In Celebration: a tribute

I’m often asked why I got into fundraising. I’ve heard it all, from “I couldn’t ask people for money” to “fundraisers are just glorified car salesman.” What people don’t understand is that there is so much more involved. We make connections, share stories, get to know one another and if the affinity for our mission is there, we make an ask, but it doesn’t stop there. We’ve built a relationship.

Fundraising is not just about the money. Yes, the dollars are important if we want to provide for the organizations we serve. Sure, we have goals to meet, but if we believe in the mission, see the impact and know we are making a difference, then pursuing those goals is easier, even more so knowing the next person we meet might become part of our life.

For me, it’s all about the people.  Since I began in this field in 2006, I’ve met some incredible humans. They’ve shared their personal histories, their life stories and many have become friends. I no longer work at WSU where my fundraising journey began, but I still exchange Christmas cards, have lunch, email and catch up when we can with some of the most genuine people. They’ve become a part of my life mosaic and for that I am blessed. One such piece of that mosaic is Duane Smith.

My first interaction with Duane was over lunch at Bella Luna. He greeted me, a stranger, with a hug then proceeded to show me a framed photo of his beloved “May Queen,” his wife. He shared with me about their journey with Alzheimer’s and how he cared for her in their home except when he had an appointment, needed to run errands, or attended a Shocker game, at which time he had a nurse or family member stay with her. When he spoke of her, you could see his love and dedication, you could hear it in his voice.

And, he told me about his volunteerism. He volunteered at the Ronald McDonald House, Meals on Wheels and the Alzheimer’s Association of Central Kansas where he was a guest speaker and helped other caregivers and in 2012, was honored when the Alzheimer’s Association created the Duane R. Smith Annual Caregiver of the Year Award.

He was inspiring, especially through the sharing of his motto, Continue to Celebrate! Duane told me he believed in celebrating life – all things, big and small. He told me we should not wait to just celebrate the big stuff and the milestones, or we might find ourselves holding a bag of confetti never to be tossed. He used to sign all his emails and cards in celebration of life and was tickled when I began to do the same.

After I left the WSU Foundation, we kept in touch although lunches were a bit harder to schedule. He moved his May Queen into an assisted living and soon moved himself into a retirement community. At every Shocker game (he was a season ticket holder for 50 years), he would come sit with me, my dad and husband and talk basketball, as well as catch up on dad’s golf game and ask about Brad’s business. But, a few seasons ago he had to move from his seat to the handicapped area and we would go to visit him at his seat, so he didn’t have to climb the stairs.

When I left WSU, a virus erased all my contacts in my cell phone and I was not able to call or email him, but he found me, sleuth that he was, at the Wichita Children’s Home. We had lunch on the day after his birthday and although he was no longer driving and was moving a bit slower, he was still sharp-witted, looking forward to the Shocker basketball season, and celebrating. We planned to have lunch again after the season started to compare notes.

Sadly, I discovered through an announcement by his daughter that Duane passed away on October 30 after an illness and hospital stay. I am heartbroken but take comfort in knowing he is with his May Queen, once again. And while I am saddened, my spirit also soars in having the honor of knowing Duane Smith. He inspired and more importantly, he celebrated. Duane always reminded me that people should be celebrated just as much or even more so than events or things. We don’t celebrate one another enough.

In his honor, I will continue to celebrate.  You cannot imagine the simple joy it can bring to sign an email or card with “Still celebrating,” “Continuing the celebration,” or “In celebration of you.” To celebrate means to praise, extol or eulogize, so I can think of no better way to pay tribute to Duane than to carry on his celebration, and I hope you will do the same.

Always in celebration,

Natalie, Your Mermaid of the Plains

For more about Duane, I’d like to share a story from the Wichita Business Journal when he was recognized as a Health Care Hero, as well as his obituary. Godspeed, Mr. Smith. Thank you for teaching me to celebrate all that life has to offer. Your champion spirit shall be greatly missed.

