No Shame November

There really were no photos that go with this post, so instead, you get some of my favorite pictures I took in November.

It all started with a conversation at an October Social Saturday. There I sat with some of my close Hutchinson friends (names will be excluded for this blog entry) with a bowl of popcorn sitting in front of me, attempting to tempt me but failing thanks to the October’s New Year’s Resolution theme of Whole 30. Our conversation eventually shifted to brainstorming my November’s theme.

“You should give up shaming people,” one friend said.
“I shame people?” I genuinely asked.

And just like that, the others started pointing out past experiences. The first was the person who originally made the suggestion with his talking about my many failed attempts to get him to stop smoking and my various methods to try to do so. Then another friend added about my going on about how she killed Santa after she brought to an end a non-profit’s annual Christmas breakfast for youngsters to get to see jolly old St. Nick (It is just fun to say, “You killed Santa,” for I agree it was far from the mission of the non-profit and such, and there are tons of places to see Father Christmas). Then another talked about a guilt trip I gave to him an earlier Saturday night that encouraged him to carry his empty glass from our outside beer garden table to the bar to help out our server that night as we were getting to leave. The stories kept coming until I simply asked, “Why do you still want to hang out with me? Seriously?” They expressed their love, but that evening left me with No Shame November (a title given to the theme from the friend who originally threw out the suggestion).

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So the month of November was spent with my doing my best not to shame anyone. Honestly, I don’t do it on purpose. As you can probably guess, I have high expectations for myself. Those tied to my dry sense of humor lead to my sometimes saying things that lead to guilt. Usually, I don’t purposely do it. Usually at least.

There were some successes. The one friend received a pass about my saying anything about his smoking. I worked up a blog post about Target’s upcoming departure from Hutchinson; however, it largely was a shamefest about this is what happens when people don’t shop local and rather drive to Wichita to do shopping they could do here in Hutchinson or, more often, turn to Amazon to pick up things they could have picked up at Target, so that post never saw the light of day. Then there were quite a few failures. Here are just a few of them.

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Situation I
November 1 at the Honors Student Council meeting. Some of my students were signing up for events and then either backing out on the last moment or just not showing up. It was a huge problem in my eyes for two events especially, for one was a tour of the Hutchinson Correctional Facility, and the names had to be submitted beforehand for background checks, so those few people not coming wasted time and money by those there. Then another was a trip to a conference where the person backed out a few hours before our early departure for really not a great reason.

What No-Shame Ryan Should Have Said:
Remember to be sure to check your calendars before you sign up for an event. It is important with some of these we have an accurate number.

What Ryan Actually Said:
We have had a problem this year of people signing up for events and then backing out at the last minute. I understand if it is an illness, but for some, the reason for backing out was not good, including with some of you already having previous engagements you should have known about before you even signed up. Like class for an example. Your backing out cost the correctional facility time with the background checks, and if the person backing out on the conference almost at the very last minute so he could work on some homework instead led to the program losing money, and if I would have known about it earlier, I could have changed out the large van for something smaller. Remember always your name is as good as your word, and that should always, always be on the forefront when you sign up for something.

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Situation II
We were on a phone call with my driving to work. My conversation partner was recounting a situation with frustrating people she had told me the night before. I had arrived at the parking lot and was needing to bring the conversation to the close.

What No-Shame Ryan Would Have Said:
I am so sorry you have to put up with that. Well, I have arrived. I hope your day is as good as it can be. Good luck and love you.

What Ryan Actually Said:
After finishing the story for her, she asked, “Did I already tell you this?”

“Yes. Last night when you called. And we had only a limited time to talk this morning, and rather than discussing something positive or something good, the time we had was spent reliving a bad situation again, and now I have arrived at work, and our conversation has to come to a close.”

I paused, “That was probably shaming, wasn’t it?”

She answered, “It was indeed.”

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Situation III
A text message conversation was taking place with a buddy wanting me to drive and visit him. He threw out a passive aggressive guilt trip about my never making the time to grab dinner with him.

What No-Shame Ryan Would Have Said:
Don’t worry. My schedule is a little packed right now, but we will get something worked out over winter break.

What Ryan Actually Said/Texted:
Ryan: Do you even have a clue what has been going on in my life with all of my responsibilities?

His reply: That came out wrong. I know you are busy. I have seen some on Facebook and Instagram.

Ryan: But you don’t ask questions really. Or try to pursue any more about my world.

His reply: I am so sorry that came out so badly. I figured you were really busy and would share if you wanted to.

Ryan: But rather than ask questions, we talked all about your life. Which the assumption that you had makes it seem like you don’t care.

His reply: You always seemed like you would rather leave your life alone. I guess i missed read it. I am very interested in whats been happening in your life. Thats why i look at your fb and instagram.

Ryan’s Major Rant/Shaming: Simply looking at those don’t count. Truly taking an interest would be asking questions to find out more. If you go back and look at our conversations, the majority of the times the focus is on your world. And you do have a lot going on. There is no doubt about that. Now though I need to get to work, but I will catch you later. And sorry by the way. I am working well over 40 hours a week while also taking grad classes for my PhD while also trying to live up to my commitments here while also trying to tackle some personal projects that continue to be thrown to the back burner while also trying to financially survive. But we will get together over winter break. That I promise.

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And the situations could continue. Sure, there were times that I should have held my tongue, but November’s month’s theme was much harder than anything before, and it will be something I will need to work on. Even this weekend, I fell to shaming again when someone asked if the bar where Social Saturday takes place takes cards. My answer was that it does, but given it is a local business, he should really grab some cash so the hard-working owner could keep all of the money from his purchases rather than have a percentage go to the credit card company. Guilt instantly came across his face. I added afterwards that she would gladly take a card, for any purchase is better than no purchase; however, the shaming had already happened.

