Going Over the Edge for Reno County’s United Way

There I was dangling from a rope. My feet had lost their footing for a second, and adrenaline pumped through my system as I tried my best to get them back to the stone wall. The sound of music and voice of Lisa Gleason, Executive Director of the United Way of Reno County, echoed from down below on Main Street while the shade of the First National Bank building protected me from the sweltering late afternoon summer heat. It was my first time to rappel, and I could not think of a better place to do it than from off one of the tallest buildings in Downtown Hutchinson. Still, the thought of how I ended up where I was kept running through my mind.

I first learned about the idea of United Way of Reno County’s Over the Edge last August when I was picking up t-shirts for my honors students who were taking part in our annual clean up of Carey Park for the United Way’s Day of Service. Tona Turner, the former executive director, asked me my thoughts of a fundraiser that involved people like me rappelling off the First National Bank building on at the next summer’s Third Thursday. As she described the event to me, thoughts of previous events throughout Downtown’s history ran through my mind. There was, of course, Spot the horse and his rider on top of the Wiley Building in 1941 as well as all sorts of other images and memories of events that have taken place on Main Street both in my life and before.

FullSizeRender-2
Without a doubt, I could see what Tona described as becoming a part of Hutch’s history. The First National Bank of Hutchinson alone has played a large role in the history of both the city of Hutchinson and my life. For Hutchinson itself, First National Bank came to that location back in 1876. It transformed into Hutchinson’s first skyscraper in 1911 based upon designs by Daniel Burnham, the same Chicago architect who designed New York City’s Flatiron Building and Washington, D.C.’s Union Station, and many other iconic buildings throughout the country. The building was then expanded in 1957 and again in 1972-1974 to its current state.

FullSizeRender-3


It was this building that grabbed my attention when I first moved here back in 2007 and was looking for a local bank. It was also here I spent a summer as an intern for the Hutchinson Community Foundation when I cleaned their storage room to transform it into my summer office where I would arrive each morning to look out their fifth-floor windows towards the east side of Main Street and all of the land beyond, including the grain elevator that once had the claim of fame of being the world’s longest (it’s second now). A few years later, I then began spending many more hours on that floor as a board member for that same amazing organization and eventually the chair of their grants committee. Plus, there were many memories of breakfasts and lunches at Downtown Sampler, the tasty restaurant on the second floor, and then there were the times meeting John on top of the parking garage to bring him something or another when he was working evenings there when he was going back to school. Plus, it is on Main Street, and to say I have a great love for Downtown Hutchinson would be an understatement.

On top of the location, the event also had the pull of being a fundraiser for the United Way of Reno County, which has changed the lives of so many through the money they raise during their annual campaign that goes to support many of the fantastic non-profits here in the area including Big Brothers Big Sisters of Reno County, Boys & Girls Club, Hospice of Reno County, Interfaith Housing Services, New Beginnings, Salvation Army, Sexual Assault/Domestic Violence Center, The Volunteer Center of Reno County, and many more working hard to improve living conditions for our local population. Then they also have greatly helped with early childhood education here in the community too, something that is very dear to my heart, and have partnered with Hutchinson Recreation Commission, Reno County Health Department, and the City of Hutchinson with the Southwest Bricktown Neighborhood Initiative which has led to many wonderful things as well.

So thanks to the history of the building, the great work the United Way does, and my New Year’s Resolution #1 for this year to live a better story, I couldn’t resist signing up back in February to be one of the people to rappel down the side of the building. Each person though was to meet a financial goal of $1000 in order to go over the edge of the First National Bank building. This is where once again I was reminded I am horrible at fundraising. I would craft Facebook posts and emails to share with others, but then not hit either the submit or send button at the last moment. I was going to write a blog post back in March about the upcoming event, but well, you can see that didn’t happen. My plan, though, was to fund, as I tend to try to do with fundraisers, most of it myself, but a $1600 vet bill for Callie in April and another extremely large sum of money for summer graduate courses led to that plan failing too. By the end of May, I had given up on reaching the goal and getting a chance to be part of this piece of Hutchinson history.

However, the kind hearts of those at the United Way decided to let those who had signed up but had not reach the financial goal still rappel and let us still try to raise money throughout the rest of the month of June (if you would like to donate, please do so by going here) as well as have us be able to talk about the amazing experience that it was so even more people will want to sign up the next time they do this. When I received this email on Tuesday, I was thrilled to say the least, and soon I had one of the last scheduled times so I wouldn’t miss out on meeting with new honors students at the Enrollment Day at work.

After changing out my dress shoes into hiking boots (I figured they had the best traction out of anything I owned), I drove quickly downtown yesterday afternoon still wearing a pair of dress pants and my standard white button-up shirt (the tie and jacket were left behind though) to experience something new. Throughout the day, I had caught a few pics, videos, and Snapchats of some of my other friends going down the building, and with each, I became both a little more excited and a little more nervous. I won’t lie and say there was not a brief moment of hesitation when I climbed out of my car and saw the building before me. Stopping for a second, I looked up at its top, took in a huge breath, told myself all will be well, and then walked forward to find the always amazing and wonderful Bailey to capture a few shots of my rappel on the camera I had brought. Then it was to the Downtown Sampler area on the second floor to get geared up before going to the top of the building.

IMG_5092
My group that traveled to the roof together.

My arrival was at the same time as a few others as well, and we chatted as we were decked out in our harnesses and gloves with everything being checked time and again. Then a friendly face of a friend of mine, Adam, greeted us in the hallway to take us up to the roof where we went through a thorough training session to go over the gear and how to rappel down the side of a building. I tried to pay as much attention as possible to the lever that would ease us down and all of the safety mechanisms as my mind raced in many different directions especially towards the recurring thought of what if I am the first one that day to get stuck going down and would need to be saved somehow. Then afterwards, it was waiting for our turn to go. Jon, another guy getting ready to go through this experience, and I took in the sights from the top of the building. The sky was unbelievable clear as we looked out upon the tree-filled city we call home. To say the view was stunning would be an understatement. I took in another deep breath and then went towards my destination.

The first step is a doozy was what I was told earlier, and as I stood there on the ledge, I could easily see why. Here were these two ropes that were keeping me from fall seven stories to the land below. I made small talk with the guy helping me take that first step, which I may or may not have been delaying. He was from Chattanooga and was very nice. I smiled at my friends, Cory, Chelsea, and Adam, who were also on top of the building and then took that doozy of a step.

IMG_5083-1
The first step

The feeling was indescribable. It was this sort of mix of fear, excitement, happiness, and awe with each step I took down the side of the building. I could hear Lisa down below being a fantastic emcee as she talked about different things I had done in the community while getting the crowd to cheer me on. I could see so much as my eyes would shift from the wall in front of me where I tried to slowly take each step to the world around me. The windows on both sides of me were the biggest surprise, for they provided this great reflection of the city of Hutchinson. I was also trying to count each floor so I could stop and wave at my Hutchinson Community Foundation friends (It turns out I waved tons at the sixth floor instead of the fifth though). Even when I would lose my footing, it would only be for a second as my thoughts went right back to the detailed training Mike had shared with us. Mainly, though, I was smiling because it was an experience like nothing I had ever had before and may never have again.


