Baseball season begins

Todd Vogts, publisher

My favorite time of the year is finally upon us. The Major League Baseball season has begun, and I couldn’t be happier. As the boys of summer take the field, my wife and I will be glued to the television to take it all in.

Of course, we won’t be watching every team all the time. No. We will be focusing on our favorite team — the St. Louis Cardinals.

My wife became a diehard fan when we started dating and I subjected her to game after game. I was born into fandom.

I am named after 1986 relief pitcher and National League Rookie of the Year Todd Worrell. I grew up cheering on the great Ozzie Smith, that back-flipping short stop of Cardinal fame. Now, I root loudly for catcher Yadier Molina and pitcher Carlos Martinez, just to name two of my favorite players on the current roster.

Last summer, my wife and I took a trip to St. Louis to celebrate our wedding anniversary. We took in a game at Busch Stadium, home of the Cardinals. Our team took on the Los Angeles Dodgers, and though we didn’t win that game, it was a fantastic experience to share with my better half. It marked her first trip to the ballpark, and it was the first time I had been back since I was a child.

Currently, we are hoping to repeat the trip this summer. However, instead of only watching one game, we hope to catch a few and skip the tourist activities we took part in last year.

Of course, since we can’t be at every game, we will be relying on our subscription to the MLB.TV to watch our favorite squad.

This season will be special for us as we are expecting our first child this fall. With any luck, we will be able to watch some baseball with our little one and create a family tradition of Cardinal baseball.

Importance of Journalism

Todd Vogts, publisher

Journalism is under attack, and, as a journalist and member of a democratic society, I feel it important to do whatever I can to defend journalists and the industry as a whole, especially in the polarizing political climate we currently live in.

Journalists and the organizations they work may not always get everything right, but they are working to perform an important duty. They are informing the public about matters of significance to society. Sometimes this society consists of the local community, and other times it concerns national and international happenings.

A free press is the cornerstone of a democratic society, as is made clear in the First Amendment of the United States Constitution. Journalists work to keep government accountable, regardless of who the president is or which party controls Congress. The force the government, which is supposed to be working for the people, to operate out in the open so society knows what its tax dollars are being spent on.

There are outliers in the industry, just as there are in an sector, that degrade the reputation of everyone else. The “fake news” phenomenon doesn’t help the reputation of journalism, but those taking part in “fake news” aren’t creating journalism.

In an effort to support good journalism, this month’s cover feature consists of work from student journalists. Now more than ever, when there is so much negativity being thrown toward journalism, we need to support budding journalists as they work on the craft that is so important to our society so they might go out into the world and be able to do good work in telling truth and informing the masses.

I hope you enjoy their work and support your local journalism in all ways possible.

Being the light in the lives of others

The true meaning of Christmas should not be about receiving gifts. It should be about giving.

Sure, giving could include gifts, but, even then, it shouldn’t be done with the expectation of receiving a gift in return.

Ideally, the giving should be completely selfless, even void of monetary value.

Giving of your time will have a much larger impact than racking up more and more credit card debit in an attempt to purchase the perfect present.

In thinking about giving, my mind takes me to my grandfather, Roland Vogts. Before he died, he lived in a farmhouse north of Canton, Kansas, with my grandmother Maxine. He always gave of himself, especially when it came to Christmas time.

He was instrumental in Canton’s elaborate Christmas light display of my youth, and he also decorated his home.

Many people put lights up around their house, but Grandpa Roland took it to an entirely different level. He strung thousands upon thousands of lights each year, and he rarely repeated the same configuration from season to season. People would drive from miles around to perform a slow procession past the house and into the roundabout driveway before heading back home. It was magical.

He gave of his time to give joy to others, and it took a significant amount of time.

He sometimes began preparing and hanging lights a couple months in advance, always with the goal of turning on the power shortly after Thanksgiving. The lights he used weren’t the style of today. His were the kind that if one bulb was out, the entire strand went dark. When this would happen, he would meticulously check each bulb until he found the culprit and replaced it.

Grandpa Roland was an artist of illumination. He even hand-crafted decorative pieces — such as a wreaths and angels — which had numerous holes drilled in them so lights could be inserted and the pieces could glow to life.

Grandma Maxine still has a picture of her and grandpa’s house all lit up hanging in her current home. Every time I visit, I am always drawn to that image. It brings back all sorts of memories and senses of wonder.

As is quickly becoming a tradition for my wife and I, I have decorated my house in an attempt to try to emulate, even on a much smaller scale, the magic Grandpa Roland created with tiny lightbulbs.

