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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Multifunction dogs

Suzy with Pepper, Bruce with Salsa. Chase Race and Paws, Conway, Ark., March 10, 2012.

At our house, we have a multifunction printer. It does three things: prints, scans, copies – hence its model name, HP 750PSC.

But that ain’t nothin’ compared to our multifunction dogs, whose functions are too multiple to mention in one blog post – too numerous to sum up with a succinct model name. I’ll stick to the highlights.

In some ways, our canines’ services are similar and work in tandem; in other ways, they are different yet still complementary. A few examples:

Emergency Response System (ERS): The girls (or the Spice Dogs, as we like to call them) carry out this function in various ways, not all of them necessarily effective. Salsa (ERS Dog 1) barks a warning – loudly – when she encounters something she perceives as evil. In this category would be squirrels, cats, large flying insects, leaves falling from trees, vampire bats, snakes, representatives of the U.S. Postal Service and small children on bicycles. Pepper (ERS Dog 2), on the other hand, cannot be relied on in emergencies, as she barks at whatever moves or breathes in her general vicinity. That includes people entering the kitchen to feed her, people trying to have a conversation over her head (and many things are over her head) and subtle movements of the human body (for instance, crossing or uncrossing one’s legs, reaching for a tissue or taking a sip of one’s beverage – all perceived as evil acts that must be addressed. Loudly).

Pepper likes to make her opinions known. A lot. And you never know when you’ll get one.

Cleanup Crew: Both Spice Dogs are punctual and efficient at taking care of unwanted food, or food that has dropped to the floor, your lap or, in Pepper’s case, within 100 feet of where she’s sitting. When food falls, she’s Johnny on the Spot. I occasionally time Pepper when I feed the girls breakfast. When she was on dry food: 12 seconds to consume her little 2-ounce scoop (she doesn’t chew, she inhales). Now that she’s on canned food (very specific reason for that – more later), I’ve seen her suck it down in a flat three seconds. Right before she burps – loudly. This dog weighs 3.9 pounds and could put a third-grader to shame with one of her belches.

Pepper puts Salsa under the table, so to speak, when it comes to eating. In fact, helping Salsa eat is one of Pepper’s many food-related functions. When we got Salsa from the animal shelter in August 2005, it was hard to get her to finish her food. She’d rather play. The experts said to keep her on a schedule, putting her food away after a few minutes if she didn’t eat it. I established a twice-daily meal schedule and began following the suggestions. It helped some, but she’d still rather play and would leave her dish unattended. Same with Potty Outside. I followed expert advice, taking her out on the leash (even though our yard was fenced), walking her back and forth along a short strip of real estate and repeating “Go potty” over and over. In the summer, I often gave up after about 20 minutes. Too dang hot to stay out there trying to get her to poop.

The acquisition of Dog 2 changed all that. We inherited Pepper (long story) from relatives (who inherited her from other relatives) on Thanksgiving Day 2005 – three months after we got Salsa. Now, with Salsa and the bowl of food, there was the threat of another little dog stealing what was rightfully Salsa’s. So Salsa started finishing her food before being sent outside to potty. I’m not sure what did the trick on the Potty Outside, but that miraculously resolved itself with Dog 2’s arrival.

Pepper sleeping under her bed. Yes, that's her tiny heiny peeking out.

Bed Warmer: If we ever worried about being cold in our house, such as during a power outage in the winter, those fears were set aside when Multifunction Dog 2 (also known as Our Little Space Heater) came along. The first night she was with us, Pepper slept curled up in a tiny ball right under my chin. I tolerated that for one night, but if you know me, you know that I have to have near-perfect conditions for sleeping, and having a dog for a beard ain’t one of them. The second night, Pepper slept curled up at my back so that if I tried to roll over, I’d have to disturb her beauty sleep or risk flattening her. Also not ideal, although I did come up with a work-around (which I won’t bore you with). Before long, I had the brilliant idea to put her little doggy bed on top of our king-size bed and pile it with fleece blankets. She burrowed under (under the doggy bed itself, actually) and was more or less content. She is a burrower. (Bonus fact: Pepper fits inside one of Bruce’s sweatshirt pockets.) She’d much rather be glued to a human being than in her little bed, but the bed suffices. Because if Mama don’t get no sleep, ain’t nobody happy. And lest I forget Salsa’s function in this category, let’s just say she, too, is happy to be a bed warmer but knows how to take a hint.

