All posts by curiouskansas

Just a Kansas native trying to make the most of his life. Cycling, hiking, community development, eating tasty food, lifelong learning, and amazing friends & family are all extremely important things in my life. One of my main goals for this blog is to serve as a form of accountability to achieve my crazy list of New Year's Resolutions (see the first blog entry - A Letter from 2022).

A Tribute to Prairie Dogs

To be honest, I am not certain when I first saw a prairie dog, but I am pretty sure it was love at first sight. More than likely, it was one of the many trips between Iola and Kinsley to see my grandparents when someone pointed out the cute little critters. After all, I still remember many times of being glued to the window and looking for prairie dogs once we had made it far enough west to reach the places where they would call home.

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However, it may very well have been at the Emporia zoo too when they first came into my life. While that memory from my early childhood may have been lost, there was another that has lasted from a time in Emporia during my youngest years. My sister and I had wandered into a pet store in the Emporia mall, and there high above me and out of reach was prairie dog in a cage. Needless to say, that led to many ideas forming in my toddler mind, but my mother resisted each request for a new pet to join our household. Plus, that said prairie dog wasn’t for sale either. Still, I can remember it to this day.    

Since those early years of my life, prairie dogs have come in and out of my world. During another Kinsley trip, my Grandpa Feldman took my grandma, mother, sister, and me to Dodge City out to eat and then to Wal-Mart. Right next to the parking lot was a prairie dog town. Needless to say, I wanted to go back every time we were back in that part of Kansas, but I don’t recall our ever doing so.

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In Deep Meditation

Then there was the one and only time for me to ever touch a prairie dog. During my days at Emporia State University, I served as a docent at the Emporia Zoo. While my hopes of getting to pet one of their lemurs never came true which may or may not have first motivated me to take on that volunteer job, I did get to have many other great experiences. Just a few of the stories would be Lucy and Ricky the ball pythons helping me overcome my fear of snakes (although that was short lived thanks to Spartacus, another ball python, who was my roommate for a while (about equal months of my not knowing and knowing about his being in the apartment) and put the fear right back in me), Karla the Kinkajou wrapping her tail around my arm, the gay ducks at a zoo open house, and an evil chinchilla who used its razor-sharp teeth on my poor, defenseless finger. Those are all stories for another time though. The one relevant to this post was one time when I was in one of the employee-only buildings, and I met a recently acquired domesticated prairie dog. Hungry for attention, it would climb the side of its cage wanting someone to pet it. The zoo keeper warned me the adorably cute prairie dog could possibly bite; however, she still let me scratch its little belly through the cage, causing the little guy to make sounds of pure bliss. The look on his face of such happiness is one I will never forget, and truth be told, a similar look probably was on mine as well.

Another happy time with prairie dogs was when my great friend Ben from Australia spent some weeks with me in 2007. On a road trip to Mount Rushmore and the Black Hills of South Dakota, we made a quick stop near the Badlands after I noticed a prairie dog town near the road. It was there Ben saw for the first time the cute little critters. Later, he told me they were one of his favorite parts of his American adventure, and that too also makes me smile.

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There have also been some close calls with prairie dogs. I received a lecture one time from Mormon John on our way back from Colorado when I may have swerved to miss a prairie dog who had wandered out onto I-70. The prairie dog and we were all safe, so all’s well that ends well. Thankfully, I also missed a Utah prairie dog who had scampered out onto the road my mother and I were taking on our detour to have lunch in Telluride on our journey from Moab to Monument Valley back in May. They were all over along parts of that highway, and they were adorable, and they were traffic hazards, but we made it past them A-Okay. Keep in mind, I am also the guy who tries his best to dodge butterflies.

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Then for the last eleven years, I have been living in a place where I get to see prairie dogs on a regular basis, especially after Target closed which then in turn increased my trips to Wal-Mart. The prairie dogs are one of the many reasons why I love Hutchinson. It has also been fascinating to watch their expansion too. When I first arrived back in 2007, they were largely hanging out in a completely useless piece of land at the corner of Highway 61 and 17th. However, the city of Hutchinson attempted to rid themselves of the prairie dogs for some unknown reason. A giant vacuum cleaner was brought in and the prairie dogs were sucked up. Then came the PR nightmare when the relocation of said prairie dogs was to a home of many badgers who were pleased with the dinner delivery. Some of the prairie dogs managed to escape that fate, and they expanded to another spot nearby. They too were marked for relocation several years later, but still some of the prairie dogs managed to stay behind and expand their town once again.

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Now relatively large, the prairie dog town has become quite the colony on both sides of 17th, north of Wal-Mart and around, rightfully so, Petco. Plus, there is another colony south of Home Depot too. The prairie dogs are not without their controversy, but they are also a source of delight for many as I have found many times when I have been spending some evenings watching them eat, play, and simply be highly amusing. Often times, other people will park their cars and watch the prairie dogs for a while. I have seen people bring food to one of the unofficial observation parking stalls to have the prairie dog antics serve as a dinner theatre of sorts. Just the other evening while I was taking photos of the prairie dogs for this post, there was a car with a California license plate and a van from Alabama that were both parked to allow their owners to take in the same sight I was enjoying. Plus, the people were all friendly as we talked about the prairie dogs and how much fun to watch they are. The same held true with the truck driver originally from the Ukraine who stopped and chatted for a while as he asked me what exactly they were. He too smiled as he looked out at the town.

