I’m ready for my close-up

NormaDesmond_closeupI’ve been a bit out of pocket lately and thought I’d better check in, lest you forget me.

I haven’t forgotten you.

I’m pretty sure I haven’t gone this long between posts since January. Starting a second blog has had its pluses and minuses. Time management has been one of the challenges.

It isn’t that I’m out of ideas. I’ve made several attempts at posts for this space, but for various reasons I haven’t finished. I’ve been:

  1. On deadline (I had to prepare to teach a session on self-editing for Arkansas Women Bloggers University).
  2. Sick.
  3. Tired (so what else is new?).
  4. Out of town for three days (AWBU).
  5. Blogging for Arkansas Women Bloggers, Tweeting from the conference, learning stuff, eating.
  6. Working at my day job.
  7. Running errands on my lunch breaks (when I usually try to write, read or listen to webinars).
  8. Zoning out instead of doing anything productive at home (except for the nights I stayed up late working on my presentation).
  9. Various combinations of the above.

We got home Sunday evening from the conference, and my first post for the Arkansas Women Bloggers site was due. I’m Blogger of the Month for September! I took a little nap first (I was not only tired but sick), then I got up to write the post. I turned it in on deadline: at 11:59 p.m.! 🙂

I’ve been feeling the ARWB love the past few weeks. First, I was honored to be invited to lead a session at the conference, then to be Miss September. (Hence, the headline – a reference to a famous movie line. Did you catch it? Also, since Baptist Health followed me around with cameras a couple of years ago, I’ve been known around the house as Diva. It’s OK, though; Bruce has his own special title: Diva Driver.)

No, I haven’t forgotten you, and I wanted to make sure you knew that I’m committed to being consistent here but just have been close to burnout a few times lately.

I’m tired, but my commitment to Suzy & Spice is still strong.

Stay tuned for an announcement about some things I have in the works. I hope you’ll be as happy as I am about them.


FakingBalanceCoverA special note: If you need a few good laughs, check out fellow Arkansas Women Bloggers member Lela Davidson’s new book, Faking Balance: Adventures in Work and Life. It came out yesterday, and I got a copy (autographed!) when she spoke Friday night at our conference. I’ve been reading her first book, Blacklisted from the PTA (same link as above), because I like to do things in order (I’m weird like that). But I know that Faking Balance is going to be just as good as Blacklisted. (Her second book, Who Peed on my Yoga Mat? is on my nightstand ready to go.)

Happy reading!

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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.


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.


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

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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 – C.S. Lewis

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


First edition dust wrapper of “The Screwtape Letters.” Photo copyright is believed to belong to the publisher, Geoffrey Bles, or the cover artist. My use of the image falls under the “fair use” section of U.S. copyright law.


When the world lost renowned author, speaker and university professor C.S. Lewis, the event was barely a blip on the newswire in the United States.

Nov. 22, 1963

As England mourned the beloved creator of Narnia, Perelandra and Glome, the world was reeling from the shock and devastation of U.S. President John F. Kennedy’s assassination an ocean away.

(A third momentous death that day: philosopher and author Aldous Huxley’s – also overshadowed by the JFK tragedy.)

I was six days shy of my first birthday on this date, and it would be a quarter-century before I discovered the pleasures and intellectual stimulation of Clive Staples Lewis (known to close friends as “Jack”) and his unique way of expressing theological truths.

I can’t explain exactly why Lewis’ words resonate so deeply in my soul. They just do.

Clive Staples Lewis

Maybe it’s because he was an atheist-turned-Christian; for me, that gives his words greater weight than those of someone who has never really wrestled with faith issues. Lewis once called himself “the most reluctant convert of all time.” But, despite doubts, he weighed the evidence and came out on the side of God and the resurrected Jesus.

(I, too, struggle in my quest for truth; things don’t always make sense. But I keep seeking, and when I seek, I find. Lewis is one of the ways I find.)

But it’s also because he had a unique way of making complex ideas seem simple, using analogies from the everyday, the common. (A modern-day equivalent is Tim Keller. Apologists like Lewis and Keller help me work through my questions.)