Party Animal: When we take the Spice Dogs to events (festivals, farmers markets, Nanny’s house [where the “event” is a treat they’re not allowed at home]), they get a lot of attention. Pepper gets most of it because she’s tee-tiny and can be picked up by small children and generally doesn’t mind being handled. (Our girls are people dogs.) Salsa is just too happy to be out among people, smells and the occasional dropped hot dog to care that everybody loves tiny little Pepper. Everyone loves tiny little Pepper because they don’t live with her. She may be cuter, but Salsa is by far the gentler, more humble (although not always the quieter) of the duo. When given a treat, Pepper will race up, snatch it out of your hand and zoom away to her treat-eating spot without saying thank you. She acts like it’s the last morsel of food she will ever receive, and you have to count your digits in the aftermath. Salsa trots up, looks at you for a second with her soulful brown eyes, gently (really: gently) takes the dog biscuit from your hand and trots away to her designated treat-eating spot. Which brings me to …

Creature of Habit. If ever we could learn something valuable from our dogs, it’s in the area of consistency. For instance, each dog has a precise spot where she likes to eat her treats. And Pepper can tell time with her biorhythms. She knows when it’s precisely 7 p.m. (the final evening-treat time) or any other time she’s entitled to get a free piece of food. Salsa knows when it’s 4 a.m. and time to be let outside to alert the neighbors to the presence of squirrels, falling leaves, vampire bats and what-not. And you never know when a kid on a bike may be riding past the house at 4 o’clock in the morning.

Public Service Announcer: This is really Pepper’s function alone. She lets us know when Salsa should go outside, when Salsa should be let in or when Salsa is occupying her sister’s spot on the couch or the bed. And she is not above subterfuge. Pepper likes to sit outside on the deck in a sunny spot, or occasionally just inside the sliding door in a sunny spot on the carpet. When the sun moves, Pepper’s sunny spot moves, and sometimes action must be taken. If Salsa happens to be in Pepper’s newly positioned sunny spot, Pepper will helpfully let us know that Salsa would like to get up and go outside (or come inside). Sometimes we misunderstand, assuming that Pepper herself wants out or in, but we quickly realize that she just wanted the sunny spot vacated so she could take up residence.

Pepper also helpfully announces to us that she has just made potty on the floor. This is usually about 30 seconds after she has made an announcement that we misunderstood as a need to go outside to potty. It might be 2 a.m., but we’ve learned not to ignore her when she wakes us up like that – just in case it’s legit. We’ll go to the door, assuming she’ll trot right over and go out. She’ll stand 12 feet away looking at us, we’ll grumble and go back to bed (or back to whatever we were doing), and a half-minute later we’ll hear another announcement: “Hey, look what I did! I peed on the carpet! Again! Clean it up!” She’s very helpful and conscientious in that way.

Reminder of the Delicate Balance of Nature: In the aforementioned Cleanup Crew category, I alluded to Pepper’s switch from dry to canned food. My awareness of this necessity came quite by accident. Pepper had been sick, and the vet put her on soft food for a few days. One morning I noticed that when she ate the canned food, she didn’t run up on Salsa and antagonize her after sucking down her own food. It was almost vicious, this daily exchange over Salsa’s food dish. I would have to yell at Pepper to break up the fights, which almost came to physical violence sometimes. I thought the wet-food phenomenon might be an anomaly, so the next morning I gave Pepper dry food and stood by to watch. Sure enough, she “attacked” Salsa again. Morning 3: wet food, no fighting. So now we spend a little extra to buy canned food for Princess Pepper so that she will leave her sister alone at mealtime. Little twerp.

Morale Officer: When Bruce had his latest Crohn’s disease flare-up, his buddy Salsa may have saved him. She might not have saved his life, literally, but she saved his morale. In early 2007, Bruce had to quit working full time and before long couldn’t work at all. By October, he didn’t have a job. We had to sell his vehicle, so he didn’t have transportation during the day – even if he had felt like leaving the house – because I had to leave my work-from-home freelance job to get a 60-hour-a-week position with health insurance (but no overtime pay). The lingering effects of this flare-up lasted until 2010, so Bruce considered himself nothing more than a dog-sitter for a really long time. (Bruce literally learned to speak Dog. He could identify what was going on outside by Salsa’s different bark sounds.) And, yes, Pepper is a morale officer, albeit a more aloof one. She’s somewhat like a cat; if you can’t do something for her (feed her, keep her warm, toss her squeaky toy), she’s not always interested in your company. But she, too, is a constant presence and cuddly companion.

Loyal Buddy: We complain about soiled carpet, hairy furniture, middle-of-the-night prowl-fests, stinky blankets, loud barking and the fact that we can’t go anywhere for very long on the spur of the moment (it’s almost like having small children), but we wouldn’t trade our Spice Dogs for any amount of money, any material possession or any other creature on the planet. We’ve grown quite attached to the little goons.

The Spice Dogs. They’re stuck with us. And that’s a function with multiple rewards.

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Cocoa and Licorice

Cocoa and Licorice need good homes.

 

“Then God said, ‘Let the earth produce every sort of animal, each producing offspring of the same kind – livestock, small animals that scurry along the ground, and wild animals.’ And that is what happened. God made all sorts of wild animals, livestock, and small animals, each able to produce offspring of the same kind. And God saw that it was good” (Genesis 1:24-25, NLT).

