What Not to Miss: Austin

Austin is a city that gets talked about a lot.  Everybody knows somebody who knows something about Austin.  They’ve embraced the mantra “Keep Austin Weird”, and trust me, they do.  I find a lot of similarities between Austin and my own hometown of Lawrence, Kansas.  Both cities are a blue blip in a very red state, but both are so much more than their politically liberal leanings.  Both could easily play leading roles in a foodie’s dream and both are powerhouses of culture.

My husband and I spent about 5 days in Austin in early January.  It was his first time visiting, and my third.  Both of my previous trips were to attend SXSW, so my experience was a bit limited, but this was an awesome visit and we’re already making plans to go back.  Based on my experiences, I have a few recommendations of things that you shouldn’t miss if you visit Austin.

What to Do

Austin Eats Food Tour

This is my top recommendation for how to spend some of your time in Austin, and it includes eating at some of the city’s best food trucks. We love doing food tours in cities we visit and Austin Eats didn’t disappoint.  I wish we’d had more time in Austin so that we could have done more than one of their tours, but we participated in their Best of Austin Food Truck tour and it was pretty amazing!  The tour started with fresh Golden Eggs from Sandra Bullock’s Walton’s Fancy & Staple (seriously, look these up – they’re amazing), then visited the Cocoa Puro tent at the Saturday SFC Farmers’ Market.  All items sold by vendors at this farmers’ market have to be produced within 150 miles of Downtown Austin.

Other stops on the tour included Kerlin BBQ, where we sampled a fantastic BBQ brisket & cheddar kolache; la Barbeque, where we skipped the line that was forming before they opened, and had the best brisket and pulled pork of our trip, alone with homemade pickles and a really unique cole slaw; Tumble 22 for some Nashville Hot Chicken and Deep Eddy Sweet Tea vodka; Lucky’s Puccias, in the courtyard of Mort Subite Belgian Pub for puccias, a tasty authentic Italian sandwich made with bread baked in the wood fired oven inside the food truck; and Churro Co. for an incredible s’mores churro.  All of the food and beverages are included throughout the tour and you absolutely will not leave hungry.

Rainey Street

This is an adorable little area (just a couple blocks) where old homes have been turned into restaurants and bars.  It’s adjacent to Downtown, and where our Airbnb was. There are food trucks interspersed throughout the area, so if you’d rather have food from a truck, then grab drinks at one of the hip little bars along this street, you can absolutely do that.

Austin 360 Bridge

If you’ve got a rental car, I definitely recommend going out to check this out.  The bridge is stunning, but the view is even more spectacular.  It can be a little confusing to find, as there aren’t any signs and it seems to be a bit of an unofficial park area.  If you see people parked on the side of the road, just before you are about to cross the big bridge, you found it.  You’ll park where they are, then climb up.  You won’t regret the mini hike.  The view from the top is AMAZING!

Hope Outdoor Gallery

This spot started as the beginning of a building and the project was never completed.  Now, it’s an outdoor gallery where artists use spray paint to create amazing art on the concrete foundation of the building.  There’s also a great, unobstructed view of Downtown Austin.

Lyndon B. Johnson Presidential Library

One of the better presidential libraries I’ve been to.  LBJ was the one who created many of the social programs we work with today.  It was interesting to see how they all started.  There’s a neat feature in this library where they allow you to listen to phone conversations LBJ had with many people, including Jackie Kennedy, right after JFK was assassinated.  It’s really interesting.  It’s on the UT campus, but they have a designated parking lot, so you shouldn’t have any problems.

Blanton Art Museum

If you like art museums, this is a great one.  The entry way is beautiful and they just opened a brand new building (it opened right after we left Austin) that looks amazing.  This one is also on the UT campus, but there’s a public parking garage that makes things easy.

Where to Eat

Pizza – Via313

This is a Detroit-style pizza spot that started as a food truck.  I recommend checking out the original (behind Craft Pride at 61 Rainey Street).  They have an amazing patio in the back yard, where the food truck is, and Craft Pride serves all kinds of Texas craft beer.  The pizza is amazing, and it’s a spot I go back to every time I’m in Austin.

Trendy Doughnuts – VooDoo Doughnuts

This isn’t the original location (that’s in Portland), but it’s just enough of a taste of Austin’s 6th Street to be enough for me.  6th Street is Austin’s Bourbon Street and can be a little overwhelming.  I recommend going long enough to grab a doughnut and catch a little live music.

Amazing Doughnuts – Gourdough’s Big. Fat. Donuts.

This is a food truck that only sells donuts.  There are great combinations and they’re all really good.  This is a popular place, so don’t go unless you have 30-ish minutes to spare.

Tacos – Torchy’s Tacos

Torchy’s is always on the list of recommendations when you’re talking about Austin.  If you like tacos, you’ll like this place, and they even have a “secret” menu.  It’s an Austin chain,  but they’re spreading to other places across the country (Texas, Colorado, and Oklahoma right now).  but they know what they’re doing.  There are lots of locations all over the city and all have different features.  Check out their website to find the location that best fits your needs.

Unique Asian Fusion – Soursop

We stopped here on the way back to the airport.  It’s a small food truck attached to a brewery in a really industrial-looking area.  If you’re using GPS, you’re going to think you’re in the wrong place, but you’re not.  They have a really nice outdoor area and the food is unique and really good.

Breakfast – Biscuits N’ Groovy (Hyde Park)

If you like biscuits & gravy, definitely check out this food truck.  Lots of combinations and they’re all amazing.  It’s also around the corner from a great coffee shop, The Flightpath Coffeehouse.

BBQ – The Salt Lick

This is one you’ll have to drive to.  It’s about 30-45 minutes outside of Austin, but it’s worth it.  It’s one of the more famous BBQ spots in the country.  They have amazing food, but it’s super popular, so I recommend it for lunch rather than dinner.  We actually went as soon as we got off the plane and got our car in Austin, since we couldn’t check into the Airbnb until later in the afternoon.

No matter what you choose to do or where you choose to eat, Austin has something for everyone.  What are your favorites?

 

 

 

 

 

 

Keto Fathead Cheeseburger Pockets

Keto Fathead Cheeseburger Pockets

Makes: 8 servings

These keto fathead cheeseburger pockets have quickly become a staple in the ketogenic diet that my husband and I have been following on and off over the last year.  Fathead dough is super versatile and you can really fill these with just about anything.  I’ve used fathead dough to make lasagna “noodles”, pizzas, cinnamon rolls, and several other recipes over the last year.  What’s your favorite way to use fathead dough?

Keto Fathead Cheeseburger Pockets

Recipe

Filling

1.5 lbs ground beef

3/4 medium onion, diced

1 cup shredded cheddar cheese

16 pickle sandwich slices

Salt, pepper, and other seasonings, to taste

 

Dough

6 cups shredded mozzarella cheese

3 cups almond flour

8 tablespoons cream cheese, cut up

4 teaspoons white wine vinegar

4 eggs, beaten until the white and yolks are combined

1 tsp salt

 

Method

First, preheat the oven to 400 degrees.

You’ll want to make the filling so that it’s ready to go when you get your fathead dough cut.  Fathead dough is easier to work with when it’s warm.

Brown the ground beef in a skillet with the diced onions and your preferred seasonings.  Be sure to break the meat into small crumbles so that it will fit into the dough pocket better.  When the meat is cooked through, add in the shredded cheddar cheese and stir until melted.  Set aside.

