Sole mates

My house is cluttered right now, and I don’t even care!

That’s what running does to my brain.

The floor around my chair is littered with running shoes and smelly socks (not to mention smelly dogs). I actually am enjoying this fact right at this very moment.

Why? A couple of reasons:

  1. Insanity runs in our household (it runs outside our house, too, har har).
  2. I still have the “runner’s high” from this morning’s wog in the park.

Every Saturday that we go out there with our “girls” (the remnant from last year’s Women Can Run clinic) is a good day, but today in particular was a very good day.

I started off with a buddy, but, even though my knee started feeling funky very early on, I persisted and ended up doing about half of the course solo because I passed up my buddy and was having too good a time to slow down and let her catch up. It’s not that I’m fast – it’s just that this was her first time out on the Penguin course with us (the Penguin 10k/5k is next weekend, so I guess she figured it was time to hit the trail and get familiar with the course. We won’t mention the fact that she’s 75 years old, because that really doesn’t seem to slow her down. This awesome lady does Zumba, boot camp and any other crazy thing you can imagine!).

So, even though my knee hurt in the beginning and I imagined myself walking most of the route, I kept jogging and eventually forgot about my knee problem. And since the race is jut seven days away, I really didn’t want to walk any. So I kept up a good pace and outran my buddy by about 3 minutes. Today, running solo helped me clear my head a bit.

Running is good for the sole.

When I run/walk/jog/wog, especially solo, I can clear out some of the clutter in my brain, so much so that when I get home to a cluttered dining room it doesn’t bother me so much.

So I like running solo.

But I also like running with buddies.

(Does this make me seem schizophrenic? Haven’t we already determined that I have sanity issues?)

Bruce and I are usually giddy after a jog, but today we seemed sillier than normal (I don’t think too many people noticed). And after we got finished at the athletic store, he was even worse!

You see, he got new shoes. And he was like a little boy. (We didn’t realize just how worn his old shoes had gotten until he got a brand-new pair.) I don’t think I’ve ever seen him as excited about a pair of shoes as he was this morning. I’d like to bottle that smile and take it to work with me every day.

Running is good for the sole, and it’s good for the soul.

Happy feet

Because I ran the 5k route this morning and the other 5k-ers drove away soon after but I still had to wait for the 10k-ers to finish, I debated about how to pass the time. I decided to put my coat back on (shed during the run), sit on the hood of my car and pray while I watched the mighty White River rush by. (Our Saturday morning parking spot is by the dam.)

Nature brings out the praise in me.

A mighty rushing river reminds me of God’s power, His strength and His ability to control the universe. This morning I thought of how He stopped an ocean so His children could pass – and all the other things He did for those ingrates.

He is the God of the ages.

Just as He saw the Israelites through a myriad of problems (most due to their own stubborn rebellion), He sees me through my problems today (most of which are … drum roll, please … due to my own stubborn rebellion).

I’m taking a class called Perspectives, and the readings immediately began reshaping the way I think of God – and the way I pray. (I’ll save the specifics for a later post, but I’m dying to tell you about this class.) But I’m getting off topic …

Jogging has brought Bruce and me closer together in a way I hadn’t imagined it would. We enjoy being silly together most of the time, and running just jacks that up to a whole ’nother level. I’ll spare you the details. (You’re welcome.)

And wogging has brought us lots of new friends. Since I got involved in the Women Can Run/Walk clinic last year – and dragged Bruce along one day when we needed an extra coach – we have had more lady friends than we can shake a baton at!

Now, Bruce is the mother hen to several ladies who caught the running bug and didn’t want to stop when the clinic ended. He is now Coach Bruce, and it has lit him up in wonderful new ways.

We’re getting ready to launch the 2012 clinic (next week!), and both of us will be volunteers this year (my goal last year during the clinic was to become a volunteer this year, and that time is finally here!).

If you are a woman who wants to add a little workout to her schedule but feels intimidated at the thought of “running” with a bunch of super-running-chicks, please put that thought right out of your head. The women’s running clinic is composed of females of all ages, shapes, sizes, colors, political and religious philosophies, incomes (the clinic is free), shoe types, aches, pains, diseases, life stages, fitness levels and speeds. No matter who or what you are, fast or slow, you will fit right in with the rest of us.

I’m not a super-running-chick. I’m just a gal who can’t say no … to the idea of being healthier (mentally, physically, emotionally, spiritually and in all others ways that running, fellowship and camaraderie can affect a person) … and to the idea that maybe, just maybe, I can be an inspiration to someone else.

Running and walking are good, clean fun. (Most of the time.) We would love to see you at the Batesville clinic this year. The sessions are from 5:30-6:30 p.m. Tuesdays and Thursdays and from 8-9 a.m. Saturdays. You can register online or show up between 5:30 and 7:30 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 23, at White River Medical Center, Women’s Center, Conference Room B. I will be there until about 6:20, when I have to leave for class.

