Wednesday, July 11, 2018

Summertime Reading Adventures

          In other parts of the country, folks are looking for a “beach read”. They plan to stretch out on a lounge chair, shaded by either a beach umbrella or a large-brimmed hat, and while away the hours. In the Ouachita region, we are more inclined to a “ceiling fan read”. It’s just too dang hot to stay out on any lake-shore or creek bank for too long. Regardless, it’s a wonderful time to get lost in some good fiction.
          This year, your reading list will be a little different. It started off with an adventure! Because I count several authors as friends, I am sometimes asked to help promote a new project.  Many of my friends were asked to participate in something really exciting on July 2 at 6:00 p.m. A Book Launch party is today’s equivalent of a movie premiere. Without a requirement of wearing a silly hat, guests were able to learn more about the book and participate in the excitement live with fellow book lovers! Called Engraved on the Heart, this story is now officially launched, and gaining attention from all directions!
          The new book’s author is Central Arkansas’s own Tara Johnson. She is a lively wife and mom who shares her heart through her music and her inspirational messages at every opportunity. Her first work of fiction, set in the Civil War era. highlights the all too real struggle of a young woman who deals with a health issue that causes seizures. In a time when physical weakness was looked upon with disdain and isolation, she shows courage and strength, knowing that God has a plan for her life. Insider’s tip – I won a contest to help name the male protagonist of the book. So, you will see a character named Jennie mentioned somewhere in the book! There will be a prize from me for the first person to find it!
          I have a confession to make now. When I started reading this book I thought I would love it because I love it's author. But, the story began to sweep me along, and now, I am totally enthralled. It involves the Underground Railroad, and deals with the timeless issues of doing the right thing, and treating other humans with respect and compassion. A beautiful story with a handsome hero and a believable heroine. Perfect summertime escape. Have I ever steered you wrong? Read this book!
        A tradition of this column is to offer up a Christmas book to read during the heat of a Ouachita summer. Try “Restoring Christmas” by Cynthia Ruchti. This tale combines a home improvement television show with a tale of a couple who are defining their lives and their careers. Also, a fascinating mystery about the house and its owner, which unfolds as the demolition and rebuilding progresses. Short enough to be satisfying, involved enough to keep you guessing. This is another favorite author of mine, and I’m sure you will be a new fan of hers too.
          Another favorite author is enjoying tremendous success with a blockbuster hit called “Before We Were Yours”.  Lisa Wingate is a former resident of Mena, Arkansas, so some of you may have actually shopped at the grocery store with her. This book, which is her thirtieth, is a sensitive portrayal of a real life sinister plot to kidnap children and “sell” them to wealthy childless couples. Set in the 30s and 40s in the Memphis Tennessee area, there are still people alive who were involved in this scandal. The story is told from the perspective of one of the children, and also from the point of view of a present-day woman who is uncovering the truth about her own family’s history. The transitions from the past to the present make for a fascinating and hard to put down account. This book was recently chosen by the Arkansas State Library as their selection for the annual If All of Arkansas Read the Same Book  program. It has also been on the New York Times best-sellers list for several weeks.
          If you are in the mood for lighter reading, try a series by Ane Mulligan, called The Chapel Springs series. Set in a Southern tourist town, the main characters will remind you of your old friends Lucy Ricardo and Ethel Mertz, and their humorous predicaments will keep you smiling long after the stories are finished. It’s not all fun and games. Some lessons are learned about how families love each other. Its all well done, and great fun.
          And then of course, if you are looking for some short selections to read between trips to the pool or popsicles on the porch with the grand-kids, you can find a collection of these monthly ramblings in my book called Turn, Turn, Turn. You can purchase it on Amazon in paperback or Kindle format. It will include some columns you may have missed, some you enjoyed in years past, and one or two you haven’t seen before. My hope is that it brings a smile to your face, and makes you want to be kind to someone you encounter in your daily walk. Just for you, my loyal readers. Enjoy the sunshine but be careful. You are loved!

Friday, June 15, 2018

A Dad's Legacy

          “Ain’t she cute, see her riding down the chute. Now I ask you very confidentially, ain’t she cute?” You can “google” this song if you want to learn the history.  It sounds like something that came out of the roaring twenties. Or maybe the fabulous fifties. It doesn’t matter to me. I will forever hear a booming bass voice singing it from behind the wheel of a late-sixties blue Buick sedan. Actually, not just any bass voice. My Daddy’s.
          As a girl who was raised by a single mom, all of the day to day, tough lessons are attached to my female parent. Because I only spent time once a year with my Daddy, I have only happy memories. He made a point to put his best foot forward for me and my sister during that anticipated yearly summer vacation. I was probably about ten when I pointed out to him that we didn’t need a special activity planned for every minute we spent with him. Waking up to his extra special blueberry pancakes and spending the day escaping the summer heat near a pool was perfectly fine.

