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!

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.

Blue Planet Christmas

20151221_162541One of my favorite ornaments on our tree is one we bought for our friend, Sung Ho – An M&M Elvis.  He was an IU student and a friend of our oldest son.  When he was unable to return to Korea for the Christmas Break, he spent a few days with us.  It was meaningful for our family and we are richer for it; however traumatic it might have been for him!

Each year, as we decorate our tree, this ornament reminds me of those days spent with that young man and his gentle spirit and kind heart.  He has a family of his own now and is making his way in the world and I couldn’t be happier for him.

I am grateful for Sung Ho and the many others who’ve entered our lives for a season…and will engage us in the years to come.  They help enlarge our perspective of the world and make it possible for us to engage the global community.  They teach us about life beyond our four walls and help us understand that our way is not the only way.  People like Sung Ho, Ayumi, Chijioke, Zhang, and many more have enlightened us, loved us, and guided us into a better understanding of our interconnected life on this tiny planet.

#ayearofgratitude

Quiet, Hidden Places

2015.12.15 Hidden PlacesEarlier this year we had the opportunity to visit Galena, IL and a fantastic Inn at Irish Hollow.  The property is dotted with quiet, hidden places all tied together by well-maintained paths.  I’ve been to very few places as beautiful as this property.  There are few oases as special as these hidden alcoves.

One especially wonderful location is a rusty bridge abandoned to traffic years ago.  In place of tractors and pickup trucks, the bridge now supports a wonderful  20-foot wood plank table, benches, chairs, cabinets, a wood stove.  Oil lamps glow atop the rustic furniture.  Christmas lights hang lazily through the overhanging tree branches and add a elegance and charm.  A muddy brook babbles softly under the trestle and cows chew on their cud, silently watching the festivities occurring overhead.

The only downside was the 7.5 hour drive to find this place of wonder.

However, we are truly blessed when we can find a special place a little closer to home.  For some, it might be that special chair in the quiet corner of the den.  For others, a quiet evening in the back yard, listening to crickets and song-birds as the sun sets.

I’m so grateful for those special places in my life – those quiet, wonderful places:  My own back yard, the sandy beach of Lake Webster at Epworth Forest, a majestic woods in Randolph County, and even that chair next to the fireplace.

I’m thankful for those places and many, many more.

#ayearofgratitude

The Season of Advent

2015.12.14 AdventThere is something about this holiday season that really touches my heart and soul.  The lights, the sounds, the smells combine to rekindle my fondest memories.  They activate warm feelings and take me on a wonderful sentimental journey.

I am most grateful for this time of year.  There is only one thing that would make it better and that would be a few inches of snow on the ground…but not too many people would agree with me on this point.

Today, I am grateful for the season of Advent.  It is a time of preparation.  It is a time of joy, peace, hope, and love.  It truly is the most wonderful time of the year.

#ayearofgratitude

Robert Downey, Jr.

2015.12.12 Robert Downy Jr.Okay.  I’ll say it.  I like Robert Downey, Jr.

It’s not a man-crush thing.  It’s just that I respect this guy.

Years ago he was having a hard time.  Years ago he made a few mistakes.  Years ago he lost his way.

Some might have given up.  Some might have stopped all-together.  But those bumps in the road didn’t stop him.  Instead, he got help.  He turned it around.  He moved forward with both his life and his career.

I am grateful for my friend, Bobby (as I like to call him when we’re alone).  He is a reminder that even in those times of life when I’m down and out, there is grace and hope.  Even when I’ve made poor decisions, when I’ve acted carelessly, when I’ve struggled, I am not necessarily at the end of my rope.

#ayearofgratitude

A Wing and A Prayer

IMG_20150419_080413Fifteen years ago we moved into this beaten down home. We knew the home would need a lot of TLC, time, and money, and in truth, it has taken all three.

For instance, when we first took up residence, the yard was a bare landscape, with only two pine trees in the back and lots of thistle in the flower bed (yes, one flower bed).  Surrounding the property was a broken down fence made up of picket, wire mesh, and another layer of picket.  The grass was spotty, gravel was used as landscaping cover, and a 12-foot tall street light (an ACTUAL street light) was shining brightly in the middle of the back yard.

