Setting Records with Manning

I had a dream. It was a sports dream, which is unusual for me because I’m not exactly the world’s most athletic guy. I don’t watch football and I don’t ski downhill. In fact, I’m more likely to make great chicken wings for people who watch football and more likely to fall downhill.

But last night, in my dream, my wife and I heard that Peyton Manning and Dallas Clark were trying to break a record for the most receiving yards on a ski slope. It was a pretty ingenious set up. Dallas was on skis. Peyton was at the top of the ski hill; this is Indiana so it wasn’t really a mountain. Peyton would yell Omaha and Hike! and fall back while Dallas would shoot off in a downhiller’s tuck. Peyton would cock that shotgun arm and throw the ball. As Dallas approached the bottom of the slope, he would reach up with grace and ease and snatch the ball out of the air, pulling it into the numbers every time.

Because it is a dream, my wife and I decided to go to the slope and see if we could help. My reasoning was that I could be sliding down the hill and receive a ball or two while Dallas took the ski lift back for another run. We could double the yardage thrown (and set the record as a team).

When we arrived at the top of the slope, Al Michaels and Cris Collinsworth were sorting through a box of my old bank statements. While everything else about the dream felt real, that part didn’t make any sense and the illusion began to fade. Al and Cris said that Peyton had just thrown a whopper of a pass to Dallas and in his enthusiasm, had run downhill to celebrate with his receiver. Not to worry, they would be right back.

I agreed to wait. My skis were strapped on and I was ready to get into the game. My wife, while nervous for me, was supportive and encouraging. As we waited I practiced my snow plowing, because it’s been 40-years since I strapped wooden boards to my feet and voluntarily threw myself headlong down a mountain.

But minutes turned into hours and despite Al and Cris’s reassurance, I realized that Peyton and Dallas had gone into the ski lodge. They’d set their record and left the slopes, without me.

From there, my dream shifted to a school and/or diner / and or Welcome Back Kotter episode and the entire storyline fell apart.

As a general rule, I don’t interpret dreams but I’d like to give this one a try. We all know that dreams reveal our subconscious desires. It’s obvious that my subconscious somehow connected to Peyton’s subconscious, subconsciously. What I learned in that dream and from my subconscious connection to Peyton Manning is that he is trying for a comeback, and my subconscious knows this. He’s calling out for help. I think I’ll email him today and ask how I might be able to ease his pain.

I have no idea why Dallas was in my dream. He’s a nice guy and all but just like a yellowshirt character on Star Trek, he is just an extra in my movie of the mind. Al and Cris were simply obnoxious.

I feel better unpacking that little drama; now here is to helping set the record!

I’m leaving Facebook, and not for the reasons you suspect.

It’s a turbulent time in our country. The election. The hatred. The frustration. The protests. Coincidentally, I’m stepping away from Facebook, but it isn’t for the reasons that so many of my other friends are leaving the social media world.

I’ve decided to step off of the Facebook platform and social media in general, not because I’m offended, which I am. Not because people have exhausted me with their non-stop complaints, which they did. Not because people are out of control, which they are. But because I realized how much of my precious time I’m wasting in the virtual world that keeps me from being in touch with the real world. For every hour spent in virtual relationships, I’m missing out on so much time with face-to-face interactions and meaningful encounters.

I’ve been pondering this move for quite some time. It isn’t a spur of the moment decision. But there was a moment today when the decision became clear, when it hit me square in the face. As I walked through the cafeteria today from my table in the back corner I saw that every table had someone who was not engaged with others but instead, looking down, and thumbing their phones, checking email, commenting on Facebook, viewing videos, Twittering and Snapchatting. This is no exaggeration. It was EVERY. SINGLE. TABLE. In fact, I passed one table in which a woman was actually surrounded by people with their phones out while she was reading the newspaper. It didn’t even look real and I nearly went over to congratulate her for the bravery and outlandish behavior.

