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.)


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.



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

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Blogging from A-Z – Book review: ‘The Joy of X’

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


Fish, fish, fish, fish, fish, fish2A few weeks ago, two nurse’s aides rolled their vital-sign cart into the hospital room of a patient I was visiting.

The woman, probably in her 30s, said, “What’s 48 times 2?”

I said, without blinking, “96.”

She stared at me for a couple of seconds, then said, “Are you a teacher?”


Apparently, only teachers and – oh, I don’t know, mathematicians? – are supposed to be able to do math.

The world is afraid of math. Or so they say. A lot of us avoid math not because we’re too dumb to understand it but because sometimes it takes a little effort that we’re not willing to put forth.

Forty-eight times two shouldn’t take that much work. I knew that one in a flash, but what if she’d asked, “What’s 48 x 5?”

All right, that would have taken me a little longer. But only by a couple of seconds, because I have a shortcut. With any big-ish number multiplied by 5, I first multiply it by 10 (just add a zero), then divide the result by 2 (because 10 / 2 = 5). So 48 x 5 looks like this:

(48 x 10) = 480
480 / 2 = 240

TheJoyOfX-coverMultiplication is pretty simple if you can remember little tricks like that.

This is why I was overjoyed to discover the book The Joy of X: A Guided Tour of Math, from One to Infinity by Steven Strogatz. (Besides that, The Joy of X is an awesome title, don’t you think?) Strogatz makes learning math fun!

Yes, fun.

OK, maybe it’s fun only to geeks – you’ve got me on that one.

Maybe fun is not why you should read this book. But how about reading it because you want to stop being “afraid of math,” “no good at math” or “math-phobic” – or maybe you just want to learn some new party tricks? 🙂

A lot of kids grumble, “I’ll never use this in real life.” I beg to differ. Here are some of the professions that use math all the time:

  • Nurses/aides.
  • Pharmacists.
  • Carpenters.
  • Carpet layers.
  • Bakers.
  • Bankers.
  • Real estate agents.
  • Restaurant wait staff.
  • Computer programmers.
  • App developers.
  • Tailors.
  • Mathematicians. 🙂

Get my drift? For all the students who complain about having to learn math, there is a professional out there who couldn’t make a living for very long without using it.


But we have calculators, you say.


I was in a Kmart in California several years ago when the electricity went out. A bunch of people were stuck at the checkout line because the clerks couldn’t check the merchandise without a computer.

What if you’re somewhere that you need to do some basic math, and your phone battery goes dead? How are you going to leave a tip for your server?

I usually leave 20 percent, but the standard is 15 percent. Say your bill comes to $24.80. Here’s how to figure a 15 percent tip, using your brain as a calculator:

A 15 percent tip is the same as a 10 percent tip PLUS half of a 10 percent tip (5 percent), so …

Divide the bill by 10, then halve that amount and add the two results together:

$24.80 / 10 = $2.48
$2.48 / 2 = $1.24
$2.48 + $1.24 = $3.72

To make it easier, you could round up the two resulting quotients ($2.48 and $1.24) before adding them, because I find it easier to work in 25-cent increments.

$24.80 / 10 = $2.48 (round up to $2.50)
$2.48 / 2 = $1.24 (round up to $1.25)
$2.48 + $1.24 = $3.72 (or $3.75)

I made up the examples above, but this is how the author of The Joy of X goes about explaining algebraic concepts that we use in our everyday lives. Bet you never thought of tipping as an algebraic exercise, did you?

See, math isn’t evil. It just takes some thought.

furryarmsfishStrogatz has fun with his book. In the quote at the beginning of this post, Humphrey the Sesame Street critter is placing an order for fish for six penguin guests at the Furry Arms Hotel. He calls out the penguins’ orders to the kitchen: “Fish, fish, fish, fish, fish, fish.” Ernie then proceeds to enlighten Humphrey as to the virtues of the number 6. Six is a shortcut. Humphrey could have saved himself (and the cook) some time by telling the chef, “Six fish!”

I don’t know about you, but I’ll take all the timesavers I can get. That’s what my two examples are. If you learn the concepts, they will save you time.


One of the reasons I like numbers so much, I suppose, is that they are orderly. As Strogatz says, “They obey certain laws and have certain properties, personalities, and ways of combining with one another.”

