Icing On The Cake

Happy BirthdayMy mother-in-law celebrated a big milestone a couple of weeks ago and we joined her this week to make it official.  We lit the candles, sang the required song and clapped loudly when she blew them out all with one breath.

In the weeks leading up to the big party, Joan said something that I think warrants a place in the Words of Wisdom Hall of Fame.  As she discussed her 80th birthday she made the comment, “Every day after 80 years is just icing on the cake.”

This is truth, especially if you are turning 80.  But I would also say that the icing is good every day after your 30th birthday, 40th birthday or your 362nd day after your 49th birthday.  The icing is spread thickest when we celebrate each and every day, no matter the number of years that precede it.

Life is best when lived to its fullest without any regrets.  Happy Birthday, Joan and many, many more days of icing to you!

Twas the Night Before the Night Before the Night Before Christmas

My family enjoys getting together.  Brothers, Sisters, Aunts, Uncles, Parents and Children all gather to celebrate Christmas.  The ever-growing clutch expanded enough over the years to warrant the rental of a Hall.  Tables, chairs, a mini-kitchen and no clean up required:  A deal we couldn’t refuse.

From the Austin Family; Merry Christmas & Happy New Year!

Decades Past, Christmas Present

20131214_080155Created in 1973, Shrinky Dinks were a marvel of science and crafts.  For our family, a year later, they were the makings of some very cool Christmas ornaments.  We were always on the cutting edge of Craftiness.

At the time I made this plastic ornament, it seemed wrong to shove Santa into a scalding hot oven, but the results were as magical as the Old Man himself.  And now I cannot imagine Christmas without it!  I’ve carried this little faceless Santa Claus with me for nearly four decades.  It is the only ornament I have from my childhood and it means so very much to me.  At 10-years of age, it was one of my greatest works of art and the fact that it has survived half-a-dozen moves, 39 different Christmas Trees, and my family’s mockery proves its resilience.

I have that same feeling about Christmas:  Commercialism, antagonism and skepticism will not alter the joy I get from this time of year.  It is not just a holiday for children; Christmas is a time off celebration.  It is, in the words of Kevin’s mother as she tries to get back to Chicago, “The Season of Perpetual Hope!”

I hope, on this day, you will remember a season in your life when things were more simple, the sights and sounds more vibrant, and the peace in your heart was pure and bubbling over.  I hope you can rediscover this same beautiful truth in your heart and life on this day, and all the days of this Christmas Season.

On the 14th Day of Christmas…

20131214_065644As I prepared to write this little story, I did so thinking that I would scribble something about the first day of a new Christmas Season; the first of the 12 Days of Christmas. But research (Wikipedia) indicates that my knowledge of all things Christmas is off by 12 whole days!  In fact, I’m nearly two weeks early for this seasonal favorite.

The Festival actually starts on December 25th and ends with Christmastide on the evening of January 5.  While I thought I was celebrating the Christmas Season, what I discovered is that I’m actually hanging out in Advent:  Day 14, to be exact.

But here’s the beauty of my miscalculation:  We now have an additional 12 days of the Christmas season.  So, leave up the fake Christmas tree!  Don’t tear down those stockings hung by the chimney with care!  Cut another piece of Aunt Ruth’s Fruitcake!  The celebration continues!

However, until I’m told differently, I’m going to make the most of the days we have leading up to the 25th.  I will enjoy the snow.  It isn’t the lovely seven inches promised/predicted by panicky weather forecasters, but heavy wet blanket of a couple inches.  It covers the ground and drips from the tree branches.  It makes every light sparkle with new beauty.

I will celebrate the innocence of Buddy the Elf.

I will crank the tunes on my Spotify Christmas Play List (now up to 1,147 songs).  Feel free to follow the play list:  Austin’s Acre Christmas List.  It will put your heart into a festive mood!

I will drink eggnog till I burst!

I will take advantage of Mistletoe every chance I can get!

Why?  Because I just discovered that the Christmas Season just extended another 12 days…That’s why!

A Few of My Favorite People

Occasionally I take pictures.  But every so often, I am able to capture true portraits.  Here are some pretty nice shots of my family from Thursday’s gathering.

A State Fair To Remember

There is nothing more enjoyable than a visit to the State Fair.  This year’s trip was later in the run but it wasn’t any less enjoyable.  We saw all the sites and tried most of the food and were pleased by every minute of the day.

Happy Father’s Day To Me

042This is one of those days when the person in the chair doesn’t really know what to do with themselves.  Being a dad isn’t about getting pats on the back and high-fives for a job well done.

In fact, Father’s Day smacks against what it really means to be a father.

Men take hills and conquer armies, they don’t sit back a soak up the sun in the quiet of their back yards.

We keep our heads down and power on rather than look for congratulations and “job well done”.

There isn’t time for a day to honor.  There are yards to be mowed, trim to be painted, bushes to trim.

We can’t wait for breakfast to be made at 9:30 when we are use to being up at the crack of dawn.  We’re hungry at 6:45 and ready to get out the door before the traffic gets heavy.