To register online (or to find a Women Run Arkansas clinic near your hometown), click here.

We also have a Facebook page. If you’d like to get in on the fun before the clinic starts, click here.

Come on out and meet your new sole mates.

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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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Farewell, Barney Sellers

My family said goodbye to a dear friend on Friday.

Barney Sellers, faithful husband, father, grandfather – and friend – passed away on Jan. 2, 2012, at age 85. He and his wife, Betty, had just celebrated their 64th wedding anniversary on Jan. 1, and he died about three hours after midnight.

Barney was an award-winning photographer, known for capturing on film everything from civil-rights marches to celebrities to heads of state, including at least two kings: Elvis Presley, the king of rock and roll (happy birthday, Elvis), and “Martin Luther the King Jr.,” as the hospice chaplain who spoke at his memorial service jokingly told the gathering.

But I knew him as a gentle man devoted to family and friends first and to taking pictures second.

When Barney retired to Batesville after 36 years as a staff “photog” (as he called it) at The Commercial Appeal in Memphis, he and Betty Sue moved across the street from my parents in 1988, while I was in college at ASU. Barney and I had that in common: We both earned journalism degrees at Arkansas State University in Jonesboro, not too far from Barney and Betty’s old stompin’ grounds in Walnut Ridge.

While he and my dad became fast friends (they both loved to tell stories, and lots of them), I looked to him as a source of teaching. As a student journalist, I, too, was interested in photography. Beyond technical skills, however, the tips I picked up from him had more to do with composition than f-stops and shutter speeds.

Dad and Morgan at Barney’s

Barney wasn’t one to photograph people – although one of my favorites is a black-and-white picture he took of my dad and niece sitting together on a bench in Barney’s front yard when Morgan was about 3. And, as a favor, he took my wedding pictures (and wouldn’t accept payment). In fact, it was on my 14th wedding anniversary last week that my mother told me of his passing. (If you subscribe to The Batesville Daily Guard, take note of Page 1 of the Jan. 3 edition, which features not only a photo of Barney accompanying the article but a shot he took of downtown Batesville under a huge full moon.)

My house and my mother’s house are adorned with pictures Barney took, and I can’t recall being allowed to pay him for a single one of them. I would be at his house, admire a picture among the dozens (or sometimes hundreds) he showed me on a particular visit, and the next thing I knew the photo was double or triple matted (by Barney) and given to me or my family as a gift. Mom was responsible for taking them to the frame shop, although the birthday gift he gave me one year (an aerial shot of the White River dam in Batesville), a wedding gift (of a huge full moon above a barn) and my favorite gift from Barney – a photo of double streaks of lightning in the night sky above the Memphis bridge – came complete with frame. He was very generous with his artwork.

Barney’s newspaper years were successful and spanned decades, but, after his official retirement, he was better able to indulge his passion for rural scenes. His “business” was called Barney’s Barns and Rural Scenes, but he was more teacher than businessman. He held photography workshops, taking eager students around scenic Arkansas and elsewhere, teaching them how to see the beauty in a simple dirt road, falling-down barn or old rusty plow.

His son Stanley – or “Chobee,” as I’ve always known him – told me Friday that probably 80-90 percent of Barney’s work centered on his beloved Ozarks.

Yes, Barney saw things that no one should have to see – he photographed civil unrest in the Memphis of the mid-20th century, he went to war (serving two stints in the Navy) and he was there the day singer Jerry Lee Lewis lost his 3-year-old son to drowning in 1962. But despite that – or perhaps because of it – he was able to see the beauty in God’s creation that many of us are too busy to notice.

I remember the time he was visiting my dad at the shop Dad had built in our back yard, and Barney saw a spider web hanging from a corner of the building. Barney said, “Don’t touch that,” or some such admonition to leave the web alone. He trudged back up the hill to his house, returned with a squirt bottle, misted the spider web and shot a typically stunning picture of it, water droplets sparkling in the moonlight.

If not for Barney, I probably wouldn’t have had the “eye,” or the presence of mind, to snap a picture of the spider-web-covered jade plant in Morro Bay, Calif., when Mom and I visited in 2006. In fact, I’m sure that my affinity for photographing “plant life” over “real life” had something to do with Barney. When I spent a summer in Guatemala after college graduation, I took lots of shots of hillsides, mountains, rivers, lakes and volcanoes, and when I returned home and proudly showed my parents all my wonderful pictures, Mom said, “Where are the people?” (She is more of the “line people up like statues” school of photographic thought, whereas Barney wasn’t so much into that.)

Barney liked to tease my mom; he had a wonderful sense of humor – sometimes mischievous, sometimes dry like mine. He loved to laugh, and he loved people.

