Friday, December 18, 2009

Resuming the Mission

During the last few weeks of "down time" I have realized more than ever that this desire to write fiction is not going away. I have been reminded over and over that everything happens in God's time. All I have been doing up until now has been valuable. I'm very happy with my marriage, my children, my grand-children, my job, my work with the Church, the column I write each month. But, I just can't continue to let the stories in my head just sit there, on random pieces of paper, in random folders in My Documents file.

I'm looking for input from anyone who understands this need to write. I'll give you a brief outline of where I am, and ask you to make suggestions on the next step. I'll sort through the ideas, and pray about it, and figure out what will be best for me. After all, what works for someone else won't necessarily be the right way to go. But, neither is sitting here doing nothing with this talent God has given me. I know that sounds like I'm bragging, but I'm not. It's not an earth-shaking, instant best seller that will change the world, but it's there, such as it is, and I should be using it to help someone else. So, your input is very much welcomed!

  •    I am not a newby. I've completed three manuscripts. One, a teen mystery/romance called Butterfly Summer. The second, a contemporary romance called Crossroads, written from both the hero's and the heroine's POV and the third, a historical called In Pastures Green based on my family's stories from the late eighteen hundreds in Eastern Kansas. All have been submitted to contests,and done fairly well, though none have won first place. Crossroads was turned down by Heartsong presents a few years ago.

  • I have been a member in the past of a local writer's group that is still active. Fiction Writers of Central Arkansas  holds monthly meetings, and would probably give me an opportunity to be in a face to face critique group, although not all write in the same genre (Christian Fiction) that I'm trying to break into.

  • I am not currently a member of American Christian Fiction Writers, because I was not utilizing their tools, and just deleting most of the messages in my inbox. I have attended one conference in Nashville a few years ago, but this was a tremendous expense for me, and it's hard to justify a vacation that doesn't really allow much time with my husband.

  • I will be retiring from the State of Arkansas in two and a half years, and should be able to substitute teach enough to make some money, hopefully allowing some time to devote to writing.

  • I have a current work in progress that is classified as Women's Fiction and has received favorable comments from at least one published author. I will soon have that one completed, and ready for first re-write.

So- what do you think? Do I concentrate on finishing my WIP, take it to a critique group, get it professionally edited (I have a friend who can do that), and start sending it out? Do I resurrect the old already completed projects and start shopping them around? Is there value in getting back with ACFW? Should I rejoin my local all-genre group?

You can see what a quandry I'm in. My time will be limited till I retire, so I need to make the best use of it. Thanks for any suggestions you may have.

Blessings on your own writing journey!


Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Christmas Regardless

It just wouldn’t be Christmas without  . . .  You fill in the blank. There are so many little parts that come together to form our holiday memories. These things become so special, that we think we can’t celebrate without them.

My husband and I were both raised with live Christmas trees in our house every year. For him, the decorating process started with a trip to the woods to cut down a fresh cedar tree, which grow in abundance in the Ouachita area. As a small-town girl, a trip to the local tree lot served the same purpose. When we married, it was a given that our living room would have to be rearranged to make a spot for this traditional symbol of celebration. More memorable than any other, though was the last live tree we had as a couple.

That year, James and his best friend (and best man at our wedding), Raymond traveled to the family’s property in Perry County. After hiking around to find two of the best specimens, they were enjoying the camaraderie. Until the truck got stuck. We’re not talking about a temporary, spin your wheels event here. This truck was down in the mud with no hope of emerging stuck. Raymond became acquainted with many of James’ relatives that day, as all tried everything they could to dislodge the vehicle and get it back on the road. The little cabin on the property was not heated, so between tries, the only way to warm up was for the two young men to sit with their feet propped on the open electric oven door. Meanwhile, Raymond’s new wife and I were in pre-cell phone oblivion, happily baking cookies at home. As I remember, James didn’t even bring our last live tree in the house when he finally arrived. It was propped rather unceremoniously in the front yard. We went to Wal-Mart and purchased our first artificial model.

At my Granny’s house, the tree was quite different. Purchased in the early sixties, it was the shiny aluminum table top variety. It was decorated rather sparsely, with of course no electric lights and no need for tinsel. The magic happened at night, when the accompanying color wheel was plugged in, and it went through variations of red, green, blue, and gold. Of course, for me and my cousins, the tree was secondary to the pile of presents that surrounded and sometimes obscured it completely. The first Christmas she didn’t put that tree up was a huge adjustment for me, and I miss it, along with the angel-topped wind-up music box, and the tinkling candle-powered mobile that always sat at a safe distance.

For children, the type of tree may not be the most important memory at all. Our oldest grandson has a special favorite. Each time he comes to our house, he looks for Tigger in a box. When he doesn’t find it, we discuss the concept of “seasonal” decorations, and how Tigger will be displayed at the appropriate time.  This cheerful contraption sits on my dining room hutch, looking like an innocent but brightly decorated package. By pressing the button, you get the Disney version of A.A. Milne’s bouncy character with such gems of wisdom as “Hello, I’m your Christ-ee-mas present”, as he pops up and then back inside the box with a snap. The two younger grands have enjoyed this as well, and consequently, the mechanical parts are wearing out.  It soon may be time to retire Tigger and start a new tradition, form some new memories.

Years go by, celebrations change. We miss some faces around the tree. But through it all, Christmas continues. Whether we celebrate on the 24th, the 25th, or even some other day, the meaning and reason for it all remains constant. Once upon a time, seeing our desperate need, God decided to come down, in the person of His son, to help us. We celebrate, the hope, the assurance that we can find our way Home at the end of our journey. Christmas happens, no matter what. No matter how, or even if, we choose to celebrate. God’s wonderful gift is there for all. Have a truly blessed Christmas.