Over the course of this year, my wife and I moved into a bigger house. This left us without enough lights. After several trips to the store, however, the house is all decked out and lit up to my liking . . . for now.

I have bigger dreams for the future. I want to continually add more and more lights to really make our house stand out.

Being a bit of a technophile, I want to eventually turn my street into a destination for other families to come and enjoy, just like Grandpa Roland did, but with an injection of tech. I’ve long be fascinated with the Christmas light displays that are programmed to music, played via a radio transmitter.

Until then, I simply hope grandpa can look down upon me and be proud.

Not just proud of my Christmas lights, but proud of the fact I am doing something, even something so seemingly insignificant as decorating my house, that is for others to enjoy and doesn’t inherently benefit me.

This Christmas, I hope to give more than I receive, and I hope to be the light in the lives of others.

I hope you will too.

Have a very Merry Christmas and a wonderfully Happy New Year.

Experiment with less connectedness proves fruitful

I did it. I went without Facebook on my phone for a month, and it was incredibly freeing.

In June, I came to a realization. I was a slave to the notifications on my phone. Every time I heard the sounds or saw the notifications glowing red on one of my apps, I had to check it. I was compulsive.

I decided I need to break myself of this, or at least become less addicted to checking what those on my Friends list had posted. So, for the month of July, I vowed to run an experiment with myself and delete the Facebook app from my phone.

This stemmed from a speaker I heard. He talked about connection versus presence . . . being connected to social media versus being present in the moment with actual humans.

I was much more connected to social media than present in the moment.

My absence from Facebook wasn’t complete, though.

I kept the Facebook Messenger app installed. I view that as a communication tool, one some family members and prospective dj clients (yes, I am also a dj on the weekends; I provide music for weddings and birthday parties and other events) use to reach me almost exclusively.

I also be kept the Facebook Pages Manager app since I am an administrator for multiple pages for various organizations.

Also, the app was on my iPad, and I checked in from time to time when I was on my computer.

The point was to simply eliminate the easy access I had because I am on my phone more than any other device.

This experiment was beyond rewarding. I found myself more connected with my wife and other family and friends. Instead of constantly having my phone in my hand, I had conversations with those around me.

Sure, I checked Facebook on my iPad from time to time, but it was only sporadically.

Even when I did, though, I didn’t spend as much time scrolling as I had on my phone. Instead, I cleared the notifications, looked at a few friends’ postings, and then I got out of the app.

I was free.

This came in particularly useful during my wife and I’s recent trip to St. Louis to celebrate our one-year anniversary. Instead of constantly being on my phone, I enjoyed time with her as we watched a St. Louis Cardinals game, toured the Anheuser-Busch Brewery, walked through the St. Louis Zoo (it was free and a spectacular zoo), and went to the top of the Gateway Arch.

I still checked in on Twitter and Instagram, my other go-to social media apps, but I didn’t spend an inordinate amount of time there.

For Instagram, that’s easy. I don’t follow too many people, so it doesn’t take long before I see the same posts I saw the last time I was in the app.

For Twitter, I follow a lot of people, so I become disinterested quickly unless something exciting is happening in the world and Twitter is buzzing about it.

I equate this experiment to removing a shackle. I performed a digitial detox, and I feel healthier than I did a couple months ago.

I don’t feel anxiety tightening around my chest because I haven’t checked social media lately. It even gave me time, and almost a sense of permission, to take part in one of my favorite passtimes — reading. I read two books and started a third in this time.

So, how will I move forward? Facebook is staying off my phone. I will continue what I did during the month of July for the conceivable future, and if Twitter or Instagram become a burden, I might just drop them too.

I’m suggesting anyone else should do this, but if you are like me and feel Facebook, or any social media for that matter, is an opperssive presence in your life, give a digital detox a try.

At the very least, no longer being a slave to social media will be a wonderful result, and, if you’re lucky, you will be more connected to those around you too.

Consider civic engagement on Independence Day

So it’s over. The 79th session of the American Legion Boys State of Kansas Leadership Academy is over.

The program wrapped up nearly a month ago, and it’s always difficult to accept that. We refer to it as the “Boys State Hangover.” There is such energy weaving in and out of the week and activities making up each session of Boys State. It can be rather jarring for the energy to suddenly dissipate. It takes time to readjust to non-State life. Each year my fellow counselors, coordinators and advisors spend countless hours in preparation. Then, a mere week after we officially start the session, it is over.

But it never truly ends. Those involved in the program such as myself simply begin anew and start the preparations for the next session. In this case it will be our 80th session, so it is a milestone year.