After a decade and a half of hard work, planting more than two dozen bushes and 18 varieties of trees, we now have a beautiful oasis, perfect for hosting parties on beautiful spring days, sitting quietly in warm the evening shade, or sipping coffee in the cool shade of the early morning.

The change in plantings has also created a sanctuary for wildlife.  We now have squirrels raiding the feeder on a regular basis and bunnies munching on dewy clover.  We also can now enjoy for more than 30 species of birds of every shape and size: From speeding Hummingbirds to lazy Turkey Vultures.  From scolding Blue Jays to a comical pair of Mallards (named Fred and Ethel). From opportunistic Brown-headed Cow Birds to deadly silent Coopers Hawk.  Each one finds it’s place in the proverbial pecking order.

Beyond the visitors to the yard, we now have families taking up residence in Austin’s Acre.  This year, brooding pairs include House Sparrows, Robins, Grackles, Carolina Wrens, Mourning Doves, and a very loud and nervous pair of Chickadee. And as spring quickly turns to summer, I can only marvel at the wonderful wildlife that calls our yard their home. It is only possible because we took the time to turn the barren back yard into a heavenly hideaway for my aviary friends.

Star Gazing

17991487168I believe the soul is the very being of who you are.  It is the essence of your existence.  It is the principal of your presence.  It matters more than anything…and I mean, more than ANYTHING.  More than your job, more than your house, more than your car, more than your marriage, more than your family, even more than your dog.  And, if this is true, and I’m just thinking out loud, but if this is true…why do we waste time on things that do not feed our soul?  Why do we invest in things that distract us from becoming who we are truly meant to be at the very center of our spirit?

Why don’t we create a space in our life, our home, our work, our commute, and our relationships that feeds this soul, this part of us that will move from this world to the next even as our bodies lie rotting in the grave?  Why instead, do we seek to entertain and numb the senses?  Why do we stress about the money and the drive and the work and the bills and the, and the, and the?  Why don’t we look for ways to renew our soul, to feed the very core of our beings?  Why don’t we seek solace?  Why don’t we pursue purpose?  Why don’t we want wisdom?  Why don’t we ask for answers?

As I write this, I am attending a day-long personal Advent retreat.  I am sitting alone in a cloistered room in the upper level of this three-story, turn-of-the-century home studying the Christmas story and the Wise Men who so committedly pursued the star in the sky in order to see a king in a stable.  It was their purpose.  It was their passion.

This amazing home and the time “away” has giving me the opportunity to reflect on the “Stars” in my own life; those things which guide me into the presence of God.  They may be people, events, places, or even experiences.  And to be honest, as I’ve pondered this idea and searched for the guiding light of my life, I’ve realized that, sadly, I have very few.  Or rather, I am aware of very few: I suspect the stars are there but I’m simply unable to see them clearly.  I’m too distracted by the blinding glare of the false illumination in my world.

I am reminded of our trip to Yellowstone Park in 2009.  We were driving from one end of the park to the other and because of the heavy traffic and the great distance, we found ourselves shy of our destination very late at night in a high plateau in the park. There were no cities, no street lights, and no other cars for miles.  We were there, alone, in the darkness.  We stopped the car and turned out all the lights and sat on the hood, looking up into a sky that was unlike any I’d ever seen before.  Without man-made ambient light to limit our vision, we were able to see stars in a way we’d never seen them before.  The clarity and intensity of those heavenly bodies was breath-taking.  They spanned the night sky and left us at a loss for words, in awe of their scope and grandeur.

As I think about the search for stars in my life that leads me, I realize that there is no time in my life when I am not blinded by the ambient distractions a busy world.  Understand, I don’t blame anyone but myself.  I’ve erected the lights.  I’ve cultivated the distractions.  I’ve created the lack of space and time for careful observation and sky gazing.

The sad truth is that I fail to carve out time that is purely committed to this endeavor.  Instead, I fill my hours with television, movies, busy work, worry and games – as many distractions as possible, diversions of every kind.  As a result, I fail to feed by soul, exercise my body, and manage my physical, emotional, and spiritual health.

And so, it begs the question:  What would I need to do to renew my soul on a daily basis?  What space do I need to create that will allow me to find peace, discover grace, and feed my soul?  And if you are like me, and I suspect you are, what do you need to do?  What space do you need to create?