Uniquely Southern Gardening

With a nod to my daughter and son-in-law who researched and found new rules for Haiku- This one has exactly 17 syllables.

Working up November sweat

planting pansies

to brighten winter days.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Sunset triumph

Gorgeous fall sunset

singes away the edges

of the menacing storm clouds.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

It's How you Lived

“It’s Not Who you Knew, and It’s Not What you Did …

It’s how you lived.” These words come from a song made popular by a Ouachita-born singing group, Point of Grace. There’s so much truth here. Only a few of us will ever invent something so valuable that our name is remembered. Some will be associated with a famous person, a smattering will have more than our own fifteen minute share of fame. So, how will we be remembered?

My husband’s father would not be considered famous by any stretch of the definition of that word. But, well known, well respected, well thought of? Of course. How does a person with a seemingly ordinary life accomplish this? It’s how you live.

As a young man, he established a reputation. He was the tall, smiling one with a full head of hair and James-Deanish good looks. His friends and younger relatives knew he was always up for an adventure, willing to do anything to help someone else. Not reckless, just fearless. If it needed doing, R.V. would do it.

In his work life, this tendency grew. As a timber worker, he was one of the biggest, strongest, and hardest working men any employer could hope for. Foul weather, injuries, lack of food or water, no worries. He just kept going till the job was finished.

During his career as a delivery truck driver, he became known for taking what was needed from one point to the other with no complaints. He was the one who could get the truck into and out of impossible spots, up roads that couldn’t even really be called that. His customers were glad to see him coming, and often rewarded him with home baked treats and friendly conversation. On longer trips, his wife accompanied him, making sure he followed all the rules of the road. Once more, no complaints. He truly enjoyed her company.

His family and friends know all of this, because he loved to talk about it. His stories included minute details that most of us would discard as un-important. To R.V., every measurement, ever price he paid, every date and time was part of the rich fabric of his life. No event was too small to make a good tale.

Sixty years of steady companionship with the love of his life created a pattern that all who knew them still strive to follow. They made it look easy, and paraphrasing a verse from the book of Romans (12:10) they were kindly affectioned , and honorably preferred each other.

His children and grandchildren looked up (literally) to him as a firm, reliable example of a Christian father. He never criticized, but often richly praised their accomplishments. For concerts, contests and award ceremonies, he was in the front row, with a huge, proud smile. “That’s my boy (or girl)” was written all over his face, displayed on his wall and even on the bumper of his truck. He was the first one they called with good news, because they knew he’d love hearing it.

As a member of the community and leader at his Church, he could be depended on for whatever was required. During the construction of his congregation’s new building, the members purchased a set of tires for his truck. He had literally burned up the road going back and forth to bring the necessary supplies. His caring attention to detail shows in the fine facility they still call home.

Some men have a hard time communicating. On the contrary, R.V. loved to talk, and loved to listen. He wanted to be up to date on the happenings in your life, and shared every detail of his. We expected to talk to him every day, and more than once on football game days. His “How bout them Hawgs (or Hornets)” phone calls are legendary in our family.

So, when the last chapter of your story is written, how will others remember you? That dash between beginning and end dates on your headstone will tell it all. It’s how you lived.

Dedicated with love to R.V. Carlisle 10-29-1925 to 10-04-2009.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Changes to the New Model

Checking the Window Sticker for the Latest Changes

The deal was too good for my husband to resist. He’d never seen his trusty old truck as a clunker, until he realized he could trade it in on something brand new and actually make a profit after driving it for seven years and over 200,000 miles. He’s been enjoying all the bells and whistles on his “oh-ten” for several weeks now.

Each year, I notice that features and accessories of my own seem to vary a little. Things that I used to require are now less important, and the list of standard features- things I can’t live without- is modified. Here’s my own list for this year-details on other models will vary.

            First, some things that used to be a big part of my life are now quite optional.

  • Hair color: I stressed the need to keep some semblance of my youth on top of my head for over 15 years. Now, I’m happy with the salt and pepper (heavy on the salt).

  • Address book: Couldn’t function without phone numbers, addresses for everyone I know. Quick emails have replaced long, newsy letters. I can call them now with a quick scroll down my cell phone list, and the GPS will find them wherever they move.

  • Desserts and junk food: Since hubby and I resolved to eat healthier, our habits have changed. My apologies to the car-hops at the local drive-in.

  • Hand sanitizer: I’m sure this is a very popular item for many in view of the recent flu scare. For me, nothing replaces Ivory soap and water. I did spill a small bottle of the stuff in the bottom of my purse recently, so all my extra pens and old shopping lists are now well sterilized.

Here, however is the new list of standard features, necessary for the current version of Jenny McC.

  • Tea kettle: More than ever, I need it for a hot cup or an icy glass of freshly brewed tea, and for instant oatmeal. Comfort food at my house comes with a whistle.

  • Fiber: I’ll spare you the gory details. Suffice it to say that more beans than potatoes, healthy breakfast cereals, and a handful of nuts added to almost everything make my day so much better!

  • Loaded exercise bag: If I always have my workout clothes handy, I’m more likely to stop for a visit to my favorite Curves. Music plus movement equals good medicine.

  • Counted cross-stitch: I can’t explain why this relaxes me. Concentrating on minute details, after a day of technical training? Go figure. But without a project in process all the time, I’m at a loss.

  • Reading glasses: Official Granny glasses perched on the end of my nose are vital for the above mentioned craft, as well as any kind of reading (including labels at the grocery store).

  • Digital camera: I’ve finally left my 35 millimeter behind. Now, I can download, upload and email with the best of them.

  • Makeup: Now necessary unless I’m okay with looking old and tired. In particular: mascara. My eyelashes seem to be disappearing. At least now I have something in common with Brooke Shields!