Although it seemed like it took me quite some time to get down, I had made it back to the second level landing spot to be helped by some local volunteers. My heart was still racing a bit as I thanked everyone for letting me have this truly amazing experience before I found my way to next to Bailey on the street. More friends were soon by my side, and text messages were coming with photos and videos taken by many from all different places and heights. Everything was both a blur and clear at the same time. And I just kept looking up at the tall building before me, thinking how grateful I was to the United Way for giving me this experience that will be relived every time I see this skyscraper in the heart of Hutchinson, Kansas.

As always, thank you for reading this post. If you would like to help the United Way of Reno County with the great work they do, please do not hesitate to make a donation by using this link that will help me get closer to my financial goal.

IMG_5079-2

 

May’s Monthly Theme – #PictureaDay #fortheMonthofMay

After a more intense monthly theme of taking on the Art of Manliness 30 Day Challenge to Becoming a Better Man (See Part I and Part II) in April, it seemed like a good idea to try an easier-going theme for the month of May but one that would still be helpful in a way. With my not being the best about posting things to social media on a regular basis despite my also being administers for several Facebook pages that should actually have regular content, the idea of posting a picture a day for the month of May seemed like a good idea. What seemed like a fluffy task turned out to be a very fascinating experience.

The task seemed easy enough. All I had to do was post a photo to Instagram (ryanhunterdiehl) and Facebook for each day of May. That was it. However, it led to all sorts of contemplations of whether the photos should be from that day or from the past or a mixture of both. Then there were a few other things that was thrown into the mix like Mother’s Day and my birthday which seemed like just some random photo wouldn’t work. Also battled was should the photo be of some beautiful scenery or include people in it. Ultimately, I went with a mix of all of the above.

What I quickly discovered was the great confusion that happened with the posts thanks to people thinking that the photo was representative of where I currently was despite hashtags like #travel #memories and then later the addition “from 20XX” further to try help with the situation. Still, even comments would be posted telling me to have fun, and some people thought I had come to their city without telling them. Another person I ran into downtown was extremely surprised and seemed somewhat disappointed to see me, for she was sure I was in Rome. I tried to explain the whole monthly theme New Year’s Resolution thing, but in a way, I felt sort of guilty for accidentally misleading people.

IMG_1355.JPG
Then there was the experimentation with hashtags, which was really something new for me. It was fascinating how a hashtag like #travel would lead to almost instant likes from unknown people on Instagram. It was also interesting to see how many other posts were being made with the same hashtag. Right now, for an example, there are 19,028,738 recent posts using #pictureoftheday, which really is pretty amazing I think.

Some other challenges also came up. One was just my remembering to do the post, which led to some very late posts a couple of days; however, let’s just pretend it was a test to see the response rate posts received at different times during the day. Sure it was . . .

Then during the California adventure, I ran into one situation of neither having an Internet connection nor phone reception (which I will be honest and say was a wonderful situation in itself) to get a photo taken with my actual camera to my phone. This led to my having to pause along the journey from Calaveras Big Trees State Park to Yosemite in a parking lot in the small town with decent phone reception to utilize my phone’s hot spot to make the transfer and then the post (I believe this is what they would call #firstworldproblems).

The benefits of this experience were many though. Beyond learning I could actually become disciplined enough to make social media posts on a regular basis, the month of May became a walk down memory lane. While I had thought about some of my past travels here and there, looking at different photos would take me back to those experiences when they were snapped. Suddenly, cars were rushing past me as I tried to capture a night photo of the Coliseum. Then there was my sliding down the side of a mountain thanks to possibly not the smartest idea to get a glimpse and a photo of a waterfall that was a bit off the trail. After that, my mother and I were enjoying a beautiful evening stroll in the charming town of Shrewsbury. The memories just continued with each photo shared from the past.

IMG_1424
The experience also led to capturing new memories as well. These included the times with helping with Hutchinson bike month activities as well as the confetti coming down at HutchCC’s graduation. Then there was the California trip with each posted photo capturing a moment and a memory. For an example, this one of the bear eating wild flowers reminds me how my mother and I had about ten minutes before started and then smartly changed our minds about hiking back into the woods to see wild flowers (the photo was taken safely from inside the car).

FullSizeRender-3

Then there is the photo of a fantastic group of people in front of the Golden Gate Bridge who were brought together almost seemingly by fate to enjoy not only a bike tour throughout San Francisco but also, most importantly, each other.

IMG_4462
That, though, is the power of photos. Without a doubt, among my most valued possessions would be photos taken during travels, my younger years, times with friends, times with pets, and so on. My house and office are even decorated with framed and matted photos that allow for a passing glance to be a form of time travel, taking me right back to that place once again. Photos can sharpen a memory in a way almost like none other, and when photos are lost, so can some of the details of the memories behind them. During the evening after one of my top five times of my life which involved exploring Rottnest Island, the hard drive of my laptop crashed, losing all of the photos from my adventures in Australia that were not still on my camera. That loss still haunts me as moments with friends and on adventures become fuzzy and disappear rather than stay nice, crisp, and protected in a digital archive I could revisit whenever I wanted. Since then, I go to extremes to keep them safe with my saving photos in two different cloud services, on an external hard drive kept in a safety deposit box that also contains many full SD cards that have never seen a photo deleted from them, and on the hard drives of my two personal computers.

Sure, the monthly theme challenge for May led to my learning quite a bit about social media and discipline, but ultimately, it really was a chance to focus and in a way share with others some of my most valued possessions that will always be dear to my heart.

IMG_1426

The Magic of Flying

Back in my younger days, my eyes would often catch planes flying overhead. During the day, I would be amazed by the contrails they made, and then at night, their blinking lights among the stars would always catch my attention. Thoughts about where they were going would run across my mind as I would try to imagine what it would be like to be so high in the air. Grandma Diehl would tell me about her flying experiences. Her description of the clouds being like fluffy pillows she just wanted to wrap around her held strong in my thoughts and has stayed with me even to today. It was through hearing her stories, watching planes fly, and seeing scenes in movies and television shows that a dream formed in this small-town Southeast Kansas Boy that one day he too would get to fly in a plane. That dream fortunately has come true not once but many times, and I can easily say that childlike wonderment still exists whenever I see a plane and a smile forms when walking into an airport.

My first trip into the sky happened when I was in fifth grade. A friend of my uncle’s took me up in his small plane. The flight was maybe only 10 minutes or so, but it was neat as he did a loop out of the Iola airport, so I could see where I lived looked like from up above. There below me was the house I called home, and behind it was the woods I spent so much time in, playing around and eating gooseberries. Then there was the lake that looked so huge standing at its waters but yet so tiny from where I sat in the cockpit’s passenger seat.

