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).

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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Two Hutchinson Women Searching for Their Mothers

It was a cold Sunday morning when I first met her. Without checking the weather, Jason and I had made plans the previous night to have a bike ride meeting where we would discuss life, work, and all that fell under that category as we pedaled away, but a few early-morning text exchanges led to our altering our plans to meeting at the Metro instead. She would catch my eye from time to time as Jason and I made plans to change the world for the better. Jason caught my glancing at her once and asked, “Do you recognize her?” She looked familiar, but beyond that, I had no clue who she was. She was probably in fifties, dark hair, and a face of someone who had a hard life. In her hands was a cup from a Kwik shop. She would make a loop rather than standing still with her checking out some of the art on the walk before looking at the games on the shelves. Jason and I would go back to discussing our upcoming week as she would fall back to the periphery. We were right in the middle of a conversation when we finally heard her voice.

“Do you have a phone that I could borrow?” she asked as I looked up to see her standing right next to our table.

“I uh don’t-” I started to utter before Jason selflessly offered his. She pulled up a chair and took out one of those wide rule notebooks sold cheaply in the school supply sections of any stores and started thumbing through her pages to find one with a list of phone numbers.

Her words flowed as Jason and I listened and nodded our heads as she told us about how she had been married for 12 no 15 no 17 years, but then that was over. She had come back to Hutchinson to live with her mother, but her brother had encouraged her to start a new life in California with him, so she boarded the train to return to the west, but he too was having his own problems and came east to live some place in the country with their mom. She was now trying to find him, and she had his number to call. She called, but there was no answer. She then called her mother, but once again, no one picked up. She left a message for each. She then called the last number, her Horizons Mental Health caseworker, whom she was to meet on Tuesday at Taco Bell, to leave a message with her before she started talking more about how her mother would never take her calls anymore, and she didn’t know why and how she needed to find her brother because he and she were both practically homeless. All during this time, although I tried not to do so, my eyes would fall on the other page of her notebook and see different words and scribbles that made really no sense to me but probably did to her.

Jason being Jason then offered to get her coffee, and then the two of them went to the counter. All during that time, I looked at my phone that sat right there on the table and thought back to how I almost automatically say no to her request, just like I have to many people who have asked me for money ever since a situation a long time ago in Chicago when I was young and an undergrad where a yes almost led to my being dragged down an alley to I don’t know what fate. Instead, I dragged him to a Panera and offered to buy him a meal that he then rejected. There was definitely a guilt that was within me.

She returned soon to our table with a plump muffin on a white plate as Jason, who is currently working odd jobs to survive until a more steady pay comes his way when the legislative session begins in January, paid for both that and a coffee.

Her stories continued as she ate and drank away. Renee, her friend with whom she had been living, was one of the major focuses. There had been a falling out between the two after both of them had been kicked out of the Kansas State Fair just earlier that week despite both of them being innocent, according to her, from creating a great disturbance that according to the officers they had done as they watched an artist with spray paint create masterpieces before them.

Jason and I listened on for a little while longer as she talked more about how she was getting help from Horizons, but she was going to have to wait two more days before she could see anyone. Eventually, he and I wished her a good day and left her there to enjoy her hot coffee and the remaining crumbs on the plate. Before we left though, she said, “If my brother or mom should call you back, just say it is the wrong number.” She paused and thought again about that, “No, tell them some lady asked to borrow your phone.”

In front of our cars, we talked just a bit about how fortunate we are before she, coffee and notebook in hand, joined us where we were standing. While we were getting ready to return to our warm homes, she was off to the next-door laundromat, so she could put her light hooded sweatshirt in the dryer for just a bit because, as she showed us by pulling back the neck of the said hooded sweatshirt just a bit, she only had a tank top underneath. With that, we all three went in our separate directions.

A few weeks later, our paths crossed again at an ice cream social hosted by the Reno County Democrats. She arrived and had several bowls of ice cream before disappearing somewhere downtown. Jason pointed out she had no memory of either us at all. His words stayed with me as I watched her walk down Walnut and take the turn towards Avenue A Park.

