My Summer Reading List

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A great novel can keep you on the edge of your seat or warm your heart and your soul.

I am an avid reader. I believe we learn from reading…and so, the more we read, the more we learn. Through the written word, we gain insight into the vast world around us. We better understand views that are unlike our own (and possibly much better than our own). We hear different voices that speak truth. We go to strange and wonderful places. Reading introduces us to great minds, drops us into the very center of history, moves our hearts and souls.

In my mind, reading a book is magical experience. I cannot imagine my life without books. I find that people who read books are stimulating conversationalists. They don’t talk merely about other people or cultural trends; they discuss ideas and philosophies. They think deeply and reason well.

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Only the greatest of writers can bring you to tears as you consider the death of a common garden spider who was also a faithful friend.

In fact, I’m a little suspicious of people who don’t read at all: I question the depth of their character, the very quality of their heart. I wonder where they get new ideas. Are they solely dependent on television and gossip for their information? Can they really have critical thinking skills if they only receive updates on life through their Facebook & Twitter feeds?

 

My practice for reading has been fairly consistent over the past dozen years. For example, I love biographies and usually begin with a bioography or if possible, an autobiography. Over the last couple of years I’ve read books about George Washington, Mother Teresa, Don Knotts and Andy Griffith, Julia Child, Lenard Nemoy, Einstein, Tom Hanks, Rob Lowe, Bonhoeffer and Penny Marshall. I’ve read half-a-dozen books on Lincoln alone.

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The Short and Tragic Life of Robert Peace was a fascinating tale about a young man who had all the potential in the world, rose above his circumstances, and yet lost himself along the way.

I then read some of the novels that I was supposed to read when I was in high school. Those were the years when Cliff Notes were a favorite resource for researching those English papers assigned by Mrs. Washler. These books have included The Grapes of Wrath, Cannery Row, Travels with Charlie, Of Mice and Men, 1984, Animal Farm, A Tale of Two Cities, The Pearl, The Outsiders, and Call of the Wild.

 

From there I move on to books about history. These include The Civil War, Team of Rivals, D-Day, The Wright Brothers, Undaunted Courage, Band of Brothers, Catch 22, What They Carried and Pegasus Bridge.

I read books about management, business change process and creativity. I also like to shake it up and read novels like the Lord of the Rings, the Harry Potter series, Grisham books, Janet Evanovich thrillers. I read New York Times best sellers. I read books about prayer and meditation. In short, I will read nearly any book about nearly anything.

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My books are gathered for this summer’s reading list. From the Dalai Lama to the Bible, From Hermann Hess to Jane Austen, I’m ready to enjoy quiet evenings reading in my back yard and around the neighborhood pool.

Driving two-hours every day to and from work, I also have plenty of time to listen to books on tape. This has allowed me to listen books covering everything from Civil War History to storming the beaches of Normandy to Harry Potter’s fight against the Dark Lord. For you skeptics, new research reveals that audiobooks trigger the same areas of the brain as reading a standard print version. It is a way to engage the content when you are sitting in traffic.

The bottom line is that I believe Reading is Fundamental and I can’t imagine life without it.

 

An Asterisk-free Life

3d-asteriskI was watching television the other day and a commercial for Stouffer’s frozen lasagna came on the screen. I like Italian food so I started watching. I love lasagna so kept watching.

As I leaned toward the screen to get a better look at the noodles covered in rich tomato goodness and cheese, I discovered something quite disturbing: While the announcer stated that Stouffer’s is “America’s favorite lasagna”, an asterisk on the bottom of the screen reported, “*Based on frozen lasagna sales”; meaning that they aren’t comparing their lasagna with ALL other lasagnas from ALL other sources. They are only the best selling product within a very small category of all other lasagnas. Their tiny-asterisk-marked notation leaves out any hot, baked lasagnas from Fazoli’s or Carrabba’s or Olive Garden. It doesn’t take into account local vendors. It doesn’t weigh the sheer volume of lasagna sold in Italy. Most hurtful, they didn’t even consider my dear, departed grandmother’s recipe.