Nearly nine-years ago a movie named Wall-E came out. It was a big hit. You probably remember it. But I hated the movie. One of the most troubling aspects was the image of disengaged humans who were depicted as massive blobs too lazy to walk, with giant cups of some drink in one hand and video screens poised in their pudgy other paw. They were over-fed and over-entertained. In this anesthetized state of ignorance they floated along on reclining chairs, completely disconnected from the reality of their situation.

As I walked through the cafeteria today, I realized we are only a hovering chair away from this pathetic reality.

I want to read from books that have pages. I want to look people in the eye as we meet one another. I want to eat a meal without being interrupted by someone’s social medial emergency. I want to turn off the tube. I want to shut down the screen. I want to escape the pattern we’ve created for ourselves.

And so today, as a first step, I’m leaving Facebook. I’m removing the app from my phone. I’m removing the link from my favorites on my computer. I’m stepping away from the vortex that is social medial.

Of course, I’m not going away entirely. You can still chat with me via Messenger. You can still see my pictures on Instagram. You can text or call. Or, and this is a radical idea, we can meet for coffee or share a meal. We can even go for a walk if you prefer.  We can play cards, work on a puzzle, discuss hard topics like (gasp) politics. You see, it isn’t personal. It’s survival. It isn’t anti-Trump. It’s pro-meaningful life. It isn’t against you. It’s for us. As hard as it is to remember, there was a time before social media. There was a time when we engaged one another in the real world.

That’s my goal and I invite you to join me. Pull your noses away from your screens. Straighten your backs and lift your heads to the beauty that is this world. It’s a site to behold.

Exploring Rome

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The Colosseum.

Our trip to Italy is one I will long remember. It was filled with many wonderful memory-building events, amazing food, sites, sounds and smells. During our short time there we took in the Vatican Museums by night, marveled at the Colosseum, climbed the Spanish Steps, gazed in wonder at the Sistine Chapel, and stood in silent awe at the grandeur of a Sicilian sunrise.

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Sunrise over Catania, Sicily.

It certainly is not hard to consider the idea of history and legacy when in a place like Italy. Reminders of a once grand civilization stand at every corner in the form of broken columns and shattered sculptures. The Romans were a powerful presence in their day. In the height of their glory they built armies that marched across the continent. Of course, now every soldier is long dead and buried. The Romans formed a government that would be a standard of greatness for centuries. But ego and madness resulted in its fall to ruffians and barbarians. They erected magnificent structures to honor their heroes. However,  few remain standing as anything more than tourist destinations and rubble.

 

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An ancient Roman calendar found on the archaeological site of Toarmina.

We went to Italy accomplish more than site-seeing. We went to learn about the refugee crisis happening in the Mediterranean and we learned so much more.

Millions of displaced people are fleeing war, famine, civil unrest. They seek a place of hope and peace. They seek lives of meaning. Young men and women leave everything they own. They leave family and friends. They leave home and country. They travel thousands of miles, traverse the Sahara Desert, board crafts that are generously called boats, travel 300 miles in open seas, in search of a better life; a life of peace. A life of meaning. Desperate men and women do the unthinkable in order to survive.

In a place known for its history, we were challenged by our own legacy. In the face of this global crisis the question is obvious, “What will we do?” What action will we take? Our children’s children’s children will look at this time in history and judge us, not by armies mobilized, policies enacted or monuments built, as each of these turn to dust and fall from memory.

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Walking through ancient archways.

There is no good ending to this story if we do not act. And while our nation ponders a reality show election, while our leaders practice their narcissistic aggrandizement, in truth, while our country sleeps, the world is imploding all around.

We have the opportunity to make our mark in history by leaving a testimony to merciful action, love and compassion to nations scattered, people hurting, a world broken. Will our ancestors live in a world changed by a powerful proclamation of peace or will they shake their heads in wonder at our self-absorption and inaction, and the failure of this generation to change the course of history?

 

 

The Giant Salamander Dilemma

I often watch nature shows; Nova, Nature, Planet Earth, The Life of Birds, and about a dozen others.  Of course, the best viewing is hosted by David Attenborough, whose voice has become synonymous with nature programming.