With that said, I did my best to hide my thoughts and great hurt about something else that occurred this weekend, which could have turned into a huge shaming of sorts with guilt likely being felt by the parties involved. Instead, I sat there, as stoic as I could be while trying my best to hold on to Don Miguel Ruiz’s second agreement about not taking things personally (The Four Agreements is a fantastic book by the way for those who have not read it). All of the words that wanted to be said were held back, for the action had already been taken. I just kept thinking perhaps my previous shaming of others had led to that moment right then. That, though, is a story for a time that will never be told, for as I had mentioned to the person in Situation II, we only have a limited time when it comes down to it, and that time we spend should be focused on the good rather than dwelling on the wounds from the past. Rather, we should learn from them and forge ahead with the knowledge gained, and rather than shame, that is what I will do.

When it comes to my problem with shaming others though, where things go from here are up in the air. Ever since that conversation in October, the shaming of others has been a topic on my mind, and No Shame November made it even more apparent. Looking now at this post, I realize it is even a public shaming of myself in a way for my failures with this adventure, but the first step is to admit the problem, right? And that is what is going on now. Now the question is how things will go with that next step. Only time will tell on that one. Needless to say, this month’s theme of sketching on a regular basis has been a cakewalk compared to November.

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A Thank You Letter to Thanksgiving

Dear Thanksgiving,

Perhaps it is because a turkey almost killed me when I was two (Life Lesson 157: Don’t hit the neighbor’s evil turkey with a red plastic bat even if your older sister tells you to do so when A. it is larger than you, B. it has a history of chasing after and attacking adults, and C. your sister has already hit with a Frisbee and made it quite angry), but I love you, Thanksgiving. You are easily my favorite holiday. Sure, there is the history that leads to some of my friends calling you Genocide Day, but we are not going to focus on that for this letter. Instead, it is going to be a trip down memory lane with my expressing my gratitude for you and all that you have brought to my life.

The mere mention of your name brings a smile to my face as I think about those times of when I was a youngster and would attempt to help Mom in the kitchen as she would prepare the meal for us all. One of my jobs was always to crumble the bacon for the broccoli salad and stirring it into the tasty mix. Mom would usually have to fix more bacon after looking at my finished product to see what she made had not been enough despite her having made the salad countless times before thanks to perhaps one or three or four of the bacon strips having magically disappeared somehow from the plate to the bowl. This memory and so many more return to me each year while I am in my kitchen cooking now that I have taken over as Thanksgiving host for 11 out of the last 12 years.

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With a face like that, I surely could be trusted with the bacon for the broccoli salad. 

The food you bring us, though, Thanksgiving, is one of my favorite parts, and each family has their traditional favorites. For me, it would be the turkey, Mom’s stuffing recipe (although it really is dressing thanks to its never being stuffed in the turkey itself), homemade apple pie using my grandmother’s pie crust recipe, and broccoli salad. Other tasty dishes have come in and out depending on the number of people who would be joining us that year and what we were craving. Sure, nothing is really that healthy, but everything seems to have this magical quality to warm the heart.

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Mmm healthy butter . . . 

This food you bring us is really just a means to bring us together. While Christmas tends to have people creating memories exchanging presents around a Christmas tree, it is the passing of food around the dinner table for you, Thanksgiving, and there is something pure to that. A present can be bought with love, but it still is a material thing in a way while Thanksgiving, you are all about the experience, and that is one of the reasons I am grateful for you. That Christmas present may last longer than a piece of apple pie, but the time of making pie crust while Mom prepares the Jonathan apples is worth more than anything that could ever be wrapped.

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You are also a day for us to reflect on our gratitudes. So often, we fly through life, not pausing to think about all of the great things in our world. The news unfortunately can lead us to seeing things in a negative light, but for most of us, we have so much for which we should be grateful, but you, Thanksgiving, make us stop for just a bit to let some of that gratefulness set in.

You also have become a day where we can reach out to others to say, “Happy Thanksgiving,” which in turn is saying thank you for being in our life. Those messages, of course, travel back and forth between some of our closest loved ones, but there is something magical about you, Thanksgiving, that also allows us to extend a text or a message to someone who may have been close to us at one time but, for whatever reason, that closeness had faded over the years. Thanks to you, that text offering Thanksgiving greetings can sometimes reignite what once was or at least help connect each other for even a little while.

There is no other holiday in my life that can do all of this and so much more like you do, Thanksgiving. The closest would likely be Christmas with its tasty food, cards, caroling, parties, religious celebration, and so much more, but it also has a tendency of material things becoming its focus rather than the actual Christmas spirit. You have somehow managed to stay true to yourself. Black Friday has even tried to change that with its seeping into your evening hours and brought out some craziness in people, but even then, those sales are still seen as Black Friday deals rather than Thanksgiving ones. At the end of the day, when we think about Thanksgiving, we think about our coming together around a table rather than buying a TV or something else ridiculous we merely want but do not need.

For all of the great memories you have helped create, for the family traditions you have helped start, and for so much more, I just want to take this moment to say how much I appreciate you, Thanksgiving. You are indeed the best, and I am very thankful for the magic you bring into the lives of so many.

With much love,

Ryan

October’s Theme: Whole 30 AKA My Plan to Avoid Eating Tons of Halloween Candy

Let me begin this by confessing a simple truth: I love Halloween candy. Every year, I buy tons. Sure, a lot of it is for the tons of Trick or Treaters that hit my neighborhood, but a lot of it is devoured by me. This year, though, I decided to do something about it. Rather than simply be that guy who doesn’t buy candy for Trick or Treaters and hide out that night in a dark house, it seemed like trying out Whole 30 for the month of October was a better option.

