Monday, July 10, 2017

Looking Back from a Milestone


      How is it possible that this little cutie is now sixty years old? Truth is stranger than fiction. But, since this is a milestone birthday, I thought it was a good time to take a look back.
       If I have to find one word to describe my life, it is Blessed. From the beginning, I was loved and cared for.
       My earliest memory is from my third birthday. I could verify this if I could find the picture we have of me and the little white metal dollhouse I received that day. I remember placing the tiny plastic furniture in each room while sitting next to my parents' bed. Daddy's arm hung over the side, against the white chenille bedspread with pink flowers. Did he recognize  my early interior decorating talent? Was he even awake? That was not important to me. I just wanted to share the moment with him. After all, we were best buddies.
    Now comes the hard part- the most traumatic moment in my young life. I vividly remember the day I skipped home happily from kindergarten with the other neighborhood kids. Rounding the curve to my house, I noticed our car was sitting in the driveway, with lots of stuff packed in it. Daddy met me as I came in through the back door, and gave me the unbelievable news. He was leaving, and Mama and my sister Toni and I were not going with him. Then, the strange words that are stuck in my head forever. "Don't forget. No matter what happens, I will always be your Daddy."
     With the wisdom of hind-sight, I know that my parents handled their divorce extra-ordinarily well.  On that first day, I remember my Mama was crying, and I sat with my three year old sister in the big chair in the living room, trying to re-assure her that everything would be okay. But, I don't recall any angry shouting, no negative words about my Daddy. Not that day, or ever during my childhood.
     Mama just worked super hard, Daddy paid the child support faithfully, and we had a whole community of support. In particular, our neighbors on Fourth Street Circle and our church family at St. John Lutheran Church in Pittsburg, Kansas became the necessary village for my little sister and me.
    We had a happy life, filled with love, and never felt neglected. We visited both of our grandmothers frequently, and stayed for a week every summer with our Daddy, and his new wife. Mama used her tax refund money each year to take us on exciting vacations, and we participated in every free or inexpensive activity we could find. We never described ourselves as coming from a "broken family".
      When sister and I were teenagers, we experienced something few of our friends could imagine - the courtship of our mother. The man who swept her off her feet moved us to a new state just before my senior year, and the adventure continued. There was no bitterness, even though we left our friends and our wonderful hometown behind. I loved and trusted our new step-dad and we gained two new brothers and two new sisters in the bargain.
     In Arkansas, my sister was my best friend. We navigated the strange new waters together, and were fortunate to land in a new small community that welcomed us. Once again, our mom encouraged us to join, participate, meet new people. So, we did. By the end of that school year, we both had lots of new friends. For me, there was one very important new friend. He invited me to the prom, and I knew that once again, God had blessed me.
     As Mrs. James Russell Carlisle, my childhood dreams started becoming reality. I had never really visualized a particular type of house, or a career. What I really wanted was two or three children, and a happy home with their Daddy, who would stay around to help me raise them.
     The three kids the perfect completion of that dream. James and I set about raising them to the best of our ability, and since both of us had been raised in the church, we knew right where to go for assistance. Our kids were raised the same way we both had been, with love. In the process of participating with them in their activities, we all became richer. We didn't wait for the help of the village, we jumped in and became a part of it.




    And where am I now? Well, unless I plan to set some new records for our family, I am certainly past the center point of my life. Our family has grown so much, that we haven't posed for a picture that includes all of us yet. 



Blessed and Happy are still the two words that come to mind. I have dreams yet to fulfill, plans to stay busy and experience new things. But, the most important thing is, I have confidence that this life here on earth is just the beginning. If I don't complete everything I have planned, God has bigger and better plans for me. 
     Sixty is a new horizon, but with Jesus close by my side, I am ready. After all, looking back, God has done a wonderful job of blessing me so far, and He's not finished yet.

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Practicing Poise and Personality through Pageantry

