Wednesday, October 19, 2011

To My Dad

If you are reading this, you probably already know that I lost my dad very recently. This was, hands down, the most difficult experience of my life. But before my dad went home to my Father in heaven, he made sure that our relationship was at its best. He stopped by my home on a regular basis for chiropractic adjustments (something he taught me to do). He took me to the movies a few times, and I got to feel for once that he was as much a friend as a father. He even attended my senior thesis presentation for college, letting me know after the presentation how proud (a word he would never use) he was of my accomplishments and how important he knew my work to be. I will forever be grateful for the last year that I had with him and just as grateful for the last two weeks that I had to say goodbye.

I know that he is still out there, and even though his communication with us is somewhat limited at present due to his status as a spirit, his influence will continue to be felt by his friends and family for all of our lives. When I really think about it, much of what I know, I learned from my dad. Because of this, his influence is present in many of my writings, including this article on green living that I wrote for a magazine-writing class:

A Poor Man’s Guide to Going Green

Ronny P. Ruesch

                I grew up in a frugal household. My dad hollered at my eight sisters and me on a regular basis to “shut the lights off when you leave the room; close the door; we’re not cooling/heating all of (fill in your city of choice)”; and many other such parental platitudes. And for a couple of years in the early 1980’s, long before it was the “in” thing to do, my family and I lived “off the grid,” making use of power produced by a small wind turbine in the back yard and water pumped from a well.

                So what motivated my dad to take these steps, and how will it benefit you to take similar steps? First of all, he believed in self reliance, and you can’t get any more self reliant than living off the grid. Secondly, even though my father wasn’t the type to snuggle up to a nice, warm tree at night, he truly had a desire to conserve our natural resources, long before anybody mentioned global warming. The third reason, and perhaps the most beneficial to any of you who are strapped for cash, was that he was cheap, and living conservatively and sustainably perhaps saved him more money than anything else that he did.

                So in a day and age when people equate going green with such choices, economically unattainable to the majority of us, as driving a hybrid/electric car or installing outrageously expensive energy star appliances, how can you conserve the world’s resources, and your own money? As one of the monetarily challenged elite of this great nation, I believe that these six steps can help you to save the world and your wallet.

(1)          Turn it off. Taking the simple steps of turning the lights off when you leave a room, turning the television or computer off when you are not using them, or turning the water off when you are brushing your teeth, washing dishes, etc., can go a long way in conserving precious resources and lowering your utility bill. If your childhood was anything like mine, you likely heard many of these commands on a frequent basis. The difference is that, by now, you should understand that money really does not grow on trees, nor do many of our earth’s important assets, such as fossil fuels.

(2)          Keep it Short. Growing up in the desert, I had water conservancy pounded into my head in school. I was taught, on a regular basis, that I should take showers instead of baths to conserve water. But this only works if you keep the shower under five minutes. I have been trying to pass this lesson on to my wife for the last ten years. She grew up in Oklahoma, where freshwater sources abound. But even where water is not lacking, electricity is still required to get it to your home, and electricity or natural gas is necessary to heat it. So no matter where you live, being a water miser will help your wallet and the world.

(3)          Do it yourself. I learned this lesson well from my dad, who was the consummate jack of all trades. If you can’t afford to have someone else do a job for you, then learn to do it yourself. In this way, he was able to build five homes, own four of them outright, and live in an environmentally sustainable way. I have followed in his footsteps by installing several cheap resource-saving devices in my own home. When I couldn’t get my children to turn the light off in their bathroom, which doesn’t have any windows, I installed motion sensing switches, which I purchased for $10/each. Since the light was frequently on all day before the installation, these switches should pay themselves off in about a year.

(4)          Don’t throw it away. Many metals (aluminum, steel, and copper) can be taken to the local recycling centers in exchange for cash. But even though recycling may not always save or earn you money, it definitely won’t cost you anything. Here in Washington County, recycling bins are within an easy walk or drive from most homes. Not only does using this resource keep our landfill from filling up, but the money that the county makes from recycling goes into our county parks system and benefits all of us.