It was the night before the ice cream social when I was standing on top of the downtown TECH building talking to Julie and Kim as they worked on Julie’s mural that was stretching past the roofline. The topic of homelessness in Hutchinson came up, and I asked about Downtown Renee. From where I stood, I could see her cart with all of her belongings right across Cow Creek in Avenue Park. Renee, who is also either in her forties or fifties, has been living on Main Street for almost a year with a little time spent elsewhere last winter during the coldest months. She sits, and she waits for her mother to come. When she was being moved from her previous place on Main Street, she saw her mother drive up to the nearby intersection, but she, Renee had explained to Julie, will be back; she was just too busy to stop this time. The thing is Renee’s mother passed away two years ago. People have tried to tell her this, but she continues to wait and believe in her heart her mother will come to pick her up one day, and she doesn’t want to leave until then.

Whether Downtown Renee is the same Renee Jason and I heard about while we were at the Metro is unknown. I have never seen the two together, but I do know mental health issues are greatly affecting their lives. Just looking at them, no one would likely guess the battles each of them are tackling in their minds, but that is the thing about mental illness. Unlike a broken arm or a broken leg, no signs or symptoms are physically present; however, it is only getting to know the person somehow or in some way that it can start to be seen, but even then, many are good at still masking it.

I have seen first hand how mental health issues can be debilitating with both a family member and a once best friend until he closed off his world to me. Even in my own life, I have battled depression, and although those voices, who once were extremely strong and loud during my high school days telling me all sorts of things no teenager should ever believe or hear, have largely been silenced, they still emerge from time to time to remind me they have never truly gone away. However, I am still extremely fortunate and so is everyone else who have their minds intact and functioning to the best of their abilities. My hope is we can all continue to be that way, and we can figure out as a country and a world for that matter a way we can successfully battle the mental health crisis and help others live their lives to the fullest.

This all is indeed a reminder about how we should never take things for granted. One never knows what the future has in store for us. Both women are proof at that. At one time, they were both young girls with dreams for very different futures. At one time, Renee’s mother would have been right there to pick her up from anywhere her daughter was waiting for her, and the other mother would always be answering her daughter’s phone calls, but now both women wander the streets searching for people they will likely never find as they too have sadly also become lost to much of the world.

The Wonders of Popcorn

It is usually a chuckle that turns into a look of disbelief when the person hears popcorn as my answer to the question of what is my favorite food. “But it is a snack,” some have said. “But it doesn’t have to be,” I tend to answer before admitting popcorn has been a meal many, many times in my life. For me though, my love for popcorn goes beyond just its tasty goodness. So often it is seen as nothing more than fluff, which has then led to the expression “popcorn movie” for a film that lacks any substance; however, there is a lot more to popcorn than we often give it credit, and today I am going to do my best to put another one of my loves into words.

First, of course, is popcorn is actually healthy. Well, it is healthy if it is not coated in butter and salt. It’s a whole grain and rich in fiber. Also rich in antioxidants, popcorn has been found to have a stronger concentration of polyphenols than most fruit (needless to say, I use this as an excuse to eat even more popcorn when I feel like I may be coming down with something). Plus, popcorn contains tryptophan, which can, according to different studies, help with sleep as well as help with moods through the boosting of serotonin levels. Plus, it has protein and iron too.

Then popcorn itself has quite the fascinating history. The oldest popcorn ears were found in a New Mexico Bat Cave and date back to around 5,600 years ago. There has also been evidence that traces popcorn going back to as early as 4700 BCE in Peru. The Aztecs not only ate popcorn but also utilized ceremonies, including having it part of ceremonial headdresses and performing popcorn dances. As far as more recent history goes, around the turn of the twentieth century, it served as a breakfast cereal and soared in popularity during the Great Depression because of its inexpensive nature. It was around that time it became synonymous with movie theatres and continued to be popular until the rise of television took its toll on both theatre going and popcorn eating. However, its return to being devoured by many came about again in the 1980s with the rise of microwave popcorn. Around 14 billion quarts of popcorn are consumed every year, and Nebraska, land of the Cornhuskers and the number one state for growing popcorn, produces around 250 million pounds of popcorn each year, which is about 25% of the total popcorn production.

