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Top Ten Tuesday – classic books

A work in progress.

A work in progress.

I discovered a neat website this afternoon, just in time to participate in Top Ten Tuesday. Here are my Top 10 Favorite Classic Books:

  1. The Hiding Place by Corrie ten Boom. This nonfiction book, about a father and his two adult daughters sent to a concentration camp for hiding Jews in their home in Holland, haunts me. I’ve “loaned” out several copies and ended up telling the recipient, “Keep it or pass it along to someone else.” The book’s message – God is good, even (no, especially) in the midst of suffering – is one I want everyone to grab hold of, and one I continually need to remind myself of. My favorite quote: “There is no pit so deep that He is not deeper still.”
  2. To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee. This one seems to make a lot of people’s top-10 lists. And the movie (starring Gregory Peck as the quietly heroic Atticus Finch) is just as good as the book. It’s a moving portrayal of the effects of racism in the Depression-era Deep South.
  3. Little Women by Louisa May Alcott. My first “favorite book,” before it got bumped from the top spot by “To Kill a Mockingbird” a few years ago. I guess I’m a sucker for a family story, and the March family – Marmee, Meg, Jo, Beth, Amy and Father (who’s off fighting in the Civil War) – demonstrates what it’s like to be loyal, charitable and hopeful even in hard times. (I’ve also seen almost every movie version made. My favorite: the 1949 one with Janet Leigh as Meg, June Allyson as Jo, Elizabeth Taylor as Amy, Margaret O’Brien as Beth and Peter Lawford as Laurie.)
  4. Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis. Lewis’ writing causes me to think. He had a way of describing things in ways beyond my imagination (probably why his Narnia books are so popular). A former atheist, he wrestled with faith and made it OK for me to admit that I wrestle, too.
  5. My Utmost for His Highest by Oswald Chambers. My Uncle Bill gave me my first copy as a college graduation present 25 years ago, when I visited him in Arizona on my way to California for my first full-time newspaper job. This was the “classic” version (archaic language), and now I also have an “Updated Edition.” This is another book I’ve given as a gift many times. I like it like I like C.S. Lewis’ writings: Chambers has a way of making me think hard about my faith, what it means in my own life, and what it means in the world.
  6. The Complete Stories and Poems of Edgar Allan Poe. He had a macabre writing style, but I’ve loved the tortured artist’s frightening tales since I was a kid. I think my dad was the one who turned me onto his stories and poetry.
  7. The Shining by Stephen King. This may not be a classic in the strictest sense, but I read it when I was in 10th grade (my first King novel), so to me it’s old enough to qualify. This book creeped me out! But it got me hooked on Stephen King novels, and I read them for the next decade. I believe I stopped with Misery in the late 1980s. I also got over my need for horror movies, although I still love a good mystery (Agatha Christie, Sherlock Holmes, Nancy Drew :-) ). REDRUM.
  8. A Dog for Susie by “Nordlie R”? OK, this one is a classic only in my own mind, but I really loved the book when I was a child. It speaks to Suzy the dog lover and Suzy the book lover. I got it at the used-book sale at school. In fact, I think it was free. (Even better!) I have it in one of our many bookcases, but I can’t find it at the moment or I’d grab it and tell you the correct name of the author.
  9. Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury. I re-read this a couple of years ago. There’s a reason it’s a classic. I think I like it for some of the same reasons I love “To Kill a Mockingbird.” It reminds me of the dangers of small-mindedness. Read it to find out the meaning of the title.
  10. The Holy Bible. The best classic book of all time, of course, is God’s inspired word, one of His primary ways of communicating to the world. The version I’ve been reading for the past six or seven years is the New Living Translation. I’ve read through the entire Bible maybe three times, and this year I began a chronological reading plan for the first time. It’s helping me see parallels I hadn’t noticed before.

What are your favorite books, and why?

Lazy Suzy

I’ve been a bit miffed at myself for letting other things get in the way of my blogging lately, so I decided I would “cheat” and share some links and things. In the spirit of (we won’t use the word copycat) Sarabeth’s “friday faves” and Alison’s “In the Pipeline,” I share with you links, photos, pieces of info and other tidbits that I’ve found interesting, encouraging, challenging, awesome or just plain ol’ fun:

Bruce & Suzy just after hiking 3 miles on the Meadowlark trail in Deer Creek Canyon Park outside LIttleton, Colo. (April 24, 2014).

Bruce & Suzy at the Meadowlark Trail in Deer Creek Canyon Park outside Littleton, Colo., April 24, 2014.

I finally got the Colorado pix off the camera and onto the computer. The above was taken the afternoon we arrived, after we hiked about 3 miles along a nice little trail outside Littleton. (We were in Littleton so I could wrap up the training for my wellness-coach certification. I have one piece yet to finish – see prayer request below.) Maybe someday I will make a post with some of the trail pictures! It was a beautiful hike.

Awesome: It looks like I will get to race and raise money again for the Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation of America’s Team Challenge program. I received an email two weeks ago saying that Team Challenge had secured a limited number of spots for TC alumni in the SOLD OUT Walt Disney World Half Marathon.

Because Bruce and I had opted not to travel to an out-of-state CCFA race this year (last year included trips to California before and after his mother died, plus my September heart surgery, which caused me to withdraw from the Nashville half-marathon), we decided to “rest” in 2014. Not only is travel stressful, but fundraising is one of my least-favorite things to do! But the race isn’t until Jan. 10, and it’s a big deal, so I decided to sign up. So, technically, I will be training for a half-marathon and raising money in 2014 but not traveling to the event until 2015. (Part of the package, if I meet my fundraising goal, is two 2-day passes to Disney World.)

I haven’t received confirmation yet, as the new team manager (who doesn’t know me) still has to confirm that I’m an alumnus, but I think it will all work out. Yes, I am still slow (actually, I’m slower since the surgery). No, I’m not going to let that sad fact stop me. There is always someone who crosses the finish line after I do. (Sorry.)

