The Good Life in Austin Texas

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Dear Diary, My Passion is for Living...and Returning the Favor!

The world keeps turning round and round...Many years ago when I worked in the construction industry, I had a laborer on my crew who used to tell me, "Everyday, when I wake up the first thought in my mind is "thank you for another day" followed by "Damn, now I gotta go to work"! I always thought that was a funny mix of gratitude and resentment but the first part stuck with me and over the years I eventually adopted the same attitude. Each morning when I wake my first thoughts are "thank you for this day" followed by a list of the people and things for which I am grateful. No matter what is going on personally or with the universe at large, I start my day with the attitude that everything is as cool as can be in a peaceful world. I did not come to this way of thinking over night but as part of a natural process of growth. I am a person who still thinks that people are basically good and believe that hatred, greed, prejudice and a host of other human defects are learned from those around us as we grow up. Yes, yes...I am not naive and I know that mental illness and just plain bad genes may play a role but again, it's not the majority. Everyone is affected by their own circumstances but again, the good qualities are there and they are either nurtured or crushed by our own life experiences.

I believe that compassion is something that is to some degree, inherent in just about everyone and it's there from childhood. When our son was younger, he would get very upset when we would pass a homeless panhandler on the street. He always wanted to know why they were out there and what we could do to help. In February, 2003 when the Space Shuttle Columbia was destroyed entering the atmosphere over Texas, we watched in shock as it played out over the news. Our daughter came downstairs and when told of the disaster, her first words were, "We need to pray for the Astronauts and their families. This was from a little girl, ten years old and we were just blown away. I mean, we try to follow the golden rule and do our best to be a decent example but the intensity of these feelings from our children was more than something they picked up from us. I see and hear about this kind of compassion from people every day but that never makes the "NEWS" does it?

Compassion is something that is taught and revered in every culture and religious tradition and like gravity is a universal truth. Christianity has the story of The Good Samaritan and The Golden Rule. Buddha's teachings reveal that compassion is at the heart of all of the religious principles and that it enlightenment comes from relieving the suffering of all living beings everywhere. Hindu's teach that all life is considered sacred, human life is deemed the highest form of earthly existence and compassion is one of the three main virtues. In both the Jewish and Muslim traditions the act of compassion for our fellow man is expressed as a empathy caring and "Do to others as you would have done to you". Compassion is revealed as a profound human emotion and expresses itself in altruism and all of us are on the road to Shambala.

I know this is beginning to sound way too optimistic and let me assure you that I am no Pollyanna (though some of my friends might disagree) brimming with a mindlessly optimistic attitude about anything that comes along. The "up with people" types grind on my nerves too and before we go any further, you might want to watch this video: Okay, all kidding aside now, I have been the recipient of some harsh treatment over the years. Lies, deception and betrayal from others in business, friendships and even my own family. At times I have let these setbacks dominate my attitude until I finally learned that my "attitude" is the only thing over which I have any control. One thing I FINALLY learned is that when I am helping others, I am outside myself and not consumed with my own "so-called problems". People tell me all the time that they want to help out in some way but never have the time, do not know where to start or that there is so much need, it seems overwhelming. I agree and with over thirty million people in our own country living at or below the poverty line, it seems hopeless. I cannot save the world so I do one small thing when I have the time and the funny thing is, giving back is addictive in a way because you begin to make time to help and you get something back and it before you know it, it is a habit! Find something you care about and make a small effort and you will eventually discover what works for you.

I am just one of those people who was fortunate enough to realize how privileged I have been and I am grateful. I express my gratitude by helping out now and then and jump on board when I am offered the chance to Come on up for the rising, Come on up, lay your hands in mine. When my wife and I were first talking about marriage she kept telling me "We are going to have a great life together" and though we have had some ups and downs, it's been true and these days we sometimes have to remind each other "We are having a great life together". It's wonderfully accurate and I can see clearly and remember that I need to return the favor.

