Saturday, November 22, 2014

You Had to Be There Habakuk 1:5

            Habukuk’s message from God , his “burden” includes this in the fifth verse of the First Chapter of his book. “Behold ye among the heathen, and regard, and wonder marvelously; for I will work a work in your days, which ye will not believe, though it be told you.”
            Oh, those moments that leave us awestruck. For a second or two, nothing else matters, not what has happened in the past, not what will come down the road in the future. Just a time when all we can do is take a deep breath and just try to absorb the wonder of God’s creation. During this time of hustle and bustle, organized ceremonies and unorganized chaos, we live for those “Ahh” moments when God is sufficient.
             My husband and I love to just get out and drive, and when the sun is shining brightly on our windshield, just topping a hill on one of Arkansas’ many scenic byways can present an incredible panorama of beauty. The colors of the leaves, the sky, the waterways are spotlighted at just the right angle. We don’t always stop the car or snap a photo, but those vistas stay with us, become a part of our memories of care-free days doing whatever we please.
            Sometimes, after a stormy day, the sun popping out from behind the clouds produces another such glorious moment. Heavenly rays extend to the ground, and we take a deep breath, knowing that God was with us the whole time. Often, He sends his classic symbol- a rainbow. We know it is a simple message from the maker that renews the promise he made to Noah so long ago. All will be right with the world again.
            Holding a new baby, especially when there is a family relationship, is another indescribable pleasure. The simple trust that this little soul is placing literally in your hands can be overwhelming. At that moment, the struggles leading up to the birth are forgotten; the worries of the days ahead are non-existent. God grants us just a second to simply revel in his miracle.
            In contrast, the same sense of peace can be felt at the bedside of someone who is nearing the end of their journey on this earth. All of the pain and suffering can be forgotten when the patient is comfortably communing with his or her maker. Peace penetrates the room, and all who enter. Unexplainable, totally illogical peace, except for those who understand what awaits on the other side.
            For me, awe strikes at the strangest times.  For example: when my house is almost literally bursting at the seams with busy people of all ages, preparing a meal, or trying to find a spot to relax afterwards. The joyous shouts of the youngest, the bumping into one another, the questionable crashes heard from the kitchen, all provide me with a moment of sweet joy. After years of changes, and missing faces at the table, I recognize these times for their temporary nature. Nothing will ever be quite the same again. The happiness is palpable, almost painful. I relish these precious chaotic moments, and store them away for future, quieter days.
            The shepherds felt the same way in Bethlehem centuries ago when the heavenly host brought them unbelievable news, and then they witnessed the miracle for themselves. How fortunate we are that Luke captured these moments in his Gospel. We can share in the wonder as we read that account over and over.
            The marketing wizards call moments like this “Priceless”. They remind us that no matter the cost, that one event is totally worth it.  Christians can enjoy these precious times with no thought to the past or the future, because Jesus has already paid the price. What is coming for us will be even more wonderful, more awe inspiring than any experience we have had on this earth. Amazing. I definitely want to be there.

            Thank you, Lord for these glimpses of your wonder.  May we always recognize and appreciate them.

Monday, November 3, 2014

Fine Dining- Tables and Chairs Optional

Most meals are forgotten after we clear away the dishes. Remembering them longer than that may have as much to do with the circumstances as the food.  To borrow a phrase from our real estate friends- it’s all about location, location, location. As a child, my adventurous mother would find the most interesting spots for a weekend picnic. One in particular involved crossing (or climbing through) a barbed wire fence. The locust trees we passed on our way to the chosen site displayed cattle hair that had been snagged on  spiny thorns. I remembered hoping the  hoofed residents who had left it there wouldn’t mind that we were  sitting in their field for a little while, and  I especially hoped that they wouldn’t return while we were eating. In contrast, another memory took place on the well manicured lawn in front of an art museum in Kansas City. I couldn’t tell you what we ate on either occasion.
These were simple meals, but some picnics are much more elaborate. For years, churches have carried Grandma’s prized dishes outside the building, or to a nearby park for “dinner on the ground”. With a few hours to kill before the Sunday services resumed, the meal was often followed by a game of  horseshoes, softball or baseball.
The menu for these events varies, but the main health consideration is keeping hot foods hot and cold foods cold. Though ice has been sold in bulk for over a century, the invention in the early 1950’s of the ice chest (cooler) revolutionized dining “al fresco”. As my father-in-law would say, Mr. Coleman didn’t just make picnics easier, he made them Possible!
Sometimes, less planning means more fun. When the weather is nice, an exciting day starts with  throwing  together some sandwich fixins, a few canned soft drinks and a bag of chips, and heading  for the hills. In my pantry for this eventuality are several vinyl and cloth table coverings, a stack of paper plates, and a box of disposable plastic flatware. My mom would be sure to remind us not to forget the ants. When watermelon is in season, bringing along one of those deliciously messy fruits ensures that those special guests are invited.
 After  my parents retired to live full time in a travel trailer, all of our family celebrations turned into picnics. There was always more visiting room outside of their compact house on wheels, so we gathered around the campfire in all kinds of weather, bundled up in coats, snuggling under blankets with hot chocolate. Lot of love to keep us warm.
Back on the home front, there’s something about eating a peanut butter and jelly sandwich and Cheetos while sitting on a blanket that means magic for kids. I’ve witnessed this phenomenon on sunny days in the front or back yard, and on rainy ones in the living room floor. When one of the picnic attendees is a small baby, the older kids learn basic babysitting skills by helping to keep the rolling or crawling infant confined to the safety of the blanket. It’s not just a meal, it’s an adventure.
After one of these special meals is concluded, full bellies lead to heavy sighs, and the cares of the world seem far away, especially if the location is outside of cell phone range. The breeze on your face, the songs of the birds bring a calm that can’t be matched in any restaurant in the world. At this point, the main concern is keeping the kids safely out of the nearest water source, at least until their food has settled.  One of our grandsons always searches for a long stick to “fish” with. We’ve got to get that boy some proper equipment.