So pray for my fundraising skills to improve and my enthusiasm for this worthy cause to stay high. (I really hate asking people for money, folks. More than flossing my teeth, cleaning hair out of the shower drain or trying to fold fitted sheets. Way more.) Oh, and for those of you who are new to Suzy & Spice: I do this thing I hate (ask people for money) and this thing I love (run) because I want to cure Crohn’s disease, which my husband, Bruce, and my cousin Spencer suffer from.

Which reminds me of this humiliating fact: I still have not sent thank-you cards to those who donated to my 2013 half-marathon that never happened. (I am TERRIBLE!) I’m pledging to do that this week. I promise!

OK, well, that there was enough for an entire blog post, but still there’s more:

Inspirational: This story gives me, my bad knee and my recently repaired heart valve hope that I will be able to run forever: “91-year-old to run Sunday’s San Diego Marathon.” She didn’t start running until she was 76, and she has raised more than $90,000 for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society through its Team in Training program. She is being treated for cancer.

And here’s the follow-up: “10-year-old, 91-year-old break records in running.”

Fun: In September, I will attend my first Arkansas Women Bloggers retreat (in its fourth year, it’s now called Arkansas Women Bloggers University). I registered in March but have forgotten to tell you :-) ). I hadn’t heard about this event until 2012 but missed it that year because it was sold out by the time I found out about it, and I missed last year’s because of heart surgery, so I am looking forward to my first one: listening to great speakers, getting great ideas, connecting with other women who blog, and meeting face to face the bloggers I’ve only seen in pictures.

(And then there’s the food.)

Interesting: I like to read about nutrition and the science behind our eatings (yes, I just made up that word), cravings and behaviors. This article from the journal Nature is a bit science-y, but maybe you will be as fascinated as I was to read some theories about what makes us eat, what makes us not eat, and the consequences to our waistlines. Or perhaps I should say “what makes laboratory mice eat, not eat …” (Poor mice.) “Neuroscience: Dissecting appetite”

Challenging: Sallie Krawcheck on “Career Curveballs: Doing the Job When No One Thinks You Can.” The headline alone speaks volumes to me, but then the author backs it up with a story of thinking outside the box, being brave and moving forward despite obstacles.

Prayer request: I’ve been taking online courses to be a certified wellness coach, and I traveled to Colorado in April to finish my coursework. I passed my written exam (made an A!) and have one final step before I’m certified. This Tuesday evening I have a “coaching practicum” by telephone. It means another trainee and I have to practice-coach each other with our instructor listening in. I know I will be a good coach – I can do this! But this phone thing comes with a bit of pressure because we’ll be critiqued. Suzanna is one of the sweetest people you’ll ever meet, so I don’t fear being ripped to shreds, but naturally being graded on a half-hour phone conversation will be a bit nerve-wracking. Prayers from my friends would be appreciated.

And if you ever considered becoming a certified wellness coach, talk to me or check out this link to the Catalyst Coaching Institute.

Interesting?  I’m working on writing a personal mission statement. I hope that doesn’t sound too corny, or trite. I actually think mission statements and vision statements and written goals help people crystallize their mission and accomplish more than they otherwise could. Of course bringing honor and glory to God is my main purpose, but I also want to be able to sum up why I do what I do in a way that doesn’t sound churchy or preachy or confusing or long-winded.

Here’s the seed I’m starting with: “I want to inspire people to move from ‘I could never…” to “Maybe I could…” to ‘I CAN!’ ” Still pondering …

Encouraging:  And because I love C.S. Lewis and receive a daily email containing an excerpt from one of his writings (books, letters, speeches), I leave you with this:

“If He does not support us, not one of us is safe from some gross sin. On the other hand, no possible degree of holiness or heroism which has ever been recorded of the greatest saints is beyond what He is determined to produce in every one of us in the end. The job will not be completed in this life: but He means to get us as far as possible before death.”

Happy reading!

Book review: ‘The Well-Balanced World Changer’

“We must be willing to let go of the life we have planned so as to have the life that is waiting for us.”

– E.M. Forster, as quoted in ‘The Well-Balanced World Changer’

WorldChangerBookCoverChristianbookCROPPED

I finished a book last night that took me a few months to read – not because I’m a slow reader (although I am) or that my life is too busy (again, guilty) but because I needed to spend time reflecting on each and every chapter. And I went back and read some chapters a second time. As I said this morning on Facebook, the book is filled with encouragement, insight and wisdom – so much so that I not only read some chapters twice but I highlighted lots of passages. It’s one of the best books I’ve read in a long time.

The book – The Well-Balanced World Changer: A Field Guide for Staying Sane while Doing Good by Sarah Cunningham (see links below) – is broken into 10 sections, with several short chapters in each. Every single chapter had something profound to say to me. The author was speaking my language.

To say that the book is strictly about “changing the world” is to do it an injustice. For me, it’s more about changing myself from within, of aligning myself with God’s purposes in the world. After all, to make a better world you have to start with yourself.

The author’s words of wisdom resonate on so many levels. She talks about relationships, motivations, disillusionment (a good thing!), compassion, commitment, vision, juggling stuff, setting priorities, being vulnerable, being confident, taking risks, making lemonade out of lemons (she tells a story about a professor applying to colleges who sent out his resume with a typo: War and Peach). About perseverance, putting criticism in perspective, figuring out what matters (“If you want to test your memory, try to recall what you were worrying about one year ago.” – E. Joseph Cossman) – too many topics to name here.

Each section and each chapter starts with an inspirational or thought-provoking quote. The author found some really awesome quotes – with ideas I’ve been trying to incorporate as I work on gaining confidence in my writing (and other areas of life). Like this one:

“I don’t know the key to success, but the key to failure is trying to please everybody.” – Bill Cosby

And this:

“No matter what people tell you, words and ideas can change the world.” – Robin Williams

And these two:

“Here is a test to find whether your mission on Earth is finished: If you’re alive, it isn’t.” – Richard Bach

“It’s always too early to quit.” – Norman Vincent Peale

Yes, yes, YES!