IMG_1816.JPG
It wasn’t until years later that I boarded my first commercial plane which took me across the ocean for a History of England in England class. After that, I am lucky to say there have been many flights and many great memories made. Sure, there has been some delays here and there as well as some bumpy turbulence, but overall, the whole flying experience remains magical in my eyes, and here are just a few of the reasons why.

First, it is just nifty that something the size of a plane can carry everyone in it, weigh as much as it does, and be able to soar through the skies. Yes, I know there is a lot of science and mathematics behind it, but it is still mystical that someone can board such a contraption in one place and be across the country in a few hours. Just like that, destinations that would have days or weeks to get to by car or boat can be done in less than a day with most being only hours. A plane ticket opens up the world to a person, and that is just truly amazing.

IMG_1819
Then there is that whole different beauty that can be seen from the airplane window. Sunrises and sunsets have a whole other feel as the first rays spread over the land above and turn those fluffy clouds into something golden. Then there are the sights of the land below with the buildings and roads among rivers, lakes, farm fields, and mountains. The wee little cars travel here and there, taking their passengers to their desired destinations all while being watched from up with the passenger becoming an almost omnipresent deity in a sort of way.

Also fascinating and neat are all of the people on the plane. They all have their own stories. Some are off on a vacation and others are heading some place thanks to work. Some are heading home to people they love, and others are leaving their world behind to start a new one in a new place. There are the brothers, sisters, mothers, and fathers heading to see family and perhaps hold a newborn nephew, niece, grandson, or granddaughter for the first time. Then there are those on much more somber journeys prompted by a death or an illness. All of these stories converge for a time as the people carrying them sit among each other traveling from Point A to Point B.

IMG_1796
The same can be said for airports too. Walking down a terminal is almost like being in a Choose Your Own Adventure book. Sure, a purchased ticket locks a person into a certain destination, but suddenly, all of these other possibilities can very well be seen at the digital sign hanging behind the counters. One plane is heading to New York City, another to Garden City, Kansas, and yet another Melbourne, Australia. Each destination promises different experiences that could change a life trajectory in so many different ways, and for some of these destinations, a person may have never even thought about them until walking to get the gate and catching a city’s name even for a second.

Really when it comes down to it, the flying experience could be a metaphor for life. Everyone is on his or her own journey. Some take the same flight while others will take another. Paths cross. Some crossings may be nothing more than a glance or maybe simply helping someone for a bit like pulling down a carry-on bag from the overhead bin. Then other people will play a larger role like those seatmates with whom one can carry on a great conversation during that flight time and then never see again, but for just that hour or two or more, the two connect as their journeys came together. Then there are the travel companions that stay with a person through it all, who are right by their side no matter what. Life will have its turbulent times as we go through storms, but then there are the sublime sights to be seen if people just open the window shade and look out to the world around them. Things unfortunately do not always end well, but for many of the times, there is a safe landing as long as everything keeps moving forward.

IMG_1804-1

There are so many great memories in my life that have taken place either in airports or on the planes. Some are very simple like people watching while sitting in one of the rocking chairs in the Charlotte airport. Some are more dramatic like sprinting across the Denver airport to try to make it to my connecting flight to Wichita. Some are fantastic like the great people I have had the fortune of meeting thanks to fate placing our seats next to each other like Gayla, Art, Hallie, Jay, and so many others whose names may escape me but their stories have remained in my mind. There is also all of the adventures I have had the fortune to share with my mother as we took our annual trip to some great destination, spending time in anticipation on the plane getting there and smiling as we reflected about our adventure on the flight back.

I know for some people flying becomes nothing more than a routine experience, but for me, I don’t think that will ever happen. Rather, many years from now, I will still be that small town Southeast Kansas boy with thoughts of memories, anticipations, possibilities, and magic as I walk towards my gate before boarding a plane for another adventure.

IMG_1820

In Defense of Dandelions – a Jason and Ryan Collaboration

About a month ago, Jason Probst and I decided to become blogging accountability partners. Each week, we must post by midnight on Saturday. Otherwise, we have to buy the other a drink at Social Saturday. Last Saturday night while I may or may not have been finishing last week’s entry while sitting at 21 Santa Fe with the Social Saturday crew, Jason and I realized we had stumbled across the same thought for our blogs this week, so we decided to join forces and post our writing on the topic jointly. We think it worked out pretty well and are planning on doing more of this sort of thing in the future. Be sure to check out Jason’s blog. He has many fantastic pieces to read and contemplate.

And now to our Defense of Dandelions.

From Ryan
“I can come over while you are at work and pull your dandelions for you. Does that work for you?” She said with a smile rather than asked, but still the words caught me off guard to say the least.

I had only purchased my house a few weeks before, and this was either the second or third time I had talked to my neighbor with a great backyard. The idea of pulling dandelions had never occurred to me. I had grown up in the country where they were able to grow to their heart’s content, but suddenly self-conscious of the cute yellow flowers all around where I stood, I felt like I needed to do something to be a good neighbor. This was definitely something never mentioned to me about being a homeowner. Sure, there was mowing the grass, paying property taxes, budgeting for a mortgage, and replacing expensive items like furnaces, air conditioners, and the such; however, killing dandelions was not something on the list.  After thanking her but ultimately declining her offer, I decided it was my neighborly duty to battle the fierce dandelion. Soon armed with one of those silly dandelion removal hand tools, I started to go after each one, and each one pulled led to my admiring their impressive root system. This attempt seemed only to lead to their spreading and coming back with a vengeance. Where there was one suddenly became five, which were all very pretty if I say so myself.
The next step was turning to chemical warfare. However, thanks to the backyard truly belonging to Callie and also thanks to my great love for bees, butterflies, and all sorts of nature, the idea of using a fierce chemical weed killer of any kind was not an option. Rather, I tried boiling water and then later a vinegar mixture. While the Grim Reaper visited some, the persistent dandelions, for the most part, continued on.

The thing, though, is the death of each dandelion pained me a little because, and this is going to be controversial, I am a big fan of them. I always have been, and I will be. Ultimately, they won the battle that summer to gain free reign of my yard, and to be honest, they had long ago won the war for my heart, so today, I am taking a stand and officially joining their side to defend the dandelion.

The dandelion is a fascinating plant to say the least. This Taraxacum species native to the Northern Hemisphere includes anywhere from 60 species to 34 macrospecies/2000 microspecies depending on how technical one would like to get. It is also believed these flowers that produce asexually go back to about 30 million years  and likely came to the United States via the Mayflower thanks to their medicinal purposes. Yep, dandelions have been used as an herbal remedy throughout time and across cultures. The name “dandelion” itself came from the French dent de lion for “lion’s tooth.” Besides bothering people concerned with a perfectly manicured lawn, the little dandelion can have many, many purposes.

