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Home2019-08-06T13:52:30-04:00

Are Your Pipes Bursting?

Birds are tweeting after a week of agony from coming this far north a little too early. Piles of melting snow and ice remain after our rare arctic blast this past week, which has been one for the record books here in Austin. We were fortunate and never lost power, and even then, with the furnace trying to keep up, it was cold in the house and we had frozen and burst pipes. But hope is showing its face with some warming sun this morning.  It’s been a difficult week, where 4 million were without power for three or more days, freezing in their own homes, and it will be a big loss for insurance companies and a gain for plumbers who will come in from every state. We’ve put in our request because of those burst pipes.  This week is a reminder of the old Scout motto … be prepared. A last-minute trip to the grocery found the shelves bare, and the city issued a boil-water order to those of us who still had water after those burst pipes. Thankfully, we had what we needed. Be Prepared Some of us will forget it all three days into the sunshine,

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Choose Wisely

A steady drizzle of frigid droplets falls upon the old porch. My normal view of blue or purple hills in the distance is grayed down to barely visible, and the air is so cold, it feels as if I could throw water into the air and watch it turn to ice crystals.  I arose early with my head spinning with ideas, putting my toes into the warm blue corduroy slippers with the wool lining. I’ve pulled an old sweatshirt over my head, and a blanket is wrapped around all of me other than my arms and fingers, which kiss the cold keyboard. Solid Advice Last week artist Stewart White was visiting and imparted some advice to my kids. Simple, yet meaningful. He told my son, “If you just finish what you start, you’ll be ahead of most people.” And he suggested to my daughter, who stared down at her phone the whole time, that it’s good to engage with people, look them in the eye, and don’t stare down at your phone the whole time. I thought Stewart's advice was spot on.  Three Important Lessons It made me think … if I could choose only three things to tell my

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How, Exactly, Do You See Yourself?

Tiny little bright green buds are peeking their heads out on the bare branches of the giant trees around me, trying to find out if it’s safe to come out for an early spring — mild temperatures are signaling the beginning of spring here in Texas. The old screen door makes a creaky sound amplified by rusty springs, the door slams behind me, and I’m finally back on the long porch that goes the distance of this old Texas farmhouse. Sadly, my neighbor moved and took his cattle, but the view is pretty terrific just the same.  Spring in the Air Growing up in the Midwest with cold, snowy winters, spring was always a welcome sight. Spring fever would have us out without coats on a sunny day, even though it was still 30 degrees. We simply could not wait for the arrival of spring. And, like the feeling of a first love, spring is about seeing things through fresh eyes and having something new to look forward to. And about the time we get used to it, we’re looking forward to summer, then fall, and even winter. We’re a fickle bunch, we humans. When we lived in Florida, we

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Suspending Belief

A blanket of quiet has covered the sky, which is dropping flakes of white powder softly on the ground. The branches are sagging with the extra weight, and the creaking tree limbs are decorated in white lace. Our yard has become a magical winter wonderland. Last Sunday was such a day, when this normally temperate part of Texas was coated in snow. Soon after I wrote to you, we started out with rain, which was quickly transformed to little balls of sleet, and then the sky opened up with sheets of snow. Three inches rapidly accumulated, and I did what any self-respecting child would do. I started a snowball fight with the kids upon arrival at the church parking lot, and when I got home, I went painting in the snow. How fun!! When it snows here, once every two or three years, it takes us by surprise. It's simply something we don’t expect. Writers often talk about “suspending disbelief” when watching or reading a work of fiction. But sometimes we have to suspend what we’ve believed and accept what is.  Life can be filled with moments of suspended belief. Words I Did Not Expect As a child, I never

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The Storm Is Upon Us

The house is rattling as though bombs were going off nearby. Flashes of light are frequent and get more in sync with the thunder as the storm closes in. Pellets fall upon the tin roof above the old porch, making a deafening sound, and water streams everywhere around me except for this one dry spot. Lightning Strikes When I was about 8, I visited Tennessee with my grandparents, and we were at Aunt Maxine’s farmhouse. Staring out the window at a storm, I heard a loud CRACK that shook the ground, and I could not believe my wide eyes. The thick old oak in front of the house was instantly split in half, just a few feet from my window. For perhaps the first time, I had a realization of the power of storms, and just how fleeting life can be. Tornado Alley I can remember being afraid of storms as a child. Growing up in Indiana, tornadoes were a fact of life, and their devastation was beyond anything I could fully comprehend. As a child I was a worrier; I had ulcers because I worried so much, and I was totally afraid I was going to be a tornado

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How to Get Through Life with Joy

There is magic in mornings like this. The house is still and quiet as I walk barefooted on the old wooden floors to the porch that surrounds this Texas ranch house. The sky right before sunrise is misty, and filled with pastel-colored light. Soft purples and blues can be seen in the distant hills, which have lost all detail as they stand silhouetted against the pink and yellow sky. Moments later, the top of the mountain is a glowing yellow, and gradually, the entire mountain is engulfed in light. I love the moment where the light meets the shadow and the tip of the mountain glows, creating a middle color between the bright sky and the dark shadow. To me, as a painter, it’s one of the hardest things to capture, but so pleasing when I get it right. Dreams and Ideas Though I cannot tell you the cause exactly, vivid dreams have been filling my head since the week of Christmas to today. Each day I awaken energized with new ideas, new concepts, and new ways to change the world … or at least my little world. I’m recalling experiences with others that never occurred, and recognizing the people

