Multifunction dogs

Suzy with Pepper, Bruce with Salsa. Chase Race and Paws, Conway, Ark., March 10, 2012.

At our house, we have a multifunction printer. It does three things: prints, scans, copies – hence its model name, HP 750PSC.

But that ain’t nothin’ compared to our multifunction dogs, whose functions are too multiple to mention in one blog post – too numerous to sum up with a succinct model name. I’ll stick to the highlights.

In some ways, our canines’ services are similar and work in tandem; in other ways, they are different yet still complementary. A few examples:

Emergency Response System (ERS): The girls (or the Spice Dogs, as we like to call them) carry out this function in various ways, not all of them necessarily effective. Salsa (ERS Dog 1) barks a warning – loudly – when she encounters something she perceives as evil. In this category would be squirrels, cats, large flying insects, leaves falling from trees, vampire bats, snakes, representatives of the U.S. Postal Service and small children on bicycles. Pepper (ERS Dog 2), on the other hand, cannot be relied on in emergencies, as she barks at whatever moves or breathes in her general vicinity. That includes people entering the kitchen to feed her, people trying to have a conversation over her head (and many things are over her head) and subtle movements of the human body (for instance, crossing or uncrossing one’s legs, reaching for a tissue or taking a sip of one’s beverage – all perceived as evil acts that must be addressed. Loudly).

Pepper likes to make her opinions known. A lot. And you never know when you’ll get one.

Cleanup Crew: Both Spice Dogs are punctual and efficient at taking care of unwanted food, or food that has dropped to the floor, your lap or, in Pepper’s case, within 100 feet of where she’s sitting. When food falls, she’s Johnny on the Spot. I occasionally time Pepper when I feed the girls breakfast. When she was on dry food: 12 seconds to consume her little 2-ounce scoop (she doesn’t chew, she inhales). Now that she’s on canned food (very specific reason for that – more later), I’ve seen her suck it down in a flat three seconds. Right before she burps – loudly. This dog weighs 3.9 pounds and could put a third-grade boy to shame with one of her belches.

Pepper puts Salsa under the table, so to speak, when it comes to eating. In fact, helping Salsa eat is one of Pepper’s many food-related functions. When we got Salsa from the animal shelter in August 2005, it was hard to get her to finish her food. She’d rather play. The experts said to keep her on a schedule, putting her food away after a few minutes if she didn’t eat it. I established a twice-daily meal schedule and began following the suggestions. It helped some, but she’d still rather play and would leave her dish unattended. Same with Potty Outside. I followed expert advice, taking her out on the leash (even though our yard was fenced), walking her back and forth along a short strip of real estate and repeating “Go potty” over and over and over. In the summer, I often gave up after about 20 minutes. Too dang hot to stay out there trying to get her to poop.

The acquisition of Dog 2 changed all that. We inherited Pepper (long story) from relatives (who inherited her from other relatives) on Thanksgiving Day 2005 – three months after we got Salsa. Now, with Salsa and the bowl of food, there was the threat of another little dog stealing what was rightfully Salsa’s. So Salsa started finishing her food before being sent outside to potty. I’m not sure what did the trick on the Potty Outside, but that miraculously resolved itself with Dog 2’s arrival.

Pepper sleeping under her bed. Yes, that’s her tiny heiny peeking out.

Bed Warmer: If we ever worried about being cold in our house, such as during a power outage in the winter, those fears were set aside when Multifunction Dog 2 (also known as Our Little Space Heater) came along. The first night she was with us, Pepper slept curled up in a tiny ball right under my chin. I tolerated that for one night, but if you know me, you know that I have to have near-perfect conditions for sleeping, and having a dog for a beard ain’t one of them. The second night, Pepper slept curled up at my back so that if I tried to roll over, I’d have to disturb her beauty sleep or risk flattening her. Also not ideal, although I did come up with a work-around (which I won’t bore you with). Before long, I had the brilliant idea to put her little doggy bed on top of our king-size bed and pile it with fleece blankets. She burrowed under (under the doggy bed itself, actually) and was more or less content. She is a burrower. (Bonus fact: Pepper fits inside one of Bruce’s sweatshirt pockets.) She’d much rather be glued to a human being than in her little bed, but the bed suffices. Because if Mama don’t get no sleep, ain’t nobody happy. And lest I forget Salsa’s function in this category, let’s just say she, too, is happy to be a bed warmer but knows how to take a hint.