In other areas of the world, picnics happen mostly in the summer-time. Here in the Ouachitas, autumn is the most wonderful time of the year. Sunshine, changing leaves, weather cool enough for a sweater and a campfire: Ahhh. A taste of heaven.  Though fall weather sometimes stretches into December, cold, dreary winter is sure to be just around the corner. Take advantage of every opportunity to plop down for a simple lunch. I’ll wave at you from my own blanket on the ground.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

You Might Be a Hog Fan

        A popular comic has a routine in which he shares tell-tale signs that you may be a redneck. In the midst of another football season, you can tell you are a real fan if you have a list like what follows- my ten most memorable Razorback games. These are in chronological order, because there is no way I could rank the memories from best to worst. They are all a part of the fabric that makes up the lives of the people I love the most.
1.      Arkansas vs. Texas A&M-1975 War Memorial Stadium in Little Rock.  My former boyfriend gave me and my new fiancé tickets to a game in December that was televised. While generous ex watched from the comfort of his couch, future hubby and I almost literally froze in the end-zone. I remember driving his precious Dodge Challenger through the bumper to bumper traffic.  I was very surprised while researching this column to learn that we actually won that game. The score did not play into my memories at all. I was happy to be with a great guy, but longing for a warmer location!
2.     Arkansas vs. Tulsa 1976- Fayetteville. As newlyweds, we drove up to the Ozarks with some friends and witnessed a defensive duel, highlighted by two record-setting field goal kickers- Steve Cox of Tulsa and Steve Little of Arkansas. Tulsa kicked three of them, and the Hogs only managed one. The final score 9-3 Tulsa.
3.   Arkansas vs. LSU 1996- Little Rock.  Our oldest son, with money from his first job burning a hole in his pocket, bought tickets for himself and his dad. A friend who was a State Legislator at the time let us use his passes, so the whole family went on a cold, rainy weekend after Thanksgiving and stayed for most of a miserable defeat. I remember that the purple and gold ponchos outnumbered the red ones by quite a bit when we finally made our way to the exits.
4.     Parent’s Day in Fayetteville- Arkansas vs. Alabama 1998- While recalling that game today, son’s comment was- “Were y’all at that game?” We watched the action from the student section, and observed our college freshman having the time of his life in the end-zone, A big 42-6 win that cemented our fervor for all things cardinal and white.
5.     Arkansas 28, Tennessee 24, Fayetteville, 1999. We watched on television, as our college student spent the weekend after his 21st. birthday helping his friends dismantle the goal posts after a glorious game. He still owns a baggie with a piece of the turf from that game. Some relics are more precious than gold.
6.     Arkansas vs. Tennessee- September, 2001. Just days before the world changed forever, we were seated on metal seats at the very tip-top of the newly remodeled stadium during severe thunderstorm warnings. After several back and forth trips to the safety of the concourse, hubby and I decided we would be better off watching on the television in our hotel room. Our kids wanted to divorce us that day, but we’ve gotten over it, well most of us have. Anyway, Tennessee won.
7.   Seven Overtimes- Arkansas vs. Mississippi in Oxford- 2001 I actually watched this from a hospital bed after knee surgery. My future son-in-law was keeping an eye on the heart monitor and threatened to turn the television off if I didn’t calm down. Calm? Not a chance. Arkansas 58, Mississippi 56.
8.   War Memorial Stadium- Arkansas vs. Louisiana Monroe 2004.
Our second son had graduated from the U of A by this time, and he came to town for the game. We bought tickets from a scalper outside the stadium, and had terrific seats next to the Razorback band in the South end zone. Son was still in full-on student mode, and performed all of the songs right along with them. We won the game, but it wouldn’t have mattered to us in the least.

