As books tend to do, Altar Ego: Becoming Who God Says You Are by Craig Groeschel came at just the right time for me. When I received an email from the publisher describing the book, I had begun a time of seeking: God, what do you have in store for me? How are you looking to mold and shape me so that I can carry out Your mission? What is my part in Your plan to make Your name great among the nations?
In part, the publisher’s blurb said: “Discover how to trade in your broken ego and unleash your altar ego to become a living sacrifice. Once we know our true identity and are growing in our Christ-like character, then we can behave accordingly, with bold behavior, bold prayers, bold words, and bold obedience.”
My ego (pride, holier-than-thou attitude, judgmental spirit) tends to get in the way of a lot of things, but fortunately God has been working on it through the years. (He has a big job!) So this book was one more step toward my being molded in His image.
The book has three parts:
- Part 1: Sacrificing Your False Self for Your Sacred Identity in Christ.
- Part 2: Sacrificing Cultural Relativity for Eternal Values.
- Part 3: Sacrificing Self-Justification for Passionate Obedience.
Part 1, while completely relevant, seemed like yet one more recitation of things I already knew: “You are God’s masterpiece,” “You are God’s ambassador,” etc. I appreciated the lessons but didn’t get as much out of it as I did the two other parts.
Even Part 2 was more or less a rehash of a lesson on proper living (things my ego tells me I already have a handle on!). So, again, relevant but not as compelling as Part 3.
I highlighted many passages in all three parts of the book, so it would be unfair to say that only the last section spoke to me.
But finally, in Part 3, the author gets to the meat I’m interested in chewing on: “Bold Behavior,” “Bold prayers,” “Bold words,” “Bold obedience.”
And, while I’ve heard over and over that we are to be bold for Christ (if you don’t believe me, read the Book of Acts – 28 chapters of boldness), it’s a lesson I can hear every day and not get enough of.
By nature, I’m an introvert, and I used to be excruciatingly, painfully, embarrassingly shy. I would beg God silently to send people to me – rather than me to them – to be my friends, to pay attention to me (even though I hated being in the spotlight!). I had a screwed-up idea of how human interaction is supposed to work, especially for one who claims Christ as Lord and Savior, someone who’s supposed to share the Good News with everyone.
At some point, I realized that I had to stop feeling sorry for myself and do some work. I started allowing God to put me in situations where I was uncomfortable, where I would be forced to put myself out there, meeting people, talking to them, actually interacting. In other words, being vulnerable. To be honest, I still don’t like it, but I’ve gotten used to it and now seek out situations where my human-interaction muscle can stretch and grow stronger, little by little. It’s a circle: As I step out, my faith grows. As my faith grows, I’m more willing to step out.
So the section of Altar Ego on boldness really hit home with me. Like I said, nothing too new – although said in a new way with illustrations unique to the author – but a challenge to continue building on the foundation God has laid for my life.
My life is not my own. I want to lay it on God’s altar, and I must – every day, every hour, every minute. Only He knows the perfect plan for my life, and yours. Let’s allow Him to lay it out for us, and then grab His hand as He leads us on the great adventure.
Let us be bold.
“ ‘And now, O Lord, hear their threats, and give us, your servants, great boldness in preaching your word. Stretch out your hand with healing power; may miraculous signs and wonders be done through the name of your holy servant Jesus.’ After this prayer, the meeting place shook, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit. Then they preached the word of God with boldness” (Acts 3:29-31, NLT).
This review is part of my agreement with Thomas Nelson through its BookSneeze project. It allows me to get free books in exchange for my honest review, whether I like the books or not. To learn more, click here.
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Friends, I’m gearing up to run my second half-marathon for Team Challenge, the fundraising and endurance-training program of the Crohn’s & Colitis Foundation of America. I ran my first half-marathon (and survived!) last fall in honor of my husband, Bruce, and my cousin Spencer. They both have Crohn’s disease, and I’d like to kick the crap out of Crohn’s, ulcerative colitis and every other disease like them.
We’d be honored and very appreciative if you’d donate to my half-marathon efforts. Your donation is tax deductible and will go toward CCFA research, education and support programs. If you donated to the cause last year, a huge thanks to you, but we need your help again.
Here are ways to donate:
1. Click here to go to my official Team Challenge fundraising page.
2. Mail me a check, made payable to CCFA or the Crohn’s & Colitis Foundation of America. (Leave a comment, which will provide me with your email address. Then I’ll email you my mailing address. You have the option of making your comment private, too. In that case, I’ll be the only one to see it.)
3. If you prefer to donate to our Take Steps Be Heard walks in Arkansas, click here. Bruce and I volunteer each year at both of Arkansas’ walks (in Little Rock and in NW Arkansas).
And if you’re a runner or walker and want more information on Team Challenge, please post a comment, email me, text me or post on my Facebook page. Or simply click here to visit the Team Challenge site and browse the info for yourself.
We appreciate your support more than we can say. And when we find a cure, you can say you were a part of it.
Suzy Taylor Oakley (and Bruce)
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I must have been tired, busy, distracted or just cranky when I started reading the biography J.R.R. Tolkien last year. I just couldn’t get into it. And when I picked it up a few weeks ago to try again, it still seemed dry and uninteresting.
But I had to finish it, because I had agreed to review it (more on that below). And I’m happy to say that, in the end, I liked this book.
Part of my interest in this fantasy writer and poet stems from the fact that my husband reads Tolkien’s The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings trilogy about once a year; and my brother, who usually is too busy living life to read much, read The Hobbit once upon a time – one of the few books he has ever read – and loved it.
Also, when I heard that Tolkien and C.S. Lewis (my favorite author) were friends (wow!), that sealed it for me. I had planned to read the Hobbit books for years (even before the movies of the early 2000s) but never had gotten around to it. And when I ordered the biography last year, I debated about whether to read it first or read the fantasy novels first. Will the biography help me enjoy the novels more, or will starting with the novels help me appreciate the bio more? The debate lasted so long, it took me months to get around to reading the bio (I finally decided to read it first, and I think I chose correctly).
So here we are at long last: I’m ready to share my thoughts on the biography.
The prosaically titled (and, at times, prosaically written) volume, written by Mark Horne as part of Thomas Nelson’s “Christian Encounters” series, begins with a tale of a 3-year-old John Ronald Reuel Tolkien (or, simply, Ronald), a tarantula bite and a quick-thinking nanny to the rescue. Giant scary spiders would figure into stories he wrote for his children, and longtime Tolkien fans will recall their presence in the Hobbit stories. But not because he remembered the tarantula – this was not a case of art imitating life. He later said he didn’t recall the tarantula bite as part of the incident – he simply remembered the heat of the day and running in fear through the tall, dead grass.
In other ways, though, the difficulties of his life did inform his writing. While he was still a child, he endured the deaths of both parents, and several resulting moves because of financial necessity and educational needs. His mother’s family ostracized her because of her Catholic faith – a factor that contributed to her death, in her older son’s opinion, and which may have strengthened his resolve to remain true to the faith.
Tolkien was born in South Africa, where his parents had relocated from England for financial reasons. When he was 3, his mother took him and his younger brother to England for a visit. The plan was for the boys’ father to join them later, but it was not to be; he developed a brain hemorrhage and was buried before his wife even received word that he had died.
Ronald’s diabetic mother died when he was 12. She made arrangements in her will for her friend and spiritual helper, Father Francis Morgan, to be her two boys’ legal guardian. Tolkien’s faith played an important role in his writing, even though he at one time said he preferred not to write overtly Christian stories but “to let readers make their own choices.” Still, his faith in God was communicated throughout his works of fiction. “Having written an epic of good versus evil, Tolkien left readers free to make up their own minds how to apply his fiction,” Horne writes.