 

 

 

 

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Born to Lead – One Community at a Time

I spent Friday, September 14 at a conference, but this was not just any conference. It was missing the usual suspects: overly gregarious men in suits talking loudly into microphones; PowerPoints filled with statistics and twenty-year-old best practices; obligatory deli sandwiches or plated chicken; and the constant checking of time because surely, it’s almost over or at least time to sneak out.

This was a conference for and about women. It was about empowering women with the mindset to face and overcome personal and workplace obstacles, to see themselves in a different light and engage with like-minded women who share that inner voice whispering to them, “you can be the difference.”

The Know Your Worth Women’s Leadership Conference was founded with the vision of creating a “culture of empowerment among the women of our state.” The amazing women who created and initiated this conference “share in the aspirations for both personal fulfillment and opportunities to lead and engage in the workplace and community.” Born to lead is the mantra and it encompasses a woman’s personal and/or career path.

I’ve never considered myself a leader. Perhaps this comes from my continuing struggle with imposter syndrome. Imposter syndrome is when an individual doubts their accomplishments and has a persistent internalized fear of being exposed as a fraud. Accomplished individuals and high achievers often suffer from this psychological phenomenon. Depending on your background, personality and circumstances, the pattern may vary, but the result is the same – we feel our successes are undeserved and eventually someone will find out we’re not smart or talented or worthy and call us out.

My pattern of imposter syndrome stems from my childhood feelings of not quite belonging and it gained pace when I returned to college as an adult. While I excelled in my classes (graduating with honors), I was usually the oldest student in my classes which then lent itself to believing I was behind in my career. Imposter syndrome has been a loathsome bedfellow, one I’ve yet to completely overcome. I still tend to refer to myself as a late bloomer when receiving any accolades or acknowledgement for my successes, never fully appreciating my own worth.

I needed this conference. I needed these women. I met women who were transplants from Dallas and Atlanta, women who were from western Kansas, and women who had always lived in Wichita. I met women who worked for the government, nonprofits, small local businesses and large corporations. I met educators, biomedical and psychology students, executive directors, a photographer, an IT assistant, and a scientist. I sat next to women who believed in the power of handwritten cards; I spoke with women fearful of losing their jobs if they questioned the status quo; shared lunch with women who found their calling after volunteering for a local nonprofit and quit their higher paying jobs; and women in transition.

Some women arrived in their power suits while others found confidence and comfort in t-shirts and jeans. Some came in groups, some with a friend or co-worker, some of us alone. None of it mattered: where we came from, where we worked, what we wore or who we knew in the crowd. We were all there to learn, inspire, be inspired, listen, engage and support one another. The energy within the Kansas Leadership Center became palpable – buzzing through our bloodstreams and emerging through our laughter, our voices, our handshakes and hugs, our questions and our cheers.

The conference provided three Know Your Worth tracks: Workplace, Community and Personal. There were two sessions for each track and you could stick to one track or mix and match. I chose Rebel Thinking and the Art of Why Not with Janet Federico (workplace) and Breakthrough to be Extraordinary with Kara Hunt (community). What I soon discovered was that I wished I could have attended all six sessions!

We started the day with an informational and eye-opening morning address by Wendy Doyle, President/CEO of The Women’s Foundation, and we ended the day with a panel discussion from two of the most admirable and revered women in our community, Myrne Roe and Lavonta Williams, and two young women who are blazing their own inspiring trails, Lacey Cruse and Luisa Taylor. These women had us cheering, laughing and on our feet. Myrne stole the show.

The day went all too quickly and as I previously stated, I wished for more time, so I could experience each track, hear each speaker and add to my already burgeoning portfolio of takeaways from the day:

  • “When we are asked, women serve.”
  • When it comes to CEOs, there are nearly as many named John as there are women
  • Women = 51% of Kansas population, yet only 25% in legislation
  • “We always say why, turn it into why not.”
  • “I don’t need a title to be a community advocate.”
  • “When all else fails, start your own business.”
  • “If you want to have 50, 60 and 70-year-old white men decide what your city is going to look like, then continue to meet here and do nothing.”
  • “I want someone on our council who looks like me and understands me and the people in my neighborhood.”
  • “What you fear has mastery over your life.”
  • “I am who I am. I’m good at what I do, and nothing can stop me.”