For the delegates, whom we refer to as Staters, it is over, but it doesn’t have to be. If we’ve done our jobs, the program ignited a fire within. A fire inextinguishable by mere time.

That fire consists of civic responsibility and leadership.

It is my sincere hope our delegates use that fire to accomplish good in their communities and our state.

That fire needs to be fed, though. The month of July is a great time to toss a few more sticks of kindling on, especially this year since it is an election year.

With the 4th of July comes a national swell of patriotism. Everyone feels more American as they celebrate our country’s independence under the flashes of fireworks exploding in the sky.

Much like fireworks, a fuse must be lit to see the shower of light illuminating the night sky.

For Boys State and its goal of creating leaders instilled with civic responsibility, the fuse was lit when the Stater applied to be a part of the program, and the fire racing its way up the fuse is the experience of State. All we have to do is wait for the payoff and enjoy the show.

A lot of factors can get in the way of that fire and the resulting explosion of action, so I urge you to help keep that fire burning in any fashion you can.

Talk politics with your children, and urge them to research and explore where they stand on any given issue. Guide them through this journey, but let them come to their own conclusions.

It may be difficult to accept should your son or daughter end up disagreeing with you politically, but for the sake our country’s democracy, we have to have knowledgeable and engaged citizens who can stand up for what they believe. If the only rationale your son or daughter has for believing something is, “that’s what my mom and dad said,” then they don’t truly believe in anything.

They need to understand and be able to support their stance, and, more importantly, they need to be able to understand the beliefs of those who disagree with them. They don’t need to think the same as everyone else, but they need to be able to listen to dissenting views and work with those individuals.

Reaching a belief system is only the first step. They then need to go out and do something with it. Getting involved at the local level is a great start. Believe in them and support them as they take steps to make positive impacts within their communities.

That is the goal of Boys State, and it is something we are so passionate about that we want everyone to do it. We want to see the beauty of the fireworks as the fire ignites something larger than themselves.

Want to help light a fuse for a young man you know? Then please visit www.kansasboysstate.com and nominate him, or, better yet, have him fill out the application to truly get the fuse burning.

Together, we can help light up Kansas with smart, engaged civic leaders.

For the love of public radio

I’m a news junkie. There’s no denying it. I read news online nearly constantly. Anytime a newspaper is available, I consume its contents. My favorite television stations are 24-hour news channels, and I spend a majority of my day listening to National Public Radio in my vehicle or streaming online.

My NPR station of choice is 89.1 KMUW out of Wichita. I love the national programming the station carries, and the local news coverage is stellar, which is why the station has been receiving many awards of late.

KMUW recently held its pledge drive. Normally I don’t enjoy hearing the on-air personalities urging listeners  to make a donation, but for whatever reason, this time was different.

It didn’t bother me. Instead, the story and reasons given for contributing to public radio spoke to me. They inspired me.

I have been listening to KMUW for several years, but it wasn’t until this year that I experienced a moment of profound awareness.

KMUW was a service I used on a daily basis, and it was something I valued greatly. So, why was I willing to let others carry the weight of assisting the station in staying alive? Shouldn’t I do my part to ensure it continues to exist?

As I thought about it, I realized I couldn’t remember when I had last changed the radio station in my pickup. I realized I listen almost exclusively to NPR. I realized it was my first choice in listening, even when other options existed. Furthermore, I realized on the rare occasion a program I don’t enjoy comes on, I listen to NPR program podcasts.

It was a sign. I needed to contribute, so I made my first-ever public radio pledge.

So when did I become an NPR listener?

When I was younger, driving to school, the radio was always cranked up as I jammed to my favorite music. However, from the time I road on the school bus, I enjoyed the occasional break in the music for when the disk jockey would talk or, if you were riding on the bus with me, when Paul Harvey took over the airwaves and read the news.

As I moved into college and began studying journalism, I still listened to music in mornings, but I tended to gravitate to morning talk shows. These generally consisted of entertainment news and lively banter between hosts.

Then, as I got older and continued my study of the media, my tastes began to change. I fell deeply in love with the news. I started to seek out news programing, and that’s when I found National Public Radio.

I started off listening to NPR while living in western Kansas. I drove a morning bus route, and I always had the radio tuned to the local NPR station. The students I drove never complained, and one day forever stuck in my mind was the day one of my students, he was a young grade school student, got onto the bus and asked me if anything new had been said about a news story we had heard the previous day. Then he proceeded to tell me about a news story he saw on the television prior to me picking him up.

It was awesome! I felt like my listening to NPR in the mornings had instilled within him an interest in the news, and knowing what is going on in the world by consuming news is a key component to living in a democracy.