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This fascination with prairie dogs, I think, is rightfully so, for they are indeed fascinating little creatures. With that said, a negative campaign has also been launched against them with many viewing them as pests. The three biggest pillars of that said campaign are 1. Cattle break their legs thanks to the prairie dog holes, 2. Prairie dogs carry the plague, and 3. They are horrible for the land. Well, it turns out that while some cows and horses have been brought down from time to time thanks to a prairie dog burrow, it really is not a common thing at all according to different studies. This problem may have been more prevalent during the days of cattle drives, but cows just hanging out in a pasture tend to be smart enough to avoid the holes from what I could find online. In fact, some ranchers have found prairie dogs and cattle can live in harmony just like bison and prairie dogs had done for many years before the United States was conquered by Europeans (if you want to read more about that set up, click here and here for tales of different ranches that have embraced both prairie dogs and cattle). As far as the plague goes, prairie dogs are susceptible; however, scientists have also found ways to vaccinate them, including through peanut-butter flavored vaccine-loaded blocks.

Now when it comes to prairie dogs being horrible for the land, that could not be further from the truth. Sure, they may not create the kind of land a developer or a rancher wants, but looking at what they do from an ecological point of view, then prairie dogs are fantastic. For starters, they control the growth of weeds like sagebrush and mesquite that are noxious to livestock. Their turning up the soil allows for aeration, and they also provide fertilizer through their waste, which leads to the grasses being higher in both protein and nitrogen, thus making the area better for wildlife like deer, bison, and antelope to graze. Furthermore, they help keep down the grasshopper population.

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The presence of prairie dogs leads to the presence of other animals. In addition to attracting the previously mentioned grazing animals, their burrows can also become homes for the burrowing owls, black-footed ferrets, and swift foxes. Furthermore, thinking about prairie dogs in the Circle of Life mentality, they are an important food resource for many animals and birds too.  

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A Burrowing Owl Who Also Calls the Hutchinson Prairie Dog Town Home

All of these things come together to lead scientists to describe prairie dogs as a keystone species. Basically, if one removes the prairie dogs, one removes all of the benefits they bring and the other animals too, which then accounts for endangered status of the black-footed ferret thanks to the eradication of prairie dogs. Places have found out the hard way the negatives that come with wiping out prairie dogs. For an example, former Mexican prairies have become deserts filled with mesquite after the poisoning of the prairie dogs who had once kept that invasive weed at bay. The hope is by reintroducing them to the area, the prairie ecosystem can return, but needless to say, tons of damage that may not reversible was done to a land once rich in life thanks to the shortsightedness of handling the wild prairie dogs.
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Along with being great for the land, prairie dogs are just amusing to watch, and I think much can be learned from them too. For starters, their communication is rich. Northern Arizona University’s Professor Con Slobodchikoff has studied their language for over 30 years and found that the noise they make not only identifies the predator (coyote, hawk, human) but also describes them too. One could easily argue prairie dogs have one of the most complex languages in the animal kingdom.

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This complex language goes hand-in-hand or paw-in-paw with the social nature of prairie dogs. Spend some time watching them, and it is easy to be delighted with watching them interact with each other whether it be wrestling around or watching for each other when possible predator appears. If you have never spent the time doing so, here is a video I took last Friday night:

Without a doubt, prairie dogs demonstrate the importance of a community. They seem to watch out for each other, including giving signs to those in their colony through the extremely adorable jump-yips the black-tailed prairie dogs will do when they leap onto their back paws and throw their front ones into the air (watch the video to get full appreciation).

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Furthermore, prairie dogs are remnants of a world that once was before the rise of towns, cities, and other developments throughout the former Wild West. Prairie dogs have found, when not poisoned, ways to try to adapt with the changing landscape, and along with it, they create a tie for others to follow suit. In a way, they seem to symbolize the spirit of the Frontier Strip is still alive in these parts with its finding a way to survive among the domestication of the Great Plains.  

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Last but definitely not least, the prairie dogs in Hutchinson are a good reminder to take some time and take in the little things. It would be so easy to drive right by them and not notice the whole ecosystem in between a road and a parking lot. However, by looking over to their town, watching them frolic, and seeing one maybe throw its paws in the air to then have another join him or her, we can all be reminded about how something so small can be so crucial to the lives of so many others. After all, everything plays a part in the bigger picture, and as those prairie dogs dig their burrows and keep the weeds at bay, they are playing an important role in the grand scheme of things.

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A Tribute to Money

Picture this:

Two college friends reunite one evening at a hole-in-the-wall bar. Their stories flow of the past and present as they catch up over beers. Life had taken them on separate routes, but that night, it seemed like no years had passed since so long ago when they were younger and used to hang out at bars with their cares only being about homework, romances, and dreams of their future rather than families, mortgages, and the problems that come with age. One of the friends glances over and saw a dart board. Soon enough, a challenge is issued, and a game of 501 begins. It had been ages since either had played but after the first round, their aims became better as they laughed about the times they used to play. The challenge is then upped with some money placed on the table for the winner – a single dollar bill – the same amount they used to bet when they were poor and in their early twenties. There it sat among their two glasses of beer with George Washington watching on as the darts hit the board until one guy made it to 129 and the other 132.

The first guy goes to the line with his darts in hand. His eyes focus, and his arm goes back before the first dart is released through the air. It lands in a 19. He turns around and smiles at his friend as he holds up his beer as a toast. Then the focus goes back at the dart board. The second dart flies through the air right into a triple 20, and then the last and final dart goes in the double bullseye for a win. “Looks like that dollar is mine,” he says as he heads back to the table to claim his winnings. “No so fast. Let’s give me a chance just like old times,” his buddy says as they think back to how they had always gotten into the habit of letting the second person go just to see if they too could get to zero.