          When our mother’s remarriage caused our move to Arkansas, it put a strain on these annual trips, and it took a bit for us to “hit our stride” again. But taking a look at the overall picture, we learned to accept our relationship as it was, and just enjoy every minute we had together. In his later years, I longed to cook a meal for him, and it just never worked out. One of his most treasured compliments came when we helped get him settled after leaving the hospital and he told me I “make a mean bowl of Jell-O”.
          The next Dad influence was from an Arkansas Traveler. No, not a baseball player, a real traveler. My Mom was a bank teller in our little Kansas hometown, and among the people who came in (or drove through) to cash their paychecks was one handsome welder who was working to build our new hospital. His beautiful blue eyes connected with her deep pools of brown, and the rest, as they say, is history.
          At this point in my step-dad’s life, I think he was ready to relax and have a little bit of fun after working very hard for his whole life. So, we spent weekends at the lake, with any or all of the rest of the blended family that could work it in. Without him, I never would have water skied!
          I dubbed him “Papa” since I still had a Daddy, and we hit it off very well from the beginning. Our phone conversations always began the same way.
          “Hello” I used the traditional phone greeting.
          “Hey Mert!” that lively voice on the other end.
          “Hey Gert!” Of course. What else would I say?
          The rest of the family just shook their heads.
          Shortly after James and I married, when I was working the switchboard at a Little Rock car dealership. “Gert” called in a panic.
          “I am in big trouble. It’s your Mama’s wedding anniversary, and I’m on the job and didn’t leave anything there for her.”
          “It’s your anniversary too,” I reminded him. But he was in no mood to hear that.
          I was honored to help him by calling a local florist where he had an account and making sure my Mom received a bouquet of flowers (probably a dozen roses) at her job that day. Yes, he was definitely a keeper.

          When my own Prince Charming swept me off my feet, I was delighted to learn that he came from a very stable family. After my childhood experience of a broken marriage, it was just exactly what I needed. The un-disputed head of this household was to be my father-in-law.
          His dominant trait, and the one most everyone remembers, was his genuine interest in people. He formed so many lasting friendships over his lifetime, by enjoying each experience and then relating that enjoyment in the form of telling a great story. He was a terrific listener in the bargain, and that endeared him to all.
          Like any good storyteller, repetition was key. We heard the same stories over and over, but now, we can repeat those stories to new generations. And the past lives on!
          Each family member has a favorite memory of this man. The story he told involving me was about the first time I cooked a Thanksgiving dinner as a newlywed. In our small rental house, there were only so many places to sit, and he settled at the kitchen table. He recognized that dinner wasn’t ready yet, and worried that he was disrupting my preparations. But, he was amazed that I didn’t tell him to move, and just sort of worked around him as I finished what I was doing. A simple, not very dramatic tale, but I think he retold it so often because it was the day that he and I really connected. We knew that we were no longer acquaintances, but real family from that point on.

          Happy Father’s Day to all who have wonderful memories of the Dads in your life.  Enjoy spending time with men who are a positive influence on children of all ages, whether related by blood or not. The smallest memories will last a lifetime.

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Love Never Fails . . . to Amaze