Let’s be honest; when is the last time you truly looked at the stars?

Riding On The Edge

20140930_135100In the summer of 1979, Mr. Reed taught me how to drive.  More importantly, he taught me how to stay on the road.

In Farmland (a real town, not jut a field of corn), we took driver’s training in the summer and teachers who traditionally taught math, science, and shop class risked their lives by teaching driver’s training to prepubescent boys and girls.

And so, every morning for a month in the summer, I would climb in the car with Mary Ashcraft, Marc Thornburg, and my gym teacher Mr. Reed.  Two of our trio of newbies would sit in the back seat while the other automobile apprentice drove with Mr. Reed at their side.  After an hour or so, we would switch and someone else would have their opportunity to terrify the passengers.  The two neophytes in the back seat (and I suspect Mr. Reed, as well) would spend the hours praying that we didn’t die at the hands of the inexperienced driver behind the wheel. Looking back, I truly believe that nothing stood between us and Death except sheer blind luck and Mr. Reed’s passenger-side break peddle.

This truth was never more evident than the morning I was cruising down the gravel roads of central Indiana, enjoying the plume of dust roiling in my wake.  Mr. Reed casually turned to me and asked me a simple and direct question in a calm tone, “Do you hear that noise, Curt?”

Making sure my hands were still at 10 and 2 and that both eyes remained on the road, I leaned in toward the dash and listened for a minute.  The noise wasn’t coming from the engine; it wasn’t mechanical in nature. So, I listened more intently.  And then I heard it.  It was a rustling sound that seemed to be coming from the passenger side of the car as if it was in the door, or just outside the door, or even under the tires.  It was loud and was getting louder the further I drove.

“I do hear it!” I exclaimed with pride.  “What is it?” I asked with genuine curiosity.

Mr. Reed, in a composed and unperturbed reply, stated the obvious truth that my young driver’s mind could not comprehend, “Well, that’s the side ditch that you’re driving in.  It’s scraping against the side and bottom of the car.  You might want to get back on the road.”

I was driving 50 miles per hour along the back roads of Indiana…actually the back side ditches of Indiana, and had no awareness of the danger.  I was completely ignorant of my plight.  I was oblivious to the hazards in my driving.  It took someone with experience to point out the error of my ways and guide me to the center of the lane.

Thanks to Mr. Reed, to this day I rarely drive in the ditch; at least, not when I’m in the car.

But how many times in my personal life have I veered off course, strayed off the path, found myself on the edge of the straight and narrow without even knowing it?  How many times have I turned my life toward the margin of right and wrong, the boarder between safety and peril?  The answer?  Far too many times.

We could all use a calm voice in our life from time to time, guiding us back, reminding us of the warning signs, helping us hear the subtle (and sometimes not-so-subtle) sounds that announce danger heading our way.  How about you?  Do you have a Mr. Reed in your life?  Do you have someone who is willing to ride along through the ups and downs of this journey who can gently speak truth when you wander off course?  Do you have someone who will point out the truth when you can’t see it yourself?

I’m certainly thankful for Mr. Reed.  He taught me how to drive…and so much more.

Owls and Squirrels and Peace of Mind

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My view this past week. Many thanks to the property owner who allowed me to hide among the trees and renew my soul.

Twelve days of vacation; I needed it more than I knew.  And it was glorious.  I had no real agenda.  There were no exotic travel plans. My greatest desire during my scheduled time off was to spend as many hours as possible sitting in the woods, waiting for a deer to wander past.  If my view was good and my aim was true, I would come home with meat for my freezer and a story to tell my family. Fully decked out in camouflage, I had my bow, warm gloves and a great hiding place.  I was ready.

However, I suspect the deer were on to me.  They spread the news.  They sounded the alert.  And much to my Bambi-loving friends’ delight, I didn’t see one deer during my entire vacation.  I didn’t see one in the woods, or beside the road driving back and forth, or near my neighborhood, or even in my dreams.  So, when people ask if I went hunting, I have to respond that I am anything but a hunter.  I’m just a guy who enjoys looking at trees and nature…and I’m okay with that.

In truth, while unsuccessful at the hunt, the experience was unparalleled in it’s impact on my heart and my soul.

