Oz is ‘oz-some’ but Kansas (and Missouri) ain’t bad either!

After an eye-popping, jaw-dropping, mind-blowing trek through Oz – Dorothy and Toto realize, “There’s no place like home!” After clicking her ruby red slippers (blinged out Mary Jane shoes), Dorothy, clutching Toto to her chest is transported back home to Kansas. A place that to most is a snoozy flat state full of wheat fields, tucked smack dab in the middle of the country and usually on the way to somewhere, not the destination. But as it turns out, Kansas has plenty to offer – especially in the burgeoning metropolitan area of Kansas City and its surrounding suburbs.

Kansas isn’t all wheat fields – this lush pond filled with lilypads is in Leawood, a southern suburb of KC.

My husband and I lived in Kansas some 30 years ago, and our daughter was born there almost 27 years ago. At the time we were told to keep our outings to the suburbs or to the famed Country Club Plaza just southwest of downtown area which at the time was not worth visiting and not particularly safe. Fast forward 30 years and downtown and its surrounding areas are the ‘in’ place. A resurgence of great restaurants (i.e. Michael Smith Restaurant, The Reiger, & Nara), boutique shops and event venues has lured many to make downtown KC their living quarters. From high rises with a modern cosmopolitan vibe to old warehouses transposed into industrial style living quarters, downtown is a great place to live if you don’t need/want the upkeep of a yard.

Old train yards and depots, like the Freight House, now house great restaurants – i.e. Lidia’s, Jack Stack BBQ, and Grunaur. Across the railroad tracks at Union Station, the currently running Mummy Exhibition and permanent Science City and Planetarium are must visits. The train station is an active station for Amtrak and an architectural beauty itself after being restored in the mid 1990’s. The station renovations included creating windows into the guts of the working train station – showing some of the engine rooms with their original equipment.

Beautiful renovated inside of Union Station in KC.

My beautiful nieces out front of the revitalized Union Station and the Planetarium.

A few months ago my husband and children went to see a museum just south of downtown Kansas City, on the Missouri side and raved about it. I did not rush to see the museum in my subsequent visits. It was always on my ‘To Visit’ list, but in my naivety I assumed it would be ‘nothing to write home about.’ I stand duly corrected – the Nelson-Atkins Museum rivals any museum I have visited in New York City, Paris, or London. Who woulda thunk?

Separated into three very distinct layouts, the museum has something to offer everyone. Upon arriving at the site, the main museum building sits atop a hill at the end of a long expanse of grass – a very grand entrance. Inside this main building is housed original works of art from Renoir to Monet, Caravaggio to Gaugin, Rembrandt to Van Gogh. Exhibits ranging from China to India, mummies to sculptures, architecture to decorative arts. The building itself is a neoclassical architecture work of art that serves as a perfect place to house the classics of the art world.

The lush green lawn leading up to the original building of the Nelson-Atkins Museum.

In 2007 the new addition Bloch (think H&R Bloch) Building was opened. This contemporary arm of the museum houses more modern works of art, like the present Jackson Pollock installation. It is rumored you can see chards of glass from wine glasses Pollock shattered on the canvas of some paintings during his days battling alcoholism. This new museum space is clean, open, and stretched out into a stadium style design that stair steps down the terrain of the landscape it sits on. Each section showcasing a different style of modern art: from Pollock to Warhol, contemporary diverse media to modern expressionism, and photographic exhibits rotated on a regular basis.

A large Jackson Pollock is a focal point to the newer modern arm of the museum.

Be sure to visit the museum during good weather – the outside sculpture exhibit is worth the walk around the beautiful grounds. Walk a maze that isn’t a maze, but a labyrinth – “…a place in which we lose ourselves to find ourselves…” says the director of Curatorial Affairs. Or dream of climbing the 56′ stainless steel leafless tree by Roxy Paine – who asks, “…the viewer to think about how nature and technology coexist.”

A 50′ x 50′ glass labyrinth at the Nelson-Atkins Museum in KC.

A stainless steel leafless tree sculpture by Roxy Paine.

Or stand tall against the 18′ high shuttlecocks that dot the museum grounds, imagining as the husband wife sculptor team that the museum is the badminton net and the expansive lawn is the playing field. It would take a being of epic proportions to bat these 5,500 pound shuttlecocks up and over the net (museum), but they are a sight to see.

A giant shuttlecock (one of three) sits on the front lawn of the Nelson-Adkins Museum.

A little southeast of the museum is the well-reknowned Country Club Plaza.  I have touched on this area in past posts, but it is always worth another mention. The best time of year to visit the Country Club Plaza is closer to the holidays, because the unique Spanish architecture of this whole shopping mecca is outlined in lights, so at night it becomes a work of art all its own. During the rest of the year, the quality of shopping and restaurants are worth the effort. Grab a Starbuck’s and take the beautiful walk up and down the 20 or so blocks of boutique shops and restaurants.

