The “team of teams” concept of the LEAP Ambassadors was on full display Tuesday, as each Ambassador led a team to different events. Jessica Cuevas went to “State of the City,” Yvette Mendoza led “Beyond Bars,” and I coordinated a team to see Ambassador Nikki Haley at a World Affairs Council event. With us were: Ashley Kinyon, Riya Prasad, and Ingrid Cuero.
The event was tailored around her book titled If You Want Something Done, and the rest of the evening fit that theme.
CEO, Maryanne Maldonado, gave a brief introduction and thanked everyone for attending.
She then introduced the moderator for the evening, Co-Owner and Global CFO of Houston-based Worldwide Oilfield Machine (WOM), Rani Puranik.
Puranik began the evening by reading directly from Ambassador Haley’s book. In her book, Ambassador Haley describes feminism as “working hard and proving you deserve to be in the room.”
The book is about women throughout history, some names are widely known, others not so much. Ambassador Haley connected these women with one attribute: courage. Each woman in her book took a stand for what they believed in, even if it scared them. This is something that Ambassador Haley came to live her life by; she makes efforts to do something, even if it scares her.
The conversation then drifted over to her time as the 29th U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations. Slightly as a joke, but also very true, Ambassador Haley compared her time at the U.N. to high school with the cliques. She said everyone “hung out with” those from similar countries and didn’t mingle much outside of that. Ambassador Haley stated proudly that she made efforts to host a monthly dinner and invite Ambassadors from every country; she especially made efforts to invite those with opposing views.
She gave old, but sound advice, to keep your enemies close and learn about them as much as possible. Ambassador Haley said her goal quickly became to listen, and attempt to understand opposing points of view. Negotiations were made much easier when there was a rapport to work from.
After the event, Ambassador Haley was nice enough to take a photo with us, and, keeping with the theme of the event, she encouraged all of us (all women) in our endeavors.
On behalf of the LEAP center, thank you to WAC for being such gracious hosts, and allowing us fantastic opportunities. Thank you to Ambassador Haley for your service to the country, as a Governor and Ambassador.
Dinner at Bawarchi Biryanis
Indian food is quite different than what I am used to, but I was excited to try something new with the LEAP Center! At Bawarchi Biryanis, we started with veggie samosas, paneer samosas, garlic, and regular naan. The garlic naan was the group favorite, but Riya loved the samosas and said they were very similar to what her family makes.
I had a Veg Dum Biryani, which included a mixture of rice, vegetables, and a variety of seasonings. The rice was a bit too spicy for my liking, and Riya informed me that it might not be the best starter dish. However, I am grateful to have had the chance to try new food!
Morgan and Riya both had curry-based meals; Morgan had the Saag Panner, and Riya had a Chicken tika. They both loved their selections!
Stephanie had the Aloo Gobi Malala, which is potatoes and cauliflower cooked in Indian spices, and Ashley had the Chicken Lollipops.
Everyone loved their meals and enjoyed trying what everyone else selected.
Following an eventful first day of interviews and new connections, the LEAP Ambassadors were excited to hit the ground running with the 2022 Texas Tribune Festival!
Texas State Capitol
Our Friday morning began with a trip to the Texas Capitol, where we met with the Chief of Staff for Senator Bryan Hughes, Cody Terry. (Senator Hughes represents the Tyler area, where Morgan is from!) During our time with Mr. Terry, we got a surprise visit from Senator Charles Schwertner’s former Chief of Staff, Tom Holloway. We were also lucky enough to meet Caroline Harris, who, after winning the primary (congratulations!), will compete in the general election for her own seat!
Between welcomed and insightful interruptions, Mr. Terry shared a few words of wisdom regarding internships applicable to any office.
He advised us to find something we are interested in and run with it.
We also met with Scott Jenkines, Chief of Staff for Representative Armando “Mando” Martinez who represents the Valley (District 39). Mr. Jenkines gave us a more technical overview of the innerworkings of the Texas House.
From both chiefs we learned about how different offices and committees work, and what members look for and expect from interns. We were grateful to have been able to sneak some questions in, and we are very thankful for the opportunity to have met with them and learn more about the legislative session. It was a great start for our day, which we soon followed with a trek down to the Paramount Theatre for our second Texas Tribune Festival session!
This session was actually two-pronged. We had the opportunity to experience Austin’s stunning Paramount Theatre, a historic Art Deco structure built in 1915.
