I Can Make That Podcast | Episode 009 :: Bennett McKinley

Jan 19, 2020

Welcome back to another episode of I Can Make That: Conversations with Creatives!  I thought it would be fun to bring my husband onto to the show to talk with me about the creative life he leads, and I was right!  Give us a listen and then make sure to subscribe to our station so you don’t miss out on any of our episodes!

My guest today is someone that, if you follow me in any version of social media, you probably already know.  He is my cheerleader, my right-hand-man, at times my punching bag, and my honest to goodness best friend. I draw so much inspiration and energy from him on a daily basis.  And I am lucky enough to have been married to him for the last 10 and a half years.

Meet: Bennett McKinley!

Bennett is a comic book loving, nerdy, creative mastermind, born and raised and currently living in Wheeling, West Virginia.  He is pretty well known in our city for the Meet Me in the Alley photography project, which concluded back in 2015. He also is the behind the scenes coordinator and worker bee for our handmade business, Thread + Grain.  And most recently he put down his camera and picked up his textbooks, and has been pursuing his degree in Elementary Education. Bennett and I have one brilliant little boy together, and we spend the majority of our time as a trio making good and bad versions of art and leaving messes everywhere while we do it.  I am giddy to formally introduce you to him!

Some links that we discussed during our episode:

Website: threadandgrain.com
Facebook Group: facebook.com/groups/threadandgrain
Facebook Page: facebook.com/threadandgrain

And of course, we can’t leave out this music video.


Great news!  You can subscribe to us on any of your favorite podcasting networks!  Head here to find more ways to subscribe or grab one of the links below.

See you next time, Creatives!


For those of you that are hearing impaired, I’ve been trying to find the best way to share our podcast with you as well!  Here is the first transcript that we were successfully able to provide!  I am hoping to continue this for future episodes as well and would love to hear your thoughts on this topic.


Katy McKinley: welcome back everyone. I can’t believe that we are on our ninth episode already. My guest today is someone that, if you follow me in any version of social media, you probably already know.

He is my cheerleader, my right hand man, at times my punching bag and my honest to goodness best friend. I draw so much inspiration and energy from him on a daily basis, and I’m lucky enough to have been married to him for the last 10 and a half years. Bennett McKinley is a comic book loving, nerdy, creative mastermind, born and raised, and currently living in wheeling West Virginia.

He’s pretty well known in our city for the Meet Me in The Alley photography project, which concluded back in 2015. He also is the behind the scenes coordinator and worker bee for our handmade business, Thread and Grain, and most recently he put down his camera and picked up his textbooks and has been pursuing his degree in elementary education.

Bennett and I have one brilliant little boy together. And we spend the majority of our time as a trio, making good and bad versions of art and leaving messes everywhere while we do it. I am giddy to formally introduce you to him. Welcome to, I can make that Bennett .

Bennett McKinley: Thank you. Thanks for having me.

Katy McKinley: I can feel the eye roll coming my way already, but I feel like we do have to talk about this.

It was important and impactful and it took a ton of our lives. Meet Me in the Alley was a photography project that you unintentionally started, but it became such a huge thing in wheeling. And to be honest, it was also the reason why we basically have all the friends that we do now. So can you explain the project and what it meant to you?

Bennett McKinley: It’s funny to still be talking about it , but it’s still very much a part of people’s lives. People still have their profile photos as the photo taken in the alley. ,So it, it kind of started innocently enough, unintentionally. I was taking photos for a friend Glenn and he was asking for some professional head shots, that sort of thing.

And we went outside and I took a shot just kind of, um, “Hey, let’s just try this. The lighting is kind of neat in the alley. Uh, let’s see how it looks.” And it looked phenomenal. Someone said, “Hey, Bennett, run with this. Try to use this as a project or a, some sort of, you know, larger than just one photo kind of idea.”

And I dismissed it. At first, I thought, surely it would never go anywhere. Uh, at best you would come to the alley and our son would come to the alley. maybe my folks, but, um, I never expected it to go anywhere. Well, sure enough, it started with you and Louis and my folks. And then friends came and then their friends came and then their friends’ friends came until it was literally just, I was pulling people off the street . Strangers of whom I had zero connections with were coming and participating in this alley project. And what it essentially was was I would just post on social media saying, “Hey, going to the alley today, I’ll be there between one and three. If you want to get your picture taken for free ,you’re more than welcome to come. It’s all inclusive. I welcome everybody.” And that’s what I did.

