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All is well

This is my final post (Day 7) for the Your Turn Challenge Blog. The challenge was to publish a blog post every day for a week. Here’s a link to all seven of my posts.

 

When the question came up on the Your Turn Challenge Facebook page, “What have you learned about yourself during this challenge?” I didn’t think I had learned much.

Then I realized I had learned at least one big thing.

I’ve been blogging for more than seven years, and it’s no secret that my faith is a huge part of who I am. I’m not afraid to throw out a scripture reference, talk about my blessings or say “Thank you, Jesus,” when the spirit moves. God has given me much, and I’m so grateful for who I am, how far I’ve come and who He continues to mold me into. It’s all because of His grace, mercy and sacrifice for me (and you).

My blog audience is small; I know every single one of my subscribers.

But as I prepare to launch a small business (wellness coaching) next week, I’ve pondered this: Should I cut out the “Jesus references” so that no one will feel excluded? I’m not so worried about offending people with my faith – I don’t pound people over the head with it, and if someone is offended by my rather tame references, I can’t help that. I don’t go out of my way to be offensive, but the Bible says, “The message of the cross is foolish to those who are perishing” (1 Corinthians 1:18, New International Version). As long as I’m being loving and respectful, working to keep others’ best interests at heart, I can’t help when they’re offended.

It’s just that I don’t want to drive people away with my faith talk – to make them feel as though they could never fit in here. Jesus was into including folks, not excluding.

One aspect of my coaching business will be evident through my blog. I’ll post educational and motivational materials in the hopes that others will be inspired. In fact, I’ve already been doing that for a few years, only informally. I’ve written several “if I can do it, you can” posts in the hopes that I might inspire people to take a chance on themselves, to do the hard work it takes to change.

As I decided on the name for the business, To Well With You (my husband came up with it), I first thought the name was too “out there” – too irreverent. It might offend certain people. Then I decided that I like it – no, I love it! – because it says I don’t take myself too seriously; you don’t have to be afraid to approach me. (Even Jesus freaks can have a sense of humor!)

I realize that picking a name can be a large part of a business’ success (or failure), and I certainly don’t want to offend. But as a small-business owner, I’ll have to get used to uncertainties, weigh the pros and cons and be OK with the decisions I make.

And one of those pro/con balancing acts involves the way I communicate.

Being a follower of Jesus Christ is what makes me Suzy Taylor Oakley. Without Him, who knows what my life would be like? (I think I would be more self-centered and not the least bit interested in helping people find “wellness.” And I certainly wouldn’t want to take the journey “to well” with them.)

Part of what will make me a good coach is remembering how far I’ve come in my own journey to wellness – to wholeness. One of my strengths (which I used to consider a weakness) is that I’m flawed, imperfect and in daily need of grace, and that I’m ever aware of my smallness, my need for Him.

My foibles and failures are what make me relatable, and I hope I can be transparent and vulnerable enough to remain human while assuring folks I have at least a little bit of valuable life experience and wisdom to help them move in a positive direction. (Another balancing act, no?)

Figuring out what each individual needs – that’s the challenge.

We’re all different, and not everyone will agree with me about God’s role in the world and in our individual lives.

But here’s what I’ve learned this week: I can’t seem to talk about things that are important to me – about things that make me who I am and that will make me a good coach – without talking about God.

I hope you agree, but it’s OK if you don’t.

To well with you.

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The Your Turn Challenge: Days 1 and 2

This is a big week for my psyche.

I accepted a challenge to blog every day for a week. Marketing guru Seth Godin (whose daily blog I subscribe to) issued the challenge in conjunction with his book What To Do When It’s Your Turn. (I’ll write a review of the book, but not during this week’s challenge. That would be too easy.)

Seth put a special-projects coordinator in charge of rounding up folks for the blogging challenge:

“She’s running a mutual support sprint to help people get on track (or back on track) with their habit of shipping [producing]. Here’s how it works: Participants commit to posting 1 blog post every day for 7 days. The goal is to practice shipping with a like-minded community and to push yourself to simply start.”

My intention with this wasn’t so much to push myself to start, as this is an extremely busy month for me and I already blog fairly regularly (although not as often as I’d like). My true motive was to get my writing “out there” – in front of people who don’t know me. Folks who might not like me.

I want to improve my writing by risking critique.

My first topic? Nothing much controversial – just racism.

Read my Day 1 post here:

On Day 2, one full of meetings and work and fatigue and a near-copout, I was desperate for a topic. It was already past my bedtime (and I should have submitted a post that morning or the night before), but I had committed to this thing, and how could I wimp out on the second day?

Throughout the day, I had pondered a dozen ideas, including poetry. (The only real “rule” of the challenge is that you have to “share a perspective.” In other words, no “What I Had for Lunch Today” drivel. Unless you can make your lunch mean something.)

This writing challenge, this likemindedness with other bloggers, if only for 7 days, has so engaged my mind and my heart that I wrote – partly out of Day 2 desperation and partly out of a need to risk looking stupid – my first poem since 1980 (senior year of high school). I won’t even make you click for it:

taking the leap

By Suzy Taylor Oakley @oakleysuzyt

so many world changers in this space
are they trying to change everyone’s world,
or just their own?

we are of all stripes
all colors, all tongues.

we want to know and be known

there’s security in being a tribe member,
safety in numbers.

but many shun the illusion of safety –
after all, this exercise, this challenge
was meant to jolt us, shake us loose,
force us to take our turn.

for some, this may be the last turn they take –
too scary, this shaking loose
from our cocoons of obscurity.

for others, the last hope,
a lifeline beyond their imagining
until they opened their eyes,
their hearts, their minds

to what’s possible

when you jump.

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To Well With You

We are one step closer. One BIG step.

As we approach the Feb. 1 launch of the wellness coaching business, we now have a name:

To Well With You

I plan to explain later how we came up with the name. (You do want an explanation, don’t you?) But for now I’m making good on my promise to explain the concept of “wellness coaching.”

What is wellness?

Wellness, and even wellness coaching, means many things to many people, but I’m going to give you my take on it.

In my view, wellness encompasses a rainbow of possibility. There are broad areas to cover (spiritual, mental, emotional, physical, financial, social …) and many subcategories that are specific and important to each individual.

One person might want to break a bad habit, while another wishes to make changes in her work/life balance. Maybe this guy wants to reclaim his health by preparing nutritious meals and cutting back on junk food. Yet another may want financial peace and stability.

Fill in your own reason here: __________________________

The topics are as limitless as the stars in the sky.

For me, the goal is to help you get to a better, more meaningful place in your life – one in which you are the best possible version of the unique person God created you to be. That’s my goal for myself (still a work in progress), and it’s my hope for you.

What is wellness coaching?

After years of studying myself, reading books, studying the Bible, praying, listening to talks, seeking the wisdom of others – working to overcome my faults and foibles and to strengthen my positive qualities – I decided that I’d learned a few things that could help others, and I started thinking about how I might do that. Last year I became a certified wellness coach.

