I took my dad on a date to the Clinton Center and we both loved it

Coca-Cola: An American Original at the Clinton Center

This is a sponsored post written in conjunction with my role as a Social Ambassador for the Clinton Center.

If you’re from Arkansas and you travel at all, when people find out where you’re from, they will always ask you what you think of the Clintons. I happen to be a fan politically, but I’m also a huge fan of the Clinton Center, which not only houses the Clinton Presidential Library, but also temporary historical, educational, and cultural exhibits that change frequently. I’ve been there to see Legos, de la Renta gowns, Chihuly glass, and had to make several trips so Etta and Claire could check out the dinosaur exhibit that closed last fall. Having frequently paid to see the exhibits with my family, I was thrilled to be asked to be a Clinton Center Social Ambassador this year. This means my family gets a membership to the Center, and I am compensated to attend events and help spread the word about this amazing place that I love.

Coca-Cola: An American Original at the Clinton Center

My first event as an ambassador was on Saturday, in conjunction with their Coca-Cola: An American Original exhibit which is open until February 15. When I realized it was a Coca-Cola exhibit, I knew I had to bring my dad. He’s a Coca-Cola man the way you might have said Don Draper liked drinking whiskey– his fridge is always stocked with Cokes, which I swipe on my way out the door to enjoy on the hour drive home, a little treat I associate with him. He also collects a particular type of Coke bottle, and I knew he would enjoy the exhibit, which focuses on the 100th anniversary of the iconic Coke bottle, and the event, which involved an Antiques Roadshow-style appraisal of locals’ Coke collectibles with Ted Ryan, the director of Heritage Communications for Coca-Cola.

Coca-Cola: An American Original at the Clinton Center

It wasn’t until we were on our way to the Clinton Center that I realized I can’t remember the last time my dad and I got to hang out, just the two of us. I loved getting to tour the exhibit with him, and he loved peppering Ted with questions about the history of Coca-Cola’s advertising art, represented by several Norman Rockwell originals on display. Dad wanted to know if Coke invented Santa Claus, and the answer was yes and no– they didn’t come up with the idea of Santa, but the American image of a rosy-cheeked, chubby, bearded old man in red and white was created by Coke artist Haddon Sundblom. If the Coca-Cola brand is one of the major things Coke sells– at one point, Ted said “All we make is syrup and advertising,” Santa’s brand also owes a lot to them.

Coca-Cola: An American Original at the Clinton Center
The first iteration of the Coca-Cola polar bears, the iconic Barefoot Boy by Norman Rockwell, and Santa as portrayed by Sundblom.
Coca-Cola: An American Original at the Clinton Center
I loved these WWII-era servicewomen with their Cokes.

We both thoroughly enjoyed the Collectors Convention, especially seeing the vast knowledge Ted carries in his head about the brand, its advertising, and Coca-Cola items. No matter what people brought up to show him, he was never stumped. We saw a pretzel bowl valued at $800, a metal spinner ad that used to sit atop a gas pump valued between $600-1,000, a 1961 Westinghouse Coke machine valued at $1,500, and a stamp holder from the early teens valued at $500, among many other things. My dad, sadly, learned the vintage bottles he collects aren’t worth very much, because literally billions were made.

Coca-Cola: An American Original at the Clinton Center

After the convention, we headed upstairs to check out the rest of the exhibit, which tells the story of how the Coke bottle became what it is today. We learned that the original design was to look like the pods of the coca plant, but it was slimmed down to fit into the mechanized bottling equipment. We also learned from Ted that the phrase “soda pop” came from early bottles for carbonated beverages– the cork was inside the bottle, and the carbonation pushed up on it to maintain the seal. In order to drink the beverage, you had to pop the cork down into the bottle. I particularly loved the vintage photographs of celebrities and presidents drinking from Coke bottles, and a series of pieces Andy Warhol did, inspired by the famous brand. I’d like to think Warhol would enjoy the fact that I busted out my selfie stick and subjected Dad to his first selfie in front of the Warhols.

Coca-Cola: An American Original at the Clinton Center
Dad’s first selfie! He even almost smiled!