9.   Arkansas vs. Mississippi State at Starkville, MS 2008.
This was a road trip with our son’s fiancé and his friends from Memphis. Our now daughter-in-law still remembers that my husband made her leave her warmest coat in the car because it was the wrong color. We left when the game seemed lost, only to hear a rally as we were leaving. Our son pulled in and out of the parking space to get the best reception on the radio. Final score- Mississippi State 31, Arkansas 28.
10.  Arkansas vs. Auburn- Fayetteville, 2009. After a terribly difficult week that included the funeral of someone we all loved, we took a very refreshing trip to the top of The Hill. A great victory, 44-23. How ‘bout them Hawgs, indeed.
A bonus memory that doesn’t directly include me- After my oldest son married, his wife and I stayed at their apartment in Fayetteville, while “the boys” went to the Auburn game. They had two student tickets and a spouse ticket between them, and only one of them was an actual student. Dad was told to try to act like a professor, and brother was praying no-one would challenge his “spouse” status.
The Razorbacks are more than our favorite team, they are part of our lives. Here’s hoping your family has some memories together that will last long after the final seconds click off the stadium clock. Woo Pig Sooie!!

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Carole Brown's new World War II Romantic Suspense

As a client of Hartline Literary, I am proud to tell you about a new book from a fellow author. World War II was a time that your parents and grandparents still talk about. Here's your chance to really get a feel for that dangerous and patriotic time in our history.

Follow the link to learn more about this book, and the author!!! Enjoy!!!!!…

Friday, September 5, 2014

New Beginnings at Summer's End

“Come on.”  My younger sister led the way as we exited the school bus and walked towards one of the many buildings on the sprawling Bryant high school campus.

"See y’all, later.” A young boy with a newly shaved, strikingly purple head waved as he headed the opposite direction.

  “Are you sure this is right?” As a senior, I lacked the poise I wanted to display.    

  "Don’t you remember? We came here to register a week or so ago. I know that the office is in this building, and they will give us our schedules and help us get where we are going.” Oh to have the confidence of a fifteen year-old.

 Somehow I made it through that first day at a new school. All of the kids were very friendly, and seemed to have sympathy for the girl with the funny accent who didn’t quite know how to dress.

 My sister and I met up for the next to last period of the day in the band building, which the other musicians informed us had previously been used for home economics. Finally, some kids I could speak to, who understood the universal language of music. I felt a new confidence, though the twenty-six members of this group would have fit on the first row of the bleachers when my hometown Kansas band played at a football game.

  “How do you like your classes?” My sister and only friend asked, between animated conversations with the fellow members of the brass section.

 “They seem fine, except for English.” I motioned to her to come closer, not wanting to offend our new acquaintances. “My teacher was talking about concentrating on grammar, and the weekly spelling test. That’s nothing like our old school.”

 My sister shrugged. ”It’ll all work out.”

After the final bell, I met her under the awning, and prepared to walk to where the bus had dropped us off. Having always lived too close to the school, this was my first experience with riding the big yellow conveyance. This was a smaller district. How hard could it be?

  This time, even sister seemed at a loss as we surveyed row after row of identical vehicles. “Do you know our bus number?” She asked quietly, as we observed tiny first graders with numbers pinned to their shirts.

 “Follow that onion-head!” I caught sight of the friendly boy from our neighborhood, and we raced to keep up as he wove his way through the mob to find our ride home.

The rest of the week was steadily better, with the newly memorized bus number in my head. On Friday, I mustered up the courage to speak to the very nice English teacher, who negotiated my change from the Freshman Basic English class to the Senior Advanced course I belonged in.

 Today, that campus is more modern, still very spread-out, and I would guess, still quite intimidating to those arriving from a different school district. The more things change, the more they stay the same.

 This year, my three oldest grandchildren are all entering  new schools. The oldest is changing from an elementary within walking distance of his house to a junior high that is just a little beyond safe bike riding territory. The ability to “be prepared” that he learned in Boy Scouts seems to be serving him well, as he seems much less worried about the adjustments than his mother is.

The third grader informed me that he has four teachers at his new school, though he is not really sure why. “Do they each have a different subject to teach?” I asked him. “Is one teaching English, and the others something else?”

 “No,” he explained, with that patient, ‘poor Granny’ look. “None of them speaks to us in another language.”

The first grader seems to be taking it all in stride, and will undoubtedly help all of us make it through the year. Her major concern seems to be choosing the proper outfit and accessories for each day.

 Of course, the youngest grand is content to stay home for now, preparing for his new T-Ball career as a Lug-nut. (That is really the name of his Texas team!) No back to school jitters are evident there.

Facebook friends are posting pictures of triumphant looking college freshmen, and long faced new empty nesters on “Move-in” day. These fence straddlers will use every chance to sway back and forth between confident young adults and needy teenagers especially when there is laundry to be done, or their dorm supply of snacks runs low.

It’s all part of the season. We look forward to cooler, more football friendly weather, to pumpkin patches and chrysanthemum corsages. Soon, we will be making plans for holiday get-togethers. Even though our summer was unusually agreeable this year, we are ready. Bring on that Ouachita Autumn. We’re always up for a change.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Promoting another Hartline Author: Dawn Crandall

“The Hesitant Heiress” by Dawn Crandall

    With the rare ability to play the piano by ear, Amaryllis Brigham wants nothing more than to someday found a music school. However, someone keeps undermining her hopes and dreams at every turn. 
    Despite her own misgivings, she soon finds herself quickly falling in love with the most unlikely of men—the son of the very man she suspects has been bent on ruining her life. However, Nathan Everstone turns out to be much more than he seems… and everything she never knew she wanted. But can she trust an Everstone man?