For starters, dandelions are a great food source. Bees turn to these little flowers as some of their first food for the season, and needless to say, we should all care about bees. Dandelions are also good for the yard thanks to their ability to pull nutrients up from the depths of the soil to help fertilize grass. Plus, dandelions are great for humans too. They are rich in Vitamin A, C, and K and can be a great place to get calcium, potassium, iron, and magnesium. Furthermore, dandelion wine, dandelion tea, dandelion salads, sautéed dandelion greens, and dandelion syrup are just a few of the many tasty items they can become (check out this site for just a few of the many dandelion recipes out there).

Beyond the many practical purposes though exists another level for the lovely dandelion – that special level that is hard to name but ever so important for it is here where things exist that can bring a smile to one’s face. Just imagine the joy a child can find in picking a dandelion bouquet or making a wish as he or she blows the seeds into the wind to be carried to their eventual new home. Think back to a time when a youngster, with a heart of full love, handed you a single dandelion, which he or she was very proud to give to you. Without a doubt, there is something wondrous about dandelions. Kids can see it, but unfortunately, as we get older, the desire to conform to society occurs, and what once brought us happiness can now, thanks to pressures of others, bring distress. As my good friend Jason said as we were talking about dandelions, something whimsical from our childhood is being annihilated by Round Up by our adult selves.

FullSizeRender (6)

It doesn’t have to be this way. It’s time to embrace the inner child and let go of some of the pull from the society-peer-pressured status symbol of the green lawn Abraham Levitt made us believe we all needed to have. The next time you see a dandelion, please take a minute to look at those bright yellow petals to notice how truly lovely they really are. Then also look again at the stunningly intricate structure that appears when they reach seed form. Finally, remember, just as you knew as a child but may have forgotten with the passing of time, that these are not some regular plant, but instead, as my dear friend Julie likes to call them, they are magical wishing flowers that carry the ability to help make a wish come true with just the aid of single blow of breath. It is then you may also go from seeing dandelions as nothing more than a weed to realizing the true beauty that shines throughout this magical flower.

From Jason

FullSizeRender (5)

In Ray Bradbury’s book Dandelion Wine, young Douglas Spaulding learns that his grandfather has found a way to save every summer he’d ever experienced, in a bottle of Dandelion Wine.

“And there, row upon row, with the soft gleam of flowers opened at morning, with the light of this June sun glowing through a faint skin of dust, would stand the dandelion wine. Peer through it at the wintry day – the snow melted to grass, the trees were reinhabitated with bird, leaf, and blossoms like a continent of butterflies breathing on the wind. And peering through, color sky from iron to blue.

But the lowly dandelion is not viewed with much romanticism by most of us. Instead, it’s an invasive species. A yellow pox on our otherwise perfectly green and manicured lawns. We’ll spray it with herbicide until it wilts and dies. We’ll dig it up with a spade and throw it in the trash, but for all those efforts, the dandelion persists.

Twice in the past week, I had conversations about the lowly dandelion. The first was on a bike ride, where one of my friends mentioned that the dandelion should be a little more tolerated because it’s one of the first flowers that bees seek out in the early spring. And then it struck me that aside from a chirping Robin in your yard, there’s no surer sign of spring than the emergence of dandelions.

The second conversation came at a gathering Saturday night, when Ryan said he next wanted to write in defense of the dandelion – a plan I had in mind after my initial conversation on that bike ride. Thus, our collaborative defense of the dandelion was born.

Maybe it’s a control issue. Maybe we don’t like this wild and unruly thing coming into our lives. Maybe we don’t like being bested by something as simple and small as a plant. Maybe we just want our little corner of the world to be perfect, and the presence of a patch of dandelions is an unpleasant reminder that it won’t ever be perfect.

I remember as a child, my mom would pluck dandelions from the yard and hold them under my chin. I can’t remember, however, what the point of it was. If my chin reflected yellow, or stained yellow, it meant something. I searched the practice online and found I wasn’t alone. Though there’s scant authoritative information on it, I found several threads in which people likewise remembered their moms or grandfathers doing the same thing.

I do know, though, that I’ve never seen the dandelion as a vulgar plant. Of course, I’ve not ever much cared for manicured lawns, either. And I know that when I think back on the dandelion, it triggers pleasant memories. The aforementioned “buttercup” example, or late summer days blowing the seeds of a mature dandelion across the lawn, filled with excitement as the airy white seeds floated away with my secret wishes.

I know I’m not alone with these memories, so I wonder what it is about the dandelion that drives so many people so mad in adulthood. Based on the number of search engine results, there are a lot of people who will try just about anything to get rid of the dandelion forever.

Maybe it’s a control issue. Maybe we don’t like this wild and unruly thing coming into our lives. Maybe we don’t like being bested by something as simple and small as a plant. Maybe we just want our little corner of the world to be perfect, and the presence of a patch of dandelions is an unpleasant reminder that it won’t ever be perfect. That no matter how hard we try, we can’t always keep out the things we’d rather not see. Sometimes, even if we’ve done everything else right, these troubles are carried by the wind and land right in the middle of our carefully crafted perfection.

One could spend an entire lifetime trying to keep dandelions out of the yard, and still fail. The wind can’t be controlled, nor can the landing of the seeds. So maybe it’s time for us to embrace the lowly dandelion.

It’s an early food source for pollinators. It’s a natural plaything for children. It’s a harbinger of spring, and a sign that winter’s grip is over. And, with the right perspective, one might even come to admire some of the dandelion’s character – its resilience, its freedom, and its unending effort to share its underappreciated beauty with anyone willing to see it.

FullSizeRender (7)

THE ART OF MANLINESS 30 DAYS TO A BETTER MAN: PART II

Cover AoM-30-Days

And with no further ado, here is Part II (See Part I for a better introduction to this post) of the highlights of taking on the Art of Manliness 30 Days to a Better Man involving my tackling Days 16 through 30.

Second AoM 30

Day 20: Perform a Service
Only a few feet from my driveway was when I saw her. A motionless furry lump rested in the middle of the road. A bit of pain hit my heart as I jogged past her during those early morning hours as thoughts of opossums ran through my head. There were the ones that used to come up to our sliding glass door. Then some would appear outside of my grandparents’ window to eat the cat food my grandparents would leave out for wild felines. Those memories were followed by my times in college when I would take a opossum out to schools and the such to talk about the American marsupial as one of my duties as an Emporia Zoo docent. I remember how adorable it was as it munched away on grapes. Needless to say, I was one of the strange ones who really finds the American opossum to be great (meanwhile, there is, of course, the extremely adorable Australian possum, and I have fond memories of watching them in Carlton Gardens during my Australia days).

4540_535509388360_993585_n
An Australian Possum

Those thoughts then led to others as I went on with my morning jog. It was already past 6:00 AM, and I had to be at the Chamber Breakfast by 7:00 AM to show support as a board member for the Hutchinson Community Foundation who was sponsoring it. It wasn’t long before one step after another took me close to my starting place, and she was still there. I watched a morning walker shine a light on the opossum before walking on. Thinking she didn’t deserve to be smashed further into the ground by other cars or be spotted by children on their way to school, I decided it would be best to dispose of her body, so I grabbed a shovel from a storage shed and went to pick her up.