Barney’s “uniform,” as I recall it, was a pair of khaki pants, a chambray shirt, a bandanna, sometimes a vest, thick eyeglasses and – more often than not – two cameras hanging from his neck. And when he would amble down the hill to our house – whether on foot or in his Jeep on the way to photograph some dilapidated thing down some dirt road (Chaplain Brent said he was told that Barney “knew where every barn was in the state of Arkansas”) – he frequently carried a can of Coke supplemented with Metamucil. “He’d nurse that thing all day, it seemed like,” my mother recalled Friday as we reminisced on the way home from the service. To me, the Coke and Metamucil were simply part of the Barney package.

Barney was old school and had his own way of doing things (hence the recording of Frank Sinatra’s “My Way” at the memorial service). According to his family, he took “thousands and thousands and thousands” of photos in his lifetime, all of them with a film camera. His daughter, Susie, had tried to convert him to digital photography but didn’t succeed. Chobee told me about all the prints and negatives in the house, in the garage, in a 10-by-16-foot storage building. Chobee had tried to get his dad to let him sort and catalog them but, again, didn’t succeed.

“He had his own way of cataloguing them, and none of us knew what that way was.” Chobee tried to reason with his dad: Someday we’ll need to know your system. Barney promised to teach him the system, but that day never came.

Barney’s health hadn’t been good in several years. His children had been trying to persuade their parents to leave the split-level house in Batesville – where Barney didn’t do well on the stairs “and kept scaring the daylights out of all of us,” according to his son Richard. They wanted their parents to move back to Memphis, where Barney’s cardiologist and other doctors were. So, even though “his heart was in Arkansas,” according to Chobee, he and Betty Sue finally left their home state and in 2007 moved back to the Memphis area, where Barney died.

There are a few things I regret in life – not getting my Nanny or my Aunt Jo to teach me how to quilt (I paid for classes at a store after both of them had passed on), not getting my Grandma Tressie to really teach me how to sew garments, not spending more time with Dad underneath all those cars he worked on, so I’d know how to change my own oil … and not spending more time at Barney’s elbow, soaking up his knowledge of photography and his love for all things rural. Now it’s too late for all of that.

But if there is anything Barney taught me, it is to keep doing what you love – and to love your family and friends while you’re doing it. I’m determined to keep working on that lesson.

We will miss you, Barney.

It’s appropriate that Barney’s family had his remains deposited in a vintage camera case. On a date to be announced, his ashes will be scattered at his favorite spot in the Ozarks.

I took a small portion of information for this post from The Batesville Daily Guard and The Commercial Appeal. To view some of his work, please visit both newspapers’ websites (links above). The Commercial Appeal‘s site includes a gallery of Barney’s news and feature photos.

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20 pounds and then some

Before I get to today’s news about me (it’s always about me, right?), I want to give a special shout out to Chelsea Willis, a young Batesville woman who has won two gold medals this week in the Special Olympics World Summer Games in Athens, Greece. (She won golds in the 400- and 800-meter relays.) Way to go, Chelsea! You are showing us what can be accomplished with hard work and determination, and you are making Arkansas proud.

Today at our weigh-in at work, the scale showed a 2-pound loss. Finally! The past two Fridays I had lost less than a pound and was a bit frustrated. When we began the first Biggest Loser contest in February, I didn’t care whether I won or lost – I just wanted to have the accountability. By the end, when I had been in the lead for a few weeks, I wanted to win it (and I did). Now, in this second go-round, I definitely have become competitive about it. But I’m really just competing with myself – I have no idea how anyone else is doing, except for one co-worker who recently started sharing her successes with me. She has lost about 22 or 23 pounds to my 20.6, but she had more to start with so my percentages are better. And Biggest Loser is about percentage, not actual pounds.

So, back to the exciting news of the day: I’ve met my 20-pound goal, and then some – a total of 20.6 pounds, to be precise (and we all know I like to be precise).

Of course I have to maintain the 20-pound loss for a week before I can reward myself (in case it was a fluke, or some kind of scale malfunction, or I pig out next week and gain 6 pounds). I’ve changed my reward from a pair of sandals (more expensive than my new idea, plus I’m not sure my injured foot is ready for wedge sandals yet). I can get a six-month subscription to Runner’s World magazine for $9.97, so that will be my reward. I’m told the Sara Low Memorial 5K (Sept. 10 in Batesville) will be featured in the August issue.

(In case you don’t know, Sara was a Batesville High School grad and a flight attendant for American Airlines. She was on the first plane to crash into the World Trade Center on 9/11. One of her high school running buddies, Mindy, co-founded the 5K in her honor five years ago. This year is the 10th anniversary of 9/11, so my guess is that the Runner’s World feature will focus on that. It would be nice to read of other memorial races relating to 9/11.)