He took a deep breath and threw the first dart. It lands on a Triple 19. He hears a “Nice” from his buddy. His second plants itself in a single bullseye, and then after one more deep breath, the third and final dart is launched, landing right in the middle of the board for a double bullseye. He turns around with a smile at his friend and knows, just like it was many years ago, they both get to throw one dart for the win. The high score gets the dollar and the bragging rights. His buddy laughs, grabs a dart, and steadies himself at the line. He turns around and makes some small talk about how the dollar was going to be his before he launches the dart right into the double bullseye. “Beat that,” he says as he goes back to his beer, the table, and the dollar.

“I will do my best,” his buddy says as he grabs a dart and takes aim. He does his best to block out his friend behind him making noise to do his best to serve as a distraction. With one dart to win, he focuses on his options that would give him more points. He takes aim and launches as the dart flows through the air right into the triple 20. His buddy gives him a high five and they laugh some more about the game they just had before one takes a pen out to celebrate the win and their great night together on that dollar bill.

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More than likely, how that note ended on the dollar that eventually found its way into my hands didn’t exactly go down in that manner, but still, it is the story my mind has created and continues to replay when I see those words and numbers written to the left of George Washington. It is also a reminder of how nifty money really is.

I know the love of the money is the root of all evil so they say, and given past experiences of seeing greed at play, I could see it as true, so this tribute is not in that fashion. It is more about the money itself, for when it comes down to it, money is truly a fascinating thing when one thinks about it. In all honesty, money, whether it be bills or coins, is nothing more than cloth (75% cotton and 25% linen) and shiny metal. We then place an added value to them as a society, and that value can easily disappear quickly. When I was growing up, that point was hit home with an episode of the TV show Ducktales where they traveled to the Land of Trala La and bottle caps become a currency that eventually tears apart a peaceful society. The book Sapiens also has a good part about how societies create a standardized monetary system to allow for an easier transfer of goods.

Don’t get me wrong – that is all extremely fascinating and then places a whole other level on money really being worthless beyond the intrinsic value we have placed upon it. What has been more on my mind lately is closer to the five-dollar bill in the film Serendipity. For those who haven’t seen it or need a refresher, a guy and a girl have an extremely romantic night and before parting they go to exchange their information. When the wind catches the piece of paper with her number, a back-up plan is thrown out as a way for them to meet again – his contact information is placed on a five-dollar bill and hers is written in a copy of Love in the Time of Cholera. Needless to say given this is a Hollywood romantic film, the five-dollar bill passes from one person to another until its fated destination.

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And that is where from where this fascination and tribute to money is coming – how it can play a story in our lives and then a different one in others. Its history is rich (pun intended), and for most bills and coins, it is largely unknown. Sure, there are some downsides of money being passed from one person to another, including its potentially carrying bacteria and viruses from one to another as well as potentially traces of cocaine. Even with my bordering on being a hypochondriac at times, I still find it fascinating to think about the journey a bill or a coin has made until it had finally made it into my hands for a brief amount of time before heading on to its next owner. This same fascination is what likely led to such things like the Where’s George bill tracking website (and yep, I definitely do enter the marked bills whenever one comes into my possession and I have ever since I was a youngster).

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An example of a Where’s George bill. Photo is from this NPR article about the website. 


However, stop and think about how either a bill or coin has played a role in your life. It could be that twenty-dollar bill you earned well before legal working age for a chore or job you just finished. It could have been that quarter you had to get something nifty out of one of those machines in the front of a store. It could be that lucky penny you found one day that indeed seemed to have made everything from then on great. Then there may be a twenty dollar bill you used to pay for dinner for the first date with a person that would then become the love of your life (yep, the hopeless romantic in me continues), or it may have been that five dollars you found in a coat pocket at moment when you felt like you had nothing at all to your name. Even in my life, I can think of so many times when a coin or a bill played a very important supporting character in a great story that led to some fantastic memories that were made. However, with their transfer, they left for other story lines with other people.

This, though, is where the digital age is then changing things even more so. So many people I know rarely carry cash and instead use a plastic card to pay for anything and everything. Not only have studies shown people are more likely to spend more with a card than cash. Sure, I am likely being nostalgic and all, but there seems to be something lost with these transactions too that cash and coins brought to the situation. An electronic gift card from Amazon is nice and all, but it doesn’t see to carry that same value as that single dollar bill my Great Aunt Brittie would always place in my birthday cards when I was growing up. Then having a framed receipt of the first electronic dollar earned for a new business also doesn’t seem to have the same effect of an actual dollar bill from that first transaction.

Once again, these feelings likely all come from a place of nostalgia. However, some psychological studies could also be considered. A 2016 article from Psychology Today about the difference of paying with cash or credit card discussed a few of these, including how one study found a purchase made with cash can be more painful and how another study showed paying with cash can lead to a better relationship with the purchased product. These studies do seem to signal paying with bills and coins do indeed affect the story with the purchases we make.

Then the final thing that has been on my mind is how money can ultimately connect us when we really think about it. An interesting study I would to see is the actual journey of a dollar bill or even a penny that tracks demographics of its different owners including things like age, race, sexual identity, economic background, religion, political affiliation, and anything else that some may see as making one person different from another. More than likely what would be shown is a great mix of people have all handled that coin or bill at one time or another. People who normally may never have talked to each other are all connected thanks to that transfer of a piece of cloth or shiny metal from one person to another. In a way, thinking about money in that light seems like it could more unite than divide us.

