Monday, January 5, 2015

AIM Project "Without Saying a Word"

He jokes that it’s “all about the hair” (dark locks that we’ve seen slung over, spiked, and/ or carefully placed), but for Thomas Duncan, it’s really all about the heart.

If sitting across a table from Thomas at say, Flying M Coffee Garage in Nampa, you’ll get a clear picture from his puzzle piece tattoo that, by design, faces whoever he’s with.
“Everyone has something missing. I want people to know those things can be overcome. See how it’s dark around the heart? We all have things that are dark, but at the core is love. When I look down and see this, and when you see this, we’re reminded we’re loved. No matter who you are, or what those black things are, overcoming is at the center.”

Thomas Duncan wants to help people through teaching, inspiring, and his example of rising above the pain. Toying around with an idea for how to do that for a while now, the opportunity recently presented itself. Without any extensive planning or financial backup, The Canyon West Guitars owner seized the day and rented the basement of the building already housing his primary business, figuring if it was dead wrong, God would tell him. 

He got no such sign.

Through his guitar shop, Thomas plans to collaborate with agencies working with autistic kids, helping them via the one thing that transcends most barriers: music.
Welcome to the AIM (Autistic Inclusion through Music) Project.

“You can say anything without verbal communication, just play your heart on your guitar,” Thomas says enthusiastically, “We’ll take the kids into the studios, teach them to play in a rock band setting, and then let ‘em go.”

He smiles slightly over being told not long ago that if he knew a little more about autism and autistic children, the downstairs “might not be ideal”. 

As it happens, Thomas Duncan knows an awful lot about autism. He and his wife, Sandra, have an autistic child who was diagnosed at a young age. While in the process of becoming educated, Thomas began to realize he and his young son shared many of the same traits. 

“That really made me wonder what was up,” he says, “as a kid, I was the ‘weird’ one, but autism? I never once suspected that, not even a little bit, since everybody’s got their own brand of weird, and that’s okay. But seeing those pieces fit together was uncanny, being an employed adult in my thirties, providing for my family. That’s a huge diagnosis to come along when you have a wife, four kids, and you’re a professional. For a while, it put me in a bad place mentally. You could compare it to looking into a mirror and seeing the self you know one day, then a totally different person the next, with a face you don’t recognize. An autism diagnosis changed everything about how I viewed myself. Every. Single. Thing.”

Overnight he began to understand why he’d awake some mornings with sensory issues, and felt he could relate quite well to what his son had and would go through. He’s grateful for modern advances that currently assist people with autism, unlike how things were three decades ago.

As a child, (and long before there was vast knowledge regarding gluten sensitivity and such), Thomas saw doctors who’d inevitably say, “Sorry. It’s just nerves. There’s nothing we can do, because there’s nothing wrong with you. You’ll be okay.”

What plagued Thomas was not something anyone else could see; he was repeatedly told to just snap out of it, leaving him alone in what he described as a legitimate, unpleasant, horrifying experience that he would have done anything to get out of.

“I was fighting an actual, developmental, real, honest thing.”

He grew up viewing himself as the square peg, but what those around him didn’t know was that due to the ultra-sensitive, unusual stress and hazards of his daily living, depression grew to the point of suicidal thoughts. 

“I got tired of being the odd man out, tired of what felt like rejection and abandonment. I didn’t know why I was the way I was.”

Music was the bright spot in this youth’s life; he sang and played instruments at every opportunity. As a teenager, he approached an organization that was performing Handel’s Messiah, and was told he needed to talk to “Buck”.

Buck turned out to be a large, barrel-chested, big-voiced man with an even larger, Type A personality who had the six-foot, 125-pound Thomas sing a bass aria for him. Thomas felt he killed it, and afterwards Buck said, “I want to give you vocal lessons.”

Thomas’s mother resisted, stating that the family didn’t have the money for lessons.
Buck pointedly explained, “I said I want to give him vocal lessons.”

That, Thomas surmises, was probably what saved his life. Buck showed faith and confidence in him, taking him from a mere performer of music to a musician who came to understand the deeper theory behind the music he made. By the time Thomas was sixteen, he visited Buck’s house six days a week, practicing for approximately sixty hours. Meanwhile, Buck had Thomas act as the orchestra librarian, children’s chorus director, and allowed him to direct orchestra rehearsals.