  • Comfortable shoes: Looks don’t matter much in this department. Without a firm foundation, I don’t make it far.

  • Daily Bible reading: Formerly just an accessory carried to church each Sunday, I now look forward to a few quiet moments with my favorite book. That daily dose of truth seems to cut through all the flotsam and jetsam that are bound to follow.

So, with no fanfare, you now have a picture of the latest, new and improved Ouachita Life columnist. Hopefully, there will be enough of interest on this list to keep a former clunker owner looking forward to next year, instead of thinking about trading me in!

Monday, August 24, 2009

Behold the Turtle...

...He never makes any progress until he sticks his neck out. After attending a meeting of the Arkansas Inspy writers on Saturday, I realized that's where I am right now. In Turtle mode. I'm happily writing my monthly column (and posting it here), occassionally writing a haiku, and ... that's about it. The characters from my past,present and future works in progress still wander around in my head. They're becoming good friends of mine, but their stories are still untold.

During the meeting, I realized that I'm not a beginner. I know most of the tricks, and can write pretty well. My only hold back is to stretch out and try. After all, sometimes, it's much safer to huddle in my little shell, and say, oh well, I'm doing the best I can. But that's not really true. My best is much better than this.

I've missed the contest and conference season for this year. But right now, I'm declaring 2010 the year of sending out submissions. I need to polish a little, get things ready, and send, send, send. Get ready post office. Here I come. It may be painful at times, and there's a risk of getting out in the middle of the road and getting smashed, but I've just got to go for it!

To whomever reads this- hope this prompts you to peek out of your shell too! We're all in this together.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Lessons learned at Granny Camp

Lessons learned at Granny Camp

 The second annual session of Granny Camp has come and gone at the Carlisle house. Once again, memories that will last a lifetime came out of simple, everyday events.

 This year, we had the same camper, one year older and wiser. As Camp Director, I’ve learned that the requirements for this fun filled week are simple. First, the camper must be able to take care of his/her own bathroom duties. Secondly, he/she must be willing to leave the “comfort zone” of home for a week. Finally, naptime or bedtime is when the Camp Director says it’s time. As a two year veteran, this camper had no problem with any of these. Next year, there may be at least two, and maybe three arriving. The potential applicants are getting bigger every day!

Lesson learned from the first year- the fewer structured activities, the better. If the camper decides he wants to sleep late, watch cartoons, have pancakes for breakfast, the staff is more than willing to comply. Some days, particularly in August, it’s just too hot to go outside for more than a quick visit with the dog who lives in the back yard. However, having a swimming pool accessible gives us more options.

Another lesson learned about activities: Croquet requires short grass. The camper willingly attempted this classic game, but the colorful balls kept getting stuck. At least he now knows the difference between a mallet and a wicket. The dog also learned very quickly that the wooden orbs are not designed for a game of fetch.

 Organized field trips are always great. However, joining other Grannies with their own campers should be limited. When all have their own list of favorite things to do, and a limited time to do them, things quickly become complicated. Our camper seemed to enjoy his trip to Little Rock, made some new friends, and showed off his expertise with riding the trolleys. Then, of course there was the pampered poultry in the big hotel. As the duckmaster says: “Once you’ve seen the Peabody ducks, you can go on with the rest of your life.”

The highlight of the week, at least for Granny, was a trip to Heifer Ranch, right here in the Ouachitas. You’ve probably driven by the entrance near Perryville on Highway 9, but unless you’ve ventured closer, you’ve missed an Arkansas treasure. Here, we learned some valuable lessons about the way to really help your neighbors. The visit started off with a history lesson about the founder and his inspiration for the now well established non-profit effort.

Heifer Project volunteer to our camper: “This man was trying to help hungry people in Spain. He noticed that at the end of the day, after passing out a cup of milk to each hungry child, there was never enough to go around.” Camper nods sadly.

  HP vol: “Jordan, what would be better than giving each child a cup of milk?”

  Camper: “A bottle of milk.”

   HP vol: “Very good. But what would be even better?

  Camper: “A bigger bottle of milk.”

  HP vol (smiling): “Yes, but what about giving them a cow?”

  Camper: “Yeah!” 

   Camp Director (internally): “He really gets it!”

  The tour, in a chauffeur driven golf cart, showed off the gorgeous mountain scenery, and the rather exotic animals who call it home. The camels, llamas and donkeys were sticking close to the shade, but the water buffaloes were enjoying wallowing in the little spot of mud they’d constructed in their yard. By far most impressive was the walk through the model homes from around the world. Jordan decided he could live with chickens and ducks under his porch, and walls inside the house weren’t always necessary, but it was nice to have some on the outside, and a roof was a really good thing.

 Back at home, we both learned that the day went better when we made our beds each morning, picked up our toys when we were finished, and took some time to read a story or memorize a poem each day.

 The end of the week was hard, as always, but this year’s camper was already thinking about next year, and how much fun his three year old cousin would have once he reached the magic age of four.

 Oh the memories we built, along with a few pages for the family scrapbook! Priceless.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Summertime transitions

Since the Martins have moved on,

Dragonfly platoons

Maneuver in our back yard.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

It's All in the Plan

Ever try to eat an elephant? I suppose if you were very hungry, and someone presented you with that much meat, it would be welcome, but also quite overwhelming. The short answer to “How can I do this?” is “One little chunk at a time.” What that really means, though is that you’d have to have a plan. How would you keep that huge amount of food fresh? Where would you store it? How would you prepare it?  The planning would also help you feel better about what might seem an insurmountable task.

 At my “day job” for the State of Arkansas, our office walls are often papered with huge spreadsheets. Part of the “project plan”, they outline the responsibilities of each team member in assuring that the current project happens in accordance with our deadlines. There is a measure of comfort in checking the chart, marking your own name off as your task is completed, feeling a part of the whole process.

