A Big Night for Ben

I’m so very proud of my son.

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

Location, Location, Location

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

From Roses to Revelation

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My wife’s newest addition to her flower bed.

While shopping at Lowe’s this past week, I found the most beautiful rose bush.  I instantly new where it would go in my yard.  I wasn’t the only one who thought the flowers were pretty.

Or so I thought…Because, on my way to my car, another do-it-yourselfer stopped me in the parking lot and gushed over my newest purchase.  She asked how much it cost and where it was located in the store.  She commented on the perfect flowers and the dazzling whiteness of the petals.  She loved this flower…Or so I thought.

After loading my purchases and putting my cart away, I turned to walk back to my car and the same woman came walking toward me, a book in her hand.

“Sir?” she approached quickly and with purpose, holding out the book for me to see.

“I keep a copy of this book in my car and wondered if you might like a copy?”

I took one look at the thin booklet and it’s title printed in bold letters across the front, “REVELATION”.  She held it out to me as if it were a precious gift.  And in that moment, I realized that the conversation about the flower had nothing to do with the flower.  I felt manipulated and used.

“No thank you.” I said and without another word, I turned to my car.

Without even looking her direction, I started my car, backed out of my spot and drove away.

I’m sure she didn’t think anything of it.  I know that people like her and millions others are used to having the door slammed in their collective faces.  And yet, they keep at it.

But here is the thing:  She took what I thought was an authentic moment of connection over something as wonderful as a white rose and turned it into a cheap method of proselytizing.  She was more concerned about getting her foot into my emotional door than the actual beauty of the moment and the flower.  But now, I truly believe she  commented on the rose for no other reason than to pitch her belief system.  And to be honest, if this is how it has to be done, this isn’t any belief that I want to be a part of.

As I drove home, and nearly every day since, I thought about that interaction.  I’ve studied the scene over and over in my mind.  I’ve re-played her statements.  I’ve analyzed my response.  And then I had to ask myself a very hard question:  Do I do the same thing to people I meet?

After all, I’m an outgoing guy.  I laugh in the lunch line with total strangers.  I’ve become friendly with sanitation workers and lunch ladies that I see on a daily basis.  I talk easily with co-workers and patients.  But why?  Do I have a hidden agenda?  Do I, at some deeper level, do this little social dance as a means to get my foot in the door?

Please understand, I NEVER talk religion.  It’s just not my thing.  But is there another reason I engage others?  Is there a hidden agenda?  Will I want something in return some day?

How about you?  Do you talk to people so you get to know them or so they can know more about your beliefs, your thoughts, your agenda, your TV shows, your kids, your aches, your pains?  Have you ever had a conversation with someone without saying something like, “I know what you mean!  Something like that happened to me just the other day!  Let me tell you about it.”

What if we just listened to people?  What if we complimented someone without expecting something in return?  What if we had and entire conversation with someone and never once thought about our response, only their words and their true meaning?

That would be a breath of fresh air, wouldn’t it?

She Likes Out, She Likes In

Knocking At The DoorIf you have followed Austin’s Acre for very long, you know my affection for my Yellow Lab, Sidney.  She burst into our lives in August 2009 and we’ve never been the same since.

Among her many interesting quirks, and she has many, Sidney has decided that she really likes to go outside.  She will pace, circle, whine and stretch until someone allows her to escape the confines of our spacious home.

However, once outside, she might get a drink of water or tinkle in the grass…Or she might not.  Either way, she is quickly back to the patio door watching for any and all movement inside.  At this point in the game, she had decided that she really likes to come inside.  She will pace, circle, whine and stretch until someone lets her escape from the expanse of our back yard.

Within 20-30 minutes, this cycle repeats itself.  The dog cannot make up her mind.  Inside?  Outside?  Inside?  Outside? There are so many wonderful things that a dog would love just outside the door but all her important people are still inside!  The decision is too difficult.  Her little dog brain is in constant conflict so with her big dog heart.  She lives a life of distraction, unable to decide where she wants to be and what she wants to do.

It’s pathetic, really.  But, in truth, it is not too dissimilar from our own journeys through life.

We want the next great gadget but we also want serenity and peace.

We want the bigger, better house but we also want to rest on weekends.