Although his works portray the battle of good vs. evil, they also portray a world in which there is much beauty “and where there was true courage to do what is right even at great cost.” Even though I haven’t delved into his books yet, I’ve seen the first two movies in the LOTR trilogy and can attest to that point. “Tolkien portrayed a fantasy world that could not only entertain us but could also challenge and inspire us.”
Entertaining and inspiring stories aside, the area where I most identified with Tolkien – besides his love of languages and linguistics – was his perfectionism. I call myself a “recovering” perfectionist, but, oh, how I understood his extreme difficulty in letting go of a manuscript. He kept revising, changing, modifying and tweaking his stories. He never thought one was good enough to be published and was surprised at his novels’ success. (Similarly, it takes me forever to write a blog post, and once I’ve published it, I’m still not finished with it!) One theory for his procrastination problem was that Tolkien avoided completing a project “because doing so would mean that he was no longer being creative.” Maybe. But as a fellow sufferer of the disease of perfectionism, I doubt that was the main reason.
And then there was his obsession with The Silmarillion, which gives background and history to some of the people, places and things in his Hobbit books. The Sil seemed to be his pet story – or, as his biographer put it, “his life’s work” – but it’s one I have been advised by fans of his to save until later because of its dense history and similarity to the Old Testament! And, even though I rather like the OT, I’m taking the advice of my husband and my friend’s Facebook friend, with whom I got into a conversation about Tolkien and his works. I’ll start with The Hobbit.
I am leaving out major pieces of Tolkien’s history in this already-long post: his friendship and, later, break with fellow Oxford professor and fantasy/sci-fi writer C.S. Lewis; his service in World War I; his marriage; his children; his death; and so much more.
But any good writer should know when it’s time to shut up, and that time is now. I’ll leave you with this:
“Not all those who wander are lost.”
– J.R.R. Tolkien, The Fellowship of the Ring
Excuse me now – I have some Hobbits to get acquainted with.
I’ve been a part of Thomas Nelson’s BookSneeze project for nearly three years. It allows me to get free books in exchange for giving my honest opinion, whether I like the books or not. If you’d like to get in on this sweet deal, click the link above.
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“I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.” – John 10:10, NASB
Christmases in the Oakley house are pretty simple. I would characterize them as more sentimental than material, and for that I’m grateful. Being “poor” in worldly wealth (but not in spirit) has its advantages!
These are some of the things that have allowed me to feel abundantly blessed this Christmas:
Heavenly Treasures global market at our church. I bought gifts for all the women on the Taylor side of our family (immediately family, that is). All the proceeds go to small-business owners (which may simply mean one artisan struggling to feed her family somewhere in Cambodia, Vietnam or another area where poverty is the norm). Blessings: 1) We bought these gifts for a fraction of what we would have paid in stores; 2) they are handcrafted; 3) most of all, we helped someone who’s hurting in another part of the world.
I also took advantage of a clearance sale online and bought seven copies of a book I read years ago – a book I wish I could give to every woman I know: $5 apiece, one for each woman in the Taylor-Oakley clan.
My stepson, Courtney, who lives in Oklahoma, was blessed recently with a promotion and a good raise, and because one of my main missions in life is to help people be good stewards of their God-given blessings, instead of buying him a gift he doesn’t necessarily need, or writing him a check like we often do at Christmastime, we put money into his savings account at the bank where I work.
When I turned 50 last month, Bruce pooled his money with birthday money from my mom, and he took me to the jewelry store. (This is the type of splurge I rarely indulge in, but I figured a half-century was a special enough occasion.) He helped me pick out a beautiful opal ring. I’ve always loved opal, and this ring is so special to me.
So because we splurged at birthday time, we kept it simple for Christmas, although keeping it simple has always been our norm. We have such abundant blessings throughout the year, we don’t buy much for each other at Christmastime. We also have our anniversary coming up next week, so Bruce suggested we combine the occasions and buy a house gift for ourselves. We really don’t know what that might be, but while we were shopping Saturday for my brother and his stepson, we ran across a DVD copy of “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington.” (Bruce is a mixture of realist and sentimentalist, and often the sentimental side wins – he loves the idealism of this movie, and so do I, although I fall closer to the realist side of the fence. And we both love old movies and the great Jimmy Stewart.) So here’s a recap of our conversation in the store when I picked up the movie:
Me: “Do we have this on DVD?”
Bruce: “I don’t think we have it on DVD or anything else.”
Me: “Household gift. Ten dollars.”
End of conversation. End of Christmas shopping for Bruzy. Simple.
This type of Christmas spirit allows me to breathe during the holidays, because I hate shopping. It’s a little easier at Christmas because then I’m shopping for others, but I still would rather sit near a sunny window with a good book than fight the crowds at the shopping center.
I could listen to Amy Grant’s Christmas albums year-round. Oh, what am I saying – I do listen to Amy Grant’s Christmas albums year-round. You might hear “Tennessee Christmas,” “Breath of Heaven” or “Welcome to our World” in my car during the blazing heat of July. To me, these songs and albums are timeless and always a breath of fresh air. Each album is better than the last, and she includes some incredibly beautiful pieces in the mix. The last album, “A Christmas to Remember,” is especially full of pieces that cause me to stop what I’m doing (unless I’m driving), close my eyes and savor every note. I also tend to wear out my Christmas albums by: Collin Raye, Andrea Bocelli, The Carpenters, and John Denver & the Muppets. Heck, even the classically trained Bocelli sings with Miss Piggy on his album. My favorite Christmas song? “Oh Holy Night,” especially Martina McBride’s beautiful rendition. Bruce’s favorite? “Silent Night” – and John and the Muppets do a pretty good job of that, singing it first in German (the language it was written in), then English. Bocelli sings it in three languages.
Since we canceled our satellite service in August, I didn’t get to watch wall-to-wall Food Network like I love to do between October and December, and I didn’t get to OD on the sappy movies on Hallmark Channel, but we still have the good ol’ standbys on VHS (taped from TV in the mid-1980s) and a few on DVD. Another challenge this year: Bruce and I had about four weeks to pull together the White River Christmas Half-Marathon & Relay (long story), and my only Christmas-special “viewing” would fall more into the category of background noise. Nevertheless, I got to listen to these as I did my half-marathon work or cooked for family: Rudolph, Frosty, Charlie Brown (I love Linus’ soliloquy on “what Christmas is all about”), and my favorite, the Grinch (another lesson on the true meaning of Christmas, plus it rhymes!). I also had these movies in the VCR: “Christmas in Connecticut” (my favorite Christmas movie, but only the Barbara Stanwyck version) and “White Christmas” – “snow, snow, snow, snow!” I think I even listened to “National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation” early in the season. Oh, I almost forgot: I did get to sit and watch an entire movie, start to finish, when Bruce and I spent Dec. 23 with Mom watching the remake of “Miracle on 34th Street.” (The 1994 version isn’t quite as good as the original, but the cute little girl and the beautiful scenery [and wardrobe] make up for it.) Movies I didn’t get to watch: “It’s a Wonderful Life” and “A Christmas Story.” (There’s still time, right?)
FAMILY (FURRY AND FOUR-LEGGED)
Our two fur-babies are … well, my babies. I have a stepson, but I never gave birth to children of my own, and Salsa and Pepper warm my heart every day, even 30 seconds after they’ve infuriated me by wetting the carpet, barking incessantly or begging for snacks. We call our girls The Spice Dogs, and when I created this blog in 2007, they were part of the inspiration for the name (I was also baking spice cookies that evening). They’re good help around the kitchen, too: When I drop a bit of food while chopping, mincing or mixing, they rush to help me clean it up.
