21 07, 2019

Living a Fascinating Life

2019-07-19T08:47:21-04:00

The ring of the old clock strikes the top of the hour. A hammer on old springs, barely has any life left after chiming atop the old fireplace for so long, but still wound once a week as it has been for the past 120 summers. Furniture made of sticks and woven tree bark has accompanied the clock for the journey in this old camp. The bead and board walls and the ceilings are carefully angled to create designs, and the giant stone fireplace in the center of the living room is the only warmth for a cold day.

A Giant Mirror

Glancing out the old diamond-shaped windows through pine branches, I see the lake is still and reflecting like a giant mirror, showing the pine-forest shoreline and the blue-and-white sky with a layer of brightly lit mist along the horizon.

I sit here in the octagonal window seat, warming myself in the sun. The dogs, Weasley and Chewey, are snuggled into the wool blanket beside me. About the only thing we’ve added to this place are a few old-looking paintings, my guitar, which sits nestled in the corner, and a new family.

Badge of Courage

I’ve been reading a series of New York Times articles that were scrapbooked by the previous owners; the oldest is dated July 29, 1899. There must be 50 between then and now, each highlighting how special and unique this chain of lakes is for its beauty and tradition. When my dad first moved here, many homes had not changed hands in over 50 years, and then another 30 years passed with very few changes. And now, as family dynamics change and owners age, we’re seeing another rare cycle as a few places on the lake hand the keys to new owners. Sad to see the elders move on and their families, many of whom have been here the entire 120 years since the area was first inhabited, unwilling or unable to stay. Yet happily, new faces appear, who will hopefully take the care of these old lake homes as seriously as those in the past. In the spirit of history, most have resisted the urge to modernize beyond the necessary.

There is a bit of a badge of courage in living with wood stoves and no road access — meaning we carry in what we need by boat, whether groceries or materials for a new roof. Some things, like firewood, can be harvested from downed or dead trees in our woods.

Out of Our Routines

We could have found a hundred other places to live on a lake in the summer, but it’s the traditions that draw us here, and, for me and my family, we find ourselves with the time to do things we rarely have time for otherwise. Being on a media break gives me back a lot of time I would have wasted. I dare say I’ve not painted much this summer so far, but have found myself tinkering in the woodshop, building some things needed around camp. Thanks to my son Brady, I’m learning how to design in 3D, and we’re experimenting with a 3D printer. My son Berkeley has torn himself away from video games and has been carving a cup from a block of wood, and he’s now constructing a hut back in the woods.

It does my heart good to see them interacting with something other than small screens and operating at a slower pace. It’s a great break from the pressures of school, and it teaches them that there is more to life than screen time.

Leading Curiosity

Families need leadership. It’s easier to let things take their course, let the kids follow the path of the things they are drawn to, yet if they do that, they may miss out on the confidence of knowing they can put their hands in the soil or build something out of a block of wood. My son wants to buy lumber for his project, but I’m suggesting he forage through the forest and try to build his shack from what he can find in the vast woods.

Though it’s easier to hire someone for chores than to endure the whining of teens, the pride of accomplishment on their faces after a project is done is worth asking 30 times to get them to do it. And when all is said and done, they will have new skills, a sense of accomplishment, and hopefully, when sitting within these walls in their 80s, will be able to say, “I built that when I was in my teens.” And frankly, being here isn’t the most practical thing I can do, yet it may be the best investment of my life — not from a financial perspective, but in the way it brings the family together and the joy being here brings us all. Yet family is everything, and I needed to lead my family here to continue the tradition, just as my dad led his family here. 

Keeping Life Interesting

We also need personal leadership. We can be a ship adrift at sea with no destination, hoping we land somewhere, or we can be deliberate, creating a map. Dreaming a little is important, dreaming a lot is even more important, and setting some goals and focusing on those goals constantly is critical. It’s why we’re here. But I like to think that we also need to get beyond our comfort zone, beyond our traditions and the things we tend to repeat, in order to keep life more interesting and fulfilling.

The downside of a summer place we love is wanting to stay here all summer long, which would prevent us from seeing the world in the summertime. In our case, we carve out a couple of weeks for our annual fine art trip, which gets us out to see the world. Seeking new and interesting experiences and visiting places we’ve never visited is enriching. 

