Life Without Facebook, Week 1

As hard as it might be for you to believe, I’m doing very well outside the walls of the Facebook Kingdom. It is true, I was shocked by the things I found when I looked up from my digital world. There are real trees and birds, babbling brooks and fuzzy squirrels, green grass and fluffy clouds, marching bands and holiday parades, quiet evenings and romantic dinners; all uninterrupted by my former virtual reality. To my amazement,  I learned that there are people living in my neighborhood, around the corner and down the street!  And they will talk to me!

Sadly, there have been a number of people who’ve asked (mostly via electronic methods) why I left Facebook. It’s a hard concept to grasp. However, I am beginning to understand that they seem to care less about my answer than the harsh truth that they “could never” leave the virtual community themselves. They’ve moaned that it is their only connection to people far away. It is their only lifeline beyond the world they live. It is their way of keeping in touch.

My response is simple, “Have you tried picking up the phone?” If Aunt Gertrude is that important to your existence, couldn’t you pick up a phone and ask her how her bursitis is today? Isn’t it just as easy (and perhaps a little more meaningful) to hear her voice as she explains the fall corn harvest, the Sunday church carry-in, or how Uncle Argyle is preparing the house for winter? I suspect it would mean more to her than simply liking the picture of her cat she posted last week.

I know, I’m old fashioned. It’s my generational curse. You see, I grew up in a time when a party-line phone allowed me to listen in on my neighbor’s calls, or know when Grandma Hines was listening in on our calls. We always knew the old woman down the road was listening in because of her emphysema-induced heavy breathing on the line. Ah, good memories.

Look, I’m not trying to return to the technical dark ages. I’m not trying to go back to the good old days shortly before men landed on the moon. But I realized a troubling trend on “The Social Media that Shall Not Be Named”: A person’s page is typically designed to do one of three things.

  1. Show everyone their beautiful family/cute kids/amazing dog or cat (guilty as charged – strike 1)
  2. Show everyone the food they cook/serve/eat (guilty as charged – strike 2)
  3. or Glorify their amazing activities/cars/houses/yards and their great looks. When did duck lips become so popular? (guilty as charged – strike 3)

In short, I’m simply trying to simplify, reconnecting by disconnecting, finding myself by paying less attention to myself.

 

It’s Spring Again

20140423_182444-PANOLet’s be honest:  It was a really long winter.

Record-breaking snowfall.  Teeth-chatterinly cold.  An unending deep-freeze.  A ever-lasting blast of ice.

It was beginning to feel as if the season of would never end.  Even as the spring daffodils poked their delicate flowers out of the ground and the tulips began to bud, another dose of snow hit Central Indiana with one-last attempt to make its presence known.

Yet, spring eventually poked through: The trees push out new leaves.  The grass turns brilliant green and thick.  The birds collect nesting materials and proclaim the arrival of warmth from high atop spruce perches.  It is glorious.

It is finally spring.  The long winter is over.  We should celebrate.

Rebecca’s Party

We love our friends, the Mullens Family.  We’ve stood beside one another for many, many years.  It was such a joy to celebrate with Rebecca and her family in recognition of her graduation from high school.  It doesn’t seem possible that 18 years have gone by so fast!

Voting is NOT a Right

We wait in line to vote with our wonderful neighbors, Chris and Jen.

We often forget that one of the privileges we enjoy by living in the “Land of the Free” and the “Home of the Brave” is the ability to choose those who represent us.  We have the freedom to step behind a curtain and make a mark that indicates who will live in the West Wing, who will fill that seat in Congress or the Senate.  By casting our ballot, we have the ability to determine who is on our school boards and who will be our next governor.

One would think that the incessant television, print and radio advertising would jog our memory but for some reason, when it comes time to vote, many – if not most – of Americans don’t take the time to step into the booth.

But this act of voting is a gift that many people around the world will never receive.  This is an act of Democracy that so many others will never enjoy.  And we flaunt it like a rich kid who is bored with his presents because he has so many.

Yes, the vote might be between the lesser of two evils but that is our fault for not demanding better.  Yes, it is hard to know what the candidates truly stand for but that is our job to research and dig to know the truth based on their histories, not their promises.

