Blogging from A-Z – Take Steps, Team Challenge

Today’s post is brought to you by the letter “T.” (I’m blogging the alphabet in April. Read the details at Suzy & Spice here or the Blogging from A-Z page here.)

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    These are my Team Challenge teammates at the Walt Disney World Half-Marathon in January 2015. I had with withdraw before the trip.
These are my Team Challenge teammates at the Walt Disney World Half-Marathon in January 2015. I had to withdraw before the trip. But this is not about me; it’s about curing my husband’s disease.

Just before our first wedding anniversary, Bruce spent 16 days in the hospital, including Christmas.

Thus began my education about Crohn’s disease, something I had never heard of until Dec. 16, 1998, when I saw pictures of his ulcerated digestive tract taken during a colonoscopy the day after I checked him into the hospital. He had ulcers from his tongue all the way to his anus.

We’ve spent the past 16-plus years learning about the disease, fundraising for awareness and a cure, and trying to support others who suffer from Crohn’s and its companion disease, ulcerative colitis. (The two are collectively known as inflammatory bowel disease; the difference is that colitis involves only the colon but Crohn’s can attack the entire digestive tract. UC is no less awful, though.)

Looking back, I think that one reason Crohn’s was new to me is that it’s an uncomfortable disease to talk about.

So nobody was talking.

After all, who in polite society wants to discuss bowel movements, diarrhea, colostomy bags and anal fistulas?

Well, we do.

I’ve always been pretty modest, but having your husband diagnosed with a disease that may kill him tends to make you a little – no, a lot – less afraid of being “indelicate.” If talking about it could save someone’s life, it’s well worth the embarrassment. Here’s Bruce’s colon: Dec. 16, 1998.

This is Crohn's disease.
This is Crohn’s disease.

Besides, you can’t deal with the thing unless you’re willing to talk about it. And at some point, you have to see the humor in it.

You should hear the potty humor around our house. (Between Bruce and our 10-year-old dog who’s still not potty trained, we engage in lots of potty talk.)

We’ve discussed buying stock in Kimberly-Clark; we’re pretty sure we singlehandedly keep that company in business.

TPNwithborder
Information from WebMD.com

Bruce got out of the hospital on New Year’s Eve, and he was still pretty sick (so sick that I was a bit miffed at the doctor for discharging him, but I now realize it was just fear of the unknown). Once Bruce was home, I had to learn how to start and stop his TPN pump (via a surgically inserted tube) so he could “eat” a few times a day. He wouldn’t start eating “food” for another month, and then it was baby food. Anything rough wasn’t good for his gut or his butt. When the home-health nurse visited on Jan. 3, I mentioned that it was our first anniversary. We chatted about that for a minute, and then she left. A few minutes later, the doorbell rang. When I opened the door, the nurse said, “Happy anniversary!” and handed me a bag. Inside: a tube of butt cream. We got a good laugh out of that.

You either laugh or you cry.

In late 2009, I started asking the Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation of America how you go about getting a CCFA chapter in your state. All the events I knew of (fundraising walks, educational seminars, support group meetings) were taking place all around us, but not in Arkansas.

In 2010, Bruce and I joined the team that went on to organize CCFA’s first Take Steps Be Heard walk in Arkansas, and we’ve stationed our butts at the Mission tent each year since. The first walk was in Little Rock, and now we also have one in northwest Arkansas (we’ve driven the 280 miles to volunteer at a couple of those, too). Because of that first walk in 2010, we now have an Arkansas chapter of CCFA! (We sort of blew them away at national headquarters that first year – participation and money raised were way more than expected.)

The Take Steps walks are just one way we fundraise.

TeamChallengeQuote_A-Z_rectangleIn 2012, we got involved in Team Challenge, CCFA’s fundraising and endurance training program, and I ran my first half-marathon in Nashville that September. That was tough – the fundraising part, I mean. Running 13.1 miles wasn’t exactly a piece of cake, but it was way easier than the fundraising.

So why did I sign up for a second, and then a third, half-marathon with Team Challenge? Not because I’m a running junkie but because I want to kick the crap out of Crohn’s and colitis. Even though the fundraising part makes me extremely uncomfortable, I was recognized as the fifth-top Team Challenge fundraiser at our Nashville race that year. I couldn’t have done it without a worthy cause to support.

I certainly didn’t drive 300-plus miles just to run 13. If it were just the running, I could sign up for any number of half-marathons in my home state; in fact, Bruce and I co-direct a half-marathon (for charity) right here in Batesville each December.

My poor body apparently wasn’t made for distance running. I had to withdraw from both the second and third Team Challenge half-marathons because of my own health problems. Heart surgery sort of took priority over running around Nashville for 2 1/2 hours, and later I had a few issues that caused me to withdraw from this year’s Disney Half-Marathon.

Bruce is equally uncomfortable asking for money (even for a good cause), and yet he and I have held a couple of local fundraising concerts for Team Challenge. He wrote a song called “Gut Works” (to the tune of Johnny Cash’s “Busted”) and performed it at the concerts each year. Talk about using humor to deal with your condition …

The Oakleys are rank amateurs when it comes to fundraising, but we are fortunate to be blessed with generous friends who make up for our shortcomings. They support us with their prayers, their presence and their money. We could not do it without them – without you. We also have formed some incredible friendships with the other Crohnies who are helping us kick the crap out of Crohn’s.