Party Animal: When we take the Spice Dogs to events (festivals, farmers markets, Nanny’s house [where the “event” is a treat they’re not allowed at home]), they get a lot of attention. Pepper gets most of it because she’s tee-tiny and can be picked up by small children and generally doesn’t mind being handled. (Our girls are people dogs.) Salsa is just too happy to be out among people, smells and the occasional dropped hot dog to care that everybody loves tiny little Pepper. Everyone loves tiny little Pepper because they don’t live with her. She may be cuter, but Salsa is by far the gentler, more humble (although not always the quieter) of the duo. When given a treat, Pepper will race up, snatch it out of your hand and zoom away to her treat-eating spot without saying thank you. She acts like it’s the last morsel of food she will ever receive, and you have to count your digits in the aftermath. Salsa trots up, looks at you for a second with her soulful brown eyes, gently (really: gently) takes the dog biscuit from your hand and trots away to her designated treat-eating spot. Which brings me to …

Creature of Habit. If ever we could learn something valuable from our dogs, it’s in the area of consistency. For instance, each dog has a precise spot where she likes to eat her treats. And Pepper can tell time with her biorhythms. She knows when it’s precisely 7 p.m. (the final evening-treat time) or any other time she’s entitled to get a free piece of food. Salsa knows when it’s 4 a.m. and time to be let outside to alert the neighbors to the presence of squirrels, falling leaves, vampire bats and what-not. And you never know when a kid on a bike may be riding past the house at 4 o’clock in the morning.

Public Service Announcer: This is really Pepper’s function alone. She lets us know when Salsa should go outside, when Salsa should be let in or when Salsa is occupying her sister’s spot on the couch or the bed. And she is not above subterfuge. Pepper likes to sit outside on the deck in a sunny spot, or occasionally just inside the sliding door in a sunny spot on the carpet. When the sun moves, Pepper’s sunny spot moves, and sometimes action must be taken. If Salsa happens to be in Pepper’s newly positioned sunny spot, Pepper will helpfully let us know that Salsa would like to get up and go outside (or come inside). Sometimes we misunderstand, assuming that Pepper herself wants out or in, but we quickly realize that she just wanted the sunny spot vacated so she could take up residence.

Pepper also helpfully announces to us that she has just made potty on the floor. This is usually about 30 seconds after she has made an announcement that we misunderstood as a need to go outside to potty. It might be 2 a.m., but we’ve learned not to ignore her when she wakes us up like that – just in case it’s legit. We’ll go to the door, assuming she’ll trot right over and go out. She’ll stand 12 feet away looking at us, we’ll grumble and go back to bed (or back to whatever we were doing), and a half-minute later we’ll hear another announcement: “Hey, look what I did! I peed on the carpet! Again! Clean it up!” She’s very helpful and conscientious in that way.

Reminder of the Delicate Balance of Nature: In the aforementioned Cleanup Crew category, I alluded to Pepper’s switch from dry to canned food. My awareness of this necessity came quite by accident. Pepper had been sick, and the vet put her on soft food for a few days. One morning I noticed that when she ate the canned food, she didn’t run up on Salsa and antagonize her after sucking down her own food. It was almost vicious, this daily exchange over Salsa’s food dish. I would have to yell at Pepper in order to break up the fights, which almost came to physical violence sometimes. I thought the wet-food phenomenon might be an anomaly, so the next morning I gave Pepper dry food and stood by to watch. Sure enough, she “attacked” Salsa again. Morning 3: wet food, no fighting. So now we spend a little extra to buy canned food for Princess Pepper so that she will leave her sister alone at mealtime. Little twerp.

Morale Officer: When Bruce had his latest Crohn’s disease flare-up, his buddy Salsa may have saved him. She might not have saved his life, literally, but she saved his morale. In early 2007, Bruce had to quit working full time and before long couldn’t work at all. By October, he didn’t have a job. We had to sell his vehicle, so he didn’t have transportation during the day – even if he had felt like leaving the house – because I had to leave my work-from-home freelance job to get a 60-hour-a-week position with health insurance (but no overtime pay). The lingering effects of this flare-up lasted until 2010, so Bruce considered himself nothing more than a dog-sitter for a really long time. (Bruce literally learned to speak Dog. He could identify what was going on outside by Salsa’s different bark sounds.) And, yes, Pepper is a morale officer, albeit a more aloof one. She’s somewhat like a cat; if you can’t do something for her (feed her, keep her warm, toss her squeaky toy), she’s not always interested in your company. But she, too, is a constant presence and cuddly companion.

Loyal Buddy: We complain about soiled carpet, hairy furniture, middle-of-the-night prowl-fests, stinky blankets, loud barking and the fact that we can’t go anywhere for very long on the spur of the moment (it’s almost like having small children), but we wouldn’t trade our Spice Dogs for any amount of money, any material possession or any other creature on the planet. We’ve grown quite attached to the little goons.

The Spice Dogs. They’re stuck with us. And that’s a function with multiple rewards.

