Blogging from A-Z – Louie Zamperini

Today’s post is brought to you by the letter “Z.” It is the last post in the Blogging from A-Z Challenge (yippee!). Click here to read how it began.

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A-Z blogging - Zamperini UNBROKEN quoteI didn’t do Louie Zamperini justice.

Last week I wrote a post that was meant to be a review of the book Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption, but instead I took a shortcut and wrote a comparison between the book and the movie.

I hadn’t quite finished reading the book by the time I had to write my “U” post. Now I’ve finished it, and I need to tell you some things about this remarkable man that didn’t get said in the movie vs. book analysis.

Unbroken_coverFeel free to read that post before continuing here. (It includes a link to an excerpt of the book.)

Kristen Lamb’s analysis talked about how the movie took shortcuts in character development. That’s a drawback any time you turn a book into a movie, but the book didn’t let me down in that department. The author, Laura Hillenbrand, has an attention to detail that makes her subjects jump off the page.

I felt what Louie and the other POWs felt – the rage, the helplessness, the hope … all the emotions Hillenbrand described. I could almost feel the belt buckle crashing into my own skull when the Bird knocked Louie down with it repeatedly. I could imagine the physical hunger, the fatigue, the pain of standing barefoot in the snow for hours, as one captive was forced to do.

The almost-tactile experience Hillenbrand provided me was due, in part, to her subject.

“Louie was good at really capturing in words exactly what something felt like,” Hillenbrand said in a New York Times Magazine interview last year.

The writer goes into great detail about Louie’s early life, his Olympic quest, his years in WWII (successful missions aboard a B-24, being shot down over the Pacific and the subsequent 47 days on a raft over shark-infested waters, then two years of deprivation and torture in a Japanese POW camp), and the postwar years – the bitterness, the rage, the depression. All the emotions.

And then the release and forgiveness once he comes to faith in God and realizes how much he, himself, has been forgiven.

Hillenbrand spent countless hours (over the course of seven years) poring over documents, photos, letters, diaries, clippings, websites, news footage and other media and conducting interview after interview (75 with Louie alone) to come up with a comprehensive profile of Louie, the Army Air Corps, aeronautics, the war, Japanese culture and POW camps. She saw the horrors of war and yet, like Louie, remained optimistic.

You may say, “What’s so special about Louie?” Lots of men and women have endured unspeakable hardship in wartime.

And I would respond, “Yes, but to tell Louie’s story is to honor all of those who have suffered.” I chose Louie’s story – or maybe Louie’s story chose me – because he was a runner, and runners inspire me – especially those who beat the odds.

And then the details of this life captivated me. Hillenbrand’s presentation of the facts is exquisite and heartbreaking … yet hopeful. Her book is not just a compilation of data – it’s the story of a man who kept getting knocked down … and got back up – over and over and over.

And somehow there was a purpose.

Hillenbrand’s telling of Louie’s story helped tell the stories of countless thousands. In turn, it has helped their families, some of whom said they learned details about the war that their loved ones had never spoken of. The back of the book features several letters and emails from veterans’ relatives thanking Hillenbrand for helping them understand.

Most of what I’ve read about World War II focused on the Nazis and their oppression and torture of Jews and those who helped the Jews. I don’t recall reading much about the war in the Pacific – specifically, about the brutal torture of Allied troops by the Japanese – so Unbroken brought a new perspective.

The book’s subtitle sums it up nicely: This is a story of survival, resilience and redemption.

And, I would add: HOPE.

 

Someday I’ll tell you what I learned about writer Laura Hillenbrand, who has overcome her own set of challenges to tell others’ remarkable tales. It, too, is a fascinating story. Meanwhile, you can read this New York Times Magazine interview with her.

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We made it through the alphabet – thank you for hanging in there with me!

Follow me on Twitter: @OakleySuzyT

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Blogging from A-Z – It’s all about YOU

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

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A-ZwellnessquoteWe are so close to the end of our month-long Blogging from A-Z Challenge. I’m not sure who is happier about that: you or me.

It has been a long (but really fun) journey. Thanks for sticking with me. I learned a lot of things this month, not the least of which was perseverance. I hope you learned a few things, too.

After tomorrow’s Z post, we will be finished with A-Z (at least until next April), and I’m about to launch a second blog to focus on things relating to wellness, fitness and running. I had planned to launch it May 1, but an out-of-town trip and the blogging challenge delayed my plans.

Now I’m shooting for mid-May. I want to have the new blog shiny and bright by the time I invite you for a visit.

Suzy & Spice will stay the way it is: a general-topic blog where I can write about whatever suits my fancy.

CCI_logoThe new blog, To Well With You, will reflect my new wellness coaching business and stick to more specific areas. You’ll be able to subscribe to the new blog, just as you can at Suzy & Spice, but I promise I won’t hit you with a post every single day as I’ve done in April. (Believe me, that will make me happy, too.) I plan to write an average of three posts a week, and I could go into more detail about that now, but I’ll save it for the launch announcement. (Still working out some of the details.)