What I’m about to say is going to make some people mad – possibly even some people in my family. I’m sorry, but I’ve held my tongue for too long. This morning’s events pushed me over the edge, so I’m just going to tell you how I feel. I want to write it while the knot it still in my stomach, because otherwise I won’t say it. I’ve gone for years without expressing these thoughts in public, but now there’s no holding back. (I’ve stepped on people’s toes before, so what’s one more time?)

Here it is:

I wish every puppy mill in the world would go out of business. I wish everyone who ever paid a dime for a dog bred for profit would spend five minutes at an animal shelter. I wish spaying and neutering were free the world over, because then no one would have an excuse for dumping puppies at the river, or shooting their puppies’ mothers, or abusing their animals because there are too many of them and when it comes down to whom to feed, we humans win by necessity.

The world is overpopulated with unwanted animals. The shelters are full beyond capacity – especially the no-kill shelters like the Humane Society of Independence County, where we had to take Cocoa and Licorice this morning.

Am I hypocritical for leaving two puppies at a shelter whose staff said they were already full? Maybe. Bruce and I were prepared to bring them home with us for a while if we needed to, but the shelter folks found a cage and said they’d take them.

That leaves me with the responsibility to find homes for these two babies. Because in the short ride to the shelter from Kennedy Park, where we found them and their sibling (whom we couldn’t find when it was time to leave), I became their Mama. (They didn’t realize it, I’m not sure whether Bruce knew it, but I knew it.)

Bruce said we couldn’t keep them. My brain knows that’s true, but my heart wanted to make room in our small house alongside our two queens of the roost, Salsa and Pepper. Bruce’s heart is softer than mine in many ways, but his head prevails in these matters. (It wouldn’t have taken much to convince him, though. After all, our carpet is already spotted with Pepper peepee and strewn with Salsa hair.)

You wanna know something about shelter people? They don’t leave their jobs at the office. They take their jobs home with them (sometimes quite literally), and they don’t leave at quitting time, or arrive just before start time. Many of them don’t even get paid for this – in dollars at least. They get paid in puppy love. And they give it right back.

When we arrived this morning at 9:15, people were there, even though the sign on the door said they didn’t open until 11. Two hours before the doors officially open? Now, that’s puppy love. (And kitty love.)

At 9:15, the door was locked, but they let me in with my sob story.

“Someone abandoned three puppies at the river, and the third is lost but we have the other two in the car. Do you have room for them?”

The answer was no – they had just taken in 17 dogs yesterday (16 of them were from underneath one house, and the owners had shot the parent dogs). The shelter was bursting at the seams.

They asked exactly where we had found the puppies, because if it was inside city limits, maybe we could take them to the city pound. But Sue, the leader of the pack (I use that term endearingly), called the city’s phone number and got no answer.

Next thing I knew, as I was discussing with Sue the unfairness of puppy life and the pros and cons of forced neutering, someone was busy finding a cage. While I didn’t even realize what was happening, my new babies were taken from my arms and put inside the cage with some water, blankets and – very important for busy puppies – toys.

(Shelter people’s hearts are softer and warmer than my babies’ fleece blankets.)

Before this, while the puppies were still in the car, one of the staff had seen the brown one and squealed with delight, “A chocolate one!” (Okay, maybe she didn’t squeal outwardly so much, but she was squealing on the inside – I know it.)

She picked up chocolate baby from Bruce’s lap, cuddled her next to her face, and immediately named her Cocoa. (Sorry, I didn’t get the staff member’s name. Is that really important? We know the dog’s name. 🙂 )

We went through the ritual of trying to figure out what to do with these babies, me all the while thinking I was going to get to put them back in the car and bring them home for a while, and next thing I knew that darned cage was there and my new babies were in it.

What? You’re keeping them? Yes, no one answered at the city.

Well, this is happening too fast. I have to say goodbye to my new babies already. Much too fast.

So Mama said goodbye to her babies, but she couldn’t leave without giving the black one a name. We have Cocoa and … how about Licorice? (We’re big on food names in our household.)

They liked my choice, said they hadn’t had a Licorice before, and that was that. Bruce and I drove off and resumed our lives as the parents of two – not four – dogs.

So back to my point. Two points, actually:

One, animal-shelter workers are underappreciated, and unsung. I’m singing it now, though. They’re special and wonderful beyond measure. They have big hearts.

And, two (here’s the part where I might step on your paws), if you never thought about the implications of paying for a pure-breed dog or cat and how that perpetuates the overpopulation of shelters, or the abandonment of helpless animals in ditches or under houses or along a fast-moving river (we don’t know what happened to the third puppy this morning, and I bet there were more than three to start with), think about it now. When you shell out your hard-earned money for a pet, I hope it’s because you really, really love that animal, because it may mean another one – maybe a mixed breed – has to be put inside a cage until the no-kill-shelter folks can find a home for it. Or until the city “euthanizes” it because there’s no room for the rest of the unwanted animals that were brought in, sometimes in batches of 17 – or more.