Something you might not know - I was actually the official Bryant Junior Miss for 1975. Well, at least by default. Here, as Paul Harvey would say, is the rest of the story. My high school sponsored a pageant each year, which was affiliated with the national Junior Miss program, a well-respected scholarship contest of the time. The winner of our pageant went on to win a regional pageant, which meant the runner up became Bryant’s Junior Miss. This lovely young lady also won a regional contest. Both participated in the State contest, held that year at Robinson Auditorium in Little Rock. Because of their regional wins, neither wore the title of Bryant’s Junior Miss at that event. I had been the second runner-up. So, logically, the vacant title belonged to me, right?  I laughingly mentioned this forgotten detail at our class reunion, and my sweet classmates awarded me with an overdue tiara.
So, what may you ask, is the big deal with a title, even when a tiara comes along with it? To many young ladies, that title represents recognition for a lot of hard work. Girls love to be reminded how pretty they are, but to be judged the prettiest is not easy. Our pageant in Bryant included several musical numbers, demonstrations of talent by each contestant, and a “runway walk” to show grace and poise in formal dress. The audience at the evening performance saw all of this, but they weren’t present for the interview process held earlier. I remember being very nervous, and also that I was required to purchase a pair of gloves for the occasion. Easier to find in the mid-seventies than they would be now, but still out of my comfort zone for sure.
 Like any competition, pageants can become all-consuming and overdone. I certainly don’t endorse some of the gyrations that parents put their children through all for the sake of winning. Pageant Moms can be every bit as bad as Little League Dads. But, for young people who really display an interest, and parents who are supportive without being pushy, contests of all kinds can be a character building experience for all involved.
Local pageants in particular celebrate the culture of their area. In agricultural areas, they usually emphasize the most prominent crop. So, we end up with Watermelon and Pink Tomato Queens in Arkansas, and in Florida, Strawberry Queens. On a trip to the Plant City, Florida one year, we attended the Strawberry Festival, held on fairgrounds that reminded us of the State Fairgrounds in Little Rock. One display in a large exhibit hall held the gowns of past Strawberry Queens dating back to the 1930s. The local ladies have taken this thing very seriously for a long time.
There is certainly something to be said for youngsters who can help the family with their dirty, labor intensive work by day, and then clean up to don fancy clothes in the evening. It takes a well-rounded young lady to pull something like that off, for sure. In the Ouachita area, some of these pageants are held around livestock shows, so horsemanship becomes one of the judging criteria. A few years ago, we helped some ladies to select just the right cowgirl attire for the Conway County Fair Queen pageant. Glamour, glitter, boots and hats combine to produce some great results too!
When our daughter was three, our hometown of Shannon Hills held a beauty pageant as part of their Fourth of July celebration. This was no easy feat, as a couple dozen moms and little girls were required to compete in fancy dresses and swimsuits, as well as preparing a short talent demonstation. At that age, the costume changes alone are a major accomplishment. The local cable TV channel “streamed” the proceedings live, and the ordeal (oh, sorry, I mean the contest) will live in our memories forever. This is certainly the stuff of family legends!
Most recently, our grand-daughter participated in the pageant at the Fourche River Days held at the Perry County Fairgrounds. Girls from the age of seven months to 15 years smiled, waved and posed to the delight of parents and grandparents. Our nine-year-old coveted the crown itself, but she learned that they don’t just pass those sparkly treasures out to everyone who registers. She is beginning to appreciate the pain and effort that goes into winning any competition.
The lesson in all of this- Anything worth having is worth working for. Congratulations to area youth and their parents who are showing off their varied talents and competing in so many different ways. The prizes won are worth the effort, and you will be stronger for it. Even if your tears mess up your makeup a little bit in the process.

          

Sunday, April 9, 2017

Little Things Can Be Really Big


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

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

Friday, February 10, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Thursday, January 5, 2017

2017- Uncharted Waters

When we were younger, the arrival of a new year was all about the celebration. When I was still in high school, our local movie theater sponsored an American Graffiti marathon on New Year’s Eve. That was also the year of a huge ice storm in my Southeast Kansas hometown. So, after watching the inspiration for the Happy Days TV series four or five times, we ventured out into the icy streets. My boyfriend’s mom had some treats prepared at his house, and instead of asking our parents to drive on the glassy pavement, we decided to walk (slide) the several blocks from the main drag. Another friend showed up with bottle rockets, which whizzed down the empty streets for what seemed like miles. An exciting, explosive celebration for sure!
          After a move to Arkansas, and finding the right man to marry, the New Year’s celebrations continued. When our kids were small, we took advantage of willing grandparents for overnight visits, and tried out some area restaurants for some special nights out. Then, as the youngsters got older, we challenged them to stay up until the ball dropped, and consumed lots of frozen pizza and cheese dip at home.
          When our nest began to empty, hubby and I ventured across the country for a visit with some friends who had moved to the East Coast. Arriving at the airport just before midnight, we welcomed the new year in a Waffle House between Baltimore and Washington. On that same trip, we enjoyed a brunch cruise on the Potomac. Great scenery, and memories to last a lifetime.
          Somewhere along the way, the turning of the calendar page became less about the party, and more about what the new year might bring. We looked back on varying levels of our kids’ education, and forward to what it would take to finish. Significant others came into the family, and talk of weddings and then grandbabies filled up our calendars and our New Year’s Eve brains. New countdowns emerged, as we realized that long-scheduled retirement benefits might actually be within reach, and we plotted the last day of our long-held jobs, and what might happen afterwards.
          Dick Clark, the poster child for the Peter Pan dream of never growing old, did exactly that, and after a last display of bravery, gave his seat in Times Square over to Ryan Secrest.  The world would never be the same.
          So, this year, along with the rest of the “last gasp” Baby Boomers, our ages will begin with the numeral six. A strange place to be. Just yesterday, we were putting on our new P.F. Flyers and zooming up and down on our Christmas bicycles with their banana seats and butterfly handlebars.  These days, we spend much more time in our recliners, saving our strength for the nine to five routines that we just can’t let go of yet.
          Once again, we are too busy looking forward to spend much time glancing back. For a few days in the first month of the year, we will be cruising in the warm Caribbean sun while most of you are shivering in the Ouachita winter weather. Before too long, we plan to return to Florida to meet our sixth grandbaby. There will most likely be a week devoted to Granny Camp, when we gather as many of the kids as possible for some wonderful chaos. The oldest grandson is now a musician, so we hope to be in the audience for some of his concerts and competitions. These coming events promise to be ten times more exciting than any one night celebration.
          From past experience, we know that there will be some surprises, some setbacks along the way. But, rather than dreading these things, we can take them in stride. There is very little that life can throw our way that can’t be handled with a little extra prayer.

          This year, I hope you find happiness in your own life, as you continue to enjoy my rambling thoughts. If you are so inclined, drop me a line in care of Ouachita Life. It helps a writer to know that someone is out there reading and reacting. There is no way to know what the voyage into 2017 will bring, but won’t it be fun to embark together!