Closed for the Season

Thanks to the generosity of neighbors, we were able to visit the last Symphony on the Prairie event of the year.  It was grand.  In fact, the perfect weather, lovely company, and a great show combined to make it a wonderful evening.

There is something magical about this event when the conditions are right.  People from every background join together for an evening under the stars.  It is the perfect place for people watching.  In the course of a few short hours, we watched a husband and wife have a tiff and stop talking.  We witnessed people laughing with new friends and celebrating old friendships.  Some people danced and other sang along with some old familiar tunes.

If you’ve never been and you live in the Indianapolis area, I would encourage you to take in a show.  Pack in a bucket of fried chicken and a bottle of wine and you will have the time of your life.  I guarantee it.

Happy Waitangi Day!!

This is a day that has its roots when British Officials signed a document in 1840 founding New Zealand as a colony.

For all of you who hale from New Zealand, love the All Blacks, or just can’t get enough of the grass skirts and coconut cup bras, this day is for you!  Feel free to like the Waitangi Day Facebook page.

Congratulations to you all!  Feel free to lift a drink with a little umbrella in it to celebrate.

It’s The Most Wonderful Time of Year

It was bound to happen eventually.  I delayed it as long as possible.

I did my best to avoid it but it was inevitable.

The holiday “rush” caught up to me.

Somewhere between the deadlines at work, the required shopping trips, the family gatherings over the past two weekends, school events and the other holiday activities, I lost the peace of the season.

For the past six weeks I’ve made a conscious effort to step outside the fray and enjoy the sights, the sounds, the smells and peace that the Christmas season brings.

I put up my lights early.  I programmed my Ipod to play only seasonal favorites.  I purchased gifts for most of my co-workers.  I wrapped all the presents and placed them under the tree.

I watched Christmas movies whenever possible:  Miracle on 34th Street (old and new), The Grinch, How the Grinch Stole Christmas, Elf, Polar Express, Muppet Christmas Carol, A Christmas Carol, A Charlie Brown Christmas, Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer, and so many more.

I attended my employer’s lunch party (which was a BLAST, I might add).  I agreed to attend my wife’s holiday event (ANOTHER blast!).  I wore Christmas ties to work.  I wished everyone I met a “Merry Christmas”, “Happy Holidays” or a “Season’s Greetings”!

I wrote passages of the Christmas story from Luke 2 and put them in my pocket as a reminder that I should tell the story like the shepherds, bring my best like the Wise Men, be available like Mary, be willing like Joseph, be joy-filled like Anna.

I did it all in an effort to find the joy of Christmas, the Reason for the Season, the innocence of the giving spirit.

And then yesterday it happened.  It was yesterday at 3:47 pm at Castleton Mall when the unthinkable occurred.  I didn’t care any more.  I couldn’t wait to take down the lights, put away the trimmings, take off the Santa tie and call it a year.  I was officially over Christmas.

So I came home, turned on some Christmas music, lit a candle, read Luke 2 again, closed my eyes and took a deep breath.  It was then that I remembered that all the ties in the world, all the music on my Ipod, all the lights on my tree mean nothing at all.  This season is about loving others, enabling peace, sharing joy and the Greatest Gift of all.

I’m better now and as I write this, I have smooth jazz Christmas music playing and my newest Christmas tie draped around my neck.  I can’t wait to get the day started.  There are still so many who haven’t heard the good news and my favorite phrase, “Merry Christmas to one and all!”

Austin’s Acre Christmas Shopping Advice: Day 1

BULK SHOPPING: Shopping for extended family is always difficult. There are so many items to choose from and so many people to buy for. My family alone has 127 people. My wife’s family has 34 members. With something like 161 gifts to buy, a shopper needs a strategy. Here is a tip I learned a long time ago: I always go to the end of the isle when I’m in the store and buy two or more of everything. If I buy two Chuck Norris movies, I can give one to Anita’s Uncle Fred, and my 10-year-old nephew Gill. Each one thinks that I’ve spent hours looking for that perfect gift just for them, when in fact, I’ve spent 15 seconds picking out one crummy gift and checked two people off my list. This also works for air fresheners for Anita’s mother that we see all the time and my Sister-In-Law, Jillian from Texas that we see once a year.

Another Birthday, Come and Gone

A couple years ago we adopted a dog.

She had problems, we won’t deny this.

She was a little high strung.  There was no doubt.

She had boundary issues that we’re still working on.

She has a drinking problem and the intervention is planned.

On October 1, Sidney celebrated her 3rd birthday…and we forgot to throw a party.  She was a little hurt and pouted for a few days but she seems to have gotten over it, as big girls often do.  The puppy stage is slowly (let me emphasize, SLOWLY) passing.  But in the past two years of dog ownership with a neurotic, issue heavy, slobbery, needy, whiny, self-possessed animal, I’ve never thought about doing anything more than help her with and through her issues.

Why am I not as patient and kind with the people in my world with the same neurotic, issue heavy, slobbery, needy, whiny, self-possessed patterns?  Wouldn’t it be the right thing for me to love them through the hard times as they slowly grow up to become the wonderful people they can be?