These are the section titles, followed by the opening quotes:

  1. Worth & Success. “The world has not seen what God will do through one man who is totally yielded to God” (D.L. Moody).
  2. Health & Balance. “Every great dream begins with a dreamer” (Harriet Tubman).
  3. Peace & Perseverance. “No matter what people tell you, words and ideas can change the world” (Robin Williams).
  4. Risk & Control.  “Give me a lever long enough and a fulcrum on which to place it, and I shall move the world” (Archimedes).
  5. Alignment & Relationships. “You realize you can’t change the world but it shouldn’t stop you from trying” (Kevin Johnson).
  6. Plans & Priorities. “It is more rewarding to watch money change the world than watch it accumulate” (Gloria Steinem).
  7. Passion & Identity. “I wanted to change the world but I have found the only thing one can be sure of is changing oneself” (Aldous Huxley).
  8. Desires & Frustrations. “Anger is like gasoline. If you spray it around and somebody lights a match, you’ve got an inferno. But if we can put our anger inside an engine it can drive us forward” (Scilla Elworthy).
  9. Faith & Expectations. “Our generation does not want its epitaph to read, ‘We kept charity overhead low.’ We want it to read that we changed the world” (Dan Pallotta).
  10. Humility & Perspective. “A neighbor is a far better and cheaper alternative to government services” (Jennifer Pahlka).

Those section titles alone won’t make you want to rush out and buy the book – they’re a bit prosaic. But the chapters’ contents flesh out the ideas in such a way that you’ll want to keep reading once you start.

This book, plus a sermon my pastor preached in late January, prompted me to get off my duff and enroll in a certification program to become a wellness coach. That sermon sealed the deal for me. It was the day I realized that all my “research and prayer” about whether to do it had reached fruition. That I needed to “paint or get off the ladder,” as my former pastor would say. So I enrolled in the program the next day.

I take my last online course this Tuesday, and in three weeks Bruce and I will head to Colorado, where I’ll finish my training on-site. After that, a final exam and I’ll be one step closer to my version of changing the world.

As I told my co-worker last week, at 51 I’m in the second half of my life. I don’t want to waste any time on things that aren’t of eternal significance. The field is ripe for the harvest. Slowly but surely, I’m being transformed into what I hope is a useful servant in God’s kingdom work – His mission for us as Christ followers.

Good preaching by my pastor plus the excellent book The Well-Balanced World Changer are helping me be bold, have confidence in my dreams and in my almighty God, and work toward my life’s purpose.

If you are similarly called (and I believe we all are), read this book. I purchased the Amazon Kindle version for $8.09, but you can order hard copies starting at $6.84 at Amazon.com or an ebook for $7.99 at Christianbook.com.

Gluten talk and beyond

“ ‘Eating is an agricultural act,’ as Wendell Berry famously said. It is also an ecological act, and a political act, too. Though much has been done to obscure this simple fact, how and what we eat determines to a great extent the use we make of the world – and what is to become of it.”

– Michael Pollan, The Omnivore’s Dilemma

Any time a bunch of women gets together who are passionate, interested or even just a bit curious about a topic I’m interested in, I get excited.

And just such a thing happened this morning.

During first service, a dozen or so women from my church met for an hour of gluten talk. At least that was the original topic when the class was announced, but by the time we had the meeting, it had become more of a “food group.” We talked about more than just gluten intolerance. Other food allergies and sensitivities were on the menu.

Those who led the group this morning (and, in case you’re interested, will again next Sunday – same time, same place) are:

  • Anita Swanson, who shared her story of wheat intolerance, breastfeeding, children with allergies and her journey to figuring out how to keep her family healthy. Anita is married to our pastor, Brent, and they have three precious little boys who are a big part of Anita’s “food story.”
  • Valerie Gunter, whose story is similar to Anita’s because of birthing babies, breastfeeding and having to figure out some food sensitivities and intolerances she didn’t realize she had – all because of her kiddos’ health problems. Valerie is married to Matt, a local veterinarian.
  • Sandee Steiner, local farmer, real estate mogul and mom. She and her husband, Max, host the church’s annual fall festival on their farm, where the kids get to run around until they’re silly, hang out with cows and other critters, have hayrides and generally get themselves giddy in the autumn sunshine (yeah, some of the adults do, too). Sandee, an engineer, is concerned with all the crap (sorry, Mom) that American cattle farmers and chicken producers feed to and inject into their animals. Sandee offers kefir starter to anyone who would like to make her own kefir (Anita made us delicious banana and blueberry smoothies with kefir, and the ladies also let us sample two other homemade, gluten-free foods). Sandee also offered to teach us how to make our own cottage cheese.

And then there’s me. No, I wasn’t a host of the meeting – I’m just a loudmouth who’s always interested in learning something and passing along the “insights” I’ve gained. Yeah, I can be obnoxious about it, especially if you’re not at all into what I’m talking about.

I’ve been on my own “journey to fitness” for the past three or four years, and it has taken me until recently to get serious about what goes into my mouth and that of my husband (a Crohn’s sufferer).

Sure, I’ve lost about 50 pounds (and gained a few back), but it hasn’t always been with the healthiest, wholest, least-processed foods you can buy. That, however, has been changing, ever so gradually.

I’ve been getting rid of processed sugars, artificial sweeteners, wheat and other grains in the past several weeks and increasing my consumption of “good fats” and eggs. But that’s a story I’ll tell you another day. Another story for a later day: I’m training to be a certified wellness coach (online classes, plus a trip to Colorado next month for on-site training). And … all this food and research talk has gotten me to thinking about becoming a registered dietician (I waver between the nutrition part of fitness and the physical-fitness part – I got certified as a running coach in August and definitely want to do some continuing education – maybe a second bachelor’s degree? – in some area of fitness).