I don’t want any human to go hungry because his livelihood was taken away. But I wish pet breeders would find another line of work.

There are plenty of incredibly great animals out there who need good homes. I know this for sure – I met several of them this morning.

UPDATE: Since I posted this earlier today, Sue went out and found the third puppy sister. She couldn’t stand the thought of that little furball being left out in the frigid air all alone overnight, with no siblings to cuddle up with. Did I mention it was 36 degrees this morning when we got to the river?

Oh, and they’ve renamed Cocoa; she’s now Mocha. The third sister is Midnight (I had tentatively suggested that name before I thought of Licorice but wasn’t sure whether anyone heard me).

The three sisters are safe, warm and loved now.

We think Cocoa Mocha and Licorice (and Midnight) are Labs. If you’d like to rescue one (or both all) of them, or to donate money or time, or if you just want information on the Humane Society of Independence County, click here for the website, call (870) 793-0090, email hsicshelteroffice@yahoo.com or visit the shelter’s Facebook page.

If you live outside Independence County, Ark., please find a shelter near your home and consider donating your time and/or money.

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Bless the beasts and the children

If you don’t think God cares about animals, you need to read my dog tale.

I’d been praying for and about a dog along my jog/walk route. In fact, last time I walked with our group in the evenings (after we changed back to the 4-Mile  Classic route that’s close to my neighborhood), I mentioned it to one of the ladies.

“There’s this dog up ahead that I feel so sorry for,” I said.”

“I know exactly which one you’re talking about,” she said.

Every morning when I walked by myself, and two evenings a week when I walked with the group, I’d see this dog – a large black, friendly but somewhat subdued dog – tethered to a cable that ran from a tree to the roof of the house. A very short cable in a tiny, tiny yard. In fact, it’s so small I’m not even sure it qualifies as a yard.

That sweet dog was tethered to that short piece of cable all day every day, it seemed. What a life.

My friend and I talked about this poor dog – how we couldn’t understand why someone would want a dog if they were going to keep it chained up outside all the time and never play with it. (I have no real evidence to back this up – only speculation – but, judging by the condition of the tiny, rundown house and yard, the dog sure wasn’t getting any indoor playtime when we weren’t looking.)

I had mentioned the situation to Bruce, telling him that the dog never made a sound, even when I said hello (I say hello to all the furbabies along my route); she would just run back and forth along that short little cable every time I walked by, seemingly excited to see someone – anyone – any sign of life amid a dreary existence. I told him I wished I could gather her up and bring her home with me. (I’m a bit of a sucker for a needy animal.)

A week ago, I came in from my walk on Saturday morning, and Bruce was awake.

“I know we can barely afford the two dogs we have,” I told him, “but when we finally sell the North Little Rock house and have some extra cash, don’t be surprised to see me walking in the door with that dog I was telling you about.”

He kind of smiled (just like he always does when I say, “Can we take that dog? He needs a home!”).

“I’m serious!” I said. “If I ever see people at that house, I’m going to ask them if they really want that dog, and if they don’t I’m going to ask if I can have her. And when we sell the house, if she’s still there and I don’t see anyone outside I might just walk up to the door and knock on it!” (I get a little riled up sometimes.) “I’ll tell them we have a big yard and plenty of room.” I figured we could be foster parents until we found someone else to take her.

So I started praying for a decent home for my sweet little (big) poochy friend.

Tuesday or Wednesday morning as I approached her house, she was looking toward the back yard and barking a little – not mad barking, but friendly, excited barking, like, “Hey, let me back there to play with you!” Someone may have been back there, but I didn’t see anyone. When she saw me she ran up to the little 2-foot wall at the edge of the yard and put her front paws on it. I went over and rubbed her ears. She laid her head over on me, just eating up the attention. I talked to her for a couple of minutes, scratching and rubbing her head and neck, telling her what a good dog she was – and wishing I could untether her and take her with me. But I went home, leaving her there, alone in her tiny yard. Again. Praying for her all the way, wishing she could have a better life, with a big yard to run around in. Knowing that right now we could not provide that for her but hoping she would be at least a little happy until we could.

Toward the end of the week, I noticed I hadn’t seen her in a few days. I thought, “Well, maybe they finally took pity on her and let her go inside out of the heat.” Friday morning I realized the cable had been gone for a couple of days but the small doghouse was still there. I looked around in the street – no signs of a dog having been hit by a car, unless they cleaned it up really well (not likely).

Saturday as I approached the house, I noticed a man and a woman in the yard. He was just getting settled in a chair, and she was going back into the house. I said, “Hey, what happened to your dog?”

Him: “We gave it away to a good home.”

