Weekly Wrap-up – 06/27/15

So much has been going on lately – so much to tell. Let’s get started.

FarmToTablePlateWithMenu
Our Farm to Table menu included a yummy salad, chicken and Andouille sausage gumbo with shrimp on the side, summer squash gratin with ricotta and Gruyere, and Arkansas jasmine rice. For dessert, apple, peach and blackberry pie with sweetened sour cream and raw milk vanilla ice cream. Yum!

Last night Bruce and I attended the inaugural Farm to Table Dinner on lower Main Street in Batesville, and it was such a success, I have no doubt there will be a second-annual. About 100 people attended, we ate lots of delicious, locally grown food and listened to some awesome live music … and I took 113 photos. Oh, yeah, and I got to wear my cowboy boots! 🙂

The Main Street Farmers Market is still newish but is flourishing. I’ll be sharing about that in a few days, but for now I’ll just leave you with a teaser: I’m preparing a series featuring the vendors I’ve met on Saturdays at the farmers market, similar to the one I’ve been posting on my other blog, To Well With You. If you haven’t checked that out, head on over and tell me what you think.

Boris_MrCole_selfie_062515
First Community Bank President Boris Dover (left) and CEO Dale Cole take a selfie as the bank announces its entry into the world of social media.

My employer, First Community Bank in Batesville, Ark., has launched a Facebook page! We had an official kickoff Thursday as the bank hosted the chamber’s monthly Business After Hours event. Using a selfie stick (no doubt for the first time), our chairman/CEO and president/COO took a selfie with the crowd in the background; it was hilarious to see Mr. Cole ask our marketing director’s help to get the Facebook page open on his phone.

By the way, we’re giving away a cruise. To enter, Like and share our FB page.

Other big things we talked about at the event:

  • The bank donated $20,000 to Main Street Batesville toward an ongoing project. As we revitalize our Main Street, a beautification project has been taking place before our eyes for several months. Lots of exciting things are going on downtown, and I’ll definitely be sharing them here.
  • Impact Independence County – an effort to bring community members (that’s you and me, folks) together to strategize ways to move our county forward – will hold a community meeting and cookout in UACCB’s Independence Hall starting at 6 p.m. Wednesday, July 1. Gov. Asa Hutchinson will be the special guest. The IIC’s community survey will go live on the website after that event.

DO YOU WANNA BUILD A BLOG?

At the Business After Hours event, I talked to a couple of young women who were interested in blogging (one as a reader and one as a writer). For those of you who have toyed with the idea of starting a blog, there has never been a better time to start! I’ve been blogging at Suzy & Spice since 2007, and if I didn’t love it (besides my family and Jesus, nothing gives me greater joy), I wouldn’t have started a second blog.

I’ve also learned a few things that I’d love to pass along if you’re interested.

In the past year or so, I’ve focused on taking my blog(s) to the next level, and I’ve studied branding, “platform building,” content marketing, social media, search-engine optimization and all sorts of other things, including ways to make my writing and photography better.

Now, don’t let all that that fancy talk scare you off. If you simply love to write, like connecting with others online and just want to share your thoughts in a public space and Facebook isn’t fulfilling that need, you can start a blog. (A side benefit has been the connections I’ve made with other bloggers online and in person.)

It’s so easy, a goober like me can do it, and I would love to show you how.

So many resources are available nowadays, and I’ll be working on a post specific to helping you get started. Meanwhile, if you’re scared at the thought, email, call or text me (if you have my phone number) and we can talk through your fears. 🙂 You can email me at suzy@suzyoakley.com.

SuzyOakleycom_croppedSpeaking of contact information and blogs, Bruce built me a “digital business card” – following my specifications and a bunch of tweaking – a web page to allow folks to get a snippet or two of who I am and click through to either of my blogs. It also includes links to my social media profiles. Click here to visit SuzyOakley.com.

Shhh Dont tell!I’ve been invited to speak at a conference this summer. The lineup hasn’t been announced yet, so I don’t feel free to share details online, but I’m excited about it! I’ll give you the lowdown as soon as I can.


That’s it for this week, folks. We had a clogged drain (laundry and kitchen) for 11 days (don’t ask) and just got it fixed Thursday. I’m still catching up on laundry, dishes, floor cleaning, blogging … and sleep. 🙂 And high-fives (no, TENS!) to Lonnie Clark of C&S Plumbing for climbing onto our roof and rooting out the drain from a vent. Who knew?

Now, go out and have an awesome weekend.