Dawn Crandall writes long inspirational historical romantic suspense. She has a BA in Christian Education from Taylor University and lives in northeast Indiana with her ever-supportive husband and their newest addition, a little baby boy. Learn more about Dawn and The Hesitant Heiress from the August 2014 blog tour:


Monday, August 25, 2014

Promoting my fellow authors

As part of my journey to publication, I've learned that we are not islands. There are so many  of us out here, pressing toward the same mark. So, as part of the Hartline Literary family, I am pleased to help spread the word for newly published books. Though all will be Christian, the genres will vary as much as the authors themselves do!
Check them out, and you just might find your next favorite author! I trust that when my time comes, these hardworking folks will return the favor for me!

Today, check out Raquel Byrnes, and her very intriguing book trailer for "Secrets at Crescent Point"

This week the second book in my Noble Island Mystery series came out! Set on the same mysterious Noble Island as the first book, this one delves into the strange and secretive ways of the island's Romany people. Secrets at Crescent Point is a Gothic Romance with intrigue and thrills, I know you'll love Raven and Siyah's adventure!

Here is an official blurb...

Leaving Noble Island amid scandal and accusation, Raven vows never to return, but when her sister’s fiancé goes missing, Raven has no choice. Shunned by the island, if she is to unravel the mystery of Niklos’s disappearance, she must rely on the only man she’s ever loved, Siyah Cavaler.

Siyah was devastated when Raven left Noble Island, but as the clan’s heir apparent, he has a responsibility to keep the families from falling into ruin and crime. To preserve the island’s future, he agrees to a bride from a rival family, but Raven’s return stirs his heart and jeopardizes his position in the council. Giving in to his love for Raven would mean turning his back on all he’s ever known.

When Raven’s investigation uncovers a grisly discovery, a darkness is unleashed that threatens them both.

Bizarre accidents, unexplained deaths, and strange apparitions shroud the island. Raven and Siyah struggle to save the families and their love as they race to stop another death and unveil the Secrets at Crescent Point.

I have three eBook copies to give away. All you have to do is leave a comment about the scriest moment you experienced.  Did you hear a noise when you were home alone? Maybe saw a figure out in the fog?  Share your thrill and be entered to win.

Below is the amazing video Pelican Book Group put out for the series....enjoy!

You might also like:

Sunday, July 27, 2014

That's Why They Call Them Grand

Like most parents, I will never forget the feeling of holding each of my children for the first time. There was a huge sense of relief, both physical and emotional, as I counted fingers and toes, and rejoiced in feeling that precious puff of breath coming out of tiny nostrils. It was a new kind of love, like nothing I had ever felt before, but tinged with anticipation and even a healthy dose of fear for the adventure that was looming ahead.

Years later, the feeling of holding a brand new grandchild was similar, but different. There was button-popping pride for the journey of my child, this little one’s parent. Pure, unadulterated joy as I felt this precious little bundle filling my hands. But, this time, no fear. On the contrary, I felt only happy anticipation, knowing that while I would be around to help, the responsibility for the scary stuff ahead rested on someone else’s shoulders.

By the grace of God, my husband and I have experienced this grand feeling four times (so far). Each of these little bundles of joy has developed into a unique individual, and provided us with constant entertainment.

The first, born a little over twelve years ago came along when his mom (our daughter)  and his dad were very young. His arrival cemented their bond, and they set out to prove to the world that they had all the right stuff to be very good parents. Grandson number one has always been extremely interested in how things work. Before he could talk, he imitated the sound and motion of the automatic garage door.  Instead of using building blocks only to make tall towers and watching as they tumbled down, he constructed “airports” complete with runways. Empty shoeboxes and Scotch tape were the perfect building materials, and his imagination and creativity were limitless. Later, his Lego set was used to create ocean liners and spaceships. His laptop provided a way to create arrival and departure schedules.  We are all very sure that he is on his way to a career in engineering.

Grandson number two helped his mom and dad  (our oldest son) prove something as well. It took a lot of hard work, sacrifice and prayers when he arrived during his dad’s senior year in college. This one was the family’s super hero, very comfortable in a mask and cape. Nowadays, he loves to talk about monsters of the deep, and all things that live under the ocean. He lives for adventure and danger, on television and in real life. He conquered a ruptured appendix this year and came back to bring home a trophy in baseball.  Scuba diving and marine biology seem to lurk in his future.

A year and a half later, we welcomed number two’s little sister, the family’s new princess.  Dainty and feminine from the beginning, she waited until her third birthday to do much talking, but has not stopped to take a breath since. Her favorite color, of course is pink. Purses, shoes, dresses, jewelry, and when proper, a good tiara will always make her smile. She loves growing flowers, and helping out in the kitchen. As the younger sister to a rough and tough boy, she certainly holds her own, and keeps the family organized. She will be the CEO of someone’s company, and a great wife and mommy at the same time.