The second was, of course, the session topic: a One-on-One with former Secretary of State and 2016 presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, moderated by Kara Swisher!
Our main takeaway from Hillary Clinton was her stance on empowering women in politics. This was perfect for all four of us since we had just left the Capitol, where we all hope to intern in the next session..
With empowerment comes controversial issues, and in her talk, it was clear the most popular topic was her 2016 run against Donald Trump for President. He was a central topic of discussion, specifically regarding the deleted emails, predictions for future elections, and the possible criminal charges he may face.
Clinton repeatedly emphasized that she did not delete any emails and “never corresponded about classified emails.” Clinton has raised money in an interesting, but slightly self-deprecating way, by selling hats that read “But Her Emails.” [FS2] Clinton and Swisher laughed about the merch, but on a more serious note, each dollar raised from the hats is donated to the next Democratic candidate for the next presidential election.
Although she will not be running for office in the future, Clinton still contributes much to the current political officials in the Democratic party. When the question was raised if Trump is likely to run again, Clinton predicted he will run again, although this time he may also have criminal charges pending, after the search of Mar-a-Lago.
Aside from the political drama, Clinton vocalized the importance of Social Security, Medicare, and having a strong social democracy. She believes this will happen only if we continue to vote Democrats into office. But whether or not you are a Democrat or a Republican, we must vote and empower one another. Hearing from Hillary Clinton showed us that you can overcome what may seem to be impossible—an excellent takeaway!
Previewing the 88th: Part Four
TTF hosts multiple sessions about the upcoming Texas Legislative Session. Although we beelined it to Raise Your Hand Texas, where the fourth session was held, many others had the same idea, and we ended up in the SRO section. Nonetheless, it was completely worth it.
The impressive panel included Senator Carol Alvarado, Senator Cesar Blanco, Senator Sarah Eckhardt, Democratic Candidate for Senate District 27 Morgan LaMantia, and moderator Matthew Watkins, Managing Editor for News and Politics at TheTexas Tribune. With the State of Texas’ budget surplus of about $30 billion, redistricting, and the Texas governor’s election, this session will definitely face new opportunities and challenges.
Abortion is a heavy topic for discussion during this session, after the overturning of Roe v. Wade. The panel didn’t suggest that any major bills will pass to restore those rights, but they would like to pass legislation to allow for certain exceptions of abortions like incest, rape, or medical complications. For example, Texas has one of the highest maternal mortality rates in the country, so adopting legislation that will protect the mother’s life from risk of a full-term pregnancy could lower that statistic. Senator Blanco expects this upcoming governor’s election to be a “Roe-vember,” implying that many voters will vote solely driven by their beliefs or stance on abortion.
Another topic this panel expects will be up for much debate is gun regulations. Although gun regulations have been debated for decades, what makes the topic so complicated for this upcoming session is the increase in school shootings, specifically the Uvalde school shooting. Many people are fed up with turning on the news to another school shooting where innocent lives have been lost, and voters will be letting their legislators know that. The panel hopes to see stricter gun laws passed to help stop gun violence in Texas, which has a higher gun mortality rate than the national average. There was a call to action to the right to place more emphasis on the gun laws in Texas.
The panel also mentioned plans to focus on other issues that were “not just political stunts,” such as lowering property taxes and fixing the worker shortage, specifically for teachers and nurses.
One topic the panel did consider a political stunt wasthe border wall. The panel understands Republicans’ concern, but they do not like the way the Republican party goes about it. They would like to focus on improving the treatment of the immigrants coming in and not just throwing them into state camps or foster care. We were informed by the panel that some of these kids being thrown under state custody are dying due to the living conditions they are being put under at the border camps. Right now, the quality of care is improving due to neighboring border city communities that take kids in and provide them with better conditions, so the senators would like to see a change in that sector.
With (hopefully) our internships for this upcoming session, we found this discussion impactful and inspiring. We always enjoy getting to hear different points of views, so it will be great to ponder on these ideas until January!
Following a busy day, we met up with SHSU alumna (and former LEAP Center student worker), Annie Jamarik, Chief of Staff for Representative Hugh Shine. Annie recommended a great local pizza joint, called 40 North.
Considering Annie’s recommendations, we ordered the Classic Pepperoni (a bit spicy), the Margherita Di Bufala, the Barbe, and probably (most) everyone’s favorite, the Hot Honey.