Popcorn has also been in around in my life ever since I can remember. My earliest memories of it come from around Christmas time when I was a youngster, and Grandma Diehl would give my family one of those holiday tins filled with popcorn. There I would sit in our living room eating away until the cheese-flavored had completely disappeared. My hand would then move over to the butter-flavored until it too met a similar fate. Being the kind person I was, the caramel, besides maybe a piece or two, would remain untouched. That way when the rest of the family were craving popcorn, they could lift the lid to find two of the sections completely empty and a relatively full third one waiting to be eaten. It turns out they too were not really the biggest fans of the caramel kind either, but that is, of course, a minor detail.

Then another early memory comes from a summer family road trip where we stopped by Bedrock City, South Dakota. They had free popcorn, which was amazing and a crazy concept to me. As we wandered among the Flintstones memorabilia, I snarfed it down, and, thanks to some slightly uncomfortable stomach pains, I later learned about the problems that come with too much of a good thing.

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Ryan the Glutton

So many other popcorn memories are with my mother who also has a great love for it. Growing up in the eighties, I saw the rise of microwavable popcorn as she and I would fix a bag to share on a regular basis. I also remember the time we tried out an air popper and several other popcorn-making contraptions. However, many of the memories are with our going to Iola Cinema, a once two-plex movie theatre in a nifty old building right off Iola’s town square, and making a meal out of a large thing of popcorn. On the way out, we would get a refill and continue to enjoy for some time after.

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The former Iola Cinema. The photo came from this site: https://www.pinterest.com/pennyisabel/hometown-iola-ks/

It was also while watching Scream in the upstairs theatre with my mother that I gained, for a little while, a fascination with Jiffy Pop. Just the name of itself brings flashes back to my mind of attempts to cook it on the stove and in campfires, with each attempt leading to absolute failure.

This love of popcorn, many told me, was predicted to die when I started my first official job at Iola Cinema. “You will soon get tired of it,” they would say. Instead of that happening, my love only grew, and so did many memories. First, there was the memories of popping it with my trying to find the perfect balance of popcorn salt to kernels and the perfect timing to empty the bucket before any burning occurred. I also remember one of my co-workers would try hard to pop the perfect piece, which would lead her to calculating the exact moment to put the kernels into the heated oil so at least one would pop into a perfectly round form, which would indeed happen from time to time. That initial sound and smell is still with me today. The memories go beyond that though. There were so many nights I would talk to my co-workers with a courtesy cup filled with popcorn right next to me. There were also the nights I was there alone to close, and a cup of popcorn and my homework kept me company as I sat behind the glass-covered display of overpriced candy and waited for the movies to get out so I could close for the night. The memories continued during the nights at 54 Drive In where we would take the giant bag of leftover popcorn with us after closing down the concession stand and sort of watch the rest of the second movie as we talked and munched away. Easily, many of my favorite times during high school came from working for B&B Theatres.

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Ian, one of my best friends in high school and fellow theatre co-worker, with an unfortunately broken popcorn machine.

So many memories of eating popcorn happened throughout college too from great nights with friends to some not so fantastic times with people burning a bag of it in the community microwave on my residence hall floor. Memories continue to be made here in Hutchinson. I still remember how proud I was to figure out a few years ago how to make healthy-ish popcorn on my stove. At work, there is my personal popcorn machine (I bought it myself rather than having the school pay for it) that one can often see me moving back and forth between my two offices for book club sessions, Honors Lounge Hangout Nights, and Popcorn Fridays. Then there has been this last year the creation of Social Saturday where a group of us get together after 9 on Saturday evenings to catch up, talk about the world, and figure out plans to change it for the better. The bar just happens to have free popcorn, which may or may not have been the selling point for the location. As the conversations flow, there among us is at least one (often refilled) bowl of popcorn being shared.

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In addition to all of this nostalgia for popcorn, there is some sense of wonder about it too. Here is this extremely hard kernel that becomes a fluffy, tasty bit of goodness. Sure, I know the science about it involving a bit of moisture being trapped and, with some heat, the water becoming enough steam to cause enough pressure (around 135 pounds per square inch) to turn everything inside out; however, it still seems like a magic trick to transform a cup of kernels into bowls of popcorn. There is something sort of inspirational about it too. We can see ourselves as kernels with such an energy inside us that all it takes is a spark that can cause us to become something great. Popcorn can easily be reminder about transformation always being possible, and, by breaking out of our comfort zones, we can rise to our potential.

For all of these reasons and for several more, popcorn easily takes the top spot as my favorite food. Sure, it may be an unconventional favorite, but nothing else is connected to so many times that have made me who I am today, and I have no doubt it will be part of many fantastic memories to come.