I’d take two pictures in the alley. I would take one black and white photo and one color photo. Both would be distributed to the people, to the, to the models of the alley. And then I posted one to a, a gallery. And like I said, it started off small, one or two people, and then it grew to 1,132 people as the final count.

There were horses, cats, dogs, um, cars, trucks, metal elephants. And all varieties of people.

Katy McKinley: Part of the impact of the project really was we asked people for three descriptive words about themselves and I guess words or phrases, but I can’t even remember what mine were. Mine was maker, mama. Do you remember?

Bennett McKinley: Creator of all things?

Katy McKinley: I don’t know what it was, but a lot of people, it took a lot of time for them to kind of just think of like, how do you break yourself down into three descriptive phrases and just, it was really kind of cool because you felt like you got to know these people from just like three words that were listed on these, and it really was all walks of life.

And. It was really neat. Was there a portrait that impacted you the most that you did? Of all the people or I guess animals?

Bennett McKinley: You know, looking back now, um, it is, uh, inevitable, but  it’s always heartbreaking to me. Looking back on photos of those that have since passed away. I would say in particular, one person kind of sticks out.

Tor was quite the character in life, but also in his photo. I took his photo and obviously you sent it to him like I did everyone else, but he took it a step further and took that image and put it onto a tee shirt that he would wear around town. And, that one always sticks out with me.

Katy McKinley: Yeah, he was, he was the guy that if you met him, you never forgot that you met him. He was very interesting person and he was, he was fun to have there. I guess this is something that, uh. The world needs to know, but mostly I need to know, and it has been asked many times, do you have any plans for a reunion tour?

It hasn’t been five years officially since its conclusion. And I think a five year come back tour would be kind of fun.

Bennett McKinley: I don’t think I can add another ball to be juggled right now.  I love the idea of. Reconnecting with all of those people that participated in the past. And I love the idea of creating another snapshot of you know, the, the wheeling life. Um, but I just, I can’t, I can’t add that to my plate now. In a few more years, maybe, maybe, maybe a 10 year reunion we could work out. Um, but for now there’s nothing on the agenda.

Katy McKinley: So for you, fellow wheeling-ites that are listening start, start harassing Bennett now. So we can just kind of be an earwig at all times and then we can make it happen. It can’t just be his wife that does this.

So, talking about photography even deeper. Have you had any formal training in it? Was it always a passion of yours? Like how did you even get started in, in doing what you’ve done so far?

Bennett McKinley: No, and the basic answer to those questions, are no I didn’t have any formal training and that’s always kinda been almost a guilty, um, I don’t want to say shame, but like. You know, people go and study the arts for, for photography specifically for it. And I just kind of rushed in. I liked taking pictures as a kid. I mean, I always had some sort of camera, whether it be a throwaway or an old, old school, digital or Polaroid.  I would say it kind of started in college actually after I’d met you. You know. Yeah, I’d steal your camera. And I would, you know, try and do crazy experiments where I would, uh, take long exposures of lights moving and, and how, um, how I could influence it to make it look more interesting. And it kinda grew from there. It was never, it was just maybe a hobby at best.

As technology kind of grew, it made it easier for me to experiment more and not worry about the 32 megabyte, uh, memory card. As those gigabyte cards came out, I was able to experiment more and worry less. Um, and that’s kinda when it took off for me, it was, you know, experimenting with light and it’s, it was always about that. It was, how can I make light do interesting things on, on film or in the camera? And, um, so some of the earliest projects I started, you know, breaking light bulbs, and that sounds weird, but the filament of one of the old school light bulbs when exposed to open oxygen environment without the glass bulb around it, um, it’ll burn up it’s thousand hour lifespan in the matter of, you know, 1.2 seconds.

And so to catch that with a high speed , you know, shot, you’re able to get this plume of just brilliant, brilliant color and flame and energy, and I had to, I really mastered how to break a lightbulb at at the end there, but I had to have broken hundreds of lightbulbs probably.