I’m writing this on Christmas morning, 10 a.m. (savoring a steamy and wonderful cup of coffee with my favorite flavored creamer). We’ve spoken to some family members by phone today but haven’t gathered for the big celebration yet. We’ll go to Mom’s later for a feast of food and fellowship (more on the food below). I look forward to seeing those I rarely see throughout the year because of busyness, physical distance or, dare I say, apathy (on my part as much as anyone’s).
Bruce has been sick the past couple of weeks, and I’ve been trying to figure out why this cold/sinus junk has caused me more worry than other recent minor ailments. And why I might have seemed to overreact yesterday when he wanted to run a longer distance than I thought he should. Could it be that we’re “overdue” for a Crohn’s flare-up? The average for Crohn’s patients is 5 years, and his latest flare-up started in 2007 (and I did not marry an “average” guy!). I realize that it’s insane to worry – God has us covered. I suppose it’s just an opportunity to flex my trust muscles; after all, He is the Great Physician.
On Christmas Eve, Bruce got an opportunity to be the social guy that he is. We started with an afternoon run with some dear friends, the Tuckers; a family member, Bill, from out of town whom we had never had the opportunity to run with before; an awesome running buddy, Rita – who is growing to be a great running partner for me because, even though she’s a lot faster, she is sweetly willing to hang back with me, the slow one. She and I have had some great conversations, and she’s really fun (yesterday, we conspired to pretend we ran up a crazy hill when we saw Bruce and Shane – and I swear it was her idea! Unfortunately, we topped the hill and the guys hadn’t paid a bit of attention to us!).
I should have a separate category called Family (Running), because our running family is really precious to us. No space today to count all the ways, but in the spirit of Christmas, I’ll mention the great run last Tuesday night before our Roadrunners club Christmas party. Again, the speedsters took off without Slow Suzy, but Rita stayed behind with me. (She has a good heart.) On another note, I loved being able to attend a Christmas party in my sweaty leggings, running shirt and sports watch. (That’s just the way we roll!) This was only three days after my work Christmas party, which was beautiful and wonderful (except for the slightly inebriated Santa), but for which I made a most unfortunate choice of shoes, one of which had to come off before the party was over because my left foot was killing me!
But back to the main topic: Family (Human). After our run, I rushed to get clean and start the pecan pies, which needed to be out of the oven by 4:45 so we could attend the Christmas Eve service at Mom’s church. This church service has become a bit of a tradition for Bruce and me, starting even before we moved here in 2010. West Baptist always has a beautiful Christmas Eve service (which could also fall under the Music category). As I was whipping up the filling for the pies, I realized that someone had put the vanilla extract bottle into the cupboard with about three drops of extract remaining. (Seriously, who would do that?) Mom – on speed dial – to the rescue. Fortunately she’s less than a mile away. I sent Bruce over there, told him not to stop by our church to make sure the bathrooms were clean (part of his job), not to pass Go, not to collect $200. Just get back here with the vanilla. And he did.
The pies? Well, let’s just say the jury’s still out. I had to leave them in the oven (turned off) and put them back on to bake after all the evening’s festivities. I’m still not sure they’re quite right. But I’m also pretty sure no one will leave the table hungry this afternoon, pecan pies or no.
But wait! There’s more! (Isn’t there always?)
After the service at West, we went to my Aunt Pat’s across the street from our house. Her son-in-law, the aforementioned Bill (running buddy from out of town), had requested a family get-together in the spirit of the old days (the old days of our family, that is). Aunt Pat’s relatives from both sides gathered in her kitchen, which is only cramped when lots of relatives visit. Strange, she noted, we have all this space in the rest of the house, but everyone congregates in the kitchen and dining room. Not strange to me at all – Aunt Pat makes some of the best holiday treats west of the Mississippi. Can you say peanut butter fudge?
And then … we left that party to go to our church, Fellowship Bible Church in the old Landers Theater on Main Street. Whereas the West Baptist celebration was bright, colorful and upbeat, the Fellowship service was quiet, candlelit and reverent. Both services were full of beautiful music, and each was unique and meaningful in its own way. Each service fed my spirit and focused light on the One whose birth we celebrate, and whose Light takes away the darkness.
The Oakleys ended the evening together quietly – mama in her kerchief (OK, a red plaid flannel PJ shirt) and papa in his cap (his ubiquitous hooded sweatshirt), with one of the fur-children nestled under her bed down the hall and the other one begging for belly rubs. Both two-legged Oakleys spent the next hour reading, growing sleepy and sipping … okay, people, I’m not gonna lie. I wasn’t sipping a picture-perfect mug of steamy hot chocolate. I was indulging in a 10 p.m. glass of diet Coke, which I rarely drink after 3 p.m. And Bruce was sipping apple juice or water or something.
Now back to our fantasy.
Three things I almost insist on having at Thanksgiving and Christmas are pecan pie, Cranberry Salad (made with red gelatin, apples, oranges, pineapple and pecans) and Aunt Pearl’s Potatoes. (As I’ve mentioned before, we don’t have an Aunt Pearl and have no idea who she is, but we loooove her hash-brown casserole!) And because I’m the one who has a strong need for these three dishes, I’ve become the designated maker of them. How else am I going to be sure it happens? The pies … we’ll see. (Dec. 29 update: Let’s just call them “pie soup” and be done with it.) The cranberry stuff is ready, and the potatoes will go into the oven soon.
I also have a year-round craving to bake, but my schedule doesn’t allow it very often anymore, so the holidays are when I get to indulge in that. Even when I’m tired, baking sweet treats, breads, even pizza dough, makes me very, very happy.
And then there are the dirty dishes. But since this is a post about counting blessings, being with family and remembering our Savior’s birth, we’ll skip over that part.
Post-script: leftovers (lots of them)
Have you ever eaten mashed potatoes for breakfast? Yeah, me, too.
My dad died 15 years ago this week. Every Dec. 23, I think about the day he died. That was a day full of pain and sadness, but knowing that my dad knew Jesus makes it so much easier. Even on that day, we had a measure of indescribable peace knowing he was no longer in pain (the pain my brother and I had known him to have our entire lives) and he is with Jesus now. Dad had told a relative just that morning that he was ready to go and was not afraid to die. None of us knew then that this would be his last day on earth. But we have the hope that surpasses all human ability to understand, and that’s because we know the Savior he rests with now.
Dad died 11 days before my wedding. In the ICU, when we weren’t sure whether he could hear us or not, as I held his hand I told him he needed to stick around and give me away next week, that I wasn’t ready to let go of him. But the Father had other plans, and Dad was gone within a couple of hours. That’s OK. My plans aren’t necessarily God’s plans, and His ways are not always my ways. He is sovereign, He is wise and He is, above all, GOOD. He takes care of us, even when we don’t always like how He goes about it. But even amid the not-liking, we had blessings: My Uncle Charles and Aunt Pat, who had just arrived at their daughter Kathy’s house in South Carolina when they got the news of Dad’s death in the evening, turned right around the next morning and drove back to Arkansas. They were here in time for his funeral. Now, that’s family.
God has blessed me with good family, good friends, a good job, an abundance of physical comforts (too much sometimes) and an ever-increasing awareness of just how good He really is. I thank Him for everyone He has put into my life, whether it’s to teach me, to reach me or just to bless me with caring and warmth.
As we celebrate His incarnate presence on the earth, may each of you feel His love, remember His sacrifice and give your life to Him.
For unto us a Child is born,
Unto us a Son is given;
And the government will be upon His shoulder.
And His name will be called
Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
– Isaiah 9:6, NKJV
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This morning, someone at church asked me about our Thanksgiving plans, and naturally our conversation turned to food (I’m sure I was the one to bring it up). She was intrigued by my talk of “hash brown casserole,” and I told her I’d publish the recipe here.
