Seen, heard and liked (or loved)

December has been a month of busyness, but not of the Christmas variety, exactly.

Last weekend we shot the commercial for Baptist Health. That took several hours Friday and most of Saturday. We froze our frannies off in the windy 30s on Saturday by the White River. But it was SO MUCH FUN, and I do plan to write more about it. (Didn’t get much in the way of photos, though.) We had several wardrobe changes because they plan to run the campaign throughout the next two years (starting with the Super Bowl), so even though it was shot in December, it is supposed to depict several seasons.

This weekend was our alternate date for the White River Christmas Half Marathon & Relay. Sure, it happens at Christmastime, but it’s more indirectly related to Christmas than the typical holiday festivities – shopping, cookie baking, gift-giving – unless you consider that our half-marathon elves (race co-founder Sara and her helper elf, Becky) shop for the families that benefit from the race proceeds. And then the gifts are given to families chosen by a tenderhearted woman at a local agency.

We postponed the race on its original date (Dec. 7) because of ice storms. Makeup date: Dec. 21. Again, dangerous weather intervened. We got up this morning and decided that the threat of lightning and the flash flood warnings made it too risky – so we called, texted, emailed and Facebooked all those who had preregistered, telling them we would try again next year.

It was a huge disappointment, but we raised a good amount of money for needy families (entry to the race is free, but we encourage donations and most people do give).

Disappointing, but also, for the Oakleys, a day of much-needed rest. After we had contacted everyone and Bruce put a sign on the church door for any potential race-day registrants, it was under the electric blanket for Pepper and me and onto the sofa for Bruce and Salsa. After rest time we went to Mom’s to watch Hallmark Christmas movies (even Bruce likes them), and we veg’d for several hours.

Back home again, and I want to write about deep and thought-provoking topics, but the best I can come up with tonight is a roundup of some of the things I’ve been reading and listening to in the past week or so. I’ve been planning to do this regularly – these favorite-pick posts – but we’ve been half-marathoning and Christmas-partying and otherwise running ourselves ragged for several weeks. (Can I tell you I skipped a free yoga class Thursday night at our church because of race planning? That’s some kind of irony.)

So, without further delay, here are some randomly ordered but thoughtfully collected links for you to ponder:

First up, you’ll be thankful that I condensed what was going to be an entire post about the pitfalls of Christmas spending (I tend to get preachy) to a mere reference to some wise words from my favorite debt-proof-living guru, Mary Hunt. Read about Mr. Diderot and His Red Robe – good advice for any time of year.

And while we’re getting introspective about our habits and thought processes, here’s a little C.S. Lewis to get you thinking. From a letter on “the slow process of being more in Christ; and on doing one’s duty, especially the duty to enjoy.”

I get an email each morning with a C.S. Lewis reading excerpted from his books, letters, essays and other writings. To subscribe, visit Bible Gateway by clicking here.

I have long loved the books and sermons of Chuck Swindoll. So when my friend and fellow runner Betsy forwarded this link to me with a reference to Olympian Wilma Rudolph, I took notice. (When I was in high school, I wrote a book report on Ms. Rudolph. I wasn’t a runner then, so all I can remember about the book was that her story was inspirational.) As soon as I listened to the sermon, “What’s Necessary for Victory?” I logged onto the Independence County Library’s website and looked up the books on this woman; I plan to check one out soon. The entire sermon on Christian victory is good, but if you want to skip ahead to Wilma’s story, start at 9:30 minutes.

Next up – because it’s the perfect season for recipes and inspiring food stories – a couple of shout-outs to my friends.

I’ve linked to Alison’s blog a few times over the years, but today I was catching up and read a reposted story about her sister’s new-ish restaurant outside Chicago. I’ve long known that Anna was an awesome baker and cook, but now she is celebrating a year as a restaurateur with her husband, Bob. They opened in December 2012, and you’ll have to read Alison’s description of the cafe and her sister. And if I’m ever in Glen Ellyn, Ill., I’m making a point to stop in at Blackberry Market.

One more food-related link: A friend tagged me in a Facebook post this morning, and I clicked through to discover a conversation about a food blog, and then a reference to my childhood friend Liz’s very own food blog – a site I immediately clicked to and which I love! Light and fresh recipes made from the heart – who could resist? (Plus, I’m a little jealous of how great it looks, especially the food photos, which I’m terrible at.) I love food blogs, but the bonus here is that this one is by someone I know; that makes it extra-special. So come delight with me at Elsie’s Kitchen 101 (read the About section to find out where it got its name).

This list barely scratches the surface of the interesting things I’ve been reading, listening to and watching, but I think it’s enough for now. Except this one last link.

