My List of Grateful

This morning, while drinking coffee and bemoaning the coverage of the Thanksgiving Day parade (more floats, less guests!), I decided to fill one sheet of paper with what and whom I am most grateful. I could have filled more sheets, but since I need to getting prepping on that turkey, I limited myself to one.

My List of Grateful

  • My husband and friend, who loves me, puts up with me, protects me, and will lift me to the winds to fly, if needed- all unconditionally.
  • The greatest parents, ever. Who showed me what it means to love, to be patient, to be kind to others, and the importance of family. Oh, and sports.
  • My sister and brother, truly my best friends. The ones I miss the most, the ones I want to share everything, the ones I text throughout a sporting event and share photos of newly discovered beers. For our shared support, encouragement and belief in one another and for….well, everything
  • My family, especially my cousins. For our shared laughter, our shared memories, our shared adventures and shared love. I can’t imagine my life without all of my crazy cousins.
  • My nieces and nephews, part I (Andi, Holly and Jeff) and part II (Jaxon and Lexi), for allowing me to love you with the heart of a mother, for spoiling you, for watching you grow and become incredible adults (part I) and for allowing me a second chance, to watch you grow and rejoice in the fact I get to do it all over again (part II).
  • My sons- the Olmsted boys. For allowing me to be your second mother and forgiving me when I dropped the mom ball, at times. For filling my heart with love and joy and just when I didn’t think there was any more room, for bringing seven grandchildren within the blessed walls of my heart.
  • My friends- old and new (and future). For your love, loyalty, laughter, tears, hugs, and understanding. I could go on and on.
  • The women in my life, for those here and now and those who graced my life and have gone too soon. You are my reason, you are my hope, and you are my mosaic.
  • My job and the jobs before my ten-year stint with WSU. For providing me opportunities for growth, for learning, and to be able to enjoy this life and provide for others.
  • The love, companionship and memories of an old dog and the love, youthful reminders, and future memories of a new pup.
  • Music. All music.
  • Sports and how it weaves a magical thread of joy (and sometimes misery) throughout the lives of my family and friends.
  • My hometown, Wichita- the beloved ICT. For changing throughout the years, for being open to change, for providing us with community and the brave spirit of local entrepreneurs. The local breweries, the Coaster’s bicycle club, the incredible musicians, the talented artists, the continually changing landscape of this city…thank you.
  • Changing seasons. For the new beginnings of spring, the childlike abandonment of summer, the slowing down and appreciation of fall, and the soul-searching, rejuvenation of winter
  • Life. There are many who will never know this experience and many whose experience was too short. It is difficult, but worth the journey. How fortunate we are to be gifted this thing called life.
  • Thanksgiving Day. The day that inspires us to take the time to be grateful.

I wish you a Happy Thanksgiving and a long list of grateful!

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A Holiday from Social Media

My favorite time of year is upon us. I rejoice the first day of fall, knowing long, hot days are at an end and the leaves will begin to turn to gold before covering the ground, the first earth blanket before the snows. And, my favorite trilogy of holidays approaches with autumn equinox: Halloween, Thanksgiving and Christmas. My soul is rejuvenated with the hint of winter in the air, Irish coffees around the fire pit, and the anticipation of putting up the Christmas tree.

Last year, this season was not kind or rejuvenating, but filled with emptiness and sorrow with the loss of Jeff and Angie. It was difficult to embrace my favorite time of year with a heart laden in grief. This year, as I celebrated autumn equinox with a good wine, I contemplated my approach. My very being ached for a return to the normal, but I knew then that with the anxieties of the upcoming election and the charged atmosphere of social media, finding my norm was going to be difficult.

I am heartbroken by the results of the election, and let me reiterate it has naught to do with my candidate losing. It is the realization we as a community have been living blindly in our assumptions that hate in its many forms had been reduced to a tiny monster we could sweep away under a rug of social progress. Despite the fact we’ve been privy to its ugliness more and more through social media comments and posts, as well as the unrest in our communities, the shootings, and the media spewing; while we were celebrating our victories, the monster was feeding upon our trustfulness and waiting to pull the rug out from under us.

Throughout all of this, the one thing that has disturbed me the most is social media. I engaged in social media, specifically Facebook, to stay in touch with my niece and nephew in Illinois. To be able to “see” them on a daily basis, to watch their life path, to let them know I was watching. This form of contact helped ease the guilt and sadness of not being able to visit more often. And as I became engaged, soon I was searching for all of my relatives out-of-state or even across the city, as our daily lives prevented us from those cherished family gatherings of our childhood.