Next, you’ll make the fathead dough.  I usually do this in two batches to make things less difficult.  Just take the ingredients I’ve listed above, for the crust and divide them in half to start.

You’ll want to start the dough by melting the mozzarella and cream cheese in a large, non stick skillet (or the microwave – I prefer the skillet because you can add and remove heat on the fly and it makes it easier to mix the dough later).  Once the cheeses are melted, add the almond flour, egg, and vinegar and mix (if you used a skillet to melt the cheese, this is when I would reduce the heat to low so you don’t overheat the cheese) until combined into a nice dough.

Transfer the mixed dough to a sheet of parchment paper, and cover with a 2nd sheet of parchment paper.  Roll our the dough into a large rectangle, between the two sheets of parchment paper until it’s about 1/4 inch thick.  If you’re making the dough in two batches, this half should be cut into 4 equal rectangles.

Before making the second batch of dough, go ahead and put together the first half of the hot pockets, otherwise the dough will get cold and be more difficult to work with.  To do this, you’ll scoop about 1/8 of the meat filling into each of the dough rectangles and top with two slices of pickles.  Fold the dough over to form a pocket and pinch the edges together, pressing with a fork, if necessary, to seal completely.

Repeat for the second batch of dough.

Place finished pockets on a cookie sheet, lined with parchment paper, and bake at 400 for 20-25 minutes, checking regularly after 20.  Finished pockets should be nicely browned and the dough should be cooked through.

Nutrition

Keto Fathead Cheeseburger Pocket Nutrition Facts

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

2017 Year in Review

As the year draws to a close, I always like to take a few moments to reflect on all my experiences over the past 12 months. As with most years, 2017 will be remembered as a year of curve balls and unexpected surprises, but what would life be without occasional surprises and detours? Here’s my 2017 Year in Review. . . 

Amanda & Josh overlooking Honolulu
Overlooking Honolulu

Work

I just passed the two-year mark at the University of Kansas at the Center for Public Partnerships and Research, managing the Institute for the Advancement of Family Support Professionals project. The Institute officially launched our free, online learning platform on November 1st and things are going well. As the project continues through 2018, a career map feature will be added to the platform that will help guide users to trainings that will help them become proficient in a national set of core competencies that were developed by the project. The project involves a team of stakeholders from many different organizations, spread across four different states and most of the work is done virtually via video conferencing. You can learn more about the Institute and even sign up to take some of the courses yourself at www.InstituteFSP.org.  

 

My husband, Josh, spends his time working in content marketing and communications strategy for a Victoria, British Columbia-based marketing and consulting firm. He is the account lead for several Fortune 1000 clients and has spent some time this year writing about something he’s really interested in – blockchain and cryptocurrency.  You can find some of his writing at www.CoinCatalyst.com. The Bitcoin learning curve has been steep for me, but I feel much more educated in the world of cryptocurrency thanks to Josh’s devout research skills.  We even spent the drive back and forth to Central Kansas for Thanksgiving and Christmas this year listening to Digital Gold: Bitcoin and the Inside Story of the Misfits and Millionaires Trying to Reinvent Money on Audible.

 

Travel

We’ve continued traveling fairly extensively throughout 2017.

 

Hawaii

In May, we celebrated our 7th anniversary by flying to Honolulu, spending four days on the island of Oahu, followed by 12 days on a cruise ship visiting three additional islands for seven of those days and crossing the Pacific for the additional five. While in Hawaii, we stayed in an Airbnb on the North Shore of Oahu, visited Pearl Harbor, did a driving tour of Oahu, had coffee in Kona, visited our first active volcano in Hilo, went mountain tubing at Kauai Backcountry Adventures through the irrigation canals of an old sugarcane plantation in Kauai, marveled at the beauty of Waimea Canyon, took a 6-person cruise along the Na Pali Coast with Na Pali Experience (seriously, if you ever get the opportunity to do this, DO IT!!!), did the entire loop on the Road to Hana, and visited art galleries in Lahaina.

Vancouver

After spending five days at sea, we disembarked the cruise ship in Vancouver and walked 25,000 steps the first day off the ship. Vancouver is one of our favorite cities in the world and we always appreciate the opportunity to explore our favorite places when we’re there. We even made the drive along the Sea to Sky Highway to Whistler.  They’re not kidding when they say the Sea to Sky Highway is one of the most beautiful drives in North America.  It’s truly spectacular, and was made even better because of an app I stumbled upon when we were planning our time on Oahu.  If you’re ever traveling in the Hawaiian Islands or in British Columbia (and a few other locations), and you’ll have a car, I HIGHLY recommend looking into the GyPSy Guide.  The company has several tours of varying lengths for each of the Islands, as well as many tour options in British Columbia, and several popular National Park destinations in the United States.  We probably downloaded 6 or 7 of their tours for our trip and they were worth every single penny.  You download the tour and pair your phone with the car’s Bluetooth, then play the audio of the tour through your car speakers while you drive.  The tour is triggered by GPS signal, and the guide gives fantastic directions.  We saw things during those driving tours that you would never find in a guidebook or by just using trial and error.  I wish every destination had something similar.

Brandywine Falls
Brandywine Falls Provincial Park

 

Family Health

When we returned from Vancouver, we found that my mom had become very ill while we were away. She’d lost a lot of weight and was very weak. Her liver specialist at the University of Kansas Hospital decided that it was time to talk about being placed on the liver transplant list and I spent three days working from the hospital while my mom went through the tests and evaluations that are required before being placed on the list. During this process, it was discovered that my mom was also in kidney failure and she was admitted to the hospital for about a week while the doctors worked on getting her healthy enough to be placed on the transplant list. The treatment she received while in the hospital helped her regain enough strength to officially receive approval to be placed on the liver transplant list on my 35th birthday. Her health continues to be stable and she will likely have to get much worse before she will be able to receive a transplant, but we’re fortunate that she’s on the list.

Amanda & Vickie outside of Palma de Mallorca
Amanda & Vickie outside of Palma de Mallorca

Through this process, I’ve learned more about the process of organ transplants than I ever knew existed and have started preaching the importance of registering to be an organ donor to anyone who will listen.  I even organized an organ donor drive for the Midwest Transplant Network at my office, in August.  If you’re not already registered to be an organ donor (not just with a sticker on your driver’s license, but through an actual registration process), please consider registering at www.OrganDonor.gov today.  Five minutes of your time could mean the difference between life and death for someone you know.

More Travel

Boston

In late September, Josh and I had the opportunity to visit Boston for 4 days for a marketing conference. Since both of us have a professional interest in marketing, it was a perfect opportunity to attend a conference together and get in a little sightseeing while there. Last year, we visited Boston on a cruise, but only had the chance to be in the city for a one day, so it was nice to get to spend more time there and actually get to explore a bit. We stayed in an Airbnb in Beacon Hill, right in the middle of everything. We even took Amtrak to New London, Connecticut, and Providence, Rhode Island, so we could check off a couple of additional states. It was a great, albeit short, trip.

Vancouver (again)

One day after returning from Boston, we flew back to Vancouver, BC for a few days ahead of another cruise. We woke up before dawn one morning and drove our rental car to the ferry terminal at Tsawwassen to go to Victoria and visit Josh’s childhood friend, and his family for the day. We got to enjoy high tea in Butchart Gardens before walking around Downtown Victoria, and spending a few hours at their home before taking the ferry back to Vancouver that night. We also had the opportunity to take another GyPSy Guide tour and drive east out of Vancouver to Kamloops, BC. Someday, we want to take a trip to the Canadian Rockies (Jasper, Banff, etc.) and Kamloops is halfway between Vancouver and the Rockies. It was a beautiful drive and we’re eager to get back to the area.