I was shocked! I was insulted. I was disappointed. But I soon realized that it isn’t just Stouffer’s that employs the helpful and sometimes deceiving asterisk.

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A Wall of Yogurt, More or Less

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A wall of yogurt at my local Kroger store is not much different than any found at any other store.

I recently stopped in my local Kroger to pick up a few things for our dinner. Being the good husband that I am, when my wife asked that I stop by the dairy section to find non-fat yogurt, I didn’t flinch…until I actually got to the yogurt section.

That’s right. My local store doesn’t just have a few yogurts from which to choose; they have an entire section. It spans 30-40 feet and has every possible manufacturer, flavor, texture, and size; Greek, fruit on the bottom, fat free, full fat, and many, many more. I marveled. I gaped. I shook my head in disbelief. I stood back and gawked. I took a picture to show my friends.

I was amazed but I was not impressed. In truth, I was disgusted.

In a world that struggles with providing fresh water for many of its citizens resulting in catastrophic consequences, hunger and poverty for a vast majority resulting in devastating famines and global migrations, my local grocery carries an absolute glut of dairy products that reflect massive resource uses and a hubris that is staggering in its scope. When nearly 14% of all Americans live below the poverty level, and are unable to afford even the most basic of needs, let alone every possible configuration of yogurt, it’s a shame to see this overabundance of curdled milk.

Don’t get me wrong, I like dairy products; cheeses of all kinds, milk, cream and butter. I’ve even been known to eat yogurt from time to time. But the sheer height and width of this wall embarrassed me. It is quite a bit more than a milk sensitivity. I’m hardly lactose intolerant. I just cannot comprehend the disparity between a wall of dairy and the world in which we live.

 

What Separates the Humans…

IMG_20170429_071642_459This is a question that has been asked for centuries. Typically, it is ended with “by the rest of the animals”, but I have a different ending to that age-old question. I would ask, What separates the humans from other humans? 

As it turns out, it can be something as little as a nylon strap.

While flying American’s friendly skies recently, I witnessed what has become a common occurrence. If you’ve traveled via means of the airlines at all, you know what I’m talking about.

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Tony P’s Pizza & You

Are you interested in a good place to eat? How about a good bar tender who will keep you entertained for hours with stories of youthful antics and misadventures? If so, you’ll love Tony P’s Bar & Pizzeria in Denver.

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Tony P’s Balcony first brought Matt in the door and is a great addition to the facade.

This local joint serves up some of the best pizza and has a killer bar upstairs. A New Orleans style balcony is the perfect place to enjoy a cold beer as you watch the traffic roll past. The wings are fantastic. The sliders are excellent. The pizza is amazing. In fact, the only complaint is that the canola are too small!

I visited the establishment last week as my wife’s company gathered for after-hours socializing. Knowing no one, I found myself at the bar talking to the tender and mastermind behind the upstairs gathering place. Matt held court, regaling me with stories of his life’s experiences that have taken him from Chicago to New Orleans, Michigan, Minnesota, and currently Denver.

If you decide to stop in, ask Matt about his undefeated kickboxing career (you’ll get to see his scar), his brother’s band, the family business of flipping houses, his time in the market, and his work in the Big Easy.

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Matt mixes a cocktail for a enthusiastic customer.

He performs well-practiced acrobatic maneuvers with cocktail shakers and can juggle limes with grace and ease. He has opinions about sports, music, and how to run a successful bar. And don’t let his bravado fool you, his opinions have paid big dividends.

It was an enjoyable evening and Matt was a big part of that fun. The next time you are in Denver, swing buy Tony P’s and tell Matt I said hello. I’m sure he’ll remember me. He’s that kind of a guy.

