Saturday, November 30, 2013

Tradition- Change it or Lose It

            Moving my foot from the brake to the gas pedal, I nudged the car forward another foot and a half. The vehicles in front, behind and beside me did the same. The sandwich shop on our right was actually open. I tried to talk my husband into getting out and buying us all something. After all, when his purchase was complete, we would probably be no more than a couple of yards further down the road. Stuck on the freeway after a terrible car crash? Leaving a Razorback football game? Wrong and wrong. This was actually a historic occasion. It was the last time ever that we traveled to see the Osborne’s Lightmare on Cantrell Road in Little Rock.

          The first part of that particular Christmas had been very traditional. Presents opened, a light meal for lunch at home (our big feast was always on Thanksgiving), grandparents on their way back home. Then, we drove to the big city for one last look at Christmas lights, including a stop at the State Capitol, which was festooned in its usual tasteful style. Up to this day, I had always thought that the people who lived near Jennings and Mitzi were a bunch of Scrooges. What could be so bad about over-decorating your house? As I suffered through that line with  thousands of other fools, I loudly encouraged my loved ones to please enjoy this. I was far too concerned with staying the correct distance from the bumper in front of me to feel any holiday cheer.

          Two years ago, we visited that same light display, now relocated to a special area of the Disneyworld theme parks. The weather that day in Florida had been distinctly non-winterish, but after sundown, there was a cool breeze as we walked past movie-set storefronts, collecting soft soap flakes on our nose and eyelashes. The relocated Little Rock lights gleamed proudly, dancing to perfectly timed Christmas carols. Oohs and aahs in many different languages emanated from joyful people, all on foot instead of in cars. We were proud to be from Arkansas, but even prouder that the spectacular display was now settled in its perfect home.

          I re-arranged the line of Christmas stockings on our mantle one more time. With the addition of our newest grandson, things were getting very crowded. I could hear the unasked question from my husband. “Why are you doing this when none of them will be here to see it anyway?”  This newest little one was too young for travelling, and I had been recovering from surgery when he was born. I couldn’t wait to hold him when we headed to his house for Christmas. But, we had had hung stockings for every member of our family since before we had a mantle. I was determined to continue the tradition.

          A few days before we loaded up the car to head down I-30, crafty Grandpa created two wooden ladders and painted them to match the trim in our living room. They provided the perfect spot for all of the glittery stockings, one on each side of the fireplace, with room to expand in the future.        

          Christmas Eve has been the time for holiday gatherings for my husband’s family as long as he can remember, so his sister and her fiancĂ© still come over each year for dinner and relaxing. Last year, the plan was that the nearby kids and grands would come from Conway County to our house after they opened their presents at home on Christmas morning. If you remember, Bing Crosby’s favorite song became a harsh reality last year. As we watched the weather reports on the twenty-fourth, it became apparent that our White Christmas would be striking with a vengeance. There would most likely be very little traveling going on anywhere in the state. My smile was sagging more and more as the evening wore on. Finally, my very astute husband asked, “We’re going to have to go to Morrilton tonight, aren’t we?”

          Trying to be polite to our guests, I removed the appropriate Christmas stockings from their spots on the ladder, and began loading a box with the presents that remained under the tree. Somewhere around 8:00 ish, we headed north, and spent the last few hours before Santa’s  annual visit in front of our grandkids’ Christmas tree, soaking up their smiles before rushing them off to bed and beginning our trek back home.

           Over the years, my Mom went along with our crazy schedule as much as she could. But, on Christmas Day for the last few years, she insisted on taking us out to dinner. “I don’t want you cooking,” she would say. “We’ll go out, just the three of us.”  There are very few places open on that special day. Her choice was a restaurant that is more famous for breakfasts, and in particular pancakes. Their Holiday dinner fare, to be honest, left something to be desired. But, oh what fellowship, what joy filled that unlikely celebration. That is the new tradition I will miss the most this year.

          Treasure each moment, and adapt as needed. God has a perfect plan for this, and every day in our lives.