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Correction about Crohn’s donations

I found out today that I’ve been giving people incorrect info about where to mail checks for my half-marathon fundraising efforts.

To recap: I’m running my first half-marathon on Sept. 22 for the Crohn’s & Colitis Foundation of America. My goal is $4,000, and I have to raise $800 of it by Monday, July 23.

I had said that checks could be mailed to the processing center in Washington, D.C. That’s wrong. The fastest way to donate is by clicking here, but if you’d prefer to pay by check, write it to “CCFA” or “Crohn’s & Colitis Foundation of America” and mail or hand-deliver it to me.

If you leave a comment below, I’ll email you my address, or if you have my email address or phone number, feel free to contact me that way. If you live, work or attend church near me and would prefer to hand me a check, we can work out the details when you contact me.

I’m updating my previous two blog posts in which I gave the bad information. Sorry about that, everyone!

And thank you for any way you are able to support me as I run for a cure for Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis.

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On running and things

Sometimes I ask myself why I love running.

Actually, it’s a love-hate relationship.

A decade ago, I most definitely did not have a love-hate relationship with running. It was a hate-hate relationship – more like a chore, one that I was eager to escape when I grew up and could do whatever I darn-well pleased.

Trouble is, I was already grown up – and out. I was overweight and needed to run, or at least to do something that would burn lots of calories and whip my sorry behind into shape. I needed to run.

But, like many of the non-running people I talk to nowadays – now that the hate-hate has turned to love-hate – I didn’t think of myself as a runner. To be a runner means you’re fast. It means you endure, you suffer, you look good in athletic shorts and tank tops and you wear an expensive GPS thingie strapped to your arm.

I wasn’t any of those.

Running was a chore. And, after a season or two, I gave up.

My very fast husband thinks he was born to be fast. (Being sidelined by a crummy, gut-wrenching disease for five years never once dampened his longing to be out there, being fast, even when he couldn’t walk from the bed to the toilet without assistance.) I would go running with him, but only when he was going to the high school track down the hill from our house, because that’s the only place he wouldn’t lose me. We’d “jog” down there, where I could keep up with him because we weren’t going off into the wild blue yonder, we were only going around and around a never-ending oval. When he was finished with his workout, I could finally take my sweaty self home – up the hill. Bleh.

The entire thing was a chore – something I “had” to do, some penance for letting myself get overweight, I suppose.

That was then. This is now.

Now we live in a new town. (Well, not so new to me, but sort of new because until 2010 I hadn’t lived here in 25 years.)

And something has changed.

The hate-hate running is now love-hate running.

Or maybe instead of love-hate it’s hate-love, because I always joke that I love it when I’m done (but not until). Bruce always gives me a funny look when I say that.

My crowd understands.

My crowd – the Crazy Ladies of Running [my strictly unofficial nickname for us] – is Bruce’s crowd, too, but most of us are female and haven’t been running for nearly four decades (in fact, one of the Crazy Ladies is just 6 years old). Bruce is male and has been running for three-quarters of his 52 years.

Some of us Crazy Ladies developed our running addiction together. We met at the Women Can Run/Walk clinic last year. As with everything like that, some participants fell away early and some stuck with it. Those who stuck with it have become a small hard-core crowd of Crazy Ladies, who’ve been together through two clinics and feel we’re not complete without a group run at least two or three times a week. (It’s like crack – I told you we’re addicted.) Along the way, we’ve picked up extra Crazy Ladies – those we didn’t know in last year’s clinic but who moved into the crack house this year.

Bruce is our coach/mother-hen/enabler. We’re his baby chicks, his Brupies, his co-dependents – at least some of us. A few of the ladies have been running long enough that they don’t need a mother hen, but we all take advice from Coach Bruce. He’s fun to have around. And frequently useful. He’ll jog back and give me a drink of Gatorade sometimes because he knows I don’t like to be overloaded with stuff when I run (hey, it’s hard enough just doing it).

Bruce is always checking on his chicks. He wants to make sure we’re all OK. I love him for that.

When I think about why I now love running, I realize that there are lots of reasons, and many of them have to do with the other Crazy Ladies, Plus Bruce.

And there are crazy guys, too, but mostly I see them at races or the monthly roadrunners club meetings. They’re my crowd, too, but a different crowd with a different dynamic. We don’t run together much – just on race days, and usually then I’m eating their dust and congratulating them on their trophies.

I love to win, but I certainly don’t run for the trophies. I can count my running awards on one hand. And none of them had anything to do with being fast, but merely showing up. Once, early last year, I took second place in my age group in a 5k. (How many women were in my age group that day? Two. But I got a medal because I showed up.)

My two other top honors have nothing to do with being fast but with guessing. Our local race-timing masters, Ken and Michelle, came up with a New Year’s Day prediction run, and since I’ve had nothing better to do on the two New Year’s mornings that I’ve lived here, I entered.