Today’s post is NOT about asking you for money. It’s really not. (Blame the “T” in the A-Z challenge; seriously, what else was I supposed to write about?)

However, I would be remiss if I didn’t include a link to our donation page. I keep one updated at Suzy & Spice throughout the year so that I can have a static URL on my business cards without worrying about the links that change with every CCFA event. (The link stays anchored at the top of the blog, and as of this writing it’s tiny and a bit difficult to see if you’re not looking for it. When the A-Z challenge is over, I’m going to work on a redesign.)

Our spring Take Steps Be Heard walk will be Saturday, May 30, in Little Rock, Ark. If you choose to donate, thank you. If you choose not to, we love you, anyway. You can always support us with your thoughts, prayers and cheers, and we really like those, too. 🙂

FOR MORE INFORMATION:

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Friday: U is for Unbroken: book vs. movie.

Follow me on Twitter: @OakleySuzyT

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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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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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Lazy Suzy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(And then there’s the food.)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Happy reading!

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Gluten talk and beyond

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

– Michael Pollan, The Omnivore’s Dilemma

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

And just such a thing happened this morning.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

BOOKS

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

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

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

MOVIES AND VIDEOS

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

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

WEBSITES

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

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

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

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Rainy days and Mondays always get me upside-down

“Monday, Monday, can’t trust that day.
“Monday, Monday, sometimes it just turns out that way.”

xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx“Monday, Monday” – the Mamas and the Papas

There’s a reason Mondays are the stuff of hit songs the world over.

It’s a universally known fact: Mondays suck.

Well, maybe not all Mondays, but some of them stand out so prominently that they skew the statistics in their favor. Mondays sometimes have a mind of their own.

Today was such a day.

For starters, I had possibly the most disturbing dream I’ve ever had. It was worse than any of the dreams I used to have after my dad died. Those were just emotionally draining and made me sad for a while after I woke up. This morning’s dream made me wonder, “What in the world made me come up with that?” and “What is my subconscious mind trying to tell me?” I’m not even going to tell you what the dream was about, because I don’t want you to call the police. Or the men in white coats.

I don’t sleep well in general, but this dream interrupted my early morning sleep in a whole new way. So I got up really tired.

I didn’t get up until 6 a.m. because my leg is injured and I haven’t been able to run in nearly two weeks (except for two feeble attempts that sent me back to the heating pad and the ibuprofen). I’m training for a half-marathon and trying not to freak out that I’m in Week 6 of my plan and haven’t done a “long” run of more than 5 miles. If this weren’t a fundraising half-marathon (to try to cure my husband’s disease), I could blow it off (which, who are we kidding, really isn’t in my nature). But I can’t.

So I didn’t get up until 6 – my first mistake. (Or maybe the mere fact that I got out of bed was the first mistake.)

The next thing I had to do (besides putting in my contacts and then putting on my reading glasses) was clean up Pepper’s tiny poop in the kitchen. But that’s nothing; I pick up tiny dog poop in the kitchen every morning, and it shouldn’t even be worth mentioning. Except that it’s kind of symbolic of my Monday.

Then, while the microwave was reheating my coffee (I prefer day-old to fresh – I know, weird), I checked on the washing machine, which is a computerized front-loader with a mind of its own. (Remember HAL from “2001: A Space Odyssey”? Kind of like that. Except HAL had a more extensive vocabulary. And a creepier voice.)

The washer has had its own issue with poop smells lately. I had put off calling a repairman because I was able to make it limp along and continue to wash clothes, although not without a lot of cussing (from me, not “HAL 2,” which merely whined). But last Sunday night, all HAL broke loose. The #*&@%^ bucket of bolts refused to complete a cycle without taking multiple coffee breaks (or maybe they were Snuggle breaks), refused to spin the water out of my load of bathroom rugs, and refused to let me OPEN THE DOOR. (“Open the pod bay door, HAL.” Remember?)

I couldn’t get rid of the “Door Locked” message on the control panel. Translation: “You’re just out of luck, sister. Love, HAL 2.” So I left it alone and decided to try to relax for the last little smidgen of my Sunday evening. (I think I heard it chuckling as I exited the laundry room.)

For the next few days, I attempted to make it spin water out of the rugs. HAL 2 would give it a try, make its usual clicking sound (“Tsk, tsk” or “Cough, cough,” I don’t know) and give up.

And then I got busy and forgot about it until Friday evening. I tried again, but still no luck. That’s when I decided I couldn’t put off calling a repairman any longer. I let Mom know I needed to bring my mountain to her house to wash. No problem, she said. And it wasn’t. Saturday, we sorted piles and put her machine to work. (Got one of our white bathroom rugs clean and back in place Saturday evening, and Sunday morning there were two Pepper peepee spots on it. Pepper has survived as long as she has because she’s cute – in a tiny dog sort of way. She has a lot of people fooled.)

