Feature Contributors Archives for 2023-08

Column: In memory of Zane Meltzer

Dear readers,

Yesterday was the 20th anniversary of our son Zane’s death.

He died from cancer at age 16. Like his older brother Trent, he was always a good sport and a joy to be around. A day seldom passes when he is not in my thoughts. A week seldom passes when he is not in my dreams. However, I don’t dwell in the past. As American poet Langston Hughes famously said, “Life is for the living.”

I thought of Zane this week when I saw where the Cancer Association of Shelby County was voted No. 1 Non-Profit Agency. The organization was also voted favorite Flea Market/Thrift Store. We are very fortunate to have services provided for cancer patients by the Cancer Association of Shelby County. The Executive Director of the Agency is Donna Harrell. 

I stopped by to congratulate Donna on the double win. Although I have always thought of their store located on the Public Square as a “Boutique” instead of a “Flea Market/Thrift Store,” the store has been remodeled and has a selection of not only clothes, but also small appliances and collectables.

If you have any gently used items to donate, you can conveniently drop them off at the back door on Jackson Street.



As I was visiting with Donna Harrell in her office, my mind wandered back in time. I’ve known her as long as I can remember. She is an older sister of my childhood friend Greg Ryhal. Our backyards were adjacent.  I’ve always claimed that her brother, Gary, was the smartest kid in the neighborhood. Her late brother, Jim, wrote a book, “Where the Water is Cold.” I got an autographed copy several years ago when he had a book signing here at “Three Sisters.” 

Her older sister, Mary Lou Ryhal, was a dancer on the Mitch Miller TV show, “Sing Along With Mitch.” The show was on from 1961 to 1964.  The words to songs appeared on the TV screen with a little ball bouncing along the words to help those with bad timing. The Meltzer family, having no musical talent whatsoever, just kept count of how many of the dance numbers featured Mary Lou.

After a successful career in banking, Donna has now been with the Cancer Association for over 30 years. The Cancer Association of Shelby County has been providing services to our community’s cancer patients since 1959.

There is an old saying, “Charity begins at home.” A reader recently complained about the grifters at Walmart. In this modern world of emails and robocalls we are endlessly bombarded with pleas to give to fake charities.

We are lucky to have a number of honest charities here in Shelby County helping our citizens. Congratulations to Donna and everyone at the Cancer Association of Shelby County for being voted the No. 1 Non-Profit.

 See you all next week, same Schwinn time, same Schwinn channel.

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Column: Safety first, school's in session

Dear readers,

Take a close look at today’s school safety photo. Some of those in the photo should look familiar. (Hint there is more than one local lawyer in the photo.)

Several readers commented on last week’s column featuring my fatherly advice to my son, Trent, when he was starting sixth grade. 

A few of my favorites:

Kris, Ward Cleaver you are not. I can’t imagine Ward Cleaver ever making either Wally or the Beaver pose for such a photo. It is wonderful that Trent grew up to be the judge of Shelby Circuit Court. I doubt that you dressing him up like a nerd for a photo for your cheesy column had anything to do with his success. After re-running the photo 30 years later, I’m guessing that you might want to avoid appearing in Circuit Court.

Dear “Leave it to Beaver” fan,

Unfortunately for my kids, “Leave it to Beaver” wasn’t on TV during their childhood. Al Bundy was the reigning TV dad in those days, so the bar was set low. Joking aside, looking back at that photo 30 years later did make me appreciate what a good sport Trent was as a kid.



Dear Kris,

I knew Trent when we were both students at Shelbyville Middle School.  I don’t know if dressing him up as a lawyer at that age had anything to do with his career choice. I can tell you for sure not to feel bad about refusing to buy him Air Jordan basketball shoes. I played basketball with Trent back in the day and believe me he wasn’t headed for the NBA. 

Dear classmate of Trent’s,

Thanks for setting the record straight. I have withheld your name just in case you ever have to appear in Circuit Court.

On a completely different subject, a loyal reader had some interesting thoughts about Animal Crackers this week.

Dear Kris,

Several years ago, Nabisco, maker of Barnum’s Animal Crackers, let the animals out of their cages. As a supporter of PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) I thought it was the right thing to do. I just don’t know why it took a letter writing campaign by PETA members to get the animals freed. 

I have now decided to become a vegetarian. It hasn’t been easy giving up eating meat, but I do think it was the right decision for me. Anyway, you are probably wondering what this has to do with Barnum’s Animal Crackers. 

