Ani DiFranco in Kansas: I Think That I’m Happy, I Think That I’m Blessed

When Ani DiFranco laughs, you hear each “ha, ha, ha!” syllable.

It’s a lusty, full-throated cackle. The sound of a broad who lets it all out. And she’s wearing a plain gray tank and brown pants– maybe even cargo pants.  She doesn’t roam the stage much this time– she inhabits maybe a four foot area. But she jumps, she squats, she makes eye contact and connects with her band.

Tonight was my second time seeing her LIVE, my first time in Kansas. Second consecutive summer. Three months ago, I went for it and bought a ticket solo– second row. I’ve been counting down ever since!!

Live music is my home. I just moved to Kansas in November, eight months ago. And I gotta be honest, right now I’m missing all the amazing artists that come to Chicago — especially in the summer. But tonight I realized that I’m gonna continue to love living here. Because right here in Wichita, there is an incredible music venue, Wave. It’s in Old Town. Bands can play inside or outside.

It wasn’t packed. But that was the beauty of it. There was plenty of space to dance, to lounge, to chill and enjoy her show from one of the tables farther back. Staff was not strict about expecting people to stay in their seats– people surged to the stage. I got right up front and center, even better than last year! Being 4’11” sure is phenomenal sometimes.

In Chicago, it would be crammed. Also, another Wichita perk: parking was FREE, directly across the street and I was out of the lot within minutes. Wichita seems to be one of the best-kept secrets of the Midwest, as far as culture. It’s actually a pretty sophisticated city, with cutting edge restaurants, bars, music venues and many other attractions. All of it is within a 25 minute drive from my current home in Derby.

I wandered a bit, and then asked a table where they had procured their food: nachos. They were all really welcoming (three of them) and invited me to sit with them. Two women and a man, all excited to be there and obvious liberals like me. They were laughing, dancing, rocking out to their favorite songs.

I adore living here in Sedgwick County, but it is MIGHTY RED here. I respect the differences of my friends and family and do not push to convince them differently. But I do need to meet more people who share my political ideology. Coming from such a Blue state as Illinois, the culture shock is pretty harsh. I was aware, and I made that choice because I wanted to live near my family after spending the majority of my life a 13-hour car ride away. We could only visit every few years, for a few days or a few hours at a time.

Today was a perfect day. I was on the go the entire time, since Mass this morning.

Today I visited a kick-off party for a local Democrat candidate for Mayor of Wichita. And THAT’s the same day Ani is here, in this exact city!! She would be so excited for me.

Sadly I’ve tried and there does not seem to be any activity here for national candidates for President in the General Election 2020. But I can volunteer for local Democrats. And I’ve met some wonderful, #woke, damn smart friends working on campaigns. Working phone banks and canvassing is also a great way to get to know your community. So today I stopped in long enough to give my name, e-mail and phone number, along with my availability, to the volunteer at this candidate’s table.

I felt good. And then I went to a family birthday party, and then Ani.

I think Wave is going to become one of my favorite places in the ICT.

I also realized tonight that I have BECOME one of the Ani fans I was admiring last summer, at my first show. I took a ton of pictures and a few videos. Sadly my phone died right before the song I wanted so much to hear: “Play God.” Followed by all my other favorite songs: “Shameless,” “32 Flavors,” and “WHICH SIDE ARE YOU ON?”

I stayed till just after 10 and then left. The event flyer said it would go till 11:30 p.m. tonight but it seemed the set was over and most people were leaving. Either way, I left at the perfect time. I also got to hear “Dilate,” “Napoleon,” and “Swan Dive.”

Which side am I on?

The #BlueWave side.

The #WOKE side.

 

 

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Wimpy Palms and Tradition

Ever since I can remember, my father and I have braided palms together on Palm Sunday. I have written about this previously, but each year is special for different reasons.

Now my father is aging and the most obvious aspect of that is neuropathy in his hands. He struggles to write legibly and my step-mother and I help him when needed for correspondence and etc. The way he eats has also changed. His hands don’t shake, but he’s lost the grip that he once had and now it’s a more deliberate process. He holds onto his utensils differently, but still makes it work.

He and Diane went to Mass last night he and brought some good palms home. The long, green, thick kind. But it was a bit late and so we decided to braid them today. I went to Mass this morning but the ones I got weren’t good for braiding. They were short, cut off at an angle. No base to work with. Then today I had to study and do some things first, so it took awhile before we could do this together.