A View from My Back Porch: A Very Shallow Gene Pool

A frog has decided to live in my back yard fountain/pond.  We call him Gary.

I suppose this pond is the perfect location for an amphibian.  He is able to swim in the upper pool and occasionally sun himself on the rocks.  Every so often we see him hiding in the bushes.  He is safe from predators and must be doing well on the few bugs and worms in the flower bed because Gary’s grown quite a bit over the course of the summer.

Other than the occasional sighting, you would never know he is there.  He doesn’t chirp.  He doesn’t croak.  He doesn’t call out at night.  In fact, Gary is the perfect back-yard pet.

But I’m concerned for his future.  Gary has spent his entire summer hanging out by the pool but has yet to meet a girl-type-frog.  As far as I know, Gary’s never made any effort to expand the family line and the back yard pond, while pleasant in its own way, isn’t exactly a hoppin’ place for pickin’ up chicks (or frogs).

In fact, it is quite possible that Gary’s genes may end when winter arrives.  My wife is currently knitting a toad sweater and hat but I’m concerned that some day soon Gary’s lineage will end with a light snow and a cold breeze.

Tick Tock, Tick Tock

It dawned on me the other day that my life, for good or bad, is directed by the clock.  It isn’t that I’m concerned about what time it is at any given point of my day.  I don’t have to be.  Either through deliberate action or subconscious purchases, I have ensured that I can “check the clock” at every moment of every day.

I awake to the sound of my clock radio and pad to the bathroom where the clock on the wall is at least five minutes slower than my bedside radio.

As I make my way back into the bedroom I notice that my wife’s clock radio is set 15 minutes ahead to give her more time to sleep.

Once in the kitchen, I glance at the coffee maker to ensure the automatic clock has started the brewing process.

I put my oatmeal in the microwave that also announces the time and reassures me that breakfast is almost ready when the timer counts down.

As I place the hot bowl on the oven, I notice that the stove clock is in perfect synchronization with the microwave.

I check the watch on my wrist as I make my way out the door.

Once in my car, I look at the radio and the local station announces the story of the day and the exact time.  My car clock is two minutes slow.

My phone, mounted on the dash is perfectly synchronized with some satellite orbiting the earth and confirmed my slow car clock.

Driving through town, I am reminded of the time and temperature by two schools and three banks.

After I sit at my desk, my two computers report my appointments with annoying pop-up notifications.  The warnings give me notice of events, ensuring that I’m never late, never unaware of the time that keeps ticking along, out of my control, beyond my power.

Of course, as I leave my office at the end of the day, the entire process rolls along in reverse. 

There isn’t a moment in my day that isn’t accounted for.  There isn’t a second that passes without my knowledge.

Sometimes I wish I could simply take off my watch, sleep with the setting sun and awake with the singing birds.  I wish I could just sit back, close my eyes and breathe deeply, allowing the beating of my heart to be the only rhythm in my life.

A day of quiet, solitude, timeless meditation.
A day apart.
A day directed by something other than the clock and the sweeping hands of time.

Mark 1:35 

Please Bring on the Dance

I found myself frozen, standing on the fifth floor, stairing down the same Neuro ICU hall just as a few years before.  As the double doors opened, I could clearly see into the room at the end of the hall; the room once occupied by my nephew during the last days of his short life.  Despite being on the unit for a work-related visit, I couldn’t keep the tears of sorrow from welling up in my eyes and running down my cheeks.

The pain of the memory became a bitter irony in the moment that my wife forwarded a picture of my niece preparing for her wedding to be held a few hours later.  Anita had traveled south to Alabama to share in the beach-side service but I had decided to stay in Indiana with the kids.

As I viewed Andrea’s picture on my phone, a new rush of tears flowed.  But rather than tears of sorrow, these were tears of joy.  The contrast of the wedding dress to the ICU proved a painful and sometimes cruel point:  Life and Death are realities of this journey and we can do nothing more than support and love one another in times of tragedy and celebrate with one another in times of blessing.

The author of Ecclesiastes stated this age-old truth best.  “There is a time for everything…A time to weep and a time to laugh, a time to mourn and a time to dance.”

As one who has seen others weep, I can’t help but stop and pray that the Lord would soon bring dance.

As one who has witnessed the mourning of so many, I lift my voice and cry out for joy.

This week alone, I’ve spoken to a family going through the pain of a wayward child, a mother and father  suffering after the death of their baby, a man who’s job is in jeopardy, a woman who questions the faithfulness of her husband.  I’ve spoken with men and women crippled by stroke, cancer patients and amputees.

In the last week I have heard sad stories and tears fill my eyes and prayers pass my lips. “Lord, bring on the dance.”

Oh, The Humanity!

The storm blew in from the north and took our patio furniture with it.  We’ve replaced the table once before but that was when we had the umbrella at full mast, just asking for destruction.

But last night’s disaster occurred with the umbrella down, chairs pushed in and perfectly arranged to hold the table in place.

