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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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Friday Five: Favorite Holiday Movies

It has been an exhausting and difficult few weeks, so when I saw my blogging friend Tara’s Friday Five this morning, I knew that it was time to put my long to-do list away for a few minutes and spend some time having fun.

And, if you know me, you know that talking about Christmas movies and singing Christmas songs are my idea of having F-U-N!

(Confession: I break out my Amy Grant Christmas albums – all three of them – around July every year. I’m sure Bruce loves them just as much as I do. Right, Honey? I’m waiting for someone to challenge me to a Christmas Song Trivia Contest. I would totally win. Any takers?)

I “met” Tara of Running ‘N’ Reading when she followed me on Twitter a few months ago, and I recently realized that we probably came face to face in August when she traveled to Batesville to run the White River 4 Mile Classic (she ran; I handed out cups of water along the route). We’ve gotten to know each other a little bit through our blogs, social media and the Arkansas running community, and we share a love of good books, too. Tara posts a Friday Five every single week (I don’t know how she keeps up with all her blogging, marathon training, book reviews and what-not and also finds time for work and sleep!), and it’s not often that I get to join in, but this is my way of saying, publicly: Tara, you rock!

Here are my Favorite Holiday Movies, and stay tuned for my Favorite Christmas TV Specials. (There are so many to love, I have to separate the movies and TV shows into different categories!) But don’t expect a Favorite Holiday Songs post, because the list would go to infinity and beyond.

In no particular order (mostly because I can’t decide for sure on No. 1):

  1. It’s a Wonderful Life  (1946).

ItsAWonderfulLife_image

Even before I began working at a bank that gives back to the community in so many ways, both large and small (I personally have been a recipient of donations to my “causes” from both the corporate entity and employee support), I loved the themes in this movie: generosity, community spirit, personal accountability, angels watching our backs (“Attaboy, Clarence! Attaboy!”), love (family, spouse, friends, neighbors) esprit de’ corps, buddies (remember Ernie and Bert, the cops?) and forgiveness. Mr. Potter, eat your heart out.

And then there’s Jimmy Stewart. Could you imagine anyone else, ever, as George Bailey? If anyone ever attempts to remake this movie (I sure hope no one has), the casting director would have a heckuva time finding a replacement for the incomparable James Stewart.

  • 2. Elf (2003).

Elf_imageThe first time I saw this story of a 6-foot-3 human who was raised by elves, I went to the theater thinking it was going to be dumb but I decided to give it a try. And the first time I watched it, I thought, “Yeah, it’s dumb but I kinda liked it.” Now it’s a can’t-miss movie every year, and I pop it into the DVD player several times a season (starting in … October?) while I’m puttering around the house on Saturdays. For sure, there are dumb moments, but maybe the adolescent in me chooses to embrace them (I still laugh out loud during the long-and-loud-belch scene).

But I love Buddy’s childlike innocence and enthusiasm. Can you imagine being happy and bringing holiday cheer every day, all year, to everyone you meet? As they teach in elf school: “The best way to spread Christmas cheer is singing loud for all to hear.” There are so many great one-liners in this movie, especially from Buddy: “I just like to smile. Smiling’s my favorite.” And to the fake Santa: “You sit on a throne of lies.”

(This was also the first time I became aware of the awesome Zooey Deschanel, who played Jovie. Love her.)

  1. Miracle on 34th Street (1947 and 1994).

MiracleOn34thStreet-1947This is one of those rare cases in which I enjoy the sequel as much as (well, nearly as much as) the original. (Notable non-holiday examples: Sabrina and True Grit, although my brother would challenge me on that last one.)

Natalie Wood is wonderful as the 6-year-old Susan, but little Mara Wilson is equally precocious; she steals every scene she’s in, because she’s just so stinkin’ cute. And the Santas (Edmund Gwenn, 1947, and Richard Attenborough, 1994) are both engaging and delightful. If I had to pick the main character love-interests, though, I’d choose the always wonderful Maureen O’Hara from the original and good-guy Dylan McDermott from the sequel (although John Payne is not bad on the eyes).

For me, the 1994 version is eye candy. The costume designer chose classic wardrobes for all the characters, and the scenery takes you back to days gone by. New York is stunning and nostalgic in this film. I have no doubt the visuals in this version are a nod to the 1947 classic.

That being said, notice that the piece of art I picked for the 1947 version is in color. Weeellllll, the original was in black and white, and that was just fine with me. Why do they have to go messing with the classics? (It sounds like I’m contradicting myself because of the above comments about sequels, but I’m talking Colorizing here, people. In the 1980s, Ted Turner turned a bunch of black and white classics into color versions for what purpose? Money? I guess I’d better stop here, because sequels are about money, too, no? Except I have to say this: “It’s a Wonderful Life” was a black-and-white movie too, although the movie poster above is also in color.)

  1. National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation (1983).

ChristmasVacation_imageThere are just too many quotable, laugh-out-loud and now-classic moments to list here. I live for the scene where Clark receives what he anticipates is the usual generous Christmas bonus (he has already made a sizable down-payment on the swimming pool he plans to build) and instead gets a subscription to the Jelly of the Month Club. His rant/rave is over the top and classic Chevy Chase. (Wouldn’t anyone have a meltdown after suffering through a Christmas week like he’s had?) But Uncle Lewis and Aunt Bethany have their own hilarious moments … and should I admit here that I, too, have a cousin Eddie? Fortunately, my cousin does not have a dog named Snots.

(Note to Tara: Yes, I have had “Mele Kalikimaka” running through my head for hours now, but I forgive you. It’s such a great song.)

This movie is sentimental, well-acted and funny. If you need to laugh until you cry, check it out.

Where’s the Tylenol?

  1. Christmas in Connecticut (1945).

ChristmasInConnecticut_imageI’ve long counted this as my favorite Christmas movie, so I saved it for last. (I said I couldn’t decide on No. 1, but when it comes down to it, this still reigns.) This one is a bit hard to find in stores or online, but it’s worth the effort. Barbara Stanwyck is always outstanding, and here she gets support from Dennis Morgan as the lonely sailor, Sydney Greenstreet as her overbearing boss, and the delightful S.Z. Sakall as her “Uncle Felix.”