Inspirational Movies & You

I’m a movie buff. I enjoy great drama, exciting action, and a good story. The best movies inspire me to be better, to reach higher, or to look deeper. I’ve watched thousands of movies in my lifetime. Everything from cheesy camp to the greatest classics. I’m familiar with many of the greats. But I need your help.

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Setting Records with Manning

I had a dream. It was a sports dream, which is unusual for me because I’m not exactly the world’s most athletic guy. I don’t watch football and I don’t ski downhill. In fact, I’m more likely to make great chicken wings for people who watch football and more likely to fall downhill.

But last night, in my dream, my wife and I heard that Peyton Manning and Dallas Clark were trying to break a record for the most receiving yards on a ski slope. It was a pretty ingenious set up. Dallas was on skis. Peyton was at the top of the ski hill; this is Indiana so it wasn’t really a mountain. Peyton would yell Omaha and Hike! and fall back while Dallas would shoot off in a downhiller’s tuck. Peyton would cock that shotgun arm and throw the ball. As Dallas approached the bottom of the slope, he would reach up with grace and ease and snatch the ball out of the air, pulling it into the numbers every time.

Because it is a dream, my wife and I decided to go to the slope and see if we could help. My reasoning was that I could be sliding down the hill and receive a ball or two while Dallas took the ski lift back for another run. We could double the yardage thrown (and set the record as a team).

When we arrived at the top of the slope, Al Michaels and Cris Collinsworth were sorting through a box of my old bank statements. While everything else about the dream felt real, that part didn’t make any sense and the illusion began to fade. Al and Cris said that Peyton had just thrown a whopper of a pass to Dallas and in his enthusiasm, had run downhill to celebrate with his receiver. Not to worry, they would be right back.

I agreed to wait. My skis were strapped on and I was ready to get into the game. My wife, while nervous for me, was supportive and encouraging. As we waited I practiced my snow plowing, because it’s been 40-years since I strapped wooden boards to my feet and voluntarily threw myself headlong down a mountain.

But minutes turned into hours and despite Al and Cris’s reassurance, I realized that Peyton and Dallas had gone into the ski lodge. They’d set their record and left the slopes, without me.

From there, my dream shifted to a school and/or diner / and or Welcome Back Kotter episode and the entire storyline fell apart.

As a general rule, I don’t interpret dreams but I’d like to give this one a try. We all know that dreams reveal our subconscious desires. It’s obvious that my subconscious somehow connected to Peyton’s subconscious, subconsciously. What I learned in that dream and from my subconscious connection to Peyton Manning is that he is trying for a comeback, and my subconscious knows this. He’s calling out for help. I think I’ll email him today and ask how I might be able to ease his pain.

I have no idea why Dallas was in my dream. He’s a nice guy and all but just like a yellowshirt character on Star Trek, he is just an extra in my movie of the mind. Al and Cris were simply obnoxious.

I feel better unpacking that little drama; now here is to helping set the record!

Fifth-Grade Curt

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I suspect my identity crisis may have started with the school carnival picture booth. I hate that I looked better in the dress.

I had an identity crisis when I was in 5th grade.

I was a good boy at home.  My parents adored me. I was a joy to my Sunday School teacher, Ms. Lilly Green.  I was a blessing to my grandmother, Freda.  I was a good friend to many.  I was a great older brother (but let’s not bother asking the rest of the family about that, okay?).

But in school, I was a holy terror. I was a pest to my homeroom teacher, Mr. Grimes.  I was obnoxious to my English teacher, Mrs. Cross.  I was untrustworthy to my math teacher, Mrs. Keister.  However, I was scared of my science teacher, Mr. Zeigler and so he had my full attention.

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Why I Prayed for Obama

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This photograph has been hanging in a frame on my wall since November 2008. It’s served as a reminder of my obligation to our leaders and our nation. It served as a reminder of my duty as a Christian…and it isn’t coming down any time soon.

