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Writing

I love words, and I especially love quotes, because they articulate my thoughts and give me hope, connecting me to a common humanity. This quote by one of my heroes is a good example, explaining why I write even if no one else were to ever read it.

My first inspiration to write came when I found The Enchanted Loom by astronomer Robert Jastrow in my tiny, small town high school library. I devoured his explanation of how the brain works, a complex subject made simple in layman’s terms by Dr. Jastrow’s gift. I eagerly read the only other of his books in our little library, Red Giants and White Dwarves, on the origins of the solar system, in awe of his ability to effectively communicate complex concepts and planting a tiny seed that, though I didn’t act on it for thirty years, was vital to fertilizing the ground for when the time was right.

I’ve described writing both as my hobby and as my therapy, but I think the latter is more appropriate. Most of my posts center around a few common themes, themes of love and faith and struggle, the primary themes of being human. Having to put my thoughts and feelings to words means having to organize them and, most importantly, find meaning in the big questions of life. I think we all seek meaning; writing is simply my way of doing that.

A friend used to say “Words mean something.” He was right. They wield enormous power—to harm or heal, to incite or inspire. That’s why freedom of the press is the first right embedded in our Constitution and why dictatorships restrict it. But words also can lead to understanding and even acceptance of circumstances that are otherwise unbearable. This is why I’ll be writing until I lose the faculties to do so. I need it; it is life.

“There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed.”  —Ernest Hemingway

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At Home


I feel like I’m back home. After a three year stint in retail, I’m back in Food and Ag. Boy did I miss it.

I grew up in a small farm town of 1,300 in central Kansas, a “city girl” because we lived in town. My great-grandparents on both sides were farmers, and my grandparents lived on a farm (Grandpa worked at the gas company), but I didn’t grow up on a farm. Because most of my classmates were farm kids and the heartbeat of my entire town followed the weather and crop prices, I couldn’t help but soak some of it in. When I unexpectedly found myself in the industry as an adult, it really began to grow on me. I didn’t realize how much a part of me it had become until I left it for awhile. Now I’m back, and I feel like I’ve come home.   

It’s not hard to explain why I love it. First of all, plants are cool, but food plants are especially cool. Wheat or chickens or corn go in one end by the rail car or truckload, and flour or chicken nuggets or corn oil comes out the other in the same large quantities. In between are complex machines and tubes and conveyors and a million things that can go wrong. You’d think by now there’d be one “right way” to design each plant to produce a thing. But there’s always a better way, and lots of smart people dedicate their lives to constantly looking for it. The whole process is clean and food safe and amazing.  

But the best part of our business is absolutely the people. The people who are attracted to what we do grew up with the same values and work ethic I was raised with. They’re independent and practical and no nonsense. After all, it’s kind of hard to be uppity when you’ve got blood on your boots or bits of chicken on your pants. They’re the kind of folks who’ll never let you down, who come to the funeral when you lose family and change your flat tire in the snow and simply stand on your side when life tries to knock you down.  

What we do every day may not be terribly glamorous, but it’s honorable and it’s needed. We feed people–physically of course, but also emotionally. I’m proud of what we do and how we do it. I’m back home.

“Your work is going to fill a large part of your life, and the only way to be truly satisfied is to do great work. And the only way to do great work is to love what you do. If you haven’t found it yet, keep looking. Don’t settle. As with all matters of the heart, you’ll know when you find it.”  –Steve Jobs 


Spider Season


I hate spiders. This cutie is a jumping spider. How great is that? It reminds me of the saying that the only good thing about spiders is that they don’t fly. I know, we’d be overrun with bugs without them. It’s good I wasn’t the one to choose that tradeoff.

They say the average person is within two feet of a spider at any point in time, not a comforting thought in that sleepy haze as you’re falling asleep. Only after we moved to Northwest Arkansas did a native tell me about “spider season”. I sure don’t remember any mention of that in the promotional materials. But I’ve survived five already as we head into another, so I guess it’s just as well I didn’t know about this unique season in advance.