I first heard about Whole 30 when a friend of mine, Elizabeth, was singing its praises. It intrigued me, but besides a mental note being made, that was about it. However, last summer, Kari, one of my best friends, took it on and was a champ. In addition to her updates about her progress, I also had the opportunity to see her make it through a lunch meeting where almost everything that was served was not Whole 30 compliant, but she did her best with the fresh fruit that was there and ate afterwards. Her discussing the benefits led to my deciding Whole 30 should be one of my monthly New Year Resolution themes. September was not an option because Kansas State Fair food was a must, and Thanksgiving is one of my favorite holidays, so November wouldn’t work either. Therefore, October had to be it.

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Whole 30 was created by a wife-and-husband team, Dallas and Melissa Hartwig. Here is a link to the program’s rules. Basically, one is to avoid having sugar, alcohol, grains, legumes, soy, and dairy during a 30 day period. Then the dieter is to slowly add these back in to see what effects, if any, the person experiences. Although popular, there are mixed views about how healthy it actually is. Many have found it life changing with their going on about how great they feel. Then places like Health magazine listed it as one of the worst health trends for 2013.

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Definitely Not Whole 30 Compliant

No concrete studies have been done about the long-term effects of Whole 30 that I could find, but I figured 30 days, or in the case of October – 31 days, would be fine to give up the list of banned items and test my will power.

Without a doubt, it was a fascinating month, and here are a few takeaways.

  1. Sugar Is in Everything

Thankfully, I could eat fruits and other items containing natural sugars; however, white and brown sugar had to be avoided. The same went for anything containing them as ingredients. I was prepared to give up desserts and the such; however, I was shocked when I started reading labels and finding sugar as a listed ingredient time and again. My healthy organic low sodium chicken broth – sugar. My tasty meat tenderizer – sugar. Dried fruit – sugar. Bacon – sugar. Most things tasty – sugar. One thing after another, I would find it listed and be shocked repeatedly of wondering the simple question, “Why?” I still don’t know the answer to that besides the fact that sugar is delicious.

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Seriously, why is there cane sugar in chicken broth?
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Mmmm Bacon Containing Sugar That Tempted During Two Different Breakfast Meetings
  1. Eating Out Is Rough

Several times during the month, I attempted to go out to eat, and it was indeed rough. There was a date at a Mexican food restaurant (I will get to that in a bit). There were several lunch meetings. My mother came to visit for a weekend and we attempted to find places that would have something Whole 30 compliant. Looking back, there were a lot of not-so-great salads that were devoured (Hutchinson needs some great salad places on a side note). Even my go-to healthy place to eat in town had little on its menu that was Whole 30 friendly (the salad there was good though). In fact, it was harder to go out to eat and follow the Whole 30 rules than it was during February when I was playing vegetarian.

  1. Eating In Was Easy

Most of the meals (after I found a no-sugar-added-for-no-reason low-sodium vegetable broth) I make at home are Whole 30 compliant. Sure, bread was missed to go with the soup, and a tortilla shell to have tacos instead of taco salads (no tasty tortilla bowl for that either) would have been nice, but overall, I didn’t have to adjust too many of my usual recipes except for breakfast. For that meal, my cereal was replaced by eggs either in the form of scrambled, hard boiled, or omelet. They were tasty, and they have continued to start off my day.

  1. My Will Power Was Stronger Than I Thought It Would Be

I was really concerned some of the banned foods would greatly tempt me. For sugar, it was sweets of any kind. For grains, it were popcorn, tortilla chips, and fried chicken. For legumes, it was peanut butter. For soy, it was Asian food, and for dairy, it was cheese. For alcohol, well, I gave up drinking again back in May and I have no plans to restart anytime soon.

To my surprise, none of the banned foods actually were tempting at all. Early on in October, I went on a date, and he was craving Mexican food. In addition to being that guy who first struggled finding something on the menu and then finally locating a salad to only make some special requests while also trying to explain to the very nice server that I really am not that crazy diet person despite my currently being that crazy diet person, I had to resist the urge of the unlimited tortilla chips that were sitting in front of me. Usually, I will eat a basket by myself and then some. A desire to eat even one wasn’t even there.

These tempting foods continued to appear. Fried chicken tried to tempt me three different times, and each time I admired it and was okay with not eating it (even at the Volunteer Center’s Appreciation Dinner where I served as their volunteer photographer for the evening).

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Fried chicken, cheesy potatoes, green beans  with ham that likely has sugar in it, and a roll = No food for Ryan at the Volunteer Center’s Appreciation Dinner

Requests two different times at work had me popping popcorn for others, and I also had to throw all of the extra away at the end of the day. Not once did I want to eat even a single piece (okay, there may have been a little bit of desire here, but I stayed strong). Cheese is everywhere, and going without was fine with me. Then on the last day, a former student of mine went over the top by sending me a gift box from Henry & David that was complete with chocolate-covered cherries, tasty looking chocolate truffles, a chocolate-covered popcorn mix, and a whole bunch of other things that were not Whole 30 compliant. Plus, there was all of the Halloween candy too. For both, I was fine with letting everything stay in their wrappers.

