26 05, 2019

I’m Cured of a Disease

2019-05-22T13:10:54-05:00

Whiirrrr goes the ceiling fan overhead, trying its hardest to move the thick, hot, sticky air inside the little fenced-in back porch. To my left is a small two-story rabbit cage, complete with a little pet bunny. At my feet lie three dogs, two tiny and one fairly large. Orchards in the garden are in full bloom and the scent fills the air.

On a Plane

Yesterday morning we flew into Fort Lauderdale as a family. One of our first stops was “Nana’s” old house, where the kids loved to go … not only to visit their grandmother, but to play on the nearby beach. It was a chance to visit the house one last time and commit it to memory, much like I did with my grandparents’ home before they died 30 years ago. Those memories have served me well for a lifetime, and my kids too will have fond memories of “Nana’s house.”

Memories of Grandparents

Some of my most cherished possessions are a couple of little memories I picked up when my grandparents passed … a small 8” x 10” brown-and-white print of Vigée-Lebrun’s portrait with her daughter, which I looked at often when staying at their house. The other is a painting of two deer by a stream, done by my grandma’s sister. It may be the reason I fell in love with painting. I can remember hot summer nights with the old round black fan in the window and the streetlights throwing light on that painting. Now it’s my kids’ turn. A chance, along with other family members, to pick out a few choice memories.

The Big Sift

The last time I was in my mom’s house was a couple of weeks ago, the day she passed. Knowing I had a busy summer ahead with work and family plans, I needed to play my part in sifting through a lifetime of stuff. Because Mom grew up in the Great Depression, she never would throw anything away. Her motto: “We might need it someday.” Though I can’t possibly relate to what she and her family went through being without, I know she trained me well.

Well Trained

As a child I would do a spring cleaning of my little green bedroom, fill up my wastebaskets, go off to school, and find everything back on my shelves again when I got home. She would say things like, “We paid good money for that. You might regret throwing it out.” Or, “You’ll look back and wish you had that as a memory.” Therefore I rapidly went from being a clean freak to being a pack rat. And like Mom, for decades I’ve saved every little thing because I might need it again someday.

Going through Mom’s stuff was cathartic and helped me cope with the grief of her passing. It was also a chance to see hundreds of old photos — which will be scanned, saved, and distributed to the family. With so much stuff, I had to set some rules: All photos get kept. All financial papers older than 7 years go away. Anything that looks like insurance, stocks, or important contracts gets saved. Almost everything else goes unless it has family memories attached.

Signals

Thankfully, Mom made it easier than I expected. She wrote notes on everything — an envelope would say, for example, “Receipts for taxes 1958.” This was a gift. If something had meaning to her, she wrote it on the outside. But I had to comb through everything because I quickly learned she would stuff a $10 bill inside an old pillbox or between the pages of a book.

The Great Depression

Because of her generation, I suppose, when everything was on paper, my mom printed out every e-mail she ever got and printed out every photo someone sent her by e-mail, not understanding that everything was saved on her computer. Those alone filled up several garbage bags.

At the end of the first three days, when I had to return to my family and my work, we had probably filled a hundred garbage bags, without touching personal items, clothes, furniture, and special memories.

I’m Officially Cured

Upon returning home, I told my wife, “I’m cured.” I declared that I am no longer a pack rat. My kids will have no idea what to do with things, the meaning of my junk, what is valuable and what is clutter.

On a Mission

As soon as I returned home, I started decluttering my art studio. I used to keep every old jar I might need someday, or a favorite old brush that was no longer usable. I went through my drawers and filled a few bags with stuff I had saved. Then I attacked my office, which had files of things I’d been keeping for decades and realized I no longer needed. I threw out thousands of old business cards, which not only made me realize how many people I’ve met, but that I’d not looked at some of those cards in 30 years. Why save them? Anyone I need to reach now is in my contacts folder on my computer. I’ve filled another 10 bags from my office, and I’m just getting started. Drawers and files that have been cluttered for years are now empty. My once-disheveled bookshelves are neatly organized. There are no piles.

Free at Last

It took my mom’s passing to teach me that getting rid of clutter is very freeing. It’s been in the back of my mind as a someday project for years, yet it never got done. It’s also taught me that if I don’t use it, don’t touch it for a couple of years, it needs to get trashed or sent somewhere for someone else to enjoy.

Don’t Pass It On

I’ve learned that someday never comes when it comes to clutter. My mom’s gift to me was allowing me and family members days of work so that we know the kinds of messes not to leave for our own kids to deal with.