Most importantly, I learned we were all born to lead. Even me. Whether it’s in our workplace, our homes, our communities. It’s time to not just make the change, it is up to women to be the change. We’ve tried it the other way for too long. So many women have already lit the trail, but the journey is long, and we have much to do. 189 women attended the Know Your Worth conference. These women are at the ready. These women are on the cusp of their own great histories.

Grab your torches, ladies. Meet us on the path.

 

Lesson Planning Became a Lesson Planned for Me

We live and we continue to learn moment by moment, day by day, and choice by choice. These lessons we learn are not lost, not futile, if we truly learn from them by gaining experience, recognizing who we are, who we are not, and who we can be and grow. At the end of the lesson, especially if it was difficult or unexpected, we must give pause to self-reflection, acceptance, and an understanding of the importance of keeping the lesson within us always as a reminder. It has been a while since I’ve made choices that put me in a situation to learn something about myself, who I thought I was, and where I thought I was going. It’s funny how it all works, how we ready ourselves for the path we knew lay before us only to discover we’d forced ourselves, and sometimes those we love, down a path never meant for us. How did we get there? For me, I was lost and failed to recognize it.

I spent nine weeks learning a valuable lesson about myself and what I thought was best for me and what I thought was my destination. My drive to give up a lucrative career with WSU and follow a long ago dream turned out to be just the latter: a long ago dream. The dream to teach was the dream of a different mermaid, a younger, less experienced, somewhat selfish and naïve mermaid. I am not the same woman who dreamed this dream while pursuing her degrees in English. I have changed in many ways, and yet I failed to adjust the dream to the woman I am at this moment in time. Pursuing the path of a classroom educator was in actuality dreaming the dream of someone else.

Sure, my circumstances were not ideal, from my choice of school to the lack of support and preparation, plus there were additional questions I should have asked and situations I should have better recognized. For seven weeks I continued to push forward, refusing to fail while stumbling on a path not mine, squinting through the glasses of an idealist, and forcing myself to live a dream I knew in my heart no longer belonged to me. As I prayed for guidance and searched my frustrated heart, I faced myself in battle, brandishing weapons of self-doubt and torturing myself for my foolishness. Finally one morning I heard whispered in my ear, “Patience you need to find. Selfishness you need to lose. Look upon your life and see.” Clear as the church bells during weekday Mass with my sixth grade class, this whisper helped me to recognize and accept my lesson of humility.

The lesson was difficult, but needed. In my headstrong pursuit of a career change, I was blinded to many aspects, such as how this change would affect my most significant relationships, specifically my parents and husband, and the life I loved to live. Most importantly, I was blind in recognizing how the dream no longer fit the woman. The dream had become that garment we keep in our closet, the one that hangs there year after year in hopes it will one day adorn our bodies, all the while knowing we are only clinging to a memory. The dated garment will never truly fit us because we have changed and not just physically. It was time to place the garment in a donation bag to be discovered and worn by someone else.

It was then, through the brambles of my decision, I discovered a quiet trail which led me to a path I’d seen and even set a timid foot upon only to deny its journey. A path revealed to me exactly one year ago, but I was not prepared as there was still this lesson to be learned; the path patiently waited for me.

I’m at peace with the lesson because I needed to acknowledge how I’d begun to take people and circumstances for granted and how the gifts I’d been given had grown in ways I’d not even understood. I am not a classroom educator, but I am a one-on-one mentor and advocate for students. I love to write and read and allow words to fill my days, but I am not a teacher of grammar and reading comprehension, at best I use my words to help and encourage others. I am a daughter whose everyday life is filled with the friendship of her parents and not a daughter who is good with only seeing them once a week, if that, due to inflexible work schedules. I need them as much as they need me. I am a wife and best friend to a man who supports my ups and downs, but relies on my infinite ability to look for the good to keep him at balance with hope, just as I rely on his ability to not always look on the bright side to keep me in check with reality. And I love my community and draw strength from its relationships, its ever-changing inner borders, its willingness and struggle to grow in diversity, and I need desperately to be a part of it, completely. I can give much more to my community in return for what it gives to me.