  1. I Lost Weight Despite Eating Tons

For the first couple of weeks, I was hungry all of the time. This is supposedly caused by the body turning to other sources of energy in our bodies rather than relying on carbs and sugar as the main energy sources. Following the guidance from the Whole 30 site, I ate more Whole 30 compliant food. Not really following the advice on the Whole 30 site, those cravings were often satisfied by more fruit, nuts, and these super tasty homemade Larabars that consisted of dates and nuts (seriously, that is it – dates and nuts and a blender or a food processor). Another part of Whole 30 is that the dieter is not allowed to weigh oneself during the 30 days, so I stayed away from the scales. Given my eating tons (although my constant hunger did go away after those first two weeks), I just figured there is no way I could have lost any weight. However, to my surprise, I was 7 pounds lighter at the end of the month with my dropping a percentage of body fat in the process. Plus, a great friend of mine commented about how I appeared to be in much better shape with my face seeming much slimmer. That actually made my day.

  1. Sugar Does Odd Things to My Mind

So after the 30 days are complete (or 31 in my case), one can slowly introduce the banned foods back into one’s life. Well, November 1 led to my experimenting with sugar. Overlooking the recommendation regarding the “slowly” part, I ate some tasty Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups and found out first-hand the Henry and David chocolate truffles were indeed delicious. Soon after, my mind felt extremely fuzzy and a desire to sleep came not too long after that. Just to make sure it wasn’t a fluke thing (aka following to the temptation of the chocolate-covered popcorn and more Halloween candy), November 2 led to my experimenting some more with sugar. The outcome of a fuzzy mind was the same. Lesson was learned for sure. All of the left-over Halloween candy was placed in the candy drawer in the Honors Lounge where it quickly disappeared soon after. While some sugar will be coming back into my life (like the sugar in the Airborne I just had or in food when eating out), the plan is to limit most refined sugar going forward.

 

As I continue to reflect on the Whole 30 experiment, more takeaways will surely come. It did introduce me to some tasty recipes (this one for pork carnitas especially), and the Whole 30 book has many more I am planning on trying. However, the will power found to resist the tempting foods was easily the biggest takeaway. How that will come in use in the future is yet to be seen, but like with the other months, October’s theme is sure to have some residual effects.

The Amazing and Fantastic Shakespeare on the Porch

Some nights can be magical and leave a person with a renewed faith in humanity. Last Sunday was one of those for me.

Shakespeare on the Porch first fell upon my radar during last July’s Talk20 when Suzanne McKenzie Miller gave a heartfelt, moving, funny, inspirational presentation about the birth of the Arlington Classical Theatre and an overview of what goes into the productions. I highly, highly, highly recommend your watching it:

Months flew by, and the plan was to head there with a group of friends on Friday night to see the production ourselves; however, a work obligation of taking honors students to a corn maze forced me to alter those plans. Then a great adventure with my mother and a good friend from Nebraska on Saturday (along with a potential storm that thankfully never hit) led to that night not working either.  That left Sunday as the sole possibility.

The early Sunday evening hours, though, had me at George Pyle Park in Downtown Hutchinson rather than in a car heading to Arlington. It was the evening for the Common Table, a fantastic community gathering for which my dear and clever friend Kari had masterminded.

 

IMG_4456.JPGEveryone in the community, on behalf of Young Professionals of Reno County, was invited to enjoy tasty food and great company as they saw friends and met new people. The weather was perfect, and the festivities started with good conversations. Although it was in the back of my mind I would attempt to escape a bit early to head to Arlington, I wasn’t quite sure if I would. However, after first Tony and Andrea telling me about how great it was when I ran into them the night before at a fantastic Halloween party and then Greg, another friend whose views I greatly trust, describing it as one of the most fun experiences he has had for quite some time (and he is always at the niftiest places and events), I was leaning much more towards the idea of adding some Shakespeare to my life. It was Bailey though who convinced me I should definitely hit the road.

Not particularly feeling social that night, I excused myself from my table to join Bailey and her efforts to catch on camera the Common Table. As she took video and I took photos, Shakespeare on the Porch came up in our conversation. The look on her face was similar to that of Greg’s, Tony’s, and Andrea’s. “You have to go and see it. Plus, you will see a great sunset, and you will want to write about it because it is that good,” she told me. And with that, I took a few more photos, told Kari congrats for a very successful event, admired the tasty-looking chili and cinnamon rolls that weren’t on my Whole 30 diet, tried to walk away to my car without anyone noticing, and drove off by myself towards a farmhouse outside of the town of Arlington, Kansas, all while leaving behind some of my best friends in Hutchinson for a place where I likely knew no one.

A beautiful sunset did keep me company along the drive to the gravel road where my car joined a long line of others parked. Grabbing a blanket and a chair, I followed some other people who had just arrived who seemed as though they knew where they were going. A smile came to my face as I saw some goats who were also enjoying the beautiful autumn evening.

IMG_7573.JPGWalking into the driveway was when I was greeted by a sign for Shakespeare on the Porch and finally saw the stage for that evening.

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After finding a place for my chair, I sat for a bit until a family arrived who sat behind me. They had youngsters, and the last thing I wanted to do was block their view of the production. The mother said not to worry about it, for her kids could sit on her lap, but I went ahead and moved my chair to the very back of the seating area. Before me was an excited crowd of well-over a hundred that ranged in ages from maybe a little over to well into people in their eighties and maybe nineties. While sitting there, taking in the brisk but beautiful autumn weather, I listened to the following exchange between two nearby guys:

“I’ve heard Macbeth is quite bloody,” said one.
“Well, so is the Bible,” the other quickly replied.
“True.”

