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Welcome to BBMI, Ink., where you'll always get a fresh dose of opinion mixed with a little humor and love.

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Things We Love About Wichita: The Quirks

Our time in the ICT is drawing short (in case you are wondering what the “ICT” is: it’s the airport code for Wichita. A while back, some hipsters adopted it as their nickname for the city and it stuck like glue.). I was driving around town yesterday, getting fast food for everyone’s lunch and thinking about how this big little town has grown on us over the past eleven years.

Yes, it’s flat and yes, it’s windy (more on that later), but there are some quirky little things about this city that have endeared it to us forever. Here’s my “short” list:

1.    Funeral Processions: In Wichita, and maybe in all of Kansas, funeral processions are escorted by vehicles that look, sound, and act like a police car. They proceed the hearse and stop traffic in all directions, block intersections, and generally bring things to a complete standstill in their wake. I’d never seen anything like this before, so the first time I was stopped by one, I went home and told my husband that I’d witnessed a VIP’s funeral. Turns out, it can be anyone’s funeral, from the Mayor to the Janitor: when his funeral procession goes down the street, everyone in both directions pulls over to the right and stops. We all wait till every car passes, then we proceed on our way. Yesterday, while we were waiting to let them pass, the man in front of me stopped his truck and removed his hat. Where else in the world do people show such respect? Especially for someone they have never met? Amazing.
Just as I was publishing this blog, I came upon this post on the Wichita Police Department’s Facebook page. Yep, it’s real.
Ms Armstrong called today to try to find out and thank the officer that got out of his car and stood with hand over heart while her Grandmother’s funeral procession went by. She sent these pictures of Officer Perkins showing respect to her family. She said her entire family was extremely touched by such an act, especially in the triple digit heat. Thank you Officer Perkins!

2.    Bierocks: I had never heard of this meat-filled pastry until I moved here. If you need to know more, this will tell you. Some places, Nebraska especially, call them “pierogis.” Whatever you call them, they are great! Filling and yummy, they are the ultimate in comfort food. But, alas, I’ve wasted my time in Kansas: I never learned to make them. I mentioned that one day at Bible study and you would have thought by the looks I received that I’d said Ronald Reagan was a great Democrat.

3.    Emergency Vehicles: Similar to “Funeral Processions” above, people here actually pull to the right and stop when an emergency approaches. Yes, just like they taught you in Driver’s Ed, but no one ever did. The first time we were driving down the road and saw everyone pulled over as an ambulance approached, we assumed we were coming up to the accident scene. No, it was just Kansans looking out for the other guy and making sure the first responders could do their jobs. Once, I was driving with a friend and we were chatting along as we made our way on a busy street. I pulled over for an ambulance and my friend suddenly stopped in mid-sentence. I glanced over and realized she had her head bowed and was praying for the people speeding by. That’s a typical Kansan for you.

4.    Crayons:  My husband and I are from Missouri and we have the dialectics (is that a word?) of our regions: His from St. Louis and mine from the Ozarks. They are very different but yet we all pretty much sound the same here in the Midwest – the flat, diphthong-rich pronunciation that gets you a job reading the nightly news. But we’ve discovered one word that cracks us up every time we hear it: Crayons. You know, those things that come in a box that you use to color pretty pictures. When our kids were in Kindergarten, we took them to a reading class at WSU. During one exercise, the instructor told us to get out our “crowns” and help our kids work on a picture. Brian and I looked everywhere, through our packet of papers, in our supply kit, everywhere for a paper crown, wondering all the while why we needed to wear crowns to color. Finally, we both looked around and realized all the other parents were using crayons. We managed to get it together and color our pictures, but from that day forward, we can’t make eye contact when a Wichitan says “Crayons” because it sounds like “Crowns” to us. And if anyone mentions visiting the Crayola CafĂ© while in Crown Center, we get downright giddy.