After the election in 2008, many people approached me to question my decision to vote for President Obama. They wondered how anyone could feel comfortable with that choice. After all, he was going to take away our guns, kill our babies, and if the rumors were true, wasn’t even born in the United States. I chose not to argue. I determined not to escalate the discourse. Instead, I decided to pray.

It was surprising to hear voices of anger and frustration from so many who called themselves Christians. It was shocking to see the violence and hatred resulting from a free election. It was obvious that the next 4 years would be difficult. It was clear that we all had a duty to our government and our nation. And so, I decided to pray.

The Bible guides us in this. Paul writes to Timothy, I urge, then, first of all, to pray for all people. Ask God to help them; intercede on their behalf, and give thanks for them.  Pray this way for kings and all who are in authority, so we can live peace and quiet lives marked by godliness and dignity.” -1 Timothy 2:1-2

Paul doesn’t tell Timothy to pray for our leaders’ failure. He doesn’t guide us to pray for only those with whom we agree. Paul tells us to lift our voices to heaven concerning the Kings and rulers, not for their good but for the sake of the people. It makes perfect sense to me.

So the first thing I did was find a picture that would best capture the heart of the Obama family. I framed this picture and placed it on my wall, where I would see it daily, reminding me to lift our President and his family in prayer. I don’t know if my prayers made a difference, but I responded to Paul’s instruction as best I could, hoping for God’s guidance for this man, praying for protection over his family, and pleading for peace in our land.

Eight-years later, another election has come and gone. It was a season unlike any in memory, filled with division and hate. It was an election cycle that revealed deep problems in our country. It was an outcome that surprised nearly all the pundits, many politicians, and quite a few of the populace.

It is surprising to hear voices of anger and frustration from so many who called themselves Liberals. It is shocking to see the violence and hatred resulting from a free election. Once again, it is obvious that the next 4 years could be difficult. It is clear that we all have a duty to our government and our nation.

And so, I have decided to continue to pray.

trump-portThe Obama family photo will not come down. I believe they will need our prayers more now than ever before. But alongside this portrait, I will hang a new picture. It isn’t a snapshot of a warm and fuzzy family moment captured on the lawn during a fun family picnic. Instead, it is a portrait of our newest President, our newest leader, square-jawed, determined, looking powerful and determined, even presidential.

I’ve selected this picture of Donald Trump because it is a portrait of a confident person, in control. It reflects the man as I hope he will be. It reflects the President-elect as I pray he will be. I will look at this picture each day…and I will pray. It’s my greatest hope for living a life of peace, quiet, and dignity.

 

The Most Wonderful Time

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Austin’s Acre, all decked out for the season!

With the completion of the Thanksgiving feast and after a short power nap, all the western world shifts its attention to preparations for the Christmas Holiday. The next 30-days will be completely devoted to decorations, consumerism and holiday prep.

Personally, I like to spend these next 30-days listening to great Christmas music; which is why I put together my own Christmas playlist in Spotify: An Austin’s Acre Christmas. With 550 songs (and growing) you can enjoy nearly 28 hours of Christmas music bliss!  Allow your ears to be caressed by some of this century’s greatest artists like Celine Dion, Pentatonix, The Vince Guaraldi Trio, Andy Williams, Bing Crosby, Straight No Chaser, Elvis, The Carpenters, Nat King Cole, Burl Ives and many, many more.

You can follow this playlist and enjoy all the beautiful music beginning today. Simply follow the link to An Austin’s Acre Christmas.

Don’t let another day of the holidays slip past before making this playlist your own festive soundtrack for the season!

Remember, An Austin’s Acre Christmas is for a limited time only!

Give yourself the gift of great music today!