I’m about to leave out a lot of detail from the next 36 hours (you’re welcome), but bottom line is, by the time I forced myself to deal with the load of rugs in the undrained washer (after having to leave the machine unplugged overnight, to show HAL 2 who’s boss), I got the door open this morning, the water smelled like untreated sewage, and I probably will end up throwing the rugs away. I was going to pump out the rancid water but had to leave it for Bruce. Even leaving that task undone, I was five minutes late for work.

OK, so. That was the washing machine.

I also had been enduring a disintegrated pipe under my bathroom sink (I stood over the tub to brush my teeth every day for a week) and finally called a plumber to come out and fix it. Why? Because Bruce and I are both weaklings. The pipes were so old, they apparently had transmogrified into one unyielding mass of metal, and we couldn’t even turn the valves to get the water off. Recalling a similar experience trying to loosen old plumbing in our previous house, which caused us to miss the entire first half of a Notre Dame football game, I didn’t let it get that far this time. After I spent a final 15 minutes wrestling with it, and Bruce spent another 10, I said, “Nevermind; I’ll call Charley tomorrow morning.”

Those Oakleys – they need professional help.

So this afternoon, the plumber fixed the bathroom sink, the appliance guy replaced the pump in the washer (I guess I won’t be using Shout Color Catcher sheets anymore), extracted the old icemaker from our fridge (would cost more to fix or replace than it’s worth) and gave opinions on why our dishwasher isn’t cleaning the dishes (maybe because it’s really old), and we were back in business. At least with the plumbing.

Take that, HAL 2.

Meanwhile, I had run out the door in the morning without breakfast, so I stopped at Sonic for a gallon of tea (which saves me from committing crimes on stressful days) and a breakfast burrito. With bacon.

(You know my stress level is high when I allow myself to eat bacon. But it was good. Normally I wouldn’t have stopped for breakfast when I knew it would make me late for work, but this was a particularly special morning. I needed bacon.)

At work, I texted my eye doctor about my latest trial pair of SUCK EGG contact lenses. We’ve been fussing with prescriptions, lens types and fuzzy eye-charts for weeks.

I told the doc my story of woe – how with my new distance-only lenses (vs. the multifocals my tired ol’ eyes had been wearing) I couldn’t see anything closer than 5 feet from my face, thus making mascara application a tragicomic event; how I had nearly strangled myself in the car trying to untangle the cords of my reading glasses and my sunglasses; how a second opinion on laser surgery was probably a waste of time; how he probably shouldn’t bother ordering the next trial pair of contacts if he hadn’t already; how I was afraid I might go blind or die within the next 5 minutes if he didn’t calm me down; and how the only bright side to these new lenses was that I no longer saw the dog hair covering evMondayText071513ery surface in our house.

He texted back, in part:

“I can’t quit laughing.”

So much for moral support from your trusted medical professional.

It’s a good thing I didn’t die in the next 5 minutes. The good doctor might have been held responsible by my heirs, who surely would have used the texted conversation as evidence in court. (I’m archiving it just in case.)

He saved himself by calling and talking me down. (But not before laughing at me again.)

And then?

I spilled tea on my khakis. And my blouse.

At that point I figured I might as well go back to bed, but then I remembered I was at work and they frown on naps between 8 and 5. It wasn’t even 9 a.m.

So I decided to tackle a file I needed to image. After restarting my computer four times (yes, four), I got the file imaged. At 12:04 p.m.

(Don’t tell my boss I spent three hours imaging one 59-page file. Because, unlike HAL 2, he is my boss. So just don’t tell him.)

During this time, my officemate proceeded to tell me about a TV show called “1,000 Ways to Die,” helpfully sharing examples. Thanks, Ben.

Eventually 5 p.m. came, and I innocently assumed I would make an uneventful trip home.

I headed for my car, got ready to unlock it and noticed that most of the remote was missing. The side that attaches to the key ring was in my hand, but the circuit board and the rubber skin that protects the circuitry were gone. I began to retrace my steps but then thought to look in the side pocket of my tote bag. There was the circuit board. I dug around some more and found the rubber thingie. Whew! For a minute I thought I was going to have to open my car door manually. (Life can be cruel.) At least the car was still there. I bet you thought I was going to say it had been stolen.

Ten minutes later, I was home safe, and I immediately locked the door behind me. So far I’ve been afraid to make eye contact with HAL 2 or the dishwasher, although I have washed my hands at the bathroom sink. I’m waiting for Bruce to get home so I’ll have backup. If the appliances go all HAL-9000 on me, Pepper is not big enough to stick up for me. Except for the extremely loud barking – which she has perfected – but I don’t think HAL 2 would be intimidated. Salsa, on the other hand, could do some damage. Her hair alone could jam its circuitry. But even that might not be enough. After all, HAL killed everyone on the ship except Dave.

I bet it was a Monday.

“Dave, this conversation can serve no purpose anymore. Goodbye.”
xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxHAL the computer – “2001: A Space Odyssey”

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Donate: Help us wipe out Crohn’s and colitis

Friends, I’m training to run my second half-marathon for Team Challenge, the fundraising and endurance-training program of the Crohn’s & Colitis Foundation of America. I ran my first half-marathon (and survived!) last fall in honor of my husband, Bruce, and my cousin Spencer. They both have Crohn’s disease, and I’d like to kick the crap out of Crohn’s, ulcerative colitis and every other disease like them.