Katy McKinley: Yeah, can we, can we complain about that a little bit?  How many light, but how many broken light bulbs that we get through before you actually got the shots that you’re looking for?

Bennett McKinley: Yeah. Yeah. That was a lot. Um, and then, you know, there’s a natural progression. Um, obviously in the night sky there, there are lights that we are graced with every night. You know, we got the stars in the sky. And so I like to take long exposure, Astro photography stuff and capture star trails and, and planes traveling in the sky and satellites. Uh, and then, uh, technology had another big bump. And I started introducing LEDs and crazy toys. Um, and you know, I, I kicked, I helped fund the Kickstarter for pixel stick, which was a cool, and actually we still have it, um, a six foot tall stick, uh, for lack of a better word that housed. Yeah. That house, uh, I think a hundred pixel or LEDs. And, um, you can plug in the memory card, it has a memory card adapter and you plug it into your computer. Um, take an image and when you put it onto the pixel stick, it displays that image. As long as you are moving the pixel stick and are taking a long exposure photo.

So I would be able to put, uh, you know, slice of pizza down at the a wheeling waterfront or, uh. You know, put a sushi roll somewhere, basically. Lots of food stuff. I like food.

Katy McKinley: And it kind of, it’s like Photoshopping without actually Photoshopping in a way.

Bennett McKinley: Yeah. Yeah. I think one of my favorite ones was, um, the elephant.  Just after Bobo, the elephant was installed in downtown, which is a giant life size, uh, stainless or aluminum, uh, kit, former kitchen equipment though, uh, broken apart and transformed into a, an enormous elephant in downtown wheeling. I went to  the elephant at night and displayed.

Gosh, what were they? A Horton. Um, all the various animated elephants that have been out there, Dumbo and Horton and, Oh, there are a couple other ones. But, uh, I thought that was so fun, you know, and it was such a easy thing to do without using Photoshop.

Katy McKinley: And you also used to do a lot of, um, which would always freak me out when you did it. The pictures are cool, but the process is horrifying. Steel wool spinning?

Bennett McKinley: Listen, I only burnt myself like three or four times.

Katy McKinley: And put holes in so many of your jackets.

Bennett McKinley: Lots of clothing got burned. Yes. But personal injury was only a few times. So, uh, so steel wool is a, yeah. That’s, if I were to to to to mark a favorite of light painting photography, it would definitely be steel wool.

Um, you’d just stick a pad of steel wool inside of a cooking whisk, you light it on fire. You can even just ignite it with a nine volt battery. Uh, if you connect both ends to the steel wool, it creates a short and sparks the wool. Once it’s burning, if you spin it, the, um, pieces of the steel wool that are burning will fall out.  And if you’re taking a long exposure as you’re spinning, that those sparks will be sent across, you know, uh. Well, not room, it’ll, it’ll be, but it’ll be Pope, not inside a room, but it’ll be, you know, just sent out. And the lung exposure picture will capture all of them. And I’ve been lucky enough to have a lot of amazing friends that have gone out with me.

Um, will Wallace and I created a, uh, some phenomenal stuff, um, in kind of abandoned industrial areas. And that was a fun night, but that was a, a steel wools really, really pretty neat.

Katy McKinley: Yeah. Because you have such a love for light painting most of your photography has to be done in the, in the black of night, which is always really interesting and not really a summer sport because it doesn’t get dark for so late. And we’re old people who need to go to bed early.

Bennett McKinley: It’s true.

Katy McKinley: And you did do, we have done, um, I usually second shot for photos, so when I say “we”, it really was we. We have, uh, done family photos and weddings and events and things, but, um, it’s not really been your forte or your passion, I guess.

Bennett McKinley: Yeah, that’s, that’s fair. And I, I would say that’s why I’ve kind of put that aside. Um, you know, having to, and I shouldn’t even say having to, but taking pictures of babies and families and weddings. Um, I guess weddings were fun, but, eh. Families and babies, that’s just not my thing. I don’t, uh, having to take pictures and, and having to meet the expectations of people, it wasn’t fun for me. And so it became a chore. It became something I didn’t want to do. And, uh, so why would I force myself to do that? Weddings, events, those were still fun because you’re, uh, being such an interesting part of such an amazing big day for people.