We want the fatter paycheck but we also want to work less and relax more.

Are we in or are we out?  Do we want the adventure or do we want the comfort?

Perhaps today we can try to escape this neurotic pattern.  Perhaps today we can enjoy life where we live.  Make the most of the quiet without seeking the noise.  Take advantage of the day, the hour, the minute by doing nothing.

Listen to the birds and feel the sunshine on your face.

Put a great piece of music on the stereo and let it move your soul.

Turn off the TV and play cards with your family and friends.

Turn on the radio and listen to the baseball game the old fashioned way.

Enjoy a long walk and never once look at your watch.

Be present.  Live life without distraction.  Enjoy your location, wherever it might be.

Think Positive Thoughts

Another beautiful sunset in my back yard offered an evening of peaceful reflection.
Another beautiful sunset last night offered an evening of peaceful reflection.

I tried my first “Mindful Meditation” today.  I liked it.  I liked it a lot!  The gentle voice, the quiet moments, the guided imagery were all a good start to my day.

I always believed meditation to be similar to the scene in “What About Bob” when he is walking down the street, trying to reassure himself that all the world’s chaos and dirt won’t affect him.  Over and over he repeats the phrase, “I feel good.  I feel great.  I feel wonderful.  I feel good. I feel great. I feel wonderful.”  His tension rises, despite the self-talk.  Rather than convincing himself of his own  security, the phrase reveals his true anxiety and high level of insecurity.

To my surprise, today’s meditation was nothing like the movie.  It was less about me and the process of easing my tensions and anxiety, and more about others and their well-being.  I was guided to think about someone for whom I have warm, tender and compassionate feelings.  Immediately, my wife’s smiling face appeared in my mind’s eye.  The guided meditation led me to repeat four phrases to my loved one throughout the fifteen minute session:

1. May you feel safe.

2. May you feel happy.

3. May you feel healthy.

4. May you live in ease.

While the meditation asked me to extend these feelings to the other, “like a golden ribbon unfurling”, I really saw it more as a prayer, lifted to heaven for my wife, and then to my friend Dave, and finally to all those I know and love.

I thought this was wonderful.  After all, isn’t it our greatest desire that those in our lives might feel safe…and more importantly, BE safe?  Don’t we desire that they will feel and be happy?  Don’t we hope that each and every one will both feel and be healthy?  Of course we do.

But I kept landing on that last phrase.  May my wife live in ease.  I’m sure this doesn’t mean a life of wealth surrounded by footmen and maids.  It has nothing to do with power or possession.  It has everything to do with living with a heart filled with peace; each day a burden-free step along the journey of life.

And when my time was over, I really did hope these things for my loved ones.  I really did wish that each person would find safety, happiness, health and ease during their days.  I prayed that their hearts would be light, their souls free of care, their minds clear and filled with purpose.

At the end of the fifteen minutes, I opened my eyes and determined that, as much as it is in my power, I would continue to make these desires come true in their lives.

And oddly enough, when it was over, I did feel good. I did feel great.  In fact, I felt wonderful.

Up Close and Personal

Museums, aquariums, and arboretums allow us the wonderful opportunity to get closer to things we usually view from a distance.  But we enjoy the experience only if we will open our eyes to what surrounds us.

Rare BirdWhen you pay attention to the detail, you see things differently.  Typically, we view a sky full of black dots and see nothing more than a few black birds flying high overhead.  But when one lands next to you, perches on the branch close to your bench, you are suddenly face-to-face with one, lone bird and it changes your perspective for ever.  Bird SongIf you look closely, you will witness the gloss and shine of individual feathers.  When you lean closer, you make eye contact.  The eyes watch you warily.  The head cocks, the beak opens and a song erupts, bright and loud.  You are privileged to hear the amazing sound of of an individual song, sung at a pitch and volume that awakens the soul and enlivens the heart.

Yellow TangWhen you are intentional in your viewing, you no longer see a pond as just another body of water.  Instead, it is teaming with life that longs to be examined.  If you pay attention, you see new colors and fantastic brilliance.  You witness life interacting with life.  clown fishYou celebrate the vibrancy of the patterns and the magical movement that is as fluid as the medium containing this fantastic show.