Several years ago the recipe for Aunt Pearl’s Potatoes came into our family. We don’t have an Aunt Pearl, and no one really knows who the heck she is or was. But, boy, do we love her potato casserole! It’s a treat to make this because we reserve it for Thanksgiving and Christmas. It has become my job to make it because I’ll be the one with the biggest serving on my plate (turkey? who needs turkey?), and I’m the one who would complain the loudest if this dish wasn’t on the table. (And being the designated maker of this dish, I can make as much as I want and save some aside in my own fridge – who’s gonna know?)
We’re probably going to eat our main Thanksgiving meal at a restaurant this year, but do you think I’m going to miss an opportunity to make these potatoes? Well, do you? (I didn’t think so.)
So here it is, Aunt Pearl’s Potatoes. And for anyone looking for the nutritional content of this dish, just forget it. Even if we knew, we wouldn’t burden you with that here. It’s Thanksgiving – a time of year we forget we’re supposed to be sensible about food!
I’m giving you the recipe 1) below and 2) as a downloadable PDF. There are two identical recipes on the PDF (I hate to waste paper, so there’s one for you and one to share.) To download the PDF, click the link below, then click the icon; it will download to your computer.
Aunt Pearl’s Potatoes
2 12-oz. bags hash browns, thawed
2 cups shredded Cheddar cheese
16 oz. sour cream or Greek yogurt
1 can cream of chicken soup
1/2 cup chopped onion
1 tsp. salt
2 sticks melted butter (divided use)
2 cups crushed corn flakes
Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.
In large casserole dish, mix first 6 ingredients (hash browns through salt) with 1 stick of butter. Sprinkle with corn flakes and drizzle with 2nd stick of butter. Bake for 1 hour.
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I’m ready to admit it.
I suffer from attention deficit disorder. If I wasn’t certain of it before, I am now. Technology has propelled me toward this official self-diagnosis.
My book collection not only clutters my house; it’s beginning to clutter my electronic bookshelf.
When we finally sold our house in North Little Rock a year ago, we made a small profit and indulged in some techy stuff. Two days before my birthday, I got a smart phone. A few weeks later we got an iPad, and a couple of months after that we got a new laptop. All Apple products (yes, we’re “Mac snobs” and have been for years).
All these electronic devices now “sync” with one another. That’s a good thing and a bad thing.
One good thing is apps.
Another good thing is the Cloud.
When you have three complementary electronic gadgets, all from the same brand, apps and clouds can be a lovely thing.
It means you can load up with BOOKS. And read them anywhere.
Have I mentioned that I LOVE BOOKS? Not lately, but, yes, I have mentioned it. Unfortunately a bunch of Suzy & Spice got wiped out a few months ago, so some of my book-loving references have gone away. Poor you. Because some of them were book reviews. About books I got FREE just for writing reviews about them. (One really cool thing about that is that a couple of these books’ authors posted thank-you comments at Suzy & Spice. And another one saw my previous reviews and wrote me a letter asking me to review her new book. So I did.)
But back to the book clutter.
Bruce Oakley and I (I’ve begun calling him “Bruce Oakley” since he got his own Facebook page; if you FB much, you’ll understand) … well, we love books.
This can be a dangerous thing.
Our house in North Little Rock, the one we sold because we moved to Batesville, had wall-to-wall built-in bookcases in three rooms. It’s basically what sold us on the house 13 years ago, especially for Bruce Oakley, who never met a book he wanted to give away.
That’s not entirely true; he has managed to part with several items from our vast collection before and since we moved from a 2,600-square-foot house to a 1,740-square-foot house.
But, golly, do we still have lots of books! We even have boxes of them that we still haven’t unpacked 2½ years after moving.
I’m working on that. Got it down to just a couple of boxes now. Cookbooks, classic books, running books, gardening books, financial stewardship books, you name it. Books, books, books.
If you’re a true book lover, you understand how hard it is to part with a book – or to pass up a free book on a give-away table. (Many of our books were acquired when we worked for “the state’s largest newspaper” – books from the food editor’s table, or the religion editor’s table, sometimes even the travel editor’s table [even though I don’t really enjoy reading “travel” books]. Heck, we even got some of the books from the book editor’s table! Imagine that.)
We’ve acquired a couple more bookcases in the past several months. We have one still in the box – we’re still trying to decide where to squeeze it in (we bought the bookcase for my mom, but she changed her mind and we decided to keep it). We recently hung shelves in the office/sewing room to store non-book items so we could be a little more organized. This has meant some of the boxes on the floor under the table in that room have been emptied onto the bookshelves and other things have taken their place. (Sounds contradictory and counterproductive, but organizing clutter is a process, people!)
A work in progress. Still working on unpacking, sorting … and reading.
Nevertheless, we have given away a few dozen books in the past couple of years. I’ve donated several to our “church library,” which doesn’t really exist except for a small collection of books that I donated in the hopes of someday having a real church library. Our church here Batesville is a lot smaller than our church in North Little Rock, and I realize that when and if I decide to push for a “real church library,” I no doubt will be elected its first librarian. (Be careful what you wish for.) And we sent a bunch to a friend’s son who’s in the Peace Corps in Rwanda. He lives in a house with no electricity and has to read books with a headlamp. Does that make you more fully appreciate your books, your good lighting and your ability to read? I hope so. It does me.
But back to the electronic techno-gadget-thingie stuff.
Paring down our collection of physical books has been a good thing, spacewise, but now … I have discovered ebook readers! (Discovered is not so much the word as now have access to, on all my cool electronic devices.)
And what’s even better (or worse, depending on your perspective) is that you can obtain books with “1-Click” ordering, and many of these ebooks are FREE!
Did I mention that I love FREE?
And here’s where the ADD admission comes in: Just like with my physical stack of books and magazines on the nightstand, and on the floor by the bed (and in the tote bag I carry to work every day), I have a virtual stack of books that is beginning to pile up in my electronic cloud. (A cloud means you can access the same stuff from different devices by being signed in using the same username and password. It even remembers where you are in your book, magazine or newspaper so that when you’re on a road trip with your iPad, say, you can pick up where you left off reading on your laptop back home in your cozy chair. A virtual bookmark.)
But here’s the really embarrassing part: The reason there’s such a pile is that I start a book and don’t necessarily finish it right away. Right away meaning within the next couple of years. And then I pick up a different kind of book and don’t finish it, either.
Here’s an example, and why it can be so embarrassing: A friend and former colleague of mine from 20 years ago wrote a novel that has been quite well received. It has gotten some really, really good reviews. Right after (or maybe right before) it hit bookstores two years ago, I mentioned it to Bruce, who emailed my author friend and said he’d like to buy an autographed copy for me for our anniversary.
Well … my friend wouldn’t let Bruce pay for the book, promptly shipping us a copy along with a note saying it was good to reconnect after losing touch.
I emailed him to say thanks, and that since he wouldn’t let Bruce pay for the book, we donated $25 to Heifer International in his honor. And then we got to talking about the past few years.
Some history: He and I worked together at a newspaper in California. He was my supervisor, and I was the first babysitter of his first child. I really liked his wife, and in fact I still have a photo on my wall of her standing next to me, both of us smiling as I proudly hold their new baby girl. I house-sat for him and his wife for a week (someday I’ll tell you about having to crawl through their doggie door when the garage-door key wouldn’t work). I swam in their pool, loved on their pets and ate dinner with them once or twice. That was pretty much the extent of our socializing. (It’s hard to socialize with someone you work with when you’re both on the evening shift and have different nights off.) We were friends but not BFF’s, you know what I mean?
