Southern Sledding Stories

Arkansas is the Winter Wonderland of the Sledding South. Didn’t you know that? I grew up in Mountain Home in north, central Arkansas, close to the Missouri border. As its name suggests, Mtn. Home is nestled in the Ozark foothills and, as a summer bonus, between two pristine Corps of Engineers man-made lakes. In the 1960s it was a cute, small village where everybody knew everyone else.

In 1968 my parents finished building our home next door to dad’s parents. The houses sat on two sides of the best sledding hill around! Our grandparent’s side was steeper and led past Cardinal Drive, after a zag left to avoid the telephone pole, down Buzzard Roost Road towards Indian Creek where the “new” Cooper Park is located. Our side of the hill was a little less steep, but had an outstanding zig-zag in the road at the bottom adding to the challenge, and continued to the Ostrowski’s house by a little creek there as well that ended any progress you had made. Truthfully, it was the rare run that continued that far and was worthy of bragging rights for the rest of the winter and into the next!

I’m fifty four and just this week my mother shared a story with my siblings and me that astounded us.

Something you may not know about sledding history in our family. Spring Street was a great place to ride a sled to the west. If you got a good start you could veer to the left and then to the right and make it all the way to the Ostrowskis. The best time to do this was at night when everything was frozen solid and no cars were out and about. We had little children in bed so we didn’t go out together. We took turns. Rock would stay in the doorway to watch me while listening for the little ones. I would have a great ride and bring the sled back. Rock would then make a run while I watched and listened. It was a great spirit-freeing experience. We usually each took 2-3 turns.

Hilarious! What cool parents! The “west” side had to be used for these evening adventures because the spouse who was sledding could be seen from our doorway almost as far as they could go.

One year when we were old enough to bundle up and go out to play in the snow to make snowballs and sled a little, mom took forever bundling me up – like the kid in “A Christmas Story” that could barely move. I finally got out the front door and my own father threw a snowball at me, hit me square in the face, and had me crying and returning to undo all mom’s hard work. I was done!

Any kid worth their salt harbors a deep seething anger towards snow plows and gravel trucks. I recall being quite flabbergasted by the gravel truck’s purpose in life. Who on earth would do such a thing and why? Surely nothing positive could come from gravel on the best sledding hill around? And, who sent it here? If my grandparents, parents, and our neighbors were ok with an amazing Winter Wonderland of a street, why should anyone else butt in?

From Bob Engeler: The Last Great Snow at 915 Spring. Like the Piss Up a Rope story*, it starts with, “Bobby, go away!” It was a good deep snow, and word around the neighborhood was that the snow plow was already clearing the streets. We were appalled and all agreed that we would throw snowballs at it when it came to our street. So like the righteous warrior, I didn’t play in the snow but waited more than an hour for the plow’s approach, street by street. Finally it came up Mimi’s side of the hill (our grandparents’ side) and I ran to that side of the street’s stash of snowballs. I timed my throw perfectly right at the drivers side window…..

Suspense. Which was wide open. And I nailed him right in the neck.

Standard procedure for this kind of situation is to–as soon as you see brake lights–Run Away. I don’t know if I was just too impressed with my incredible accuracy, confused that he actually had his window down, or petrified I was going to be “In Trouble,” but I just stood there with my mouth open as he stopped and slowly, slowly backed back up the hill. I stood there agog as he laid out the standard “you coulda put an eye out, kid” mixed with a pinch of “you kids these days.” And then he drove on. And stood there guilty and victorious. And looking at the slickest, most tightly packed, fastest sledding hill I had ever experienced…and it lasted for 3 days.

Our oldest, and coolest, cousin Margee – whom we all obey no matter what – had a story to tell as well. Most likely when we were too little to participate, she and two friends, Renee Crawford and Margie Collie, were sledding on the steep side of our awesome hill. At the time, Margee lived with her parents, my Aunt Buff and Uncle John, a ways down Buzzard Roost Road on 4th Street, so it was within walking distance – well, in those days we would walk anywhere!