After we had finished checking everything out, my mom, sister, and daughters met up with us for lunch in the Clinton Center’s restaurant, Forty-Two (because President Clinton was the 42nd President). I don’t think many folks know what a lovely, family-friendly dining option Forty-Two is, but they have an excellent kids menu and high chairs, and we have dined there with our girls many times. Saturday was unseasonably warm and we got to sit out on their fabulous patio and watch cyclists and walkers pass up above us on the River Trail. As we ate, Claire asked my dad, “How was your date with my mommy?” “I’m still enjoying it,” he said. I’m so glad I got to take my dad to this exhibit, and might have to convince him to come along to the next one too, which I am told will be Olympics-themed to tie in with this summer’s Games.

Coca-Cola: An American Original closes February 15. Be sure to check it out before then! A great opportunity to do so would be Saturday, February 13, as they are hosting free Valentine’s Day family activities from 10am-2pm.

 

Making an Arkansas Bucket List

Making an Arkansas Bucket List

Last week, my husband flew to Denver to interview for what I can only say would be his dream job. The interview went really well, but the gears of medical academia grind slowly, and we won’t be hearing about a hiring decision until at least November and maybe January, and then if he gets the job, possibly not moving until next summer. This means we’ll be living with a little uncertainty for a while. Rather than focus on the unknown, we’ve decided to live what may be our last year in my home state to the fullest. I want to make an Arkansas Bucket List and focus on enjoying what this place has to offer for as long as we’re here. If we end up not moving, at least we’ll have had a really fun year!

Some of the things I want to do are:

  • Take the girls canoeing on the Buffalo River
  • Road trip for a weekend to Memphis and Oxford MS (I have yet to make a Faulknerian pilgrimage and must do so while we’re so close)
  • Take the girls tent camping for the first time
  • Spend a weekend in a cabin
  • Visit Johnny Cash’s childhood home in Dyess
  • Take the girls to an Arkansas Travelers minor league baseball game
  • Visit the 3 Arkansas BBQ restaurants that made Garden & Gun’s BBQ Bucket List: Craig’s in DeValls Bluff, Jones in Marianna, and McClard’s in my hometown of Hot Springs
  • Take the girls to the State Fair
  • See the fall color in the Ozarks
  • Attend our alma mater, Lyon College’s Scottish Fest
  • Rock out at the Americana concert series at South on Main (tickets to this series were our anniversary gift to ourselves, and I’m super stoked about seeing The Indigo Girls with Patterson Hood in December)
  • Spend a night at The Capital Hotel (maybe for my birthday in December?)
  • See a show at White Water Tavern (We used to live right by it, and I hung out there a lot before kids. Haven’t made it back to my favorite dive in a long while.)
Making an Arkansas Bucket List
The Warhol’s Nature exhibit at Crystal Bridges.

There are a few things that would be on the list, except we’ve already done them recently

  • Visit Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art (the current Warhol exhibit is pretty awesome!)
  • Go boating on Lake Hamilton (my parents live on this lake, so we can go anytime!)
  • Visit Garvan Woodland Gardens
Making an Arkansas Bucket List
Etta’s first Arkansas Travelers game. It’s way past time for us to get back out to a ballgame.

Obviously, there is much more that we could add to this list, and this is where you come in! Got suggestions for things we can’t miss in case we move? Bonus points if they are convenient to Little Rock or little kid friendly!

Making an Arkansas Bucket List

the heart of a mother

On Mother’s Day, I had the amazing experience of reading part of my story in the Listen To Your Mother Show here in Little Rock. Now, even if you weren’t there, you can see my story and the rest of the amazing stories from around the country, thanks to the magic of the internet and You Tube. Today, I’m posting my story here, but I encourage you to watch some of the other videos too, from Little Rock and around the country. And, coming soon, for the first time, my husband will share his version of this story, both from the perspective of the man who was holding our baby girl next to my bed when I went into heart failure, and from the perspective of a doctor, who probably would have intubated me himself while we waited for the code team to arrive, if there had been a crash cart nearby. Luckily, he didn’t have to. Blessedly, all was well.

Here’s the story of how I discovered I have the heart of a mother:

i ain’t afraid of no ghost

This weekend, our television and Xbox both went on the fritz at the same time. I complained to my sister, and after inquiring whether they were on a surge protector (they were), she said, “Then the only explanation is ghosts.”

