The secret obsession of a refrigerator detective

Refrigerator magnets 2You should never judge a book by its cover, but is it possible to judge a person by their refrigerator? For example, when you open a refrigerator, you can usually tell if it belongs to a domestically challenged individual, an aspiring chef, or a family with five children. As for the five children, hopefully their refrigerator would be stocked with all kinds of edibles, a couple gallons of milk, and no cold pizza in sight. After all, if there are any teenagers in the clan, the pizza would be consumed in one sitting, with several siblings fighting over the last piece.

If there is a self-proclaimed chef in the house, in the fridge there’s usually an abundance of fresh fruit and vegetables with uncooked meat ready to be prepared. A man or woman who enjoys cooking might even have some tasty leftovers on hand, that they could transform into a delicious meal when an unexpected visitor stops. Then there is the person who never cooks, whose refrigerator contains white boxes stained with soy sauce from Chinese take-out or half-eaten meals from Bob Evans. I really like these people, because they make me feel that being domestically challenged is not the worst thing in the world. So, I’m not Rachel Ray, I can still make a pretty mean meat loaf.

However, it’s not the inside of the refrigerator that tells the real story. It’s the outside that helps you discern what the refrigerator’s owner or owners are all about. There are exceptions, as some individuals are either too young, transient, or minimalistic, to realize they can share their entire life story with magnets, treasured photos, important phone numbers, and inspiring quotations. Refrigerator magnets 1Once I realized the significance of refrigerator decorations, I must admit it was easy to become a bit obsessed. For example, people get a little uncomfortable when they are giving you a tour of their home and you stop dead in your tracks inspecting their refrigerator door. It’s usually best to do a little investigative reporting and get them involved in your quest.

Just ask a doting grandmother about the photo of the little boy or girl that is held in place by a smiley face magnet. You’ll find out more about that child than you ever wanted to know. The proud grandma might even point out the school paper bearing an A and a star, or the scribbled image of some unknown object that this same grandchild painted held in place by another magnet. Just nod agreeably when she explains that they were unaware of this artistic gifting in their bloodline. If there are numerous children’s photos everywhere, it’s best not to ask unless you have a lot of time. List of MedicinesThe phone numbers and lists on the refrigerator door can even provide some insight into the medical issues of an elderly relative or friend. In explanation, people experiencing a health crisis will often have all their resources attached to the fridge. Phone numbers for physicians’ offices, rehab services, clinics, and even medication times might be posted. As for the refrigerator’s magnets, they are sometimes gifts. Therefore, you have to find out if they really define the owner’s personality. There are also those artistic individuals whose refrigerator doors closely resemble the countless badges worn by a proud Eagle Scout.

There are humorous magnets like “I clean house every other day, but this is not the other day,” or “Hand over the chocolate, and no one will get hurt.” I am a firm believer that there is truth buried deep within this kind of humor. However, it’s the magnets bearing a faith-filled quotation that can define a person’s belief system. Many refrigerator doors are adorned with encouraging statements like, “Love bears all things.” You can’t help but wonder how many trials of faith these magnets have weathered, especially when they appear to be yellowed or cracked from age.Refrigerator magnets

Speaking of faith, it was an inspirational Facebook post quoting famous author, Max Lucado, that made me think it was time to confess my refrigerator sleuthing. It said, “If God had a refrigerator, your picture would be on it….Face it, friend. He is crazy about you.” The post made me smile, so I hope it will make someone else smile too.  In the end, maybe you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover, but lately I’ve come to believe that you can find out a lot about a person by their refrigerator.

Christina aloneChristina Ryan Claypool is an Amy-award winning freelance journalist and inspirational speaker. Contact her through her website at She is also a Chicken Soup for the Soul contributor.



Taking back the Table: Dinner isn’t just about Food

From Tablet to Table by Dr. Leonard Sweet

From Tablet to Table by Dr. Leonard Sweet

If we’re honest, most of us are foodies, but we don’t think of ourselves that way. The online Free Dictionary defines a foodie as, “One who has an ardent or refined interest in food; a gourmet. Also called foodist.” There might be a slight disconnect here, because when you throw in the word, “refined” that probably disqualifies a lot of us who like to woof down a greasy burger and fries occasionally. Although Merriam-Webster’s definition of foodie is “a person who enjoys and cares about food very much.” There you go, back in the group.