I so enjoy the close-up view.  The experience is a gentle reminder of the need to take this same approach with the people in our lives.  We would benefit from looking at our brothers and sisters in the same way we examine a magpie or a clown fish.  Those co-workers who share our 40-hour work week rarely receive a closer look.  We’re continent to see them from the 10,000 foot level, keeping their unique lives as distant from our own as possible.

102_3782We rarely listen to the songs they sing, view the colors of their lives that make them unique, or understand the stories that make them one-of-a-kind.

It’s an unfortunate reality of our life together.  There are so many wonders in this world and some of them, our neighbors, our coworkers and friends, are closer than we can imagine.  We would see them all in a whole new way…if only we would open our eyes.

Never Enough Space Food

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Detail of the Brush

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIf you’ve ever visited a large, well-funded art gallery, you’ve had the opportunity to view amazing works from some of the most historic artists.  If you are like me, you  stand back a few feet and gaze at the masterpiece, taking in the colors, shapes and movement.  But yesterday was different for me.  While viewing great works at Houston Museum of Fine Art, I tried something different.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAFirst, I stood back to get a sense of the artwork and its subject matter and scope.  I took in the range of hues, the story and composition.

Then I stepped closer to the canvas in an effort to examine the different sections, the variety of styles and perform a detailed analysis of the work.

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OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAFinally, I moved in even closer (so close that the museum attendants asked me to step back).  I poured over each stroke within an inch square, looking at the brush stroke directions, the weight of the artist’s hand, the width of the brush and the amazing variety of color and the layers that made this painting possible.

And I did that for painting after painting.  I wanted to see the paintings from the artists’ point of view.  I wanted to be in direct contact with the medium.

At the end of my journey through the expansive exhibit halls, I truly felt that I was in touch with the artist, the canvas, the purpose of the paint.  And when I was done, I fully believed I understood the art and the artist in a way I’ve never understood before.

About Writing

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A snapshot of our blog traffic over the course of the past 19 months.

It might surprise you to find that I’ve been writing a blog for more than nine years. But I’ve only owned my WordPress blog, austinsacre.net since September 2011.  In September of 2011, I made a decision:  I was going to write every day, hone my craft and develop my skill.  Over the course of the past year and a half, I’ve turned what was once an occasional hobby into a daily practice.  And it’s beginning to pay off!

In less than two years, my web site has received more than 17,000 views.  As you can see from the picture above, this past December was the highlight of my on-line career with nearly 3,000 views in one month’s time! This includes views of my stories, videos and pictures.

Austin’s Acre also boasts 95 follower who receive an email when a new post appears and that number is growing with every passing day!

Amazingly, these numbers don’t even reflect the visitors who come to the other blogs and pages that I write: Study Along With Me, Prayers of a Fool, Austin’s Acre Page Turners, and My Journey to 50 Blog.  Between these five blogs and my contract work, I spend a large portion of my time crafting words and posting blogs.

The most exciting part of this writing journey is the news I received this February.  Last October, I submitted an edited version of a previous Austin’s Acre story, Homecoming to WritersDigest.com’s 13th Annual Short, Short Story Competition.  With more than 7,000 submissions to the competition, my story earned a Third-Place award!  Along with a modest cash prize, the honor comes with publication of the story in the WritersDigest winner’s book this summer and my name and story title published on-line.

There is no doubt that I’m putting in the time and if Gladwell is right and 10,000 hours is the demarcation line for reaching expert status, I still have another few years of word-crafting to reach that point in my writing career…And I’m okay with that!

The Start of Something Good

Houston Sunrise 2013.03.31Every so often you need a break.

This week will be one of those breaks as my son and his best friend and I travel to Houston, Texas for six days of fun.

We’ll see the Space Center (Thanks Katie).  We’ll experience the Aquarium.  We’ll be terrified by the traffic and thankful for green grass and flowers already blooming in March.

Most of all, my son and his friend will be thankful for their time with on-line friends seen face-to-face for the first time.  That’s really the reason we are here in the deep south.

My joy is found in getting to spend time with two great young men for six warm, sunny days.

We all need a break from time to time.  But the break doesn’t always require travel to distant places.  In fact, there are times when the break can be as simple as finding a respite during the hectic day, discovering a quiet evening during our busy week, experiencing time with dear friends that renews and rejuvenates our souls, rekindles our spirits, refreshes our souls.