I was wondering if you would ask your readers to join me in writing letters to Nabisco. Join me in asking Nabisco if instead of just “Animal Crackers,” they could also make “Vegetable Crackers” for us vegetarians. Maybe the Vegetable Crackers could be shaped like little carrots, cabbages, and broccoli crowns. They wouldn’t just be popular with vegetarians, but it might help moms to get their kids to eat their vegetables.

Dear New Vegetarian,

I like the way you think. But if we are going to start a letter writing campaign to Nabisco, let’s see if we can get them to use your idea on Oreos. I think most kids like them better than Animal Crackers.

If Nabisco could make Oreos shaped like meats, vegetables, and fruits then it would be so simple to get kids to eat a balanced meal.

See you all next week, same Schwinn time, same Schwinn channel.

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Letters Home: Nature in Japan

Japan is a nature lover’s paradise. Whether people want to explore some of Japan’s primeval forests, climb its many active or dormant volcanoes, or hike the rugged but scenic mountains or coastlines, Japan offers a variety of natural sights and activities for the more active or adventurous visitors.

From north to south, east to west, the entire country has many natural wonders that would satisfy the most thrill-seeking person who likes to get up close to and experience nature at its finest, or the visitor who likes a leisurely stroll in nature that is relaxing, calm, and peaceful.

Japan’s natural beauty and adventure can accommodate every taste and desire. Since Japan enjoys four distinct seasons, each season offers different activities related to nature that tourists can enjoy throughout the year. 

In the spring, when nature begins to reawaken from its long winter’s sleep, a popular and enjoyable activity is to do cherry blossom viewing. This occurs anywhere and everywhere around the country as cherry trees can be found in nearly all historical places, as well as in parks and around temples and shrines (main photo: A canopy of cherry blossoms in full bloom during the spring in Fukuoka, Japan). Japanese people have turned blossom viewing into a veritable national pastime during the spring season and many opportunities to view the glorious blossoms can be found in all parts of the country. 

Some of you may remember me referring to Japan’s cherry blossom season as being a “national treasure.”



The summer season offers visitors many chances to hike and explore its naturally-rugged terrain including mountains, volcanoes, and its rocky coastlines. Also, summer welcomes a plethora of traditional festivals that feature floats, seasonal foods, and a local favorite, fireworks.  Summertime is reserved for hiking in the many national parks, relaxing on the beach and swimming in the ocean, and enjoying numerous floral displays in communities across Japan.

The autumn season signals the popular activity of momiji-gari or “hunting red leaves.” Japan’s indigenous trees love to show off as they turn into bright colors in preparation for the coming winter months.

The Japanese maple, with its crimson-colored leaves, and the gingko tree that turns a vibrant shade of yellow, are a nature lover’s dream as they travel through the scenic areas enjoying this bright display of nature at her finest. I prefer train travel during this season so I can enjoy the multi-colored scenery as the train whisks me from place to place. The mountains look marbled as the autumn leaves turn colors and finally fall to the ground, leaving the mountains bare in preparation for the snow that will soon arrive.


A winter scene at the very picturesque Ginzan Hot Spring town in Yamagata, Prefecture.


The winter season, especially in the northern prefectures, welcomes heavy snowfall that allows people who love to ski, snowboard, and go sledding to frolic in Japan’s winter wonderland. With a variety of snow festivals being done throughout the coldest winter months, visitors can enjoy the snow, cold, and ice to their heart’s content.

Of course, there is nothing more refreshing after spending a day in the cold and snow than to enjoy one of Japan’s glorious onsens or hot springs to warm the physical body back up, and to reenergize the mind and soul, while relishing the warmth and natural medicinal attributes of the natural springs that are located all over Japan.

Japan is well-known for a number of “natural wonders” like the imposing and most famous Mount Fuji. Also, the Tottori Sand Dunes on Honshu Island is a natural wonder worth exploring if you find yourself in the area where they are located, along with the Takachiho Gorge located in Kyushu’s Miyazaki Prefecture. The best time to hike this area is in the autumn in order to enjoy the orange, red, and yellow leaves that canvas the entire area.

Oita Prefecture is home to Beppu Onsen which is a group of eight distinct hot springs, each with its own unique character.


The author (front) and his friends enjoying a hot sand bath at the historic Takegawara Hot Spring in Oita Prefecture in Japan


A fun and unusual activity is to visit the Takegawara indoor sand bath where you change into a cotton robe and have steaming hot sand shoveled onto your body up to your neck. It is a soothing and relaxing experience that allows your body to sweat out toxins … then it is refreshing to shower afterward to wash off all the sand, and then soak in the hot spring.