Tell us in the comments: What’s one incredible thing that happened to you this week?

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Blogging from A-Z – Wes and the MorningSide gang

Today’s post is brought to you by the letter “W.” (I’m blogging the alphabet in April. Read the details at Suzy & Spice here or the Blogging from A-Z page here.)

________________________________

DaveBarryQuote2I tried every way I could think of to fit MorningSide Coffee House into my A-Z Challenge, and W was the only appropriate letter that was going to work. (This was in early April – I had most of my A-Z calendar planned by then.) I already had my C, J and M posts scheduled (or published), so coffee, java, MorningSide and mocha were out. I took another look at my blog calendar. … W was taken, but it was the only thing I could bump without messing up my plan.

MorningSideCoffeeHouse_logoWes Obrigewitsch to the rescue!

Hey, no one said the letter match-ups had to be scientific.

In fact, right after I signed up for the challenge, one observer – come to think of it, the guy in front of me at MorningSide – told me that The Joy of X didn’t start with an X. I told him it didn’t matter; the book title contains an X, the pickings for X are slim, and this math book is way more exciting to me than xylophones or xenophobia. (He’s a math teacher, so maybe he’ll read the book and feel the love, too.)

Wes and the gang at MorningSide are sort of like the gang at Cheers (“where everybody knows your name … and they’re always glad you came”), although there’s no Norm sitting at the bar. Come to think of it, there’s no bar, exactly. But there are plenty of comfy chairs and sofas, and even outdoor seating where you can enjoy a little piece of sunshine while you sip and eat. (Haven’t we all needed some sunshine lately?)

No sarcastic barmaids, either, and for that I’m grateful. (I don’t think I could handle Carla Tortelli at 7:45 on a Monday morning.)

Oh, wait. There is a Carla!

Except MorningSide Carla is nice, doesn’t yell at the customers and doesn’t insult the boss (at least not that I’m aware of).

And, while there’s no gang calling out “NORM!” when the door opens, sometimes Wes calls out a cheery “Hi, Suzy!” when I barge through the door.

Yep. He knows my name.

I try to drop by MorningSide once a week or so, just to support my local coffeehouse, if not my coffee habit (and maybe my ego). I don’t need to pay someone to make my coffee; I simply like – no, I absolutely love – the idea of small businesses, small-business owners, entrepreneurship and community spirit.

MorningSide represents those things to me.

I don’t know the names of half of the people I see at MorningSide (hence, it’s only sort of like Cheers), but they always seem to be glad I came. 🙂 In fact, one morning Wes seemed to be in such a cheer-y mood that he gave me a hug! (TGIF, maybe?)

All right, not everyone seems to be glad I came. I occasionally get a funny look from someone in line who seems to be wondering, “Do I know her? Why is she looking directly at me as she speaks?” (Obviously, these are not “morning people” and MorningSide is doing them a great service by pouring them very strong coffee upon request. In fact, it helps that Wes and his peeps know some customers’ regular orders without those folks’ even having to make intelligible sounds. Because, frankly, it would just be too difficult to speak these things out loud. Or so it seems. They NEED MorningSide. These are the folks Dave Barry would categorize as medically needy. These are the folks who are ME occasionally – especially if it’s close to Friday.)

The conversations at MSCH range from coffee (duh) to sports to charitable causes to painting.

SONY DSC
If you can afford a cup of coffee and a scone at MorningSide, you can afford to help a poor soul trying to eke out a living somewhere across the world, no? (The person may not even be that far away from you and me.)

At MorningSide, I learn things. I make friends. I get inspired by people. I sign up for classes (Paint Night at the art gallery!). I buy items I don’t need (hello, hand-stitched keychain, little coin purse, little what-nots) because the proceeds help those less fortunate.

I chat up people in line in front of me, not always successfully (see above).

I learn things about coffee. Wes always has some story, and sometimes the people in line tell me how they like their coffee – usually because I ask them. (One lady puts a couple of bay leaves in hers at home … interesting.)

I meet lots of hardworking young people, who work for Wes because they need part-time jobs while they’re in school. The young women are sweet and cheery (a prerequisite, right?), the young men are mostly quiet (haven’t had their own caffeine infusions yet, perhaps?), and everyone is helpful and friendly.