I hit the snowbank at the bottom of Spring Street! We couldn’t negotiate the turn! Renee fell off halfway down the hill. After I hit the snowbank, both ankles rolled under the sled. Margie pulled the sled off and then pulled off my right boot. My ankle was already swelling! Uncle Rock was already on his way down the hill. He pulled me back up the hill on the sled and then carried me inside of Mimi”s house. My hero! [Mimi is our grandmother, Rock is my dad].

Growing up in Mountain Home, Arkansas was truly idyllic! We had friends, family, sledding, summer lake skiing, swim team, neighborhood biking without parents, and all the youthful fun you can imagine!

Feliz Navidad 2020 y Próspero Año 2021

Mentioning the year 2020 immediately raises most people’s blood pressure or instant grief or negative thoughts. It has inspired unique creativity in the meme world, which definitely helps relieve stress. Normally optimistic folks who take on challenges for fun have either stopped trying new things or complain more than usual. Granted, between 9 months of COVID living, racial strife, ugly political leadership, and so many changes to the perceived normal, we’re all a little on edge and a little more quick to pout or quit. Personally, 2020 will forever hold several monumental happy memories for me.

The first two events are intertwined. First, it’s the year my daughter and I spent nearly 24/7 together from February to August. Emily came home from China for Christmas break and the day she was set to fly back, February 9th, every airline cancelled all flights overseas – she was home to stay! Since I had just had my right knee replacement surgery on February 4th (positive event number 2), and she was completely my right-hand girl, this was not sad news to me. I’ve always pushed my children to go, go, go explore the world, try new things, go places! Since she couldn’t go anywhere, I felt personally blessed to have her with me. She did more than the obvious: drove me to physical therapy twice a week, drove me to school and back home, brought me things when I was too tired to get up, made me get up when I was too tired to get up. She watched funny shows to cheer me up, made me join her YouTube drawing lessons, walked with me, talked with me, drew with me, wrote with me, read with me. Replacing my horribly worn-out right knee could not have been more positive, due to Dr. Hanby and Emily Rose.

Event number three was left total knee replacement. Again, Emily was there for me and we kept learning new things, dreaming about what we wanted to do, watching more Taskmaster, and recuperating. By the end of July I was slowly playing tennis again – just standing and hitting at first – but I played my first doubles match in early August and it was a phenomenal feeling to play tennis with no pain in my knees! After not playing for 6 months, almost every other part of my body ached, but it was such a good feeling!

Next, my granddaughter Piper Joy turned a year old on August 5th. Julius and Nicole made the trip north to celebrate with GP Rains, Mama Elena, and Ganny Haynes and it was simply wonderful to see her after 8 months of separation! Julius and Nicole were wonderful about sending pictures, taking time to FaceTime on the weekends, and sharing her growth and changes with us, but seeing that beautiful, funny personality in our home in Arkansas was priceless!