Thursday evening Bruce and I went to a planning meeting for the Sara Low race. If you’re looking for a way to contribute to the local running community, let me tell you we need volunteers for this race. Post a comment letting me know you’d like to help, or e-mail Ken McSpadden at macandmichelle@sbcglobal.net).

I would love to run the Sara Low race, but we’ll have to see. Despite the fact that I still have a bum foot and my right knee is a mess, I’ve still been running (I’m registered for next Saturday’s Army National Guard 5K at Lyon College, the route we’ve been training on for the past three weeks), but I have an appointment Tuesday to get my knee examined. (No news on when I will get my head examined.) If my doc sends me to a specialist, and that specialist recommends knee surgery, I won’t be able to run the Sept. 10 race. Bruce and I will be traveling in early August, so any potential surgery would have to wait until after that. This would put me out of commission in September, I assume.

Despite how crazy the thought might have been eight months ago (just before I started exercising again), I really have come to appreciate running in a way I never did before.

I have to admit it’s a love-hate relationship, but mostly love:

  • I love the health benefits (my foot and knee problems notwithstanding), and I love the feeling I get when I’m finished, or when I’m about to be finished. I love that I’ve learned to push through pain and discomfort – although it could be argued that I haven’t had much to challenge me in that area; I’ve never run more than a 4-mile course, I’ve never had to run on ice, etc., etc. I love the sense of accomplishment, even when what I’ve accomplished is minuscule. I love seeing the progress I’ve made, even when it’s slow and barely noticeable. I love how it has helped me to shed more than 20 pounds in less than five months.
  • I love being outdoors, even when it’s hot, humid, cold, dry, wet or wild. I haven’t told you, but I got caught in the thunderstorm that popped up early Tuesday morning. I was up on Main Street when the wind started blowing hard, headed back home when the rain started coming down hard, and really hustling when the gravel and dust from the overpass started flying into my eyes. It was kinda scary and kind of exhilarating at the same time. (Yes, I know, I’m a lunatic.) The next morning a lady I see each day around 6:15 slowed her car, rolled down the window and said, “I was kinda worried about you yesterday morning in that storm.” I didn’t tell her, but I sure wouldn’t have turned down a ride home if she had offered it. I see and wave at some of the same nice folks driving (or walking or biking) by me every morning on my route, and I would have felt safe hitching a ride with her – at least safer than I felt in the storm!
  • I love, love, love the time I have to myself out on the streets of Batesville as the sun is coming up. Is there a more perfect time to talk to the Creator of the universe than when a new day is dawning?
  • I love that Bruce and I are working out together and growing closer because of it. I love that he has a team to coach and feels a sense of purpose that he lacked before we moved to Batesville. He really loves coaching the ladies, and they (we) really love him. Plus, I get the added benefit of having a live-in running coach! (So far the positives have far outweighed the negatives.) Check out Bruce’s blog for his running tips and encouragement.

I can’t think of much I hate about running right now, except maybe that I still don’t have much lung capacity despite the speed (albeit small) that I’ve gained (an indicator of increased fitness, so you’d think I could breathe better by now, darn it!). Several months ago Coach Bruce told me I might never have the lung capacity I long for. I’ve had respiratory issues, mostly mild but still nagging, for much of my life, so it’s just hard, hard, hard to breathe when I run. I guess time will tell whether I can ever run an entire race without walking. Argh!

But mostly my relationship with running is love.

And today I celebrate it because it has been a large contributor to my weight loss.

Did I mention that I reached my 20-pound goal today? I did? Good. Also remember that I started walking/running in mid-November, added the healthy-eating component in February but didn’t get serious about it until April 5. It has taken me nearly three months to achieve a 20-pound loss, but that’s okay. In fact, it’s appropriate – a healthy way to do it, mentally and physically.

Remember that when you tell yourself you can’t do it. When you don’t see any progress, or you see so little change on the scale – or in your breathing, or the tightness of your pants, or your blood pressure or cholesterol or triglycerides – remember that baby steps will get you where you want to go if you’re patient.

Remember, friends, it’s a marathon, not a sprint.

 

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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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Surprised by lilies

Someone planted lilies in my flower bed while I wasn’t looking.

A few minutes ago, I went out to water the flowers on the front porch, and when I was finished I looked down at the flower bed below and could not believe my eyes.

Two beautiful, pale pink lilies were standing tall next to the nandinas. We left town Thursday morning and didn’t return until Sunday night, so I’m not sure when these beauties sprouted. (Mom watered for me a couple of times while we were gone, but she obviously didn’t see them.)