                Even if some of your trash doesn’t fall in any of the traditionally recyclable categories of metal, plastic, glass, or paper, it still doesn’t have to end up in the landfill. You can easily compost kitchen scraps in a variety of ways. Vermicomposting (composting with worms) is a great option that provides some of the best fertilizer around. Another option is traditional composting. In my first attempts at composting, I ran into several problems. First, the garbage never broke down. Second, it attracted mice and other pests. I finally found the solution online. I now use a small plastic tub with a lid and sprinkle a little soil over each layer of garbage. The pests can’t gain access, and the microbes in the soil and heat of the sun on the tub produce compost relatively quickly (a couple of weeks).

                We have all heard the saying that one person’s trash is another person’s treasure. One website specializes in just that—connecting people who have trash with others in search of treasures. is a free service to the community on which you can post items that you no longer need or want. You can also post items that you are looking for. I have given away items from baby clothes to a kitchen table and have acquired items from a trampoline frame to an entertainment center. Using resources like or thrift stores like Deseret Industries saves you money and keeps even more items out of the landfill.

(5)          Do it together. Rather than taking one trip to the grocery store, another to work, and yet another to the hardware store, why not consolidate trips. This may take a bit more planning and preparation than just going when you need a cup of sugar, but it will save you not only money in the long run, but time as well. Another option to save on gasoline is to organize a carpool. This definitely takes a lot more planning and in an area like Washington County comes with a certain loss of mobility (especially when you are not the one driving), but it will ultimately save a lot of precious resources (gasoline), your car, and your green.

(6)          Use it up, wear it out, make do, or do without. This old pioneer adage was born out of necessity. If you are short on finances, you could probably benefit from this tried-and-true saying just as well as pioneers did over 100 years ago. It requires a lot of self control and dedication to not give in to the consumerism so common to this country these days, but in the end, it will save not only the environment, but your wallet as well.

Whether you decide to try one or all of these steps, you will have an impact for good. And you will notice the positive effect that your dollar will go just a little bit further. You will be more self-reliant and perhaps rely a little bit less on inanimate objects to make you happy.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

The Great Debate

I was working last night when a family came through my line. A ten-year-old boy was trying to convince his dad to let him buy some gum. The dad told him no and explained that if he let him buy something then he would have to get something for all of his siblings. The boy replied, "Why? They don't need it!"

"Well, you don't NEED it either," countered the dad.

Without hesitation the boy said, "Yes I do! My breath stinks!"

Needless to say, this made my night. I told the father that he needs to put that boy in debate.

Monday, August 9, 2010

My Families, My Countries

I had an amazing experience this past Saturday. I was at my lovely job when a man came in to purchase a money gram. Almost immediately he said, "you look familiar. Do I know you from somewhere?"

I looked at him for a second and replied, "I don't know. You look very familiar too. Did you work at ***?"

"No," he said, and he turned to his money gram form to continue filling it out. I watched him as he did. As soon as he wrote down his last name,I thought I had it.

"De donde eres?" (where are you from?)I asked.

"De Guatemala."

Continuing the conversation in Spanish I said, "Really! I served my mission there!"

"In what part?"

I had served in four different areas while I was there, but I was pretty sure who he was at this point so I answered, "El Tejar."

It turned out I was right on the money. Ten years earlier, while I was serving in his hometown of El Tejar, Chimaltenango, he returned from his mission. I had met him then, and I had known the rest of his family even better. I had eaten my meals at his oldest brother's house every day for six months.

I was ecstatic to see him. My mind took a trip to the clouds for a while and I even temporarily forgot how to do my job. My brain was occupied in other pursuits as so many memories I had thought irretrievably lost flooded back. I asked him about all of the people I had left behind, and he rewarded me with the knowledge that all were well. He had married an American girl from Manti, Utah and had been living there for the last seven years. He and his family were moving down here to Hurricane, Utah, of all places, where he has a job at Costco.

