Sunday, April 9, 2017

Little Things Can Be Really Big

Kids of all ages are fascinated by miniatures. Little girls love to move furniture around in doll-houses. Many young men have spent hours designing and building an electric train layout, then watching the scale model engine pull its cars around and around, through tunnels and over trestles. The scenery around the tracks can be simple or complicated, with trees, buildings, even small people involved in the tableaux.
A Hot Springs man has taken this idea to the extreme, and his labor of love, appropriately called Tiny Town, has been a popular attraction for generations. It’s all in the details, and we are so happy that he cared so much about every little piece of it.
Another location in the area, Garvan Woodland Gardens, is famous for the large displays of flowers and native plants in every season, as well as a spectacular lighting display at Christmas time. But, one of our favorite areas in the garden features a rustic creation that is constantly evolving. The Fairy Garden is constructed with tiny castoffs and natural material, and prompts dreams of magical creatures and their adventures. We can’t help but wonder what happens when all of the guests are gone, and the little inhabitants come out to play. I am noticing more and more pictures on social media of home-made fairy gardens, and there are even special items being sold in the hobby and gardening stores that folks can use to customize their own little fantasylands.
As a girl, I read a series of books by Mary Norton called The Borrowers. This fantasy centered around a family of tiny people who lived underneath the floor of a house. All of the lost items of the house became furniture and tools for the Borrowers. Postage Stamps became colorful artwork for their walls. Spools of thread were tables and chairs. The adventures began when the some of the younger family members crossed into the world of the larger humans. This fueled my imagination in a huge way, and instigated my love for teeny, tiny details.
The whole idea of “less is more” translates to other areas of our lives as well.  New generations of young couples and parents are starting to enjoy the old principles of fellowship, once again appreciating simple gatherings in homes, as opposed to fancy and expensive events in larger venues.
Many churches have moved from large evening worship services held in the sanctuary that holds the whole Sunday morning congregation to small groups that meet in members’ houses. This enables real visiting and develops meaningful friendships. A popular women’s ministry called Heartfelt Friends refers to this phenomenon as “moving past the foyer faces.”
Our group has been meeting monthly since early autumn, and five “Moms” have enjoyed pampering their seven younger “sisters” by paying attention to the smallest details. Cloth napkins, napkin rings, candle holders and floral centerpieces turn a simple meal into a special event. There is not a big expense involved, as the hostesses each bring a dish, and decorative items they have acquired over years of entertaining. Some of the dishes and table decorations have their own stories and memories of past family dinners with well-loved relatives. With so much emphasis on the smallest things, these dinners are simply elegant.
As we have repeated this process, we have enjoyed bringing special gifts that will help the topics of our evening’s bible study to stay with our young ladies for a long time. At our last get-together, we learned about what was most important to our new friends.

The dinner and study had carried on longer than usual, so our leader was hurrying a little to wrap up since all of us had activities planned for early the next day. As we passed out the simple gifts and snapped pictures, the young ladies began mentioning people in their lives who needed special attention and prayers due to illnesses and other difficulties. We had honestly considered skipping the usual closing prayer in favor of heading to our respective homes. But, it was obvious that ending our gathering without that ceremony was not going to happen. Luckily, someone had started writing down the requests, and we joined hands and prayed together, relishing the love that filled the room. We could have skipped dessert, skipped the gifts we handed out, but the simplest thing, praying together, had turned out to be the most important.
Is bigger really better?  Maybe sometimes. But often, in our day to day lives, taking time to enjoy the simplest pleasures, the smallest details can be very enjoyable. This month, take a look around. Inspiration can be found in the most unexpected places. Often, it’s the little things that mean the most.

Friday, February 10, 2017

One full month into the new year, and it’s time for a status report. How are all of those very ambitious changes you pledged to make? By now, you should be able to tell what’s going to work, and what was just a whim.

Over the years, I’ve tried many things to become healthier. My role model in this effort was my mother. Pictures of my beautiful mom when my sister and I were small reflect the added weight of having one baby right after the other. After many efforts failed, she finally crossed state lines to consult with a doctor who prescribed some rather controversial weight loss medicine. She did lose weight quickly. I remember that she would often hoist a heavy sewing machine to remind herself of the burden she had removed from her life. I do remember, though that she had a problem with her hair thinning rather drastically, even requiring her to wear a hair-piece for awhile. Could this have been caused by those diet pills?

My own adventures in dieting were memorable as well. Though I never tackled the hot dog and boiled egg diet (just typing that makes my stomach churn), I did spend several weeks on a strict regimen. This one had been recommended by the famous Mayo Clinic, and involved a surplus of protein and fat, followed by an acidic drink to cut through and move the calories. Each day was supposed to begin with three eggs and four slices of bacon. The other two meals were heavy on meats, and vegetables, in any color but white. No potatoes, no rice, no bread, no milk products. The kicker- each meal was followed by either half a grapefruit, or a full glass of grapefruit juice. I remember this plan brought some good results, but the lack of variety and the bacon and egg overkill got old very quickly.

Nowadays, there are many choices when it comes to a diet plan. One very popular program has you paying for education and suggestions on the right foods to eat, along with a weekly weigh-in and encouragement session. It has worked for millions of people. Another brings pre-packaged meals directly to your door. If you eat only the foods you have purchased from them all day every day, you are guaranteed to lose weight. I see one problem with both of these. Me. I know me well enough to see that I would become restless with the strict routine, and the financial investment would begin to be a burden, especially if I wasn’t seeing the results I expected.

Of course, the food we eat is only part of the equation. The other big life-style change is adding exercise to our daily schedule. In our Ouachita area hometown, we have a shiny new gym where the bowling alley used to be. With its wonderful new machines and attractive prices, many of our neighbors have taken advantage of the opportunity to shape up and feel better. The parking lot is still packed most evenings, and it looks like many resolutions are still alive and well.

One of the healthiest times in my recent past was when I rose very early on two or three week-days, put on my exercise outfit and packed my makeup and work clothes for the trip to Little Rock. Once at the gym, I joined several other early risers for a very energetic hour of dance moves to a Latin beat: Zumba. I was amazed at how good it felt to be on my feet and moving. Hopefully, the other participants were able to ignore the rather chunky old lady flopping around in the back row, and I didn’t give any of them a traumatic start to their day. Then, I would shower and dress in their very nice facility, and get to work with time to spare.

Alas, a job change made trips to that gym impractical, and then, I developed arthritis in my knee. The physical therapist and the doctor agreed, no more gyrations. The best exercise was a stationary bicycle. The following Christmas, Santa Claus helped out, and my daily workout can now be accomplished just a few steps away from my bedroom.

My goal in all of this is two-fold. First, I am trying to keep my “numbers” good. Each year, when I go for my annual physical, my blood sugar, cholesterol and blood pressure numbers are within the limits my doctor expects. The only “bad” number is the actual weight. There is still work to do.

Secondly, I want to be able to continue to move well enough to enjoy life. Last summer, I was able to keep up with my grands fairly well for three Disney days. However, on our recent cruise, I had to make sure to consider health and stamina when we selected excursions in the port cities. Maybe next time, I could participate in some of the mildly physical ones, like horseback riding or snorkeling without trying to find a local crane operator to assist in getting me up and down. Yes, more work to do.

To enjoy life, you must remove some of the stress. Whatever is weighing you down, whether it is physical or emotional, take some measures to make a change. Your solution will not be the same as mine, or anyone else’s. Do what works for you. The dog days of winter will soon give way to a beautiful Ouachita spring, and you want to be ready! Take care, and we’ll catch up again soon.