Alton Brown, aka Waffle Man
Everyone’s favorite Waffle Man, Alton Brown of Food Network

Jolts of java aren’t the only menu items at MorningSide Coffee House. Smoothies (hooray!), sandwiches, veggie bar thingies (I can never think of what they call ’em, but they’re delish), banana bread, fig bars (oh. my. goodness!), cranberry scones … you get the idea. A weight-conscious girl could get her butt pulled over by the carb police. But who cares? Who needs caffeine to get her buzz on when there are those fig bar things? (Well. I do.)

And Wes is always trying new ways to draw folks in. He is an awesome cook, and his most recent addition is … WAFFLES!

I will not waste a lot of time here explaining how yummy these homemade waffles with fresh fruit are. (I like the strawberry; Bruce prefers blueberry; it’s all good.)

Because, hello? I would spend the rest of the day talking about waffles. So I will simply tell you this:

GET OVER THERE AND EAT YOU SOME WAFFLES.

They’ll be glad you came.

 

MORNINGSIDE COFFEEHOUSE
616 Harrison St.
Batesville, AR 72501
Phone: (870) 793-3335
Hours: 7:00 a.m.-2:00 p.m. weekdays and 8:00 a.m.-1 p.m. Saturdays.
MorningSide on Facebook

________________________________

Tomorrow: Hey, guess what! It’s The Joy of X!

Follow me on Twitter: @OakleySuzyT

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Contest winner … Michele

I have good news and bad news.

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

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

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

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

THANK YOU! You’re awesome!

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

So I had a contest.

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

I felt the love.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Introducing: wellness coaching

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

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

(Keep reading for details of a contest below.)

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

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

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

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

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

Here’s my answer:

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

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

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

I spent the next few months planning.

Now I’m ready to launch.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cue the red-boot fantasy.

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

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

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

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

To the boots!

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

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

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

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

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

Ha! Don’t I wish?

So … can you guess which ones I left with?

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

You see, crosses have a special meaning for me.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

She agreed.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

WRChristmasHalfShirt2012
We have a few 2012 shirts available for $5.

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

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

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

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

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

Dec. 6 – mark your calendars.

We have plenty of these shirts available for $5.
We have plenty of these shirts available for $5.

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

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

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

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

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

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We’re all in this together

SheehanQuoteonerunner500
“The most important thing I learned [from running] is that there is only one runner in this race, and that is me.” – George Sheehan
Comparison can be deadly.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

McDougallQuoteRunningbewitheachother500
“The reason we race isn’t so much to beat each other … but to be with each other.” – Christopher McDougall

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

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

__________________________________________________________

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

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

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

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Goodbye, Sheriff Taylor

(CNN) — “Actor Andy Griffith, who played folksy Sheriff Andy Taylor in the fictional town of Mayberry, died Tuesday at the age of 86, his family said.”

A quick glance at my iGoogle news page while I ate a turkey sandwich during my lunch break Tuesday made me alter what I had planned to write about. The first headline that caught my eye, and that prevented me from reading any others: “Actor Andy Griffith dead at 86.”

I had just spent a hot hour-plus standing in the drive-through lanes at one of my bank’s branches, handing out little flags, patriotic wristbands and bottles of water, just like we employees do each July. In the minutes between cars, I was pondering the Fourth of July and what I would write about it.

I’d been trying to compose a July Fourth post in my head for a week or two, and I had no idea how I could do this day justice with my words. My dad, Bruce’s dad and many of our relatives and friends gave of themselves to their country, something I’ve never done – at least not in the way they did. I’ve never experienced that living sacrifice that so many demonstrated so ably and nobly, many of them before I was born.

So how could I write with any depth of insight about what it took for them to serve their country, both in times of war and beyond?

I can’t.

I can only say how grateful I am to my dad, my father-in-law, my uncles and countless others for what they gave up for me. They gave me a country where I could work, worship, play and love my family, then go to sleep at night without fear.

They gave me a country where a town like Mayberry can exist in every state, if we want it to.

Sure, those days of Mayberry were the 1960s, and we’re much more sophisticated now, aren’t we? We have touch-screen phones, spray-on tans, automated teller machines, and refrigerators that remind you when you’re out of eggs. Heck, I bet that fridge would even order you a dozen eggs and a gallon of milk and have it delivered to your door if you asked it to. We barely have to lift a finger to get through life these days.

But is that such a good thing?

We talk to each other by emailing, IM’ing or texting, not by picking up the phone, dialing and listening to a live voice (yeah, I’m guilty of it, too). The chirping bird I listen to the most? It’s the ring tone I hear when Mom calls me on my cell. At my Nanny and Papa’s house, if you wanted to make a phone call you had to wait for one of the other parties on your party line to hang up. I bet kids today don’t even know what a party line is.