Now, I’m pretty sure I don’t believe in ghosts, but I have to admit that with our house’s history, ghosts are a possibility. This is our house:

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As you can see, it’s a classic 60s ranch. The thing is, we live on a street and in a neighborhood in which all the other houses were built in the 1920s. It’s one reason I love our neighborhood and one reason I initially resisted buying this house– I love 1920s charm. Give me a Craftsman or Spanish Revival or Tudor any day. And yet, smack in the middle of all of these charming old homes is our midcentury modern house. It works out great for living with a child with a disability, because our home is open and all on one level, and so we bought it and have come to love it. Shortly after we moved in, a beloved college professor of ours told me that the reason our house was built in the 60s must be the plane explosion, which he remembered from his time growing up here.

Cue record scratch. Plane explosion?

A little Googling turned up the truth: in 1960, a plane from the nearby Air Force base exploded over the city. A large chunk of the plane landed on the house at our address, starting a fire and destroying the home, killing the woman inside in her bed. The bodies of two of the crewmen were also found on the property.

I guess after that, a new house was built in the architectural style that was popular at the time.

Given this crazy history, I guess it’s possible that the ghosts of that 62 year old woman and the two crewmen are hanging out and sending electronics on the fritz. But I hope not. I hope they’re at peace, wherever they are.

hillary, oscar, and me

I told Hillary Clinton I love her.

When I met her.

Oh.

Did I forget to mention that I got to meet Hillary Clinton earlier this summer? I forgot to blog about it, but I will never forget it. I love Hillary Clinton. I admire her. I respect her. I hope she’s our next president. And when I found out they were naming our new children’s library after her, and she’d be at the public dedication, I knew I had to go, that I had to introduce her to Etta and Claire. I knew that with two babies in my arms, I’d surely be able to get close enough to meet her. And I did. I reserved us tickets, I saw her speak, and afterward, I walked up to her with two babies in my arms, tapped her on the shoulder, and said, “Hi, I just love you and wanted you to meet my girls Etta and Claire. They’re future running mates!” And she smiled and said, “Thank you so much, they are so cute!”

I still can’t believe I tapped Hillary Clinton on the shoulder. I can kinda believe I told her I love her, though. Because I really do.

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Yesterday I got to hang out at the Clinton Presidential Center with some more folks I love– Jerusalem, Kerri, Kyran, Amy, Jennifer, and Amy, fellow Little Rock bloggers. We were invited to tour the exhibit of Oscar de la Renta’s 50 year career, and were treated to lunch in the Clinton Center’s restaurant 42. I loved it. Not just because I got to leave babies behind and wear a dress I actually ironed, but because I got to check out the work of a true master, in some truly fabulous company.

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I love Hillary Clinton in part because she knows that a woman should be valued for her work, her thoughts, herself, but she also refuses to be ashamed of the fact that she, the first First Lady on the cover of Vogue, cares about fashion, too. She is both the kind of woman who can shut down a reporter for asking her about her clothes, and at the same time, the kind of woman who knows what she likes, sticks with it, and even has a sense of humor about it, calling herself a “pantsuit aficionado” in her (awesome) Twitter bio, jokingly pitching a “Project Pantsuit” spinoff of “Project Runway,” and referred to her campaign as the “sisterhood of the traveling pantsuits.”

And the man behind most of those pantsuits is Oscar de la Renta. The exhibit, on display until December 1, is a retrospective of the designer’s career, starting with his upbringing in The Domenican Republic, his time in Spain and Paris, and his arrival in the US and establishment as an American Fashion icon. Each period is represented by GORGEOUS examples of his work which shows his varied influences. I don’t get a lot of chances to get up close and personal with couture clothing, and though I’m but a barely proficient seamstress, I found myself studying the details of their construction. I noticed that Oscar de la Renta, who personally oversaw everything down to the paint colors of this exhibit, is a man who cares deeply about the details of his garments, which range from intricately beaded and feathered gowns to impeccably tailored and restrained suits and coats. His clothes are showstoppers, but are clearly about making the woman, not the garment, the focus. I have a feeling this is why women like Secretary Clinton like his work.