(Actually, the first time it was a fluke. I took Bruce to the event, book in hand, prepared to sit in the car and read while he ran, and, 10 minutes before the race, a couple of ladies I knew talked me into entering. I had just taken up running again about six weeks earlier and knew I wasn’t going to be fast, but I entered. And won the women’s title. How? By guessing within 17 seconds how long it would take me to “run” nearly 4 miles. The second time, I was coming off knee surgery and hadn’t run in five months, so I predicted the exact same time I had predicted last year – 50 minutes – and was off by 18 seconds. I am nothing if not consistent.)

I’m still slow, but I’m getting faster, slowly but surely.

In some areas of life, I’m impatient. In running, I have no choice but to be patient. There’s no magic wand, no flux capacitor to propel me forward in time, to a faster me.

I just have to keep showing up.

And, lest you discount just showing up, let me assure you that just showing up is 90 percent of the battle. At least for me.

For people like Bruce, who have a love-love-love relationship with running – for whom dying in a race would not be an unwelcome thing – just showing up isn’t a struggle. Showing up is life.

For people like me, it’s a struggle. I daily have to remind myself that I always – always – feel better once I’m out there. But that “always” doesn’t come until about the second mile. Every morning, when I look into the mirror and say, “I really don’t want to go out there,” I have to reply, “But you always feel this way, and you always feel better once you’ve started.”

And it’s true. Once I’m out there (after the first mile or two), I feel better. I can count on two fingers the times I’ve gone out there and not felt better once I started.

I don’t necessarily need a scientific answer for why running works for me now. Some days I search for a scientific answer, and some days I tell Bruce that I don’t need his scientific brain to help me come up with the answer. I just like running (when I’m finished). And Bruce is enough of a running freak that this is one of the rare instances for which he doesn’t have to have a scientific explanation. He just loves to run.

I don’t necessarily need a philosophical reason for why it works for me now. This hate-love relationship sometimes defies explanation, and sometimes it makes perfect sense. It depends on when you ask.

Sometimes I ask myself why I love running.

And sometimes I just go out and run.

___________________________________

I’m running my first half-marathon on Sept. 22 for the Crohn’s & Colitis Foundation of America. My goal is $4,000, and I have to raise $800 of it by July 23. If you’d like to donate, click here or mail me a check. Write your check to “CCFA” or “Crohn’s & Colitis Foundation of America.” If you leave a comment, I’ll email you my address, or if you have my email address or phone number, feel free to contact me that way.

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Running for a cure

I’m about to run the race of my life.

In a few months, two of my worlds will collide: running and Crohn’s disease. On Sept. 22 in Nashville, Tenn., I will run my very first half-marathon, about three times as long as I’ve ever run in competition.

13.1 miles – woohoo!

(Pray for my mother.)

If you’ve read my blog much, you know that I’ve been on “my journey to fitness” for more than a year. In November 2010 – about a decade after I first tried to become “a runner” – I caught the running bug for real. I started walking/running with my sister-in-law, and when her life got too busy to continue, I did it without her. It was harder to motivate myself without a buddy, but I knew I needed to do it for my health. Next thing I knew, two opportunities came along that would help me stay committed: a weight-loss competition at work, and the local women’s running clinic. I lost 28 of the 206 pounds that I started with. (In August 2011, a pesky surgeon had to operate on my knee, sidelining me for a few months, but on Dec. 31 I got back on track with the running. It took longer to get back to healthy eating.)

One of the reasons – no, dozens of the reasons – that I now love running has to do with the people.

First, there’s Bruce.

Besides Jesus, Bruce is the love of my life. He loved running way before he met me, and he has taught me so much about it. I used to go to races and watch him be fast. Whether I competed in those races or not, I was always watching Bruce be fast. God just made him that way.

And I was slow.

But not long ago, the tables turned and Bruce had to see running from my perspective. He took a five-year sabbatical from running, but it was not self-imposed. He was sidelined by Crohn’s disease. He had a flare-up that began in early 2007, and this one hung on for a very long time.

My very fast husband had to learn to stand on the sidelines and cheer while I competed in races, dragging my slow butt across the finish line from near the back of the pack. Witnessing this spectacle has been a lot less fun for him than it was for me, I can tell you. But he has kept a smile on his face, cheering and encouraging me at every opportunity.

Meanwhile, he has become quite the ladies’ man. (My husband, the chick magnet.)

At last year’s running clinic, we were short on coaches, and one evening I roped Bruce into volunteering. (It didn’t take much convincing.) When the clinic ended in mid-May, he was still volunteering and his love of running had rubbed off on the rest of us. Some of the ladies didn’t want to lose their momentum and suggested we keep going throughout the summer. Coach Bruce to the rescue!