Despite all this talk about doing food with flair, perfect Pinterest dishes, and cooking shows like syndicated Food Network celebrity Rachael Ray’s, it appears most Americans aren’t doing a great job when it comes to doing dinner right. According to best-selling author, Dr. Leonard Sweet, our culture is in desperate need of remembering how to share a meal. “We consume fast food in front of our smartphones, never facing each other, barely acknowledging the existence of one another,” this quote is from the back cover of Sweet’s recent book, From Tablet to Table. “The majority of US families report eating a single meal together less than five days a week. And even then our ‘dinners together’ are mostly in front of the TV,” writes the author of more than sixty books. Apparently, my hubby and I aren’t the only ones who are looking forward to supper watching a new season of The Voice or Downton Abbey.

After all, with local pools closing for the season, along with experiencing a few unseasonably cool days, discerning Midwesterners can sense that winter is just around the corner. When the frigid temperatures and snow keep us indoors, summer barbeques and dinner on the patio will become a distant memory. That’s when many individuals hunker down in their homes on icy evenings, but it wasn’t always this way.

Just look at the recent feature, “Bairs Share Secrets of Long Love,” by Melody Vallieu, TDN editor. The story documents the 70 year marriage of Casstown residents, Frank and Betty Bair who were part of the annual Miami County Fair’s Golden Couple Anniversary photo. “They got to know each other during the long Ohio winters where families would take turns hosting evenings of food and games,” writes Vallieu.

If it wasn’t for sharing a meal and conversation during those bitter cold nights, perhaps, the Bairs might never have fallen in love. That’s the point, as a society we used to not only break bread, but we also spent time talking about the things that mattered to us at the dinner table. It was even more entertaining, when we were joined by a few interesting guests. photo (9)

In today’s society, we don’t always take time to sit down to share a meal either. Instead we grab a sandwich on the run. Sweet’s book reports that, “We eat one in every five meals in our car.” How many busy football and soccer parents out there can attest to the fact that sharing a bag of fast food in the minivan is a way of life? Even if we are seated at a table, how possible is it to have a significant discussion with another human being with our cell phones ringing and texts beeping? That’s why at the Sweet family table, technology isn’t allowed.

Still, not all parents are willing to make suppertime a no technology zone for themselves. A 2014 Psychology Today article by Anne K. Fishel Ph.D. explains, “According to our Digital Family survey responses of over 300 parents, only 18% of them allow their children to use technology at the dinner table, while almost twice that number of parents believe that [it] is OK for them to use their phones and screens at the table.” As a nation, we seem deeply concerned about issues like obesity and food insecurity. But have we considered how our new way of eating meals is affecting our kids? Sweet cites information compiled by sociologist Cody C. Delistraty for Atlantic Monthly, “The #1 factor for parents raising kids who are drug-free, healthy, intelligent, kind human beings? Frequent family dinners….The #1 predictor of future academic success for elementary-age children? Frequent family dinners…” etc. From Tablet to Table is also a deeply spiritual book that only church futurist Sweet could write. The consummate theologian always points us back to relationship whether it is relationship with others, or ultimately our relationship with a God who wants us to dine at His table.

To improve our culture, maybe we could institute a guideline like the unwritten Code of the West found on It reads, “Remove your guns before sitting at the dining table,” updating it to say, “Remove your technology before sitting at the dining table.” If you don’t, someone might call the sheriff!

Christina at The CarolineChristina Ryan Claypool is an Amy and Ohio Associated Press award-winning freelance journalist and inspirational speaker. Her Website is


Three Cheers for the Farmers’ Market

It’s been a rough summer for farmers. Record drought and sweltering heat are taking their toll across Ohio. Despite this fact, you will often find me shopping at the Great Sidney Farmers’ Market. Like last month, on Saturday, June 30, 2012, when high winds and torrential rain had wreaked devastation the night before. Yet the faithful vendors were selling their produce, baked goods, crafts, flowers, and other goodies. That morning, I loaded up on bright red tomatoes, succulent green cucumbers, sweet onions, ripe peaches, and a few loaves of banana, cornmeal, and rhubarb bread. After all, that evening we would be celebrating my mother-in-law’s birthday. I hurried home to prepare her favorite cucumber with onions, sliced the tomatoes, and packed some specialty bread for the trip.