I saw him tonight sitting with the palms, struggling to fold them the way he’s always shown me. Not complaining, just quietly persevering. The palms were partially curled up and dried, so not as bendable and sturdy. More yellow and crinkly than green.

My father’s sheer determination and doggedness has gotten him through life. I am happy to say that I am mostly the same way. I’ll figure things out, even if it takes me longer or I need to find a different way that makes sense for me.

Tonight I offered to help him finish the braid. “The palms are wimpy,” I said, commenting on how they had changed from last night.

“MY palms are wimpy,” he said. We laughed, but I reassured him that his own hands are still strong. He still gets done what needs doing. He doesn’t just give up on things if he’s frustrated.

But I’m glad to share this with him. We only made one this year. It’s small. I asked him to take a picture with it and he was happy to do that. I feel very blessed, indeed.

Valentine to My Parents and Single Chicas

I think my Valentine this year, truly, is my parents.

November 2, we moved from Illinois to Kansas. They were retiring here and I have been wanting to come home to Wichita at least five years, since all our family is still here.

I took a huge risk. I left 30 years of stability — and 3.5 years with a job– to start over.

I just wanted to be where all the love is. I miss my Illinois friends, sure.

But some four months in, I don’t regret any of that decision. I’m slowly building a life in Kansas. I haven’t found a job yet, I’m still searching.

And I tend to be an anxious woman, imagining the worst case of every scenario.  But in the past month I’m settling into a burgeoning sense of optimism. I believe that I will continue to propel myself forward.  That only good things are coming my way. I believe in my own judgement and ability to discern the right time when making choices.

And my parents are the ones who gave that to me. They are both conservative people raised in large, close families. Both deeply rooted in Catholicism, Stoicism, and work.

One of my biggest doubts when deciding to move here was about whether I should give up all my independence and live with them again. I’ve been out of the home since 18 except for summers in college and a few months until I got my first job after graduation.

I’m used to living alone. Taking a bath at 4 a.m. if I want. Coming in whatever time I want. Having all the living space to spread out. To make and receive calls randomly.

It’s been an adjustment, three adults sharing living space with vastly different habits.

It’s also been a tremendous gift. I will get my own place and move out, but this time right now is something I’ll remember. Proximity forces you to notice each other in new ways.

My parents have also made Valentine’s Day a special day for us as a family by exchanging gifts with each other and me each year. My Dad brought chocolate for us both and a generous bouquet of red roses. I got some dark chocolate truffles for Diane and deviled eggs for my Dad, and a card for them both. Diane does so much for us every day. Little practical things like getting the coffee ready to go.

One of the best moments today was putting make-up on with Diane. I’m going out with some new chicas tonight to see “Isn’t it Romantic?” starring the brilliant Rebel Wilson. We bought our tickets ahead online. I’m smuggling in some candy to save cash– cherry Blow Pops. I suggested wearing red lipstick and they were game!

Diane complimented my make-up and I showed her what products I used. She then showed me some of her reds and let me try a few on. I had said that my original one made my lips look a little thin. She thought I looked better with a slightly darker tone.

I don’t remember doing this with her as a young girl. But I’m glad we did tonight. Just having her share her make-up with me and look at me to give me advice felt special.

She is going out tonight to dinner with my Dad and another couple. They’re helping each other find pieces of their ensembles, fixing collars. It’s sweet to watch.

Maybe one day I’ll be able to do that with my own husband. I can hope, right?

So this year, I claim Valentine’s Day for celebrating family love and new female friendships. All my female friends back home were either married or in serious relationships or had moved away, so I could never make “Galentine’s Day” plans like this with them. Now here in Wichita, I have new single friends and I love it!

2019 is off to a great start!

 

 

 

 

My First Cowgirl Hat! A Real Kansan.

I have a valid Kansas driver’s license and a Voter ID card, but buying my first cowgirl hat is what made me feel like a LEGIT Kansas woman!

pink cowgirl Club Rodeo

 

I was with some new friends at a bar called Club Rodeo in Wichita, last Friday night. This place is so country it’s got an actual live RODEO inside, plus a mechanical bull if you’re inclined. It smells like dirt and sweat and testosterone. Everyone is dressed as country as they can afford, be it a cute dress, shorts, denimn, flannel, boots or a buckle.

