Thursday, December 31, 2015

I’ve always liked New Year’s. I like the idea of celebrating the past and looking forward to the future with people I care about. I like receiving a fresh start, new calendars and new beginnings. Because no matter what the previous year put in my path, the new year, for me, symbolizes hope for good things to come.

This past year has given me many things to reflect on. My divorce was final at the beginning of the year, and along with that came changes, both good and not so good. I have learned to make the most of the time I have with my son, and I stepped back into the world of dating and learned how to fall in love again.

Along with the rest of Kansas City, I watched our boys in blue put us through a whirlwind of a baseball season, topped off with a World Series win. I’ve gained friends, and lost a few. I rode roller-coasters with Michael and ate funnel cakes whenever possible. I listened to lots of live music and studied artwork from both local artists and internationally-known ones.

I have laughed hysterically and I have shed some tears. I’ve lost several pounds and gained a few of them back. I have whipped and nae-naed, uptown funked and seen things go down (for real). I sang the blues in Memphis and talked with the puma at the Henry Doorly Zoo in Omaha.

2015 has been a good year. It’s been a year of self-discovery and healing. It’s been a year of more ups than downs. I look forward to a positive 2016. I’m not one to make resolutions (I have before, and they usually last until the third week in January), but there are some things I hope to accomplish next year.

On the top of my list is to continue to build a positive and impactful relationship with my son. I’d like to travel a bit more and see new places. I’d like to lose the few pounds I gained back and maybe participate in a 5K or two. I want to finish the novel I’ve been working on for too many years. Most of all, I want to smile more and share those smiles with others.

Thursday, December 10, 2015

I don’t consider myself to be overly environmentally-conscious. Sure, I throw my empty soda can in a recycle bin when available. I take old newspapers to the recycling dumpsters at my son’s school. But don’t ask me about the effects global warming or vehicle emissions or water purification. I think, like most people, I am aware of the dangers of those things, but they’re not things that affect my day-to-day living.

A few years back, we reported on the long-running litigation between Ideker Inc. and the Concerned Citizens for AIR Inc (CCAIR) regarding an asphalt plant near Missouri Highway 150 and Interstate 49. In the suit filed in 2013, CCAIR and Grandview sought to keep Ideker from obtaining a permit to run the plant in Kansas City, due to concerns about air pollution. They wanted a Jackson County court to decide whether the Missouri Department of Natural Resources had improperly approved an air-emissions permit for Ideker's facility.

The group expressed concerns about air quality in general while Grandview, more specifically, had issues about potential impact from chemical and dust emissions reaching nearby elementary schools in the area. The lawsuit showed promise when a Jackson County judge approved a temporary restraining order against a temporary permit to Ideker from the DNR, a decision that the Missouri Supreme Court later upheld.

But Ideker received a permanent permit early in 2014 and moved to get the lawsuit against it and the DNR dismissed so that it could continue operating. Ideker and the DNR argued that Grandview hadn't taken the necessary steps to block the permit through the DNR before heading off to court. While a Jackson County judge didn't find that argument persuasive, a panel of appellate judges did.
However, in July of this year, the case reached a conclusion with the court dismissing the case, granting Ideker the ability to keep its permit and stick to business as usual.

And business as usual is exactly how Ideker responded. The other morning, on my way into the office, I snapped a photo of the asphalt plant from my vantage point down 150 Highway. In the photo, with a crisp, clear blue sky, you can see a cloud of billowy, black smoke rising from the facility, headed straight into the wind toward Butcher-Greene Elementary School.

With it being a nice December day, I imagined the hundreds of children in the area that will head outside for recess. Though they may not be able to smell anything odd in the air (they may even be used to any odors by now), I couldn’t help but wonder about the long-term effects of breathing in the emissions from creating the asphalt.

If the wind shifts the other direction, those emissions head straight for Belvidere Elementary School andnd straight into the lungs of my ten-year-old son. When driving behind a vehicle that is expelling junk into the air, I have the option to roll up my windows, close my vents and speed around them. The kids playing outside at recess or enjoying their own backyards should be able to have some options, too, when it comes to the air they breathe.

I’m hopeful that this isn’t the end of the fight. I’m hopeful that CCAIR will continue to press on. I’m hopeful that MDNR will take our children into consideration. And, I’m hopeful that the safety and well-being of the community surrounding the development along the 150 corridor will outshine the dollar signs that seem to be glaring in the eyes of local political and developmental spearheads. 

Thursday, December 3, 2015

I don’t remember how old I was when I stopped believing in Santa Claus. I do remember seeing gifts addressed to me under our Christmas tree that read, “To: Mary, From: Santa” in handwriting that was distinctively my dad’s. I grew up with an older brother that surely had something to do with my skepticism where St. Nick is concerned.

My son, Michael, was pretty young when he found out. The conversation went something like this:

“Mom, you know how you told me that magic isn’t real?”

“Yes. Magic is not real, it’s pretend.”

“Well, you also told me that Santa delivers all those presents to all the kids by using magic.”

“Yes, that’s correct.”

“So, if magic isn’t real, and Santa uses magic, does that mean that Santa isn’t real, too?”

“Let’s just keep this secret between us.”

He was around four at the time, and he felt pretty important being “in” on the biggest secret of his life. Since then, he’s had fun talking about Santa with younger children. Sometimes, though I know he doesn’t believe, I still feel as though he gets caught up in the magic of the season.

I had the privilege last week of photographing the man himself at the Christmas in the Sky event at Longview Lake. There, much like in the movie Polar Express, Santa gave the first gift of Christmas, a shiny bell, to a little girl from the Dream Factory. Watching the delight on Hannah’s face, and on the faces of the hundreds of children there to see Santa, I couldn’t help but feel the true spirit of Christmas.

A few days later, I ran into Santa, the same Santa I saw and photographed last week. He’s the real deal: an authentic white beard, rosy cheeks and a soft belly. I introduced myself to him and with a twinkle in his eye and a deep-belly laugh, he said, “Well, Mary, it’s really nice to see you again, though I noticed you don’t write anymore. Have a Merry Christmas.”

Like a little kid, my immediate thought was, “he knows!” He knows I haven’t written to him since I was a girl, and he misses my letters! My face turned red and I struggled to speak, apologizing for not writing. I suppose even if I don’t completely believe, the spirit of Christmas can still be just as magical as when I was small.

So, I’ll be writing that letter this year. I won’t be asking for Barbies or a new dress or a bigger, better bicycle. This year, I’ll ask Santa to keep the spirit alive in all of us, no matter how old we get or when we first stopped believing.