But let’s talk about some of the resources discussed this morning. The ladies in charge handed us a packet of resources (including recipes, not included here), and the ladies listening wanted some of those put together online somewhere. One even requested a dedicated Facebook page for the group. Until they’re able to make that happen, I’ll collect the list of resources here, updating this particular post as I have time to add them (I’ll send updates to the church’s Facebook page). And if you’d like to suggest your own resources or tell your story, please click the comment link at the bottom of this post.

Also, I was taking notes furiously for a friend who couldn’t make the meeting because she was cheering on her daughter at the Little Rock Marathon (go, Mary!), so I didn’t get to look at all the books on the table. So, for now, I’m going to hit the high points with the promise to add to it later.

Disclaimer: Not everyone agrees with every word or claim made in each one of these resources. They are simply offered as a starting point for more information.

BOOKS

Wheat Belly and Wheat Belly Cookbook by cardiologist William Davis. I’m reading these books (with apologies to the county library, which sent me past-due notices on them last week. I promise I’ll return them tomorrow, because I’m pretty sure I’m going to buy my own copies). Some in the medical field have criticized Wheat Belly, calling Davis’ admonitions about wheat and carbs “scare tactics,” but I find it interesting that a lot of these critics DON’T EAT WHEAT. One reviewer, a psychiatrist, takes issue with his “sloppy” work in some of his medical stories and analogies. I understand her point, but at times she seems to be nitpicking.

The Omnivore’s Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals by Michael Pollan. This one is on my to-be-read list. I read Pollan’s In Defense of Food: An Eater’s Manifesto a few years ago. He has good things to say. His catch phrase: “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.” I suppose I need to move Omnivore up on my list.

The Virgin Diet by J.J. Virgin. Don’t let the word “diet” scare you away from some of the good things the author has to say – this, according to Valerie Gunter, who recommended the book. (She had to give it a catchy name, didn’t she?) Virgin guides the reader through an elimination diet to help determine whether there’s an intolerance to certain foods.

MOVIES AND VIDEOS

Food Inc., a documentary that takes “an unflattering look inside America’s corporate controlled food industry,” according to the Internet Movie Database. We didn’t have time to talk about this movie today – just a brief mention.

“Unblind My Mind,” a TEDxYouth Talk by Dr. Katherine Reid (16 minutes; also search for “unblind my mind” on YouTube). I mentioned the video at this morning’s meeting, and I had a request to post the link. Reid, a biochemist and mom of five, started researching food additives and eliminating particular foods from her autistic daughter’s diet. Within a few weeks, she noticed a marked improvement in the girl’s behavior. The culprits for Brooke: free glutamate (think MSG) – which goes by at least 50 names – and casein, a milk protein. In the video, Reid talks about the gluten/casein connection with excess glutamate. She started a nonprofit organization, Unblind My Mind, to more fully explore the topic of food’s effects on our health.

WEBSITES

Salad in a Jar. This is my own recommendation, although I didn’t have time to mention it at the meeting. On a Facebook group I’m a member of, I had complained about having to cut up one salad for work each evening (rather than a bunch of it days in advance) because of brown lettuce, and someone pointed me to Salad in a Jar. The site’s founder (who’s not selling anything) shows how to chop your salad greens ahead of time, vacuum seal them in mason jars and prolong the (refrigerator) shelf-life for several days. This not only saves time but money, as it helps cut down on food waste. (I bought a vacuum sealer, and I love it; if you’d like to borrow it, let me know.)

That’s it for now, folks. It’s past my bedtime, so I’m stopping. Later I’ll add info on some of the places, local and otherwise, where you can buy some of the natural, organic, gluten-free or other foods talked about this morning.

If you or a family member is experiencing health problems that can’t be explained, cured or eased with traditional remedies or modern medicine – or if you’re simply interested in exploring new ways to be healthy by changing your diet – talk to Anita, Valerie or Sandee at church, or post a comment here and I’ll put you in touch. I’ll also be happy to share what I’m learning as I research healthful eating and foods. And if you’d like to tell your story at Suzy & Spice, let me know – I’d love to have you as a guest writer. I’ve already recruited Anita to write a post!

‘I could never do that’

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This is the first time I’ve been brave enough to publish my “before” picture. Bruce took it 4 years ago. Photo on right courtesy of Hatch and Maas Photography.

I’ve been given an opportunity that I’ve been praying for a lot lately: the chance to tell my story to a bigger audience. (My blog has, like, three readers: my mom, my husband and our dog Salsa; the other dog can’t read.)

My hope is that my story, told from my unique perspective, will influence change – in my family, my workplace, even my community. I’ve written for about three years in this space about my “journey to fitness,” hoping to encourage those who need hope, those who think changing your life is only for a certain type of person.

The trouble with that line of thinking is that I believe there’s always hope, that determination (and a lot of prayer) can get you to a better place – if you want it badly enough. If you’re willing to put in the hours, the sweat, the mental energy, the sticktoitiveness to see it through, you can do it even if you’re “nobody special.”

You see, I’m nobody special – I’m just a girl who believes in prayer and hard work.

The problem with a lot of us (with me for so many years) is that we give up too easily.

We look at this marathon as a sprint, and if we don’t see results right away – or if we take a couple of steps forward and end up a step or two backward – we think we will never get it right. We’ll never reach our goals. Or maybe we stop setting goals in the first place.

We let the naysayers fill our heads with nonsense, and we start believing it: It’s too hard, I tried that and it didn’t work. It will never happen – I’m giving up. I could never do that.

One thing I’ve learned about myself over the years is that I’m pretty stubborn. (It’s one of those good/bad things I inherited from my dad.) And, despite many attempts to change that ended in failure, I’m still standing. I’m still pushing. Still learning.

And I’m stronger than ever.

And because I’ve learned some lessons the hard way, I want to pass it on, maybe make someone else’s journey a little easier. Help someone know she’s not alone, that there is hope.