It turned out I didn’t need my chair though, for ultimately, I decided to stand behind it so I could make sure not to miss a moment of the show. Previous to that night, there has only been one other Shakespearian production I have ever spent the majority of show standing, and that was for a London production of Hamlet with Jude Law playing the title character. I was able to get two of the last tickets for the show, and those tickets were solely for standing room at the back of the balcony of the Donmar Warehouse. Arlington Classical Theatre’s production of Macbeth takes that count of watching while standing a Shakespearian production up to two. Arguably speaking, I enjoyed this latter production so much more than the previously-mentioned West End production. There was an energy in that front yard that was captivating and really indescribable in words. People were laughing and having a great time as people caught up with old friends, family, and even strangers as everyone waited in anticipation for the show to begin. Then there was nothing but silence once Suzanne McKenzie Miller came onto the stage to give welcome and tell a little about the upcoming performance. Her fantastic delivery of information was just like her Talk20 – informative, clever, smile-inducing, and heartfelt. She closed things off by inviting the crowd to stay around for the cast party afterward for it was not only for the actors but also the community too. With that, the production began, and I was even more spellbound.

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The next 90 minutes flew by at an unbelievably quick pace as I was both entertained and in awe of what I was seeing. The actors were all fantastic. They had their lines and timing down, and not an iambic pentameter beat was skipped.

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The Shakespearian prose, as Miller had noted in her Talk20, had been modified, but the heart and content of the play were still the same. The witches were enchanting, and Lady Macbeth was perfectly maniacal with some fantastic inflections and nonverbal actions led to her being fantastically enthralling.

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Macbeth himself was solid, and the rest of the cast were excellent too. Seeing Banquo with his young son, Fleance, pulled at my heartstrings thanks to my knowing such happiness of that family was soon going to be destroyed thanks to Macbeth’s lust of power. The set of the porch all worked perfectly, and the costumes transformed each of the young Kansans into Scottish men and women. The sword scenes were very nicely choreographed (so was the dancing included in parts too), and the occasional sighting of one of two cats that would at times wonder through the audience, down the center aisle, and across the stage just added to the charm.

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I wasn’t the only one captivated by the performance of Macbeth either. The attention of everyone captured by the performers. When I say “everyone,” I truly mean everyone. The audience was filled with youngsters, and they didn’t stir at all. Rather, they watched it all as the tragedy filled with so many life lessons and fantastic points played out before them.

Applause erupted from the audience when the play came to a close and they actors came out for their final curtain call for this year’s production.

 

The audience and the actors mingled afterwards as tasty food was devoured by many (it looked extremely tasty, which means it was not Whole 30 compliant), and I did too for a while to continue to soak in the magic of the event.

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The lessons that can be learned from Shakespeare on the Porch are many. As you learned from the Talk20 when you watched it, Suzanne’s working through a tragedy that no parent should ever suffer is what led to her creation of the Arlington Classical Theatre’s productions that have entertained thousands over the last eleven years. She and her husband are amazing to say the very least with what they have done to further build the community and create so many great experiences for so many.

Also, so often, media gives us little hope in humanity, especially in terms of the future generation. Arlington Classical Theatre says otherwise. First, the actors, some of which were extremely young, were brilliant. High expectations were set for them, and those rose to the challenge and then some. Then, there was the youngsters in the audience. Not a one turned to a screen of any kind to be entertained. Rather, they were right there in the present, enjoying the art that was unfolding before their eyes. They were all perfectly behaved too. None were running around or causing any craziness. Even after the show during the cast party when that may have happened, they enjoyed the company of each other as they ate the delicious-looking food.

As I walked back down that gravel road towards my car that night, I felt good about the world and life in general. I paused for a while before getting in my car to look up at the stars and listen for the howling of the coyotes that I had heard earlier at almost a perfect time during one of the scenes of the play. There is so much beauty in the world, and it is all around us, but so often we don’t know it or don’t see it. I had no idea about the Arlington Classical Theatre until the Talk20 despite its happening every year since I have lived in Hutchinson less than 30 minutes away from my house. Now I have been to one, I can’t imagine ever missing another. Suzanne and her husband, the actors, the audience, the community of Arlington, the porch itself, and everything else that makes up Shakespeare on the Porch are all perfect examples of the world at its best.

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September’s Theme: A Month Free of Social Media Apps AKA the Quest to Reclaim My Thoughts and Time

My #3 New Year’s Resolution for 2017 is “Be in the Now Rather Than In the Phone,” and definitely there has been progress made, but as noted with the following photo, the habit wasn’t completely broken:
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Although in a weak defense, I was trying to be a good Downtown Hutch board member by posting Third Thursday photos to Downtown Hutch’s Facebook page during a very short window I had before having to return to work for a different board meeting to attend. Still, the world was going on around me, and rather than being part of it, my screen had my attention. To try to break this, I decided to take all social media apps off my phone for the month of September. Near midnight on August 31, one by one Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, LinkedIn, Instagram, and a variety of dating apps disappeared (Facebook messenger was kept thanks to that being the main way of communication with some of my good friends).

To say it was an interesting monthly experiment would be an understatement. I really thought it would be easy, and when I was consciously thinking, it was. However, what was fascinating were the number of times I would find myself pulling out my phone for really no reason besides being on autopilot and my finger reaching for the nonexistent Facebook app. The notification for updates in the App Store would catch my attention, and, almost like a robot, I was opening it instead. That was when I realized checking Facebook had definitely become a habit.

Eventually, though, that habit did eventually die; however, there continued to be some interesting times throughout the month that made me realize how much social media has entered into our lives. There was the time at the Kansas State Fair when Jason asked me to go Facebook Live as he was showing a cow for the Legislative Showmanship Contest. My phone was out as an option (although I tried but failed, thanks to the Verizon system being overloaded with people and our being in a metal building, to download the Facebook app just to help him out), and that led me to try to figure out his phone with no little success. I did get some nice photos though I sent to him later.