Premise: Stanwyck, as Elizabeth Lane, is a columnist for “Smart Housekeeping” magazine and writes ad nauseam about her wonderful husband, baby and house in the country, as well as all the yummy food she loves to cook for her family. Trouble is, in reality she’s single and childless, lives in a flat in New York City and doesn’t know a flapjack from a latke. When her boss invites the poor lonely (single) sailor to spend Christmas with her family in their Connecticut farmhouse – and then invites himself along – hilarity ensues. She has to come up with a husband, a baby and a farmhouse (no problem, right?) and learn to cook, pronto. Or, wait. Maybe “Uncle Felix,” who works at the NYC restaurant she frequents, wouldn’t mind tagging along to cook the meals. At least she’s got that part covered, eh?

When they arrive in Connecticut, secrets, borrowed babies (yes, babies, plural), hasty wedding attempts and, of course, a love story are the order of the day. This classic is in black and white, but I believe a colorized version is available (but who wants that?).

If you attempt to find this movie, do not make the mistake of renting the 1992 TV version directed by Arnold Schwarzenegger and starring Dyan Cannon and Kris Kristofferson. Do I really need to explain why? Lord, help us all.

What are your favorite Christmas movies? Let us know in the comment section below.

NEXT FRIDAY: Stay tuned for my five favorite holiday TV shows.

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White River Christmas Half Marathon & Relay: A not-so-brief history

This began as a Facebook post on my church’s page, but, as I got to writing a “brief overview,” I decided to give a bit more background on the “Christmas Half.” So pretend you’re browsing the Fellowship page on Facebook and you run across this:

WRChristmasHalfShirt2009It’s time to start talking up this year’s White River Christmas Half Marathon and Relay, a fundraiser to help Batesville-area families at Christmastime. Did you know this charitable event was started by two Fellowship members and local veterinarians, Matt and Sara Walker, and that Fellowship is the host site?

The entry fee is donation based, and folks give any amount they’re led to give. It’s a wonderful opportunity for runners and walkers to participate in a race that “gives back.” Some give a little; some give a lot. It’s the spirit of giving that makes it such a wonderful annual event.

We’ve raised several thousand dollars for families in just a few years, in partnership with the Northcentral Arkansas Development Council.

This year’s event – on Saturday, Dec. 6 – will be the 6th annual (sort of). We had to postpone, then flat-out cancel the 2013 race because of weather: the first time because of an ice storm and then, two weeks later, because of flooding. It was a tough call, but it was for the safety of all involved. Nevertheless, we helped families. After we canceled, we reached out to all the runners who had donated, and only one wanted the race “fee” back ($35). So these families we set out to help still received a nice Christmas with the several-hundred dollars we raised. In light of that, I think we can count the 5th annual as an actual thing, don’t you?

Here’s how the “helping families” part plays out:

A couple of months out, we contact Kathy Ruminer, a very nice lady with the NADC, to remind her to be on the lookout for the families that most need our help. She picks a few families (or individuals), and once we know how much money we’ve raised through donations (from race participants and sponsors), we decide how many folks we can help and how much each family will receive. Fellowship members Sara Walker and Becky Ellison usually do the shopping, and it gives them so much joy to shop for the kids and their parents!

Sara and Becky buy Christmas gifts for the kids, but we also give Walmart gift cards to the parents so that they can buy groceries.

WRChristmasHalfShirt2010Did you know that one year we had enough money to provide a refrigerator (with the help of Fellowship member and Home Depot manager Ken Paul)? Kathy loves to tell that story (and I love to hear it!): After the appliance was delivered, the lady of the house called Kathy and told her they had delivered the wrong refrigerator. This one was so fancy, it couldn’t have been the one meant for her! Kathy assured her that it was no mistake – this was, indeed her fridge. This gift was made possible by our little ol’ half-marathon!

The race has grown to about four dozen participants over the years, but “small” doesn’t mean bad. It’s a nice little community event – and if you’ve ever put on an event of any size, you know it takes planning, cooperation and lots of volunteers (and food). When I talk about cooperation, this isn’t just from Fellowship members. Community members, local running club members and other folks have helped out, or we couldn’t have done it.

Bruce and I didn’t live here or attend Fellowship until 2010, the year of the second Christmas Half. Rather than running the race, we volunteered as traffic monitors that year and the next. When I say traffic monitors, I’m talking about those folks who stand at the intersections along the race course and holler, “You’re doing great – turn left here! You’re almost finished. Looking awesome!” (Even if it’s not true.)

In 2011, they gave the option of running the half-marathon or an 8k (4.96 miles).

In 2012, the race almost didn’t happen. The Walkers had added a third child and a second veterinary clinic, so they had growing responsibilities that made race planning extremely difficult. Bruce and I, who hate to see a good thing end, got involved with helping them and took over the administrative parts (procuring sponsor money, ordering trophies, designing the T-shirts, finding a volunteer coordinator – all that behind-the-scenes stuff). By that year it had become a half-marathon plus a relay (two buddies team up, and each runs half of the half).

I think I need to pause here and explain “half-marathon” to non-runners: It’s 13.1 miles. Lucas (who is training for this year’s Half) mentioned in a recent sermon that it’s 13 miles, and I was tempted to shout out, “It’s thirteen-POINT-ONE miles!” You see, I’ve run a half-marathon, and that last 10th of a mile is mighty significant. I wanted credit for every single 10th of a mile I eked out. :-)

WRChristmasHalfShirt2011Bruce and I have continued as co-directors because of the Walkers’ increasingly busy schedules. This year they’re serving as advisers but are not involved as directors. We thank them for entrusting the responsibility to us, and they will always be the founders of this very special event. If you don’t know Matt and Sara, introduce yourself some Sunday. They are two of the nicest, most generous people you’ll ever meet. And Sara makes me laugh, so she gets bonus points for that.