A Lifetime of Stories

Last night we cruised over to my dad’s place on the lake, dropped in for a few minutes, and found a stack of photographs he was sorting. The stories of the places he had visited and the people he had met were fascinating. I realized that those things don’t just randomly happen, though there was randomness within those trips. But it all happened because he made an effort to lead himself to new experiences. 

Turn Left Here

I think our tendency is to look at the lives of others and think their lives are better. Certainly Facebook is a great way to see what others are doing, and in some ways, it can make us envious. But a great life isn’t always about travel to distant lands — it’s about curiosity. Some of the richest experiences of my life have resulted from wondering “Hmm, what’s down this road?” and discovering an amazing waterfall or a cool shop. Last week I wandered into a woodshop and met a fascinating man who quit his high-powered marketing job and now makes beautiful furniture out of twigs for a living. Just seeing his shop was as good as some of the experiences on our international trips. I’ll randomly stop places I see because I’m curious, and it keeps life interesting.

Being Random

Curiosity drives random experiences, but also drives us to explore the world, starting with our own town, neighboring towns, museums, and things across our region, and the experiences there can be every bit as exciting as a trip around the world. Remember, people come here from other countries to experience our lives. Being curious locally is a great starting point. 

Curiosity is also about books, events, conferences, and lectures. We randomly took a course on foraging food from the forest, and now we spot things on hikes that are edible. 

How would you rate your level of curiosity? 

Could you be more curious?

Would being more curious lead you to more experiences?

Though I’m naturally curious, I find I have to force myself to be more curious than I’d otherwise be. I have to ask myself, What have I not done that I should try? What have I not seen that I should see? If this were my last week on earth, what would I do that I always wanted to get done? 

What do my kids or grandkids need to experience? What life skills are they missing? What do they need to build their confidence?

We have no idea what we need until we discover we need it. If we sit still, stay set in our ways, stuck in one thing, we’ll never know. Curiosity has no limitations. Even if you’re stuck in one place with no ability to travel, there is much at your fingertips today that is just a click away. Sometimes it’s just a matter of shifting priorities.

Have a great, and curious, day.

Eric Rhoads

PS: I want to say thank you to all the people who have told me that they forward these Sunday missives to their friends and family. That is the highest honor you can give me. When I started writing this, I decided to not follow my path of driving adoption by intense marketing as I do with so many other things. I decided to make this organic — it can be as small or as big as it gets on its own without any additional push from me other than an occasional mention on my podcast about plein air painting. If this is appearing in your mailbox and you did not subscribe, that may not always be the case. If it’s something you want, be sure to sign up here

PS2: If you’re curious about seeing the South of France and its art from a new perspective, and curious about making new friends, we’ve still got a few rare openings on our annual Fine Art Trip this October. If you’re curious about figure and portrait drawing and painting, I’ve got a conference called FACE (Figurative Art Convention & Expo) in November in Williamsburg, Virginia, that is going to be fun. (There is a price increase on July 31.) And if you’re curious about plein air painting, the annual convention, next year in Denver in May, is already at 97% sold. It might be a good idea to reserve a seat. 

Living a Fascinating Life2019-07-19T08:47:21-04:00
14 07, 2019

5 Tips That Change Everything

2019-07-09T16:19:17-04:00

My cold skin is instantly warmer as I sit in the sun-baked 100-year-old Adirondack chair on the old stone porch next to the dock. Once the foundation of a lakefront house that burned decades ago, this porch has a view across a vast lake, reflecting the blue overhead and the distant forests that surround it. The water is splashing against the shore from the wake of an old aluminum rowboat en route to the next secret fishing hole. The roaring sound of its 1950s-era outboard motor briefly disrupts the chirps from the branches above. As it passes, the cheery chirping returns.

Sly and the Family Stone

Pondering memories created here at the lake with the family, I’m reminded of a song from my youth, “Hot Fun in the Summertime.” The kids will never forget their summers here, sailing across the lake with friends, cruising in speedboats towing inner tubes or skiers, hiking the deep forests, even cleaning up garbage cans invaded by rogue raccoons and bears. Though my own lake memories growing up did not involve bears, forests, or raccoons on Lake Wawasee, in Indiana, I can remember the freedom I felt driving the boat as fast as I could, long before I ever got my driver’s license, and my summer friends who lived in different places the rest of the year. 