When Grandson number one was seven years old, his little brother arrived to remind his family how to have fun. Nicknamed Pogo because of his constant bouncing, he seems to be always on the go. His best friend has been Mickey Mouse since a very early trip to Orlando.  Since Mom works from home, he has learned to entertain himself, which can lead to big adventures with his canine playmates if she averts her gaze for more than a few seconds.  This one is also super considerate, and one of his first full sentences was repeated as my hubby and I left for work. “Have a good day, Granny and Grandpa.” His future career will be as personal coach and trainer.

Since our middle son and his wife have not yet added to the family, there is a high probability that our future grands will be born in the sunshine state of Florida. This will be perfectly fine with Granny and Grandpa, as we will mark our calendars and make reservations for frequent visits. Perhaps, someday we will even transfer the family headquarters to the peninsula between the gulf and the Atlantic.  Hopeful dreams keep us young.

God has such a perfect plan, and we rejoice to see the blessings of a long and healthy life. Enjoy those grands this summer, and feel free to brag on them by sending your letters to me in care of Ouachita Life, or on my blog at

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

In the Name of Rockets' Red Glare- Do Something!

“I love his soul, but I hate what he did.” One of my mother-in-law’s favorite sayings comes to mind often as I see news reports about what I consider to be despicable acts performed by equally despicable people. Such a Christian attitude, but so hard to actually put in practice.

One particular group of people has grown very hard for me to love, even though at the core of their beliefs, we probably have more than one thing in common. When my father lived in Topeka, Kansas, he warned me about the route to take if I should ever come to visit him on a Sunday morning. “Don’t come down Fairlawn,” he’d say. “You just don’t want to see that.” He should have known that directives like this only brought out the rebellious streak in me. So, one Sunday I witnessed a group of professed Christians standing in front of a neighboring church building with terribly hateful posters. Their protest? Mainly, that this particular congregation allowed and encouraged the attendance of people the first congregation considered to be sinners. What? Sinners not allowed to attend church?  Would they rather those folks had come to their own place of worship?  I think not. Just as Daddy had predicted, the whole thing ruined my day.

Later, this group took their show on the road, choosing to protest at, of all places, the funerals of our nation’s heroes. I viewed this as ironic, since the person being honored, and the family members that were attending had made the ultimate sacrifice to allow these *%#$@ people the right to protest. (Oops, that was rather unprofessional of me.) Enter my new heroes, the Patriot Guard Riders. Very fittingly, this group was also founded in Kansas, in Mulvane, the town where my mother and father met and married. The whole purpose of the Patriot Guard was to position themselves in front of those folks from Topeka with their ugly chants and signs. The big flags and loud motorcycles became more than a shield; they were a symbol of courage and respect. They stood proudly in the gap where the rest of us would like to be.

 The recent storms that left so many of our Central Arkansas neighbors hurting provided another opportunity to show the world what we are made of. At my former job for a major insurance company in Little Rock, the employees spent very little time wishing someone would help those who needed assistance. Instead, they found a way to do something. Some went out and actually helped clear rubble and find lost pets, others wrote checks to the Red Cross, still others brought non-perishable food, bottled water, cleaning items, trash bags. In no time, a truckload of items was ready to go. Less talk, more action gets the job done quickly.

If we venture very far out of our residences, we are bound to encounter people who don’t have a place to call home at all. There could be many reasons for this, and we could spend hours trying to determine the root causes, the disturbing trends in America that are multiplying this shameful situation. Meanwhile, those folks are tired, hungry, desperate. An organization based in Little Rock called The One, Incorporated has decided to do something. Under the leadership of one very determined young man, they are take whatever resources they have or can get donated and use them to help. Purely and simply, they give with no expectation of return, and it is making a difference. Their biggest success- helping that One person into a new start in life.

Of course, taking action has risks, and we must be sure that we are using our resources in the best way. There’s no harm in researching, finding the best way to help.  We all have talents and resources that can benefit others. My suggestion- find a way to use them.

Another very energetic young man who is in the music business performs a song that inspires me. His lyrics speak about looking around and seeing all the problems in the world, and shaking his fist at heaven. Matthew West’s song “Do Something” says that when he asks God “Why don’t you do something?” the answer he receives is this, “I did. I created you.”

We live in a country with more wealth and opportunity than anywhere else in the world. While enjoying your hot dogs and snow cones and oohing and ahing over the beautiful fireworks, give just a minute of thought to sharing the gift you have with others, and then follow through. The land of the free and home of the brave will be better for it.



Thursday, June 12, 2014

Recommended Equipment for Lazy Summer Days-A Good Book

          Memorial Day has come and gone. I hope you took time to remember the sacrifice of our men and women in uniform and their families as the summer of 2014 officially started. So, now that we are preparing for those lazy, hazy, crazy days, you can find an exhaustive list of things to do and see in the Ouachita area in the normal spot in the heart of this magazine. But, what to take along?  Sunscreen, a sturdy hat with a brim, a hammock or at least a good lawn chair, and most importantly, a good book that will help you while away the hours.

          I have several titles in my to-be-read stack this year both on my nightstand and on my new friend, the Kindle. Here is a quick rundown of some I’ve read recently that I can recommend.

