Coffee and Adventures: The Indy AFP House Party

“One’s destination is never a place, but a new way of seeing things.” – Henry Miller

Yesterday morning I joined Madeline and Sean on another of our road-trips in Madeline’s orange Element, caravanning with Maura, Tina, and Mindy to Indianapolis to attend Amanda Palmer’s house party at The Strange Brew Coffee House. (If you’re unfamiliar with Amanda’s house parties, you can read her recent post about them on her blog.)

I hadn’t seen Madeline or Sean since my trip to Europe, and so we caught up and time passed quickly. Upon arriving in Indy, we stopped first for a visit with Joan of Dark and Dill at their home, where they fed us and introduced us to their menagerie of adorable dogs, cats, and Widget the bird.

Willie! (Photo by Dill Hero)

The ever-inspiring Fabulous Lorraine was there and while she went for a 2-mile skate on the neighborhood streets, we met the charming Allie. (Lorraine and Allie had driven in from Wisconsin for the house party). I was happy for a little time to sit on Joan’s couch with cuddly dogs and good coffee. I only wish they lived closer. I’d love to have more such mornings. We parted ways to check into our hotel and would reconnect at the coffee house a few hours later.

After lunch and a quick change, we got to Strange Brew and settled in, watching the rest of the attendees arrive with potluck offerings and anticipation for the evening.

Waiting for Amanda to arrive (photo by me).

Amanda arrived with surprise guest, Neil (who had surprised Amanda at the airport), and after snacking and saying hello to friends, Amanda sat down to talk with the audience.

Settling in, Amanda and Neil at Strange Brew. (Photo by Marc Lebryk)
Loved this photo of Amanda and Neil settling in at the Strange Brew. (Photo by Marc Lebryk)

House parties are not formulaic. From what I have read online and in blogs, each one has its own distinct energy: some loud and energetic, others quiet and intimate. I’ve written before about the idea of creating a container, a time and space, for special things to happen. Well, this was a container made by a lot of people: Joan, Neil, Amanda, Allison, Allie, Kristine, and more. The thing is, when you create a container, you never know exactly what you’re going to get. So much is dictated by what fills it, in this case: the venue, the audience, and by Amanda’s mood and energy at the time.

Neil, Amanda, and Lorraine share a sweet moment. (Photo by Marc Lebryk)
Neil, Amanda, and Lorraine share a sweet moment. (Photo by Marc Lebryk)

The Indy house party reminded me a little of those times in college when I would go with a group of friends to the local coffeehouse to hear a friend play or do a reading. Back then, there may have only been a few small groups of people at the cafe, and I wouldn’t know everyone, but I knew we were all there to support the performer(s). This vibe was similar–mellow and anticipatory. A few people played as a warm-up, while the rest of us mingled, listened, and watched. Some songs struck chords, with people, and I saw a some tears, many rapt listeners, and so many smiles.

From a distance, the audience at Strange Brew. (Photo by Marc Lebryk)
Listening to Allie perform an amazing version of Time After Time, Amanda and everyone else at Strange Brew.
(Photo by Marc Lebryk)

I had brought face pencils and decorated a few friends’ faces with stars (in honor of the Perseid Meteor showers). Amanda borrowed the pencils and went around the room talking with people about their fears and then writing/drawing those fears on their faces. For the rest of the evening, people went around the room wearing their fears on their cheeks. At one point, Amanda drew a “pencil mustache” on Neil (I think it looked surprisingly dapper):

Neil autographs the giant Strange Brew mug, while a charismatic Dill looks on.
Neil autographs the giant Strange Brew mug, while a charismatic Dill looks on. (Photo by Marc Lebryk)

At some point Neil shed the mustache, and then the couple drew on each other’s fears.

Neil writes Amanda's fear on her cheek. (Photo by Marc Lebryk)
Neil writes Amanda’s fear on her cheek. (Photo by Marc Lebryk)

I was so happy to be at a coffee shop, because in addition to some wine and spirits, I could enjoy Joan’s amazing coffee (if you’re sad you didn’t get to have any, you can order from the Strange Brew on their website, Cafe Yarns.) I also got the chance to sample the “Neil Gaiman” specialty coffee drink. Back in 2009 (I can’t believe it’s been four years!), there was a discussion on the internet about what a Neil coffee would taste like. Joan came up with her concoction (it has Neil’s honey!) and continues to donate the proceeds to the CBLDF. You can read Joan’s blog entry about it from 2009.

Amanda talks with Madeline C. Matz about the Amanda Palmer Tarot Kickstarter project.
Amanda talks with Madeline C. Matz about the Amanda Palmer Tarot Kickstarter project. (Photo by Marc Lebryk)

While our little group was gathered around talking with Amanda about the Amanda Palmer Tarot Kickstarter, Neil brought a large mug of the “Neil Gaiman” over to Amanda for her to sample. She did, then shared the mug with us.

Of course I have a knack for getting caught making funny faces. Here I'm about to sample the "Neil Gaiman" latte. (Photo by Marc Lebryk)
Of course I have a knack for getting caught making funny faces. Here I’m about to sample the “Neil Gaiman” latte. (Photo by Marc Lebryk)

Contrary to what my face suggests in the photo above, the Neil Gaiman was sweet and delicious.

I would expect nothing less from Joan. She and Dill have really built a wonderful place and community in the Strange View. Many people dream of owning a coffee shop, and some people even try, but they have successfully run one for 9 years. That is an amazing thing in this Starbucks Age.