Each morning I would leave my home at 5:15 and drive the hour-and-a-half to this fantastic piece of property that boasts deep woods, rolling prairie, cornfields, marsh and pond.  I gathered my belongings from the car and stood in the darkness, waiting for my eyes to adjust to the black.  I would then hike into the woods, allowing at least forty-five minutes before daylight.  Finding my spot on the bucket next to the tree, I would prepare my space, set my bow, hang my pack, and lean back against the strong Maple, ready to listen and wait.

One morning, in the darkness of those woods, I enjoyed Barred Owls calling their familiar “who-cooks-for-you” as it mixed with the Eastern Screech Owls calling back and forth.  Finally, with the brusqueness of an old uncle and as if to tell them all to quiet down, the Great Horned Owl made his presence known.  The woods once again became quiet.

The light rising over the Randolph County farmland illuminated a rainbow of colors on rain-dappled leaves and dew covered grasses.  It reflected beautifully off the small, lily-covered pond, as steam rose gracefully off the surface and into the chilled morning air.  The breezes blowing over the cornfields and up the hill created a song, a chorus of sound; a rustle of dry corn, the clicking of limbs high overhead, the rhythmic drum of the windmill as it turned in time with the wind.  The birds flying from tree to tree, branch to branch entertained and dazzled with their aerial acrobatics and enthusiastic calls and songs.  It was magical.

As the sun came up over the horizon, the rest of the woodland world came to life.  Squirrels chased one another and investigated the forest floor.  Two Pileated Woodpeckers called to one another and met in a grove of trees just forty yards from my position.  They shifted up and down large Hickory and then flew off in a rage, only to return and repeat the performance.  Canada Geese passed overhead in V-formations, honking furiously to one another as they prepare for their long flight to warmer climates.  Chickadee, Downy Woodpeckers, Mourning Dove and Nuthatch dotted the landscape, searching for breakfast and making quite a show.

No, I didn’t see any deer.  But in the end, I realized I didn’t need to.  This vacation was a retreat for my soul.  It heightened my senses.  It awakened my spirit more than I could ever have imagined or hoped.  Each day was a blessing and I’m so grateful for the time.

Don’t Mention It

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My increased interest in squirrel hunting had resulted is some very tasty dinners and quite a few raised eyebrows.

I’ve had a hard time carrying on a conversation with people in my life.  For some unknown reason, there is a disconnect that never existed before.  Perhaps it’s my age.  It could be my new aftershave.  It’s possible I’ve lost my mind and everyone else is completely sane.  Whatever the source of the problem, I just can’t get through a conversation without someone pointing out the evils of my life and how I am responsible for the destruction of the planet.

While I know that many topics have passionate supporters or detractors, I simply didn’t realize they were all around me.  To make matters worse, I was unaware and didn’t understand the full scope of topics that are now considered taboo.  It is true that some of my opinions are controversial (for instance, I still hold to the old-fashioned opinion that you should never wear white after Labor Day), but lately I’ve been lambasted and turkey basted about topics that I assumed were safe territory.

Take a conversation I had with a friend the other day.  I mentioned that I worked on a research hog farm while in college.  Big mistake.  Between the outrage of GMO crops, the factory hog farms springing up all around, cruelty to animals, pollution of local waterways, and the global food crisis, I found myself apologizing for even touching a single grain of wheat or scratching a hairy porcine back.

Or, as another example, a few years ago I bought an electric mower.  I thought this was the responsible, “Green” decision.  Most of my neighbors mocked me but they are Republicans so I was okay with that.  When I mentioned my purchase to my tree-hugging friends they just lowered their heads and shook them in shame.  “You know,” they said with sorrow in their voice, “most of Indiana’s electricity comes from coal plants so you’re probably doing more harm to our environment than just running a gas powered mower.”  Seriously?  A guy just can’t catch a break.

But it doesn’t stop there.  Here are just a few discussions I’ve had in the last couple weeks concerning daily life and the negative feedback I get.