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118 commentsRussell Lewis, Broker,CLHMS,GRI • February 24 2009 11:13PM

Austin Luxury Homes - 5919 Bold Ruler Way

The annual "Million Dollar Homes" issue of the West Austin News is out this week and as part of the event, I have featured a premier listing in one the Eanes School District's finest neighborhoods, Davenport Ranch. Located at the intersection of Westlake Drive and Capital of Texas Highway (the Loop 360), Davenport Ranch lies at the east end of the Westlake peninsula and is convenient to downtown (20 minute drive) and the business corridor along loop 360. Davenport boasts some of Austin's finest homes in a community that offers the discriminating buyer every amenity imaginable. Austin Country Club and golf course are within the area and overlook Lake Austin. Nearby dining and shopping is available along Loop 360 and at The Village at Westlake Shopping Center, 701 South Capital of Texas Highway. As is readily apparent, this home has numerous amenities and construction details that really have to be seen to be appreciated. For more information or a private showing of this exceptional home or to see any other homes located in the Eanes School District, please contact me by email or my mobile number listed below.

5919 Bold Ruler Way

If you or anyone you know is anticipating purchasing or selling real estate in Central, West or Southwest Austin or the Westlake/Eanes School District area, I would be happy to be of assistance. Let me put my nineteen years success helping upscale buyers and sellers in Austin's finest neighborhoods to work for you. Call or email for a private consultation at your convenience!

 

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37 commentsRussell Lewis, Broker,CLHMS,GRI • February 17 2009 02:04PM

Amy's Chocolate Covered Strawberries-An Austin Valentine's Tradition

ChocoberriesValentine's day in Austin is like any other place except we are the lucky recipients of some of the best chocolate dipped strawberries on the planet (along with outposts in San Antonio and Houston)! These delicious morsels are locally produced by our own Amy's Ice Creams to celebrate the most romantic holiday of the year. Chocolate is a Valentine's Day essential and it would be hard to find anyone who does not enjoy strawberries. Chocolate strawberries are beautiful to look at and wonderful to eat! Anyone who has ever visited Austin's own, Amy's Ice Creams for their luscious, out of this world ice cream knows that they are first and foremost about quality!  Joe Morris, head of production described to me how they select the finest berries in season available. Perfect strawberriesThe trick is that Mother Nature has to cooperate so they have several resources available at this time of year. Amy's also uses a superior quality of dipping chocolate. And let me tell you there IS a difference. There are some vendors who use cheaper ingredients and I have seen a substance known as "candy coating" that does not even qualify as real chocolate. chocolate also contains Phenylethylamine which is the technical name for a substance often described as the "love chemical." When dealing with something that has to do with my love life and my taste buds on Valentine's Day, I don't want fake or cheap substitutes! Amy's uses a premium dipping chocolate from the heart of Belgium created by Callebaut. Excellent quality White Chocolate is also incorporated into the process creating a beautiful and mouth watering indulgence that is extraordinary to behold and consume.Melting Chocolate

As something of a fan of all things culinary, I had the chance to work a shift at the production facility and get hands on experience making some of the treats myself. In the interest of full disclosure, our son, Morgan, was an employee at the Amy's Mira Vista location until he left for college (I am a regular customer at the store and a fan of the manager, Melissa Hanson). Melissa's goal is to make the world's tallest ice cream cone and I would love to volunteer when that happens!! As an employee, Morgan worked a "strawberry" shift and invited me (along with several members of his Westlake football team) to make extra money while learning something new and having fun. We all arrived for the 4PM to Midnight shift and looked at the various tasks available at the different stages of production. Mark & TeresaOperations Managers, Mark Banks and Teresa Noll walked us through the different stations describing the tasks at hand and I have to say you will not find any two individuals as efficient and also cool as these two! They watch over the operation like shepherds over a flock, paying attention to every production detail regarding quality and efficiency including the well being of each of the employees!

dipping strawberriesThe process starts with the freshly washed and scrubbed berries being sorted with the green stems sliced off and placed in trays. These trays are sent to the "Dipping" tables where each berry is individually dipped in a bowl of melted chocolate. This is not as easy as it might seem because the strawberries must be COMPLETELY enveloped in chocolate to prevent leaking from the freshly cut strawberries. As a tray of berries is completed, it must pass inspection by one of the full time pros (I think this must be the most difficult task because each berry has to be scrutinized individually!) Any berries not passing must be returned to the dipping bowls and any tiny holes filled! Upon passing this element of the procedure, the chocolate covered berries are move to a station where the are splattered and drizzled with white chocolate "Jackson Pollock"  style which adds a visually pleasing finish as well as another tasty element to the creation! The berries are then sent to a station where excess chocolate is trimmed and the berries are placed in egg cartons. At this point the cartons are packed in crates and refrigerated before being shipped to the different Amy's locations!