In my opinion, my first Lewis book is still his best. The first time I read it, in my mid-20s, I found Mere Christianity to be complex and deep yet simple, albeit a bit intimidating. I read it again last year and found it to be profoundly wonderful, still complex and yet straightforward and simple all at the same time. (I wish I had his way of making this sound sensible.)

My second Lewis book – The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe (Book 1 in “The Chronicles of Narnia”) – was equally wonderful but in a completely different way. The Narnia books have entranced not only me but millions of readers throughout the decades.

His way of expressing theological ideas engaged even young fiction lovers, with whom he corresponded:

“As to Aslan’s other name, well I want you to guess. Has there never been anyone in this world who (1.) Arrived at the same time as Father Christmas. (2.) Said he was the son of the Great Emperor. (3.) Gave himself up for someone else’s fault to be jeered at and killed by wicked people. (4.) Came to life again. (5.) Is sometimes spoken of as a Lamb (see the end of the Dawn Treader). Don’t you really know His name in this world? Think it over and let me know your answer!” 

– C.S. Lewis, in response to an 11-year-old girl who had sent him her
drawings and a letter of appreciation for the first three Chronicles of Narnia

Although these two books are perhaps his best sellers, Lewis wrote many others. I haven’t read them all, I confess. A few weeks ago, a longtime friend gave me a copy of Till We Have Faces, which I had never attempted to read. (I wish I had read it before writing this post.) My friend had such an odd reaction, and she was sure that I, too, would think the book extremely strange. So it sits on my nightstand, waiting its turn; I can’t wait to dig in.

Lewis also wrote about his conversion to Christianity (Surprised by Joy, [joy was a topic that came up frequently in his writings]), marriage late in life to Joy Davidman, Joy’s death (A Grief Observed) and heaven and hell (The Great Divorce). Another favorite of mine: The Screwtape Letters, a fictional account of correspondence between veteran demon Uncle Screwtape and his demon-in-training nephew Wormwood.

A movie, Shadowlands, chronicles Lewis and Davidman’s relationship and her death; the theatrical release stars Anthony Hopkins and Debra Winger; the PBS version features Joss Ackland and Claire Bloom.

Here are links to Lewis’ works:

And then there’s this exciting recent news of a discovered letter.

Two other books of note (not penned by Lewis but inspired by him) – one fiction and one nonfiction:

  • A Severe Mercy by Sheldon Vanauken. Vanauken and his wife, “Davy,” were friends and correspondents of Lewis’, and this book details the couple’s life and love, Davy’s death and some of the letters between them and Lewis. You won’t always agree with their choices, but you’ll gain something from this beautiful book.

Note that I’ve linked you to CSLewis.com for many of the books. I’m sure you can find most or all of them at lower prices at a mainstream bookseller such as Amazon. The choice is yours.

Happy reading!

UPDATE: After I published this post, I discovered that my friend Lois at Waxing Gibbous had also written about C.S. Lewis today. And it’s not even his birthday! (She wrote about Narnia. Check it out.)


Tomorrow: M is for music.

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A good night for storytelling

PoachersPage_withAutographIt was a dark and stormy night.

No, really. It was.

It was a night for storytelling and books, two of my favorite things.

It was dark, yes. Cold.

And it poured rain. But that didn’t keep a few dozen people – me, a few ladies from my monthly reading group, some bespectacled academics and a handful of students (who weren’t ready to admit they were there by coercion) – from enjoying an hour or so of conversation with bestselling novelist Tom Franklin at Lyon College in Batesville.


Franklin, 2015 winner of the Leila Lenore Heasley Prize at Lyon, read excerpts from a couple of of his books – Poachers (a short-story collection), Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter (I’m reading that one, and we had a quiz about the title in a recent post, remember?) – and, as far as I can tell, an anthology that contains one of his stories (“The Safety Man”), before he took audience questions.

Despite fiddling with my camera and two dead batteries for several minutes during the readings, I had thought of a bucketload of questions, but when Q&A time came, this is what I managed to ask:

“What’s your favorite Stephen King book?” (Different Seasons.)