The other night I was enjoying a mesmerizing segment on Planet Earth, narrated by Mr. Attenborough. I laughed at a lighthearted story about baby birds and and romping lion cubs when out of nowhere, my friend David turned dark. He started telling a monster story about a bizarre animal that terrified me and at the same time, caused me to pause and reflect on my own life.

Giant SalamanderThe Great Sir Attenborough told of the Giant Salamander of Japan. This monster lives in the icy waters of Japan’s mountains. It hunts by night, eating bugs and crustaceans and fish.  Even on that meager diet, it can grow up to 2 meters in length (that’s more than 6 feet) and can live up to 80 years.

Think about that for a minute.  Eighty Years! This beast does nothing but hang out in freezing water hoping for a pressure change in the water to alert him to a passing fish. Nothing more. That’s his life. He wakes up late in the evening and says goodbye to the Giant Salamander Wife and Kids and makes his way out into the world to do a honest night’s work of grub hunting. And he does that for eight decades. Four-score. 29,219 days. For my Spanish friends, that’s Ochenta! For my Japanese friends that is roughly Hachiju! Any way you count it, it’s old.

1024px-Andrias_japonicus_pairTo put that into perspective, the average life expectancy of an American male is 78.1 years, which means that Mr. Giant Salamander could live longer than me. However, one has to ask the question about quality of life, right? I mean, is Mr. Salamander’s life as fulfilling as my own? After all, my life is full of meaning. Seriously. I wake up in the morning, say goodbye to my wife and kids and trudge to work where I do the job that makes it possible to buy food (grubs) for the table and shelter over our heads (rocks and cold water). I return from work at the end of the day and prepare to do it all over again tomorrow…and I live 1.9 years less than the Giant Salamander of Japan. Crap.

This thought has festered over the past few weeks as I’ve tried to recount my life’s purpose, my ambitions, and goals. Am I really that different from the world’s second largest amphibian? Is there something that distinguishes my much-anticipated and just-shy-of eight decades of life?

In short, what separates us from the Giant Salamander? I’ve known plenty of people who live much like my aquatic, bug eating friend. They move from day-to-day without purpose, without joy, in salamander-like fashion. They live in an icy world, separated from others, scraping to get by; like the Giant Salamander, never a smile on their face. (Have you ever seen a Giant Salamander smile?  I think not.)

How about you? Does your life have meaning beyond the daily grind? What do you do that makes your life meaningful? Is it the work you do? Is it the causes you champion? Is it the hobby you enjoy? The church you attend? The family you raise? What is it that gives your life purpose?

I propose that there are several things that can distinguish us from the Giant Salamander…if we only try.  First, and this is really more of a genetic thing, we have opposable thumbs and breathe air into our lungs rather than absorb it through our skin. But there’s a little more. We have the opportunity, each and every day, to be a part of a greater good. We are offered the gift of living with others, in community. Our ability to love others, and our desire to be loved, gives us purpose, gives us meaning, and ultimately gives us joy. You can have a dozen hobbies and still be alone. You can fight the good fight for a dozen worthy causes but still be empty. I know plenty of people who go to church religiously and are hollow shells and nasty folks.

It isn’t what we do.  It is how we live.  So live your life well. Love those around you. Be lovable. Allow others to love you. Otherwise, we might as well return to our grub hunting.

A Portrait of a Dog

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Photo Credit: Emily Austin 2016

For those of you who follow this blog, you know that Sidney has been both a joy and a challenge.  Entering our lives in the summer of 2009, she was a rescue from a sad daily existence that consisted of a 14 hour day in a crate, a short break in the evening before it was time to return to the crate for another night.  When she joined our family, she needed socialization, love, constant attention, and a good long walk.

Six years later, she has become an ideal companion. Age has helped, as anyone who has ever raised a Labrador knows, but she has also learned that she can receive a pat on the head without the need to lick the hand that pets her (as well as the arm, leg, ankle, face, and neck). She’s discovered that we expect her to follow the rules and that we will give her a little grace when she ignores us.

She’s absolutely fallen in love with my daughter and joins her every evening in her room, laying quietly on her pillow while Emily puts around.  There is nothing she likes more than to sit at my feet when I work from home and is happy to join me in the garage when I’m working on a project of any kind. She simply wants to be near those she loves…and those who love her.