  • Want to go deer hunting?  Forget about it.
  • Want to eat a nice fat chicken dinner? Do you know what they do to those birds?
  • Want to drink bottled water?  There are thirsty people around the world!
  • Want to wear synthetic materials? Have’t you heard of sweat shops.
  • Turn down your thermostat? Global Warming.
  • Drive anything larger than a trashcan? Global Warming.
  • Purchase a paper book? Haven’t you heard of e-books…and Global Warming?
  • Print agendas for a meeting? Global Warming and How many trees did you kill?
  • Eat white eggs?  Again, do you know what they do to those birds?
  • Drink soda? Gonna make you fat.
  • Drink diet soda? Gonna kill you.
  • Fertilize your yard? Planet hater.
  • Blow your lawn clippings into the street?  I’m calling the neighborhood association.
  • Brush your teeth with the wrong toothpaste? Blue plastic beads are clogging the oceans.
  • Buy a dog from a breeder? Do you even listen to Sarah McLaughlin?
  • Write a blog about other people’s opinions?  Don’t mention it.

To counter the constant negative backlash I suffer every time I leave the house, I’ve decided there is only one possible solution:  Never leave the house.  So I’m ordering all my supplies from Amazon, having them air-lifted via drone (don’t even start), and mowing my yard late at night to avoid eye contact with my neighbors.

 

Happy Anniversary

IOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA‘ve been writing a blog for nearly ten years.  October 2004 was the first post of Austin’s Acre.  Three years ago today I switched from Blogger to Word Press and in that short amount of time I’ve received over 28,000 hits on my site.  Sure, some of the traffic is nothing more than well-developed spam. Other visitors were nothing more lost web browsers looking for the Scottish cartoon character from Bugs Bunny.  But most were people who were interested in the short stories and little insights that I write. 

Over the past three years I’ve written humorous observations and posted beautiful photography.  I’ve commented on society, reviewed books, movies, and restaurants.  I’ve even documented some travel from time to time.  I’ve laughed at myself and others and along the way I’ve looked for the good in most and attempted to reflect God’s love to all. 

You may be one of the faithful followers of the Acre or you might have just wandered in looking for instructions on how to cook the perfect roasted chicken.  Either way, you are more than welcome.  Poke around.  Look for something interesting.  Make a comment.  The next ten years promise to be just as rich (and diverse) as the first ten.

Mostly, stick around for what is up next.  You won’t want to miss it.

Skin in the Game

Years ago, when I was a much younger man, I would park my car in front of George’s house and walk in the front doors of my office.  Occasionally, George would invite me into his home for some water and a little conversation.  He was one of the nicest men I’d ever met.  That warm and inviting personality didn’t change when he received his diagnosis of ALS.  While he couldn’t lift a glass of water or wave to me from his front porch, he was still inviting and welcoming.

Over a very short amount of time we watched him slowly turn into a shell of his former self.  His visiting nurse would bath him and care for him until, eventually, the disease made it impossible for him to swallow, lift his head, or even breathe on his own.

The ALS Ice Bucket Challenge is about so much more than a viral gag that makes people shout and scream as they experience the shock of the ice water.  This is a way to raise awareness of a disease that traps the mind in a lifeless body.  It is a disease that has no cure.  It is a diagnosis that has no hope.

And so, when my friend nominated me for the challenge, I was happy to do two things.  First, I got wet and cold in an effort to help others be interested in the disease.  Second, I went to ALS.org and made a donation in honor of George, in an effort to help find a cure for this dreaded disease.

Won’t you join me?

 

I’m a Mountain Man

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Mount Rainier, 2014.

If you were to give me a choice between a vacation on the beach, lounging on surf and sand, or a vacation in the mountains, hiking hill and dale, I would chose the mountains, hands down, without question, every single time.  It’s not that I hate the beach.  I love the ocean, the surf, and the birds.  But there is something about the majestic beauty of the mountains that calls to my soul. Perhaps it is the way they change in shape and form with every angle.  It might be the way they hide in a mist of cloud and fog one moment yet suddenly tower above you in the bright light of day a moment later.

A mountain is visible from hundreds of miles away and appears to be so close you can touch it, but the harder you try to find it, the further away it feels.  And, while climbing a mountain gives me the sensation of a slight heart attack, it also fills my heart with  joy: Flora and fauna surround.  Ice and snow turn into babbling brooks and gurgling streams.  There is no sound but that of the mountain, its inhabitants, and the wind blowing through the pines.  Ah, be still my heart.

