Owls and Squirrels and Peace of Mind

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My view this past week. Many thanks to the property owner who allowed me to hide among the trees and renew my soul.

Twelve days of vacation; I needed it more than I knew.  And it was glorious.  I had no real agenda.  There were no exotic travel plans. My greatest desire during my scheduled time off was to spend as many hours as possible sitting in the woods, waiting for a deer to wander past.  If my view was good and my aim was true, I would come home with meat for my freezer and a story to tell my family. Fully decked out in camouflage, I had my bow, warm gloves and a great hiding place.  I was ready.

However, I suspect the deer were on to me.  They spread the news.  They sounded the alert.  And much to my Bambi-loving friends’ delight, I didn’t see one deer during my entire vacation.  I didn’t see one in the woods, or beside the road driving back and forth, or near my neighborhood, or even in my dreams.  So, when people ask if I went hunting, I have to respond that I am anything but a hunter.  I’m just a guy who enjoys looking at trees and nature…and I’m okay with that.

In truth, while unsuccessful at the hunt, the experience was unparalleled in it’s impact on my heart and my soul.

Each morning I would leave my home at 5:15 and drive the hour-and-a-half to this fantastic piece of property that boasts deep woods, rolling prairie, cornfields, marsh and pond.  I gathered my belongings from the car and stood in the darkness, waiting for my eyes to adjust to the black.  I would then hike into the woods, allowing at least forty-five minutes before daylight.  Finding my spot on the bucket next to the tree, I would prepare my space, set my bow, hang my pack, and lean back against the strong Maple, ready to listen and wait.

One morning, in the darkness of those woods, I enjoyed Barred Owls calling their familiar “who-cooks-for-you” as it mixed with the Eastern Screech Owls calling back and forth.  Finally, with the brusqueness of an old uncle and as if to tell them all to quiet down, the Great Horned Owl made his presence known.  The woods once again became quiet.

The light rising over the Randolph County farmland illuminated a rainbow of colors on rain-dappled leaves and dew covered grasses.  It reflected beautifully off the small, lily-covered pond, as steam rose gracefully off the surface and into the chilled morning air.  The breezes blowing over the cornfields and up the hill created a song, a chorus of sound; a rustle of dry corn, the clicking of limbs high overhead, the rhythmic drum of the windmill as it turned in time with the wind.  The birds flying from tree to tree, branch to branch entertained and dazzled with their aerial acrobatics and enthusiastic calls and songs.  It was magical.

As the sun came up over the horizon, the rest of the woodland world came to life.  Squirrels chased one another and investigated the forest floor.  Two Pileated Woodpeckers called to one another and met in a grove of trees just forty yards from my position.  They shifted up and down large Hickory and then flew off in a rage, only to return and repeat the performance.  Canada Geese passed overhead in V-formations, honking furiously to one another as they prepare for their long flight to warmer climates.  Chickadee, Downy Woodpeckers, Mourning Dove and Nuthatch dotted the landscape, searching for breakfast and making quite a show.

No, I didn’t see any deer.  But in the end, I realized I didn’t need to.  This vacation was a retreat for my soul.  It heightened my senses.  It awakened my spirit more than I could ever have imagined or hoped.  Each day was a blessing and I’m so grateful for the time.

Resolving to Revolutionize My Life

WWLHappy New Year!  This is it.  This is the one.  This is the year when everything changes:  You will make and save more money than ever before.  You will loose those last (or first) ten pounds.  You will find a meaningful hobby.  You will volunteer in a way that changes lives.  You will fix up the house, get a new wardrobe and read War & Peace.

This is the year that you climb the mountain of apathy, plant the flag of determination and take the stance of self-assurance.

This is your year and nothing will change your mind.  You will set your sail, stay the course and find new adventures over every horizon.

Or…you won’t.  You might just stay the same…or worse.

You might make less money and spend it foolishly.  You might blow up like a human balloon because you can’t control your eating and your emotions.  You might live a year of sloth; no hobby, no meaningful service, or no home repairs.  You just might sit around in Cheetos-stained t-shirts watching reruns of Happy Days wishing you were as cool as the Fonz.

Instead of blazing new trails, you are afraid to mow your own yard.  Instead of leading the charge into a life of adventure, you cuddle under your Harry Potter Snuggie in the dark of night.

This is it.  This is your year.  And it could go either way.  Which one will you select?

Happy Thanksgiving, 2013

20131117_160359I try to live my life in a way that reflects gratitude.  Sometimes I’m actually successful at reaching this goal.  There are times when I celebrate little things, give thanks for the many blessings and embrace those in my life who strengthen my heart with love or my character with challenge.  Sometimes.