That gives me great comfort in a world of chaos.

Yet, as Strogatz states, the language of math can also be elegant and artsy (vs. strictly logical and science-y):

“It’s the same convention as in Lionel Richie’s immortal lyrics ‘She’s once, twice, three times a lady.’ (‘She’s a lady times three’ would never have been a hit.)”

Forget that he got the lyrics slightly wrong (it’s “YOU’RE once, twice …); he made his point.

Strogatz uses not only formulas but graphic elements to illustrate his points. This is one of the great things about the book. My examples are just words; Strogatz’s are words plus visuals. It’s especially helpful when he gets into concepts a bit deeper than 3 x 7. (He uses rocks to illustrate squaring a number, slices of pie to illustrate a fraction, and so on.)

He also uses stories, because he knows that stories are what help us to remember challenging concepts. Take, for instance, this vitally important formula for putting all the superficial people of the world at ease:

JoyOfXQuoteIn keeping with the spirit of fun that Strogatz maintained throughout this thoroughly enjoyable book, I want to share one of my favorite scenes from one of my favorite Hepburn and Tracy movies, Desk Set. (If you don’t want to watch the whole 9 minutes, start at the 2:45 mark. After it ends, wait a few seconds for the next segment, or you’ll never know the answer to the Harry and Grace riddle!) This is classic Tracy and Hepburn:

In study after study, researchers have found that challenging the brain improves a multitude of functions in our bodies. If you’ve always considered yourself “not good at math,” step outside your comfort zone and check out The Joy of X. Would you rather rely on a machine to do all your calculations for you, as did the computer operator in Desk Set (sorry, you’ll have to rent the movie to meet her), or would you rather expand your mind and live well? One way leads to boredom; the other leads to a longer, healthier, more fulfilling life.

You do the math.

What is your favorite math tip? I love collecting shortcuts; share, please!


Tomorrow: Y is for YOU!

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Blogging from A-Z – Wes and the MorningSide gang

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


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

MorningSideCoffeeHouse_logoWes Obrigewitsch to the rescue!

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

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

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

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

Oh, wait. There is a Carla!

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

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

Yep. He knows my name.

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

MorningSide represents those things to me.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


They’ll be glad you came.


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


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

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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.)


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.


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).


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!


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

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Blogging from A-Z – ‘Unbroken’: the book vs. the movie

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


UnbrokenQuoteI’m so glad I decided to read Unbroken before I saw the movie. I’m also happy that I didn’t finish reading the book before the movie left town. (The book is pretty long; then again, so is the movie.)

Now that I’ve read writing coach Kristen Lamb’s deconstruction of the story, the desire to see the movie has left me. It must have been eaten by sharks much like the ones Louie and Phil managed to evade for 47 days on a life raft in the Pacific after their plane was shot down.

Laura Hillenbrand’s reputation as a storyteller (Seabiscuit) had made reading the book especially appealing. And, by all accounts, her book Unbroken is far superior to what it was turned into for Hollywood. I agree with everyone who sings the book’s praises. Hillenbrand is a superb storyteller.

Unbroken_coverBefore I downloaded it to Kindle, I thought Unbroken was about Louis Zamperini’s running career. He was an Olympic runner (5,000 meters) in 1936 whom I had read about in Runner’s World magazine before I knew about the book or the movie. I suppose the book’s subtitle, A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption, should have clued me in. (Read an excerpt of the book here.)

But I was concurrently listening to The Boys in the Boat: Nine Americans and Their Epic Quest for Gold at the 1936 Berlin Olympics, which I reviewed here on April 2. That book was, indeed, about the University of Washington rowing team and not so much about WWII. So maybe I was just hopeful.

Louie’s Olympic feats were featured, to be sure, but they were a minor part of Unbroken.

Our critic acknowledged that the book could have been turned into an excellent movie but made key errors that left viewers in the dark about certain motivations:

  • Why did Louie turn from being a thug and a thief in his youth into an Olympic runner?

In short: Athletics saved him. The book goes into detail about how Louie tried to reform, couldn’t, got in trouble with the high school principal and was allowed to participate in school sports. (Louie’s brother, Pete, had to charm the principal into giving Louie the opportunity. Pete may have saved Louie’s life.) We learn later in the book that Japanese officials kept Louie alive for leverage because he was a famous Olympian. So, not only did running save Louie as a teenager, it ultimately saved him from being executed as a prisoner of war. It seems that God had a plan for Louie.