Her: “Where she could run around – and be free.”

Me: “Aww, that’s nice.” (That’s what I said on the outside. On the inside I was shouting, “Praise God! Yippee! Halleluiah! God, You are awesome! Thank you!”)

I kept walking. And smiling.

Sometimes all you gotta do is ask.

“Now all glory to God, who is able, through his mighty power at work within us, to accomplish infinitely more than we might ask or think. Glory to him in the church and in Christ Jesus through all generations forever and ever! Amen.” – Ephesians 3:20-21 (New Living Translation)

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Suzy’s skillet supper

This is what I made for dinner tonight.

Yes, I need to come up with a less-Denny’s-sounding name for it, but it’s almost bedtime. I’ll worry about that tomorrow. In fact, the only reason I’m posting this tonight is that I’ll forget the ingredients if I don’t record them now.

My favorite thing about this skillet pasta dish is that I was able to use a couple of items from my own back yard: fresh basil and cherry tomatoes. Also, most of the ingredients were what I just happened to have on hand (I bought the broccoli, the spinach and the bell pepper over the weekend, and I opened my fridge and cupboards for the rest).

So here is the jumbly, hurried version of the recipe – for now. I’m going to let you figure out your own amounts, partly because I didn’t measure anything and partly because I’m about to go to bed. Also, I’ll clean it up and post it on my new Recipes page when I get a chance. (I haven’t formally announced it, but I created a page just for recipes; see RECIPES tab above.)

Suzy’s Skillet Supper

  • Whole-grain penne rigate pasta (or whatever kind you prefer)
  • Olive oil
  • A dash of chicken broth
  • Boneless, skinless chicken, cut into bite-size pieces
  • Fresh garlic (lots)
  • Red bell pepper
  • White onion
  • Fresh broccoli
  • Cherry tomatoes
  • Fresh baby spinach
  • Basil
  • Freshly grated Parmesan cheese

Cook everything but the cheese in a big ol’ skillet, saving the spinach and the basil until nearly the end, dish it up, grate the cheese on top, and devour.

Serves a family of four, or Bruce and one small child.

Bon appetit, and good night!

 

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Things I’m thankful for

These are things I’m thankful for this morning:

  • The glorious weather. I know it’s hot, but that’s why I like to do my workout (walk/jog) at sunrise; the weather is actually cool for about an hour, until the sun rises high over the houses. Today there were just enough wispy clouds to create a soft pastel scene just above the horizon for a few minutes. So peaceful. We’ve had no rain lately, either, meaning I have to remember to water my own tomatoes and herbs (small sacrifice), but that also means I don’t have to wear special gear to exercise outside. Another reason to be thankful.
  • City road crews. The dead ’possum I experienced yesterday morning on Hill Street was gone this morning. It was a fresh kill yesterday, so I’m really glad I won’t have to look at it every day for two weeks like we did the armadillo carcass. Not sure who picked it up, but I’m grateful to that person. For the record, any time the subject of “jobs I would never want to have” comes up, No. 1 on my list has always been “the person who cleans up road kill.”
  • New friends, Part 1. At the moment I’m thinking about my new running/walking friends. Since I joined the women’s running clinic in late February (and recruited Coach Bruce a few weeks into it), I have made some lifelong friends. The group is amazing in its enthusiasm and support of one another. Many of us had been couch potatoes for far too long, and we’re now spurring each other on in many ways. This particular group is a hybrid of the women’s clinic, the Run for God Bible study and the White River Road Runners group.
  • New friends, Part 2. Bruce and I have been Batesville residents for 13 months now, and we have felt so embraced by our community. We have friends at church, at work, through volunteering and because of family connections. There’s not enough space here to explain it all or to express our gratitude and sense of belonging.
  • Old friends. I’m thinking of Lynn in particular right now. It’s been so nice reconnecting with her over the past couple of years, and now we live closer to each other and are able to have face-to-face meetings every now and then. She has been an encouragement to me, as well as an encourager. We’re on similar journeys to physical fitness although our personal circumstances are quite different.
  • Family. We moved here because of family. I haven’t seen as much of my brother and his brood as much as I would like these past few months, but my mother and I talk nearly every day by phone or in person. We share rides to work sometimes (she lets us borrow her car when Bruce and I both need to drive somewhere), she feeds our dogs when we need to go out of town and she lets us come over and watch sports on her big-screen TV – very important things! We live less than a mile from my brother, J.T., and Mom’s house is a stone’s throw from his. We love being so close to them.
  • Good health. I have minor physical ailments, but they aren’t enough to keep me from continuing my fitness journey. I have finally embraced the idea of moving every day in a way that’s making my heart stronger, both physically and spiritually. I can’t say when I will breathe my last breath, and I try to remind myself to savor each day as it comes (some days that’s easier said than done, but I still try).
  • The little deck on the back of our house. Yesterday after my wog (our Run for God leader’s word for walk/jog), I took my Bible outside to the deck to read the first five Psalms (next in our through-the-Bible-in-a-year plan). It was perfect that Psalms fell on the day I was able to spend time outdoors, not worrying about the clock.
  • Trees and birds. You notice them more when you walk the streets early or sit on the deck in the morning. The birds’ songs are melodious and soothing.
  • Good books. I’m reading one right now that I’ll review for BookSneeze when I’m finished, but I would be telling you about it even if I didn’t have to. It’s called “Jesus, My Father, The CIA, and Me” by Ian Morgan Cron. More later.
  • Chocolate. No explanation needed.
  • The dogs. I’ve talked enough about them in the past, so I won’t bore you with that this morning, but I’m grateful for them every day. They make me laugh.
  • Bruce. He’s my sweetie pie. I love him for so many reasons – too many to express here and now. I’ll just tell him to his face.
  • My job.
  • Home. My favorite place.
  • God. He bestows so many blessings on my life. I will never find enough words to express my gratefulness.