But the place I turn to feel connected has become disconnected. It, too, is feeding the monster. Like a shot of whiskey or a case of beer, the internet has become our modern-day “liquid courage.” There have always been those individuals whose inner demons appear whenever they have too much to drink or sadly, just a little drink. As soon as the alcohol warms their bloodstream, they blurt their feelings, no matter how dark or hurtful, and for some their demons take shape in physical harm. A little booze and these individuals want to fight the world, or at least the world in their immediate proximity, and especially those who do not share in their beliefs or those whom they fear. The computer age has brought about this new form of liquid courage, or “keyboard courage.” Individuals now feel empowered to shout their views at others whose beliefs are not in line with theirs, cyberbully, and engage in hurtfulness against complete strangers all the while hidden behind their new drug of choice, be it laptop, PC, tablet or phone. It’s easy to throw cyber punches and be downright offensive within the confines of your home or office, miles away from the individual(s) whom you are attacking. An alcoholic beverage is no longer needed nor the excuse of not being able to handle your liquor, just sign in and punch away.

I try to be very thoughtful in my postings on social media, yet I know I am not innocent in this online bickering. I’m sure I have stated a view or shared a post which offended or hurt others, as it has become too easy to be drawn into the fight. And to me, there is nothing more embarrassing or distressing than a “comments brawl” where individuals flail wildly in the comments area of their own postings or, even more distressing, by invading the post of another. And with the recent unveiling of our continued social disparities and the inability of many to be respectful of one another, Facebook has become its own little demon, egging on the madness as if determined to convince us that we are all monsters.

So, I’m taking a holiday from the crazy. At the close of Thanksgiving Day, I am taking a reprieve from all social media. I’m going to enjoy the Christmas season “old school.” I’m going to read Dickens, buy gifts, sip wine in the glow of our tree and if there is a party or event, you’ll need to contact me by phone or one of those rare methods from long ago, as in the paper invitation sent by mail. I’m not going to stress myself in multiple directions by promising to attend every Facebook event invitation and I’m not going to damper the Christmas spirit by stumbling upon one of those keyboard courage rants or lose faith in mankind just by reading the headline of a fake news story.

This holiday, I’m going to engage by disengaging. And, if the climate has changed by January 1, or I feel a pull to catch up with the happenings of my family and friends, I may return but with a shortened friend list and possibly on a part time basis. Who knows, I may not ever return and that would be more than okay. I find it of interest to become one of those elusive individuals who are not on Facebook, who don’t tweet and have no idea what a snap chat implies. They are a mysterious people and quite likely, much healthier than the rest of us.

So, the countdown begins. Only four more days until Social Media Holiday begins. For those who follow me on Facebook and Twitter, I hope you’ll look for me here, afloat the calming waters of Mermaid of the Plains. With less time spent reviewing status updates and announcing check-ins, my goal is to write and share here. And, I encourage you to join me in this holiday break. Let’s truly return to a season of hope, love, and respect for one another. We are all in this together and we are all we got. As a great woman once wrote, “we are more alike my friends, than we are unalike.”

We need to remember this, now more than ever.

No Place Like Local

I was a little ambitious when I thought I would post on a semi-daily basis regarding all Wichita has to offer when it comes to local businesses. My excuse is that I was so busy experiencing this abundance of goodness, I didn’t have time to write! But, since I’ve promised many family, friends, and even my staff, that I would direct them to local establishments, I thought I should make good on those ICT promises.

In the past two weeks, my husband and I have put our hard-earned dollars back into our community by shopping for groceries at the Kansas Grown Farmers Market, The Spice Merchant, and the Douglas Avenue Chop Shop. Plus, we’ve enjoyed a few on-the-go meals at favorites like TJ’s Burger House, The Anchor, Picasso’s Pizza, Hungry Heart and T.O.P.S. And, I’ve kicked off a few mornings with a delicious sugar rush from Juarez Bakery and The Donut Whole. As for local watering holes, we’ve enjoyed the recently opened Hopping Gnome and were fortunate to attend a soft opening for Central Standard Brewing Company.