Public radio is important to a community, and because it is a public enterprise, it takes people who care to help keep it on the air. If you value local news and want to keep your community healthy, I urge you to donate to KMUW as well.

Kansas Boys State provides exceptional opportunity for growth

BoysState_combined_logoIn 2003 I took part in one of the most life-changing programs a young man has access to while preparing for his senior year of high school — the American Legion Boys State of Kansas Leadership Academy.

Sponsored by the American Legion, this program provides high school seniors-to-be a relevant, interactive, problem-solving experience in leadership and teamwork that develops self-identity, promotes mutual respect and instills civic responsibility. Boys State is a “learning by doing” political exercise that simulates elections, political parties and government at the state, county and local levels, providing opportunities to lead under pressure, showcasing character and working effectively within a team. It’s also an opportunity to gain pride and respect for government and the price paid by members of the military to preserve democracy.

Boys State impacted me deeply. It gave me the opportunity to explore my own leadership abilities and grow them into life-long skills, and the lessons I learned from my time as a Stater, which is what the participants are referred to as, still influence me today.

If it weren’t for Boys State, I wouldn’t be who I am today, and I wouldn’t be a journalist. While at State, I was elected by my county to be the newspaper reporter. Prior to this, I knew I enjoyed writing, but I was considering a career as a lawyer or in English.

At the first meeting of the newspaper, called the Staters Union, I was then elected by the other staff members to the editor-in-chief. I was in charge of the entire operation, from writing to editing to producing the newspaper.

And get this — it was a daily newspaper.

My fellow journalists and I instantly got to work and produced the issue distributed the next morning.

The experience was invaluable. I quickly learned the essentials of newspaper production, and though the daily deadlines were stressful, it gave me a delicious taste for the world of journalism.

I’ve been hooked ever since.

I attended Wichita State University and earned my degree in communication. Then I ran a weekly newspaper before I found my way here to Wichita Family.

Obviously I’ve gained more journalism knowledge since my time at Boys State, but I wouldn’t have found my passion and true calling if it wasn’t the experience I had that summer prior to my senior year of high school.

In fact, my experience was so impactful I now volunteer with the program. My work with Boys State has been going on for many years, and this year I am the Program Coordinator, which means I oversee the day-to-day operations of the program.

This year Boys State, in its 79th year, will be held Sunday, June 5, through Friday, June 10, at Kansas State University in Manhattan.

I am beyond stoked about the upcoming session, and I believe I can speak for everyone involved when I say we have a great week planned and look forward to changing the lives of another generation of young men in this state.

If you have a young man in your life who would benefit from such an experience, please reach out to me or visit http://kansasboysstate.com/ to learn more.

The connections and friendships made at Boys State will last years to come, but, more importantly, the skills garnered will help the men for the rest of their lives.

Easter creates time for celebration, remembrance

Since I can remember I have spent the Easter holiday with my family on the farm north of Canton.

Initially, Grandma and Grandpa Vogts lived there. Now, Uncle Stacy and Aunt Brenda own it, but the tradition has remained regardless of who lives there.

A meal always takes place, and lots and lots of conversations are had. It is a Vogts function after all.

But the main event is always the hunting.

There is an egg and pop hunt for children through age 10, and this takes place in the front yard around the house.

That is fun to watch, but it still isn’t the main event . . . really.

The big show takes place after the youngsters have had their fun. That’s when all the older children, ranging from age 11 and up and including the adults who act like children, who is everyone in attendance basically, head outside for the great pop hunt.

Uncle Stacy hides the cans of pop all over the property, and everyone stampedes out in hopes of being the first person to get their allotted number of sodas.

Sometimes it takes a shovel to fully uncover the hidden gems of soda, and other times it requires tree-climbing skills. Regardless, a fun time is always had by all.

I love spending time with my family, and this type of event is very important to me.

I’ve written before about how I am slightly bothered by the commercialism of other holidays, and that’s the wonderful aspect about this particular celebration. It isn’t about gifts whatsoever. Sure, I won’t say no to a bag of Reese’s Milk Chocolate Peanut Butter Eggs, but I still prefer the fact my family’s Easter celebration is about togetherness.

Easter in particular, much like Thanksgiving, is about being together. Isn’t the reason for the holiday indicative of this? Didn’t Jesus rise from the grave as a way to bring everyone together?

I believe that to be true, but whether you agree with me or not, I hope you kept those you love close on this Easter.

There is one person I was not able to keep close this Easter, though. It was my cousin Debra Shaw. She died March 6 in Moundridge. This was quite unexpected, especially since she was only 57 years old.