Katy McKinley: I think part of it is that we don’t like forced creativity either. And we like to be creative on our own terms and our own time. So when you’re like hired by someone to do it…

Bennett McKinley: And having to compete with all of the, you know, crazy Pinterest people out there that have created interesting but crazy baby pictures and family pictures

Katy McKinley: And yeah the level of expectation is just not necessarily like our style or your style. So yeah. I, I dunno. I think that’s usually, and we’re, we’re true artists where we have highs and lows and we, we have so much creativity and then we have like none.

Bennett McKinley: Yeah.

Katy McKinley: A fun fact about the makeup of our family is that you were, and still really are the primary caregiver in our family. Let’s talk about your experience as a stay at home dad.

Bennett McKinley: Gosh, yeah. That has been probably the largest most, you know, defining factor of my life.  Our son has shaped who I am today. And getting to be home with him from day one was such a unique experience, but also, um, uh, such a, a fortunate one for me.

You know, so many parents don’t get to, uh, spend the amount of time I’ve gotten to spend with my son, much less the, the fathers. Um, and, you know, there’s nothing to be said about that. It’s just, that’s life. It happens. Um. I am just really thankful every day that I got to do that. And, um, you know, pursuing, uh, a career in education. I’m luckily going to be able to continue that. I’m able to, I’m going to be able to have, you know, holidays and vacations with him, so we’re not going to have to rely on childcare. And that’s pretty phenomenal.

Katy McKinley: Hopefully.

Bennett McKinley: Yeah. But, you know, it’s interesting. Um. I, I never personally experienced it, but there’s so many a stay at home dads out there that have been, I don’t want to use the word persecuted, but it kind of, you know, it’s, it’s one of these things where stay at home fathers are, are viewed with a stigma.

And you know, there’s this idea that like, Oh, well, you didn’t succeed, so you just became a dad. And that’s horrendous to say or think about anyone. Um, because I would never think about that you know, for a woman, it’s, and it’s so commonplace for women to be stay at homes. Um, and it’s to the point, you know, that the, what was it this dads aren’t babysitter is because, um, that’s what the U S census takers were told several years back.  You know, stay at home moms. That’s, you are able to put that on a census.

Katy McKinley: As a caregiver.

Bennett McKinley: Yeah. But a stay at home fathers was, it was just marked as, as essentially being a babysitter. Uh, and that’s, that’s terrible because I would consider myself a stronger role in, in our son’s life than, than that.

Katy McKinley: Well and the gender divide seems so odd too, because you would take Louis more places than I would, and there weren’t like changing stations and the men’s bathrooms and, but it was, it was just, it’s such an odd difference that we’re supporting or expecting something of one set of parents and not the other. And it’s just been…

Bennett McKinley: She’s tearing up, people.

Katy McKinley: I am not. It’s, it’s been a long journey and it’s really been cool. And it’s funny because he now is going into, or transitioning, I guess, into another role where it’s more predominantly female also. So, um, that’s just kind of the lifestyle that we’ve like entered into. I don’t know.

Bennett McKinley: I think another good thing about being a stay at home was it, it gave me the opportunity, the chance to also flex my creative, my creativity, you know? Whereas I, I may have been stuck in some job in which, you know, we’re using the money from that to pay for childcare. Uh, I was able to do experiments with Louis and, you know, create works of art with him and, and, um, it, it’s, it was wonderful for many, many reasons to be able to stay at home with him.

Katy McKinley: And a lot of jealousy always came from me.

Bennett McKinley: Oh yeah.

Katy McKinley: Good jealousy. But jealousy nonetheless

And around four years ago, we already talked about it a little bit, but you decided to go back to school and get a degree in elementary education. What made you decide to take this particular path?

Bennett McKinley: Oh, come on. Our son, um, you know, my son is the, like I said, the biggest, you know, shaper of my life. Getting to do all of those things with him like create art and science experiments and all of that was amazing. But then luckily enough, we enrolled him in a school that welcomes that kind of involvement and that parental role. Um, and I think it was at around kindergarten. It was when he was in kindergarten that, you know, the wonderfully amazing and gracious teachers. Um.

Katy McKinley: Shout out ms Claire and ms Linda.