Over the years we’ve found ourselves in the mountains all across this great country.  We’ve poked along the Appalachian and Blue Ridge Mountains.  We’ve traversed the Rockies, scaling the Flatirons on Green Mountain and cogging our way up to the top of Pike’s Peak.  We’ve lounged in the Adirondacks, lost our breath in the Tetons and celebrated beauty in the Cascades.  Even with these adventures, we’ve only begun to scratch the surface of the possible heights we can explore.

You can keep your theme parks and big cities.  You can have the waves on the beach.  You can forget fancy hotels and high-end boutiques.  I’ll stand on a granite peak every time.  Sure, the air is thin and the climb takes effort; but isn’t that the truth about everything worthwhile?  We have to work to get there and in the end, when we take a moment to look down from the summit, it takes our breath away.

 

One Picture Too Many

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A wind-blown walk along Yellowstone Lake, July 2009.

I’ve been accused of pointing the camera into too many faces and taking too many snapshots.  Some have mocked my shutterbug fascination.  My neighbor wonders why I keep taking pictures of my backyard, close ups of my flowers, “artsy-fartsy” photographs of my tomatoes and lettuce.

I just thought they were jealous.  No one understands that art takes work.  Great pictures require time, patience, a good eye, and an artistic flare.  I thought this with every heckle, jeer and taunt.

Until last week.  It was last week that I realized I might have a problem. In an effort to enter the 21st century, I decided to start using the “Cloud”.  While no one really knows what the “Cloud” is, it seems to be all the rage.  Never one to be left out of new technological fad, I decided to move my file folders full of photos to the “Cloud” and free up some space on my hard drive.

Before I give you the shocking details, I just want to outline a few of the facts:  1)  I’ve been taking pictures with my Olympus 35mm since 1991.  2) Before that, it was a little 110 mm camera or disposables from the drug store. 3)  These pictures were expensive to develop and print and there were many years when we would have a drawer full of film rolls awaiting a significant financial investment and a brave trip to the photo department at CVS.  4) This never stopped me from TAKING the pictures. 5)  I took LOTS of pictures.  6) We just didn’t see the results until a decade or two later.

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My first digital photograph, 2004.

We welcomed our first digital camera to our family in 2004 and it revolutionized the way we (I) took pictures.  Gone were the days of 36-frame rolls that could be wasted with one accidental opening of the back of the camera.  Gone were the outrageously priced processing fees.  I could point and click for hours.  The only limitation was the size of my memory card and the battery life of the device.

Today, I have an electronic Olympus that utilizes my original lenses with a 32 Gb flash drive and a 24-hour battery life (and I have three batteries charged and ready at all times).  There is no end to the picture excitement I can create.

And this is my problem.  Between shutter-finger reflexes, my digital camera and my ability to scan into our system every print picture taken, I have amassed quite a bit of digital data and enough photography to bring Kodak back from bankruptcy.  When it came time to move my beautiful works of art over to the “Cloud”, I discovered that I had a collection of photographs that exceeded 48,000 images.

I’ve crashed my Google Drive multiple times trying to move this mass of Kodachrome over to my space.

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A night on the Circle, downtown Indianapolis.

But here’s the problem:  What picture do I delete?  Sure, there is an occasional random shot of my shoe or a bad picture of someone with their finger up their nose but even taking those goofy moments into account, how can I delete my babies?  And where do I start?

Getting great pictures requires taking a lot of average pictures in the process.  I just never thought that great art would require these kinds of hard choices.

Water Off A Duck’s Back

Duck on a RockMore and more, I believe that all we need to know about life, we can learn from the birds.  For instance, did you know that ducks are waterproof?  Really.  But more on the at later.

First, let’s talk about how hard life can be and how people can be very mean.  It’s true.  You know it’s true.  Don’t deny it. There are days when you walk out of your office, church, school, or home and wonder if you can ever return.

People say hurtful things.  They relish in the painful look on your face.  They search for ways to stab at your heart and wound your spirit.  I don’t know why.  I can only assume that their own pain must require this kind of pitiful response.  But it’s sad.  It is sad for them and for you.  Living in this atmosphere, day in and day out, can become debilitating and life-threatening if we don’t protect ourselves.