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PS
Of course, with all of this said, there is the common complaint from many about popcorn – the kernels get stuck in between one’s teeth. Just look at this as a reminder to floss, and then popcorn is simply helping us out once again.

 

Are Best Friendships Reparable?

During the latter part of my high school days, I started watching Fox and the Hound on a fairly regular basis. I am not sure what started this tradition, but it went on into my college years where I would spend a night alone at home watching the tale of Tod and Copper, the bestest of friends until they weren’t. For those who are not familiar, here’s the trailer that would never work for today’s audience:

And a classic scene from the film:

And now to ruin the movie for those who haven’t seen it, here’s a clip of its final scene

To put it simply, the movie hits me hard every time. It’s one of the guaranteed films that leads to tears being shed. No one dies, and I have had some people argue with me it is a happy ending; however, to me, it captures the death of a great friendship, which is a truly tragic thing that happens all too often.

Friendship itself is fascinating and a topic in itself for a future post. Easily, my friends are my closest treasures, and I am fortunate to have some absolutely fantastic ones who have been with me through many, many times. I tend to think of friends on different tiers similar to how WaitbutWhy explained it.

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Definitely, I would recommend reading the full blog post: https://waitbutwhy.com/2014/12/10-types-odd-friendships-youre-probably-part.html 

One thing I have noticed over the years is those on the second and third tiers can drift in and out and even do some silly things but still make it back to their spot, but it is much harder for anyone who has ever made it to the first tier to return after something has happened to lead the friendship falling down the mountain. Is it possible for them to return to being one’s best friend in the Tier 1 circle? This question of whether a best friendship is truly reparable has been on my mind a lot lately and even more so after one of my best friends from college sent me a message on Monday after eight years of silence, but more on that later.

So often, when it comes to friendship, we think about the beginnings like the time we first truly met and connected with that someone we can’t really imagine our lives without. Then there are all the middle parts – the conversations, the dinners, the tears, the hugs, and the adventures that are some of the highest of high points in our lives. What we often don’t talk about are the break ups with our friends. With romance, most couples end with words of some sort to signal it’s over. There are the fights, the giving back of keys, divorces, and so on. However, when a best friendship dies, it tends to do so in a gradual way. Sure, there are the times people find out their best friend has done something extremely egregious like sleep with their wife or husband that leads to an abrupt end, but most often, the death is slow as if it is on life support until finally the heart just stops.

This makes me think back to some of the best friends I have had and lost. Nonsermitis has taken out too many of them unfortunately (I am still seeking a cure on a side note). Those stories are all the same though. The conversations once flowed in both directions until it just became one and then eventually none. More memorable deaths are a few others. There was the one in high school who let me know after Spring Break of our senior year she was trying to align herself better for the future and because of my lack of popularity (even though I was both our senior class president and homecoming king), our friendship didn’t work for her anymore. Then there was another high school best friend who just drifted away towards a different direction after we went to college. No matter how hard I tried to hold on with my attempting to see him whenever I was in the Lawrence/KC area, eventually I stopped fighting and also drifted off in my own direction. My time in Australia also took its toll on many of my other college best friends. Even with my best efforts to stay in touch and the amazing works of modern technology, the efforts were not returned, and that too led to my fading from the lives of quite a few people who were part of many of my favorite memories from my Emporia days.

More casualties happened during the first five months in Hutchinson where I was alone most of the time and knew no one here. I can still feel that break in the heart when two different once great friends mentioned over the phone how they had just spent an evening or more either in or right outside Hutch, but their schedules were so tight they couldn’t spare the time to see me. Many of the nights during those beginning months here were spent alone and feeling extremely lonely, and even seeing either of these friends for just one minute would have been a light in a very dark time, but that wasn’t meant to be, and the friendships pretty much were extinguished afterward. In none of my cases of losing best friends, with the exception of the popularity-seeking high school friend and an Australian best friend I once considered a brother until he called it quits while we were sitting in a park near the Dallas/Fort Worth airport the day before my thirtieth birthday, did we ever say our friendship was over. Instead, I held true to my ways that I stick around until I am no longer really wanted, and then when that time happens and my efforts to reach out seem in vain, I quietly exit stage left to head in one direction as he or she goes in another, never really seeming to notice my absence until one day . . .