The transformation wasn’t quick and it wasn’t easy.  Going from a manic hound to man’s best friend didn’t occur overnight.  It was a slow, sometimes painful process, and while she is much better today than she was six years ago, the growth and change is a process that continues with each passing day. And honestly, we’re quite proud of her.

Sidney isn’t alone in her journey of growth and change.  The same can be said for each one of us. We all have our own manic moments. We all struggle with those bad habits and personal issues. We all have inner demons created through early trauma, pain and perceived neglect. Often, these inner miseries take on a life of their own, and while we know we could be living our best, we sometimes act our worst. You know it is true, even if you pretend no one else sees it.

But, as Sidney’s life reveals, there is hope. Progress is possible. Revitalization can be a reality. Transformation is no longer unthinkable. Yes, change is a challenge but not an impossibility. It might take time. It might require constant vigilance. It might demand extra effort. But it is doable. It is a worthwhile goal.

Get out of the crate of your past. Let someone love you and love them deeply in return.  It just might change your life for the better.

Bus Stop Stories

20150321_095113When it comes to books, the not-so-classic “Forest Gump” is one of the oddest pieces of literature I’ve ever read. If you are looking for something to read this summer, I do not recommend it…and not just this summer, but ever.

On the other hand, the movie has become a classic; a cultural icon in which the main character engages in many major moments in modern history and includes the now famous lines, “Run, Forest! Run!” and “We go together like peas and carrots.”  And of course everyone’s favorite, “Life is like a box of chocolates…”.

But beyond the pithy sayings, and the journey through time, I enjoyed more than anything else the creative device the film makers use to tell Forest’s tale: As the main character awaits his city bus, he retells his life’s story to every unwitting stranger who shares his bench. It’s a fascinating narrative and if anyone had taken the time to wait the day, they might have heard the entire account. As it was, each person only gets a quick glimpse into Forest’s life and by itself, each section of the fascinating yarn might make no sense at all. However, in total it is a chronicle that illustrates a life of perfect timing, blind luck, high adventure, and faithful dedication to one true love.

I can’t help but wonder how many people in my own life could have shared their entire story, but I climbed into the departing bus before I could hear it all. It’s likely I lost interest part way through and walked away from the story of a lifetime. Is it possible that I heard only the unbelievable portion and failed to grasp the entire moving saga of a life well-lived, a love fully given, a grace perfectly extended?

When is the last time you took the time to listen to a bus stop story all the way to the story-book end?

Time Stands Still

I hIMG_20160407_162050ave a thing for clocks.  You can ask my wife. You can question my daughter. My sons will fill you in on the truth. I love a good clock.

The louder it ticks, the happier I am.

The greater the ring of the chime, the more joy I experience.

Over the years I’ve gathered a coo coo clock from the Black Forest of Germany, and added a beautiful banker’s clock in my office, and my best timepiece is a work shop ticker made from a circular saw blade.

The traditional clocks require attention and maintenance if they are to fulfill their purpose. They need regular winding. They need dusting. In short, they need a little love on a daily basis.

So, you can imagine my chagrin when I discovered the clocks were all stopped. No ticks. No tocks. No magical hourly chimes. The most troubling revelation came when I started counting back the days to when I’d last wound the spring and pulled the chain.  More than a week had passed and the clocks paid the price of my negligence.

Most distressing of all, I realized that my desire to succeed at work, move my job to the next level and prove myself to my company and my co-workers, took every spare minute of my time. Early mornings. Late nights. Weekends. Work and more work. Every spare hour was used to get the job done and yet, there was always more to do and never enough time to get it done.

Ironically, my lack of time resulted in my inability to accurately keep my time keepers functioning fully. And if the clocks on the wall suffered because of my out-of-control work schedule, packed to the rim and painfully full, what else declined in my business and distraction? Did I fail to love my family well, just as I failed to tighten the springs on the Banker’s Clock? Did I fail to listen intently, just as I failed to pull the chain and weight on the coo coo?