We’d be honored and very appreciative if you’d donate to my half-marathon efforts. Your donation is tax deductible and will go toward CCFA research, education and support programs. If you donated to the cause last year, a huge thanks to you, but we need your help again.

Here are ways to donate:

1. Click here to go to my official Team Challenge fundraising page.
2. Mail me a check, made payable to CCFA or the Crohn’s & Colitis Foundation of America. (Leave a comment, which will provide me with your email address. Then I’ll email you my mailing address. You have the option of making your comment private, too. In that case, I’ll be the only one to see it.)
3. If you prefer to donate to our Take Steps Be Heard walks in Arkansas, click here. Bruce and I volunteer each year at both of Arkansas’ walks (in Little Rock and in NW Arkansas).

And if you’re a runner or walker and want more information on Team Challenge, please post a comment, email me, text me or post on my Facebook page. Or simply click here to visit the Team Challenge site and browse the info for yourself.

We appreciate your support more than we can say. And when we find a cure, you can say you were a part of it.

THANK YOU!
Suzy Taylor Oakley (and Bruce)

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A simple Christmas

“I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.” – John 10:10, NASB

Christmases in the Oakley house are pretty simple. I would characterize them as more sentimental than material, and for that I’m grateful. Being “poor” in worldly wealth (but not in spirit) has its advantages!

These are some of the things that have allowed me to feel abundantly blessed this Christmas:

SHOPPING

Heavenly Treasures global market at our church. I bought gifts for all the women on the Taylor side of our family (immediately family, that is). All the proceeds go to small-business owners (which may simply mean one artisan struggling to feed her family somewhere in Cambodia, Vietnam or another area where poverty is the norm). Blessings: 1) We bought these gifts for a fraction of what we would have paid in stores; 2) they are handcrafted; 3) most of all, we helped someone who’s hurting in another part of the world.

I also took advantage of a clearance sale online and bought seven copies of a book I read years ago – a book I wish I could give to every woman I know: $5 apiece, one for each woman in the Taylor-Oakley clan.

My stepson, Courtney, who lives in Oklahoma, was blessed recently with a promotion and a good raise, and because one of my main missions in life is to help people be good stewards of their God-given blessings, instead of buying him a gift he doesn’t necessarily need, or writing him a check like we often do at Christmastime, we put money into his savings account at the bank where I work.

When I turned 50 last month, Bruce pooled his money with birthday money from my mom, and he took me to the jewelry store. (This is the type of splurge I rarely indulge in, but I figured a half-century was a special enough occasion.) He helped me pick out a beautiful opal ring. I’ve always loved opal, and this ring is so special to me.

So because we splurged at birthday time, we kept it simple for Christmas, although keeping it simple has always been our norm. We have such abundant blessings throughout the year, we don’t buy much for each other at Christmastime. We also have our anniversary coming up next week, so Bruce suggested we combine the occasions and buy a house gift for ourselves. We really don’t know what that might be, but while we were shopping Saturday for my brother and his stepson, we ran across a DVD copy of “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington.” (Bruce is a mixture of realist and sentimentalist, and often the sentimental side wins – he loves the idealism of this movie, and so do I, although I fall closer to the realist side of the fence. And we both love old movies and the great Jimmy Stewart.) So here’s a recap of our conversation in the store when I picked up the movie:

Me: “Do we have this on DVD?”
Bruce: “I don’t think we have it on DVD or anything else.”
Me: “Household gift. Ten dollars.”
Bruce: “Great.”

End of conversation. End of Christmas shopping for Bruzy. Simple.

This type of Christmas spirit allows me to breathe during the holidays, because I hate shopping. It’s a little easier at Christmas because then I’m shopping for others, but I still would rather sit near a sunny window with a good book than fight the crowds at the shopping center.

MUSIC

I could listen to Amy Grant’s Christmas albums year-round. Oh, what am I saying – I do listen to Amy Grant’s Christmas albums year-round. You might hear “Tennessee Christmas,” “Breath of Heaven” or “Welcome to our World” in my car during the blazing heat of July. To me, these songs and albums are timeless and always a breath of fresh air. Each album is better than the last, and she includes some incredibly beautiful pieces in the mix. The last album, “A Christmas to Remember,” is especially full of pieces that cause me to stop what I’m doing (unless I’m driving), close my eyes and savor every note. I also tend to wear out my Christmas albums by: Collin Raye, Andrea Bocelli, The Carpenters, and John Denver & the Muppets. Heck, even the classically trained Bocelli sings with Miss Piggy on his album. My favorite Christmas song? “Oh Holy Night,” especially Martina McBride’s beautiful rendition. Bruce’s favorite? “Silent Night” – and John and the Muppets do a pretty good job of that, singing it first in German (the language it was written in), then English. Bocelli sings it in three languages.