The volunteers, as I mentioned, make this race – any race, actually – what it is. For three years, Bruce has helped out with the local kids triathlon, which benefits the Ozark Foothills Literacy Project, and the project’s director, Nicole Stroud, has returned the favor by recruiting and directing a bunch of volunteers for the Christmas Half for two years.

I mentioned food earlier (it’s always on my mind).

Fellowship has always been a welcoming church, and the Christmas Half offers a great opportunity to demonstrate that. We try to nourish not only people’s souls but their bodies, and there’s no better time for a warm cup of hospitality than when a body has just run 13.1 miles in the cold, damp (sometimes wet, maybe windy) weather.

Before the race, we have bottled water, juice and a few doughnuts (all donated), and afterward we welcome people inside for treats both sweet and savory. Church members make cookies, Colton’s Steak House donates a 5-gallon bucket of yummy potato soup and – my favorite – Sara Walker makes a bunch of her awesome chili! I’ve watched runners come inside, see the spread and say things like, “Wow, you guys really know how to put on a race!” They remember that and tell their friends. The serving of lunch, not just snacks, makes it really special for them and for us.

WRChristmasHalfShirt2012

We have a few 2012 shirts available for $5.

Also, we have cool T-shirts, and we give nice trophies for all age divisions.

Bruce has designed the shirts the past couple of years, and I’ve talked him into letting me design this year’s (actually, I just took it over). Neither of us is an artsy-creative type, but I think the shirts have been great – not just ours but the Walkers’ shirts, too. I love the snowflake shirt! (As we speak, T-Shirt Express in Batesville is working on my idea for the design – I love the art of collaboration!)

Speaking of race shirts and the race that didn’t happen, we have lots of 2013 Christmas Half T-shirts available, from out-of-town folks who registered but didn’t come pick them up. They’re purple, long-sleeved and cute. We’re selling them for $5 each, and 100 percent of that money will go to this year’s needy families. C’mon, you know you want one! (Contact Suzy – info below.)

And last year, a local jewelry store (the owners are our running friends Jonathan and Ashley Freiert) donated really nice awards for first-, second- and third-place overall that we didn’t get to hand out. We will be able to use them this year, though (with new engraving), so you may want to register for the race right away. :-) And there is a rumor – I don’t know where it started – that we might have finishers medals, too. This means everyone would get a memento for finishing – not just the fast folks! (Hey, one of these days we’re going to be just like one of those big ol’ fancy race events.)

The race is less than a month away, and we’re recruiting volunteers, sponsors and runners. If you haven’t been involved in one of these events, come hang out with us. It’s a ton of fun. And just maybe, if you’re not late, you’ll get a big bowl of Sara’s famous, mouth-watering chili with all the fixin’s.

Dec. 6 – mark your calendars.

We have plenty of these shirts available for $5.

We have plenty of these shirts available for $5.

In the meantime, here’s how you can start praying:

  • Event planning and execution.
  • Pray that we’ll have enough volunteers and that we’ll be organized, helpful and welcoming.
  • The families that Kathy will choose for us. We don’t know their names yet, but our heavenly Father does. Pray for their hearts to be open to receiving and for our hearts to be open to giving.
  • Generous donors (pray about what amount you might give – you don’t have to race or volunteer to make a donation; and no amount is too small).
  • Becky and Sara as they choose the gifts for the families.
  • Safety and health for the race participants and volunteers.
  • Good racing weather (of course!).
  • While we’re praying, I can’t forget to ask for your prayers for the loved ones of Jacob Wells’ of Little Rock, who died Nov. 6 after collapsing at the Midsouth Marathon in Wynne on Nov. 1. He was 45 and had run more than 150 marathons. He founded the Three Bridges Marathon in Little Rock last year and was a big advocate of not only running but of non-profits and helping others. View just one of the many features about him here.

I’m so very grateful to Fellowship Bible Church for opening its doors to host this event, and I’m grateful to our friends in the Arkansas running community (and especially Batesville) for supporting this event each year.

To make a donation or volunteer for the White River Christmas Half Marathon & Relay on Dec. 6, call or text me, Suzy Oakley, at (501) 425-5878 or email me at stoakley (at) swbell (dot) net. Or contact Bruce Oakley at (501) 554-5211 or boakley59 (at) hotmail (dot) com.

To register for the race online or download an entry form, click here. Early packet pickup will be from 4:30-6 p.m. Friday, Dec. 5.

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We’re all in this together

SheehanQuoteonerunner500

“The most important thing I learned [from running] is that there is only one runner in this race, and that is me.” – George Sheehan

Comparison can be deadly.

It’s to blame for all sorts of bad stuff.

Trust me, I know. In general, I’ve wasted time comparing myself to others’:

  • Abilities.
  • Personalities.
  • Talents.
  • Looks
  • Intelligence.
  • “Success” (as the world defines it).
  • Fill in the blank ________________.

We tend to assume we’d be happier if we had that person’s sunny personality, sense of style, talent, bank balance, great job, beautiful house, smart kids, well-trained pet … you know what I’m talking about.

Whatever is wrong in my life, I think it can be solved by changing some external aspect of it. (It’s probably why I get my hair highlighted every few months, why I have too many shoes, why my house-clutter bothers me so much.)

But running – and all the challenges and triumphs that come with it – has taught me a few things about comparison. So much of what is running for me involves other people. I not only run with people, I read books, magazines and websites about running, I listen to podcasts about running (resource list below), and – perhaps most importantly – I live with a runner whose passion for the sport rivals that of any elite runner I’ve ever watched, read about or listened to.

Comparing yourself to others (runners, writers, singers, entrepreneurs) can be a double-edged sword. On the one hand, you can draw inspiration from their triumphs and their ability to articulate what the activity has meant to them and what they’ve learned from it.