This was the best photo I could take of my delicate new friends. The rest of the shots are quite foggy; a huge humidity pod has taken over the South, and my camera lens is one of its more sensitive victims. When the temp reaches more than 100 degrees and the humidity is, like, a zillion percent, what chance does a cold little piece of glass have when it meets up with the big bad, moist hot air outside? I just could not keep that foggy lens clear while I took pictures, so I decided to take some through the fog. Those will be known as the “art” shots, although you probably will never see them here because they are SO foggy.

I try not to complain too much about the weather, but I have done my share of whining this year. The humidity makes me cranky. I LOVE our new home in Batesville, but I’ve spent a lot more time in the yard here than I had at the North Little Rock house the past couple of summers. This means more hair washing (sweaty, yucky hair), more showers, more mosquito bites – but in the end, more joy, too.

Have I mentioned I love digging in the dirt? Why, I believe I have mentioned it a couple of times (click here and  here to see my older posts about flowers and gardening).

It’s still true.

Gardening is one of life’s profound and simple pleasures, and if a little humidity (and by that you know I mean a LOT of humidity) is the price I have to pay, it’s worth it.

It’s worth the mosquito bites, the ant hills, the chipped fingernails – even the sweat trickling down places you shouldn’t mention in public.

And every once in a while you get a sweet surprise.

Pale pink lilies.

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The good Earth

The Certified Arkansas Farmers Market (Sixth & Main streets in North Little Rock’s Argenta neighboorhood) opened yesterday for the 2009 season. I really hated to miss it, but Bruce and I went to Batesville for the annual Scottish festival at Lyon College (more on that later). But I’m so excited that it’s finally open! Saturday, April 25, is Basket-A-Month pickup day, so I can’t wait for the fresh eggs, milk, cheese, pasta, STRAWBERRIES and other goodies that will be in the basket. Maybe I’ll make strawberry cake or muffins next weekend!

Come on down Saturday for fresh, Arkansas-grown produce, dairy, beefalo, honey, homemade pasta and much more. Support your local farmer. Maybe you’ll see us there. Bruce and I will be volunteering during the basket pickup.

After that, walk down to Riverfront Park for the Arkansas Earth Day Festival. The festival is on the North Little Rock side of the river between the Main Street and Broadway bridges. Maybe you’ll see me there. I’ll be volunteering at the Basket-A-Month booth.

The festival is on the 25th, although Earth Day is Wednesday, April 22. Poke around the official Earth Day site and find out little ways you can make a difference. Support your local planet.

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Random thoughts

My fans (all three of you people who read my blog) have been admonishing me to publish something. I haven’t posted in a while, but not for lack of wanting to. I’ve just been extremely laz — err, busy.

So, while I wait for my mom’s tax return to finish printing, I’ll grace you with some of the fascinating things I have been doing, thinking or saying lately:

  • After two weeks of working on it in spurts, I have finally finished Mom’s tax return. No, you cannot borrow money from her. Because she helped her children so much last year, there is nothing left to loan. Thanks, Mom. We owe you.
  • I chopped off my fingernails the other day to get better at the little game on my new cell phone that I am obsessed with (the game, not the phone), and it didn’t make one bit of difference. Even with nails cut to the nub, I am still pitiful at batting a little ball with a paddle at a bunch of electronic bricks.
  • I make up little songs, sometimes to amuse Bruce, sometimes to amuse myself. Frequently these little ditties are about the dogs. Almost all of them are about what I happen to be doing at the time I sing them. If Bruce isn’t amused, he doesn’t let me know it. He makes up random funny songs, too. We’re weird together.
  • I would love to be in a musical. Like South Pacific, The Music Man, Oklahoma! or my favorite, Camelot. Or how about The Sound of Music II: Suzl, the Forgotten von Trapp? I would be great in that! Not that I can sing.
  • Although Saturday night was an exception (I went to bed at 7:30), I have been staying up until nearly 10:30 lately! (I don’t think I’ve adjusted to daylight saving time yet.) Still, unless you’re my mother, my brother or my husband, or you’re bleeding from both eyes, don’t call me after 9 p.m., even on weekends. I will be mad at you.
  • It’s spring! And I pulled weeds this weekend (both days). And when I got tired of pulling the little suckers, there were still a BUNCH of them left. Today after I got tired and decided not to pull any more weeds, two neighbor boys rode their bikes up to my driveway and asked me if I had any work for them. Now I’m $10 poorer, but my rose bed looks a lot better. They want to come and mow the lawn in a few days. I think I’ll let them. (Note to self: Restock the Popsicle stash.)
  • I LOVE seeing kids take some initiative and get out and earn some money instead of sitting on their bee-hinds in front of the TV or a computer.
  • The dogs finally got baths today. This hadn’t happened since (don’t tell anyone) November. Salsa didn’t like it, but she didn’t bite me once!
  • My friend Lynn, whom I wrote about a few weeks ago (yikes, it’s been nearly three months!), is going to share the Basket-A-Month with me this year. Next weekend is the pickup. SPRING VEGETABLES! FARM-FRESH EGGS, HOMEMADE PASTA! SOURDOUGH BREAD! I’M YELLING BECAUSE I’M DELIRIOUSLY HAPPY!!!!! And Lynn said she’d bring me some of her asparagus and a couple of good recipes. Double happiness!
  • Baseball season is almost upon us, and I’m thinking of Travelers and sunshine. And hot dogs, which absolutely must be consumed at baseball games, no matter what.
  • I’m reading Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood, which I started reading in college but never finished. My favorite journalism professor recommended it, although it was not required reading. I didn’t do a lot of extracurricular reading in college. I was too busy with the school newspaper and reading for classes. But I’m enjoying this book once again, and I’m determined to finish it this time.
  • I have new flip-flops. They’re black. Well, they’re sort of brown now, because of the weed-pulling.
  • I’m supposed to be making a blackberry-jam cake for my neighbor, who’s going to pay me for it, but she didn’t give me a deadline and I keep putting it off. It’s the pressure. She had one at a friend’s out of town, and it was to-die-for delicious, and I’ve had to Google to find a recipe that seems to approximate what she had. So, pressure. Which makes me procrastinate.
  • More pressure: My church is doing a 25th-anniversary cookbook, and I’m supposed to provide a recipe for my “signature” dish, and I can’t decide whether to share my recipe for carrot cake, which I make money from, or be selfish and keep it to myself. My other cake recipe that gets rave reviews is from Paula Deen, and I want to make sure we won’t be violating any copyrights before I share it. It’s called White Chocolate Cake with Strawberry Filling. It’s lick-the-bottom-of-the-pan good. I don’t think I’ve shared photos of it that I took when I was making business cards year before last. So let’s end this on a happy foodnote:

white_chocolate_cake1

Click the comment button to share some of your own random thoughts.

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Happy birthday, Dad

Bennie Lee Taylor was born July 11, 1938, in Izard County, Arkansas, the second of four children born to Joseph Benjamin and Tressie Lee Hinson Taylor. He died Dec. 23, 1997.
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He would have been 70 years old today.
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I had in mind to write a long, glowing tribute to my dad, but time (and my eyesight) has gotten away from me today. So I’m going to try to capture some of his life in pictures and not write all the things that are in my heart (it would take too long this evening).

First up, some photos from when he was a boy. (Descriptions below.)

Dad as a boy with family, 1930s and 1940s.
Dad as a boy with family, 1930s and 1940s.

In the photo at top left, he’s the baby, with his mother and his brother Tom. Top right, he’s the boy on the left. That’s his mom behind him; the other woman is one of Grandma’s three sisters, Retha. In the middle is dad’s sister Joan (pronounced JoAnn), and on the right is brother Tom. In this photo, it seems Grandma is pregnant with Uncle Carlos. Below left is Tom, Joan and Dad. In the last photo, below right, is Grandma, Aunt Ednora (another sister), Uncle Tom, Aunt Joan and Dad. (And, gosh, after staring at this picture for hours, I just noticed two babies in the arms of their mothers. I was so focused on Dad and his siblings! Grandma is probably holding Uncle Carlos, and Aunt Ednora — or “Aunt Gobb” — is probably holding her first born, Janice.) I assume all of these photos were taken in Izard County.

The next phase of his life shown here is high school. Here’s his senior portrait. Wasn’t he handsome?

Dad senior portrait
Dad senior portrait
Dad was VP of his and Mom's senior class

In this photo of the Class of 1957, Cave City, Arkansas, he’s in the bottom row, third from the left (he was class vice president). My mother (with the same last name, coincidentally — they weren’t married yet) is the first person in the second row (Dorothy Taylor). They got married on Nov. 7, 1958, and she didn’t even have to change her name.

Dad loved his family, and here are a couple of photos of us with him.

Mom, Dad and J.T., Christmas 1960

First is Mom and Dad with J.T. on my big brother’s first Christmas, 1960. J.T. would have been just under 3 months old. And the next one is quite possibly my all-time-favorite picture, because …

Dad and me in his favorite chair
Dad and me in his favorite chair

… it reminds me of one of my favorite memories of Dad. I inherited my chocoholism from him, and when I was little (OK, even when I was big), Mom would serve us chocolate ice cream. I would hurry and gobble up mine out of my little blue plastic bowl, then climb into Dad’s chair with him and, ever the little helper, join him in finishing his ice cream. We don’t have photo evidence of this nightly ritual, but this is the place where it all happened.

A big part of Dad’s life was cars. He was a mechanic but also knew how to restore classic cars inside and out.