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Atta-boys Appreciated

There it was, matted on a poster-board, taped up on the gleaming tile wall of my elementary school, adorned with a blue ribbon. I think the title was something like Around the World in a Few Minutes. I don’t recall any lines from this poem which had been awarded first place for the fifth grade at Westside Elementary School that year, but I can still feel my heart swelling with pride as I stood there, enjoying the recognition for something I loved to do. Over the years, I didn’t collect a lot of “hardware”. Trophies were usually reserved for the kids with athletic prowess.  But being recognized for my God given ability to place the right words in the right places has always given me satisfaction.

I remember the first time my husband bought into my dedication to writing. We were attending an awards banquet in Eureka Springs. I received four second place prizes that night. He didn’t even mind the hugs I got from the handsome cowboy at the podium, because they were each accompanied by fifteen dollars.  Up to that point, my life partner had merely tolerated my penchant for prose. After all, Contemporary Inspirational Women’s Fiction is not his preferred genre. But that night, he was fully on board as my biggest cheerleader and business manager. (He kept up with the tidy little pile of certificates and checks.)

The Cub Scout Pinewood Derby has provided a venue for competition for two generations of our family. Creating a small race car out of a block of wood is satisfying in itself. Boys and their dads working together, designing and handcrafting, with moms and sisters advising about decoration provide lasting memories. But, for the boy, it’s all about race day. Never handled as a single elimination, the family’s proud creation gets many chances to prove its worth before awards are handed out at the end of the day.

Our oldest grandson learned some hard lessons when he designed a Pinewood Derby vehicle that resembled a boat, then one that looked like a school bus. When he finally got the race car idea conquered, he fared much better on race day. Though the trophy for best design may be just as large, it’s usually small consolation, and youngsters leave that day vowing to learn more about aerodynamics and equal distribution of weight. There is only one trophy they covet. The one for the fastest, unbeatable car.  Our middle son and his dad have an unbeatable car in their past. After all these years, it still makes them beam to talk about it.

While many high school football fans were stretching their legs, refreshing their popcorn and soft drinks at halftime, my hubby and I were watching the culmination of hours  of intense practice as the band performed each week. Like-minded parents squirmed on the hard bleachers in anticipation, and we cheered with every bit as much fervor as those whose main focus was the game.

Along with providing support for the teams, the bands have their own competitions, and we accompanied our musicians to many over the years. We learned that the hardest thing to do was to remain respectful as the second place band was announced. You see, if you knew your band was in the finals, and the fifth, fourth and third places had been awarded, that left only two possibilities. If you weren’t awarded the runner-up prize, then Wooo-Hooooo!!! Our esteemed band directors had cautioned the students to remain seated, keep your hoops and hollers quiet while the also-rans accepted their slightly smaller trophy. The band parents, however, were not as easy to control.

The “hardware” that came along with first place usually took two students to hoist in the air. Some of the best memories, though, occurred on the way home, as we rode those luxurious school buses (ahem) back to our hometown. The kids were very good at celebrating, and you would be amazed at how well they could sing together. They are musicians after all.

 One year in particular, the football team had been doing pretty well, and the local custom was for the police department to escort the team home with lights and sirens as they came home from each victory on the road. When the band buses had kept up, we sometimes got in on the tail end of this welcome. As we arrived in Saline County  that night after cheering through the announcement of both second and first place at the band competition, we were all a little surprised to see a policeman sitting at the city limits of our favorite town, waiting for us.  Heads popped out of bus windows as we realized that with no football team around for miles, our kids were being given the hero’s welcome.  Initial bedlam gave way to a hush as they absorbed the honor. Cars full of people along the streets waved and honked. All of the hard work and dedication suddenly became worth it.

Too much praise might lead to becoming full of yourself. But, just the right amount bolsters you for the job ahead. Let the atta-boys continue!!



Thursday, August 1, 2013

Rescue from the Dog Days- Get Lost in a Book

Admittedly, I’m a little late with your summer reading list. Looking back, though, the oppressive heat waited a little longer this year as well. We had a few scorchers in June, then some remarkably nice temperatures around the Fourth of July. At this posting, the burn ban  has been removed for the Ouachita region. Thankfully, it’s nothing like the deadly wildfire season we endured in 2012.

