Little House on the Prairie

From the time I was little girl, I remember gathering around the kitchen table watching my Mom and Grandma work diligently throughout the week on art projects for the upcoming craft shows they had a booth at. It seemed like every Saturday we would drive to North Topeka to spend hours in a small store that carried clay greenware (clay objects that are typically shaped but have not yet been bisque fired) and Mom would let my sister and I pick out a few small pieces for ourselves. We were lucky enough that we possessed a kiln at home, so painting ceramics became second nature to Nikki and I growing up. I’d like to think I was probably better at perfecting the ‘dry brush technique’ than I was at using color pencils by the age of 7. While I never made use of that skill other than receiving more Grand Champion and purple ribbons at the county fair for my ceramic pieces than I knew what to do with (not-so- humble brag) – spending hours on end with my Mom at the kitchen table is only a small aspect of the kind of household we grew up in.

I’m fairly certain I spent more time in Hobby Lobby than almost any other place during my childhood. I’m probably exaggerating a bit, but Saturday mornings were never complete without taking a short (painstakingly long)  trip over to Hobby Lobby on Wanamaker Rd. to pick out anything from paint, to fabric, to cross stitch patterns, to ribbon for Mom’s next project. In reality, Hobby Lobby was as good as any candy store, Magic Forest, or Chuck-E-Cheese in my opinion. Those trips were always methodically planned out too – one week we would buy as much fabric as possible because it was on sale and one week might be dedicated to buying the paint and paint brushes. I think the Sunday Topeka Capital Journal was really only good for the Hobby Lobby ad in our household. Everyone who has ever had a knack for crafting knows how expensive it all adds up, so if there is another skill I can thank my Mom for – it was learning how to be a bargain hunter.

I always loved when summer turned into fall, because I knew that meant it was craft show season and that our house would be full of the incredible pieces my Mom and Grandma had created. I also knew with crafting, it meant my Mom would light a cinnamon or apple cider scented candle and there would probably be homemade bread rolls, Snickerdoodles, or gooey cinnamon rolls in the oven – because obviously you can’t craft without snacking on something to get you through all that meticulous work. And while I’m almost certain, she spent every waking hour leading up to Buttons & Bows (a giant craft show in Manhattan, KS), she never failed to show her little girls the delicate process that went into each project. I also knew – come Christmas time – that whatever they didn’t sell would mean that our entire house turned into a Christmas Wonderland. To this day – my sister and I still fight over who get’s ‘custody’ over our favorite ceramic Santa. (I know – aren’t we cool?)

Quite honestly, without my Mom’s insistence on showing us how to sew, use a glue gun, or make a perfect flower arrangement from the wild flowers we would pick on our walks down Loire Creed Rd, I don’t think I would quite ‘get’ this whole adulting thing. My fondest memories of my childhood always revert back to me wearing my Dad’s yellow Highland Community College football t-shirt and curling up to my Mom, working on a cross stitch pattern or working to create some sort of design using Perler Beads. And while I know these little art projects here and there seem so simple, it was the basis for skills I never knew I would need as an adult. Whether its using an X-Acto knife, or sewing buttons onto a shirt, or knowing how to put wallpaper up (or take it down), or making fresh pasta with my great grandmothers pasta maker – I feel like I am better prepared because of the skills I possess from the years of watching my Mom hard at work. She truly knew how to make a house into a home. She’s basically like the ‘original Joanna Gaines’ if you will.

So why am I even talking about this? For years, my Mom, Nikki, and I have talked about the possibilities of using our crafting abilities to create our own store. And while, we are still trying to decide the best way to make this a successful venture, my sister has in the meantime created her own line of wall weavings, a piece of wall decor that truly adds to any room. For now – the weavings can be found on her Etsy store – https://www.etsy.com/shop/MellowTreeDesigns. All weavings can be customized to look great in your own house. Please don’t hesitate to reach out if you’re interested in a customized weaving and be sure to check out her Etsy shop this weekend for special Black Friday sales!