I am so brilliant.

But, shoot, he had already answered some of my questions as he talked about his books, his writing process, his influences (King among them), his beautiful and brilliant poet wife – the whole writing thing. And I couldn’t think of anything more substantial, more thoughtful – something that made it obvious I had been paying attention.


Afterward, when I stood in line to wait for Mr. Franklin to autograph my books (I bought Poachers and Crooked Letter), I asked my second-most-brilliant question: “What’s your favorite book of your own?”

Smonk,” he said, without hesitation.

He had sold out of that one before I got up to the table, and I was disappointed. Until he said:

“It’s not for everyone.”

It’s extremely violent and sexually explicit, he said.

His mother cried for three days after she read it.

Well, shoot. I wanted to read all of his books. Now I’m not so sure. I certainly don’t want to make my own mother cry. I’m very curious about this book, though.

It’s not that I’m into extremely violent, sexually explicit fiction (or nonfiction). In fact, just the opposite is true. But I am into good writing. I’ve spent a lot of time lately trying to read good writing, especially fiction, in the hopes that it will make me a better writer. Is reading a sexually explicit, extremely violent novel worth it? Will it be helpful? (I ask myself that question a lot.)

I’m going to have to do some praying on that. Yep, some serious praying. I will let you know. (I wouldn’t even be having this conversation – this inner battle – if I hadn’t met the author last night and really liked him. I also am enjoying Crooked Letter, which I’m about half-finished reading. It is not sexually explicit or extremely violent – so far – although I would clean up the language a bit if I were writing it. But that’s just me.) (Update: I’m not going to read Smonk.)

Then I asked about Edgar Allan Poe, one of my favorites since childhood (maybe why I picked up Stephen King in 10th grade), because the story “Poachers” won Franklin a Poe award for best mystery story a few years ago. Poe invented the short story, my new writer friend said with a smile.

So, even though I’m only halfway through my first Tom Franklin novel, I have a feeling this is just the beginning of a beautiful friendship.

Meanwhile, this evening in small-town Arkansas promises to be another dark and stormy night. Maybe a little snow or freezing rain.

Perfect for curling up with a couple of dogs and a good murder mystery.

Hello again, Chabot, Mississippi.

Who’s your favorite mystery writer?

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Weekly Wrap-up – Feb. 22, 2015

Friends, the weekend is about over, and I’m just sitting down to write the Weekly Wrap-up. I’m staying up past my bedtime just for you. 🙂

I’m trying to read Evernote Essentials finally (I downloaded the ebook in October or November) – so I can make the best use of the awesome productivity tool known as Evernote. I have just scratched the surface.

I thought I was clipping some URLs from websites into Evernote for the Wrap-up, but, alas, I apparently missed a step and will have to rely on the gazillion tabs I still have open in Firefox, the flagged emails I saved in Outlook and my poor, feeble memory. (Uh-oh.)

So here is the week in review:


AllGirlFillingStation_coverA few weeks ago I started reading Unbroken before I got sidetracked by some required reading. Now I’m back. When I heard about the movie, and that it was based on a Laura Hillenbrand book about Olympic miler Louie Zamperini, I thought it was going to be about his running career. Wrong. It’s mostly about his time in World War II. (I don’t want to spoil anything, but right now he and a buddy are in the middle of a 40-something-day stint in a rubber raft in the Pacific after their plane went down. And there are LOTS of sharks.)

As I was reading about WWII and the warplanes and the pilots and crew, it brought to mind a book I read last year for my monthly reading group. (Actually, I listened to the audio version during my long runs.) This wasn’t a novel I would have chosen, but I like Fannie Flagg so I gave it a whirl. The All Girl Filling Station’s Last Reunion wasn’t at all what I expected. The all-girl part was a group of sisters who worked at their dad’s filling station in Wisconsin (“Hiya, pal!”). But after their brother went off to war, three of the four sisters became pilots – Women Airforce Service Pilots, to be exact – and that’s where it got interesting. It was fiction, but I felt that I learned a little bit about a segment of our nation’s history that I had never studied: the WASPS. I’ll let you read up on that for yourself, here.