So when I moved away, and then he moved back to Seattle, we gradually became the kind of friends who only exchange Christmas cards, except that I am terrible at sending Christmas cards. It was kind of one-sided. I enjoyed seeing the kids age as the years passed, but it wasn’t enough to prompt me to get off my duff and actually send them a card.
One year I noticed that the Christmas cards were signed with only his and the kids’ names. No wife’s name. And since it’s not the sort of thing you write back about and say, “What, did you get divorced or something?” I simply wondered what had happened.
A few years later the cards stopped coming. Can’t say I blame him, I thought. I never send them a card.
So it was one of those wish we hadn’t lost touch kinds of things. Someone you really like and admire but no longer know much about.
And when we started emailing two years ago, my friend shared some of what had happened in the intervening years. Yes, they had split up. She moved away, and later was killed. To honor his privacy, and since I haven’t read all the book-publicity interviews to know how much he has shared publicly, I won’t say more than that.
But he told me that’s where the book came from. This experience of losing this woman he had loved, the mother of his children.
The book’s main character is a teenage boy who has lost his twin brother, so the circumstances are different, but you can still feel the pain and grief as my friend fictionalizes this horrific and life-altering thing that happened to his family.
The book is really, really good (except for the occasional foul language, which offends me on one level but remains true to the teenage character).
And two years later, I still have not finished reading it.
But let me defend myself just a little. For the past four years, I’ve been in school at night while working full time during the day. Because of Bruce’s disease, I’m now the main breadwinner. I was trying to get a second degree because of my midlife career change, which happened out of necessity (it allowed us to move to Batesville, where the job opportunities are far fewer).
I was crazy half the time, trying to keep up with it all. This past spring, I decided not to return to school in the fall. I regret that I couldn’t finish what I started, but it was the right decision for my family.
And I’m just now catching up with my life. And my books.
In the spirit of decluttering our house, I was overjoyed to be able to start obtaining virtual books. I have a couple of snob friends – or really just one snob friend who has several snob Facebook friends – who wouldn’t be caught dead with an electronic book reader. They are old-school when it comes to books. They prefer to read them the old-fashioned way – on paper.
Too bad for them. There are so many advantages to ebooks. (Don’t worry, I won’t bore you with the list today.)
And then, a few weeks ago, while I was jogging with a couple of friends, one of them mentioned a book she got from Inspired Reads, a service that offers free (did I mention I love free?) and very inexpensive books for your Kindle. Well, I was all over that. I found the website, signed up for the daily emails and began amassing my collection of books for Kindle. (Did you know you can download a free Kindle app and not have to purchase the actual Kindle device? So then you can download free Kindle books! I also have iBooks, but the Inspired Reads selections are for the Kindle.)
And the books you can download (free!) aren’t just stupid, crappy books that no one wants to read. There are some good, thoughtful reads out there. They’re “the best Christian Kindle Books on a Budget.”
In the Inspired Reads daily email, you first have to wade through the list of Christian fiction, most of which doesn’t really light my fire, but then you get to the non-fiction, which has some good titles. You should check it out. Most days I just skim the list and delete the email because, even though they’re free, I simply don’t need to download every single free book out there. When I said I had begun “amassing my collection,” I didn’t mean that quite as literally as it sounds. I’m building my electronic library slowly, trying to be selective while also taking advantage of some of the books I otherwise would pass up. Because they’re FREE.
And I know of another great way to get free books.
If you’re a blogger, check out BookSneeze, another site with Christian books. BookSneeze will send you a book (physical or electronic) just for agreeing to review it on your blog and post the review on a book-related website (such as Christianbook.com or Amazon.com). I’ve obtained several free books from BookSneeze, and most of them are really good. Book Sneeze doesn’t require you to write a positive review – just your honest opinion.
So … back to the ADD thing again. (See what I mean?) I start reading a book, life gets busy, I stop reading the book, and I pick up a different book and start reading that one. Then life gets busy and the cycle starts all over. I have several unread books, just waiting to be loved.
But I’m turning over a new leaf, so to speak. I’m not going to start reading any new ones until the previous pile is finished.
Notice I didn’t say I would stop obtaining new books, just reading new ones. After all, who can pass up a free ebook?
I should be finished with Adios Nirvana within the next week.
What books are on your nightstand and piled next to the bed? What books do you need to finish before adding more to your stash? Tell me, tell me!
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Several months ago, I updated my blog-hosting software and lost a BUNCH of posts. Starting with this one (written in the summer of 2011), I’m going to republish my favorites. Keep in mind that this one was funnier when I originally posted it because I do a lot of editing between the time I write my posts in Word and finally hit Publish on the tweaked version. But I’m not going to go back and edit this one. Much.
If you’re the type of woman who takes sports bras with spaghetti straps seriously, stop reading this now and race to the nearest stick-thin-supermodel website (I have no clue what site that might be).
I mean it! Stop reading now! You obviously do not need a sports bra, because you are flat chested and will not be able to relate to the rest of this post.
Go ahead; move along.
Okay, now that they’re gone, I can talk to the rest of you ladies, who know what it’s like to stuff your girls into a real undergarment:
In November  I took up the “sport” (some might call it “exercise in self-torture”) of running. I hadn’t run in a few years, and I had exactly three leftover athletic bras in the bottom of a spare dresser drawer: two black, from 10 years ago – the first time I tried to be a “serious” runner – and a white one from a few years later. All three have shrunk over the years of bouncing, sweating and washing (but hanging to dry), and my body has gone the other direction. (I now refer to myself as full figured, with homage to the recently departed Jane Russell.)
I had been complaining about the old, uncomfortable bras for weeks, so when Bruce and I went to North Little Rock recently for my annual cardiologist checkup, we went on a quest for a sports bra or two (I had tried to find my old brand online and in local stores but couldn’t find my size in the style I need).
Let me tell you, there are gazillions of sports bras out there, but, for one reason or another, most of them do not work for full-figured women. Let me count the ways:
1. Most of them nowadays go over your head rather than hooking in the back or the front. I wish you could have seen me in the first dressing room, trying to pull one slightly stretchy (not too stretchy or it won’t support) contraption over my head and down into place without causing major tissue damage (or under-my-breath swearing).
On second thought, I don’t wish you could have seen (or heard) me. It wasn’t pretty. At all.
I didn’t even get the thing all the way on before I knew (with that sick feeling a small furry creature gets right before the snake eats it for lunch) that it just wasn’t going to work. It would have been stupid to continue trying.
But you know what was even stupider? In another store, I tried another over-the-head contraption. Same result: Back over my head before it was fully in place.
(Why do they think pullover bras should even exist, anyway? The only thing I can think of is, they’re a fashion statement. For the women who are no longer reading this post.)
2. Most sports bras are too stretchy and not supportive enough. You know, for full-figured gals. The entire point (no pun intended) of a sports bra is to smash you flat so as to prevent bouncing – or so I thought, until I met the sports-bra saleswoman of my dreams (more on that later).
Don’t the sports-bra designers know that the women who really and truly need sports bras are those of us who weigh more than 80 pounds soaking wet? Last time I weighed 80 pounds, I hadn’t hit puberty and running hadn’t even been invented.
3. Sports bras for full-figured women come in exactly two colors: White and black. You could bust me (no pun intended, really) right here for being a hypocrite because of the whole spaghetti-strap thing, but we full-figured gals do like a little variety in our fabric choices every now and then. While I do not believe in wearing your underwear on the outside – as a fashion statement or, poor you, because it’s just so darned hot you have to take your tiny little shirt off when you run – it is nice to have more than two colors to choose from. I personally think white underwear is boring, and I like to have a rainbow of colors to choose from. (And, as far as the lack of variety in big-girl-sports-bra colors goes, thin women do not even realize this is an issue.)