Here’s were the duck comes in:  Did you know that there is a special gland located near the base of their tails called the Preen Gland?  This amazing adaptation produces a special oil that the ducks use to coat their feathers.  This oil, once applied to the surface of the feather, creates a protective barrier that keeps out the harsh water and life-draining cold temperatures and helps trap in their own life-giving body warmth.

But here’s the thing:  The duck has to spend much of its time preening to benefit from this protection.  Otherwise, the water world in which they live will kill them.  Without preening, the water will seep into the downy feather layer and make it impossible for them to survive.  Their own self-maintenance saves their lives.

When is the last time you protected yourself from the constant barrage of negative statements and hurtful comments?  When did you last take some time to prepare your outer shell, preen yourself, oil your feathers?  Does the constant barrage roll off your back or does it seep in from time to time?

When did you last spend five minutes in solitude?  When was the last time you self-spoke words of encouragement?  How long has it been since you spent time looking at art, walking in the woods, knitting, laughing, singing at the top of your voice?  Pet a cat.  Walk a dog.  Eat a good meal.  Drink a fine wine.   Smell a beautiful flower.  Hug a good friend.

In short, preen.  Take time to take care of you and in the end, the vitriol of others will simply roll away, like water off a duck’s back.

 

September 5, 1948

Sept 5 1948I came across this picture the other day in the archives of a family member’s photo album.  I don’t know anyone in this picture.  To my knowledge, these men are distant uncles and brothers of distant uncles and brothers.

But I often wonder about pictures like this.  What were they doing on September 5, 1948?  Why were they together?  What were they thinking?

My guess?  I suspect that these men, in their wool pants and starched white shirts gathered in the high heat of that lazy Sunday afternoon for a fried chicken dinner.  A dry, hot breeze blew across Cleo Street as they talked politics; Truman was on his Whistle-Stop campaign with a train in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania that very afternoon giving another speech and talking about the Republican Congress.  The proud central-Indiana Republicans wondered aloud about his chances.  Talk turned to the pastor’s sermon from that morning and then they landed on a subject that mattered most: The dry weather.  It had been nearly a month since they had any rain to speak of (little did they know they would have an inch of rain on their fields before the end of next day).  They spoke of the excessive heat and the suffering crops.  It was hot and it was dry.  It was a typical Sunday afternoon discussion.

But I also suspect at 3:00, someone carried the old Philco out to the lawn and turned it on.  As it crackled to life and they searched for the right station, they leaned back, closed their eyes and listened to the Brooklyn Dodgers take on the New York Giants at Ebbets Field.  They smiled at the sound of the 37,000+ cheering fans coming through the radio and into their yard.  It was a long game and somewhere around 5:30 they filled their plates with more chicken and cheered with mouths full of potato salad as the game went into extra innings, tied one-a-piece.  They held their breath in the top of the 12th when the Giants’ first baseman, Johnny Mize knocked one over the wall and drove in Whitey Lockman, making it a three to one game in favor of the Giants.  They sat on the edge of their benches, leaning closer to the radio in the bottom of the 12th as the Dodgers managed to get the bases loaded with two outs.  They probably sat, chewing their chicken quietly as a pitching change was announced and Ray Poat replaced Dave Koslo on the mound.  But they clapped one another on the backs and cheered heartily when, with two balls and no strikes against him, George Shuba smacked a ball deep into right field driving in Billy Cox and Eddie Miksis for the 4-3 win!

The game was over and the men were jubilant.  Some aunt or sister of distant aunts and sisters, and the other women who had watched these men share a meal and enjoy the game, got out her old Brownie camera and told them to wipe the chicken grease from their chins and smile for the camera.  And that picture, that moment lives on in the archive of a photo album of a family member.  Anyone who sees the photograph knows it is true:  The day was a grand success.

At least that’s the story I see in this picture.

Don’t Forget To Smile

The Happy CoupleYou might have had a stinky day.

You may have suffered a terrible blow.

The rain may fall and the wind may blow.

Whatever you face, whatever happens in your world, whatever the day brings, there is no reason you cannot smile.

Are you happy?  Perhaps not.

Are you overjoyed? Doubtful.

Are you singing a happy tune?  Tone deaf.

But you can always smile.

Raise your eye brows.  Nod your head.  Show some teeth.  Make the effort.

Because someone may take your picture and 70 years later they will wonder, “What in the hell was wrong with them?”