By the grace of God, heartfelt prayer, and much two-steps-forward, one-step-back-ing, I’ve lost about 50 pounds in the past three years. (According to my cardiologist, I need to lose a few more, but we’ll get to that.) It took maybe two of those years to lose the bulk of it (plus I’ve gained 7 back since heart surgery), and I’ve said here before that if it takes the rest of my life to get it all off, it’s worth it if I help someone else find hope and encouragement.

And my mantra – as a runner who will never be at the head of the pack no matter how much I want it – is, “Slow and steady wins the race.” (That may apply more to weight loss than it does to running footraces, but you get the point.)

Another thing I believe to my very core is that we learn – God grows our character the most – amid difficulty. We tend to forget about God during the easy times; we don’t rely on His wisdom and guidance when we’re cruising along through life thinking everything’s great because we’re great!

We learn the best lessons through challenges. And we lose weight and keep it off when we do it slowly and thoughtfully, when we learn why we turn to food when we shouldn’t. Sometimes I’ve had to learn the same lesson over and over, until I really got it. I’m still learning.

I’ve had what you might call challenges in the past three years, including heart surgery five months ago. But out of that particular challenge came a great opportunity:

I got to tell my story in a TV commercial that has been airing all across Arkansas since the Super Bowl, has aired during the Olympics, and will air for the next two years.

When I was asked to do it, someone mentioned that it would be scary to be interviewed on camera. My response: all the more reason to do it! It was so far outside my comfort zone, I knew it would be a new opportunity for growth – to depend on the Lord for my strength.

For a couple of years, I’ve been praying for opportunities to improve my very weak public-speaking skills. I didn’t know exactly why I was praying that, except that I wanted to be available – and not embarrass my family or die of fright – when those rare opportunities arose.

So maybe the interview segment of the TV commercial wasn’t my favorite part (the running part was much more fun and comfortable) but maybe my prayers made me just a little less fearful – bold, even – knowing that my desire was to bring glory to God through it all, and perhaps encourage someone along the way. Guys from the TV crew actually told me I inspired them. Go figure.

I started 2013 (a few weeks after I turned 50) with the goal of “getting to know God better,” deciding not to jump ahead of Him in figuring out the details of the next phase of my life.

I knew what I wanted to do – still want to do – and that may happen some day. My desire is to implement a healthy-workplace initiative at my place of employment. My CEO is open to that (we’ve talked), but I’m not sure he realizes all I have in mind! (I’ve learned to dream big.)

For starters, I recently registered (on my own, not through my job) to become a certified wellness coach. I’m taking online courses and will travel to Colorado in a couple of months for on-site training,

I’m not sure where this journey will take me, but I believe God put the desire in my heart and that He will bless it.

Meanwhile, Channel 7 in Little Rock (ABC affiliate) has invited me to appear on “Good Morning, Arkansas” on Feb. 17 as part of its coverage of Heart Month. My cardiologist, Dr. Conley, will be by my side if his schedule permits. I so hope he can, because he’s a big part of where I am right now.

I can tell you the exact date that I began my “journey to fitness” in earnest: April 5, 2011 – the birthday of our CEO. We had potluck that day, and I ate like a pig. By the end of the day, I was disgusted with myself, I wrote my “Going public” post, and things began to change.

It was embarrassing to admit on the Internet that I weighed 201 pounds (5 pounds less than my highest) and that I had been making a fool of myself with food. But if pigging out was what it took to make me wake up and smell the bacon, it was worth it.

I want to help others by telling my story. Some won’t like it, won’t agree with it, won’t see it. They’ll think I’m being egotistical. I can’t help what people think.

But should I let the Negative Nellies keep me from trying to help someone else?

I could never do that.

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To find a Women Run Arkansas running and walking clinic near you, click here.

Seen, heard and liked (or loved)

December has been a month of busyness, but not of the Christmas variety, exactly.

Last weekend we shot the commercial for Baptist Health. That took several hours Friday and most of Saturday. We froze our frannies off in the windy 30s on Saturday by the White River. But it was SO MUCH FUN, and I do plan to write more about it. (Didn’t get much in the way of photos, though.) We had several wardrobe changes because they plan to run the campaign throughout the next two years (starting with the Super Bowl), so even though it was shot in December, it is supposed to depict several seasons.

This weekend was our alternate date for the White River Christmas Half Marathon & Relay. Sure, it happens at Christmastime, but it’s more indirectly related to Christmas than the typical holiday festivities – shopping, cookie baking, gift-giving – unless you consider that our half-marathon elves (race co-founder Sara and her helper elf, Becky) shop for the families that benefit from the race proceeds. And then the gifts are given to families chosen by a tenderhearted woman at a local agency.

We postponed the race on its original date (Dec. 7) because of ice storms. Makeup date: Dec. 21. Again, dangerous weather intervened. We got up this morning and decided that the threat of lightning and the flash flood warnings made it too risky – so we called, texted, emailed and Facebooked all those who had preregistered, telling them we would try again next year.

It was a huge disappointment, but we raised a good amount of money for needy families (entry to the race is free, but we encourage donations and most people do give).

Disappointing, but also, for the Oakleys, a day of much-needed rest. After we had contacted everyone and Bruce put a sign on the church door for any potential race-day registrants, it was under the electric blanket for Pepper and me and onto the sofa for Bruce and Salsa. After rest time we went to Mom’s to watch Hallmark Christmas movies (even Bruce likes them), and we veg’d for several hours.

Back home again, and I want to write about deep and thought-provoking topics, but the best I can come up with tonight is a roundup of some of the things I’ve been reading and listening to in the past week or so. I’ve been planning to do this regularly – these favorite-pick posts – but we’ve been half-marathoning and Christmas-partying and otherwise running ourselves ragged for several weeks. (Can I tell you I skipped a free yoga class Thursday night at our church because of race planning? That’s some kind of irony.)

