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

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.

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.

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.

A Preferred View

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAHow is it possible that just two weeks ago I was standing on white beaches at the edge of the Gulf of Mexico.  How is it possible that just fourteen days ago I watched dolphins play alongside our tour boat?

An even more relevant question:  How is it possible that we are back in Indiana and under a winter storm warning today?

Something isn’t right about this picture!  It’s true, we escaped the winter to find the warmth.  I needed a break.  I mean, I love Indiana in the spring, summer and fall.  I actually enjoy Indiana in the winter.  I have fun in the cold and the snow…and it is nice to experience a change of seasons.

But any time you come close to breaking the historical record for the most snow in a season, a person’s heart and mind longs for the warm Gulf waters.

While I’m watching snow fall gently from the sky and cover my Indiana back yard, in my mind’s eye I’m seeing sleek aquatic mammals slide through the warm, shimmering light reflecting off emerald green waters.

I like that view much better!

Turning 50

20140222_191306I had a great day yesterday.  It was, after all, my birthday.  It was the Big One.  It was the milestone.  The half-century mark.  It was the Big 5-0.

And to make it even better, I did what everyone wants to do on their birthday:  I updated my blogs, deleting one and touching up another.  I cleaned my garage.  I had a beautiful dinner with my family.  What more can a guy ask for?

The dinner was amazing: My wife made skirt steak directly on the coals of the grill.  Alton Brown has nothing on my wife!  My son made gratin potatoes that melted in your mouth.  My daughter cooked up some asparagus and garlic.  It was all simply the best meal I’ve eaten in months!

For dessert, we enjoyed some fantastic cupcakes from Sweet Home Cupcakes and played a few rounds of Boggle.  As is fitting for the birthday boy, I won.  And gloated.

20140222_191322And here is the best part of the evening:  My wife, always one to promote sappy, happy experiences, invited each one of the kids to share one thing about their father that they are most thankful for.  I won’t bore you with details about how wonderful they think I am…but I will say this, everything they mentioned is something new to my personality and character over the past year.  They are not things that come naturally.  in fact, I have to attribute this change to the past 365 days of effort and attention to my life.  I have intentionally worked on keeping my mouth shut, growing from my mistakes and changing the way I view the world.  It was not accident.  It didn’t just happen by chance.  And still doesn’t happen all the time.

I’ve stopped talking and started listening.  I’ve tried hard not to come back with a quick retort, a humorous story or offer my opinion when it isn’t requested.  I’ve kept my mouth shut and opened my mind.  In the end, it results in the appearance that I am wiser than I really am.

Keeping my mouth shut, the gray hair and the 64 ounces of water I drank today:  That’s my secret for appearing wise.

A Cool Glass of Water

20140222_053110And so begins the next 50 years.

The last 365 days were committed to developing good habits and new patterns.  The next 365 days will be dedicated to processes and practices that bring physical, emotional and spiritual growth and stability.  I invite you to join me in the journey.  And to that end, we’ll add one healthy practice to our schedule each and every week.  If you follow this blog and want to try it with me, I’d love to hear your experiences and progress.

This week, the first of my 50th year of life is dedicated to water.  It is a well-known that drinking water is a healthy habit to develop.  The general rule of thumb is 64 ounces of water a day.

If you are like me, you may have a hard time doing this.  After a while, water becomes very boring. The secret is to add a slice of lemon, lime or mint.  Spice it up if necessary.

In addition, drinking this much water is quite a challenge after I’ve had two pots of coffee, three 44 oz diet cokes and an evening glass of wine.  So, perhaps, I can cut out a few of the beverages of choice and replace them with water.  I’ll drink only one pot of coffee, one diet coke and no wine.  I’ll give the water a chance to do its magic.

Historically, when I start drinking water and cut back on other sources of fluid, I quickly lose 10 lbs.  And at this point in my life, I’m willing to see those pounds melt off.

Day 351 – Will It Ever End?

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERASome experiments produce amazing results.  The research finds a cure for a disease.  The engineers develop stronger building materials.  The teachers create better teaching methods.

This is not one of those successful experiments.  My journey to 50 ends in less than two weeks and unfortunately, it is a failed experiment.

I am now heavier than I was when I started this program.

I’m disappointed by my work.

In the past few months I’ve developed knee pain and difficulty walking which has kept me from the gym.

I haven’t written in nearly a month.

In short, turning 50 hasn’t been the exciting transformation I’d hoped for.  Perhaps it is time to write of this past 1/2 a century and look forward to the next 50 years…Yah!  That’s it!  That’s the way this story ends!