Bennett McKinley: Yeah. They let me come in and do things like bring in the bearded dragon and talk about some crazy Island in Alaska and do all these projects. And it was kind of like a light bulb went off and I, I was, Hey, this is kind of what I want to do with my life. And it was almost as if I had found what I want to do when I grow up.

And to have that is so, so amazing. So I pursued it and I got enrolled and started pursuing a degree in elementary education, and it was a further confirmation that light bulb, that click happened more and more as I pursued this, you know, going into student or not student teaching back then, but just field work, you know, being in classrooms, working with kids, it’s kind of like, yeah, this is what I want to do.

Um, because I can’t tell you how many times now I’ve heard kids just saying like, how much it meant to them, for me to be a part of helping them with their homework and, and to be a part of their life just by being there, just by caring. And, um, then of course, obviously to help them with their education and help them grow as human beings.

It’s powerful and it’s so rewarding. Now I’m not going to say it’s not challenging cause dear Lord, I’ve had some challenging moments and, and um, but as challenging as those moments have been, the rewarding times have been 10 fold more present than the other.

Katy McKinley: You grew up in a family of people who always had a path for themselves. Like your dad always wanted to be an engineer. Your mom always wanted to be a nurse. Your all of your family members are entrepreneurs in some way. And, and you like, I think, felt this pressure to decide what you wanted to be.

And like, it never came, I guess. Never came. But now it’s here. Like finally it presented itself and.

Bennett McKinley: Yeah. Yeah. I mean, I would love to say that. I didn’t, um. I, I tried not to ever succumb to that pressure. And, and, uh, I don’t think I did. I think I was always just trying, I was on a path to try and figure out who I was.

That’s why I’ve done so many things, like, you know, hospitality and tourism, working as a night auditor for hotels and, uh, photography and stay at home dad and, you know, doing all of these random paths. Um, and I think all of them just kind of led to this decision.

Katy McKinley: And I’ve made this comment probably more times than I should have, but, I generally don’t think we need more men in the, in any version of a workforce. Like men, men generally dominate every level.  But I really, truly do think in the education field and specifically in elementary education, that we need more men. Having a positive male influence can be so important to children, especially in their early years. And yeah. Um, I just think it’s really cool that you’re there and doing it.

Bennett McKinley: Yeah. I mean, there’s been so many examples where that that’s come true. It’s clear that some of the kids I’ve worked with, they just need that, that male role model in their life. And it’s, it’s great that I can, you know, be that for them.

Katy McKinley: And going back to school in your 30s is one thing, but. You did pick a profession that is by far predominantly female. What’s it been like to be the only male and 10 years older than the majority of your classmates?

Bennett McKinley: You know, honestly, it’s been great. The, the girls that I’ve worked with are going to be amazing, amazing teachers and I think if anything, I’ve learned a lot from them. But I also hope that I’ve kind of imparted, you know, my Sage old man wisdom on them. Um, but no, they’re, they’re all awesome people.

And, um, despite that, yeah. You know, that that divide, uh, we’ve all gotten along and created some good friendships and, and like I said, they’re going to be awesome teachers.

Katy McKinley: You’re like their dad in the classroom.

Bennett McKinley: Well, we were taking that group picture for a Christmas party and I, you know, had my hands on my hips and my girls next to me, and I just felt like a proud dad.

Katy McKinley: He looked like a proud Papa. You’re really just starting out in this field, but you’ve found yourself infusing your strengths in arts into the classroom already. I can only imagine that it’s going to be growing exponentially from here, but through some of your current educational training you’ve become a cohort member of the Fluency Project. And I’m not even going to pretend I can explain it. So do you want to say what the Fluency Project is?

Bennett McKinley: You know, it’s funny, um, every cohort member, every member of this project that I’ve talked to, they kind of all give different answers.

None of us are really sure how you can define it, how you can, um, describe what the project is because it’s not a project, it’s a Fluency Project. Not a project. And that sounds counterintuitive. It sounds weird, but it’s true cause it’s so much more than that. The Fluency Project began at Carnegie Mellon, and with the Create Lab  in Pittsburgh.

