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.

Ups and Downs

20140105_151935Here’s what I’ve seen in the past weeks:

  • One friend lost her job.
  • One friend received a promotion.
  • One marriage is falling apart.
  • One unborn child died.
  • One friend has rectal cancer.
  • One friend had surgery for prostate cancer.
  • One friend lost his father.
  • Sunny and warm days can turn into winter wonderlands overnight.
  • Dark times are always, always followed by sunny days.

And here’s what I’ve learned as a result of all this:

  • Life and health are frail.
  • Marriages are hard.
  • Winter wonderlands are beautiful…if only for a few days.
  • Life always ends in death.
  • In between birth and death, we make the most of every moment or we don’t…it’s our choice.

What will I learn next week?

Getting Back To My Roots

694Every so often, a person must look back into their past and evaluate the source of their genetic material.  While I have no documentation to prove it, I believe I have a little Scot in my blood.  I base this on the fact that I love the move, Braveheart and look pretty good in a Kilt.

Where do you get your DNA?  What is the root of your personality?  Are you somber and stern or lovable and filled with laughter?  Are you tall and strong or short and frail?

It doesn’t make you less-than to know your history, no matter the outcome.  In fact, knowing from where you come gives you strength and purpose.

Be proud of your heritage.  Own your history.  It’s made you who you are today.

P.S.  And if you have the legs for it, slip on a Kilt…It’s most liberating!

Day 310 – What is That?

20131228_114221The other day we went for a walk and I found this beautiful item on the top of a log.  I’m sure it is a lichen of some sort but who, other than some brainiac fungologist, would know what it is?

And as I stopped to take this still-life photograph (which was extremely easy because this life was very still), I started to wonder about the millions of items in my world that are nothing more than an odd curiosity to me.  A myriad of life forms, technologies, and creations surround me.  How many things do I look over because they are strange to me?  How many times have I turned a blind eye to things both strange and wonderful?

I hope that this new year will be different than the last.  I want to see clearly those magical elements of the universe; both the microscopic and cosmic.  I want to stop and smell roses, or daisies, or petunias…whatever is handy.

This world is filled with beauty, if only we stop and take a closer look.

Day 299 – The Magic is Gone

2013-12-20Only days before it was a winter wonder land.  Tonight I arrive home to find this massacre, this crime scene, this horrific holiday happening.

There on my front yard, where once Frosty stood and waved defiantly at my neighbor’s twinkling lights and animatronic Christmas Moose, now resides an over-sized snow ball, two sticks, a hat and a really bad tie.  There’s no easy way to say it:  Frosty is Dead.

That’s the thing about Indiana weather.  Yesterday, two feet of snow.  Today, tropical breezes blow.  (Feel free to use that if you want.)

It’s also the thing about life (I’ve discovered this week).  Some times my life is full of stress, frustration and trials.  The next day, everything seems to have worked itself out.  Everything is suddenly blue skies and tropical breezes.  Other times, life is moving along without a care and then suddenly it’s blizzards, snow drifts and closed roads.

The take away is that, while the magic of the day might be gone right now, it comes back.  The winds of change will ensure it.

Day 293 – Merry Christmas…I Win.

20131214_122313My neighbor called me over to his house today.  He had a complaint and wanted to voice his concerns.  First, he said with a little twinkle of joy in his eye, my effort to decorate the yard was “disappointing” at best.  At this point, I’ve only lit the little blue spruce and placed out the Christmas Penguin.  As he pointed to my yard, he questioned my commitment, “Seriously?!  That’s the best you can do?”

You must understand the historical context of his caustic consideration.  Over the past decade we’ve slowly escalated the decoration competition to a ridiculous level .  It started innocently enough.  For years we each had a string of lights or two, and then one year I put out two glowing reindeer.  The next year he set up an animated moose made of grape vine and in response, I added two more deer.  The third year resulted in 450 feet of lights along my fence and around my house.  The fourth year found ice-cycle lighting along his eaves and blankets of lights over each bush.  Much to the electric company’s delight, there was no end in sight to this lighting duel.