As we ate, Annie gave us sound advice, both from the perspective of an intern and as a chief. She advised us to build our networks early and joked that we have already started with her! Along with her encouraging advice, she also had some practical advice, too. We asked about wardrobe and best places to shop, and even what kinds of shoes to wear every day.
We are very thankful to Annie for joining us for a great dinner and for all her advice and words of wisdom about interning in this upcoming session at the Capitol.
In conjunction with attending the Texas Tribune Festival (TTF), we were able to kill two birds with one stone and have our first interviews with a few offices, while also gearing up to participate in the TTF!
Between Jessica, Yvette, Ashlyn, and myself, we had a total of 11 interviews in the span of just a few hours. We have all previously been to the Texas Capitol before, but we all agreed that this time felt different. Our group was one of excitement, nerves, and ambition.
We were prepared for the standard interview questions but thanks to a quick crash course from former LEAP Student and now Chief of Staff, Annie Jamarik, we had a slight leg up for questions outside of the norm. Just 15 minutes before the first interviews we took to the halls of the Texas Capitol in an Amazing Race-like fashion.
We all had wonderful meetings with 4 different Chiefs-of-Staff and thoroughly enjoyed the experiences. Some interviews proceeded more like a Q&A whereas others were more conversational. In one of my interviews, I was even able to explain some local Huntsville news!
The interview experience was made all the better by former LEAP students who stopped by to catch up and offer encouraging words. Ashlyn and I got to meet Blake Roach who now works for the Governor as a Manager in the Appointments Division. We all met Christina Perez-Gonzalez who works for AECT (Association of Electric Companies of Texas) and Emily Johnson who is a Review Director at the Texas Sunset Advisory Commission.
On behalf of those of us that interviewed this past week, thank you to the former LEAP students for taking the time to meet with us and share your experiences. To the offices that interviewed us, we are grateful for the opportunities to interview with you, your dedication to serving the state is a fantastic example that we wish to follow.
Follow-Up Capitol Meetings
Following our interviews with various legislative offices, we returned to the Capitol, where we met with the Chief of Staff for Senator Bryan Hughes, Cody Terry. (Senator Hughes represents the Tyler area, where Morgan is from!) During our time with Mr. Terry, we got a surprise visit from Senator Charles Schwertner’s former Chief of Staff, Tom Holloway. We were also lucky enough to meet Caroline Harris, who, after winning the primary (congratulations!), is running for a State Representative position in November’s election.
Between welcome and insightful interruptions, Mr. Terry shared a few words of wisdom regarding internships applicable to any office. He advised us to find something we are interested in and to run with it.
We also met with Scott Jenkines, Chief of Staff for Representative Armando “Mando” Martinez who represents the Valley (District 39). Mr. Jenkines gave us a more technical overview of the inner workings of the Texas House.
From both chiefs we learned about how different offices and committees work, and what members look for and expect from interns. We were grateful to have been able to sneak some questions in, and we are very thankful for the opportunity to have met with them and learn more about the Legislative session.
A Taste of Ethiopia
While in Austin, we wanted to get a taste of something different, and that mission was accomplished when we took our first bite from “A Taste of Ethiopia.”
For appetizers, we had sambusas, tomato salad, and minchet abish, and we loved them! The sambusas and the minchet abish were our favorites.
For entrees, we ate family style, which is the Ethiopian tradition. We tried a bit of everything, including lamb, goat, chicken, and beef. The favorites were probably based on our tolerance for spices, but Doro Wat (the national dish of Ethiopia) was universally enjoyed.
We also had desserts, including chocolate cake and baklava.
It was a hearty meal and a rewarding new experience, befitting a day full of rewards and new experiences.
For the LEAP Ambassadors, there is no better mid-week venture than to the Glades Art Foundation in the Woodlands for an always amazing World Affairs Council event. This time around, we were fortunate enough to be accompanied by two guests: Hongjin Jeon, (aka. Andrew) a student in Professor Yawn’s Texas Government class and Dr. Lei Duan, the professor for my Modern Asian History course.
We enjoyed pursuing the current exhibits on display, one of which we have seen before: a collection of drinks!
The Glade Gallery hosts an array of exhibits as well as acts as a meeting location for many local groups. The Woodlands Photography Club was also hosting a meeting and they were surrounded by many dynamic photographs.
The event began with an introduction from Ray Cunningham, the North Houston Coordinator, who thanked the Glade Gallery, and the guests for their continued interest in the Council.
Mr. Cunningham then introduced Professor Yawn…
…who proceeded to introduce General In-Bum Chun.
