Since we won’t be living in Kansas this time next year (or likely ever again), I’m happy we were able to experience quintessential Kansas. If you find yourself stationed at Fort Leavenworth or living in the Kansas City area, the sunflowers at Grinter Farms are a must.

*Edited to add 9/13/15* Due to 90+ degree temperatures and violet thunderstorms, the sunflowers have lost most of their petals and face downwards. Unfortunately, the sunflowers did not even last two weeks this year. Lesson – if you have the opportunity to see the sunflowers at Grinter Farms next year, please go sooner rather than later!