A Big Dent

Whether or not I get through all my someday clutter piles in the garage, I’ve already made a significant dent. Rather than keeping things as memories, I’m happy taking photos to remember them. I’m more likely to see things in my photos on my phone than to touch them in person as they sit in a file cabinet somewhere.

The Big Rip

I also had a horrible habit of ripping pages out of magazines, writing notes on them, and saving them. I probably found 1,000 pages as I cleaned up. I looked at every one of them, and instead of keeping the ones that were still relevant, I snapped photos and immediately e-mailed them to others if action was needed. And last week while reading a magazine, I ripped out a page, caught myself, shot a photo, and threw the page away.

The End of an Addiction

I’m happy to report that my days of being a pack rat have come to an end. My lifelong addiction to stuff is over. My intent is to label everything, write on things with instructions or meaning (heaven forbid my kids send my best, most valuable paintings to Goodwill), and I’ve always written the story on the back of every painting I do … where I was, who I was with.

What about you?

Spring cleaning is something I’m told other families did every year. I can’t say I experienced it, but my intent is to declutter at least annually.

I feel unusually free, and my wife shared that going into my office and other areas had been stressful for her because of my piles of stuff. Those piles are gone.

The Gift

One of the best gifts you can give your family is to get rid of everything they won’t need, and to label everything they might need and mention why it’s important. Though I’d mentioned clutter to my mom a couple of dozen times over the last 30 years, she eventually got to the point where she was too feeble to even lift a box. She told me that the idea of moving overwhelmed her. Thankfully, we were able to keep her in her home rather than moving her into an assisted living facility.

Emotional Baggage

Decluttering isn’t just a gift for loved ones, it’s a gift for you. Stuff is tied to emotion. We hold on to things for a reason. Maybe to hold on to a memory, or maybe to feel more comfortable. Perhaps just because we might need it someday. Though I can’t speak for you, I’ve found decluttering to release a lot of anxiety I did not know I had. Someday never comes.

In the airport I was wandering around the gift shops, thinking, “I’ll just end up throwing it away. I don’t need it.” Now before I buy something I think about whether it’s going to end up in a pile, a file, or the garage. I think twice. In my big cleanse I threw away dozens of gadgets I’d bought over the years that were THE hot gadget at the moment. Soon the next gadget would come along, rendering the old one obsolete. Yet because I had paid money for something, even though I knew I’d never use it again, it was hard to part with. I threw away 30 years of gadgets and cords I’d been saving. It was insane to have kept it all.

Yes, We Can Still Change

It’s never too late. I just made a significant change in my life and overcame something that has been a lifetime addiction. I’m now rethinking what I need, what I buy, what I keep, and what I shed. In reality, I need very little. Everything else is just a burden.  

Is it time for you to declutter?

Are you clinging to things?

It took me decades to learn this lesson. Less is more.

 

Eric Rhoads

PS: The week before Father’s Day I’ll be painting with a bunch of friends among the mountains and waterfalls of Upstate New York. If this plein air thing sounds like fun to you, come up and spend a week with us. It’s a low-pressure way to “break in.”

Also. if you love art and want to see a lot of it for a week in Europe, I’ve got a trip planned this fall to see the art of the South of France, Provence, and even a separate trip to Scotland. It’s not a painters’ trip (though some do paint in their spare time). It’s the best way to see art because we take our guests behind the scenes.

I’m Cured of a Disease2019-05-22T13:10:54-05:00
19 05, 2019

An Unexpected Detour

2019-05-17T17:14:29-05:00

Warm sunshine peeked through a slot in the closed blinds of the bedroom, aiming right for my face as if to tell me it’s time to wake. Covers quickly went over my head, yet the sun had done its job and I could sleep no more. So I meandered to the coffee pot, then made my way to the pollen-covered porch to enjoy the perfect spring morning.

My mind has been traveling through some paths I’ve not visited for years as part of the grieving process over the passing of my mom last week. A memory of a special time when we grabbed my mom for a road trip from Florida to Indiana, the purpose of which I can’t remember.

 

How Far Are We?

Driving through Tennessee, a spurt of spontaneity turned into the most meaningful hours of summer ’98 for me and Laurie, then pre-kids. “Aren’t we close to Knoxville?” I said as she studied the map (remember maps?) from the passenger seat. “Check to see how far out of the way it would take us to visit Jamestown.” She looked at me with that, “Oh, no, here we go again” look, but then told me it would not be too far out of the way at all. That’s why I love her! Though we had a destination, a time constraint, and my mom traveling with us and asleep in the back seat, Laurie said, “It wouldn’t be much out of the way at all.”