  My father-in-law related something that happened in our region in the early 1940’s, that made him a very important part of a plan. He grew up in the Ouachita mountains on a road that was “just a road”, only getting a name years later when nine-one-one came along. From previous stories, I’ve gathered that he and his friends enjoyed nothing more than bouncing along those rocky byways, with as many of their buddies packed into their Fords, Chevys and Plymouths as possible. When they actually ended up on paved roads, the world became their oyster.

 As a young man of 16 or 17, he was asked to assist a family who had a son with an illness so serious it couldn’t be treated in Saline County. Being of the previous, less traveled generation, the boy’s parents had never been to Little Rock. He recounts that the little boy’s eyes were only showing white that day, and he was in very weak condition. So without much hesitation, a plan was born. Daring young Carlisle eagerly volunteered to provide the ambulance.

Before the construction of  Interstate and improvements on Highway 10, the 40 odd mile journey from Paron to Little Rock involved a lot of hills, curves, rocks and dirt. In the family’s B Model Ford, they set out, with R.V. at the wheel. He told the parents not to pay any attention to the route they were taking on the way in. Directions for their hospital visits could come later.  For this trip,speed was the important thing. He says now that it “didn’t take long. You could really throw up some dust in a B Model.”

Setting off on Paron’s 12th Street, they headed east. He says they never saw anything that looked like town until they turned north on Park Street in Little Rock, and jogged over to 7th and Chester, the first four-way stop on the route. From there to the University Hospital, which was then located in McArthur Park, they had to sit through some stoplights, but the boy arrived in time to receive his life-saving treatment, and is still around today. How hopeless those folks must have felt, and how wonderful to discover that all it took was a plan, and a courageous youngster to help them implement it.

A doctor’s diagnosis often necessitates a new plan. Diets, exercises, medications can offer us hope. The plan encourages us, gives us a way to deal with a very frightening prospect. When things don’t go as planned, we begin to realize that God can see past this life. He has plans for us that include a much brighter future with Him.

When faced with an elephant, pause for a moment, say a prayer and seek help coming up with a plan. That whole idea of taking just one chunk at a time will begin to make a lot more sense.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Reflecting His Glory

During my morning scripture reading (the smartest thing I do all day) I found a verse that explains perfectly what I'm trying to do with my writing.

"And we, who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord's glory, are being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit." 2Corinthians 3:18.

James and I have been talking about plans for our kitchen window lately. Now that he is home more often in the early morning hours, he notices how warm it gets in front of that uncovered window on the east side of the house. He wisely suggests that we put up a blind, as we're wasting energy trying to keep that spot cool. My idea though, is stained glass. If I had a really pretty piece just the size of the upper pane of that window, imagine the beautiful patterns on the floor. Isn't there something about reflected light being cooler, less concentrated than direct sunlight? It always seems that way when you're in a church building with stained glass. I just love the idea of using art and color to bring God's light into my house, and sharing it with others who happen along. That's me in a nutshell. I'm sure we'll eventually have both a window shade and stained glass. Marriage is all about compromise.

I think this is why I write fiction. Sure, it is more practical to write devotionals, family histories, even journals. But fiction brings color, excitement, life to my world. It helps me recognize how good God is, and how his creation is new every morning. Books are my "Calgon take me away" tools. I hope that what I write can do that for someone else. In the midst of their busy lives, maybe someone somewhere will read a story of mine and go "Ahhh, wasn't that great. Now, I feel like I can face the day with a smile."

Corny? No one has ever accused me of being profound.

Enjoy your day, and praise God for the sunshine. It might be easier in front of a piece of stained glass if you can find one!

Monday, June 22, 2009

America's Legacy- Freedom to the Max

America’s Legacy- Freedom to the Max

            As the United States of America reaches the ripe old age of 233, we are beginning to move from the status of young, struggling country to older and more established. True, there are countries that have been around much longer, but so many across the world change their style of government so frequently, that their identities stay just ahead of the World Atlas publishers. So where are we now that we’re all grown up?

            Recently, an event in Little Rock that made national headlines seemed to characterize the State of our Union in a nutshell. As the gunfire died down, and the official mourning is over, we can reflect on what it all means.

            A young man was killed one day while taking a break from his daily job at a non-descript strip mall. We hear about workplace violence all too often. But what made this situation unique is the type of work the young man was engaged in, and the reason given by his admitted killer.

            This particular victim and his friend were on a temporary assignment that probably seemed very safe to them. They were working as recruiters for our nation’s all-volunteer army. The fact that we are not currently drafting young people to serve is rather unique in itself. The people of our nation have the right to choose whether they want to devote their lives to defending our freedoms. In fact, the government offers attractive incentives that make it seem like a very worthwhile vocation. So, on this particular day, men who could very well have been traveling through mine-fields on the other side of the world were enjoying a cigarette break not far from where they grew up.

            Enter the other young man. Here was a seemingly normal person who has smiling pictures in his family albums like the rest of us. From all indications, he had the support of a loving family. But, in a country where each person is free to choose his own definition of God, he had searched for and found a religion that was a huge departure from the way he was raised. So enamored with this new way of life that he even changed his name, he exercised another freedom, and traveled to a far away country to study further. This, his family said, is where he really changed, and his interest became fanaticism.

            On this particular early summer day, he had a statement to make. So, he brought the violence of war home, and chose his targets solely based on the uniforms they wore. How ironic that without the freedoms of the country he apparently now hates, he probably wouldn’t have been allowed to have the weapons he used. The young men he shot had dedicated themselves to defending these freedoms for all citizens of this country.