With fall right around the corner head south of the city into the Kansas countryside to Louisburg for a supply of apples, apple cider and pumpkins. This cider mill has been around since 1977 and grown into a local tradition to get your fall fix of smells and tastes, although the cider mill is open year round. Grab a large cup of hot cider and mosey down the road to the Overland Park Arboretum and take in all the vibrant fall colors of the trees, shrubs and flowers while walking the paths interwoven throughout the waterways and ponds on this beautiful track of land.

Louisburg Cider Mill is a great place to spend a fall afternoon.

All kinds of great buys inside the gift shop at the Louisburg Cider Mill: soups, ciders, candies, scented candles, fun kitchen wares.

Maybe Kansas/Missouri and the KC area aren’t necessarily bucket list destinations, but if you find yourself in the area you won’t grow bored with all this region has to offer.

Traveling is exciting, but “There’s no place like home!”

We’re not in Kansas anymore Dorothy! Oh wait, yes we are. That’s exactly where all our moves have taken my husband and I – back to Kansas, for the second time. As Dorothy so eloquently said in the Wizard of Oz, “There’s no place like home!” and I couldn’t agree more. And for me ‘home’ has culminated in many different locations. I may not have a pair of ruby-red slippers to take me back home, but as much as I love to travel there is nothing better than coming back home.

I have been very lucky throughout my lifetime to have some amazing places to come home to: Minnesota, California, Montana, Kansas, Arizona, Saskatchewan and Alberta. Some of these places are a little better known to the masses, but I found out through living in all these places each location offers up a set up unique characteristics that make them very embraceable places to live AND visit.

Minnesota: My beloved Minnesota. This is where I grew up, and for me that means this will always be home. I was born in Northfield – town of Cows (large agriculture community), Colleges (St. Olaf and Carleton) and Contentment. Inside the city limits an academic nature prevails, but as soon as you hit the outskirts of town you are enveloped in perfectly aligned fields of corn and beans; orchards that are ripe with scents from spring to fall; and cows, horses and other livestock roaming the succulent stands of grasslands. If all of that doesn’t spell ‘contentment’ I don’t know what does.

I spent many weekends with my family “Up North“, along the shores of Lake Superior. Downhill skiing at Lutsen; cross-country skiing on the Gunflint Trail; walking the streets of Grand Marais; hiking trails with amazing views of Lake Superior; and having walleye meals at the Lutsen Lodge.

My husband and I moved back to Minnesota in 1991, and our son was born there a year later. Many of our family members still live there and to me there are fewer more beautiful states. Minnesota showcases the four seasons better than any other state I have visited or lived in. There is nothing like the scent of the spring bloom of the lilacs mixing with the flowering crabapple trees; the summer ripened lush green fairways and thick forests of trees of golf courses; a drive along the St. Croix or Mississippi Rivers showcasing the vibrant colors of fall; or a walk through the snow packed backwoods roads of Minnesota with evergreens draped with a fresh snowfall.

The lush green fairways and thick trees that line Northfield Golf Club, Northfield, MN - "The Money Tree"

The lush green fairways and thick trees of summer that line Northfield Golf Club, Northfield, MN – “The Money Tree”

The fall colors of Minnesota

The fall colors of Minnesota

California: My husband and I married in 1986, and our honeymoon was driving from Minnesota to California – our first home away from home. We lived in Stockton, CA. The best feature of Stockton was its location. We were an hour to San Francisco for fresh crab and strong coffee; an hour to Napa Valley to replenish our wine supply; two hours to Yosemite National Park to float down Merced River. In the one year we lived in Stockton, we had more family visitors than any other place we have lived within the same time frame. Locally we played several great golf courses; took walks along inland waterways fed from San Francisco Bay and the Pacific Ocean; visited a burgeoning local wine industry; and enjoyed great weather year round.

The rows of grape vines in Napa Valley, producing some of the best wines in the world

The rows of grape vines in Napa Valley, producing some of the best wines in the world

Montana: Big Sky country! And until you visit this massive beautiful state, you can’t comprehend just how accurate that state motto is. Being based out of Great Falls, which sits along the Missouri River, afforded a great location to visit the many highlights throughout the state. Head northwest to the Going to the Sun Road in Glacier National Park – be sure to try some huckleberries; continue west into the quaint small western town of Whitefish that sits at the base of Big Mountain ski area; turn south along the great boating lake Flathead Lake; continue south into the Bitterroot Mountains of Missoula; veer a little southeast to the mining (past and present) town of Butte; continue east to fish the Gallatin River or ski at Big Sky or Bridger Bowl outside of Bozeman; then work your way back north along the Missouri River as it cuts through some of the most beautiful Rocky Mountain settings in the country. And to the east are the plains of Montana where Lewis and Clark trekked back in the 1800’s.

