Thursday, January 24, 2008

Growing Pains

Kathy and I knew last fall that it wouldn't last forever. Legends Of America has been set up on a shared server since the beginning, and this week the shoe finally dropped. Got an email from her hosting provider that said Legends of America is just too popular for what they offer.

Great compliment, but it came at a hectic time. Kathy's still busy trying to get her new Rocky Mountain General Store up and running, and we moved the forum to a new host today to get rid of all the overseas spammers and yah-hoos who think people wanna stare at skin flicks while reading about the old west.

So we're investing some more of the nest egg back into the business. And since business is a pretty big egg it self, we're getting some new baskets. The main site will be on a new dedicated server. No more sharing. Of course that means a little extra work for us, and a slight learning curve, but our new provider has all the support needed. The new forum and guest book are on another host, as well as the Rocky Mountain General Store. This should improve your experience on the site tremendously, with the addition of Google Check Out, additional international shipping items and an overall cleaner experience [ie-no more boobs on the forum].

We're planning this out as best as possible, with the big switch happening sometime in the next 10 days or so. I want to apologize in advance if over the next month you experience problems seeing some of the site. I'm sure no matter how much we conspire, we're gonna forget something. Don't hesitate to let us know!

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

The Warsaw Migration

About the time I reach the first bridge over Truman Lake coming in on Highway 7, the world suddenly seems 10 times lighter. When I finally reach the city limits of Warsaw, the world falls off, and I'm transported to a place of total relaxation. Sounds like a Calgon commercial, but it's an honest reaction I've developed to a place I used to dread. The same place that will become Kathy and I's home in the years ahead, and Legends Of America's expanded base of operations.

To understand the dread I had, you have to have an appreciation for the kind of person I am, and weigh it against the early beginnings of a wonderful relationship with Kathy, who had picked one hell of a run down shack on the Lake of the Ozarks. When I met Kathy 5 years ago, she was just a year into her investment. During the first few months of dating, she never really talked about the lake house...guess it was one of those things you didn't mention early on for fear of scaring away your suitor, or making him feel inadequate with just his one home in the suburbs of Kansas City. It could also be she figured out quick that I wasn't the 'manly man' type. Oh, don't get me wrong, I can swing a hammer when I have too. But for the most part these hands are made for emails and trouble shooting software.

The first time Kathy invited me down to her paradise away from the city, I was extremely pleased and excited to go. Pleased with the fact I had finally made the 'lake' cut, a sign our relationship was progressing. Excited from the fact that I was going to a lake house. As a city boy, I had images of a beautiful towering home, plate glass picture windows that enhanced the view of an enormous field of blue, dotted with sail boats and yachts. I could imagine Kathy greeting me at the door in a sailors cap, glass of Cognac in one hand and a beach towel in the other. Yes, I had grand visions during that first drive down.

When I finally found the little community of North Shores just outside of Warsaw, I began to realize this wasn't quite Cognac country. I passed several nice homes, typical ranch style, several with fishing boats perched out front, some desperately in need of paint, others that shouldn't be near a puddle, much less a lake. Continuing on down the main road, finding my next turn at a run down bright yellow frame that I 'think' used to house someone, then closer to the lake, which in this area of the Ozarks is more a large, wide river you could probably skip a rock to the middle of. Starting around the last curve and up on a slight hill, just where Kathy had instructed it would be, stood the shack.

I say shack because that's really all it was in it's early days. The one room structure had grown over the years with a kitchen and a bedroom, but it still screamed shack. During her first year she had added on another bed room, remodeled the existing one, and began building a new deck to look out over the water. It was still in the very early stages of Kathy's work, as the new part of the home was sided in protective paper, piles of scrap lumber strewn about, and only the posts of the new deck standing ready. I had a real since that the latest construction was probably the only thing keeping the house from total collapse.

As I pulled slowly into the rock driveway I looked around at some pretty nice homes next door, down the road and across the street, and for a moment I thought maybe I had pulled into the wrong place. It wasn't long before Kathy peered from a side door, wearing her overalls and a denim cap...Beer in one hand and pry bar in the other. "Welcome to my home away from home" she gleamed. I couldn't help but chuckle..I just didn't have the vision Kathy did. All I could think of was how a bull dozer could do wonders for a place like this.