Traditionally, Japanese people have had a very close and endearing relationship with nature, believing that nature should be appreciated unconditionally, hence why nature is rooted in Shintoism espousing the belief that all of nature has spirits, with pine trees holding an especially sacred position within the Shinto religion. Many festivals and celebrations in Japan are based upon nature or the four seasons.

Since nearly four-fifths of Japan is covered with mountainous terrain, it is no wonder that mountains are revered and regarded highly by Japanese people.

The Japanese Alps make up the largest mountain range in Japan, running down the center of Honshu Island. The highest mountain in Japan is Mount Fuji, which is 12,388 feet. I made it up halfway on Fuji back in the late 70s, but I was able to climb Mount Iwaki in Aomori to its highest point, which is 5,331 feet. While not a huge feat for an experienced mountain climber, no doubt, it was a harrowing and arduous experience for me, nonetheless. It was enough to satisfy any urge I had to climb any more mountains.

Before traveling to Japan, it is best to decide which season you are most interested in experiencing, then plan your itinerary accordingly.

If you are a snow bunny, then Hokkaido or Tohoku would be your preferred destination, ideally in January or February. 

If cherry blossom viewing is more your cup of tea, then planning a trip in late March for the southern prefectures, or April for Honshu Island is best.

If you enjoy hiking and climbing, I recommend coming in the autumn when the heat of the summer has dissipated and the leaves are turning their vibrant shades of red and orange.

The summer months in Japan, while dreadfully hot, offer visitors a chance to see the rich greenness of Japan and to enjoy summer festivals and fireworks.

Like I mentioned before, Japan has something for everyone!

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Column: Back to school advice

Dear readers,

When I was a child, my grandfather, Brady Meltzer, told me that it seemed to him like time was passing by faster and faster the older he got. This came to mind last week when my grandchildren were preparing to head back to school. I decided that I should give them some grandfatherly back-to-school advice and take a photo for posterity.

I didn’t tell my grandchildren about how I didn’t have to go back to school until after Labor Day. I didn’t want to unnecessarily add to their back-to-school angst.

They listened somewhat attentively to the advice I passed down from my grandfather. I then told them it was time for our annual, somewhat corny, posed back-to-school picture for this week’s column. 

My request for them to get into their costumes and pose for a Norman Rockwellesque photo was not met with much enthusiasm. In unison, all three asked that age-old children’s question, “Do we have to?”   

The oldest, June, will be starting sixth grade at Shelbyville Middle School this year.  Almost 30 years ago, her father, my son, Trent, was starting sixth grade. It seems like just yesterday that I was giving him fatherly advice. I decided to just reminisce and use a photo of Trent when he was headed into the sixth grade.



Mr. Peabody have your boy, Sherman, fire up the Wayback machine. Join me now as I pass out back-to-school advice to my son, Trent, as he begins middle school. Listen in.

Trent: Dad, since I’m starting middle school, I was thinking maybe it’s time for me to get contacts. I also need new clothes. Could you buy me Michael Jordan tennis shoes this year?

Kris:  Well, I could waste my hard-earned money on contacts and new mod clothes. Instead, I’ve taken all the extra money I saved for your college education and invested it in Beanie Babies. I can just fix your glasses with some tape. Besides, you are much more likely to grow up to be a lawyer than a pro basketball player. I think I have some used wingtips that will fit you. The shoes will go with your dress pants. A solid color shirt with a button-down collar and bow tie will complete the ensemble.

Trent:  Don’t you think the other boys will think I look stupid when I arrive for my first day of middle school dressed like I a lawyer?

Kris:  Probably so. But believe me, you won’t look any more stupid than the boys arriving at middle school wearing Air Jordans and basketball jerseys pretending they are ready to play in the NBA.

Epilogue: The photo of sixth grader Trent Meltzer was taken in front of the bookshelf of law books located just outside of Shelby Circuit Court, where he now presides as Judge Trent Meltzer. Just a coincidence, or foreshadowing?

I asked Trent what he thought about that photo. He said, “Just think where I would be if you had bought me those Air Jordans and taken the photo in front of Market Square Arena.”

As Paul Harvey says, “Now you know the rest of the story.” 

Oh, I almost forgot. The back-to-school advice from my grandfather, Brady, I passed on to my granddaughters was, “Leave your chewing tobacco and slingshot at home.”

As good of advice today as it was in the last century. 

See you all next week, same Schwinn time, same Schwinn channel.