Professor Yawn highlighted General Chun’s career in both the military and governmental sectors…
…and a few of his acts of service, which later General Chun elaborated on.
General Chun began by recognizing and expressing his gratitude for one of the audience members, Charles, A Korean War Veteran! It was wonderful to see this man, who must have been nearing 90, hear about an expert on Korea, seven decades after he fought for South Korea’s right to remain independent and free.
General Chun then spoke on the importance of the United States involvement in the Korean War, (1950-1953) more specifically, American troops on the ground in Korea. Chun stated, that without help from America Korea would not be where they are economically, politically, and socially today.
He then gave 5 key features about Korea that have been made possible by the U.S.
Reforestation: after the war, the whole peninsula was a barren war zone. Now, Korea has some of the lushest forests in the world.
International travel: Korea has one of the most accepted passports in the world.
Healthcare: General Chun highlighted the benefits of universal health care, including regular preventive health checks.
Public Transportation: The public transportation system is almost on par with the one in Japan.
Public Restrooms: General Chun noted, slightly jokingly, that when you must go, you don’t have to look far! Everywhere in Korea there are accessible, clean restrooms.
Ronan O’Malley then stepped as the world-class moderator that he is, and he asked a series of questions of his own and from the audience. In response, General Chun described Korea’s relationship with its surrounding neighbors.
Most of the country’s trade is done with China, although it is extremely difficult to navigate. With their neighbor to the east, there is deeply rooted emotional history. Japan and Korea have made great strides to reconcile, but politicians from both countries capitalize on the bad blood for political gain.
For the other country that shares the peninsula, General Chun Described North Korea as “a perfect dictatorship based on a cult.” The whole country is run by one family and, socially, still operates based on a hierarchal system.
Often tying historical aspects of the country to modern topics, General Chun concluded the night with one piece of advice: communication. General Chun pointed out that historically there is a lack of communication coming from America. Often we do what is in our interests, without asking the opinions of our allies. General Chun’s advice to keep communication in mind applies to much more than international relations and is sound advice for everyone.
I strongly admire the way General Chun was able to identify an area that has potential for growth in the U.S, but also express his gratitude for what is arguably one of the best alliances in history.
As the event drew to a close, we were able to meet with General Chun in groups. The Lonestar Honors Organization was on hand, and we had a chance to talk with them, and also photograph them with the General.
We also had a chance to meet high-school students from Caney Creek, with their advisor Eric Tanner, and they, of course, had a chance to meet with the General.
And, of course, we had a chance to meet with the General as well…
…and this was probably the biggest treat for Andrew.
On behalf of the LEAP center, thank you to the World Affairs Council for always hosting informative and enjoyable events, and to General Chun for taking the time to share your expertise about your country.
Dinner at Saigon USA Pho Grill
Our goal is always to reinforce the formal knowledge we receive from the presentation with some cultural learning in the form of food. While we couldn’t find Korean food in The Woodlands, we were able to stay close to Korea in a geographical sense, and we had an amazing dinner at Saigon USA pho & grill!
We started with an assortment of appetizers: Cheese puffs, steamed dumplings, and fried wontons. My favorite was the steamed dumplings, but all of the appetizers where amazing.
For entrées, some half of us chose Pho, and the other half chose meat and rice dishes.
Everyone loved their meals, and we left almost no room for dessert! Because Tuesday was Yvette’s birthday, Professor Yawn, let Yvette pick the dessert, and she chose Strawberry and Mango mochi. The mochi was plated beautifully, and everyone enjoyed the sweet treat!
Our early rise in Wichita, KS was accompanied by a nice and cool breeze! This morning we had a hankering for a more local taste for breakfast, and we were excited to try the homemade pop tarts from the local restaurant, HomeGrown. Sure enough, upon arrival, we had three of their brown sugar pop tarts, which were very tasty!
This time around, Morgan and Yvette ordered zesty yet sweet lemon dishes, Limoncello French Toast and Lemon Ricotta Pancakes.
Ashlyn ordered one of their specialties, the Croissant French Toast.
The seasonal flavors were a nice contrast to my savory Chilaquiles Verde Bowl, which was delicious. It was a great breakfast filled with an assortment of flavors!
If you are ever in Wichita, HomeGrown is a must-try especially if you want a taste of something local!
Frank Lloyd Wright’s: Allen House
Our next stop was also a local gem, one specifically designed for the prairies of the interior plains of Kansas: the Allen House. Completed in 1918 by Frank Lloyd Wright, the home was stunning! Not only does the home provide a glance back to an earlier time, but the intricate detail and expert craftsmanship are excellent examples of Wright’s works.
