Russell and Duenes

Archive for the ‘Little House on the Prairie’ Category

From Big City California to Topeka . . . and Loving It

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My family and I moved to Topeka about five years ago, but it’s where we came from and the fact that we’d rather be in Topeka, that throws people off. To the bewilderment of some, we willfully migrated here from the sunny climes and stunning scenery of the San Francisco Bay Area. From our apartment in Northern California, we could walk out on almost any day of the year and enjoy browsing around the local open-air marketplace or taking a stroll along a bayside boulevard with a view of the San Francisco skyline. Besides the great weather, California offers many culinary and entertainment options. So isn’t the move supposed to happen the other way? Leaving the Midwest for the “cool” of California? A move to Kansas City might have been understandable to our friends, but Topeka?

The fact is, when we considered moving, Topeka wasn’t anywhere on our radar either. I was leaving teaching after ten years to pursue a law degree, and we were hoping to live closer to some of my wife’s family in the Kansas City area. Somehow we stumbled across Washburn Law School, which I had never heard of, and I remember looking at Topeka on the map and thinking to myself “Oh, it’s not that far from Kansas City.” Things started to fall into place and the draw of being in a capital city seemed right. However, my wife also recalls a neighbor remarking to us, “You’ll probably move once you’re done.”

Cancel that move. We truly enjoy living in Topeka, even more than California. Here are a few reasons why.

 We actually see our friends. Life in the Bay Area always seemed so harried and overbooked. Although we had, and still have, many friends there, it was hard to actually get together with them. Some of this had to do with the fact that it often took a half hour or more just to get to a friend’s house two suburbs away, and we could not always summon the motivation for the trip through traffic. But also, our friends were often just as busy and scheduled as we were. Yet in Topeka, we have had many people warmly befriend us. Not only that, they’re often home and available. It’s not a major planning event to get together with them, and it regularly happens on the spur of the moment. This has been a great blessing to us.

We haven’t sat in traffic in five years. In urban California, one takes sitting in traffic as a badge of honor, but it’s a badge whose luster had worn off. Some folks may think Wanamaker has “bad traffic,” but it’s a dream compared to getting past the Bay Bridge on a weekday afternoon. Traffic in Topeka means you’re sitting 4th or 5th at a red light. So it sure takes the stress out of driving when one knows that getting most any place in the city will take no more than 20 minutes or so. Not only that, but we never drive around searching for parking because Topeka’s shopping areas have parking in spades. A quick run to the store? No problem.

We visit the Parks. I don’t know about other cities in Kansas, but the parks and open spaces in Topeka are wonderful. The Ted Ensley Gardens at Lake Shawnee in April is like nothing we ever enjoyed in our California suburbs. Gage Park is a wonder for our kids, and they are happy walking along the Shunga Trail or the Governors Lake, not to mention the many smaller parks that dot Topeka’s landscape. Our boys also like a stroll around the capitol building grounds, a visit to the Topeka Zoo or Discovery Center, running around Washburn’s campus, or riding bikes at Kingsrow Park. There are so many great places to choose from, and it always feels so unhurried.

We have a backyard. Short of earning your first million dollars, home ownership is actually possible in Topeka. Not only that, but one can have a substantial backyard along with it. If we picked up our current house and yard and plunked it down where we used to live in California, it would not cost double what it does in Topeka, but closer to ten times as much. In our California neighborhood, a fixer-upper is still likely to be north of half-a-million dollars. It boggles our minds, particularly when we consider the beauty and style of so many homes here in Topeka at a fraction of the cost.

We enjoy the people. Isn’t this the most important thing about any place? Whether we reflect on our neighbors, the staff at Washburn Law School, our realtor, folks at the bank, co-workers in state government, ladies working in the general store at Cracker Barrel, people we meet at a park, or our friends from church; we have felt welcomed into people’s lives in a genuine way. The kindness and initiative people show us is wonderful, and more than anything, endears us to Topeka.

When we arrived in Topeka, my only acquaintance in town, who had himself moved here five years earlier, said he was finally starting to feel at home in this city. We now know the feeling, and are grateful that Topeka is our home.



Written by Michael Duenes

April 30, 2016 at 1:14 pm

Musings on the Transition V – Summer 2011

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We arrived in Topeka on Thursday and are now getting settled in. God has been very gracious to us. We spent a couple of days with my wife’s cousin and her family in Kansas City. We took the boys to a children’s farmstead where they attempted to feed the baby goats their milk, were promptly mobbed by about six of them at a time, and proceeded to melt down. And it was only about 104 degrees outside. On the upside, we had some fantastic BBQ from Oklahoma Joe’s.

I get a funny feeling sometimes when I remember that I’m about 1,500 miles from any ocean. I don’t mind being so far from the coast, but it gives one a sense of disequilibrium, like you can get anywhere, but nowhere.

I love the practical ways that God shows His love for us, especially when we think we are alone. If you had asked me a year ago if I knew anybody in Topeka, the answer would have been, “Zip.” But since we decided to move here God has connected us with a number of people. The teacher next door to me at Redwood used to live in Topeka, so she passed along a friend’s name and number. A friend from my seminary days in LA connected me with a guy in town who he knows from Iowa. We met yesterday at church. Our neighbor of over 20 years on Southern California grew up in Kansas and went to KU. His roommate from KU went to Washburn Law School and now practices law here in town, indeed, right across the street from campus. I’m going to connect with him. And I had the privilege of having one of my former students from Redwood, who now lives in Arkansas, stop by for a visit yesterday afternoon. God’s got people everywhere, and we do well to remember it.

Even though the temps here have been hovering around 100 degrees – should be 108 tomorrow with a heat index of 115 – it has not really fazed me. Granted, I’m not playing outdoor hoops at noon, but even when I step outside, it’s not like I’m dying. I rather enjoy it, knowing that there are actual seasons here, and soon the chill and beauty of fall will be upon us.

I think I experienced a bit of midwest culture the other day when I stopped by my neighbor’s place to borrow a can-opener. He invited me in and I couldn’t get out of there. In California, it would have been: “Thanks, bye.”


Written by Michael Duenes

August 1, 2011 at 12:46 pm

I’m Still Here, Only on the Prairie Now

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For all of my loyal readers – all ten of you – I have not dropped off the planet, or out of the blogosphere. Rather, I’ve been moving and am currently borrowing my next-door neighbor’s unprotected internet signal in order to write this.

We arrived in Topeka on Monday and have been going non-stop since. I’ve painted a couple of rooms, gotten Kansas plates for our car, checked out the public library – the best public library I’ve ever seen, bar none – unloaded the moving truck, and generally tried to get the lay of the land. I’ve eaten at the Cracker Barrel three times already, and am enjoying the Kansas hospitality. One of my sons decided that tonight, with all of our unpacked boxes sitting in our house, he would get some kind of stomach thingy and start upchucking. So I’m taking a few minutes here between heaves to check in and let you know that I’ll be back to my regularly scheduled blogging – Lord willing – sometime around the first of July.

I’ve got some law school assignments that must be completed even before my classes begin in August. Welcome to the world of being a student again. Did I mention that I really seem to be taking to Topeka? I’m very grateful to be here, and I trust that our Lord Jesus has brought me and my family here for good purposes. I go forward with fear and trembling. May our great God be honored, and our neighbors blessed, by our presence and lives here.


Written by Michael Duenes

June 24, 2011 at 8:33 pm