Those “specific areas” I mentioned – wellness, fitness and running – can cover a lot of territory, and I can’t imagine running out of things to write about. (I get positively giddy thinking about the possibilities!) That’s where YOU come in. I’d love to know what you’d like to see on the new blog – if you plan to visit.

(I also plan to cross-post a modified version of this post at To Well With You once it’s up and running.)

Obviously running is a pretty specific topic, but fitness and wellness can mean just about anything. The new blog will focus on prevention rather than cure (after all, I’m not a doctor – I don’t even play one on TV!). At the minimum, I’ll cover:

  • Exercise and fitness (including running, yoga and other types of recreation and sport).
  • Healthful eating and nutrition (including recipes – feel free to share yours).
  • Financial well-being (living below your means, giving, investing).
  • Relationships (family, friends, acquaintances, workplace).
  • Faith and spirituality.
  • Stress management.
  • Medical and health news.
  • Reviews of books and other media on the above topics.
  • Your opinions and insights on what’s happening in and around your world.
  • FUN! It won’t be all drudgery and rules. I want to make it an enjoyable place for you to visit.

I’m not an expert on much (in some cases my knowledge goes a mile wide and an inch deep, as they say about copy editors), but I know how to find good information; my job will be to guide you to come up with your own solutions. Also, I will be calling on others to contribute to the new blog, and it will be full of links and references to other resources where you can further your own education in a particular field.

If you have a topic you’re passionate about and have a fair amount of knowledge on that topic, I’d love for you to A) write a guest post or B) let me draw out your expertise and feature our conversation in the new space. Please let me know if you’re willing to do that, and we can be in touch offline.

This is a community; let’s share our wealth of knowledge with one another.

As they say, knowledge is power, and I want you to be powerful in your journey to wellness. My job is to walk with you along the path, point you in the right direction and be a cheerleader and/or a sounding board as you take charge of your own health and well-being.

So … what have I left off the list? What would you like to see in the new space? Please use the comment space below to share your thoughts. I look forward to hearing what you have to say.

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Tomorrow: Z is for Zamperini (as in Louie). And then we’re finished with A-Z!

Follow me on Twitter: @OakleySuzyT

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Blogging from A-Z – Very fast and very high

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

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That's my honey, Bruce. He's fast, but he's not high.
That’s my honey, Bruce. He’s fast, but he’s not high.

Confession: I’ve made it all the way to V, posting a letter of the alphabet every day except Sunday since April 1, and I feel as though I’m cheating.

“Very” is such an easy word, a copout, no?

BUT … I’m writing a post late at night while out of state at a convention, just so I can stay on schedule and not miss a day, so I’m cutting myself a little slack. I’ve been thinking about it for more than a week and haven’t come up with a V word I like, so the event I attended this evening gets the honors. Or, more to the point, the fastness and highness of those crazy kids participating in the event are the ones I want to honor.

Bruce? He’s just in the photo because I like him. 🙂 Plus, he qualifies for the very fast part. He’s 55 and is chasing the 5-minute mile he ran when he was 14. (Well, back then he ran a 4.54 mile; I don’t think he’s going to go sub-5 nowadays, and he doesn’t, too. But he’s fast.)

DrakeRelaysTickets2015He and I are in Des Moines for the Road Runners Club of America convention. We sat in on some really great sessions today (with more to come tomorrow), got to hear from some great speakers (including some elite track stars – ever heard of Leo Manzano, 2012 Olympic silver medalist?) and, this evening, got to attend the renowned Drake Relays with the other RRCA attendees.

The Drake Relays are pretty famous. It’s where all the fast and talented and coordinated kids get to show off. These are the folks who are on the track running and jumping and hurdling while kids like me are in the library with their noses in books.

So, while kids like me look on, they do crazy things like jump 7-feet-7.25 inches in the high jump while breaking meet records. And run relays so fast my head spins and my heart pumps and I can’t believe my eyes. I can’t even imagine running with as much power and determination and focus and intensity as I watched those dudes and dudettes display tonight.

It was a beautiful sight – every single event. We even sat there in the rain because it was fascinating and awe inspiring to watch these high school and college students (and a few older ones in showcase events) show what they’re made of.

I was Tweeting and snapping and stopping to watch and cheering and clapping and marveling. We didn’t get a program and I don’t keep up with these kids regularly, so I don’t know their names, but I wanted to share a few photos with you. My team (the Arkansas Razorbacks) and Bruce’s alma mater (the Fighting Irish of Notre Dame) did us proud. The Razorback men and the Irish women won their 4×200-meter relays. (Apparently I failed to get a single photo of a women’s event. Silly me.)