  • The script lacked the dramatic tension that would cause Louie’s story to arc (change).

“He’s always the one who remains calm, the one who is levelheaded, the one who does the right thing. He takes the beatings while in captivity and presses on to stay alive. He is the same when the plane crashes as the day when he walks out of the POW camp. … We get a sense that Zamperini was already a ‘hero’ before his plane was ever shot down.”

This is where the book reader has the advantage: Louie did not always remain calm. Hillenbrand has him clenching his fists in silent defiance when he’s beaten by the sadistic Japanese corporal who has a special hatred for Louie and singles him out for arbitrary punishment multiple times a day. Louie and the other POWs take risks they might not have taken under less critical circumstances. Their freedom and their dignity are at stake.

You get inside the prisoners’ heads just a little when the author details how they sabotaged goods they were assigned to ship while on work detail. How they filled socks with contraband sugar to take back to the barracks. How they urinated on the bags of rice destined to ship out. How they stole tobacco, fish and wine and smuggled the goods back to the other prisoners.

Here’s how Lamb sums up the movie’s main flaws:

“In order to make a story into a movie (even TRUE events), it must be dramatized, meaning put into three-act structure. The biography did well (I assume) because the real story was actually Zamperini’s journey of FAITH. The crash and then time as a POW developed his trust in GOD and not himself. He survived, dedicated his life to God and then later returned and made peace with his tormentors. Forgiveness was how he triumphed, not just in taking beating after beating. He traveled to Japan and forgave them. But this is reduced to an afterthought in the film.

Those weren’t the only flaws that Lamb pointed out, but some of them aren’t relevant comparisons to the book. (Too many flashbacks, for instance: “often a sign of weak writing.” Showing Louie being starved and beaten for two hours is easier than writing a better script, she said.)

Commander Worf of 'Star Trek: The Next Generation.'
Lt. Cmdr. Worf of the USS Enterprise. He’s a Klingon.

She thought the movie would have made a good documentary, or perhaps be helped by the addition of Klingons.

“I see other reviewers also saying it wasn’t done justice, no character development, no emotion, etc. I personally find the story dramatic, but perhaps the movie structure killed it. It’s a shame. I think there was a story there to tell.”

Lamb complained about the three-hour length, specifically mentioning nearly two hours of Louie being beaten and an hour of unnecessary flashbacks. She didn’t mention the ongoing detail of Louie and Phil’s nearly seven weeks on the raft. I kept wanting them to just get off the darned raft. And then I wanted them to just get out of the darned POW camp. If I, the book reader, had those thoughts, how much more would I have been thinking them if I had been stuck in a movie theater, needing to pee, and watching two men stranded for weeks on open water? 🙂

In my comment on Lamb’s blog, I thanked her for sparing me the three hours of torture (mine, not Louie’s).

I’m fairly certain that lots of people who didn’t read the book have enjoyed the movie and had no conscious thought about any of the critical elements Lamb mentioned. But she teaches writing, and this was a situation where she turned lemons (watching a three-hour movie she considered extremely boring) into lemonade (a writing lesson).

You may agree or disagree, but I consider myself $8 to $10 richer because I’ve skipped the movie. Thank you again, Kristen.

I forgive novice director Angelina Jolie for taking a great book and making an inferior movie out of it. After all, forgiveness is one of the main themes of Unbroken.

Have you read the book? Seen the movie? Read Lamb’s full critique here (same link as above), and give me your thoughts – good, bad or somewhere in between.

UPDATE: On Thursday, April 30, I updated my “review” by talking more about Louie and the book’s author, Laura Hillenbrand. Read about it here.


Saturday: V is for (help me out – what starts with V?).

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Blogging from A-Z – Take Steps, Team Challenge

Today’s post is brought to you by the letter “T.” (I’m blogging the alphabet in April. Read the details at Suzy & Spice here or the Blogging from A-Z page here.)