          First up: “What Once Was Lost” by Kansas author Kim Vogel Sawyer. Set around the turn of the previous century, the heroine of this story has been very happily providing a home and a bit of stability to a rather rag-tag group of people who are without a proper place to live for one reason or another. One terrible night, the residents of the “poor farm” are displaced by a fire that destroys the home Christina Willems family had established and left to  her charge. Now, she has the responsibility of finding “temporary” solutions for all of them, while working to get the home rebuilt. In the process, she and all of the residents find that God’s plans are always so much better than their own.

          Tamera Alexander has written two of my recent favorites. Set immediately following the Civil War in the Rocky Mountains of Colorado, “Within My Heart” is a tale of bravely overcoming past  pain and grief to move on to new life. As always, the hero and heroine are much more than one dimensional stereotypes. Their hopes, fears and failings make the reader want to keep turning pages well into the night. Regardless of the time period and setting, we can identify, and enjoy every minute of this tale. In a bit of a contrast, “A Beauty So Rare” is set in about the same time period in and around the Belmont plantation in Nashville, Tennessee. Since the author lives nearby, she makes this tale rich with details, and the feel of the opulent estate. Once again, the personalities of the characters shine, and when we get to know the heroine’s father, we can identify with the mixture of love and duty that make caring for our parents so rewarding and difficult. Another delight. By the way, anyone who loves cooking or raising flowers will not want to miss this one.

          As always, one of my favorite escapes from the hot Arkansas weather is to find a book that is set in the winter. “Baby, it’s Cold Outside” by Susan May Warren is a delightful story about a group of people who get stranded together inside the house of one of the town’s matriarchs. Taking place right after the Second World War, each character has his or her own heartaches to deal with. It’s a well told and multi-layered story with some unexpected romance thrown in for good measure. Crank the air conditioning up, grab some hot chocolate and a blanket, and settle in for a great read!

          Most of you know me well enough to understand that I love fictional stories as opposed to non-fiction when I’m reading for pleasure. I made an exception recently for my Little Rock friend Tara Johnson’s book “Hollow Victory”. Subtitled “ How to Identify & Disarm Five Landmines that make Victorious Christian Living Feel Like a Lie”, it is an eye-opening look in the mirror for any woman who feels like she is drowning while trying to live up to the expectations of others.  Written by a lovely lady who has “been there” it is a great bit of encouragement for all ages.

          Finally, for all of you who love romance and rodeos, I have the perfect pair of recent releases by local author Shannon Vannatter.  “Rodeo Queen” takes place in modern day Ft. Worth and Shannon’s fictional town of Aubrey, Texas. Our heroine is a confident young woman who runs a clothing boutique when she’s not speeding around the dirt-floor arena with a flag. When a deranged stalker attacks her, she suddenly has to rely on a former boyfriend turned Texas Ranger who wants nothing more than to protect her. But, is he doing this because he loves her, or because he loves his job? “Rodeo Song” introduces the world of rock-star fame and paparazzi to another of our Texas belles. This time, a former beau has to convince our pretty cowgirl that there is more to him than bright lights and encounters with adoring groupies. Both are Love Inspired Heartsong Presents books, an imprint of the famous Harlequin line that mixes Christian values with heart revving emotions. Summer escapism at its finest!

          The illustration that accompanies this column is called a “book-stack poem”.  Just a bit of fun for bibliophiles. What happens when you arrange a few of your books in this way? I would love to see it. You can snap a quick picture and post it on the Ouachita Life Facebook page, or as a comment on my blog at

          Have a great summer!


Saturday, May 10, 2014

Streetcars and Ravens- Lessons from Mama

          “Men are like streetcars, if you don’t catch this one, there will be another along very shortly.” And “Don’t mock your mother, the ravens will peck out your eyes.”. Unorthodox?, Maybe even a little disturbing? For me, these two pieces of advice rank right up there with “Always wear clean underwear, in case you are in an accident.” The oft-repeated admonitions I heard over the years reveal a lot about who my mother really was.

          My Mama spent her early years in the San Francisco, California area. Thus, the streetcar reference.  Really, it’s not like there were multiple men in her life. She married my Daddy when she was seventeen, they divorced and she raised me and my sister as a single mother. Then, she married the love of her life when she was 40. I think this unusual gem had been spoken by her own mother, and its message is a good one for young women. They mean to say to us, don’t pin your hopes, your dreams, your life on another person. Be stable enough in yourself that you can carry on. Thankfully, I have not had to test this in my own lifetime.

          The second, rather graphic reference also came via my grandmother. She was sent to a convent (what we would term today as a private school) as a youngster. I didn’t realize the origin of this “threat” until I saw the movie “The Passion of the Christ”. An unforgettable image, to be sure. Always delivered tongue in cheek, it usually followed something a bit embarrassing or funny that had happened to Granny or Mama. It was meant to remind us to be respectful (while hiding our giggles behind our hands).

          “Get mad at it, and get it done” usually followed by my full name- “Jenny Sue”. A natural born procrastinator and conflict avoider, it has always taken more than a little prompting to get me up and moving. This particular one always pops into my head as deadlines approach, or when the kitchen needs cleaning after a family dinner.