Simply put, the object of money is something to be contemplated, especially as we move towards having it become something of the past. Sure, those two dart-playing friends could have exchanged a dollar via Paypal and Venmo, but what would have been lost if they would have (besides the inspiration for this entire blog post). Then think also the next time you slide a card to purchase something how different that experience may have been if you would have handed the cashier some cash and coins instead. You may have just avoided getting a bacteria-covered bill, but there is so much more and so many better things that could have been gained as well. According to studies, the overall experience would have had a little more of an emotional pull and you would have ultimately enjoyed your purchase just a little more. Plus, you just missed out on being a chapter in the story of that bill or coin before passing them on to their next temporary owner.

 

 

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My 2018 So Far

And just like that, it is almost April. So far, 2018 has been a good year with some great adventures thrown into the mix. Some of these I am hoping to write about in the future while others will be no more than a quick reference here before they join other memories in the past.

There was a great hike at Kanopolis that led to some fantastic sights to be seen.

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My fifth blood donation since last June.

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Another adventure as a playwright for the 24 Hour Play Festival

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A 5K 650 feet underground at Strataca

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My comprehensive exams for my grad work

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And there were a few other things along the way. Mainly, though, this year has been spent with the usual trio of work, homework, and community work. While a few of the New Year’s Resolutions have been going well overall (sending a handwritten card each week and building/sticking to a financial budget), there are others that are still in need of a kick start (working on the novel and also my learning Spanish). The monthly challenges have led to some great reflection as well, and today’s post is dedicated to them as a method of playing catch up for radio silence over the last three months.

January 2018 – Play the Violin Every Day

Although I picked up a violin back in 2013, it really wasn’t until my first year of New Year’s Resolutions in 2014. That year I set as a goal to be able to play a song, and it was achieved quickly, which led to the goal of learning how to play “Moon River.” Thanks to a great friend not only being the one who brought the violin into my life but also helping me learn how to play, this great instrument has become one of my joys. Sure, I may have been inspired to learn from an episode of Sherlock and, even after four years, my skills are pretty basic, playing is still a good break for my mind.

Then last spring, my violin I had bought for $20 from Kim broke beyond repair (well, it may been repairable, but the money would be better spent on a new violin). A very expensive year for tuition and other things left me at one point of the year with only $47 to my name but also unable to quickly replace it. Plus, I was trying to learn how to play the guitar (that effort still remains). Then a last- minute decision based upon weather to cancel a road trip over winter break to see family and check out another national park happened, and the extra money that had been set aside led to bringing a violin back into my life.

As a way to start 2018, I decided I would play a couple songs on the violin every day for the first month, and every day it happened. Although the plan to do this was just to make use of my new violin, there was a lot more that came along with it. Here are just a four of the many lessons learned:

  1. Practice Is Indeed Extremely Important

Although some other songs came in and out of the playlist, the main ones were “Auld Lang Syne” and “Simple Gifts.” Despite my being able to play both a year before, my first time through for each was rough to say the least; however, every day of playing led to my getting better with my overcoming the notes that were tricky at first. Sure, mistakes were made even at the end of the month, but my skills greatly improved with each day of playing. It was a good reminder if a person dedicates even five minutes a day to something, great gains can happen overtime.

  1. Mornings are the best time to tackle a goal

My violin playing happened first thing in the morning the majority of the days; however, there were a few times that I was running late and told myself I would play later on. One thing would lead to another, and before I knew it, I would be in bed when it would hit me I never played that day, so soon the comforts of warm covers were left to have me sitting in the dining room, playing a few songs before calling it a night. This just proved again what many others have said about how mornings can be magical when it comes to achieving goals.

  1. A Healthy Amount of Confidence Is Important

Bow speed and pressure are two key things one must keep in mind when it comes to playing a violin. Too slow or too fast as well as too light or too hard can lead to sounds no one wants to hear and were also sounds heard often near the beginning of the month. Hesitancy led to my bow creating that unpleasant noise, and extreme pride did the same. It was all about walking that fine line of perfect or near perfect balance of speed and pressure to play the notes I was after, and this too was a good reminder about how to live life.

  1. Attention Is Key

My mind wanders often, and playing the violin was a good reminder about the importance of focusing on one task at a time. My attention would leave the sheet music, and soon the wrong fingering would happen or I would lose my place in the song, thus bringing my focus back to the task at hand. While there are a few people in the world who truly can multitask, I am definitely not one of them. The best way then to succeed is to put full attention to what is happening at that moment rather than tackle it with only part of the mind.
While youngsters would still easily outperform my violin playing, the month was a good way to kick off 2018 with many lessons learned that could help set up the year.
February 2018 – Taking on the DASH Diet

For last February, I played vegetarian. Then in October, it was Whole 30. When the DASH Diet was once again ranked the best diet overall by U.S. News and World Report in January, I was instantly intrigued because, to be honest, I wasn’t familiar with the DASH Diet at all. I also learned many times in February I was not the only one who wasn’t aware of  this award-winning diet. When most people asked what I was doing that month for the theme, I would smile and say, “I’m taking on the DASH Diet.” Most often, they would answer with something like, “That’s great! What’s the DASH Diet?” Then I would smile again and say, “Well, the DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) Diet has been ranked as the top diet for 8 years in a row, and it is the only diet backed by the government thanks to its being developed and promoted by the National Institutes of Health, an agency of the United States Department of Health and Human Services, to help lower blood pressure. Plus, it lets me eat bread, cheese, and many other tasty things thanks to its being all about moderation.” Usually by then, their eyes would have glazed over, but for those who were still interested, I would talk about how studies have shown it to lower the risk of kidney stones, heart disease, strokes, heart failure, diabetes, and certain types of cancer before I would pull out my phone and show the following photo:

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Sometimes I would pull up the official DASH Diet website to show the following plan:

Type of food

Number of servings for 1600 – 3100 Calorie diets Servings on a 2000 Calorie diet

Grains and grain products
(include at least 3 whole grain foods each day)

6 – 12

7 – 8

Fruits

4 – 6

4 – 5

Vegetables

4 – 6

4 – 5

Low fat or non fat dairy foods

2 – 4

2 – 3

Lean meats, fish, poultry

1.5 – 2.5

2 or less

Nuts, seeds, and legumes

3 – 6 per week

4 – 5 per week

Fats and sweets

2 – 4

limited

My discussion would continue on until it would hit me I had become one of those crazy dieters who talked about their diet in more depth than anyone would care to hear.