Here’s a Hog. He was too far away to hear me say, “Hey, Razorback!” so I just had to zoom in on his unsuspecting soul.

DrakeRelaysHog2015

And here’s an Irish. I hollered, “Hey, Irish guy!” and he looked up at me and smiled (well, he smiled right after I took his picture).

DrakeRelaysIrish2015

I was trying to include a video of the relay where the Irish chased the victorious Hogs – just a little friendly competition between the Oakleys – but I couldn’t get the file size reduced small enough to import (just some technical stuff I’m too tired to keep messing with tonight). But it was good stuff, and I’ll try later to upload it.

I hope they heard us cheering. They were too busy to smile, I think. But we smiled. And cheered. The Razorback fan and her Irish-loving husband.

V is also for victory.

Woo, pig sooie!

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Monday: W is for Wes and the MorningSide Coffee House gang.

Follow me on Twitter: @OakleySuzyT

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Blogging from A-Z – kids and running

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

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RunningIsFunAt my small rural church many years ago, folks would file out of the sanctuary after the sermon and congregate on the lawn, the sidewalks, the parking lot … anywhere just to talk.

Or, in the case of the little kids, to run around and just be kids.

I didn’t realize how seriously the kids took this playtime until one day I heard an exchange between young Adam and his mom, who on this day apparently didn’t have the usual time for chitchat. The family just needed to load up in the car and leave.

Carol: “Adam, we have to go.”
Adam: “But I didn’t get to run!”

Simple enough. In Adam’s mind, post-church fellowship meant burning off energy outdoors.

For a kid, that’s what running is. It’s not the chore that we adults sometimes make it (me included). For kids, running is a joyful, freeing experience.

Funny thing is, they don’t think about it much.

Like the adults do. Obsessively.

One of the great things about being part of a busy running community – especially one with young families – is getting to see the kids run … for fun. Some of them – lots of them, in fact – win medals or trophies, but I imagine that most of them do it for fun, at least when they’re younger.

So, in honor of the kids in the White River Roadrunners club, the kids who run in our local races (around Batesville, Ark.) and just kids in general, here are a few scenes I like:

ErynnGoMile2014
Erynn finishing the Kids Mini-Mile at the Go! Mile, 2014.
ShawnJrPredictionRun2014
Shawn Jr. getting ready for the Prediction Run, 2014.
Clara, Darcy and Mom Amanda at the women's running clinic, 2012.
Clara, Darcy and Mom Amanda at the women’s running clinic, 2012.
Keira and mom Marie.
Keira and mom Marie.
AshleyAndTheBellerKids
Ashley Beller and her brood, from left: Millie, Esther and Elijah, 2014.

“There are as many reasons for running as there are days in the year, years in my life. But mostly I run because I am an animal and a child, an artist and a saint. So, too, are you. Find your own play, your own self-renewing compulsion, and you will become the person you are meant to be.”

– George Sheehan

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Monday: L is for C.S. Lewis.

Follow me on twitter: @OakleySuzyT

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Happy New Year – 2014 in review

My goodness, 2014 went fast, didn’t it? So much to tell, so little time to tell it. Here are a few highlights from the year in Suzy & Spice and my electronic calendar. (If I leave out anything important, please chalk it up to Old-Timers Disease – my memory ain’t what she used to be, and I’m liable to forget events both trivial and monumental.)

JANUARY

As we’d done for the previous three New Year’s, we started 2014 with Mac and Michelle’s New Year’s Day Prediction Run, a fun little event (“It’s not a race,” I always remind people), in which the winner is the person who predicts his/her finish time closer than anyone else. I won the women’s division the first two years I entered (see my 2011 post and my 2012 post) – it’s pretty much the only time this slowpoke can win a trophy. Fun times!

In January, I read the first of the year’s 12 books for the local reading group I joined at the end of 2013. We meet once a month, so I had 11 books chosen for me and a 12th that I got to pick for the group to read. I’m going to save the list for a later post because I read books not only for the reading group but on my own, too. I think I will be a bit surprised at the number, once I’ve added them up. (I plan to establish an account at Goodreads in the next week or so, in an effort to catalog the list of books I have read or want/plan to read. Lord, let us hope this doesn’t cause me to add two dozen more books to my TBR list.)

FEBRUARY

SuzyBruceMainStGang121413
Photo courtesy of Hatch and Maas Photography

On Super Bowl Sunday (Feb. 1), “my TV commercial” debuted. Yeah, you heard me right. Bruce and I made a commercial with a bunch of our running friends in Batesville. A few weeks after my September 2013 heart surgery, Baptist Health in Little Rock had asked my cardiologist to recommend someone for one of the five “Keep On Amazing” stories in its new ad campaign. So a huge crew brought a bunch of equipment to Batesville in December 2013 (a really cold, windy weekend) and spent two days filming us running on Main Street and down by the White River. (Did I mention that it was really cold?) The ad campaign debuted in Arkansas during the Super Bowl, and now Bruce calls me a diva and I have my very own chauffeur, aka my Diva Driver, aka Bruce.