Plus Joan and Dill roast their own coffee, she’s a Roller Derby Goddess, she’s written two knitting books, Knockdown Knits:30 Projects from the Roller Derby Track and Knits for Nerds), and she recently started doing silks! Joan’s a wonder and one of the most genuine and amazing people I’ve had the good fortune to meet. (You can read her account of the house party and her other adventures on her blog, and if you’re driving through Greenwood, Indiana, you should definitely stop in to The Strange Brew Coffee House for a pound of “Jamaica Me Crazy” and a “Neil Gaiman” to go.)

Amanda on ukelele at The Strange Brew coffee house in Indiana.
Amanda on ukelele at The Strange Brew coffee house in Indiana. (Photo by Marc Lebryk)

After time spent with the folks in attendance, Amanda performed, then was joined by Neil on a couple of songs. Neil read some short stories (always a treat to listen to him read aloud). One of my favorite moments was listened in the dark as he read his scary story, “Click-Clack the Rattlebag” accompanied by Lorraine on violin and Amanda on keyboard:

Neil reads his scary story, joined by Lorraine and Amanda.
Neil reads his scary story, joined by Lorraine and Amanda.(Photo by Marc Lebryk)

The evening closed with photo booth portraits on the couch, where folks could pose with Neil and Amanda. (You can see the portraits and candids by photographer Marc Lebryk on his Flickr page.)

Amanda decorates Kristine Scalzi's face, after Neil autographed WHO KILLED AMANDA PALMER.(Photo by Marc Lebryk)
Amanda decorates Kristine Scalzi’s face, after Neil autographed WHO KILLED AMANDA PALMER.(Photo by Marc Lebryk)

Neil signed some books, there were many hugs, then Amanda and Neil bid their farewells. It was a wonderful night.

Me and Neil, Strage Brew. (Photo by Marc Lebryk)
Me and Neil, Strage Brew. (Photo by Marc Lebryk)

After breakfast the next morning, we headed back home to Chicago, and Maura and Tina headed back to Wisconsin/Minnesota.

Breakfast with friends (photo by nice Denny's manager)
Breakfast with Mindy Perry, Tina Needles Melvin, me,
Sean Swaggerty, Maura Henn, and Madeline C. Matz (left to right).
(Photo by nice Denny’s manager)

I picked the Henry Miller quote because the journey is often as important as the destination. It may sound cliché, but it’s true. I fully admit to my wanderlust–that feeling of being called to explore new worlds and adventures, from German forests to Spanish Hills to Indiana suburbs.

Each trip we take introduces us to new people and adventures. There’s something else, however. Travel also reminds us to appreciate the places we leave behind, and sometimes coming home is just as sweet as the journey away.

Roller derby and other surprises

This weekend I witnessed  my first roller derby bout, a mixer with members of Mississippi Valley Mayhem and the Chocolate City Cherry Bombers at the High Roller in La Crosse, WI.  Wow.

Recently several friends have become interested in the contact sport on roller skates. It’s one I know little about. My little sister used to watch it in the early 2000s. I think she tossed around the thought of participating at one time (for the record, I think she would have been an awesome derby girl).

So when it worked out that I would be going to La Crosse for a reading/book signing, I wanted to make sure that it was during a time when I could watch my lovely friend “Maura Tyranny” Henn (of Mississippi Valley Mayhem) in a bout.

We arrived at the rink on Sunday evening and took our suicide seats on the rink floor, while the photographer-types among us wandered around and captured amazing shots like these (follow the link).

"Maura Tyranny"

A tiny pixie of a woman with a giant heart and spirit, Maura was incredible.  I’ll admit to being more than a little concerned about all the falling and blocking, but she sprang back up quickly and sped around with confidence.

I was happy to have the ear of my friend Linda (onesockshort) who so kindly explained a few early strategies and answered questions. I was also grateful for the instruction on derby basics I had received a few weeks prior from another friend, derby coach Andrea (Thank you!)

These women are FAST around that track!

We watched as the teams stretched and skated around in their colorful attire, and we had a great conversation about the appeal of derby and the positive attitude it conveys about body image and health and sport (something increasingly rare in this day and age).

Certainly that’s part of the appeal: a place where women can express themselves in all manner of tutus, t-shirts, and tights. It’s a sport where they can bond with their team and their fans, where they can be strong and sexy, creative and nimble. Their fashions are fun and outside all the boxes; the names are clever and full of allusions to literature, music, pop culture, movies. These are smart, savy women, and I wish I had had  more time to talk with them after the bout. Next time.

Referee Tina Needles

(For those interested in the nuances and rules of roller derby, the WFTDA (Women’s Flat Track Derby Association) website has rules and pretty diagrams.)

Here I am in the center of our band of merry women from Chicago with our friend, Mississippi Valley Mayhem's "Maura Tyranny."

The bout started off slowly (which was good for a beginner like me) and soon picked up speed. Maura’s team for the night was the “Blarney Stones” and after being behind in the first half, they sprang forward in the second half to win the bout! I’m not really a sports fan by nature (I never really get into the various ball games), but that second half derby bout was one of the most exciting sporting events I’ve ever witnessed!

After the bout we went to a party at Yesterdaze in downtown La Crosse, where we watched exhausted but exhilarated derby girls and their fans chilling out after the game. We also wanted to see the tables at Yesterdaze, sculpted by Maura’s incredibly talented partner, the artist Ethan Schandelmeier.

The bar was was dark and crowded, but you can get an idea of these incredible sculptured tables, reminiscent of H.R. Giger and Fuchs. I first met Ethan at the American Gods House on the Rock event with Neil Gaiman last fall, and I liked Ethan immediately. It’s been a joy getting to know him better. He is definitely an artist to watch!

The artist, Ethan Schandelmeier, and one of his tables (photo by Maura Henn).

We went back to the Metal House for coffee, local treats, and to watch Whip It. In the morning, we bid farewell to Maura and Ethan and drove out of La Crosse, back to Chicago.

I have a feeling we’ll be back.