We ladies – young and old, tall and short, plump and thin, brown and pasty-white – kept running. And running. And running.

We ran when it was 101 degrees and humid, the sun causing sweat to blind us. Sunshine or rain, we ran. We ran when we didn’t feel like running. We ran up hills – we love hills! (inside joke) – across bridges and overpasses, around tracks, through neighborhoods and even in the middle of the woods. Before long, we were running when it was cold again and our legs were so frozen they never warmed up, even after we ran 3 miles. (Anyone remember that 12-degree February morning at the river? Or the day it was a balmy 19 degrees?)

One hot day in early spring, a bunch of us even ran two races in one day. (I call us The Crazy Ladies of Running, Plus Bruce.)

And, all the while we ran, Coach Bruce was trotting along, doubling back, making sure his baby chicks were OK.

We were OK – mostly because we had a coach who cared about the slowest of the slow as much as he cared about the leaders of the pack.

No wonder the ladies love him.

Bruce has started being able to enter races again, although he will never get back the stamina he once had. Crohn’s disease has just taken too much out of him over the years. But he is our Coach Bruce. (He even has Brupies – get it? Bruce-groupies!)

Coach Bruce, pretty in pink.

And what’s great about it is that he makes it fun. His enthusiasm for running is infectious. For him, it is play, not work. (If you still don’t understand this, listen up: This man refers to hills as “speed bumps” or “extended passing zones.” He’s the crazy one!) At our women’s clinic pre-graduation pasta party this year, his Brupies presented him with a pink and black wig to match his clinic shirt. He wore it proudly, saying he hadn’t had that much hair in years!

At our running club’s Christmas party last year, Bruce won the Spirit Award, voted on by club members. He might not have been able to run in races, but he volunteered and he supported the club and the sport and the runners. (And since I was busy with work and school and never got around to writing the post I wanted to write about that, I guess this is that post.)

Bruce’s love of running and his enthusiasm for helping others to love it … this inspires me.

And so I will run the Nashville Women’s Half Marathon – my very first long-distance race – not for my love of running, which is strong, but for my love of Bruce, which is even stronger.

Crohn’s disease and its companion, ulcerative colitis (collectively known as inflammatory bowel disease, or IBD), are hideously devastating diseases. If you would like to help find a cure for this demon that plagues more than 1.4 million adults and children in the United States, please support me with monetary donations, encouragement or simply your prayers. I have to raise at least $3,200 before the race in order for the Crohn’s & Colitis Foundation of America to pay my travel expenses (at least 75 percent of the money I raise will go to research and education).

I said I was going to run the race of my life, but it’s really the race for Bruce’s life. He needs a cure for Crohn’s disease. We all do.

Let’s race together toward that goal.

Here are the ways to make a tax-deductible donation:

  • To donate online, click here.
  • To pay by check: Leave a comment here, email me, find me on Facebook or call me and I’ll give you my address or arrange to pick up the check from you.

To learn more about the Crohn’s & Colitis Foundation’s work, visit the CCFA website.

 

Thank you in advance for any way you are able to help. Together we can do this.

“Now all glory to God, who is able, through his mighty power at work within us, to accomplish infinitely more than we might ask or think” (Ephesians 3:20).

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The wait is over – but not the weight

It’s time to get back to blogging.

(I know you’ve been on the edge of your chair in anticipation of my next post. You can relax. Here it is.)

I’ve missed writing, but, to be honest, even though my class has been over for three weeks, my brain hasn’t caught up yet. I’m still mentally and physically tired.

So today I’m just going to tell you my weight (haven’t done that in months) and consider this my leap back into the blogosphere.

Yesterday I weighed 178, but this morning I weighed 178.5.

We’re in a Biggest Loser competition again at work. Week 1 was really good for me. I lost about 7.5 pounds. I say “about” because before the first weigh-in I had eaten breakfast, and before the second weigh-in I hadn’t. Not eating before a weigh-in is my typical practice. I usually visit McDonald’s on those mornings, take my breakfast to work, weigh-in, then eat.

In the past it was on Indulge Fridays, but this group decided to weigh in on Mondays, so I changed my splurge day to Indulge Monday. I weigh in and then eat what I want the rest of the day – within reason.

But yesterday, after having some lightheadedness Thursday and Bruce suggesting I might be low on iron, I decided that was an excuse for a drive-through hamburger. I hadn’t had one in so long I had forgotten what I was missing. Truth is, I didn’t enjoy it as much as I was expecting to. That’s a good thing – means I won’t be tempted to do it very often. What I really wanted was a good ribeye steak, but I didn’t see how I could get one on a quick lunch break. So I drove through Wendy’s and indulged.