The lessons we learn are vital to our inner and outer survival. I discovered the following quote in my social media feed the same day I heard those whispers in my ear:

A mistake which makes you humble is much better than an achievement that makes you arrogant  – unknown author

 Which then led me to recall this quote by C.S. Lewis: Humility is not thinking less of yourself, but thinking of yourself less.

 Inner and outer survival is bound in humility. Once again, lesson learned.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Course of a Life

Each morning, as I sit for the light to change at 21st and Oliver, I cannot help but stare at what was once Braeburn Golf Course. Once a significant aspect of the campus of Wichita State University, orange construction cones now contain the high mounds and deep hollows of dirt, sparse trees, and the steel skeletons of what will soon be Innovation Campus. And while change and vision is exciting, the loss of this golf course resonates within my family, especially my father. It has nothing to do with sport and everything to do with opportunity and hope. On October 31, 2014, I met my father on the grounds of Braeburn to take photos of the course as he played his final round. I then wrote the following piece, in hopes of capturing that single moment tied to a long and unexpected history and the relationship between a game, some land, and a bunch of boys from the North End.

As is custom with my father and his golf buddies, their tee time was scheduled for 7:30 am. I’d just pulled into the parking lot when he called to tell me they were being delayed for possibly an hour. It was October 31, 2014 and Old Man Winter had decided to provide us with a preview. North winds buffeted my car as I pulled on my heavy winter gloves and wondered how I was going to manage a camera. I was meeting my father near the practice green tucked between two buildings on the campus of Wichita State University. Braeburn Golf Course would be permanently closing on November 3 to pave the way for an Innovation Campus, and my father and his troupe were scheduled for one final round.

My father was waiting just under the green awnings of the brick clubhouse, his tan and navy striped beanie crooked upon his head. We hugged and headed inside for Styrofoam cups of black coffee poured from the ever-present and stained coffee pot. I looked around at the black and white photos of championship golf teams, the now almost-barren pro shop, its racks like silver leafless trees. I stared out the large windows onto the golf course, for the first time noticing the unusual quiet. It felt less like a clubhouse and more like the visitation room at Old Mission Mortuary, located just north of campus.

“You want to take some pictures of the course before the guys get here?” my dad asked, gesturing toward the east entrance.

“Sure,” I said, setting my coffee atop one of the aged concession area tables to remove my gloves. Beneath the cloudy glass tabletops were old maps of the course from the early 1990s. Originally Crestview Country Club, Wichita State purchased the property in 1967 and in 1993, the WSU Golf Course was renamed Braeburn.

We walked in silence through the door and stood facing the pitching green, the sun peeking through the old trees that had weathered the straight line winds of Kansas, but would not withstand the vision of an ambitious university president. I took a few photos and stood sentry with my father, who was gazing along the path leading to the driving range.

“Right here, this is where the old clubhouse used to sit. Or, close to this spot. We’d line up and wait for our assignments or for the regulars to choose a caddy.”

I aim the camera in the direction he is pointing, trying to envision the old clubhouse. I’ve heard my father’s stories from his days as a caddy, at least a hundred times, but never before had I been standing on these hallowed grounds.

“A few of the regulars always picked me, like this really nice couple, the McMasters. I think that was their name. They were really good golfers. Taught me a lot about the game. They were good to me, even paid me a little extra,” my father says, his breath visible in the October air.

We stand for a bit longer before he heads toward the putting green. As I turn to follow him, I notice a sign taped to the glass near the east door, “Come Play Braeburn One Last Time.” I walk briskly to catch up to my father. He has left his monogrammed golf bag standing next to the green. Large and black with his USGA membership tag from 2008-2009 still zip-tied to his golf pushcart, it seems to be patiently waiting his return. My father pulls his putter gently from the bag and pauses. Again, he gazes toward the morning shadows where the old clubhouse used to stand. It seems as if he is listening for something. I push my own cable knit cap away from my right ear and listen, too.

