A Wall of Yogurt, More or Less

20161226_101827 (1).jpg
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.

 

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.

IMG_20170123_201936_326.jpg
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.

img_20170123_201732_723
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.

The Most Wonderful Time

img_20151206_194134-1
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!

Buy Now…But Wait, There’s More!

412tdOZ+x8L._SX311_BO1,204,203,200_A few years ago, my friend Dave and I started batting around the idea of working together on his church stuff. We put together sermon series. We designed slides for Sunday mornings. We videotaped church leaders as they spoke about service to others. We met monthly to invest eight hours to dreaming and scheming of designing future spiritual retreats, books, and educational opportunities. We spoke daily to update one another on our dreams; but up to this point that is all they really were. Just dreams.

However, six weeks ago it got real. Dave and I started talking about Lent. His church needed a Lenten Devotion for the season. He could buy one from a well-known publisher. He could place the order and they would be there in plenty of time for his February deadline. No worries. No sweat. To me, as I listened to him talk, I knew this was the easy thing to do and for two busy guys, this made sense. But something bothered me.

And so, during one of our daily chats, I asked him the obvious question, “Why not write a Lenten Devotional of our own?”

It took us all of three minutes to work out a plan and commit to something we’d both dreamed about for years but never believed would happen. (In truth, Dave always believed.)

With much work (on David’s part) and commitment, we present to you our first book, Soil of our Soul. It is a series of daily devotions to help guide you through the 40-day season of Lent and up to the most holy day in the Christian calendar. This book will provide thoughts to ponder, challenges to your life, and space for reflection and growth.

I hope this small book is as meaningful to you on your journey through Lent, as it was for us to write.

#ayearofgratitued

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

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

The Dents of Life

2015.12.13 DentsWe’ve started painting the dining room.  Paint is a wonderful thing.  In a matter of hours one can change the appearance of a room, update a space, and create a clean look.

However, no paint job is complete unless you repair the dents and dings in the wall.  Spackle, putty, and sanding are just a few of the things you have to do in order to prepare the walls.  Unfortunately, this work does more than update the look, it covers history.

For instance, on this north wall of the dining room, there several holes in the upper section.  Here we’ve had pictures of family and friends.  On the lower section there is a scrape where one of the kids’ chairs fell back during a particularly raucous game of Risk.  Another ding was a result of a candlestick which fell during a holiday party in the winter of 1994.

The dents are reminders of family history.  The blemishes are markers of our life together.  They paint a picture.  They tell a story.

I am grateful for the dents.  I am filled with appreciation for the marred walls.

I will miss them.

#ayearofgrattitude

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

Beasts of Burden

2015.12.08 Beasts of BurdenDuring our recent trip to Utah, my wife and I rode horses and mules around Mt. Zion National Park.  It made it possible for us to see the beautiful mountains from an entirely different perspective.

My ride was a mule named Peekaboo.  In the words of our guide, she was “a Cowboy’s Cadillac”.  The ride was easy, allowing us to climb hill and valley without a care.  The view was grand, taking us to locations we wouldn’t otherwise traverse so easily.  The beast of burden was gentle and strong, carrying me without a care or hesitation.

The mule was not the only beast of burden on that trip.  A shuttle bus carried us from one part of the park to another.  A plane transported us 3,400 miles from Indy to Phoenix and back in a matter of hours.  A rental car moved us across the desert landscape without a care.  Our own car waited for us in the parking lot after our plane landed and it returned us to home and hearth.

Every day we use beasts of burden, either animal or mechanical, without a second thought.

As I think about the 45 minute drive to work, I have to stop and give thanks that I have the luxury of a modest vehicle to help make that trip in a matter of minutes, rather than days.  I am grateful for my car and my ability to travel with ease.

#ayearofgratitude

A Year of Gratitude

“Piglet noticed that even though he had a Very Small Heart, it could hold a rather large amount of Gratitude.”
― A.A. Milne, Winnie-the-Pooh

I often find that my heart is hard and my responses are harsh.

I frequently experience moments of selfishness.

If you are like me (and I pray you are better than this), you know that we are less than grateful.  We are selfish and rarely satisfied.  Despite jobs that pay the bills and provide high levels of entertainment, a home that keeps us warm and dry, food in excess, and rich and full lives, we often yearn for more.  In the process, we fail to recognize the abundance of blessing in our lives.  We overlook the gifts for which we should be grateful.  We bypass the simple things that can warm our hearts if we allow them.2015.11.28_Morning Coffee

If simple little Piglet can understand the importance of gratitude, how is it that we, educated, sophisticated and well-heeled, can ignore this basic truth of life?   How hard would it be to stop and give thanks for those little things that mean so much to us?

For instance, today I am especially grateful for the first cup of coffee in the morning.  This dark liquid warms my heart and satisfies my soul.  With the first sip, I pause, and remember I am grateful.  May my very small heart hold a large amount of Gratitude.

 

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.

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.

Don’t Mention It

20140906_151509
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.

 

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?

 

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.

Amanda & Steve

Finding someone to love for a lifetime is quite a struggle.  Finding someone who will love YOU the rest of YOUR life is even more of a hurdle.

Amanda and Steve committed to that life-long relationship yesterday afternoon during a beautiful service on the rooftop of the Columbus Commons under a warm sun and a cool breeze.  They made it through their vows with a lot of laughter, a few tears, and tender love.  They shared their first kiss and a gentle embrace as husband and wife, made their way down the aisle and greeted their guests with warmth and enthusiasm.  And then they danced.

Amanda & Steve, may your life together always be filled with a lot of laughter, sprinkled with a few tears, supported by good friends, and capped off with a great dance.  Congratulations to you both!

 

 

 

Consolidating Effort

20140310_081912For the past few years I’ve worked hard to write regularly, posting to four different blogs, each with its own focus.  Perhaps you’ve read some of the work.

You may have prayed with Prayers for a Fool.

You may have taken time to Study Along With Me.

It’s also possible that you helped me through my Journey to 50.

However, after much thought and reflection, I’ve decided to consolidate my efforts.  Rather than creating daily posts for four different blogs, my stories, thoughts and prayers will appear here.  Austin’s Acre will be the primary page for all my writing.

If you’ve come to visit from one of the other pages, Welcome.   I trust that the new look and content will be interesting to you.  Please feel free to scroll down and click the “Follow This Blog” button.  You’ll receive updates by email every time a new post finds its way to the front page.

Look for more posts to come your way and feel free to ask questions or offer feedback.  I would love to hear from you!

Ringing In My Ears

We never know, do we?  We can never be confident that the phone ringing in our hand brings good news or bad.  It might be a reassuring announcement or a call for help.  It could be a call of hope or a cry for help.  We answer with trepidation, listening carefully to the person on the other end.  Is their tone one of celebration or grief, joy or sorrow?

“The cancer spread.”

“It’s TWINS!”

“I’m leaving him next week and he has no idea.”

“Can you come?”

“There’s been a terrible accident.”

“Party.  My house.  Be there!”

Often our phone conversations are banal, routine.  But every so often, every once and a while, the call announces news that will change your life in ways you would never dream.

My advise?  Say a short prayer for wisdom every time you answer the phone.  You never know when you will need it.