Now my wife could testify of how excited I get just to meet someone from Guatemala. Suddenly my understanding is perfect, and my normally shaky Spanish becomes fluent. I love to hear news from my second home country. But in ten years, I had not run in to someone I knew from Guatemala one time. The best that I could do to describe the emotion to my wife was to say that it felt just like when I disembarked from that plane ten years earlier and saw my family for the first time in two years. Indeed the people of Guatemala, and especially my friends from Guatemala, hold a piece of my heart and I have adopted them into my extended family--my brothers and sisters, hermanos y hermanas.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

A trip to Latin America

This is a restaurant profile that I wrote for a composition class a couple of years ago. Unfortunately the last time I drove by this restaurant, it looked like it was out of business. I guess the recession finally caught up to it. So I'm not sure it will do any good for anyone to read this review, but I hate to see it go to waste. I did already get a grade on it a couple of years ago in advanced composition, but I guess my ego would just like a few more people to see it. If nothing else, perhaps it will convince a few of you to give pupusas a shot if you ever get the chance.

A Trip to Latin America
Leaving the antique, historic-district part of Saint George behind and turning off of Bluff Street and onto Sunset Street, you will encounter, amidst an otherwise small town city, an area that highly resembles the big city feel of Las Vegas–minus the skyscrapers. For one thing, it’s an extremely busy intersection on Sunset and Bluff St. For another thing, the shopping areas around here remind me of growing up in Las Vegas more than 17 years ago. Arriving almost immediately at the intersection of Valley View and Sunset, you will encounter the first of these Las Vegan style shopping centers. The buildings are all of an off-white color of stucco, the small pocket of smog seeming to stick to them, discoloring them instantaneously. Across the street is a big, flashy movie theater, along with a used sporting goods store, a Rib House, Quizno’s, and several other restaurants. On this side of the street are a bank, a liquor store, a gas station/ convenience store, and Zion Golf. And in the most unlikely of spots—right smack dab in between Zion Golf and Sunset Road—and hidden in plain sight is Las Palmeras, a wonderful little mom and pop Latin-food restaurant.
I had driven down this road a hundred times and had never noticed that this place even existed. It seemed to have some sort of an invisible force field or other barrier that not only made the restaurant invisible to the ninety-four percent of the population with white skin, but also prevented the scores of white senior citizens coming out of Zion Golf or the dozens of Hispanic Americans coming out of the restaurant from crossing over into the unreasonably forbidden territory. Were it not for a friend of mine who had told me about it, I wouldn’t be coming here right now. Yet here I was in search of a cuisine that I had sampled but once nearly ten years ago. That one time was enough to know that I would go to great lengths to get my hands on more of the same. As I got out of the car and walked up to the restaurant, I saw in the front window the typical glowing neon signs advertising “Bud Light” and “Corona.” But in addition to these signs, there were other, less-than-typical handwritten signs advertising “vendemos paletas de yogurt hechas en casa a $1.00” (we sell homemade yogurt pops at $1.00) and “Sabados y Domingos hay menudo y sopa de patas” (Saturdays and Sundays there are—basically two soups made out of cow stomach and foot respectively). Well, I had been warned not to expect a typical Americanized Mexican restaurant. I somewhat cautiously proceeded through the door.
Almost instantly, I was transported from this bustling little city in southwestern Utah to a little Latin-American cafe. The Ranchera music filtered down from the ceiling with its constant boom boom bass line, reminiscent of the trombone line emanating from the big top circus tent. Several potted plants sat in front of the window, for atmosphere I guess. To the left was a small mural of a Salvadoran pupusería (a restaurant specializing in pupusas) right alongside a flag from El Salvador. Several other pictures and souvenirs from El Salvador were hung along this wall, which was painted yellow on top and green on the bottom. This Salvadoran decor was to be expected since, according to the business card and yellow page advertisements, this was supposed to be a “Salvadorean & Mexican Restaurant.” What was a little more surprising were the decorations which lined the other wall, with “Guatemala” all over them. While this would mean little to most people, it instantly drew me in, Guatemala being the place where I had first experienced and fallen in love with the delicious fare I was about to sample anew. I took a step forward, and my eyes were instantly drawn to what had to be the most prominent feature in the place, an enormous 3’x 5’ sign painted onto the kitchen hood, hanging in the air over the pony-wall partition dividing the kitchen from the dining area. The sign read:

Ya Servimos Tacos Chicos a (We now serve little tacos of)
*Cabeza (Head) *Lengua (Tongue) *Chorizo (Sausage)
*Cesos (Brains) *Asada (Roast beef) *Chile Verde (Green Chile)
*Tripa (Stomach) *Pollo (Chicken) *Adobada (Marinated Pork)