The shovel barely touched her side when her eyes opened and some gasps came from a blood-covered mouth. The bloody spot on the road and her inability to move anything besides her head let me know there was no hope she would recover. Standing there, I contemplated what to do, knowing the best solution was for her to be put out of her misery. That is when I saw near her body was a baby opossum that death had already stolen away from this world. Moving the mother just a bit more towards the side of the road led to my seeing something moving in her pouch before a little face peaked out. Instantly, I did my best to move her out of the road before running inside to send a frantic Facebook message to Ryan, the fantastic Hutchinson Zoo Director; Katie, his wife; and Corey, the Hutchinson Friends of the Zoo Board Chair with my hoping at least one of them may be up at 6:32 AM in the morning. The amazing Ryan quickly responded and let me know I should put her in a box and take her to the zoo at 8:00 AM where he would have someone there to help her and me.

Quickly, I found a plastic storage bin, an old blanket, and gloves all while sending a frantic text messages to Aubrey and Kari to let them know I wouldn’t be making it to the breakfast. The mother opossum did not even try to fight me when picking her up to place her transport shuttle. She just continued to cling to life while gasping for air. I tried to cover her up a bit, hoping that would help. Then I left them on my front porch as I quickly showered and dressed for the day.

At a little after 7:00 AM, she was in the back of my car, and I was in the driver’s seat. No word from Kari and Aubrey led to my worrying they would think I flaked, so I made the decision to head to the breakfast simply to let them know my plan of taking the opossum to the zoo at 8:00 AM. During the 5 minute drive there, I could hear her in the back, pulling in each and every breath that she could, as I tried to explain everything to my mother during my morning phone call to her.

Sounding like probably a crazy man, I then explained to Aubrey I had a mother opossum in the back of my car that I needed to take to the zoo at 8:00 AM. She was amazing as always as she pointed out I had some time between when I needed to leave so I should stay for at least part of the breakfast. She then helped me find a seat near a door so I could exit when needed.

I grabbed some food from the buffet before sitting back down at the table. I chatted a bit and then tried to listen to the presentation by Patty Clark, Vice President of the Kansas Leadership Center; however, my thoughts were with the mother and the babies waiting for me. How many times my watched was checked is unknown, but finally, it showed 7:46 AM, and quietly snuck out. After checking on the mother to see if she was still alive (she was), I headed towards the zoo while calling into work to let them know I would be a little bit late and once again probably sounded strange while describing my current mission.

And it was there Becky, a great zoo employee, found a guy dressed in a suit holding a large plastic tub with a mother opossum holding to dear life with her babies depending on her will to live. As I completed some paperwork, she went to work pulling one after another baby opossum from their dying mother’s pouch before her milk turned bad and killed them all until there were 8 adorable little fur balls moving around under another blanket in another plastic bin. With their being in great hands, I now left to head to work, but it wasn’t until hours later during the lunch hour I checked to see what the day’s challenge was to find it was committing an act of service.

After the initial thanks to Ryan, I was afraid to check in to see how the little guys and girls were doing, for no news meant in my mind the eight all lived. However, my hopes were confirmed by this amazing honors student I have who volunteers at the zoo who several weeks after that fateful morning let me know all of the opossums are doing great and have not been imprinted so they will be able to be released into the wild.

And if you are even thinking it was crazy to save the live of opossums, stop right now. These marvelous marsupials eat thousands of ticks per season. That right there alone makes them fantastic with their helping us avoid tick-borne diseases. Then there is the mother opossum who fought on with each dying breath for hours, and I like she did that for her eight babies who are still alive because of her will to live as long as she could. To me, this is quite fitting to think about over Mother Day’s Weekend.

image1.jpeg
A Photo Sent to Me of Some of the Baby Opossum from My Great Honors Student

Day 26: Take the Marine Corp Fitness Test
To say I have let myself go would seem like an understatement to me. Sure, I am not horribly obese (yet), but beyond my short morning jogs and riding my bike to work, my exercising has been nothing more than 20 minutes here and there. With that said, I still had quite a bit of confidence going into the Marine Corp Fitness Test, which involves a mix of total number of pull-ups, total number of crunches in two-minutes, and time for a 3 mile run. To get full points, one has to complete 20 pull-ups, do 100 crunches, and run 3 miles in 18 minutes. I knew the last one wasn’t going to happen. Even in my cross country high school days, I wasn’t that fast. However, I cockily figured a full score for both of the others though . . . and I was wrong. Well, I did barely squeak out 20 pull-ups, but figuring the crunches would be easy. It was around 30 when the burn started and the struggle really hit around 50. I made it to 71 when the alarm sounded. I will just say the 3 mile jog was much, much worse. Needless to say, this was a good wake up call to get back to a better and consistent exercise routine while watching the amount of food I have been devouring. It’s been pretty bad, so turning this ship around would be a very good thing to do.

Day 27: Start a Book
Living in a house with hundreds of books I have never read made for this task to be both easy and difficult. The options were many, but the problem was picking which one. Then I ended up going with none of the above. Rather, while chatting with a classmate, he asked me if I had ever heard of Major General Smedley Butler. Thanks really to the fact Hutchinson has a bar named after him, I had, which then led to my classmate recommending War Is a Racket, which seemed very much relevant today as it was when he wrote it in 1935.

Day 28: Write a Love Letter
So there is absolutely no one in my life who has a hold on my heart. Not even a silly infatuation exists right now, so writing a love letter to someone wasn’t really a possibility. The directions then recommended writing a love poem, but a letter seemed much more intriguing, which led to my deciding to write a love letter to life. It detailed how we had almost lost each other several times in the past before going to some of the great experiences we have had together. With this post already being longer, I won’t go into much more detail now, but perhaps, one day I will post it in full. Until then, here are the first and last paragraphs to give you a bit of an idea:

Dearest Life,
To be honest, we haven’t always seen eye to eye. Your plan and mine greatly conflict at times with my wanting to go one way and your pushing me another. Ultimately though, you always win, and ultimately, you always seem to know best. Sure, I question you often, but at the end of the day, I am extremely thankful for you, and today I want to take the time to write this love letter to you . . .

. . . Oh, I know you are a fickle, fleeting thing to say the least, but through it all, the hardships and the glories, you have been right there with me, and for that, I am eternally grateful.

With Much Love,

Ryan


Day 29: Conquer a Fear

Fears are fascinating to say the least, and I definitely have a couple. While an appreciation for snakes is in me, and for a while the fear of them had been overcome. However, six months with my accidental pet ball python Spartacus put that fear back in me, and there are no plans to work on conquering that fear again.