Still, during August, and maybe even September, the time may come when you want to crank up the air conditioning and stretch out on the couch with a book, or even a new-fangled electronic reading device. I still have quite a few on my TBR (To Be Read) list, but so far, I’ve found some real gems, and I’m happy to share them with you.

Two of my favorites this summer were actually written by Arkansans who are members of the Arkansas Chapter of American Christian Fiction Writers, for whom I currently serve as Vice President.

First, “Fairer Than Morning” by Rosyln Elliott. The book is set  in the newly industrialized Midwest and eastern part of our nation during a time when indentured servants were used and abused by their “owners” and duels to the death were still an accepted way of settling a dispute. Ms. Elliott writes eloquently about the struggles faced by young people in pre-Civil War America. The lesson learned: Through it all, love, and in particular, God’s love will triumph when we allow it.

The next Arkansas treasure is Shannon Vannatter, who has a very successful career with Heartsong Presents, the inspirational imprint of Love Inspired and Harlequin Romances. Shannon and I attended a writer’s retreat in Lonsdale with several of our fellow Christian fiction writers, and I learned she had written a series of romances based on one of my favorite spectator sports- the rodeo.

The first story, “Rodeo Ashes” centers on a young lady who is finding her stride in the fast paced world of marketing. The company has chosen to promote the career of a newly prominent rodeo champion, forcing our heroine to confront some very traumatic memories from her past. As in any good romance, the two struggle to remove the obstacles that keep them apart, and find that they have much more in common than they ever imagined. I’m very happy to own the next three books in this series, and I’ll definitely enjoy the ride each time I have the opportunity to spend time in Shannon’s fictional arena.

Another reading adventure allowed me to live out every little girl’s dream of becoming Cinderella. “Once Upon a Prince” by Rachel Hauck takes place in the US on the coast of Georgia. A handsome real-live prince from a fictional kingdom somewhere in the British Isles has come to vacation at his family’s estate, when he encounters a young lady with a flat tire and a recently broken heart. Happily, he becomes acquainted with her without all of the press exposure and hoopla that usually follow him. Though she is in no mood to start another relationship, the two form a friendship, and of course eventually fall in love. Their vastly different backgrounds become a stumbling block, and it seems that happily ever after is not in the cards. Scenes on both sides of the ocean keep the reader drawn in, and the journey to the conclusion becomes a very enjoyable page-turning experience.

I’m currently reading another historical, “Thorn in My Heart” by Liz Curtis Higgs, which transports a familiar tale to the exciting and romantic setting of the Scottish Lowlands. Only a little ways in, I’m already spellbound by her very skillful story-telling.

As another source of great entertainment- don’t forget the book that most of you probably own at least one copy of- the Bible. Our weekly studies have taken us through the trials of God’s chosen people as they left a world of slavery and headed to the promised land. We recently enjoyed the romantic tale of Ruth, and the courageous exploits of a giant-killer named David.

There’s much to be learned about the big plans God has for all of us!

Enjoy the rest of your summer, and remember: to everything there is a season. Don’t let the heat get you down. Our beautiful, cool Arkansas days will be here again before we know it!



Tuesday, July 2, 2013

At the Ready

Get Ready, Get Set, Go! These words stir thoughts of a thrilling competition. I don’t consider myself an athlete by any stretch of the definition. But, at the times in my life that I’ve heard these words, I enjoyed that moment in the starting blocks. Very rarely did I cross the finish line ahead of everyone else. But at the beginning, there was that exhilarating feeling of possibility, the chance that if I really did my best, I could excel.

The military term for this moment is “At the Ready”. It implies more than just standing with your toe behind the line and waiting for a gunshot. Being ready takes planning, conditioning, and being aware of your surroundings.

 In years past, I played tennis. The posture you must assume for that game involves every part of your body being ready to move. Feet and legs tense, arms and hands flexible, eyes darting from side to side. Anticipation is the watchword. Most recently, I have played tennis in my living room, with the help of a video game system. This requires even more awareness. Movements need not be so large, especially if you treasure that lamp on the end table.