Sometimes I have to learn things the hard way, and sometimes I take the loooonnnng and hard route to get there. So, while I firmly believe that we grow strongest through difficulty, I would like to ease some of the pain of progress for you. Maybe not every single thing in your life has to be a hard-fought lesson, right? Maybe you just want to talk through some ways you might approach things differently and avoid some of the pain and mistakes you might have made otherwise. If so, I want to take the journey with you.

Don’t misunderstand. A coach’s job is not to do the work for you – to swoop in and fix everything. Even if I wanted to, I couldn’t.

For starters, I’m not a licensed therapist. I’m not an ordained minister. I’m not your mom.

There are certain things I can’t do and certain things I won’t do as your coach. Here is what I will do:

I’ll listen. I’ll draw you out. I’ll solicit your thoughts, your motivations, your core values, your reasons for wanting to make positive changes in your life. I’ll help you take steps in the direction you want to go.

The key word here? MOTIVATION.

If you do not truly want change, then change either: 1) will not happen or 2) will not last. We will waste each other’s time. (Probably.) The thing about motivation is that you have to come up with it for yourself. I can’t make you want to change.

I will hold your hand. I might give you Kleenex. I will understand (or at least try).

Change is hard.

IT. IS. HARD.

It is easier, in my opinion, when you have a helping hand, a friendly voice, a smiling face. Someone who listens without judgment, who wants the best for you. I want to be that person.

To well with you.

I will start taking appointments Feb. 2. Those appointments can take the form of face-to-face visits, phone calls, video chats, email or any combination. Once the business is live, I’ll provide my contact info here on Suzy & Spice. Meanwhile, feel free to leave a comment below.

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Contest winner … Michele

I have good news and bad news.

The good news: Michele Barnett is the big winner tonight! She won the drawing! Woohoo!

By generously offering suggestions as to the name of my wellness-coaching business (to launch in two weeks) and thus getting her name in my drawing, Michele wins two prizes:

  • A month of wellness coaching.
  • A $50 gift card that she gets to select from a fairly large list of retailers.

Michele, I’ll be contacting you directly, but I wanted to say here, publicly:

THANK YOU! You’re awesome!

Two weeks ago, I had asked you, my readers and friends, to help me come up with a clever name for my upcoming wellness-coaching business. I had already narrowed the choices to about three of my own ideas but decided I wanted some input from folks who know how I roll.

So I had a contest.

You really came through for me. Thirteen of you offered suggestions – some more than one idea – and one of you even came back a second time with a new idea. Other commenters didn’t offer business names but offered so much more: encouragement.

I felt the love.

But … even though I had all of you fine folks on the case, Bruce and I continued to brainstorm names. Some of them were cute, some funny, some stinkers, some just too dumb to mention out loud (except that we did). We (actually, Bruce) came up with an off-the-wall name this evening while driving home from a meeting in Conway. (I think we were punchy, even though the only beverages on our dinner menu had been tea and Mr. Pibb.)

Yup, we have decided on a name. But that’s where the bad news comes in:

I’m not telling you what it is until Tuesday.

Yes, I’m making you wait. I have my reasons. (Go ahead and call me names, stick your tongue out at me, shake your fist in the air – I can take it.)

Also Tuesday, I will lay out what wellness coaching looks like to me and I’ll see how closely it lines up with what you were expecting.

So, I’ll see you back here Tuesday … unless you want to know what I thought of the movie Selma, which Bruce and I watched last night. I’ll be writing about that Monday as we observe the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday. Come back then.

If you don’t want to miss a Suzy & Spice post, feel free to visit the Subscribe form at the top right. We’ll treat you well here – I promise.

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It’s all in how you CHOOSE to look at it

“I choose to look at that brain tumor as the greatest gift I could’ve gotten – because it made everything else possible.”

- Olympic gold medalist Scott Hamilton

By the time Saturday morning arrived, I was beyond ready for my pity party. My teammates – fellow fundraisers for the Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation’s Team Challenge program – were about to run the Walt Disney World Half Marathon without me.

In fact, by the time I got up at 6 a.m., most of them were probably more than half-finished – it was 7 a.m. in Florida, and the race started at 5:30.

I had signed up for the race in the spring, and this was going to be my second half-marathon, after having withdrawn from a similar event in 2013 because of health problems.

I had been oh-so-excited to receive this note from my team manager a few weeks later:

TeamChallengeMickeyWelcome_croppedIt accompanied my training shirt – the one that was going to see me through weeks and weeks of long runs as I prepared for the Disney half.

TeamChallengeTrainingShirtI hadn’t planned to “do another Team Challenge race in 2014.” The previous year had been so challenging – healthwise, financially and emotionally – that Bruce and I decided I needed the break from long-distance training and the pressure of fundraising.

The fundraising is the hard part. The running, not so much. (I love the running part!)

But when the Disney half opportunity came up in late spring, the email made it so tempting:

“Our alumni are the first to know – Team Challenge has a BRAND NEW event. We’re headed to the happiest place on earth on January 10, 2015 for the SOLD OUT Walt Disney World Half Marathon! As an alum, you have the opportunity to get one of the TC entries before they’re open to the general public!”

This hit me on so many levels: “first to know” (I’m special); “alum” (I’m part of a select group); “SOLD OUT” (an opportunity too great to pass up!); Disney (a hugely popular race series, not to mention family destination).

So I signed up.

I began training and fundraising, and soon my shirt and the special note from Mickey arrived. :-)

But this was about the same time that I also decided it was time to tell my doc about my increasingly worrisome blood pressure problems. Before my heart surgery in September 2013 (the reason I withdrew from the previous Team Challenge half-marathon), my BP had always been slightly below normal. Since the surgery, it had been high – the opposite of what one would expect after the surgery.

So we began the task of regulating it with medicine. I was hoping the doc would suggest something else, but that’s what we tried. We tweaked the medication all summer, with me monitoring and logging the BP readings taken at home (and continuing to train for the half), until one day, at a follow-up appointment in November, my doctor issued this plea:

“I wish you wouldn’t run any long distances until we get it stabilized.”

(Not her first time to admonish me about distance races.)

If Bruce hadn’t been at that appointment with me, and agreed with the doctor, I might have balked. But he is NOT AT ALL conservative about running. Annoyingly not.

So I agreed.

I withdrew from another Team Challenge event.

Fast forward to yesterday. (Although I had stopped participating in the weekly conference calls, I had remained on the team’s Facebook group – wisely or unwisely – and I continued to get team updates, travel info and training tips.) By the end of the week, the Facebook updates were at a fever pitch. Teammates were EXCITED, as expected. They posted travel plans, arrivals, where-to-meet plans, race expo updates, pasta party pics, post-race meet-ups, and on and on. Photos like this:

TeamChallengeNationalTeamWDW_01102015If I’d been there I would have done the same thing. I would have been ALL up in it, complete with tweets, posts, text messages to friends, calls to Mom – the works. But I wasn’t.

So by Saturday I had worked myself up to a sad mess.

I am happy – truly happy – for my teammates (most of whom I’ve never even met, except in video conference calls and on social media). They had a great time and – let’s not forget: They (we) raised $150,000 toward curing Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis. With this ONE event, two-dozen people raised $150,000. (My part of that, before I withdrew, was about $3,600.) I helped bring us $150,000 closer to curing my husband’s disease. (That doesn’t count the other Team Challenge teams that raised money during Disney; I don’t know their totals.)