Also that month, my cardiologist and I were asked to appear on Channel 7, the ABC affiliate in Little Rock, for heart health month, so we did that, too. That invitation was the impetus for my deciding – finally – to post my before and after weight loss photos.

Also that month, I paid a teenager to design a whimsical banner for the top of my blog. He did a great job, no?

MARCH

Not much on the blog or the calendar. I did attend a series of gatherings at church in which people interested in better nutrition got together and talked about food sensitivities and such. Very enlightening.

RingoTheRaccoon
Ringo the raccoon is very popular at the annual Chase Race and Paws charity event.

We also participated for the third straight year in the Chase Race and Paws event in Conway. The first race, a two-miler, is for humans only. The second race is a one-miler for pets and their humans. We take the Spice Dogs every year. Pepper and I sat out the pet race last year because of our experience the first time (after about 5 feet, I had to pick her up and carry her the rest of the way 1) to keep her tiny body from being trampled in the starting chute and 2) because, after that, she didn’t want me to put her down – yes, I ran an entire mile carrying my dog). Bruce and Salsa run a pretty fast mile together, and the event is so much fun. We even try to get our friends who aren’t pet owners to participate. Sometimes I whip out my photo of the paralyzed raccoon that the owners rescued and bring every year. Ringo always generates a lot of conversations and photo ops. Here’s where to sign up for this year’s event, which is March 7: http://chaserace.info

APRIL

In April, I finished a really good book, The Well Balanced World Changer, and wrote a review.

At the end of the month, Bruce and I drove to Littleton, Colorado, where we did a couple of trail runs and I got 16 hours of required on-site training to finish up my semester of coursework for wellness-coaching certification. (More about that in the “big announcement” I have for you this weekend.)

MAY

He's why I run.
He’s why I run.

Bruce and I manned the Mission Tent at the annual Take Steps Walk for Crohn’s and Colitis in Little Rock. We were on the committee that helped establish a CCFA chapter in Arkansas in 2010, so we raise money for and volunteer at this event every year.

Memorial Day weekend, we participated for the third straight year in the Easter Seals Rock Run 8K (nearly 5 miles) in Little Rock. This was my first race after getting the go-ahead from my heart doc to push it and see what I could do (I had never been allowed to do that before, having been cautioned not to do “burst activity,” such as a sprint to the finish). I was extremely disappointed in how I felt and how I performed. I finished nearly 9 minutes slower than in 2013. I wanted to cry.

Despite my poor performance at the Rock Run, I still had high hopes for a good running year. And despite the fact that I said I was taking 2014 off from fundraising half-marathons, I registered for the Walt Disney World Half Marathon and began raising money for the Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation of America through Team Challenge. The race is next week (Jan. 10), so technically I wouldn’t be running a half-marathon in 2014 (although most definitely training for it), but I still had the extremely uphill and discouraging task of raising money for CCFA. (This time the minimum was $4,500.) Alas, for health reasons I withdrew in November. I managed to raise more than $3,700 for the foundation, though, so it wasn’t a total washout. (That doesn’t mean it’s not difficult to see the Facebook posts of my teammates who will be there without me nine days from now.)

JUNE

Another of our favorite races, and again our third straight year: We ran the Go! Mile at Burns Park in North Little Rock, our former hometown. Another disappointing race, and I would have made it in under 10 minutes if I hadn’t nearly choked on a ball of fluff from one of the cottonwood trees just before the home stretch. (We can always come up with excuses, eh?) As it turned out, my time was 10:02.11, more than a minute over previous year’s time of 8:46.47.

I think it was at this point that I finally admitted I was still recovering from surgery and started giving myself a break. This was also around the time I finally decided to see the doc about my blood pressure. After visits to my local doc and phone calls to my cardiologist in North Little Rock, I started taking BP medicine. UGH!

JULY

I published exactly one blog post in July, and it was nothing earth-shattering. In case you care, it was a list of my Top Ten Tuesday – classic books.

On July 31, my mom celebrated her 75th birthday by driving with me to a Little Rock hospital to be with her baby brother, who was dying of cancer. I spent that night in the room with him so his wife, my Aunt Brenda, could get a decent night’s sleep; she and Mom stayed in a hotel room on the hospital grounds.