The feeling of being prepared for anything has served me well in other areas of my life. Anyone who has raised more than two children at a time can tell you that the addition of the third one changes the whole vibe of parenthood. With a pair of offspring, a team of adults can divide the duties, or when necessary, manage both charges reasonably easily. With only two eyes, two ears, two hands each, it is much more difficult to shepherd three. My hubby and I would divide the threesome by age:  “You watch the big-un, and I’ll take the littluns” or by gender:  “The princess is with me. You’re in charge of the boys.”

Moms become very good at multi-tasking. We have to be make three different sack lunches, load three backpacks, locate three band instruments, all while monitoring wardrobes as they head out the door for the day’s adventure. A sixth sense kicks in when there is a disturbance in the force.  Nothing surprises us. A case in point, I was standing at the back of the sanctuary one Sunday, right hand outstretched to greet the minister when a sticky, slimy glob landed in the palm of my hand. As a tousled head passed between us, I smoothly replaced the hand that had become the receptacle for leftover chewing gum with the other, fresher hand. All’s well that ends well.

Evidently, our whole family appreciates this sensation of alert flexibility. Hubby is enjoying a new job after 34 years of becoming accustomed to the old one. All three nest leavers are thriving in their own, ever changing environments.

A benefit of my previous career is that I count myself as a relatively tech-savvy baby boomer. Having witnessed the transition from piles of paper and banks of filing cabinets to computer based, and even wireless data storage, I’m not nearly as intimidated by the inevitable changes.

One highlight of that career found me in Baltimore, Maryland, where we were to  explain our system to totally blind users. My co-workers and I had spent months becoming acquainted with software that reads the screens aloud. We were confident that we could guide these people who were unfamiliar with our system and assure them that other users would be successful as well. Surprise! The students actually schooled the teachers.  They were so proficient at using this tool that they pointed out features of the software that we never knew existed. Undaunted, we drew on the long hours of preparation, and addressed each issue. Upon returning to Arkansas, no computer glitch would ever again get the best of us!

So it was with confidence that I undertook my latest “day job”. I serve as a trainer in an area that has never had one. No permanent classroom, no desk manual. I am drawing on the expertise of those who know the system inside and out to teach others who are totally new. With my “user eyes” I’m distilling the wealth of knowledge into a usable form, and trying to dispense it at just the right rate. I tell my newbies that I am their “go-to” person, because I know who to go to.

At this stage in life, I thought I would be relaxing more, spending time doing comfortable, familiar things. Realistically, though, very little about life these days is comfortable or familiar. Change comes so rapidly that our heads are often spinning. That’s really okay. Learning new things never ends, and we must constantly be aware of our surroundings. It keeps us alert, flexible, young. I’m thankful I don’t have to do it alone. With my soul mate by my side, and God’s word to keep me grounded, I’m ready.



Thursday, May 9, 2013

What Doesn't Kill Us Makes Us Stronger

          It’s that time of year again. While we are enjoying the sunshine that spotlights  the beautiful azaleas and dogwoods, we are keeping an eye to the sky and remembering how quickly a springtime storm can devastate so many lives.

          Towns like Mena and Arkadelphia here in the Ouachita region remember all too well what it’s like to have to start from scratch, rebuilding after a few minutes of hell on earth.

          In the past month, two other towns in our nation have dealt with major tragedies. In Boston, the cause was an unthinkable attack during an event that is meant to signify victory, the culmination of years of hard work and sacrifice. In the small town of West, Texas, disaster came when a major source of prosperity for the townspeople suddenly became the catalyst for utter devastation.

          Events like these always leave us shaking our heads. How is it possible for so many to be hurting so badly?  It leaves us feeling helpless, confused, even angry. But, here in America, that feeling doesn’t last for long. It seems that the worse the disaster, the more we come together. First responders rush into the jaws of death, instinctively risking their own lives to save others. Trucks full of supplies are quickly sent on their way, overwhelming those in need with more help than they can handle.

          When the disaster is not natural, but planned by a terrorist, it is even harder for us to stomach. What gratification could these people possibly hope to get out of maiming and killing? Evidently, it is the feeling of power, a massive grab for attention to their twisted cause. Such a fleeting thing for them, compared to the strong response it elicits from the survivors, which only builds as the days go by.