After my heart surgery last year, I ran across this quote from Olympic marathoner and all-around-awesome runner chick Shalane Flanagan, and I pinned it to the wall of my cubicle at work:

ShalaneQuoteHeadUpHeartStrong

“Keep your head up, keep your heart strong” – Shalane Flanagan

(Until then, I had it all wrong: I thought it was, “Keep your head down; keep looking for loose change!” :-) )

Comparison has its pluses, but, for the most part, it simply ties us up in knots. Try running a mile all twisted up and see how far you get! Or write a blog post (letter to the editor, business memo, whatever) and see if it moves anyone to positive action. More likely, your readers will be so distracted by how hard you were trying that they miss the message.

At the very least, comparison is unproductive. It keeps us from reaching our goals, from fulfilling our purpose.

And what are we really trying to accomplish with comparisons? If you’re like me, you want to move forward in life, to progress, to change, to grow, to become an all-around better person. I want to MAKE A DIFFERENCE IN THE WORLD.

I will continue to learn from others’ successes and failures so that I’ll be more likely to succeed, less likely to fail.

But my own individual success (and how I define it) depends largely on my uniqueness. On being the person the Creator of the universe made me. On depending on Him and trusting the plan He has for my life (using HIS criteria for success). He’s interested in my interests – He hasn’t written a cookie cutter Plan for Suzy that will crumble if I stir in my own ingredients, infuse it with my individuality or use my own tools to make it all come together.

He is the author of my success, my joy and my ultimate purpose. He gave me those tools, talents and interests.

“Remember the Lord your God. He is the one who gives you power to be successful, in order to fulfill the covenant he confirmed to your ancestors with an oath” (Deuteronomy 8:18, Holy Bible, New Living Translation).

An antidote to the paralysis of comparison is gratitude. Listen here to Deena Kastor, former Arkansas Razorback, Olympian and holder of several world records, who says:

“When I’ve traveled and run with people around [the world], I just try to adopt their greatest strengths, and I have so many people to thank for that.”

She’s about to publish a book, and she said she could spend 300 pages just thanking people.

Here are a few things I’m grateful that God gave me:

  1. Strong legs (even though I’m a slow runner and have a bum knee that nudges me even slower sometimes).
  2. A strong heart, physically (especially now that I’ve had repairs done!).
  3. A strong heart, figuratively (He keeps me singing!).
  4. A fabulous running community in my small town.
  5. A great husband who loves to run and loves to share his vast knowledge of the sport – and whose (sometimes annoying) enthusiasm for running inevitably rubs off on people! He volunteers as a cross-country coach at the high school just because he stinkin’ loves to run and loves to teach others to love it. He also gets called upon often to help folks in the community who want to put on fundraising walks and runs, and he gives of his time generously (sometimes too generously, I think, but still). I am so blessed to have Bruce Oakley in my life.
  6. A cause to run for. I train with and raise money for Team Challenge of the Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation of America, because I want to wipe the poo out of Bruce’s disease. Even though I hate the fundraising part (asking for money), I love the idea that I will be a part of the someday-cure. And they don’t care how fast I run. My teammates and I share the dream of curing Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis, and that’s what binds us together.
  7. A desire and a modicum of … dare we say … talent in writing. (Passion and persistence more than raw talent, I would say.) My desire is to influence others to become the people God created them to be – to fulfill their purpose on this earth and to find joy in the journey … just as I’m learning to do, step by sometimes-faltering step.
  8. Courage. I grew up extremely, backwardly shy. (My poor mom.) But through a lot of prayer and determination, I’ve come out of my shell, stopped thinking about myself so much, and consider myself “recovering” (still working on it but much progress has been made). I step out and reach out when I’m uncomfortable sometimes. Only when I draw strength from the Lord can I do that. And, every time I do it, I gain strength for the next time. (It’s not about me, after all.) Some folks who’ve known me for just a few years would never believe I was shy!
  9. An awesome family. They don’t always understand me, but they put up with me – and even love me. Go figure!
  10. The ability to persevere. Even though I’ll never win the Pulitzer for my writing, will never have my photographs published in National Geographic and more than likely (I mean, like, a 99.99 percent probability) will never win a first-place trophy in a running event, I keep at it. You see, I believe all those pithy quotes about how challenges make us stronger. (I’m living proof.) Like this one, which is not pithy but insightful:

“I think anything is possible, and running has certainly taught me, time and time again, that, even when we fall short of our goals, sometimes those lessons are the greatest for us to grow stronger on the other end. So I embrace challenges as if they were a gift to a stronger side of me. … Sometimes it takes a challenge or a hurdle in the way to make us refocus and figure out how to grow” – Deena Kastor.

I believe in the God of the universe, and I believe He has a supreme purpose for my life. My desire is to show all those in my sphere of influence that He has a purpose for their lives, too. And it’s a purpose that will give them joy and courage, if they grasp His hand along the journey.

“But those who trust in the Lord will find new strength. They will soar high on wings like eagles. They will run and not grow weary. They will walk and not faint” – Isaiah 40:31, NLT.

The George Sheehan quote at the top of this post could be misinterpreted as “Every man for himself.” But what it really means is that comparison will keep you from finishing, or at least finishing well. And we all want to finish well, don’t we?

“I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, and I have remained faithful. And now the prize awaits me – the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will give me on the day of his return. And the prize is not just for me but for all who eagerly look forward to his appearing” – II Timothy 4:7-8, NLT.

The journey is easier in community. When we compare ourselves to others, we’re competing with them – and not in a good way. Community is best when we’re looking out for one another’s interests, when we see each other as partners, when we hold one another up. It’s one of my favorite things about the running community, one of my favorite things about my church family.

Life is hard, but it can be easier with friends. Running the race together is so much more fun.

McDougallQuoteRunningbewitheachother500

“The reason we race isn’t so much to beat each other … but to be with each other.” – Christopher McDougall

“Hey, whadya say we both be independent together, huh?”