While most Americans would not view this sign with a watering mouth, it certainly appealed to the restaurants main base of customers. It was certainly marketed for the Hispanic community since the English translations, which I included above, were entirely lacking in the restaurant itself. And this sign, among other things, was a sure sign that the culinary experience that a person would have here would be the real deal. It called to my own mind images of an old man from San Jose, Villa Nueva pushing a wheelbarrow through the streets in the early morning hours peddling his wares of body parts from a freshly slaughtered cow. In fact while in Guatemala, more than one person had slipped some cesos or tripa into my meal without telling me, believing it to be a kindness to provide me with what they believed to be the most flavorful of meats. So while this may have turned my stomach a little more several years ago and it did nothing to whet my appetite now, it did not divert my attention from the food that I had come here after.
After standing there for a few minutes looking around, I found a good place to sit (I guess you seat yourself here). I sat down across the room from several tables full of Spanish-speaking gentlemen who couldn’t seem to take their eyes off of me, wondering what in the world this “canche (white guy)” was doing in their restaurant and how he had gotten past the force field. Suddenly, I had become the minority.
I looked around a bit self-consciously and tapped my fingers on the table. Above the heads of my fellow diners hung a sign, much less conspicuous than the body parts tacos sign. It was maybe 8”x 10” and read— in English only—, “Warning, driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs is a serious crime that is prosecuted aggressively in Utah.”
Well, I thought as I glanced down at the men chugging their Coronas, I guess they’ve done their part here to combat drunk driving.
Not long after I had sat down, a middle-aged man came out with a menu. He seemed about as nervous as I felt. He handed me the menu and then returned to the kitchen in silence. When he returned, he carried chips and salsa, a staple at any Mexican restaurant. I ordered right away. “I’ll have an horchata to drink and to eat, two pupusas.” This was the culinary prize that I was seeking. Daniel (No, he didn’t introduce himself. That’s just what I read on his tag.) walked off to the kitchen in the same quiet manner. I munched on my chips and salsa, looking forward to the meal I would be having shortly. This wait was a little bit longer than the last. But who’s counting when your meal, including drink, is only costing you five bucks and there are chips and salsa to hold your attention? As I sat there waiting, two women sped their car into the parking lot directly in front of the restaurant. Parking diagonally across two spaces, they came to a halt with a squeal of their tires, and the middle-aged one jumped out, running into the restaurant.
Looking over at me, she frantically asked, “Do you know what their shrimp cocktails are like here? Are they like this?” she asked as she made a bowl out of her hands. “It’s just that I’m spoiled. I’ve been to Mexico,” she said.
I didn’t have a chance to do anything more than shake my head before Daniel came out of the kitchen. She once again cupped her hands and asked Daniel, “Are they like this or are they in a circle around a cup?”
“No,” he answered copying her cupped hands, “They’re like this.”
“Good,” she said, and she turned around to wave her companion into the restaurant. There is one thing to be said about international or ethnic foods: if you’ve had the real thing, you won’t settle for a cheap imitation. This woman knew this, and I knew it as well.
It wasn’t long before Daniel came out of the back with my pupusas and my horchata. I thanked him and then took a long draught of the cold creamy and cinnamon-filled horchata. Tastes like Guatemala, I thought. Then I moved on to the pupusas. I had only sampled these one time, a Salvadoran lady having served them to me in Guatemala, but it was enough to fall in love (with the pupusas, not the lady). And if the horchata had transported me back to Guatemala, the pupusas put me right back in the little tin roofed home of Lupe. The wonderful aroma of fresh masa stuffed with queso fresco came into my nostrils. As I took the first bite, smothered in red sauce and curtido (a pickled cabbage relish), I went from Guatemala straight to heaven.
I left that day with a great appreciation for these little mamá and papá shops and a desire to tell everyone with a desire to experience different cultures or just good food about it. As I stepped back into the open air, I was somewhat regrettably transported back to St. George, Utah. But now it was a little bit different, and my outlook was a little bit brighter. I left with the knowledge that a little trip to Latin America wasn’t nearly as far away or expensive as I had previously thought.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Can't Buy Happiness