“’Don’t let the brass get away with this, don’t let Joe rush when you get into this section, okay guys, Thomas is taking over,’ he’d say,” Thomas relates.

Buck taught Thomas to be both a leader and a man, providing situations where he absorbed lessons on people management, communication, and organization. Without knowing anything back then about Autism or Aspberger’s Syndrome, Buck simply took care of a boy who seemed to need some direction and guidance. 

Thomas Duncan wants to provide that same outlet for youth in our community who feel like he once did, in an effort to prevent what he suffered. He posts the quote on social media, “(Autism) is fighting a war where the enemy’s strategy is to convince you that the war isn’t actually happening”, coming from one who “gets it”.

Since opening Canyon West Guitars, this Nampa business owner has taken three big risks. The first was opening the store with no capital, no “back up” job, and no bank financing. Inventory included sixteen sets of guitar strings, a few straps, and some “random stuff”. Within weeks of opening the store on Canyon Boulevard, the building was robbed.

Draining their checking account to be able to move downtown, (risk number two) proved to be a step in the right direction. Thomas became involved with downtown Nampa’s rejuvenation, submitting his “Psychotography” for the Phantom Gallery’s display windows, getting to know resident business owners, and even offering random downtown tours. 

When told he’s “kind of the face of downtown”, he laughs in typical humble fashion, however, Thomas has built himself a family among the Nampa business blocks.
To Thomas, the AIM Project has a similar feel.

“Massive Risk Number Three,” he says, “People have been very supportive, offering ideas and help all over the place.”

The studios he’s rented are viewed as canvases that will soon be filled with kids making music. 

He envisions a Friday night of AIM kids playing their hearts, with a Canyon West crew or two taking the tunes into downtown, expressing themselves in universal ways that are understandable to everyone amongst applause, whistling, and feedback that will let performers know they’re valued, important members of the community. 

“Rock and roll,” smiles Thomas, “it’s gonna be going on. It’s going to be very busy, and very human.”

Monday, October 27, 2014

Drop of Calm

Floating Through Life
By Amy Larson

“That was the most relaxed we’ve ever seen you, Mom,” said my daughter, Erika, after we’d spent the day at the beach on Maui. The water had been the perfect temperature, the sun had gently warmed our skin, but there was something more to it. 

“I think it was the salt,” I answered, recalling author Aspen Morrow’s manuscript, “MedFree BiPolar” I’d been editing, wherein she expounded on the body’s need for salt, and how when in emotional crisis, a salt drip was the first restorative thing hospitals do for people. No wonder, since bodies are made up of a whopping 40% salt that we sweat out, cry out…then don’t always replenish.
When we get a little low, things don’t work well. Generally the organs, specifically the mind.

Funny that I’d be downtown getting my sugar fix at Candy World when the Salt Guy walked in. I quickly learned Caleb Fawkes was an avid “floater”, something I’d never heard of.  He invited me to try floating at his float center two doors down. I nodded yeah, okay, but was hesitant. It sounded a little too off-beat. Being slightly claustrophobic, I wasn’t entirely comfortable with climbing into a dark little water-filled “pod” in a strange place.

More than anything, it was curiosity that got me to finally go.  I needed to try it before writing off floating for good. 

It didn’t hurt that once I finally got to Drop of Calm, there was resonating art, comfortable chairs, thoughtful lighting, and books everywhere. My room for the next ninety minutes looked nurturing. There was a vibe that’s hard to explain (possibly growth?) within the room. 

The area holds a shower where you rinse down, both practical and psychically beneficial, clearing off hairspray, cosmetics, perfume, lotions…the masks we wear in order to be “okay”.

The pod looked like a giant washing machine, which if you think about it, is pretty symbolic. It was dark in there; that I didn’t love. Taking a timid step into the water, it was exact body temperature, so felt like nothing, and not in the least bit cold. You sit, then lie back, then feel your legs and arms pop up as you become very much afloat. Caleb warned against splashing around much, lest you get “A thousand pounds of salt in your eyes.” 