– Hermey the Dentist, in “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer”

__________________________________________________________

RESOURCES FOR RUNNING, AND FOR RUNNING THIS MARATHON CALLED LIFE:

  • Runner Academy and Everyday Runners podcasts (very inspirational, motivational and informative, whether you’re a novice or a long-time runner). Find both here.
  • Runner’s World magazine. Lots of good info, stories and columns. My favorite: Marc Parent’s “The Newbie Chronicles.” He makes me laugh. Enough said.
  • Motivational quotes from Runner’s World.
  • White River Roadrunners club. If you live in north-central Arkansas or even southern Missouri, check us out.
  • Women Run Arkansas. We have more than 50 Women Can Run/Walk clinics around Arkansas every spring. Only 10 weeks from couch to 5k! Coach Bruce and I have made some great friends through WRA.
  • The Holy Bible, via BibleGateway.

What motivates you? Post a comment and let us know.

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The more things change, the more I stay insane

A lot has changed in the past year.

And yet a lot has stayed the same.

One year ago today, I had heart surgery, so I’m celebrating the blessing of another year of life and health. (Maybe I’ll call this my heart birthday! Is there a name for the anniversary of someone’s heart surgery? :-) )

My life doesn’t look much different from the outside, but here are a few key changes that the world at large might not have noticed, unless the world we’re talking about is my husband, my mom and my dogs (and the Spice Dogs haven’t noticed much of it, unless it involved food, warm blankets or belly rubs):

  1. I got my mitral valve repaired. Awesome medical team (GP, PA, cardiologist, cardiothoracic surgeon, their staffs), relatively quick recovery (I was back at work in 3 weeks, although it took months and months to feel “normal” again) and a once-in-a-lifetime experience that turned me into a pampered diva (shooting a commercial for Baptist Health). I now have my own chauffeur (OK, Bruce already chauffeured me sometimes, but now he does it more often – and with attitude). The diva perqs pretty much begin and end there, though.
    Oakleys and silly runners 09-12-13

    Last pre-surgery run with the crazy people, 9/12/13.

  2. I got a wellness certification (we traveled to Colorado in April for the final 16 hours of training). I’m still pondering the best ways to work this new knowledge into my “life’s mission.” Motivational talks, one-on-one counseling, writing … those ideas are all part of the little bubble that hovers over my head at all times (and frequently keeps me from sleeping through the night).
  3. I started looking more seriously at ways to make my blog a little more … marketable. (In other words, I want more people to read it! Also, I want people to pay me to write for them.) I attended Arkansas Women Bloggers University last week (stay tuned for more posts about that awesome event!), and I learned a ton, networked a lot, made several new friends, ate too much and slept too little. But it was the most fun I’ve had all year! Bruce and I even got in an early-morning run with a couple of our new blogger friends, Jodi and Fawn – both super-nice people. In February, I paid a teenager to design the Suzy & Spice banner you see above. Didn’t he do an awesome job? (Hey, you can subscribe to Suzy & Spice by clicking here. It just means you’ll receive an email when I publish a new post. Don’t worry – we won’t spam you, sell your info or do any other creepy thing with your email address.)
    Stuff I learned about branding myself and my blog to get more writing gigs.

    Stuff I learned about branding myself and my blog to get more readers and writing gigs.

  4. I started incorporating “Awesome!” into my conversations a lot more. Don’t ask me why. I guess I thought it sounded … awesome. (There is no link for this.)
  5. I went up and down, back and forth, hot and cold (the latter, more figuratively than literally) with my running. After last year’s surgery, I got a little wimpy and had trouble motivating myself to lace up and hit the road. It was a lot easier when sunrise came earlier (that’s my favorite time to run), but I let the extreme cold and the oppressive humidity bench me too many times. I’m much slower than I was last year, and I was already pretty slow, although I was gaining a bit of speed with experience. Also, I’ve gained about 15 pounds since my surgery and am still trying to get a grip on that. I’m really angry with myself about the weight gain. But the first step (for me) is admitting it, and then going public with it (I weighed 173 this morning) and buckling down to do something about it. Because it makes me feel like a big fat hypocrite. But it also makes me human, and better able to relate to those I’m trying to help. (There’s a fine line, I know.) I guess you could say it keeps me humble.
    Bruzys_orange_shoes

    Photo courtesy of Hatch and Maas Photography

  6. I lost another dear family member (an uncle, less than three weeks ago) and got word yesterday that we may lose another uncle soon. He’s under hospice care, and only the good Lord knows when his time will come. This is in addition to our loss in 2013 of four cousins (on my side) – one of them the day before my surgery – and Bruce’s precious mother.
  7. I signed up for another half-marathon to raise money for the Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation of America, through the Team Challenge endurance training and fundraising program. This will be my third year to raise money for Team Challenge, but only my second time to get to participate in the race. The first half-marathon was 2 years ago this month, and I had been fundraising for the second one last September, but my surgery trumped that event. Bruce and I had decided not to plan another Team Challenge race for me this year because the fundraising is just too hard; because last year was emotionally and financially draining for us; and because I was still recovering physically from the surgery … but then I got an email in May about the Walt Disney World Half Marathon in January 2015, and apparently I lost my ever-lovin’ mind. So, technically, I won’t be racing in 2014, but I am raising money again already. WHAT WAS I THINKING? (Oh, I know: I was thinking I STILL want to kick the poo out of Crohn’s disease. I guess that’s a good enough reason to kill myself doing something I hate: asking people for money.) If you’d like to help me reach my $4,500 goal before I take a nose-dive off the Cliffs of Insanity, please click here.
  8. Took my first yoga class in November. I’m talking live class, not read-a-book-and-try-to-figure-out-what-the-heck-they’re-talking-about, not watch-a-video-and-try-to-look-at-a-little-screen while figuring things out, but an honest-to-goodness class with a live – and very gentle and sweet – teacher. I’m telling you, yoga, while offering a calm respite from the cares of the world, is not for sissies. You feel great (awesome?) afterward, sometimes even during, but it’s a hurts-so-good kind of great. I learned some new words (and not all of them specifically yoga related, if you know what I mean), and I learned that I was really missing out all those years when I couldn’t find a class that a) I could afford and b) worked with my schedule. Fortunately, this new class and teacher meet both of those criteria. Just another stop on my wellness journey.
  9. Less than 3 weeks before my heart surgery, I had LASIK surgery. It didn’t give me perfect vision (my poor eyes are too far gone for that), but I no longer have to mess with contact lenses, solutions or reading glasses. I had already gotten used to mono-vision contacts (one lens corrects for distance and the other for close-up viewing). Post-LASIK, I have a bit of trouble on the road at night on occasion (a bit of glare from oncoming headlights), but that’s why a diva keeps a chauffeur on hand, right? The LASIK, too, falls under the category AWESOME.
  10. DrConley_Suzy_ChrisKane_Twitterpic091714

    Dr. Conley, yours truly and Chris Kane on “Good Morning, Arkansas” in February. (Yeah, I Tweeted Chris’ last name wrong.)