I’m also still reading C.S. Lewis’ The Screwtape Letters for another discussion group. We meet at 6:30 a.m. every other Thursday at McDonald’s. I love these discussions! And then there are the two church-group books I’m reading. Those discussions have been great, too, and very thought provoking. Maybe I’ll talk about those two books later.

So that’s the book part. Here’s what I’ve been reading on the Internet:

  • My friend Alison, whose four kids are hurtling toward adulthood, has a soft spot for babies, and perhaps an even softer spot for struggling moms. Read her story about babies on a plane.

(Sidebar: In a bit of serendipity, I “introduced” Alison to Elissa via separate emails, as they are both expats living in Scotland at the present, and after looking at Alison’s blog Elissa told me they seem to know a few of the same people. I’m so eager to see where this goes!)

#7: You Become Free.

“At first we hug our boundaries in chains. We think ‘if we tell the girl we like her, she might not like me back.’ We think, ‘If I say I like this candidate, my friends might hate me.’ If I say X, everyone else might say Y. And so on. But more and more we start to feel where those boundaries are and we push them out. We push them further and further away from ourselves. Until finally they are so far away it’s as if they don’t exist at all. You don’t need money for that. Or a big house. Or a fancy degree or car. Every day, just push out those boundaries a little further. … Eventually, the boundaries are so far away we begin to feel the pleasures of true freedom.”

Push the boundaries. I’m workin’ on it.

  • Altucher wrote a book called “Choose Yourself.” I understand the sentiment: He’s not telling us to be selfish but to stick up for ourselves. That’s one way of looking at it. But Thomas McGreevey challenges us to “Love With Abandon.”

I’ll choose that.

What have you been reading lately? Spill the beans!

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Weekly Wrap-up – Feb. 7, 2015

Words that came to mind as I read through this week’s posts.

I continue to be inspired by folks I’ve met online via the Your Turn Challenge.

A few of us (two dozen, maybe?) are regulars on the Facebook page that was set up during the challenge, and many of them continue to “ship” every day. Every single day. They have caught the bug!

I’ve been a member of another blogger group for a while, but most of those writers are Southern chicks (whom I love), and, while each one offers a fresh perspective not only on what it means to be a woman living in the South (or a Southern woman living elsewhere) but on what it means to be a part of the human race, I wasn’t expecting this new perspective. For these Southern women and their blogs I’m grateful; they bring me joy and inspiration.

But this new group – this “tribe” from the YT Challenge – was an unexpected source of joy and inspiration, too. These writers inspire me from all over the world, all sorts of backgrounds (writers, musicians, martial artists, glassblowers, teachers, scientists, marketing gurus, attorneys, Renaissance men, feminists, home-schoolers … and some of those even come in the same package!), every age and level of life experience. Just … gosh!

So, for the past couple of weeks, those guys are the ones I’ve been reading online. And until some of them get tired of posting every day (not all of us can keep it up indefinitely), I’ll be reading them and sharing some of their posts with you, along with other discoveries that make me laugh, smile, think or do.

Here’s the Weekly Wrap-up for Feb. 7, 2015.

At my monthly reading group this week, I learned three things of note:

  • LyonCollegeSpringEvents2015.JPGI wasn’t the only one who couldn’t get into the February book, Swimming by Nicola Keegan. In fact, only one of us read the entire book before Tuesday’s meeting. (I do plan to read it all. Eventually.)
  • Our March meeting will be a field trip! Southern novelist and Heasley Prize winner Tom Franklin will be in town on our usual meeting night (March 3), so we’re going to hear him at Lyon College. I might even take a super-early lunch break that day and attend the “public interview” with Franklin. And I definitely plan to try out his books (two are available at our county library), as I’d never heard of him until Tuesday. Here’s his Amazon page.

Bonus points if you can tell me where the phrase Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter (the title of Franklin’s 2010 novel) came from. (If your mama is from the South, as mine is, you learned this as a child.)