The choices we Wichitans have when it comes to dining out or meeting for a few drinks is nothing short of amazing. There is no reliance on big chains for sustenance and conversation over ales, not with the bounty of local businesses offering unique, tasty, and somewhat addictive fare. Since I could dedicate an entire post to each of the establishments listed above, I decided to break it down in a simple, descriptive paragraph for a few. If you need more, click on the name, as I’ve provided a link to either their website or Facebook page. Then, do yourself a favor and share in the dream.

Kansas Grown Farmers Market: Kansas grown. Need I say more? From farm fresh eggs and blood-red tomatoes to bowls of purple radishes and sweet corn from Gaeddert Farms in Buhler, KS. Open from April to early October.

The Spice Merchant: A Wichita landmark brimming with tubs of coffee beans ready for purchase, an entire room to entice tea drinkers, oodles of kitchen accessories, hard to find spices, snarky magnets and birthday cards. Oh, and incense. Warning: do not plan a brief trip to The Spice Merchant. You will need time to get lost in the aisles and corners. Plan accordingly.

Douglas Avenue Chop Shop: Schane Gross expands her reign as the Matriarch of Multiple Businesses (Hell Bomb Tattoo, The Anchor, Fork & Fennel, and the DACS) with this butcher shop featuring Kansas raised meats and locally grown produce. Currently, we are addicted to the Red Wattle pork chops and bacon wrapped tenderloin. Laid back atmosphere, knowledgeable staff. My favorite Saturday afternoon consists of errands completed, a rewarding beer or two at The Anchor, and meat and cheese from the Chop Shop to take home for a home cooked meal.

Hopping Gnome: “Brewed for the Locals.” Located in the Douglas Design District and owned by Torrey and Stacy Lattin, their ICT tribute craft beers are brewed on the premises in served in full pints or samplers. Front window seating is great for people watching. But, probably avoid if you have a phobia of gnomes. My heart belongs to the barrel-hopping gnome logo and the Earl of ESB.

TJ’s Burger House: Delano District. While I’m not a fan of the 1950s décor, the burgers are scrumptious. Big, beefy, ruin-the-red-and-white-sandwich-paper-they-came-in greasy and messy. Cheeseburgers are my weakness. My last meal better be the mushroom Swiss burger from TJ’s.

TJs burgerhouse

T.O.P.S (Taste of Philadelphia Style) Steaks and Hoagies: Owned by local general contractor, Bernard Knowles, and located in a small plaza just west of Grove and 21st Street, T.O.P.S is a must-visit. I do not profess to know what makes a cheesesteak an original or Philadelphia style, but I do know a great sandwich when I taste one. Cooked on a grill located behind the storefront window, you watch as the meat is skillfully browned along with the peppers and onions, the white cheese added, then piled into a hoagie bun that perfectly retains the drippings. The place is very small, but the sandwiches, wrapped carefully in sandwich paper, foil and bagged, travel well to their destination.

The Donut Whole: Cool, inventive, and resourceful Kansas proud owners; creatively, quirky and delectable donuts; an adult space to enjoy live music, poetry readings, retro films, and celebrate turning in your thesis (okay, that last one might be solely me, but I remember the afternoon very well and maple bacon donuts can spur the memory with one bite). Oh, and the wildest, entertainiest, funnest, birthday bashes, ever. I enjoy their birthday bazzazzle so much, I made up a word to describe it. The Donut Whole does that to you.

Juarez Bakery: Go. Delight in the wall of breads and pastries. Grab a pink tray and silver tongs and pile to your heart’s content. Their conchas are the closest to my mother’s homemade Mexican sweet bread I can find. One bite and I’m a little girl sitting at the kitchen table dunking pieces of my bread into Mexican hot chocolate, the sugary topping crumbling into the cocoa, the sopping bread melting on my tongue like a communion wafer.

Wow. Where was I? Oh yes, local establishments. Those are just a few of what Wichita has to offer. I will warn you, so many choices make for sometimes strenuous decision-making on where to dine or stop for a cold beer. But, I’d rather fuss for a few minutes over whether to grab a large slice of The Kansan or The Kitchen Sink at Picasso’s Pizzeria or salmon sliders at The Hungry Heart then not have any local choices, at all.

Thank you, local ICT business owners. You make it easy to advocate for this hometown of mine.

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The Light Bearers

I am of the opinion that my life belongs to the community, and as long as I live, it is my privilege to do for it whatever I can. I want to be thoroughly used up when I die, for the harder I work, the more I live. Life is no ‘brief candle’ for me. It is a sort of splendid torch, which I have got a hold of for the moment, and I want to make it burn as brightly as possible before handing it to the future generations. – George Bernard Shaw

I believe it is up to us , each in our own way, to illuminate the paths of others, because only then will our own splendid torch find its purpose.