    These are my Team Challenge teammates at the Walt Disney World Half-Marathon in January 2015. I had with withdraw before the trip.
These are my Team Challenge teammates at the Walt Disney World Half-Marathon in January 2015. I had to withdraw before the trip. But this is not about me; it’s about curing my husband’s disease.

Just before our first wedding anniversary, Bruce spent 16 days in the hospital, including Christmas.

Thus began my education about Crohn’s disease, something I had never heard of until Dec. 16, 1998, when I saw pictures of his ulcerated digestive tract taken during a colonoscopy the day after I checked him into the hospital. He had ulcers from his tongue all the way to his anus.

We’ve spent the past 16-plus years learning about the disease, fundraising for awareness and a cure, and trying to support others who suffer from Crohn’s and its companion disease, ulcerative colitis. (The two are collectively known as inflammatory bowel disease; the difference is that colitis involves only the colon but Crohn’s can attack the entire digestive tract. UC is no less awful, though.)

Looking back, I think that one reason Crohn’s was new to me is that it’s an uncomfortable disease to talk about.

So nobody was talking.

After all, who in polite society wants to discuss bowel movements, diarrhea, colostomy bags and anal fistulas?

Well, we do.

I’ve always been pretty modest, but having your husband diagnosed with a disease that may kill him tends to make you a little – no, a lot – less afraid of being “indelicate.” If talking about it could save someone’s life, it’s well worth the embarrassment. Here’s Bruce’s colon: Dec. 16, 1998.

This is Crohn's disease.
This is Crohn’s disease.

Besides, you can’t deal with the thing unless you’re willing to talk about it. And at some point, you have to see the humor in it.

You should hear the potty humor around our house. (Between Bruce and our 10-year-old dog who’s still not potty trained, we engage in lots of potty talk.)

We’ve discussed buying stock in Kimberly-Clark; we’re pretty sure we singlehandedly keep that company in business.

Information from

Bruce got out of the hospital on New Year’s Eve, and he was still pretty sick (so sick that I was a bit miffed at the doctor for discharging him, but I now realize it was just fear of the unknown). Once Bruce was home, I had to learn how to start and stop his TPN pump (via a surgically inserted tube) so he could “eat” a few times a day. He wouldn’t start eating “food” for another month, and then it was baby food. Anything rough wasn’t good for his gut or his butt. When the home-health nurse visited on Jan. 3, I mentioned that it was our first anniversary. We chatted about that for a minute, and then she left. A few minutes later, the doorbell rang. When I opened the door, the nurse said, “Happy anniversary!” and handed me a bag. Inside: a tube of butt cream. We got a good laugh out of that.

You either laugh or you cry.

In late 2009, I started asking the Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation of America how you go about getting a CCFA chapter in your state. All the events I knew of (fundraising walks, educational seminars, support group meetings) were taking place all around us, but not in Arkansas.

In 2010, Bruce and I joined the team that went on to organize CCFA’s first Take Steps Be Heard walk in Arkansas, and we’ve stationed our butts at the Mission tent each year since. The first walk was in Little Rock, and now we also have one in northwest Arkansas (we’ve driven the 280 miles to volunteer at a couple of those, too). Because of that first walk in 2010, we now have an Arkansas chapter of CCFA! (We sort of blew them away at national headquarters that first year – participation and money raised were way more than expected.)

The Take Steps walks are just one way we fundraise.

TeamChallengeQuote_A-Z_rectangleIn 2012, we got involved in Team Challenge, CCFA’s fundraising and endurance training program, and I ran my first half-marathon in Nashville that September. That was tough – the fundraising part, I mean. Running 13.1 miles wasn’t exactly a piece of cake, but it was way easier than the fundraising.

So why did I sign up for a second, and then a third, half-marathon with Team Challenge? Not because I’m a running junkie but because I want to kick the crap out of Crohn’s and colitis. Even though the fundraising part makes me extremely uncomfortable, I was recognized as the fifth-top Team Challenge fundraiser at our Nashville race that year. I couldn’t have done it without a worthy cause to support.

I certainly didn’t drive 300-plus miles just to run 13. If it were just the running, I could sign up for any number of half-marathons in my home state; in fact, Bruce and I co-direct a half-marathon (for charity) right here in Batesville each December.