My need to make the most of every minute to move my career forward resulted in the loss of the most precious commodity of all: Time dedicated to those things that matter even more.

Today I wound the clocks for the first time in weeks. While I can’t turn back time, or regain that which is lost, I can certainly count every minute moving forward, making the most of every precious and fleeting second that remains.

A Shot in the Dark

She was beautiful.  With perfectly feathered hair, a long, goddess-like neck, and her newly-formed bosom, which may or may not have received assistance from a box of tissues, Mary was everything an 8th grade boy could want in a girlfriend.  Actually, she was a girl and that alone qualified her as an object of desire for this thin, pimply-faced 8th grade boy.

Handwritten notes on lined school paper were delivered by third-party participants in our young love affair.  They passed in the hallway after lunch each day began with simple flirting messages about the day’s lunch or the color of her sweater.  However, they quickly escalated to the ultimate bold and daring query of junior high, “Will you go with me?  Yes or No?” To my great joy, relief, and surprise my note returned via the delivery system with the word “Yes” circled in pencil.  We were now officially a couple and I felt obliged to provide a token of my adolescent affection.  I offered my John Wesley medallion, purchased the previous summer at the junior high Methodist Church Camp; Camp Adventure!  For the rest of the week the symbol of my love dangled around her graceful neck and against her perfect, Kleenex-padded breasts on a long, gold chain.  The founder of Methodism never looked so good.

Over the next week, more hand-scrawled messages passed in a desperate effort to take our relationship to the next level. Notes were handed to Doug, who passed them on to Paige, who handed them off to Mary.  Finally, a note asked Mary if she would sit beside me at next Friday’s basketball game.  The reply, via Paige to Doug to me, once again had a wonderful penciled circle around the word “Yes”.

After the game the two middle school newbies strolled slowly to Mary’s sister’s car.  We walked side-by-side across the snow-covered parking lot, holding gloved hands, bundled in our heaviest winter coats, trying to gather the courage necessary to initiate the physical contact we both desired and dreaded.  Older, wiser, and more experienced, Mary’s sister offered advice as only an older sibling can, “Hurry up and get it over with.” She then climbed into the car, started the engine, and waited for the rookies to experience their first kiss.

Knowing time was short, I turned to Mary, closed my eyes, and leaned forward, raising my arms in an effort to place them over her shoulders.  With her eyes closed, Mary did not see this romantic gesture and raised her own arms.  We clashed mid-air. Undeterred, I lowered my arms to wrap around her waist.  Mary did the same only to clash again.  Up and down our arms flailed in the cold winter night until, after several attempts we finally found a satisfying configuration and drew one another as close as our puffy down-filled winter coats would allow.  With my head tilted and my eyes closed, I licked my chapped lips in preparation for the sublime encounter…and then it happened.  With all the passion and enthusiasm I could muster, I planted the wettest, sloppiest kiss – squarely and firmly on the tip of her chin.

In hindsight it is obvious that I failed to account for our height difference. Mary was a couple of inches taller than my diminutive frame. With an additional two inches of 70’s platform snow boots added to her towering elevation, I was simply grateful that I wasn’t kissing my Wesley medallion. However, having gotten this close, I was not about to give up.  I kept my slobbery mouth pressed firmly against her perfect chin and started sliding up to find her lips. Unfortunately, at the same time, Mary decided to help the situation by tilting her face down.  Before I realized what had happened, I was sucking on her left eyebrow, a stream of spittle leaving a wet trail of failure up the side of her face.  In the cold, night air, with the car running beside us, we groped and wrestled until our lips finally met in a moment that was at once disgraceful and oddly satisfying.

The following Monday, to no one’s surprise, Paige handed a note to Doug who passed it on to me. It contained my now tarnished Wesley necklace and the word, “No” circled in pencil.  I’d like to think it was a mutual parting of ways, based on hours of discussion and a realization that our interests were diverging as we aged those short two weeks.  But we both knew the awful, heart-breaking, and embarrassing truth.