But this year, I said, “Enough“.  I’m simplifying my life and won’t be guilted into this childish competition.  That, and after decorating last October and leaving the lights up through March, all my strings of lights were burnt out except the four remaining strands used to decorate the spruce.  But I’m not about to go out and spend another $379 on lights!  I won’t give my neighbor the satisfaction!

But I appreciate his concern: And so, in an effort to show Christmas Cheer and to get the Decoration Diva off my back, I used nature’s best bauble:  Snow.  My daughter and I spent an hour rolling out a overly-developed seat of snow, a respectable chest of chill and a noble cranium of cold for our winter greeter.  We poked in some rosebud eyes and a willow-stem mouth, found festive clothing and in no time Frosty was ready to earn his keep.  He now sits in our side yard and  waves defiantly at my neighbor who continues to work late into the night, climbing his precariously placed ladder in his vain attempt to string his lights and mount the Moose higher on his roof.

In the words of Frosty, “Merry Christmas, neighbor!  I win!”

Day 287 – Like a Fish

20131206_144417There are times when I feel that I live in a fish bowl.  My world is very small and I do nothing more than swim in endless circles amazed at the new scenery with each pass because of my short memory.

For instance, yesterday I said AT LEAST three stupid things.  I remember them every easily because they sounded stupid to me as soon as I said them.  They were not meant to be hurtful but could have been interpreted that way.  They were not an attempt to be funny or glib.  I was just talking.  They were words that escaped my mouth before my brain could create a filter and save me from certain embarrassment.

And let’s be honest, those are only the three statements that I’m aware of.  How many more things did I say that were insensitive or hurtful and yet I have no idea?

I want, so very much, to be a person who speaks words of support, care and love.  I desire more than anything to be a man who offers encouragement and warm thoughts every time I open my mouth.  And, in my defense, as a rule I’m pretty good at this.  But every day, at least once or twice, my memory fades and I swim into the same pattern:  Open Mouth, Insert Foot.

It is as if I never learn that the bowl is round and perhaps I could swim a new direction.

Day 284 – The Most Wonderful Time of Year?

2013-12-04 TreeThis was an interesting evening.  We decorated our tree and found that with each special ornament, there were tears running down our cheeks.  This was, after-all, the first year we’ve decorated without our children helping.

Both boys moved out earlier this year and that took them both out of the picture.  Our daughter’s work and social calendar made it impossible for her to join us.

And so, my wife and I pulled out the Christmas boxes and unpacked the bulbs, bobbles and gems…all by ourselves.  To make matters worse, our tradition of trudging into the wilderness to pick the perfect tree was replaced by a plastic and wire version.

It was a very sober evening.  Sure the lights are on but the hearth is a little cold this Christmas Season.

The problem was that each ornament represented a point in time, a fond memory, a special moment:  Baby’s First Christmas, Christmas 1998, First Lost Tooth, etc.  It was quite a struggle to realize that the family tree tradition had ended.

But I realized something fantastic as the evening progressed:  While we say goodbye to some traditions, this provides an opportunity to create all new traditions.  It is a new beginning for my wife and I.  Finding purpose beyond the children and beyond work will be the new goal.

Merry Christmas!

Day 281 – First Sunday of Advent

2013.12.01 First Sunday of AdventI love the holidays (Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Years…I haven’t caught on to Kwanza and Festivus).  It is a time of the year when lights and color and sounds and smell take us away from the dreary gray days of winter.

It is also a time on the Christian Calendar when we start anew.  The story of a baby, God, born to this earth in troubling times to bring a Kingdom of Peace, always brings hope.  I know the skeptics mock the idea of a virgin birth, a baby of God, the connections with pagan rituals of bygone eras.  I realize that the purity of the purpose is long gone.  But I still enjoy it.  Don’t mess with my Christmas tree.  I like it.  And I don’t think God minds the fact that we light candles in December on Christmas eve, even if Jesus was really born in April.