Life Without Facebook, Week 1

As hard as it might be for you to believe, I’m doing very well outside the walls of the Facebook Kingdom. It is true, I was shocked by the things I found when I looked up from my digital world. There are real trees and birds, babbling brooks and fuzzy squirrels, green grass and fluffy clouds, marching bands and holiday parades, quiet evenings and romantic dinners; all uninterrupted by my former virtual reality. To my amazement,  I learned that there are people living in my neighborhood, around the corner and down the street!  And they will talk to me!

Sadly, there have been a number of people who’ve asked (mostly via electronic methods) why I left Facebook. It’s a hard concept to grasp. However, I am beginning to understand that they seem to care less about my answer than the harsh truth that they “could never” leave the virtual community themselves. They’ve moaned that it is their only connection to people far away. It is their only lifeline beyond the world they live. It is their way of keeping in touch.

My response is simple, “Have you tried picking up the phone?” If Aunt Gertrude is that important to your existence, couldn’t you pick up a phone and ask her how her bursitis is today? Isn’t it just as easy (and perhaps a little more meaningful) to hear her voice as she explains the fall corn harvest, the Sunday church carry-in, or how Uncle Argyle is preparing the house for winter? I suspect it would mean more to her than simply liking the picture of her cat she posted last week.

I know, I’m old fashioned. It’s my generational curse. You see, I grew up in a time when a party-line phone allowed me to listen in on my neighbor’s calls, or know when Grandma Hines was listening in on our calls. We always knew the old woman down the road was listening in because of her emphysema-induced heavy breathing on the line. Ah, good memories.

Look, I’m not trying to return to the technical dark ages. I’m not trying to go back to the good old days shortly before men landed on the moon. But I realized a troubling trend on “The Social Media that Shall Not Be Named”: A person’s page is typically designed to do one of three things.

  1. Show everyone their beautiful family/cute kids/amazing dog or cat (guilty as charged – strike 1)
  2. Show everyone the food they cook/serve/eat (guilty as charged – strike 2)
  3. or Glorify their amazing activities/cars/houses/yards and their great looks. When did duck lips become so popular? (guilty as charged – strike 3)

In short, I’m simply trying to simplify, reconnecting by disconnecting, finding myself by paying less attention to myself.

 

I’m leaving Facebook, and not for the reasons you suspect.

It’s a turbulent time in our country. The election. The hatred. The frustration. The protests. Coincidentally, I’m stepping away from Facebook, but it isn’t for the reasons that so many of my other friends are leaving the social media world.

I’ve decided to step off of the Facebook platform and social media in general, not because I’m offended, which I am. Not because people have exhausted me with their non-stop complaints, which they did. Not because people are out of control, which they are. But because I realized how much of my precious time I’m wasting in the virtual world that keeps me from being in touch with the real world. For every hour spent in virtual relationships, I’m missing out on so much time with face-to-face interactions and meaningful encounters.

I’ve been pondering this move for quite some time. It isn’t a spur of the moment decision. But there was a moment today when the decision became clear, when it hit me square in the face. As I walked through the cafeteria today from my table in the back corner I saw that every table had someone who was not engaged with others but instead, looking down, and thumbing their phones, checking email, commenting on Facebook, viewing videos, Twittering and Snapchatting. This is no exaggeration. It was EVERY. SINGLE. TABLE. In fact, I passed one table in which a woman was actually surrounded by people with their phones out while she was reading the newspaper. It didn’t even look real and I nearly went over to congratulate her for the bravery and outlandish behavior.

Nearly nine-years ago a movie named Wall-E came out. It was a big hit. You probably remember it. But I hated the movie. One of the most troubling aspects was the image of disengaged humans who were depicted as massive blobs too lazy to walk, with giant cups of some drink in one hand and video screens poised in their pudgy other paw. They were over-fed and over-entertained. In this anesthetized state of ignorance they floated along on reclining chairs, completely disconnected from the reality of their situation.

As I walked through the cafeteria today, I realized we are only a hovering chair away from this pathetic reality.