    I didn’t intend for this to be a “top 10 things I did last year” summary, but it looks like I’ve come up with 9 already, so let me think of a 10th. … OK, here we go: I gained confidence this year. I had prayed last year for a bigger “audience” (maybe like the Prayer of Jabez: “Lord, expand my territory”). He listened (doesn’t He always?) and gave me a wider reach. Two occasions in particular stretched my faith and built my confidence: In February I was invited to appear on Channel 7’s “Good Morning, Arkansas” with my cardiologist for Heart Month, and in August I was invited to speak one Sunday (for “no longer than 2 minutes”) at both services at my church. Both were topics dear to my heart: 1) literally, my heart, and 2) Perspectives class). So I jumped at the chance in each instance, and I survived both!

So, while a lot has happened inside, not a lot has changed outwardly. And, as always, this I know:

God is good, and He is faithful. I give Him all the praise and glory for the past 365 days, and I hope I live to serve Him for at least another 365.

Wouldn’t that be … awesome?

 

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Top 10 Tuesday – book characters at my lunch table

Today’s post is inspired by The Broke and the Bookish. Here’s my list of the “Top Ten Book Characters That Would Be Sitting at my Lunch Table,” listed in no particular order:

  1. Nancy Drew and The Hardy Boys. (Does that count as three?) Not only did I read as many of these mysteries as I could get my hands on when I was in grade school and junior high, I faithfully watched the corresponding TV shows in the late 1970s. Remember that? Pamela Sue Martin as Nancy Drew, and the dreamy Parker Stevenson and Shaun Cassidy as Frank and Joe Hardy. A weekly must-see TV! Runner-up: Trixie Belden, another girl detective (remember her?).
  2. AnneOfGreenGablesCoverAs Tara mentioned in her Running ’N’ Reading post, Anne Shirley of the Anne of Green Gables series. That Anne (“spelt with an ‘e’ ”) sure could get herself into some messes, couldn’t she? (Remember the green hair?) Anne was certainly braver than I was at her age, but I grew into the stick-your-foot-into-your-mouth habit quite nicely, thank you. “But if you only knew how many things I want to say and don’t.” Love that girl! (I still wouldn’t walk the ridge pole of a house, though, no matter who dared me!)
  3. LittleWomenCoverJosephine March of Little Women and Jo’s Boys. Jo was a tomboy (jumping fences, whistling, running through the woods), but she loved her very feminine sisters fiercely. Her affection for young Beth was heartwarming, and Jo’s book “My Beth” was a big sister’s tender tribute after the family’s loss of the shy and timid “Bethy.” And could anyone forget when she cut off her beautiful long hair to pay for Marmee’s trip to visit the wounded Father away at war? Another girl who wasn’t afraid to speak her mind, Jo demonstrated a courage to stand alone in a crowd.
  4. ToKillAMockingbirdAtticus and Scout Finch in To Kill a Mockingbird. Yes, I loved Jem, too, but Atticus and his precocious daughter, Scout, really stole my heart (besides, Scout is the narrator). The entire family was colorblind, but the book is really told from 5-year-old Scout’s perspective, so we get more of her courage (again, speaking her mind, but in a more innocent way) and, of course, her observations shined light on the actions of her hero daddy. I love the scene (maybe just in the movie – not sure about the book) where she meets Boo Radley up close, says “Hey, Boo,” then walks over and takes his hand. (Am I getting that right?) I may invite Boo to lunch, too. He was a kind soul.
  5. Cynthia Kavanagh of the Mitford series. She always had a positive attitude. In fact, her husband, Father Tim (a bachelor until he was in his 60s), would often say to her, “Is there anything you don’t love?” I’d delight in having lunch (church potluck, perhaps?) with the entire small town of Mitford, N.C., including Tim’s big ol’ Scripture-loving dog, Barnabus. It’s been several years since the last book in this series came out … or so I thought. While fetching a link for this post, I discovered that a new book in the series became available TODAY! Woot! (Note to husband: My birthday is nearly three months away; you need not wait that long to shower me with the gift of another Mitford book.)
  6. Fahrenheit451CoverGuy Montag of Fahrenheit 451. Guy was a firefighter who used to seek out and burn books (it was his job), but then he decided to read one, and it changed him – as books tend to do. Once he realized that he’d rather read books than burn them, he became a fugitive. His actions took much courage. If you haven’t read this book, read it. It will make you think.
  7. PrideAndPrejudiceCoverLizzie Bennett of Pride and Prejudice. Is it OK for me to admit that I’ve never read the book but have seen at least two movie versions of Pride and Prejudice? (No one said I had to read the book to love the character!) Elizabeth Bennett has been a well-loved literary character for decades … and, gee whiz, I just realized she’s another well-spoken, albeit a quick-to-speak-slow-to-listen chick. I guess I like that type of girl! And, gee whiz, I guess I need to visit the library and get this book! Like, right now!
  8. EBWhiteBoxSetCharlotte of Charlotte’s Web. How many spiders do you know who would give their lives for a friend – even a pig friend? And Stuart of Stuart Little – a little guy with a big heart. Both of these are E.B. White characters, and if you haven’t read the books, do! The Trumpet of the Swan is good, too, but for the life of me I can’t remember much about it. I just remember that I liked it. It is part of the E.B. White boxed set that includes Charlotte’s Web and Stuart Little. (Just had to include a plug for the boxed set – even if my memory is terrible!)
  9. TheGivingTreeCoverThe apple tree in The Giving Tree. “Once there was a tree…and she loved a little boy.” If you haven’t read Shel Silverstein’s classic children’s book about the tree that sacrifices itself for a boy’s pleasure, please check it out. I don’t want to spoil the story, so that’s all I’m going to say about it, except this: It reminds me of Jesus’ sacrificial love for us.
  10. TheVelveteenRabbitCoverThe velveteen rabbit from The Velveteen Rabbit. Again, a story about an inanimate object (or is it?) that loves a boy, even when the boy grows too old to play with it. “ ‘Real isn’t how you are made,’ said the Skin Horse. ‘It’s a thing that happens to you. When a child loves you for a long, long time, not just to play with, but REALLY loves you, then you become Real.’ ”