            The irony continued at the funeral for the Private who lost his life that day. The right of free speech and the right of assembly authorizes a certain group of people who travel to military funerals to demonstrate their beliefs. Their slogans and signs seem very inappropriate to the rest of us. In fact, laws have been passed to be sure that they cannot get too close to the grieving family. But, still they come. If, instead of restricting them, we totally forbid their protests, we could be setting an unwanted precedent. The voice of the minority must be allowed, no matter how distasteful it is to the rest of us.

            Fortunately, the family of someone who has passed away also has the right to plan a funeral, and invite anyone they wish to share in their tribute. So, another group has become a welcome sight at military rites. This bunch, riding motorcycles and sporting American flags, give the soldier and his family the respect and attention they deserve. In other countries, the collision of these two groups might cause violence, but over the past few years, these occasions have developed into a new tradition, uniquely American.      

            Under arrest for murder, the suspect is now demonstrating another ironic example of our freedoms. Concerned over the difficulty in holding an unbiased trial, the judge issued a gag order for the press. However, because we grant suspects certain freedoms before they are convicted, this one has called the press himself, going around the gag to express his side of the story. The judge finally had enough, and restricted those phone calls. The rest of us may be wishing this guy had the right to hang himself if he so chooses, but once again- America has to watch out for the rights of all of her citizens.

            So, Happy Birthday USA! We all hope that you continue to thrive. May all your battles be about how much freedom is too much. We wouldn’t have it any other way.



Sunday, June 14, 2009

Arrival of Summer

This describes my walk from the office in the afternoon.

               Slogging through the outdoor sauna

               To the welcoming refuge

                Of my air-conditioned car.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Sharing my Journey

I suppose that to have a blog, it should really be about Who I Am. I can't do that without dealing with the writer in me. Not assuming that anyone will care, but just to share what it's like to put your ideas down on paper. It's very much like giving birth to a child. You're proud, but at the same time fearful. What if this precious thing I've created is laughed at, rejected? Unlike a child, at least the story doesn't have feelings. Rejection doesn't hurt it, just me.

The real idea behind this category on my blog is to encourage someone else who wanders by. If you've ever thought about sharing the ideas you have spinning around in your head, I'm here for you. It's not easy, but for me, it's necessary. If I don't write things down, I sometimes feel like my brain will explode. That may sound a little violent, but it explains why I do what I do. Next time, a short writing bio to bring you up to date.

Comments? I'd love to hear anything you have to say about any of the posts on this blog.

Have a great day!


Tuesday, May 26, 2009

A Time to Text and a Time to Tweet

A Time to Text and a Time to Tweet

          My husband doesn’t claim to be a professional auto mechanic, but he’s always been very savvy about identifying noises in the car, and determining the possible solution. Our current vehicle did have him baffled one day. While making a short trip to a nearby store, the poor thing just went berserk.  Horn honking, lights flashing, it was in all-out panic mode. This has happened on a smaller scale when I’ve accidentally pressed the wrong button on my key fob, with the intention of locking or unlocking the car. But driving down the road? Instead of continuing to potential embarrassment at his destination, he returned home and turned the key off, stopping the racket. The next time he turned it on, the “fit” continued. The nearby parts store staff identified the problem with a simple test. This was the car’s way of telling us the battery was low. Wouldn’t some sort of indicator light have served the same purpose?

          We’ve seen so many changes in our lives since we were children. Back then, we were still amazed that pictures could cross the airways from a studio across the country all the way into our living rooms. The telephone was pretty much old hat, but we had heard predictions that someday they would invent picture phones, and we worried about answering in our pajamas. Now, web-cams provide live shots of a watering hole in Africa, or an eagle’s nest high on a cliff. We take pictures with our phones, and send them instantly to anyone who cares (and some people who really don’t).

          Some advances are totally surprising. When I was a little girl, I would never imagine leaving a bathroom stall without flushing. In the high-rise office building where I work, not only is that a reality, but I also proceed to wave my hands under the faucet and the soap dispenser to cleanse them. Then, with another wave at the towel machine, I can be on my way.

          During lunch-hours at work, we all line up for our turn at the microwave. A quick glance at the directions on my frozen three-course meal fills me in. Sometimes I must peel the plastic film completely off of one area, slit another, stir after a few minutes, replace the film and continue cooking. If the whole process takes more than five minutes, we apologize about taking “forever”, and the person behind us begins his or her peeling, poking and stirring ritual.

          Cell phones have opened up another whole new world. Now that we’re equipped, folks expect us to be in touch constantly. It’s not enough to carry the phone in my purse, I have it with me all through the day, in my pocket, or even just carried in my hand. Those who text are even able to stay in contact during meetings, sending and receiving messages to someone more exciting than the person they are supposed to be listening to. This creates all sorts of moral dilemmas. We have to assess if the call coming in should be ignored, or should we excuse ourselves and take the call outside. It could be just a “hey, how ya doin, I haven’t talked to you in a few minutes” call. But what if it’s important? As the facilitator, should we ban texting? What if the person is tweeting, and he has a huge group of followers?

          Even our old stand-by key rings have changed. Besides house keys, car keys, storage unit keys, we now have electronic gadgets hanging around. These accomplish many things, like giving us access to the neighborhood pool or the gym or obtaining discounts at the grocery store. Waving them under the appropriate scanner gives instant results. Sometimes, though, these do-hickeys cancel each other out if carried to close to each other. In other words, they don’t always play well with others.

          One thing that has changed is that we no longer plan our lives around our favorite television shows. Now, we can use a recording device, and watch these shows at our leisure. That is, if one of our friends, or some over-ambitious blogger doesn’t spoil the ending for us.

          The internet has revolutionized the way we communicate. By checking the news headlines, we might learn of an earthquake on the other side of the world, or a bank robbery down the street. We can watch the radar when severe weather threatens (until the power goes out), or participate in an auction with bidders all across the country for some item we absolutely must have.

