Monday, August 18, 2014

Kansas City Has Its Very Own Superman

Michael Wheeler Runs For Peace
It's a bird!  It's a plane!  It's Superman - right here in Kansas City!

Actually, who you are seeing flying through the streets of Kansas City is Michael Wheeler, a local man who loves to run and spread a message of peace.  "I'm running for the Lord and sharing his goodness with others," he says.

Wheeler was born in Oklahoma, but he moved to Kansas City as a four-year-old boy.  He discovered his skill for running one day when he was being bullied and took off to escape the violence.  

At nineteen, he was drafted into the Army and sent to Vietnam.    It was during this time that he became addicted to drugs and his life took a dark turn.

Things changed, however, when he met a minister who prayed for him.  For Wheeler, this was the beginning of a permanent change in his life.  He became a man of God and has been drug free for more than forty years.  

Still, his life path has not been easy.  Shortly after his sister was brutally murdered, Wheeler, who was now a preacher himself, became involved with community leader Alvin Brooks and his anticrime group.  

One day in the late '80s, when the group was marching on a drug house across the street from where Wheeler grew up, one of the dealers came out of the house and beat him with a 2x4 board.  

Wheeler was seriously injured, but after his recovery, he was able to meet with President George H.W. Bush about community antidrug and anticrime efforts when Bush visited Kansas City in 1990.

Today, Wheeler is 63 years old and shows no signs of slowing down.  He has run more 200,000 miles and has taken part in more than 130 marathons across the country - including the Boston Marathon.

Recently, he ran "unofficially" in Kansas City's Susan G. Komen Race For The Cure marathon and came in second place.  You will also see him running regularly through the Plaza/Midtown area, downtown, or even in the parking lot of Arrowhead Stadium on game days.

Although he has only been wearing the Superman costume for about four years, his mission has always been the same - "I love to put a smile on people's faces, entertain, and inspire," says Wheeler.

As for what is next for Kansas City's very own Superman, he is planning a "Super Run For Peace," between Kansas City and St. Louis - based on the events that have taken place in Ferguson, MO, since the police shooting of Michael Brown.  

Wheeler estimates that the run will take about four days and hopes that others will join him in his mission to bring people together and create a better world.

Good luck Superman, and may your mission for peace be successful!

Sunday, July 20, 2014

The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art Adds A Puzzling Addition To Their Sculpture Garden

Where can you go for some fun and free family entertainment in Kansas City?  Try the new outdoor labyrinth at the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art.

Located in the southeast section of the Nelson's Donald J. Hall Sculpture Park, this exciting addition is hard to miss.  It has 1-inch glass walls which are 7 foot high.  The walkways are 43 inches wide, and the entire sculpture weighs more than 400 tons.  

As you approach the entrance to the labyrinth, there is a Nelson staff member there to assist visitors and advise you to keep your hands free during your walk through the exhibit - and I quickly found out why.

I had planned on shooting video while working my way through this life-sized puzzle, but I quickly found that I couldn't really do it.  If I didn't have my hands out in front of me to feel the glass walls, I kept walking into them.  By about the third time I walked into the glass, I felt like a fool, but I was also laughing out loud and having a great time because I was watching everyone else do the same thing.

The labyrinth was designed by Kansas City native and international artist Robert Morris, who has long been interested in ancient art forms, and purchased with help from the Hall Family Foundation.  

One thing that creator Morris wants you to consider as you move through his disorienting space is, "Is your experience a metaphor for negotiating the uncertainties of our time?"  

The labyrinth opened on May 22.  It is a permanent exhibit and takes approximately 10 minutes to maneuver through it.  

The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art is located at 4525 Oak.  There is both street and garage parking, and their hours are:

Wednesdays 10-5
Thursdays and Saturdays 10-9
Sundays 10-5.
Closed on Monday and Tuesday.

Monday, June 2, 2014

Vaile Mansion Stands Proudly As A Kansas City Architectural Gem

If you like old homes and Kansas City history, then Vaile Mansion in Independence, MO is the place to go.