West Coast

From Vancouver, we boarded the Ruby Princess and headed south. We stopped in Astoria, OR, to see Mount St. Helens, spent a day in San Francisco, where we visited Sausalito, sailed under, drove over, and walked over the Golden Gate Bridge, saw the Full House Painted Lady houses, and walked around Haight Ashbury. We spent the last day of our cruise in Santa Barbara on a food & drink walking tour (Eat This, Shoot That) of the “Funk Zone” which reminded us a lot of our own East Lawrence. The cruise ended in Los Angeles and we flew home that afternoon.

Staying Busy in the Community

After founding the Girlfriend’s Gala in 2014, I’m working with our planning committee to wrap up plans for our 4th annual event, on February 2nd. The Gala is an American Cancer Society fundraiser resembling a “prom” for ladies 21 and over and features a photo booth, snack bar, raffle, and bachelor auction. It’s an event that’s becoming really popular in Lawrence and I spend a lot of time each year preparing for it and soliciting donations.  It’s always a blast and it raises a lot of money for a good cause.

 

I also spend time as a member of the Board of Directors for Just Food, the food bank, here in Douglas County, Kansas.  I serve as a member of the fund development sub-committee and help with a lot of the plans for fundraising events throughout the year.  

 

This year, in my capacity as a Board member for the Social Media Club of Lawrence, I’ve helped to revamp the format for our 2018 meetings.  Since the club was founded, it has been meeting weekly, on Wednesday mornings at 7:30.  With many of the members starting families and having to drop kids off at school at exactly that time every morning, it was becoming difficult to get many members to attend meetings.  We’re excited to start hosting monthly lunch networking meetings and monthly evening meetings with presentations, starting in January.  For more information about attending or becoming involved with SMC Lawrence, visit our Facebook page.

 

Grad School

I’m so close to being done with grad school, I can smell it.  I’m officially half-way through my final year of a two-year Master’s program at the University of Kansas in Digital Content Strategy. I’ll walk down the hill at graduation on May 13th and finish my final class over the summer.  

 

Work Travel

I didn’t travel as much for work this year as I did in 2016, but still got out of Lawrence with colleagues a few times:

  • March – South By Southwest Education – Austin, TX
  • March – South By Southwest Interactive – Austin, TX
  • March – Institute for the Advancement of Family Support Professionals Meeting – Harrisonburg, VA

 

2018 Plans

2018 will bring a trip to Texas and two trips to the Caribbean.

 

Texas

In January, we’re spending 4 days in Austin and San Antonio. Josh has never been to either city and I’m looking forward to getting back to Austin and visiting San Antonio for the first time. We’re staying in an Airbnb on Rainey Street, which is one of my favorite little pockets of Austin. We’re excited to get to see one of our friends and her family when we visit San Antonio.  We accidentally found out they would be there (visiting from southern Mississippi for a conference) the same weekend we would, so we’ll get to spend time with them both in January and in November.  

 

Eastern Caribbean

In May, we will be travelling back to the Eastern Caribbean on the same itinerary we sailed in 2016 (St. Thomas, Tortola, and Nassau, out of Miami).  We haven’t booked any tours yet, but if Josh has his way, we’ll be doing the same tours we did when we were in each location before.  Unfortunately, St. Thomas, St. John, Tortola, and Virgin Gorda all took pretty direct hits from two hurricanes this fall, and we’re not sure how many of the tour operators are back to functioning 100% at this point.  We really enjoyed touring St. John and visiting the Baths at Virgin Gorda when we were there in 2016 and would love to get back to both again.

 

Western Caribbean for Josh’s 40th Birthday

In November, we will be sailing to the Western Caribbean with at least 25 friends and family members for Josh’s 40th birthday. We sail from New Orleans, which will be a lot of fun! You can see our itinerary and learn more about the cruise HERE. If you’d like to go with us, we’d love to have more in our group, so please let me know. There’s plenty of room for more people in our group and you get quite a few perks by being a part of a group, so make sure you book through us. Deposits are always fully refundable through the final payment for cruises, so there’s not a lot of risk involved in booking early.  

 

Wrap Up

2017 has been quite a year.  We’ve been a few new places, made some new friends, been involved in our community, and learned a lot.  What were your favorite parts of 2017?

 

 

 

 

 

Yes! Lawrence

Last week, a group of friends from across Lawrence, Kansas gathered in the Warehouse Arts District to talk about forming a new community organization dedicated to promote more “Yes!” across Lawrence.  Yes! Lawrence!

Yes! can come in many forms. . .

  • Yes! We are unapologetic urbanists who believe in the virtues of cities. More people living in close proximity to each other can improve their lives and the lives of those far beyond city limits.

  • Yes! We believe that affordable housing is sorely lacking in Lawrence and want to encourage the City to focus more on bringing the population of the urban core back to where it was 50-100 years ago.

  • Yes! We believe that the future of movement from place to place is pedestrian, cycling, and autonomous and believe that we should focus more on homes for humans than on homes for cars.

  • Yes! We believe that promoting mixed-use ideas in existing neighborhoods builds community and opportunity.

  • Yes! We believe that positive and sustainable growth and change is organic, incremental, and citizen-driven.  We favor many of smaller changes over large scale planning.

  • Yes! We believe that economic and environmental sustainability are intrinsically linked. Making smart environmental choices is a good investment.

  • Yes! We want to educate….There are many preconceived ideas about development based on minimal data. We seek to share available research with City officials and other stakeholders (KU, Haskell, school district, homeowners, neighborhood associations, etc.).

  • Yes! We believe that allowing homeowners to build accessory dwelling units or “Mother-in-Law” units on their property can enable people to stay in their homes longer and continue to afford to live in a neighborhood they love amid rising property taxes that may otherwise price them out of the neighborhood.

  • Yes! We believe in giving back to the Lawrence community making a difference in as many ways as possible.

We are forming Yes! Lawrence to create a community of people who want to make a positive impact but may not have the time, energy, or knowledge to make a difference on their own.  As a group, we hope to be able to call on individuals with useful connections and expertise when there is a cause within the community that could use our help.  We gather in the spirit of organizations across the country who believe in Strong Towns and proclaim “YIMBY” (Yes, in my back yard) recognizing the things that make Lawrence a unique and desirable place to live and realizing that a one-size-fits-all approach may not be the answer.  We think multi-generationally, envisioning what our community could look like in 50 or 100 years and acknowledge that placing too many restrictions on neighborhoods, while seeming beneficial in the short-term, only further entrenches problems like gentrification and increasing our carbon footprint.

We are looking for interested individuals to join us on our quest to hear more Yes! in Lawrence.  Right now, we’re in the VERY early stages of planning.  We decided on the Yes! Lawrence organization name at our last meeting and are planning to craft a mission and vision at our next meeting, in January.  We’ve prepared a short questionnaire for those who are interested in getting involved or being updated about our progress. It asks questions about who you are, what you do, what organizations and people you’re connected with here in town, and what you’d like to see the organization strive toward.  Please take a couple of minutes to complete this form and share your thoughts!  We want to make this organization as inclusive as possible and bring a lot of Yes! to Lawrence, but we need your help to make that happen.