While we could listen to facts and history about the house itself for hours on end, it is important to know about the family who commissioned it. Our tour guide, Mary, wove the history of the Allens with facts about the home during our tour. Henry J. Allen was a Wichita native, newspaper editor and publisher, U.S. Senator, and two-term governor of Kansas. When the Allens decided to build a new home, they remembered hearing about a certain architect with quite the reputation. By word of mouth, he and his wife Elise, knew that they must have a Wright home of their own in the city of Wichita!
Since Wright took on designing the Allen’s dream home soon after working on the Imperial Hotel in Tokyo, Japan, there is a beautiful incorporation of Japanese techniques within the home.
Wright is known for bringing the exterior and the interior together; the effect of the outside meeting the inside is truly captivating.
The Allen House employs the use of horizontal lines, examples of this can be found in the cantilevers, etched designs, light fixtures, and even the grout between the bricks!
Instead of aligning the bricks with the grout, Wright deeply ranked the grout in and created more horizontal lines in and out of the house. With each home we have seen, it is easy to fall in love with the personality Wright gives the home.
Wright loved to add a poetic nature to everyday items, and with crystalized frozen air (windows) lining the home, it truly does make the home a work of art.
The home is filled with Wrights’ iconic built-in bookshelves, five fireplaces, and a Japanese-style pond, making for quite the property. The living room and dining room are adorned with crystalized frozen air (windows) that contain colors found in nature. The lamps around the home show the Japanese influence and are crafted with mulberry paper to create a softer light (photos were not allowed inside).
Wright implements a technique called compression and release in the living room in which you transition through a small door and low ceiling to a grand living room.
Elise Allen was an art collector herself and had several pieces around the home. Some reflected religious motifs, while others were done in a Japanese fashion; but most interesting to us was the Birger Sandzén lithograph!
We were in awe of the beautiful home and were not ready to leave, but we didn’t leave without snapping a picture in the beautiful garden maintained by seven master gardeners who donate their time to maintain the home’s landscape.
This tour couldn’t have been possible without the excellent staff and our tour guide, Mary, at the Allen West Home.
As a result, we learned more about Frank Lloyd Wright and the Kansans who cared about educating others regarding the legend and art of Frank Lloyd Wright.
Larkspur Bistro & Bar
Not only was the Frank Lloyd Wright Allen Home an amazing tour but it also helped us pick our lunch destination! Before touring this beautiful home, we had two options in mind that we were struggling to choose between. However, after we saw a Larkspur flower in the garden, we took it as a sign to eat at the local Larkspur Bistro & Bar! How could we not?
Mary, our guide for the Allen Home tour, recommended that we try their Kansas Wedge Salad and, sure enough, that is what Ashlyn and I ordered.
For our appetizers, we had delicious, crafted bread with oil, hummus, and crab cakes. Yvette ordered the Salmon Fettuccini and Morgan the Air Capitol Burger.
Larkspur Bistro & Bar was yet another great local stop on our trip and we love getting the recommendations from locals!
Wichita Art Museum Ashlyn Parker
After lunch, we headed to the Wichita Art Museum. To our surprise, upon entering the museum, we were met by a Dale Chihuly Persian Ceiling!
We thought that we would experience the Persian Ceiling, also known as the Chihuly Bridge, from one viewpoint, but the surprise continued as we made our way to the second floor and were able to walk across the glass work! In the atrium of the museum, another Chihuly piece, titled Confetti Chandelier, is featured with the typical swirls and orbs illuminating the space.
This museum offered many different styles of art including one exhibit that was strategically lit to display the pieces of contemporary artist, Beth Lipman. Her work is most famous for her use of glass still-life compositions. One piece, in particular the Laid Table, uses common pieces of glass such as a bowls, vases, or plates in a unique way beautifully placed around a tabletop. This piece used about 500 separate pieces of glass to create and lots of glue. The glass in her work represents the fragility of human lives and how delicate they really are.
We came across works by artists we have seen in other museums on our trip. There was an Andy Warhol lithograph depicting scenes of Jackie Kennedy as a remembrance of her husband John F. Kennedy after he was shot. The painting is in typical Warhol fashion as it is divided into four squares, with the image in each square exemplifying a different emotion.