MOVIES/TV SPECIALS

Since we canceled our satellite service in August, I didn’t get to watch wall-to-wall Food Network like I love to do between October and December, and I didn’t get to OD on the sappy movies on Hallmark Channel, but we still have the good ol’ standbys on VHS (taped from TV in the mid-1980s) and a few on DVD. Another challenge this year: Bruce and I had about four weeks to pull together the White River Christmas Half-Marathon & Relay (long story), and my only Christmas-special “viewing” would fall more into the category of background noise. Nevertheless, I got to listen to these as I did my half-marathon work or cooked for family: Rudolph, Frosty, Charlie Brown (I love Linus’ soliloquy on “what Christmas is all about”), and my favorite, the Grinch (another lesson on the true meaning of Christmas, plus it rhymes!). I also had these movies in the VCR: “Christmas in Connecticut” (my favorite Christmas movie, but only the Barbara Stanwyck version) and “White Christmas” – “snow, snow, snow, snow!” I think I even listened to “National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation” early in the season. Oh, I almost forgot: I did get to sit and watch an entire movie, start to finish, when Bruce and I spent Dec. 23 with Mom watching the remake of “Miracle on 34th Street.” (The 1994 version isn’t quite as good as the original, but the cute little girl and the beautiful scenery [and wardrobe] make up for it.) Movies I didn’t get to watch: “It’s a Wonderful Life” and “A Christmas Story.” (There’s still time, right?)

FAMILY (FURRY AND FOUR-LEGGED)

Our two fur-babies are … well, my babies. I have a stepson, but I never gave birth to children of my own, and Salsa and Pepper warm my heart every day, even 30 seconds after they’ve infuriated me by wetting the carpet, barking incessantly or begging for snacks. We call our girls The Spice Dogs, and when I created this blog in 2007, they were part of the inspiration for the name (I was also baking spice cookies that evening). They’re good help around the kitchen, too: When I drop a bit of food while chopping, mincing or mixing, they rush to help me clean it up.

FAMILY (HUMAN)

I’m writing this on Christmas morning, 10 a.m. (savoring a steamy and wonderful cup of coffee with my favorite flavored creamer). We’ve spoken to some family members by phone today but haven’t gathered for the big celebration yet. We’ll go to Mom’s later for a feast of food and fellowship (more on the food below). I look forward to seeing those I rarely see throughout the year because of busyness, physical distance or, dare I say, apathy (on my part as much as anyone’s).

Bruce has been sick the past couple of weeks, and I’ve been trying to figure out why this cold/sinus junk has caused me more worry than other recent minor ailments. And why I might have seemed to overreact yesterday when he wanted to run a longer distance than I thought he should. Could it be that we’re “overdue” for a Crohn’s flare-up? The average for Crohn’s patients is 5 years, and his latest flare-up started in 2007 (and I did not marry an “average” guy!). I realize that it’s insane to worry – God has us covered. I suppose it’s just an opportunity to flex my trust muscles; after all, He is the Great Physician.

On Christmas Eve, Bruce got an opportunity to be the social guy that he is. We started with an afternoon run with some dear friends, the Tuckers; a family member, Bill, from out of town whom we had never had the opportunity to run with before; an awesome running buddy, Rita – who is growing to be a great running partner for me because, even though she’s a lot faster, she is sweetly willing to hang back with me, the slow one. She and I have had some great conversations, and she’s really fun (yesterday, we conspired to pretend we ran up a crazy hill when we saw Bruce and Shane – and I swear it was her idea! Unfortunately, we topped the hill and the guys hadn’t paid a bit of attention to us!).

I should have a separate category called Family (Running), because our running family is really precious to us. No space today to count all the ways, but in the spirit of Christmas, I’ll mention the great run last Tuesday night before our Roadrunners club Christmas party. Again, the speedsters took off without Slow Suzy, but Rita stayed behind with me. (She has a good heart.) On another note, I loved being able to attend a Christmas party in my sweaty leggings, running shirt and sports watch. (That’s just the way we roll!) This was only three days after my work Christmas party, which was beautiful and wonderful (except for the slightly inebriated Santa), but for which I made a most unfortunate choice of shoes, one of which had to come off before the party was over because my left foot was killing me!

But back to the main topic: Family (Human). After our run, I rushed to get clean and start the pecan pies, which needed to be out of the oven by 4:45 so we could attend the Christmas Eve service at Mom’s church. This church service has become a bit of a tradition for Bruce and me, starting even before we moved here in 2010. West Baptist always has a beautiful Christmas Eve service (which could also fall under the Music category). As I was whipping up the filling for the pies, I realized that someone had put the vanilla extract bottle into the cupboard with about three drops of extract remaining. (Seriously, who would do that?) Mom – on speed dial – to the rescue. Fortunately she’s less than a mile away. I sent Bruce over there, told him not to stop by our church to make sure the bathrooms were clean (part of his job), not to pass Go, not to collect $200. Just get back here with the vanilla. And he did.

The pies? Well, let’s just say the jury’s still out. I had to leave them in the oven (turned off) and put them back on to bake after all the evening’s festivities. I’m still not sure they’re quite right. But I’m also pretty sure no one will leave the table hungry this afternoon, pecan pies or no.

But wait! There’s more! (Isn’t there always?)

After the service at West, we went to my Aunt Pat’s across the street from our house. Her son-in-law, the aforementioned Bill (running buddy from out of town), had requested a family get-together in the spirit of the old days (the old days of our family, that is). Aunt Pat’s relatives from both sides gathered in her kitchen, which is only cramped when lots of relatives visit. Strange, she noted, we have all this space in the rest of the house, but everyone congregates in the kitchen and dining room. Not strange to me at all – Aunt Pat makes some of the best holiday treats west of the Mississippi. Can you say peanut butter fudge?