When I first got married, my wife was still attending BYU. I was working 30 hours a week for a marketing research company, playing househusband (For those nine months, I did most of the housework), reading a lot, and lying around the house a lot. I didn’t mind being poor one bit. Just six months out of my Guatemalan mission, I felt like I was living in the lap of luxury in our scantily furnished, one-bedroom apartment. In actuality, our furnishings consisted of a small, beaten up dining room table, a small dresser, a futon (our bed), and a half dozen plastic patio chairs. The bathroom was barely large enough to contain one person, and the kitchen was a converted closet, and I’m not referring to a walk-in. Take one step into the kitchen and to the left was the smallest gas oven I have ever seen, to the right was a mini-fridge, and straight ahead were a cabinet and a kitchen sink. You could literally access any location in the kitchen without moving your feet and without bending over. Looking back now, I’m sure that we would have been happy in any situation in our newlywed bliss.

I’ve frequently reflected on that time since then. We didn’t have a television and still didn’t want one. We didn’t have much of anything, but we did have each other and a complete devotion to one another’s happiness. And we were happy, happier than we had ever been in our lives.

These days, we have our hearts set too much on the things of this world. We are still happy, but any true happiness that we feel doesn’t come from the things that we have but still from one another. It just goes to show that you can’t buy happiness. I’m not saying that money doesn’t make things easier or that the lack thereof doesn’t make things much more difficult. I’m just saying that while it’s necessary to function from day to day, the minute it becomes the goal of our existence, we will no longer be happy.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Where’s the button?

I hate to be the stereotypical father, but I frequently find myself presenting the kids with “when I was a kid” scenarios. I never tell them that I had to walk uphill to and from school in the snow—snow was a novelty to me when I was a kid, and I never lived close enough to a school to walk. My comments are more along the line of “when I was a kid, I had to wash the dishes by hand.” I wouldn’t say these things if they weren’t constantly complaining about having to do the simplest of tasks, like loading and unloading the dishwasher.

One day about a year ago, I really began to wonder if the kids were coming to rely on technology a little too much. “Boys, come unload the dishwasher,” I called. This was one of the few responsibilities that our two oldest boys had at the time. As usual, my two oldest did not come right away. The only one that did show up was my third oldest son, who was then three years old. He was ready and willing to help.

After intently staring at the dishwasher for a moment, he looked up at me with his face scrunched up and asked, “Where is the unload button?”

Sunday, June 13, 2010

A Native Love

My wife is part Native Hawaiian, and she dreams of living in the islands someday. Although I am less optimistic about our chances of doing so, I share the dream with her. Even though I have never been to Hawaii, I’ve fallen in love with its culture and people. And the more I learn of this land of beauty and mystery, the deeper my interest goes.

I am a huge fan of mythology, so in the last couple of years, I have made Hawaii’s history and mythology my unofficial emphases in college. I’ve managed to squeeze four projects in four different classes out of my fascination with Polynesia. I wrote an in-depth research paper on why Hawaiian literature should be included in a Multicultural American Literature class, I gave what ended up being a 15-20 minute presentation on that paper, I wrote a paper for a mythology class comparing Hawaiian mythology to other mythologies, I gave a presentation on Hawaiian mythology in a Public Speaking class, and I built a Hawaiian mythology website for a Writing for Interactive Media class. You could say that I’ve milked the subject for all it’s worth. But with each project, my knowledge has grown, and my appreciation has grown for a little-known and lesser-understood subject. This is a part of my children’s heritage that I want them to have, and it’s not widely available for study here on the mainland.

One of my goals as a writer is to write a series of novels based on the Polynesian demigod, Maui. He is absolutely the coolest person in Polynesian mythology, and coming from me, that’s saying something. Sometimes referred to as the “Hawaiian Superman,” he has enough myths and legends surrounding him that I should have plenty of material. Yet so far, I haven’t felt inspired enough to write or even outline one of these novels. I have written chapters, but I always get stuck at that point. I can’t help thinking that maybe I just need a few novels under my belt before I can write my Maui novels. I guess all I can do for now is just keep writing—and praying.

If you’re interested in learning more about Hawaiian mythology or just checking out my website you can find it at Thanks for reading.