In the spirit of Christmas, I’m going to leave you with a schedule of the aforementioned Hallmark Channel Christmas movies (they’re showing all December long!). Go ahead and watch a few. I won’t tell.

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I (heart) to run

Oakleys and silly runners 09-12-13
Me and some of the gang after a riverside run on Sept. 12, 2013, just 5 days before my heart surgery.

Apparently my cardiologist likes me. And for some reason he thinks I’m at least passably “intelligent and articulate.”

That’s what the Baptist Health folks asked for when they were looking for people to be in their next ad campaign, “Keep on Amazing.” They were looking for “success stories” – fairly well-spoken people who had been treated by Baptist Health and lived to tell about it.

Well, you know – not only survived but thrived.

Apparently the facts that I’ve gained 10 pounds since my heart-valve surgery and that I’m not yet back to my normal race pace didn’t deter the PR people from thinking I’m a “success story.”

(We won’t tell them about the 9 mini Tootsie Rolls I just ate while writing this.)

(Wait a minute. Make that 10.)

Apparently the mere fact that I was so eager to get back into running (that I talk about it every time I visit the heart doctor) is enough for them to think I have some atypical story to tell. Or at least the doc thinks so. He’s the one who told them about me when they were lookin’ for folks.

So they’re coming to town next weekend to film me telling my story. And running. With a bunch of my crazy friends.

Running buddies, I need you to help me tell the story (because you’re a crucial part of it), but first let me back up and give a bit of the history of this heart thing. I’ve told it in a little bit of detail on the White River Roadrunners’ Facebook page and on the Roadrunners website, but haven’t told it here. So grab a cup of coffee – I’m going into detail. (If you’re a running buddy and only want to know where you come in on the aforementioned “help,” skip to the bottom. Otherwise please indulge me because I haven’t told the whole story in one place, and some people have been wanting to hear it.) Here goes:

I was diagnosed in 2008 with “mitral valve prolapse with mitral regurgitation.” Basically, the valve didn’t close properly and puked blood back into the chamber where it wasn’t supposed to. I visited Dr. Conley in North Little Rock once a year to check it. (We lived in North Little Rock for the first couple of years, and we moved to Batesville in 2010.)

Until this year, in July, no one was too concerned as long as I didn’t do anything crazy, things like what the doc called “burst activity” – such as the time back in May when I sprinted to the finish line to try to beat that guy who came up behind me at the Rock Run 8K in Little Rock. That would be considered burst activity, a big a no-no. Plus the dude beat me by 0.42 seconds. Not worth how my heart pounded later that night. (I’d ask you not to tell my mom, but I’ve had the thing fixed since then so it’s OK.)

So in July, some criteria for deciding whether to do surgery changed, and Dr. Conley sent me to a cardiothoracic surgeon, Dr. Beyer, for his opinion. I saw Dr. Beyer on Aug. 1. He told me I’d definitely need surgery, but he wasn’t sure how soon. He asked me to keep a diary for a week. The diary included things like lethargy, lack of motivation to run, mild symptoms of depression, a relapse into “stress eating” …

Once he read the diary, his nurse called and scheduled me for surgery.

I had already been scheduled for LASIK surgery on the day they wanted to fix my heart, so we put off the mitral valve repair a week. (I was later able to move up the eye surgery so that the surgeries wouldn’t be seven days apart. Wish I could say the LASIK was as successful as the valve surgery, but that’s a post for another day. Or not.)

I had the mitral valve repaired on Sept. 17 at Baptist Health Medical Center in Little Rock. With the top-notch surgeon and some newfangled equipment, they were able to do a “minimally invasive” operation. In other words, they didn’t have to hack through my sternum to get to my heart and then bind the bones back together with twist ties like some people get.

Instead, the doc made an incision under my right breast (plus a bunch of other holes in my torso that I wouldn’t know about until I woke up – I still don’t know what one of them was for) and went across under there to the valve on the left side of my chest.

I watched an open-heart surgery on YouTube a few weeks earlier, and I’m really glad mine was “minimally invasive,” despite all the extra holes. However, the doc said this to me a couple of days after my surgery: “No one has ever proved to me that this surgery is any less painful [than open-heart].” I told him I was glad he didn’t mention that before I went under the knife! Because, friends, it was plenty painful.

But at least I won’t have twist ties in my chest for the rest of my life.

So. Over the next few weeks I had follow-up visits – one with Dr. Beyer and two with Dr. Conley.