They work with schools on integrating technology into the classroom. But that’s such a tricky, uh, that’s such a slippery slope because often technology in the classroom can be misinterpreted as kind of like, well, it’s just a wow factor. Okay. It’s neat and shiny technology, but the kids aren’t learning anything. The Fluency Project, it is integrating technology that is incredibly useful and also incredibly, educational. Helping kids understand coding, helping kids understand how to build and create things. Because technology, you know, sure it’s this computer, sure it’s this crazy microphone, but it’s technology can be described as simple as things as like a wheel.

It’s just an incredible project, but I think what makes it so incredible, uh, are certainly the people that are running it. Um, however, yes. Yeah. But also all of the various teachers that are also co cohort members, um, because they are showing that they care about their class, about their kids, about their school, about their community, and they want to, um you know, they want to better themselves as teachers. And that’s, I think if I were, to put it into a nutshell, the Fluency Project is about helping teachers become the best teachers that they can be.

Katy McKinley: And just a couple of months ago, we went to Pittsburgh and Louis and I spent her time just bouncing around places in the city. But you went to a maker’s ed convention?

Bennett McKinley: Yeah, it’s called the convening. I’m not really sure why. I’ve never really looked into it. Um, but yeah, so the maker ed convening. Was a really, really cool experience. Uh, Lou Karris, the director for the Center of Arts and Ed at my college. She invited me. She, she’s also a cohort.  She’s helping run the Fluency Project, but, she invited me and a handful of other students to this convention. Um, and. The dope that I am. I didn’t really look into it too much. A makers convention sounded right up my alley cause that’s what I am. I love to make, if you hand me cardboard, I’m going to create something really

Katy McKinley: You’re wicked awesome with cardboard. I don’t understand it.

Bennett McKinley: I don’t either. I can just make stuff with cardboard.  And I get there and I get there early cause I like to just be early for things.

Katy McKinley: Cuz we’re nerds and we like to be early.

Bennett McKinley: Yeah. And, you know, I’m sitting down, I get my swag and I’m so excited cause there’s raspberry pies and cool things. And, um, a guy sits down with me and we start talking and just, you know, general, who are you, what do you do? And he runs a maker space out of Oakland, California. I say, huh, okay. Another guy sits down, he runs a maker space out of somewhere in Virginia. And so it was just this kind of like aha moment where I realized I am out of my league.

This is not just a small local convention, you know, for the Pittsburgh area teachers or educators or makers. This is a national thing and it was really stinking cool to get to talk to these people that are shaping their communities and helping kids, you know, do things that they would not even know is possible.

Um, and it got me stoked. It got me so excited to, to be a part of this and do things. One of the, um, one of the sessions was, um, actually the guy that had the Makerspace in Virginia. Um, he wanted to get girls into coding. I mean, that’s such a huge hot topic thing right now. Um, but all the projects that he was trying to just never got into it.

You know, he was trying to do, uh, um, monitoring traffic in a certain area and none of the girls wanted to, so he’s, okay, let me meet you halfway. Let’s do wearable technology and we’ll create a fashion show. And it was just like, it spread like wildfire. Oh, he had to turn girls away and these girls came out and they had to learn both how to program LEDs and crazy tech technology and microphones. Uh, but then they also would have to learn how to sew it and work it into clothing and use this electronic wire that would loop from the battery pack on the belt to some display on their hands. Um, and it grew to the point that, you know, they exceeded their budget because they hired people to come and help run a fashion show and teach them how to sew. And, and, and I wanted to do it. I have zero desire to join your world of fashion and creating of clothing. But I was listening to this guy and just his, his genuine sense of excitement and love of learning and teaching, um, got me just so excited.

And it was such a, uh. Groundbreaking thing for me to be part of and I really hope I can go to another one sometime.

Katy McKinley: I really, I honestly wish everyone was in the car with us on the way home after the first day. It was two days long. We only went to Pittsburgh, Louis and I the first day, but on the way home, like Bennett couldn’t stop talking. He was just over the moon about everything that he did. Everyone that he met, everything that he learned. And he was like, let’s open a maker space in wheeling. Which is a great idea, but we, it was a little far like beyond where we’re sitting right now. So it was just funny. It was a very cool thing for him to participate in.

And I guess this might be a little off topic and not really, but more than anything, I just, I would really like to explain my husband in a nutshell. And the best way to do this is in one story, which might drag out too long. So I apologize if it happens. So he’s a very curious person with this like never ending need for information. And if he comes across something that interests him in the slightest, like it just a minute thing, it could be a meme that shoots across his feed when he’s on Reddit, he like has to learn about it and not just learn like he has to learn about it and he gets lost in this web of like knowledge and information.