The sensation felt familiar, womb-like. Made sense, since we’re 40% salt, and up to 65% water.
The darkness enabled my typically overactive mind to finally, blissfully catch a break. Part of my problem “on the outside”, I realized, was that when it was suggested I relax, I had no good frame of reference for that. The closest two instances were floating at Hawaii on a boogie board, and last summer when my daughter rowed me across Lake Cascade in our little inflatable raft while I napped in the sun.

This was like that times twenty.

In the pod, it’s just you. You’re not thinking about your weight, your appearance, there are zero distractions. It’s as alone as you can possibly get.

The first float was about getting used to that freedom. Being dark, weightless, and with no sense of where you are, other than the occasional soft bump on the sides when drifting a little, you’re in a state of blissful relief. Fists unclench, jaws relax, shoulders stop hunching, knees straighten. Dredging up petty thoughts of irritants or worries takes actual mental work, and in that condition, it’s too much of a chore to pursue. I found that only three things stood out. Those I loved, the comfort, and the soft sounds of my own breathing. 

Caleb told me some struggled to get the hang of floating, but I had no such resistance. I found my perfect arm position (over my head, the one most writers and those who work on computers prefer, since it relieves forward muscle pressure), and got pretty good at stretching out neck, arms, legs, and torso without splashing salt water into the eyes.

The only part I didn’t relish was getting out. At the end of your time, gentle music comes on, slight at first, then growing in intensity to a comfortable yet audible volume, as if waking from a dream. Lifting your head, arms, and legs is a chore after being gravity-less. Your body protests and you’ll want to climb back in, lie back down.

I couldn’t wait for the next one. Once back in the pod, I promptly fell asleep, and into a state of nothingness that only REM slumber had previously supplied. By the third float, I was over-anxious to find peace again, but realized enough about the process to know I could use floating to my advantage. Relaxed minds are empty canvases for painting what you want out of life. I envisioned articles practically writing themselves, national magazines I’d write for, time with my kids, beautiful meals with family and friends, and someone giving me vibrantly-colored flowers.

It was only after that third float that Caleb Fawkes granted me an interview. With knowing grin, he expanded on why so many are hooked. 

“You’re essentially soaking in 960 pounds of Epsom salt. Salt draws out toxins, and has a mild muscle-relaxing effect. There’s also magnesium. So many are magnesium deficient, and your body can’t process calcium without it. Posture depends on the person. Just get comfortable, and drop expectations. It’s going to be good, no matter what. There’s no gravity, you’re removing all stimulus, you’re getting magnesium into your body. It’s alone time…it’s an incredibly simple way to help yourself.”

Caleb’s grandfather introduced him to basic meditation when he was eight years old. He’d do a little just before going to sleep. By age twelve, he was meditating regularly, and now has over 21 years of meditation experience. 

“Anytime you’re thinking about your breathing, it’s beneficial. One basic method is to mentally grab a color you think of as negative. I use red. When you exhale, think red. When inhaling, think cool, calm blue.”

When hearing about float tanks, he was intrigued.

Three years ago, he tried his first float, intentionally not meditating in the tank so he could discern the effects of the float, nothing else. When leaving the tank, he felt calm, grounded, peaceful, as if he’d meditated. 

“Do what you love, and you’ll never work another day in your life. I liked meditating and teaching people to meditate. But that’s a hard way to make a living. Minutes after the float, I knew it was the business I wanted to be in. There’s nothing there in the pods, just the core of your being. When people come to Drop of Calm, I’m not selling them anything. The world says, ‘Take this pill, use this cream, you’re not good enough’. With floating, you are enough, you are everything you need. I’m selling them nothing. And people want that nothing.” 

Caleb has a long list of floating benefits.