 

Changing History

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Abraham Lincoln, ranked No. 5 in the 100 most influential people of history.

I often wonder about the mark I will leave on this planet when I’m gone.  It is common for us to be interested in our legacy.  We want to stand out.  We want to make a difference.  We want to be unique.  We want to be known for something.

But the truth is, you are only one in 7 BILLION people living on the planet today.  A 2011 estimate suggests that at least 107 billion people have populated this planet over the course of all recorded time.  Of those, only a rare few have made it into the pages of your 5th grade history book.

TIME Magazine ranked the top 100 historically significant people of all time. I was not surprised to see many religious figures on the list; Jesus (1), Muhammad (3), and Gautama Buddha (52).  Philosophers and deep thinkers like Karl Marx (14) and Socrates (68) will find their names on the list, if they ever care enough to look.  Way too many American presidents are on the list.   Many church leaders, artists and writers win a spot; Martin Luther (17), Leonardo da Vinci (29), Shakespeare (4), Dickens (33) and Martin Luther (17).

Of note, and worthy of its own blog, only a few women made the list:  Elizabeth I (13), Queen Victoria (16),  and Joan of Arc (95).  Seriously?  You either have to rule a monarch or be burned at the stake to be an influential female.

But here’s what I realized as I thought about those 97 men and three women on TIME’s list:  A list of 100 people in a world populated by 107 billion is absurd.  People change the world, influence history, make a difference each and every day.  You just don’t know their names.  They might not free slaves like Lincoln (5) or start wars like Bush (36) or conquer the world like Caesar (15), but they leave a mark, just the same.

For instance, who created the perfect cup of coffee?  I don’t know his name but he changed my world.  How about Napoleon’s (2) mother?  She helped shape the little man, for better or worse.  Why isn’t she there to get a little credit and share a little blame?  At the very least, an honorable mention should go to the guy who invented indoor plumbing. And while we’re on the subject, how about a nod for the genius who developed softer toilet paper?

If it were up to me, I would have added Neil Armstrong (101) for, oh, I don’t know, walking on the moon, and Rosalind Elsie Franklin (102) for truly discovering DNA.

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Generals develop strategies but it’s the soldiers who win or lose a war.

Over the course of history, men and women fought tyranny and oppression by storming beaches, hiding refugees, and standing up for what is right and against what is wrong.  Millions fed hungry children, provided shelter for the homeless, helped the hurting, and held the hand of the dying.  We will never know their names.  We will never know the full story.  They are the anonymous masses that make life bearable.  We only know the world is a better place today because of their selfless, courageous acts.

And that’s the lesson, isn’t it?  Not everyone can or should grow up to be President.  (Of the 472 million people who were born American, only 44 of them ever took the oath of office.)  But everyone, every single one, can make a difference.  They CAN leave a mark.  They can change the life of someone through tenacity, courage, creativity and love.

We may never make the list of the top 100 influential persons of all time, but we can, we must make a difference in the world.  Starting today.

 

Service With A Smile

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Ken earned five dollars for impressing us with his singing and his service!

Occasionally, you stumble upon someone who has that certain sparkle, that extra flash, the “it” factor.

Ken is one of those people.

You might miss the special quality if you concern yourself with the freshness of the post-wedding salad, the seasoning of the chicken, the snap of the green beans.  Talking with other invited guests at the table, you might not look up from the dinner to catch the enthusiastic grin and skip in your server’s step.  But, if you watch him work the table, if you follow him around the room as he serves the meal and clears the dishes, you will be impressed; you will be amazed.

It was my delight to take a moment to talk with Ken and discover that his is more than a talented waiter.

Many young people serve food because it is nothing more than a starting point in a life of greater, more meaningful employment.  But not Ken.  He doesn’t do this job out of necessity.  He serves at banquets, celebrations and social events because he loves people.  He gets jazzed by the work.  He lights up when he serves.  He enthusiastically ensures that the guests are well cared for.

I suspect that Ken won’t work for this catering company for very long.  My guess is that in a very short time he will OWN this company.  His work ethic, charming personality and firm handshake guarantee that he will use is degree to quickly rise to a place of leadership.  He will blaze a path to the top and in the process, he will make many, many people very happy.