Category Archives: Life

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

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

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

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

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

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Definitely Not Whole 30 Compliant

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

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

  1. Sugar Is in Everything

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

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

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

  1. Eating In Was Easy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  1. I Lost Weight Despite Eating Tons

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

  1. Sugar Does Odd Things to My Mind

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

 

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

The Amazing and Fantastic Shakespeare on the Porch

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.