“None of us caddies were allowed in the clubhouse, you know. But, whenever I earned an extra nickel or dime, I’d head to the back screen door to the kitchen where I could buy a pop and a bag of peanuts. I used to dump the peanuts into the bottle, making the pop all fizzy and salty. It was my favorite.” He takes a sip of his lukewarm coffee before setting it gently on the cold ground next to his bag. “We’d hang out back and wait for one another. You usually knew when a caddy was finished by the slam of that screen door.”

He grabs a few golf balls from his bag and begins to strategically place them on the green. He continues, “I don’t know if I told you, but Father Giles was one of the reasons I started caddying. He used to play with Frank Hedrick, who worked at Beech Aircraft. Later, he became their president. He and Father Giles always chose me as their caddy.”

I watch my father practice his putting, oblivious to the biting wind. This was the first time I’d heard he’d caddied for Frank Hedrick, who was president of Beech Aircraft from 1968-1982, which meant my father worked at Beech during Mr. Hedrick’s presidency. I bet Mr. Hedrick never knew one of his favorite caddies became one of his best assembly workers.

My father sinks a putt from four feet, then moves over to his next placed ball and easily putts out from almost seven feet. I recall the stories about the McMasters couple and how when they learned he walked to and from the golf course, almost four miles one way, they insisted on picking him up and taking him home on the days he caddied for them. The first time they drove him home, he was nervous about them finding out he lived “on the north end.” But, as he’d told me, “they didn’t blink an eye. But, I shouldn’t have been worried, because where else would a bunch of Mexican caddies live.”

I try to ignore the tingling in my fingers as I take photos of my father, a few of his bag, and the spot where the ghost of the clubhouse shimmers between the shadows of the buildings and trees. As my father continues to practice, I try to imagine what it was like being an eleven-year-old boy caddying for seventy-five cents for eighteen holes, especially a Mexican boy who’d recently lost his father in a train accident at a salt plant in Lyons, Kansas.

Oscar Castro moved to Wichita, Kansas in 1943, following the tragic death of his father. One of seven children, he wanted to help out his mother, who was devastated by the loss of her husband and fearful of what the future held for her and her children. Father Giles told him about caddying at what was then Crestview Country Club golf course, so my father walked the 3.7 miles and stood outside the clubhouse, hoping to be picked. The first time he showed up to caddy, the pro sent him home because my father was barefoot. My father saved his only pair of shoes for school or church, not wanting to ruin them. The pro was surprised when my father returned an hour later, his shoes shined and laces tightened.

But, my father was not alone, as the majority of caddies were Mexican American kids from his neighborhood, the north side of Wichita where the early Mexican immigrants gravitated for jobs with the railroad and meat packing plants. It also helped that the assistant pro at Crestview Country Club was Mario Renteria, whose influence encouraged the young boys to caddy. It was good money, but it was an even greater experience for these kids whose futures were as long and solemn as those train horn blasts along 21st and Broadway, their lives in sync with the shift changes at Cudahy Meat Packing Plant. Caddying changed my father’s life.

My father approaches me, “Did I ever tell you that Father Giles used to excuse me from school to caddy for him and Hedrick?”

“I guess it was easy since you were attending his Catholic school,” I say.

“Yeah, I guess so,” he answers, “It never bothered me since I figured if it was a sin, he could forgive me.”

We laugh, my father smiling for the first time that morning.

“Dad, was it on Monday the caddies were allowed to play?” I ask, knowing it was but wanting to hear him tell me, again.

“Yes, we really looked forward to Monday,” he answers, leaning on his club. “Mario would let us use the mismatched and worn clubs, and some practice balls. We’d go out and do our best by mimicking the golfers or coaching one another on the tips we learned. I learned a lot from my golfers, they showed me how to grip, how to follow the ball,” my dad begins to laugh. “We were awful in the beginning, but after a while, I don’t know, we just loved to play. We had fun and it was something different, something so different.”

My father and his friends would play together for more than forty years; forming a group they called Los Patos, or The Ducks. Depending on which golfer you ask, the stories vary on how they came up with the name. A few say it came from wading through water hazards to scavenge for shanked golf balls. Others say it came from their code name for those golfers who were cheapskates and didn’t pay their caddies well. Pato was a code name, as in “don’t get stuck with the pato, he’ll just lay an egg.”