I want to read from books that have pages. I want to look people in the eye as we meet one another. I want to eat a meal without being interrupted by someone’s social medial emergency. I want to turn off the tube. I want to shut down the screen. I want to escape the pattern we’ve created for ourselves.

And so today, as a first step, I’m leaving Facebook. I’m removing the app from my phone. I’m removing the link from my favorites on my computer. I’m stepping away from the vortex that is social medial.

Of course, I’m not going away entirely. You can still chat with me via Messenger. You can still see my pictures on Instagram. You can text or call. Or, and this is a radical idea, we can meet for coffee or share a meal. We can even go for a walk if you prefer.  We can play cards, work on a puzzle, discuss hard topics like (gasp) politics. You see, it isn’t personal. It’s survival. It isn’t anti-Trump. It’s pro-meaningful life. It isn’t against you. It’s for us. As hard as it is to remember, there was a time before social media. There was a time when we engaged one another in the real world.

That’s my goal and I invite you to join me. Pull your noses away from your screens. Straighten your backs and lift your heads to the beauty that is this world. It’s a site to behold.

Exploring Rome

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The Colosseum.

Our trip to Italy is one I will long remember. It was filled with many wonderful memory-building events, amazing food, sites, sounds and smells. During our short time there we took in the Vatican Museums by night, marveled at the Colosseum, climbed the Spanish Steps, gazed in wonder at the Sistine Chapel, and stood in silent awe at the grandeur of a Sicilian sunrise.

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Sunrise over Catania, Sicily.

It certainly is not hard to consider the idea of history and legacy when in a place like Italy. Reminders of a once grand civilization stand at every corner in the form of broken columns and shattered sculptures. The Romans were a powerful presence in their day. In the height of their glory they built armies that marched across the continent. Of course, now every soldier is long dead and buried. The Romans formed a government that would be a standard of greatness for centuries. But ego and madness resulted in its fall to ruffians and barbarians. They erected magnificent structures to honor their heroes. However,  few remain standing as anything more than tourist destinations and rubble.

 

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An ancient Roman calendar found on the archaeological site of Toarmina.

We went to Italy accomplish more than site-seeing. We went to learn about the refugee crisis happening in the Mediterranean and we learned so much more.

Millions of displaced people are fleeing war, famine, civil unrest. They seek a place of hope and peace. They seek lives of meaning. Young men and women leave everything they own. They leave family and friends. They leave home and country. They travel thousands of miles, traverse the Sahara Desert, board crafts that are generously called boats, travel 300 miles in open seas, in search of a better life; a life of peace. A life of meaning. Desperate men and women do the unthinkable in order to survive.

In a place known for its history, we were challenged by our own legacy. In the face of this global crisis the question is obvious, “What will we do?” What action will we take? Our children’s children’s children will look at this time in history and judge us, not by armies mobilized, policies enacted or monuments built, as each of these turn to dust and fall from memory.

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Walking through ancient archways.

There is no good ending to this story if we do not act. And while our nation ponders a reality show election, while our leaders practice their narcissistic aggrandizement, in truth, while our country sleeps, the world is imploding all around.

We have the opportunity to make our mark in history by leaving a testimony to merciful action, love and compassion to nations scattered, people hurting, a world broken. Will our ancestors live in a world changed by a powerful proclamation of peace or will they shake their heads in wonder at our self-absorption and inaction, and the failure of this generation to change the course of history?

 

 

The Giant Salamander Dilemma

I often watch nature shows; Nova, Nature, Planet Earth, The Life of Birds, and about a dozen others.  Of course, the best viewing is hosted by David Attenborough, whose voice has become synonymous with nature programming.

The other night I was enjoying a mesmerizing segment on Planet Earth, narrated by Mr. Attenborough. I laughed at a lighthearted story about baby birds and and romping lion cubs when out of nowhere, my friend David turned dark. He started telling a monster story about a bizarre animal that terrified me and at the same time, caused me to pause and reflect on my own life.