So, without further delay, here are some randomly ordered but thoughtfully collected links for you to ponder:

First up, you’ll be thankful that I condensed what was going to be an entire post about the pitfalls of Christmas spending (I tend to get preachy) to a mere reference to some wise words from my favorite debt-proof-living guru, Mary Hunt. Read about Mr. Diderot and His Red Robe – good advice for any time of year.

And while we’re getting introspective about our habits and thought processes, here’s a little C.S. Lewis to get you thinking. From a letter on “the slow process of being more in Christ; and on doing one’s duty, especially the duty to enjoy.”

I get an email each morning with a C.S. Lewis reading excerpted from his books, letters, essays and other writings. To subscribe, visit Bible Gateway by clicking here.

I have long loved the books and sermons of Chuck Swindoll. So when my friend and fellow runner Betsy forwarded this link to me with a reference to Olympian Wilma Rudolph, I took notice. (When I was in high school, I wrote a book report on Ms. Rudolph. I wasn’t a runner then, so all I can remember about the book was that her story was inspirational.) As soon as I listened to the sermon, “What’s Necessary for Victory?” I logged onto the Independence County Library’s website and looked up the books on this woman; I plan to check one out soon. The entire sermon on Christian victory is good, but if you want to skip ahead to Wilma’s story, start at 9:30 minutes.

Next up – because it’s the perfect season for recipes and inspiring food stories – a couple of shout-outs to my friends.

I’ve linked to Alison’s blog a few times over the years, but today I was catching up and read a reposted story about her sister’s new-ish restaurant outside Chicago. I’ve long known that Anna was an awesome baker and cook, but now she is celebrating a year as a restaurateur with her husband, Bob. They opened in December 2012, and you’ll have to read Alison’s description of the cafe and her sister. And if I’m ever in Glen Ellyn, Ill., I’m making a point to stop in at Blackberry Market.

One more food-related link: A friend tagged me in a Facebook post this morning, and I clicked through to discover a conversation about a food blog, and then a reference to my childhood friend Liz’s very own food blog – a site I immediately clicked to and which I love! Light and fresh recipes made from the heart – who could resist? (Plus, I’m a little jealous of how great it looks, especially the food photos, which I’m terrible at.) I love food blogs, but the bonus here is that this one is by someone I know; that makes it extra-special. So come delight with me at Elsie’s Kitchen 101 (read the About section to find out where it got its name).

This list barely scratches the surface of the interesting things I’ve been reading, listening to and watching, but I think it’s enough for now. Except this one last link.

In the spirit of Christmas, I’m going to leave you with a schedule of the aforementioned Hallmark Channel Christmas movies (they’re showing all December long!). Go ahead and watch a few. I won’t tell.

I (heart) to run

Oakleys and silly runners 09-12-13

Me and some of the gang after a riverside run on Sept. 12, 2013, just 5 days before my heart surgery.

Apparently my cardiologist likes me. And for some reason he thinks I’m at least passably “intelligent and articulate.”

That’s what the Baptist Health folks asked for when they were looking for people to be in their next ad campaign, “Keep on Amazing.” They were looking for “success stories” – fairly well-spoken people who had been treated by Baptist Health and lived to tell about it.

Well, you know – not only survived but thrived.

Apparently the facts that I’ve gained 10 pounds since my heart-valve surgery and that I’m not yet back to my normal race pace didn’t deter the PR people from thinking I’m a “success story.”

(We won’t tell them about the 9 mini Tootsie Rolls I just ate while writing this.)

(Wait a minute. Make that 10.)

Apparently the mere fact that I was so eager to get back into running (that I talk about it every time I visit the heart doctor) is enough for them to think I have some atypical story to tell. Or at least the doc thinks so. He’s the one who told them about me when they were lookin’ for folks.

So they’re coming to town next weekend to film me telling my story. And running. With a bunch of my crazy friends.

Running buddies, I need you to help me tell the story (because you’re a crucial part of it), but first let me back up and give a bit of the history of this heart thing. I’ve told it in a little bit of detail on the White River Roadrunners’ Facebook page and on the Roadrunners website, but haven’t told it here. So grab a cup of coffee – I’m going into detail. (If you’re a running buddy and only want to know where you come in on the aforementioned “help,” skip to the bottom. Otherwise please indulge me because I haven’t told the whole story in one place, and some people have been wanting to hear it.) Here goes:

I was diagnosed in 2008 with “mitral valve prolapse with mitral regurgitation.” Basically, the valve didn’t close properly and puked blood back into the chamber where it wasn’t supposed to. I visited Dr. Conley in North Little Rock once a year to check it. (We lived in North Little Rock for the first couple of years, and we moved to Batesville in 2010.)

Until this year, in July, no one was too concerned as long as I didn’t do anything crazy, things like what the doc called “burst activity” – such as the time back in May when I sprinted to the finish line to try to beat that guy who came up behind me at the Rock Run 8K in Little Rock. That would be considered burst activity, a big a no-no. Plus the dude beat me by 0.42 seconds. Not worth how my heart pounded later that night. (I’d ask you not to tell my mom, but I’ve had the thing fixed since then so it’s OK.)

So in July, some criteria for deciding whether to do surgery changed, and Dr. Conley sent me to a cardiothoracic surgeon, Dr. Beyer, for his opinion. I saw Dr. Beyer on Aug. 1. He told me I’d definitely need surgery, but he wasn’t sure how soon. He asked me to keep a diary for a week. The diary included things like lethargy, lack of motivation to run, mild symptoms of depression, a relapse into “stress eating” …

Once he read the diary, his nurse called and scheduled me for surgery.

I had already been scheduled for LASIK surgery on the day they wanted to fix my heart, so we put off the mitral valve repair a week. (I was later able to move up the eye surgery so that the surgeries wouldn’t be seven days apart. Wish I could say the LASIK was as successful as the valve surgery, but that’s a post for another day. Or not.)

I had the mitral valve repaired on Sept. 17 at Baptist Health Medical Center in Little Rock. With the top-notch surgeon and some newfangled equipment, they were able to do a “minimally invasive” operation. In other words, they didn’t have to hack through my sternum to get to my heart and then bind the bones back together with twist ties like some people get.