Even better, this Saturday will be the Vaile Strawberry Festival, an annual event held on the mansion grounds, which includes lots of strawberry treats and approximately 100 antique vendors/craft booths set up on the expansive lawn.

I can't stress enough that, if you do visit Vaile Mansion, be sure you take the guided tour of the mansion's interior.  It is like taking an instant and intimate step back into Kansas City's turbulent and affluent history.  

Built in 1881 in the Second Empire Style by Harvey Vaile, the landmark is a 31-room, beautifully restored home with a rich history.  It was home to Vaile's wife, Sophia, until her death in the mansion in 1883 and Mr. Vaile until his death in the home in 1894.  

Vaile Mansion was designed by Kansas City architect Asa Cross with nine marble fireplaces and  a beautiful wood/glass entryway into the home.  

Step through the tiled entryway into the 40-foot long grand hall, and you realize you have entered a different era. 

The tour begins with the drawing room (gentlemen's parlor).  This opulent space contains 14-foot ceilings, 11-foot windows, and is repainted in its original green color.  

Mr. Vaile was an abolitionist, teacher, lawyer, cattle rancher, major player in establishing the Republican party in Kansas City and an entrepreneur who established the Star Mail Routes, which ran mail and other freight between here and Santa Fe, NM.  With such a varied background, imagine the conversations that might have taken place in this room.   

From the drawing room, the house flows into the music room, which contains one of the mansion's original crystal chandeliers, an 1871 Lindeman Grand piano and a working Regina music box.  

The music room was probably one of the busiest rooms in the Vaile household and is adorned with a Vermont marble fireplace.

From there, the music room leads into the dining room, which has an outdoor-themed mural on the ceiling depicting amenities once on the grounds of the estate - including a pond, boathouse and greenhouse.

The table is made from what was once a square grand piano.

Past the dining room is the serving/warming kitchen (the cooking kitchen was in the basement along with some of the servants' quarters and laundry facilities) and the butler's pantry.

The kitchen contains an antique Acorn stove and a German icebox. The butler's pantry has lots of storage room for dishes, silverware and utensils.

To the southwest of the kitchen is the water tower room.  When Vaile Mansion was built, one of its many innovative features was a self-sustaining water supply.  The house had a 6,000 gallon water tower which allowed water to flow to the upper floors.  

Today the mansion is connected to city water and the tank has been removed.  The room is now set up as a breakfast/eating area.

Also on the first floor of the mansion is the informal parlor, which is where the Vailes would have spent their time when they weren't entertaining guests.

The informal parlor has original pocket doors that separate it from the ladies parlor and a red decorative theme.  It is the smallest parlor in the home and also boasts one of the home's original chandeliers.

The formal parlor is the last room open to the public on the first floor.  It has the most expensive mantle in the home, made from Italian marble. 

This is where Mrs. Vaile would have formally entertained ladies who came to the mansion.

Ascending to the second floor, you can see the original skylight in the roof, which lets in lots of natural light.  

The floors on the second story are original to the home, and this level contains a large hallway, a gift shop, two bathrooms, the master bedroom, guest bedrooms, the library and the nature's bower.

The bathrooms were built to have running hot and cold water, flushing toilets, and copper bathtubs, which was quite an extravagance at the time.

The guest bedrooms have a separate bathroom from the main bedroom.  

All the rooms feel cozy and spacious at the same time.

The main bedroom was the location of a scandalous ceiling mural - a mural of a woman who is nude from the waist up.  

Today the woman has a transparent piece of material shrouding her upper body.  It is a common tale that this controversial art kept Mrs. Vaile from being accepted by the "proper" ladies of society and that the woman in the painting is actually her.

The nature's bower (Mr. Vaile's smoking room) is quite an interesting room.  To make it seem as close to nature as possible, Mr. Vaile had dark green carpeting on the floor, and the ceiling is a dark blue with stars like the night sky.

The knotholes and imperfections in the variety of woodwork used in the nature's bower also makes it appear to be full of human and animal faces, and " J.H. Kay October 12, 1881" is mysteriously inscribed above the door.  