On the other hand…It is awful nice to hear what a great dad you are.  And the little ankle biters did buy me an awfully nice grill. And I have been wanting to try roasting a chicken on that grill.  And it is suppose to be a beautiful day.  And I do have live Reds baseball streaming on my phone.  And it wouldn’t hurt me to take a day and rest.

By golly, I’m doing it!  I’m taking full advantage of this Hallmark-driven holiday.  I’m cooking my chicken and listening to my game and I deserve it.  I’m getting hugs from my kids and soaking up the glory because I’m a Father…and I deserve it.

But for my own piece of mind, hide the mower.

A Blessing for All

Last night we celebrated Ben’s graduation with a wonderful party.  There was amazing food, good friends, and lots of fun.  Most of all, there was laughter and joy.

It was an honor to Ben that so many people came to celebrate with him.  It was a blessing to us that we were able to enjoy the day with so many loving friends who have helped us raise Ben over the years, guide him in the way he should go, and love him into who he is.

Thank you.  To each and every one of you who took time out of your busy lives to come to eat cake.  It means more to us than you will ever know.

Rebecca’s Party

We love our friends, the Mullens Family.  We’ve stood beside one another for many, many years.  It was such a joy to celebrate with Rebecca and her family in recognition of her graduation from high school.  It doesn’t seem possible that 18 years have gone by so fast!

The Last Graduate

Our third and final child graduated from high school  last night.  It was a big moment for over 500 kids at Noblesville.  Here are a few of the shots from last night’s festivities.

Dancing the Night Away

We’ve truly enjoyed living in Noblesville; if for no other reason than the performing and visual arts programs at the Noblesville schools.  Over the years, our kids have been in musicals, dramas, choral groups, string ensembles, concert bands, marching bands and jazz bands.

Last night was another amazing example of the talent and hard work these kids dedicate to their art.  Their directors help them shine.

Below are a few pictures of the fantastic performances that the audience was privileged to enjoy.

A Big Night for Ben

I’m so very proud of my son.

This was a great way to end his high school band career.  He was given the opportunity to spend time along side amazing and talented teachers and I am so thankful all those who made it possible.  It will be an experience that he will never forget.

The Noblesville High School Jazz Cafe

I was a band kid.  I played French Horn in Concert Band.  I played Melophone in Pep Band. I assisted with percussion from time to time and even learned the fingerings for the F-Trumpet for marching band. 

I get the band scene.  I’ve been there and done that.

But nothing in my history compares to the magic that happens at Noblesville High School when it comes to their music department and tonight was just another amazing example of the visionary leadership that makes this program so special.

In the course of six short years, my son has discovered that power of music because of the wonderful leadership that he has received from Mr. White, Ms. Robinson and Mrs. Hanlin.

He’s learned about music, sure.  But he’s also learned much more.  He’s learned the discipline that comes from marching band.  He’s gained the confidence that comes from jazz band.  He’s gained leadership skills from directing the Jr. High band.  He’s found reassurance in being asked to be a student assistant for the bands.

“Music is a moral law,” said Plato.  “It gives soul to the universe, wings to the mind, flight to the imagination, and charm and gaiety to life and to everything.”

The band directors at NHS have given my son a great gift.  And I can never thank them enough.

 

Graduation Gifts Excepted

IMG_3940My youngest will be graduating from high school in a few weeks and in an effort to impress all his friends, we’ve decided to make some major changes in our kitchen.

Okay, it isn’t about impressing anyone.  It’s about taking our house from the 80’s and moving it into the 90’s.

But, we’ve realized that what started as a very minor paint job has now become a very major over-haul.  If we paint these cabinets, we have to paint those cabinets.  If we remove this tile we must replace this counter top.  If we replace this counter top, we must get a new sink (pictured here for a small fortune, hardware not included).

Our local PBS station just finished it’s fund drive and successfully raised a whopping amount of money for radio waves.  Seriously, RADIO WAVES.  I think people want brick and mortar.  That’s why Austin’s Acre is starting it’s first ever Kitchen Remodel Fund Drive!

And so, here’s the pitch:  Please send us money.

It is a great way to support a worthy cause.  For your generous donation, we will put name-plates on each item that you want to fund.  Underwrite a cabinet and get your name handsomely engraved on a small brass plaque prominently displayed, telling everyone that you are a supporter of the remodel.  For $25, you can proudly proclaim that you contributed to a cabinet door.

Feeling extra generous?  Back splash tile can have your name on it for only $100.

For those big hearts and big givers, a generous donation of $250 will get you two feet of counter top and your name engraved for all perpetuity.  We have 10 more feet of counter top to go, so call NOW!

Phone lines are open.  Call today and make your pledge.

Location, Location, Location

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The Dogwood is now one of the most beautiful ornamental trees in our yard each spring.

Several years ago I purchased a Dogwood tree for my wife’s Mother’s Day present.  She was thrilled as it is one of her favorites.  We planted the little sprout in the front corner of our yard, hoping that one day it would be the show piece of our yard.