And those one days have come. Several times, some of those once best friends have reached out. During my five-year class reunion, I swam out to a floating dock in the middle of a water-filled rock quarry to spend time watching the stars. As I took in a sight on the night sky I had been missing since moving from the country to head to college, I heard someone else swimming out to where I was, and then soon she appeared, the one who had once sought popularity. We caught up on our lives, and it was great. Everything in her world was going very well, and I was thrilled for her. Then she started to apologize for what she had done. Honestly, it wasn’t until after that apology the repressed memories came back of that conversation that ended our almost daily lunch outings and I understood for what she was asking forgiveness. We smiled, and I told her not to worry about it, for all was well. We were then to grab coffee sometime when I was in the Kansas City area; that coffee has yet to happen.

Then there was the other best friend from high school whose life eventually led to his drifting off to California. After ending his career in pharmacy in a rather big way, he went on a road trip to find himself. Many of those stops were places of his past, and, well, I was one of them. I was excited because we were once inseparable, and there was hope that friendship could be rekindled. The evening was good, and definitely time had aged us. The conversations flowed like they did back when we were younger and would spend hours hiking together or driving to Kansas City for movie marathons or contemplating life while working at the 54 Drive In. I was left with hope that perhaps our friendship would reignite, but besides that brief glow from what now seems like the last of the embers, life never came back to it.

There have been other attempts too of people trying to repair once was, but so far, nothing has worked, and I don’t know why. The common denominator is unfortunately/fortunately an idealistic fool known as me, and so often we just can’t find our footing again. Fortunately, Pandora made sure hope is always there thanks to its being trapped in some box some place. That hope was with me when I read the message from my college friend he sent to me on Monday apologizing for the past and asking for the chance to have me in his life once again. Our banter in the messages back and forth after that initial message was reminiscent of those good days that seem several lives ago, but there is the fact neither of us are the same people, for time definitely has changed us both; however,  perhaps our phone call tomorrow will take our paths back to running along each other once again. Only time will tell.

So that is one of the several things that has been on my mind this last week. While the answer is still up in the air, I do know similar to Tod in that last scene of Fox and the Hound, I will always be doing my best to watch from afar (mainly through Facebook notifications these days) as I hope for nothing but happiness for their future and that they know I will always be grateful for the time when we were the best of friends.

To conclude, here are the full lyrics to Fox and the Hound’s “The Best of Friends”

When you’re the best of friends
Having so much fun together
You’re not even aware, you’re such a funny pair
You’re the best of friends
Life’s a happy game
You could clown around forever
Neither one of you sees, your natural boundaries
Life’s one happy game
If only the world wouldn’t get in the way
If only people would just let you play
They say you’re both being fools
You’re breaking all the rules
They can’t understand, the magic of your wonderland
Hu-hu-hu
When you’re the best of friends
Sharing all that you discover
When that moment has past, will that friendship last?
Who can say? There’s a way!
Oh I hope… I hope it never ends
‘Cause you’re the best of friends

In Defense of Mondays

Today’s post is going to likely going to be one of my most controversial to date. In fact, yesterday when I was having lunch with my good friend Laura, she even told mE while she has agreed with me time and again with what I have written, this subject was one where we didn’t see eye to eye. Regardless, the time has come to defend Monday.

Mondays – the poor, innocent day of the week has developed quite the bad rap. We’ve all heard it sometime or another, especially in the United States. The expression, “It’s a Monday,” carries connotations all in itself that could never compare to someone saying, “It’s a Wednesday.” They say misery loves company, which leads to many seeing Monday as a bonding force. Then, pop culture has definitely not been kind to Mondays. It’s rainy days and Mondays that always get the Carpenters down:

Meanwhile, the Mamas & the Papas say while every other day is fine, Mondays leave them cryin’ all the time and you you can’t trust the day:

And, of course, the Bangles paint Mondays as a manic disturber of great dreams and they doesn’t begin to compare to Sundays which is their fun days:

Even Garfield, a cartoon cat who doesn’t even have a job, despises Mondays.

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Comic from this site

It doesn’t take a genius for one to put the pieces together of why Mondays are targeted the way that they are. Saturdays and Sundays tend to be fun and free where the schedules are often flexible and people are doing what they want to do; however, when the weekend has come to an end, Mondays come calling most people back to a routine schedule of the work week.