I put on my best smile and followed her in. Low ceilings in the living room gave me the impression I would whack my head on the fan worbeling overhead in the path to the kitchen. Off to the side a small room that would eventually be another bathroom, and an open wall to a new bedroom, both of which were piled high with every tool imaginable. I'm not sure if that's what made me nervous, or if it was the fact Kathy new every tools name and purpose, but within the first 15 minutes of my arrival I was already feeling a bit small. Even if Kathy only stands 5' 2" in boots, she was definitely out of my league in the 'manliness' department.

Over the next year, every weekend we had the chance, off we would go to the lake shack. It wouldn't be long after arrival that both of us would have tools in hand, hammering away at Kathy's vision. I would give her blank stares as she expounded on how it would look in the end, but continued to balance the stare with a smile on my face and a question on what the hell a sawsall was, or why someone would cover string with colored chalk to make lines with. Kathy was patient, but it wasn't long that I began to dread the drive down.

After a year, life started getting in the way back in the city. Kathy had finally come to the conclusion she was done with her corporate job. The small web site she had started was beginning to grow, and she wanted to devote everything to Legends Of America. At the same time, the software product that had brought me to Kansas City in 1999 was sold and I was being urged to re-locate to Dallas. Kathy was hinting around about selling her townhouse in Lenexa and moving to the lake shack permanently, and I was suddenly confronted with the ol' 'shit or get off the pot' dilemma. Do I try to make a long distance relationship work, or take the next step forward. It wasn't going to be easy either way. Kathy had been single for a long time and set in her ways. I had been single for a while and enjoyed the bachelor life, but there was a nagging feeling that Kathy was important for the rest of my life.

It took some talking and hypothesizing, but after a month I had convinced Kathy to give it a shot. She would move into my house in Prairie Village, we'd fix up and sell her town house, then fix up my house, sell it and move to Dallas that next summer in 2005. We had the plan and it was a grand one, but it didn't allow any time for the lake shack. Not that it bothered me much, but I could tell it was eating away at Kathy. By Spring of 2005 my work plans had changed again and the new owners wanted me to stay put and continue to run our Kansas City operation. That threw our plans in a new direction and we wound up fixing up both houses, selling mine and moving back to her town house instead of Dallas.

There were about 13 months that the lake shack just stood there waiting. And as it did so, the care that Kathy had given it began to bend to the will of the hill where it perched. By the time we started coming back down in the fall of 2005 we had plenty to do to bring it back to it's once 'shack' glory. I was even more weary of the constant construction now, since working on two homes over the past year, but then I started to feel something. I'm sure Kathy had felt this from the day she bought the place, but now it was starting to creep in on me. A feeling of escape.

In the early months of 2006 life for us took another most unexpected turn. Kathy was full force into Legends of America, and the business was slowly but surely growing. By this time she had already received kudos from Yahoo in one of their "Website of the Day" features. She was continually building an audience, and making just enough money on line to pay for the site and her travel. Then the product line I am with was sold again, and this time to one of the fastest growing, most incredible companies in the US.

The benefits from my new employer made life a lot easier for both of us. However I still couldn't convince Kathy to deviate from her 3 year plan of completion. She wanted us to do most, if not all the work ourselves, saving money, but surely adding to the insanity. I finally got some leverage that summer when Kathy and I exchanged vows on a mountain in New Mexico. Not that being married gives me some magical ability to change her mind, but at least now I could convince her it was 'our' money, and that putting a little more into the shack wasn't a bad thing. I had been working on her for a few months when in October of 2006 the living room ceiling collapsed, as the outside wall of her home away from home, decided enough was enough. She finally agreed to deviate from the 3 year plan.

We got to know our neighbors very well over the next year. Marvin, down the hill on the way into our lot, is retired but still working as a contractor. He can do quite a bit for a man 70ish, and he knows everyone you need for a job like this in Warsaw. We hired him right away for the living room job and the new look lifted away my anxiety over our constant construction. That Spring we brought down Kathy's brother John, who get's laid off annually from his heavy equipment job in the New Mexico mountains. He finished up the new bedroom and bathroom, along with dozens of other little jobs. By summer 2007 we were regularly getting work done through Marvin and a few others, and the lake shack was finally becoming a true home.