5.    Screen Doors in the Garage: In every house we looked at before we bought ours and in every one we’ve been in, there are two doors leading from the house to the garage. One is the usual wooden “security” door and the other is a glass or screen door, much like you’d see from the front porch. We’ve never seen such a use of doors before. We think it’s so you can stand in your kitchen and see your six kids (see # 7) playing ball in the street and still keep the flies out. Makes sense to me. I’m going to miss this in Missouri.

6.    Medians: As you approach businesses near intersections, there are often medians in the middle that might block your way if you wish to turn left into the business’ parking lot. But not in Wichita. The medians are built flat and you drive over them. Yes, over them. If you’re not supposed to drive over them, they are the normal raised curb version that everyone else has. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been chauffeuring out-of-town guests, made a left turn, and had them gasp, “Oh! You just drive over it!” Yep, you do.

7.    Large Families: This one is fun. We know many, many families with four kids. Five is not unusual and six is kind of normal. No one gasps and says, “Six! Are you crazy?” Everyone just thinks it’s normal. In fact, people have asked us why we stopped at two. Church and school parking lots are SUV/Minivan heavy. Moms that look about 30 can be seen in the grocery store with four or five mini-mes happily following the cart, big ones taking care of little ones. I guess it goes back to the rich farming tradition of birthing enough youngin’s to make sure you have a crew, but most of these people don’t live on farms anymore. I think it’s just that Kansans love their families and the more the merrier. They have a great time, for sure.

8.    Wind: I never thought I’d admit this, but I’m going to miss the wind. In case you don’t live here and wonder, yes, it almost never stops blowing. When it does, everyone remarks about “what a still, uncomfortable day it is.” The weather reports are sometimes hilarious: “It’ll be just a breezy day tomorrow – winds will only be 20-30 miles per hour.” In Missouri, 20-30 miles per hour calls for wind warnings – you better tie down the kids, Maude. We’ve learned that if the weather man says, “It’s going to be windy tomorrow,” you better take heed and SERIOUSLY, put rocks in the kids’ pockets. In January, I swear the wind starts blowing in Denver on the eastern slopes and doesn’t let up till it gets to the Flint Hills. It can be miserable. But on a hot July day, a little breeze (20-30 miles an hour) can make all the difference.

We’re going to miss all these strange little things that make Wichita the great place that it is. I could go on and on (I’m looking at you, College Sports, Sprinklers, and Polite Grocery Stores), but who has time to read? They’re all making bierocks or checking to make sure number one has her eye on number eight while they play in the street. Quirky but fun. Missouri may seem a little boring after this…

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

We Said Yes

Fourteen years ago today, we got a phone call that changed our lives forever and for the good. After starting the adoption process five weeks before, our social worker called to tell us about twin boys who were available in Oklahoma City. “Would we be interested….” We said yes.

After calling our families and a few friends who graciously showed up to help us get our house in order so we could leave town, we looked like this:

If we look like we've been crying, it's because we had - for about three straight hours!
Thus began the two hottest weeks of my life. The heat index in Oklahoma City never got below 100 degrees (I swear. Even at night.) and most days it was above 110.

We picked up our boys on Sunday evening, July 8, 2001. We had to stay in Oklahoma for about 10 days until all the paperwork was signed and legal. During that time, we had a crash course in Parenting 101:

Never had a baby?

Okay. Here’s two.

And they’re 6 months old.

And one is sick.

And you are idiots.

Now… Go!

But, we survived. And more importantly, so did they.

Our 14 year olds are gorgeous and healthy and beautiful and all that other stuff they don’t want their mom to say. (But they do. And they are.)

Happy Adoption Day, Max and Isaac! We love you!