Remember Sarah, the operator on “The Andy Griffith Show”? When Andy or Barney needed to call Mount Pilot or Raleigh, they talked to Sarah first. She had to put the call through.

Sarah knew everybody’s business.

So did Gomer, Goober, Floyd, Emmett, Howard, Aunt Bee and her friend Clara.

And when an outsider happened by, he wasn’t an outsider for long. Some of my favorite episodes involved needy “strangers” who came to town not knowing quite what they had gotten into, but leaving all the better for it. And by the time they left town, they weren’t really strangers anymore. They were just folks.

Remember Malcolm Merriweather, the very proper English butler? He rode a bicycle and taught Opie to draw faces on hard-boiled eggs. We missed him when he went back to merry old England.

Or the businessman whose car broke down in Mayberry on a Sunday – the day before an important meeting in Charlotte? He learned a lot about living the quiet life, just hanging around Mayberry, sitting on Andy’s front porch and listening to the sheriff quietly hum and strum his guitar. (Didn’t you love Andy’s front porch with its swing, where he could peel an entire apple with his pocketknife without breaking the strand?)

If you watched the show as much as I did, you’ll remember these sweet, funny, crazy and wonderful people and their shenanigans:

  • The Darlings (pronounced, of course, Darlin’s). Oh, how they could sing and play that mountain music.
  • The high-strung, rock-throwing Ernest T. Bass. Remember when he tried to get educated to impress “Romena” (Ramona)? Andy tried to teach him geography and such. Ernest T. would sooner throw a rock through a winder than learn manners.
  • Sweet, lovable Otis, the town drunk.
  • Aunt Bee and her pickles that tasted like they were canned in kerosene. Too many Aunt Bee stories to tell.
  • Barney Fife. There’s so much to say about goofy but lovable Barney, but probably my favorite Barney moment was when he told Andy he could recite the Preamble to the Constitution from memory, and then tried to prove it. Classic Barney and Andy.
  • Andy and Barney’s girlfriends, Helen Crump and Thelma Lou. (And before Miss Crump, Ellie the druggist.)
  • Gomer Pyle making a “citizens arr-ay-est!” of Barney.
  • Gomer’s appropriately named cousin, Goober. “Hey, Andy!” “Hey, Goob.”
  • Opie being mama to a nest of baby birds after he accidentally killed their mother with his slingshot. I still cry right along with Opie when he realizes the mama bird is dead.

Some of these were merely moments (or brief minutes) rather than full episodes, but they stuck in our memories and have touched our hearts over and over, no matter how many times we’ve watched. (And if you don’t get the warm fuzzies from watching Andy, Barney and the rest of the folks of Mayberry … well, then, you’re just an old grump!)

1960s Mayberry was a simpler time and place, and I think we like it so much, still today, because our lives have gotten so busy and complicated. And because our good-hearted Andy Taylor was so wise and patient (most of the time). All the town folk took their problems to Sheriff Taylor. With all the goings-on in Mayberry, both silly and serious, they knew he would always come up with the right solution to their problem.

Sometimes the stories made us laugh, and sometimes they touched our hearts. Much of the time they did both. The show was a unique combination of heart and humor, and I hope I get to watch episodes until the day I die. And who knows? Someday I may be watching it in hologram, or with some technology that hasn’t even been invented or imagined yet. Wouldn’t that be ironic?

And when past meets present, old meets new, technology ain’t always such a bad thing.

As I was writing this, a friend posted on Facebook: “Andy Griffith marathon on TvLand.”

I immediately turned on the TV, saw what episode was playing, and texted my brother: “Andy Griffith marathon on TVLand. You working today? The Darlin’s are singin’.”

JT texted back that he was watching, then a minute later: “You did know that Andy Griffith show’s 1st show debuted on Oct 03, 1960.” I texted back: “I knew it started in 1960 but didn’t know Oct 3. That was a great day all around!”

Andy Taylor and Jim Taylor, born the same day.

Who knew a text message could give me the warm fuzzies?

Ain’t technology great?

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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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Running on full

This morning, seven of us (Bruce, me and five of our merry little band of running women) tackled the racecourse of the upcoming Penguin 10k/5k for Special Olympics in Batesville.

This was our second time out this year, all of us together. We had a bigger group last week, but those of us who weren’t out of town or ill today got our behinds out of our warm beds and braved the 36-degree weather (sunny but cold) to gather our courage, our winter apparel and our timing devices to walk/jog/wog the course at 8 a.m. (The photo below is from last week – it was too cold today to get my camera phone out of my pocket!)