So keeping that in mind and in the interest of time, here are my quick take aways from my adventure with the DASH Diet:

  1. Eating tons of fruits, vegetables, and grains is amazing. To say I love carbohydrates would be an understatement.
  2. Having 2 to 3 servings of low-fat dairy a day was also fantastic too. Cheese is tasty, and the same goes for milk.
  3. The diet was harder for me to follow than Whole 30 or playing a vegetarian for a month because it is all about moderation. As others have pointed out, people tend either to be an abstainer or a moderator. I am easily an abstainer, so this whole moderation thing was tricky for me, and my failure at times with the DASH Diet helped inspire the next month’s theme.

March 2018 – Try to become a moderator while also learning how to focus and conquer one thing at a time.

Abstaining from something is easy for me to do. The last time I had McDonald’s was in February 2005 which happened to also be the first time I presented at an academic conference as a graduate student and the day I met one of my best friends, Jon in Marquette. I had McDonald’s for lunch (a salad with candied almonds). While I was walking back to the conference, I thought to myself, “I wonder how long I can go without having McDonald’s.” Well, it has now been 13 years. Don’t worry – I have had a lot of other fast food since then. It just has not been McDonald’s although I have driven people through the drive through to pick up food and had a meeting at one once.

Another example would be last May when I decided I would stop drinking alcohol for really no reason. Even with my going to a bar to hang out most Saturday nights with the Social Saturday crew, I am not even tempted to grab a beer. Rather, I get a class of water and give Debbie, the owner and bartender, the money I would have spent on alcohol instead.

Moderation, on the other hand, is a different story. I tell myself I will have just one bowl of tortilla chips, but the bag will soon be empty before the night is over. I tell myself I will have one spoonful of peanut butter, but the large container is gone in a few days. The list can continue on, so it seemed like a good idea to try to see if I could pick up some moderating habits.

The first attempt was with tortilla chips, and the first two bags did not lead to any success, but by the third, I was able to go with just a bowl of chips in one setting and put the rest back. The same achievement happened with chocolate too with my enjoying just one piece a day. I even picked up an Easter bunny that previously would have been devoured entirely in the car between the store and my house (it is really a wonder I am not heavier than I am), cut it into four pieces, and then enjoyed only one piece a day of the tasty chocolate and peanut butter goodness.

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While I cannot say I have completely become a moderator, there has been some progress thanks to my trying to tell my brain moderation is simply a form of abstaining (i.e. after having that piece of chocolate, I could have no more). That seemed to work in a way. With that said, having just one bowl of popcorn still has yet to happen.

Success of learning how to focus on one thing and conquer is a different story. Although there were some times when I found a good flow while working on my comp exam essays, so often shiny things and my wandering mind would get the better of me; however, some good techniques have been practiced and discovered. These would include turning off all notifications on my computer, having a small paper notebook next to my computer to write down anything my wandering mind wants to tackle before getting back to the task on hand, and simply doing my best to divert my thoughts back to the project when the temptations of the instant gratification monkey hit. Baby steps have been taken, and the progress is very small, but it still gives me hope that perhaps this New Year’s Resolution can be achieved by then end of the year.

And with that hope for the future leads to wrapping up this long update for the year so far. Let me know how your 2018 has been and stay tune for more regular postings.

As always, thank you for reading this. It actually makes my day whenever I learn someone has.

Take care and talk to you soon,

Ryan

THE FIFTH LETTER FROM 2022: THE 2018 NEW YEAR’S RESOLUTIONS

G’day, Ryan,

Welcome to 2018, which marks your fifth letter from your 2022 self. Similar to the first, second, third, and fourth letters over the past years, this one is going to give you another set of New Year’s Resolutions to serve as your guide for the coming year as you work towards becoming the man I am now. In honor of this being the fifth year, there is a bit of twist, but we will get to that in due time.

First, of course, is a recap of the 2017 New Year’s Resolutions.

This last year was really quite the year for you, and I think it would be easy to say you accomplished your first resolution to live a better story. Let’s see – you peered into a deep canyon, hiked on the Pacific Crest Trail, hiked on the Appalachian Trail, climbed a tower in a castle, walked through a palace, viewed a solar eclipse surrounded by many great people, strolled through groves of giant trees, listened to the waves of the Pacific Ocean, gazed at the waterfalls of Yosemite, explored a lost coast, watched a sunset on Lake Tahoe, cycled the hills of San Francisco, investigated a lava tube cave by flashlight, was hit by a snowball thrown by your mother with the peak of the largest plug dome volcano in the world right behind you, made friends with very nifty people from all over the world, stopped a young, brilliant guy from killing himself, helped start Social Saturday that brought many great people together, repelled down Hutchinson’s First National Bank Building, led bike tours 650 feet underground at Strataca, created and launched HutchCalendar.com, gave a Talk20 about your New Year’s Resolutions, donated blood four times, saved the lives of eight baby opossums, and had many other adventures along the way. It was indeed a fantastic year.