However they decided upon the name, these men from hardworking backgrounds met every Sunday at one of the public golf courses where they picked teams, placed bets, heckled one another, and cheered the longest drive or putt. After bets were paid, they drank cold Budweiser fished from Coleman coolers, while seated under the shade of the trees in the parking lot.

They organized their own Mexican American golf tournament, which was held during the month of September on the Saturday closest to September 16, Mexican Independence Day. For 35 years, the tournament brought together these men and their families, creating generations of Mexican golfers from across the state of Kansas. Being invited to play with the Patos became a rite of passage for their sons and grandsons. I remember how proud and excited my brother was when he was asked to play, the honor bestowed upon him at the age of thirteen.

“They’re finally here,” my dad says, motioning toward the parking lot. Four of my dad’s  golf companions are heading toward the clubhouse. As dad and I leave the green to follow them, I realize how small his golf group has become over the years. Many of the original Patos have died, while others have lost the mobility or strength to play. My father, at age 82, is one of the last of the caddies who still plays on a weekly basis. He hits balls at the driving range and practices putting three to four times per week, which is why he was still “hitting his age” in his late seventies.

Inside the clubhouse, Marion, Joe, and two others are paying their fees and grabbing cups of coffee. Only one of the golfers remembers me, which is not surprising since daughters were a rarity on the golf course with the Patos.

“I can’t believe we’re playing in this cold,” says Marion, “Loco, I tell you.”

“I can’t believe it’s the last time on Braeburn,” my father answers. They all nod and fall silent.

The silence remains until we head back to the practice green. There are two groups in front of them to preparing to tee off, but no one seems to be in a hurry this morning. Golfers linger in the entry of the clubhouse and along the cart path. The five of them putt around, catching up on the latest news regarding ailments of fellow Patos or the deaths of folks from the north end. I take photos of them, watching how familiar they are with one another on the green and I recall the one and only Patos golf tournament I attended.

It was 2001, the year of their 30th tournament and they needed someone to take photos of each group. A few of the Patos were in poor health, some already unable to walk the eighteen holes. I remember one of them saying, “We need some pictures before half of us are dead.” The mist was heavy upon the fairways that morning as I took photo after photo, listening to their stories. In each group was a patriarch or original Pato joined by his son or sons, son-in-law, or nephew. In one group, there were three generations of Mendoza men. One of my father’s favorite photos is the one I took of him, my brother John, my uncle Otis, and my father’s best friend, Ray, walking down the fairway into the gray mist. I remember watching them and thinking how this group of men was forever bound, not only by the circumstances of their lives and heritage, but by a game long identified with white males. As young men, they were not allowed to sit at the local drugstore counter, or even inside the clubhouse to order a soda, and yet, they walked those same fairways, stood upon manicured greens, and fell in love with a game never intended for the sons of Mexican immigrants.

“Let’s go,” says my dad. When we get to the tee box, I group them together for a photo. Their smiles are wistful and again, the silence descends. I watch them tee off, momentarily forgetting about my camera. My father is the last one to drive down the fairway. He outdrives them all. Marion and Joe buzz down the path in a golf cart, while my father slips his driver into its cover before walking with the others. He turns to me and waves, the smile of an eleven-year-old boy wide across my father’s face. As he pushes his cart and begins his final round on Braeburn, the sun fully breaks through the trees and I fight the urge to follow him. I raise my camera and take my last photos before letting him go to say goodbye to those ghosts, to walk this ground so entrenched in the hearts of these men, and maybe buy a Pepsi and a bag of peanuts for the road. From behind, the sound of voices and clinking of golf clubs reminds me another group is preparing to tee off. I tuck the camera in my coat pocket and head toward the parking lot. When I reach my car, I stop to see if I can catch my father in the distance, but he and his Patos are no longer visible. I realize I am standing, waiting, possibly to hear the slamming of a screen door and in that moment, somewhere on 21st and Broadway, a train whistle sounds, long and solemn.