Now that that’s over, I’m mostly back on track. This morning after our two-mile race we walked over to the local grocery and got an egg, bacon and cheese biscuit. Then I had chicken for lunch – a great recipe I’ll post soon – and a vegan brownie.

So here I am rambling on and on when I said I was just gonna post my weight. But you knew I couldn’t stop there. When I talk about my “journey to fitness,” I get wordy. You know I do that, but you still love me, right? You love Suzy & Spice so much you’re willing to put up with my rambling! Thanks. I appreciate it.

The wait is over. But not the weight.

Stay tuned for more rambles.

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Holy cow! I’m in chocolate heaven!

I’ve been OD’ing on chocolate this weekend.

On Food Network, that is. I can’t say that I’ve indulged in much of the actual substance lately (yeah, chocolate is a substance for me – but not a controlled substance, if you know what I mean, so I have to be careful how much I keep around the house).

Because Valentine’s Day is just a couple of days away, my favorite TV network has been spreading it on thick. Many of my favorite Food Net stars have episodes this weekend dedicated to gooey, dark, wonderful, sweet (and even savory!) bits of chocolate perfection. And since my household recently upgraded to DVR service, I can watch these shows in less time because I can skip the commercials!

But who am I kidding? I have spent just as much time watching them without the commercials because I keep rewinding through the good parts. The many, many good and gooey parts …

Am I beginning to sound obsessed? Well … maybe just a little. (Any chocoholic should understand.)

Tonight, during Alton Brown’s special, Good Eats: Turn on the Dark, I nearly got up from my chair (where I ostensibly was working on our taxes), whipped out my stand mixer and started pulling out the butter and cocoa powder. But I didn’t.

I am trying to lose weight, after all.

That’s why I was so excited when my sweet friend – or should I say my sweets-loving friend – Betsy gave me her recipe for vegan brownies, along with all the ingredients to make them. No baking required.

Betsy had offered me one of these brownies a couple of months ago, on the drive back from Hot Springs (where she won some running awards). It was love at first bite – not only because they tasted good but because they were made with such good-for-you ingredients. So I made them last weekend and took one to work with me every day. I emailed Betsy and told her they got me through a very stressful week (big deadline at work, plus my mom was in the hospital).

I know what you’re thinking: “Vegan brownies? I don’t think so.”

That is, if you even know what vegan means. A vegan (pronounced VEE-gun) is a vegetarian on steroids (OK, not literally; that would defeat the purpose). A vegan not only doesn’t eat animals (or, as Mr. Rogers would say, “anything that had a mother”), he or she doesn’t eat products that come from animals – meaning no eggs or dairy. Some (all?) vegans will not wear clothing or use other products that came from animals.

I’m sure some vegan foods are not as delicious as the typical American would like for them to be, but I believe that many non-vegans (like me) would enjoy these brownies; heck, some of you may even be as enthusiastic as I am about them. Give them a try. You don’t even have to turn on your oven (but you will have to clean your food processor).

Note 1: Betsy brought me certain ingredients that I’m quite sure she bought in Little Rock; I’ve never seen pure stevia extract at a store in Batesville (you can buy the less-intense kind at just about any store here, though), and I’m thinkin’ cacao nibs would be on that list, too. But you can improvise or make a shopping list for your next trip to the big city.

Note 2: I found that these weren’t very thick in my 8×8-inch pan, so I made a second batch and spread them a little thicker. Feel free to experiment; the original thickness may be just fine for you.

Give these a chance, and let me know what you think.

Vegan Brownies

(All ingredients preferably organic, but you can substitute where necessary.)

1 cup walnuts
8 large OR 12 medium-size pitted dates (about 1 cup)
5 tablespoons cacao powder
2 tablespoons coconut milk
1 packet pure stevia extract (powder)
pinch salt
1-2 tablespoons cacao nibs (for sprinkling on top)

In food processor, grind walnuts into a “flour” (until it’s fine but grainy). Add dates and grind until mixture is relatively smooth (it will still be grainy).

Add remaining ingredients and mix in processor until well blended. Spread in ungreased 8×8-inch pan. Press cacao nibs on top.

Store in refrigerator.

If we hadn’t eaten all the brownies I were a really good photographer, I would have a great picture of this wonderful dish. But I am not, and I do not. Use your imagination. Or just make the brownies. Then you’ll know why there are none left. And if you make them and don’t like them, just drop them by the Oakley house; we’ll be happy to solve that problem for ya.

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I feel good!

I’m supposed to be doing my homework (more on my awesome class in a future post), but I had to stop and write a few words about this:

I was actually able to leave work at quitting time today (been working lots of overtime lately), so Bruce and I got to jog together this evening before it got dark. I ran more than walked (unusual for me), and it felt soooo good.