The Carlene and Lee Banks Rotunda Gallery contained 19th-century oil paintings, and everyone tried their hand at guessing the artists. Morgan probably did the best of all of us, an outcome that might have been helped by the fact that Thomas Moran was among the artists in the mix.
But we all saw works by familiar names: Frederic Remington, Roy Lichtenstein, and Louise Nevelson, for examples.
We also saw two artists we weren’t fully familiar with, but which we would become familiar with over the course of the trip: John Steuart Currey…
…and Birger Sandzen.
We enjoyed getting to see a variety of different themes, styles of paintings, and sculptures throughout this museum.
It never ceases to amaze me what these talented people can do with a paintbrush or glass.
Mental Health Courts
Across the nation, new and more specialized methods of trying cases are arising. Today, there are 150 mental health courts in the United States that are completely independent of drug courts, municipal courts, and other courts to which nonviolent offenders with mental health illnesses are assigned.
Leading this cause in her home state of Ohio is former Ohio Supreme Court Justice Evelyn Stratton.
Sworn into the Ohio Supreme Court in 1996, Justice Stratton made great strides advocating for mental illness. Justice Stratton helped form the Supreme Court of Ohio Advisory Committee on Mental Illness and the Courts, and is a co-founder of the Judges’ Leadership Initiative.
Joining Justice Stratton on the panel were mental health professionals: Kimberly Nelson, the Regional Administrator for Substance Abuse and Mental Health Service Administration serving Region 7, which includes Kansas, Megan Quattlebaum, Director for the CSG Justice Center, Wenhan “Chris” Cheok, the Mental Health Program Manager for Sedgwick County COMCARE, and Flor Alvarado, a Mental Health Court Clinician/ Sedgwick County Offender Assessment Program (SCOAP) & TT Team lead for Sedgwick County COMCARE. Kansan State Senator Pat Pettey led the discussion and prompted some interesting questions.
The Stepping Up Initiative, which we had previously heard about in an earlier sessions, is one of the leading efforts addressing the public health crisis in county jails across Ohio. “Stepping Up is a national effort to break the cycle of jail being the de facto mental health hospital,” are the words of the Ohioans who are working on the Ohio Project.
Ms. Quattlebaum explained how offenders with mental health illnesses are currently prosecuted and processed through the system. Offenders are either tried like any other case in the court that follows the offense, or they are placed in a hospital for forensic treatments. Conversely, mental health courts will use competency restoration for offenders who are not fit for court after three, six, or twelve months of restoration. Depending on the individual, they will either be released or processed through the system and tried at the Mental Health Court.
The need for mental health courts is more prevalent than ever. These courts with their justices and treatment facilities will further help everyone involved, providing the defendants/accused with the help and resources they require.
After the panel discussion was over, Jessica spoke with Justice Stratton about her work and her career, and we were all fortunate to snap a quick selfie with her!
State Dinner at the Midwest Council of State Governments Annual Conference
At many of the Council of State Government regional conferences, the organizations host a “State Dinner” on the final evening, and this was true for the Midwest. This is a big event for LEAP Ambassadors–often their first such experience–and it was made even more fortunate by the presence of two CSG staff members at our table and some entertaining musical performers with the Aerotones Big Band, featuring Jaslyn Alexander on lead vocals.
Throughout the evening, Aerotunes played songs through the decades, often jumping 50+ years in the process. We soon grew to love the range of the music styles and genres and despite the variety in sounds, dancers kept on dancing!
We were first greeted by Senator McGinn, who not only introduced the posting of the color guard…
…and the invocation…
…but also introduced some humor into the proceedings, setting a light tone to a lively evening!
At first, there weren’t a lot of takers on the dance scene.
But when the Ambassadors got on the floor, they soon had the opportunity to learn new dances (or just be led through the dances in some cases). Kansas Representative Mark Schreiber was a particularly generous dance instructor…
…and with some real dancing going on, the dance floor soon came alive!
We hate to say who is the best dancer in the group, but we are really glad we brought Ashlyn.
We were pleased with how nice everyone was, and we were grateful for the new friends we made.
Late afternoon on Friday, we loaded the car and embarked on our journey to the Midwest! Our destination for the first half of our week is Wichita, Kansas, for the 76th Annual Meeting of the Midwestern Legislative Conference. Leaving late afternoon, though, we only made a few hours on the road before our first stop.
On the museum grounds, we were introduced to a new (to us) artist, Richard Serra, known for his massive bronze sculptures. His abstract works develop a “patina” over time, meaning that the metal changes color. Since its creation in 2002, we could clearly see how the coloring of Vortex has changed over time.