“Hicktown” by Jason Aldean was playing when I got there and I was amazed at the dexterity of the men doing some impossible high kicks! Line dancing is a major thing at this place, and I am tragically incapable of picking it up. But I figure with some YouTube tutorials and maybe some time with a friend who is feeling charitable, I can learn it one day. I can’t even master a basic two-step thus far!

After a trip to the ladies’ to check my hair and lipstick, I spied an older gentleman selling a wide variety of cowboy hats in the back of the bar, displayed on two folding tables. The least expensive were reasonable and one was pastel pink! I tried on two sizes and decided on a medium. I told the man I needed to get the cash in my car and would return, but he said I could just wear it for now, there was no rush. Why was he so trusting? I was charmed. My ensemble was a white plaid flannel with a pink stripe to match that hat, so it was perfect. All my friends were loving it and I had a blast taking selfies to show it off! Finally I claimed it with the cash.

So now in my closet, that hat is ready for next time. I think it’s some type of plastic, as its’ hard and water- proof. It’s just one more aspect of my new life here that’s coming together.

Cowboy boots and western wear is an everyday staple in these parts. I love it.

I’m still connecting some dots to get settled in, but I definitely feel more at home now.

Where the Bananas Run: A 5k and a Banana Split!

 

Banana Runner

Today started off early and awesome and continued that way as I participated in the most fun race I think I’ve ever done. It was small, close, and a later start at 10 a.m. We ran through a local trail in a forest preserve, The Hammel Woods.

I woke up at 7:15 a.m. naturally and was immediately AWAKE. An hour before my alarm. I got right up and showered, then made myself an omelet with basil and mozz cheese. I had plenty of time to digest so I wasn’t too full– just energized. I relaxed then did my make-up and got ready. I pulled up just in time to start!! The event is The Banana Sprint 5k, hosted by DNA Athletics, a local running store.

Seeing all these people in their bright yellow banana costumes just made me so happy! I felt like the Bee Girl in “No Rain,” who finally finds her tribe– the Bee People in the field.  For $25 we got a bib and a decent full banana costume. Shirts were extra– I didn’t buy. Especially since everyone wore theirs differently. Some had pinned up the “tail” to free up their legs, since otherwise it dangled in front. A group of women were wearing yellow tutus around theirs, others were actually wearing a running belt around the middle! The kids had tiny banana outfits, too. A couple of families had kids on bikes or tricycles. Adorable.

Someone recognized me right away from a party I’d been to last summer, someone in a run club we both belong to. We took a selfie before the gun went off, making sure the top part of our costumes — the “banana hoodie”– was up around our faces and visible.

We started out running together but I ran out of steam and she went on, then I got my own pace going. I was slow as ever but probably happier than I’ve been in the majority of my races because it was just such a wonderful way to spend my Sunday morning. As long as races like this exist, the world isn’t so bad.

My costume was even funnier because I’m so short– 4’11”. Everyone’s fit differently according to their height. Mine went to my feet but somehow never tripped me.

It was cool this morning– 50’s– but in that full-body costume I was sweating! I took full advantage of the water stop. This race was well-organized and a beautiful path, a lot of it shaded by trees. It was an out and back course with a little side detour after the 2 mile mark. I started seeing people returning, and several had given up and taken off their costumes completely.

They may have been faster, but I’m proud I lasted the whole 3.1 miles IN full costume! Soon into the race, my cell beeped and it was an text from my bestie in Texas, alerting me that labor had begun for her second child. “Thundercats go,” she said, referencing the “Juno” quote that we both loved as a now shorthand for signaling labor. They chose to be surprised about the sex– I was so excited! She’s still working hard now, or at least I haven’t gotten an update saying she’s had the baby yet.

I texted her back some encouragement and love and let her know what I was doing– we had talked about the race before. She said if she were still living here she’d be meeting me at the finish line in a gorilla suit! ❤  I miss Leslie so much.

Today I realized something: I don’t honestly care about my pace much. Although racing and running CAN be social, for me it’s usually solitary. I didn’t have time to put on my Nike Run app, which sucks because I love seeing the maps after my runs and this would have been a good windy one. But in a way, it was liberating. I just let it go. Although I still plan to get more serious about a routine and of course, improving my pace and distance, I just enjoy it for its own sake. I LIKE being alone and enjoying the quiet, the heat, the breeze, the cold, whatever conditions are at that time. Early morning, afternoon, evening. Whatever.

I like seeing other runners and we pass each other. I loved knowing I gave them a laugh, seeing their dogs.