Later that day, still without power at my mom-in-laws, we ate grilled hamburgers and hot dogs. The garnishes, cucumber and onions, and freshly sliced peaches were my contribution to the family feast. My sister-in-law ravenously ate the juicy tomatoes until they were all gone. She apologized by asking, “We don’t get tomatoes with flavor like this so early in the season. Where did you find them?”

Where I find everything else, that’s delicious. At the Great Sidney Farmers’ Market which is celebrating its thirtieth season this year according to Maureen Smelewski, the director of the Downtown Sidney Business Association. With a setting featuring the historic courthouse, cascading fountains, and majestic trees, the market’s vendors have told the downtown director, that “…it’s one of the prettiest locations you can find to have a Farmers’ Market.” The faithful farmers, crafters and bakers are there every Saturday morning from 8 a.m. to noon around theCourthouse Square from Memorial Day weekend through mid-October.

Long-time vendors, Tom and Tammy Brown were set up Saturday, June 30th, too, even though their farm had sustained heavy damage from the storm the evening before. Their machinery building was destroyed, two Maple trees were downed, and roof damage was caused by the gusting winds. The Brown’s 400 acre farm includes 20 acres of produce. It’s located on St. Rt. 33 between Wapakoneta and St. John’s. Despite their loss, they came, “… [Tom] had picked the produce. You have to do something with it,” said 53-year-old Tammy who is also the executive director of Mercy Unlimited, Inc. serving Eastern Auglaize County.

“Tom gets up at 3:30 a.m.[each day]….the produce needs to be picked within 24 hours…to be fresh for the consumers,” said Tammy who has been a farmer’s wife for over three decades. Most often, their leftover product is either donated to Lima’s Our Daily Bread Soup Kitchen or to the food pantry at Mercy Unlimited. Tammy’s 55-year-old husband has been farming since the early seventies. He has also been a dedicated part of the Great Sidney Farmers’ Market for almost 25 years. Their five children grew up assisting their dad at the market with Tammy helping sporadically.

To Marlene Smelewski, individuals like the Browns are integral to the event’s success. “They have been a part of planning…I have 14 core vendors who are part of that group,” she said. The vendor roster boasts a total of approximately 45 merchants now, with some renting more than one space. Almost at capacity, but the event’s organizer says there are still available rentals for growers, crafters, bakers, etc.

The history of the market is sketchy, although it has always been held at the square. Smelewski believes that it began 30 years ago with, “A few different farmers with carts, and a few Amish women [bakers].” The market just evolved. After all, when everything else in the world goes awry, it’s comforting to buy fresh produce, mouthwatering jam, or delicious baked goods. “A lot of people who visit the market, rely on them to be there every weekend,” Smelewski said. The vendors, “….seem to enjoy the camaraderie and interaction with customers and each other…it’s become kind of a family.”

Tammy Brown likes the fellowship, but she also has a passion to educate others about making healthy food choices. “It’s important for people to know where your food comes from, to eat healthy and eat local…and I love sharing ways you can use it,” said the Auglaize county merchant. “It’s a tradition that people look forward to,” said Maureen Smelewski. “I’ve made it such a huge part of my life. It’s something I hope goes for another 30 years…it’s one of those rare gems we’ve been able to succeed and keep going.”

How about three cheers for the Farmers Market? If you have one in your community, why not support these wonderful folks who make it their business to feed us? Or better yet, since area farmers would need a miracle to salvage their crops, why not say a little prayer for them. After all, when they have a tough season, these stalwart cultivators of God’s Earth just hope the next one will be better.

This column originally appeared in the Sidney Daily News on July 20, 2012. Christina Ryan Claypool is an Amy Award winning freelance journalist and an inspirational speaker. Visit her website at