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If you’re local, I highly recommend checking out this exhibit before it closes in December. And if fashion isn’t your thing, you’re in luck: they change the exhibits 3-4 times a year. There’s also currently an exhibit about the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington, which I plan to go back and check out soon with my family, and they have an upcoming exhibit about Spies, Traitors and Saboteurs (opening in January). Tickets aren’t expensive, the permanent exhibits are also super interesting, and the building itself is beautiful.

*full disclosure: I was invited to this event, given free entry and a guided tour, and they fed us lunch. I love the Clinton Center and frequently visit with my family, so I wholeheartedly believe it’s worth a visit, free lunch or not.

crime in capitol view

Yesterday we walked with the babies in their stroller to vote at our polling place at a nearby church. The people working the polling place, our neighbors, were all happy to see the babies. They were admired and complimented and pushed around in their stroller while we marked our ballots. One poll worker said, “You brought them to a room full of grandparents!”

We headed home, enjoying the beautiful, sunny, not-too-hot day. Occasionally I could smell the gardenia bushes in people’s yards as we passed. Early summer is one of my favorite times of the year here.

As we walked home, we started to hear sirens. At least five police cars roared past us, and we soon realized they were heading to the street one over from ours. Before long, the street was blocked off, and more and more first-responders arrived.

It turns out two people died one street over yesterday. A robbery ended in death for both a victim and a suspect. A tragedy all around.

This makes me a little uncomfortable, because this is my neighborhood. And this is just another incident, like people getting carjacked at the nearby bar, or people getting shot at the nearby EZ Mart, that makes people say it’s not a safe place to live.

In a conversation recently, we told someone where we live, and he said he wouldn’t live here. He chooses to live in the ‘burbs because “crime hasn’t learned to use the freeway.” Really? I’m pretty sure people still get hurt and robbed and raped and killed even in suburbia. And I’d be statistically more likely to die in a car accident on my way to the ‘burbs than to be shot right here in my city neighborhood. And please don’t suggest I get a gun…I’d be statistically more likely to shoot someone I didn’t intend to than someone I did.

Our pastor Ryan wrote a great post about how we respond to violence in our neighborhoods. In answer to his post, I just have to say, we’re staying. We love our house, and we love our neighborhood.

Sure, occasionally bad things happen here. But I’ve yet to see the news report on all that is good. Like the way people hang out on their porches and stop to chat and invite you over for a cold drink. Or the way a neighbor found our dog when she got out and got hit by a car, and Jon and I were both out of town, so he took care of her. Or the way even a new resident threw a spaghetti party for our whole street. Or the love we’ve been showered with since the babies arrived, in the form of pies and free yard work. Or the eggs we get from the neighbor with chickens. Or the fact that the guy next door loves our dogs so much, he put a gate between our yards so they now have twice the yard to play in.

If you think my neighborhood is a scary place to live, you’re missing out on all that is good here that vastly outweighs what is bad.

 

voices for justice

All I had was a crappy BlackBerry camera, so you'll have to take my word for it that this is Eddie Vedder and Johnny Depp.

Last night I went to some of the best church I’ve ever experienced. Except it was in a Music Hall with 2500 other people and led by a handful of famous people.  I was at a rally/rockshow in support of the West Memphis 3.

The West Memphis 3 are Damien Echols, Jessie Misskelly, and Jason Baldwin, a group of young men arrested and convicted as teenagers for the murder of three children in West Memphis, AR.  Many people, including myself, believe the West Memphis 3 are innocent and wrongly imprisoned.  One of them, Damien Echols, is on death row.  I encourage you to read about their case and decide for yourself. It blows my mind that we can have people on death row on such shaky evidence.  There is no DNA evidence tying any of the Three to the crime scene, although DNA evidence of one of the victims’ stepfather was found at the scene.   Instead, the case relied on what was a most-likely coerced and later recanted confession from one of the Three, Jessie Misskelly, who is mentally handicapped and, though he was a teenager, was questioned without a lawyer or a parent present.  In addition, the way the investigation was handled, the way the story was told to the public and the media, and notes recovered from the jurors all point to the fact that these three men are wrongly imprisoned and have been for 17 years.