There are other times that my pride and sense of entitlement overwhelms my better nature.  There are those times when I expect others to understand my selfishness and bow to my childish demands.  There are times when I become upset because life doesn’t fall into a perfect plan that benefits me.  There are those times.

Thanksgiving Day is the easy one, right?  November has become the month of Thanksgiving and we list off the 31 things we are thankful for; each day getting its own item.  But all that seems to change the minute the store doors open on Friday morning (or Thursday night, or Thursday morning, or Wednesday night).

But, what if each moment was as it should be:  Less about us, and more about others?  What if our hearts overflow with joy instead of bogged down with desire?  Shouldn’t we live lives of gratitude and grace instead of the desire to grab and go?  Shouldn’t we have pure souls and open minds instead of jaded thoughts and bitter viewpoints?

Thanksgiving:  It’s not just for November any more.

Happy Father’s Day To Me

042This is one of those days when the person in the chair doesn’t really know what to do with themselves.  Being a dad isn’t about getting pats on the back and high-fives for a job well done.

In fact, Father’s Day smacks against what it really means to be a father.

Men take hills and conquer armies, they don’t sit back a soak up the sun in the quiet of their back yards.

We keep our heads down and power on rather than look for congratulations and “job well done”.

There isn’t time for a day to honor.  There are yards to be mowed, trim to be painted, bushes to trim.

We can’t wait for breakfast to be made at 9:30 when we are use to being up at the crack of dawn.  We’re hungry at 6:45 and ready to get out the door before the traffic gets heavy.

On the other hand…It is awful nice to hear what a great dad you are.  And the little ankle biters did buy me an awfully nice grill. And I have been wanting to try roasting a chicken on that grill.  And it is suppose to be a beautiful day.  And I do have live Reds baseball streaming on my phone.  And it wouldn’t hurt me to take a day and rest.

By golly, I’m doing it!  I’m taking full advantage of this Hallmark-driven holiday.  I’m cooking my chicken and listening to my game and I deserve it.  I’m getting hugs from my kids and soaking up the glory because I’m a Father…and I deserve it.

But for my own piece of mind, hide the mower.

Life Lesson #32 – Use the Baguette

IMG_4154[1]Whenever making a chicken sandwich, it is best to roast your own chicken and then slice it into nice, thick pieces.  Refrigerate the remaining chicken for later use.  Gather an onion and some fresh lettuce and a perfectly ripe tomato from your garden.  Slice them into thick pieces.  Whip up a little mayonnaise using fresh egg yolks from your barn-yard chickens and a little light olive oil and freshly squeezed lemon juice with a pinch of salt and a dash of pepper.  Gingerly slice some 3-year-old Gouda and prepare to toast the meat and cheese to a bubbly perfection.  Combine all the ingredients and enjoy.

Please understand, all of this is negotiable.  The sandwich is good with these ingredients but the truth of the matter is that the meal will live and die based on the bread you use.    It is possible to buy sliced chicken, lettuce and onion.  You can skip the tomato and use Miracle Whip if you want.  Throw on a slice of processed American cheese if that is all you have.  But you must never, and I mean NEVER use anything but a whole wheat baguette for this sandwich.

Slice the crispy, crunchy, wonderful bread along the body of the loaf.  Use six inches for a nice sized sandwich.  Put on the meat and cheese and place it in a toaster oven.  When done, bring it out and finish with the remaining toppings.

Enjoy with a nice white or red wine.  It will change your life.  I promise and you’re welcome.

My Morning on the Patio

IMG_4016I’m sitting here on my patio, listening to the trickle of water from my fountain and feeling the cool morning breeze on my face.  This is where I want to be.  There’s nothing else I want to do.  I want to stay here all day.  I want to pretend that I have no responsibilities at all.

But that just isn’t how I function.  Instead, I’ve already made a to-do list of at least nine different actions that must take place today to prepare me for the rest of the week.  I’ve mentally shifted from restful Sunday morning to task-oriented Monday-through-Friday.  I have to make calls.  I have to prep equipment.  I must clean parts of the house.  I should wash clothes and clean my garage.

There is so much to do, so many tasks, so few hours in a day to get it all done…

But then, it will never all get done.  Will it?  Isn’t there ALWAYS something else on the list of Life’s To-Do’s?  Sure, I’ll do some things to make my next week a little easier.  But I don’t have to do it all in one day.  And after reviewing the list, I see that half of the items can be done another day.  One third of the remaining list will take little or no effort.