So I turned to another. Putting it in words I am not sure how, but it is something about how I can be outgoing in some situations and then be extremely reserved in others despite a desire in me to be right out there looking like a fool. It is sort of a fear of being judged or a fear of what other people think. However, more than likely, it is actually a fear of rejection. This fear paralyzes me time and again. There are some specific memories that from time to time haunt me about when I hesitated and should have gone for the kiss (different stories for a different time) or crowed at the rising sun (another completely different story for a different time). To try to conquer this fear though, I was going to put myself out of my comfort zone by singing karaoke at Social Saturday at 21 Santa Fe.

Let me begin by saying I can’t sing. Well, I can and do often around the house or in the car, but in front of others, it is best to save them from that. One person once told me she thought I could do anything I set my mind to except for being a singer. Another person who was stuck in a car with me for a very long road trip told me I sang with quite a bit of passion. When I asked if that were a good thing, he remained silent.

These episodes and a few more would be the reasons why I keep my singing to myself. However, there are few songs I have been practicing in my car and in the shower just in case I were ever brave enough or was forced to sing karaoke.

So I walked into Santa Fe that night with a plan to sing a song and conquer a fear in front of my friends, but then something better happened. Well, actually, first I found out the song I had been preparing to sing, despite it being a popular country song, did not appear among the thousands upon thousands of options in the karaoke book. Slight panic started to form as I was about to ditch my plans. That, though, was when Erin’s brother, Paul, threw out the idea of a group of us singing Proclaimers’ “500 Miles (I’m Gonna Be),” and soon there I was with a group of friends singing my heart out and conquering my fear through the power of others.

FullSizeRender.jpg
A Blurry Capturing of the Karaoke Adventure

Wrap Up
And those would be the highlights of my taking on the Art of Manliness 30 Days to a Better Man for my New Year’s Resolution #10 involving monthly themes. The question, of course, is am I a better man after all of this. While the jury is still out about that (I also still need to get a straight razor shave to meet Day 30), I do know it led to many great experiences, memories made, and clarity about some areas of my life that have been quite fuzzy for some time. Plus, I am now armed with a bucket list, an imaginary mentor, a more decluttered life, eight opossums out in the world eating thousands of ticks, and a step towards conquering my fear of rejection.

The Art of Manliness 30 Days to a Better Man: Part I

I am not really sure when it was I first stumbled across the Art of Manliness. It seems like it has just always been there in the background of my life with my reading their articles and listening to podcasts. Its mission is “to encourage [their] readers to be better husbands, fathers, brothers, citizens — a new generation of great men.” Needless to say, given my self-help addiction, Art of Manliness is right up my alley. Plus, the fact Brett and Kate McCay, the married couple behind it, live in Tulsa is also something else I find nifty given most people I tend to follow are on the coasts rather than here in the Frontier Strip.

Back in 2009, the Art of Manliness launched its 30 Days to a Better Man Project. You can either check out the individual days on the website or download an eBook version (signing up for the site’s newsletter led to my getting a free copy). The challenge was something that I had entertained doing in the past, but for whatever reason, it didn’t happen. A couple of years ago I even downloaded the eBook after receiving it for free thanks to signing up for the e-newsletter, but there it sat in a digital folder collecting digital dust . . . until late March when trying to figure out a plan of attack for the month of April. Skimming through my Google Drive folder of articles, eBooks, essays, and other items downloaded from the Internet to either share with others or go back to read again (and sometimes simply go back and read for the first time) led to my eyes catching the title “30 Days to a Better Man.” The fact April had only 30 days seemed like it was meant to be, so starting April 1, I kicked off with taking on the challenge of becoming a better man.

Cover AoM-30-Days

Rather than write about every day, the plan is to touch upon some of the adventures. Still, even the highlights lead to a super long blog post, so this is going to be a two-parter. Stay tuned for next week’s second half where more adventures from April will be covered.

Here are the challenges for the first 15 days:

The First Fifteen Days AoM 30.jpg

And Now for the Highlights . . .

Day 1: Define Your Core Values

Contemplation about my what values were my core came from a hotel room in Beaumont, Texas. A regional honors conference had led to my driving a van full of honors students 14 hours to the Texas town just a short drive from the gulf, and after a day of presentations, a river boat ride, and the evening dinner where the keynote talked about the value of the moon,  I was back in my room, considering possibilities and making a mess of a piece of scratch paper. That’s when I turned to my mission statement I had written a couple years ago on the flight home from another work trip for inspiration, which also serves as the background for my phone:

IMG_1476

From it and some many further thoughts came up with Lifelong Learning, Imagination, Community, Realistic Optimism, and Being Present all being the key components for my life.

Day 2: Shine Your Shoes

Then after a very long van drive back (which included a stop at Buckee’s, this amazing amusement park of a gas station found in the Lonestar State complete with a beaver as a mascot), I sat down and shined my shoes.

FullSizeRender-1.jpg

Day 3: Find a Mentor

While the first two days were pretty easy going, the third one proved to be challenge thanks to many factors. First, I don’t like to be an inconvenience (as noted with last summer’s kidney stone incident and my not wanting to trouble people to come to the ER to get me (thank you, Bailey, once again for letting me bother you!) or to pick me up from the hospital after the surgery (thank you, Jason, once again for letting me bother you!)), which I fear would be the case unless the right mentor found me. I also don’t want to be that random guy who sends a mentor-seeking message to Tim Ferriss, Brett McKay, Adam Grant, Cal Newport, Tim Urban, Elon Musk, Bernie Dunlap, Tom Angelo, Justin Trudeau, and a few other guys more in the public eye I greatly admire for various reasons. Second, as a firm believer in Tim Ferriss’s often-stated line: “You are the average of the five people you associate with most,” all of my close friends have traits I admire and aspire to possess.  Therefore, in a way, my close friends are all mentors for my life. Third, not being sure about which of three potential roads to take my life leads to my not being sure what type of mentor would be best. Fourth, did I mention my not wanting to be an inconvenience to someone with an already packed schedule?

This all led to more scribbling of trying to decide what areas of my life needed mentorship (professional and personal were the ultimate decisions, so pretty much every part of my life was the answer). Then my core value of imagination created a mentor to help me along for the time being. His name is Ethan Bomer. He is basically the composite of my favorite self-help material with some influence of Matt Bomer thrown into the mix, another person I greatly admire for how he came out with class and his being a family man. Plus, Ethan is a higher education administrator who spent many successful years in the classroom (and continues to teach a class every semester), a father of two, a fantastic husband to a supportive partner, and a big believer in the power of people and community.

It’s been pointed out by some that creating a flawless individual who is the epitome of what I see as perfection in every way to serve as a mentor is probably not the best of ideas (Talk about the unreal expectations he sets for me!). Plus, my imagining (look at that core value being used again) I go on morning jogs with him might make me seem a bit crazy too, but don’t worry, for I am not talking out loud to someone who isn’t really there (yet). He also is not in complete agreement with what I do and think. Rather, Ethan is helping me gather my thoughts, think from another perspective, question my actions, and try to work towards achieving my goals to the best of my ability. Plus, even with his imaginary packed schedule, I don’t have to worry about inconveniencing him too much.