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Behind the Light

This past July, I wrote a piece about women being light bearers, the brandishers of flames whom we follow and emulate. But lately I’ve been given pause to think and try to understand what might be hiding behind a few of these beautiful torches.

Late September, we lost another incredible woman within our circle of friends and community. A wild, bold bearer of light, her memory now seared upon the broken hearts of many. Angela Mallory was smart, savvy, brash, passionate, and quick to turn strangers to friends. Her eulogy, a patchwork of memories and love penned by family and friends, captured the women we all knew and loved, a woman who approached everything she did with childlike abandon. Angie laughed loudly, cursed heartily, hugged ferociously, loved passionately, danced wildly, and gave of herself fearlessly.

And yet, unbeknownst to many, she was hiding behind her light, fearful something or someone was attempting to douse her flame, and instead of asking for help with her burden, she extinguished her beautiful light. She was hurting and her quiet suffering remained unseen by many who were unable or not wanting to see beyond her glorious blaze. The pain of her loss is deep and aching, felt in the bones and the recesses of our hearts, and partly because we cannot help but feel we failed her. How did we fail to see those hints of darkness piercing through her radiance?

I wonder how many others feel the need, the urgency to hide behind their flames. Do we place so much pressure on others to always be as the women (or men) we believe and want them to be, so much so they feel they cannot appear otherwise? When others revel in your joy of life, how can you possibly show them your sorrow of self. The stigma of being considered as damaged or weak pushes many to hide their feelings of sadness, self-doubt, fear, or hopelessness and yet, we all, at one time or another, have experienced one, if not all of these emotions. Everyone wants to be liked, to be accepted, and to be loved. No one should ever feel shunned, betrayed or unwanted. For none of us are perfect. Not one of us. We all have our faults, we all have our sins, whether spoken or unspoken, we are all imperfect, and that is what makes us all so incredible and believe it or not, so lovable.

There will always be unresolved questions, but I hope we fight to find answers for those who still struggle and will struggle. A woman whose flame we are drawn, should never feel she cannot set down her torch and ask for help. There is no shame in saying aloud that our heart is hurting, our soul is crying, and we can’t and don’t want to keep walking the path. There is great strength in knowing when we need someone to hold our hand or rest roadside with us. Every woman should know there are others readily available to carry her torch and should her light dim ever so slightly, know we will still find warmth beneath its glow.

Angie’s light will never be extinguished; she will forever guide us with her colorful fire. While she may have veiled her pain behind her splendid light, the torchbearer we will forever remember is a sensitive soul given over to compassion and unconditional love. She will continue to illuminate our lives, the shadow of her magnificent hat dancing along the path beside us in times of joy and in times of sadness. She has become our teacher, urging us to recognize a quivering flame or a muted glow, not only in others but in ourselves, and to understand when and how to reach out in times of need, not only to others, but for others. As torchbearers, we must illuminate the dark of depression and eliminate the shadows of suicide.

Angela Mallory-beautiful soul (photo by Paula Love Moore)

Angela Mallory-beautiful soul (photo by Paula Love Moore)

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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#ShineICT: My Final Post as Blogger of the Month for KSWB

I’ve enjoyed the opportunity as Blogger of the Month for Kansas Women Bloggers. I close the month of July with my final post about my hometown, Wichita. As is stated in my bio, I’m an advocate for this growing city and its people. The ICT (as it is affectionately known thanks to the International Air Transport Association (IATA) code for our airport), has much to offer her native Wichitans and transplants. But, I want to focus on the faces and places who reflect the most light in our city, those I believe generate the greatest shine in our community – small business owners.

Okay, so I’m a little biased, since my husband joined this courageous group in 2008 when he combined his years of work experience and his passion for art and launched Concrete Colorscapes. But, even prior to his stepping out on the small business ledge, we were always supporters of local. It’s in our blood. Wichita has a long legacy of people and their businesses started on a dime and a dream. We are rooted in a city that pulses with inventiveness, creativity, and the willingness to take a risk.

