How to Live Your Dream

Flickering, crackling, and the soft smell of burning wood come from the old fireplace, tucked away in a tiny sitting room at the hotel here in Williamsburg, Virginia. The decor is Early American — pineapple-patterned wallpaper, old brown furniture, and portraits of presidents. It’s quiet here, most guests are not yet awake, and no one has discovered this little reading nook. I hear the occasional distant ding from the service bell at the front desk, done to call the bellman like in the old days. Going Back in Time My morning walk brought me back to another time, a different era. This old town made up of original buildings from the Revolutionary War era is tightly closed up, but later will bustle with tourists and kids who will march alongside the red-coated soldiers. Later will be the smell of baking bread from the bakery, whose old brick oven uses real fire. The candy maker will be handing out samples, and you can go into the tin shop to see cups being made, or the print shop as they make reproductions of old Revolutionary War posters one sheet at a time, with moveable type. It’s truly a place every family should


The Power of Catalysts

“Hello, darkness, my old friend/I’ve come to talk with you again.” — Simon and Garfunkel That tune from the 1960s is ringing in my head as the silence penetrates the darkness. The air feels soft to me; the normal sound of leaves playfully waltzing with their partners is muted, as if under a soft, thick blanket.  Goosebumps appear on my skin as I wring my hands for warmth and await the sun, which is to be an hour late this morning, as if it slept in, cozy and comfy under the covers. She peeks through the distant branches as a muted pink, barely touching the edges of the twisted branches visible from my back porch. Her appearance has awakened a tweeting symphony as the fog lifts from my sleepy brain. I wipe my crusty eyes as my warm coffee plays its role in bringing me peacefully into yet the gift of another day, for which I’m grateful. Each day is a gift, each hour to be met with enthusiasm and never wasted, as one will someday be our last. Simon and Who? When Paul Simon wrote that that song, “The Sound of Silence,” in 1963 and 1964, it opened the


The Grand Purpose of Beauty

Porches are like portals. Spending time on a porch can be recovery time, relaxing time, thinking/pondering time, and time to take our thoughts to other places. Time here on this porch in Austin, which overlooks distant hills of grass, gnarly scrub oak trees, and faraway cattle, is always a special time, and it’s good to be back after a couple of weeks away in France and Scotland.  In the summer I write to you from an old screened-in octagonal porch overlooking the lake that has hosted conversations for over 120 years. Each porch brings out something special in its visitors, and each inspires thought. A Grand Experience This past week I stood briefly on the porch of a grand estate, Gosford House, that makes Downton Abbey feel small. The old stone porch of this house, finished about 120 years ago, overlooks 5,000 acres of Scottish countryside and the sea. We stood there in the freezing cold as a troop of bagpipers marched before us, playing pipes, drums, and flutes in harmony as we said farewell to Scotland and our annual Fine Art Trip. Tears welled up in my eyes with the beauty of this old tradition and the experience of


The Joy of Transformation

The faint sound of bagpipes filters through the brisk, moist air as the sun makes a hazy entrance on this brisk Edinburgh morning. A peek out my hotel window feels like Harry Potter World at Universal Studios, but it’s the real thing … we’re here as part of our annual Fine Art Connoisseur magazine art trip for four days of viewing the best art in Scotland. We spent last week in Provence and the French Riviera, walking in the footsteps of many great artists and learning more than we ever expected. It was invigorating spending time with art and great friends. Overnight Change One thing I found eye-opening is that many of the great artists were not always great  — and each had had a moment of transformation. Many had gone from average and the expected style of their time to a new style and approach almost overnight. But how? What is it that causes us to make the different decisions that often transform our lives? Not only did we see countless examples of artists who transformed their art, we learned about others who transformed their conditions. How is it that someone who is in a horrific situation becomes able


Supercharge Your Brain

Like art, the tweets of birds are an international language that all can interpret, though I swear the little yellow birds that frolic in the old stone birdbath here on the porch are tweeting in French. Breathing deeply, I take in the cool air and the view of the mountains that were made famous by Cezanne, who painted frequently near this very spot — an old yellow farmhouse with shadows of olive trees playing on its stucco walls. Looking down the long outdoor hallway, covered with vines held up by old wrought iron lamps, I can see the village awakening and begin to hear the sound of church bells in the distance. I’m here with my fine art group at a stunning five-star hotel, Domaine de Manville, deep in the countryside of Les-Baux-de-Provence, France. Deep Gratitude It’s hard to wake up in a place like this without feeling tremendously grateful. I’m not only grateful for the opportunity to be here, to lead and spend time with this group of friends and see all the art treasures in the area, I’m grateful for how being here changes my perspective and disrupts my comfort zone. Scrambled Brain Though we’re all pretty comfortable


The Bully Inside

Finally, the oppressive Austin heat is subsiding and it’s a fairly cool morning compared to what it has been. Still hot, I’m splayed out like a dead cat on the couch, here on the back porch overlooking the cattle in the back 40 (fortunately they’re my neighbors’ cattle to care for). My body is totally relaxed, with legs up on the old wicker coffee table, and my back is barely upright, head leaning into the back of the couch, and my arms were just extended out to the sides with an empty coffee mug dangling from my limp fingers. Finally, I can relax. Heading to Europe Next It’s been a whirlwind crazy time. A week ago today I finished up a week of painting at Ghost Ranch, home of Georgia O’Keeffe. I was the fearless leader of 98 painters, and though we had a great time, my time in the office playing “catch up” afterward was brutal. So today I relax … and tomorrow I board a big bird to paint in Saint-Paul De Vence, France, for a few days with friends before meeting up with our Fine Art Trip through the South of France and then Scotland. Though I’m