Big Sky country, where the (deer) and the antelope roam, Montana

Kansas: I first lived here 25 years ago, and my daughter was born here in 1991. Having never visited the area, I was in awe of the lush rolling hills of Kansas City. When I learned we were returning to KS, I had no reservations in returning – especially since KC straddles the Kansas/Missouri line, so you are getting the highlights of two great states at your fingertips. The people are a mix of Mid-western nice and southern charm and take great pride in the care of their properties; strong family and work ethics; and great cooking. The unique Spanish architecture of The Plaza (great shopping and eating) is a draw, especially as outlined in lights for the holiday season; the stately mansions of Mission Hills are tough to be replicated anywhere; not being a huge fan of BBQ, even I have to admit the BBQ in KC is “…to die for!”

One of the areas most well-known BBQ stops, be ready to wait – but it’s worth it!

Four must haves at Jack Stack BBQ: pork ribs, burnt ends, cheesy corn bake and hickory pit beans.

Arizona: I have lived in Arizona, specifically the Phoenix area, a couple of different times and it will be where my husband and I retire, but Arizona has been the preferred vacation spot for my family, going back almost 40 years – my how this place has changed in 40 years. The dry warmth was always an appeal for a winter getaway from the humid cold of Minnesota. And being avid golfers it was a natural choice. As noted in my previous post I lived there as a junior in high school, when no major highways through the valley existed, and often Tempe and Mesa would be cut off from the rest of the valley when the monsoons hit and the Salt River bottoms flooded.

With the development of several major freeways, the city is now easy to navigate. Besides golf (albeit some of the best golf in the country) and an opportunity for a great tan, the valley has much too offer the visitor. Hiking trails abound throughout the surrounding mountain ranges providing spectacular views; floating down the upper Salt River watching wild horses drink from the shoreline; never-ending supply of great eateries; shopping to rival any other major city; a plethora of beautiful cars adorn the roadways; concerts, theaters, museums galore to satisfy the cultural palette.

The views from atop one of the surrounding high points that line that Phoenix Valley

The views from atop one of the surrounding high points that line that Phoenix Valley

The night skies from the Desert Botanical Garden, Phoenix, AZ

The night skies from the Desert Botanical Garden, Phoenix, AZ

Saskatchewan: The year 2000 found us moving northward. At this stage in my life I assumed I would be working my way south to warmer drier climates. Instead we headed north to one of the coldest climates known to man, that has a population of more than a few hundred. Regina, the capital of Saskatchewan was our landing spot. It didn’t take long to realize that as challenging as it was to survive the winters, the people held a warmth to offset even the coldest of days. It was a great place to bring up our children.

The standing joke in Saskatchewan is that you can see your dog run away for 3 days – because it is so flat there. But you have to give the pioneers of Regina a lot of credit for making Regina a/k/a the Queen City a place worth living and visiting. Every tree in the city was hand planted in this once desolate plain, and Wascana Lake was created to be the center piece of the city with the stately provincial legislature building sitting proudly at its shores, and walking paths that take you along the lake and out into the surrounding neighborhoods. The Queen of England and all of her children have been visitors, since Canada is a Commonwealth of England; and there has been no shortage of great acts (ie. Rolling Stones, ACDC, Prince) through this city that sits on the one main highway through Canada – the Trans-Canada 1.

Downtown Regina serves as a backdrop to Wascana Lake and the Legislature building

Alberta: My stay in Calgary, Alberta was short-lived, only two years, but it wasn’t hard to make a real go of it in a city that sits in the foothills of some of the most majestic Rocky Mountain ranges in the world. Our kids were off to university by now, and so my husband and I took the opportunity to live in a high-rise condo, affording us amazing daily views. The weekend we moved there I sat on our 25th floor deck and listened to an outdoor concert, that was being held along the banks of the Bow River. The concert was part of the world-famous Calgary Stampede, based two blocks from our apartment when the whole city of Calgary turns into a cowboy theme park for the better part of two weeks.

While the city itself has a lot to offer, the proximity to places like Banff and Lake Louise make it an equally appealing place to live. Summer golf and hiking and winter skiing await you on a beautiful drive through a greatly untouched Bow River Valley, on a well maintained four-lane highway, past Cranbrook – stop in for a helicopter ride to reach new hiking heights. On into Banff National Park to get your fill of natures beauty: glacier fed turquoise blue lakes; snow-capped mountains even in the middle of summer; wildlife roaming over manmade animal bridges; clean fresh crisp air year round.

One of the many turquoise blue water lakes in the Banff National Park, Alberta - with snow capped peaks in this July picture

One of the many turquoise blue water lakes in the Banff National Park, Alberta – with snow-capped peaks in this July picture