          So how do we do it? What enables us to come together so quickly, so confidently when all seems hopeless? In part, it’s history. We remember other bad times, in all parts of the country, and how we’ve rallied before. When there’s a storm in New England, the power workers from the Southeast hit the road, repaying the help they received during their own time of trial. Firefighters from the mountains of Arkansas head West when flames threaten to engulf and overwhelm the locals. Teams of volunteer homebuilders travel to stricken areas to restore homes.         

          At times like these, we forget about “offending” someone by expressing our faith. Everyone from the guy on the street to the President of the United States calls for prayers for the victims. Patriotism reigns supreme, and the National Anthem is sung with new fervor and meaning.

Two young singers have similar songs about coming back after a devastating experience. Kelly Clarkson says “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger, stand a little taller, just me, myself and I.” There’s a powerful, empowering message here that has resonated with folks going through all sorts of difficulties. Another young lady named Mandisa strikes a similar chord when she reminds us that God is always with us: “When the waves are taking you under, hold on just a little bit longer, He knows that this is gonna make you stronger.”

When it comes down to it, these massive situations are just a large number of individual struggles that happen at the same time. The personal stories are something we can all identify with. We’ve all felt loss, experienced illnesses and injuries that seemed insurmountable at the time. We remember what it felt like to be prayed for, how the love and support of others helped us through our darkest hours.

With that kind of encouragement, recent amputees are already setting their sights on next year’s marathon, and we’ve not doubt they will make it.

Dark days can and will come, even in the most beautiful places. But, with our faith as our armor, we can be ready. When we’re fortunate not to be at the epicenter, we’ll respond in the best way we can. We’ll fill rented trucks with supplies, donate money to the organizations who know what to do with it, link arms and belt out songs about how our flag survived the rockets’ red glare. That’s what makes America the best country in the world. Let’s just try harder to keep this spirit going between disasters.

Friday, April 5, 2013

Good Neighbors: Visit Early, Visit Often

A common complaint heard these days is that neighbors just aren’t neighborly anymore. It’s nothing like when we were kids, the curmudgeons will say. My response: When was the last time you made the first contact? That’s what I thought.

A few weeks ago, some good neighbors: the kind who will feed your dog when you’re on vacation, moved out. I saw the hubby loading up a trailer with boxes, and yelled across the cul-de-sac ( the favored form of communication around here). I said “I’d come help you with that, but . . . I don’t want you to move!” We’re going to miss him and his wife and their sweet little daughter. We’ve loved watching her grow up, from the first toddling steps on the driveway, to waiting in her little lawn chair when she hears the ice cream truck, to wearing her raincoat and galoshes while performing as the “best water sprinkler jumper in the world”. (Her Daddy’s designation).

In a matter of only a day or two, we walked over as another trailer was being unloaded into the same garage. We introduced ourselves to the young couple who is bringing a new little girl- and Bonus- her baby brother to our neighborhood. Ah- potential Halloween monsters for trick or treating. They’ll fit right in. We may not have been a proper welcome wagon- no time to bake a cake- but a handshake and a howdy-do most likely went a long way in making them feel welcome. They said the lady who lives between us in the cul-de-sac had already been over. She’s quick, that one.

Developing next-door relationships takes work, but the rewards are remarkable. When I was growing up on a similar very close “circle”, our next-door neighbor’s basement was the preferred destination when the tornado sirens blew. She had a key to our house, and would make use of it to bring us homemade treats and candy. It seemed she didn’t miss a holiday, from the biggies like Christmas and Easter all the way down to Valentines and St. Patrick’s. There’s nothing to ease the pain of homework like settling it on the dining room table next to a fresh batch of cupcakes.

Other neighbors with children became life-long friends. Some of the same kids that were on our middle of the street baseball teams now share their nuggets of wisdom, along with pics of kids and grandkids on Facebook.

My husband grew up where the houses were not quite as close. His neighbors were actually cousins, and they spent a lot of time together. Their daddies spent the whole day driving trucks  together, their moms and grandma quilting and canning. You can still get James and his sister and those girls laughing by mentioning a certain pony ride, or the egg shampoos that were practiced by the future hair-dresser in the bunch.