❤ Kayla

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MellowTreeDesigns

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Becoming Washingtonian

It hard to believe it’s been nearly nine months since I posted on this blog. While I thoroughly enjoyed expressing my thoughts and experiences through this medium, I feared that I would lose my audience and my purpose for writing after leaving Morocco. When I came back to the United States in January, I consequently lost part of my identity. The amount of pride I felt using the title “Peace Corps Volunteer” was undoubtedly more immense than I ever realized until I stripped myself of the label. I lost my place in this exclusive group that I had always longed to be a part of. In a sense, after getting to know my Staj for 4 months, it felt like I had quite literally lost my spot in this incredible family I had only just gained. I can’t speak for all who have joined Peace Corps and have failed to complete their service, but I’d imagine most of us after returning home felt a sense of embarrassment, of reverse culture shock, and of a loss of purpose. Of course, at some point you eventually must force yourself to stop worrying about the judgement of others and forgive yourself for not fulfilling your service, and positively move forward with your life.

And that’s what I did – I once again created a life worth enjoying. One where I didn’t have to feel the shame of my failures or confines of my own thoughts and solitude. I packed my bags and moved far from the comforts of my rural Kansan home and decided to create a new life for myself on the East coast. It’s honestly not that I didn’t try to find a job in Kansas, but truthfully, I’ve known in my heart for a long time that I could never reach my true potential or thrive back in my home state. I love Kansas with all my heart, but I’ve always felt like I would be settling if I didn’t go out and explore the rest of this beautiful world while I was young and single. And even more truthfully, for the past few years I’ve felt a certain disconnect with quite literally my closest friends who have all gotten married and started having children. It’s no fault of anyone’s of course, but it’s an exclusive part of adulthood that I have yet to experience – and I can’t help but feel a little left out sometimes. It’s no surprise that hanging out with each other becomes harder and harder to plan once you have a family of your own and while I would never fault anyone for finding love or having a baby, I also know that priorities change and that I’m not usually a part of those plans anymore.

So why not go to a city whose reputation is that it’s okay to put off getting married and it’s widely acceptable to focus on your career instead? Now – I’ll be the first person to tell you I struggle on a weekly basis on whether I’m okay with being single or not. It’s not like I haven’t put in the effort of finding a suitable man to spend my free time with, like seriously, look at all the dating apps on my phone. If dating were a class – I’d be getting an A+. But on the same token, it’s a relief that I feel no pressure in this city or amongst my friend groups the pressure to be anything but 27 and living life for myself. I’m also aware that “Winter is Coming” and the desire for someone to appear in my life will suffocate me daily when I’m freezing cold, alone in my room, but that’s also the beauty of this city – I can constantly find a concert, a free art gallery, a workout class in a park, or go on a date to get through the bouts of loneliness I’ll inherently feel on occasion.

I guess in a sense, the last few years of my life have been a never-ending cycle of feeling like I’m not part of something. Whether it’s because of falling out of a long-term relationship, not being a part of that exclusive marriage group that all my friends are a member of, or losing my place in the Peace Corps family, I’ve consistently found myself longing to have that connection and bond with others like myself. Which is why moving to Washington DC has seemingly become the best decision I’ve ever made to become the best and happiest version of myself. Since moving here, I’ve managed to become a member of LadiesDC, the premier young women’s professional networking group in DC, a member of the Young Nonprofit Professionals Network of Washington DC, a teammate on a sand volleyball team, a part of the DC running community, and a coworker at a great longstanding conservative nonprofit organization in DC (I know – I can’t believe I work at a conservative leaning organization either guys). At the end of September, I even plan on learning more about the Junior League here in DC, which not only will help commit myself to do more volunteering during my free time, but it’s a valuable group that can help me perform better at my own job. (For those of you who don’t know – I run a summer institute on Philanthropy and Voluntary Services for college students.) Not to mention, Washington DC is full of those who live and breathe to talk about politics, international relations, and policy – three topics that just get me in trouble when I talk about my liberal viewpoints when I’m back home in the Midwest. This city is full of those who are quite literally striving to be the next Senator, the next executive director at a national nonprofit, or the next President of the United States. How can you not love being amongst those who have this level of commitment, enthusiasm, and ambition with their careers? Never in my life have I wanted to become more a part of this kind of motivated community.