Dr. Conley, the cardiologist I see every year, and who hears me talk about running every year (and who gave me a thumbs-up – literally, although my mom didn’t believe me – when I said I was going to run a half-marathon to raise money for the Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation in 2012), and who always tells me the same two stories about his other mitral-valve patients (one who nearly died showing off in front of his kids and the other who’s practically a superhero), said at my October checkup that if I was concerned about what going “all out” in running would do to my heart, he’d do a stress test.

A few weeks later, in mid-November, they did an ultrasound and then stuck a bunch of electrodes to my chest and put me on a treadmill. At first it was too slow, but they wanted to build me up gradually. They didn’t want me to jog; I just needed to walk fast. And then a little faster. And a little faster. (By then I was jogging.) They kept upping the incline and I kept muttering, “I hate hills,” but they weren’t really listening. They were just watching their little machines. Eventually, when I was at, like, 10 miles per hour (just kidding), the doc asked me how I was doing.

“Not bored anymore,” I said. I was out of breath and he said I could stop. My heart rate was high enough for him to know what he needed to know. So the tech quickly did another ultrasound – while my heart rate was still up – and let me get dressed.

Side note: Earlier, when I was changing into my paper gown, the tech told me that Bruce wouldn’t be allowed in for the testing because they were having to use a smaller room than usual and there wasn’t room for him. I told her that he was skinny and wouldn’t take up much room, and that he gives really good feedback, makes good observations and really needed to be there. (What I didn’t say out loud was that there was no way he wasn’t going to be there for this running test. I won.)

Also? She wasn’t going to let me keep my sports bra on for the treadmill test. I said there was no way I could run without wearing that support system. “We may not get you up to a run,” she said. I told her the entire point of my visit was to see how I would do RUNNING. I would definitely be running on the treadmill, and I definitely could not do it without my industrial-strength bra, especially since my right boob was still sore from the surgery. Bouncing would only make it worse. (I won.)

When the bra conversation was repeated to Dr. Conley, I told him, “If no one else has ever balked at having to take her bra off to run on the treadmill, all your previous patients must be really flat-chested.”

“Or mild-mannered,” he smirked.

I love my heart doctor!

So after all the melodrama of the stress test, during which time the doc called me grumpy (it’s OK – I got to return the favor), he asked whether I’d be interested in helping the marketing people by telling my story.

I was so hoping he meant by writing a short testimonial or something. So I gave him my card with phone and email on it. A few days later the “brand marketing coordinator,” Dana, called me and conferenced in the ad agency person.

I said I’m fairly good at telling stories on paper, not so good with my lips. I lose my train of thought, ramble and forget words.

Nevertheless, after a 30-minute phone conversation about my life, they still wanted me.

So next weekend, I get to tell my story. On camera.

I just hope I don’t do a Cindy Brady and freeze up the minute the cameras roll.

But I’ll have Bruce at my side during the talky parts and my other buddies at my side for the running parts. We’ll do the interviews Friday afternoon and the running stuff Saturday.

That’s where you come in, faithful friends.

They want you to run with us Saturday, on camera. Many times.

There are a few tricky parts. Here’s the scoop:

They’d like to air the commercials (ours will be one of five stories) throughout the year in 2014, which means they want it not to look like dead of winter in every single shot. They’re looking for areas that aren’t covered with snow and maybe have some green trees. Also, they want all of us to show up with 2 or 3 different jackets so that we can change our appearance slightly as we change locations. Also, the extra jackets are in case too many people show up wearing the same color. They’d like variety – and the brighter the better. But no plaids or “busy” patterns. (No problem, right?) Also, no glaringly obvious logos – they don’t want to deal with unintentional product endorsements. A small logo is OK, just not a huge statement across your chest, OK?

This part is a little more difficult: The schedule is to shoot us fake-running between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. Saturday. We film the first footage at 9 a.m. on Main Street, but they want us in a couple more locations and I’m not sure what those times (or exact places) will be. So we’ll have to be somewhat flexible.

It doesn’t have to be the exact same group in each location, but if any of you has a flexible schedule next Saturday (and multiple jacket colors!) we’d love for you to be at as many of the locations as possible – but especially on Main Street by 9 a.m. They also want to film us running “across the bridge on Main Street,” and I can only assume they mean on the Golden Overpass after we turn off Main. The person telling me this was not one of the ones who came up here last week scouting locations, unbeknown to me. (Why they didn’t ask us for suggestions is beyond me. They have us filming Friday’s interview portion in some retreat place in Locust Grove.)

They’ll also film all of us fake-running on Chaney Drive where there’s a gazebo. Since they don’t want Christmas lights and probably don’t mean Riverside Park, I wondered if they meant the cemetery. Dana wasn’t sure.