Mid way through that summer I began to feel it stronger with every trip. It didn't matter which way I came... through Harrisonville and over to Clinton then down, or straight over to Sedalia and down. Just a few miles out either direction a strange lifting of weight would come over me. By the time I would reach the city limits of Warsaw the world's worries were gone, replaced with a feeling of complete tranquility. I'm coming home.

We tacked up the Legends of America sign above the door this past Christmas. In fact, we spent both Thanksgiving and Christmas there, trying to get our kids and grandkids acclimated to the idea that we wouldn't be staying in the city much longer. The next project is to build a garage with an office that will act as Legends shipping center in the future. We may still be several years away from moving there permanently, but our migration to Warsaw is on course. The only thing I worry about is getting Kathy back to the city with me once in a while, so I can wrap up my corporate job the way she has. The task is increasingly difficult, and quite frankly, I envy her.

I'll blog more about the neighbors, the new Legends of America headquarters and Warsaw some time in the near future. Kathy and her brother are down there now doing some landscaping. For me it's back to the corporate world, at least for a while.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Winter Blues - Perspective Askew

There's a common theme I'm noticing with Kathy and Winter...they don't mix. Unless we travel south and write about warmer climates, we pretty much keep to working on other projects, catch up writing from trips over the past year she hasn't published yet, and serious clean up and revamps to the web site.

This can actually be a good thing, as December is always a heavy shipping month from her Rocky Mountain General Store. January orders have picked up this year as well, and Kathy has decided that her on-line store, which is the main source of her travel writing income, needs a boost. Currently (unless your reading this in February after the change), the store only accepts Paypal, however, Kathy has been intensely preparing a new on-line experience that expands her shopping cart to include Google Checkout.

This may sound easy, but remember, when it comes to the on-line store, advertising, etc, Kathy's a one woman show. I'm only involved in packaging and putting it in the mailbox. Due to my real job in the corporate world, my incredibly wonderful employer (and I mean that sincerely) would likely see any additional involvement on my part as a conflict of interest. The result is Kathy stuck doing most of the new data entry on her own. There are over 5000 postcards, numerous books on everything from the Old West to Route 66, Signs, custom products, yada yada yada. And Kathy has been entering each item into a data base spreadsheet one at a time, including their price, weight and all the details needed for the automagic of the new on line store to make life easier for the shopper and her.

What I've noticed the most about this Winter, and all the heavy duty work she's doing, is how this can affect her perspective on writing. Take for example this week. I had to travel to Dallas for my real job and found myself flipping through the news channels last night. I came upon a story from Stephenville where several witnesses reported a UFO. It was an interesting story to say the least, and made for good entertainment since I was pretty much resigned to staying in the hotel room and eating my takeout pizza. When I called Kathy to check and make sure she hadn't become totally lost in data entry and begun zoning in robotic clicks that usually result in her losing all concept of day and time, I mentioned the UFO as a way to break her away from work. Instead it backfired.

"Hey, I could write about that", Kathy's voice seemingly sparking to life as if she had found a bright shiny object of her own flying through her computer screen. "About Stephensville?" I asked, scared of what strange door I had opened. "No, about the UFO". I didn't hesitate to remind her that the incident just happened and it's not a "legend" yet. I was also trying to figure out how she would tie that story to either the Old West or some other relevant story to make it fit on Legends of America.

After our phone call I realized we've been through similar winters, and I was sure she had been distracted before. So I went to her website to see just how many of these oddities had made it there. Now, I don't count ghost stories as a distraction, because they fit right in with the Ghost Towns and various other history she does so well with. But I did find 125 search results for Big Foot (although some were about some old west characters), 2 results for Sasquatch, 6 results for Headless Horseman, 3 results for Flying Saucer, 28 results for get the idea.

It made me realize just what happens during the winter months in Kathy's office when she holes her self in from the cold weather. Strange, but interesting stories seem to pop up out of nowhere. My hope is that this year I can break the cycle. We've decided to take a trip to Southern New Mexico in February. Lots of Ghost Towns to see and plenty to write about. I'm sure we will be a little more cautious about the Mexico Border since last year's close calls in Arizona, but it will be interesting to see if I can steer her clear from Roswell.