As far as the other resolutions go, you had some great successes, some failures, and some that landed somewhere in between. Overall, you did indeed do rather than only read with your putting into practice self-help ideas that you had encountered in the past as well as share some great sources with others to help them along the way. Many books tempted you, but you resisted the urge after thumbing through them to see, as was pointed out in the last letter, there was nothing new to be learned in them. With that said, Dalio’s Principles was an excellent purchase, and you should set your own principles after you finish it in the next few days.

Other wins would include writing often pieces that were read by others as well as creating and carrying out monthly themes/challenges. Your Personalized Progress Log was updated the majority of the time too.

Although you did work on your drawing skills, that wasn’t quite the success as it should have been. Being in the now rather than in the phone was mixed too, but you are heading in the right direction. The same goes with improving your timeliness (good job turning in your last assignments for your fall classes 24 hours before they were due). The resolution to perform four songs for at least four people this year via a mix of violin and guitar didn’t happen although you did learn some chords on the guitar, and you will continue learn more. It was a bit unfair of me to throw the violin on that list given yours broke during the first few months of the year, and you were not able to get a replacement until a week ago. However, you will get there.

Finally, getting in the best shape of your life definitely did not happen with your probably being in the worst shape in your life right now. That though will also be changing as you head towards a much better direction this year, and this year you will do it. As far what you learned goes, you saw how fad diets don’t work for the long run unless they become lifestyle choices. Therefore, it is much better to alter your ways rather than rely solely on quick fixes.

Introspection was definitely a big thing for you this year. Some of the monthly challenges, particularly the Art of Manliness 30 Day Challenge (Part I and Part II) and No Shame November, greatly helped with that. Then there were the things outside your control that also led to a lot of contemplation, particularly about you and relationships of any kind. You will keep growing, and the key thing is to learn, adjust, and move forward as well as continue to keep Ruiz’s The Four Agreements in mind. There was definitely some hurt that came your way this last year, but you did the right thing of moving forward and trying to handle the situations the best way you could.

That was 2017, and now for the game plan for 2018. The twist this time is in honor of this being the fifth year of seriously tackling New Year’s Resolutions.  You will be revisiting resolutions from the past four years that either are still in need of attention or can help you grow some more. Now, without any further ado, here is your list for 2018.

  1.     From 2014 and 2015, carry on a 15 minute conversation in Spanish
    You made it through this resolution in 2015 technically speaking; however, you can and will do better this time around (basically, the majority of the conversation cannot be “¿Cómo se dice en español?” (How do you say in Spanish)). Being a reader again for the Critical Language Scholarship was inspiring, and everything you need to better improve your skills with the language are around you. You just need to actually use them.
  1.     From 2015, finish a readable second draft of the novel
    You have worked on the infamous novel some since you finished the first draft in September 2014, but seriously, it’s time to get this project completed and ready for the eyes of others to see it. That way you can move onto your next big writing project.
  1.     From both 2015 and 2016, mail at least one physical card/letter/postcard/note each week
    You have tried this two different years, and you haven’t managed to succeed yet, but third time’s a charm, right? Plus, with your not completing a good enough sketch for your Christmas cards, you will be able to start this resolution off strong with the New Year’s cards you will be sending out after the Downtown Hutch business finishes printing them.
  1.     From 2015 and 2016, build and stick to a financial budget
    This is another you have tried two different years and failed both times. This last year was a wake up call when you had pretty much only $47 of money to your name back in September after all of your bills were paid and such. Never again should that happen to you, and things will be easier once you finish your doctorate; however, until then, master your living on a financial budget. Doing so will help you out for the rest of your life in so many different ways and open the doors to many great opportunities.
  1.     2017 – Create and Carry Out Monthly Themes/Challenges
    Without a doubt, this was last year’s fan favorite, and taking on this resolution for another year will lead to some more great adventures to say the least.
  1.     Learn to be able to focus on one thing by taming the wandering mind
    Tim Ferriss calls it the “monkey mind,” and you definitely have it. Your thoughts are all over the place, and your attention, unfortunately, has greatly dwindled with your easily getting distracted and jumping from one thing or thought to another to then another. Modern society doesn’t help with this thanks to placing so many shiny things all over the place to grab one’s attention; however, you will need to rework your mind this year and learn to focus and conquer one thing at time. As science now says after years of growing up hearing otherwise, the majority of people truly do not have the ability to be great multitaskers. Needless to say, you are not part of the minority that can multitask and achieve great things, so don’t kid yourself by thinking otherwise.
  1.     Improve your interactions with others (watch out for shaming people, improve your dating skills, and stop wasting time on people who don’t deserve it)
    As mentioned, No Shame November was a great wake-up call. While you should always hold people accountable, you can definitely work on your delivery. Then to say you are extremely socially awkward when it comes to dating would be an understatement. I know your original plan was to just take a year break from dating, but Bailey is right – you shouldn’t do that. Rather, just work on getting better at this. Then last but definitely not least, remember time is extremely valuable, and you need to use it wisely. If people don’t appreciate the time you are willing to dedicate to a relationship of any kind, they don’t deserve it. Never will they suddenly gain a great appreciation for you and change their ways by your always being there and trying to be the person you would like them to be. Then if they are nonsermitis sufferers, don’t even bother unless you have to because of the situation. Life is too short for that.
  1.     No buying a new book unless two currently owned books have been read
    You could stock a small library with the amount of books you own, and so many of them are fantastic as well as unread by you. Rather than reading them, you usually just end up buying more to add to your collection. To turn this around a bit, you have to read at least two books, although you should try for three, before a new book can be purchased by you to add to your collect (unless, of course, the books are for school, for those do not count).
  1.     Improve Your Follow Through
    During the presentation of the 2017 Patty Carey Star Award at the Cosmosphere’s Everything Under the Stars amazing event, one piece of much praise about this year’s recipient, the late John Neal, was about how if he said was going to do something, he would always see it through. That stuck with you, and it should, for this too is extremely important. Sure, there are certain things that are okay to abandon; however, being a man of your word is vital to who you need to become. You are not too bad at this now, but there is a lot of room for improvement. For an example, there was no reason for you to take over four months to get your sister the photos from your nephew’s birthday party to her, and that only happened because she reminded you about your telling her you were going to send them. We have already addressed how you dropped the ball last year for the campaign for positive campaigns. Don’t do that again with the Hutch Calendar or your other obligations. Regardless of how big or small the task may be, if you say you are going to do it, get it done.
  1.  Get in the best shape of your life
    a. Continue to strive for at least 7 hours of sleep
    b. Meditate at least three times a week
    c. Improve your eating habits
    d. Work towards getting your body fat percentage to 10% or below
    As warned, this is going to be a standard resolution every year with some tweaks happening to it here and there. This time be sure it is on the list of successes when you get the sixth letter from me a year from now.