Yes, it requires standing in line, a photo ID, and determining your proper poling station.

But a person who fails to vote has thrown away one of the most important gifts that Democracy has to offer:  The Voice of the People.

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?

You Can Help

Picture courtesy of Elliotte Williams. copyright 2012

A friend of mine helps lead teams to Guatemala each spring to provide a medical clinic, a construction team and love.  This past year, they added something new to the trip.  One of the participants began collecting glasses to take on this mission experience.

You see, in this part of Guatemala, there is no health care, let alone an eye clinic.  And so old men have difficulty seeing their family members.  Old women cannot see clearly to knit and sew.  Children find it difficult to read the words on a page.  But the team that visited last year took with them dozens of eye glasses and an eye chart.  As a result, they were able to provide sight to those who could not see clearly.  Even though they gathered nearly 100 pair of old, unneeded glasses, they were not able to meet the demand.

If you are like me and you wear glasses, you have several old pair stashed away in a drawer (or drawers).  You push them around when you are looking for a pair of socks or those important documents you saved.  You will never wear the glasses again but you have them, just in case…

When I lost my glasses at Holiday World, I suddenly realized what it must be like to suffer without clear vision.  I also realized that the faithful followers of Austin’s Acre could help people who live in a world that is fuzzy every day.  If we came together, we could make a difference.  Austin’s Acre has than 800 friends on Facebook and another 75 followers through WordPress and via email, we could easily gather more than 1000 pair of glasses to be delivered to people in villages throughout Guatemala and in the process, improve more than the villagers’ vision.  We might just be able to change some lives.

In the coming days I will write more about this project and offer ways you can get involved.  But today, I would like to invite you to search your cabinet drawers for those old glasses you never wear.  Don’t worry about the style or the lens type.  Anything you give will be life-changing for people who have nothing.

Package up those glasses and any glasses cases you might have and send them to me.  I will make sure they get into the right hands and on to the people who need them most.

Send your old glasses to:

Curt Austin, 201 Ironwood Cr., Noblesville, Indiana 46062

And Thank You.

July 3, 2012

A crusty bread, some hard Parmesan and a nice brie make for a perfect evening.

As I mentioned before, I love food.  Cheese, cream, butter…okay, anything dairy, is a weakness of mine. Growing up on the farm, we always had a cow.  It was my job to milk her every morning.  From her wonderful milk we would skim off the cream and make butter and ice cream.  We poured the richness into our coffee or directly on our cereal in the morning.

Cooking demanded butter and the the more butter, the better.  My mom’s recipe for a quart of corn cut off the cob from our garden?  Cook in a sauce pan, add a stick of butter and a cup of sugar.  Salt and pepper to taste.  Enjoy.

If you think about it, we use cheese, cream and butter in or on nearly everything.  We spread butter on bread in the morning and layer cheese on our sandwich during the day.  We crumble cheese on our salads at night.  We use it for an appetizer, a dessert and during our main course.  Pasta is nothing unless it is doused with Parmesan.  Onion soup is capped with Mozzarella.  What good is a 3-cheese omelet without…well, you get the idea.

But after 30 days of being dairy-free, a several things have started to happen:

* I’ve never wanted a slice of Gouda more in my life.

* I feel better and have more energy.

* I’ve lost 10 lbs.

But here’s the deal; each day, when I reached into the refrigerator for that bag of shredded cheddar, I stopped, looked at the golden goodness with longing, and then put it back into the cheese drawer for some other lucky soul to enjoy later.  Why?  Because my appetite had become too big, out of control, over-powering.  I allowed my desire for food, especially dairy, to control me rather than me controlling my own desires.

For you that item in the refrigerator that calls your name might be a cheese cake or a bottle of wine.  It could be fast food on the way home at night.  It might be the bag of chips in your pantry.  For me it was cheese and butter.

Sure, it still calls my name…but it’s voice is very quiet now. For supper on June 30th, I enjoyed slice of aged Asagio and a little buttery brie on a baguette.  And that was good enough.  I haven’t had a nibble since.  After 30 days, I control the food.  It doesn’t control me.

A 30 Day Fast

The slothful, over-indulged me before the 30 day experiment.