Day 7: Reconnect with an Old Friend

And now you are probably thinking I am going to reconnect with my childhood imaginary friends for this one, but I actually went with real people instead (Plus, I don’t think I had any imaginary friends). Three were on purpose and two happened more thanks to timing. Of the first three, I learned about Ian’s upcoming trip to the Daytime Emmy’s thanks to Red Bird being nominated for best Outstanding Digital Daytime Drama Series and Paul’s travels to China where the photos and stories he shared led to a few more places added to my list of places to see one day. The reconnection is yet to happen with the third old friend to whom I reached out, but I had also missed replying to her last message when she had reached out to reconnect with me, so one day . . .

Then for the other two, it just happened the day of the challenge was when the Mennonite Relief Sale was taking place at the Kansas State Fairgrounds and Ted and Jonny from the Omaha area just happened to be there to enjoy the festivities, which led to my reconnecting with the two of them as well as meeting Jonny’s amazing family while we enjoyed tasty German food at the Feeding of the Multitude. That evening also led to . . .

Day 9: Take a Woman on a Date

Except it was not with a woman, and it was not a romantic date. With no prospects for romance on the horizon at all (I honestly attempted to find one leading up to this day but failed miserably), it seemed like the best idea was to modify the Day 9 challenge and make it a friend date. While Jonny caught up with family, Ted and I explored Horse Thief Canyon at Kanopolis State Park, checked out Mushroom State Park, saw the sights from Coronado Heights, and experienced the charm of Lindsborg before getting him back a bit late for dinner.

FullSizeRender-2.jpg

FullSizeRender-3

Sure, it wasn’t what Brett McCay probably pictured as a date when he came up with this challenge, but it was a great time to say the least, and the plan until the stars align for romance in my life will be many more great dates with friends.

Day 12: Create Your Bucket List

For the longest time, the number one item on my Bucket List was to see Banff and all of its glory. Last summer that happened which led to having a relatively empty bucket (see the Northern Lights), so this was a challenge that was in need of happening. What was fascinating was when I first started drafting the list, I would scratch out an item thanks to thinking it was too hard or unrealistic, but then thoughts of this being a bucket list came back to me as well as my plans of having a long life to achieve these items (Number 1 went from “Go on a hike in all 50 states” to “Visit all 50 states” to back to “Go on a hike in all 50 states”):

  1. Go on a hike in all 50 states
  2. Visit all National Parks in the United States
  3. Have a terribly romantic Hollywood-like kiss in the rain
  4. Be known as a writer
  5. See the Northern Lights
  6. Visit all of the continents and touch all five oceans
  7. Be debt free
  8. Be a father
  9. Life a full life as a great (gay) role model to others/be a mentor like Ethan Bomer
  10. Fall in love again

Day 13: Declutter Your Life

The month of March was all about becoming super organized (supposedly); however, it was April when I really began to contemplate the art of decluttering. However, this time, it was not really about my physical surroundings but rather it was about people in my life, my (lack of) ability to tackle small tasks efficiently) and my mental thoughts. That day I was on the phone listening to someone who had a horrible case of nonsermitis, which led to my thinking more about how some people unfortunately can become clutter. The same sort of thoughts started to form about small tasks I needed to achieve.

A picture of a doorway towards my future goals was imagined (I am on a role with this core virtue. Another imagined image was a bush needing to be trimmed), and these small tasks I can waste so much time accomplishing, the mental thoughts that hindered my progress, and the people who seemed to hold me back rather than help me go forward were all just clutter in the way of trying to get towards my desired destination. The same goes for the conversations on dating apps I know right away are simply a waste of time, but yet I still carry them on for who knows what reasons. By the end of the day, all of this started to become clearer as the clutter truly started to be cut out so my focus could be more on the truly important parts of my life, which my friends, selected family, and goals to improve the world around me and live a fulfilled life.

Day 14: Write a Letter to Your Father

It will be five years in September since my dad severed our relationship with his letting me know I was no longer his son. This is neither the time nor place to go into more details, and for those who are close, you already know the story. Over the last nine months, his and my paths have crossed twice for the first and second time since that fateful phone call that still sometimes haunts my memory. During both times, all went okay thankfully as if nothing had ever happened, but the door was not opened for my coming home for Christmas or for even a weekend. Needless to say, the challenge of writing a letter to him gave me pause, and before I started, I had no idea what would be created. In fact, when I was talking about that day’s challenge, a good friend of mine said he wanted to read it, for he was sure it would be seething. The thing, though, is I have no hatred in my heart for him, so the creation turned out to be quite the opposite and the whole experience was extremely cathartic.

Sure, it opened with “To pinpoint the very first time I disappointed you would be a hard thing to do. My life seems like one that would have repeatedly built up your hopes to just have them crashing down” before discussing how I don’t have many memories of him when I was young for he was always hunting or fishing. That, though, was only a page before getting to many pages of where I talked about all of the good times – his coming up with my first Halloween costume, his story of his picking up his weak and faint youngest son to rush him to the hospital before pneumonia took away his life, his making sure I saw so much of the country during our family vacations when we really did not have any money to take those kind of trips, his believing (as we sat in the Santiago airport) he bought my very first beer after he had taken me to Argentina to hunt doves to celebrate my 21st birthday, and his helping me fix up my house after I bought it. I also wrote about how he never really had a loving father himself – one who could have served as a role model.

The letter then moved on to how he has influenced my life in so many ways: “As you always said, you can pick your friends but you can’t pick your family. Sure you may not have been the father I wish I would have had or the movie/TV version I like to imagine, and it would be great if we could have made more father and son memories, but you are the father I was given, and because of that, I am who I am today.” Finally, my closing was honest and captured the letter’s overall feelings:  “With much love and some understanding.”

While the challenge was to write the letter, thankfully it was not necessary that I sent it, and for right now, it will rest in a digital folder among other writings of mine that I revisit from time to time.

Day 15: Make a Meal

Then for the last challenge in the first half was a simple one: make a meal. The timing was perfect too, for my mother, who has always supported me through everything, was here for Easter. Although 90% of my meals I cook at home, when my mother visits, we tend to eat out the entire time, but this time, we had a tasty meal of a broiled steak and salad topped with fruit, mushrooms, blue cheese, and balsamic vinegar.

IMG_0818.JPG

And those are the highlights from my first half of my 30 Days to Becoming a Better Man. Stay tuned for Part II next week for recaps of adventures about my saving 8 baby opossums, playing, taking (and failing) the Marine Corp Fitness Test, starting a fascinating book, writing a love letter, and conquering a fear in front of everyone at Social Saturday as well as a reflection about the month as a whole.

April’s New Year’s Resolutions Update (Minus an Update about April itself)

Before I get into a Talk20, Going Over the Edge, a Love Letter to Life, and a whole bunch of other (likely more exciting) things (than this post) that have either happened or been on my mind, I figured a quick update about my New Year’s Resolutions so far would be a great thing to do given this blog started because of the initial list back in 2014.