Then there were the number of times I would be talking to someone and I would say, “Oh, she posted something about that the other day on Facebook” or “We can just check out the business’s Facebook page.” The phone would be pulled out automatically when it would hit me as I looked at its screen that access to that said Facebook profile was no longer a possibility with that device in my hand.

The disconnection with Facebook and other social media apps on my phone also led to my checking Facebook on my computer less and less as the month progressed to the point I might be on there once or twice a day (usually once in the morning to wish people a happy birthday and then once at night to check to see if any life-changing information was missed – the answer has been usually no.).

When September came to a close and I could add the apps back, I ultimately decided only Instagram would return. For the rest, it was actually quite nice not to have access to them everywhere and anywhere I was, and it seemed like a great thing after taking the month off not to develop that habit again.

Because I am the guy who has an extra-credit New Year’s Resolution added to already a list of ten of them, simply taking social media apps off my phone didn’t seem like a good enough theme for September, so a few more things were added.

First, I started leaving my phone in another room at night rather than on my night stand after being inspired to do so thanks to a talk by Mel Robbins. This too has been great for multiple reasons. First, there is no more late-night scrolling through the different apps, checking my email, or reading the news way past my bedtime. Second, hitting the snooze button also become extremely inconvenient. With the exception of when I have a guest in the guest bedroom, this practice has continued on long past September 30.

The one other item I added, or really actually took away, was having music or anything playing while I took a shower. I also opted for silence during other times as well (putting away laundry, washing the dishes, some times when I am driving, etc.). Making the most of every minute is a favorite thing of mine to do, and listening to music and podcasts would be another. In fact, there is some sort of (extremely cheap) speaker system in every room in my house. However, letting the mind just flow rather than constantly having something pumped into it has been a fantastic way for my thoughts to take on so many different things during those times of being unplugged. The jury is still out on whether it has led to better ideas being formed; however, I do know many more thoughts have been pondered thanks to this change in my life happening.

All while these experiments were going on, I kept running across Manoush Zomorodi discussing the importance of boredom. Her TED Talk was being referenced repeatedly, and she kept appearing on podcast right and left it seemed. Plus, one of my good friends brought Zomorodi’s newly-released book, Bored and Brilliant: How Spacing Out Can Unlock Your Most Productive and Creative Self, to my attention. While my definition of what it means when someone says, “I’m bored” and her definition of that same statement may differ some, she is indeed right about how so many of us today have come to a point where we seem to need to be entertained almost all of the time, and so often that entertainment comes in the form of our smart phones rather than simply sitting and letting our thoughts take charge as we enjoy our environment around us instead of turning to that shiny beckoning screen that can so often tempt us away from the world and our thoughts.

Although it seemed at first the goals for September were about being on my phone less, now looking at them afterward, they were really all about reclaiming my thoughts and my time. Now that they have been reclaimed in some ways, I really cannot imagine giving them up again. Perhaps, I will be missing out on all sorts of things by not instantly getting that Facebook notification the moment it is sent in my way; however, at the same time, I think of the other day when I paused in a place I had so often checked by phone before to take that moment to glance up at some autumn yellow leaves be caught in the wind and perform almost a dance of sorts as they traveled gracefully towards the ground. Times like that seem more what life is about rather than missing such naturally-stunning sights by looking at a screen instead.

An Amazing Adventure 650 Feet Underground and Surrounded by Salt

Back in 1887, Ben Blanchard, a land developer from Indiana, set out on a mission to find oil on his land southwest of Hutchinson with hopes he would make a fortune from land sales. However, rather than something black coming from his discovery, his drilling led to the discovery of one of the largest salt deposits in the world, which has since shaped Hutchinson in so many ways. The town itself has the nickname of Salt City, and Hutchinson High School’s mascot is the Salt Hawk. From the Salt City Bowl, an NJCAA football bowl, to Salt City Splash, the aquatic park here in town, to many other businesses and places that have the word in their title, salt is a big thing here in Central Kansas, and it is also here in Hutchinson where people can take a 90 second elevator ride 650 feet underground and see the fascinating world of Strataca, an amazing underground salt museum that is part of a still very much active salt mine.

Around the same time I arrived in Hutchinson a little over ten years ago was when Strataca opened to the public. To say it is extremely nifty would be an understatement. My living in Hutchinson has led to being able to easily make it to some of the many great events they have offered over the years. Some of my favorites have been watching a free screening of the documentary Happy underground and the Hunt for Red Rock-tober which involved their taking a group to another part of the mine where beautiful pieces of salt with red hues can be found (and we were able to fill a bucket with as much salt as we would like to take home with us). Plus, the fact it is always an extremely comfortable 68 degrees makes it a great escape from the extreme heat during the summer months and extreme cold during Kansas winters. One of their events I have been wanting to do for the last couple of years is the Tour de Salt, the only bike ride of its kind in North America where cyclists get to explore the salty terrain of the mined caverns and see areas not normally part of the regular Strataca tours.

For the previous years, commitments took me out of town the day of those bike rides. While my calendar had me in Hutchinson for Tour de Salt this year, my UNL tuition payments had managed to get the better of my disposable income once again, so it had looked like it would be another year for the event to pass me by; however, an invite from a great fellow cyclist to serve as one of the group leaders for this year’s ride led to some more fantastic memories being made underground.