The library is where Mr. Vaile often worked when he was home.  

Here, visitors can read Mr. Vaile's obituary, see a desk which belonged to the home's architect, browse photos of the mansion's restoration, and view a beautiful donated mobile desk on wheels.   

The third floor of the mansion is not open to the public tour.  The original plans called for a billiard room and a ball room on this level, but it was never completed.  The basement of the home is also not open to the public.

Behind the mansion is the only standing outbuilding left on the once expansive property - the carriage house.  Today it is a private residence and not part of the mansion grounds.

After The Vailes passed, the mansion was used for a variety of functions including a women's college, an inn, a private asylum and for many years, a nursing home. 

In the early 1980s, the home was turned over to the Vaile Victorian Society who tirelessly renovated and restored the home and decorated it with vintage furnishings.   

Today, Vaile Mansion is on the National Register of Historic Places and is an Independence Historic Landmark.  

If you would like to see Vaile Mansion for yourself, it is located at 1500 N. Liberty in Independence and is open from April through October and again through the holiday season when it is decorated for a beautiful Victorian Christmas.  

April 1st - End of Oct
Mon-Sat 10 AM - 4 PM
Sun 1 PM - 4 PM

Closed for Decorating Nov 1-25.

Holiday Hours:  Nov 25 - Dec 30
Closed Dec 23-25
Mon - Sat 10 AM - 4 PM
Sun 1 - 4 PM

Admission $6.00
Children/Students $3.00
Seniors/Groups $5.00

If you plan on attending the Strawberry Festival on June 7th, the hours are 9 AM - 4 PM.  

Entrance to the grounds, which at one time included fountains, a 48,000-gallon wine cellar and arbors, is free.  

There will still be a fee for guided mansion tours (which take less than an hour.) 

Call (816) 833-1646 for more information about festival activities or (816) 325-7430 for more information about the mansion.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Three Books Worth Reading With Kansas City Connections

For people with a passion for reading but who also want a bit of Kansas City flavor mixed in, here are three books worth checking out: 

Let's start with The Big Divide by local authors Diane Eickhoff and Aaron Barnhart.  Published last year and perfect for history lovers, this gem of a book is self-described as "a travel guide to historic and Civil War sites throughout the Missouri/Kansas border region."  

Many sites mentioned in this book are in our own backyards - like the Jesse James Farm and Museum in Kearney or the Harris-Kearney House in the historic Westport district.  

Some landmarks are locations that I have visited and actually written about in this blog - including The Thomas Hart Benton State Historic Site and the Glore Psychiatric Museum.  

Yet other destinations are further out from the metro, but definitely worth a day trip - places like the Laura Ingalls Wilder Home and Museum in Mansfield, MO or the Patee House Museum in St. Joseph (both of which I have been to and loved.)  

Overall, The Big Divide is well organized, easy to use, and full of all kinds of tidbits about area history.  It provides chapter maps, driving tours, tips for the trip, book and film suggestions, and a 200-year timeline (1700-1900) illustrating and comparing U.S., world, and local history.

As a side note, the one site I would add to this book is the old Missouri State Penitentiary in Jefferson City, MO, which was built in 1836 and closed in 2004.  I have taken a tour there and found its history (including the Civil War era) fascinating.

Published in 2013, Texts From Bennett is my second recommendation.  It is the inappropriately funny story of Mac, a white, not quite middle-aged Kansas City rapper, and his teenage cousin, Bennett, who claims to be a “gangsta” - and, oh yeah, thirteen percent black.

First created as a popular Tumblr blog, the “Bennett character” fully blossoms in this hilarious novel, and it all begins when Bennett, his pill-popping mother, Lily, and Lily’s crazy paranoid boyfriend lose their home and move into Mac’s new house.

Mac’s world is turned upside down as Bennett steals the neighbors’ pets for rewards, brings crazy, destructive women home, and annihilates his love life. As Bennett loses jobs, behaves inappropriately, disrespects boundaries, and tries to be the biggest “gangsta” he can be, Mac slowly learns that although Bennett has issues, underneath everything, he is a realistic, genuine person with 
a big heart.