(Apologies to those who think the preceding paragraph was TMI [Mom, that means “too much information”].)
So, by the second pullover-bra fiasco, I had learned my lesson, meaning I had exhausted all hope of finding an appropriate bra in my new hometown and would have to go to my old, larger hometown to shop. (Do you know how much I hate to shop? Probably not, but that’s a topic for another day.)
So off to central Arkansas we went.
Bruce and I, intrepid explorers that we were (on that particular day, at least), went to two big-chain sports superstores and two locally owned running stores (we like the latter better, but the two big multipurpose stores were closer – plus we were also looking for bowling balls – so we went there first).
At the first store created exclusively for runners, a new place in the Heights called Go! Running, we found not only a brand I had never heard of (Moving Comfort) but some of the best customer service you could ask for. The owner, Erin, won me over with her knowledge, friendliness and willingness to serve, even though I left the store without making a purchase. She did order a bra for me, after I had tried on one that was close to my size. She explained that a sports bra shouldn’t just mash you flat and that this particular bra had features that made running more comfortable (I’m trying to spare you the details). She also told me I had several colors to choose from!
She had to take a phone call, so she told an employee what bra should be ordered for me (in a nice bluish-purple) and sent me to the front of the store to leave my contact information. (That evening when I got home, the employee called to say she was about to order the bra but that I would need to pick another color. My size comes only in two colors – you guessed it: black and white.)
After we left Go! Running, we went to Easy Runner, an older, more established store well known to Arkansas runners. (It has moved to the upscale Pleasant Ridge Town Center on west Cantrell Road.) There, they had the Moving Comfort brand in my size (but not the same model), so at least I know that this particular brand runs true to my size. I did not buy anything there but left convinced that the bra I ordered at Go! Running would work for me.
Afterward I wrote a thank-you note to Erin for her outstanding customer service. When she received it, she left a message on my answering machine to thank me for the thank-you note and said it was going up in her office.
I may not be rich, but I am willing to pay a few dollars more for an item (especially an item that is as much sought-after as this bra was to me) when I am treated with the respect, courtesy and friendly service that Erin showed me that day. (I got good service at Easy Runner, too.)
Tomorrow we go back to North Little Rock to finish painting the house and to plant some spring flowers, and I’ll go pick up my black Moving Comfort bra at Go! Running. I hope Erin is there so I can thank her again, in person, for treating this full-figured gal as though I were as fit and thin as a triathlete.
Ladies, that is how to buy a sports bra.
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“Go out there and run to the best of your ability,” he replied. “Don’t run with your legs. Run with your heart.” On some level, even as a high school freshman, I got his meaning: the human body has limitations; the human spirit is boundless.
– Ultramarathon Man by Dean Karnazes
Mom and me, post-race.
I ran my first half-marathon yesterday morning (yes, it was still morning when I finished!)
In case you don’t know, a half-marathon is 13.1 miles. This was the longest I had ever run (12 miles was my longest training run in prep for the race.)
But this wasn’t just any run, and it wasn’t just any half-marathon. It was the one and only, inaugural (for me) half-marathon I chose because of what it supports: the Crohn’s & Colitis Foundation of America (CCFA).
Many of you know that my husband, Bruce, has suffered from Crohn’s disease since just before our first wedding anniversary. He spent that first Christmas in the hospital, and he was so sick I wasn’t sure he was going to make it. (Among other things, his entire digestive tract, from mouth to anus, was full of ulcers. Sorry for the butt talk, but part of raising awareness is getting people used to talking about unpleasant things – and helping people understand how hideous the disease can be. I’m actually sparing you the grossest details.)
Nearly 14 years and two more ugly flare-ups later, he’s dealing with what is our “new normal”: functioning, but at a diminished capacity from what my once very-active husband had been used to. (He’s the one who taught me to love running.)
And three years ago, my cousin’s then-10-year-old son, Spencer, was diagnosed with Crohn’s. And we have a teenage friend at our church, also named Spencer, who has Crohn’s. And an adult at church with Crohn’s. Get the picture? I want to kick the crap out of Crohn’s disease, and I want to do it, like, yesterday.
So that’s why I ran 13.1 miles yesterday.
I never intended to run a half-marathon. Six months ago it wasn’t even on my radar. But when some of the crazy-running-chick friends I hang with started talking about running a Half in October, naturally my thoughts turned to, “Could I?” I had certainly gotten addicted to running in the past couple of years (as I’ve said before, it’s like crack). I credit my friends’ ambitions with getting me on the road, so to speak, to my decision – to explore strange new worlds, to seek out new life and new civilizations, to boldly go where Suzy has never gone before (sorry – couldn’t resist the Star Trek reference).
Despite the grand illusions (delusions?), I had more or less decided that I wouldn’t run such a long-distance race. I have a mild heart condition, which worries my mother but not my cardiologist so much, and I had knee surgery 13 months ago, so I thought I’d just be kind to my body and stick with shorter races.
But in mid-June, when my new love of running supercollided with a cause I believe in with all my heart, the decision was practically made. The day after I got the email about Team Challenge, CCFA’s half-marathon training program to raise money for research and awareness, I signed up. (I would have signed up the same day, but you know me: I can’t do anything big without thoroughly researching it first. I left voice mails and emails for the Arkansas and the national people in the know; I texted; I read all the info online, etc. Next thing I knew, I was a Team Challenge member!)
I want to tell you all about Team Challenge in more detail, but today’s post is more about yesterday’s event and what got me there. I’ll cheerlead for the Team Challenge program in a post very soon.
The main thing I want to say about yesterday’s race has more to do with what came before it than with the actual event.
I want to say THANK YOU to all of you who supported me. For some that meant donations of money, for others donations of your time, talents and effort, and for still others it meant prayers, words of encouragement and general moral support. Some of you donated money out of your abundance (wallets and hearts), and some of you scraped up donations sacrificially because you believed in the cause, or maybe you just believed in me – or in a gracious God who has blessed you and you wanted to bless others.
I get teary-eyed just thinking about all of you.
My race shirt, bib and “top fundraiser” tag.
And, yes, I thought about each and every one of you as I ran, walked, sweated and even endured a brief bout of stomach cramps and nausea yesterday. I prayed for you; thanked God for such incredibly generous (of heart and wallet) friends, co-workers, church members and family who helped me get to the finish line (heck, you helped me get to the start line); and celebrated how generous God has been in putting you in my life. You will never know how much you mean to me. (By the way, you helped me take fifth-place honors in the fundraising.) And special shout-outs to Bruce, who jogged shortcuts to particular mile markers to take pictures of me, snapped me crossing the finish line and was my main cheerleader, even though he really wanted to be out there with me, running the whole race; to Mom, who traveled with us to Nashville so she could watch her baby cross the finish line (alive!); and to our sweet friends the Tuckers – Betsy dropped by my workplace Thursday morning to bring me a surprise: a great card about “amazing women” and a package of pre- and post-race energy goodies (Betsy has been my second-biggest cheerleader along the way, always telling me how proud she is of my accomplishments, and Tommy has offered his share of encouraging words).
I wish I could say the finish line of yesterday’s race was the finish line of Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis, irritable bowel syndrome and every other ugly disease we watch our loved ones suffer through, but for me it was just the renewing of my commitment to raise awareness and funds for CCFA.
Next month, Bruce and I will sit in the Mission tent of CCFA’s Take Steps Walk in northwest Arkansas, as we have done for the past three years. We were on the ground floor of helping establish a CCFA chapter in Arkansas in 2010. Many of you helped us with that, for the Little Rock walks and the NWA walks (thank you).