Honestly, it still doesn’t feel real that she is gone — that Cousin Deb is gone.

She and I were extremely close, and I know whenever I go visit Moundridge, a place I consider to be home after running the weekly newspaper there early in my journalism career, it will feel strange.

She had a larger-than-life personality, and everyone in town knew her.

She was most well-known for working at Moundridge’s Goering Hardware, and I don’t know if I will be able to go in there again for a while.

It will be so strange to walk through the doors, hear the bell clang above my head, and not hear Deb shout hello from behind the counter.

It will be nearly unbearable not to see her run from behind the cash register and come give me a giant hug.

However, I am taking solace in the fact she is in a better place.

In fact, I believe she is smiling down upon me right now, sitting next to a bonfire, as was one of her favorite pastimes, while enjoying a nice cold brew.

Cousin Deb will be missed, but she won’t be forgotten. Her mark on the people she encountered will live on for generations.

Spring weather allows for hitting the links

golf-hole-1-1237569It’s Kansas. One can never be sure of what kind of weather is waiting on the other side of the front door, but since it is March, it is Spring in my book.

This means a lot to me.

First, I hate being cooped up in the house all the time. Sure, I enjoy surfing the Internet and watching Netflix as much, if not more, than the next guy, but I like to be in control of that decision. I don’t like it when the weather dictates my laziness. I want to make the call to spend an entire day in my recliner.

Second, I think I can actually hear my motorcycle whimpering to get out on the road. Sure, I could take it out as long as there isn’t snow or ice on the road, but neither of us likes the cold weather. Call us wimps if you will, but the sunshine makes for a much better ride.

Third, baseball season is starting. Being able to enjoy the outdoors while sitting and watching nine innings of strategy and excitement is a perfect way to spend the day. I can’t wait to be out on The Hill watching the Wichita State Shockers.

Fourth, March Madness is upon us. I look forward to watching the Shocker men make a deep run.

However, the most important reason spring is important to me is golf.

I know I’ve written about it before, but I love going golfing. It is the only time I can truly disconnect and be at one with my thoughts and nature.

Of all the activities I take part in, golf is the most relaxing. Golf allows me to focus on one thing — getting the ball into the hole in as few swings as possible. It doesn’t require any extra thought.

By focusing on that one goal, it frees my mind. It allows me to work out issues and has inspired my creative writing on more than one occasion.

It’s also fun that my wife has gotten into the game. It’s nice to have a hobby we can enjoy together, and, if we forego the golf cart, we can even get in some exercise.

Even if you aren’t a fan of golf, or anything else I’ve discussed thus far, the point is I encourage you to get outside when it’s nice and experience the outdoors.

You could do something as simple as go for a walk, or, if you don’t want to be active, sit in a lawn chair.

Of course, if you or your children are of the more adventurous type, you could try rodeo.

No, I’m not crazy. There are high school students taking part in this sport all across the state.

Guest reporter Kylah Comley, a senior basketball phenom and editor of her high school’s newsmagazine, wrote the feature for this month, and she highlighted students at her high school who have rodeo in their blood.

It’s great read, and you get to hear from four student-athletes who don’t fit into the typical mold of high school sports.

Some of them even compete just down the road in Kingman, so if you were looking for a way to get out and enjoy some nice weather, you could go watch some of these incredible young people take part in something most of us would never consider doing.

Yes, Spring is in air. It is a time for renewal and looking forward to what is to come. Gone are the doldrums of winter. With the blooming of the flowers, a sense of excitement and longing for time spent with those you love doing something special to all of you blooms as well.

When I’m not golfing, I’ll probably be grilling, so if you can’t find me on the links, look for me cooking some of them.

Small acts make the soundtrack of love

PianoRoseFebruary is a month of love. Valentine’s Day is smack in the middle of this month. Some argue this particular holiday is nothing but a marketing ploy by chocolate producers, rose growers and card manufacturers.

These people have little use for the day, and I would generally agree. However, it isn’t because I am at odds with the impetus behind the holiday. Rather, I feel a person shouldn’t use a single day each year as a crutch to actually show his love for those near and dear to him. One should show his love for others every day in ways that don’t inherently involved flowers or chocolates.

That being said, I am actually looking forward to Valentine’s Day this year. It marks a milestone for me. It will be the first Valentine’s Day I have experienced as a married man having married my wife and Wichita Family essayist Kendall Vogts this past July.

But even that isn’t the true reason I am looking forward to this time of the year. It was the day before Valentine’s Day last year when I got engaged.