AUGUST

The annual White River 4 Mile Classic was Aug. 2. I had just returned from Little Rock the day before and was sleep-deprived after the overnight hospital stay, so after an internal debate about whether to run or volunteer, I ended up handing out cups of water at Mile 3 instead of racing (we were short on volunteers, anyway). It was at this race a year earlier that I had an extremely difficult experience and was in tears by the finish line – I had just found out two days earlier that I would need heart surgery, and I was obsessing about it while struggling to run. That was a difficult race for several people because of the weather. We had fainting, memory lapses, an ambulance trip and more. That race is in the history books, and I’m glad. Oh, yes, and I got stung on the forehead by a wasp at Mile 2. So, while the 2014 was better all around (cooler weather, no fainting, ambulances or wasp stings), I was still glad when it was over. I was just ready for some mental and physical rest.

Me with Uncle John, circa 1967, Kerman, Calif. The boy on the left is our neighbor; the woman on the right is John's first wife.
Me with Uncle John, circa 1967, Kerman, Calif. The boy on the left is our neighbor; the woman on the right is John’s first wife.

On Aug. 21, my uncle lost his 5-month battle with cancer and went home to be with his Lord and Savior. Uncle John was 67. It’s still hard for me to believe he’s really gone. It just happened so very fast.

SEPTEMBER

I attended the fifth annual Arkansas Women Bloggers University in Rogers (northwest Arkansas) and had a blast! I listened, I learned, I laughed, I ate too much, and I won an autographed cookbook in a trivia contest because I knew the name of the Pioneer Woman’s husband (Ladd) – I recalled this because I had just watched a Pioneer Woman marathon at Mom’s house a few days earlier! (This is officially my new favorite cookbook, dethroning Martha Stewart’s Baking Handbook, which held the title for several years.) I came home from the blogger conference loaded with freebies, gifts, door prizes and a lot more know-how about making my blog more appealing to readers and sponsors. (Can’t tell? Well, it was right after this weekend that I started working overtime at my job, and I’m still doing it. So lots of the changes are still in my imagination, although some – more photos, for example – are already happening.) Oh, and I made some new friends at the conference. AWBU was perhaps my favorite thing I did all year. And, hey, y’all, Bruce and I even got in a 2-mile run with a couple of other blogger chicks that weekend. FUN!

I blogged a little more in September: about the previous few months (another retrospective? really?), about the top 10 book characters I’d like to have at my lunch table, and, oh, well, gee … another “catching up” retrospective-type post. (I claim it as my way to “stay in the habit” of blogging when I really am swamped.)

SuzySpiceTeamChallengeCardsI got really neat new business cards made. My co-worker Travis Hon, graphic designer extraordinaire, came up with the artwork and produced them for me via his new printing business, Charlie Bee Studio.

OCTOBER

October was a month of losses and gains for our family. On Oct. 3, my Uncle O.C. died. He was the husband of my mom’s sister Jo, who died 12 years earlier. Oct. 3 was also the birthday of Uncle O.C.’s grandson Nathan, and my brother, J.T. The day we buried my uncle, his great-grandbaby Edison Glass Richardson was born. So, while we celebrated a long and happy life at his funeral (with a wonderful retrospective read by his daughter Penny, followed her son Joseph’s incredible sermon), his granddaughter Bethany was in labor at a Little Rock hospital. Talk about high emotions that week.

DSC02846

DSC02796Just a few days later we gained a cousin when, on Oct. 11, the aforementioned Nathan made Jennifer his bride. I think theirs may be my favorite wedding of all time. It was beautiful in its simplicity, a country setting with hometown folks, food, fellowship and lots of cowboy boots! A few weeks later, inspired largely by this incredible day, I made a sentimental purchase, which you’ll read about in the December entry below.

That same week, I blogged about 1) comparison and 2) the importance of community in a post titled “We’re All in This Together.”

NOVEMBER

JacobWells_MidSouthMarathon2014The Arkansas running community lost a beloved member, Jacob Wells, 45, of Little Rock. The photo above was taken Nov. 1, just a few minutes before he collapsed of heart failure at the Midsouth Marathon, one of nearly 150 marathons he had run over the years. He died a few days later. Jacob was known for his encouragement of other runners (of any speed or ability level), his high-fives, running shirtless (in all kinds of weather) and the many ways he gave back, including running races as a guide tethered to a blind runner. We will never forget him.

My birthday was in November (Black Friday), and I worked overtime that day. Also that month, I got riled up about racism, talked about it, lost sleep over it, and failed to write the post I wanted to write. The post is still in there, swirling around in my head, but when I finally write it I won’t be as overwrought as I was a few weeks ago, so I hope that means it will be a better, more well-thought-out post. It’s time to talk about it, and I will. Soon.

I wrote a history of the White River Christmas Half Marathon & Relay, which Bruce and I were solely in charge of organizing this year (in previous years we were co-directors along with the event’s founders).

We lost another family member: the husband of my mom’s cousin Gwen. I don’t recall ever having met Johnny, but Gwen is a much loved member of our family and I know that Johnny was, too.