Instead, the doc made an incision under my right breast (plus a bunch of other holes in my torso that I wouldn’t know about until I woke up – I still don’t know what one of them was for) and went across under there to the valve on the left side of my chest.

I watched an open-heart surgery on YouTube a few weeks earlier, and I’m really glad mine was “minimally invasive,” despite all the extra holes. However, the doc said this to me a couple of days after my surgery: “No one has ever proved to me that this surgery is any less painful [than open-heart].” I told him I was glad he didn’t mention that before I went under the knife! Because, friends, it was plenty painful.

But at least I won’t have twist ties in my chest for the rest of my life.

So. Over the next few weeks I had follow-up visits – one with Dr. Beyer and two with Dr. Conley.

Dr. Conley, the cardiologist I see every year, and who hears me talk about running every year (and who gave me a thumbs-up – literally, although my mom didn’t believe me – when I said I was going to run a half-marathon to raise money for the Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation in 2012), and who always tells me the same two stories about his other mitral-valve patients (one who nearly died showing off in front of his kids and the other who’s practically a superhero), said at my October checkup that if I was concerned about what going “all out” in running would do to my heart, he’d do a stress test.

A few weeks later, in mid-November, they did an ultrasound and then stuck a bunch of electrodes to my chest and put me on a treadmill. At first it was too slow, but they wanted to build me up gradually. They didn’t want me to jog; I just needed to walk fast. And then a little faster. And a little faster. (By then I was jogging.) They kept upping the incline and I kept muttering, “I hate hills,” but they weren’t really listening. They were just watching their little machines. Eventually, when I was at, like, 10 miles per hour (just kidding), the doc asked me how I was doing.

“Not bored anymore,” I said. I was out of breath and he said I could stop. My heart rate was high enough for him to know what he needed to know. So the tech quickly did another ultrasound – while my heart rate was still up – and let me get dressed.

Side note: Earlier, when I was changing into my paper gown, the tech told me that Bruce wouldn’t be allowed in for the testing because they were having to use a smaller room than usual and there wasn’t room for him. I told her that he was skinny and wouldn’t take up much room, and that he gives really good feedback, makes good observations and really needed to be there. (What I didn’t say out loud was that there was no way he wasn’t going to be there for this running test. I won.)

Also? She wasn’t going to let me keep my sports bra on for the treadmill test. I said there was no way I could run without wearing that support system. “We may not get you up to a run,” she said. I told her the entire point of my visit was to see how I would do RUNNING. I would definitely be running on the treadmill, and I definitely could not do it without my industrial-strength bra, especially since my right boob was still sore from the surgery. Bouncing would only make it worse. (I won.)

When the bra conversation was repeated to Dr. Conley, I told him, “If no one else has ever balked at having to take her bra off to run on the treadmill, all your previous patients must be really flat-chested.”

“Or mild-mannered,” he smirked.

I love my heart doctor!

So after all the melodrama of the stress test, during which time the doc called me grumpy (it’s OK – I got to return the favor), he asked whether I’d be interested in helping the marketing people by telling my story.

I was so hoping he meant by writing a short testimonial or something. So I gave him my card with phone and email on it. A few days later the “brand marketing coordinator,” Dana, called me and conferenced in the ad agency person.

I said I’m fairly good at telling stories on paper, not so good with my lips. I lose my train of thought, ramble and forget words.

Nevertheless, after a 30-minute phone conversation about my life, they still wanted me.

So next weekend, I get to tell my story. On camera.

I just hope I don’t do a Cindy Brady and freeze up the minute the cameras roll.

But I’ll have Bruce at my side during the talky parts and my other buddies at my side for the running parts. We’ll do the interviews Friday afternoon and the running stuff Saturday.

That’s where you come in, faithful friends.

They want you to run with us Saturday, on camera. Many times.

There are a few tricky parts. Here’s the scoop:

They’d like to air the commercials (ours will be one of five stories) throughout the year in 2014, which means they want it not to look like dead of winter in every single shot. They’re looking for areas that aren’t covered with snow and maybe have some green trees. Also, they want all of us to show up with 2 or 3 different jackets so that we can change our appearance slightly as we change locations. Also, the extra jackets are in case too many people show up wearing the same color. They’d like variety – and the brighter the better. But no plaids or “busy” patterns. (No problem, right?) Also, no glaringly obvious logos – they don’t want to deal with unintentional product endorsements. A small logo is OK, just not a huge statement across your chest, OK?

This part is a little more difficult: The schedule is to shoot us fake-running between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. Saturday. We film the first footage at 9 a.m. on Main Street, but they want us in a couple more locations and I’m not sure what those times (or exact places) will be. So we’ll have to be somewhat flexible.

It doesn’t have to be the exact same group in each location, but if any of you has a flexible schedule next Saturday (and multiple jacket colors!) we’d love for you to be at as many of the locations as possible – but especially on Main Street by 9 a.m. They also want to film us running “across the bridge on Main Street,” and I can only assume they mean on the Golden Overpass after we turn off Main. The person telling me this was not one of the ones who came up here last week scouting locations, unbeknown to me. (Why they didn’t ask us for suggestions is beyond me. They have us filming Friday’s interview portion in some retreat place in Locust Grove.)

They’ll also film all of us fake-running on Chaney Drive where there’s a gazebo. Since they don’t want Christmas lights and probably don’t mean Riverside Park, I wondered if they meant the cemetery. Dana wasn’t sure.

I’m not sure whether there’s a third fake-running location, but they also want to film us in front of “storefronts,” and I don’t believe that involves running. Therefore I’m not sure whether it involves the running group or just the Oakleys. I’ll find out early next week and let you know.

I guess we will all get an education as to how big-time commercials are filmed. The key is to be patient and flexible. We can do that, right?

So, basically, I’d love for you all to be there, and I think I’ve covered as many of the details as I possess at the moment. Except this:

The ad campaign will debut during the 2014 Super Bowl.