But this year in our Mission tent will be a huge poster of Suzy’s first Team Challenge half-marathon, because next year I plan to return to Nashville with an Arkansas team! (This year I and the only other Team Challenge participant from Arkansas were placed on the National Team. But we’re gonna change that!) And since my official half-marathon coaching this year was “virtual” (our training sessions were in the form of emails and a weekly conference call from Coach Dave, and we had mentors and other support for the fundraising part), next year I’ll have the benefit of a real-live, local running coach. You know who I’m talking about, don’t you? (His name starts with B and ends with “ruce.”)
So, look out, Team Challenge: Suzy’s on a mission!
I still haven’t reached my fundraising goal and have a few weeks left. If you’d like to be a part of curing Crohn’s disease, click here to make a donation.
Arkansas had 42 participants in Saturday’s race, including two of us from Batesville. To view the official results, visit Nashville Women’s Half Marathon
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I learned a few things during my 8-mile run this morning:
• Gu is nasty. Gu is not for people, like me, who have a strong gag reflex.
Several running friends had told me about the taste/texture of Gu (an energy gel) when I inquired on Facebook a few weeks ago. Colyn summed it up when he said: “Gu makes me want to hurl.” (Or something like that.)
Now I get it. One swallow, one reaction: Yuck. (No, I didn’t hurl, but I had a psychedelic flashback to a 2008 medical procedure in which I had to swallow a thick, numbing gel so they could stick a scope down my throat. As I said in a previous post, there’s a reason they don’t want you to eat before these procedures.)
For sale: 1½ packets of Gu (one slightly used). Call me if you’re interested.
• Watching Olympians isn’t just fun – it inspires you to do more, and better.
I watched the last 8 miles of the Women’s Olympic Marathon yesterday morning. I tell ya, those skinny chicks can run! And, no matter how many hills they encounter, they don’t slow down to a walk. Only in my wildest dreams can I imagine not walking a step during a 26.2-mile race. But today I can imagine jogging 13.1 miles without walking. (Hey, I can dream, can’t I?)
Here’s what watching 8 miles of Olympic women did for me:
Last week had turned out to be kind of an off week in my half-marathon training. Because of some unanticipated circumstances (and a dash of poor planning), I didn’t get in a long run Saturday or Sunday – both days I usually go long – so I was feeling kind of lazy.
I’m taking a vacation day today, so I had talked my night-owl husband and our young friend Sam into doing their early-Monday workout even earlier – with me – and then I kinda flaked out on them. We were going to meet at the high school at 6:30, and Sam wanted to do speed work on the trail instead of the track. Well, I can’t do speed work with Bruce and Sam (they’re much faster than I am), so I decided to do my long run by jogging to BHS instead of driving there with Bruce. It’s about 8 miles round trip, so I left at 6 a.m. (I figured Bruce would be late, anyway.)
The only time I saw either of them is when Bruce passed me in the car on his way to meet Sam. He slowed down to ask if I needed anything and then drove on.
I was going uphill when he saw me, and I was jogging, not walking. Score!
In fact, I jogged more uphills than I have in a really long time, and it was easier this time. I had gotten quite lazy in my workouts since adding distance. I told myself it was the distance or the time out there that mattered – not the actual miles per hour. So I hadn’t been increasing my speed much.
I had gotten really lazy.
The difference this morning? Determination. Inspiration. Low humidity.
I had been thinking about those Olympic chicks for 24 hours. Their perseverance really stuck with me. And then there was this Nike commercial last night during the Olympics. Did you see it?
There’s a voice-over that’s talking about “finding your greatness.” In the distance you see a jogger. As he gets closer and closer and as the voice-over continues, you realize this jogger is an overweight kid. He’s huffing and puffing, sweaty and red-faced, but he never slows down.
No, he’s not fast. But he’s not walking, either. He’s persevering. (His name is Nathan. Read about him here.)
I didn’t consciously think about that overweight boy while I ran this morning, but he must have been in the back of my mind. And I definitely thought a lot about the Olympic women. I told myself, “If they can run 26.2 miles without walking, surely I can jog up some of these little ol’ hills of Batesville.”
So I did. I jogged up several of the hills, including the Golden Overpass and the Baja. (If you don’t live in or near Batesville, Ark., let me just tell you, there’s a reason the back of our women’s running clinic shirt says “Got Hills?” We have our fair share of hills, thank you very much.)
And here’s the crazy thing: Around Mile 7, I started realizing that it was getting easier, not harder. I felt as though I could go another 3-4 miles. (I didn’t.) And in those last couple of miles before home, I kept jogging up the hills.
I was actually having fun. (Well, sort of. It is running, after all.)
Funny what an attitude adjustment can do for a person.
• Having one off-week doesn’t have to derail an entire training program. I already knew that, but because the half-marathon is only seven weeks away, I got a little scared. It made me afraid I wouldn’t be able to build up to my really long run before the event. I want to do a 13.1-mile workout before I get to Nashville, and it needs to be a couple of weeks before the race. (You’re supposed to ease off on the mileage as you get close to race day.) So I’ll be cutting it close, but I’ll get there. And if I don’t get in a 13.1-mile run before race day, it’ll be okay. I know I’ll be able to finish strong, even if I don’t finish fast.
• I love that my coach is also my sweetheart. Bruce has been so encouraging as I’ve journeyed through weight loss and learning to love running. Today when he got home from his workout, he said I looked thin as he drove up behind me while I jogged. I’ve learned so much from him about running, but I also revel in the fact that he loved me even before I loved running. He’s a keeper.
Running isn’t everything, but it has taught me many lessons about life. An important lesson I’ve learned, and that I will continue to learn, is that I am capable of things I never thought possible just a couple of years ago. Just look at me – I’m training for a half-marathon! I’ve always known that “I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength” (Philippians 4:13), but never had I related that to physical activity before now.
I serve a big God, and He is continually teaching me. It’s neat that He chooses to use things like running to teach me life lessons. The trick is to open my ears, eyes and heart and pay attention. There are many lessons to be learned.
My fundraising deadline for the Nashville Women’s Half Marathon, which supports the Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation of America, is only 30 days away. Please consider supporting my efforts to wipe out Crohn’s disease in Bruce’s lifetime. Click here to donate. That page also provides a link to Team Challenge – just in case you’d like to join me in my next half-marathon for CCFA.
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Suzy with Pepper, Bruce with Salsa. Chase Race and Paws, Conway, Ark., March 10, 2012.
At our house, we have a multifunction printer. It does three things: prints, scans, copies – hence its model name, HP 750PSC.
But that ain’t nothin’ compared to our multifunction dogs, whose functions are too multiple to mention in one blog post – too numerous to sum up with a succinct model name. I’ll stick to the highlights.
In some ways, our canines’ services are similar and work in tandem; in other ways, they are different yet still complementary. A few examples:
Emergency Response System (ERS): The girls (or the Spice Dogs, as we like to call them) carry out this function in various ways, not all of them necessarily effective. Salsa (ERS Dog 1) barks a warning – loudly – when she encounters something she perceives as evil. In this category would be squirrels, cats, large flying insects, leaves falling from trees, vampire bats, snakes, representatives of the U.S. Postal Service and small children on bicycles. Pepper (ERS Dog 2), on the other hand, cannot be relied on in emergencies, as she barks at whatever moves or breathes in her general vicinity. That includes people entering the kitchen to feed her, people trying to have a conversation over her head (and many things are over her head) and subtle movements of the human body (for instance, crossing or uncrossing one’s legs, reaching for a tissue or taking a sip of one’s beverage – all perceived as evil acts that must be addressed. Loudly).
Pepper likes to make her opinions known. A lot. And you never know when you’ll get one.