We snapped a few shots and made our way to another nearby outside piece, Hina, by another new (to most of us) artist, Deborah Butterfield. Butterfield also works in bronze, but her horses look like they’re made of wood!
Chatting about the different techniques, we made our way inside to meander through the modern pieces, on the lookout for more new and inspiring artists and works.
The minimal and modern building blended perfectly with the landscape and the works inside. The interior layout is designed to display prominent exhibits, with soaring ceilings and a lot of glass, and it is an appropriate motif for minimalist works such as those by Donald Judd.
The east and north sides overlook a reflecting pool, across which stands a gleaming Roxy Paine with interweaving branches entitled Conjoined.
Yvette quickly identified the distinct squares and colors of Josef Albers and Jessica spotted her favorite part of the museum, a collection of Andy Warhol flowers, and we were pleased to see that we would be rewarded with other Warhol works as well.
True to the nature of modern art, the pieces were not limited to paint and canvas. Steel and fiberglass adorned the center of one gallery, while interesting messages displayed on LED signs followed a vertical and uniform pattern in another. Of particular interest were Nancy Graves’ Inside-Outside and Jenny Holzer’s Kind of Blue, which we spent a lot of time on, pondering and (trying to) photograph.
Ashlyn best liked a rather unique photograph that featured a simple middle-class home balanced upon a pair of legs, Laurie Simmons’ Walking House. She was drawn to the piece for how it “stood out” and could be interpreted on multiple levels.
We made our way (rather quickly because of the temperature) through the sculpture garden which, in addition to the Paine, featured a KAWS…
Professor Yawn’s favorite piece was one by Martin Puryear, titled “Ladder for Booker Washington.” While we didn’t understand the reference, Yawn discussed it and offered several interpretations for this intriguing piece.
The more dynamic pieces allowed us to practice creating interesting and unusual photographic compositions and ultimately resulting in some nice shots.
The Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth was a good start to what soon will be a week worth of art, history and politics!
La Cena at Salsa Limón
With Oklahoma City in our sights, we chose somewhere quick (that turned out to be just right!) for dinner—Salsa Limón. We made our selections, while attempting to create a variety of options (which in my opinion, is becoming increasingly more difficult since our tastes sometimes converge). Jessica and Morgan chose similarly (boring burritos!) with pastor and chorizo, respectively, Ashlyn had a chicken molco bowl (“Just what I was expecting!”), and Yvette, Professor Yawn and Stephanie had an assortment of tacos, from barbacoa, to mushroom & cheese, to pastor, to black bean & avocado.
It was a good and light meal, energizing us for the final leg of our day’s travels.
Our evening–and my first LEAP Center event–began with a trip to the Glade Gallery, which hosts not only beautiful art, but also many of the events held by the World Affairs Council.
At the Glade Gallery we viewed an array of paintings and sculptures. As we were roaming the gallery, we noticed some art pieces that also happened to be for sale- some were priced up to $31,000!
And we even saw a Marc Chagall!
Our main objective of the evening, however, was to hear from Julián Cárdenas, who was speaking on Venezuela’s political and energy situation–and how these are being affected by the Russian-Ukraine War.
Considering Mr. Cardenas served in the Venezuela State Department, is an energy expert, and a law professor at the University of Houston Law, he was a good person to hear from on this topic!
Mr. Cardenas and WAC’s able moderator Ronan O’Malley discussed the challenges faced by Venezuela since the Chavez and Maduro regimes, of which there many. With economic policies that aren’t working, the country facing sanctions imposed by other countries, and widespread corruption among government officials, Venezuela is also facing soaring inflation–in fact, inflation has climbed to thousands of percent, making the US’s inflation rate of 10 percent seem tame.
Cardenas discussed numerous topics we needed to learn about: realism v. idealism in foreign policy, the G-7, NAFTA, and programs such as “food for oil.” We also learned the term “brain drain,” of which Cardenas was a part–he left when conditions became intolerable there.
Following the main discussion, we were able to chat a bit with Mr. Cardenas, pose for a photo, thank the wonderful WAC staff, and head out for dinner.
We drove down to Casa Medina just in time to grab a couple of seats before they closed the kitchen. The service was excellent, and the food was solid! I ordered the shrimp enchiladas, and I was pleasantly surprised with the amount of shrimp and cheese on top. I am a bit of a shrimp enchilada connoisseur, and this dish is a guaranteed 10/10 on the Ashlyn Parker scale!