That association of work then becomes a big detractor for Mondays, for many don’t like their jobs. Forbes reported back in 2011 that, based upon a Gallup survey, 71% of workers are not a fan of what they do. Then this last March, based upon findings from a Gallup study once again, CBS News reported, “51 percent aren’t engaged at work — meaning they feel no real connection to their jobs, and thus they tend to do the bare minimum” and “[a]nother 16 percent are “actively disengaged” — they resent their jobs, tend to gripe to co-workers and drag down office morale as a result.”  The reasons for this vary greatly, and here are two different top ten lists of why people tend to hate their work: one from Forbes and another from Inc.

I fear things are only going to get worse with all of this “Follow your passion” advice, which I am right there with Cal Newport about how this is bad advice, for it increases self-centeredness (and probably aids nonsermitis while at it). Instead, as Newport writes, paraphrasing Steve Jobs, “Instead of asking what the world can offer you, he suggests, you should instead ask what you can offer the world. The goal is not to love every minute of your job, or to identify your one true passion, but is instead to put a dent in the universe.”

And unfortunately, Monday gets dragged into all of these feelings about work.

Before making a claim for why Mondays are actually a good thing, let’s go for some background tidbits about them. First, as reported by Today I Found Out ( which is also a fantastic Youtube channel by the way), while Sunday, of course, refers to day of the sun, with this going back to Egyptian times and eventually becoming the Middle English word “sone(n)day.” Mondays get their name after the moon, with the English word going back to Old English word mon(an)dæg. Also, although many calendars in the United States have Sunday as the first day of the week, it is actually Mondays, according to the International Organization for Standardization, that begins everything.

Mondays as something new is where their magic truly lies. After all, we love beginnings. First, of course, New Year’s Day is celebrated in so many ways with our looking at it as the start of a year of possibilities. Then there are the stories about how couples met that captivate us. So many romantic comedies and fairy tales are all about the starting point of a relationship rather than the middle or the end of their time together. Plus, there are birthdays, another date we honor as a starting point of sorts.

Mondays really are no different from any of these other dates in our lives. They too are temporal landmarks, which, as Gino discussed in Scientific American, “signal the start of a new, distinct time period — making us feel we can start from a clean slate.” Just think about how different the beginning of the week would be if we were to look at Mondays in a positive light rather than something horrible and blue. That ability is in us too, for as Viktor Frankl pointed out in Man’s Search for Meaning, “the last of the human freedoms [is] to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.” If we were to look Mondays going into them as a day starting a week full of potential rather than headaches, so much could change in many different fronts, for just like that, there would be that feeling of adventure, regardless of what a person is doing, rather than regret as we begin yet another week where we are fortunate to be alive and have the chance improve the world, even in the smallest of ways, for the better.

Most importantly though, we need to never take any day for granted. If we only think TGIF and wish away our week, we end up wishing away our life, and any day truly can be special and change our lives in unknown ways. The thing really we don’t know how much time we truly have, so rather than killing it or wishing we were sometime either in the future or past, we might as well enjoy where we are right now regardless of what day of the week it may be. Plus, as Shawn Achor points out in The Happiness Advantage, we have a tendency of thinking we will be happy when we get to a certain destination when in reality the happiness should come along the way, so rather than thinking “I will be so happy when it’s the weekend,” it should be taking in everything now.

When this next Monday hits, I challenge you to hold back any of the negative thoughts and perceptions about the day itself and instead think of the magic it can possess as you begin what I hope is another amazing chapter in your life.

Plus, one more thing going for Monday is the fact the moon is quite pretty too and you can stare at its beauty without going blind.

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The Death of Dreams, Magic, and Brick-and-Mortar Stores

It should surprise no one reading this when I say brick-and-mortar stores are having a rough time in the United States, and things are not looking better for them. Hutchinson has seen its fair share of stores closing over the last couple of years. Last Friday evening, thanks to a mix of wanting to procrastinate and also wanting to find a new tie, found me in JCPenney’s to see what they had left. As I walked under the signs plastered with Going Out of Business and the discounts being offered, I felt that odd feeling one gets at such places. Sure, there are the endorphins that come from the great deal one may find, but along with it is the sadness of knowing nothing will be replacing that things spot after it’s purchased. Eventually, all the inventory, showcases, shelving, mannequins, and everything else that can be sold will be sold, and right along all of those material things so much else will also disappear, and this is a tribute to just a few of those.