Our neighbors across the street just moved away, so there are now no witnesses remaining to the “great spider incident” from our first season here. I’d seen something on the driveway as we got home from church on a gorgeous fall day. I was pretty sure it was a bug, but it struck me as too big to ignore. After all, a spider that big was too close to the house to live…one can’t take that kind of chance. Thankfully upon closer inspection, it was already dead. But it sure was big, so I had to be sure. I stomped it good, with primal relish. Then the real horror began. Thousands of tiny critters scattered in every direction. My brain couldn’t process what was happening as fast as they moved. My first thought was they were ants feasting on an opportune carcass. As it dawned on me what they really were, that primal instinct kicked back in, and I began a clumsy Irish step dance right there in my driveway, still in my church clothes. I was simultaneously petrified and determined that none of those tiny, vile creatures would grow to the beastly size of the mother they had just been cannibalizing that close to my house. I failed in my quest to destroy them all, but I can say with some pride that it was still an unmitigated massacre that day.

I never did explain my bizarre dance to my wide-eyed neighbors.

“‘Why did you do all this for me?’ he asked. ‘I don’t deserve it. I’ve never done anything for you.’

‘You have been my friend,’ replied Charlotte. ‘That in itself is a tremendous thing.'”  –from Charlotte’s Web by E.B. White


Sunflowers


It’s that time of year again, the sunflowers are back. Every year they signal the end of summer and the glorious beginning of fall. I grew up in Kansas, and sunflowers — the state flower — are my second favorite flower.

They line the roadsides in numbers that have to be in the millions. They make me smile as I pass them by, as much from their overwhelming scale as their beauty. They always surprise me, too. One day they’re not there, the next they outnumber the swallows…an annual, predictable surprise.

But the best thing about sunflowers is how they got their name:  they follow the path of the sun through the day. It’s a wonderful analogy for us. What if we did the same? I know I find myself too often looking down, or not looking at all…distracted by life’s worries. But the sunflowers never waver. They stand firmly where they were planted, staying steadily focused on that which gives them life. Maybe that’s why I like them, because they have something to teach me.

“Nothing contributes so much to tranquilize the mind as a steady purpose – a point on which the soul may fix its intellectual eye.”  –Mary Shelley


Simple

complex
A friend once explained all of the steps he’d taken to self-publish a book, in the days before Amazon made that relatively easy. I was impressed and told him so, that I had no idea the steps for self-publishing were that simple. After hearing a few more details, I again expressed admiration, saying I hadn’t realized this process would be that easy. My friend then gently corrected me:  “Ah Kelly…just because something is simple doesn’t mean it’s easy.” I immediately recognized his point as profound.
I’ve thought about my friend’s words many times in the years since, realizing they’re true for far more than books. There’s much in life that’s simply about perseverance:  painting a house, graduating college, maintaining relationships. And yet so many of these stick-with-it activities are abandoned before they’re completed, or never even started in the first place. Their steps may be simple, but getting through them all before we wear out or are distracted isn’t always easy.
Fundamentally, this “simple but not easy” principle actually describes life itself. Surviving is not only pretty simple…we’re wired for it. All that’s required of us is to make it through one day at a time…pretty simple, but not always easy. Sometimes in the middle of a long, drawn out process–when I’m tempted to give up–I try to remind myself that I just need to focus on the simplicity of putting one foot forward at a time. That focus has comforted me and helped me persevere.
“Perseverance is not a long race; it is many short races, one after the other.”  –Walter Elliot

Joyland

I was recently reminiscing about one of the best days of my life. The Joyland Amusement Park–the only one in Kansas then or now–opened in 1949, providing thrills and fun to generations of Wichita kids before closing for good 57 years later. Everyone who spent even a part of their childhood in Wichita has a Joyland story, most likely a positive one just like mine.

Entering the park, you passed an enormous swimming pool full of kids. I always wanted to swim there, but never got to…the rides were always a bigger draw. There were bumper cars; a Tilt-A-Whirl (my favorite); a giant Ferris wheel, the only ride which really scared me; and the Whacky Shack, which opened when I was eight. It’s hard to describe the Whacky Shack. It was a sort of cross between a fun house and a haunted house. It was popular, though if I think about why, it may have had a lot to do with the short list of truly cool rides. Joyland is where I learned to play Skee Ball and peeked into the windows of the strange, large fiberglass shoe to see the old lady and her children. Stranger still was the Wurlitzer-playing clown, Louie, just inside the entrance. I always felt obligated to pay him quick homage…to this day I don’t like clowns. But the piece de resistance was the roller coaster. The wooden structure was large, with a steep hill at the beginning setting the stage for the rest of the ride. By the time I was big enough to ride it, it already needed a fresh coat of white paint, which it never got. That run-down look contributed to the fear you felt pulling the paltry lap bar down over your legs and hearing the click-click-click as the chain’s safety locks pulled your car slowly and suspensefully up that first big hill.