The photo above is dated June 1963 (when I was 6 to 7 months old), but we have lots of photos with dad and cars. I simply didn’t have time to go through all of them last weekend when we were at Mom’s. This photo was probably taken in Coalinga, California, where we lived then.

As for the two photos above, Dad built this car from a kit just a few months before he died. I’m going out on a limb here, because it’s a little too late too call my mom tonight (and even too late to call Uncle Carlos in California), but I think it’s a 1929 Mercedes Gazelle. I had it in my head that it was a 1937, but I found a 1929 one online that looks just like this one, and 1929 now rings a certain bell in my head. I typically wouldn’t publish something until I was sure, but I want to post this on his birthday. I will straighten out the details as soon as I can. (You would think that after watching Dad and Uncle Carlos work on so many cars in my lifetime I would be better at identifying them.)

I probably should have showed you the shop first. He built it (with the help of older brother Tom — and me, on one of my trips home from California) specifically for working on cars and puttering on his many projects. He had “retired” in his 50s because of a 30-year-old injury and heart problems, but he certainly couldn’t sit idle inside the house. As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, he loved to be outdoors when he could. The shop was out back behind our house in Batesville. Dad could fix anything — from a broken record player to an old lamp. Besides mechanical stuff, he could do carpentry and electrical. A Renaissance man. His mind never seemed to stop, and he could answer almost any question I had for him, whether it pertained to politics, the economy, agriculture, the Bible, sports, physics or just about any subject you could name (except maybe pop culture). Most of it was self-taught.

These three pictures show three phases of construction of Dad’s shop:

Barely started …

… well under way …

.. and complete.

I mentioned in a previous post all the work Dad put into the piece of land where we lived. Below is a segment of it. This was the best picture I could come up with in a short time.

I can’t close this without mentioning Dad and our dogs.

In the photo above is Dad with my dog Mesa (a mix of four breeds) and his dog Chance, a miniature Pinscher (a larger version of our Pepper). Chance, named by my nieces after some cartoon character in 1994, was Dad’s little buddy (mine, too). That photo was taken by Barney Sellers in Barney’s yard across from my parents’ house in Batesville. The bottom photo is of Dad and Chance on the deck that he built in the 1970s. My sweet Mesa and little buddy Chance have been gone from us for years now, but you know you will be reading more about them whenever I write my dog tribute post.

This last picture was taken on the deck of my Uncle Tom and Aunt Willa’s house in Batesville when Uncle Carlos and Aunt Judy were visiting from California. (I don’t think I’ve ever mentioned it, but Uncle Tom was a carpenter. Of course he built the deck).

Front row: Ben Taylor, Bruce Oakley, Suzy Taylor. Back: Tom Taylor, Dorothy Taylor, Carlos Taylor, Debbie (?), Willa Taylor and Pam Taylor. Not pictured: Photographer Judy Taylor.

The photo was taken on Oct. 4, 1997, the day Bruce and I put our wedding rings on layaway, and less than three months before Dad died.

For now, this is all I can share in pictures, although the memories of my dad are still fresh. For those of you who didn’t know him, I know you would have liked him, and he probably would have liked you.

He was my hero.

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The power of a flower

hydrangea in June 2007

I have always loved flowers but never appreciated them to the extent I appreciate them now until I became a gardener in the spring of 1995, a few months after I bought my first little house.

I had just moved back to Arkansas from California, where I shared a house with a woman who hired people to landscape her yard, clean the house and tend the pool (I always secretly enjoyed cleaning the pool myself, but once a week a guy she paid would come and add chemicals and make sure the skimmer was working). Someone mowed, someone edged, someone pulled weeds – things I always hated doing when I was a teenager (except for the riding lawnmower – that part was fun. But my dad’s version of an edger, at least in those days, was a pair of garden shears. Oy!). And I was glad I didn’t have to do those things at the house I shared with my roommate.

So I never knew much about flowers except that they were pretty. I knew that my grandmother had a green thumb and my mother did not. I knew that my few attempts at planting seeds resulted in disappointments. Because the other thing I knew was that you couldn’t merely plant them and forget about them – at least with most flowers. I planted zinnias once when I was a little girl in California, and I have absolutely no memory that anything ever came up. Had I lived in Arkansas then, close to my grandmother, that little seed packet might have produced different results.

But, just like I wished in regard to quilting after Nanny died, I wished I had asked her for her gardening secrets and techniques (I have no doubt many of them would be different from what you see in books, on the Internet and on HGTV today). Or asked my dad about growing tomatoes, or how, when I would point to a tree of any kind, he could tell me exactly what it was.

So, in 1995, I began acquainting myself with gardening. I read and read, asked questions of other enthusiasts and paid attention when people talked about it. I learned quite a bit, although there is still much to learn.