For those of you who follow my blog (all 37 of you), this will be my last post for at least 30 days.  Beginning tomorrow morning, I will engage in an experiment for one month that should make me a better, deeper, and thinner person.

For centuries, great men and women have fasted in an effort to find God’s guidance, inner peace and personal unity with the cosmos.  Starting tomorrow, I am going to begin a fast that will include much more than giving up diet coke and candy bars (although, those are going to be missed most of all).  This journey, based on the book “7”, is designed to heighten the senses dulled by too much food and not enough movement, too much electronic media and not enough quiet devotion, too much attention given to my wants and desires and not enough attention to God’s voice speaking to my heart and soul.

For those of you who are my friends on Facebook, I will be back in time.  For those of you who are kicking my butt on Words with Friends, I already don’t like you and your QI, SUQ, and XI (all for triple word scores and I STILL don’t know what they mean) so I’m not sure I’ll return.  A guy can only take so much abuse.

I’ll be off email for the month, only checking it once a day to make sure the world doesn’t fall in around me.  I’m giving up the Internet, Netflix, REDBOX, 6:30 morning news, CNN.com, The Nightly News, Sports (this is painful) and the Weather AP on my phone (second most painful).  I’ll put away the greatest movies of all time like U-571, Saving Private Ryan, Oceans 11 and Hairspray.  I’ll box up all seven seasons of West Wing and in their place I will take more walks, bike until my buns fall off, swim like a fish, read great authors, meditate until I fall asleep, and color with crayons.

I will disavow caffeine of any kind; soda, coffee or tablet form.  I will shy away from the cursed dairy products of my youth and the meat I so love (goodbye chicken, pork and beef and all other processed varieties) and stick with fish, rice and beans, local produce and eggs, breads, pasta and water.  Lots and lots of water.

My goal is not fitness but that should be a result.  My goal is not some good material for future blogs, a book contract and later a movie deal with George Clooney playing me and Tea Leoni playing my wife; although I will take all three of these situations as a sign of God’s blessing on my en devour.  My goal is to be better. This is simply an extension of the Change Challenge I started so long ago.   My goal is to be the person I was meant to be rather than some product of a society that has an AP for that.

I’ll check back in 30 days…Unless, as one would predict, the wheels come off this adventure some time around Fathers’ Day.

In the mean time, you can check back here once a day for pictures of beauty and words to ponder.

Blessings, Friends.

Curt

Life According to Hoosiers: “I don’t care…”

I don’t care if you play on the team or not.”  That should be our life’s motto.

In the movie, Hoosiers, Coach Dale finally interacts with Jimmy Chitwood while he shoots buckets on the dirt court outside the school.  As the Coach talks, Jimmy drops in one shot after another with precision and perfect rhythm.

You have a special talent; a gift.  Not the school’s, not the town’s people, not the team’s, not Myra Fleener’s. Not mine.  It’s yours to do with what you choose.  Because that’s what I believe, I can tell you this: I don’t care if you play on the team or not.

Too often we invest our energy making sure everyone is on the team, on the same page, playing our kind of ball.  In reality, it is just wasted effort.  We need to make the most of the team we have, the hand we’re dealt, the life we live.  Of course, there’s always one better player, another dollar, a bigger house, a better job, a sweeter offer…but looking for more takes our eyes off of what we already have.

If others want to come along and play, it’s up to them.  We can spend our time focusing on the our life as it is, or constantly bemoaning the fact that life could be better if the perfect people, position, and players were playing with us.

Coach Dale got it right.  In a touch of irony, Jimmy misses the next shot as Coach walks away.  A nice touch, don’t you think?

The Change Challenge: My Own Back Yard

Sitting on our back porch at night was an open show for all to see. The street lamp, skillfully placed in the center of the yard by the previous owner ensured that no night-time activity went unnoticed.

While cleaning out a box of old pictures, I found group of photos held together with tape.  It is a panorama of our back yard taken some time in the spring of 2002.  Can I just say that I was shocked by this picture?  Compared to the view from our back porch today, the yard in this picture is a different place.  Of course, the trees are filled with leaves today but even without the foliage, there is a huge difference in the view.

And as always, two thoughts come to my mind.