          “There’s a lot of great free stuff to do out there.” As children, she took us on a vacation every year, and  we stretched those dollars until they squealed. We travelled to California once in a VW bug, and though we didn’t camp out (recall the single parent thing), we did cook out on a Coleman camp-stove at rest areas along the way. Some attractions were pretty pricey at times, but we also entered every museum, read every historical marker, stood on the curb for every parade we could find. What great memories!

          “Enjoy God’s creation, but don’t be afraid to grab a hoe or a shovel to whack something when necessary.” Okay, these actual words never crossed her lips. But, there was a contrast that speaks volumes in my mother’s life. She loved to stand at her kitchen window to watch the birds that built their nest in the artificial flowers in the window box. However, when her faithful dog awakened the neighborhood by barking incessantly at an invading critter, she would venture out, armed with a flashlight and the sharpest garden implement she could find to dispatch the varmint, whether it was an opossum, or even a poisonous snake. This was one reason we encouraged her to wear an alert button as she got older.

          “Be creative”. Another one I learned by her example. She was an expert at brightening every corner where she lived, and on a budget. Seasonal decorations, home-made Christmas ornaments, hand painted craft items that sold like hotcakes when she and my step dad were “on the road”.  There was no limit to her imagination, and her desire to share it.

          “Be generous, even if you have to be sneaky about it.” With apologies to our frugal husbands. Mama was all about slipping some cash to you discreetly, and she had a list of charities that were the beneficiaries of what she called “drops in the bucket” each month. I’m sure they are all missing her dependability very much these days.

          “The perfect place to learn to sing harmony is inside a VW bug.” What wonderful songs emerged as we bounced along. Everything we heard at church or on the radio was fair game. If you rode along with us, joining in was a survival technique.

          “Find out all you can about your ancestors.” Books, books and more books survive to be distributed to her children, step-children, grand-children. It’s all there. The answer to every question you could ever pose. She would always remind you to look it up in your family book. Goodness knows, she spent enough time compiling them!

          “Make friends everywhere you go.” This is probably her most surprising legacy. There was not a doctor visit, a trip to the grocery store, or a walk to the mailbox that didn’t include smiling and speaking to someone, especially those who looked a little down-trodden. A quick honk on the bicycle horn attached to her walking stick broke the ice, and pleasant conversation always followed. As her time on earth ran out, we were amazed at the people that literally came out of the woodwork to bid her Godspeed. She had friends she talked to on the phone, corresponded with by mail, hugged on her way down the hall at the nursing home. These were not just token gestures of respect, but true and lasting friendships. Try as I might, I feel I will never measure up to her success in this regard. But, I owe it to her to keep trying.       

          So, for the first time in my life, I have no-one to send a Mother’s Day card to. I can only hope that my legacy will be as interesting and inspirational. This column is dedicated with all my love to Merry Lu Barnett McLeod Tuggle, November 22, 1933 to November 1, 2013.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

The Benefits of Exercise

Siblings, raised in the same environment could not have been more different as children. One was outside from day-light to dark, shepherding (rabble-rousing?) the neighborhood kids. Always active, fit as a fiddle. The other was inside, with her nose in a book, a pencil in her hand, desperate to write down the stories that lived in her head. Three guesses which one was me. Here’s a clue- though both are still very active and creative, only one writes a monthly column in a monthly magazine. (Ha!)

I was not totally averse to playing outside as a girl. It just took something exciting to pry me loose from my beloved stories. If there was a game of freeze tag or kickball happening, I could usually be drafted. But just running around aimlessly wasn’t my cup of tea.

As I got older, exercise was just a by-product of some other activity I enjoyed. I became a fairly good swimmer because the municipal pool is where all of my friends hung out each summer. Swimming lessons were accomplished in self-defense, as some of those boys thought “dunking” girls the greatest past-time ever.

When my Mom determined that she needed to lose weight, we all took up bike riding. We covered every inch of our small town, usually after supper in the evenings. Our route was gauged by how long it would take us to arrive back home. There were only a few times when we had to utilize the battery operated lights that were strapped to the handlebars. Besides developing strong leg muscles, we learned the rules of the road, and a good sense of direction. I can still find my way around that town on return visits, after having lived elsewhere for over 40 years.

I’m quite sure that around that same time, I walked my first and only marathon, from one end to the other of the same town. The event was the March of Dimes walk-a-thon, and I was motivated by the chance to raise money for a good cause, and by spending an entire day accomplishing what seemed an insurmountable distance of twenty-six miles with my best buddies.  We started at about 8:00 a.m. and finished around 5:30 p.m. I don’t recall a lot of people crossing the finish line after us. Nowadays, marathoners train for months. I’m reasonably sure I hadn’t given any thought to a training regimen, and I most assuredly slept for the whole next day.

Even my love for drama and music prompted opportunities to stay in shape. In theater class, a friend and I performed musical sketches in competitions. One of these involved some fairly involved choreography in top hats and tails. All these years later, she’s still at it, performing with the Sweet Adelines, a female barbershop quartet organization. And me, well, I’m not sure I could focus on singing and dancing at the same time these days.

Speaking of coordination, I managed to muster quite a bit of that when I was a member of the marching band. Pre-sunrise practices on the football field and on the city streets; memorization of countless show tunes and marching formations; hour after hour of “do it once more”; this was as close to being a real athlete as I would ever get.