“If you want to lose weight, when you float, you’ll either let go of the idea or be dedicated to it. After floating, people notice their digestion getting better. Chemically, floating aids a ton of organ processes. You have pure water entering your body at a cellular level, which is fantastic for your skin health. Floating helps to prevent injury, recover faster from hard workouts, and relaxes you enough to perform better as an athlete. When it comes to visualization, floating is powerful. Closing your eyes in a dark, non- stimulus, gravity-less space and imagining shooting perfect free throws for an hour is just as effective as the real thing. Those into archery can practice in their minds and have better marksmanship. A painter told me he sees floating as a way of “going to the well”. With control groups of musicians, those who had floated produced music with much more variety. Those with PTSD can benefit by getting down to nothing, so it’s safe to process those things without physically experiencing them. Those who have a hard time really being in their body, or are too much in their body, can find that natural balance. If you’re living with situations you don’t like, or going through trauma, floating helps. So, you’re removing toxins, you’re feeling better, you’re getting more connected with yourself.”

Frequency depends on your goals. For some, it’s like getting a massage, something to power down with. Some float in concert with workouts and are regimented about it, floating three times per week. If you want to maintain the effects of floating, once a week is best. You can tell when you’re ready to float again when people and things start to irritate once more. Easygoing-ness is one obvious side effect.

After floating thrice, I’d highly recommend it to others. I visualized what I wanted while in the tank, articles writing themselves (some, but not all, have felt that way), national magazines I’d write for (still working on that, but after a few more floats, hey, it could happen), time with my kids (after floating we went on two spontaneous camping trips to Lake Cascade), beautiful meals with family and friends (that happened), and someone giving me vibrantly-colored flowers. (Those were happily received).

If you want a “massage” for both the conscious and subconscious mind, and you want to feel pretty darn good in your body, I’d tell you to float.

“Once you’re good with your mind,” says Caleb Fawkes, “everything else flows from there.”

Monday, September 15, 2014

Village at Meridian: "Two Days at The Village"

As a young girl, I went through a phase where I wouldn’t answer to my name. Those in my life had to address me as Snow White, Sleeping Beauty, or Cinderella if they wanted my time. I saw what those girls ended up with, and if someone who cleaned up after seven men, had narcolepsy, or catered to mean girls could do it, so could I. Anyone wanting me to show up, do a chore, or give audience had to acknowledge my royalty.

Not a bad hold out for a six-year-old middle child.

The crown was hidden away over the next few decades, for a treasure chest of reasons. Layers of dust formed atop it, from things like:

“When’s dinner?” “Did you send that report in yet?” “Ma’am, do you know how fast you were driving?”  

Forget crowns. Just getting through the week took precedence.

Princess thoughts crept back while touring a tiny village near Helsinki, Finland. I delighted over the design as street lights dripped with details and benches were draped in fleur de lis, for no other apparent reason than to please the eye. While standing at the center of a footbridge adorned with intricacies, I concluded that the artist must have been hopelessly in love, trying to impress his woman. I imagined what it might be like to be her.

When The Village at Meridian was being built, I curiously peered at its palatial rooftops while driving by the corner of Fairview and Eagle Road. Just before The Village opened, I was asked to write an article about it. The article quoted Ramona Merrill Richardson, Regional Marketing Director for CenterCal, who said, “It’s not an exaggeration to say the public will not be prepared for how truly remarkable the setting will be."

The night before its official Grand Opening, The Village invited a friend and I to its VIP party, wooed us with fire dancers, the finest food, costumed entertainers on stilts, glittering lights, performing fountains, and fantasy-like color and structure. It was pulling out all stops to make that first impression.

We looked, and I admired, sat for fleeting moments by the fountain, and visualized sitting on a cushioned couch by the water with a book, “Someday”. Sadly, I hadn’t allowed myself to languish there.

But… it’s been one doozy of a year.  I’d put in sixty-hour writing/editing weeks.  My home needed attention, the grown kids needed cash, the flower beds called, my dog wanted walks, I wanted/needed exercise, I had a pile of emails and voicemails to answer, friends and family were getting after me about being a stranger, and to top it all off, a few stress-related health scares.

A serious break was in order. Not just for a few hours, or a day. But maybe for…two days. Two days at…The Village. Yeah.
Any doubts The Village could deliver dissipated immediately, as waves of fuschia-purple flowers greeted me on Day One. How had they known purple was so seeped in meaning for me? The color of royalty, said a thought tugging at mind. A tiny, elegant fountain stood in its own tucked away corner near the entrance, greeting me.