The first 50 years were nothing more than a practice run.  Now that I’m experienced and well versed in all things Austin, I’m ready to move forward into the best years of my life.

Like the snow that continues to fall in Central Indiana, I know that someday the Spring will arrive.  Some day, the sun will shine on green grass and budding Tulip, poking their new shoots through last year’s mulch.  So it is with me.  I’m leaving the winter of my discontent and moving into the blazing sun of a new season of my life.

Look out world, here I come!

 

Day 329 – Keeping Quiet

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERASome things are open for discussion; what you had for lunch, what your dog did yesterday, the movie you watched last night.

Some things should never be discussed in an open forum; your arrest record, what you secretly hope will happen to your mortal enemy, the inner workings of a troubled mind.

I have some things I would like to share, some things I’d like to get straight, a few matters I’d like to process.  But this just isn’t the place to say it.  It is one of those times when I’m struggling to find the right words and seeking to make the right choices.  It isn’t appropriate to bring them forward in a blog.  You won’t find my dilemma outlined on Facebook.  I won’t leak my frustration on Twitter.

I’ll deal with it by taking my concerns to friends and family the old fashion way; we’ll text and snapchat, of course!

Day 313 – Making Bread

20140103_174611Today was quite a hodgepodge of activity: Church, Lowe’s, Menard’s, Kroger, and Dry Cleaners followed by some writing and a surprise visit from my son and his girlfriend.  In the midst of the hustle and bustle of the day, I made baguettes for dinner, suet for the birds and pumpkin butter for friends and family.  It was quite a day.

However, I am rather discouraged.  Somehow, over the holidays, I managed to gain more weight and injure my knee and/or hamstring.  Any activity now results in quite a bit of pain.  It is nothing more than a dull, constant ache on the interior of my knee…until I try to go upstairs when it feels like my hamstring is popping off the joint of my leg.  I’ve taken to the motrin and ice and rest which, combined with the homemade bread and pumpkin butter, isn’t helping my diet plan.

I don’t think it will be too much of a problem unless I start gnawing on the suet out of boredom!

Day 309 – Shaping Up Fine

20131229_162712Did I mention that I make a mean banana bread?  I sent a loaf to work with my wife and she reports that it was very well received.

I wasn’t surprised.  3/4 cup of brown sugar and 8 very ripe bananas are covered with a tablespoon of sugar and thrown into a bowl with some flour and baked for 60 minutes.  What wouldn’t be good about that?

It is a simple recipe that has a killer result…if you get it right.  Leave out the sugar and see what you get.  Forget the flour and let’s see what happens.  I suspect it won’t be nearly as appetizing.

I’ve tried doing that this year with my life.  I’ve tried to follow a simple recipe of eating less and exercising more, with a little mental and spiritual growth thrown in for good measure.  I’ve tried to become more active and less slothful with the final goal of becoming “fit as a fiddle and ready for love”.  (15 points to the person who knows that reference.)

But I’ve left out some important ingredient.  I’ve either eaten too much or exercised not enough.  I’ve watched too much TV and moved too little because I’m no where near my goal and, in fact, am farther away than when I started.

But like any good cook, you try again and again until you get it right.  Practice makes perfect.  As the saying goes, you have to break a few eggs if you want to make the perfect omelet.  Perhaps its the dozens of eggs I’ve eaten that are the problem?

Day 307 – Another Walk in the Woods

20131228_114803Today was an odd day:  Alone in the morning because I wake up early and everyone else sleeps late, a walk in the woods with my wife and our dogs before noon, and cleaning my garage in the afternoon.  Nothing specific happened today to make it wonderful or terrible.  It was just an average, every-day day.

But here is the question, “What would I do differently with my day?”

Would I sleep in later?  Refuse the walk?  Stay out of the garage?

In fact, when I think about my Saturday, the only thing I would change is bring a towel to wipe down my dogs after our walk in the woods.  Everything else was perfect.  You can’t say that about every day of your life…I know I can’t!

Day 306 – Moving Day

20131227_123446Making friends takes effort.  Getting to know them requires energy, focus, a little time and space.  I think that’s probably why parting is so hard.  You’ve given a part of yourself to these people and when they leave they take it with them.

That happened to me today as John and Pam pulled out of their Carmel home.  These two people entered my life 18 months ago and quickly captured a piece of my heart.  Their parting was painful but not final: Wherever they go, they will carry with them a portion of my soul.

It is a pieces of my heart that I’m happy to share.