…who introduced our keynote speaker for the general session, Nora McInerny, whose talk, “Terrible, Thanks for Asking” played on themes she discusses in her podcast and books.
She displayed her dry, witty sense of humor while also touching on loss, grief, change, and new beginnings. Most importantly, she addressed the ability to genuinely answer the question, “How are you?” I think we often answer with the word “fine,” which is okay, but sometimes, it’s okay not to be okay.
Following McInerny’s inspirational words, we had a chance to meet her and discuss her talk.
She was very generous.
Today was a unique day with their awards luncheon! Once the doors opened, we scurried off to get a table and save Huntsville’s City Manager, Aaron Kulhavy, a seat next to us. For most of the luncheon, we were conversing with Aaron to get to know him and learn more about city management.
Our entrée for lunch consisted of Ham with Barbeque sauce, and grits, accompanied by a variety of vegetables such as corn and some delicious carrots. Once we finished our main dish, we started on our dessert which was a delicious fruit tart with oranges and strawberries. Countless city officials were recognized for their outstanding work and accomplishments throughout the years. It was truly an amazing and rewarding experience.
Once the luncheon was over, Aaron Kulhavy took us around and introduced us to multiple people from the surrounding areas before we split off to the breakout sessions.
Isabel enjoyed the economic development conference presented by Imelda Speck, the Economic Developer in Irving, Texas, which is Isabel’s hometown! Speck along with the other panelists talked about the effects the Covid-19 pandemic had on their cities and small businesses. Isabel found it interesting to hear about the programs the City of Irving implemented to try and soften the blow. Jessica found this session particularly easy to understand and follow thanks to her Finance Internship with the City of Huntsville.
In ways, her internship with the Finance Department helped her understand things in different sessions such as previously mentioned and the strategic plans session. However, this can also be said of Morgan after interning with the City Secretary.
Morgan’s favorite conference, All Disasters are Local, Your Emergency Program Should Be, Too, by Nim Kidd. Kidd talked about three new technologies that they are putting in place to cover more bases regarding emergency management. It was also intriguing to know how they are also starting the first academy in the nation for emergency management and will be placing 100 new agents in 100 new counties.
Despite many good sessions today, my all-time favorite was the opening session with Nora Mclnerny.
Dinner in Downtown Bastrop
Once the conference wrapped up for the day, we were beyond excited to explore downtown Bastrop and eat at a local place. On our way to Piney Creek Chophouse, we took a moment to admire the various bookstores, coffee shops, and beautiful homes in their downtown. Piney Creek Chophouse is a nice neat little local restaurant that has a unique architectural design and interior that adds to the character of the place.
Often Professor Yawn forgets to feed us, but makes up for it when he treats us to a fancy steakhouse. Never failing to get us appetizers to hold us over until our entrees arrive, we ordered Crab Cakes, Crab-Stuffed Mushrooms, and Bruschetta.
We were also provided with a delicious, crafted artisan bread accompanied by butter. The crab cakes were bursting with flavor, and we even convinced Jessica, who isn’t a fan of crab or seafood, to try a bite! We couldn’t get her to try a mushroom, but maybe we’ll have some better luck next time.
As we waited for our main entrees, Professor Yawn gave us a quick crash course about dining etiquette. Soon enough, our main entrees were brought out to us, Morgan and Izabella shared a Filet Mignon served with Mashed Potatoes and Haricot Verts. Jessica and I both shared a New York Strip accompanied by Mashed Potatoes and Haricot Verts as well.
Professor Yawn enjoyed a Strawberry Salad and a side of fried Brussel Sprouts which we all absolutely loved.
Each dish had its own quality that made it special, and each dish was full of different flavors. We all had our own unique experiences. After our main dish, I was sure I was full and had no room for dessert…. I was wrong.
Dessert included an exquisite Bread Pudding, A Molten Lava Cake, and Banana Foster. I found the Banana Foster the most interesting since our waitress brought the dish out covered in flames which certainly made for a cool and unique presentation. The Banana Foster had a very strong cinnamon taste and a slight hint of coconut, it was one of the favorites and there was not a single piece left on the dish. The Bread Pudding had more of a sweet, rich taste and the Molten lava cake was very neatly presented, and the brownie was super rich and paired with the ice cream, it made for a wonderful combination.
We all had a great time at dinner, and it was the perfect way to end a long eventful day.