Ultimately, Mac begins spending time with Bennett as a mentor and role model. Looking past all the flaws, he forces Bennett to think about some serious adult topics and more importantly, his future.

What’s surprising, however, are the funny, unexpected lessons that Mac learns from Bennett – like how to get women by following the “11 Commandmints of Gittin’ Bitchez.” More importantly, he helps Mac through a major heartbreak and teaches him to accept people for who they are.

Before reading Texts From Bennett, be forewarned that it contains lots of foul language and crude "street talk." It has a raw urban presentation and tons of purposeful spelling errors that might turn some people off. Also, much of the book is presented in texting format — or epistolary style — which might be annoying for certain readers.

Overlooking all that, Texts From Bennett is not a silly throwaway book. In its own unique way, it tackles poverty, family issues, humanity, and more with a head-on frankness. Plus, the novel’s writing style has a certain creative spark that keeps the reader engaged.

In the end, there is just something about this book that grabs your heart unexpectedly. Despite all the imperfections in the characters, you like them and learn from them. Most surprisingly, you find yourself seriously rooting for them to overcome their problems and become productive members of society.

Third on my book recommendation list is October Suite by Maxine Clair.  This one is not a newer book - it was published in 2001.  However, it is worth checking out a copy from the library and reading.  

October Suite partially takes place in Wyandotte County, KS in the 1950s and tells the story of October Brown, a young African-American woman who is beginning her first teaching assignment.  

At first, October's future seems bright, but over time, everything goes wrong.  She is falsely accused of abusing a student and also finds herself pregnant by a married man who deserted her.  

As October returns home to Ohio to figure out what to do, this book gives us a glimpse into the restrictions placed on women and African Americans in the Midwest prior to the passage of The Civil Rights Act. 

October Suite is actually a quiet, slowly unfolding type of read.  It is not a novel that can be rushed and demands and your full literary attention while reading it.  

Best described, October Suite is a story about family, the pain of living with choices, and the struggle to move forward toward resolution and happiness.  


Two other books with Kansas City connections worth mentioning are:

Happy Stories! by Will Bowen.  Filled with short stories and experiences from "50 of the happiest people on Earth," it also includes a story from Kathy Quinn, long-time reporter for Kansas City's Fox 4 News.

You're Toast! by local author Rachel Ellyn (with assistance from Jasper's Italian Restaurant chef/owner Jasper Mirabile, Jr. and other local chefs),  tells the family-friendly story of Slice, a simple piece of bread who dreams of becoming something important - like french toast or garlic toast.  

The book also contains a handful of recipes from distinguished local chefs using toast as an ingredient and is a great way to get families into the kitchen and cooking together. 

Saturday, March 8, 2014

The Martin City Pizza and Taproom Is Open For Business

Inside The Pizza and Taproom
The Martin City Pizza and Taproom offers tasty food, reasonable prices, and a comfortable atmosphere for anyone interested in checking out this new dining and drinking establishment.

Opened just last month and owned by Matt Moore and Chancie Adams (who also own the Martin City Brewing Company Pub), the Pizza and Taproom sits on 135th St. between the pub and the new brewery - with an open-air patio on the side for warm-weather months. 

The restaurant specializes in stone-oven pizzas and original microbrews.  Pizza choices include both red and white sauce selections, and the taproom currently offers six original beers - with a goal of eventually offering twelve beers.

The menu is definitely more upscale than regular bar food.  Besides speciality pizzas in various sizes, appetizers, sandwiches, salads, and build-your-own pizza options are available.

We went to the Pizza and Taproom on a weekday - just after they opened - so we did not have to wait for a table.  (I have heard that at certain times there is a wait.)

The place immediately gave off a small town meets urban neighborhood kind of feel. 

Once seated, our waitress, Cami, was knowledgable about the menu, made several recommendations, and answered all our questions.  