So tonight, doing my homework, I am in a really great state of mind.

Exercise will do that for ya. If you have been sedentary and thinking about taking up some form of physical activity, let me encourage you to go ahead and get started.

It will be good for your body and your spirit.

Amen.

P.S. I forgot to post my weight Friday (Feb. 3). It was 183.5.

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Running on full

This morning, seven of us (Bruce, me and five of our merry little band of running women) tackled the racecourse of the upcoming Penguin 10k/5k for Special Olympics in Batesville.

This was our second time out this year, all of us together. We had a bigger group last week, but those of us who weren’t out of town or ill today got our behinds out of our warm beds and braved the 36-degree weather (sunny but cold) to gather our courage, our winter apparel and our timing devices to walk/jog/wog the course at 8 a.m. (The photo below is from last week – it was too cold today to get my camera phone out of my pocket!)

Catina, Lisa and Shannon (tiny dots) on the White River bridge, Saturday, Jan. 7, 2012.

I got an iPhone for my birthday a few weeks ago, and I downloaded an app called RunKeeper. It tracks my mileage, time, pace and other things that help me know how I’m doing.

Last week it tracked our run pretty accurately. We did a tiny bit more than 10 kilometers, which would be 6.2 miles. I recorded 6.5 on my app.

Today, about halfway through our workout, RunKeeper stopped “keeping” so well. We seemed to be on pace at 3.2 miles, just before we got to the golf course. But once on the course, we suddenly jumped up to 6.5 miles. By the time it was over, it had us at 16.02 miles, but in reality we had gone just 4.5, according to my buddy Phyllis’ device. (We all decided not to do the entire course – some of us had to leave to meet friends, and the rest of us decided we’d trained enough today; after all, it was only our second time at this distance for most of us after being in hibernation mode for several weeks.)

Long story short (I know: too late!), none of this really matters to me.

I am not, and never will be, an elite runner, and no matter what RunKeeper or any other wacky device tells me, I will never run a 4-minute mile.

That’s okay. I like where I am. My life is full. I have enough.

Since Bruce and I moved to Batesville in 2010, we have been happier than we have a right to be. We love our little community, we love our friends – old and new – and we love running together, whether just the two of us or with a group.

I have embarked on a journey to fitness, and it has had hills and valleys that have made me stronger, wiser and more compassionate.

I forgot to blog yesterday about my weight, but it was 3 pounds more than last Friday. Ouch.

That’s partly because I knew I was going to start tracking my food intake, and I was strongly leaning toward rejoining Weight Watchers Online because I really like Weight Watchers and I now had the capability of using the mobile app. (I had tried to find a calorie and activity tracker that I liked, but none compared to WW.)

I sort of had Jan. 14 in mind to rejoin because that’s the date I joined last year. 🙂 So I was eating like there was no tomorrow. But when the scale indicated 3 pounds heavier in just one week (188 pounds), I knew I couldn’t wait another day. I joined Friday, Jan. 13.

I’m still 18 pounds slimmer than I was a year ago, but gaining back 10 of the 28 pounds I had lost is disheartening. It makes me kinda mad at myself. I don’t want to make excuses, so I won’t mention the holidays (you can enjoy the holidays without going overboard, and I did go overboard) or my knee surgery as excuses. Those can be deterrents to weight loss, but I could have found other exercises while my knee recovered; I didn’t.

I’ve learned a lot of things in the years that I’ve been overweight, and some of them I’ve had to learn, relearn and learn again.

And that brings me to my point (you knew I had a point, didn’t you?).

I’ve been overweight for about 20 of my 49 years. In those years, I’ve read lots and lots of articles and a few books about how to lose weight. I’m glad to say I’ve never tried any of the crazy, dangerous ways. My method has always been to eat less and move more. But even the eating-less part can be unhealthy sometimes, when it’s the wrong type of food. I’m gradually learning to get rid of the stuff that isn’t so healthy and substitute good, healthy, fresh, whole foods.

But it has taken baby steps.

I have lost weight and gained it back. I have gone through periods of eating good, whole foods and periods of nasty, fattening junk foods (thank you, God, that You’ve allowed me to survive this despite my efforts to kill myself with fat and sugar).

It is a journey.

I have a couple of goals now. Previously a weight-loss/fitness goal for me was just that: all for me (and maybe my husband). Now I not only want to get healthy for me, I want to do it in a way that I learn good lessons to help others.

I’ve already learned lots of lessons – some good, some bad, although I suppose you could say that any lesson that makes you wiser is a good lesson.

If it takes me another two years to get down to a healthy weight, so what? If in that two years my journey can help someone else be wiser, gain courage and motivation and get healthy, it will be well worth it. We will learn from and gain encouragement from each other.