Extra Credit: Continue your work on becoming a Renaissance man (play music, write, investigate the sciences, work with mathematics, draw, etc.)
Your time may be limited thanks to work, community work, and homework, but these different tasks can easily fit into little spots of free time when you have it, and they will be much more rewarding than using all of that free time to scroll through some sort of social media app or shoot messages through a time-sucking dating app

And there you go – your list of New Year’s Resolutions for 2018. Similar to the last four years, these resolutions will serve you well not only this year but for some time to come. Things will happen this year you won’t expect, and I would like to tell you, but, as mentioned before, no spoilers are allowed. However, keep in mind two things:

First, the quotation Ray Dalio used as the opener for Principles:

“Time is like a river that carries us forward into encounters with reality that require us to make decisions. We can’t stop our movement down this river and we can’t avoid those encounters. We can only approach them in the best possible way.”

Second, never forget each second is a second that will not come again. Every interaction and experience that can and does occur will never have the opportunity come around again with the context all being the same. Remember to think about how we have around 100 10-minute blocks in each day at our disposal. Use them wisely as you build your life to how you would like it to become.

With those thoughts in mind and a new list of resolutions to conquer, that wraps up things for now. Remember what you learned from making your mother’s divinity recipe during the past two days. Failure can happen just like it did with your first, second, and third batch; however, persistence can indeed pay off just as it did with the fourth batch of that tasty, sugary goodness. Just like in previous years, failure will come with the resolutions for this year too, but just learn from those times, adapt, and not give up on that goal in mind. You got this! After all, that is how I made it to where I am now, so have fun and continue living one amazing story.

Until next year, cheers!

Ryan

2017 Christmas Day Hikes: A Return to the Woods of My Youth

When I think back to my younger days, often the memories of exploring the woods behind my house come to mind. So many hours were spent covering every inch of them as my little feet made their way up and down a small dike that kept Kirk’s Lake at bay and our house safe from flooding. Those same feet would run up and down the C-shaped path on top that dike surrounded by the woods that I used to call a forest until one of my grade school teachers told me there were no such things as forests in Kansas. Then there were the adventures of eating gooseberries and climbing over fallen trees from the 1986 inland hurricane. Much time was also spent by the old abandoned stone bridge just a little off my parents’ property. There I would do my best to tiptoe across large rocks to avoid getting my shoes wet all while watching the water flow beneath me. Sometimes, I would make my way to the other side to stare at the tumbled pieces on the Southern side and think about the story my grandfather told my sister and me about an ill-fated race between two guys, a woman they both loved, and the murder of the good guy by the bad when he rammed one of the first cars in Iola into the side of a primitive vehicle causing it to take out a side of the bridge and cost the life of its driver.

That story and many others fed my imagination as I played by myself in the small stream, investigated the old ruins of Kirk’s cabin, and used long sticks to drag huge snapping turtles out of the mud holes from when Kirk’s Lake would go dry during some extremely hot summers. The woods seemed massive, and they were the best place a kid could have to cultivate a love inside him for the outdoors.

As I grew older, my time in the woods grew less; however, they still played a role in my world. In middle school, I carved out the initials of someone I was sure I was going to marry with mine all framed in a heart in the side of a tree. In high school, that same path was still traveled during my high school days for jogs in the woods as short trainings for cross country. Then some of my senior pictures were taken of me leaning against the old bridge.

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After I left college, the time with the woods grew to nothing more than smiling upon seeing them when I pulled into my parents’ driveway for my short visits back home.

Then over the last five years, my visits to Iola became even less thanks to a disagreement of sorts with my father. During that time, I had decided to create my own Christmas tradition of going on a hike somewhere for that holiday. That led to exploring the Flint Hills one year, hiking the hills around Wilson Lake another, and looking out into a Christmas morning sunrise on top of Elk Mountain in Oklahoma’s beautiful Wichita Mountains for yet another.

Earlier this year, some peace came back to the household, and that led to my returning to Iola for Christmas. Wanting to keep up the tradition of hiking either on Christmas or the day before or after, I had planned on heading to Hot Springs National Park after Christmas dinner. A frightful weather forecast of ice, snow, and freezing rain led to that being canceled, and to replace it, it seemed like a good idea to explore the woods of my childhood and check out Iola’s recently developed Lehigh Portland Trail.