And in their place I scratch a new list:  Go to church, read a book, walk with my wife, play chess with my son, and meditate 15 minutes.  If I accomplish these items, I will have really done something great.  In fact, I would argue that this is a much better list and one I can easily live with on a beautiful Sunday morning.

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.

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?

Resolution Revolution

Jan 1, 2013. Early morning.  Ready to take on a great New Year!
Jan 1, 2013. Early morning. Ready to take on a great New Year!

Every year.  Every, stinking, single, year.  I do it every January 1st:  I make resolutions.  And then, somewhere around the fourth day of the year, I start breaking those resolutions.

And I’m not alone.  Millions of fat, lazy American make many of the same declarations for change: Eat Less, Move More, Spend More Time With Family, Get A Better Job, Drink More Water, Take Vitamins, Run A Marathon, Write A Novel, Build A Log Cabin, Stockpile Weapons…The list is endless.

But this year is different.  I am not just going to hope to loose weight.  I will loose weight.  I will move more.  I will drink more water.  I will.  I know it.   Here is why:  In the past, all my hopes and dreams for the new year have been based on nothing more than hopes and dreams.  But THIS year, I have a spreadsheet: Fitness 2013.

That’s right.  With my new Fitness 2013 Spreadsheet, I can track my weight, my activity, my sit-ups and jumping jacks and water to caffeine ratio. I can even track my movement and the resulting benefit I receive!  After careful research, I developed a formula that considers the amount of time I do an activity based on the amount of energy expended.  On a scale from one-to-five, I can calculate just how much energy I’ve burned in a day.

Let’s say I shovel my drive.  It takes me half an hour.  The snow is heavy and after I pop my third Nitro, I mark in my spreadsheet a difficulty level of 5.   My spreadsheet automatically divides the product of these two numbers by my average weight over the past week and then multiplies this by the amount of water I’ve consumed, with a slight alteration made to account for the exact level of caffeine in my system at that exact moment.  Divide by Pi and the square root of my thigh’s circumference and there you have it.

This is going to be a great year!  I just know it.

P.S.  Feel free to use my spreadsheet for your own successful 2013!

Just A Little Off The Top

This year we raised a bunch of money for charity.  As part of my role in the experience, I agreed to allow Mike, the director of the HSR&D to shave my head if we met our goal.  Well, we surpassed the goal by nearly $4,000!

This is the second year in a row that we’ve blown past our original fund-raising goal.  Last year, one lucky winner was able to throw a pie in the director’s face…but they needed a little help from me to make it a really big splash.  This year, Mike gets his revenge!

Flying

My youngest and one of his greatest moments of flight.

Too often we allow gravity to hold us down.

Too often we fail to take the risk.  We can fly, if only we take the chance.

Perhaps its been the experience of failure that prevents us from trying.  But, like a great chef creating works of art with food, the risk of getting burned by the stove doesn’t keep him from moving forward.

Sure, we might fall to the earth, scrape our flesh, jolt our joints.

But we have to try.

Swing higher.

Jump further.

Stretch out.

Reach.

Perhaps this time you might soar!

Run, Forest, Run

I’ve been working my fingers to the bone!

For those of you who are wondering, “Where has Austin’s Acre been?“, here is your answer:

EVERYWHERE.

We’ve been working hard and running fast.  We’ve driven across the state, from north to south and east to west.  We’ve stayed up late and gotten up early.  We’ve worked in the yard and at the job site.  We’ve given blood and gotten flu shots.  We’ve taken pets to the vet.  We’ve gotten hair cuts and car-loads of groceries.  We’ve  payed bills and played Frisbee golf.  We’ve made quarts of apple sauce and tomato jam.  We’ve spent time with friends until late in the evening.

In short, we’ve been very, very busy.

But all that stops today.  As of today, I’m turning over a new leaf.  My days will be different.  My life will no longer control me.

As of today,  I will pause in the morning before I run out the door for my day.  I will take a lunch and spend quality time with co-workers.  I will be home in the evenings to enjoy supper with my family.

I will.  How about you?

The Change Challenge: Checking In

So?  How ya’ been?

Several months ago we started the Change Challenge.  We started looking at our decision making, our choices, our direction in life and realized we could alter the course of our world if we took calculated, determined steps.  Some of you took this to heart and tried it.

Some of you tried reading books.  Some of you tried having a different attitude.  Talking to family.  Eating better.  Moving more.

Some of you even gave up TV or tried to quit smoking.

I don’t know one person who has all of life figured out.  No matter how “together” we might appear, we still have areas in our life that need a little attention, that need a little focus, that need a little help.