My poor body apparently wasn’t made for distance running. I had to withdraw from both the second and third Team Challenge half-marathons because of my own health problems. Heart surgery sort of took priority over running around Nashville for 2 1/2 hours, and later I had a few issues that caused me to withdraw from this year’s Disney Half-Marathon.

Bruce is equally uncomfortable asking for money (even for a good cause), and yet he and I have held a couple of local fundraising concerts for Team Challenge. He wrote a song called “Gut Works” (to the tune of Johnny Cash’s “Busted”) and performed it at the concerts each year. Talk about using humor to deal with your condition …

The Oakleys are rank amateurs when it comes to fundraising, but we are fortunate to be blessed with generous friends who make up for our shortcomings. They support us with their prayers, their presence and their money. We could not do it without them – without you. We also have formed some incredible friendships with the other Crohnies who are helping us kick the crap out of Crohn’s.

Today’s post is NOT about asking you for money. It’s really not. (Blame the “T” in the A-Z challenge; seriously, what else was I supposed to write about?)

However, I would be remiss if I didn’t include a link to our donation page. I keep one updated at Suzy & Spice throughout the year so that I can have a static URL on my business cards without worrying about the links that change with every CCFA event. (The link stays anchored at the top of the blog, and as of this writing it’s tiny and a bit difficult to see if you’re not looking for it. When the A-Z challenge is over, I’m going to work on a redesign.)

Our spring Take Steps Be Heard walk will be Saturday, May 30, in Little Rock, Ark. If you choose to donate, thank you. If you choose not to, we love you, anyway. You can always support us with your thoughts, prayers and cheers, and we really like those, too. 🙂



Friday: U is for Unbroken: book vs. movie.

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Blogging from A-Z – ‘The 7 Habits of High Effective People,’ Part 1

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


Habit 1

This is the first in a four-part series, starting with Part 1 of Stephen Covey’s critically acclaimed bestseller The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People: Powerful Lessons in Personal Change (1989). I’ll be reading the book with you and walking us through each of the seven habits, which Covey groups into three sections. This series isn’t designed to regurgitate all the lessons in the book (it’s packed full of them) but to encourage you to read the book and consider new ways of looking at the complex areas of your life.

Author and speaker Stephen Covey (1932-2012) tells of a time when his son was struggling in school – academically, socially and athletically. Covey and his wife felt it was their job as parents to “help” him. They tried everything: psyching him up, using positive reinforcement, praising him when he improved slightly, reprimanding others who criticized him. Each of their actions came out of loving motives, but their approach wasn’t working.

At the time, Covey was researching the topics of communication and perception for some leadership development presentations he was doing for business clients.

As he and his wife discussed his findings, they realized that they perceived their son as “inadequate” and had been communicating to him, in unspoken ways, “You aren’t capable. You have to be protected.”

They needed to change their perception of their son before they could truly help him.


Covey had been studying the “success literature” published in the United States since 1776.

“I began to feel more and more that much of the success literature of the past 50 years was superficial,” Covey wrote. “It was filled with social image consciousness, techniques and quick fixes – with social band-aids and aspirin that addressed acute problems and sometimes even appeared to solve them temporarily, but left the underlying chronic problems untouched to fester and resurface time and again.

“In stark contrast, almost all the literature in the first 150 years or so focused on what could be called the Character Ethic as the foundation of success – things like integrity, humility, fidelity, temperance, courage, justice, patience, industry, simplicity, modesty, and the Golden Rule.”

“But shortly after World War I the basic view of success shifted from the Character Ethic to what we might call the Personality Ethic. … Some of this literature acknowledged character as an ingredient of success, but tended to compartmentalize it rather than recognize it as foundational and catalytic. Reference to the Character Ethic became mostly lip service; the basic thrust was quick-fix influence techniques, power strategies, communication skills, and positive attitudes.”

Covey realized that he and his wife had been relying, subconsciously, on the Personality Ethic rather than the Character Ethic in trying to help their son. They determined to focus their efforts on themselves – “not on our techniques, but on our deepest motives and our perception of him.” They began to see their son in terms of his uniqueness. They adjusted their approach, accepted him where he was and let him work things out on his own terms.

Thus begins the introduction of The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.


In the book, Covey takes an inside-out approach to this “personal change,” decrying Band-Aid remedies for deep, complex matters. He acknowledges that some elements of the Personality Ethnic are essential to success. “But they are secondary, not primary traits.”