After moving to Arkansas, I learned to water-ski, mostly to feel a part of my new “lake-loving” family. I thoroughly enjoyed the challenge of rising from the water, at first on two skis, and soon balancing on one, slalom-style. Then, of course, staying up was simple, as long as the driver of the boat kept a constant speed, and a safe distance from obstacles. I still tease my step-brother about the time he was driving the boat and the motor came to a stuttering stop. Out of gas? Only temporary, as he had a reserve can in the boat. But what a disappointment, to come to an abrupt, splashing halt. His circle back around seemed to take forever, but thankfully, my ever-present ski-belt and the ski itself kept my head safely above the fishes.

            When and why did I stop water-skiing? I am not really sure. At any rate, that activity is long in my past now, and my body will never be able to rise to that occasion again.

          While raising kids, sticking to a hard and fast routine was not in the picture. I managed some aerobics classes in the days of Olivia Newton John’s “Let’s Get Physical”, but had to stop when I bounced a little too hard on my ankles. Walks around the still sleeping neighborhood before work each day were always enjoyable. When and why did I stop that? Hmmm.

          Now, I have discovered an activity that again combines my love for music with movement and flexibility. Early morning Zumba classes provide the challenge of keeping up with ladies half my size, and with twice my energy. Every now and again, I get the feeling that I may be “getting it right”, and that is a totally energizing sensation.

          The point of all of this? Whatever your motivation, keep moving! Inactivity is our biggest enemy as we age. It is so much easier to keep something up than it is to relearn and start over. The weather is not an excuse. There are plenty of sunshiny days ahead, and lots of activities also happen inside! Enjoy, and stay healthy!


Thursday, March 6, 2014

Eagerly Awaiting Springtime

 Daffodils, jonquils, buttercups. We might as well change their name to Hallelujah flowers. That’s the word that comes to mind when I see little yellow clumps appearing along my daily pathways. They are God’s way of telling us- “See, I told you spring would return!”

Green spots are showing up in our beige yards. Weeds? At this point, we welcome anything colorful. Sorting out which varieties of blades are permitted in what spots can wait for later. I wish I had spent a little more time last summer clearing out the iris beds. Hopefully, those well-packed buds of color will push up through the weeds soon, with the promise of a few fully formed masterpieces just before Easter.

 My backyard bird feeder would stay busy all year if I kept it full of seeds. I will admit there were days during this unusually long and relentless winter that I did not venture out to stand in that wet spot and reach over my head to pour the little morsels into their designated receptacle. But when I did make the trip, I was rewarded with the hustle and bustle of God’s feathered friends demonstrating their survival techniques. It really is amazing when you think about it. We bundle up in boots, scarves, hats, gloves, and they navigate very well in the wardrobe they were born with.

 A troop of  red-breasted robins traveled through our area in advance of one of those so-called polar vortexes (vertices?). They didn’t seem to linger long, before moving on to somewhere warmer, and I haven’t seen them return yet. I guess, just like our friend the groundhog, they recognize the value of waiting for just the right moment to emerge.

Migrating flocks of other birds fill our trees with a cacophony of noise. I wonder what they are saying to each other.

“Hey- that’s my twig you’re sitting on.”

 “Where did they say we were stopping for the night?”

“Sorry, buddy, this tree is just not big enough for all five thousand of us. Move along.”

“Who is in charge, here?”

“We’re leaving again? Okay- wait for me!”

Our two-story purple martin house is clean and raised to the proper height. We hope it passes the inspection of the scouts so that we will have several swooping and chattering tenants soon. In exchange for a safe place to raise their little families, they  will reward us with very effective mosquito eradication. 

Inside, in front of the television, we are bidding goodbye to images of bobsleds and snowboards, and paying a little more attention to the basketball games. It’s the time of year that we start counting the wins and losses of our favorite team in the hopes that they will be chosen for the big dance. Once a year, we hear about schools with strange names that are striving to be this year’s Cinderella team. Where exactly are Creighton and Gonzaga located anyway?

Another favorite local sport is picking up steam as the Oaklawn crowd is chomping at the bit for the opening of the infield. With or without gambling, it is a great place to soak up sunshine, rub elbows with all sorts of humans, admire some beautiful horses, and of course get ahold of some classic food like corned beef and soft pretzels.

 Back at home, on the front porch, another harbinger is being seen and heard. The ice cream vendor is the vehicle that everyone loves to hate. Once popular only in the hottest part of the summer, it now shows up every time the temperature rises over 50. I’m sure I will be tired of the tinny calliope version of Turkey in the Straw before the Fourth of July, but right now, I would be glad to break into a little jig as the neighbor children flock out to flag it down.

On Facebook, parents of high school seniors are beginning to post their “lasts”. Last home basketball game, last prom dress. Soon, the caps and gowns will appear, and the children we’ve enjoyed watching as they grew up will be off to college.

It’s  time for putting away the long sleeves and bringing out the short ones, for transitioning from boots to flip-flops. Time to feel the sunshine on your face and the mud between your toes.

At long last, spring. Praise the Lord.