Observations Relationships Travel

Nebraska – Corn Huskers, Farmers, Country Folk

When I’d been invited to visit Preferred Popcorn by my buddy Sam, I had this immediate vision of golden fields laden with ears of corn bursting forth with an abundance of soon-to-be buttered bounty. I pictured giant tractors backdropped by cerulean blue skies and big red barns. This was the breadbasket of America right? So why was it so hot and dry? Did I somehow take a wrong turn and land in the oven?

As I made my way through Oklahoma, then Kansas and finally Nebraska, I was underwhelmed. Here the land was stripped of all pretense. There were no large plantation style homes or happy cows sipping from babbling brooks. I didn’t see a single red barn or a cheerful farmer on a rustic tractor wearing overalls and chewing happily on a corn-cob pipe. Instead I found myself bored by the lack of personality, or rather, the lack of life altogether in the bountiful but somehow desolate land. Fields stretched out forever in blankets of green wrapped tightly around the Earth. Cornstalks six to eight feet high and soy beans so green they were almost blue, were watched over by giant sprinkler systems that silently yet mercilessly demanded only one thing – Produce, Produce, Produce.

I finally met up with my buddy Sam and after our initial greeting he immediately took me for a tour of the “estate”. Their home, which I had imagined to be a mansion befitting the third largest popcorn plant in the nation, was nothing more than a 100 year old farm house that had been jazzed up with a new roof, new siding and some river rock. It was modest, humble even, and the inside of it smelled to me not like humans who had been working in the field all day – which is what I expected, but instead it actually smelled of freshly popped popcorn. I don’t know why this surprised me, but it did.

Here in this world I was completely out of my element. There was no internet, my phone registered almost no satellite signal. There were no homes as far as my eye could see and for some reason, I felt that we were alone here, as if God himself had decided that he was much needed someplace else and that he could leave just a handful of rookie angels to watch over things while he was away.

When we went into town I kept expecting to see something more, like any minute now we would round a corner and there would be a Walmart or a shopping mall. I started to get almost desperate for a Walgreens or even a McDonalds but the Golden Arches were not to be found. Here, in Central City, Nebraska, they didn’t have much of a need for large convenience stores, shopping malls, or hamburgers churned out by the hundreds and served alongside piles of deep fried and piping hot sticks of salty bliss. No, here there was no time for that. People got up early and irrigated their fields and when they weren’t irrigating, or planting or harvesting, I’m sure they were praying. Farming is a difficult task that has been honed down to a science, however, science can do nothing without God who ultimately controls the outcome of everything. He provides the sun, the rain, and the grasshoppers and at times he provides bounty and at other times he provides famine. In both we have a lesson to learn.

As Sam and I went about on bumpy dirt trails to open and close pipes and to adjust pivots, I couldn’t help but admire these farmers who actually are the ones that feed America. They literally put food on our table. They labor and toil so I can go to the movies and have a $6 bag of golden goodness popped freshly in coconut oil and then drizzled with delicious artificial butter. I’m thankful for that.

The best part of the trip was getting to spend time with my friend, my brother, Sam, who we lovingly refer to as Popcorn here in Texas. In the last year he has become very dear to me and while we knew a great deal about each other, there is nothing like spending time with someone and their family to really get to know them. Here in his hometown with his parents and sister I saw the hardworking young man that was covered in dirt more than he was clean. His hair was in need of a visit from a pair of scissors, his face and neck an appointment with a razor, but despite this exterior grime I saw Sam more clearly than ever. He was not wearing seminary approved clothing or sporting about in his bright yellow mustang, instead he was working at a task as old as civilization and my estimation of him increased. It was like seeing inside of Mary Poppins’ bag and being surprised at the depth there.

As I drove away from Nebraska and Kansas I had a better appreciation for agriculture, a better understanding of my friend and a gratitude for the fact that I get to work inside in ice cold air conditioning in a town that is close to a Walmart.


Chicago So Far a Success

This place rocks. After being in 100+ degree weather in Texas for the past month it was petty awesome to be in a place that has gorgeous weather and so much cool stuff to see outdoors that is all walking distance from each other.

We have already seen a Picasso stature, the famous Chicago Bean, Garrett’s popcorn, Millenium Park and a lot of the city. I’m staying in the Tremont Hotel and while it is not as posh at the Sheraton that Roger and Jes are staying it is covering the basics, plus, the staff here is nice and the Hotel has a cool historic vibe and is only 1 mile from all the cool parties.

Pictures and a better post to come…


Where there’s Smoke…

There’s most likely a slot machine.

My lungs still hurt just a little bit from the intense amounts of second hand smoke I inhaled at the Texas Hold’em table. For about 3 hours non-stop I played Hold’em with just 70 dollars. Eventually I cashed out with $225.00. Earlier in the day I was playing a Wheel of Fortune slot machine and I hit a 500 dollar jackpot. It was nice winning that money because right before that I was down to my last 13 dollars out of the 200 dollars that I had already spent. I had planned on only gambling away $100, but then I went back to the ATM and got another $100 out and started losing that money right away.

When I left the Wheel of Fotune game I was up $400. When I left the poker table I was up $540.

On Friday when we arrived I checked in to my room. It was the nicest room I’ve ever stayed in at a hotel complete with 3 televisions and a small sectional couch. The bed was awesome, the bathroom large and the tub would have easily fit a large Asian family with ease.

After relaxing for a couple of hours we went to Jack Binion’s Steak House and feasted on crab cakes, peppercorn steaks, garlic bread, baked potatoes, creamed spinach and corn. For dessert we shared some cheesecake and some bread putting with cinnamon ice cream. The bread pudding was so amazing that I turned my nose up at the cheesecake and didn’t even try a bite.