By the way- I’ve entered the world of blogs. You can find my past columns and a weekly Haiku (thanks to Howard) on

          Recently, several of the members of our graduating class at Bryant used an online social network to organize a reunion of sorts. After inviting everyone electronically, we met in person for a great time.  We enjoyed some good old fashioned, laugh so hard it hurts fellowship. Now that’s a good use of technology!

          I have a prediction. Write this down. I think our grandkids may do something radical when they grow up. Maybe they will rebel against their parents’ lifestyle by rejecting all of this instant communication. They may become a new generation of hippies, living simply, stripping away the trappings of the world. Their parents, of course, will be aghast. How could they live that way? But, we’ll be right there with them. We won’t have a problem going back to the days of letter-writing and once in awhile phone calls. We’ll just hang out with them, having more time to enjoy a sunset, walk in the cool evening breeze, go fishing, chase fireflies. 

          We can remember what simpler times were like, and we’d have no problem going back.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Sunny Haiku

Hope this speaks for itself:

                                   Recently Missing in Action,

                                   Bright Orange Ball Blazes

                                   Through treetops  and into our kitchen.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009


It has REALLY rained lately. But, before all of this started, we had one of those summer heating showers. Sort of like- Huh- Did it really rain, or did I just imagine it?

              Cooling rain shower erupts

              From mostly sunny skies.

              No time for umbrellas to deploy.

Friday, April 24, 2009

First weekly haiku

My Haiku mentor, Howard Kilby has freed me from counting syllables. His emphasis is catching a moment in time, getting the emotion out of a very small slice of life. That's where my writing really needs to go right now. So, here's my first one. The image has a lot of meaning for me, as it's literally right in my own backyard!

                              Sturdy apple sapling stands,

                              Sheltered for now by

                              Motherly iris ruffles.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

When your Hometown is no longer Home

One of the truest clichés ever repeated: Home is where the Heart is. My home is with the Love of my life. Wherever he goes, so goes my heart. Home could be in a big city, a small town, or to quote an old Saturday Night Live gag, in a Van down by the River. Also true, though is that as the people you love live their own lives, and eventually to go to their eternal destination, your heart seems to split a little. Mine now resides partially in Arkansas, Texas, Florida, and in paradise.

            Your hometown, though, is another matter. This locale is defined during childhood. Remembering and cherishing it doesn’t diminish the places you live later, or make it any harder to feel at home wherever you are. It’s just that the environment that most influenced your growing up years will always be special, no matter where else you end up.

            When you return to your hometown, you have a longing to see the old familiar spots. It’s a little hard to adjust to seeing them in more rundown condition, or even completely gone. But, in a way, you’re pleased about the changes. You want to know that things will continue, with new vitality. A town can retain its character regardless of the people who come and go, the places that are torn down and replaced.

            I grew up in Pittsburg(without the “h”) Kansas. When I was a teenager there, one of our favorite activities was “cruising” up and down the main street at night, honking and waving, and just having a good time wasting gasoline. We would start at the north end of town at the Sonic, proceed south past the high school, through the heart of downtown, ending up in a grocery store parking lot just before we reached the college campus. There, we might stop for awhile, to see who had a new car, or who had added something to really spruce up the old one. We might sit on our hoods or lean against another car to visit. Of course, the police used a different, more sinister sounding word: loitering. This of course, could not be allowed, so we jumped back in and headed north for the Sonic again.

            Returning recently, I was pleased to see that now that my generation is in charge, this town has improved on the old tradition. On the particular Saturday night I was there, a makeshift sign in front of an old Wal-Mart advertised a “car show”. The current residents are evidently authorized to stop and proudly run a chamois over their new paint job. Good things come to he who waits!

            It was also good to see old names on businesses, in the same location as when I was young. The third or fourth generation of the family must still be dedicated to keeping a good thing going. Also evident was the pride that the townspeople still had in valuable assets like the public library, the municipal auditorium, the band shell in the park.

            Of course, the people who never left the old hometown can help to make us feel welcome when we return. Good friends Hilma and Charlene certainly reminded me that the years that have passed can become meaningless over a cup of tea and cheerful reconnecting. There are other places where time completely stands still. During a worship service at my old church, nothing significant had changed. The comfort of common beliefs and traditions make us truly feel like we belong, no matter how many years between visits.

            Today, in what seems a frequent topic for this column, one of our favorite Ouachita hometowns has been devastated by the forces of nature. Folks in Arkadelphia can certainly identify with their neighbors in Mena, as can the residents of Greensburg, Kansas. Even after grieving for the lives that were lost, there will be a long, painful process of rebuilding. Many old landmarks that rekindle memories for current and former residents are now gone, or substantially altered. But, will the spirit of the town remain?

            From past experience, the answer seems to be a resounding “Yes”. The very first Sunday after the terrible tornado ripped through the heart of town, worshipers celebrated Easter Sunday. What better symbol of hope, of resurrection? The strong faith of the survivors will be the driving force behind the rebuilding process.

            Those of us who don’t live nearby are also experiencing a familiar feeling of helplessness. What can we do? First of all, we can pray. God’s intervention and his peace will be invaluable to all who are working to help Mena come back. Secondly, we can watch for appeals from the proper agencies. They will need help: physical labor, materials, and money. Each of us should be able to find some way to contribute. As in Greensburg, those drops in the bucket will come together to make a difference.

             As we learned after Katrina, the population of the town may also change. Folks may need to go elsewhere for jobs and living arrangements, and then decide if they can rebuild on the same site. Regardless, the spirit of the community will live on. Ouachita residents will continue to work together, and our hometowns will continue to hold a very special place in our hearts.