After, it was the best part: THE BANANA SPLIT BAR! That was really what sealed the deal on this race for me, when I saw it pop up on Facebook. Under a pavilion there were all the ingredients and more than I anticipated.  Three different types of ice cream; I chose vanilla-strawberry swirl and chocolate scoops. I chose caramel syrup, my first time. Caramel chips, nuts, m&m’s. Two maraschino cherries. No whip cream.

No guilt, just glee.

Banana Splits

 

I kept my costume on and have never enjoyed a banana split so much in my life. I think it was probably only my second. Or my first? It’s not something I usually order. I may have shared someone else’s once. I earned it today!

And the pictures I got were so much fun. The ones posted by the race organizer were so happy and bright– and I’m in one of them, at very start of the race. Beaming and waving.

Another benefit: I don’t need to buy a Halloween costume this year! I’ve had plenty of years with sexy costumes and money spent building detailed, creative costumes involving wigs, accessories and props. Not this year.

For $25 I’ve got what I need. I’m going to a Pirates and Ninjas Housewarming party in a few weeks. I’m going to be a banana. And if I’m feeling sassy, I’ll just put on some black leggings and my black lace-up boots and I’ll be the Sexiest Banana Ever. Halloween 2018!

 

 

The Great Pumpkin Run II: Luda Crisp and Cornstalks

Today was my first fall race kick-off!! A 5k called The Great Pumpkin Run in Oswego, IL.

Nothing went as planned, but I had a wonderful time.  Felt good to pin on a race bib.

It was only 67 degrees but still brutal. I’ve run hotter races– actually run them. Today, honestly, I probably only ran a mile. I’m not sure why the heat affected me so differently today. Probably because I tried to cram training into this past week only. I ran three times since last Saturday.

But that’s not what matters. What matters is that I had everything prepared when I went to bed, I got myself up early, I had food ready. I got my car parked, got a second pumpkin for the race since I forgot my five-pounder in my car — I got a 2.5 pounder instead, luckily.

And I did it! I wore the same outfit as last year: black skull tank top and gray shorts. The only additions to my “costume” for this race were some fun sparkly jack-o-lantern antlers on a headband and cheap orange sunglasses, found ’em at the dollar store. The antlers headband kept me cool

My hair is shoulder-length now; last year it was a black pixie. I just felt free.

The route started in an apple orchard and I saw a taped sign labeling them. One said, no joke, “Luda Crisp.” That’s GOT to be some farm humor, eh? Then we were passing what I think was a soybean crop, and finally, a corn field.

I stopped several times to take pictures. I was in the back of the pack with the turtles and the walkers. People just hanging out with their friends, significant others and families. Moms with their littles. Last year, I felt lonely.

This year I felt determined.

I asked a few random people to take my picture at different points. I overhead a woman making a comment that awhile back I had asked for one and needed another.

And I decided to let her comment go. Who cares if she’s judging me?

I’m not able to run fast today, so at least I can enjoy myself. Who says that races have to be about PR’s and beating your previous time? For me, I think running is about enjoying the journey. I’m not fast, probably never will become a fast or competitive runner. I have good races and bad ones. I used to be so hard on myself with races. I’d constantly put myself down if I had to walk a little. Or if my shirt fit tight or I had to go up a size.

Today I was just happy that I knew to wear a tank and shorts instead of the hoodie we got in our packets and some leggings, like so many others. I’m very sensitive to being over-layered and it makes me miserable. I know, for the most part, how to dress for my body’s needs now in most runs. That is a skill in itself. It’s not just about pace and distance.

The only thing I missed this year was actually running THROUGH the corn maze, like we got to do last year.

But it was wonderful. At the finish line I received both my finisher’s medal and the promised second medal, the “Tough Pumpkin” for carrying a pumpkin the entire race. We got a banana, Boxed Water, and then redeemed our coupons for free cider.

And I didn’t forget to turn off my running app at the finish line. I was delighted to see the map pop up, and all the beautiful turns and squiggles representing my journey.

I think I enjoy running because it’s a great metaphor. At the end of my runs, I see the map pop up showing me how far I traveled– the larger picture. Just like God has a plan for us, and we often don’t *feel that while we trudge along, just trying to make it forward. Just doing our best to keep moving without having the answers.

That map at the end of my runs, good or terrible, always comforts me. He’s taking me somewhere, and I’m reminded that I have nothing to fear.