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Column: Grifters outside of Walmart?

Dear readers,

This week a loyal reader reaches out to Team Schwinn for help. Enjoy!

Dear Team Schwinn,

No offense Kris, but I doubt that you can answer my question without help from your entire team. 

I haven’t been so annoyed since the Confederacy had their bicycle cavalry peddling around Shelbyville flying the “Stars and Bars.” I was so proud of Team Schwinn the day you and the Schwinn militia chased Johnny Reb out of town. 

My current problem won’t be as easy to solve. You see, I have lost my joy of shopping at Walmart. I have grown tired of the grifters always lying in wait for me to leave the store. 

I’m not talking about local Girl Scouts selling their cookies or the Salvation Army ringing their bell at Christmas. Just like Spider-Man, my Spidey sense tells me that many of those people lurking around the Walmart exit for donations are not legitimate charities. 

In the spirit of full transparency, my Spidey sense has been known to be very wrong at times. Take for example my first husband, I was very, very wrong about that one. 

So, could Team Schwinn please do some investigating? It would be a great service to the community. No one likes to be the stooge bamboozled by grifters. On the other hand, if they are all legitimate charities, I’ll permanently retire my Spidey sense and drop a coin in their cup.


Suspicious and Unhappy Walmart Shopper



Dear Walmart Shopper,

Since old Sam is no longer riding around in his Ford F-150 pickup truck checking on his Walmart stores, we shoppers do need to be a bit more vigilant. Walmart isn’t the same without old Sam around. Wal-Mart has lost its hyphen and “Discount City” sign. Both changes were major disappointments to me. Not to mention that a Subway sandwich shop has replaced the Wal-Mart snack bar. 

Sometimes I find myself wandering around inside the local Rural King reminiscing about when that building was our first Wal-Mart. The Martha Stewart of Shelbyville, Susie Veerkamp, once joined me for lunch at the Wal-Mart snack bar.

Oops, I seem to be drifting down memory lane. Let’s get back on task. As to your grifter question, it isn’t an easy question to answer.  Unfortunately, a great number of charities are grifters in disguise. I did call a special meeting of Team Schwinn and can preliminary report as follows:

Once again John Gray nailed it in his book “Men Are from Mars, Women Are from Venus.” We started by conducting an unscientific poll. 

Most men shoppers haven’t even noticed the people at the exit requesting charitable donations. This is because most men don’t go into the actual Walmart to shop. Men just pick up their food staples of Mountain Dew, Funyuns, and Beef Jerky Sticks at the Walmart gas station when they are buying their weekly supply of chewing tobacco.

On the other hand, the vast majority of women agree with you. Most women shoppers not only dislike having to exit past the grifters but will sometimes exit through the garden shop just to avoid them. One woman told me that her trick to avoid the grifters is pretending to talk on her cell phone while quickly walking past them. 

While I can’t assemble the Schwinn Militia and run the grifters off the Walmart lot, maybe this column will alert Walmart management to the problem. Never underestimate the power of the press. During the great pandemic Walmart made their aisles “one way.” Readers hated it. I wrote a column and the next week the aisles were back to running in both directions.

In the meantime, you might try pretending to talk on your cell phone or exit through the garden shop. Then again, you could take a page out of the men’s playbook and just shop at the Walmart gas station. I don’t know if you can find all food staples for your family there, but Funyuns might count as a vegetables.

See you all next week, same Schwinn time, same Schwinn channel.

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Letters Home: Traditional and popular music in Japan

Like any advanced culture, Japan has a history of music that ranges from ancient to modern times.

Traditional Japanese music incorporates a hauntingly unique variety of sounds and tones that often serve to imitate the rhythms found in nature that form the basis of life. This is achieved by using a combination of stringed, wind, and percussion instruments. The concepts of water and wind are often replicated in traditional Japanese music using these sounds from nature as models.

The “gagaku” tradition of court music is perhaps the oldest type of musical genre from Japan which was first introduced to the archipelago in the early years of the 10th century from mainland China. The theatrical traditions of kabuki and noh include, along with dancing and singing, these unique sounds that make up the bulk of Japanese traditional music.

In order to achieve the quintessential tones and rhythms of Japanese traditional music, Japanese traditional instruments are utilized, like the shamisen (a three-stringed guitar-like instrument that has a long, thin neck). Originally coming from China, a version of the shamisen called the sanshin was used in Okinawa before spreading to the mainland of Japan.  Perhaps the most famous or well-known style of shamisen can still be found in Aomori Prefecture called Tsugaru Shamisen. 