And my appreciation for plant life has grown. I no longer appreciate a specimen merely for its beauty, but for its hardiness, its fragility, its complexity. I love the names of flowers, both the botanical and the common names. I love the colors, textures and varieties. I love the smell of dirt, the feel of it under my fingernails.

I love pulling weeds.

And over the years I have grown to love hydrangeas more and more. So when my mother sold the house I grew up in, after she could no longer bear to stay there after Dad died, I knew I wanted to take with me part of the hydrangea that grew in the front flower bed.

I had watched my dad spend countless hours taking our yard, in 1973, from a lumpy, scraggly, sloped lot to a lush, green, squirrel’s paradise. He landscaped, he planted and he watered. He established pine trees along the property lines and hung birdhouses. The first year we were there, he planted a large garden (he made my brother and me pick the large rocks out of the soil to prepare it, although J.T. threw more rocks at me than he did onto the pile!). When the weather was warm and he wasn’t at work, Dad was outside, enjoying God’s creation and tending to our little corner of it.

After I grew up and became a homeowner, Dad told me I should get a cutting of the hydrangea to plant at my own little house, after the heat of summer had passed. But I never got around to it.

So, after he died in December 1997 and Mom sold the house a few years later, she asked the new owners if we could take a hydrangea cutting with us. They said sure.

But it was April, and I wanted to wait until September or so. Then, after we got Mom settled in at her new little house and life got back to normal, the hydrangea plans got pushed aside by all the other clutter in my mind.

When I finally remembered, and drove back by the old house, I couldn’t believe my eyes. The hydrangea – this beautiful lush plant that had lasted so many years with so little tending – was gone.

Gone. Dug up. Chopped down.

Disrespected.

(That last description is unfair, I know. The hydrangea – indeed, the land itself – didn’t mean the same to them as it meant to me. To them, it was just a flower. But how could such a beautiful flower be just a flower?)

So in 2002, when Dad’s brother Tom died, I got a second chance.

After the funeral, my aunt offered me one of the potted flowers that had been taken back to the house. I was so honored that she invited me to take one.

I chose the hydrangea.

I brought it home and planted it in the back yard, on the north side of the house, because my mom’s (or should I say Dad’s?) hydrangea was on the north side of our house, and it seemed to do fine even though no one ever seemed to tend it.

Each year with this new hydrangea, this one that seemed to rise out of the ashes of my disappointment, I have looked forward to its beautiful blossoms.

And every spring as I look at it, I think of Dad and Uncle Tom, who will never know how much their hydrangeas have meant to me.

For most of the year I would forget about the bush and be surprised when, one day without warning, it would stun me with its beauty. I haven’t deserved how well it has turned out; I have never tended the back flower bed like I have the front ones.

And I knew I had neglected it more than usual this past year. I had not pruned it, watered it – had barely noticed it – in the 15 months since Bruce started getting sick again. With three hospital stays between May and December, he has needed my tending more than my flower beds have. My roses have never looked worse, but my focus has been on my sweetheart, not on my flowers.

But this hydrangea has seemed to be a metaphor for never giving up, for persevering amid adversity.

A month ago I started looking at it with an anticipation that I hadn’t devoted to it in the past.

I noticed when the brown stems began to sprout tiny green leaves, then bigger leaves, then tiny buds. I even tried to take pictures of the blooms in their early stages, because I had lots of photos of the full blossoms but had none of them when they were still greenish white. (But my camera was acting up, and the photos didn’t turn out.)

I began getting excited for the day the blossoms would bloom out big, but I noticed and appreciated every little step along the way. I would say to the dogs in the stillness of daybreak, “It won’t be long, girls.”

It grew and grew.

And last night I went outside to stand in the back yard for a few minutes and enjoy the weather, which was finally cooling off for the day. I said to myself, “I surely should have pruned that thing back a little better last time. It’s really getting big and bushy.”

Later, when Bruce came to bed, I woke up to rain and lightning. I told him he probably should unplug the electronics, so he did. The storm wasn’t going to die down for a while.

And this morning at daybreak, when I let the dogs out, I saw my beloved hydrangea leaning over onto the ground.

Shaken, a bit stirred, fortunately not dead, but wounded nonetheless.

It was time for tough love. (As if that’s not what it already had received under my watch.)

I never have looked up “hydrangea care” on the Internet or in books. The “experts” may tell me that it’s the wrong time of year to be pruning a hydrangea, that you should never do it while it’s blooming or while the weather is this hot.

But I did it anyway. This afternoon I pruned it almost to the nub. It hurt to have to do it, but I’m just going to have to trust it to be strong and survive, as Bruce and I ourselves are trying to do this year.

All I have to go on is instinct.

And my instinct tells me I haven’t seen the last of this loyal friend.

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