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2020 Vision

We are living in interesting times, and each of us has experienced something that is a part of history, a time future generations will look back to through our eyes. Though I knew most of my great-grandparents, I don’t have too many memories of their stories. But grandparents offered many a tale, family lore, tales of struggles and interesting times.  The Great War I can remember my Grandfather Walter telling stories about World War One. Not so much stories of war, but life in the army. I can remember sitting at the little yellow 1950s breakfast table in the kitchen of my grandparents’ Webster Street house as he told me I needed to learn to eat faster. “In the military they gave us only about five minutes to eat, and if you don’t eat fast, you won’t get enough, and you won’t know when the next meal is coming.” Yes, he converted me to a fast eater because I was too poky. Al Capone Days My other grandfather used to tell tales of living in a boarding house in Chicago during the Al Capone days. I seem to remember him saying that Chicago at the time was like the Wild

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Goals and Guardrails

A sheen of ice covers the back deck as I let the dogs out this morning into the frigid air. The frost has coated the bushes as if they were dipped in white flour, and the dogs can’t wait to get back inside to the cozy warm fireplace. It’s the perfect morning to sit by the fire, smell the fragrant smoke, and hear the snap, crackle, and pop of the wood. Holiday music fills the air, and a big, soon-to-be-empty plate of cookies is sitting on the kitchen counter calling my name. As the song says, it's beginning to look a lot like … well, you know. I’m always amazed at how rapidly Christmas and then New Year’s come and go. The time between Thanksgiving and the first week of the new year is always a blur. And, once we get back in the groove, it’s February already. Amateurs at Play Back before I was a professional, I was an amateur goal-setter. I would wake up on January 1 after sleeping in and then, and not until then, I’d set my New Year’s resolutions. It was usually something about losing weight or getting rich. And, after thinking about it for

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Christmas Clutter

The sounds of closing doors, rustling potato chip bags, steps on the back staircase, and the refrigerator door slamming at 3 a.m. have become unfamiliar these days, yet having three teens home from college has removed our silence and returned us to a house of vibrant activity, dishes left in the sink, and late-night returns home from seeing friends.  At first it was disturbing, disrupting the silence these empty-nesters only recently discovered after 18 years of care-giving. But now they are joyous sounds, now that we’ve adapted again, this time knowing our guiding voices are needed a little less. I used to rise early, while the house was sleeping, in order to find the sounds of silence. I’d escape to the back porch, overlooking the neighbors’ 40 acres of cattle. This morning, I sit in the living room, dogs on my lap, nudging me to pet them while my hands are juggling the keyboard.  Seasonal Memories Old friends greet me — the giant Christmas coffee cup and platter we have used for almost two decades to put out cookies and milk for Santa. The stockings with the names of each family member, the dogs, and dogs from our past. The

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Guess What’s Trapped Inside You?

Glowing backlit trees twist like intermingled worms climbing toward the sky. Little white shimmers sparkle on the wet leaves. The ropes of the old tree swing are lit like neon against the dark contrast of the branches in the distance. The faded red Adirondack chairs look as though someone turned on a light switch to make them glow. The crisp cold air is still, and it’s pleasingly quiet here on the long porch of this Texas ranch house.  I’m missing the longhorn cattle that used to stick their noses up to my fence. If only the neighbor had left them when he sold his property. Though I wouldn’t want to care for them, I enjoyed watching them graze. Cow Cutouts According to a buddy, his neighbor, a famous filmmaker, once phoned him after his cows had escaped to the neighbor’s vast property of rolling hills in the Bay Area, asking if he would leave them for a week so he could see how he liked looking at cows. My buddy obliged. Then, weeks later, dozens of carefully placed painted wooden cows appeared, made by a studio set department. Workers would move them daily. After a few weeks, the filmmaker determined

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Deliberate Memories

Today I’m excited. We’ve celebrated Thanksgiving and our triplets are home. College this year has no spring break, so they will all be home through January.  Though I could get used to this empty-nester life, there is no joy quite like the joy of having my family together as one. But things will be different. Their taste of independence isn’t blending well with our need for some household rules — simple things like showing up for an occasional meal, or not coming in at five in the morning. We’ll have to make some adjustments on our end and try not to revert to high school rules now that they are spreading their little college freedom wings. COVID Blessings Before COVID, the kids were working, hanging with friends, and had mostly disappeared from the house. Then  COVID brought a few months at home as a family, a chance to be together and reconnect. And now, though we’re not in lockdown here (but being careful), we’ll have a couple more months to be together as a family. Perhaps the same thing is happening to you. Big Effort I once learned something from my dad, something I never really knew was happening while

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Thanksgiving Imperfections

No matter how much we romanticize the first Thanksgiving, those families had been through incredible hardships, spending months at sea. They endured endless storms and giant swells, where they lay on the floorboards of the creaking ship, so sick, perhaps wishing they would die, but praying the ship would not break apart like others had and leave them to drown. Men, women, children, babies, crammed aboard crowded, stuffy, damp, cold ships, without the comforts of the homes they had left in England and Holland. Only half of those who set off on the voyage survived. Disagreement Yet life in England had become unbearable for some, and they wanted a better life. Since King Henry VIII’s separation from the Catholic Church back in 1534 and the founding of the Church of England, there had been vast disagreement about religion among the citizens. The Puritans — the people who became the pilgrims — were neither Roman Catholic nor Church of England, and they did not embrace the government’s rules for how to worship. Wanting to Be Free Though not in chains, the Puritans, and most English citizens, were not truly free. If they said the wrong thing, discussed something unpopular, were critical

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Eric Rhoads
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