149.5 and Counting

2015-01-01 09.15.54I’m going to live another 25 years.  This is according to the 2012 CDC Mortality report.  Oh, sure, I realize I could die earlier or later but I’ve always been proud of the fact that I’m a fairly average guy.  So, if I stay true to the average, I’ll live to be 76-years-old.  That’s 25 years from February.  I just penciled it in on my Google Calendar and decided to make some plans for the big day.  Specifically, I don’t want to go out with a whimper. I want to go out on top of my game and in top form.

As a result, I’ve decided that I need to get some things in order.  I need to get my life in shape.  I need to get some things done. I wouldn’t call this a “Bucket List” as much as a “Get Your S–t Together List”.  For instance, I can’t imagine being over-weight for the next 25 years.  I want my hair to be just right.  I have so many books that I need to read.  I have things I need to tell my nieces and nephews, my friends, my family.  I have skills I need to perfect and talents I need to hone. I want a tattoo of an otter eating a clam on my left calve.  You know, the important things.  And twenty-five years isn’t that long, so I’d better get busy.

I thought I’d start by making the good things of life an integral part of my being; like eating good cheese, tasting fine wine, appreciating classical music, and understanding The Blue Man Group.  This way, I’ll carry these skills, qualities, and perfected characteristics with me to the grave.

I’ve always heard it takes 30 days to form a habit.  So, given the 25 years remaining in my life, at one habit a month (minus the last month when I’ll be busy dying), that allows for 299 new habits to be formed and in place by the time they put me in the ground.

The problem is that new research (How are habits formed: Modelling habit formation in the real world. Lally, et al) indicates that habit formation isn’t cut and dry.  It can take as little as 18 or as many as 254 days to form a habit.  On average, it takes 66 days to form a habit for most people.  This means that my goal has to be paired down to a mere 149.5 habits acquired before I die.  I’m only going to be half as great as I’d hoped on the day they finally pull the plug.  But that’s okay…I can live with that…actually, I can die with that.

Also, Lally’s research reveals that some habits are easier to put in place than others.  This makes sense.  For instance, if I decided to wear only polyester for the next quarter of a century, I simply need to replace my wardrobe by shopping at GoodWill, requiring only 7 shopping days and a $42.35 investment.  Easy.

However, if I want to learn how to Mountain Yodel as perfectly as Roger Whittaker, we’re looking at many 10’s of hours of practice and some significant financial resources just to get to the Swiss Alps, let alone the cost of Lederhosen.  While I have great aspirations, I’m also a realist; specifically, I realize that the Mountain Yodel thing is nothing more than a pipe dream, even though I’d look great in Lederhosen.  I’ve already started on the polyester wardrobe but this may not take me in the direction I ultimately hope to go (the same with the Blue Man thing).  In short, I need to create realistic goals and work diligently to achieve them.

Therefore, I’ve started a list of important habits to form that will pay big dividends and make my life happy and whole for my remaining 25 years.  So far I have only fifteen items on my list but it’s a work in progress.  Heck, I have 66 days between habits to come up with a few more.  Why rush it?  Here are my first 15:

  • drink 64 oz of water a day
  • Become the crazy uncle that everyone always talks about (start with the hair:  note picture above)
  • read 30 minutes a day
  • solve the problem of world hunger by feeding one person a day (may take longer than 66 days)
  • pray 30 minutes a day
  • write 500 words a day (submit to 12 writing competitions by end of year)
  • eat more fruit
  • work on art 30 minutes a day – learn to paint and draw more than cartoon faces
  • 100 sit ups every morning
  • 20 push ups every morning
  • walk 2 miles every day
  • research recipes and make one amazing type of food a week (Julia Child’s style) – start with banana bread
  • say kind words or nothing at all
  • practice silence & solitude without falling asleep
  • work in the yard every day for 30 minutes

You may have more than 25 years remaining in your life, or you might have fewer.  Either way feel free to join me in adding habits that transform.  Who knows, perhaps if we all strive to be better people before we die (or at the very least becoming the crazy aunt or uncle), we’ll be happier both in the end and along the way.  It’s worth a shot.