After school started (crazy, blended, insane, sometimes illogical system that it has become), and I got a bit of a feel for what my year was going to look like, Fred and I decided to have our Vow-Renewal Wedding as planned. Well, not exactly as planned, but at the Christian Life Cathedral Chapel on our 30th anniversary, and live-streamed with limited, socially-distanced seating! My best friend Kristen Novotny planned and took care of about 90% of every detail, with Fred’s help on decisions. This left Fred and me free to meet with Pastor Ron Harris for counseling, growth, and planning for our Covenant Marriage ceremony. We enjoyed taking care of what details we could before we left for Florida, like shopping for outfits and buying lovely “past, present, and future” rings! With the benefit of two “Remote Learning” days which were designated “recuperation days” for teachers, students, and everyone involved in school, we headed to Florida. While there we had the time and separation from daily life to focus on our vows, the details of the ceremony, and ourselves. We chose songs to play with a slideshow we put together, decided on songs for during the ceremony (thanks to Aunt Nancy and Uncle David), and then a playlist for after the ceremony. With Pastor Ron’s direction, we discussed our Core Values, and took care of our extensive list of questions for homework. While some friends and family were able to attend the ceremony on Sunday, October 25th, most watched from the safety of their homes, sharing sweet comments on the FB Live Stream. The day was so special for both Fred and me: our best friends from college repeated as our Best Man (Gred McCone), and Maid/Matron of Honor (Irene Larson Dacus), my best friend organized everything, our daughter selected and sang “Tightrope” from “The Greatest Showman,” both my parents walked me down the aisle, and our friends Jared and Tanya Park carried a picture of Fred’s parents down the aisle. We have video, pictures, and a lovely framed picture with signatures to constantly remind us of this special day and our re-dedication to each other. Kristen collaborated with Fred, my children, Irene, Nicole, and others to ensure everything was wonderful for us. Fred made sure the day happened – for me, for him, for us, for our children. I have the most beautiful 3-stone diamond ring smiling at me every day as a reminder of our past, present, and future together!

On another professional note, we still managed to have a large number of students in Springdale apply for and earn the Arkansas Seal of Biliteracy during the Pandemic – nothing will hold some people back! Young people are resilient. Don’t let them think this is completely negative – ¡Sí, se puede! Yes, you can! Making excuses has been a problem to deal with. Perspective: if everyone on the planet is dealing with masks & COVID, you are not unique and you can’t claim “adversity,” the meaningless sports claim. Not for everyday tasks that a person can definitely perform. Make excuses and underachieve all you want, but many people are completely overcoming every obstacle thrown at them – racism, COVID, extreme poverty, language barriers, lack of resources. With excuses, you will be left in the dust. [Note: I am very aware that many people who were already struggling with anxiety, stress, and other mental illnesses, or simply needed counseling to deal with life, were hit especially hard with the isolation and differences in a COVID life. This is NOT what I mean by “making excuses;” rather, I am talking about kids and parents who have no real excuse, but use them as a crutch.]

Finally, with the support of an excellent principal in the best school district in the region, surrounded by outstanding teachers and an especially team-oriented World Language department, and of course, my best friend Kristen Novotny, the fall semester was an interesting experience. I’m not a liar – there were definite moments, days, and even a few weeks of extreme frustration and mind-blowing, life-altering situations. However, we all felt “in it together” and sometimes together against the world. We were always supported to do not just what was right for the student, but what was best for me personally so that I could survive, continue, and not give up. So much support from so many sides made it all possible and even positive overall because, after 27.5 years, I learned a great deal.

Here we are, December 31, 2020. We celebrated Christmas with all our children, our sweet, perfect granddaughter, friends, and even with family thanks to FaceTime and Zoom. We watched Christmas movies, hung the lights, sang the carols, read the Advent Calendar posts, wrapped and opened gifts, and played with Piper. [My children are amazing aunts and uncles!] Heading into 2021, we have to face the reality that our COVID situation continues and we absolutely must be diligently safe for everyone’s sake, regardless of personal safety ideas or incorrect philosophies. A vaccination has arrived on the scene, but it’s so early in the process, we have to hold strong on mask-wearing, hand-washing (still can’t believe so many needed reminding to wash hands after going to the bathroom – gross – so please continue that for the rest of your life), and socially distancing regardless of supposedly-important shopping needs or desperate need for bars (is the need for strangers so important?).

We can do it, people! Remember that “freedom” does not mean that you can do whatever you want whenever you want wherever you want…because I have rights, too. We all do – so wear your masks, treat everyone (of every race, social status, religious belief, political belief), with respect and kindness, and continue to stay at home when you can. These aren’t “limitations” but rather “measures” to keep us safe while still doing, mostly, what we want or need to do. Family game nights, family pizza nights, and family movie nights are on the rise – keep up the traditions! If you don’t have a family to stay at home with, invite 2-3 people to be part of your bubble and go out of your way to plan weekly, fun activities either in person or through technology!