Thursday, July 2, 2015

Things We Love About Wichita: The Locals

We are down to the last couple of weeks here in Wichita. As we close this chapter of our lives, I’m reflecting back on some of the things we love about Kansas. Today, it’s the people.
The Locals

When we moved here 11 years ago, my life went upside down. We were leaving a very comfortable existence where we had family and friends less than a mile away. We had a church where my kids were rock stars and a Costco where they were treated like celebrities. We went from a place where it felt like everyone “knew” us to a place where no one was aware that we existed (at least that’s how it felt to me!).
Our first encounter with Wichita came on a rainy weekend in January when the Hubster and I arrived for our house-hunting trip. We had 3 to 4 days to find a house. No pressure, right? Our kids were in the very capable hands of my friend Barbara, so we were just two care-free kids off on a fun weekend. Or maybe not.
Let’s just admit that most Chambers of Commerce don’t market their cities in January. At least not those in the Midwest, anyway. Florida and Colorado may have their charms in January, but winter in Kansas and the rest of flyover country is just that: to be flown over. Our first experience in Wichita fit that bill. It was about 40 degrees the whole time and it rained constantly. If the temps had dropped at all, it would have been a blizzard, for sure. At times, the fog was so thick, we got lost twice after dark trying to find our hotel.
We weren’t off to an auspicious start, to say the least. But here’s where the locals come into play. Our realtor, Phyllis, was a breath of fresh air. She, too, was a “trailing spouse,” having relocated from North Carolina to Kansas. She knew what I was experiencing and was quick to encourage me and give me grace when I needed it. We liked her so much, when it came time to sell our house this time, we didn’t hesitate to give her a call.
I was terrified of the reception our family might receive. We are a biracial family, in case you’ve forgotten, and, as we’ve been reminded recently, not everyone likes us. Yes, us. Because if you hate my children, you hate me. Can we get that straight? Okay, enough with the emotional outbursts.
But seriously, I had no idea if we’d be accepted. Would my kids be welcome in just any church nursery? Would the schools be open to black kids with a white mom? Would our neighbors hesitate to open their doors to kids like mine? I was a mess of insecurities.
As we looked at houses, I’m sure Phyllis grew a little weary listening to my fears and concerns, but she continually encouraged me. Late in the afternoon of our first day of house shopping, we were met at the door by a homeowner. He told us that he had a sick baby and just couldn’t leave. He asked us to be a quiet as possible as he’d just gotten the baby to sleep. Been there, done that, so we were happy to oblige.
As we looked through the house, we saw tons of family pictures. Their family looked just like ours: Mom and Dad were white, the kids were black. I stopped looking at the house and started looking at the family.
When we were about to leave, I asked Phyllis if I could go back in and talk to the owner. I’m sure he was a little alarmed when I walked back in his garage and said something like, “Sir, I need to ask you about your family. My kids are black, too, and we’re moving here and I need to know: Is it okay? Have you experienced any problems with acceptance or bigotry or racism or any of that stuff? Are the schools okay with biracial families? Do churches think it’s okay?”
I must have sounded like a crazy woman as I blurted out all my questions in one breath. He looked up from his packing and said, “It’s fine. It’s good. We’ve never had a problem. My kids have black friends and white friends and everyone treats each other just fine. You’ve come to a good place.” And then he smiled an understanding smile as if to say, “Chill out, lady. You’ve got to relax.”
I got back in the car and lost it. All the pent up tears and fear come bursting forth in a torrent. Phyllis just looked at me and said, “It’s going to be good. Sometimes, you just have to hear it from one parent to another, right?”
I nodded, we bought a house in a great neighborhood, and the rest was easy. Well, maybe not easy, but certainly blessed by God. Everywhere we turned in Wichita, we found people who loved our family and were ready to accept us for what we were and are: People.
We were invited to a great church by a couple in their 80s (she was a friend’s mom) and found a home that stuck. Pathway Church fit the bill for us and we will miss all our friends there. Our kids have thrived in the Goddard School District. When we take our boys and their friends out for dinner, we look like the United Nations: All colors are represented. It’s a beautiful thing.
We’ll miss the friendly, down-to-earth people of Wichita. The population here is over 300,000 and the county is over half a million. But it’s like most of them never realized their city had grown so large. They behave with small town values and friendliness and think of their neighbor as just that: someone to love.
Thanks, Wichita.  The guy was right. We came to a good place.