Local business owners are entwined with their community: they are familiar with the mainstays and aware of trends, understand its geographical limitations, and have lived its history. But more importantly, small business owners know the people of their community. For me, small business owners are like an aunt with a scrumptious recipe or cousin with a great idea who want to share so we might all partake in its awesomeness. From the perfect cup of coffee or delicious work-of-art donut to a sturdy, handmade coffee table or an intriguingly creative bouquet of flowers, Wichita business owners share the dream.

This weekend, I visited Veritá Coffee Company. Finally, the west side has a coffeehouse to call its own! Jon and Ivy are energetic and consummate small business owners, learning the names of every customer and passionately educating new patrons on the beauty of their espresso, as well as a menu which includes a root beer latte. There is such care in the preparation of each cup, such patience, precision, and enjoyment in doing so, something you definitely don’t get from a chain. And, it is contagious. I left Veritá wanting to know more about coffee and, of course, drink more coffee. Sure, this is their livelihood and they are aware of the stress, the gamble, and yet, their manner of voice and their genuine smiles express it’s all worth it. That and their incredible coffee will keep people lined up at the coffee bar. Plus, they were spinning vinyl Saturday morning. How you could not want to visit this place?

Owning your own business is definitely not for sissies. Small business owners work 24/7, with no real paid time off or extended holidays or anyone matching 5% to their retirement fund. Their bonuses come in the form of repeat customers and word of mouth. And, their true success doesn’t come in expansions or buy outs, but in longevity and consistency and the creation of family. Just look at The Artichoke Sandwich Bar, Connie’s Mexico Café, and The Spice Merchant for examples of Wichita family and mainstays.

The rich fabric of our ICT community is further enhanced with each new storefront, neon sign, or tinkle-clink of a bell against a door. Beautiful Day Café is a shining example of this beautification. Located at the corner of Central and Green Street, they provide healthy meals for their neighbors, from farm to table. Their food is fresh, delectable, and pleasing. But, it is the atmosphere of comfort that gets me, every time. Walking into their café is like walking into the kitchen of a neighbor or a relative. I keep waiting for my Aunt Becka to appear, rollers tucked under an opaque scarf, and serve me a plate of eggs. Their dream was built on a vision of community and family, and you can feel it wrap around you like a soft serape when you sit at a table.

While Wichita definitely has its own quality of brightness, it also shines in its ability to distinguish itself as a place to build dreams, both big and small. As I said earlier, it’s in our blood to create, to invent, to dare to build a dream upon the purchase of an abandoned warehouse, a commercial grade vertical stand mixer, a pro-pack of engraving tools, or a Slayer espresso machine. And, it’s in our character to support those who take such risk, as they are a reflection of ourselves, as we pursue our own dreams. Thomas Watson, Sr. once said, “To be successful, you have to have your heart in your business, and your business in your heart.” My business and heart is in Wichita, just as her business and heart is in each one of us. Let’s continue to #ShineICT.

Thank you for following my journey this month at Kansas Women Bloggers. Please visit me here, at Mermaid of the Plains, as I will be listing my favorite local businesses throughout the week. And thank you to our small business owners of the ICT, especially Verita Coffee Company and Beautiful Day Café, for allowing me to take photos and ask questions.

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Kansas Shine – at Kansas Women Bloggers

My third post at Kansas Women Bloggers focuses on our sometimes learned love of this state we call home, Kansas.

There is something about Kansas and Kansans. Kansas skies can be endless blues of possibility, lowered grays of frost-tipped resilience, or furrowed blacks of trepidation. And at night, well, there is no description worthy of a Kansas sky filled with stars. Some say Kansas is too flat and boring. I say Kansas is vast, its horizon unrestrained, and this is never more apparent than at sunrise and sunset.
Kansas Sunset

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

Kansas Women Bloggers – This Little Light of Mine

Throughout the month of July, I will be the featured blogger for Kansas Women Bloggers. KSWB’s mission is to Gather, Grow, and Connect women throughout the state of Kansas. I truly appreciate organizations and individuals who promote the creativity of women in our community, especially with the intent to strengthen and empower.

I’m truly excited and honored to be their Blogger of the Month.

Please join me at Kansas Women Bloggers and share in their vision, as well as follow my thoughts and musings on the theme of the month, Shine.