Don’t worry, you won’t be signing your life away by completing the form.  We don’t want this to be “just another meeting” and understand that the people who could have the biggest impact in our organization are also the people who have the busiest schedules and many other commitments.  We’re hoping to plan monthly meetings and meet with sub-groups, as necessary.  We don’t know all the answers yet, but, with your help, we’re hoping to begin developing some answers over the next several months.

If you or someone you know may be interested in Yes! Lawrence please sign up for our email list HERE.

We’re looking forward to hearing lots of Yes! all across Lawrence!

 

 

 

My Favorite Books of 2017

I LOVE to get book recommendations from friends! It wasn’t that many years ago when I found it difficult to find time to do any reading for pleasure.  I filled my time with other things and didn’t make slowing down to read a priority.  Then I found Audible. . . Combine my discovery of Audible with nearly 10 years of a 45 minute, one-way, daily commute and I was magically able to read for pleasure again.  Although I no longer have a commute, I’m still able to listen to audiobooks while I’m cooking dinner each night.  I complete books at a slower pace, but I’m still able to get in several each month.

I’m always looking for book recommendations that fit my varied interests and feel like the end of the year is as good a time as any to share my Top Ten reads of the last year.  I clearly don’t have a single style of book I enjoy.  I tend to get most of my recommendations from The Skimm or through random recommendations from friends. I’m including portions of the Goodreads descriptions from each book because they do a much better job of summing up the books than I could.

Behind Closed Doors by B.A. Paris - book recommendations
#10

Behind Closed Doors by B.A. Paris

Everyone knows a couple like Jack and Grace: he has looks and wealth, she has charm and elegance. You’d like to get to know Grace better. But it’s difficult, because you realize Jack and Grace are never apart. Some might call this true love.

 

The Dry by Jane Harper - book recommendations
#9

The Dry by Jane Harper

After getting a note demanding his presence, Federal Agent Aaron Falk arrives in his hometown for the first time in decades to attend the funeral of his best friend, Luke. Twenty years ago when Falk was accused of murder, Luke was his alibi. Falk and his father fled under a cloud of suspicion, saved from prosecution only because of Luke’s steadfast claim that the boys had been together at the time of the crime. But now more than one person knows they didn’t tell the truth back then, and Luke is dead.

 

The Art of Fielding by Chad Harbach - book recommendations
#8

The Art of Fielding by Chad Harbach

The Art of Fielding is an expansive, warmhearted novel about ambition and its limits, about family and friendship and love, and about commitment – to oneself and to others.

 

 

 

 

 

Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman - book recommendations
#7

Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman

Meet Eleanor Oliphant. She struggles with appropriate social skills and tends to say exactly what she’s thinking. Nothing is missing in her carefully time-tabled life of avoiding social interactions, where weekends are punctuated by frozen pizza, vodka, and phone chats with Mummy.

 

 

 

The Child by Fiona Barton - book recommendations
#6

The Child by Fiona Barton

As an old house is demolished in a gentrifying section of London, a workman discovers a tiny skeleton, buried for years. For journalist Kate Waters, it’s a story that deserves attention. She cobbles together a piece for her newspaper, but at a loss for answers, she can only pose a question: Who is the Building Site Baby?

 

 

 


#5

The Child Finder by Rene Denfeld

Three years ago, Madison Culver disappeared when her family was choosing a Christmas tree in Oregon’s Skookum National Forest. She would be eight years old now—if she has survived. Desperate to find their beloved daughter, certain someone took her, the Culvers turn to Naomi, a private investigator with an uncanny talent for locating the lost and missing. Known to the police and a select group of parents as The Child Finder, Naomi is their last hope.

 

 

The Nix by Nathan Hill - book recommendations
#4

The Nix by Nathan Hill

A hilarious and deeply touching debut novel about a son, the mother who left him as a child, and how his search to uncover the secrets of her life leads him to reclaim his own.

 

 

 

 

A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman - book recommendations
#3

A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman

A grumpy yet loveable man finds his solitary world turned on its head when a boisterous young family moves in next door.

 

 

 

 

 

Ready Player One by Ernest Cline - book recommendations
#2

Ready Player One by Ernest Cline

In the year 2044, reality is an ugly place. The only time teenage Wade Watts really feels alive is when he’s jacked into the virtual utopia known as the OASIS. Wade’s devoted his life to studying the puzzles hidden within this world’s digital confines, puzzles that are based on their creator’s obsession with the pop culture of decades past and that promise massive power and fortune to whoever can unlock them. When Wade stumbles upon the first clue, he finds himself beset by players willing to kill to take this ultimate prize. The race is on, and if Wade’s going to survive, he’ll have to win—and confront the real world he’s always been so desperate to escape.

Promise Me, Dad by Joe Biden - book recommendations#1

Promise Me, Dad: A Year of Hope, Hardship, and Purpose by Joe Biden

Promise Me, Dad chronicles the year that followed, which would be the most momentous and challenging in Joe Biden?s extraordinary life and career. Vice President Biden traveled more than a hundred thousand miles that year, across the world, dealing with crises in Ukraine, Central America, and Iraq. When a call came from New York, or Capitol Hill, or Kyiv, or Baghdad — Joe, I need your help — he responded. For twelve months, while Beau fought for and then lost his life, the vice president balanced the twin imperatives of living up to his responsibilities to his country and his responsibilities to his family. And never far away was the insistent and urgent question of whether he should seek the presidency in 2016.

 

 

What are your book recommendations for 2018?

 

 

 

 

 

Banning Airbnb in Lawrence, Kansas???

Tomorrow evening, the City Commission of Lawrence, Kansas will discuss short term rentals in the city.  I have some very strong feelings about the subject and made sure I completed the survey the city sent out several months ago.  My perspective is not one of someone who owns a short term rental or who has any plans to have one in the future, but instead, is that of someone who has a great deal of experience using services such as Airbnb when traveling both throughout the United States, and internationally.


Our Short Term Rental Experiences

My husband and I have been customers of Airbnb since 2013 when our first experience with the service was renting an apartment with my parents in Barcelona, Spain.  The apartment was located one block from Sagrada Familia and, from the balcony of the apartment, we had a spectacular view of the cathedral from an angle few tourists would ever have the opportunity to experience.  None of us spoke Spanish, but we were able to communicate with our host (who spoke no English) easily through the Airbnb platform.  The apartment was across the street from a grocery store and in the same block as many local restaurants.  Because we were able to get such a great deal on the apartment through Airbnb, we spent significantly more just being “tourists” in a city we fell in love with.

Since our trip to Barcelona, back in 2013, we have been completely sold on the sharing economy idea of Airbnb.  We do not travel anywhere for pleasure without looking for an Airbnb property to stay in.  In fact, since 2013, the only time I have stayed in a hotel was when I was traveling for work, and we have even started to shift business travel lodging to Airbnb when possible, because it allows for collaboration between colleagues in an environment that isn’t full of the hustle and bustle of a hotel lobby.  We can sit around a dining room table and debrief all the things we learned at a conference, or we can work on presentations while sitting comfortably on a couch in the living room.  It’s really a fantastic way to travel with colleagues.