And then … we left that party to go to our church, Fellowship Bible Church in the old Landers Theater on Main Street. Whereas the West Baptist celebration was bright, colorful and upbeat, the Fellowship service was quiet, candlelit and reverent. Both services were full of beautiful music, and each was unique and meaningful in its own way. Each service fed my spirit and focused light on the One whose birth we celebrate, and whose Light takes away the darkness.

The Oakleys ended the evening together quietly – mama in her kerchief (OK, a red plaid flannel PJ shirt) and papa in his cap (his ubiquitous hooded sweatshirt), with one of the fur-children nestled under her bed down the hall and the other one begging for belly rubs. Both two-legged Oakleys spent the next hour reading, growing sleepy and sipping … okay, people, I’m not gonna lie. I wasn’t sipping a picture-perfect mug of steamy hot chocolate. I was indulging in a 10 p.m. glass of diet Coke, which I rarely drink after 3 p.m. And Bruce was sipping apple juice or water or something.

Now back to our fantasy.

FOOD

Three things I almost insist on having at Thanksgiving and Christmas are pecan pie, Cranberry Salad (made with red gelatin, apples, oranges, pineapple and pecans) and Aunt Pearl’s Potatoes. (As I’ve mentioned before, we don’t have an Aunt Pearl and have no idea who she is, but we loooove her hash-brown casserole!) And because I’m the one who has a strong need for these three dishes, I’ve become the designated maker of them. How else am I going to be sure it happens? The pies … we’ll see. (Dec. 29 update: Let’s just call them “pie soup” and be done with it.) The cranberry stuff is ready, and the potatoes will go into the oven soon.

I also have a year-round craving to bake, but my schedule doesn’t allow it very often anymore, so the holidays are when I get to indulge in that. Even when I’m tired, baking sweet treats, breads, even pizza dough, makes me very, very happy.

And then there are the dirty dishes. But since this is a post about counting blessings, being with family and remembering our Savior’s birth, we’ll skip over that part.

Post-script: leftovers (lots of them)

Have you ever eaten mashed potatoes for breakfast? Yeah, me, too.

REMEMBRANCES

My dad died 15 years ago this week. Every Dec. 23, I think about the day he died. That was a day full of pain and sadness, but knowing that my dad knew Jesus makes it so much easier. Even on that day, we had a measure of indescribable peace knowing he was no longer in pain (the pain my brother and I had known him to have our entire lives) and he is with Jesus now. Dad had told a relative just that morning that he was ready to go and was not afraid to die. None of us knew then that this would be his last day on earth. But we have the hope that surpasses all human ability to understand, and that’s because we know the Savior he rests with now.

Dad died 11 days before my wedding. In the ICU, when we weren’t sure whether he could hear us or not, as I held his hand I told him he needed to stick around and give me away next week, that I wasn’t ready to let go of him. But the Father had other plans, and Dad was gone within a couple of hours. That’s OK. My plans aren’t necessarily God’s plans, and His ways are not always my ways. He is sovereign, He is wise and He is, above all, GOOD. He takes care of us, even when we don’t always like how He goes about it. But even amid the not-liking, we had blessings: My Uncle Charles and Aunt Pat, who had just arrived at their daughter Kathy’s house in South Carolina when they got the news of Dad’s death in the evening, turned right around the next morning and drove back to Arkansas. They were here in time for his funeral. Now, that’s family.

God has blessed me with good family, good friends, a good job, an abundance of physical comforts (too much sometimes) and an ever-increasing awareness of just how good He really is. I thank Him for everyone He has put into my life, whether it’s to teach me, to reach me or just to bless me with caring and warmth.

As we celebrate His incarnate presence on the earth, may each of you feel His love, remember His sacrifice and give your life to Him.

For unto us a Child is born,
Unto us a Son is given;
And the government will be upon His shoulder.
And His name will be called
Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.

Isaiah 9:6, NKJV

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Kicking the crap out of Crohn’s disease

“Go out there and run to the best of your ability,” he replied. “Don’t run with your legs. Run with your heart.” On some level, even as a high school freshman, I got his meaning: the human body has limitations; the human spirit is boundless.

Ultramarathon Man by Dean Karnazes

Mom and me, post-race.

I ran my first half-marathon yesterday morning (yes, it was still morning when I finished!)

In case you don’t know, a half-marathon is 13.1 miles. This was the longest I had ever run (12 miles was my longest training run in prep for the race.)

But this wasn’t just any run, and it wasn’t just any half-marathon. It was the one and only, inaugural (for me) half-marathon I chose because of what it supports: the Crohn’s & Colitis Foundation of America (CCFA).

Many of you know that my husband, Bruce, has suffered from Crohn’s disease since just before our first wedding anniversary. He spent that first Christmas in the hospital, and he was so sick I wasn’t sure he was going to make it. (Among other things, his entire digestive tract, from mouth to anus, was full of ulcers. Sorry for the butt talk, but part of raising awareness is getting people used to talking about unpleasant things – and helping people understand how hideous the disease can be. I’m actually sparing you the grossest details.)