Cleanup Crew: Both Spice Dogs are punctual and efficient at taking care of unwanted food, or food that has dropped to the floor, your lap or, in Pepper’s case, within 100 feet of where she’s sitting. When food falls, she’s Johnny on the Spot. I occasionally time Pepper when I feed the girls breakfast. When she was on dry food: 12 seconds to consume her little 2-ounce scoop (she doesn’t chew, she inhales). Now that she’s on canned food (very specific reason for that – more later), I’ve seen her suck it down in a flat three seconds. Right before she burps – loudly. This dog weighs 3.9 pounds and could put a third-grader to shame with one of her belches.
Pepper puts Salsa under the table, so to speak, when it comes to eating. In fact, helping Salsa eat is one of Pepper’s many food-related functions. When we got Salsa from the animal shelter in August 2005, it was hard to get her to finish her food. She’d rather play. The experts said to keep her on a schedule, putting her food away after a few minutes if she didn’t eat it. I established a twice-daily meal schedule and began following the suggestions. It helped some, but she’d still rather play and would leave her dish unattended. Same with Potty Outside. I followed expert advice, taking her out on the leash (even though our yard was fenced), walking her back and forth along a short strip of real estate and repeating “Go potty” over and over. In the summer, I often gave up after about 20 minutes. Too dang hot to stay out there trying to get her to poop.
The acquisition of Dog 2 changed all that. We inherited Pepper (long story) from relatives (who inherited her from other relatives) on Thanksgiving Day 2005 – three months after we got Salsa. Now, with Salsa and the bowl of food, there was the threat of another little dog stealing what was rightfully Salsa’s. So Salsa started finishing her food before being sent outside to potty. I’m not sure what did the trick on the Potty Outside, but that miraculously resolved itself with Dog 2’s arrival.
Pepper sleeping under her bed. Yes, that's her tiny heiny peeking out.
Bed Warmer: If we ever worried about being cold in our house, such as during a power outage in the winter, those fears were set aside when Multifunction Dog 2 (also known as Our Little Space Heater) came along. The first night she was with us, Pepper slept curled up in a tiny ball right under my chin. I tolerated that for one night, but if you know me, you know that I have to have near-perfect conditions for sleeping, and having a dog for a beard ain’t one of them. The second night, Pepper slept curled up at my back so that if I tried to roll over, I’d have to disturb her beauty sleep or risk flattening her. Also not ideal, although I did come up with a work-around (which I won’t bore you with). Before long, I had the brilliant idea to put her little doggy bed on top of our king-size bed and pile it with fleece blankets. She burrowed under (under the doggy bed itself, actually) and was more or less content. She is a burrower. (Bonus fact: Pepper fits inside one of Bruce’s sweatshirt pockets.) She’d much rather be glued to a human being than in her little bed, but the bed suffices. Because if Mama don’t get no sleep, ain’t nobody happy. And lest I forget Salsa’s function in this category, let’s just say she, too, is happy to be a bed warmer but knows how to take a hint.
Party Animal: When we take the Spice Dogs to events (festivals, farmers markets, Nanny’s house [where the “event” is a treat they’re not allowed at home]), they get a lot of attention. Pepper gets most of it because she’s tee-tiny and can be picked up by small children and generally doesn’t mind being handled. (Our girls are people dogs.) Salsa is just too happy to be out among people, smells and the occasional dropped hot dog to care that everybody loves tiny little Pepper. Everyone loves tiny little Pepper because they don’t live with her. She may be cuter, but Salsa is by far the gentler, more humble (although not always the quieter) of the duo. When given a treat, Pepper will race up, snatch it out of your hand and zoom away to her treat-eating spot without saying thank you. She acts like it’s the last morsel of food she will ever receive, and you have to count your digits in the aftermath. Salsa trots up, looks at you for a second with her soulful brown eyes, gently (really: gently) takes the dog biscuit from your hand and trots away to her designated treat-eating spot. Which brings me to …
Creature of Habit. If ever we could learn something valuable from our dogs, it’s in the area of consistency. For instance, each dog has a precise spot where she likes to eat her treats. And Pepper can tell time with her biorhythms. She knows when it’s precisely 7 p.m. (the final evening-treat time) or any other time she’s entitled to get a free piece of food. Salsa knows when it’s 4 a.m. and time to be let outside to alert the neighbors to the presence of squirrels, falling leaves, vampire bats and what-not. And you never know when a kid on a bike may be riding past the house at 4 o’clock in the morning.
Public Service Announcer: This is really Pepper’s function alone. She lets us know when Salsa should go outside, when Salsa should be let in or when Salsa is occupying her sister’s spot on the couch or the bed. And she is not above subterfuge. Pepper likes to sit outside on the deck in a sunny spot, or occasionally just inside the sliding door in a sunny spot on the carpet. When the sun moves, Pepper’s sunny spot moves, and sometimes action must be taken. If Salsa happens to be in Pepper’s newly positioned sunny spot, Pepper will helpfully let us know that Salsa would like to get up and go outside (or come inside). Sometimes we misunderstand, assuming that Pepper herself wants out or in, but we quickly realize that she just wanted the sunny spot vacated so she could take up residence.
Pepper also helpfully announces to us that she has just made potty on the floor. This is usually about 30 seconds after she has made an announcement that we misunderstood as a need to go outside to potty. It might be 2 a.m., but we’ve learned not to ignore her when she wakes us up like that – just in case it’s legit. We’ll go to the door, assuming she’ll trot right over and go out. She’ll stand 12 feet away looking at us, we’ll grumble and go back to bed (or back to whatever we were doing), and a half-minute later we’ll hear another announcement: “Hey, look what I did! I peed on the carpet! Again! Clean it up!” She’s very helpful and conscientious in that way.
Reminder of the Delicate Balance of Nature: In the aforementioned Cleanup Crew category, I alluded to Pepper’s switch from dry to canned food. My awareness of this necessity came quite by accident. Pepper had been sick, and the vet put her on soft food for a few days. One morning I noticed that when she ate the canned food, she didn’t run up on Salsa and antagonize her after sucking down her own food. It was almost vicious, this daily exchange over Salsa’s food dish. I would have to yell at Pepper to break up the fights, which almost came to physical violence sometimes. I thought the wet-food phenomenon might be an anomaly, so the next morning I gave Pepper dry food and stood by to watch. Sure enough, she “attacked” Salsa again. Morning 3: wet food, no fighting. So now we spend a little extra to buy canned food for Princess Pepper so that she will leave her sister alone at mealtime. Little twerp.
Morale Officer: When Bruce had his latest Crohn’s disease flare-up, his buddy Salsa may have saved him. She might not have saved his life, literally, but she saved his morale. In early 2007, Bruce had to quit working full time and before long couldn’t work at all. By October, he didn’t have a job. We had to sell his vehicle, so he didn’t have transportation during the day – even if he had felt like leaving the house – because I had to leave my work-from-home freelance job to get a 60-hour-a-week position with health insurance (but no overtime pay). The lingering effects of this flare-up lasted until 2010, so Bruce considered himself nothing more than a dog-sitter for a really long time. (Bruce literally learned to speak Dog. He could identify what was going on outside by Salsa’s different bark sounds.) And, yes, Pepper is a morale officer, albeit a more aloof one. She’s somewhat like a cat; if you can’t do something for her (feed her, keep her warm, toss her squeaky toy), she’s not always interested in your company. But she, too, is a constant presence and cuddly companion.
Loyal Buddy: We complain about soiled carpet, hairy furniture, middle-of-the-night prowl-fests, stinky blankets, loud barking and the fact that we can’t go anywhere for very long on the spur of the moment (it’s almost like having small children), but we wouldn’t trade our Spice Dogs for any amount of money, any material possession or any other creature on the planet. We’ve grown quite attached to the little goons.
The Spice Dogs. They’re stuck with us. And that’s a function with multiple rewards.
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