All that to say that today marks the beginning of the season.  Today is the First Sunday of Advent.  It is a time of preparation.  It is a season to get ready…not for more toys, shopping, or decorations.  It is time to prepare our hearts, our minds, our souls.  It is a period when we ready ourselves for the coming of a King.

Advent is an opportunity to refocus our lives for what truly matters.  And for that, I am very thankful.

Day 277 – The Cone

2013-11-27I drove to North Judson yesterday to visit my friend, Dave.  What I found when I arrived was, to say the least, troubling.  Dave’s dog, Peyton is forced to wear a Cone because of a resent surgery.  For you animal lovers, this is nothing new.  A dog will tend to lick and bite at their stitches and surgical wounds.  It’s a natural instinct.  The Cone prevents them from reaching the wound and keeps them from getting infection.  It’s as if the wound wasn’t there in the first place.

But I thought about this canine-mounted satellite dish all the way home.  How many times would I have benefited from a Cone of my own?  Not for surgical scars but for wounds that fester in my heart and mind!  The Cone would come in handy in so many situations.  Imagine: Do you have a dark thought, boiling in your mind and heart?  Slip on the cone and that thought disappears from view.   Do you hold a grudge that just eats away at you?  There’s a Cone for that.  Anger and pride?  The Cone is the Answer!  Jealousy and hate?  One Cone around your neck and all the world is at peace.

It might not be a very practical idea but I would pay any amount of money to have the freedom from worry, the liberation from distraction.  I might swing by the vet’s today and see if they could spare a Cone.

 

Day 276 – Sunrise, Sunset

20131125_075306Yesterday morning broke bright and clear and the day only got better as the hours passed.

Have you ever had a day when you accomplish very little and felt very good about it?  That was my day yesterday.  I awoke very, very early and traveled to the gym with my wife and worked out for an hour or so.  It felt good to be alive.

On my way home, I stopped by post office, dropped off some movies at the local Redbox and purchased some fruit and spinach (yum).  Once home, I started my activities of reading, writing, and school work.  I spent a large portion of my day sitting in my lounge chair watching Christmas movies (I start every season with Die Hard) and my computer on my lap.  And ya’ know what?  I’m good with that. I need down time.  I need to put my feet up.  I need to relax from time to time.

And that down time paid off!  Today I awake fully rejuvenated by the prior day of rest.  I can move both my arms again (read prior post), I already have a load of laundry in the machines, the dishes are clean and despite just starting it last night, I finished one of my favorite books of all time:  Charlotte’s Web.  It’s not even seven in the morning and I’m hard at it with a coffee mug in my hand, my laundry in the other, and a smile wide across my face.

Yes, this is going to be a great day.

Day 268 – My Closet

Warning:  This post may not be appropriate for small children and the squeamish.

20131115_Clothes HorseFor the past two years, my closet has remained a place or true organization and neatness.  Unfortunately, according to my wife, it also reflects a true problem that could benefit from a 12-step program:  “Hello.  My name is Curt and I am a Clothes Horse.”

Despite my best efforts, the number of shirts and ties continues to grow in my small closet space.  To take advantage of the limited layout, I’ve found that I must be organized, pressed and ready at all times.  To that end, I spend an hour or two every week washing, pressing and organizing my clothes.  My minor OCD tendencies require that I match pants, shirt and tie for the next 10 work days, hang them in color / day order, and plan the correct belt, socks and shoes for the occasion.

Sure, it’s a little bit of work but it’s worth it.  It is the only way I can get out the door and to the office by 6:00 am each morning and be sure that I’m not wearing brown socks with black pants!  Can you imagine the humiliation that would cause?

While some areas of my life may be disorganized, my closet is not one of them.  You say I have a problem?  I say, I’ve nearly fixed the problem.  I only need three more shirts and four more ties and it will be perfect.

Now if you will excuse me, I have some shirts to iron.