In those 17 years, the Three have found support for their cause all over the state and all over the world.  Thanks to a pair of HBO documentaries, they even gained the support of some major celebrities: Natalie Maines of the Dixie Chicks, Eddie Vedder of Pearl Jam, and Johnny Depp.  With Damien Echols’ oral arguments before the State Supreme Court coming up on September 30, their local and celebrity supporters decided it was time to hold a rally to both raise money for the WM3 legal defense fund and to get active in contacting state leaders in support of new trials for the WM3.  That led to last night’s Voices for Justice rally.

Of course a rally featuring Johnny Depp, Eddie Vedder, Natalie Maines, Patti Smith, Ben Harper, Dhanni Harrison, Joseph Arthur, and Bill Carter drew a large crowd– where else are you going to see Eddie Vedder letting Johnny Depp take lead guitar, or both of them playing backup for Patti Smith?  Still, I was really disappointed to see that Bobby Ampezzan’s review in the Arkansas Democrat Gazette focused primarily on suggesting that people packed out Robinson for a rock show, not because they care about a cause.  To that I ask, Bobby, did you SEE how amped people were when Rev. Thompson Murray from Quapaw Quarter United Methodist Church gave a stirring min-sermon about the cause of justice as something Jesus would have supported?  The way people cheered during the videos highlighting the miscarriage of justice in this case?  The way people gave money as buckets were passed, offering style, around the music hall to collect money for the WM3 legal defense fund? But what does Bobby know? He describes Natalie Maines as having “a shaved head” (she was sporting a cute, short pixie) and rags on her for “[using] cue cards held aloft in the pit for one of her numbers” despite the fact that she barely talked the entire show because she said she was too emotional about a cause she has long-supported for words.  It really disappointed me to see that write-up, and I felt like it had an agenda to downplay the real experience of the rally.

Like I said before, the entire experience, to me, was most akin to some really good church.  We started with a sermon and a preacher telling the crowd that Jesus is always on the side of justice, quoting Amos 5:24: “But let justice roll on like a river, righteousness like a never-failing stream!”  We had some congregational singing, along with Eddie Vedder as he performed Tom Waits’ “It Rains on Me” and with the entire assembled “band” as they performed “People Have the Power.”  We heard the personal testimony of Eddie Vedder, as he described spending a recent evening around a campfire in his back yard with Fistful of Mercy (Ben Harper, Dhanni Harrison, Joseph Arthur), when they stood in a circle saying a kind of prayer that the WM3 could one day join them there, and realized that the answer to their prayer was to get down to Little Rock for the rally.  Isn’t that how prayer so often works? Instead of using it to magically give us things, God uses it to remind us that we need to take action.  That’s how it usually goes for me.

For me, some of the most powerful moments of the evening were while Natalie Maines was singing.  While she has one of the most powerful voices I’ve ever heard, I think I was most stuck by her fiery spirit.  I like a woman who refuses to be shut up.  She sang a traditional gospel song called “Death’s Got a Warrant,” previously recorded by another favorite of mine, Patty Griffin.  The song was obviously aimed at the true murderers, and said “you can’t hide, God’s got your number and he knows where you live.  Death’s got a warrant for you.”

To me, the best song of the evening was Maines’ performance of Dan Wilson’s (best known as the lead singer of Semisonic) “Free Life.” The song was very stirring, as it seemed to be about Damien Echols reuniting as a free man with his wife Lorri Davis.  Here’s a snippet of the lyrics:

Let’s take a little trip down where we used to go
It’s way beyond the strip, a place they call your soul
We’ll sit down for a while and let the evening roll

Don’t worry about the time; we’ll find a place to stay
The people round here seem familiar in some way
Look kind of like we did before we got so cold

And in the air the questions hang
Will we get to do something?
Who we gonna end up being?
How we gonna end up feeling?
What you gonna spend your free life on? Free life.

It was a good question for all of us. I hope the people in attendance won’t take for granted that we are blessed to have our freedom. I hope that they are moved to support the cause of justice, because when someone can sit on death row for a crime no one can be certain they committed, we are all a little less free.

And you know what? I have enough faith in people, enough faith in what I experienced with 2500 other people last night, to believe that it wasn’t just about Eddie Vedder and Johnny Depp.  It was also about three innocent men in prison.  It was about justice.  And there are many ways to help between now and September 30th.