Flames of Memories

Last night my kids went to a bonfire with other kids on the lake, all reconnecting in person after a year apart. Though they are in contact minute-by-minute all year on Snapchat and Instagram, it’s the ghost stories, the starry sky, and the roaring fires with friends that will create precious lake memories.

A Magnet to Draw Everyone Back

One of the biggest gifts I can give my family is the gift of summer memories, and it is my hope that they will come back to this place during and after college with their families, and that their kids and grandkids will also have these experiences in this special place. Our intent is to be a magnet so we can see our family more often. It’s the gift my father gave us at his place, drawing us together summer after summer, and it’s a tradition I hope to continue in our own place.

Finding Themselves

One of the great joys of my life is watching my kids grow into teens and young adults, watching their phases of growth, seeing the struggles they share, and knowing there are things that have them confused or perplexed, but they’ll never talk about them to us. It’s that time when they really start to find themselves, time when we can contribute but not control. Letting go, yet keeping a lifeline, is a delicate balance for a parent. 

When I think back to the difficulty of being a teen, it was a struggle to find myself. In an old bit, comedian Jackie Mason said, “I went to find myself, but did not know where to look. And what if I find myself and don’t like what I find?” I wish I could give them all the answers to make their paths easier, yet they have to make their own paths, their own mistakes, and probably wouldn’t listen anyway. Still, I try to impart some wisdom, hoping it will sink in somewhere down the road when it’s needed. I share the little secrets I’ve learned in this life of experience. Here are a few I’ll be sharing.

Listening Is More Powerful Than Speaking

Being a know-it-all is part of growing up — our egos are still in control and provide brash confidence. And though we need ego to push us through life, it’s not till we learn to listen that we see real progress. As a young business owner, I was demanding, knew all the answers, and was not very considerate of those around me. Little did I know then that listening to others is the key to everything. The Bible says, “There is wisdom in multiple counselors,” and those who think they have all the ideas are missing out on some of the best ideas by not listening. Listening to your co-workers/team members, listening to your customers, listening to outside advisors is all priceless. Ultimately, you have to take it all in and make a decision. You may or may not use those ideas, but some of the best things in my life and career are a result of listening.

Surround Yourself with the Best and Meet with Them Often

A variation on listening is to be a part of a mastermind group, or getting some mentors and advisors who are the best in their field. A mastermind group is a combination of great minds working together, as one mind, to help solve your problems. It took me decades to discover this treasure trove of help, and it has made more of an impact on my life and business in the past five years than all my years of experience combined. Why take the time to figure something out when you can find the best people in the world at a particular skill and ask them to help you solve your problems? No matter how good we are, we cannot see the bottle from the outside. We need others with experience to give us feedback. Seek to surround yourself with the best of the best. I’ve considered offering an art marketing mastermind group for artists, and may do it one day. The moment you let go of your ego, let go of thinking you have all the solutions and start listening and getting others to help, is the moment you see real progress begin.

Stories and Emotion Are the Most Effective Communication Tools

Facts and figures are rarely remembered, but stories almost always cut through. Stories are memorable. People visualize stories, so if you want to communicate anything to be remembered, tell it in story form. This is one of the most powerful yet simple things, and it changes everything. It’s worked for thousands of years. I can lecture my kids or my team members and it will never be remembered, but if I tell a story about the point I want to get across, it’s rarely forgotten. Just yesterday my son brought up a story I told him a decade ago, and he remembered it as clearly as the day I told him.

A Spirit of Generosity Amplifies Your Success

Giving is getting. The more you give, the more you get. In my early career it was all about me (ego), and all about getting from others. Frankly, it did not work all that well. The minute I decided that I should approach everything with a spirit of generosity, not interested in what I get, but instead interested in how much I can give, how I can help others, everything changed. For instance, we carved out a significant part of our profits and gave it to our employees. We carved out another significant piece and donated it to an organization that helps homeless people. And our attitude of being generous impacts the way we approach and address everything, hopefully making it better for everyone we encounter. “Honor the Lord with your wealth and with the first fruits of all your produce; then your barns will be filled with plenty, and your vats will be bursting with wine.” Proverbs 3:9-10.