Dipping into chocolateAs we began our shift, we were chosen to work at the task of dipping the strawberries and jumped right in donning our hair nets, gloves and name tags (I chose the name Tyler Durden and it gets a laugh from everyone who notices.) The entire place is filled with the intoxicating smells of melted chocolate and the sweet tangy scent of fragrant strawberries. The sound system is cranking some great music and everyone  is enjoying the work. Dripping white chocolateI don't have to say this but we are all competitive (especially with a group of football players) As we worked we all began to try and outdo one another at the production. It took awhile to master covering the strawberries completely (I am not kidding about this) but I eventually developed a style and rhythm and begin to make some progress. After each tray of my dipped berries was accepted, I would return to our station, raise my hands in triumph and exclaim,"I Rule!". At first, Morgan was somewhat embarrassed and his friends would laugh. I continued to outpace them and each time I returned, they would all laugh and say, "yes, we know..." YOU RULE and eventually my son joined in as we all worked together enjoying some silly and funny banter. I have to tell you that after an eight hour shift I was tired but when we got our paychecks (my first in 18 years) shortly after midnight I was pleased that I had been invited along. It was a thoroughly enjoyable experience I will never forget! trimming and packing! 

Do yourself a favor this Valentine's day and treat yourself and your loved one to something sweet, delicious and romantic from Amy's. I have already purchased a dozen for my two best girls and a dozen for my office. They are available at all locations through Valentine's Day, Saturday the 14th! You may want to place an order at your nearest location to ensure there are some available when you arrive! One other noteworthy fact: they usually make extra Chocoberries to mix with into a heavenly concoction called Chocoberry Ice cream and well...just try some, straight up or with hot fudge or...do it yourself with a carton of the most luxurious chocolate dipped strawberries around! 

 

  

 

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54 commentsRussell Lewis, Broker,CLHMS,GRI • February 13 2009 11:05AM

"Old Fashioned Service" Never Goes Out Of Style

Y'all Come Back SoonI was recently listening to a friend complain about the fact that she could not get good service or even basic attention at many stores and businesses these days. You know what I mean, "Old Fashioned Service" and here is the funny thing, she is only 26 years old. I have been hearing the same thing for years and with the advent of Big Box Retail, Megastores, and Corporate empires along with a lack of personal involvement on the part of many business owners I see this happening at many businesses locally. However, after thinking about it for awhile, I realized that "old fashioned service" DOES still exist. The unfortunate fact is that you sometimes have to look around to find it!

Obviously, the key ingrediants to great service in any business are the people. My neighborhood convenience store manager, Cherie Kalaher is a great example. She is exceedingly friendly and also very mischievous. When I first began stopping there for gas, coffee and other items, I would hear her teasing others in the store and always enjoyed watching her in action (while managing to avoid any of her humorous barbs)! One day I was in a long line (yes it is a popular store) and when my turn arrived, I asked her to go easy on me. She laughed and said "Well honey, if you would just get caught up on our "child support payments" I would not have to hassle you!!" I was so shocked that I was speechless (a rare event) and all of the regulars in line broke up laughing"! I managed to recover and then began laughing myself. Since that time we have become good friends and I always make it a point to stop by just to see if she has a new story, joke or to watch her tease a "newcomer" to the neighborhood. She knows everyone and just about everything going on!