Nearly 14 years and two more ugly flare-ups later, he’s dealing with what is our “new normal”: functioning, but at a diminished capacity from what my once very-active husband had been used to. (He’s the one who taught me to love running.)

And three years ago, my cousin’s then-10-year-old son, Spencer, was diagnosed with Crohn’s. And we have a teenage friend at our church, also named Spencer, who has Crohn’s. And an adult at church with Crohn’s. Get the picture? I want to kick the crap out of Crohn’s disease, and I want to do it, like, yesterday.

So that’s why I ran 13.1 miles yesterday.

I never intended to run a half-marathon. Six months ago it wasn’t even on my radar. But when some of the crazy-running-chick friends I hang with started talking about running a Half in October, naturally my thoughts turned to, “Could I?” I had certainly gotten addicted to running in the past couple of years (as I’ve said before, it’s like crack). I credit my friends’ ambitions with getting me on the road, so to speak, to my decision – to explore strange new worlds, to seek out new life and new civilizations, to boldly go where Suzy has never gone before (sorry – couldn’t resist the Star Trek reference).

Despite the grand illusions (delusions?), I had more or less decided that I wouldn’t run such a long-distance race. I have a mild heart condition, which worries my mother but not my cardiologist so much, and I had knee surgery 13 months ago, so I thought I’d just be kind to my body and stick with shorter races.

But in mid-June, when my new love of running supercollided with a cause I believe in with all my heart, the decision was practically made. The day after I got the email about Team Challenge, CCFA’s half-marathon training program to raise money for research and awareness, I signed up. (I would have signed up the same day, but you know me: I can’t do anything big without thoroughly researching it first. I left voice mails and emails for the Arkansas and the national people in the know; I texted; I read all the info online, etc. Next thing I knew, I was a Team Challenge member!)

I want to tell you all about Team Challenge in more detail, but today’s post is more about yesterday’s event and what got me there. I’ll cheerlead for the Team Challenge program in a post very soon.

The main thing I want to say about yesterday’s race has more to do with what came before it than with the actual event.

I want to say THANK YOU to all of you who supported me. For some that meant donations of money, for others donations of your time, talents and effort, and for still others it meant prayers, words of encouragement and general moral support. Some of you donated money out of your abundance (wallets and hearts), and some of you scraped up donations sacrificially because you believed in the cause, or maybe you just believed in me – or in a gracious God who has blessed you and you wanted to bless others.

I get teary-eyed just thinking about all of you.

My race shirt, bib and “top fundraiser” tag.

And, yes, I thought about each and every one of you as I ran, walked, sweated and even endured a brief bout of stomach cramps and nausea yesterday. I prayed for you; thanked God for such incredibly generous (of heart and wallet) friends, co-workers, church members and family who helped me get to the finish line (heck, you helped me get to the start line); and celebrated how generous God has been in putting you in my life. You will never know how much you mean to me. (By the way, you helped me take fifth-place honors in the fundraising.) And special shout-outs to Bruce, who jogged shortcuts to particular mile markers to take pictures of me, snapped me crossing the finish line and was my main cheerleader, even though he really wanted to be out there with me, running the whole race; to Mom, who traveled with us to Nashville so she could watch her baby cross the finish line (alive!); and to our sweet friends the Tuckers – Betsy dropped by my workplace Thursday morning to bring me a surprise: a great card about “amazing women” and a package of pre- and post-race energy goodies (Betsy has been my second-biggest cheerleader along the way, always telling me how proud she is of my accomplishments, and Tommy has offered his share of encouraging words).

I wish I could say the finish line of yesterday’s race was the finish line of Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis, irritable bowel syndrome and every other ugly disease we watch our loved ones suffer through, but for me it was just the renewing of my commitment to raise awareness and funds for CCFA.

Next month, Bruce and I will sit in the Mission tent of CCFA’s Take Steps Walk in northwest Arkansas, as we have done for the past three years. We were on the ground floor of helping establish a CCFA chapter in Arkansas in 2010. Many of you helped us with that, for the Little Rock walks and the NWA walks (thank you).

But this year in our Mission tent will be a huge poster of Suzy’s first Team Challenge half-marathon, because next year I plan to return to Nashville with an Arkansas team! (This year I and the only other Team Challenge participant from Arkansas were placed on the National Team. But we’re gonna change that!) And since my official half-marathon coaching this year was “virtual” (our training sessions were in the form of emails and a weekly conference call from Coach Dave, and we had mentors and other support for the fundraising part), next year I’ll have the benefit of a real-live, local running coach. You know who I’m talking about, don’t you? (His name starts with B and ends with “ruce.”)

So, look out, Team Challenge: Suzy’s on a mission!

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I still haven’t reached my fundraising goal and have a few weeks left. If you’d like to be a part of curing Crohn’s disease, click here to make a donation.

Arkansas had 42 participants in Saturday’s race, including two of us from Batesville. To view the official results, visit Nashville Women’s Half Marathon

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Can’t do the Gu, and other lessons from running

I learned a few things during my 8-mile run this morning:

Gu is nasty. Gu is not for people, like me, who have a strong gag reflex.

Several running friends had told me about the taste/texture of Gu (an energy gel) when I inquired on Facebook a few weeks ago. Colyn summed it up when he said: “Gu makes me want to hurl.” (Or something like that.)