A bamboo flute with five holes, called a shakuhachi, is used in traditional music and is the main instrument in ceremonial rites that pertain to the emperor and it is used in religious ceremonies. Originally used by monks of the Fuke sect of Buddhism as a tool for meditation, it gradually became more prevalent for imperial court-related ceremonies and rites.

The taiko drum, while strictly speaking is not a classical instrument, is often played in traditional music and it is also a favorite instrument used in traditional festivals, which are most often performed in groups or ensembles of drummers.  Used during summer festivals and other seasonal events throughout the year, as well as in certain religious ceremonies at temples and shrines, the taiko drum has a simple yet powerful sound, adding much rhythmic texture to the music as opposed to harmonic texture.

The koto might well be regarded as the national instrument of Japan due to its unique sound and popularity at being played for special events. Often referred to as a Japanese harp, the traditional koto instrument has a long, wooden main body with 13 strings and is played by using the thumb, index, and middle fingers of the right hand. The fingers are covered with small pics called tsume. Typically, the instrument is played while sitting on the floor on one’s knees (seiza-style). 



Traditionally, apprentice geishas were required to become proficient at playing most of the traditional instruments before they could become a full-fledged geisha.

Geisha have been terribly misunderstood outside of Japan and often likened to high-priced prostitutes. Geishas are highly regarded professional entertainers who apprentice for many years before earning the title of geisha. They are meticulously trained in the classical arts of Japan which requires them to learn to become proficient at playing nearly all of the traditional instruments, learn traditional dances and singing, and to be able to conduct themselves with grace and the utmost femininity.

Geishas are responsible, I think, in being the purveyors of traditional culture, ensuring that the fine arts are continued on and not lost to history. Both mysterious and mythical, they provide an important cultural contribution to Japan through their lifelong dedication to the arts and music.

Of course, today, geishas are fewer than in the past, but in cities like Tokyo, Kyoto, and even Fukuoka there are areas where geisha can be found. It is reported that there are roughly only 1,000 working geishas in Japan today, compared to 80,000 across Japan in their heyday.

Today, Japan enjoys a wide variety of musical genres such as J-Pop, J-hip hop, Japanese reggae and jazz, as well as Japanoise (popular in the 70s and 80s), and in recent years Japanese anime and game music in addition to the traditional music outlined above.

Japan has a rich tradition of adopting musical genres from other cultures then adapting and changing them to make them uniquely Japanese.


Photo: The author posing with a cardboard cutout of the main star, Yon-sama, of the hit Korean series "Winter Sonata" when visiitng Korea.


An imported musical movement that has taken Japan by storm is K-Pop. Japanese of all ages quickly have adapted to and accepted K-Pop music due to the wildly popular Korean groups that sing and dance to catchy tunes. In recent years, there has been a K-Pop boom all over Japan with dance schools popping up everywhere to satisfy people’s interest and desire to mimic the Korean boy and girl groups.

Just as in other countries around the world, BTS has become hugely popular raking in billions of yen in sales. This has extended even further to include a Korean cultural wave that includes fashion, cosmetics, hairstyles, and culinary dishes.

However, the precursor group to the BTS phenomenon could very easily be regarded as the Japanese group of SMAP (main photo).  This boy group played a huge role in bringing the concept of “pop idol groups” to the forefront all over Asia for decades before the Korean groups began to become popular. 

Because Japan is a such a huge consumer market for music, it is no wonder that Korea began to export its idols to Japan. Before the music idols arrived in Japan, Korean TV dramas made a huge impression upon Japanese audiences. 

A wildly popular Korean TV drama called “Winter Sonata” took Japan by storm back in the early 2000s and still to this day, Korean TV dramas have a huge following in Japan. This particular drama led the way for Korean pop stars to enter the Japanese market and there is no sign that either will be leaving anytime soon. People love both K-Pop and Korean TV dramas with Japanese fans clamoring to visit the locations portrayed in the dramas, and attending K-Pop concerts in Japan and in Korea.

J-Pop girl groups have always tried to portray an image of being youthful, even immature, to appeal largely to nerdy men in their fan base called “otaku,” whereas K-Pop girl groups definitely present themselves more maturely and sexily.  

The naïve image that J-Pop girl groups try to foster is still happening today because appearing “cute” (kawaii) rather than sexy is something that Japanese people admire and prefer. However, Japanese audiences are very happy to accept the sexy and sultry images of Korean girl groups, too.

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