Catina, Lisa and Shannon (tiny dots) on the White River bridge, Saturday, Jan. 7, 2012.

I got an iPhone for my birthday a few weeks ago, and I downloaded an app called RunKeeper. It tracks my mileage, time, pace and other things that help me know how I’m doing.

Last week it tracked our run pretty accurately. We did a tiny bit more than 10 kilometers, which would be 6.2 miles. I recorded 6.5 on my app.

Today, about halfway through our workout, RunKeeper stopped “keeping” so well. We seemed to be on pace at 3.2 miles, just before we got to the golf course. But once on the course, we suddenly jumped up to 6.5 miles. By the time it was over, it had us at 16.02 miles, but in reality we had gone just 4.5, according to my buddy Phyllis’ device. (We all decided not to do the entire course – some of us had to leave to meet friends, and the rest of us decided we’d trained enough today; after all, it was only our second time at this distance for most of us after being in hibernation mode for several weeks.)

Long story short (I know: too late!), none of this really matters to me.

I am not, and never will be, an elite runner, and no matter what RunKeeper or any other wacky device tells me, I will never run a 4-minute mile.

That’s okay. I like where I am. My life is full. I have enough.

Since Bruce and I moved to Batesville in 2010, we have been happier than we have a right to be. We love our little community, we love our friends – old and new – and we love running together, whether just the two of us or with a group.

I have embarked on a journey to fitness, and it has had hills and valleys that have made me stronger, wiser and more compassionate.

I forgot to blog yesterday about my weight, but it was 3 pounds more than last Friday. Ouch.

That’s partly because I knew I was going to start tracking my food intake, and I was strongly leaning toward rejoining Weight Watchers Online because I really like Weight Watchers and I now had the capability of using the mobile app. (I had tried to find a calorie and activity tracker that I liked, but none compared to WW.)

I sort of had Jan. 14 in mind to rejoin because that’s the date I joined last year. 🙂 So I was eating like there was no tomorrow. But when the scale indicated 3 pounds heavier in just one week (188 pounds), I knew I couldn’t wait another day. I joined Friday, Jan. 13.

I’m still 18 pounds slimmer than I was a year ago, but gaining back 10 of the 28 pounds I had lost is disheartening. It makes me kinda mad at myself. I don’t want to make excuses, so I won’t mention the holidays (you can enjoy the holidays without going overboard, and I did go overboard) or my knee surgery as excuses. Those can be deterrents to weight loss, but I could have found other exercises while my knee recovered; I didn’t.

I’ve learned a lot of things in the years that I’ve been overweight, and some of them I’ve had to learn, relearn and learn again.

And that brings me to my point (you knew I had a point, didn’t you?).

I’ve been overweight for about 20 of my 49 years. In those years, I’ve read lots and lots of articles and a few books about how to lose weight. I’m glad to say I’ve never tried any of the crazy, dangerous ways. My method has always been to eat less and move more. But even the eating-less part can be unhealthy sometimes, when it’s the wrong type of food. I’m gradually learning to get rid of the stuff that isn’t so healthy and substitute good, healthy, fresh, whole foods.

But it has taken baby steps.

I have lost weight and gained it back. I have gone through periods of eating good, whole foods and periods of nasty, fattening junk foods (thank you, God, that You’ve allowed me to survive this despite my efforts to kill myself with fat and sugar).

It is a journey.

I have a couple of goals now. Previously a weight-loss/fitness goal for me was just that: all for me (and maybe my husband). Now I not only want to get healthy for me, I want to do it in a way that I learn good lessons to help others.

I’ve already learned lots of lessons – some good, some bad, although I suppose you could say that any lesson that makes you wiser is a good lesson.

If it takes me another two years to get down to a healthy weight, so what? If in that two years my journey can help someone else be wiser, gain courage and motivation and get healthy, it will be well worth it. We will learn from and gain encouragement from each other.

I don’t think I’ll ever have it all figured out. But I do believe this to be true: God intended us for community. If we can fellowship together, learn from one another and build each other up, that will make me really happy. And healthy.

“Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their labor: If either of them falls down, one can help the other up. But pity anyone who falls and has no one to help them up. Also, if two lie down together, they will keep warm. But how can one keep warm alone? Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves. A cord of three strands is not quickly broken” (Ecclesiastes 4:9-12, NIV).

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