Sometimes I forget the big picture when I’m feeling left out.

But, finally, I remembered to do what I’m supposed to do at all times (even when life isn’t an immediate mess):

PRAY

The pithy bumper sticker says: “When in doubt, pray.”

The Bible says: “Pray without ceasing.”

Putting my pity party on hold to pray helped me remember some things from my reading plan earlier in the day:

Those who are inclined toward God – who love him and want to do his will – will hear the voice of wisdom and respond. Those who have little depth and no desire for God – who can’t see beyond themselves and the present moment – will hear the voice of folly and respond. Two voices, two kinds of hearts; as a result, two drastically different journeys. (From Once a Day 31 Days of Wisdom.)

I want to have a heart that inclines itself to God, not to folly. Not to self-pity, or resenting the success or happiness of others. A HEART FOR GOD.

By the time I ran across this 10-minute video, my attitude was starting to shape up. Please take the time to watch it, even if you don’t remember Scott Hamilton from his glory days, even if you’re not into figure skating. Scott was an athletic superstar when testicular cancer sidelined him. Then, later, a brain tumor. And he lost his mom to cancer.

“I think I’m probably more known for my health problems now than for anything I ever did on skates,” he said. Scott could have let cancer stop him dead in his tracks.

BUT HE SAW THE BIGGER PICTURE.

Watching this video, just 10 minutes and 27 seconds of someone else’s journey, put my “problem” in perspective.

Now that you’ve watched it, and considered your own journey, what attitude will you choose? What will your life be about? It’s all a choice.

“She died of cancer, and I survived. What’s my purpose now?”

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Introducing: wellness coaching

jimmy_carter_make_differenceIn my New Year’s Day post, I promised you “a big announcement.” I can hardly believe the time has come:

On Feb. 1, I will launch my much-anticipated wellness-coaching service.

(Keep reading for details of a contest below.)

Much anticipated, you say? Well, at least by me, my husband, Mom and a few of our friends. I’ve been talking about this for a year – really, two years if you count the year of “waiting on the Lord,” when I worked on being quiet and seeking His guidance on what He wanted for my life. (“Not my will but yours, Lord.”) I just knew I wanted to make a positive impact on the world in the second half of my life. Two years ago, I turned 50, and a milestone birthday like that can rekindle the fire under you that you thought had gone out years ago. It can make you turn wishful thinking into action.

HALF OF MY LIFE IS OVER, AND I DON’T WANT TO WASTE IT.

But, really, the fire never went out. I’ve spent a lot of my life in the pursuit of learning (I got that from my dad). I read a lot, and I’m drawn to books and activities that help me improve who I am. My favorite source material is the Bible, but my library expands way beyond that. And just look at Jimmy Carter. For folks like me (who are tired of politics), he may be remembered more for his volunteer service than for the four years he served as our nation’s 39th president. (In 1991, I was “this close” to serving alongside him on a Habitat for Humanity build, but my dad had a heart attack the day before I was to leave for Tijuana, and I ended up flying to Arkansas instead of driving south from my home in California.) Jimmy Carter puts his faith in action, and I want to do that, too.

So … in my year of seeking the Lord, I was drawn to the idea of helping others who were ready to make positive changes in their own lives, and last year I became a certified wellness coach. I’ll give a bit more background on that in a minute, but first let’s talk about what wellness is, exactly.

Well, it’s not an exact science. It’s more like an art. And if you put half a dozen folks around a table and asked each one to define it, we might come up with half a dozen completely different answers.

Here’s my answer:

Wellness encompasses not only physical health but mental, spiritual, social and even financial wellbeing – any aspect of your being that makes up the many complicated parts of who you are. Each piece is part of the Big Picture. The entire person. The whole enchilada.

I’ve been on my own “journey to fitness [wellness]” for a few years now, and I think I’ve learned a few things that will help others. But I wanted something substantial, something more formal, that would give me credibility. I began researching wellness-certification programs.

CCI_logoIn January 2014 (after a sermon by my pastor that spurred me to make a decision already!), I enrolled in the Catalyst Coaching Institute and spent the next few months studying and taking online courses, then I traveled to Colorado for 16 hours of on-site training. Afterward, I had to pass a final exam, which included a written test and an hour-long session of telephonic coaching (I had to practice-coach a client [a fellow student] over the phone while the instructor listened in and critiqued me).

I spent the next few months planning.

Now I’m ready to launch.

Well, almost. First, I need your help. Bruce and I have been trying to come up with a name for the business, and we’ve come close but aren’t sure we’ve arrived at the just-right name.

So we’re having a CONTEST. Here’s how it works:

Submit a comment at the bottom of this post with your suggestion(s). You may also leave a comment in support of someone else’s suggestion. If one of the suggestions becomes my business name, I will give the comment author a prize. In appreciation of your help, whether or not we choose one of the business names, Bruce and I will draw one name from among all who comment and give a prize to that participant (except one person cannot win both). Thanks in advance for your encouragement and creativity.

Contest ends at 9 p.m. Central time Sunday, Jan. 18, 2015, and I’ll contact the winner(s) by email and post an announcement here. Winner(s) will receive:

  • A month of free coaching sessions (one phone or face-to-face session each week for four weeks, plus weekly email contact).
  • A $50 gift card from a list of many retailers (you choose which retailer if we pick your name).

(If you aren’t interested in the coaching sessions but totally want a $50 gift card, please do enter! :-) )

In case you’re not sure how this whole “coaching” thing works, let me tell you a few things that should put your mind at ease, and I’ll give more details in a post later this week. (Subscribe to Suzy & Spice to get updates sent to your inbox – see form at top right of this page.)

  • The main thing you should know is that YOU are the driver of what we talk about. You pick the topic, and you decide what and how much to discuss. Also, I am not your psychiatrist, medical doctor, nutritionist or priest. I can talk about general things but will stick to the areas I know and will refer you to a credentialed expert if I need to. (I would like to be a certified nutritionist, so if you’ll send me gobs of money I will enroll in a school. I’m only half-joking.)
  • Everything we talk about will be private and confidential.

I hope that helps you understand where this is going. Stay tuned for a deeper explanation of what wellness coaching might look like for you.

January is a time when many people make New Year’s resolutions, and often those resolutions are abandoned by mid-February. That’s part of the reason I’m waiting until Feb. 1 to launch. I want to catch you before you fall.

I believe God made us for community, for relationship. My hope is that you’ll consider me a trustworthy ally as you work to become the best version of the YOU that God created you to be.

This is your one and only life. Don’t waste it.

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Happy New Year – 2014 in review

My goodness, 2014 went fast, didn’t it? So much to tell, so little time to tell it. Here are a few highlights from the year in Suzy & Spice and my electronic calendar. (If I leave out anything important, please chalk it up to Old-Timers Disease – my memory ain’t what she used to be, and I’m liable to forget events both trivial and monumental.)