Despite my having visited Strataca multiple times, I had no idea what to expect from the bike ride, but I will simply say any of my expectations were blown away and then some. As part of training for the guides, we brought our bikes to Strataca last Sunday morning to get a feel for the ride. A mix of excitement and nervousness was with me as I rode the double-decker elevator down to the starting line while holding on tightly to my mountain bike that had taken me on some great adventures in the Flint Hills back during my Emporia days long before the Dirty Kanza was a thing.

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It took a few trips for the elevator before the group of volunteers and staff were all together for the training to begin. As we stood there with our bikes in anticipation for what awaited us in the mine, we learned about the blue rope on the ground we would follow and the fantastic reflective arrows carefully placed along the route, both of which would keep us safe from getting lost in the 160 miles of tunnels. Each leader would also have a Strataca expert who would talk about different parts of the salt mine at the different stops along the way.

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The 2017 Group Leaders for Tour de Salt

That excitement and nervousness stayed with me all through that first ride of the route. To put that bike ride into words is really beyond me besides its being a magical experience of sorts. My bike light would catch the salt all around is, leading to parts of the floor, ceiling, and walls to sparkle at times as we traveled over smooth and bumpy sections and through large and narrow passage ways. The loose salt in certain parts caught me a bit off-guard at first and inspired my buddy Jason, who was also serving as another group leader, and me to make plans along that first ride for codes we would share with our riders on the day of Tour de Salt.

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Jason and Me during one of the stops

The first ride finished with everyone coming together for a recap of what we experienced with the Strataca crew to make sure the ride was the best it could be for the next weekend’s riders. The crew of group leaders, led by the Fontaine brothers who had served as lead riders before, talked more about ways to alert our groups to the loose spots, railroad tracks, and anything else that could be a bit tricky for those who would be joining us for Tour de Salt. And then we were off for a second and then a third ride, so we could continue to get a great feel for the route. Each of us took turns in the lead to get an idea what it would be like the following Saturday to cycle, armed with only with a small but mighty light, into pitch darkness.

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I left that day amazed and thrilled for the coming Saturday morning. Throughout the week, that excitement only grew as I talked to some of the other group leaders, Terry, Daniel, and Jason, about adjustments we were making and our quest to find the best lights (and back up lights) to take with us. Each of us were excited for the adventure but also nervous as well as we hoped for safe and smooth rides for all of our cyclists. We were all worried about what we would do if a flat tire would happen or if someone were to fall, for a scrape would literally be salt in the wound. Thankfully, Tour de Salt did not disappoint. The whole morning itself flew by with our arriving before the sun even started to rise so we could head down to take a safety lap and get a good feel for the route one last time before the groups started arriving at 8:00 AM.

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Fortune had once again smiled upon me with my getting paired with Galen, who was fantastic and an expert on everything related to the salt mine and museum.  We kicked off our first group at 8:30 before taking our second group out at 10:00 and finishing with our third group at 11:30.

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People came from all over to take on the adventure underground. A huge group drove down from Minnesota just for the event, and Galen and I had cyclists in our groups from the Hutchinson area, Wichita, Winfield, Topeka, Kansas City, Oklahoma City, and Dallas. For some, it was their second or third time to take on the ride, and for all, we left amazed at what we saw from this surreal experience of cycling far below earth’s surface. At each stop and with each pedal forward, there was a sense of wonder unlike any I have had before as my mind tried to wrap around the very idea of where we were. This was even more so when I heard from some of our riders about the crazy rainstorm that was happening far above all while the weather conditions stayed perfect for us far below.

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We rode by floor heaves, empty dynamite boxes, train tracks, a beautiful crystal pod, a trash pile complete with a calendar in perfect condition from 1953, wheel tracks and footprints from over 60 years ago that looked like they were made just the day before, and so much more as we too became part of the fantastic history of this great treasure in the heart of Kansas.

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After finding salt rather oil, Blanchard left Hutchinson, upset, disillusioned, and broke. His whole focus on getting rich quick led to his not seeing his discovery as something amazing but rather as a failure. It was that “failure” though that has led to a series of fortunate events that have transformed the lives of so many in Salt City for the better through the creation of many jobs through the multi-million-dollar industry of salt mining and through the experiences one can have in Strataca, the only museum of its kind in the Western Hemisphere where one can have great adventures, as I just had this last weekend, 650 feet underground and surrounded by salt.

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The Amazing Aldi AKA My Grandmother Knew Best

Grandma Diehl loved going to Aldi. She and my grandpa would drive over an hour to go shopping, and she would come back singing praises about the store’s prices. However, to be honest, I never really paid much attention besides enjoying how she was so thrilled about the store. First, I was young when she was alive, and driving over an hour for groceries was not a high priority for me at that time. For that matter, buying groceries in general was not really on my radar for the most part. Second, after living through the Great Depression, she was extremely frugal. Although she had more money later in life, my grandparents would often go to KFC for the dinner buffet, pay the senior discount, and sit around the corner so she could fill up her purse with extra food to take home for future meals. I may have tied Aldi to these kind of things she would do. Third, she never would let food go to waste. I still remember one Diehl family Christmas dinner when we were all sitting around her house eating something she made. Someone mentioned how great it tasted, which may or may not have been the truth, and she then told us that the recipe didn’t call for one ingredient she used, but it was about to go bad so she threw it in to replace another she didn’t have. “About to go bad,” a phrase she also seemed to use often, usually meant it was long past its shelf life. This may be one of the reasons even today I tend to avoid potluck dinners. However, she did grow up during a time when food and money were scarce, and even later when she was raising her kids, she still had to make ends meet by working many, many long hours doing extremely hard work, and she continued her hardworking ways pretty much for the rest of her life.