 Whose idea was it to put chocolate candy in a huge heart shaped box?  And why exactly does that say I Love You?  The sweet treats inside are the focus of the gift, right? Women are known for melting in the arms of any man who brings them chocolate, so why the fancy packaging? Maybe the point really is the totally un-necessary extravagance of the whole thing. You certainly can’t reuse the box for anything. There is no nutritional value. It’s always a challenge to figure out which of the candies contains the dreaded coconut, or is dominated by a big nut. Maybe the reason we like this showy, sugary gift is that we know the giver would have much rather spent his money on something else. The fact that he picked out a great big red box with sinfully sweet candy in it just for us really means a lot. It’s motivated by pure love. Yes, that must be it.
 Valentine customs have absolutely no logic to them. When we were kids, we used to save empty cardboard oatmeal canisters, cover them with red construction paper and cut a slot in the top. Then, we took them to school, put our name on them, and waited for our classmates to drop in little cards. The messages on the cards were as corny as they were cute. A picture of a pencil and a paper that said “I dot my eyes on you.” A cowboy who exclaimed “You’re the greatest, Podner!” A hive of buzzing insects spelling “Bee Mine.” Sometimes, there were attempts at humor. “Roses are red, violets are purple. Sugar is sweet and so’s maple surple.”
 The fun in those little cards, though was in the giving. At least for the females in the classroom. We spread out all of the cards and found the one that looked the most special. The one that really “meant” something. Then, we agonized over which boy in the class would get that most special message. Would he understand that he was seriously our pick for favorite valentine? I have a feeling that the boys probably gave the box of cards and the list of names to their moms and walked away.
 As we got older, we didn’t buy cards for every kid in our class. We longed for special attention from one person in particular. If that person had no clue we were waiting, we were disappointed. So, instead, we planned dances, and got on the decorating committee. Then, on the big night, we dressed up and arrived to watch the couples dancing. It was all fun and games until the couples left and the decorating committee had to double as the clean-up crew. Oh well.
It has always amazed me that the male of our species never understands how easy it would be to make his favorite female happy on Valentine’s Day. They quite often err on the side of “getting it wrong.” All it really takes is remembering. A cheesy card, a box with a big red bow, a flower or two. It’s really not that hard. Whatever comes from the heart is sure to please.
 After our life partners are established, the customs become even stranger. We now feel that only the most special date night will fill the bill. So, everyone tries to make reservations at the most memorable spot. One that means something to our relationship. The site of the first date, the spot where he popped the question. Trouble is, so many folks share that same special place. So, the lines are long, and the baby-sitter’s tab is huge.
Hubby and I created a practical solution that involves the magical way to your partner’s heart- through the stomach. Several years ago, we decided to start cooking a gourmet meal at home on Valentine’s Day. No waiting at a restaurant, no big heart-shaped boxes of confectionary mystery. Instead, we scour the internet for a recipe, shop a couple of days ahead for the perfect ingredients, and slave away for an hour after arriving home from work. (The years that Valentine’s day falls on a Saturday are really the best.) At the proper time, we light a candle and settle in for the adventure of the year. If everything didn’t turn out as we planned, it is all okay. After all, the effort involved is the real gift. Oh, but one important step in this tradition must be observed. A picture is posted on Facebook. Why? To avoid a future argument. “It’s your turn to cook this year. I did it last year.” Thank goodness for that timeline feature.

Share your heart with someone this year. If nothing else, it makes for a great story!


Friday, January 12, 2018

A Vessel for Honor - 2 Timothy 2:20-21

The word vessel conjures up a couple of different images in my mind. The first is of a vehicle, a mode of transportation, usually on the water. This is the what the song made popular by Garth Brooks refers to. "I will sail my vessel 'til the river runs dry."

When my husband and I went on our first cruise, I learned that the level of safety I felt depended on the vessel I was in. The massive cruise ship was like a floating hotel. From the inside, if the seas were not choppy, it was easy to forget I was on a boat. Because of skillful designers, craftsmen and engineers, it not only stayed afloat, but provided a very happy place for a vacation. Another smaller boat took us to an island retreat. We were closer to the water, feeling the effects of the waves, but because the men piloting the boat knew their vessel, I was still confident. I trusted their knowledge and experience.

Because the size of a vessel is limited, care must be taken to only bring along what is most important. In the case of the cruise ship, regular "tenders" keep the right amount of supplies aboard to serve the needs of the passengers. As we see in Matthew 14: 47 and 48, when God casts a net,  He "gathers the good into vessels, but casts the bad away".

We understand the concept of traveling in a vessel. But what if we begin to see ourselves as a vessel, to be used for God's purpose? It's a humbling thought.

We are all different. God made us that way. And he had different purposes in mind for each of us. Second Timothy 2:20 says "But in a great house there are no only vessels of gold and of silver, but also of wood and of earth; and some to honour, and some to dishonour."  The original purpose and use for each of those vessels may change. Even the gold and silver ones can be neglected, go un-polished,  become buried in rubble. The simpler ones, made to hold firewood, water, or even trash, can be cleaned up and used for another purpose. There is beauty in their simplicity. Continuing in verse 21, "If a man therefore purge himself from these, he shall be a vessel unto houour, sanctified, and meet for the master's use, and prepared unto every good work."

We can't change the way God made us. Romans 10:21-23 "Hath not the potter power over the clay, of the same lump to make one vessel unto honour, and another unto dishonour? What if God, willing to show his wrath, and to make his power known, endured with much longsuffering the vessels of wrath fitted to destruction; and that he might make known the riches of his glory on the vessels of mercy, which he had prepared unto glory."