Vancouver, BC Airbnb Short Term RentalsVancouver, BC
London, England Airbnb Short Term RentalsLondon, UK
Washington, DC Airbnb Short Term RentalsWashington, DCBoston, MA Airbnb Short Term RentalsBoston, MAAustin, TX Airbnb Short Term RentalsAustin, TX

My husband and I have stayed in Airbnb properties all across the US (Seattle, Downtown Kansas City (twice), Austin (twice), Denver, Washington, DC, the North Shore of Oahu, and Boston) and internationally in London (twice), Vancouver (in the same apartment on three separate trips), and Barcelona.  We feel like utilizing available short term rentals allows us to experience cities like locals do.  We eat at more neighborhood restaurants, shop at more locally-owned stores, spend more money, and really get to know each city we visit.  Because we’re able to experience the true nature of each city, we find ourselves much more connected to each place and much more likely to return for another trip.  Additionally, booking through services such as Airbnb has allowed us to stay in areas that are much closer to city centers and in much more popular areas for far less than we would have had to pay to stay in a hotel.  I can say, without a doubt, that we have been able to travel more and visit more destinations because we are booking with Airbnb rather than with a hotel.  Hotels in many of the destinations we have visited would have made the trip cost-prohibitive.

Lawrence is made for short term rentals

Lawrence is a city that’s primed to make people fall in love with it.  I’ve lived here my whole life and my love for this city is contagious.  Whenever I have friends coming into town, or even old high school friends coming home to visit for a holiday, I feel compelled to tell them about all of my favorite places in Lawrence and about all the new places that I’ve recently had the opportunity to love.  In my experience, Airbnb hosts are some of the very best ambassadors of the cities in which they have property.  They want the experience of their guests to be as positive as possible.  Hosts want those guests to come back.  They want people to love place they call home as much as they do.

I understand the purpose of regulating short term rentals, but I’ve encouraged our City Commission to do it in a way that will not suffocate their existence in Lawrence.  By keeping them around, we’re encouraging people who love the sharing economy to add Lawrence to their list of desired destinations.  I’m certain people staying in these properties are spending more money in town than those who are staying at a hotel.  My husband and I are those people in other communities and we wouldn’t want it any other way.

 

 

 

 

Managing a Multi-State Project with a Cadre of Technology Tools

When working intensely on a complex project with a group of people scattered across the country, completing even the smallest of tasks seems nearly impossible. Who hasn’t seen the infamous “A Conference Call In Real Life” parody video and seen all their own conference call experiences flash before their eyes? The ability to communicate effectively across the entire remote team is paramount to the success of many of the projects we have here at CPPR.

I have a personal love of technology and thrive on the process of finding and testing tools that might make the remote communication process smoother. The current project I coordinate has partners in four different states, spread across seven organizations, providing a great opportunity to do some of this testing. Over the last several months, my project team has utilized a cadre of tools (which some team members had never had the opportunity to use before) that are helping our remote team of partners build momentum and move us toward our end goal. An added benefit is that most of the tools we have settled on can be used for FREE**. Below, I will introduce you to the tools that we have had the most success with.

Using Google Docs for Grant Writing

Version control is a phrase that I hear like nails on a chalkboard. When you’re writing as a team, trying to keep track of who is making edits in a document at any point in time, making sure they’re editing the correct version, then making sure the correct version is passed along to the next editor. . . is all one big, complicated, and tedious job. With Google Docs, multiple writers from each of the partner organizations can have the document open at the same time, all contributing to the same final product at once. Without a doubt, this process saves our team many hours of time on edits and additions. Here’s a great video on how to use Google Docs to collaborate with your own teams.

Using Zoom Video Conferencing for Regular Calls

Another hiccup that can come up with remote teams is live communication. “When should we talk?” “How should we run our calls?” “Who should be on the calls?” These are all questions we asked ourselves when we started work on this project. Ultimately, we decided that we would need to have in-person meetings a few times per year. Our first meeting was held over three days, on the campus of James Madison University and, in July, the partners visited our team here at the University of Kansas for our second meeting.

For our biweekly meetings, we decided to try video conferencing, as we get our best work done when we can see one another. Video calls were going to be our best option since we’re spread so widely across the country and can’t justify the cost of in-person meetings more than a few times a year. While we tried several different video conferencing services, it wasn’t until the University of Kansas offered access to all staff earlier this year that we settled on Zoom as the tool we would use going forward. Zoom offers the ability to have device-based video and audio from all participants, a calling feature for times when someone can’t log in using a computer, and the ability to share screens — all very important features that make this tool work well for our needs.

To prepare for these regular calls, we use Google Docs to share an agenda ahead of time so that no one is surprised by what we’re talking about on any given week. Included in these agendas are links to relevant files so that people can review them prior to the call and access them easily while the call is happening. This also allows us to know when we need to move a topic to another week if the correct stakeholder will not be able to join us on that week’s call.

Additional Communication Tools

Slack. In addition to calls, we started using Slack to communicate between scheduled Zoom meetings. Slack is a relatively new communication tool for teams where you can have threaded conversations about any topic. Separate channels can be set up for discussion by subject, and people can subscribe to just the channels that are relevant to their work. Private channels can be set up for topics that don’t need full-team discussion. In addition to the channel feature, Slack includes a function allowing private, direct messages to be sent between team members, providing a quick option to reach someone for an immediate need or request, or just to share news. Slack also includes the ability to add files and images to your teams’ channels, which are easily searchable through the search feature. A lesser-known feature available is one-to-one video calling. While this option only exists in a one-to-one scenario in the free version of the tool, calls between up to 15 people are available in the paid version.

TrelloFor project management and tracking, we’re using Trello. Trello takes the Japanese Kanban technique of project management and puts it into an easy to use web-based tool. Teams use boards to create lists (for example, “To Do”, “In Progress”, and “Completed”). Within those lists, team members can create cards for each task that needs to be completed. Each card (task) can be assigned a due date, and be tasked to an individual or multiple individuals on the team. Checklists, files, photos, notes, and updates can also be attached to each card. When a card is complete, it can be archived, deleted, or moved to the “Completed” list for archival purposes. This process helps keep the team on task and informed about where everyone is on each of their assigned tasks within the project.

Conclusion

Moving into my job here at the Center for Public Partnerships and Research two years ago was a real leap of faith for me. Having spent nearly a decade in the corporate worlds of finance and insurance, I had no experience writing grants or even being involved in the grant-writing process. Using these tools has made the transition much smoother.

The work we do here at CPPR is life-changing, not just for the people whose programs we work with, but for our staff, as well.

We’re working every day to make a difference in the lives of families across the country, and hopefully, soon, across the globe. With a limited amount of funding available, it’s always important to be mindful of opportunities to make a project more cost-effective. Using free or relatively low-cost technology tools for collaboration and communication can take a large cost burden out of the management of projects. The tools I’ve mentioned here today are not only playing a large part in the success of my project, but in projects across CPPR.

Incorporating new technology into daily activities can be painful for some, but the temporary growing pains are worth the reward when working with remote teams. Being intentional about which tools you choose to incorporate is important. Introduce too many new tools at once, or without a solid use-case, and team members may become overwhelmed or reject them completely. However, when your team finds the right balance, tasks are completed with less confusion and delay, team members always know what they are responsible for and what their deadlines are, and the lines of communication stay open.

Dipping your toe in the ocean of organizational, communication, and project management tools available right now can be scary, and overdoing it is definitely a risk, but don’t let yourself be frightened of trying something new. Here at CPPR, we know that we can only be navigators of social change by taking risks, exploring innovative ideas, and encouraging our partners and colleagues to embrace the opportunity to find the right technology tool for the job.