I wish you all a wonderful, positive, memorable 2021 – but hopefully memorable for different reasons!

#blacklivesmatter #2bilit2quit

Date Night

No, not nearly as adventurous, dangerous, or hilarious as the movie with Tina Fey and Steve Carell. However, getting out and doing something together is incredibly important. None of the “Three Cs:” chores, children, career – just the two of you.

Eating out is not a bad idea, but the conversation invariably turns to all of the three topics mentioned above: chores, children, career. Unless that is the entire point of eating out – conversation about any or all of the “Three Cs” without interruption from the “Three Cs” – ban those from the conversation or invite friends to join you.

Go to a movie, go bowling, attend a sporting event, or play tennis. These options unquestionably get your mind off your real world for a while and allow you to focus on the experience and your best friend. Have fun!

It is essential for our kids to see us having fun, enjoying life, enjoying our spouse. How sad if their only perspective of being an adult is observing us working, doing chores, and managing responsibilities 24-7! Sadder still is if WE think that is all there is.

Money has nothing to do with a Date Night. Activities together do not have to be about money – after all, unlike while dating, you’re certainly not going to impress the other half with anything expensive. If you’re poor or just financially-stretched at the moment, your partner is well aware of the fact and may even be reluctant or stressed by an extravagant outing!

Go to the park to walk, play card or board games, swing, or ride bikes. Too cold? Go to the Youth Center for exercise and games or McDonald’s for $1 coffee, games, and free wifi. The local mall is usually a good place to walk or shop for nonsensical, non-essential, weird things! Window shopping can be fun if buying is not the point, but rather passing the time. Go to the weird stores where you personally would never consider buying anything. Giggle at the strange items for sale and observe those seriously considering a purchase. People-watching is fun, not to make fun of others, but to see what impressions the world around us has on our spouse and to talk about those similarities and differences.

Time together is exceptionally important. Better to find out now if your spouse desires a “Nekid Room” like Terry Bradshaw’s character in the movie Failure to Launch. When the kids are grown and gone, after all, you’re going to be living alone with this person and it will be so much easier and pleasant if you genuinely like each other and have a variety of activities you already like to do together.


Marriage is difficult. This, my friends, is an understatement. You think you are on the same page, all is well, and then, BAM! Along comes a kid! Disagreements about diapers, how much powder to use, which bottles. Then they start walking and talking and there are three people’s opinions in the room. Instead of this blissful, young married couple, you are now an individual who is struggling to side with the adult you chose to go through life with, or the three-year-old.

Before getting married, the older, experienced people recommend counseling to the young people because they know the following should be considered. What if one of you wants to move because of a job opportunity, but the other one clearly should not? What will you do at at a family gathering around the holidays when his or her family is arguing or doesn’t like you? What will you do if she squirts his toothpaste out of the middle of the tube? What if he leaves the lid up? How will you deal with all this controversy?

It’s so annoying when you’re older and suddenly realize your mom, dad, grandma, or other relatives were right – they actually knew this was going to be difficult? Why didn’t anyone warn me? Oh, wait, I remember. I’m stubborn and knew it all.

Above all else, just know that life is full of challenges and obstacles in marriage and everywhere else; it’s normal. As Toby Mac says in one of his recent songs, “You’re not alone, we’ve all been there. Scars come with living.” Now add another person and you have twice the challenges. And scars. Twice the number of decisions to make and twice the number of opinions about what to do at any given moment: where to go for the holidays, what to eat for dinner, which day care, whether to work or stay at home, what color to paint the walls, to take a vacation or not, what can you afford to do, what to watch on tv, or should you just read a book? Your feelings will be hurt or you will hurt your spouse’s feelings.