What will you do this week to enjoy a break?  Will you attend a yoga class?  Will you enjoy a cup of tea in a quiet corner of your house?  Will you go for a short walk away from your desk?  Pet a dog?  Listen to a child laugh?  Marvel at a sunrise or sunset?

What will you do for a break?

 

The Key to Happiness – Who Knew?

dollar billsMany Sunday mornings we like to watch the program, CBS This Morning.  Thankfully today’s program was dedicated to finances and money.  Because of today’s program, I have learned something that could possibly change my life:  I was pleased to see Suze Orman provide three easy steps to help every viewer find happiness.  Imagine my surprise to learn that the key to happiness isn’t good friends, a solid faith, loving family or a obedient dog.  According to Orman, the key to happiness is as simple as Saving Money.

I immediately felt sorrow for the many men and women have climbed to the highest mountain tops, searched for wise men with answers, sought solutions to the hard question: “What is the secret of happiness?

Some might have suspected that inner peace provided happiness.  Many have focused on serving others to find meaning in life.  A pitiful few have self-medicated with legal and illegal means.  Once in a while someone might search for the Key to Happiness in family, friends, pets.  Poor lost souls.

Little did they know that the secret to happiness is putting aside a few pennies from time to time?  Of course, according to Orman’s approach, the more money I save, the happier I’ll be.  A few pennies might not provide the level of happiness that I need to get me through my day, let alone my life time.  A few dollars in my bank account might only make my week brighter.  But a million dollars squirreled away would give me so much happiness that I wouldn’t need anything else.  It must be true because every millionaire is happy.  Right?  Elvis was rich.  Wasn’t he happy and healthy right before he died.  Howard Hughes was rolling in dough.  Wasn’t he at peace with his life and free of problems.

So, following Orman’s advice, it follows that more money means more happiness.  I’m glad that question is settled.

Or is it?  What if Orman is wrong?  What if money in the bank isn’t the key to happiness?  What if the Boston College study that investigated this claim is right and Suze Orman is wrong?  What if rich people are actually just as miserable as poor people and middle income people and people who use shells for their currency?  What if money is NOT the key to happiness?

I suspect Suze is doing pretty well, financially speaking.  And, to be honest, she looks pretty happy.  But I would be curious how much happier she would be if she owned a puppy.

Why Church? Oh, Yeah! That’s Why!

IMG_3541[1]A few days ago I asked the question, “Why church?”  The question was specifically asked in an effort to think about the purpose of our weekly gatherings.

Several folks gave their opinions on this question and I really appreciate the insights.  Interestingly, there was a common theme among those responses:  The worst part of church is the people who sit in the pews.  But one of the best parts of church can actually be the people who sit in the pews.

When we are at our worst, we repel those who seek acceptance and love.

When we are at our best, we can love one another into the presence of God.

Earlier this week I attended a service at my church that truly challenged my tainted view of the church.  On a cold Monday night, more than 1000 people came together to do two important things:  They sang and they prayed.

There was no other agenda.  There was no sermon.  There was no offering.  There was no drama, video or skit.  In the 90 minutes of this service, people of every shape, size, religious background and spiritual flavor huddled around the auditorium to pray for others.  They prayed for healing.  They prayed for family.  They prayed for strength.

But most of all, they did did church right.

And when I left that service, I was reminded that church is about communion with others in the presence of God.  Church is about serving those in need.  Church is about finding direction and following the path.

Sure, people can ruin the dream.  But that can be said for anything; whether the office, the playground or the sanctuary.

But church doesn’t have to be about people.  In fact, it should never be about the people.

And that’s the real answer to my original question, isn’t it?

A Little Fixer-Upper

IMG00066My wife and I play a little game.  We look for houses that might be interesting to buy.  We’re never serious, we just point out homes that have “For Sale” signs in their front yard.  As we note their sign, we also determine whether or not we would be interested in moving into the home.  These decisions are based on several important factors, including location, style of home, the materials used in construction, and the effort needed to make them livable.

Some homes require a touch of paint or some concrete work to make them habitable.  Several are beyond repair.  Occasionally we view a home that might work as-is, but this is a rare occurrence.