Saturday, March 21, 2009

Welcome Surprises and Hidden Treasures

“Granny, Look Down!!!” My daughter-in-law’s shout prevented me from walking over my knee-high grandson. The others gathered for the Hunt family reunion laughed as I yelped and leaned down to scoop him up. It seems everyone in that pavilion on top of Petit Jean Mountain knew that my oldest son and his family were coming, except me. I was happy to switch from setting up dinner to accepting hugs and kisses from my sweeties.

Most of my favorite surprises involve someone I love, but had not expected to see at that moment. Of course, there may have been some sort of material gifts involved at one time or another, but nothing stands out like those warm smiles and hugs. A couple of years ago, all three kids cooperated in an elaborate plan to gather friends and relatives at Mills Park in Bryant for our 30th wedding anniversary. The number of people who were required to keep secrets that day was amazing, and certainly impressed James and me. Some plans have been far less involved, like the times my second son would drive down from Fayetteville to Paron on Sunday morning, and just appear in his spot next to me in the pew. Times like these make my heart race a little, and any previous aggravations just melt away like snow.

This time of year, nature catches us off-guard with her beauty. We should have known those Bradford pears would suddenly pop out one morning. After all, they were in the same spot last year. Still, though, when the sun catches a delicate redbud in the just the right way, we gasp with a new-found respect for God’s creation. Speaking of nature- if any of you remember my column about my oldest grandson’s apple tree- I’ve attached a recent picture. Just as expected- brave new leaves are sprouting!

During Ouachita back-roads jaunts, we’ve gotten used to seeing a patch of daffodils where an old home-place once stood. They remind us that someone once loved that spot enough to plant a few perennial decorations. But what do we make of a grouping alongside the freeway? Did some highway worker embark on an un-official beautification project? Or were these wayward bulbs scooped up from their former home and accidentally transplanted? Either way, they are a welcome sight, brightening a boring drive.

Sometimes, we feel that we’re the only one who didn’t know. While delivering last month’s issue in Saline County, I discovered that the Bryant Senior Center is a happenin’ place, at least at noon on the Wednesday I dropped in. The absolute lack of parking spaces outside was a big clue, but I assumed it just meant a meal was being served. Sounds of someone singing in a microphone, and an amplified guitar began to fill in the blanks, and I opened the inner door to a real Western dance hall. A live band was performing, and couples were two-stepping around the floor. A few sat at convenient tables, but food certainly wasn’t the focus that day.

Recently, I had another “who knew?” moment when my sister and niece arrived for a visit from Texas. I was thrilled when they called on a Saturday to say they would be coming that following Monday (my motto- Guest Room at the Ready). The real surprise was their mode of transportation. Did you know that a passenger train still arrives and departs from Malvern every day? More correctly, it happens in the middle of the night, but I was totally oblivious. ( A side note- this makes me miss the depots at Benton, Bauxite and Bryant all over again. There were all in place less than 35 years ago.) Each time we went down to meet the train, there was at least one other family there either meeting or sending off a loved one. In view of the crowded freeways, might we see a return to this reliable form of getting together?

 April brings Easter, and a different sort of surprise- the hidden treasure. Just as when we were kids, the current generation searches through tall grass and behind tree trunks for colorful eggs. In our day, they were usually hard-boiled, with maybe one fancy prize egg. Now, they use more durable plastic ones, all with the potential to contain a coin, or a jelly bean. Into the basket they go, and on to the next. Last year, my small grandson couldn’t get enough of this hide and seek game. Ahh, the thrill of the hunt.

 I’ve enjoyed finding hidden treasures over the years, too. In New Orleans, the dilapidated storefronts in the French Quarter shielded beautiful courtyards, complete with fountains and flowers. There was a surprise at every turn.

Once, in West Virginia, I entered a room in an old country store that completely took my breath away. In that location for over a century, its cathedral ceiling lit by well placed windows, it had been a favorite gathering spot for locals for generations. The stone hearth and numerous rocking chairs begged me to sit down and stay, perhaps forever. A very strong déjà vu feeling made it extremely hard for me to join my family and friends as they went on to see other sights.

Of course, we don’t have to travel to other states to find beauty and a sense of belonging. Maybe because we’re surrounded by so much splendor here all the time, we don’t notice it as much. Familiarity breeds …. Familiarity.  Are you in search of hidden treasure? Daylight savings time means we don’t have to get up as early to catch a sunrise. Peek out one of these mornings, and just take a deep breath. What a welcome surprise, and it’s been there all along.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

First Impressions and Lasting Ones

We see so many people in the course of a month. Some just fly by on the freeway, others share an elevator. Circumstances may cause us to spend a little more time with folks who were formerly strangers. How we handle those events makes a lasting effect on us, and on them. Common experiences unite us, forming instant bonds.

We’ve seen the passengers and crew of the “Miracle on the Hudson” plane crash many times during the past few weeks. Those survivors plan to keep in touch. They bonded because of the fear, then relief and joy they all felt when the absolutely fabulous pilot and crew quite literally made it possible for them to rejoin their families after that flight.

Once, I made such a vow after serving on a jury for a few days. The common experience we shared and the intense discussion while coming to a very important decision made us feel very close to each other for three long days. I never got in touch with any of them afterwards, though we exchanged phone numbers. Perhaps we were all relieved to resume our normal lives, and never felt the need to relive the tension of that time.

Sometimes, a long wait generates strange bonds. While waiting in a hospital emergency room recently, I became acquainted with a young girl who was facing a rough day very bravely. Her family group included her mom, a brother, and a dad who was waiting to see the doctor. The brother was quite literally a handful for their mom, but this little girl was content to watch a DVD on her portable player. I admired her patience, and felt she was probably used to not being the center of attention. As time wore on, her mom brought each of them a bag of cookies, and the little girl had a catastrophe of sorts when the bag opened with a pop, spewing cookies all over her little lap. I offered an empty Ziploc bag from my purse to help her organize them, and her smiling mom thanked me. The little girl moved over to sit beside me so that I could watch the video with her, and a friendship was formed. If I never see this family again, at least we all faced that day with a little bit calmer attitude.

