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.

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.

 

Almost Twins

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My brother and I celebrating my nephew’s wedding (2012). Photo courtesy of Kelly Kanedy Schwindt (https://www.facebook.com/kelly.k.schwindt)

For 10 days of every year, my brother and I are the same age.  I say that we are twins during those days.  My daughter says I don’t understand the meaning.

I disagree.  I mean, obviously, we look freakishly alike.  We share the same humor (twisted).  We enjoy similar taste in books, music and have actually found that we do similar things at the same time, without talking to one another about it.

For instance, a few years ago I started riding a stationary bike and reading some of the classic books that I never read in school, despite the assignments (sorry Mrs. Washler).  The next time we were together, my brother mentioned that he’d started riding a stationary bike and reading the classics that he actually DID read in school but wanted to re-read because they were so great (teacher’s pet).  We both were reading the same books, in almost the same order, at almost the exact same time!

Freaky, right?  But the similarities don’t end there:

  1. Todd was born on Abraham Lincoln’s birthday.  I was born on George Washington’s birthday.
  2. Todd plays the guitar and sings.  I play the radio and hum along.
  3. Todd sky dives.  I look up at planes that pass overhead.
  4. People like Todd.  I like Todd.
  5. Todd is artistic.  I visit museums.
  6. Todd use to own a pick up truck.  I want to own a pick up truck.

We couldn’t be any more alike if we tried.  Like I said, and despite my daughter’s protests, we are almost twins!

Escaping Winter

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe desperately needed the break.  We had to get away.  In a winter that never seems to end, that is breaking all local records for snowfall, we had to flee the cold and ice.  We had to get away.

Tired of gray skies, weekly snow falls, winter weather advisories and sub-zero temperatures, my wife and I packed up the car, turned south and drove.

We made no reservations.  We had no agenda.  We were without a plan.  We just drove, as fast as possible.

After a few short hours, we couldn’t drive any further; we hit the Gulf of Mexico and the gentle, tropical breezes.  So we stopped, kicked off our shoes and sat on the warm beaches to watch the sunset and soak up the rays of an inviting, setting sun.

The days away went too fast.  It was glorious and much needed.  I’ve never thought of myself as a snowbird but now I see the benefits.  We enjoyed a mental break and might need to make this a regular part of our late winter plans for years to come. This little drive might just get us through the remainder of this long, cold winter.

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.