There are many other places where I do business in the community and again, the main reason is the people who work there every day.  My local hardware store Breed & Company is managed by David Oltrogge. He is one of those people who has an encyclopedic mind and can help with any request in the store. If you want to know; what it takes, how it works or what will fix it, he is your man! At my favorite local restaurants, grocery stores, book stores, (yes you read that correctly - plural) gas station, music store, library, mechanic, camera shop and even at my Post Office are folks who I know and depend on to help me with whatever service I require. I wish I could list them all with a link to their respective web sites and plan to in the near future! In my profession as a real estate broker, I am keenly aware of the service aspect in my job. There are over 10,000 real estate agents in my MLS area and the only thing that differentiates us from each other is a professional approach and the level of knowledge and service we are willing to provide to our clients and customers! There are business establishments for every need and competition is fierce for business in the general public! Because of this, I avoid places where I am met with arrogance, indifference or rude treatment. I can almost always find what I need in a better environment!

Now, more than ever, in this current economic downturn it's important to patronize the folks who practice the Golden Rule and truly work for the customer!

Good service, knowledgeable and courteous assistance also comes with the responsibility to be a good customer! How many times have you watched rude, demanding patrons mistreat and abuse an employee who is trying their best? Such impatient, angry treatment is not soon forgotten and I am always amazed at the customers who act in such an inappropriate manner! On more than one occasion, I have been the next person in line and when appropriate, I usually say something funny or empathetic that in some way diffuses the situation. Over the years I have developed some good relationships; you know the type, when they see you walk in they smile and greet you and the feeling is mutual.

In Texas, we have a reputation for being friendly and though that may not ALWAYS be the case, I like to think it is true more often than not. It's really a way of life and not just an empty saying. A few years ago, a friend related the story about a European family on vacation that stopped for lunch at a small West Texas Café. After finishing their meal, they paid the bill and told the owner how much they enjoyed the meal and the friendly service. As they began to leave the owner said, "Y'all come back". The family turned around and marched back in, literally taking the man at his word. Funny story and as you know, it is just an expression in Texas but what makes people return to any business anywhere is friendly, courteous knowledgeable and professional service! So, please patronize the businesses where these options are available and you will be doing yourself and that business a favor!

Thanks for dropping by my blog today, y'all come back real soon!

 

Russell M. LewisPage copy protected against web site content infringement by Copyscape 

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79 commentsRussell Lewis, Broker,CLHMS,GRI • February 09 2009 02:36PM

4405 Balcones Drive-Open House-Sunday, February 8, 2-4PM

February 8th2009, 2-4PM - I will be holding open 4405 Balcones Drive in the Balcones area; one of Austin's finest neighborhoods.This home is a Classic mid-century contemporary with beautifully updated kitchen and baths. High vaulted ceiling, lots of glass in the huge main living room with a floor-to-ceiling stone fireplace. The beautifully appointed granite/stainless kitchen with a big island and custom cabinetry, opens to the dining and family room. Split level plan. Roomy study down could be 4th bedroom. Master suite opens to the open landscaped yard with decks, privacy and room for pool. Also included; security system & sprinkler systems, Zoned HVAC, Blue ribbon elementary. This open house is part of our AvenueOne Company event and includestwenty three (23) additional homes on Sunday!

Check website for details Wednesday afternoon: http://www.aveone.com/

AGENTS, this is an excellent time to preview!

I will be on-site between 2pm and 4pm Sunday afternoon so please drop by for a tour of this wonderful home. If you have questions or are unable to attend or to schedule a private showing, I can be reached at my mobile number listed below. Thanks, I look forward to seeing you there!

Open House 4405 Balcones Sunday Feb 8th 2-4PM

If you or anyone you know is anticipating purchasing or selling real estate in Central, West or Southwest Austin or the Westlake/Eanes School District area, I would be happy to be of assistance. Let me put my nineteen years success helping upscale buyers and sellers in Austin's finest neighborhoods to work for you. Call or email for a private consultation at your convenience!

 

Russell M. LewisPage copy protected against web site content infringement by Copyscape 

If you enjoyed this post, why not connect with me in these other communities?

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29 commentsRussell Lewis, Broker,CLHMS,GRI • February 03 2009 04:45PM