The sky darkened.  The lightening flashed.  The thunder rolled.  The wind blew.  The table tumbled.  The chairs scattered.  The glass shattered.

Clean up begins after lunch.

There’s a Frog in my Pond

Two years ago I started a stream.  I brought my lovely  new yellow lab puppy home and within a half-an-hour the liner was ripped and all the water was gone.

Two years later and I have a bucket in the ground with a hose and recycling the 10 gallons of water.  Nothing fancy.  Nothing flashy.

And yet, despite the simple set up, a frog has found his way to the water’s edge and is loving every minute of it. 

I’ll add some gold fish and hope for some Blue Heron to visit soon.

I guy can dream, can’t he?

Happy 4th of July!

This is a big day.  It is a birthday celebration! 

For 235 years our country has been celebrating freedom and liberty.  It has come at the expense of blood and riches.  It has come through the sacrifice of men and women, fighting for the rights of all Americans.

As we celebrate, we must also remember and give thanks for those who all who have given some, and some who have given all!

Happy Birthday, America.  Here’s to 235 more happy years of Freedom and Liberty!

A Gift and a Curse

Summer is in full swing.  The flowers have moved past the spring bloom and now the warm weather provides the heat for petunias, marigolds and tick seed.

I love the daisies and day lillies.

I relish the tomato and squash blossoms of the flourishing garden plants.

I enjoy the Hosta and honey suckle that fill the air with the sweet aroma from their funnel shaped tubes of nectar.

Its just a great time of year.

But I could do without all the pollen that comes along with the beauty.

It’s Quiet…A Bit Too Quiet

I enjoy my kids and what I have enjoyed most over the years, is the joy they’ve shared with one another.  But the saddest part of watching these kids grow up is that they are also moving on and that means less and less time together.

Jonathan is in Bloomington and we see him via Skype once a week or so but that isn’t just the same.

Emily has graduated from high school and will be attending IUPUI in the fall.  Her days will be packed with study and friends.

This leaves our youngest and most energetic son still at home.  Ben loves us…we know he does…but life at home just isn’t the same without his teammates and partners in crime.  Their combined laughter and thoughtful discussions about everything from music selections to world poverty will grow quiet.  Ben will have to depend on his parents for some quiet dinners and occasional visits to the local movie theater.

But for now, it is just another night at the Austin home.  Jonathan is visiting but has made is way to a friend’s house for an evening visit.  Emily is upstairs painting and listening to Harry Potter in the quiet of her own room.  Ben is on a mission trip to Mississippi and working hard in the heat of the deep south.  All the while, my wife and I sit quietly watching “24” while the dogs sleep at our feet.

The children’s laughter will have to wait for another day.

A Party to End All Parties (which means we aren’t doing this again).

We’ve been working so hard on the yard, the house, the food, the cards…To be honest, we are a little tired.
Don’t let anyone fool you.  Getting ready for an open house is a lot of hard work.  Anita painted the ceilings and walls.  She scrubbed the kitchen with all the elbow grease she could muster.  We shampooed the carpets and scrubbed the floors.  We beat the rugs and bought a new couch.  
On the outside of the house we laid 14 yards of mulch, tore down the fence, painted the door and erected enough tent to house Barnum & Bailey. 
And preparation is not just an individual sport.  It is a team effort through and through.  Anita worked inside.  I worked outside.  Neighbors loaned chairs, tarps, tables.  Family brought food, dishes, more tables.  Strangers shouted “Congratulations!” as they passed.  Everyone got into the game.
But in the end, the party plans and extra effort paid off.  Not because the house looks so good.  Not because we have left-overs that will last 6 months.  In the end, the party plans and hard work allowed friends, neighbors and family to come and express their love and appreciation to Emily.  It was wonderful.
I realized this morning that every person who walked into our back yard and filled a plate with cake were important in Emily’s journey to this place in her life.  As parents, we try to do our best but these people made her life easier, better, more valuable.  In short, these people helped make her who she is today:  A wonderful, caring woman who loves her God and her family with sincerity and devotion.
And so, I want to thank you all.
Thank you, Sharon, Audry, Pete, Susie, John, Janice & Kenny, Brook, Todd & Sue, Caleb, Lauren, John (who I don’t know and never understood why he was here), Sydney, Elijah, Noah, Lilly, Chad & Christy, Laura & Jeff, Deb & Marty, Skye, Tyme, Beth, Joan & Don, Kim & Mike, Todd & Connie, Ross, Linda & Mac, Claire, Elliott, Meagan, Emily (the other Emily), Meagan (the other Meagan), Ryan, Andrea & Bo, The Thompsons, Pam & Sunil, Anna, Issiah, Jessie, Shannon, David & DeLora, Rachel, Joshua, Anna, Bekka, Shamika, Javi, Mia, Andy & Judy, Jeff & Donna, Chris & Jen, Amber & Logan, and MaryAnn, and so many others who came and I don’t even know your names! 
And thank you to those who couldn’t come to the party but were still an important part of her life.  You will never know how much you have meant to our family and my daughter.