Feeling like a beached whale I went up to my room and went right to bed.

The next morning Cody and I got up and had a nice workout and then we had breakfast and soon thereafter the gambling started.

Cody, Amy and Nita Miller and I all sat in a row of slot machines plunking away and trying to win big. I was the only one out of the three of us to hit big on the Wheel of Fortune game even though at various times I think we all hit $100 bucks only to quickly lose it.

On Saturday night we went to Jack Binion’s steak house again and I had the Filet Mignon and the King Crab legs. The King Crab was the best I’ve ever had, the filet was perfectly cooked and juicy, and the garlic mashed potatoes rounded out the meal nicely.

We had the bread pudding again for dessert and Nita got a creme brulee to go.

After dinner I went to bed but couldn’t sleep. At 1 a.m. I went back to the Casino to play some more poker. I was doing well at first but then the dealer got on a lucky streak and even my low straights weren’t beating his high straights or his flush. I finally stopped myself 3 hours later and with $200 less in my pocket.

I took another 40 bucks that I had and went back to the Wheel of Fortune game and quickly lost it, but I was still ahead by $300 and I decided I was going to go home with that money in my pocket.

Nita, Cody’s mom, got us free rooms and all of our meals were free except for the tip. Since I didn’t have to feed or entertain myself for an entire weekend I was actually up another $150 bucks as that is normally the amount I spend on a weekend if not more.

A big thanks to Nita and the Miller’s for always being so generous. I really had an awesome time with them.



Minnesota State Fair

Minnesota State Fair Pic

I’m smiling, but I had just eaten so many cookies that I felt like I was about to explode!

Relationships Stories Travel

Goodbye Minnesota… You will be missed.

I already miss you a little bit.

I’m sitting at home after a 3 day trip to see a Kanakuk friend – Eric Holst. We only spent a summer together 9 years ago, but as anyone from Kanakuk can tell you that Kanakuk is a place that bonds people together forever no matter how far the distance or time.

I had read on Eric’s facebook post one morning that he was eating blueberry muffins and drinking Spunky Monkey Coffee. I left a comment that said something like, “I wish I was there…” without missing a beat, Eric responded with, “You should come down for a visit.”

That is really all it takes for me, within a few days we had it planned. I was to come down for the Minnesota State Fair on a weekend that everyone had off and so i did.

On Friday I arrived and dropped off my bags at their apartment at Bethel University and then promptly went to the State Fair. As soon as we got inside we stopped for a Pronto Pup which is like a corn dog but instead of corn meal they use flour. I devoured one quickly smothered in ketchup and mustard. We started to walk away and I said, “Um, guys, would you look down on me if I got another one of those right now?”  They laughed and said, “No Way!” The Pronto Pup is called “A banquet on a stick.” I laughed at that title at first, but after I had one I agreed. They were delicious.

Later that day I consumed a turkey leg, a malt, a chocolate covered pretzel, a large quantity of fries, a 32 ounce root beer, one fried green tomato, and at the end of the day we bought a bucket of warm chocolate chip cookies and then walked over to the stand where they have all-you-can-drink milk for just a buck. I got one glass, then went back and bought another glass so I would have two cups and then i got two more refills and so I overindulged with 5 glasses of milk and way too many cookies. It was heaven.

The next morning I couldn’t believe I was actually hungry.  When I woke up and went into the kitchen Eric was cooking eggs, bacon, and blueberry pancakes as well as some fresh brewed coffee. I was really surprised to see him so effortlessly cooking all of this food. I like to cook and I have never seen another man that enjoyed cooking as much, if not more, than I do.

After breakfast we went to a cool sculpture garden and walked around for a bit. We climbed on some sculptures even though there were signs that said, “Please do not climb on the sculptures” everywhere. Like big kids we played and then we went out for an AMAZING lunch of bacon cheeseburgers, fries and malts at a place called “The Convention Grill”.

After feasting at the grill we went to see the Minnehaha Waterfall and even waded into the creek. The water was really cold at first but after a while it became quite pleasant. On the way to Minnehaha Falls we drove by these beautiful homes that had so much character that I started to fall in love with Minnesota. However, Eric and Nikki said that the temperature in the winter averages around 16 degrees for 3 months straight and that alone will keep me from ever being a resident of the lovely state.

Saturday’s dinner consisted of some grilled steaks, squash, sweet corn and watermelon. We ate outside on picnic tables that were near a beautiful lake.  After dinner we sat in the iving room and talked and then eventually watched the movie 21.

Sunday was a simple continental breakfast of toast with peanut butter and honey, fresh peaches and watermelon and some more great coffee.

We went to church and then for lunch we went to this wonderful gourmet pizza place and had delicious pizza and a piping hot artichoke dip. After lunch it was off to the Mall of America – the largest mall in the U.S.A and then finally back to the airport where it was time to return home.

The entire trip was a good time. Eric and Nikki have two cute kids that are 2.5 and almost 4 years of age. They were fun little chatterboxes that kept things lively and I couldn’t help but think that Wyatt was cute even when he was throwing a fit.

I told Eric that out of all my weekend excursions that this one had moved to the top of the list for “The Most Fun in a little over 48 hours award”.  I was serious, I mean, we packed so much fun, good conversation, and great food into such a short amount of time that they quickly moved to the top of the list.  Not that there really is a list, but if there was…

So on the way home to round out the great trip I spent the 90 bucks to upgrade to first class. No one was sitting beside me and the two hour flight home could not have been more enjoyable.

Thanks Eric and Nikki for a great weekend, i hope to come back someday soon! (After the freezing cold… for sure)