Beautiful weather tends to make me sentimental, hence the spontaneous gratefulness post. I think it’s important to stop and count my blessings every now and then, though. It helps me slow down from the busyness of life and remember the Source of all that’s good.

“Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows” (James 1:17).

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Stop the insanity (pods)!

A giant insanity pod has descended upon me and has taken up residence on top of my head. For the past few days, it’s been trying to make its way through my dense thicket of hair to creep into my cranium and wreak havoc with my internal circuitry. It threatens to annihilate me if something is not done to stop it.

What is an insanity pod, you say? You won’t find the precise definition in any dictionary, but an insanity pod is much like the humidity pods that descend upon Arkansas about this time of year and don’t leave until October or November. It’s a presence you dislike, but you learn to live with it, much like you learn to live with oily skin, or a husband who steals the covers. Until it’s time to cry out, “Enough is enough!” or “Out, out, darn pod!”

But, unlike with the humidity pods, you have some measure of control – within predetermined parameters – over an insanity pod. For instance, you can control how large it gets and how long it stays attached to your brain – or whether it makes it past your scalp in the first place.

In case you have never heard of insanity pods, we offer this helpful Q&A:

How do insanity pods form? No one knows for certain how the first pod came to be, but it grew and spawned other pods (much like Amish friendship bread). They approach the most vulnerable victim first (they can tell who you are). They begin by spotting someone with an overloaded schedule, too much stress from the challenges of life, a poor diet, the inability to sleep through the night and a merely compulsory reading of the Word. To that they pile on more stress, which leads to impulse eating, more insomnia, uncontrollable drooling, chocolate cravings and a worried mother (well, that last one is just a fact of everyday life, but it becomes more obvious as the insanity pod tightens its invisible tentacles around your nerve endings).

How do insanity pods manifest? The list of symptoms is exhaustive, but, among other things, the pods cause forgetfulness, crankiness, night blindness, a messy house and the Scary Mama Voice when the dogs misbehave (which means when they act like themselves).

Who suffers from insanity pods? As mentioned above, the pods attack the most vulnerable members of society first. The most likely victim is female, age 35-55, premenopausal, works full time, goes to school part time, volunteers at church and takes care of children, an aging parent, a chronically ill spouse or at least two pets – or all of the above. (We should mention that the sufferers include not only the victim, but relatives and members of the victim’s work and social circles.)

What can a loved one of an insanity-pod sufferer do to help? Just stay out of the way, baby.

How does one “stop the insanity”? As with an addiction to alcohol, food, shopping, gambling or Dancing with the Stars, the insanity-pod sufferer, or IPS, must admit her affliction. That is the first and most crucial step. (If the malady is caught early enough, there is no need for a formal 12-step program.) Then she must recite the insanity – er, serenity – prayer:

God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and sufficient distance from sharp or heavy objects that can be used as weapons.

The next step is to begin removing obstacles to sanity, starting with items (even seemingly important ones) on her social, business and volunteer calendars, even if others don’t understand why this is happening. Would they rather find out about it in the newspaper or on the 10 o’clock news? (“Disgruntled worker takes out 23 colleagues, then turns the staple gun on herself – coming up after the break!”)

Relief can be immediate, much like when an Alka-Seltzer grants the first gut-relieving belch. In fact, when the first one or two items fall off the calendar, the IPS begins feeling lighter and the furrowed brow begins smoothing out. Then recovery can begin in earnest.

Within weeks (or perhaps days, depending the sufferer’s commitment to the program) a balance has been struck – the schedule is more manageable, school is out for the summer, the sufferer’s mother and the dogs are speaking to her again, the husband has stopped sleeping on the sofa. At this point, it is probably safe to approach, but proceed with caution. There could be a relapse. It is best to monitor the IPS from a distance for a few days to be sure equilibrium has, indeed, been restored.