JANUARY

As we’d done for the previous three New Year’s, we started 2014 with Mac and Michelle’s New Year’s Day Prediction Run, a fun little event (“It’s not a race,” I always remind people), in which the winner is the person who predicts his/her finish time closer than anyone else. I won the women’s division the first two years I entered (see my 2011 post and my 2012 post) – it’s pretty much the only time this slowpoke can win a trophy. Fun times!

In January, I read the first of the year’s 12 books for the local reading group I joined at the end of 2013. We meet once a month, so I had 11 books chosen for me and a 12th that I got to pick for the group to read. I’m going to save the list for a later post because I read books not only for the reading group but on my own, too. I think I will be a bit surprised at the number, once I’ve added them up. (I plan to establish an account at Goodreads in the next week or so, in an effort to catalog the list of books I have read or want/plan to read. Lord, let us hope this doesn’t cause me to add two dozen more books to my TBR list.)

FEBRUARY

SuzyBruceMainStGang121413

Photo courtesy of Hatch and Maas Photography

On Super Bowl Sunday (Feb. 1), “my TV commercial” debuted. Yeah, you heard me right. Bruce and I made a commercial with a bunch of our running friends in Batesville. A few weeks after my September 2013 heart surgery, Baptist Health in Little Rock had asked my cardiologist to recommend someone for one of the five “Keep On Amazing” stories in its new ad campaign. So a huge crew brought a bunch of equipment to Batesville in December 2013 (a really cold, windy weekend) and spent two days filming us running on Main Street and down by the White River. (Did I mention that it was really cold?) The ad campaign debuted in Arkansas during the Super Bowl, and now Bruce calls me a diva and I have my very own chauffeur, aka my Diva Driver, aka Bruce.

Also that month, my cardiologist and I were asked to appear on Channel 7, the ABC affiliate in Little Rock, for heart health month, so we did that, too. That invitation was the impetus for my deciding – finally – to post my before and after weight loss photos.

Also that month, I paid a teenager to design a whimsical banner for the top of my blog. He did a great job, no?

MARCH

Not much on the blog or the calendar. I did attend a series of gatherings at church in which people interested in better nutrition got together and talked about food sensitivities and such. Very enlightening.

RingoTheRaccoon

Ringo the raccoon is very popular at the annual Chase Race and Paws charity event.

We also participated for the third straight year in the Chase Race and Paws event in Conway. The first race, a two-miler, is for humans only. The second race is a one-miler for pets and their humans. We take the Spice Dogs every year. Pepper and I sat out the pet race last year because of our experience the first time (after about 5 feet, I had to pick her up and carry her the rest of the way 1) to keep her tiny body from being trampled in the starting chute and 2) because, after that, she didn’t want me to put her down – yes, I ran an entire mile carrying my dog). Bruce and Salsa run a pretty fast mile together, and the event is so much fun. We even try to get our friends who aren’t pet owners to participate. Sometimes I whip out my photo of the paralyzed raccoon that the owners rescued and bring every year. Ringo always generates a lot of conversations and photo ops. Here’s where to sign up for this year’s event, which is March 7: http://chaserace.info

APRIL

In April, I finished a really good book, The Well Balanced World Changer, and wrote a review.

At the end of the month, Bruce and I drove to Littleton, Colorado, where we did a couple of trail runs and I got 16 hours of required on-site training to finish up my semester of coursework for wellness-coaching certification. (More about that in the “big announcement” I have for you this weekend.)

MAY

He's why I run.

He’s why I run.

Bruce and I manned the Mission Tent at the annual Take Steps Walk for Crohn’s and Colitis in Little Rock. We were on the committee that helped establish a CCFA chapter in Arkansas in 2010, so we raise money for and volunteer at this event every year.

Memorial Day weekend, we participated for the third straight year in the Easter Seals Rock Run 8K (nearly 5 miles) in Little Rock. This was my first race after getting the go-ahead from my heart doc to push it and see what I could do (I had never been allowed to do that before, having been cautioned not to do “burst activity,” such as a sprint to the finish). I was extremely disappointed in how I felt and how I performed. I finished nearly 9 minutes slower than in 2013. I wanted to cry.

Despite my poor performance at the Rock Run, I still had high hopes for a good running year. And despite the fact that I said I was taking 2014 off from fundraising half-marathons, I registered for the Walt Disney World Half Marathon and began raising money for the Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation of America through Team Challenge. The race is next week (Jan. 10), so technically I wouldn’t be running a half-marathon in 2014 (although most definitely training for it), but I still had the extremely uphill and discouraging task of raising money for CCFA. (This time the minimum was $4,500.) Alas, for health reasons I withdrew in November. I managed to raise more than $3,700 for the foundation, though, so it wasn’t a total washout. (That doesn’t mean it’s not difficult to see the Facebook posts of my teammates who will be there without me nine days from now.)

JUNE

Another of our favorite races, and again our third straight year: We ran the Go! Mile at Burns Park in North Little Rock, our former hometown. Another disappointing race, and I would have made it in under 10 minutes if I hadn’t nearly choked on a ball of fluff from one of the cottonwood trees just before the home stretch. (We can always come up with excuses, eh?) As it turned out, my time was 10:02.11, more than a minute over previous year’s time of 8:46.47.

I think it was at this point that I finally admitted I was still recovering from surgery and started giving myself a break. This was also around the time I finally decided to see the doc about my blood pressure. After visits to my local doc and phone calls to my cardiologist in North Little Rock, I started taking BP medicine. UGH!

JULY

I published exactly one blog post in July, and it was nothing earth-shattering. In case you care, it was a list of my Top Ten Tuesday – classic books.

On July 31, my mom celebrated her 75th birthday by driving with me to a Little Rock hospital to be with her baby brother, who was dying of cancer. I spent that night in the room with him so his wife, my Aunt Brenda, could get a decent night’s sleep; she and Mom stayed in a hotel room on the hospital grounds.

AUGUST

The annual White River 4 Mile Classic was Aug. 2. I had just returned from Little Rock the day before and was sleep-deprived after the overnight hospital stay, so after an internal debate about whether to run or volunteer, I ended up handing out cups of water at Mile 3 instead of racing (we were short on volunteers, anyway). It was at this race a year earlier that I had an extremely difficult experience and was in tears by the finish line – I had just found out two days earlier that I would need heart surgery, and I was obsessing about it while struggling to run. That was a difficult race for several people because of the weather. We had fainting, memory lapses, an ambulance trip and more. That race is in the history books, and I’m glad. Oh, yes, and I got stung on the forehead by a wasp at Mile 2. So, while the 2014 was better all around (cooler weather, no fainting, ambulances or wasp stings), I was still glad when it was over. I was just ready for some mental and physical rest.

Me with Uncle John, circa 1967, Kerman, Calif. The boy on the left is our neighbor; the woman on the right is John's first wife.

Me with Uncle John, circa 1967, Kerman, Calif. The boy on the left is our neighbor; the woman on the right is John’s first wife.

On Aug. 21, my uncle lost his 5-month battle with cancer and went home to be with his Lord and Savior. Uncle John was 67. It’s still hard for me to believe he’s really gone. It just happened so very fast.