I guess I got a little mushy toward the end of my list, eh? :-)

Update 9/3/14, honorable mention: As I made my Top 10 list yesterday, I wanted to include one of my childhood favorites, A Dog for Susie, but I couldn’t remember the dog’s name. But as I ran this morning, I was listening to the last few chapters of an audiobook that I was supposed to finish for book group this week. Wouldn’t you know, in the last 2 minutes of the book, the main character’s husband brought home a great Dane, a rescue dog named Rufus.

“RUFUS!” I said to myself. “That’s the dog for Susie!” In fact, in the book, Susie had the same reaction when she finally came up with a name for her own “rescue dog” (a mutt she stumbled upon): “RUFUS!” So Rufus from A Dog for Susie gets an honorable mention, but if I had remembered his name sooner he would have been in the Top 10. :-)

What book characters would you love to have at your lunch table?

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Catching up

I really want to come up with a catchy title for my catch-all posts. My friends call theirs such things as “friday faves,” “In the Pipeline,” “Friday Five Link Up” and so on.

One of these days it’ll come to me; I’ll have my own catchy title. Meantime, here’s where my head is right now:

Four days until #AWBU – Arkansas Women Bloggers University. I am beside myself with anticipation! Not only will I get to see some of my friends from North Little Rock who blog (and many of them are leading workshops), I’ll meet a bunch of the chicks whose blogs I’ve been reading the past few months but have never met. Yippee!

This will be my first year at AWBU, which began three years ago. I had never heard of it until two years ago, and by then it was too late to register. Last year I had some type of conflict (can’t even remember what). But this year, no excuses – I’m going! The fun starts Friday and ends at noon Sunday. Today I finalized (well, sort of) my picks for the workshops I want to attend.

Most of the sessions have three workshops to choose from, except for a couple that have just two. I’ve made my picks for all but two sessions. And, darn it, wouldn’t you know that some of my friends are leading workshops and I won’t get to participate. There are A, B and C tracks, and I’ve picked mostly from the A track, which is more about the business side of blogging. Track B seems to be mostly about the writing process, and Track C is more techy (side note: spellcheck prefers “techier” here). I’m fairly confident in the B and C areas but so want to beef up the business side of my blog. I’ll tell you more about that in a later post (it’s not as mercenary as it sounds).

I can’t wait to come back next week and tell you how much I’ve learned and been inspired by!

The fall semester of Perspectives started last week, and I’m so excited to be an alumnus this time (no homework pressure) and part of the Coordinating Team (the group that has worked to bring the class back to Batesville this fall).

In my role on the team, I won’t be needed in class after tomorrow night, but do you think I would dare miss a night of it? The speakers are too dynamic, the topics too challenging for me to sit home and miss out. And, as a graduate of the course (2012), I won’t feel pressured to take notes – except that I’m sort of compulsive about that; I think I retain things better when I write them out. I think every follower of Jesus should take Perspectives, and I’d love to tell you more about it. Let me know if you’re interested in knowing more.

Today was a holiday, and I didn’t work (I didn’t run, either, but we’ll skip that part). After two decades in the daily-newspaper business, I never knew which holiday Bruce or I might have off in any given year, and even though I haven’t worked full time for a newspaper in 10 years (and 7 for him), we’re still not used to having holidays off.

So he and I took the Spice Dogs to Mom’s to watch the Cardinals and the Pirates, and I ended up watching four hours of Food Network! There was some type of Pioneer Woman mini-marathon, and I’m just now realizing (as I write this) that I watched eight straight episodes! Two years without TV at home (no Food Network for Suzy) means I gorge on it when I have the chance. It’s like going without your favorite food for a long time and then stuffing yourself when you finally get a bowl of it. Or something like that.

Then Mom wanted an ice cream cone, so we piled into the car and drove to Sonic. She and Bruce had ice cream and, although I really, really wanted a Sonic Blast, I got a cherry limeade.

AllGirlFillingStationBookCover

I’m almost finished with the September book for my reading group (The All-Girl Filling Station’s Last Reunion by Fannie Flagg) … and today I realized I won’t be able to go to group tomorrow! (Why? See Perspectives above.) The library’s only hard copy of the book was checked out, so I got the audio version and have been listening to it on my long runs. I normally don’t use my ear buds when I run, but I wanted to kill two birds with one stone. This month’s book was a good story – another book that has forced me to read fiction this year since joining the reading group. I haven’t read much fiction in the past 20 years, so fortunately the last couple of books I’ve had to read are good ones. Flagg is a good writer (remember Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Café?), and this story was compelling and really sucked me in.

However, I’m ever so glad that I got to pick the October book. I chose Night by Elie Wiesel. I read it about 20 years ago (about the time I started really getting into non-fiction), and I can’t wait to start reading it again.

Both books deal with World War II but in vastly different ways. Part of Flagg’s story is based on actual events (the WASP program of female flyers), but Wiesel’s story is 100 percent true. It’s his account of surviving a Nazi concentration camp when he was a boy. He is still alive today, by the way.