I did so on purpose. I thought it would be too cliche to do it on Valentine’s Day, and I did it when she and I were alone. To me, that made it more special. In my mind, it showed I wasn’t asking to prove anything to anyone other than her, and I was proving my love for her by making a commitment to be with her for the rest of our lives.

The fun part for me was that particular day, Feb. 13, 2015, was a Friday.

Yes. I got engaged on Friday the 13th. That’s hilarious to me due to the juxtaposition of the bad connotations of Friday the 13th and the expression of love behind a marriage proposal.

Besides, it was the perfect day to do it. It truly fit our relationship. We both are quirky.

Besides both of us being a little different, we also mesh perfectly in numerous other areas of life — a love for reading, suspense and crime dramas (seriously, you need to watch “How To Get Away With Murder” on ABC . . . we love it; it’s on Netflix if you are interested in checking it out), golf, writing, music and so much more.

It is the love for music which comes to mind today. Neither of us play an instrument, though I could still play taps on my trumpet if called upon to do so. Rather, we both love listening to music, and the genre is inconsequential. We just love music.

This has been particularly important in our married life as on the weekends I am a mobile disc jockey. This is a business I have ran since I graduated high school, and Kendall embraced it. My brother helps me, and Kendall is now an official part of the business. She travels to nearly all the gigs with us, and when my brother can’t be there, she steps up and helps me do it all, including carrying the equipment.

Then, once the show begins, she is out on the floor dancing and helping me ensure everyone at the event is having a good time, even if that means making a fool of ourselves in order to make a shy person feel OK about getting up to move and groove to the music.

Everytime she takes part in our djing business, I see it as an act of love. I so appreciate her willingness to join in. It speaks volumes to me.

I feel that is part of any relationship. The small acts of love and understanding are so important. It isn’t about constantly showering a person with gifts. It’s about doing little things to show you care.

Every time we dj, read, watch our favorite television show or simply listen to music together while driving around, I feel closer to her.

I don’t need gifts from her. I just need her time and understanding.

So this Valentine’s Day, don’t stress about ordering a dozen roses, buying the biggest box of chocolates or picking out the perfect card.

Give the gift of your time and understanding. Make your significant other supper, read your favorite book together or cuddle on the couch while watching a great show on Netflix.

Or maybe just go for a drive together and listen to your favorite music.

Resolving to Write in 2016

ToddColumnWith the arrival of a new year comes the obligatory New Year’s Resolutions. Every year I chart out my course for the year in hopes of bettering myself and improving my situation. Usually this involves 10 or more goals. Some years I have vowed to read at least two books each month. Other years, my goals focused on items such as obtaining my master’s degree, blogging more often, being physically active or becoming more organized.

Looking back over my resolutions of New Years past, I have accomplished a lot of what I set out to do. I did earn my master’s degree, and I have become organized to a point where I feel truly lost without my calendar and Wunderlist, which is a great little to-do list app on my iPhone.

Of course, I haven’t really become more physically active, and my blogging ebbs and flows. I have increased my reading, which is something I resolved to do every year as far back as I have keep some record of my resolutions, but even that hasn’t been consistent. Some months I might tear through three books, but then I will hit a stretch of a month or two where I don’t even pick up a book for the simple pleasure of reading.

And herein lies my problem with New Year’s Resolutions — those items left undone. Even though I reached several goals over the years, some of them larger than others, the ones I’ve come up short on haunt me. They make me feel as though I haven’t accomplished anything.

Going from year to year feeling like a failure is no way to enact positive change in one’s life, so I’m done making long lists of resolutions I will undoubtedly struggle to accomplish.

Instead, I am going to focus all my attention on one resolution.

I am going to write more.

Sure, I still plan to do a few other things, but those are things I am already working at making a part of my everyday life. Resolving to do them more would feel like cheating. It equates to setting the bar too low.

Instead, I am simply going to resolve to write more.

Writing is a passion of mine. I’ve self-published one novel, and I have written two more, which I aspire to get published as well, if I can only find an agent.

Since writing is a passion of mine, you might think that is already a part of my everyday life, but you would be wrong. It should be a part of my everyday life, but I have been extremely lax in my writing. It’s been nearly a year since I seriously wrote, and that kills me inside. When I write, I am a happier person. Even if every word I put down on the page is absolutely garbage, I feel better. My soul screams for me to sit down and do my work of writing.

So why haven’t I been doing this if it is such an important activity to me? Well, it comes down to time. I have been putting other tasks ahead of my writing, and with the dawning of 2016, that ends.

I resolve to carve out time, which I will hold onto dearly, and write. This time will be sacred.