How can you tell when the insanity pod has left for good? As there is no immunization at this time, there is no way to permanently remove the threat of insanity pods. But you can minimize the risk by remaining vigilant. The sufferer should get adequate sleep and exercise, stay hydrated, restrict caffeine, take long baths, play with the dogs, spend time with her husband, immerse herself in a few pieces of quality literature (no, we’re not talking about People magazine), work/play in the garden, write in her blog, eat 1-2 ounces of dark chocolate daily, watch Saturday morning Food Network and/or HGTV, listen to music, visit her mother more often (this should go without saying), pray and read Scripture regularly, and start reading the Sunday funny pages again.

This way, when the fall semester begins and the cycle threatens to repeat itself, the insanity pod will be less likely to try to park its ugly head on top of this particular victim’s. It will simply move on to the next unsuspecting forty-something woman and try to suck out her brain.

Help researchers find a cure for insanity pods! Contribute your suggestions by leaving a comment below. Or just send me a check.

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Honey, I’m home

People, before it’s over, you’re going to get tired of hearing me say how much I love being back in Batesville, where I grew up.

But two things this morning have made me think that thought all over again!

First, I got an e-mail from Lynn. She told me in a “rambling” (her word, but it wasn’t rambly) e-mail:

I can tell you’re having a lot of fun with your blog. … Moving to Batesville seems to have fufilled you in so many ways.

Then, my cousin Teri posted something on Facebook about making spaghetti, and I told her:

Mom has decided we’re having spaghetti for Christmas dinner this year. 🙂 She makes hers Mexican-spicy, and I haven’t had that in years! She used to make it every year for my birthday.

In all this talk about spaghetti for Christmas dinner (I had told Mom I could make chicken spaghetti – yum!), I had forgotten that she used to make her Mexican-spicy spaghetti for my birthday every year.

What a wonderful thing to remember after all these years!

Yes, Lynn, moving to Batesville has fulfilled me in so many ways I can’t even name them all. But I’m going to keep trying.

I know this euphoria won’t last forever, but in the meantime I’m going to savor every sunrise (pale pink at the moment), every glimpse of the cows in the pasture behind us that drive my furbabies crazy, every dog-walking trip or jog to my brother’s and mom’s houses, every drive down Main Street or up Boswell or College, every new encounter I have with someone I knew way-back-when, every hug from my mom and every visit with my brother and his family.

As I’ve said, God made me wait a long time after Bruce and I decided to move here, and I hope I never forget how gracious He was in finally working it out for us.

Normally I would blame this feeling on the holidays, but I’ve had it bad for seven months now. Bruce has learned to smile and accept it, although he is also happy to be here.

Of course there are things about being here that aren’t perfect (nothing this side of heaven ever will be), but overall it has been very, very good.

Welcome home, Suzy & Spice.

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Thankfulness, Day 17 (finale)

Near the end of yesterday’s thankfulness post, I alluded to today’s topic, although I’m the only one who knew that (I didn’t want to say it because I was afraid something would keep me from posting today!).

Every post in this 17-day project has had thankfulness as its theme, but I’ve barely mentioned to Whom I’m thankful.

Most of you know that I am a follower of Jesus Christ, the Savior of all mankind. And you can read between the lines: You know that when I’m thankful, it’s to God. (If you didn’t know it before, you know it now.)

December is the month we celebrate the birth of the Savior, and leading to that we celebrate a holiday known as Thanksgiving. As we have done with Christmas, we also have done with Thanksgiving: We’ve made it a secular holiday more about how much we can eat and how much football we can watch than a remembrance and recounting of our blessings. I’ve begun to loathe the term “Turkey Day,” although I have been guilty of saying it.

I never want to trivialize these occasions we have for giving God the glory for how He has blessed us.

For, even though I am no stranger to the habit of complaining, I am keenly aware that God has blessed me abundantly.

If you read my posts of the past few weeks, you’ll see that this has been a happy year for my family: Bruce and I moved to Batesville in May, and we have a house we love that’s close to my mom, brother and aunt; I have a great job; we attend an awesome church; and we’ve been involved in the community, even more so than we were in North Little Rock. I’ve been able to reconnect with old friends and make new ones, and this has brought much joy to our household.

God made me wait quite a while before he moved us back to my hometown.

I was growing quite impatient, even though I knew that He had a plan and our move would be in His time  and not ours. His ways are often mysterious to me, but I have read the Bible enough years to know that His plan is always best, even when His purposes are not clear to us.

I once heard it explained like this: Life is like a parade, and we can see only a little piece of it as we watch from our little spot along the street, whereas God is above it seeing the entire scene. He sees the big picture, and we see things from our limited perspective.

God can see eternity, and we often cannot see beyond our own noses.

I try to see things from an eternal perspective. When I step outside myself and forget about my own wants and “needs,” I sometimes can do that.

