I hadn’t seen airport carpet in quite a while when I bundled up baby Marion and carried her and my carry on into PDX International. I hadn’t flown anywhere in a year and a half, honestly.
In the spring of 2015, I hopped a flight south with Lucie to surprise my brothers in Los Angeles, then afterward stayed planted at home while I grew a second baby. Marion joined us in winter 2016 and we spent the majority of the year learning to exist as a family of four, tackling jaunts across town and regional road trips, but nothing farther than Central Oregon, the Oregon Coast, and a hop across the Columbia River to take newborn photos in Washington State.
What would it be, then, for Marion’s first flight?
What destination for an adventurer at heart with a ten month old travel companion?
A midwinter shuffle through the midwest. A taste of the foreign, by comparison to my familiar.
Oz and Dorothy and all those jokes about Kansas made for good punchlines when my little brother Seth was off to college in Wichita, but when it came time to plan a trip of my own, I realized I knew relatively nothing about the state on the plains.
If you want the nutshell, here’s the video! If you’re brave enough to wade through photos and tales, keep scrolling down…
We had a short weekend trip to make the most of, so I contacted the local Tourism Board to find recommendations and outline a plan. My parents booked tickets on the same flight out of Portland, and we banded together as a little quartet of slow travelers: me with my baby, dad with my mom in a boot to protect her healing heel. Bags and wheelchairs and patience.
Of course, the beauty of PDX International Airport is that once you get through security, you’ve got food options to put entire cities to shame. We sprung for breakfast at The Country Cat, a favorite from our old neighborhood in Montavilla that now runs a PDX location to cater to the comers and goers looking for a biscuit fix.
And then, no sooner fueled and ready to go, we slid into a waiting game as inclement weather knocked flight schedules out of order. Dad’s passes to the upstairs lounge softened the blow: windows to watch, eggnog to drink (remebmer, Christmastime), and space for a little squirm to stretch her legs. Once we boarded, buckled up, and waited for the de-icing machine’s orange slushy shower to subside, we had fun settling in for the flight across the country. I say fun. Of course with a little lap child along for the ride, fun is a flexible term.
It was fun to see my dad grin and play baby-face games.
It was fun to see my little tiny one looking out the airplane window.
It was fun to imagine the life of adventure that she might one day lead…
(Of course, it’s never fun to change diapers on an airplane. But these are the small prices to pay.)
At our Denver stopover, Marion’s puppy dreams came true.
Then, mercifully, came actual dreams as she dozed her way through the second leg to Wichita.
We arrived in the “Air Capital of the World” and scooted through the rental car queue and out into the quiet night, driving through the highway lights until we reached the Inn at Tallgrass where my brothers met us in the parking lot. The family convergence: Jesse drove from his university in Iowa, my brother Drew flew separately from Portland, and Seth came from his home near campus. Mom kindly performed grandma duties and stayed with Marion while Dad came along for our siblings’ night out.
Kansas Doughnuts and Kombucha
First up: a dozen welcomes to Wichita at The Donut Whole.
(You think the doughnut stories around here are a joke? They’re not.)
Coke in glass bottles, old school pinball, and fruity pebbles on fried rings of dough. And, after a day of flying and the prospects of a full weekend of mothering and sistering and daughtering, I was giddy to discover a bottle of Crabby Cat Kombucha.
I kid you not, what a comfort. A taste of home so far from all things Portland. (Nerd that I am, I had to go read about their company and figure out the story of the Wichita based brewing company. Turns out the owners visited the Pacific Northwest and came home to Kansas inspired. They started the operation out of their kitchen and grew into a commercial brewery space. I definitely bought more at the local grocery store.)
The doughnuts continued that weekend with more sweets from Hurts Donut Company.
Stearman Field Bar & Grill
Saturday morning, we drove 20 minutes out of town through flat, open fields and monotone sub developments to eat breakfast at Stearman Field Bar & Grill, where flames jump from the fire table and planes flirt with a runway just beyond the windows.
Wichita State University
Campus tour time.
It was a treat to see Seth’s school through his eyes. He was a hardworking, team-building decathlete back in Oregon, and he carried his skills and commitment out to Wichita where the offered him a scholarship to train and compete with the Shockers team. At the same time, as a student athlete he worked incredibly hard on his business degree, preparing himself for a future of taking over as the third generation farmer to run the family business back home in the Willamette Valley (where our neighboring county is proclaimed the “Grass Seed Capital of the World”, don’t you know?)
Shocks of wheat (see: “What the heck is a Shocker?”)
University athletes: Seth, his girlfriend Gabi, and her sister Dani.
When we were kids, I broke my little brother Seth's leg while we were jumping on the trampoline. He forgave me and grew up to be a decathlete on the championship winning Wichita State University team. Today he showed me all around his campus, tomorrow he graduates with his business degree, and in a few weeks he flies to New Zealand for a gig on a South Island grass seed farm. I'm so proud of his determination and attitude and commitment. He's one of the most thoughtful, loyal, hard working guys I know, and we'll be so lucky to have him back in Oregon when he returns to carry on the family farm. 💛 #twoOtowichita #goshockers
I couldn’t be more proud of Seth’s diligence and commitment. He’s a hardworking guy who’s grown from a small town kid to big hearted adult with determination and motivation, and my heart swelled for him during his graduation ceremony.