Sometimes we drive through very nice neighborhoods; perfect neighborhoods, with beautiful tree-lined streets, boasting  million-dollar homes.  Its on these drives that my funny, funny wife will point out the window and say, “There’s a little fixer-upper.”  And we just Laaaaaugh!

Last night a friend of ours mentioned buying into one of the newest ideas in home ownership:  No or Low Maintenance Homes.  In case you’ve never heard of these, allow me to explain.  If you are smart enough to move your worldly belongings into one of these fashionable dwellings, you benefit from the fact that you will never have to mow the yard, weed the flowerbeds, shovel the walks or paint the walls.  You don’t have to repair the roof, replace the siding or point-tuck the bricks.  This is the kind of living every home owner dreams of, right?

But here’s the rub:  There is no such thing as a no maintenance home.  Every home, every single one, requires maintenance.  The marketing department for these abodes has done a great job in convincing you that it is the perfect home when, in reality, these residences are just like every other.  The difference is that someone else does the maintenance.  Someone else mows the yard, pulls the weeds, paints the walls.  The work is still required.  The difference is that the effort is someone else’s.

Maintenance is reality, whether you or someone else is doing the work.  It’s true of homes and its true of the reset of life.

Plants need watered, tended and trimmed.

Dogs need walked, groomed and loved.

Cars need gassed up, oil changed, and tuned.

Kids need food, clothes, shelter, money, more food and more clothes, more money…Actually, the kids’ list is endless.

There’s no way around it.  Everyone and everything needs maintenance.

If you wake up tomorrow (and I hope you do), you will need maintenance.  If you are like me, the first thing you do in the morning is to shuffle to the bathroom.  Maintenance.  Fix your morning coffee and eat a quick breakfast.  Maintenance.  Shower and shave.  Maintenance.  Everything we do is designed to maintain the bodies we inhabit, the homes in which we live, and the families we love.

Stop the maintenance and you won’t last long.  Ignore the maintenance and the domicile declines.  Increase the attention to the maintenance and the quality of the residence improves.

It’s true with your body, your family or that little fixer-upper you call home.

Tracks in the Snow

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Bird tracks in the snow at Summit Lake.

A few weeks ago we received an inch of over-night snow.  It just so happened that on the exact same night someone left the back gate open.  When I let out the dogs in the morning my black Pug, Jack took advantage of the lax security.  By the time I realized the escape, Jack had been lose for several minutes.  I needed to find the run-away but where to start?

Thankfully, the tracks in the snow told the story of his journey and in a matter of time I’d found the escapee.

The prints revealed every one of his moves, where he stopped to sniff and mark, his journeys close to houses, behind shrubs and across streets.  His meanderings were significant and his investigative prowess was unmatched.

But the snow told the story.  The tracks gave him up and the rising sun revealed his hiding place.

And Jack isn’t alone.

Each of us, over the course of our lives, have taken advantage of the open gates from time to time.  We’ve used the cover of dark to wander, meander, snoop and investigate.  Amazingly, we think that we left no tracks.  Shockingly, we think that our journey remains our own dark secret.

But we all leave prints in the snow.  The layer of white reveals our dark directions.  The early morning light illuminates our night-time wanderings.

Jack did no harm.  He simply exercised his curiosity.  We might not be able to claim as much innocence when we are found out.

It is a good reason to take a moment to rethink the open gate when the option next provides itself.

Living Life Large

Bath Time AdventureHere’s the deal:  Life is what you make it.  The Adventure is where you find it.

As a child, every bath is an under water adventure.  Every pine tree is a potential fort.  Every mud puddle a new discovery.  We find excitement in the every day.  We relish in the little things.  Why?

268I think part of the reason is that all things are new to us.  When you reach the age of 50, you’ve taken over 18,000 baths or showers (assuming you are fastidious about your hygiene).  At some point, there are no more grand discoveries below the bubbles.  But, is that really true?  Aren’t there always sea monsters lurking below the deep?  I propose there are just as many undiscovered treasures today as there were when we were three.  We simply stopped looking.

Our lives become regular acts of function.  Our activities, if they don’t serve a purpose are assigned to the column of “wasted time” or “foolish endeavors”.