First, I’d forgotten how bad our back yard looked.  I remember that it was an eye sore and needed more work than I could muster at the time.  But I had no idea it looked THAT barren, that bleak, that BAD!

Second, ten years ago I had no idea what that back yard would look like today.  I had no way of predicting that the yard could look THIS glorious, this green, this GOOD!

And then I think about my life.  Ten years ago my life was barren, bleak and BAD.  At the time I had no idea where I would be in ten years.  I couldn’t even imagine what it might look like, what areas of my life might grow into something beautiful or bloom with new purpose.

We can’t always predict what will happen with time.  But we can plant the seeds of hope, tend the soil of opportunity, and water the landscape of our lives.

Who knows, we might look back a decade later and be pleasantly surprised.

Our oasis after a decade of tending and hard work.

No Barriers

Our youngest is completing his junior year of high school and has visions of becoming a great man of music.  His level of enthusiasm for life, his music and his friends is unmatched.

When was the last time you faced life with the same unbridled passion?  If your answer is, “When I was 17,” you fail the test.

Yes, I know the bills pile up and the dishes stack up.  The yard needs mowed and the laundry is calling.  Work is a struggle and your family doesn’t understand.  Your bones ache, your joints creek and you spend more money on tests and doctors than tropical destinations.

But we should live life as if there are no obstacles, only opportunities.  No barriers only beautiful horizons.  No problems, only possibilities.

How?  Change your attitude.  Live a life of gratitude.  Look at others for what you can do for them, rather what they should do for you. Reach out to others and offer your very best. Every person is a new friend.  Every day is a new adventure.  Imagine who you could meet and where you could go if you only opened your eyes to the possibilities.

 

Unite / Untie

I noticed the other day that if you shift just a couple letters, you can change the entire word.  In this case, you create a pair of words that are diametrically opposed.

With one, you bring things together.  With the other, you take things apart.

In one, you find unity.  In the other, you separate.

The same is true in life:  Just a small shift in our focus, attitude, and purpose can makes all the difference.

Sometimes, in our day-to-day lives, we shift “letters” without understanding the full consequences.  We mean to be nice when we really are just mean.  We hope to focus on others but spend more time focusing on ourselves focusing on others.  We want to unite when we really divide.  We hope for better but just make things worse.

Get the “letters” in the right place and it can make all the difference.

The Day the Super Bowl Came to Town

Lucus Oil Stadium is decked out for the big show.

Let’s just be honest about it.  It’s a circus downtown.  If you’ve had the chance to visit the Super Bowl Village or, better yet, the NFL Experience you know what I’m talking about.

Hundreds-of-thousands of people have wandered along Georgia Street in the hopes of being a part of the action.  The city has transformed itself in to a block party of gigantic proportions.  Zip lines, Human Hamster Wheels, non-stop concerts, ice sculptures, balloon artists, face painting, hurling demonstrations, corn hole and much, MUCH more make it a tailgating extravaganza unlike any other.

My wife dragged me down town last Sunday, and being early risers we missed most of the crowds.  But it was still quite an experience. It was a beautiful day and we had a fantastic time (aside from being blown down the street by 40 mph winds).

The city is breaking all kinds of records for attendance to the pre-game party.  The news media and sports personalities are giving thumbs up with each interview.  Even Madonna reports that she is happy to be here. Locally, there is already talk that we have proven ourselves to be a great choice for hosting another Bowl game in the future, which might be a little premature since the game hasn’t even been played yet. But I’m not here to burst any Bowl Bubbles.

I just want to congratulate the city for a job well done.  Getting the Super Bowl wasn’t easy. (Watch Naptown to Super City here.) As in life, the journey was filled with tough decisions and lots of hard work.  But it appears that all the effort has paid off.  Indy is in the national spotlight. Hoosiers have taken center stage. The world is watching.  And no matter who wins the big game, it looks like the Crossroads of America is the biggest winner.

Life According to Hoosiers: An Awful Name

"I thought I already had the job."

In Coach Dale’s first encounter with his new co-workers, he gets off on a very wrong foot.  It is probably because his other foot is now in his mouth.  After being grilled by fellow teacher, Myra Fleener (played by Barbara Hershey), he makes a big mistake.  Rather than walking away (as we’ve discussed earlier), he opens his mouth and with his words he sets the stage for a rocky relationship from that point forward.