If there isn’t deep integrity and fundamental strength of character, Covey writes, “the challenges of life will cause true motives to surface and human relationship failure will replace short-term success.”

Next, Covey starts talking about paradigms – our frame of reference, or how we see things. You’ve probably seen his illustration of the young, beautiful woman and the old lady. It has circulated for years and is a fascinating example of how our perceptions can change depending on our frame of reference. This video doesn’t tell the original story (about a class at Harvard Business School) but gives a technological twist on the illustration:

In the book, Covey provides several examples of paradigm shifts, including his own, before giving an overview of the 7 Habits. Part 1, referenced above, is “Paradigms and Principles.” Here’s the rest of the list, which we’ll cover in one post a week for the next three weeks:


  1. Be Proactive: Principles of Personal Vision.
  2. Begin with the End in Mind: Principles of Personal Leadership.
  3. Put First Things First: Principles of Personal Management.


  1. Think Win/Win: Principles of Interpersonal Leadership.
  2. Seek First to Understand, Then to Be Understood: Principles of Empathic Communication.
  3. Synergize: Principles of Creative Cooperation.


  1. Sharpen the Saw: Principles of Balanced Self-Renewal.

Stop by Monday, May 11, for Habits 1-3.


Tomorrow: T is for Take Steps and Team Challenge (working to cure Crohn’s & colitis).

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Blogging from A-Z – 4 benefits you can gain from reading

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



I think I came out of the womb reading. My memory of that day is a little fuzzy, so I can’t be sure, but it certainly wasn’t long before you could catch me with a book in my hand just about any time you saw me. When I was pretty young, I started reading the daily newspaper along with my dad. (Dad read almost every article in every edition – Mom always said he read the words right off of the paper.)

Reading is such an obsession for me that I:

  • Sometimes read while walking. Those texting-while-walking daredevils have nothing on me. (Mom, no, I don’t mean while walking in traffic.)
  • Always have something handy in my purse or tote bag to read (in case of a reading emergency).
  • Have been known to read while in the swimming pool (on an inflated raft, with a nice glass of iced tea in the cup holder).
  • Keep my library card on my keychain, right next to my Kroger card.

So, if you thought I was going to use my R to write about running, you were wrong. Today it’s all about the books (and newspapers, and magazines, and …).

Some of what I get from reading can be yours, too. Here are four benefits of reading:


As many people have said (more eloquently than I), books can transport you to places you never imagined. When I was younger, I read strictly because I enjoyed it. Teaching your children to enjoy books and words is something you’ll never regret. As Theodor Seuss Geisel so eloquently put it:

“The more that you read, the more things you will know. The more that you learn,
the more places you’ll go.” – Dr. Seuss


I may be an information junkie, I don’t know. I’m not sure there’s a 12-step program for it, but if there were, it probably would take a family intervention to get me to a meeting. I love reading materials of all kinds – it’s almost a compulsion. (I’ve even been known to read the back of a cereal box if that’s the only thing available.)

“The best advice I ever got was that knowledge is
power and to keep reading.” – David Bailey


I read a variety of genres, and each one opens my mind to something or someone new. I am a white American woman in her early 50s. I have never been sent to a concentration camp, run an ultramarathon, been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s or worked as the keeper of a lighthouse, but I’ve read books about all of those things. Reading opens me to perspectives I hadn’t considered. I’m free to accept or reject those perspectives, but never without thinking about them.

“It is a narrow mind which cannot look at a subject from
various points of view.” ― George Eliot


“Only the very weak-minded refuse to be influenced by literature
and poetry.” – Cassandra Clare


“You don’t have to burn books to destroy a culture. Just get people
to stop reading them.” – Isaac Asimov


“There are worse crimes than burning books. One of them
is not reading them.” – Joseph Brodsky


When Stephen Covey talks about “sharpening the saw,” he’s speaking about all areas of your life: physical, social/emotional, mental and spiritual. In my opinion, reading feeds all those areas, aside from perhaps the physical (although I might try to make a case for that, too, because I listen to audiobooks on the treadmill 🙂 ). In The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People (which I will review tomorrow), Covey confines reading to the mental (“reading”) and the spiritual (“study and meditation”). I would argue that it could go legitimately in the social/emotional category, too.