My favorite book, as I’ve said many times before, is The Hiding Place by Corrie ten Boom. Corrie was a Christian; Wiesel is a Jew. Both books are first-person accounts, and I like pondering the different perspectives of the Holocaust. Can’t wait to find out what the other ladies think of Night.

I also got to pick the reading group’s first book of 2015, and it was written by my friend who recommended Night to me so many years ago. I’ll save the details on that for later. (Sorry – you’ll just have to stay tuned.)

 

He's why I run

He’s why I run.

I’m running again for Team Challenge, the endurance and training program of the Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation of America. I want to cure Crohn’s disease, which my husband (in photo above) suffers from, so I have to raise a bunch of money this fall. In January I’ll get to run the Walt Disney World Half Marathon, and it’s a pretty big deal. So big, in fact, that our fundraising minimum is higher, the perqs are a little less and our fundraising deadlines are a little tighter than for a typical Team Challenge event. I’ve been struggling with doing long runs in the heat and humidity. We haven’t started the official training plan for Disney yet, but I started a RunKeeper half-marathon training plan in early May, so I think I must not feel compelled to stay true to the program with the team training coming up. I totally blew off the scheduled 9-mile run this weekend, and of course I’ll have a 10-mile run coming up in a few days.

Typically I do the long runs on Saturday mornings (at daybreak, before it gets really stinkin’ hot), and next weekend I’m going to be out of town (see #AWBU above). So I feel like a total slacker, and the only thing that has saved me is the cheap treadmill we bought at a yard sale a few months ago. I’ve done a couple of hourlong runs on it, and last night I even considered doing the 9-miler but just could not bring myself to do it.

I didn’t bring this up to make a pitch for donations, but I have so much yet to raise (nearly $3,000 of the $4,500 total – note: I’ve set my goal a bit higher than $4,500 just for good measure), so I will shamelessly give you the link to donate to Team Challenge.

Also, if you’re a runner or a walker and use any of these apps – fitbit, Nike+, Jawbone, RunKeeper or Moves – please join my mission at FitCause, which is a NO-COST way you can help me reach my fundraising goal (and cure Crohn’s disease). The challenge is to “run a marathon in a month” – or 26.2 miles by Sept. 11 – and you still have more than a week to do it! You don’t even have to run/walk 26.2 miles; any number of miles will help. Thank you for any amount (miles or money) you’re willing to donate! :-)

Tell me at least one neat thing you’ve done, read, planned or pondered lately.

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Of loss and hope

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 is our neighbor; the woman is John’s first wife.

I’ve been losing a lot of sleep lately.

As I write this late at night, having gotten out of bed after just a few minutes to look at old family photographs, I’m thinking of two people in particular:

  1. My Uncle John, who passed away not 20 minutes ago, finally surrendering to the cancer that was diagnosed just four months ago.
  2. My Grandma Tressie, who would have celebrated her 98th birthday today had ALS not taken her life much too soon.

Yesterday, one of my co-workers sent an All Employees email announcing her intent to partake in the “ice bucket challenge” phenomenon that has been sweeping the nation. (It seems to have started as a grass-roots effort to raise money for research and a cure for amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, better known as Lou Gehrig’s disease. The challenge “went viral” and has raised millions of dollars in an incredibly short time.) Tammy is bravely and generously doing her part to support the cause. Before a day had passed, however, two others in my workplace had answered the challenge – our COO and CFO will feel the love, too. A couple of twisted employees :-) will earn the right (through their donations) to douse them with ice water, too!

But, even as these two diseases have leaped onto my radar in recent weeks, I’ve been raising money for my own cause: curing Crohn’s disease.

I don’t want my husband to die of it someday.

Indirectly, peripherally, it’s why I don’t sleep.

I don’t sleep because there are so many diseases to cure, so much suffering to alleviate. Can I do it? Can I fix the world’s problems, cure its diseases, carry clean drinking water to suffering African children, stop wars and riots and child abuse, end the maltreatment of unwanted pets that are dumped along the highway?

No. Not on my own.

Jesus said the poor will always be with us. (Deuteronomy 15:11, Matthew 26:11, Mark 14:6-9, John 12:7-8, New Living Translation.)

Does that mean I shouldn’t try?

No!

The Lord also said we’re to care for those less fortunate. (Proverbs 22:9 and dozens of other verses.)

And, lest I catch myself thinking that I, myself, am one of those less fortunate, I have to remind myself to count my blessings. I have to GIVE when opportunities arise. Despite a few minor health problems, I am BLESSED. Compared to many people, I have it easy. I have hope.

Will my few dollars make a difference in the world? Maybe not.

But just maybe they will.

How can I not give? How can I not try?

When Jesus admonished His disciples about the poor, He told them to “give generously … not grudgingly.”

He gave His one and only life. How can I not give of my abundance?

Will you consider giving?

This isn’t a pitch for my Crohn’s disease fundraising efforts. It’s a pitch to get you to see why Jesus said it’s more blessed to give than to receive. You don’t believe it until you do it. And when you do it, it feels right.

So come on.

Whether it’s for Crohn’s disease, Lou Gehrig’s disease, heart disease, cancer or some other unpronounceable sickness someone is raising funds for, they all could use our help.

Stick your neck out, stand under a bucket of ice water, hammer some nails, do the chicken dance, donate your coin jar – whatever you need to do – just GIVE.

Give someone hope.

You’ll be glad you did.

  • Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation of America’s Team Challenge program.
  • Your favorite charity ______________.

And I couldn’t end this without making one final pitch:

My Uncle John and my Grandma Tressie both knew the Lord. We know they’re in the arms of Jesus and no longer suffering. If you don’t have the assurance of eternal salvation – if you’ve never given lordship of your life to Jesus, please come talk to me or find a pastor or a Christian friend who can help you find your way to salvation. It is the most important decision you’ll ever make, and it matters for eternity. Don’t  put it off. He gives HOPE.

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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?

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