I’m not sure whether there’s a third fake-running location, but they also want to film us in front of “storefronts,” and I don’t believe that involves running. Therefore I’m not sure whether it involves the running group or just the Oakleys. I’ll find out early next week and let you know.

I guess we will all get an education as to how big-time commercials are filmed. The key is to be patient and flexible. We can do that, right?

So, basically, I’d love for you all to be there, and I think I’ve covered as many of the details as I possess at the moment. Except this:

The ad campaign will debut during the 2014 Super Bowl.

Pretty cool, eh?

To let us know whether you’re available to run with us on Saturday, Dec. 14, please post a comment below, text me or email me (if you have my info). You may also post a comment on Facebook, but I would rather that be the last place you reply. Thanks to all of you who can come out and help us.

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A beautiful read

Gosh, I didn’t stick with my November commitment to blog every day. Not. Even. Close.

And December will be even busier. But it’s starting off well, because I’m writing and this is only the 1st. So think of this as a BEAUTIFUL start to my month.

I’ve been reading a lot of blogs, those of entrepreneurs, businesspeople, thinkers, creators – people who took a risk and did something bold with their lives! You’ll find the word beautiful in a lot of these descriptions, because the artsy, creative sites are the ones I’ve been reading for several days.

These are a few of the sites I’ve found interesting, informative or inspiring, in no particular order:

  • James Altucher (don’t ask me how to pronounce it). Frankly, I don’t know how this guy has succeeded, but he’s got something that works. He’s a combination of bad attitude and hopeless optimist, it would seem. He has succeeded and failed and succeeded again at more ventures than you can count on both hands. For some reason I keep going back to his advice (taking some of it with a grain of salt). He has written several books, including the most recent bestseller, “Choose Yourself.”
  • A Beautiful Mess. These are creative types who found success in doing something they love. It’s “a lifestyle blog focused on creating a beautiful life.” Their website is quirky, funky and … well … beautiful. One of the things I love is that the co-founders, especially Elsie, seem to be so generous of spirit. They post lots of tips, such as ways to take better food pictures (much needed by me), how to start a blog and other helpful things. This site’s a keeper.
  • Arkansas Women Bloggers. I joined this group a few months ago and have barely scratched the surface of its awesomeness. It’s a community of – you know – women bloggers from Arkansas. Lots of tips, creativity and support. I am SO going to their retreat next year.
  • The Pioneer Woman. You’ve seen Ree Drummond cook on Food Network. Her blog is not new to me, but I’ve gained a new appreciation since I’ve been looking at ideas for making my blog more beautiful and improving my photography. Her photos are beautiful, and the tone of her writing is light and fun.
  • Michael McGaha’s Flickr page. I grew up with Michael (we called him Mike back then), and he has a lot of photography know-how (and equipment). He takes beautiful pictures. When I told him I wanted to upgrade my camera, he graciously offered to let me borrow one of his before I decided which model to shell out for. I’ve been drooling over his Flickr shots for a couple of weeks, staying up way too late one night just dreaming of how I could even come close to matching his skill.
  • Alison Chino. Alison’s was the first blog I read on a regular basis, starting in the mid-2000s. She’s the daughter of my former pastor, and she and her husband and four kids moved to Scotland recently so Taido could study for his PhD in theology at the University of Aberdeen. Alison has become quite the successful blogger/photographer, being published on sites that have readers all over the world, including The Huffington Post. Alison has an adventurous spirit. Example: the dreadlocks she has worn for five years. (That’s bold for a white girl.) She takes great photos and writes even better. I’m jealous.
  • Sarabeth Jones. Second blog I started reading regularly a few years ago, and I’ll never forget Sarabeth’s comment when I tentatively commented that I “thought” I was nearly ready to start my own blog. She said, simply, “You are SO ready.” Sarabeth and Alison are friends, and I met them both several years ago at Fellowship North. In fact, Sarabeth is the resident drama queen at FN (just kidding – she’s in charge of the drama and other artsiness that goes on there, and does a – shall I say – beautiful job). SB takes stunning photos and, being a “creative type,” writes beautifully. Again, jealous.

I owe a big thanks to Sarabeth for the encouragement, even after I took the first faltering steps at blogging. I’ve always had to fight against comparing myself to her or Alison because they’re such good writers. I know that I’m unique and have my own message and way of telling my stories. It’s just hard to remember that sometimes.

I’m striving to make my writing and photography better – and having more confidence in my abilities. Reading these blogs definitely has boosted my confidence level and my determination to grow and continue to learn new things.

Thanks, guys!

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