“Welcome,” a sign said, “As you explore, prepare to be amazed at the attention to detail, creating the perfect place for friends and family to return to, again and again.”

I stopped at Guest Services to refresh. From behind the desk, “Sierra” asked what I was up to that day. I told her about my two days off. Photojournalist that I am, I asked Sierra and nearby security guard, Nick, to pose for a photo. Nick shot a look that said, “Nick doesn’t do that.”

His gaze challenged, and I almost backed off, until he suddenly struck a pose that was a cross between superhero and Miss America. I choked out a laugh.

Stepping outdoors into Fountain Square, the lilting water glistened, and I finally had the chance to look around, unhurried. Statues of butterflies and books signified imagination, transformation. A little girl on a swing angled out over the water, wearing a look of pure glee.

I used to be that little girl, I thought. I used to sit out in our backyard, swinging and daydreaming for hours in the summer sun. What happened to that girl?

I walked a few steps and stopped cold.

“Do you see her flying above you?” the plaque enquired, “Do you hear her laughing?”

“Listen,” it advised, “Now it’s your turn.”

Near the little girl swinging was another sculpture, an empty swing waiting to be occupied. I self-consciously looked around at the people lunching on the patio, and refrained.

The plan was to do it all on the first day, then relax in the extreme on the second day. I walked to Axiom and rode a stationary bike for an hour to jump start endorphins while using their huge windows for people watching. Cute older couples, hand in hand, a sunglasses man wearing a red flannel shirt on a vintage bike, and shopping friends with multiple bags paraded past.

Refreshed from the workout and quick shower, I intended to shop it out, beginning with the sunglasses man-inspired quest for perfect shades. "AJ" at Oconik pointed me in the right direction, then wisely didn’t hover as I tried on and located the One. I then wandered into Sur la Table, the store friend Chef Brad deemed, “a foodie’s playground”, and rekindled my cooking love. Not every day, not ever meal, and not when it’s expected of me, but weekend, friends coming over cooking. Classical music piping into a clean kitchen. Flowers in a vase. Thoughtfully-seasoned, well plated, artfully garnished food, prepared at my own pace. Anticipating that first taste, aroma, flavor.  
I was so ready for lunch.

Meeting friends at Cacicia’s for my walking library friend SarahPedia’s birthday celebration, I snapped a photo of Sarah and Publisher Yvonne just in time for SocialMediaJen to photobomb it. AIMWendi, and Preschool Melissa walked in soon after. We ordered together, getting the “Au-Oue” (capellina pasta with fresh garlic, parsley, and asiago cheese, pronounced like “I.O.U.”), the three-cheese “Fried Ravioli”, a Twisted Caprese sandwich, and they even had a melted mozzarella and pepperoni on rustic sourdough bread sandwich, named “The Sarah”.  Eating family style, we grinned whenever a certain friend accidentally called the place “Cacciatore’s”, and quickly learned the way to eat authentic Sicilian street food was to dive right in, and not try being pretty about it. I liked the Twisted Caprese a little too much.

When everyone else went back to work, I shopped again, playing a private game called “Favorite Things”, to get back in touch with who I used to be, before the crazy schedule, the responsibilities, the stressors. I discovered vintage footballs at ProImage. ROC had some very cool jeans, a waterfall, and shoes that needed me. Loft had a hot little mustard print skirt. Z Gallerie nearly put me into a creative coma with its peacock-themed table setting, game of jacks-inspired light fixture, and European traveler’s writing desk.

“I’m here to find my favorite thing,” I announced to the two ladies at Brighton, then looked to my right, spotted a crowd of blingy purses, and said, “Found it!” They laughed, I laughed.  

Back at guest services, I came around a well-decorated corner and collided with my restaurant owner friend, Bijaya. She’d been someone I’d spent hours with, talking and learning, before we’d both become so busy. Deciding it was fate, we found a bench by the fountain and talked the afternoon away. Security Guard Nick strolled by, struck a pose, then assumed an all-business demeanor and continued on.

I tried to explain.

When it was time to meet my sister and brother in law for dinner, Bijaya joined us. 