  • Harper Lee’s first novel, “Go Set A Watchman” (the story that she rewrote that became the Pulitzer Prize-winning To Kill a Mockingbird, one of my top 3 favorites), will be released July 14. How in the heck did I miss that? Preorders have already reached No. 1 on Amazon, and Mockingbird orders had reached No. 1 as of Friday. According to The Wall Street Journal article, the news of this long-forgotten manuscript’s release “has captivated and shocked the literary world.” Well, yeah.

EricRovnerGraphicSpeaking of reading, I was happy to see YTC tribe member Eric’s admonition, Never Stop Reading. In the past year, through my book group and the great suggestions of an author friend, I’ve rediscovered the joys of fiction, although nonfiction continues to maintain its tight grasp on me. But whatever reading you do, keep doing it – and if you’re a parent, teach your kids the importance of reading (teach them to love it by reading to them when they’re young). Eric even offers a suggestion that takes away the excuse, “I don’t have time to read.”

ElissaJoyWattsGraphicI linked to Elissa’s blog last week, and after reading just a few posts, I can already tell I’ll be sharing her with you again. Not only does she express herself beautifully, she writes about things I like to read about (even things I didn’t know I was interested in!). Win-win! This time she asked me (and you, too, by proxy) if I want to get vulnerable, take a risk and join her in a new adventure. Read what she means by Who Wants to Get Naked? I said yes.

RandallHartmanGraphicRandy wants to inspire the over-50 crowd that it’s not too late to make a difference. As a 52-year-old (who still feels like a 26-year-old, except for those days when my body creaks like it’s 104), I applaud him for dedicating himself to proving that we’re still vital members of the human race and have wisdom, insights and the ability to act on our convictions. From Randy’s About page:

“My goal is to provide a place where we assemble a tribe that invades and conquers life after 50. This is more than surviving. This is about exploring, thriving and conquering.” YES!

LivingTheWhatIfLifeGraphicThe Incognito Blogger finds stories that inspire her (and us) to “Prepare, Go Hard and Don’t Quit.” In this post she asks, What are you willing to go through in order to reach your goals? The words in the graphic at the top of my post are largely the words that popped into my head when I read these stories, and especially when I viewed the short video of James Robertson. Be sure to watch that; it really is short. (And I have a feeling it would inspire Randy Hartman.)

I wish I could share every single good thing I’ve read this week, because there is much, much more (I said that last week, didn’t I?). There are just so many good things out there, if you know where to find them. The Weekly Wrap-up is my way of helping you find them. I hope you enjoy the list.




What have you been reading?

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Weekly Wrap-up, the inaugural edition

I’m starting a new feature at Suzy & Spice. I read a lot, and I usually find an abundance of things I’m eager to share. I hope you find something you like each week. This week’s offering includes books, tech tips, writing lessons, Olympians and more.

Enjoy the first edition of Weekly Wrap-up, and please join in the fun by sharing your comments below.

I realized yesterday that I’m reading books concurrently in three formats:

  • The Boys in the Boat by Daniel James Brown (Audible.com version, narrated by the wonderful [and recently departed] Edward Hermann). It’s about the University of Washington’s 1936 Olympic rowing team. Fascinating, engrossing, inspiring. This book was recommended by an author friend of mine, Conrad Wesselhoeft, who might be just a little biased – he grew up in Seattle. He recommended it after I told him I was reading Unbroken, also about a 1936 Olympian (another excellent read).
  • Swimming by Nicola Keegan (Kindle version on my iPad). This is the February pick for my local book group. Ironic – it’s a novel about an Olympic swimmer (but I didn’t pick it). We meet Tuesday, and I’m way behind (I should be reading instead of writing, eh?). So far this book hasn’t grabbed me, although it begins with narration by an infant, so at least it’s not boring.
  • On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft by Stephen King (hard copy checked out from the county library). Yes, the horror novelist is teaching me how to write good. Conrad recommended the audio version of this book, too, but my 30-day trial of Audible allows only one free book and since this one was in the library, I took it. This book is humorous, insightful and honest. (I used to devour Stephen King books, after being totally creeped out by my first one, The Shining, in 11th grade. I haven’t read one since Misery.)
  • The Screwtape Letters by C.S. Lewis (Kindle for iPad, $2.99). I have a battered old paperback copy of this, somewhere, but seem to have misplaced it or loaned it out. I’m involved in a weekly reading group that’s discussing the book, so I decided to buy the Kindle version. So very worth it, although I would say the same about all of Lewis’ books, as he’s my favorite author.
  • I’m not counting the books I’m reading for: small group and a class at church. Those books are just one chapter every week or two. (But they’re hard copies, and they’re both good. I’ll tell you about them someday.)