Day 267 – Past Talents

20131116_Making ProgressIt’s been quite a while since I’ve held an artist’s brush in my hands.  But it sure feels good.  Painting a scene, especially from a photograph that I’ve taken, is a joy I cannot express.

In my high school days, I nearly always drew from another person’s work, whether that was a photograph or painting.  I didn’t know that I could create original works of art.

In college, we worked so hard completing assignments that we rarely had the luxury of taking our time and making a painting or print for pleasure.

Today, I can wander up to the studio and carefully put down another layer of paint, slowly watching the work come to life and enjoying every minute of the process. Sure, it’s no “Bob Ross” but I like it.

Is there something in your life that you do, just for fun?  It will never be a source of income, it might never win any awards, but you love it just the same?  Perhaps it is playing piano or knitting sweaters or cooking.  It could be landscaping the perfect yard or hitting a golf ball close to the pin.  Whatever you love, take a moment today and do that, please.  It will change the way you live and soften your heart.

I promise.

Day 225 – Movies and More

2013.10.06 - SundayI love to go to movies.  They can be emotional, visceral events.  Today we used a gift card provided by dear friends and experienced the film, “Gravity”.

WOW.

Ranking high on the tomato meter, this film earns every vote.  Bullock is amazing.  The CGI is out of this world (pun intended).  The story, while thin, is thought provoking and moving.

It was a great way to spend a rainy afternoon.

I hope it rains more often.

Day 222 – Deep Thoughts

2013.09.14Today a co-worker came into my office and sat to talk for a while.  It’s been a few weeks since I really had a chance to see her and it was wonderful catching up.

She talked about her kids, her husband, her work.  She mentioned her schedule and hectic life.  Our few short minutes together reminded me of something fundamental:  We really don’t know other people.

We see them only on a surface level.  We don’t really know them.  And that is a shame.  It’s only through truly knowing people that we can engage, encourage and love them.  And that is the kind of world I want to inhabit.  That is the type of world in which I wish to live.

Day 191 – A Little More Info

2013.08.31 SaturdayI posted earlier today about falling behind and now I want to add some more info about my day.

This day was amazing.  We spent the day doing our usual Saturday stuff and decided going to church in the afternoon would be a good idea.

But before we left for the service, out of the blue, I strapped on my tennis shoes and my headphones and went for a run.  I haven’t hit the pavements for quite a while.  In fact, it was before we went to Colorado.  But while we were there, my friend Dan taught me about the Zen of running.

So, I decided to give it a try.  I didn’t break any land-speed-records but I did run 3.58 miles on one of the hottest days of the summer.  It felt great!

After a cool shower, we loaded the car and made our way to church where, as usual, we were touched by the content, moved by the music and challenged by the message.

Now that we are empty-nesting, we don’t have any more obligations at home so we went from church to the movie theater where we watched “The Butler”.  WOW.  I’ll say it again, WOW!  This movie is so deep with talent and the story line is so rich.  Think, FOREST GUMP meets THE HELP…only better on both counts.

It was a great day.  I ate well (not meaning that I stuffed myself but that I made good choices) and increasing my Niacin and Fish Oil.  Combine that with my running and I’ll have my cholesterol under control within a week or two!

Day 191 – Let’s Be Honest

This was a good week, besides the fact I learned my cholesterol is high, my triglycerides are elevated and my sugar is borderline.  I was able to spend time with very good friends.  I was able to share an evening with my mother and father.  I was privileged to help my son work on his apartment.

It was packed but great.  I simply didn’t get time to sit down at the computer and tell you about it.

But here are some shots of my week that might help tell the tail.

And I promise to do better next week in keeping you up-to-date with the Journey.

For now, just know that I’m taking cholesterol meds, Niacin and fish oil.  I’m watching my intake better and eating fewer candy from the bowl in the office across the hall.  Oh ya.  I’m a health nut.

Day 110 – My Backyard Office

2013.06.11I looked at my calendar and realized that I would have to change my schedule.  And so, given my late evening on the books, I spent my morning at my favorite office location:  My Backyard.