World-Changing Purpose

Lastly: Life is short, then you die. We are each given life for a purpose. The sooner you focus on finding purpose and doing something that plays a significant role in changing the world, the more you will be fulfilled, and things will go better than ever. For me it was finding ways to help people in my two areas of passion … radio and art. Focusing on making people’s lives better, creating experiences, and helping others change their lives by finding something of value has made a giant difference.

Powerful Secrets

It took me decades to discover the power of these five tips. I discovered them one at a time, and they had a huge and powerful impact on my life and my business. They are simple principles that I have found amplify everything disproportionately. They can apply in life, in business, in charity, and in anything you do. 

Eric Rhoads

PS: When we start to reach mid-life, we start thinking that there must be more to life than this. It’s when most of us start to explore our inner thoughts and try to find our soul work. It’s when most of us discover our creative side. If that’s you and painting is what you’ve discovered, I’ve got some free lessons on some important principles you may want to learn. Don’t ignore the voices in your head. There is more to life. We are born to create. For me the discovery of painting was another life-changing moment, so another tip or secret … find something you love doing to create something. Find your art, and your life will be filled with interest, challenge, and joy.

PS2: When you walk into our 120-year-old camp on the lake, you’ll find a photo of a young girl planting a birch tree with her father. Today that tree at the edge of the water is a giant. We continued that tradition this week with our triplets, planting a new birch by the water. This birch has three trunks, representing our triplets. Its photo will hang beside the other for future residents to discover when this tree also becomes a giant.

PS3: A shout-out to Dean Pickering, editor supreme who helps create our art instruction videos. Today is his birthday! We love him and honor him today.

5 Tips That Change Everything2019-07-09T16:19:17-04:00
7 07, 2019

One Thing to Change Your Life This Summer

2019-07-02T11:59:22-04:00

Flashes of lightning so powerful they illuminate the dark billowing clouds in the sky, creating a late Independence Day fireworks display. Faint and distant roars of thunder continue as if they’ll never end, with an occasional boom for effect.

On Golden Pond

I’m rubbing my hands together to warm them in the cold front that traveled in with the rains, yet I cherish this old screened-in porch so much, I cannot skip a morning here. Each morning I come here with my coffee and my breakfast, and it’s where I end each day to enjoy the warm afternoon light as it floods the distant trees with orange. After dinner, it’s where I sit to enjoy the silence, with an occasional welcome interruption from the cry of the loons. This is Golden Pond.

Three Views

The porch is an octagon with lake views in three directions, views of the old moss- and pine-bough-covered shingle roofs in another direction, and the old lakefront fireplace on the other side. Once there stood a boathouse, when ladies wore long white dresses and men in ties and seersucker suits and round straw hats stepped into the old launch to properly cruise these lakes. Today the boathouse, the launch, and the people and their customs have disappeared. We’re much more informal, and future owners will look back on our photos to see our flip-flops, T-shirts, and plastic kayaks. Perhaps they in their drone boats will look at us as antiquated.

Deep Traditions

In spite of modern times, our little chain of lakes and its history remain deeply rooted in tradition, partly because most of the families on the lake have been here since the camps’ founding 120 years ago. In Late July and August there are sailboat races in old wooden boats constructed for the lake, boats that have been sailing for 12 decades. There is a Labor Day tea, where awards are presented to winning sailors. I’m proud that my son Berkeley has been the recipient a couple of years in a row. 

Gather to Worship in a Unique Way

On Sundays many of us gather at the old stone church, open only in the summer months. To get there we have to hop in a boat and go to a distant landing to get to our cars. In the old days, lake families would gather at “Pulpit Rock,” where the preacher would stand with families who came there in old wooden boats to listen and worship. Then on Sunday nights they would gather in one of the camps (the name they use for homes here) to sing hymns. The tradition has continued for 120 years and has been in the same camp for the last 60. It’s a wonderful tradition. And somehow families keep it alive to keep the lake from losing its character.

Time Tunnel

Living here in the summer is like living in a time machine. Life is slow — only recently did we get Internet, the one thing that allows those of us who work to work from here. Families gather socially all summer and show up in their old wooden boats. (Something we don’t have here but aspire to acquire one day.) Some have televisions, while others, like us, prefer life without them. I can go the whole summer without seeing the news, and my news comes only via the grapevine, which is refreshing. Frankly, I love life without the news and don’t like that they get us all keyed up and polarized so we’ll watch more. It’s an addiction I can do without.