Look at a 4-year-old as she walk down the sidewalk. Do they simply put one foot in front of the other?  Do they see this mode of transportation as nothing more than a means to take them from Point A to Point B?  NO!  They hop.  They skip.  They wander from one side of the pavement.  They intentionally splash the mud puddle.  They walk on the grass instead of the path laid out by grown ups.  It isn’t just a walk…It is a grand adventure.

When is the last time you watched your neighbor get their paper from the mailbox?  Did they hop to the curb, twirl around twice and reach into the box with a flourish?  Of course not.  They are too old for that kind of foolishness.

174Some of the happiest people I know are children because they see life as an adventure.  They go through each day with energy and pizazz.  And we could learn something from them.  Where we see yards that need mowed, they see a jungle that holds dangerous lions and exciting discoveries.  Where we see walks that need shoveled, they see a winter wonderland of fun and magic.  They look beyond the mundane and see the new and exciting.

I propose that we live this day to its fullest.  Today we strut with our heads held high, instead of walking with the weight of the world on our shoulders.  Today we sing our favorite song loudly and slightly off key when we are in the bath, instead of mindlessly performing our routine of wash, rinse, repeat.  Today we wear clothes that are garish and bright and do not match because we like them and for no other reason.

500If this is too much for you, start small.  Wear miss-matched socks.  Swing by GoodWill and find the ugliest tie you can buy for $1.99.  Wear your tennis shoes with your suit.  Sprint to the car and then hop up and down until your are out of breath.  Eat your toast…up-side-down!  (I know, whacky, right?)

Life is an Adventure.  Unfortunately, too many of us have stopped living it that way.  Instead of a great mountain climber, we’ve become an old retired Sherpa.  Instead of a deep see explorer, we’ve hung up our fins and snorkel.  It’s time to come out of retirement, if for no more than one day.  It’s time to get the gear down from the closet.  It’s time to make life grand again:  One hop, skip and jump at a time.

Can We Talk?

198709092168Did you hear?  Just between the two of us…  You won’t believe what I just heard…

These and many like them are phrases that kill:  They kill relationships.  They kill trust.  They kill integrity.  If you’ve said one of these before, or you’ve heard them coming from someone else, you know what I mean.

These words come from big mouths that have no filters.  They come from hearts that have no conscience.  They come from minds that have no intelligence.

These words are always about others and hardly ever about something good.  They burrow into the soul.  They leave a dark mark.  They have a foul odor.

These words represent gossip in its worst form.  They may be true or they may not.  They represent nothing more than slander.  They whisper shame.  They detail destruction.

These words are evil.  They come from bad intent.  They destroy careers.  They devastate families.

A person who begins a conversation with these words has a small mind and a cold heart.

The next time you hear those words, take action.

Did you hear?  – No, and I don’t want to.

Just between the two of us… – Just keep it to yourself.

You won’t believe what I just heard… – You are right.  I won’t so don’t even tell me.

 

 

 

 

Turning…Older

Close the box is a dice game in which you must roll the perfect combination to "close" all the numbers on your side.
Close the Box is a dice game in which you must roll the perfect combination to “close” all the numbers on your side.  It hardly ever happens.

I’m starting to come to a realization about life:  It’s one big Crap Shoot.

I don’t mean this in a negative way.  I mean that, in truth, life is nothing more than a roll of the dice.  You can be happy and healthy one minute and in the toss of the cubes, your life changes dramatically.  You can be working hard, paying your bills, involved in your community and then you get fired, laid off, injured, or sick.

You can plant seeds in the garden and the odds are that something will grow, but it isn’t a 100% guarantee.

You can teach your children to be responsible but their actions, ultimately are their own and you have no control.

You can keep your yard perfectly groomed but it doesn’t prevent the city from digging a ditch through your fescue.

Life is a Crap Shoot.  You roll the dice every morning that you wake up.  The outcome is out of your hands…But how you respond to the fall of the dice is another story entirely!

Four years ago, after standing in the sandwich line for 20 minutes, I blew up at the woman behind the counter when she informed me that they don’t sell half wrap sandwiches.  I ranted and raved.  I stormed away.  I made a scene.  In short, I was an ass.  Don’t ask why.  I have no idea why I acted that way.  I can venture a guess:  Stress, Frustration, Fatigue.  Any number of reasons come to mind:  Stupidity, Immaturity, Evil.