The street where we raised our kids was marked by chain-link fences. Once again, no need for telephones here. We’d stand in our yards and holler.  The man across the street was particularly famous for this. He claimed to be able to predict when my parents were coming for a visit by our lawn-mowing schedule. Not entirely true, but it made for a good story.

The same man and I once shared the care and upkeep of a stray dog. He started it, by placing a pan of water outside his fence on a hot day. I continued with spare dog food. I was already taking meals to our own dogs in the back, so a walk to the front fence was not that difficult. Soon, the friendly English setter  mix was named Rascal, as he managed to get inside the front gate and dig some really good “wallering” holes. Over the fence one day, I asked Carl what would happen when the weather got colder. After all, we were responsible for keeping the dog close by. We couldn’t just let him freeze. No answers that day, but within a week, a very sturdy dog house appeared at the end of Carl’s driveway.

Once labeled as being nosy - watching out for each other is now encouraged by the local police. Neighborhood watch groups are invaluable to those who protect and serve. It’s now politically correct to know which vehicles are commonly parked in front of each house. We learn each other’s work schedules, and notify each other of vacations. The better to be neighborly, my dear.

It takes a little effort, but it’s still very possible to have the kind of neighborhood Mr. Rogers would be proud to sing about. Smiles, waves, retrieving mis-thrown newspapers and improperly delivered mail are all free of charge, and make a huge difference. To have a good neighbor: Be One.

Saturday, March 9, 2013

Hope is a Thing with Feathers, or Fins, or Fur

Springtime in the Ouachitas is a welcomed interlude between power-line breaking ice and fried eggs on the pavement heat. We begin looking out our windows for glimpses of life, in the form of colorful birds at the feeder, or scurrying little critters sunning on the patio. Many of us break out the cane poles, attach a bobber, and pick a spot on the creek bank, on a quest for  the catch of the day.

Yes, in this neck of the woods, we love all manner of wildlife. Some enjoy the thrill of the hunt, while others take a more relaxed, observatory approach. That is, as long as the little fellers stay in their proper places.

Like many of my neighbors, I have a bird feeder in the back yard, and welcome many visitors with blocks of peanut butter and suet, and yummy thistle and sunflower seeds. I’ve watched a cardinal couple  bring their fledglings for a treat before venturing out into the wild. Red-wing blackbirds, yellow finches, and bluebirds add more color, and there’s a very handsome woodpecker who occasionally stops by.

When it’s time to build a nest, winged parents will go to great lengths to find the best spot to raise their brood. My mother has had the pleasure of watching a wren and her offspring in a window mounted flower box. Literally a bird’s eye view of a real life family drama.

A friend of mine had a surprise once when she opened her gas grill for a barbecue and found a nest full of little chirpers. Needless to say, outdoor cooking was delayed until that family was ready to move along, and a new device was purchased.

Springtime starts our motors running in earnest. I can remember cool mornings on the water with my step-dad, searching the trot-lines he had placed in hopes of a catfish feast. Sometimes, though, we would find the catfish partially eaten, and the perpetrator, an alligator gar, snared on the line.  What happened to those ugly fish was certainly not pretty, as this usually jovial man did not treat them very charitably. I often told him that I hoped there was no such thing as re-incarnation, because he was bound to return as a gar, and suffer the same maltreatment from another fisherman.

Meanwhile, back in the back yard: squirrels often demonstrate their acrobatic ability when attempting to rob a bird feeder. They will stretch or jump from a nearby fence, hang upside down, and in general do whatever it takes to get ahold of the tasty morsels we intended for someone else. The same man who hated alligator gars loved watching squirrels, and even created special corn-cob holders which provided a place for the furry rodents to enjoy a feast. However, if they weren’t satisfied with their own food and coveted the bird seed, the gauntlet was tossed. My step dad devised a rope and pulley system which he could operate from inside the house. He would wait until the squirrel reached just the right position, and then . . .  Whoops! Sorry, Charlie. Down the thief would go. Score update: enterprising man one, squirrel nothing.