Now I get it. One swallow, one reaction: Yuck. (No, I didn’t hurl, but I had a psychedelic flashback to a 2008 medical procedure in which I had to swallow a thick, numbing gel so they could stick a scope down my throat. As I said in a previous post, there’s a reason they don’t want you to eat before these procedures.)

For sale: 1½ packets of Gu (one slightly used). Call me if you’re interested.

Watching Olympians isn’t just fun – it inspires you to do more, and better.

I watched the last 8 miles of the Women’s Olympic Marathon yesterday morning. I tell ya, those skinny chicks can run! And, no matter how many hills they encounter, they don’t slow down to a walk. Only in my wildest dreams can I imagine not walking a step during a 26.2-mile race. But today I can imagine jogging 13.1 miles without walking. (Hey, I can dream, can’t I?)

Here’s what watching 8 miles of Olympic women did for me:

Last week had turned out to be kind of an off week in my half-marathon training. Because of some unanticipated circumstances (and a dash of poor planning), I didn’t get in a long run Saturday or Sunday – both days I usually go long – so I was feeling kind of lazy.

I’m taking a vacation day today, so I had talked my night-owl husband and our young friend Sam into doing their early-Monday workout even earlier – with me – and then I kinda flaked out on them. We were going to meet at the high school at 6:30, and Sam wanted to do speed work on the trail instead of the track. Well, I can’t do speed work with Bruce and Sam (they’re much faster than I am), so I decided to do my long run by jogging to BHS instead of driving there with Bruce. It’s about 8 miles round trip, so I left at 6 a.m. (I figured Bruce would be late, anyway.)

The only time I saw either of them is when Bruce passed me in the car on his way to meet Sam. He slowed down to ask if I needed anything and then drove on.

I was going uphill when he saw me, and I was jogging, not walking. Score!

In fact, I jogged more uphills than I have in a really long time, and it was easier this time. I had gotten quite lazy in my workouts since adding distance. I told myself it was the distance or the time out there that mattered – not the actual miles per hour. So I hadn’t been increasing my speed much.

I had gotten really lazy.

The difference this morning? Determination. Inspiration. Low humidity.

I had been thinking about those Olympic chicks for 24 hours. Their perseverance really stuck with me. And then there was this Nike commercial last night during the Olympics. Did you see it?

There’s a voice-over that’s talking about “finding your greatness.” In the distance you see a jogger. As he gets closer and closer and as the voice-over continues, you realize this jogger is an overweight kid. He’s huffing and puffing, sweaty and red-faced, but he never slows down.

No, he’s not fast. But he’s not walking, either. He’s persevering. (His name is Nathan. Read about him here.)

I didn’t consciously think about that overweight boy while I ran this morning, but he must have been in the back of my mind. And I definitely thought a lot about the Olympic women. I told myself, “If they can run 26.2 miles without walking, surely I can jog up some of these little ol’ hills of Batesville.”

So I did. I jogged up several of the hills, including the Golden Overpass and the Baja. (If you don’t live in or near Batesville, Ark., let me just tell you, there’s a reason the back of our women’s running clinic shirt says “Got Hills?” We have our fair share of hills, thank you very much.)

And here’s the crazy thing: Around Mile 7, I started realizing that it was getting easier, not harder. I felt as though I could go another 3-4 miles. (I didn’t.) And in those last couple of miles before home, I kept jogging up the hills.

I was actually having fun. (Well, sort of. It is running, after all.)

Funny what an attitude adjustment can do for a person.

Having one off-week doesn’t have to derail an entire training program. I already knew that, but because the half-marathon is only seven weeks away, I got a little scared. It made me afraid I wouldn’t be able to build up to my really long run before the event. I want to do a 13.1-mile workout before I get to Nashville, and it needs to be a couple of weeks before the race. (You’re supposed to ease off on the mileage as you get close to race day.) So I’ll be cutting it close, but I’ll get there. And if I don’t get in a 13.1-mile run before race day, it’ll be okay. I know I’ll be able to finish strong, even if I don’t finish fast.

I love that my coach is also my sweetheart. Bruce has been so encouraging as I’ve journeyed through weight loss and learning to love running. Today when he got home from his workout, he said I looked thin as he drove up behind me while I jogged. I’ve learned so much from him about running, but I also revel in the fact that he loved me even before I loved running. He’s a keeper.

Running isn’t everything, but it has taught me many lessons about life. An important lesson I’ve learned, and that I will continue to learn, is that I am capable of things I never thought possible just a couple of years ago. Just look at me – I’m training for a half-marathon! I’ve always known that “I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength” (Philippians 4:13), but never had I related that to physical activity before now.

I serve a big God, and He is continually teaching me. It’s neat that He chooses to use things like running to teach me life lessons. The trick is to open my ears, eyes and heart and pay attention. There are many lessons to be learned.

My fundraising deadline for the Nashville Women’s Half Marathon, which supports the Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation of America, is only 30 days away. Please consider supporting my efforts to wipe out Crohn’s disease in Bruce’s lifetime. Click here to donate. That page also provides a link to Team Challenge – just in case you’d like to join me in my next half-marathon for CCFA. 🙂

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