Mom’s ailing aunt and uncle lived near Knoxville, and Mom hadn’t seen them for several years … and might never see them again. Wouldn’t this be a nice surprise for her? By the time Mom woke up, we were in Jamestown, Tennessee. Mom was tickled.

 

The Smell of Biscuits

The next morning, the promised of a home-cooked country breakfast woke us early. Biscuits beckoned … and do they ever know how to cook biscuits in Tennessee! We burred like bees down the hilly country roads at Armathwaite, passing chicken coops built by distant cousins and homes built by other ancestors generations earlier. We passed the Mount Helen Church, built by my great-grandpa Sam Garrett, and the cemetery nearby where he rests today. Then it was down along the Honey Creek Loop to Uncle Clifford’s farm, a farm that has been in the family for at least five generations. In fact, I just learned that my grandfather had given this farm to his cousin — Uncle Clifford.

 

Going Back in Time

Driving toward the farm was like going back in time, and I was getting younger with every mile. This was the place where I spent my summers tending chickens, and playing in the tall corn or the waterfall nearby. When we pulled up in front of the house, the smell of breakfast made the daydream inescapable — I was 10 years old again.

I had heard that Uncle Clifford and Aunt Ruth were doing well, and when we arrived they didn’t look any different … except that they needed some assistance getting around. We did what all families do — eat and talk. I asked Uncle Clifford about family legends I had heard as a kid, and although they weren’t quite the same as I had remembered them, it was fun hearing from the eldest family patriarch. Now it’s my turn to be “The Keeper of the Legends” for a future generation. I only hope my biscuits are as good.

 

Holding Back Tears

Time passed, and commitments called. We had to say goodbye … always hard when you know it may be the last time. Tears were shed, hugs were exchanged, glances were loving. We drove back over that winding, family-filled road, knowing we may never drive this way again. Everyone in the car was silent as we replayed the precious moments of our visit with Clifford and Ruth and committed those moments forever to memory. Mile after mile, as we got farther from the farm, I felt my years return. By the time we reached the Interstate, I was just another middle-aged guy, with a tear in the corner of each eye.

We almost didn’t make the detour to see Uncle Clifford and Aunt Ruth. It was a major inconvenience, put us a full day behind schedule, and wasn’t in the plan. But the little voice that whispered us toward Armathwaite made the next few hours the most memorable and meaningful of our trip.

Taking a driving vacation this summer? Follow your heart. Change the plan. Listen to the voices.

 

Eric Rhoads

PS: I adapted this piece from one I wrote on July 31, 1998. I discovered it in an envelope my mom kept. She kept everything I ever wrote or everything written about me, including an editorial I once wrote called “Listen to Your Mother.”

That was, in fact the last time we ever saw Ruth and Clifford, and the last time we visited the family farm and church. And now my mom is gone too, which makes me especially grateful that we took this detour, and took her on a road trip that year.

We all live very busy lives, where impulsive side trips can be annoying, but looking back, that 24 hours became one of the richest memories of my life. It turns out it was one of the most important things I have ever done. At the time, it was a sudden impulse. I remember thinking … “Not this trip, maybe someday in the future.” Now, a couple of decades later, I can say I’ve never driven that way again. But it’s something I need to do … go see the old farm, and little cousins I played with as a child who are now senior citizens. Take the time. Take the side trips. Grab a family member and take them back to their childhood.

PS2: I’d love to make some new friends and have you join me in the Adirondacks starting June 8 for a week of painting and hanging out together. I’ve made some of my closest friendships as a result of this event.

An Unexpected Detour2019-05-17T17:14:29-05:00
12 05, 2019

The Perfect Mother’s Day

2019-05-08T17:12:21-05:00

There are days that, in spite of the bright light, the cheery spring flowers, and the perfect spring weather, are not perceived as they are meant to be. Today, for me, is one of those rare days when I’m a lot bluer than normal.

An Urgent Call

On Sunday, just after writing last week’s Sunday Coffee, I received a call that my dear mother was sleeping continually, not eating, and had needed to be rushed to the hospital. Monday I was on a plane, and I arrived at about 2 in the afternoon to find my mom lying in a hospital bed struggling for her life.

A Sight I Never Expected to See

The shock of seeing her in this state was beyond anything I had comprehended previously, and I assumed she would not know me or see me until she recovered, if she recovered. I tried talking to her, but she just lay there.

Precious Last Words

In a moment of utter frustration, knowing she had hearing issues (a family tendency caused by skeet shooting at a young age), I took my own hearing device and placed it in her ear, and cranked up the volume. Suddenly she perked up, opened her eyes, and saw those of us who were there. Though her speech was slurred, she communicated with us, and I heard the words “I love you” from my mom. Her big blue eyes opened briefly, giving her assurance that my brother, sister-in-law, and I were there, and a big smile came across her otherwise struggling face.