My whole life I’ve always been a part of as many organizations, clubs, and sports teams as possible. It’s not a surprise that I find agency and a sense of identity in being a part of an exclusive group. And I think I’ve finally found the most exciting group yet – being able to call myself a Washingtonian.

There’s No Place Like Home

*Sigh* I know. I know. Can I get anymore cliche with the title of this post as I sit in my limestone house, on a farm, in the middle of Kansas?  Although I passionately despise the movie, The Wizard of Oz, Dorothy couldn’t have stated a sentiment more beautifully. There truly is “No Place Like Home,” at least, that’s what I’ve come to realize in the last two months living in my hometown before I move to Africa.

I’ve spent the last two years bombarding my Facebook and Instagram feeds with photo after photo of my obsession with the beauty of the Natural State and have done a seemingly poor job of depicting how lucky I was to have grown up in the Flint Hills of Kansas. Although I have always appreciated my roots and the area of this country I was born and raised in, I often take it for granted for the simplicity of life it represents.

The town I call home, Alma, Kansas (The City of Native Stone), represents everything one would imagine a small town in rural America is like. Founded in 1858. One main street. No stoplights. No grocery store. Tractors and combines strolling through town. Farmers with their Levi jeans and cowboy hats. One gas station and five churches. Rolling Flint Hills and the most captivating sunsets on Earth. It’s America in its’ purest sense.

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The town itself boasts under 900 people, so yes, we are undoubtedly outpopulated by cattle in the area. While the town may not house large numbers of families, it makes up for it in the quality of people. You see, when you live in a small rural town, that sense of community is vital. There is always a surplus of generosity whenever it’s needed. Whether its needing help with baling hay, carpooling children to sporting events, or supporting local kids in FCCLA or FFA fundraisers at Wabaunsee High School; the community always comes together to support each other.

It has been 8 years since I lived with my parents in Alma, but it often feels like I never left. I’m still greeted by name at every place I go to in town and it never fails that I end up having long conversations with anyone that I come into contact with. I am consistently waved to by every driver down Main Street and even on the gravel roads that lead to my house. At times, it seems as though the town has somehow excluded itself from the fast paced life that that I’ve experienced in large metropolitan areas, but that’s also why it’s so incredibly charming. You will never experience community like living in a small rural town.

In a sense, coming back to live in Alma before I move to Morocco was the best decision I could make. I’ve been forced to take a deep breath and enjoy the simplicity around me. It’s something I am not accustomed to after the excitement of living in Granada, Spain and Kansas City. As a Peace Corps volunteer, I will inevitably be placed in a small rural town in Morocco. Although I feel incredibly alive when I’m in the hustle and bustle of cities, I know that I am adequately prepared for my journey in Morocco because I can appreciate the beauty of rural living.

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“The Peace Corps is a service opportunity for motivated changemakers to immerse themselves in a community abroad, working side by side with local leaders to tackle the most pressing challenges of our generation.”

I am undoubtedly the person I am today because of how and where I was raised. The importance of service was ingrained in my very being since my participation in countless community projects in high school and it continued well into my time at Baker University. There are many reasons that people choose to live in more urban areas, whether that be differing socio-cultural views, the lack of amenities, or just the sheer size and seclusion of living in a rural area. I may have developed a more liberal perspective than the majority of my hometown, but we ultimately all want the same thing – to build strong and loving communities. I am beyond grateful and thrilled to use the skills I learned from my hometown to help promote world peace and friendship in a town far from the prairies of Kansas. At the end of the day, the world is full of communities who desperately want to flourish and we can achieve this by simply saying hello or lending a helping hand to members in your community.

Love,

Kayla ❤