But first, let me tell you that I stepped on the scales and weighed in at a not-so-healthy and not-so-happy 208 lbs.  It’s been three months and I’ve stayed the same despite my hours of hard work in the yard, my attempt to train for the 5K in October and my good intentions.  My hamstring, previously injured in my run last week, is feeling better and I think I can hit the bricks again soon which should help.

But here’s the weird thing, I know I’m smaller than I was three months ago, even if I haven’t lost but a couple pounds.  My shirts fit better.  My pants don’t scream when I put them on.  My belt hangs looser at the same notch.  So I know something is working but I’d like those darn scales to tell me about it.

Okay, back to my office.  Today was fantastic!  Knowing that I would do some real (read Paying) work starting at 11:30, I spent the morning writing for my blogs and for my book. I scheduled some posts for January 1 and 2, 2014, in hopes of getting a daily devotional off the ground for the new year.  I posted on austinsacre.net.  I posted here.  And, I wrote more than 1,000 words in the first chapter of my novel.

It has always been a dream of mine to write a work that would capture an audience and leave them on the edge of their seats (think Grisham writes Grapes of Wrath or Janet Evonavich writes Of Mice and Men).  And so, I’ve started my own great work of fiction based on events in my own life.  It’s called “Burning Trailers” (copyright Austin).  It is a book about a boy who comes of age, experiencing life, love and death in middle America in the late ’70’s.

I’m very excited.

You can look for my second book as soon as I can determine the secret to weight loss.  It will be called “Burning Calories“.

Day 109 – The Perfect Evening

A perfect dinner for a perfect evening.
A perfect dinner for a perfect evening.

If you’ve been reading long, you know that we’ve invested more than a few hours, a lot of blood, and just a few tears in the upkeep of our home.  And to be honest, we’re tired.

And so, last night after throwing a party for our son, we threw our own little party to celebrate our summer, our marriage, and our friendship.

On the way home from work I stopped at the store and picked up a Baguette, some cheeses and a good bottle of wine.  I set out the spread, along with some additional fruit left over from Ben’s party.

When Anita arrived home, we put on comfortable clothes, filled our plates and had a wonderful dinner together.  From there, we retired our neighbor’s home and had a pleasant visit.

It was a wonderful evening and the marker of our new life with children out of school and living real lives.  It marked the point in our lives together when we can enjoy one another.  Sure, the boys showed up and scarfed down the remaining shrimp and most of the Gouda, but we announced that we were retiring to the neighbor’s and would see them at a later time.  Oh, and, clean up before you are done.

It was heaven.

Anita enjoys our neighbor's cat as we visit.
Anita enjoys our neighbor’s cat as we visit.

Now that the push to the Open House is complete, we can take a more leisurely pace about our home projects and spend time with one another, and honestly, on ourselves.

My Journey to 50 has been sidetracked by household projects and 50-hour work weeks.  But now we are back on track.  Starting tomorrow (Day 110), I’ll take time in my day to ride the stationary bike and focus on my food and my progress toward my ultimate goal:  Get down to 180 and get fit.  Only 30 pounds in 255 days.  I can do that.

I can do that.  Especially if my best friend is along for the ride.

Day 108 – The Big Party

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe’ve been planning this for weeks.  And tonight, after all the guests have gone and the dishes are in the washer and the trash is taken out, the tables are stacked in the garage and the chairs are folded, it is over.

The food was good and the talk was sparkling.  But there was more that went on here tonight than just some Corn Hole and some cupcake eating.

We enjoyed friends and family who have been with us in good times and in bad.  We celebrated a milestone in our son’s life, sure.  But we also experienced love from people who have invested in our lives over the years and miles.

They are the ones who have laughed with us in the good times and cried with us when life is hard.  They are the ones who support us in our journey and strengthen us when we struggle.

Today’s party was a reminder that we are not on this journey by ourselves.  We are surrounded by so great a cloud of witness who can hold our hand in the dark times and skip along side us in the joy.

I’m so very grateful for these men and women whom I love and who dearly love us.