Without the Smile, She Was Different

That smile was her trademark. This is a woman who never met a person she did not like, and if she did, we never knew it. She wanted everyone to feel her love. And I quickly realized I had never in my life seen this beautiful woman without that smile. This hospital visit was the first as I watched her struggle with pain.

Tough Decisions

Soon, a meeting with the doctors gave us the bad news that her meds were not working, and I had to make the most important adult decision of my life, which was to remove her care, move her into hospice, and allow her body to shut down in peace. In spite of its difficulty, it never once felt like the wrong decision. And though I wanted to cling to my past with her, I knew we had to keep her comfortable and allow her to enter her next chapter.

An Angelic Moment

People tell me of odd occurrences they experience in this situation. Some talk of loved ones awakening before they pass, calling out that they see heaven. In my case, the night before, I laid my head on her arm and said a prayer that she be taken without more struggle, and when I opened my eyes, I saw her in a somewhat white, almost fuzzy light. Her skin was youthful and her silver hair was glowing. It was clearly an angelic, peaceful look. I can’t explain it, I was not hallucinating, and it was so special that I can’t even begin to articulate it. It was almost as though she had been taken from her body at that moment, though she continued to labor hard with her breathing.

An Experience I’d Never Trade

Hours passed, and there were a few more moments of consciousness and recognition, a few words, and then a lot of sleeping. She responded when I kissed her goodnight and left for the evening, thinking we would watch her go through this for a couple more days. Yet when morning came, before I made it to the hospital, she had graduated to the next level in the cycle of life.

This, the hardest day of my life, was met with a lot of tears, but remarkably, a lot of feeling OK about her being ready. I spent a lot of time consoling others, which made my own angst over this moment somehow easier.

And, with death, for the first time, I was faced with the decisions so many others have handled in the past, such as funeral and burial arrangements, things I’d never before considered. Then, in a cathartic sort of way, sorting through her stuff, finding papers and photos for the rest of the day, was also part of the process.

An Empty Day

Flowers will arrive at my mom’s house for this weekend because I had already planned ahead, yet I remember thinking last Sunday, before this all happened, whether this would be my last Mother’s Day with her. And today is my first without her. And today, I realize for the first time that Mother’s Day is as much about the rest of us celebrating our mothers as it about their accepting our adoration.

Those of you who have been through this in the past, who miss your mom, sometimes after 30 or 50 years, know exactly how empty it feels. And if you’ve still got your mom, cherish every moment.

Giving Up Everything

My friend Skip tells me he would give all his wealth, all his success, everything he has, just for one more conversation with his mother and his dad. Our wealth lies in those we love, not the things we acquire. It’s acutely obvious to me today, more than ever.

If Only

As I look back, regrets in my mind, I see too many times when my mom did not receive the respect she earned and deserved, whether it be teen years of rolling my eyes or talking back, or dismissing her wishes in her older years. In an instant, those regrets sting.

In Celebration

Today, though my heart hurts, I celebrate my own mother, and the mothers around this earth. Being a mom can be a thankless job, brutally difficult at times, yet amazingly rewarding. There is no possible way to accommodate all the sacrifices these women make on our behalf, so the least we can do is give them our time and attention today.

Join me as I toast my own mom, and those around us today.

 

Eric Rhoads

PS: My pastor often talks about how the world’s religions make us think we can earn our way into heaven. Yet heaven is for perfection, and perfection can only come through your life being substituted by the perfect one. It’s not about earning. No one is good enough to earn their way. It’s about accepting the gift of Christ.

Not one doubt enters my mind on this day when a celebration is taking place, with big smiles as my mom enters the Kingdom to see those who went before her. Though I rarely talk about my faith here, because people tend to take offense (not my intent), today, in honor of my mom and her Maker, I celebrate with her. Tears and grief cannot overcome the joy I feel for her at this moment, making this the perfect Mother’s Day for her.

The Perfect Mother’s Day2019-05-08T17:12:21-05:00
5 05, 2019

The Impact of Your Pebble

2019-05-02T12:30:55-05:00

Spring sprinkles kiss the tall green grass as a light wind makes the stems flow like dancers in unison. The long porch is entertained by the droplets pinging off the metal roof like BB’s. Mindlessly I watch droplets dangle off the branches of wet spring foliage and drop into the puddles below, each drop creating a circle of waves as it hits, pushing farther and farther out from its center until one circle intersects another. These puddles are filled with waves created by the little circles. Though there is science behind the inertia of the droplet, the energy and movement, I can’t help but wonder what purpose they serve.