SEPTEMBER

I attended the fifth annual Arkansas Women Bloggers University in Rogers (northwest Arkansas) and had a blast! I listened, I learned, I laughed, I ate too much, and I won an autographed cookbook in a trivia contest because I knew the name of the Pioneer Woman’s husband (Ladd) – I recalled this because I had just watched a Pioneer Woman marathon at Mom’s house a few days earlier! (This is officially my new favorite cookbook, dethroning Martha Stewart’s Baking Handbook, which held the title for several years.) I came home from the blogger conference loaded with freebies, gifts, door prizes and a lot more know-how about making my blog more appealing to readers and sponsors. (Can’t tell? Well, it was right after this weekend that I started working overtime at my job, and I’m still doing it. So lots of the changes are still in my imagination, although some – more photos, for example – are already happening.) Oh, and I made some new friends at the conference. AWBU was perhaps my favorite thing I did all year. And, hey, y’all, Bruce and I even got in a 2-mile run with a couple of other blogger chicks that weekend. FUN!

I blogged a little more in September: about the previous few months (another retrospective? really?), about the top 10 book characters I’d like to have at my lunch table, and, oh, well, gee … another “catching up” retrospective-type post. (I claim it as my way to “stay in the habit” of blogging when I really am swamped.)

SuzySpiceTeamChallengeCardsI got really neat new business cards made. My co-worker Travis Hon, graphic designer extraordinaire, came up with the artwork and produced them for me via his new printing business, Charlie Bee Studio.

OCTOBER

October was a month of losses and gains for our family. On Oct. 3, my Uncle O.C. died. He was the husband of my mom’s sister Jo, who died 12 years earlier. Oct. 3 was also the birthday of Uncle O.C.’s grandson Nathan, and my brother, J.T. The day we buried my uncle, his great-grandbaby Edison Glass Richardson was born. So, while we celebrated a long and happy life at his funeral (with a wonderful retrospective read by his daughter Penny, followed her son Joseph’s incredible sermon), his granddaughter Bethany was in labor at a Little Rock hospital. Talk about high emotions that week.

DSC02846

DSC02796Just a few days later we gained a cousin when, on Oct. 11, the aforementioned Nathan made Jennifer his bride. I think theirs may be my favorite wedding of all time. It was beautiful in its simplicity, a country setting with hometown folks, food, fellowship and lots of cowboy boots! A few weeks later, inspired largely by this incredible day, I made a sentimental purchase, which you’ll read about in the December entry below.

That same week, I blogged about 1) comparison and 2) the importance of community in a post titled “We’re All in This Together.”

NOVEMBER

JacobWells_MidSouthMarathon2014The Arkansas running community lost a beloved member, Jacob Wells, 45, of Little Rock. The photo above was taken Nov. 1, just a few minutes before he collapsed of heart failure at the Midsouth Marathon, one of nearly 150 marathons he had run over the years. He died a few days later. Jacob was known for his encouragement of other runners (of any speed or ability level), his high-fives, running shirtless (in all kinds of weather) and the many ways he gave back, including running races as a guide tethered to a blind runner. We will never forget him.

My birthday was in November (Black Friday), and I worked overtime that day. Also that month, I got riled up about racism, talked about it, lost sleep over it, and failed to write the post I wanted to write. The post is still in there, swirling around in my head, but when I finally write it I won’t be as overwrought as I was a few weeks ago, so I hope that means it will be a better, more well-thought-out post. It’s time to talk about it, and I will. Soon.

I wrote a history of the White River Christmas Half Marathon & Relay, which Bruce and I were solely in charge of organizing this year (in previous years we were co-directors along with the event’s founders).

We lost another family member: the husband of my mom’s cousin Gwen. I don’t recall ever having met Johnny, but Gwen is a much loved member of our family and I know that Johnny was, too.

DECEMBER

We pulled off the half-marathon and relay, which was great because we’d had to cancel the event in 2013 because of the weather (first, because of ice and two weeks later because of flooding). We raised about $2,600 (don’t quote me on the exact figure – it was somewhere in that range) and helped six families with 18 children! The Christmas Half, the first Saturday of December each year, is a charity event – 100 percent of the entry fees go to help needy families.

SuzysNewBoots12-13-14The next weekend, inspired by a country wedding, this practical girl bought her first pair of cowboy boots. You’ll have to read the post to find out whether I choose the all-red boots, which is why I went boot shopping in the first place, or the other boot in the photo above.

I also blogged about my 5 favorite holiday movies, my 5 favorite holiday TV shows and some great Christmas (and not so Christmasy) music I’ve been listening to. Just click here for all of December’s posts.

And, of course, we celebrated the birth of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. After a couple of months of listening to wonderful music on my own, and then a beautifully quiet and reflective Christmas Eve service at church, I spent Christmas Day with Mom and Bruce, and we quietly sat and watched Christmas movies and ate ham and mashed potatoes. No extravagant gift-giving binges or stuffing ourselves with turkey and pumpkin pie, just, “Happy birthday, Jesus. Thank you for your gift to us.”

That is my 2014 year in review. I’m still working extra hours at my full-time job, but have been pondering, learning, researching, praying over and generally obsessing about some new stuff to come. Tune in for more.

Meanwhile, here are some upcoming things I’m excited about:

  • My 2015 pick for the book group comes up next week, and we’re reading my friend Conrad’s YA novel Adios, Nirvana. He is going to Skype with us for the first 15-20 minutes of our meeting Tuesday evening. We haven’t seen each other in nearly 21 years, so this will be a great few minutes of face time.
  • I have a growing list of books on my TBR (to be read) list, and I can’t wait to dive in. Currently I’m reading Unbroken, about Olympic runner and World War II hero Louie Zamperini. It was made into a movie that came out Christmas Day. Also, my Thursday morning reading group just wrapped up Mere Christianity and this month will be starting another C.S. Lewis book, The Screwtape Letters. Both are awesome works by my favorite author.
  • Saturday I’ll do a photo shoot and interview with Eye On Independence for the February cover. They want to feature me because of the aforementioned heart surgery, return to running and desire to reach out to others with a message of wellness and wellbeing.
  • The big announcement. Stay tuned. In fact, if you want to be sure to hear about it immediately, fill out the Subscribe form at the top right of this page (just your name and email address) and you’ll receive a notification as soon as I post.

If you want to find me on social media, I’m on Facebook and Twitter the most, at least until I get a little more experience with the other forms of social media. I have Instagram, Pinterest and Google+ accounts, but I’m still learning how to use them.

2014 had its ups and downs for me, but it was a good year overall. What was yours like?

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Songs to make your heart happy

It’s no secret that I love Christmas music. Heck, I just love music, period. I listen to everything from country to rap (if it has positive lyrics) to opera. Just about anything can get me singing along, tapping my toes or even dancing around the room.

I’ve been listening to Michael W. Smith’s new Christmas album since it came out several weeks ago. It features duets with country and other artists, including his longtime pal Amy Grant (and even one with her husband, Vince Gill).

I have Michael’s first Christmas album, which is 25 years old, and all three of Amy’s Christmas albums. (I totally missed Michael’s 1998 and 2007 albums. Where was I??? The only thing I can remember is that those are the years of Bruce’s two biggest Crohn’s flare-ups, including the year we got married. I guess I was a bit distracted.)