Intro Videos for the tools mentioned here:
Google Docs
Zoom
Slack
Trello

**Zoom, Slack, and Trello have premium versions that are not free. Those versions have additional features that haven’t been necessary to use with my project, but may provide an added benefit to others. Each tool’s website clearly discloses their pricing structure for their premium product.

How to Experience New Orleans Like a Local

One of the favorite parts of traveling for Josh and I is trying to experience every place we visit as if we were a local.  Because Josh lived about an hour outside the city prior to Hurricane Katrina, New Orleans was one of the first cities I was able to ease into this travel style.

My definition of traveling like a local means avoiding the typical tourist traps (with a few exceptions – who isn’t going to stop at Cafe DuMonde when in the French Quarter???), eating at restaurants that are off the beaten path, enjoying the amenities cities provide for their citizens (parks, museums, etc.), and taking time to just explore.

After our first trip to New Orleans together, Josh and I compiled a list of recommendations for a friend who was planning her own trip.  I’ve saved that list and every time another friend is planning a trip, I make sure to offer it up, as my contribution to their trip planning.  We have friends who have come home and raved about our recommendations and one who lets me know every time she goes back to one of the restaurants we originally recommended when she visits the city.  

Below is our list of recommendations.  I hope they are as beneficial to you as they have been to some of our other friends.

(Photo Credit: Bacchanal Wine)

Bacchanal

600 Poland Avenue

Bacchanal is in the ‘super cool’ Bywater neighborhood.  It’s a wine store, but out back, they have a pop-up restaurant where you can enjoy live music while relaxing on patio furniture sipping your favorite cocktail or a local Abita beer.  When the weather is nice, it’s an experience that can’t be beat!  Bacchanal has been featured on Top Chef several times, as well as on the HBO show Treme.

(Source: Follow Me Foodie)

Cochon Restaurant

930 Tchoupitoulas Street

Cochon is a restaurant and butcher.  The butcher shop is next door to the restaurant, and provides all of the meat for the restaurant.  It was one of the best meals we’ve ever had in New Orleans.  It’s run by famous New Orleans Chef, Donald Link, who was one of the first chefs back in the city after Hurricane Katrina.  He’s been on Top Chef multiple times and his food is exceptional!

(Source: Mid-City Lanes Rock N Bowl via Facebook)

Rock N’ Bowl

3000 South Carrollton Avenue

If you like bowling and live music (or just live music), Rock N’ Bowl is a spot you shouldn’t miss.  It’s a really cool live music venue that happens to be housed in a bowling alley.  Many fantastic musicians have played at Rock N’ Bowl and it’s a favorite spot for locals to catch their favorite New Orleans bands.  

 

(Source: Willie Mae’s Scotch House)

Willie Mae’s Scotch House

2401 Saint Anne St

Willie Mae’s Scotch House serves the very BEST fried chicken in the country.  But plan accordingly. . . They’re open for lunch and serve until they run out.  You’ll want to get there early because they do sell out.  On one of our trips, we actually ate at Willie Mae’s twice because we thought it was so good.  The restaurant was wiped out by Katrina and the community came together to rebuild it.  

(Source: Napolean House)

Napolean House

500 Chartres Street

Have a Pimm’s Cup here if you get a chance.  It was invented here and Josh loves it.  Their muffaletta is also pretty phenomenal.  🙂  It’s in the French Quarter.

Your Favorites?

What are your favorite New Orleans spots?  Comment with your recommendations and I’ll be sure to add them to my list to check out the next time we’re there!

 

 

 

 

 

The impact of a hurricane: One person’s experience with Hurricane Katrina

Author’s Note: This is an article I wrote for an assignment in my Master’s program.  It ended up being three times as long as it needed to be, so I’m posting it here in order to be able to share the entire story, rather than just a part of it.  If the writing seems different than my normal style, it’s because that’s what the assignment required.

Hurricane Katrina is one of those events that people talk about and everyone remembers what they were doing when they first heard the storm made landfall.  In that aspect, it is similar to the death of Princess Diana or the assassination of John F. Kennedy.  But Hurricane Katrina was very different because it impacted millions of people all along the Gulf coast and far into the rest of the United States.

When most people think of Hurricane Katrina, they think of the devastation they saw on the news in New Orleans and the flooding that happened after the levees were breached.  Josh Davis has a unique perspective of the hurricane, as he lived a half-block from the beach in Long Beach, Mississippi.  This interview explores a lesser known, but still very real, experience of someone who escaped Hurricane Katrina’s wrath from the beach in Mississippi, but still lost everything.

Making the Decision to Leave

Davis didn’t watch a lot of news around the time of the hurricane, but his friends had started talking about it.  Hurricane Ivan had been the previous fall and he had evacuated during that storm, so he knew the drill.  Only when he saw people boarding up the windows of the local K-Mart, did it really hit him that something significant was likely going to occur.

Conversations for about half a week prior to the storm making landfall were dominated with talk of preparations and evacuation.  “People were talking about whether or not they had family inland and where they were going to go,” Davis said. “Since I lived a half-block from the beach, many of my neighbors were talking about what to do with their 2nd car and their animals.”

Based on the forecast, there wasn’t ever really any question about whether or not he would be evacuating. It was more a matter of when.  Davis lived in a complex of rental townhomes and spoke with his landlord about the plans for boarding up the properties.  They came to board things up on Friday and Davis left town very early Sunday morning to beat the anticipated high volume of evacuation traffic.  Davis knew the manager of the poker room at the Grand casino in Tunica, Mississippi, who was able to get him a room at the casino hotel, where he stayed for five days.

What to Take

Since he had been through an evacuation before, he already knew which items he would be taking with him and what he would leave behind.  Davis worked from a home office, so he knew that he needed to take equipment to be able to continue working.  He packed 2 computers, four computer monitors, a large monitor stand, power strips and modems, as well as a week’s worth of clothes into his small Chevy Blazer.  He also packed important documents, like his passport, and a folder of personal mementos.  “I didn’t take a lot,” he said.

He remembers specifically, one piece of clothing he took with him.  “I took my B.U.M. brand sweatshirt I bought in Wichita when I was in high school,” he said.

Although he didn’t take much with him, he did put a lot of thought into how he wanted to leave his house.  Davis spent several days moving items from the first floor of his townhouse to the second floor, to try to avoid the flooding that was sure to happen.  “I hauled over 2,000 CDs, my whole glass art collection, basically anything that wasn’t nailed down or too big to move, upstairs.  I figured if I got everything to the 2nd floor, it would still be salvageable,” Davis remembered.

Davis had just purchased a brand new bedroom set, so he put everything he could on top of the bed before he left town.  The only items that remained on the first floor were the television, couches, dining room table, brand new washer and dryer and items in the kitchen cabinets.

Recalling the items he left behind, if he had it to do over again, Davis would have taken pieces of his glass art and CD collections.  “With my limited space, if I had known how bad it was going to be, I would have taken my CDs and I would have taken the time to pack up three or four pieces of my glass art collection.”

Staying Behind

Davis didn’t personally know anyone in his neighborhood who stayed behind.  “Quite a few people went inland a mile, ten miles, or an hour.  Anyone who stayed in my neighborhood would have died.  Everything was gone.  I was a half-block from the beach and there were no structures remaining, just concrete foundations.”  About a mile inland from the beach, there was an elevated railroad track that helped keep much of the storm surge from impacting the rest of Long Beach, but anything that was between the beach and the railroad track was destroyed by the storm surge.  “Even today, very little of what was there before has been rebuilt,” Davis said.