As usual, some are going forward well and then some of them have been delayed (a broken violin and then some massive vet bills will delay that one, but yay for more quality time with my guitar (in theory)), but I do have a whole year to attack them. I am happy to say I have been pulling myself out of my phone more and documenting many of the days (not all but I am working on it) in my Personalized Progress Log. I have even been watching my diet (today even led to my resisting a super tasty Blue Bird Books’ Nutella Hand Pie) and fitting in exercise. The most interesting adventures so far this year have been with #10. Create and Carry Out Monthly Themes, so this post is going to be dedicated to highlights from those.

January: A Month of No Complaining
The plan for the first month of the year was to spend an entire month not complaining about anything. It didn’t take long to find there is a difference between complaining and telling the truth. For an example, Kansas in January can be quite chilly, so if I stated, “I’m cold,” is that my telling the truth or is it my complaining? Ultimately, I opted for the former. I also opted with seeing some observations made about others in the former light too (the truth is the truth, right). In all seriousness, I did pretty well with this theme and have been trying to keep it going since then. Needless to say, this New Year’s Resolution did lead to quite a bit of contemplation, and it was definitely a good way to start the year on a positive note.

February: Playing Vegetarian
The vegetarian lifestyle is not something necessarily foreign to my life. There have been times I have gone four or so days without having any meat (often connected to times I had made veggie tacos and had four or so days of leftovers), but a whole month (although it was a short month) was another eye-opening experience.

First, there was the actual-finding-food-to-eat challenge. Since the kidney stone, I had given up quite a few foods high in oxalates, but I figured a month of having them again wouldn’t be too bad, especially if they were high in protein, so peanut butter came back into my life and so did peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, which were absolutely tasty (Seriously. This inner child was awoken). However, don’t worry, for I fixed many meals beyond that of a grade-school diet. Many vegetable-broth-based soups were created in my kitchen thanks to the chilliness of a Kansas winter (except it really wasn’t too chilly and I spent quite a few evenings at Sand Hills State Park lying in the tall grass, watching birds fly over me, and staring at the setting sun while doing my best to be in the moment all while still contemplating the journey of life (which now looking back, this does seem like some sort of thing a transcendentalist vegetarian would be doing).

IMG_8471.JPG
One of many February sunsets I enjoyed

But then there were the times of going out to eat with friends. Cooking at home was no problem at all, but eating in Central Kansas was a completely different story when it came to the vegetarian lifestyle. There were several times when I would look at a menu repeatedly to try to find something I could eat. Thankfully, grilled cheese sandwiches tend to be a stable on most menus (yep, back to the grade-school diet), and desserts are almost always vegetarian-friendly (minus the bacon-covered donuts).

IMG_8808.JPG
A tasty three-cheese sandwich from Carl’s Bar (and the cheeses were up to me which led to my picking one, having my buddy Jason pick another, and then asking our server to pick the third.
IMG_8569.JPG
One of the many tasty and vegetarian-friendly stops along Third Thursday’s Annual Chocolate Walk

But then there were the events where I became that guy to request a special meal from the norm. This included the annual Hutchinson/Reno County Chamber Dinner where the main entrée was what was described by many as the best prime rib they had ever had. Meanwhile, I had a plate full of side dishes (green beans (thankfully no bacon), carrots, and potatoes).

However, as I sat down was when the other fascinating facet of being a vegetarian occurred thanks to a simple, courteous question.

“Will you be offended if you have someone eating meat right next to you?” the wonderful and amazing Alice asked with a genuine concern.

It took me just a second to realize what she meant before I smiled and said, “Don’t worry. I am just playing vegetarian for the month of February.”

And that really was the truly interesting part of the month – other people’s reactions to my living a meat-free diet. There were those who knew me well and just had fun with my month’s tasks. There were those concerned I would judge them and be angry by their omnivore/carnivore ways. Finally, there were those who went to great lengths to let me know my being a vegetarian was a danger to my health. One in particular, who may have been greatly intoxicated at the time, basically begged me to eat meat because he was sure I would be developing all sorts of food allergies. He never quite picked up, despite my trying to tell him repeatedly, this was just for four weeks and not a plan for a lifelong lifestyle. Every time I attempted to make that clear, he just answered back with yet another grave concern he had for my future and how I was making the biggest mistake of my life.

The takeaway from this resolution was my getting just a small taste of the great challenges vegetarians have when it comes to staying firm with their diet. Where I had only a month of looking at three-plus page menus to find only one possible option or being tempted by the pleasant aroma of bacon coming from the cafeteria or the grilling of steaks from neighbors’ back yards (there really was some great weather in February), it’s their life, and I give them great props for holding to their values.

The plan was to continue being a vegetarian for a bit into March, but Jimmy John’s came to campus offering free sandwiches and were out of the vegetarian ones by the time they stopped by my office. Well . . .

March: Becoming Super Organized
The original plan for March was inspired by Adam Grant with my wanting to become a precrastinator; however, these New Year’s Resolutions need to be somewhat doable, and I knew there was no hope for a complete 180 on my procrastinating ways, so the plan was to organize my life instead.

First, there was the homefront and then my office with both becoming nice[r] and neat[er] (for me. A truly organized person likely would still have been horrified). Second was scheduling my week using my Personalized Progress Log, which included sticking with what I set and attacking homework during the time allotted. Third was getting everything lined up so I would not have to attack (too much) homework while I spent 4.5 days back East visiting friends in North Carolina and Virginia (with a quick hike in West Virginia so I could say I have been to West Virginia) followed almost immediately by a work trip involving my driving a huge van filled with honors students fourteen hours to Beaumont, Texas.

The most fun with the month of being organized was easily testing out my nifty new Nomatic travel bag bag (nothing but great things to say about it):

Enjoying a clean(er) house was up there too. Now if only I could say all of these good habits stuck around. There were some steps forward, and strangely, though, the true contemplation of decluttering my life and organizing my focus didn’t come until April as part of my taking on the Art of Manliness 30 Days to a Better Man, but those adventures deserve posts dedicated to them, and they will be coming soon.

My take away from March is being organized can be a great thing. It is really nice walking into an organized house or into an organized office. The same goes for knowing what I was going to be eating, wearing, and doing for the week or as far out as scheduled; however, there were times when an unexpected surprise (a work assignment that needed to be done as soon as possible, a friend needing a friend, a friend I was visiting having a ruptured cyst after our hike and having to go to the hospital (supposedly neither the hike nor my visit were connected to sending her to the ER, but now I am worried if I should add a disclaimer a visit from me may lead to our having to seek medical treatment) , etc.) would come up and throw off my schedule, and that is okay. The key really is about finding a balance rather than falling to either extreme when it comes to organization. What that said, leaning a little more towards being organized, especially when it comes to my time, would be a good thing, and my hope is perhaps once day that will be true, but until then, it will be like most things and simply baby steps towards that direction.