We need to be careful of the impressions we leave with those we come in contact with. Especially if that person has a very good memory. I’m recalling an incident that happened when our former president was governor of Arkansas. Like many State employees, I had become very comfortable in our State’s Capitol building. I often walked over to eat lunch, cash a check, mail a letter. One day when the legislature was not in session, and the halls were unusually quiet, I was whistling as I walked through the first floor rotunda. Unfortunately, the building was not as empty as it seemed. As I rounded a turn, I found myself facing a phalanx of TV lights, and reporters with microphones. Governor Clinton was answering questions, and I was trying to become invisible as quickly as possible. I reassured myself with the probability that I would never be that close to him again, and he would forget all about the interruption. Still a little red-faced, I was walking through the cafeteria line when I noticed the person behind me getting a lot of attention from the servers. You’re way ahead of me. Of course, it was Himself, trying to decide between chicken fried steak and roast beef. I took a deep breath, and said “I’m really sorry about what happened a little bit ago. I hope I didn’t cause you any problem.” He flashed that famous smile and said, “No, that was a whole lot more fun than what they were asking me about.” Besides his smile, this man is famous for never forgetting a face. So, whenever I passed him after that, he’d always wave, and chuckle a little. I guess the impression I left continued to entertain. Glad to be of service, Mr. President.

When we have maintained a relationship for a long period of time, we often look back to remember our first encounter with that person. When I moved here from Kansas as a senior in High School, my sister was my only friend. We quickly bonded with a small group who were members of the school’s band. As we waited to enter the school building each morning, a tall, very friendly young man often waited with us. I thought his name, Carlisle, was unusual, but then, not being from around here, I was in no place to judge. He always made us smile, and I found myself entering the school by that same door each time, hoping he would be there. Soon, I learned that Carlisle was his last name, not his first, but the polite good humor continued. When he learned I was headed to shorthand class, he would pull one of his arms up a little, and caution me not to come out looking lop-sided. It took all year, but he finally asked me to the senior prom, and the rest is history.

The moral to all this rambling? Be careful of first impressions. As the Bible says, we might be entertaining angels (or future presidents, or future spouses) unaware!

Monday, January 26, 2009

Winter Gardening- It's all about Faith and Trust

After living in the south for almost two-thirds of my life, I’ve learned that you don’t have to completely abandon the flower beds after Halloween. In fact, I usually get pansy fever right after the trick-or-treaters go home.

This year, I don’t know what happened to the month of November. I seem to recall a cold/sinus infection that wouldn’t go away, but at any rate, I turned around, and my husband was ready for our day after Thanksgiving ritual of decorating the outside of the house for Christmas. I managed to trim back the huge clump of pampas grass that shields the electrical box right before the red-green-red-green lights made their way around the perimeter of our front yard. But, before that weekend was over, there was no room among the extension cords for kneeling to find the perfect spot for a delicate bloom.

It does take a lot of faith to plant anything on January 2. It was a sunny day, the temps were bearable, and the holiday decorations were safely back in the attic. Pansies were on sale at Lowe’s, so all seemed perfect. From past experience, I knew that these pretty little guys really do bounce back better than ever after ice. So, garden trowel in hand, I tackled the task. Immediately, I was confronted with a brand new problem. What is the proper depth for replanting a hibernating toad?

At first, I thought I’d disturbed a grave. But then, I saw his little chest rising and falling as I dropped him gently to the side of the hole I was digging. No time for internet research. I decided to try to put him back as quickly as possible so that he could continue his winter nap. After all, he was covered with dirt when I found him, right? Will you keep your fingers crossed with me?

In our back yard is another example of innocent trust in nature knowing what’s best. Last winter, when our house was full of Christmas cheer, my oldest grandson reserved some seeds from an apple he was eating, with the intention of growing an apple tree. Recognizing a chance for some quality time together, I suggested we put our coats on and go right out to the flower bed. I told him the story of Johnny Appleseed, and how apples spread across our country exactly this way, one seed at a time. Suitably impressed, he helped me cover 5 or 6 little pieces of potential amidst my resting iris bulbs. I fully believed the story would be the only memorable part of the day.

Oh for the faith of a six year old! That spring, I noticed some tiny sprouts in the very spot where we’d planted those seeds. Amazingly, three little trees were pushing their way out of the fertile soil. I really didn’t do anything special to nurture them through the spring other than an extra splash or two while filling the dog’s water dish. But, they grew and flourished. I took one to Texas for my grandson’s birthday in May. By fall, one particularly healthy specimen still survived, and the five or six leaves turned a very pretty brownish red before falling off. I have faith that after the harsh part of the winter is over, this very straight foot-and-a-half-tall stick will sprout new leaves. If, of course, that’s what God has planned.

Our grandparents had their own kind of trust when it came to planting. The “signs” as described in the Farmer’s almanac, illuminated the proper time for planting each different type of crop. There’s a measure of logic here, as weather patterns seem to come in cycles, much the same way constellations and planets travel across our sky. There is wisdom in following traditional markers that have produced past successes. I’ve heard since moving here that you should prune roses on Washington’s birthday and plant potatoes on St. Patrick’s day.

So, while waiting for those important days to arrive, we’ll watch for signs of green to pop out of the earth. I wish I’d had some sort of toad tracking device to fit around a tiny leg at the first of the year. How will I know if any of the friendly little hoppers in my yard are the one I tried to treat with respect that day? It will certainly take a lot of faith and trust.