The thing I like about Michael and Amy’s Christmas albums is that they include not only traditional songs (with their own unique spin) but original or lesser-known music that makes my heart soar (orchestras, full choirs and instrument solos are plentiful). There are tender songs such as Amy’s “Breath of Heaven” and the hauntingly beautiful “Gabriel’s Oboe” (a version of this song was featured in one of my favorite movies, The Mission); Michael’s “Lux Venit” (co-written with Amy) and “Christ the Messiah,” both with choirs; and the gentle “Welcome to Our World” (both artists).

At least one album from each artist includes a song with bagpipes, which I personally love, although my dad always considered them noise (like listening to a “mashed duck”): Amy has “Highland Cathedral,” and Michael includes “A Highland Carol.” Beautiful, both.

But enough going on about Amy and Smitty. To the songs I wanted to share with you today:

The first two are from Michael’s 2014 album, “The Spirit of Christmas.” These are “lyric videos” – the only versions I could include here legally – although I do find the lyrics on screen distracting from the beauty of the music. To get the full force, close your eyes and listen to the soaring music. (Don’t worry – you’ll be able to understand the words; this isn’t Bob Dylan.) And if you want to go back and catch the lyrics visually as you listen, click and listen a second time. This particular album features mostly country singers, with the exception of Audrey Smith (Smitty’s granddaughter), Michael McDonald (the Doobie Brothers) and U2 lead singer Bono (another of my favorites), with a whispered take on “The Darkest Night.”

It’s all good!

This one, “All is Well,” features Carrie Underwood. Close those eyes and listen (after you click, of course).

And this one, “Almost There” – about Mary’s long journey to give birth to our Lord and Savior – features Amy Grant.

Switching gears a bit, I thought I’d throw in a third one, which is not a Christmas song at all, but I received a link to it (and two others by Crowder) in an email today from Capitol Christian Music Group. Called “This I Know,” it’s really good, especially if you like hillbilly music! And if you don’t, still give it a try. You don’t even have to close your eyes.

I had trouble deciding which of the three Crowder songs to share here. Seriously, I went back and forth for a few minutes before deciding to share the above video on this page. They’re all good in different ways. So if you visit YouTube, also listen to the inviting “Come as You Are” and the toe-tapping “Ain’t No Grave.” You won’t be sorry.

Finally, I’m giving a shout-out to my friend Lois over at Waxing Gibbous, who more or less inspired this little sing-a-long with her Song of the Month feature. Her latest is a song by The Martins, “This is the Promise” (also not a Christmas song), and it’s beautiful.

Which of these did you like best? Leave us a comment below.

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These boots are made for talkin’ – or ‘A Practical Girl’s Guide to Having Some Fun’

SuzysNewBoots12-13-14I’ve lived in Arkansas umpteen years and never had a pair of cowboy boots – never even tried on a pair, never really wanted any. But now I have a pair, y’all! (You’ll have to keep reading to find out which ones I chose.)

Why the turnaround? For one thing, cowboy boots have become quite a fashion item in the past couple of years, and I’ve seen some really cute boots lately – the variety of designs has really exploded. Some of my blogger friends got free pairs a couple of years ago by promoting a particular Arkansas-based retailer with a giveaway on their blogs, but even then I wasn’t that interested, except that I liked the idea of helping a local business.

Given enough time, however, I have been known to come around and get on a particular fashion bandwagon. (Remember stonewashed jeans in the 1980s? It took me years to own a pair [why would you want to buy something brand new that looks worn out?]. Platform shoes? A couple of years.) Often, by the time I’ve come around the trendy item is no longer “the” thing to wear. I just don’t want to be known as someone who does something just because everyone else is.

But cowboy boots are different. Cowboy boots, which started as more function than fashion, have been around for ages. Click here for a bit of boot history, which even mentions red boots! (Yeah, leave it to me to turn a happy Christmas tale into a history lesson about boots and those lovable Huns.)

My dad wore cowboy boots and always considered them the most comfortable shoes he owned. I never understood that – I always thought they would be stiff and hot – but he owned several pairs in his lifetime, and since he had back problems dating to before I was born, I figured there must be something to it.

Dad died in 1997 (Dec. 23, to be exact), and cowboy boot styles have evolved quite a bit since his day. So my mind started to open just a bit on the topic of girls (this girl, in particular) wearing cowboy boots.

DSC02819In October this year, I went to my cousin Nathan’s wedding, and the entire wedding party (from the bride on down the tiny little girls in their frilly dresses and denim vests and jackets) was wearing cowboy boots. It was an outdoor wedding (sort of – the weather was cool and drizzly, so they put up a big tent), and it was kinda country. Classy country, though. Not ritzy but cozy, homey and fun. Tiny white lights, handmade quilts, homemade soups, cornbread, pies. (Someone in our party may have had two pieces of the pecan pie, but I’m not telling.)

SONY DSCI was totally caught up in the beauty and fun of that day (probably the most beautiful wedding I’ve ever had the privilege of attending), and before it was over I said to Bruce, “I know what I want for my birthday: a pair of red cowboy boots.” (To my recollection, there were no red boots in the wedding party, but I just really like red.)

My birthday was in late November (Black Friday this year), but I didn’t get the boots. (Don’t blame Bruce – this wasn’t a gift he could just surprise me with, and I’m way too practical to spend that kind of money on a birthday gift for myself.) I had more or less talked myself out of boots, mainly because of the price tag.

All my life I’ve been accused of being “too practical.” (I’m thinking of you, Southern California car salesman who tried to sell me a red Mazda Miata when I was shopping for my first post-college vehicle.)

I’m originally a California girl, and I still consider that my home state. But, really, I have two homes. I refer to myself as a CalifArkansan (don’t try to say that too fast). I’m somewhat of a city girl but do enjoy me some country music, a mess of fried catfish (that one took me years) and a good dog (or two). I’m what Donny and Marie would refer to as “a little bit country, a little bit rock ‘n’ roll.”

So I just couldn’t stop thinking about cowboy boots (specifically, red cowboy boots), and I knew this wasn’t going to be just an impulse purchase. Maybe not a practical purchase, but, hey, a girl’s gotta go off the rails every once in a while, right?

Fast forward to Saturday morning, Dec. 13. I woke up thinking I didn’t want to spend the day catching up on Quicken and other household necessities. No, reconciling bank statements would not be the order of the day. I’ve been working a lot of overtime lately, and weekends have been for catching up at home – I always feel behind. But OT = a little extra cash, right? It was time for a day off.

Cue the red-boot fantasy.

I called Mom and said, “Hey, I’ve always wanted to stop by Western Trails, but we’re always too busy getting to or from Little Rock to drop in. Wanna go?” (There was no mention of boots – only the thought of getting out and visiting a store from which I had seen some neat jewelry and cute outfits.)

Mom, who is always in favor of shaking me out of practical mode, was game. So by midday, she and I – with Bruce as our chauffeur – set out for Pleasant Plains, about 15 miles south of Batesville.