Giant SalamanderThe Great Sir Attenborough told of the Giant Salamander of Japan. This monster lives in the icy waters of Japan’s mountains. It hunts by night, eating bugs and crustaceans and fish.  Even on that meager diet, it can grow up to 2 meters in length (that’s more than 6 feet) and can live up to 80 years.

Think about that for a minute.  Eighty Years! This beast does nothing but hang out in freezing water hoping for a pressure change in the water to alert him to a passing fish. Nothing more. That’s his life. He wakes up late in the evening and says goodbye to the Giant Salamander Wife and Kids and makes his way out into the world to do a honest night’s work of grub hunting. And he does that for eight decades. Four-score. 29,219 days. For my Spanish friends, that’s Ochenta! For my Japanese friends that is roughly Hachiju! Any way you count it, it’s old.

1024px-Andrias_japonicus_pairTo put that into perspective, the average life expectancy of an American male is 78.1 years, which means that Mr. Giant Salamander could live longer than me. However, one has to ask the question about quality of life, right? I mean, is Mr. Salamander’s life as fulfilling as my own? After all, my life is full of meaning. Seriously. I wake up in the morning, say goodbye to my wife and kids and trudge to work where I do the job that makes it possible to buy food (grubs) for the table and shelter over our heads (rocks and cold water). I return from work at the end of the day and prepare to do it all over again tomorrow…and I live 1.9 years less than the Giant Salamander of Japan. Crap.

This thought has festered over the past few weeks as I’ve tried to recount my life’s purpose, my ambitions, and goals. Am I really that different from the world’s second largest amphibian? Is there something that distinguishes my much-anticipated and just-shy-of eight decades of life?

In short, what separates us from the Giant Salamander? I’ve known plenty of people who live much like my aquatic, bug eating friend. They move from day-to-day without purpose, without joy, in salamander-like fashion. They live in an icy world, separated from others, scraping to get by; like the Giant Salamander, never a smile on their face. (Have you ever seen a Giant Salamander smile?  I think not.)

How about you? Does your life have meaning beyond the daily grind? What do you do that makes your life meaningful? Is it the work you do? Is it the causes you champion? Is it the hobby you enjoy? The church you attend? The family you raise? What is it that gives your life purpose?

I propose that there are several things that can distinguish us from the Giant Salamander…if we only try.  First, and this is really more of a genetic thing, we have opposable thumbs and breathe air into our lungs rather than absorb it through our skin. But there’s a little more. We have the opportunity, each and every day, to be a part of a greater good. We are offered the gift of living with others, in community. Our ability to love others, and our desire to be loved, gives us purpose, gives us meaning, and ultimately gives us joy. You can have a dozen hobbies and still be alone. You can fight the good fight for a dozen worthy causes but still be empty. I know plenty of people who go to church religiously and are hollow shells and nasty folks.

It isn’t what we do.  It is how we live.  So live your life well. Love those around you. Be lovable. Allow others to love you. Otherwise, we might as well return to our grub hunting.

Creativity, Inc

© Disney • Pixar
jacket illustration: © Disney • Pixar

There are few stories of business, art and popular culture like that of the Pixar studios. Ed Catmull outlines the company’s amazing rise, the risks involved, the intentional direction provided, and the hard work it’s required to manage a creative company along the path to success.

The success of the digital animation company has been due in part to the leaders’ willingness to learn from mistakes and most importantly, to allow mistakes to happen in the first place.

While not a classical management “how to”, this book offers pearls of wisdom that can be added to any manager’s tool kit. Sage advice from the school of hard knocks combined with interesting stories related to some of the favorite animated movies of our age makes this an interesting and informative read.

If you care more about the bottom line and the bottom dollar, you can pass on this book.  However, if you work with good people you want to help become great, if you want to make a difference in the culture of your organization, and if you want to change the way your folks work together for a common good, this book is a must-read.