In what was the least important part of my day, I threw a temper tantrum.  I pouted like a four-year-old because they only sold WHOLE wraps and not HALF wraps.  The dice fell wrong.  Big deal.  But I reacted in a manner that was beyond inappropriate.  I hate to think how I would have acted if it had been something important!

But here’s the rub.  I knew I was wrong.  I knew that my actions were out of line.  And so the next day, I stood in line for another 20 minutes.  Not to order a sandwich, whole or otherwise, but to apologize.  It was an awkward moment for me but there was no way I would ever be able to face that woman, and all my co-workers, if I didn’t take responsibility for my actions and my reactions.

And here’s the best part of the story.  To this day, Caroline (the sandwich maker) and I greet one another with a smile and a hug whenever we see one another.  She calls me Darlin’ and Hon.  I just call her Caroline.  But occasionally will break out into my own version of Neil Diamond’s “Sweet Caroline” from across the lunch room.  We talk about her vacations and she asks about my day.  I am interested in her sore back and her love of NASCAR and she is happy to see me when I enter her line.  The other day I wandered through the cafeteria just to wish her a happy weekend.

My initial reaction on the horrible day four years ago?  Ridiculous.

My second-thought reaction four years ago and every day since?  Redemptive.

The dice are going to fall.  Someday, it’s going to be something that matters and the roll will not favor you.  A bad diagnosis, a pink slip, a burst water pipe, hurtful revelations, whispered secrets.  How you react is much more important that the final count on the dice.

Perhaps I’ve learned that much in 49 years.  Perhaps.

Art and More

I finally found them!  I’ve been looking for a series of pictures I took 18 months ago but it wasn’t until yesterday that I found them.

My daughter was asked to paint some wooden letters for a child’s room.  When she told me about the project, I thought she would paint on letter blue and another red.  She might add a stenciled daisy to a letter or two.

Several months later, I was shocked to see the end product.  For a small finder’s fee paid to her father, you too can have a brilliant and beautiful wall decoration.  The phone lines are open and operators are standing by to take your orders right now!

Deep Cleaning

Nothing feels better than a clean house and a room in perfect order.
Nothing feels better than a clean house and a room in perfect order.

My wife made it clear yesterday that we were going to clean.

“The place is filthy!” she announced with conviction.

I agreed.  That’s my job.  My job is to agree.  I learned this years ago and life has been better ever since.  And so, without questioning the course of our Saturday, we cleaned.  She tackled the living room and kitchen and hall.  I tackled the dining room and family room.  Together, we made a big dent in the dirt situation.  I emptied the china cabinet and dusted each piece.  I Windexed the top and bottom of the glass dining room table.  I swept the floor.  I dusted the woodwork.  I rearranged the side board.  I was very proud.

Anita did her thing and if I’m to be honest, was a LOT more detailed than my own cleaning effort.  She destroyed the room.  I mean carpets-rolled-up, furniture-shoved-into-corners, couches-over-turned destroyed.  And yet, somehow by the end of the day, it was all put back together and beautifully clean and sparkling.

In the end we made a huge dent in the dust bunnies that had started to bread under the furniture.  In the end we could say with confidence that we were not longer filthy.  Tired…but not filthy.

Words and Their Source

Calm MorningThree people expressed their view of my project. They all shared a similar view but their varied approach and the responses they received were much different.

One person is nothing more than an bitter irritant to nearly everyone she meets.  Her words were like rough sandpaper being used to remove a boil on the back of my neck:  They were painful, too rough, too close and definitely the wrong tool for the job.  They caused me to withdrawal violently to avoid more pain.

One person is a lost, lonely and sad fool who covers the pain with laughter that is too loud and too often.  His words are sarcastic and biting.  His snide comments were like my neighbor’s dog barking at the fence:  Teeth flash but are harmless as long as I never try to get close to the unpredictable animal.

One person is quiet and often speaks wisdom beyond her years.  Her words were carefully chosen and represented many  hours of thought.  Like a surgeon’s blade, they cut right to the heart of the issue, making plain the action that must be taken without excess damage.  She did not attack the person, but the problem.

Three voices.  One similar opinion.  Three means of expression.

How do you speak?  What response to you produce?