Longtime friends of ours have a wonderful back yard with a spreading oak tree that seems to have attracted a colony of chipmunks. The animals constructed an elaborate village under the wooden deck, and used the privacy fence as their own superhighway, scurrying happily around, and surviving all sorts of eradication methods. These kind hearted folks learned to tolerate Alvin and his friends, as long as they stayed outside.

On one particular occasion, desperate measures became necessary when one of the little stripers ventured in through an open door and made his way to the master bathroom. The lady of the house recounts that her brave protector armed himself with a two by four and a plastic shopping bag and waited patiently for the animal to “become confident” and emerge from his hiding spot behind the commode. Then, using his best “Little Bunny Foo-Foo” method, the eradicator “bopped him on the head”. The plastic sack was then utilized to move the very still furry body to the dumpster. The next day, the victorious chipmunk hunter heard scratching noises coming from the dumpster and discovered that the creature had survived his ordeal. So, believing it only right that he concede and allow a reprieve, the man transported the chipmunk to a nearby creek bank for release. It is hoped that in the future,  the chipmunk population will recognize the chivalry of this action, and properly observe their outdoor boundaries.

Happy Spring to all creatures, great and small!




Friday, February 8, 2013

The Changing Face of Love

What does love mean to us? The answer to that question is very individual, and changes over time. It also varies a little by gender, and even the times in which we grow up.

Newborn babies experience love completely through physical contact. Science has proven that little ones thrive on that human touch, and it actually makes them healthier. I’ve known people who volunteer at hospitals to hold and rock sick children. It fills in gaps for parents who must work, and allows nurses to take care of more critical needs. This is also a great time for grandparents to bond. Though I’ve never seen any research on the subject, I think the attitude of the person doing the holding and rocking comes through and affects the behavior of the child. New parents are understandably nervous and apprehensive. They may even be anticipating those college educations that will soon need to be paid for. Grandparents, on the other hand, are totally relaxed, stress-free and completely joyful about the new addition to the family. We are setting the stage at this point for the days when Mom and Dad will be concerned with discipline, and Granny and Grandpa will be more about having fun.

Small children continue to enjoy the “feel” of love, and soon transfer their affections to inanimate objects. I remember a huge, furry stuffed poodle that I loved to lay on, drag around and sleep with. As my maternal instincts kicked in, I adopted a rag doll named Mandy that I still own. She is unique, because she is fashioned out of black material with stitched-on eyes and black yarn hair. She was just the right size for me to lug everywhere I went. Evidently, I took very good care of her (I wasn’t as rough and tumble as my younger sister) because she still wears her original yellow calico dress and lacy apron.

About the time little girls get in school, it becomes important that they designate one of their fellow students as a boyfriend. I can remember in first grade we all competed for the attention of one dark eyed boy named Bobby. We all claimed he liked us best, though truth be told I’m sure he spent more time running from us than showing any of us his favor.

In the “tween” years, we begin to develop crushes. Being a child of the TV generation,  my first celebrity idol was Ricky Nelson. He was the cuter of the two brothers, and oh, could he sing!  Later, I became enamored with the Osmond brothers, and even traveled to Kansas City with my mom and sister to become part of the screaming, swooning crowd. Standing outside waiting to get in to the concert, someone spotted some young male figures standing in a hotel window several stories up. Everyone started waving, certain these boys would remember us when they got on stage. Most likely, we were duped by imposters, who always remembered the time they made thousands of girls act like complete fools.

When we’re old enough to seriously look for a mate, we search to find the handsome prince who is the perfect combination of all the things we’ve been dreaming of since the dress-up tea party days. He must be great looking, polite, funny, and hardworking enough to support us while we raise our perfect family. The goal here is to kiss as few frogs as possible along the way.

My Prince Charming had a little bit of a tough sell. Because my own parents had divorced when I was small, I was not going to be swept off by the first young knave riding up on a charging white steed, or even driving a blue-gray Dodge Challenger. I wanted to be sure the king of my castle would stick around to help me rear his future little lords and ladies. Getting acquainted with his family helped in this regard. To them, happily ever after was a foregone conclusion. We rode off into the sunset at a young age, and I’ve never looked back.