I don’t think I’ll ever have it all figured out. But I do believe this to be true: God intended us for community. If we can fellowship together, learn from one another and build each other up, that will make me really happy. And healthy.

“Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their labor: If either of them falls down, one can help the other up. But pity anyone who falls and has no one to help them up. Also, if two lie down together, they will keep warm. But how can one keep warm alone? Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves. A cord of three strands is not quickly broken” (Ecclesiastes 4:9-12, NIV).

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3 cheers for Three Cheese Chicken Pasta Bake

I found another great recipe a few days ago, you guys, and finally had time to bake it this evening. It’s delish, and you’d never know it’s “healthy.” (I tried to take a picture, but I don’t do so well with the lighting in my kitchen.)

If you like pasta – especially cheesy pasta, you’ll love this. If you want to get your kids to eat spinach, serve them this. Even though I love spinach in salads, I’m not a fan of the cooked variety, but with this dish, I eats me spinach (to quote a famous sailor man).

As usual, I modified the recipe a bit, but mostly just in portion sizes; this time I kept all the ingredients the same except that I added a bit of dried oregano and did not omit the salt when I cooked the pasta). It calls for an 8-inch-square pan, but I added extra everything and made more servings. (I’m giving you the recipe as I found it, plus the oregano; add to it as you like.) Also, now that I have a convection oven, I’ll be adding a note about baking temperatures to the recipes I post (you’re supposed to cut the temp 25 degrees because convection baking is more efficient).

Because I made extra, I’m going to freeze one of the cooked casseroles so that when life gets busier (as it will in a couple of weeks when my class starts), I can have a hearty dinner reheated in a flash. If you want to make ahead and freeze some of it, I’m sure you could do all but the baking step and put the frozen casserole in the oven straight from the freezer. The chicken is cooked on the stove before the baking takes place.

I also bought some whole-wheat hoagie buns (Kroger didn’t have whole-wheat dinner rolls), sliced them and added garlic butter and Parmesan before baking those garlicly wonderful pieces of heaven. (OK, so that part’s not as healthy, except to my psyche.)

Don’t  forget that I have a Recipes tab at the top of my blog now; this one’s going there. I haven’t posted a lot of recipes there yet, but this one will join them!

Dig in, friends.

Three Cheese Chicken Pasta Bake

1½  cups (12 ounces) multigrain penne pasta, uncooked
9-ounce package fresh spinach leaves
1 pound boneless, skinless chicken breasts, cut into bite-size pieces
½ teaspoon dried oregano
14.5-ounce jar spaghetti sauce
1-2 cloves garlic, minced
14.5-ounce can diced tomatoes, drained
2 ounces (1/4 of 8-ounce package) Neufchatel cheese
1 cup shredded 2-percent-milk mozzarella cheese, divided
2 tablespoons freshly grated Parmesan cheese

Heat oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit. (For a convection oven, heat to 350 degrees.)

Cook pasta as directed on package, omitting salt and adding spinach to the boiling water the last minute.

Cook and stir chicken and basil in large nonstick skillet sprayed with cooking spray on medium-high heat 3 minutes. Stir in spaghetti sauce, garlic and tomatoes; bring to a boil. Simmer on low heat 3 minutes or until chicken is done. Stir in Neufchatel.

Drain pasta mixture; return to pan. Stir in chicken mixture and 1/2 cup mozzarella. Spoon into 2-quart casserole or 8-inch-square baking dish.

Bake 20 minutes; top with remaining cheeses. Bake 3 minutes or until mozzarella is melted.

Makes 4 servings, 460 calories each.

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185 pounds

I forgot to tell you in the last post that my weight was 186 (that’s 8 pounds gained since my knee surgery and subsequent down-hill slide into indulgence).

Since I wrote that post Wednesday night (I had weighed that morning), I’ve lost a pound. Friday is my official weigh-in day, so I’ll try to remember to post each Friday. My blog-every-day plan kind of hit the skids when school started in September. It was a loooong semester.

Now that I have an iPhone (a birthday present in late November), I’m looking for a good calorie-counting app. I’m trying one out but not sure I like it. If any of you can suggest a good one, please leave a comment.

Today will be a bit of a challenge, because we’ll probably be eating at a restaurant in Memphis and I’ll have less control over the food prep. Bruce, Mom and I will be going to Southaven, Miss., for the memorial service of a dear friend, Barney Sellers, who died Monday. He was featured on the front page of Tuesday’s Batesville Guard, but you have to have a paid subscription to view more than a few paragraphs online. Here’s a link to the article in the Memphis paper, The Commercial Appeal, which is free (you have to register only if you want to post a comment).

I will write more about Barney in a future post. He was one of a kind.

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