Read the rest of my post at Kansas Women Bloggers as the Blogger of the Month for July.

Let it shine.

torch

Day #32 (Saturday) of Wild and Exciting Little Things: Local Artwork

I don’t consider myself a connoisseur of art, I just know what I like. I’m drawn to vivid color, depth, and skulls, with an occasional lean towards whimsy and a guilty pleasure of seascapes. I’m especially supportive of local artists. Wichita has an exceptional art community. From the highly trained to the self-taught, from oils on canvas, to spray painted murals, the talent is vast and the artwork is broad.

On Saturday, I brought home a new piece by Jaki McElroy. Her fascination with skulls and Dia de los Muertos and her use of color are bold and calculated. My interest in this piece was immediate. I feel such pride knowing I am supporting our local artists, as they are a significant piece in the puzzle of success in a community. Without art, there is no passion. Every community needs and deserves passion.

New Art

Neighborhood heartbreak

I’m sure you’ve read the paper, seen the news.  A 13-year-old boy was shot and killed on Sunday. Father’s Day. Killed by men filled with drink and cowardice. Cowardice is the only way to explain shooting at someone through a closed door.  Had they waited for the young man to open the door, I would not be writing this post. But cowards don’t kill a man face-to-face.

I found out about the shooting when I went to visit my dad on Father’s Day. My parents were visibly upset by the shooting. They found out about it at 8:00 Mass. You see, they live one block and one street over from the shooting. Our neighborhood. My neighborhood.

It isn’t like this hasn’t happened before. The neighborhood of my childhood has seen violence. A community built upon the work ethic of first-generation Mexican Americans has seen the infiltration of gangs, along with vandalism, burglary, theft. A community brushed aside by the city, the neighborhood has had to fight its battles all alone. And they did. From neighborhood watches, gang task force meetings, visits to new neighbors, keeping a careful eye on the goings-on of each individual block, the people of this neighborhood fought what was thought a losing battle.

I moved back to Wichita in 1989, at the peak of my neighborhood’s instability. I moved in with my parents until I could find a place of my own. One night, I was watching movies at a cousin’s house when my dad called to tell me not to come home. There had been a shooting. A young man was shot and killed as he left a party. The party was across the street and two doors to the north of my parents. The young man was shot in the street. He died next to their front curb. He’d been at the wrong place at the wrong time. Or so the authorities said. Looking for a girl, he arrived at a party where he was not wanted. They shot him as he left the party.

My parents were upset, but even more so when their house was shown during the 10:00 news. They did not want to be associated with the shooting or the gangs. I was angry. This was my neighborhood. I rode my bike up and down these streets. Played hide and seek. Caught footballs, hit baseballs in my neighbors yards. The very curb this young man bled to death, I had stopped the ice cream man on numerous occasions. What was this world? How had it come to this?

We blamed the gangs. We blamed their parents and their lack of parenting. We blamed the city for not getting involved sooner, for thinking that the Wichita gang problem would just go away. We blamed ourselves for not being more involved.

And we began to change. The people of the community became more involved.

Then a little boy lost his life. A young boy who attended Mayberry Middle School and played football for the Wichita Aztecs. A boy who was shot to death answering the door of his home. A home in which he felt safe, secure. A home where his father and his mother and his siblings screamed in agony over his senseless death on a clear Sunday morning. Father’s Day.  

When I saw his picture, I imagined my own brother when he was 13 and playing Laker football. And I could not imagine the pain, the suffering of this family. I don’t remember crying over the young man killed at the curb of my childhood home, but I sobbed over this little boy. And I don’t why. Maybe because I remember being angry that the party was gang affiliated, and I blamed that young man for coming to this neighborhood. Surely he knew there would be rival gangs at this party. But this young boy? He was answering the door on a Sunday morning. Innocent. In his own home. Probably his pajamas. The only choice he’d made that morning was to answer a knock at his door. His door. A door he’d opened a hundred times.

I wanted to go to the rosary this evening, but decided against it. I didn’t know the family. Not really. I don’t know a lot of the families in my neighborhood. Not any more. But I still consider it my neighborhood. And Miguel was a part of that neighborhood. My heart breaks for him and his family.  I may not live there, but my heart is there and will always be there. And right now, it is broken into a million little pieces.