Fresh Mozzarella Pinwheels
We started our meal with appetizers - including fresh mozzarella pinwheels, $9,  and house-made pretzels, $5.  Both were fresh, excellent and made from quality ingredients. (The pretzels were more like long, skinny homemade loaves of bread.)  The spicy mustard sauce that came with the pretzels was also delicious with a hint of horseradish. 

House-Made Pretzels
Even better with the pretzels was the red pepper olive oil that is made in-house and sits on every table.  The oil was a perfect dipping compliment to the pretzels and had just the right amount of zip to it.

Meatball Sandwich
For the main meal, our order included the meatball sandwich with chips ($7), a 6" bacon and eggs pizza (garlic alfredo, bacon, canadian bacon, farm-fresh eggs,
Bacon & Eggs Pizza
sage, ricotta and pecorino), a 6" heartland chicken pizza (barbecue, chicken, bacon, red onion,
Heartland Chicken Pizza
spinach and mixed cheese), and a 6" charcuterie pizza (capicola, salami, pepperoni, marinara and a cheese blend).  All three pizzas cost $7.

It took about 15 minutes to get our food.  The meatballs on the sandwich were
Charcuterie Pizza
homemade and tasted great.  Additionally, all three pizzas also got a two-thumbs-up rating.   

The only thing that seems a little bit off about the place is the restroom setup.  There are two private stalls for the men's and women's restrooms, but the mirrors and sinks for everyone are in an open, common area with no real privacy.

Martin City Pizza and Taproom is located at 410 E. 135th St. in a nondescript one-story building.  Their phone number is 816-268-2222.  


Sunday through Thursday: 11:00 a.m. - 10:00 p.m.  

Fridays and Saturdays:  11:00 a.m. - kitchen closes at 11:00 p.m.  

Reservations are accepted.

Martin City Brewing Company Pizza and Tap on Urbanspoon

Monday, January 20, 2014

Nosing Around The Neighborhood: 39th St in Midtown Kansas City

Looking down 39th St. toward State Line
Close to the state line, surrounded by the Volker neighborhood and filled with restaurants and shops, the 39th St. area in Midtown is a creative, unique, and eclectic part of Kansas City.

I recently checked out the area and visited four local businesses, including Metuka The Pastry House, Retro Vixon, White Light Bookstore and Anna's Oven.


Delicious Deserts at Metuka
Metuka The Pastry House was my first destination.  

Open since July of last year, this little sweet spot of a bakery came recommended to me by several local residents who knew what they were talking about.  

When I visited Metuka, I found it filled with cakes, cookies, European pastries, chocolate delights and more that sends a sugar junkie like me into a "sweet-tooth high."

I sampled (let's be honest - I didn't sample, I bought and scarfed)  peanut clusters, pecan carmel cookies and triple chocolate-dipped cookies.  They were all yummy. 

Inside Metuka
Most items, including lemon bars, slices of cake, and chocolate-covered Oreos cost between $1.25 and $3.50, which I considered a small price to pay for a trip to dessert heaven.       

Metuka is a very small pastry shop with only two tables, but they do have big plans.  They are expanding their menu soon to include sandwiches, soups and, in the summer months, salads.  

Ellen Hume, Owner of Metuka
They are closed on Mondays and Saturdays, and the business is owned/operated by Ellen Hume, the former owner of JayWaLe's Bakery-Bistro, in Kansas City, KS.

Metuka is located at 1614 W. 39th St. in Kansas City, MO, and definitely worth checking out. 

Your tastebuds will thank you!


Outside Retro Vixon
Next up on my 39th St. adventure was Retro Vixon, a vintage-inspired clothing store which primarily focuses on "pin-up chic."   

Although Retro Vixon is inspired by past fashion trends, all the clothing inside is new. Even better, they offer shoes, purses, jewelry, hats and more.  

A glimpse inside Retro Vixon

This adorable boutique does a good job of combining retro and girly and is moderately priced.

My only complaint is that there needs to be more merchandise, especially clothing. 
Check out the shoes!

Even so, I plan on returning to Retro Vixon next time I am looking for something a little fun and different in my wardrobe.  