Emotions Run High

Watching the news coverage of the damage was particularly difficult for Davis.  He spent a lot of time in the casino hotel fitness center, watching the news.  He remembers crying several times throughout the five days he was in the hotel and going back to his hotel room to email or call friends and family members.  “Everyone was just saying it was really bad,” he remembered.  “I cried thinking that I would probably not see some people again, not knowing if they made it or not, and realizing that this was devastating enough that we wouldn’t likely all be back together geographically again any time soon.”

Davis didn’t know he had lot everything until he was able to talk to his friend, Jessica.  She told him that although no one had been able to get to his neighborhood, there were planes flying overhead, taking aerial shots and they could tell that everything was gone.

Moving Ahead

By this time, it was clear to Davis that he wouldn’t be returning to Long Beach, so he had to decide where he wanted to go.  “I think I decided that since I had all of my stuff in the Blazer still, I would come back to Kansas and stay with my parents,” he remembered.  Davis left Tunica and drove to Marquette, Kansas to stay with his parents for five days, where he decided what he wanted to do next.

Davis considered flying to Portland, Oregon to look for property, but decided instead to drive to Lawrence, Kansas for a couple of days.  He had gone to the University of Kansas for his undergrad and had a cousin who still lived in Lawrence.  During his trip to Lawrence, he picked up a couple of local newspapers to look for housing.  “It was about three o’clock in the afternoon and I was sitting at the bar at The Replay, looking through the papers for a place to rent.  I ended up at a property management office for the lofts at Tenth and New Hampshire, signed the lease and went back to Central Kansas to get my stuff,” Davis recalled.  His cousins and parents helped him move into the new loft the next day.

First Time Back

Davis returned to Long Beach for four days in October 2005.  At the time, he hadn’t ruled out moving back to the area, and before the storm, he had even been casually looking at property to buy in the Bywater neighborhood of New Orleans.  After visiting the area and seeing the damage and resulting housing shortage, he decided to stay in Lawrence.  “There’s still a housing shortage in the Long Beach area today.  Some of my friends were living in FEMA trailers or had stayed in their homes further inland that weren’t damaged.  There was just so much construction going on at the time.  Since I didn’t grow up there, I didn’t have as strong pull to go back,” he remembered.

While back in Long Beach, Davis and some of his friends went back to the site of his townhouse.  There, they found one of the computers he’d left behind completely packed with dirt.  Before he returned to town, one of his friends, Shannon, had been walking in the area and found one of his pieces of glass art, almost fully intact, and saved it for him.  He still has the piece displayed in his home today.

Silver Linings

Over the years, through his work, Davis had become a part of a strong online community.  The manager of the poker room at the Grand, in Tunica, who had secured the hotel room for him to stay in, posted in the online community about Davis’ situation.  The community wanted to help.  A week later, the community had raised over $5,000 to help Davis rebuilt his life.  “It was a true testament to how powerful online communities can be,” Davis said.

Not So Silver Linings

After the storm, Davis was never able to get a hold of his previous landlord.  This meant that he wasn’t able to get his security deposit back.  In 2015, Davis was notified that he had a lien on his credit report for unpaid taxes for 2005, the year of the storm.  He had paid all applicable taxes up until the point he left Mississippi, but because of the damage and loss of all of his records, he had no way to prove it.  The lien was filed in 2009, but he hadn’t received any notice of it because the state was mailing letters to an address that no longer existed.

Moving On

Today, Davis is still living in Lawrence, Kansas, with his wife, Amanda, two dogs and two cats.  They own a home in East Lawrence and are very involved in the community.  When asked if he would ever consider living in an area prone to hurricanes again, he was brief in his answer, “Yes, although unlikely, since I like Lawrence so much.”

The First Five Days of the Next Four Years

This is a letter I am planning to send to my representatives in Congress tomorrow, but I wanted to share it here in case it’s helpful to anyone else in their own generation of letters.

 

Dear Senators Roberts & Moran and Representative Jenkins,

I would like to take a moment to thank you for your service as a member of Congress.  I am a constituent in the 2nd Congressional District of Kansas who has voted in each and every national, state, and local election since I turned 18. I find it incredibly difficult to even begin to express my feelings about all of the actions that have been taken since Donald Trump was inaugurated just 5 days ago. Every new Breaking News alert I receive makes me cringe just a little bit more and makes me want to stop paying attention to the news, all together. But that’s what he seems to want and I’m not going to stop being informed. Because most of this country chose to do that, we ended up electing a President who cares very little about the people he is representing and who only cares to advance his own agenda, make the rich richer, and leave behind all those who were not born with the same opportunities as he happens to have been.

I believe in basic human decency. I believe in genuinely caring about the people around you and that we’re all human beings. We all have people who love us and would be devastated if those people’s’ lives were put in jeopardy. I believe in the values that this country has always stood for. Freedom and Equality for ALL, not just those who were born into the right families or have connections to the right people. I believe in compassion and concern for the well-being of others and just being NICE to one another.

What is happening in Washington, DC right now, goes against everything I believe in. Allow me to explain:

Affordable Care Act Repeal

This country is significantly behind other first world countries across the globe on this issue. What started as a plan to make sure that all Americans could receive the medical care they needed was so bastardized through compromises in Congress that it’s no wonder it has flaws in its current state. Although there are flaws, its existence means that millions of Americans now have the ability to go to the doctor when they are ill and get the care they need before a common cold turns into something much, much worse, and requires significantly more money and resources to treat.

I’m sure that most people in power in Washington have never had to worry about how they would pay to go to the doctor, but many in this country are not as fortunate. People put off going to the doctor for years because they can’t afford treatment, only to find out that they have stage 4 cancer that could have been cured or avoided if they’d gone to the doctor sooner.

None of this accounts for those who had no other choice. Take my own mother, for example. She and my father have been happily married for 35 years. Before I was born, she was diagnosed with ulcerative colitis and multiple sclerosis. These two diseases can be completely debilitating when not treated. When I was 8, my mother quit working to take care of her health and take care of my sister and I. She was fortunate to have that opportunity because my father had a corporate job with good benefits and made enough that we would be able to survive on his salary, alone.

My parents happen to have a 5-year gap in their ages, so when my father was ready to retire from his Executive Vice President position at an aviation consulting firm, my mother still had 5 years before she would have qualified for Medicare. Fortunately, COBRA covered them for a while, until the Affordable Care Act went into place and she was able to purchase acceptable insurance from the Health Insurance Marketplace. Previously, because of these pre-existing conditions, she would not have been able to qualify for health insurance.

Fast forward to today. . . my mother doesn’t turn 65 until August, so she still has 7 and a half months without Medicare. The medication that she has been taking for the last 35 years to keep her MS and UC at bay has caused the devastating side effect of cirrhosis of the liver (in a woman who has had maybe one beer in her life) and her 2016 Marketplace plan didn’t cover the liver specialists at the University of Kansas Medical Center, just 40 minutes from her house, even though they are the only specialists in the area who had the ability to treat her. Luckily, I was able to help my parents navigate the system to find a plan for 2017 that covers the doctors she needs to get treatment, but if Congress repeals the Affordable Care Act with no replacement and with no clause for pre-existing conditions, there’s a chance my mother will not make it to her 65th birthday. I’m not ready to lose my mother, especially to something that can be treated.