The experience couldn’t have been more fun. (And for a gal who hates to shop, that’s saying a lot.)

When we entered the store, we had to take a moment to browse the pretty silver jewelry, which is the first thing that catches your eye when you walk in. Then we checked out the clothing section for about two minutes. But that wasn’t why I came. I was a girl on a mission:

To the boots!

The sales clerk showed me a few red pairs, and a few non-red boots also caught my eye. I tried on three pairs of red, but then someone, maybe Bruce, pointed out a pair of light brown boots with red accents. Red stitching and red crosses. I really liked them, but hadn’t I come for all-red boots. Nevertheless, they were worth a try, as they were really great-looking boots. I was still wearing one red boot on the left, so I tried the brown boot on the right.

Now, here’s a thing I love about a small-town store: As I walked around in two unmatched boots, everyone in the store gave an opinion – even folks I didn’t ask!

A guy near the dressing room, where his wife was trying on clothes, pointed and said, “That one. Definitely that one.” (Not the red one.)

Eight or nine people gave their opinions, and not a single one voted for red.

When I protested to each one that I came for RED boots, several folks (including the store owner) said, “Get both!”

Ha! Don’t I wish?

So … can you guess which ones I left with?

I left wearing the brown ones with the red crosses. No, they aren’t the red boots I set out on a mission to buy, but they are beautiful boots. And my mission is much bigger than red cowboy boots.

You see, crosses have a special meaning for me.

MrSmith_imageBruce and I don’t spend a lot on Christmas gifts. We give his son cash, my mom Mary Kay (I sell it, she wears it, so she insists that’s all she needs), my brother’s family small gifts of appreciation and affection, and each other some small token of what our life together is like. Last year (or maybe year before last), our gift to one another was a $6.99 DVD of one of our favorite movies starring a favorite actor: “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington” with Jimmy Stewart. (Not a Christmas movie, FYI, but one with plenty of heart.)

Even though we’re from different faith backgrounds, we both understand that the meaning of Christmas is not in obtaining stuff. We give charitably throughout the year – a lot less than we would like, but nevertheless with hearts that want to help those less fortunate. And we make Christmas a time in which we keep in mind that it’s about giving rather than accumulating.

So, for me, it’s hard to justify spending $200-plus on a pair of boots that I don’t need but merely want.

Having a new pair of cowboy boots won’t give me eternal happiness. But it’s OK to have them. And the red crosses are my reminder never to take my blessings for granted. They came at a cost.

Having red crosses on my boots is a symbol of what Christ did for us. He left the privileges of heaven to become human. Messy, exhausting, hard. Humanity.

Jesus came to save us from our own messes, our self-centeredness, our difficult moments … seasons … of humanity. He came to show us what humanity really could be, even in the smallest of moments. That handful of brown-boot-voting folks in Western Trails showed me a small glimpse of what humanity was meant to be: Giving. Connecting. Family, even – if only for a few moments. I may never see most of those instant friends again, but in those few minutes in the store, they gave me their own brand of Christmas spirit.

As we remember my dad’s home-going on Dec. 23, 1997, I get more sentimental each year. I miss him. But he’s exactly where he belongs: with his Savior and King.

After we left the store Saturday, I said to Mom, “I wish my daddy could see me in my new cowboy boots – I think he’d like them.”

She agreed.

“I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.” John 10:10 (NIV)

If you would like to know more about Jesus and His purpose for your one and only life, please contact me. You can post in the comments and I’ll follow up with you privately. Or click here.

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Friday Five: Favorite Holiday TV Shows

Normally, I read Tara’s Friday Five around 5 a.m., and I kick myself for not having one ready: There is no way I can come up with a Friday Five and post something by the end of the day. And who wants to wake up to a Friday Five on Saturday?

I’m still in AWE of Tara’s ability to get so much done; she consistently posts a Friday Five, a Weekend Update, a Marathon Training summary (she’s a half-marathon veteran but is training for her first full marathon), book reviews and all kinds of other neat stuff. I want to be her when I grow up, and we haven’t even met!

But last week’s Friday Five was an easy one for me, so I got ’er done quickly and then, because I’m a fan of the Christmas season in general (movies, songs, food, decorations, TV shows and, of course, Jesus) – and, people, I just needed a break – I decided to do my own Friday Five spinoff so I wouldn’t be caught off guard this Friday. (I’m writing this Wednesday night – so there!) Despite the fact that I’m supposed to be balancing my checkbook right now, I’m taking a writing break to have some more holiday fun. I am way overdue.

I give you my Five Favorite Holiday TV Shows, in reverse order of preference:

  1. Frosty the Snowman (1969).

FrostyTheSnowman_imageFor starters, Jimmy Durante! (Kids, ask your parents.) This popular comedian and actor had a distinctive voice, a distinctive schnoz (a big nose) and the once-mysterious parting line, “Good night, Mrs. Calabash, wherever you are” at the end of his radio show. Mr. Durante narrates this tale of good (Frosty) vs. evil (the magician who tries to steal Frosty’s silk hat, which, as we all know, is “how he came to life one day”).

Then there is Frosty, himself – a happy, friendly and self-sacrificing snowman. He allows himself to melt inside a warm building to save little Karen from freezing to death. (Maybe I liked this show so much when I was a kid because Karen is my first name.) There’s the flippity-floppity bunny rabbit, Hocus Pocus (he may be the evil magician’s sidekick, but he’s really a good bunny at heart – plus he’s really good at Charades), as well as those other animated kids, whose names I do not recall.

And, even though Gene Autry and countless others have recorded this song over the decades, I can’t imagine anyone other than Jimmy Durante singing “Frosty the Snowman” during the closing credits of this happy TV special.

QUOTE: “HAPPY BIRTHDAY!” (Frosty)

TRIVIA from imdb: Frosty the TV show came after the song became a hit for Gene Autry, who also recorded “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer.”

  1. It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown (1966).

GreatPumpkin_image(You thought all of these faves were going to be Christmas shows and I was using the politically correct term “holiday” instead of “Christmas,” didn’t you? Didn’t you? Ha! I threw this in to throw you off.)

So … to our plot:

Poor Linus. He thinks this will be the year he gets a visit from the Great Pumpkin. As the rest of the Peanuts gang trick-or-treats, Linus and his blue blanket wait and wait in his pumpkin patch until … well, you wouldn’t want me to spoil the ending, now, would you?

One thing I can tell you: This is classic Peanuts, with the whole gang – Charlie Brown, Lucy, Sally, Pigpen, Peppermint Patty, Schroeder, Violet and, of course, Snoopy (aka WWI Flying Ace) – joining in the festivities.

QUOTE: “Everyone tells me you are a fake, but I believe in you. P.S.: If you really are a fake, don’t tell me. I don’t want to know.” (Linus)

TRIVIA from imdb: “After the special originally aired, children all over the country sent candy to Charlie Brown out of sympathy.” (All Charlie Brown had gotten during trick-or-treating was a bag of rocks.)

  1. Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer (1964).