Happy Anniversary

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

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

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

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

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.

 

Water Off A Duck’s Back

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Changing History

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Service With A Smile

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

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

Ken is one of those people.

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

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

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

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

You Just Have to Dance

Anything can bring about the urge:  The birth of your daughter, the special honor at work, or maybe a beautiful spring day after a long, cold winter.  Perhaps you felt it when you graduated from high school or finished your college career.  It might have happened when you met the love of your life.  It could have been losing those first 10 pounds, giving up a bad habit, or getting that perfect job.

Whatever it is, there are times you just have to dance.

It’s possible that today could be one of those days when you hear the music deep in your bones.  Your heart will fall into rhythm.  Your spirit will soar!  So, kick off your shoes.  Bounce your head just a bit.  Strike a pose.  Turn up the stereo and let it all go.

Trust me.  It will be good for your soul!

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My Newest Venture

The newest member of my income-making family.
The newest member of my income-making family.

By all accounts, I am an entrepreneur.  With a little creativity and a lot of hard work, I’ve been able to earn funds from funerals and gather wealth from weddings.  I’ve written blog posts for profit and gardened for a little green.  I was lucrative at landscaping and remunerated for my readings.  In short, I am always looking for a way to make some money.

And so, when I bought my new-to-me John Deere L130 garden tractor last fall, I knew there had to be a way to cash in:  Enter my neighbor.

Having hired my kids to mow his yard each summer for the past decade, I knew he would be looking for a replacement mower after the boys moved out last autumn.  As the grass turned green this spring, I subtly dropped the hint that I would be happy to mow his yard, but only if he wanted me to.  I knew I could knock his yard out in record time with my new 48-inch cutting deck and teeth-rattling 23-horsepower under the green hood.  Reluctant at first, he was quick to sign on after mowing his yard himself for the first time this year.

I was thrilled!  A yard that took my boys 45-minutes to push mow would take me a mere 20-minutes of comfortable riding.  For very little effort, I would make quite a bit of dough.

For many years my neighbor paid my boys up to $25 per mowing job.  However, because we are friends, I’m only charging $20.  But problems started early on when my “friend” texted me one evening as the thunderclouds began to form on the horizon.  He wanted me to mow before the rain hit; a difficult task as I was just finishing my own perfectly manicured lawn.  The tension began to rise when I explained how his last minute request fit into my pricing schedule:

  1. The Friend and Family Rate ($20) = This is subject to change by how snotty you are if I don’t respond to your beck and call (See #4)
  2. The Convenience Rate ($35) = I mow at my own convenience
  3. The Use-To-Be Friends & Family Rate ($50 + the cost of gas) = (See #1)
  4. The Emergency Rate ($75) = My car payment is due so I’m mowing your yard whether you need me to or not.
  5. The It’s About To Rain Rate ($85) = You didn’t look at the weather and now you need your yard mowed right away.

This text request clearly fell into price #5.  However, the argument was entirely my fault.  I failed to provide my pricing schedule up front.  My neighbor was under the impression that every yard mowing came in at the Friends & Family Rate.

To alleviate any future confusion…or fist fights…I’ve decided that I should print business cards with my services outlined (weddings, funerals, lawn mowing) and the pricing schedule above.  I expect that I should soon be able to retire from my day job and simply drive around the neighborhood on my mower, cutting grass, performing weddings and the occasional funeral, raking in the cash as I roll!

Target Practice

20140503_054045In my day job (yes, I do work), I coordinate research projects. Please, believe me when I say it isn’t as glamorous as it sounds:  We aren’t genetically modifying monkeys who will someday take over the planet.  We don’t split atoms to find the origins of the universe.  We aren’t digging out dinosaur DNA from fossilized mosquitoes.  We don’t even look for a cure to cancer.  We do, however, examine medical records to determine the level of care patients received after they had a minor stroke.  We look for ways to improve care to patients who suffer minor neurological events, in the hopes that we can prevent “the big one” (a major stroke) a few months later.

It isn’t glamorous but extremely practical and potentially life-saving for millions of Americans.