Making Bad Days Good Days

The soft purple light transitions between nighttime and morning as brilliant pinks illuminate the sky. Moments later, monumental rock faces are washed in glowing orange light. These rock formations are the very ones seen in great Westerns, old Marlboro commercials, and Georgia O'Keeffe paintings. My room sits atop a hill high above Ghost Ranch and overlooking a distant purple plateau, the very one Georgia spent a lifetime painting. This feels like sacred land, or at least an homage to the artist and film directors who made these lands famous. Fond Farewell Soon, like each morning for the past week, I’ll meet everyone for breakfast, and then make announcements one last time on our departure day. Tears will flow as people who did not know each other a week ago hug those who have become their new friends and they remember the laughter, the deep talks, the first plein air paintings for some, and the special memories of the week. Though we’re here at an event I call Fall Color Week, a week of painting, the friendships made outweigh the endless painting locations where one could spend a lifetime. I too am sad to say farewell but happy to be home


Are You a Waterfall?

Flipping my eyes open, I was briefly disoriented. Where am I? Instead of the old oak trees behind my porch or the lake from my deck, the view is a hotel room. Nothing special. But the view out the window is illuminated with pink-orange light against tall blue mountains. I’m in Taos, New Mexico.Dinner with Legends Last night I had dinner with Cherie McGraw and David Leffel, two world-famous artists who are dear friends and live locally. Though my intent was to drive back to Ghost Ranch, an hour and a half from here, I didn’t want to get stranded in the middle of nowhere in the deep dark desert. So I stayed here for the night. A Week with Friends Today about noon I begin to “check in” 100 of my closest friends. We will paint together in the land of Georgia O’Keeffe for a week. It will be invigorating and exhausting and worth every minute. Over dinner part of our discussion was the necessary transition from artist to become an artist-businessperson. I told them the story of transformation I’m about to tell you. A Transformation Once a quarter I sit in a group that is my board of


Setting Higher Standards

Streaming through the leaves of the ancient twisted oak trees, orange morning light kisses the tall grasses below and illuminates my little brown-wood clapboard art studio in the distance. The string of party lights that trim the porch are glowing as if turned on. The tops of the oaks sway gently with the welcome breeze on this otherwise oppressively hot morning. The dogs sit atop the deck, at high alert for chasable squirrels. And I’m blinded as the sun blasts my eyes, and ready to let the screen door slam behind me as I escape to the cooler air-conditioned indoors. Avoiding Reality Now home for a week after my summer escape from reality, I’m still working hard to avoid it. The mere sight of a TV in a restaurant makes me walk out the door as I try to continue my vacation from news media. I suppose I have to ease into it slowly.  Tuning Out TV Remarkably, the temptation is always there. I’m so used to turning the TV on when cooking dinner or sitting around at night that it’s a battle not to succumb, yet my stress melted away so much when I took TV out of my


Never Be Overwhelmed Again

Red-colored pine needles have fallen and now cover the old green hammock hanging between two majestic pines in front of the porch to my cabin. The ground below is cushioned with a pillow of needles, and the scent of pine is glorious. Walking on the soft needles in bare feet is one of my favorite experiences. Years of Laughter Sitting here in the 120-year-old octagon-shaped screened porch overlooking the lake, the porch filled with wicker and cane chairs now empty, reminds me of the laughter, the music, the discussions and debates that took place here all summer. Our first week here we had about 86 artists in the house, celebrating our week of painting together. Of course, there is a rich history of voices in this place, every summer for 12 decades. The rest of the summer was filled with visiting childhood friends talking of old times, artists talking art history, family friends discussing trips together, kids talking about their lake friends, neighbors getting to know us, and Laurie and I pondering our future when the kids enter college. The Sounds of Silence The porch is silent now. An occasional boat goes by, but this weekend was the last hurrah for


A Plan for Joy

Signs of fall begin to show their faces; the distant mountains are glowing with a winter-like light. Color has not yet kissed the trees, though they have started to turn from brilliant to dull greens with a slight hint of decay. Cracking Voices Baby loons who have spent the summer at flight school are awkwardly soaring overhead as they excitedly shout, “I’m flying! Look at me, I’m flying!” in their immature, cracking loon voices. Their big trip to Florida is just around the corner.  The sounds of silence have begun: fewer passing boats, fewer sounds of wakes hitting the shore, fewer sounds of glee from water skiing and tubing kids. Some will be back for a last hurrah for Labor Day.  Senior Year It’s weirdly silent around here, as my wife and two of the triplets have gone back for the start of senior year in high school. I’ll soon follow them after some meetings that will keep me here till Labor Day.  Leaving here is the saddest part of our year, just as arriving is our happiest. Over the past few years, when my family stayed at my dad’s place on the lake, we’ve known his “listed” camp could be


A Walk in the Woods

As I step into the rustic old metal boat from the rickety wooden dock at the edge of the shore, the boat rocks gently while the outboard engine turns over again and again until it finally starts. Carefully I back out, trying not to scar the sides of the boat on the long dock. As I cruise quietly across the lake, the dark sky is lit by the full moon, I see distant mountains silhouetted against the greenish-blue sky and nearby islands with ragged pines standing proud. Sprinkling the sky like distant sequins, the stars brightly twinkle between moonlit clouds. Perfection The night is the most perfect I can remember. The lake is like glass, the temperature is perfect, there is not a bug in sight, and it makes me want to sleep under the stars — or at least sleep on the porch and hope the bears don’t pay a surprise visit. Showered in Stars My favorite times on the lake are nights like the one I experienced earlier this week. Stopping the boat, turning the engine off, and drifting in the middle of the lake while lying back watching meteor showers. It brings me closer to my Creator and


Eric Rhoads
Entrepreneur, writer, artist, marketer, and speaker.
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