As regular readers here know, I recently completed a seven-day blogfest, the Your Turn Challenge (here are my 7 posts). Now there’s a Facebook page, lots of the 600 bloggers have continued “shipping” every day, and I’ve made some neat new friends. They inspire, encourage and inform me, including:

  • This podcast from Andy Stitt on SEO, Google Analytics and Google webmaster tools. (If you blog or have a website, you know.)
  • Tara Sophia Mohr eloquently expresses some things I knew deep inside but haven’t been able to express. Here, she tells us to Give It Words.
  • And, hey, look at this! Someone else has been inspired by an Olympic rower. (This one is still alive.) Read about Robin Thomas’ brush with greatness.
  • James Schmeling gives me a glimpse into a world I wasn’t aware of. In his world of “academic intrapreneurship,” his institution helps teach and train veterans and their families. This idea is intriguing, and something I want to know more about.
  • I have much more. Much more. But this is a lot already, so I’ll leave you to ponder the lesson in this delightful piece by Elissa Joy Watts on waiting until it’s right. (And, wouldn’t you know, she has written about a book that I’m now dying to read. But I’ll save that for later.)

I hope you’ve enjoyed the first edition of Weekly Wrap-up. Please tell me what parts of it you liked, or maybe didn’t like. Let’s swap stories.

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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.)


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.)


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?


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.

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


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.)


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.)


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!


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.


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.


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 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.


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.”


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.


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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Top 10 Tuesday – book characters at my lunch table

Today’s post is inspired by The Broke and the Bookish. Here’s my list of the “Top Ten Book Characters That Would Be Sitting at my Lunch Table,” listed in no particular order:

  1. Nancy Drew and The Hardy Boys. (Does that count as three?) Not only did I read as many of these mysteries as I could get my hands on when I was in grade school and junior high, I faithfully watched the corresponding TV shows in the late 1970s. Remember that? Pamela Sue Martin as Nancy Drew, and the dreamy Parker Stevenson and Shaun Cassidy as Frank and Joe Hardy. A weekly must-see TV! Runner-up: Trixie Belden, another girl detective (remember her?).
  2. AnneOfGreenGablesCoverAs Tara mentioned in her Running ’N’ Reading post, Anne Shirley of the Anne of Green Gables series. That Anne (“spelt with an ‘e’ ”) sure could get herself into some messes, couldn’t she? (Remember the green hair?) Anne was certainly braver than I was at her age, but I grew into the stick-your-foot-into-your-mouth habit quite nicely, thank you. “But if you only knew how many things I want to say and don’t.” Love that girl! (I still wouldn’t walk the ridge pole of a house, though, no matter who dared me!)
  3. LittleWomenCoverJosephine March of Little Women and Jo’s Boys. Jo was a tomboy (jumping fences, whistling, running through the woods), but she loved her very feminine sisters fiercely. Her affection for young Beth was heartwarming, and Jo’s book “My Beth” was a big sister’s tender tribute after the family’s loss of the shy and timid “Bethy.” And could anyone forget when she cut off her beautiful long hair to pay for Marmee’s trip to visit the wounded Father away at war? Another girl who wasn’t afraid to speak her mind, Jo demonstrated a courage to stand alone in a crowd.
  4. ToKillAMockingbirdAtticus and Scout Finch in To Kill a Mockingbird. Yes, I loved Jem, too, but Atticus and his precocious daughter, Scout, really stole my heart (besides, Scout is the narrator). The entire family was colorblind, but the book is really told from 5-year-old Scout’s perspective, so we get more of her courage (again, speaking her mind, but in a more innocent way) and, of course, her observations shined light on the actions of her hero daddy. I love the scene (maybe just in the movie – not sure about the book) where she meets Boo Radley up close, says “Hey, Boo,” then walks over and takes his hand. (Am I getting that right?) I may invite Boo to lunch, too. He was a kind soul.
  5. Cynthia Kavanagh of the Mitford series. She always had a positive attitude. In fact, her husband, Father Tim (a bachelor until he was in his 60s), would often say to her, “Is there anything you don’t love?” I’d delight in having lunch (church potluck, perhaps?) with the entire small town of Mitford, N.C., including Tim’s big ol’ Scripture-loving dog, Barnabus. It’s been several years since the last book in this series came out … or so I thought. While fetching a link for this post, I discovered that a new book in the series became available TODAY! Woot! (Note to husband: My birthday is nearly three months away; you need not wait that long to shower me with the gift of another Mitford book.)
  6. Fahrenheit451CoverGuy Montag of Fahrenheit 451. Guy was a firefighter who used to seek out and burn books (it was his job), but then he decided to read one, and it changed him – as books tend to do. Once he realized that he’d rather read books than burn them, he became a fugitive. His actions took much courage. If you haven’t read this book, read it. It will make you think.
  7. PrideAndPrejudiceCoverLizzie Bennett of Pride and Prejudice. Is it OK for me to admit that I’ve never read the book but have seen at least two movie versions of Pride and Prejudice? (No one said I had to read the book to love the character!) Elizabeth Bennett has been a well-loved literary character for decades … and, gee whiz, I just realized she’s another well-spoken, albeit a quick-to-speak-slow-to-listen chick. I guess I like that type of girl! And, gee whiz, I guess I need to visit the library and get this book! Like, right now!
  8. EBWhiteBoxSetCharlotte of Charlotte’s Web. How many spiders do you know who would give their lives for a friend – even a pig friend? And Stuart of Stuart Little – a little guy with a big heart. Both of these are E.B. White characters, and if you haven’t read the books, do! The Trumpet of the Swan is good, too, but for the life of me I can’t remember much about it. I just remember that I liked it. It is part of the E.B. White boxed set that includes Charlotte’s Web and Stuart Little. (Just had to include a plug for the boxed set – even if my memory is terrible!)
  9. TheGivingTreeCoverThe apple tree in The Giving Tree. “Once there was a tree…and she loved a little boy.” If you haven’t read Shel Silverstein’s classic children’s book about the tree that sacrifices itself for a boy’s pleasure, please check it out. I don’t want to spoil the story, so that’s all I’m going to say about it, except this: It reminds me of Jesus’ sacrificial love for us.
  10. TheVelveteenRabbitCoverThe velveteen rabbit from The Velveteen Rabbit. Again, a story about an inanimate object (or is it?) that loves a boy, even when the boy grows too old to play with it. “ ‘Real isn’t how you are made,’ said the Skin Horse. ‘It’s a thing that happens to you. When a child loves you for a long, long time, not just to play with, but REALLY loves you, then you become Real.’ ”

I guess I got a little mushy toward the end of my list, eh? 🙂

Update 9/3/14, honorable mention: As I made my Top 10 list yesterday, I wanted to include one of my childhood favorites, A Dog for Susie, but I couldn’t remember the dog’s name. But as I ran this morning, I was listening to the last few chapters of an audiobook that I was supposed to finish for book group this week. Wouldn’t you know, in the last 2 minutes of the book, the main character’s husband brought home a great Dane, a rescue dog named Rufus.

“RUFUS!” I said to myself. “That’s the dog for Susie!” In fact, in the book, Susie had the same reaction when she finally came up with a name for her own “rescue dog” (a mutt she stumbled upon): “RUFUS!” So Rufus from A Dog for Susie gets an honorable mention, but if I had remembered his name sooner he would have been in the Top 10. 🙂

What book characters would you love to have at your lunch table?

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