Throwing a pebble into a still pond makes a slight ripple, while a larger rock makes a visible splash and pushes much larger waves much farther out. The bigger the rock, the bigger the wave, the bigger its reach.

The Weight of Droplets

You, me, and others are droplets into the water of the lives around us. Our waves touch and intersect, and often ripple through the world.

Though soft-spoken and quiet, some of us have an impact and a ripple that make change happen. Others, with a larger platform, a louder voice, and greater influence, spread our ripples over longer distances. And, like the puddle in front of me, a small circular wave intersects with another small wave, which intersects with others … passing information from one to another as waves cross.

Though volume and a large platform tend to get heard more, a soft voice with powerful words can ripple through the world with equal or stronger impact. Words at a whisper often have more power than at a scream.

Yet one thing is required for your voice, even your quiet words, to be heard. They have to be spoken. The droplet has to hit the water in order to be amplified.

The Famous Unknown Artist

In my art marketing training, I speak of an artist who died unknown, but whose work was discovered after his death and ultimately exhibited in major museums. A soft-spoken postal worker in England, he never told a soul about his work. He was a loner with no known friends or family. We’ll never know if he created his art with hopes of one day being noticed, or if he did it for himself and never cared for recognition. The only reason his droplet hit the puddle was because his landlord discovered the art upon this artist’s death. Perhaps, if he had revealed his art to the world while living, he could have enjoyed the impact of his art and seen the effect of his ripple.

It was lucky he was discovered at all. Another, less perceptive landlord might have hauled it all to a dumpster and a life’s work may have been wasted.

Meek and Reserved

I recently met someone who was quiet, meek, and almost unable to speak for herself but revealed to me that she had dreams of becoming a famous artist. Yet her fears of speaking up were preventing her from realizing her dreams. I coached her on how to overcome these issues, and she is already starting to come out of her shell after staying inside it for almost 50 years. Now, her droplets are about to hit the water.

I’m thankful she spoke up and shared this fear, but in the process she was hoping someone would solve her problem for her. And though I nudged her with some advice, she had not fully accepted the fact that her future was in her own hands, and waiting for someone else to solve her problems was folly. One wonders what kind of parenting left a child with such insecurities.

I firmly believe each of us is placed here for a very specific purpose and that it’s our responsibility to make sure that our droplets hit the water and spread. We may think we have nothing to offer or that others don’t want to hear from us, or we may fear speaking up or stepping out — yet if we don’t do it for ourselves, who will?

Waiting for Prince Charming

Too often we wait for things to be perfect, but waiting for perfection is an excuse to take no action. Or we wait for permission, or for someone to come along and rescue us and make our dreams happen, but Prince Charming never comes. We can’t wait for the knight in shining armor or for someone to give us permission. We have to be our own advocate. Though “random” discoveries happen, they don’t happen a lot.

Lives can be wasted because of our fears. The ripple from what we have to offer may never be experienced by others until we discover how to advocate for ourselves.

Ask yourself this…

Which is worse? Never experiencing your dreams, or living with the fear that something bad might happen if you step out and try?

I’ve met hundreds of people who are writing books that will never be published because the books never get done. When I probe why, it usually boils down to fear of failure. Books that never get written never get published.

Excuses are fears in disguise.

You know the excuses … “I don’t have enough money, time, experience, education, degrees, connections, knowledge … I’m afraid of failure, being laughed at, getting rejected, someone won’t like me if I’m successful.” Or, “No one wants to hear what I have to say. I don’t have the advantages of others.”

Our lives are meant to change the lives of others, and each of us has something to offer that needs to be heard, seen, and experienced by the world.

What is stopping you from dropping your pebble in the water?

 

Eric Rhoads

PS: Last week close to a thousand artists gathered at the Plein Air Convention & Expo in San Francisco. There is no way to explain or articulate the experience, but I watched lives changed thanks to the generous faculty members who taught and worked with others. I am grateful to everyone who came, and I want to say thank you for allowing me to be a part of your life.

I met hundreds of Sunday Coffee readers who came to learn more about the plein air lifestyle experience. It was good to have many of you take that first step. I also met dozens of people who did their first plein air painting, and some who did their first painting of any kind. Thanks for trusting us to show you how.  We announced our next event will be in May 2020 in Colorado, and as of this morning, we’ve already sold 411 seats — a year in advance. If you want to come, but you’re fearing it, the quarter-inch step is to sign up now so you have all year to look forward to it.

The Impact of Your Pebble2019-05-02T12:30:55-05:00