DECEMBER

We pulled off the half-marathon and relay, which was great because we’d had to cancel the event in 2013 because of the weather (first, because of ice and two weeks later because of flooding). We raised about $2,600 (don’t quote me on the exact figure – it was somewhere in that range) and helped six families with 18 children! The Christmas Half, the first Saturday of December each year, is a charity event – 100 percent of the entry fees go to help needy families.

SuzysNewBoots12-13-14The next weekend, inspired by a country wedding, this practical girl bought her first pair of cowboy boots. You’ll have to read the post to find out whether I choose the all-red boots, which is why I went boot shopping in the first place, or the other boot in the photo above.

I also blogged about my 5 favorite holiday movies, my 5 favorite holiday TV shows and some great Christmas (and not so Christmasy) music I’ve been listening to. Just click here for all of December’s posts.

And, of course, we celebrated the birth of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. After a couple of months of listening to wonderful music on my own, and then a beautifully quiet and reflective Christmas Eve service at church, I spent Christmas Day with Mom and Bruce, and we quietly sat and watched Christmas movies and ate ham and mashed potatoes. No extravagant gift-giving binges or stuffing ourselves with turkey and pumpkin pie, just, “Happy birthday, Jesus. Thank you for your gift to us.”

That is my 2014 year in review. I’m still working extra hours at my full-time job, but have been pondering, learning, researching, praying over and generally obsessing about some new stuff to come. Tune in for more.

Meanwhile, here are some upcoming things I’m excited about:

  • My 2015 pick for the book group comes up next week, and we’re reading my friend Conrad’s YA novel Adios, Nirvana. He is going to Skype with us for the first 15-20 minutes of our meeting Tuesday evening. We haven’t seen each other in nearly 21 years, so this will be a great few minutes of face time.
  • I have a growing list of books on my TBR (to be read) list, and I can’t wait to dive in. Currently I’m reading Unbroken, about Olympic runner and World War II hero Louie Zamperini. It was made into a movie that came out Christmas Day. Also, my Thursday morning reading group just wrapped up Mere Christianity and this month will be starting another C.S. Lewis book, The Screwtape Letters. Both are awesome works by my favorite author.
  • Saturday I’ll do a photo shoot and interview with Eye On Independence for the February cover. They want to feature me because of the aforementioned heart surgery, return to running and desire to reach out to others with a message of wellness and wellbeing.
  • The big announcement. Stay tuned. In fact, if you want to be sure to hear about it immediately, fill out the Subscribe form at the top right of this page (just your name and email address) and you’ll receive a notification as soon as I post.

If you want to find me on social media, I’m on Facebook and Twitter the most, at least until I get a little more experience with the other forms of social media. I have Instagram, Pinterest and Google+ accounts, but I’m still learning how to use them.

2014 had its ups and downs for me, but it was a good year overall. What was yours like?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dec. 6 – mark your calendars.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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We’re all in this together

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

__________________________________________________________

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

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

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

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The more things change, the more I stay insane

A lot has changed in the past year.

And yet a lot has stayed the same.