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The bittersweet feeling that comes along with a huge bag filled with many, many books all for $5 during the last hour Hastings was open.

For starters, there is the death of a dream. Stores open with a sense of excitement as the store owner thinks about the success that will come after the ribbon is cut and the doors are unlocked for the first time. There is that start of a new adventure, and while a nightmare of failure may enter the minds of those behind the brick-and-mortar store, they have weighed the opportunity cost and are betting on a win that is backed with a plan and a lot of hope. However, after the decision is made to close the store, that hope is gone, and the ideas of a long-lasting store that will span the time of generation after generation all dissolve into nothingness.

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That death of that major dream also brings an end to many others, including the jobs of many. While some may argue the wages are not high for many of these types of places, they were still jobs that no longer exist once the store shuts its doors for that final time. When Hastings was closing last fall, I talked to quite a few of the employees, and while they tried to keep upbeat, there was still that worry about what was next as they tried to figure out what they would find to cover their bills. The same held true for Office Max that left us last spring. While many of the employees may be high school and college students who were eventually going to move on, there were also the full-time workers who were supporting their lives and often the lives of others from the paychecks they received from the hard work they did (if you should happen to think retail is not hard work, I would recommend getting a job in retail to truly experience all of its ups and downs).  All of the things and feelings that come along with the words “You’re hired” dissipate, and the former employees are left with only memories of what once was as they enter back into the job market along with their coworkers who have now become their competition.

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There is also the convenience factor that leaves a community. Take for an example my search for a tie last Friday night. The thoughts of getting a new one to wear for Saturday evening didn’t hit me until after work that night, so buying one online wasn’t an option. Driving to Wichita would have taken a couple of hours to do thanks to the trip to and from there. Rather, I could take ten minutes to drive to the mall and see what if any struck my fancy. The total time of going into the store, finding the right tie, and buying it was less than ten minutes. I didn’t have to try to decide if the size or color were right based upon online photos, nor was a long trip or waiting for a package to be delivered involved. Instead, it was right there and soon after in my possession. However, with each store closing, that convenience too vanishes, and we are left with either having to travel out of town or order something online if we should want or need something new.

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The saddest loss to me though is all of the potential that comes along with a brick-and-mortar store. There is, of course, the potential of stumbling upon something to buy that perhaps we never knew we may have needed but are glad to have it in our world afterward. Plus, they can provide life-changing lessons for high school students who have been given their first job thanks to a manager taking a chance with the youngster with no previous job history, but there is another even greater than that.

It should come of no surprise for anyone who has read many of my posts that the movie Serendipity is a favorite of mine. It’s a hopeless romantic dream all about timing, and that spark all begins for our hero and heroine when they both grab a pair of gloves at the same time as they are finishing their Christmas shopping at a department store. Needless to say, that same kind of spark is not going to happen when two people click on Amazon’s Add to Cart button at the same moment. Sure, that may be a movie, but there are plenty of stories out there where one meets a friend or a soul mate for the first time in such a place. One of my best friends met his future wife when he was standing in line at a Subway sandwich restaurant of all places.

These chance encounters go beyond just matters of the romantic heart. There is also the unplanned times of running into friends and catching up with them. For an example, this morning, my mother and I went to Bluebird Books to see a friend, Kathy, and upon walking inside, there was Jason buying a copy of Ready Player One and then I saw Dell with whom we shared our one thing of beauty and one thing of gratitude that has been the way we have greeted each other for over four years now. Jason, Kathy, my mother, and I all chatted for quite some time, and then entered Jade, Alex, and Athena into where we were, and more conversations happened that never would have occurred if it were not for a store that drew us altogether. We could have gone book shopping online, but the cost of what was missed out is much greater than any financial cost that could have been saved.

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When it comes down to it, brick-and-mortar stores can carry that magic of being a place where lives of so many can intersect and can lead to futures of unknown possibilities. This is something that evades most online shopping experiences. However, with each store closing, that magic vanishes and all of those things of what might have been become nothing more than undeveloped futures that will never be.

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