“If everyone is as nice as you, Country Hospitality is going to get an awful name.”

You’ve done it.  I’ve done it.  We’ve all opened our traps at one time or another and allowed that witty statement to escape our lips only to lead to hurt feelings and damaged relationships.

Today’s Hoosier lesson?  Keep your mouth shut whenever possible.

Life According to Hoosiers: “Gentlemen, its been real nice talkin’ to you. Good Night.”

Coach Norman Dale meets the men of Milan, Indiana for the first time.

Experience proves that many times people will offer their help, their opinion, even their friendship with the underlying agenda of directing your own actions.  Coach Dale, when confronted by the men in the town’s barbershop makes a wise decision.  Instead of outlining his coaching strategy, explaining his methods, accepting their direction or defending his own opinion, Norman Dale raises his hands, thanks the men and leaves the shop.

He sets a good example.  Too often we fight for our beliefs, make our stand, defend our rights.  What we should do, instead, is to politely walk away.

When co-workers gang up, when friends triangulate, when family manipulate, the best thing we can do is to stand up and walk away.

Never sacrifice your beliefs at the insistence of others, whether their methods are overt or covert.  “Thank you and good night.”

The Change Challenge: Shut That Pie-hole

Have you ever found that your words bring insight and illumination to a difficult situation?  Does it happen very often?  Do you often bring wisdom and brilliance to the table when you speak?

Me either.

Have you ever opened your mouth and discovered that your words are brainless and pointless and only confuse the state of affairs?  Does it happen way too much?  Do you reveal your ignorance and lack of understanding?

Me too.

There is one skill I have yet to master:  Biting my tongue.

 

The Change Challenge: Live Life Large!

This past week brought some changes to our house.  My daughter moved into her first apartment.

Of course, our emotions and thoughts are quite a jumble:  We are proud of her and nervous for her.  We miss her terribly and don’t want her to ever move back.  We’ve collected some canned goods for her pantry but are very happy she’s off our meal ticket.

It’s a mixed bag, really.

But her move caused me to stop and think about how we lived life when we are young.  Without much concern for the consequences, we played harder, stayed up later, laughed louder, loved quicker, and sometimes we acted dumber.  But in that impetuous state, we experienced so much of life.

As “grown ups” we don’t always take the same chances that we use to.  We’ve become comfortable in your routine.  We no longer live life large!

We don’t go to that show, because we work the next day.

We turn down dinner with friends because  the weekend is already packed.

We pass over thoughts of travel to an exotic location, just picking up and going, throwing a backpack together and hitting the road.

We have any number of excuses:  Well we have work on Monday.  But someone needs to watch the dogs?  Who will bring in our mail?  What if we get that call from your brother?

Well we…But we…Who will…What if…Those are all very good question.  But they are the wrong questions.  Instead, it’s time to start asking again, “Why not?”

Where has the week gone?

Dear Lord,

What did I do with my time this week?  Where did my days go?

I started my Monday with hopes serenity and meditation.

I planned a time of reading and devotion for Tuesday.

I desired a spirit of charity on Wednesday.

I expected to live a life of graciousness and forgiveness on Thursday.

But here it is, Friday and I have yet to live my life in a way that honors your good works, your loving kindness or your compassion for others.  Instead, I filled my week with activities, television, blind ambition and selfish gain.  I’ve put myself above others.  I’ve met my needs without giving one thought to the needs of those around me.

Forgive me for my failure and renew my heart for the challenge of the weekend and the week ahead.

Amen and Amen.

Life According to Hoosiers: Playing the Hand You’ve Been Dealt

Coach Norman Dale sizes up his new team.

Let’s see what kind of hand I’ve been dealt here.”

With those words, Coach Norman Dale begins to get to know his players and how best to play the game of basketball.

Every day we wake up, climb out of bed, and begin our day.  Many times we do this without ever evaluating the strengths and weaknesses we bring to the court.  Too often we forget our strengths and overlook our weaknesses.  Too many times we march into the field of play without considering how we should approach the game.

Before you lace up your shoes today, stop and consider what you bring to the court and how you can play to your strengths and strengthen your weaknesses.