Marriage and strife have been around for a long time. You’re not the first, nor will you be the last, to be cheated on, to have (un)grateful children, to have no children, to have financial challenges, to face death, to feel selfish, to make a long list of mistakes while your family continues to love you, producing guilt. Sometimes our narrow perspective makes it harder, “Oh, this is so difficult! No one can possibly have ever felt the betrayal, guilt, sadness that I’m feeling now. I’m so unique. How will I overcome what no one could possibly understand?” It doesn’t mean your feelings don’t matter, but rather that you, too can survive.

Guilt specifically can interfere for decades, even when you’ve been forgiven or have done the forgiving. Again, there are twice as many people remembering, forgetting, messing up, being perfect. We either feel guilty or are certain the other person darn well better feel guilty, just to keep things fair.

From the movie “Secondhand Lions”:

Garth: “…this was honest to God, no kidding, sure enough, once in a lifetime, love at first sight.”

Walter: “Wait a minute. If it was true love they would have been married and lived happily ever after, right?”

Garth: “Aren’t you getting ahead of the story?”

Neither “love at first sight” nor “true love” is enough. Assuming you both truly, deeply, with all your soul love each other, without strong dedication and determination, as well as support from family, good friends, church family, and divine intervention, the result can be divorce or messed up children, or even both.

Balance between love of self, spouse, and children is seriously tough, but possible. As Tim Allen says in the classic movie, Galaxy Quest, “Don’t give up. Never surrender.” You’ve got another 60-70 years ‘til death do you part! You can do it and there are people in your life who will help you!

Things Parents Should Say to Their Children

  1. I love you.
  2. No. I love you, but no.
  3. Be nice. [Because you are loved, show love and kindness to others.]
  4. Because I said so…and I love you.
  5. Clean your room…because you love yourself. […and I love you.]
  6. Not unless you do your chores and act like you love me.
  7. I’m your parent, not your friend, and I will love you forever.
  8. Do your homework, because I truly love you.
  9. Give me a hug, even if you don’t love me right now. [say it even if you don’t like them at that moment]
  10. There are rules and limits in our family because I love you.

Ellen and Fred

My sister Kim and I always loved playing basketball when we could do it for fun. In college I learned that you could join teams to play for fun (Intramurals), and I was hooked! I participated in flag football, frisbee golf, tennis, softball, basketball, and volleyball – ladies and mixed whenever possible. Because of my sports mania I was a gym rat, first at the Mabee Center at Hendrix, and then at the HPER Building at the UofA.

One day playing pick up games a the HPER I was wearing my very favorite outfit: flowery jungle print shorts and my yellow t-shirt my best friend Kathy Henry Baltz, gave me when we were at Hendrix that saii-be-ellend “I BE ELLEN” on the back. At dances my friends would sing/rap “You be Ellen” when dancing to the Run DMC song “You be Illin’.”

After one game a handsome guy came up to me and said, “Good game, Ellen.” Wishing to demonstrate my intelligence as well as amazing ball skills (?) I replied, “How do you know my name?” He replied, “It’s on the back of your shirt.”

According to this cute basketball stud, he went back to his group of friends and told them that he was going to get me – I would be his. This story was actually verified by our mutual friend Larry Butler because, well, I wasn’t certain of his veracity:-)

Thus began the story of Ellen and Fred. We just celebrated our 26th anniversary in October and I could not be happier to be with this man today. We have had what I believe to be more than our fair share of problems, pitfalls, and hurdles, but God has pushed us kicking and screaming at times through it all. The highlights are our children, the fact that my family, immediate and extended, love and adore my children and support my family (mixed though we may be), and inheriting the name Rainey from Carl & Icie…along with 14 siblings, their spouses & children, mounting to well over 40 immediate relatives on the Rainey side.

We continue to hit bumps as our lives change, as our children grow up, and we ourselves change as mature adults. Actually, when does the mature part actually take hold? I still feel like that 20-year-old girl in jungle print shorts trying to figure life out. The exception is that I have this confident man by my side to try to figure things out along the way.

Here’s to 26 more – minimum – Fred!

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