In the meantime, I'm anxious to get back to Kansas City and keep Kathy's mind off the bright shiny objects floating in her office.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Legends Of America immortalized on DVD

Ok, so it's a little obscure, and maybe a little weird to brag on, but regardless, Kathy's work is getting credit outside of the web world that I'm proud to talk about. Yesterday I rushed down to the local video store to buy the new DVD release of "3:10 to Yuma". It's a great remake of an Old West classic with Russell Crowe and Christian Bale. Funny thing is, I didn't rush out to buy it for the movie.

Using my handy dandy new $34 all purpose DVD/CD/Package opener (bought in a weird moment of weakness during the holiday from a TV ad that promised to double my order and throw in the handy dandy electric scissors, all of which worth about 50 cents together and probably made in China) I hurriedly opened it with the anticipation of a sixth grader getting his first IPod. Disappointment springing forward as I found the box only contained the booklet of info on contents and reviews. No useless trivia on how the weather was in Arizona during filming (probably filmed it in Canada anyway [I've learned some was filmed in New Mexico]), and no place for credits.

Sprinting over to the living room and reaching into my drawer of remotes, I pull one out and spend the next excruciating 60 seconds trying to figure out why the DVD player won't open (God forbid I actually push the open button no more than a foot in front of me) until I finally realize it's the wrong remote . Reaching back into the drawer, fumbling through no less than 10 different remotes, most belonging to devices long ago given to Goodwill or thrown at high velocity into the dumpster out of frustration, ultimately finding a match for the latest piece of Walmart magic that's already showing signs of trouble, overheating and skipping scenes as it pleases, worth about half of every penny of the $19.99 I so proudly paid for it.

Tossing the DVD into the 'disc pocket' (Kathy's name for it, not mine), chanting "come on come on come on" as the drawer slowly closed into the player, then waiting as patiently as possible to get past the legal mumbo jumbo that won't go away no matter how many times you hit the fast forward button, finally reaching my goal..Main Menu. Let's see there's 'Play Movie'...uh, no, that's not what I'm here for. 'Deleted Scenes'..what's the use of those anyway, weren't they eliminated for a reason..Ah, here it is, "Special Features". Now another menu to read through, but the one I want I could see right away, "Outlaws and Posses".

Quickly hitting the OK button and then waiting with bated breath as I began to watch. Carefully analyzing each and every photo used in this documentary about the bad guys of the old west, I began to pick out one by one the pictures I recognized from Legends Of America. I didn't have to wait long to find one. In fact throughout the short piece, I would venture to say 90% of the photos came from Kathy's web site. Pictures she has collected, meticulously cleaned up and revitalized in sepia tones. The DVD company had reached out to Kathy late last Summer and asked if she would be willing to contract with them for a documentary on the "3:10 to Yuma" special edition DVD. Kathy didn't have to do a lot work for them, the work had already been done. She simply guided them to her Photos and Prints and let them pick what they wanted, and over the next couple of months they downloaded hundreds of photos.

Now there they were on the big screen (well, ok, it's only a 32 inch, Kathy keeps arguing against the 50 inch plasma I want to clutter our living room with) for all Old West fans to see (and those not so fond of the old west, but wanting to see Russell Crowe or Christian Bale in boots, jeans and a cowboy hat). Finally reaching the end I carefully begin to read the credits, and there it was..."Photos and Posters provided by" and in the list of about 10 resources, just a couple down, "Legends Of America" !

Wow! Hey Hey! How about that!!! Kathy's little ol site immortalized forever on DVD (or at least for the next year or two until Blue Ray disc takes over the world). Of course I'm proud of my partner. How many of us can say our business was listed in the credits on a DVD with Russell Crowe? And I'm proud that it's the second time in a year Kathy's work has been preserved for history outside of the internet. Earlier she became a published author with "Great American Bars and Saloons". While the pictures in the book weren't part of Legends of America, all the writing is, and there's quite a bit of writing in it for a coffee table picture book.

Yep, my wife is becoming one famous old west geek. Her love of history is paying off more and more, and the thousands of fans on her website keep growing month after month. I guess it's time I start thinking about getting her an agent. She's already doing radio and news paper interviews. Wonder how much she would pay me to handle her bookings? I'm betting I could get an extra back rub out of the deal if I play my cards right.