Twigs’ golden, Tuscany-inspired stucco exterior and outdoor, light-strung, wrought-iron-fenced patio was inviting. When Laurel and husband Lloyd appeared, the fun multiplied. Historically, Laurel was a source of celebratory fun, and as she sat down, “Celebration” burst from fountain square, causing me to grin at the timing. My sister introduced us to the deliciously evil world of signature fries with Gorgonzola fondue while I instructed them on how to pronounce Bijaya’s name. Then, Bijaya corrected me. I’d been saying it wrong. A dish of calamari, a couple of truffle pennes, prawn and salmon linguinis, and one dessert pizza later, we were all full of happiness.

Security Guard Nick walked past, stopped, posed, and kept walking.

“Who’s that?” Laurel and Lloyd both asked, amused.

Bijaya turned to me with sincere brown eyes and said, “What if we’d just said ‘Hi’ and ‘Goodbye’ today?”

From the benches to the calming waters to the layout, everything about the Village’s design encouraged people to stay, linger, connect.

Later at Big Al’s, I threw an immediate gutter, just before Laurel mentioned Lloyd’s late mother belonged to a league. Lloyd threw strike after strike. He coached me, “Slow down, relax a little”, and when I did, was the Spare Queen, beating out---by only a few points, but it counts--- my highly competitive sister for the first time at anything, ever.  She was a good sport, congratulating me, but displayed mild surprise.

Outside again, we were met by magic. At night, The Village became even more intimate, with semi-private niches of fireplaces and couches. Lovers cuddled on outdoor sofas watched the flames.

“Let’s take a walk,” Laurel said, and we toured like three little kids, commenting over the lights and splashing Fountain Square.

Heading to my car, I passed what I now called the Princess Fountain, illuminated. I loved its simple elegance, how it stood unapologetically on its own. Taking a nearby bench to absorb the past hours, I realized I no longer wanted to be ‘Queen of The Village’ the next day, as planned. The Queen has to rule the kingdom, do everything. She’s responsible.
I wanted to be a princess again. One that was, say, middle child. All of the privileges, none of the duties.

I looked around at the spires, the purple flowers sprinkled along the footpaths and bursting from planters, the architecture surrounding me. Someone, some Prince Charming, had finally built me a castle.

“He must’ve been in love,” I beamed.

And tomorrow, I’d be the Princess.

~Day Two~

I passed the little fountain, throwing in both penny and wish.
I recalled what a friend had messaged to me just that morning, “Remember you are a light to the world,” she’d written, “A strong, empowered, beautiful woman who deserves forgiveness, love, and is worthy of every blessing this universe has to offer.”

Those words bolstered me when encountering It’Sugar, filled with old-school candy, the kind I snuck into class when I was younger. I touched a wrapped candy necklace, and laughed over Sixlets. The orange ones had been my favorite, and orange was now my current best color. Red is the color of love, yellow the color of friendship. Combined, they create orange, which signifies passion. I’ll focus on orange stuff today, to honor that, I thought. Today, as princess, I’d live with passion.

I sat at Fountain Square for a moment.  A woman walked past me, tripped, recovered, and laughed. I liked her “just roll with it” attitude, and that thinking put me directly in the path of Charming Charlie’s magnetic pull. A wonderland of sparkle, the orange-passion-coral section contained earrings that needed my ears.

When White House/Black Market drew me in, I was toast. Before me stood a mannequin wearing The Dress, one my very cells were already attached to. Classic vintage cut, black and white houndstooth, gorgeous enough to inspire poetry.

“What size are you?” said Barb, who I hadn’t seen approach. Without even saying I wanted to try it on, she had my size, plus shoes and a belt, and led me to an elegant dressing room.

Going from active wear to the dress meant for you changes you. Gazing into the long, gilded mirror, I posed, something I rarely do.  I didn’t want to change back into my street clothes, ever. I felt beautiful.

“I’m like Nick!” I thought, laughing and posing some more.

At Grimaldi’s, my publisher gushed over my new earrings, and I gushed over the dress I’d soon buy as we lunched over pizza with pesto, olives, and sun-dried tomatoes while discussing future book ideas.

Afterwards, I played The Village tour guide. Walking past the Shiver Shack, manager Max called out, “Hey, do you girls want samples?”