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

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

  1. I got my mitral valve repaired. Awesome medical team (GP, PA, cardiologist, cardiothoracic surgeon, their staffs), relatively quick recovery (I was back at work in 3 weeks, although it took months and months to feel “normal” again) and a once-in-a-lifetime experience that turned me into a pampered diva (shooting a commercial for Baptist Health). I now have my own chauffeur (OK, Bruce already chauffeured me sometimes, but now he does it more often – and with attitude). The diva perqs pretty much begin and end there, though.
    Oakleys and silly runners 09-12-13
    Last pre-surgery run with the crazy people, 9/12/13.
  2. I got a wellness certification (we traveled to Colorado in April for the final 16 hours of training). I’m still pondering the best ways to work this new knowledge into my “life’s mission.” Motivational talks, one-on-one counseling, writing … those ideas are all part of the little bubble that hovers over my head at all times (and frequently keeps me from sleeping through the night).
  3. I started looking more seriously at ways to make my blog a little more … marketable. (In other words, I want more people to read it! Also, I want people to pay me to write for them.) I attended Arkansas Women Bloggers University last week (stay tuned for more posts about that awesome event!), and I learned a ton, networked a lot, made several new friends, ate too much and slept too little. But it was the most fun I’ve had all year! Bruce and I even got in an early-morning run with a couple of our new blogger friends, Jodi and Fawn – both super-nice people. In February, I paid a teenager to design the Suzy & Spice banner you see above. Didn’t he do an awesome job? (Hey, you can subscribe to Suzy & Spice by clicking here. It just means you’ll receive an email when I publish a new post. Don’t worry – we won’t spam you, sell your info or do any other creepy thing with your email address.)
    Stuff I learned about branding myself and my blog to get more writing gigs.
    Stuff I learned about branding myself and my blog to get more readers and writing gigs.
  4. I started incorporating “Awesome!” into my conversations a lot more. Don’t ask me why. I guess I thought it sounded … awesome. (There is no link for this.)
  5. I went up and down, back and forth, hot and cold (the latter, more figuratively than literally) with my running. After last year’s surgery, I got a little wimpy and had trouble motivating myself to lace up and hit the road. It was a lot easier when sunrise came earlier (that’s my favorite time to run), but I let the extreme cold and the oppressive humidity bench me too many times. I’m much slower than I was last year, and I was already pretty slow, although I was gaining a bit of speed with experience. Also, I’ve gained about 15 pounds since my surgery and am still trying to get a grip on that. I’m really angry with myself about the weight gain. But the first step (for me) is admitting it, and then going public with it (I weighed 173 this morning) and buckling down to do something about it. Because it makes me feel like a big fat hypocrite. But it also makes me human, and better able to relate to those I’m trying to help. (There’s a fine line, I know.) I guess you could say it keeps me humble.
    Bruzys_orange_shoes
    Photo courtesy of Hatch and Maas Photography
  6. I lost another dear family member (an uncle, less than three weeks ago) and got word yesterday that we may lose another uncle soon. He’s under hospice care, and only the good Lord knows when his time will come. This is in addition to our loss in 2013 of four cousins (on my side) – one of them the day before my surgery – and Bruce’s precious mother.
  7. I signed up for another half-marathon to raise money for the Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation of America, through the Team Challenge endurance training and fundraising program. This will be my third year to raise money for Team Challenge, but only my second time to get to participate in the race. The first half-marathon was 2 years ago this month, and I had been fundraising for the second one last September, but my surgery trumped that event. Bruce and I had decided not to plan another Team Challenge race for me this year because the fundraising is just too hard; because last year was emotionally and financially draining for us; and because I was still recovering physically from the surgery … but then I got an email in May about the Walt Disney World Half Marathon in January 2015, and apparently I lost my ever-lovin’ mind. So, technically, I won’t be racing in 2014, but I am raising money again already. WHAT WAS I THINKING? (Oh, I know: I was thinking I STILL want to kick the poo out of Crohn’s disease. I guess that’s a good enough reason to kill myself doing something I hate: asking people for money.) If you’d like to help me reach my $4,500 goal before I take a nose-dive off the Cliffs of Insanity, please click here.
  8. Took my first yoga class in November. I’m talking live class, not read-a-book-and-try-to-figure-out-what-the-heck-they’re-talking-about, not watch-a-video-and-try-to-look-at-a-little-screen while figuring things out, but an honest-to-goodness class with a live – and very gentle and sweet – teacher. I’m telling you, yoga, while offering a calm respite from the cares of the world, is not for sissies. You feel great (awesome?) afterward, sometimes even during, but it’s a hurts-so-good kind of great. I learned some new words (and not all of them specifically yoga related, if you know what I mean), and I learned that I was really missing out all those years when I couldn’t find a class that a) I could afford and b) worked with my schedule. Fortunately, this new class and teacher meet both of those criteria. Just another stop on my wellness journey.
  9. Less than 3 weeks before my heart surgery, I had LASIK surgery. It didn’t give me perfect vision (my poor eyes are too far gone for that), but I no longer have to mess with contact lenses, solutions or reading glasses. I had already gotten used to mono-vision contacts (one lens corrects for distance and the other for close-up viewing). Post-LASIK, I have a bit of trouble on the road at night on occasion (a bit of glare from oncoming headlights), but that’s why a diva keeps a chauffeur on hand, right? The LASIK, too, falls under the category AWESOME.
  10. DrConley_Suzy_ChrisKane_Twitterpic091714
    Dr. Conley, yours truly and Chris Kane on “Good Morning, Arkansas” in February. (Yeah, I Tweeted Chris’ last name wrong.)

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

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

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

Wouldn’t that be … awesome?

 

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Catching up

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

AllGirlFillingStationBookCover

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

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

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

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

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

 

He's why I run
He’s why I run.

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

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

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

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

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

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‘I could never do that’

‘I could never do that’
SuzyBeforeAfter_withText
This is the first time I’ve been brave enough to publish my “before” picture. Bruce took it 4 years ago. Photo on right courtesy of Hatch and Maas Photography.

I’ve been given an opportunity that I’ve been praying for a lot lately: the chance to tell my story to a bigger audience. (My blog has, like, three readers: my mom, my husband and our dog Salsa; the other dog can’t read.)

My hope is that my story, told from my unique perspective, will influence change – in my family, my workplace, even my community. I’ve written for about three years in this space about my “journey to fitness,” hoping to encourage those who need hope, those who think changing your life is only for a certain type of person.

The trouble with that line of thinking is that I believe there’s always hope, that determination (and a lot of prayer) can get you to a better place – if you want it badly enough. If you’re willing to put in the hours, the sweat, the mental energy, the sticktoitiveness to see it through, you can do it even if you’re “nobody special.”