I’m a member of a monthly reading group that meets in a bookstore and discusses books. (A second, smaller reading group [discussing the works of C.S. Lewis] is on hiatus for a few months – we just got too busy.) Those sessions enhance my social and emotional well-being, as well as the intellectual part of my brain.

If you’re reading solely for “pleasure” (only fiction, for example), you’re missing out on a great way to keep your mind sharp, and sometimes that means skills you’ll use in other parts of your life – business, volunteer work, parenting … Studies find that those who read are more successful in school and in life than those who don’t.

“You can make positive deposits in your own economy every day by reading and
listening to powerful, positive, life-changing content and by associating with
encouraging and hope-building people.” – Zig Ziglar


“Books are the quietest and most constant of friends; they are the most accessible and wisest of counselors, and the most patient of teachers.” – Charles William Eliot

I know people who “hate to read,” and I feel sorry for them. Reading transports and transforms me. It makes me a better me.

“In the case of good books, the point is not to see how many of them you can get through, but rather how many can get through to you.” – Mortimer J. Adler

You don’t have to confine your reading to books. There are good magazines, great websites, newspapers, um, blogs …

Just read a little something today. Give your mind a stretch.


Tomorrow: S is for The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, Part 1.

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Blogging from A-Z – quotations

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


I have this one on a bulletin board at home AND in my cubicle at work.

Picking a Q for today was a challenge. Not that there aren’t enough Q words but that there are so many to choose from. I love quotations, so this was a good chance to share some of my favorites with you.

They’re things I’ve taped to my bathroom mirror, posted in my home office, pinned to my cubicle wall at work … wherever I can find a spot! And some are quotes I’ve run across recently and are not posted, pasted or taped anywhere – yet. (A few of them should be tattooed on my forehead!)

There is no particular theme here. These are just quotes I’ve gathered over time. So let’s go.

Mother Teresa quotes are always an inspiration. She dedicated her life to loving the poor and unwanted.

“There must be a reason why some people can afford to live well. They must have worked for it. I only feel angry when I see waste. When I see people throwing away things that we could use.” – Mother Teresa

I have no doubt that Mother Teresa fueled her passion for loving people by remembering verses like this:

And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.” – 1 Corinthians 13:13 (NIV)

Most of the time, I don’t like change for the sake of change. But I know that sometimes change is necessary, or if it isn’t necessary, it’s good. Here’s the reality according to one novelist:

“Any change, even a change for the better, is always accompanied by drawbacks and discomforts.” – Arnold Bennett

This one’s in my cubicle at work and on my bathroom mirror, too. It reminds me that it’s OK that I’m ME, even when no one gets me. (And they frequently don’t.)

“If you are always trying to be normal, you will never know how amazing you can be.” – Maya Angelou

I’ve been in the business of embracing risk lately – a few years now. Otherwise, how will I ever achieve that amazingness that Maya Angelou thinks I should discover? This next one speaks to that:

“You can’t outwit fate by standing on the sidelines placing little side bets about the outcome of life. Either you wade in and risk everything you have to play the game or you don’t play at all. And if you don’t play you can’t win.” – Judith McNaught

Winston Churchill had some great quotes, but I decided to share one that may not be familiar to everyone (it was new to me):

“All the great things are simple, and many can be expressed in a single word: freedom, justice, honor, duty, mercy, hope.” – Winston Churchill

In the Beatles’ case, it could be argued that the single word is “love”:

“All you need is love. Love is all you need.” – John Lennon

The Beatles in 1987, on the occasion of the 20th anniversary re-release of “All You Need is Love.”

With that, I’ll sign off with two messages from one of the great ones:

“No matter what people tell you, words and ideas can change the world.” – Robin Williams

“Nanu nanu.” – Mork from Ork

What is your favorite quote?


Tomorrow: R is for reading.

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Blogging from A-Z – peace

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



I really don’t know what quality I possessed as a 17-year-old that would prompt my journalism teacher to give me a poster depicting a kitten asleep on a flowerpot with a message about being at peace with yourself. Baffling me even more was the note she wrote on the back:


Posters were Miss Felts’ graduation gifts to the 10 of us, her journalism class. That’s us, below. Can you pick me out? (P.S. I went by my exact middle name, “Sue,” instead of Suzy, in 10th through 12th grades; it was easier.)