When I get to feeling sorry for myself (“This is hard!” “I can’t afford that.” “I’m starving!” “You hurt my feelings!”), I sometimes have the good sense to stop myself and think for a minute. When life is just “too hard,” I remember the Cross.

Jesus, who knew no sin, willingly gave up His life – dying a horrible, painful, publicly humiliating death – for me.

Did I deserve His sacrifice? No. Can I ever be good enough to earn His gift of salvation, freely given? Not a chance.

When I remember the Cross, all the thankfulness I can muster will never be enough.

In my best moments, I remember that.

Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows. – James 1:17

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Thankfulness, Days 9-15

I have been soooo lax in posting this week. I’ll blame the busyness of the pre-holiday season (can I get away with that?). Not posting doesn’t equal not being thankful, though. I have continued to count my blessings, even though I haven’t logged on to tell my little blog audience about it.

Because it’s been 7 days since I posted, I guess I need to list at least 7 things I’m thankful for. Trust me, the number of blessings is much higher, but I will be up too late tonight if I list more than 7.

Let’s see if I can remember things in reverse order:

Day 15 (Sunday, Nov. 28): I’m thankful for Bruce’s birthday gift to me this morning. He bought me a domain name, so now instead of suzyandspice.wordpress.com, you can visit me at www.suzyandspice.com. For you, it just shortens the Web address a bit; for me, it allows flexibility in appearance and content. Bruce and I can make the site look more like I want it to look. Yippee! We’ll be working on that over the new few weeks; he will be doing most of the work, at my direction. He’s the real geek, and I’m still a geek-in-training.

Day 14 (Saturday, Nov. 27): I’m thankful for football! Bad news first: My high school alma mater, the Batesville Pioneers, lost in Round 3 of the state playoffs Friday night (and it was doggone cold while we watched!), but we enjoyed the experience, nonetheless. The Pioneers did us proud this season. The good news: The Arkansas Razorbacks ended their regular season with a big win over LSU last night. It was an awesome game, and I thought my heart was going to pound out of my chest a couple of times (especially that Mallett TD pass with 6 seconds to go in the first half. “Take a knee,” my foot!).

Day 13 (Friday, Nov. 26): I’m thankful for my workplace. Post-Thanksgiving Friday was a quiet one at work; several of my co-workers took an extra-long weekend, and the office was relaxed and casual. A couple of people in my department decorated the department’s Christmas tree and chatted about football, food and the upcoming Christmas season. I so enjoy my job, my co-workers and my workplace. Friday was also the day we had our Thanksgiving celebration at my brother’s house; just chalk it up to a logistical challenge. My boss let me take a longer-than-usual lunch break, so it was nice and relaxing, and I didn’t have to stay and do the dishes!

Day 12 (Thursday, Nov. 25): Thanksgiving Day. I’m thankful that I am healthy. I spent a few hours at the hospital with a young woman from my church who is a college student away from her family. She has endured several health challenges in the past few weeks and was back in the hospital this past week with new symptoms. Her family was far away, and she was alone in the hospital on Thanksgiving, save for a couple of people from church who went and sat and watched over her. (Bless you, Desiree, for taking her under your wing.)

Day 11 (Wednesday, Nov. 24): I’m thankful for … okay, this is another workplace thing. My co-workers – who knew that Friday (the last workday before my birthday) would be a day when several people would be absent – threw me a little birthday feast. I stuffed my face on summer sausage and crackers, chicken enchilada dip and tortilla chips, brownies, cranberry cookies and a host of other delights. What a sweet (literally) surprise.

Day 10 (Tuesday, Nov. 23): I’m thankful for Luanne. My co-worker and I had to visit the bank’s Highland branch (she for marketing-department reasons, I for audit reasons), and we had a nice visit on the drive up and back. We left at 6 a.m. in the rain, but the sun was shining by the time we arrived. She is a special woman, full of interesting and hilarious stories, and she loves Jesus as much as I do. This was the first out-of-town trip we’ve made just the two of us (usually a third co-worker is with us), and we shared on a deeper level this time. She speaks so lovingly of her family, it’s just nice to be around her. (We share family in common, too. We’re both excited that Judy [my third cousin] and Bill [Luanne’s brother-in-law] will be moving back to Batesville next month.)

Day 9 (Monday, Nov. 22): I’m thankful for education. My “Principles of Banking” class at UACCB is on Monday nights, and I’m so thankful that we have a community college where I can work on my second degree (I earned a bachelor’s in journalism from ASU 21 years ago). I’m majoring in banking and finance this time, and in the spring I will be taking Intro to Business, also on Monday nights. After I’ve been at the bank for a year (in May), the bank will pay for my schooling – another great blessing. It may take me forever to finish, but I’m plugging away at it.

Wow – a lot of blessings to remember. I will try to post the next two nights, the final two days of my half-month of thankfulness.

God is good.

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