Retro Vixon is located at 1620 W. 39th St. It has been open since 2010 and is owned/run by Melissa Evans.


Entering White Light Bookstore
White Light Bookstore and Crystals, which focuses on metaphysics, spiritual needs and more, was my next stop off.  

Entering this unique business felt like stepping out of reality and into one of those mysterious bookshops you see in the movies.  

First, you enter through a nondescript purple door snuggled between D'Bronx Deli and the Blue Koi restaurant - so "Harry Potterish" feeling.  

Gargoyles protect White Light

Then you climb a steep flight of stairs draped in lights and walk through a door which is protected by two gargoyles.  

Inside White Light
Once inside, the store feels calming and overwhelming at the same time.  A strong odor of incense hangs in the air, and the shop is packed with  unfamiliar but fascinating things - stones, tarot cards, specialty candles, books, jewelry and more.     

Stones and Crystals
I decided to purchase a healing stone for a close friend while I was there. 

It felt weird at first to ask about specific rocks and their powers, but the person running the store made me feel comfortable, was very knowledgable and more than helpful.

Jewelry at White Light
On the day I was at White Light, a psychic was also there doing readings for $30.  

Although I didn't choose to learn my future, I did discover that White Light conducts seminars, regular psychic fairs, channeling classes and much more for those interested in exploring their inner knowledge and spiritual growth.  

Incense at White Light
Overall, I found this store seducing, a little bit left of ordinary, and a place I would definitely return to.  

White Light Bookstore is located at 1801 W. 39th St., and a fun step out of the "mainstream bookstore scene."  


Approaching Anna's Oven
Open since 2011, Anna's Oven is a restaurant focused on homestyle food in a charming atmosphere, and it was my last 39th St. stop.

The "premise" of Anna's Oven is based on a real person - a farm wife during the Great Depression who knew how to cook great food.  

Inside Anna's Oven
Hanging beside several other paintings for sale on the walls of this quaint restaurant,  there is a  picture of Anna along with one of her spoons.

A small eating establishment filled with about a dozen perfectly mismatched tables and chairs, Anna's Oven has an "urban eclectic" meets "grandma's kitchen" look and vibe.

Daily Specials
Their menu isn't huge, but it doesn't need to be.  It includes home-cooking staples like meatloaf, potpie, macaroni and cheese, roasted chicken, sandwiches, soups, salads and desserts.  

They do have a decent-sized wine list, have daily specials, and offer carry-out meals.  

Hummus Appetizer
I started off my dining experience at Anna's by trying the hummus appetizer.  It was delicious!  

I followed that with lasagna, which is "the signature dish."  It was quite tasty too - with thin homemade lasagna noodles.

Macaroni and Cheese
I also sampled the macaroni and cheese, chicken and noodles, Mediterranean tuna salad and  chocolate cake.

Chicken and Noodles
The chicken and noodles and chocolate cake were wonderful.  

The macaroni and cheese was decent but needed a little more salt or flavoring, and the dressing mixed in with the tuna salad greens was bitter.  

Mediterranean Tuna Salad
As for the service - it was quite slow.  I wasn't in a hurry, so this didn't really bother me, but if I would have been on my lunch hour, it would have been a problem.

It helped that the waitress was friendly, and I didn't hear anyone complaining, but there needed to be more than one person waiting on tables.

Homemade Chocolate Cake
Most meals ran between $8 and $10, appetizers ranged from $3 to $6, and homemade desserts were a reasonable $3.50 - $4.50.  They also had "party portions" on the menu. 

Dining At Anna's Oven
If you decide to give Anna's Oven a try, they are located at 1809 W. 39th St. and donate a portion of their profits to educational causes.  

There is also a public lot behind the restaurant for convenient parking.

So, after spending an afternoon exploring the Midtown/39th St. area and checking out several establishments, I honestly have to say, I enjoyed myself.  

I met a lot of nice folks, would definitely go back to all of the businesses I visited, and, along the way, found many more shops and eating places I would like to try.  

Exploring in Kansas City sure can be fun!