She passed away in 2002; however, whenever I see an Aldi, I smile and think of her. With that said, for the longest time, never did I go in despite one always seeming to be wherever I lived. There was one a little off the beaten path in Emporia. I still remember the opening of one in Melbourne, and I even recommended the place to a fellow college student in need of groceries that were economically friendly (which went something like this: “I haven’t been in there myself, but my grandmother always raved about Aldi, and there is one just a few blocks from here. Surely, their having great prices would be an international thing.” This obviously demonstrated my lack of knowing the supermarket chain is based out of Germany), and then the one in Hutchinson was prominently placed on 17th street, which I take often to go to Target or head in and out of town. Thousands upon thousands of times, I have driven by it during my decade of living here, and finally this summer I stepped inside the doors and came to understand my grandmother’s praise and love for the place.

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First, the prices are unbelievable. Honestly, my first question was what was wrong with their groceries that they could sell them for as low as they do. The answer is nothing. Aldi has this great structure that allows for them to sell great items at a fantastic cost. However, you don’t have to take my word for it. You can read all about it in this great comparison of Whole Food’s new prices with Walmart, Publix, Trader Joe’s, Fresh Market, and Aldi. The items for Doreen’s shopping experiment cost her $32.12 at Whole Foods, $28.29 at Wal-Mart, $28.13 at Trader Joe’s, and $24.77 at Aldi. Speaking of Trader Joe’s, Aldi is its sister store with Aldi falling under Aldi Süd while Trader Joe’s is under Aldi Nord.

The store’s prices are great for many reasons. For starters, they allow people to buy actually healthy items at a very friendly cost, which so often is not the case. Last week, I even bought a bag full of honey crisp apples for under $2 thanks to their being one of the featured Produce of the Week, and just one or two of these tasty apples can cost that much at some stores. They even have an organic section in the produce area too. Needless to say, Aldi has been helping me greatly with my taking on Whole 30 for this month’s theme.

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Two of the ways Aldi saves money is by tackling two of my biggest pet peeves when it comes to shopping. First, people have to buy bags if they want to use them. The cost is not much, but it is enough to inspire many to bring their own reusable bags with them when they go shopping.

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Given that there is an estimated 1 trillion bags are used and thrown away each year, this is fantastic. Anyone who has gone shopping with me knows full well how I despise plastic bags for how much waste they cause. I would much rather, and I have done it way too many times because I had left my reusable bags at home, attempt to carry a tower of items starting in my hands and climbing to my chin out to my car rather than grab one. Finding a method to cut down on this waste that can last from 20 to 1000 years and kill thousands of animals of all sorts is a huge point for Aldi.

Then a person has to use a quarter to get a shopping cart, and that quarter is returned after the shopping cart is returned to its rightful place once it is no longer needed.

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Probably one of my biggest pet peeves would be people who do not return shopping carts. This especially goes for those people who will work extremely hard to put a shopping cart up on a little raised island of grass and maybe a tree that was added to the parking lot to make it look a little nicer. Those free-range carts have a tendency to roll across parking lots and right into cars just because the previous user was lazy. There have been too many times I have had to throw my car into park, jump out my door, and take off sprinting to try to grab one the wind had caught and directed right towards someone else’s vehicle (after I was almost hit by a car the last time I did this, I am trying to use a bit more sense about doing this on a side note). Thanks to the quarter set up, Aldi is safe from having these carts with so much potential for damage just randomly hanging out all over the parking lot, and that is another massively huge point for Aldi.

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The great groceries at great prices, the deterring of adding more plastic bags to the landfill, and the quarter-in-quarter-back set up for a cart are all great reasons to love Aldi; however, my true love for the place has actually been caused by the people I have seen time and again who redeem my faith in humanity.

Let’s start with the carts. I have seen repeatedly a person leaving exchange a cart for a quarter from another person coming in to shop. It saves the latter person from having to get the cart out of the stall, but it also leads to this nifty connection. It’s brief, but there is always a smile on both people’s faces when it happens. Plus, there have been more times than I can count a person has simply given a cart to someone with no quarter-exchange occurring. A quarter may be small, but it is indeed a great random act of kindness.

Then there is the line to check out. There are often times people fill their carts with tons of groceries, and often those people will barely beat me to the cash register line. The same thing has happened time and again with so many different people; they look at me, see the few items in my hands, and then say, “You only have a few things. Please go ahead of me.” I ask if they are sure, and that second offer is taken. I have talked to many others who shop there, and they too have had these same types of experiences at Aldi. Time is the most valuable treasure all of us have and the most valuable thing one can give to another, and these people with carts filled with quality goods have given their time to wait a little longer to others who then have been given a few extra minutes to add to their own lives. Sure a few minutes may not seem like much, but when you think about all the different life-changing things that can happen in only a few seconds, they truly are a fantastic gift to receive.

Finally, another reason I have loved the place is because I have run into so many people who are just friendly at Aldi. After all, people are what make a place. There are the smiles from one another as we make it by each other in an aisle. There are so many of my favorite people in Hutchinson I have run into while shopping there. Then there are the conversations I have had while standing in line.

Today, for an example, I had this great talk with this 85-year-old woman who honestly looked like she was at least ten years younger than that. She was getting ready to drive to Fort Riley to see her great granddaughters although she hated to drive such long distances out of town, especially once the road becomes a four lane. However, she was excited, and she told me about her car being filled with all sorts of things she had for them. The huge smile on her face as she talked a bit about her upcoming road trip was infectious, and it made me think of my own grandmother and the potential pleasant conversations she may have had with strangers while she was shopping at her favorite grocery store which has also now become mine as well thanks to my finally heeding her great advice and becoming an Aldi shopper as well.

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