And so, now that summer vacation is over and we’re back to the routine of life, what is the area that you will work on?  What is the struggle that needs some resolve?  What is the one thing that you can do this week to make you a better You?

The 30 Day Adventure – The Biggest Hurdle

Nothing is better than a big cup of coffee first thing in the morning.

Controlling my appetites over the month of June required that I give up some of my favorite foods:  Dairy, caffeine, meat, sweets, soda, beer or wine.  No problem, right?  Wrong.

By day three the caffeine headache was so severe that I assumed my head was just going to pop off my shoulders and fall on the floor. Prior to this month, it was not uncommon for me to drink a little coffee in the morning: only one little pot at home and another 3-4 cups at work.  A can of diet coke at lunch and I would limp through my afternoon with a 32 ounce diet coke.  After a couple cans of diet coke for supper and I was wired for sound.  I then would end my night with a nice hot cup of coffee and a bowl of ice cream.  The perfect day.

So giving up my little addiction, cold-turkey, might not have been such a good idea.  But day four came and I could see out of both eyes again and I was pretty sure I was going to shake it!

In reality, giving up caffeine was one of the hardest things I did this month but also one of the best things I could do during the entire month.  I find that now I am more calm.  Of course, my reflexes aren’t as sharp but at least  I don’t require a stimulant to make it through my day. In fact, I worked 35 hours in three days last week and, while tired, the days went very quickly and I was productive the entire time.  My mood was stable.  My attitude stayed positive.

After carefully reviewing my month, I can honestly say that I like me off the caffeine.  I like the fact that my life has more balance from moment to moment, hour to hour.  And the odd thing is that I don’t miss it at all.  Oh, I’d like a diet coke for the fizz in my mouth or the taste on my tongue but I don’t miss the caffeine.  Not one bit.

Now excuse me while I go suck down some more of that wonderful Noblesville City water!

July 1, 2012 – The 30 Day Adventure Ends

On June 1, 2012 the journey begins.

On June 1, 2012 I determined that I would make an effort to change my life, dedicating one month to an adventure, a journey, an experiment.  It wouldn’t be anything radical like living in a tent on my front yard or only eating bugs found in my crawl space.  But it would be life-changing none-the-less.  I determined that the month of June would be different.  It wouldn’t be business as usual.  I would turn down the “noise” of my life and turn up the silence.  I would listen for that Still, Small Voice and in the process, I might find inner peace.

Why did I do this?  To still my heart.  To calm my mind.  To take control over my appetites.  To gain a foothold on self-control and in the process, regain a sense of peace.

I did it because, and I’m being honest, I love food.  I don’t just like it.  I LOVE it.  I have the Bible of Cheeses on my bookshelf.  I’m looking at it right now.  If you pour up a beautiful Pinot Noir and hand me a delicate slice of Morbier I will never leave the table.  Throw in a chunk of crusty bread and a bowl of Spanish Olives and I’m in a state of bliss.

I did it because I love TV.  Seriously, I would watch movies, sports, news, documentaries, cartoons, YouTube, Hulu, Vudu, Netflix and if truly desperate, The Disney Channel. Occasionally, I just sit and stare at the blank screen. Sometime in early May I calculated that I watched more than 20 hours of TV/video a week.  That’s not entertainment, it’s a sickness.

I did it because I love my Smart Phone more than TV and food.  I constantly hold the gadget in my hand, check email, update my status, play words with friends, touch base with the weather satellites.  Hours and hours or texting, news, weather, games, email, updates.  Someone help me.

And in the end, I determined that these distractions were not making me a better person.  They were making me neurotic, tuned out, turned off, numbed and dumbed down.

And so, for one month, I gave up some of my favorite foods:  All Dairy, meat, caffeine, soda, alcohol and sweets.

I gave up all Media:  Radio, TV, News, Movies, Facebook, Email, Internet (I had to continue connections with people because of work and social planning but only checked the email 2-3 times a day).

I gave up the Aps on my phone:  I deleted Facebook, Words with Friends, The Indy Channel Weather Authority, Google, Games and much, MUCH more.

And what is the end result?  Well, let’s unpack the results in the coming days.  Let’s just say that 30 days are over but the Adventure continues and it’s only getting better.

A Fisher Of Men

One of the most enjoyable things I did during the month of June was to write and perform a monologue at my church.  I love my church and the opportunity I have to be an active member in the design of the primary worship experience.  It is creative, colorful, motivational and challenging each and every week.

I hope you enjoy this little set up to the week’s sermon.  (5 minutes)