Joyland closed after I moved away, but I didn’t give it much thought until I saw a video on Facebook a couple of years ago. Set to haunting music, it was a tour of the abandoned park, still recognizable through the overgrown weeds. There was the familiar A-frame of the Whacky Shack and the skeleton of the roller coaster, now even shakier but still with a car waiting to take ghost riders on a hair-raising ride. Shortly after that video, a windstorm brought part of the coaster down. A bulldozer took the rest of it when the city sued the long-time owners for not maintaining what had become a public nuisance and again a gathering place for teenagers, now up to nothing good. All that’s left today are the memories and the You Tube videos taken by some of those kids as the place literally fell apart…a slow-motion, ugly death.

As for that best day of my young life, when I was about eight my best friend had invited me to Joyland to her parent’s company picnic. Instead of the normal tickets which always meant we were done riding too soon, we had magic arm bands to ride as often as we wanted. When combined with all of the free watermelon and ice cream and Coke they also entitled us to, we were in kid heaven. I felt rich and important. This was the 70’s, when parents thought nothing of letting two young girls roam by themselves for hours, while they sat out of sight in the picnic area at the back of the park visiting. We were independent and free…it was a magical night. This is my enduring memory of Joyland, not the sad, graffiti-ridden buildings from You Tube. Joyland was truly a place of joy for kids for decades; it will never be really gone until the last of us who visited are no more.

Footnote:  A decade after the park closed and he went missing, Louie the clown has been recovered from the home of a former park employee and child sex offender. I don’t know where he is now, and I don’t really want to.


Joyland


I was recently reminiscing about one of the best days of my life. The Joyland Amusement Park–the only one in Kansas then or now–opened in 1949, providing thrills and fun to generations of Wichita kids before closing for good 57 years later. Everyone who spent even a part of their childhood in Wichita has a Joyland story, most likely a positive one just like mine.

Entering the park, you passed an enormous swimming pool full of kids. I always wanted to swim there, but never got to…the rides were always a bigger draw. There were bumper cars; a Tilt-A-Whirl (my favorite); a giant Ferris wheel, the only ride which really scared me; and the Whacky Shack, which opened when I was eight. It’s hard to describe the Whacky Shack. It was a sort of cross between a fun house and a haunted house. It was popular, though if I think about why, it may have had a lot to do with the short list of truly cool rides. Joyland is where I learned to play Skee Ball and peeked into the windows of the strange, large fiberglass shoe to see the old lady and her children. Stranger still was the Wurlitzer-playing clown, Louie, just inside the entrance. I always felt obligated to pay him quick homage…to this day I don’t like clowns. But the piece de resistance was the roller coaster. The wooden structure was large, with a steep hill at the beginning setting the stage for the rest of the ride. By the time I was big enough to ride it, it already needed a fresh coat of white paint, which it never got. That run-down look contributed to the fear you felt pulling the paltry lap bar down over your legs and hearing the click-click-click as the chain’s safety locks pulled your car slowly and suspensefully up that first big hill.

Joyland closed after I moved away, but I didn’t give it much thought until I saw a video on Facebook a couple of years ago. Set to haunting music, it was a tour of the abandoned park, still recognizable through the overgrown weeds. There was the familiar A-frame of the Whacky Shack and the skeleton of the roller coaster, now even shakier but still with a car waiting to take ghost riders on a hair-raising ride. Shortly after that video, a windstorm brought part of the coaster down. A bulldozer took the rest of it when the city sued the long-time owners for not maintaining what had become a public nuisance and again a gathering place for teenagers, now up to nothing good. All that’s left today are the memories and the You Tube videos taken by some of those kids as the place literally fell apart…a slow-motion, ugly death.

As for that best day of my young life, when I was about eight my best friend had invited me to Joyland to her parent’s company picnic. Instead of the normal tickets which always meant we were done riding too soon, we had magic arm bands to ride as often as we wanted. When combined with all of the free watermelon and ice cream and Coke they also entitled us to, we were in kid heaven. I felt rich and important. This was the 70’s, when parents thought nothing of letting two young girls roam by themselves for hours, while they sat out of sight in the picnic area at the back of the park visiting. We were independent and free…it was a magical night. This is my enduring memory of Joyland, not the sad, graffiti-ridden buildings from You Tube. Joyland was truly a place of joy for kids for decades; it will never be really gone until the last of us who visited are no more.

Footnote:  A decade after the park closed and he went missing, Louie the clown has been recovered from the home of a former park employee and child sex offender. I don’t know where he is now, and I don’t really want to.