Father’s Day Blessings

My KidsMy kids are such a gift to my heart and soul. They spent the day with me and I couldn’t have asked for a better Father’s Day present.

To make the day even better, my daughter, Emily made the most wonderful Cubano sandwiches. My son, Jonathan grilled vegetables but he also made some grilled pineapple with cinnamon, red pepper, and Sriracha.

20160619_133218My youngest, Benjamin made the greatest sacrifice by watching my favorite movie, Chef.

It’s been the perfect day.

A Portrait of a Dog

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Photo Credit: Emily Austin 2016

For those of you who follow this blog, you know that Sidney has been both a joy and a challenge.  Entering our lives in the summer of 2009, she was a rescue from a sad daily existence that consisted of a 14 hour day in a crate, a short break in the evening before it was time to return to the crate for another night.  When she joined our family, she needed socialization, love, constant attention, and a good long walk.

Six years later, she has become an ideal companion. Age has helped, as anyone who has ever raised a Labrador knows, but she has also learned that she can receive a pat on the head without the need to lick the hand that pets her (as well as the arm, leg, ankle, face, and neck). She’s discovered that we expect her to follow the rules and that we will give her a little grace when she ignores us.

She’s absolutely fallen in love with my daughter and joins her every evening in her room, laying quietly on her pillow while Emily puts around.  There is nothing she likes more than to sit at my feet when I work from home and is happy to join me in the garage when I’m working on a project of any kind. She simply wants to be near those she loves…and those who love her.

The transformation wasn’t quick and it wasn’t easy.  Going from a manic hound to man’s best friend didn’t occur overnight.  It was a slow, sometimes painful process, and while she is much better today than she was six years ago, the growth and change is a process that continues with each passing day. And honestly, we’re quite proud of her.

Sidney isn’t alone in her journey of growth and change.  The same can be said for each one of us. We all have our own manic moments. We all struggle with those bad habits and personal issues. We all have inner demons created through early trauma, pain and perceived neglect. Often, these inner miseries take on a life of their own, and while we know we could be living our best, we sometimes act our worst. You know it is true, even if you pretend no one else sees it.

But, as Sidney’s life reveals, there is hope. Progress is possible. Revitalization can be a reality. Transformation is no longer unthinkable. Yes, change is a challenge but not an impossibility. It might take time. It might require constant vigilance. It might demand extra effort. But it is doable. It is a worthwhile goal.

Get out of the crate of your past. Let someone love you and love them deeply in return.  It just might change your life for the better.

Bus Stop Stories

20150321_095113When it comes to books, the not-so-classic “Forest Gump” is one of the oddest pieces of literature I’ve ever read. If you are looking for something to read this summer, I do not recommend it…and not just this summer, but ever.

On the other hand, the movie has become a classic; a cultural icon in which the main character engages in many major moments in modern history and includes the now famous lines, “Run, Forest! Run!” and “We go together like peas and carrots.”  And of course everyone’s favorite, “Life is like a box of chocolates…”.

But beyond the pithy sayings, and the journey through time, I enjoyed more than anything else the creative device the film makers use to tell Forest’s tale: As the main character awaits his city bus, he retells his life’s story to every unwitting stranger who shares his bench. It’s a fascinating narrative and if anyone had taken the time to wait the day, they might have heard the entire account. As it was, each person only gets a quick glimpse into Forest’s life and by itself, each section of the fascinating yarn might make no sense at all. However, in total it is a chronicle that illustrates a life of perfect timing, blind luck, high adventure, and faithful dedication to one true love.

I can’t help but wonder how many people in my own life could have shared their entire story, but I climbed into the departing bus before I could hear it all. It’s likely I lost interest part way through and walked away from the story of a lifetime. Is it possible that I heard only the unbelievable portion and failed to grasp the entire moving saga of a life well-lived, a love fully given, a grace perfectly extended?

When is the last time you took the time to listen to a bus stop story all the way to the story-book end?