I’m not going to go as far as saying, “I will write 2,000 words every day.” No, that would just be setting myself up for failure because life does tend to happen despite best-laid plans. However, that will be my goal, and it is attainable. In the past, I have taken part in National Novel Writing Month, during which I wrote more than 50,000 words in 30 days, so I can do it if I just do it.

For this resolution, though, I will simply plan to write more days than not. I am going to enter a few short story contests, which will give me deadlines, and I will start a new novel.

Hopefully, along the way, I get my other two novels published by finding an interested agent, but even if I don’t, I will continue to write.

The goal is to craft stories. Having others read them and maybe make a little income is purely icing on the cake.

So wish me luck, and I wish you all the best as you tackle your resolutions for 2016. Hopefully by this time next year, we will both be looking back on a very successful year.

Lighting up Christmas

xmas-lightsThe true meaning of Christmas should not be about receiving gifts. It should be about giving.

Sure, giving could include gifts, but, even then, it shouldn’t be done with the expectation of receiving a gift in return.

Ideally, the giving should be completely selfless, even void of monetary value.

Giving of your time will have a much larger impact than racking up more and more credit card debit in an attempt to purchase the perfect present.

In thinking about giving, my mind takes me to my grandfather, Roland Vogts. Before he died, he lived in a farmhouse north of Canton, Kansas, with my grandmother Maxine. He always gave of himself, especially when it came to Christmas time.

He was instrumental in Canton’s elaborate Christmas light display of my youth, and he also decorated his home.

Many people put lights up around their house, but Grandpa Roland took it to an entirely different level. He strung thousands upon thousands of lights each year, and he rarely repeated the same configuration from season to season. People would drive from miles around to perform a slow procession past the house and into the roundabout driveway before heading back home. It was magical.

He gave of his time to give joy to others, and it took a significant amount of time.

He sometimes began preparing and hanging lights a couple months in advance, always with the goal of turning on the power shortly after Thanksgiving. The lights he used weren’t the style of today. His were the kind that if one bulb was out, the entire strand went dark. When this would happen, he would meticulously check each bulb until he found the culprit and replaced it.

Grandpa Roland was an artist of illumination. He even hand-crafted decorative pieces — such as a wreaths and angels — which had numerous holes drilled in them so lights could be inserted and the pieces could glow to life.

Grandma Maxine still has a picture of her and grandpa’s house all lit up hanging in her current home. Everytime I visit, I am always drawn to that image. It brings back all sorts of memories and senses of wonder.

I have owned my home for some time, but I haven’t ever got into the spirit of elaborate decorations. My wife is bound and determined to change that this year, and one thing she requested was lights on the house.

Normally I would balk at such a suggestion, as I struggle to see the point in decorating for a holiday only to take it all down as soon as the leftovers are eaten and the trash is picked up from the curb.

However, this year, I didn’t say no. In fact, I embraced the idea. I decided I wanted to try to emulate, even on a much smaller scale, the magic Grandpa Roland created with tiny lightbulbs.

Of course, being a bit of a technophile, I want to put my own twist on it. I’ve long be fascinated with the Christmas light displays that are programmed to music, played via a radio transmitter. I may not create the coolest light display, and the programming may not even work; however, I hope grandpa can look down upon me and be proud.

Not just proud of my Christmas lights, but proud of the fact I am doing something, even something so seemingly insignificant as decorating my house, that is for others to enjoy and doesn’t inherently benefit me.

This Christmas, I hope to give more than I receive, and I hope to be the light in the lives of others.

I hope you will too.

Have a very Merry Christmas and a wonderfully Happy New Year.

Thanksgiving provides time for family and fellowship

ToddColumnWEB

By Todd Vogts
Publisher

Thanksgiving is upon us, and soon the sweet, succulent smells of baked turkey and perfectly prepared candied yams will fill the air.

I enjoy most holidays, but Thanksgiving truly takes the top place in my heart due to the meaning behind it.

I love to spend time with my family and friends, and all holidays afford that opportunity. However, Thanksgiving is different. The focus isn’t giving gifts and being materialistic, which brings on a whole host of anxieties for me. Instead, it is about simply being together and taking stock in what you have. It is about being thankful.

From time to time, everyone struggles to see the positives in their own worlds, but Thanksgiving is a time to take a step back and really look at what blessings your life is filled with.

It is easy to only focus on the negatives, but when gathered around the dinner table with a spread of food fit for a king, I am reminded of all the good in my life. I can let the worries of life slip away and enjoy the company of others over a delicious meal.

I come from a large family, and every year the family tradition for Thanksgiving is basically the same. We gather at grandmother’s house to eat and take part in fellowship. The male’s usually end up outside in her garage watching a football game, cracking jokes and maybe playing cards or a round of cornhole (the bean-bag throwing game).