Feeling at Home

Laurie and I had never lived in an old house until we moved into this camp recently. Like all things old, it’s a bit of a money pit, as harsh winters make repairs necessary each spring. But we have our meals in the old kitchen or dining room where families have connected for 120 years. Within a week of moving in, we both felt like we had been here forever. It’s like living in grandma and grandpa’s house. We feel very much at home.

Swinging Back

There is a book called Generations by William Strauss and Neil Howe that talks about how society changes and how, about every 80 years, our tastes change as we go through generational cycles. It’s true in art too. And it reflects our attitudes, which is pointed out in the book Pendulum, written by my buddies Roy H. Williams and Michael Drew. And I can feel the pendulum swinging back in a different direction.

Moving Away from Digital

There is a lot of evidence that younger people are starting to swing away from digital and move back to the things they didn’t have growing up, which is why vinyl records are hot, why young readers are returning to printed books and magazines, and why they are looking for ways to engage in real life experiences. They are not shedding their digital worlds, but starting to seek ways to escape being all-digital.

Escape to Civility

I for one have found that escape is critical. At my events I make it a point to tell people that they will be asked to leave if they engage in political discussions because we’re there to escape the noise of life, stress, and politics, to be replaced by connecting with people on a deeper level, making friendships and enjoying nature as we allow our creative bones to rattle a bit. Though we all care deeply about our country, we have become very polarized and have lost the civility to hear the opinions of others, and it is resulting in friendships lost. 

That is why my “no drama” rule applies to politics at my painting events, and here in paradise. It’s not that I don’t care, it’s that I care more about the people I love finding things to talk about that don’t include politics. I’m thinking of making a sign: “Politics Not Spoken Here.” Imagine how much richer our lives and friendships would be if we could keep our opinions about politics to ourselves and enjoy our conversations and friendships, and stop disrespecting others because they don’t think they way we think. It shows how we’ve become narrow thinkers when we all think we’ve evolved.

Take Advantage of Summer

Summers are a special time, a chance to get away, a chance to reconnect, a chance to work a little less and enjoy a little more. What would happen if you created a mental escape from the things that cause stress, that cause disagreement, the things that make you fume?

Be an Ostrich

I’m taking a media vacation this summer. I’m not watching the news, I’m not listening to the radio in the car, I’m not reading the papers, and I’m avoiding social media that involves news or politics. I refuse to read a news website all summer. If the world comes to an end, I’ll be the one that didn’t stress about it for weeks leading up to it. I’m avoiding news, debates, and any political discussion with anyone. If politics comes up, I change the subject. If it continues, I politely excuse myself. And I’m happier for it. Last summer I took a two week “email and cell phone” escape. This summer I’m escaping media.

Can you do it for a summer? Can you create a mental escape? Can you get your friends to do it? 

I’m not exactly sure how many people are reading this each Sunday, but I’m told these e-mails get forwarded a lot. What would happen if all the readers, and their friends, took the summer off for a mental escape?

Join me. Your tense, stress-filled, disappointed, and outraged brain will thank you.

I promise you won’t miss it.

Eric Rhoads

PS: The no drama/no politics policy will be in effect at our Fine Art Trip this coming October when we go behind the scenes to see the art world around Provence and the South of France, the French Riviera, and then Scotland. It is one of the finest ways in the world to see art, to make new friends, and to have a great lifetime memory. There are just a few slots still open.

Last week I had an amazing experience. I spent two days going through the archives at the Norman Rockwell Museum in Stockbridge, Massachusetts, working on a project. It’s a wonderful museum, and they are celebrating 50 years, so it’s a good time to go. And just down the road is Chesterwood, the home and studio of Daniel Chester French, the sculptor who did the Lincoln Memorial statue of Lincoln. (I was pleased to see Fine Art Connoisseur on sale in the gift shop.) And there are lots of museums nearby. The Berkshire Museum is a lovely old classic museum building with a wonderful John MacDonald show going on, and the Clark Museum nearby has a Renoir show. Lots to do and see this summer.

One Thing to Change Your Life This Summer2019-07-02T11:59:22-04:00