Pretty cool, eh?

To let us know whether you’re available to run with us on Saturday, Dec. 14, please post a comment below, text me or email me (if you have my info). You may also post a comment on Facebook, but I would rather that be the last place you reply. Thanks to all of you who can come out and help us.

A beautiful read

Gosh, I didn’t stick with my November commitment to blog every day. Not. Even. Close.

And December will be even busier. But it’s starting off well, because I’m writing and this is only the 1st. So think of this as a BEAUTIFUL start to my month.

I’ve been reading a lot of blogs, those of entrepreneurs, businesspeople, thinkers, creators – people who took a risk and did something bold with their lives! You’ll find the word beautiful in a lot of these descriptions, because the artsy, creative sites are the ones I’ve been reading for several days.

These are a few of the sites I’ve found interesting, informative or inspiring, in no particular order:

  • James Altucher (don’t ask me how to pronounce it). Frankly, I don’t know how this guy has succeeded, but he’s got something that works. He’s a combination of bad attitude and hopeless optimist, it would seem. He has succeeded and failed and succeeded again at more ventures than you can count on both hands. For some reason I keep going back to his advice (taking some of it with a grain of salt). He has written several books, including the most recent bestseller, “Choose Yourself.”
  • A Beautiful Mess. These are creative types who found success in doing something they love. It’s “a lifestyle blog focused on creating a beautiful life.” Their website is quirky, funky and … well … beautiful. One of the things I love is that the co-founders, especially Elsie, seem to be so generous of spirit. They post lots of tips, such as ways to take better food pictures (much needed by me), how to start a blog and other helpful things. This site’s a keeper.
  • Arkansas Women Bloggers. I joined this group a few months ago and have barely scratched the surface of its awesomeness. It’s a community of – you know – women bloggers from Arkansas. Lots of tips, creativity and support. I am SO going to their retreat next year.
  • The Pioneer Woman. You’ve seen Ree Drummond cook on Food Network. Her blog is not new to me, but I’ve gained a new appreciation since I’ve been looking at ideas for making my blog more beautiful and improving my photography. Her photos are beautiful, and the tone of her writing is light and fun.
  • Michael McGaha’s Flickr page. I grew up with Michael (we called him Mike back then), and he has a lot of photography know-how (and equipment). He takes beautiful pictures. When I told him I wanted to upgrade my camera, he graciously offered to let me borrow one of his before I decided which model to shell out for. I’ve been drooling over his Flickr shots for a couple of weeks, staying up way too late one night just dreaming of how I could even come close to matching his skill.
  • Alison Chino. Alison’s was the first blog I read on a regular basis, starting in the mid-2000s. She’s the daughter of my former pastor, and she and her husband and four kids moved to Scotland recently so Taido could study for his PhD in theology at the University of Aberdeen. Alison has become quite the successful blogger/photographer, being published on sites that have readers all over the world, including The Huffington Post. Alison has an adventurous spirit. Example: the dreadlocks she has worn for five years. (That’s bold for a white girl.) She takes great photos and writes even better. I’m jealous.
  • Sarabeth Jones. Second blog I started reading regularly a few years ago, and I’ll never forget Sarabeth’s comment when I tentatively commented that I “thought” I was nearly ready to start my own blog. She said, simply, “You are SO ready.” Sarabeth and Alison are friends, and I met them both several years ago at Fellowship North. In fact, Sarabeth is the resident drama queen at FN (just kidding – she’s in charge of the drama and other artsiness that goes on there, and does a – shall I say – beautiful job). SB takes stunning photos and, being a “creative type,” writes beautifully. Again, jealous.

I owe a big thanks to Sarabeth for the encouragement, even after I took the first faltering steps at blogging. I’ve always had to fight against comparing myself to her or Alison because they’re such good writers. I know that I’m unique and have my own message and way of telling my stories. It’s just hard to remember that sometimes.

I’m striving to make my writing and photography better – and having more confidence in my abilities. Reading these blogs definitely has boosted my confidence level and my determination to grow and continue to learn new things.

Thanks, guys!

Suzy & Spice, 6 years and counting

Six years ago last week, Suzy & Spice was born. It was a tentative venture into the blogging world, and I was nervous as I compared myself to friends who blogged. (I still tend to do that, although my confidence in my writing and storytelling has grown.)

This afternoon I have a cake in the oven that makes me reminisce about that first blog post, so I thought I’d hang out on memory lane for a few minutes while I share it with you. Here it is, the inaugural Suzy & Spice post:

Arsenic and Old Spice

(P.S. I am not noted for my gorgeous food photography – I try, but I usually miss; besides, my blog host seems to have done something odd with the size and shape of the cookie photo.)

But I can’t leave you with an archive and nothing else. Here’s the cake I’m about to take out of the oven. I hope they like it at small group this evening:

Spiced Pumpkin Bundt Cake with Citrus Glaze

I usually make it with my pan that makes miniature bundt cakes, but today I’m pressed for time (nap time, that is). Today it’s a big bundt cake. I hope you enjoy it!

Suzy & Spice trivia: The name of my blog was supposed to be temporary. Those cookies took a long time to whip up, so I thought of something quick and slapped it on there until I had time to think of something better. It turned out to be one of those things – you know, good intentions with no follow-through. I did try to think of something new, but by the time I realized I wasn’t that creative, the name had stuck. Where did it come from? 1) The spice cookies I was making that night and 2) our dogs, Salsa and Pepper. We call them The Spice Dogs.

Hello, old friend

I’ve been neglecting Suzy & Spice lately. No longer. I’ve committed to writing in this space once a day through 2013.

I don’t know how it’s going to look, as I’m certainly no less busy than before, but I’m going to give it a whirl.

Just so you know, I’ll totally be stealing Sarabeth‘s “friday faves” idea. Not only have I always liked her Friday posts, it will take some of the pressure off, once a week, to come up with something original.

Here’s to creativity.