One of my responsibilities is to keep the work on track and on target.  Unlike the scientists of Jurassic Park, we have limited resources.  We have a lot of work to do in a short amount of time and it’s my job to ensure that we’re moving the project forward, on time and on budget.

And so, this past week, we started a little motivational session.  Seeing that my team was falling behind, we reviewed the fundamentals.  Rather than floundering along completing a few chart reviews here or there, we set a goal:  “X” number of charts reviewed at the end of each week.  It will require hard work.  It will require a dedicated focus.  But it is possible.  With that discussion, we reviewed past performances, barriers to success, and renewed a commitment to successfully completing the project by July 31, 2015.

It isn’t rocket science (also another glamorous field of study), and this approach to success applies to more than chart reviews.

The same is true for your life and all your dreams.  Want to play the piano?  You have to practice every day.  Want to learn to paint?  You have to pick up a brush.  Want to have a million dollars?  You’d better start working hard, saving and investing every penny. Want to be a better person?  Want to drive a nicer car?  Want to find more peace in your life?  You will never reach your goal if you don’t have a goal.  You will never hit the target if you don’t aim well and practice every day.  You will never be who you want to be if you don’t make a plan.  It might happen by accident, but it is highly unlikely.

So, how did our team respond to the motivation?  Very well.  Over the past few months, we’ve been averaging 54 charts a month; a dismal figure.  After the talk, we hit 24 charts in three days!  We refocused on the goal.  We determined the distance to the target.  And took some time for a little target practice.  When it was all said and done, we were back on track to hitting the target.  Oh yeah, we’ll hit that goal for sure!

Taking Out The Trash

cropped-austins-acre-sunrise-barn1.jpgLet’s be honest.  This was a week of crazy.  This was a work week of stupid.

In just three short days in the office I dealt with a liar and a thief and a couple very smart people without an ounce of ethics in their bones.  I was trapped in my office as people went on 30-minute rants about their drives to work, the conditions of the roads and the stupid people who drive them.  I suffered a man who seems to desire nothing more than making his girlfriend uncomfortable with his choices, his humor and his selfish desires.  I tolerated a woman who finds joy in making her coworkers’ lives miserable by assigning meaningless tasks.  I endured another woman who needed action on a project immediately, resulting in hours of work on my part only to find that she meant her 32 emails to go to someone else and their project.

It was a banner week.  One for the books.  And I can guarantee you’ve had one just like in the past…And will have one just like it in the future.  People can get under our skin.  Their constant droning can ring in our ears like the 7-year locust on a hot summer day.

However, I’ve discovered a new trick to avoid the annoying buzz they bring:  I let them carry out whatever they’ve carried in; not literally, of course, but in my own mind’s eye I see them hauling out the hubris.  What I do is this:  As they talk, blab, drone, blather and complain, I grab a notepad and I scribble down their story.  I record their rant.  I compose their confession.  I draft their droning.  I write their rant.

It’s like taking notes in a meeting…only a lot more fun.  I don’t write entire sentences but only jot key words, central themes and great quotes.  And when they leave, I throw it away. I simply toss it in the trash. I crumple the complaints. I destroy the diatribe.  I shred the sound off.  I trash their tirade.  When they leave the room, they take their garbage with them and I eliminate the evidence.

I don’t allow them to leave their emotional litter.  I pick up their piles of poisoned passion and I sweep away the sour sentiments.

Imagine a day in your life when you are not side-tracked by crazy.  Imagine a time when another person’s philippic doesn’t become your own internal struggle.  Imagine living life free from other peoples’ problems. This is one way to clear your desk and your mind and get back to the things that matter most.

Try it next week.  It just might work as well for you as it does for me!

 

Stick with Love

20131113_173505“I have decided to stick with love. Hate is too great a burden to bear.”

Martin Luther King, Jr.

 

I have decided to stick with love. Hate is too great a burden to bear.
Martin Luther King, Jr.
Read more at http://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/topics/topic_love.html#kzGsYWQErGow4riQ.99I have decided to stick with love. Hate is too great a burden to bear.

Martin Luther King, Jr.