The plans and dreams I have had since I was a child are just that, MY plans and dreams. This year, recognizing that God made me for His purpose, I am dedicated to purging everything that gets in the way of His plan for me, and preparing myself to be used the way He intended. Slowly, carefully, watching what I eat, participating in healthy activities.

This will also apply to my writing. I will read the things that will benefit His plan, use social media in a way that glorifies Him, attend conferences and associate with people who can assist me along His way.

Listening for his leading, I intend to be the vessel He envisioned when He created me.

All scripture references are from the King James Version

Monday, January 1, 2018

Looking Back and Looking Ahead

          When we were younger, there was a very fanciful movie about Doctor Doolittle, who was famous for his ability to talk to animals. Not a lot of that masterpiece has remained in my memory banks, but there was one creature that was pretty unforgettable. Called a “PushMi- PullYu”, it looked like some sort of llama with a head on each end of it’s body.  Strange, but it did offer a unique perspective on life: the ability to look backwards and forwards at the same time.
          At the cusp of the 18th year of our millennium, I am pausing to straddle that thresh-hold. Every new year holds excitement, and this will be no exception. What a year we are leaving behind!
          Hubby and I started out with our first excursion out of the United States. We discovered the pleasures of being spoiled on a floating hotel in the Caribbean.  The beautiful water and sunny beaches in the Bahamas were wonderfully refreshing, especially while our Arkansas neighbors were experiencing one of the few very cold weeks of the year. It was just as much fun, though, to walk around the big ship itself, sampling the food that was always available, trying our luck in the convenient casino, or watching a movie or football game on the jumbo sized screen that graced the top deck.
          We traveled to Texas in the spring for our oldest grandson’s band concert competition. Amazing to witness the difference music is making in his life!
          For an early summer excursion, we drove south and east to visit our brand-new sixth grandbaby. On that trip, we learned that we are not born wanderers. Where some people might enjoy side trips to see the local sights, we are more destination minded.  I gave up reading billboards to the driver to spark an interest in local flavor. When he has a goal in mind, and music blaring, he is all about getting to the next planned stop in the least amount of time. I did manage to see some new scenery as it flew past the passenger side window. Georgia and Alabama are pretty states, as best I could tell at 70 miles per hour.
          We also made some football related trips. In Texas we cheered from the home stands while our grandson marched with his band at a real live Friday Night Lights exhibition and a very intense competition on Saturday. Then, our Florida son came to Arkansas to gather up his dad and older brother for the college homecoming game on “The Hill” in Northwest Arkansas. Luckily, the Hogs won that day, but for the Carlisle boys, the final score was incidental. It was all about enjoying the club seats. In December, hubby and I traveled to Florida again to sit with the Bronco Road Warriors in a beautiful professional stadium in Miami. The final score of that game wasn’t pleasant, but the amazing winter weather made up for it.
On the same trip, we decided to soak up the sunshine in a rented convertible. While traversing the state, we discovered a quaint island where most of the traveling is done by bicycle, and the main intersection is regulated by volunteer traffic directors instead of a stoplight. The beach is literally covered with seashells, and the sunsets are gorgeous. For once, we relaxed enough to scrap the schedule, and stopped there for an extra day.
          In other news from 2017, I gained a new title, “Published author.” With connections gained at a writer’s conference in my Kansas hometown, and new technology that makes printing on demand too easy to be true, having an actual book in my hand became a reality. What a strange and wonderful feeling.
          So, what’s just over the horizon in the eighteenth year of our still new millennium?  Here in the Ouachita region, the grass roots historical organization I am involved with is persisting, and finding new targets for our excitement. Look for more events sponsored by Saline County Preservation, Inc. as we try to unify history lovers in their quest to keep the past alive for future generations.
          As for your intrepid columnist, I plan to concentrate on finding a home for my fictional projects. There will be one more assault on the traditional route of publication, pitching to agents and publishers who can navigate the ever-changing waters of marketing to the masses. And, with encouragement from a few new fans, there may be another little paperback available from the wilds of the Amazon.
          I’ve stopped trying to predict what’s up on the family front. There are no new grand-children in the chutes. I’m sure all six of the Carlisle cousins will be busy learning, playing and competing.  Travel possibilities abound. At least one of our kids is actively seeking a new job, and the head of the house-hold has installed a countdown to retirement on his cell-phone. So, suffice it to say, the never a dull moment adventure continues. As long as we try to follow our Creator’s plan, we will move ahead with confidence.

          Take a minute to look back, but don’t linger long. The future is bright ahead!