And the best story, again, the best story to explain this is a story of Attu, Alaska and it all started. It all started, I guess. Let’s give the beginning and the end and then you can fill in the middle. But he watched a video of a bearded man, happily dancing to an Alicia Keys song, and then it ended with him having our son’s entire class correspond with a school of 10 kids, right? 10 kids, Oh, I’m sorry, 20 kids, but it was K through 12 in this like remote island in Alaska. So, so YouTube video, man dancing, ends in us becoming pen pals with people who live on an island in Alaska. And go.

Bennett McKinley: I mean, that’s a, that’s a great nutshell.  And I hope I don’t go overboard with explaining it, um, or expanding it, I should say. So it was, it was funny. It was one of those, and I didn’t think I ever looked up memes that much, but apparently I do. Um, it was a meme. It was the guy dancing to Alicia keys and the text was like leaving work on a Friday.

And I, you know, I clicked on the comments or something in the very first one was something along the lines of, you know, you’re, you’re stealing this without giving credit to the, to the, to the dancer, to the artist, Justin Lawrence Hoyt. And so I went to face, or I went to YouTube and, and, um looked it up and found sure enough, there’s the video. And what sucked was the meme video that, you know, I don’t even remember what company or what, you know, who shared it, but they had 500,000 views on that. And the guy’s original video, the original artist, um, he only had like 5,000 or 10,000. I mean, since then it’s, it’s blown up a lot.

But I felt bad for the guy. So I was watching the video cause it was just his dancing. I wish I had the moves.

It was dorky, happy dancing.

Yes. Yes. And so he’s dancing and on the back, he’s dancing across a dock, and on the back of one of the boats was the text identifying where the boats from: Hoonah, Alaska and I have always been a fan of Google earth.

I’ve loved just exploring things that I can’t, I can’t otherwise explore. So I went to Hoonah, Alaska. Hey, there’s a brewery right next to where the guy was dancing cause I was able to kind of piece together, all right, there’s the dock. Okay. And so I was really enjoying exploring Hoonah. And so I decided to follow the coastline. Let’s find some other really small towns in Alaska. And you know, I scoured the coastline and found some really interesting little tiny, um, you know, inlet villages and towns. And then, you know, okay, well I hit the Ellucian aisles. So I decided to follow out the islands that formed the chain leading away from Alaska towards Russia.

And I’m going along through each one and I’m seeing lots of airports, lots of clear signs of, um, you know, Naval bases, air force bases, et cetera. Finally, I hit the last Island, and it’s called Attu Island. And it was really, really interesting because the Island was, um, speckled with clear, um, remnants of a huge Naval base.

Maybe it was air force. I can’t remember. Um, you know, you could see where the, where barracks where you could see where oil tanks were. There were, there’s clear indentations on the ground. Uh, there’s still a small facility there. It’s, I think, uh mostly birdwatching. I actually, it’s huge bird birding area.

Um, but, uh, okay. But it’s uninhabited, you know? Right. Like, okay, some people go there to, to look at birds, but it’s mostly uninhabited. So let’s go back East. Let’s, that’s the Western most, Oh, actually, can I talk about a two more? So, all right. So a two was a Naval base during world war II. It was the only U S soil that was occupied by foreign invaders in world war II. Japan took over the Island and occupied the Island for actually a good while, and it was a really bloody battle to take it back. And it’s, that’s such a, uh, remarkable, unique story. And it’s not taught, it’s not something that people know about.

Katy McKinley: Also Bennett and his entire family are huge history nerds. So this is like gold for him.

Bennett McKinley: But it is uninhabited. Rich, rich, amazing history, uninhabited. Let’s go back East. Let’s find, what’s the next Island that’s inhabited. Come to Adak. Adak, Alaska. And, um, I’m exploring Adak and I can see it’s this very small town.

Um, I think at its peak, they usually have about about 300 people. Um, you know, it’s a whole industry is based on tourism and hunting and, and, um, and then I see the school, which is, I can’t even say doubling its quintupling as the post office, the city hall, the police and fire department, uh, the school and probably a handful of other things.