After getting home I took a nap. I don’t know why today was so taxing, but doing the race on grass and dirt certainly made it harder.

I feel so happy. My next race is next weekend!

It’s Never Too Late to Mend: The Old Joliet Prison Break-In! What a Night!

I’m home and glowing with affection for Joliet, my hometown of the last 30 years. People here really are decent, friendly and hard-working folks.

I knew this would be the event of the summer and so I had to score myself a ticket soon after hearing about it. And my, did it deliver! It was bigger than the Taste of Joliet, with a 21 and only crowd and fantastic music all night. There were 3,000 tickets available and I’d say they probably sold out from the looks of it!

I arrived about 6:15 and already the designated parking lots were full except for the last one. I didn’t have plans to meet anyone specific, so just meandered around and looked for anyone I might know and checked in on fb. A few people commented and I found one of them! At first I felt kind of lame because everyone had brought lawn chairs and that had never occurred to me. But it ended up being a good thing because it forced me to do a lot of walking. I saw down to eat my pizza and once more to rest a bit. But mostly I just people watched and surveyed all that was going on.

So many people were dressed to theme, some in full-on convict black and white stripe costumes, complete with hats! Others were in suits, fedoras and sunglasses a la The Blues Brothers- another J-town legacy incorporated into the evening. As most know, the first scene features Elwood picking up Joliet Jake from this very prison, in an old police car he got for a deal.

A lot of people had on black t-shirts with Blue Brothers faces and quotes or they were wearing something black and white striped, or just the black fedoras and glasses. They were being sold as a $5 combo at a merch tent, along with event t-shirts, sewing kits, etc. I’m glad I got the hat and glasses! Later they came in handy.

There were food trucks and tons of props serving as photo ops: an old J-town cop car and a white board painted with black stripes and height markers for patrons to take “mug shots.” In the right corner, there was another cop car– this one a prop for the headlining and closing act, The Blooze Brothers. A kind woman I talked to took a shot of me leaning against it and in exchange I got one of her and her boyfriend over by it.

I saw my friend Hallie in line for a tour and she invited me to cut in with her friends and tag along, so I did! The tiny, broken down cells were very sobering. But probably my favorite part of the evening was visiting the tent for the Old Joliet Prison Burnt District Artists. I’ve been seeing posts from them on facebook as they helped clean up and also found raw materials they could incorporate into their artwork. A lot of cool things are happening in Joliet right now, a lot of new business and breweries are opening up. There’s some intense Joliet pride and I’m proud to see it manifested artistically. That’s where I found the young and hip people. I really liked a piece by Ruben Calderon of Art of Breath Galleria (facebook) — it featured a male prisoner in what seems to be prayer, with a guardian angel visible behind him. The cell bars are in the background, along with a phrase, “It’s Never Too Late To Mend,” written on the cell wall to his right. If I had the cash I would have made an offer.

I met some really nice people just ambling around. One woman offered me a chair at her table to eat, and another told me how much she and her boyfriend love live music and had the best anecdote ever. Her boyfriend had actually BEEN a prisoner here at The Joliet Prison more than 20 years ago, and came back tonight a free man to this event. She said he had told her he’d grown as a person and learned a lot while doing his time. He was glad to come back and reflect on it because it was no longer a painful memory to him.

Then when The Blooze Brothers took the stage, I ran up and spied a friend front and center! We just kinda jammed out together, he was more quiet; bopping his head but clearly really in the moment. I was more wild, dancing around and joking with the woman on my right. We were both being totally silly.

I got one of three free CD’s they passed out because I put on my fedora and black sunglasses and was dancing like crazy– it pays off to be festive! Can’t wait to re-live tonight and play the whole CD when I’m driving around next.

I thought it was beautiful that the band did a tribute to Aretha Franklin’s recent passing. The lead female singer was Shelia Pepple, as far as I can tell from the liner notes from their CD. She sang “Respect,” “Natural Woman,” and a few others I didn’t know with some impressive pipes!

And as for Elwood (Chuck Little) and Joliet Jake (Jeff Sismelich)– they KILLED IT!! They really had the dancing cold, and Elwood wailed on his harmonica. They did “Soul Man,” “Rawhide,” and “Jailhouse Rock!” I left before the end of the set, but didn’t see “Sweet Home Chicago,” it was probably the last song.

I danced my tail off, re-connected with old friends, took some fun pictures and left feeling very glad to be a Jolietian.

In this historic prison, I was freed.