I urge you to think about the millions of stories, similar to my mom’s before you vote to repeal the Affordable Care Act. If you’re going to repeal it, have something better to replace it with, and please, please, please, make sure there is some kind of clause that doesn’t make  a pre-existing condition a death sentence.

De-funding of Planned Parenthood

While I realize that many people in this country have never been in a position to need the services that Planned Parenthood provides, myself included, that doesn’t mean those services aren’t needed by our fellow Americans. Some people believe that Planned Parenthood does nothing more than serve as a revolving door for those looking to have an abortion, but that’s not true, nor has it ever been.

Planned Parenthood started as a birth control clinic in 1916 in Brooklyn, New York. In 1921, it became The American Birth Control League and changed its name to Planned Parenthood in 1942. Planned Parenthood is the largest supplier of reproductive health services in the United States. Allow me to elaborate on what “reproductive health services” include:

  • birth control
  • long-acting reversible contraception
  • emergency contraception
  • clinical breast examinations
  • cervical cancer screening
  • pregnancy testing
  • pregnancy options counseling
  • testing and treatment for sexually transmitted infections
  • sex education
  • vasectomies
  • LGBT services
  • abortion

While many proclaim that abortion is the only thing that Planned Parenthood does, they refuse to acknowledge all of the other positive things the organization provides for its clients. By removing options like the Affordable Care Act and Planned Parenthood, we’re just setting people up to fail. Without appropriate reproductive health services available, people do not get treatment that they need, year after year.

99% of abortions provided by Planned Parenthood require that no Federal funds be used to perform them. “Passed by Congress in 1976, the Hyde Amendment excludes abortion from the comprehensive health care services provided to low-income people by the federal government through Medicaid. Congress has made some exceptions to the funding ban, which have varied over the years. At present, the federal Medicaid program mandates abortion funding in cases of rape or incest, as well as when a pregnant woman’s life is endangered by a physical disorder, illness, or injury.” (from the ACLU website)

While lawmakers sit in Washington with Federal health insurance, those who can not afford their own coverage will be left without any options for care if Planned Parenthood is de-funded. The ramifications of this will be many and serious.

I urge you to fully fund Planned Parenthood, so that thousands of women across the country can continue to receive the reproductive health care they deserve.

Betsy DeVos

President Trump’s nominee for Secretary of Education has no experience with public education or with managing a student loan. She has a degree in business administration and political science from a Liberal Arts college in Grand Rapids, Michigan. She has no graduate degree and no experience with any kind of public schooling in her entire life. She believes that there are instances where guns belong in schools, even after seeing how devastating school shootings can be to a community. Mrs. DeVos is not qualified to be nominated or confirmed for this position.

I urge you to reject the confirmation of Betsy DeVos for Secretary of Education.

Censorship of Researchers and Government Agencies

The United States of America was founded on the principles of religious freedom and freedom of speech. Censoring government agencies and researchers goes against everything that this country stands for. Transparency is key to building solid relationships in any aspect of business or life. Restricting communications by government employees in positions such as National Parks and the USDA makes absolutely no sense and is just confirming the notion that President Trump wants to push the United States into a dictatorship.

I urge you to insist that all gag orders and censorship be removed from non-national security related government agencies and researchers.

Voter Fraud

The claims that President Trump has made about voter fraud are unfounded and blatantly untrue. The only examples he can give are hearsay from people who shouldn’t have even been voting in the first place (German citizens) and who claim to have never shared the story that the President is feeding to his staff, Congress, and the American people. This should not be tolerated, as it undermines the entire voting system that runs our country. If there was voter fraud, who is to say that it didn’t benefit him, when the only truly reported cases that have been disclosed involved his supporters and not any other candidates?

I urge you to put an end to voter fraud investigations and spend that money in a place that will do some good for humanity.

Building the Wall

The US Border with Mexico is 1,954 miles long. Building a wall along that border will cost hundreds of millions of dollars to taxpayers, pushing the US deficit higher and higher. This is an unacceptable use of taxpayer money. Building a wall along the US/Mexico border will not stop anyone from entering the country illegally. We have borders along the Pacific Ocean (7,623 miles), Atlantic Ocean (2,069 miles), Gulf of Mexico (1,631 miles), Alaska (1,060 miles)  and between the US and Canada (4,000 miles). Building a wall along the US/Mexico border will just waste taxpayer money, as people who want to get into the country illegally have over 16,000 miles of other opportunity that won’t have a wall.

I urge you to block the building of a wall along the US/Mexico border to preserve precious taxpayer dollars.

Immigration

The United States is a nation largely populated by immigrants. How many of us can say that someone in our family did not immigrate here?  Personally, my great grandfather and his brothers immigrated here from Ireland in the early 1900s. They built lives and families in Northeast Kansas and, for the most part, our extended family still remains within 100 miles of the original homestead. Millions of Americans share similar stories. Some arrived earlier than others, and some were already here when new people started arriving.

The United States is supposed to be a melting pot of cultures. We boast some of the greatest museums in the world, filled with pieces that display the diversity that makes this country so great. Restricting immigration means that people of the current generation won’t have the same opportunity to come to America and build their own American dream, as our ancestors did. If the Native Americans had turned away our ancestors, none of us would be here today, engaging in the political process.

I urge you to reject the restriction of immigration to the United States.

Torture

Torture is a strict violation of the Geneva Convention and should never be brought up as an option in the discussion of how to handle criminals, no matter the crime. The brave men and women of our Armed Forces have fought to keep America free from torture. Your colleague, Senator John McCain, says it best:

“I don’t give a damn what the president of the United States wants to do. We will not waterboard. We will not torture people … It doesn’t work.”

I urge you to immediately stand against President Trump’s calls for torture of prisoners, no matter their crime.

Dakota Access Pipeline

It seems as though there is a new report about a pipeline leak every day. Allowing for the construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline near the Missouri River stands to contaminate the water supply for millions of Americans in the heart of the country. If the water supply is compromised, that puts all of the best agricultural land in the country in jeopardy.

This doesn’t even take into account the blatant disregard for the Standing Rock Sioux tribe, who is being forced to give up the land that they were forced onto by generations that came before us. We’ve done enough damage to Native culture in this country. Taking even more land to continue a pipeline, rather than investing in clean, renewable energy is irresponsible and disrespectful to the generations that will come after us.

I urge you to take action to prevent the Dakota Access Pipeline from continuing construction on the currently laid-out path.

Blatantly Lying to the American People

Probably the most unsettling aspect of the 5 days since the inauguration of President Trump has been the complete disregard for the intelligence of the American people. From lying about voter fraud to lying about the size of the crowd at his inauguration, President Trump has made it clear that he will spread rumors faster than a middle school girl and has no intention of ever fact-checking a single piece of information he shares publicly. This can not continue. The American people have to be smarter than this. Congress has to be smarter than this.

The United States Constitution allows for a three-branch system to perform checks and balances so that things do not fall apart. At what point do executive orders stop being a “normal” part of everyday life and start to raise some concerns?  Taking advantage of an uneducated population who has become complacent with believing anything they hear from President Trump and his staff is unacceptable.

I urge you to stand up and say something about the lies that are being told to the American people. Saying nothing makes many of us believe that we are beginning to know what the Germans felt like as Hitler rose to power in the 1930s. Some may say this is hyperbole, but if President Trump’s first 5 days are any indication of what the next 4 years will hold, it’s not out of the realm of possibility.

Respectfully,

 

 

 

 

 

 

Kansas 2nd Congressional District