The first taste of the hikes came Christmas Eve when I rushed to the Lehigh Portland Trail to see the sunset across Elks Lake. I had studied the maps and realized the trailhead was just past the turn my family and I would take each Thursday night during the summer months for the weekly trap shoot that my dad helped run while my mother took care of the paperwork and sold concessions to make the $20 each night that greatly helped her barely make ends meet. Many memories of my youth were also made there with my often playing on a nearby hill, finding fossilized Crinoids in the parking lot, and playing Ghosts in the Graveyard the times there were other kids coming to the shoot with their parents too.

I would also sometimes stare across the quarry at the cliffs on the other side, wondering what it was like over there, and decades later, I finally found out as I watched the setting sun while staring and thinking about where a younger version of me had once stood. What once was so big seemed extremely small from this new perspective. Decades had gone by since whenever that last Thursday night was, and much had changed. Sure, there was a lot of distance between where I stood and the area of my youth, but the hill that seemed so steep to run up looked so small, and the same went with the whole area around the building where my mother would work that once seemed like it stretched out forever. That should have prepared me for Christmas morning when I explored the woods, but it didn’t.

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After breakfast and before lunch, I threw on the warmest clothes I had and went for my hike in the woods behind the house. Similar to what had happened the night before, everything that had seemed huge seemed small now. Almost 18 years has passed since I graduated from high school, and since that time, my parents had long left parts of the path go back to nature. The southern end was pretty much lost to tall grasses and new trees that had grown quite a bit over the last decade. I made it over to look at the bridge, which still seemed to have stood the test of time thankfully.

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Then it was a return to the trail I had traveled so many times before. Remnants of the path could still be seen at the southern end, but fallen trees and gooseberry bushes had largely taken over. I made my way through though despite the thorns trying to pull me back.

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Soon I was standing by the remains of Kirk’s cabin. The fireplace that once towered high above me seemed so short now. A smile came across my face as memories of climbing around it came back to me.

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From there, I continued to stepped over fallen trees to get to the midpoint on the dike where a path used to take me down to Kirk’s Lake. That too was no longer there, but thankfully a nifty tree whose branches grew towards the ground still was. There I sat for a bit and thought again to a little Ryan who loved hanging out there as his own secret hideout of sorts.

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The path became more defined as I went further north. The next step though was to look at the tree where my initials once were. Much like that relationship I was sure would last forever, nothing was there.  The bark had grown back over the decades, and the tree had completely healed from the silly decisions of my youth.

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Then there were the remnants of the fallen trees on which I had once played. One in particular had been massive, and many times it served as a tightrope of sorts as I did my best to walk up and down all while trying my best to be sure-footed and well-balanced. The years had also taken a toll on that once seeming giant with weather breaking down its once-strong structure. For a second, I thought about trying to walk across it once more, but what once held me without any problems now would have likely have broken in half if my feet would have returned to it once more.

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That fallen tree had always marked the beginning of the woods, but that too had changed. The pond damn that once had been bare was now covered in small but tall trees as the woods began their claim of more land for itself. The area by the pond where many times were spent by my family was now hardly passable as nature had taken over it too.

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I knew before I had gone out that morning things would have changed. The overgrowth was expected, but how small everything seemed wasn’t. Even now what once was and what now is doesn’t seem one of the same place, but rather what I had seen that morning was nothing more than a miniature version of the land that once captured much of my attention and time.

The afternoon hike led to a completely different feeling of nostalgia from being home for the holidays. My mother and I bundled up in our warmest clothes to explore parts of the Lehigh Portland Trail. We started along the Creek Side Trail that provided some majestic views on top of the rocky bluffs running along Elm Creek where I came across my new favorite spot in Iola.

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While this land was all new to me, on the other side of the creek bank I had once hiked with a good friend in high school along the land my great grandparents once owned and where my dad remembered having family picnics when he was a kid.

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After some awes of the views and a few attempts of some selfies, my mother and I crossed the Backbone Trail to walk along the Mountain Goat Trail that then provided some more fantastic views but this time of Elks Lake. After that was checking out part of the South Loop before working our way back to the car, where we then saw eight deer just a little ways down the road. Through it all, my mother and I continued to be amazed with how one of our favorite places to hike in Kansas now just happens to be in the place we call home.

When I realized I would be heading home for Christmas, I knew some things would be a definite like I would be enjoying a fantastic home-cooked meal and one of my mother’s great pies for dessert; however, it didn’t hit me the power that would come with retracing past steps and exploring new spots. Both of which led to a newfound appreciation and outlook on places I thought I knew so well. Perspective really does play a huge role in our lives, and that was evident from the up-close views that happened when I was younger and now with the ones with some more distance in the mix. What I saw as a kid and what I see now both hold elements of truth to them, and more than likely, both will seem different again after another ten or fifteen years have passed as my perspective continues to change.

Change is always happening. In a way, it seemed, although I knew it shouldn’t, like things would have stood still and remained just as they were, but nature took over what once was the trail in the woods behind my parents’ house and some dedicated citizens created new paths to explore with the fantastic Lehigh Portland Trail. Change has happened with me too. That little kid who played for hours  in his forested playground and found fossils at the Thursday night trap shoots has changed much over the years. Sure, there are elements that are still the same such as the joy that came when I was out in the woods Christmas morning and when I found some fossils near the end of that afternoon’s hike, but overall, he is quite a bit different and will continue to change just like everything in the world around him does. When it comes down to it, all we can do smile as we reflect on the past and do our best as we go forward on our own paths through this thing called life.

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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