Juanita Felts (far right) and her journalism class, 1979-80.

If Miss Felts thought I was “at peace with myself,” I’m not sure what kind of Kool-Aid she was in the habit of drinking (seems to me she drank Tab), but I dare say that was not the case 35 years ago.

It is much more the case today.

I wouldn’t say I’m totally at peace with myself, or my life in general, but I have learned that what I used to believe brought peace (the absence of conflict, the outward appearance of competence, “enough” money) is just an illusion.

After having walked my faith journey for so long (all my life, but beginning in earnest when I was in college), I’ve come to understand the things that bring true and lasting peace. (I know that ultimate peace comes from a relationship with Jesus Christ, my Lord and Savior.)

Miss Felts gave me that poster 35 years ago – two-thirds of my life ago – because she saw something in me, and I’ve never forgotten its message. I’ve never ceased to ponder the message itself, why my teacher gave it to me, or why, in my yearbook, she said I had been “a great inspiration” to her.

On the contrary, she was a great inspiration to me. (Funny how that works.)

The poster stayed on my bedroom wall – just north of my headboard – until a couple of years after my dad died, when Mom sold the house I grew up in. I didn’t even realize we still had the poster until recently. It resurfaced when we started rearranging some rooms, going through boxes and drawers, purging clutter.

Finding it again was like getting a surprise visit from an old friend.

In high school, journalism was my favorite class, Miss Felts my favorite teacher, and every memory of that time happy.

Maybe she is the reason I had peace – or at least a high school girl’s version of it – for that nine months of my life (plus our time in sophomore English). I was as angsty as any other teenage girl, and Miss Felts was a calming force during that hour every day when we “practiced journalism.”

Or at least she tried to be. With half a dozen boys in the class, most of them pranksters, we didn’t have many dull moments. And Miss Felts could give as good as she got. When one of us whined, her version of “sympathy” was to rub her index finger around in circles on her thumbnail. Something like this:

“You know what this is?” she said the first time she used it. “It’s the world’s smallest record player.” Or sometimes she’d do another finger motion for “the world’s smallest violin.”

Translation: I’m playing sad, sad music for you poor thing.

(Imagine really dramatic music during the above 2 seconds of video. Please imagine that, because otherwise it just looks like you’ve caught me rolling a booger.)

I didn’t set out today to write about high school, journalism class or my favorite teacher – or even peaceful felines in flowerpots – but I guess those things began to converge when I got to thinking about my writing of late. I was reading Stephen King’s book On Writing (I reviewed Part 1 yesterday) and simultaneously pondering my P topic for today. On my lunch break at work, I had written parts of two drafts about “perspective” and was dissatisfied with both. I did a virtual crumpling of the paper. (Don’t you miss paper sometimes?)

Then, for some reason, “peace” came to mind.

As I read the book, particularly the section about good writing and bad writing, that “competent” writers can become “good” writers – and how that can come to be – I realized that I’m slowing moving from being merely competent toward being a “good” writer (at least in my own estimation, which admittedly is often skewed in my favor).

And the reason for that is that I’m at peace with my writing.

That’s not to say I’m satisfied. That’s a different thing.

I’m at peace.

I’m free. I’m unself-conscious. (Well, not really, but less so than I used to be. I still feel the need to qualify everything in parenthetical phrases. I still over-explain. I still don’t trust you enough to get what I’m saying on your own.)

Not perfection. Peace.

Not every day, not every time. But there is evidence that it’s true.

I’m comfortable writing about boogers. (If Stephen King can talk about the newspaper he created in high school called The Village Vomit, I can write about boogers.)

I didn’t say it was good evidence.

Peace is hard-won. It takes practice. It takes deliberate action. (Sounds contradictory, I know. Peace should be a passive thing. But it isn’t. It isn’t. You have to cultivate it. Water it. Give it light.)

Knowing I can admit things here, in this space, and not fear your reaction – you may call it self-confidence, bravery, stupidity, reading too many Anne Lamott books, whatever.

I call it peace.

Miss Felts, I’m raising a glass of Kool-Aid to you.


Monday: Q is for … ??? Got any ideas? Toss ’em my way.

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