This year will be different, though. Now that I am married to my lovely wife, there will be two family traditions to take part in. We will have to split time between both sides of our families. For some, it might be hard to let go of a tradition in favor of a new one, but I am looking forward to it. After all, her family is now my family as well.

At this point, I’m not sure how our holidays will look. I don’t know the plan for both sides of our families yet, but I am excited for the possibilities.

One other event in November that gets me excited is the National Novel Writing Month, or NaNoWriMo, competition. I took part in it a couple years ago, and it was a great experience. To call it a competition isn’t exactly accurate because you essentially compete against yourself to write a 50,000-word novel during the month. If you succeed, you get some free swag and the pride of knowing you did it.

If you have any interest in writing, I urge you to give it a shot. Visit www.nanowrimo.org to learn more.

So enjoy this Fall and have a very Happy Thanksgiving!

October takes me out to the ballgame

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This is one of my favorite times of the year. I love getting dressed up and trying to scare the pants off of my friends and family. I also have an affinity for Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups and candy corn.

However, I really like October because it means the Major League Baseball season is kicking into high gear in the run-up to the World Series.

Baseball is my favorite professional sport to watch. I root for my beloved St. Louis Cardinals every chance I get. For me, there is little as exciting as watching a do-or-die game in which the team’s future in the chase for the championship is on the line.

Baseball is America’s pastime for a reason. Sure, sports like football might have larger audiences nowadays, but baseball will always be the king in my book.

I grew up playing little league, and I loved every minute of it.

My only regret from high school is not playing baseball, but a series of shoulder surgeries made playing next to impossible.

Sure, some people claim the sport is boring because it is too slow-paced, but it is an incredible game of strategy. Pitching changes, pinch-runners and any other personnel change might slow things down a bit, but it is all part of a carefully orchestrated attempt by the managers to win the game.

In what other sport do you get to see such gamesmanship like that? Not many, that’s for sure.

Beyond the chess-like strategy of baseball, think of the history of the game. I’m an admittedly huge nerd, and I love how there are statistics for nearly everything in baseball, and those figures date back to nearly the first pitch ever thrown in a game.

For much the same reason I love golf so much, I also appreciate how individual the game of baseball can be.

Sure, there is a team of nine guys on field, but when it comes down to it, the game revolves around individual match-ups between the pitcher and the batter. With one swing of the bat, a solid hit can change the directory of the game.

The game is nerve-wracking to watch, and I can’t get enough of it.

So, when various ghouls and goblins come knocking on my door later this month, they will probably be able to hear me cheering in joy or screaming in agony as I watch post-season play. They might think it is part of my Halloween celebration, but they will be wrong.

It’s just me watching baseball.

Be a life-long learner

Pens_On_Desk

This is an exciting time of the year. Or, it is a terrifying and dreadful time of the year.

It’s all about perspective. Some are excited to for school to be starting up again, while others hate it.

Usually, those who hate it are students. Older students. High school students.

Elementary students are usually excited because they get to see their friends again and meet their new teachers and get a bunch of cool gear to start the school year off right.

Sure, high school students might get all of that as well, but it isn’t as high of a priority. And in an age of social media, they can Facebook, Tweet and Snapchat their friends whenever they want, so though school may be more of a socialize venture for them, they can still socialize in the summer without even having to step foot into their buildings of education.

For me personally, I am always excited, if not a little nervous, about August rolling around.

As I’ve mentioned in the past, I am also a teacher, and my lovely new wife is a teacher as well.

It can be hectic trying to get plans ready, classrooms set up and simply into the right mindset to teach again.

However, I enjoy it. I consider myself a life-long learner. I enjoy acquiring new skills and knowledge, and I try to impart that upon my own students.

When I think about it, I haven’t been out of school since I first started. There might have been a year in there when I was running a weekly newspaper in central Kansas. This was between the completion of my bachelor’s degree from the esteemed Wichita State University and my deciding to become a teacher by pursing my credentials and master’s degree from Fort Hays State University. That span of time hardly counts, right?

I firmly believe education is important for our society. That doesn’t mean everyone should earn a four-year degree or a master’s degree. Maybe it means securing a vocational certification or getting an associate’s degree.

It all comes down to where a person wants to see his or her life go. There is no one right answer. It is an individual decision.

The key is know what you want and then taking the appropriate steps to achieve it.

Never stop learning. Seize every opportunity to better yourself and your mind. And, most importantly, embrace back-to-school time.

— Todd Vogts, publisher