Rudolph_imageFirst, there’s Burl Ives. He plays the narrator, Sam the Snowman. Not only does Burl narrate – he sings! (I have a sing-along Burl Ives album of Disney songs from when I was a kid. It’s an LP. I still listen to it. In fact I’m listening to it now, as I write.)

And then there is the sweet, sweet story of a little reindeer with the “blinkin’ beacon” who is ostracized by all the other reindeer – except, of course, Clarice, who thinks he’s cuuuuude! But the cast of characters also includes Yukon Cornelius, the Abominable Snowmonster (aka Bumble) and Rudolph’s fellow “misfit” Hermey the elf/wannabe dentist. Lots of wonderful songs in this one, including “We are Santa’s Elves,” “I am Old Kris Kringle” and “There’s Always Tomorrow.”

QUOTES: “Didn’t I ever tell you about Bumbles? Bumbles bounce!” (Yukon Cornelius)

“How do you like that? Even among misfits you’re a misfit.” (Yukon)

“Whoever heard of a skinny Santa? Eat. Eat!” (Mrs. Claus)

“How can I eat? That silly elf song is driving me crazy!” (Santa Claus)

“She thinks I’m cuuuuude!” (Rudolph)

Wahooooo!” (Yukon Cornelius)

TRIVIA from imdb: “Why is Dolly for Sue, who is apparently a perfectly ordinary doll, living on the Island of Misfit Toys? This gripping debate raged on for decades, until official word from Rankin-Bass recently decided the issue: Dolly for Sue is a ‘misfit’ because she has psychological problems – she feels unloved.” (Oh, good grief.)

  1. A Charlie Brown Christmas (1965).

CharlieBrownChristmas_imagePretty much anything the Peanuts Gang does is OK by me. I like this one the best, though. I don’t even know where to start, so I’ll just start.

My favorite things about this special:

Linus. Especially his soliloquy, in which he tells part of the Christmas story from Luke 2 (King James Version). He stands onstage in the spotlight, accompanied by his ever-present blue blanket, and in his sweet young voice he begins, “And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night…” Notice that when he comes to the part that says, “Fear not,” Linus lets go of his security blanket.

The scrawny little tree. Sure, Lucy and the rest of the gang make fun of Charlie Brown’s pick for a tree for their Christmas pageant, but to me the tree symbolizes Hope. No one is ever beyond the reach of God, and out of His tender love we become beautiful. Isn’t that why Jesus came – to give us hope?

The music. Ever since I got a smart phone three years ago, I’ve had as my default ring tone the song that everyone recognizes as the Charlie Brown Christmas song, called “Linus & Lucy.” Also, “Christmastime is Here” and “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing” by those sweet little voices, and “O Tannenbaum” (I actually learned the words in German in fourth grade, and I do not know the English version, “O Christmas Tree”).

Snoopy. Well, because he’s Snoopy.

QUOTE: “Gee, do they still make wooden Christmas trees?” (Linus)

TRIVIA from imdb: “[Director] Bill Melendez tried to talk Charles M. Schulz out of using Biblical references (especially Linus’ speech) in this special. Schulz reportedly won him over by saying, ‘If we don’t do it, who will?’ As it turned out, Linus’ recitation was hailed as one of the most powerful moments in the highly acclaimed special.”

The special “broke many of the rules prevalent for animated holiday specials during the 1960s: it didn’t make use of a laugh track; real children were used for the character voices instead of adult actors imitating children’s voices; and Biblical references were used to illustrate the true meaning of Christmas.”

  1. Dr. Seuss’ How the Grinch Stole Christmas! (1966).

HowTheGrinchStoleChristmas_imageNo, not the Jim Carrey version. Please. (Although I’m sure it was lovely, as it was directed by the multitalented Ron Howard. But, no.)

The 1966, animated version of How the Grinch Stole Christmas! has been my favorite Christmas show for as long as I can remember. When I was a kid, I simply enjoyed it; I couldn’t tell you why. Now that I’m grown (but not really), I can tell you these reasons:

Dr. Seuss. I think Theodor Geisel (aka Dr. Seuss) was one of the most brilliant poets ever to live. I could read or listen to his books all day long. He had a sense of whimsy and fun, he was clever as the dickens, and he had a social conscience.

Boris Karloff, star of countless horror movies in the early days of film, as narrator. His deep voice is just perfect.

The music (of course). Music, even if it’s just part of the background, is a huge part of any movie or TV show. It sets the mood of any scene. In this show, the highlights, for me, are “You’re a Mean One, Mr. Grinch”; the lively music as the sled gains speed; and “Fahoo Foraze,” which the Whos sing while standing hand in hand as the story ends.

The Whos down in Whoville. Those Whos are so happy, ain’t nothin’ gonna steal their Christmas cheer. Even when the Grinch (disguised as Santy Claus) steals all their food, their presents, their tree and even the log from their fire, plus the last crumb of food that was even too small for a mouse(!) … well, you can still hear them singing joyfully for miles around. (They must have taken a cue from Buddy the Elf.)

Cindy Lou Who, in particular. She is just too stinkin’ cute, with those big, innocent blue eyes and that adorable little sticking-up ponytail.

Max the dog. Ever year when I watch this show – and I see that greedy old Grinch strap those sawed-off antlers to Max’s head and make him pull that sleigh with all the Whos’ stolen Christmas presents up that snow-covered mountain – I say out loud, “Poor Max.” Out loud. Every year. But I love the excited, tongue-hanging-out expression on Max’s face when the sleigh gains momentum as it careens down the mountain and Max jumps on, thinking he’s gonna get a free ride. He’s happy for a moment, but … poor Max.

A big heart. The Grinch starts out with a heart that’s “two sizes too small.” But who can stay a grinch while listening to all those little Whos singing their hearts out on Christmas Day, when all their presents and decorations have been stolen? No one, that’s Who!

The message that Christmas isn’t about material things.

“Maybe Christmas,” he thought, “doesn’t come from a store. Maybe Christmas, perhaps, means a little bit more!”

QUOTE: “I got hung up getting the Grinch out of the mess. I got into a situation where I sounded like a second-rate preacher or some biblical truism. … Finally in desperation … without making any statement whatever, I showed the Grinch and the Whos together at the table, and made a pun of the Grinch carving the ‘roast beast.’ … I had gone through thousands of religious choices, and then after three months it came out like that.” (Theodor Geisel)

TRIVIA from imdb: “The lyrics to the song ‘Fahoo Foraze’ were made to imitate classical Latin. After the special aired, the studio received letters asking for a translation from people who believed them to be real Latin.”

“Dr. Seuss disputed casting Boris Karloff for fear that he would make the Grinch too scary.”

“Thurl Ravenscroft received no screen credit for his singing, an oversight Dr. Seuss attempted to rectify by sending letters to every major columnist in America identifying Ravenscroft as the singer on ‘You’re a Mean One, Mr. Grinch.’ He is also part of the chorus on the other two songs.”

As you can tell, I’m a sucker for a happy ending. There aren’t any sad stories on this list of holiday specials. Well, as far as I know, Linus has never seen the Great Pumpkin, so his ending could be a bit happier. But he still has hope.

And that’s what Christmas is all about, Charlie Brown.

What are your favorite holiday TV shows?

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