Um, and there was a link to the Adak school system, and of course, I think it was like the Ellucian Isle education system or something. But, uh, and this was before I was even getting into education, I think.

Katy McKinley: Yeah, it was before you went back to school.

Bennett McKinley: Because what happened was. Um, I found the teacher’s name because it’s one teacher. And, um, so I sent an email to ms Molly’s

Katy McKinley: He just cold called her via email, like I found you from Google earth. I’m gonna email you.

Bennett McKinley: But, uh, so I expected one of two things. Either the email would just go into their spam box. Or she would think I’m a crazy person. But sure enough, ms Molly wrote back like a couple hours later and you know, I said, Hey, this is going to seem weird, but I would love to maybe could we establish some sort of pen pal system?

Um, and ms Molly was totally into it. And, uh, my son and one of her girls from Adak, Alaska got to be in contact for, with a couple letters, um.

Katy McKinley: And his entire, when he was in kindergarten. So this is a few years ago. The whole kindergarten class was, I think it was like two or three correspondence back and forth, like Valentine’s day cards and something else like between. It took a while for things to get back and forth cause they have one plane…

Bennett McKinley: Every Wednesday.

Katy McKinley: Every Wednesday that brings them mail. But regardless. Your YouTube video watching turned into us like forming a friendship with people in Alaska.

Bennett McKinley: Thousands of miles away on a small remote Island.

Katy McKinley: So if you followed that whole story, that is my husband in a nutshell, for literally everything we ever do. And it’s a, and it could be in creative things and it could just be because he, you know, wanted to just learn. And so, yeah. Anyway. I thought that was a fun story. Okay, so this is the last thing that I ask everybody, and I am not getting you out of this one, even though you’re married to me.

Um, what is something that people would find surprising about you?

Bennett McKinley: Oh my gosh. You even gave me this ahead of time.

Katy McKinley: I know, I warned you.

Bennett McKinley: And I still don’t know. So I don’t know. I’m really bad at swimming. I can’t tread water. Um, but I love to swim. I swim underwater, I think pretty decently. I just, I’m not very great at it.

Katy McKinley: Like if you were shipwrecked, you would just probably drown because you can’t keep yourself above water.

Bennett McKinley: I can float though. I mean, I can lay on my back and float all day. Um, I don’t know. What’s something else I, I. And, um, I think I’m an amazing cook, but I am a horrible Baker. Like to the point that what I bake looks like vomit in a cookie tray. Yeah. Um.

Katy McKinley: It’s because you don’t like to follow directions.

Bennett McKinley: No. And that, that goes back to that, you know, creator maker mentality. I like to experiment and throw things in. Um. I don’t know, man. That’s, that’s the best I can come up with for something surprising.

Katy McKinley: Yeah, I dunno. Pretty good. Yeah. Yeah. Well, thank you Bennett for agreeing to join me on the show.

Bennett McKinley: You’re welcome, Katy.

Katy McKinley: I thought it’d be fun to bring you out into the spotlight a little bit, even if I am nervous that people will start liking you more than me, like everyone in real life does.

As far as our listeners, thank you a million times over for tuning into the ninth episode of, I Can Make That: Conversations with Creatives. As always, I will leave links in my blog posts to everything. I plan to share a couple of Bennett’s light painting pictures so you can understand what he’s talking about with the broken light bulbs and the steel wool.

And maybe I’ll link the Justin dancing video and also I will link our indie business. You can find us at threadandgrain.com as well as on Facebook and Instagram at threadandgrain. See you next time.

Disclosure: As always, you’ll find some affiliate links scattered within my post, which means I receive a small amount of compensation if you end up purchasing something I’ve recommended.  Keep in mind that I link these companies and their products because of their quality and not because of the commission I receive from your purchases. The decision is yours, and whether or not you decide to buy something is completely up to you.  Purchasing from my links does not alter the pricing in any way for you, it simply helps feed my sewing, creating and blogging habits.  Thank you for your support!


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Welcome to Wild+Wanderful!  I’m Katy.
Momma. Wife. West Virginian.
Dreamer. Coffee Consumer.
Craft Beer Enthusiast.
Purple Obsessor. Lover of Handmade.



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