Mexican Food in Wichita, Kansas
When Seth’s home, he and my Dad eat all the time at Senor Lopez Taqueria in Hubbard, Oregon where abundant Mexican restaurants reflect the region’s Hispanic population (and feed hungry farmers). In Wichita, Seth brought us to his favorite Mexican food in Kansas: burritos and frozen treats at Paleteria La Reyna.
City Favorites in Wichita
When we weren’t eating doughnuts or haunting the WSU Campus, we were consulting our nerdy spreadsheet of things to do and see and places to eat and imbibe. (See the bottom of the post for the Nifty Nutshell Versions.)
Of course, with Marion along, my travel pace slowed. The upside: having grandparents willing to help. The downside: the fatigue of kiddos and travel meant that I didn’t have much extra fuel to burn. There were so many options that got away: Dockum Apothecary, Botanica Gardens, Kansas Aviation Museum, Keeper of the Plains, Old Cowtown Museum…
We did enjoy meals around town:
Burgers and Fries at Public at the Brickyard
Mimosas and Fried Chicken and Waffles at Wine Dive’s Sunday Morning Brunch. (I’m not going to make comparisons to Portland’s Screen Door, because it wouldn’t be fair. But I’ll say when you’re not in Portland anymore, Toto, it’s okay to get excited about what you find.)
The real highlight of dining in Wichita was Seth’s graduation celebration dinner at Taste & See, named for the verse in Psalm 34:8: “Taste and see that the LORD is good; blessed is the one who takes refuge in him.”
Award winning Chef Jason Febres is originally from Venezuela and brought flavors from around the world to this spot in the heart of Kansas, just a 197 mile drive southeast from the geographical center of the United States.
We were lucky to enjoy the restaurant before it closed on December 30th.
During our meal, I watched the team prepare our food in the open kitchen visible from the tables, and I chatted with Jason’s brother, Alex, and his mom, Maria, who both worked at Taste & See. The stories of immigrant life, of successes and pains, of hospitality and discrimination, of offering their heritage and their talents and keeping an eye on the horizon struck a chord.
Here I was, a Pacific Northwesterner in the Midwest casually observing the differences in culture. How much more intense for a South American in North America? In the landlocked center of a country with a Jekyll and Hyde heart, in the heat of the post election rhetoric, no less.
I was humbled to hear.
They didn’t mention the restaurant shutting, but they hinted at what came next: California/Oregon/Washington called to Alex. Maria was ready to bike across Spain, or perhaps walk the Camino de Santiago. She’d been the fire of inspiration in their family for many, many years, of course. Her early seasons of travel and exploration planted the seeds that grew in her sons’ hearts.
Like so many travel memories, it was a slice in time, a crossing of paths for a single meal. Flavors and food for thought that lingered longer after that…
The Inn at Tallgrass was our home base for our weekend in Wichita. My parents stayed during previous visits for Seth’s track meets and events during his college career. Ubiquitous brick buildings and prairie grasses said, “Yes, you’re in the midwest.”
Ironically, when I checked in with Ted, who had stayed home with Lucie, the bitter cold of December didn’t seem any better back in the land of temperate rainforests. After I had flown out of PDX with de-icer still dripping off the plane, our city remained deep in an ice storm that tore down our front yard birch tree and slid the region into what would turn out to be an exceptionally cold and messy winter.
On our final morning’s drive back to the airport, Marion’s little exhausted self napped, fueling up I suppose for our last big push. Return flights to the west coast: the land of coffee, of green trees, rolling hills, snowy mountains…
I felt it, too.
Goodbye to the plains…hello to the planes.
Following Seth’s December graduation, he packed his bags and moved to New Zealand for a half year to work on the southern hemisphere harvest.
His blog posts give a glimpse.
Learn, travel, share meals and stories (find doughnuts). Rinse. Repeat.
The Country Cat – The Portland Airport location in the North Lobby of the D/E Concourse just through security.
The Donut Whole – A little like Voodoo in the midwest: cereal and sprinkles, colorful combos, gummy worms in chocolate dirt…and can I recommend you skip the milk or coke and grab instead a bottle of locally brewed Crabby Cat Kombucha from the case?
Hurts Donuts – Open 25 hours a day around the midwest.
Stearman Field Bar & Grill – In the words of the announcer from the Rocketeer Airshow: “It’s all part of the show…”
Wichita State University – Home of the first Pizza Hut. Who knew?
Paleteria la Reyna – Mexican food in Kansas!
Public at the Brickyard – Sweet potato fries.
Wine Dive – Fried chicken and waffles.
Taste and See – Closed, but not forgotten.
Nifty Nuthouse – Well, for that you’ll have to check out the soon-coming round up of oddities and claims to fame from Wichita, Kansas. To keep in the loop, sign up here for the twoOregonians newsletter:
This post is part of the Wichita, Kansas in a (Nifty) Nutshell* series in which I take baby Marion on her first airplane trip, attend my brother Seth’s graduation from Wichita State University, find midwest doughnuts and kombucha to scratch that Portland itch, dine at a Venezuelan immigrant’s award winning restaurant, and get the 30,000′ view of the The Air Capital of the World. Much gratitude to my extended family for making it so easy to travel with a baby (and thanks to Ted and Lucie for roughing it at home without us!), and thanks to Visit Wichita for sponsoring a portion of our adventures. As always, these stories, photos, and opinions are my own, and I love sharing them with you! Have you been to the midwest? (Are you FROM the midwest?) Tell me what you think…