Despite following the instructions for planting and care, the little tree failed to grow.  It never looked like it was going to die but after its second year without flowers and any sign of growth, I went to our local garden center.

I explained the situation and the wise gardener behind the counter asked one, simple question.

“Is it planted on the south-east corner of your house in full sun?” he asked with a slight squint of his eyes.

Now, I’m a pretty smart guy but I had to stop and think of where the sun set and the direction I drove to work before I could answer his question.  When I confirmed that this, in fact, was the location of the tree, he answered with confidence.

“They hate to be exposed.  They like to be tucked back in the protection of your house or other trees.  You need to move it to the north-east corner of your lot.”

And so I took his advice and moved the little shrub, hoping that I didn’t wait too long.  I tucked it back behind the house, near our pine tree.  It now lives in

And here is the thing:  The very next year we saw flowers for the first time.  The year after that, we had new growth sprouting from its branches.  Each year brought more exciting changes to the little tree.  This year is it’s best ever.  The limbs are filled with full, bright flowers.  There are many new shoots poking out in all directions just waiting for the day that leaves will provide a fantastic canopy of shade.

As I took in the amazing blooms yesterday, I realized that we are a lot like this old Dogwood.  Some of us thrive when we are in the spot light.  There are those of us who prefer to stand out, bold and loud.  But there are some of us who do best when we can be out of the public view, most beautiful when we are left to our own devices.  Growing best when we are tucked into a safe place, rarely noticed until we are in full bloom.

What location do you prefer?  Where should you be planted?  Where do you produce your most beautiful flowers?

My Man Diary

IMAG2443
My wife playing with one of our God-Daughter’s in 2005.

My God-Daughter is mischievous.  From the time she was a little squirt, she’s liked to talk, dance, squirm and giggle non-stop.  She is a precious treasure to her entire family, but she’s also as ornery as they come.

Last night we found the now-nine-year-old and her family at church between services and we took a few minutes to talk.  We caught up on the activities of the past week or two as hundreds of attenders filed past in the busy hallways.

Out of the blue my dear God-Daughter reported loudly, “You probably have a Man Diary.”

This statement was so out of context and unexpected, I had to ask her to repeat herself.  She leaned forward so this old guy could hear her better.  She looked right into my eyes and repeated the phrase, louder and with too much emphasis on the word “Diary“.

I thought for a moment about her accusation.  And then, like a magician pulling a rabbit from his hat, I pulled out my black writer’s notebook from under my arm and held it up for her to see.

“You DO have a Man-Diary!” she yelled.

“I like to call it a notebook.” was my weak reply.

She giggled, knowing that she’d caught me in some shameful act.  I explained that this book, this notebook, was used to document my observations and my thoughts for the blogs I write.

“Ya,” she said, nodding her head triumphantly and folding her arms.  “It’s a Man-Diary.”  And she giggled even more.

As we parted, I hugged her tight and kissed her forehead.  Although, I’m not sure she deserved any of it!

As soon as I found my seat in church, I opened the black notebook to the front page and in big, bold letters I wrote, “This is my Man-Diary.”  Now there will never be a question about it again.

 

 

The Gift of a Friend

Ben and Elliott have been friends for more than 9 years.  During that time they have played games, designed shirts, created music, and much more.  They’ve changed from little boys to young men.  Their friendship endures because of their many similarities but it thrives because of their many differences.

This past week we spent nine days together flying from Indianapolis to Houston and back.  Along the way, the boys/men met mutual friends, played more games, explored and discovered new places, walked the streets of Houston, ate amazing meals and learned even more about one another.

I believe it will be a trip they will never forget.  It was our goal to enjoy ourselves, experience new and exciting things, and connect with old friends.  I think we accomplished our mission.  In the words of Gary Sinise, playing Ken Mattingly in the Houston-based movie, Apollo 13, “It (was a) hell of a mission.  One for the books.

Never Enough Space Food

Hundreds of space ice cream packets line the shelves of Space Center, Houston.
Hundreds of space ice cream packets line the shelves of Space Center, Houston.

As a young boy, I had a strong desire to be an astronaut.  There were two very important parts of the space program that had an impact on my desire:  Tang and Space Ice Cream.

A visit to Space Center, Houston didn’t do anything to reduce that desire.

Standing in the gift shop, looking at cheesy t-shirts and coffee mugs, I came upon my muse and stood there, mouth agape.  Row upon row of space ice cream stood there, taunting me; calling me to don a space helmet and do the moon walk.

I have a good life.  My dog loves me.  My family understands me.  My job is challenging.  My coworkers are entertaining.  But, as I stood there, gazing at the sweets, I realized I would give it all up for the opportunity to drink the orangery, sugary Tang and eat that powdery, sugary ice cream and bounce along the lunar surface.  And in that moment, I determined that I would look for the nearest astronaut recruiting station.  There HAD to be one in this fun-house/museum.

But before I walked out of the gift shop, I realized I could just buy a pouch of the astronomic confection.

It’s that level of critical thinking of which NASA would have benefited.  Thankfully for my dog and family, $6 kept me on the ground for now.