You see, I’m nobody special – I’m just a girl who believes in prayer and hard work.

The problem with a lot of us (with me for so many years) is that we give up too easily.

We look at this marathon as a sprint, and if we don’t see results right away – or if we take a couple of steps forward and end up a step or two backward – we think we will never get it right. We’ll never reach our goals. Or maybe we stop setting goals in the first place.

We let the naysayers fill our heads with nonsense, and we start believing it: It’s too hard, I tried that and it didn’t work. It will never happen – I’m giving up. I could never do that.

One thing I’ve learned about myself over the years is that I’m pretty stubborn. (It’s one of those good/bad things I inherited from my dad.) And, despite many attempts to change that ended in failure, I’m still standing. I’m still pushing. Still learning.

And I’m stronger than ever.

And because I’ve learned some lessons the hard way, I want to pass it on, maybe make someone else’s journey a little easier. Help someone know she’s not alone, that there is hope.

By the grace of God, heartfelt prayer, and much two-steps-forward, one-step-back-ing, I’ve lost about 50 pounds in the past three years. (According to my cardiologist, I need to lose a few more, but we’ll get to that.) It took maybe two of those years to lose the bulk of it (plus I’ve gained 7 back since heart surgery), and I’ve said here before that if it takes the rest of my life to get it all off, it’s worth it if I help someone else find hope and encouragement.

And my mantra – as a runner who will never be at the head of the pack no matter how much I want it – is, “Slow and steady wins the race.” (That may apply more to weight loss than it does to running footraces, but you get the point.)

Another thing I believe to my very core is that we learn – God grows our character the most – amid difficulty. We tend to forget about God during the easy times; we don’t rely on His wisdom and guidance when we’re cruising along through life thinking everything’s great because we’re great!

We learn the best lessons through challenges. And we lose weight and keep it off when we do it slowly and thoughtfully, when we learn why we turn to food when we shouldn’t. Sometimes I’ve had to learn the same lesson over and over, until I really got it. I’m still learning.

I’ve had what you might call challenges in the past three years, including heart surgery five months ago. But out of that particular challenge came a great opportunity:

I got to tell my story in a TV commercial that has been airing all across Arkansas since the Super Bowl, has aired during the Olympics, and will air for the next two years.

When I was asked to do it, someone mentioned that it would be scary to be interviewed on camera. My response: all the more reason to do it! It was so far outside my comfort zone, I knew it would be a new opportunity for growth – to depend on the Lord for my strength.

For a couple of years, I’ve been praying for opportunities to improve my very weak public-speaking skills. I didn’t know exactly why I was praying that, except that I wanted to be available – and not embarrass my family or die of fright – when those rare opportunities arose.

So maybe the interview segment of the TV commercial wasn’t my favorite part (the running part was much more fun and comfortable) but maybe my prayers made me just a little less fearful – bold, even – knowing that my desire was to bring glory to God through it all, and perhaps encourage someone along the way. Guys from the TV crew actually told me I inspired them. Go figure.

I started 2013 (a few weeks after I turned 50) with the goal of “getting to know God better,” deciding not to jump ahead of Him in figuring out the details of the next phase of my life.

I knew what I wanted to do – still want to do – and that may happen some day. My desire is to implement a healthy-workplace initiative at my place of employment. My CEO is open to that (we’ve talked), but I’m not sure he realizes all I have in mind! (I’ve learned to dream big.)

For starters, I recently registered (on my own, not through my job) to become a certified wellness coach. I’m taking online courses and will travel to Colorado in a couple of months for on-site training,

I’m not sure where this journey will take me, but I believe God put the desire in my heart and that He will bless it.

Meanwhile, Channel 7 in Little Rock (ABC affiliate) has invited me to appear on “Good Morning, Arkansas” on Feb. 17 as part of its coverage of Heart Month. My cardiologist, Dr. Conley, will be by my side if his schedule permits. I so hope he can, because he’s a big part of where I am right now.

I can tell you the exact date that I began my “journey to fitness” in earnest: April 5, 2011 – the birthday of our CEO. We had potluck that day, and I ate like a pig. By the end of the day, I was disgusted with myself, I wrote my “Going public” post, and things began to change.

It was embarrassing to admit on the Internet that I weighed 201 pounds (5 pounds less than my highest) and that I had been making a fool of myself with food. But if pigging out was what it took to make me wake up and smell the bacon, it was worth it.

I want to help others by telling my story. Some won’t like it, won’t agree with it, won’t see it. They’ll think I’m being egotistical. I can’t help what people think.

But should I let the Negative Nellies keep me from trying to help someone else?

I could never do that.

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To find a Women Run Arkansas running and walking clinic near you, click here.

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