These days, as we look back on the busy days of bringing up three independent, totally unique children, it has become all about companionship. Of course, surprises like a special gift from the local jeweler, or a fancy gourmet supper carry some weight. But more importantly, sitting next to each other being mesmerized by meaningless television shows or arguing with the GPS as we explore new territory makes our joy complete. We’ve been there, done that, got a t-shirt or two, and treasure the thought of returning home with each other. Love is no less exciting, just more satisfying than ever.



Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Random Lessons Learned during Twenty-twelve

If you’re reading this, the Mayans were wrong. The world did not end on 12-21-12, and another year is going into the history books. We’re back to following the advice given to us by the Son of the only One who has it all figured out: “Watch and pray for you know not when the time is.”  I guess we could have saved ourselves a lot of stress and worry. Sort of an “I could have had a V-8” moment, isn’t it?

In the working world, a common thing to do at the end of a project is to review the results; talk about lessons learned. One former boss used a military term and called this a “hot wash” session. We don’t assign any importance or order to these observations, just note them. Detailed analysis can come later.

So, here’s my hot wash for the twelfth year of the new millennium.

1: Never assume you can figure out your retirement plans on your own. The sooner you get an expert on board, the better. If your children are young enough, try to interest one of them in financial planning as a career. Raising your own Alex Keaton could be very beneficial to your whole family. On second thought- having a family member in charge of your money at such an early age could be a conflict of interest, and might prompt arsenic in your oatmeal. Better just consult the yellow pages.

2. If you find yourself in the situation of not having to report to work every day, enjoy every minute. Others will try to fill your time, but you are in ultimate control. If you’re trying to find a new job, try not to stress about it. Things will work out.  Meanwhile, live it up, and wear pajamas and slippers all day if you get the chance!

3. Granny Camp with all of your grandkids in attendance can be a real joy. However, the idea of not having another adult around to assist can be abandoned if you have four campers ages 10 and under. Also, shortening the session from a week to three days is a remarkably wonderful idea!

4. You’re never too old for a job interview, and a well crafted resume can be extremely handy. This is your chance to blow your own horn. Don’t be dishonest, but don’t sell yourself short, either. Many employers are recognizing the value of hiring experienced, seasoned employees. On a related note: if you are asked to speak about one of your best features, and one of your worst ones, the weakness should be a cleverly disguised strength. Example: “I have a hard time letting go of a project when it’s finished, because I want everything to be perfect.”

5. Eighteen people can fit comfortably in a garage for a large family dinner. Crafty kids and grandkids can help with decorations the night before. Another stress reducing tip: take advantage of helpful mothers, sisters-in-law, daughters, daughters-in-law and grand-daughters, and send males of all ages outside until everything is on the table.

6. Two serious thoughts about tragic events that occurred just before Christmas. Even if God is no longer officially invited to our schools, He’s still there. And, guns don’t kill people, people who should not have access to guns kill people. I’m trying to keep this list positive, but sometimes things just must be said.

7. We live in a beautiful state, with boundless opportunities for happy jaunts with little or no planning. The State Park system is a secret that we should not keep to ourselves any longer. Though it would be impossible to name a favorite, Mounts Magazine, Nebo and Petit Jean are all in the running.

8. Social media is a fantastic tool for keeping in touch, and even for making new friends. Warnings about revealing too much of your private information are valid, but with due caution, online contacts can become real-life pals.

9. A healthy mix of good food and moderate exercise can make day to day life much more pleasant. Kudos to those who are making great strides along these lines, and for those of you who are just maintaining, never give up!

10.  Changes of all kinds happen. During adjustment periods, don’t schedule too many activities. You need time for physical and emotional recuperation.

New years are full of possibilities. Twenty-twelve is gone, and we’re gearing up for Lucky Thirteen. The Mayans didn’t have everything figured out, any more than we do. Like the psalm and the song that inspired this column puts it:  “To everything there is a season, and a time for every purpose under heaven.”   Use those lessons learned, and keep your smiling face aimed forward!