Max recommended the peach. That was my favorite, so I got that. My publisher chose red raspberry, and we clinked sample cups together in the sunshine before happily crunching the finely shaved ice.

 “See you soon,” I told her, and headed off to my massage appointment at Axiom.

I’ve had plenty of massages, but none that put me to sleep on the table.  Robyn put me into a trance-like state, and I slumbered…thrice. My muscles and skin hummed afterward, the ultimate way to approach a couple of whatever-I-want hours at Fountain Square.

Melting into the living room couch near Cacicia’s was a good/ not so good thing, since I was fighting the desire for another Twisted Caprese. (I didn't leave that night without another one.)

Security Guard Nick was standing near the restaurant entrance, and I waved, hoping he’d pose when I had my camera ready. He didn’t.

Inhaling the dancing water, Caccicia’s, and someone cooking up what smelled like bacon, I did some long overdue personal writing into a simple notebook as friends greeted each other, music played, forks clinked with plates, and couples walked past, hand in hand. No one was in any particular hurry.

“Are you having fun?” Peggy Davis at Guest Services asked me when I stopped back in. I told her I was on my way to The Village Cinema. She said to check out the murals there, since they were hand painted. I’d had no idea.

“Which movie should I see?” I asked “Emily” at the cinema. She knew most from start to finish, having ready many of the books.  

Tip: if you’re nice to the concessions people, they’ll let you get the kids’ pack of popcorn, candy, and soda. Ticket guy Chris tipped us off that there was a VIP section with extra-large, comfy seats. My friends MicronJanet, and PreschoolTeacher/FashionistaLeslie liked the VIP section, too.

At dinner that night on Backstage Bistro’s balcony with Janet, Janet’s mom Addie, and Leslie the phrase, “Life: with color” appeared on my writer-stage mind. The Village was the best of life, condensed. As if Leslie had read my thoughts when she told Addie, who’d never been to The Village, of the concerts, the choreographed fountain, the ice skating in the winter, and of what a great place it was to meet up.

“We should make this our go-to place for Girls’ Night,” she told us, and we nodded as our server, Ali, brought onion straws, which led into a question about rings vs. straws.

“You’ll see!” Leslie promised. The four of us discussed the atmosphere, pleased over what wasn’t present. No offensive music, no teenagers cruising for dates, no one showing too much skin, no cursing, and no food courts making us feel more like cattle than customers.

For entrees, I got the Fish and Chips, Leslie, the Risotto, Addie the salmon burger, and Janet the Bistro Burger. My Parmesan-sprinkled chips were hand-cut, and the fresh cucumber-yogurt tartar sauce was delicious. Stealing the show was the dessert Ali suggested, a raspberry tart laden with gelato, which led a short life.

After parting with the girls, I spent my last moments at Fountain Square, where children and adults were fascinated by the “pretty water”, and kids called, “You’re it!” at the nearby playground. I walked over the bridge, feeling lighter and more content than I had in months, after two full days of play.  On that bridge, the little girl on the swing and the adult I now was finally merged, so they could play together. I walked to the empty swing sculpture and sat, without reservation.

Before leaving, I stopped at the Princess Fountain. What had I learned from my Village adventure? That it was okay to shop it out every once in a while, that being surrounded by beauty helped me comprehend my own, that humor (like the posing Nick) enhanced my days, and that I needed more of that, that you’re never too old to play dress up, have lunch with friends, or spend a day by the water, and, at long last, that time out reconnected me with the artistic, shy, magical, singing, dreamer of a little princess I used to be.

Can you see her flying above you?

Do you hear her laughing?

Now it’s your turn.


  *View the "Two Days at the Village" video by VSquared Creative 


*This post was sponsored by The Village at Meridian. Thank you for the terrific hospitality!

For more "Appetite for Idaho", click here.


*Bio: Amy Larson is a writer, editor, and ghostwriter, and the author and creator of the "Appetite for Idaho" book series. She joins Randy & Alana on WOW104.3 FM each Friday morning as entertainment editor, talking about family-friendly events in the Treasure Valley. She writes for IDAHO Magazine, Edible Idaho South, Sun Valley Magazine, Eagle and Greenbelt Magazines, and Idaho Family Magazine.