Can’t do the Gu, and other lessons from running

I learned a few things during my 8-mile run this morning:

Gu is nasty. Gu is not for people, like me, who have a strong gag reflex.

Several running friends had told me about the taste/texture of Gu (an energy gel) when I inquired on Facebook a few weeks ago. Colyn summed it up when he said: “Gu makes me want to hurl.” (Or something like that.)

Now I get it. One swallow, one reaction: Yuck. (No, I didn’t hurl, but I had a psychedelic flashback to a 2008 medical procedure in which I had to swallow a thick, numbing gel so they could stick a scope down my throat. As I said in a previous post, there’s a reason they don’t want you to eat before these procedures.)

For sale: 1½ packets of Gu (one slightly used). Call me if you’re interested.

Watching Olympians isn’t just fun – it inspires you to do more, and better.

I watched the last 8 miles of the Women’s Olympic Marathon yesterday morning. I tell ya, those skinny chicks can run! And, no matter how many hills they encounter, they don’t slow down to a walk. Only in my wildest dreams can I imagine not walking a step during a 26.2-mile race. But today I can imagine jogging 13.1 miles without walking. (Hey, I can dream, can’t I?)

Here’s what watching 8 miles of Olympic women did for me:

Last week had turned out to be kind of an off week in my half-marathon training. Because of some unanticipated circumstances (and a dash of poor planning), I didn’t get in a long run Saturday or Sunday – both days I usually go long – so I was feeling kind of lazy.

I’m taking a vacation day today, so I had talked my night-owl husband and our young friend Sam into doing their early-Monday workout even earlier – with me – and then I kinda flaked out on them. We were going to meet at the high school at 6:30, and Sam wanted to do speed work on the trail instead of the track. Well, I can’t do speed work with Bruce and Sam (they’re much faster than I am), so I decided to do my long run by jogging to BHS instead of driving there with Bruce. It’s about 8 miles round trip, so I left at 6 a.m. (I figured Bruce would be late, anyway.)

The only time I saw either of them is when Bruce passed me in the car on his way to meet Sam. He slowed down to ask if I needed anything and then drove on.

I was going uphill when he saw me, and I was jogging, not walking. Score!

In fact, I jogged more uphills than I have in a really long time, and it was easier this time. I had gotten quite lazy in my workouts since adding distance. I told myself it was the distance or the time out there that mattered – not the actual miles per hour. So I hadn’t been increasing my speed much.

I had gotten really lazy.

The difference this morning? Determination. Inspiration. Low humidity.

I had been thinking about those Olympic chicks for 24 hours. Their perseverance really stuck with me. And then there was this Nike commercial last night during the Olympics. Did you see it?

There’s a voice-over that’s talking about “finding your greatness.” In the distance you see a jogger. As he gets closer and closer and as the voice-over continues, you realize this jogger is an overweight kid. He’s huffing and puffing, sweaty and red-faced, but he never slows down.

No, he’s not fast. But he’s not walking, either. He’s persevering. (His name is Nathan. Read about him here.)

I didn’t consciously think about that overweight boy while I ran this morning, but he must have been in the back of my mind. And I definitely thought a lot about the Olympic women. I told myself, “If they can run 26.2 miles without walking, surely I can jog up some of these little ol’ hills of Batesville.”

So I did. I jogged up several of the hills, including the Golden Overpass and the Baja. (If you don’t live in or near Batesville, Ark., let me just tell you, there’s a reason the back of our women’s running clinic shirt says “Got Hills?” We have our fair share of hills, thank you very much.)

And here’s the crazy thing: Around Mile 7, I started realizing that it was getting easier, not harder. I felt as though I could go another 3-4 miles. (I didn’t.) And in those last couple of miles before home, I kept jogging up the hills.

I was actually having fun. (Well, sort of. It is running, after all.)

Funny what an attitude adjustment can do for a person.

Having one off-week doesn’t have to derail an entire training program. I already knew that, but because the half-marathon is only seven weeks away, I got a little scared. It made me afraid I wouldn’t be able to build up to my really long run before the event. I want to do a 13.1-mile workout before I get to Nashville, and it needs to be a couple of weeks before the race. (You’re supposed to ease off on the mileage as you get close to race day.) So I’ll be cutting it close, but I’ll get there. And if I don’t get in a 13.1-mile run before race day, it’ll be okay. I know I’ll be able to finish strong, even if I don’t finish fast.

I love that my coach is also my sweetheart. Bruce has been so encouraging as I’ve journeyed through weight loss and learning to love running. Today when he got home from his workout, he said I looked thin as he drove up behind me while I jogged. I’ve learned so much from him about running, but I also revel in the fact that he loved me even before I loved running. He’s a keeper.

Running isn’t everything, but it has taught me many lessons about life. An important lesson I’ve learned, and that I will continue to learn, is that I am capable of things I never thought possible just a couple of years ago. Just look at me – I’m training for a half-marathon! I’ve always known that “I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength” (Philippians 4:13), but never had I related that to physical activity before now.

I serve a big God, and He is continually teaching me. It’s neat that He chooses to use things like running to teach me life lessons. The trick is to open my ears, eyes and heart and pay attention. There are many lessons to be learned.

My fundraising deadline for the Nashville Women’s Half Marathon, which supports the Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation of America, is only 30 days away. Please consider supporting my efforts to wipe out Crohn’s disease in Bruce’s lifetime. Click here to donate. That page also provides a link to Team Challenge – just in case you’d like to join me in my next half-marathon for CCFA. 🙂

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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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Goodbye, Sheriff Taylor

(CNN) — “Actor Andy Griffith, who played folksy Sheriff Andy Taylor in the fictional town of Mayberry, died Tuesday at the age of 86, his family said.”

A quick glance at my iGoogle news page while I ate a turkey sandwich during my lunch break Tuesday made me alter what I had planned to write about. The first headline that caught my eye, and that prevented me from reading any others: “Actor Andy Griffith dead at 86.”

I had just spent a hot hour-plus standing in the drive-through lanes at one of my bank’s branches, handing out little flags, patriotic wristbands and bottles of water, just like we employees do each July. In the minutes between cars, I was pondering the Fourth of July and what I would write about it.

I’d been trying to compose a July Fourth post in my head for a week or two, and I had no idea how I could do this day justice with my words. My dad, Bruce’s dad and many of our relatives and friends gave of themselves to their country, something I’ve never done – at least not in the way they did. I’ve never experienced that living sacrifice that so many demonstrated so ably and nobly, many of them before I was born.

So how could I write with any depth of insight about what it took for them to serve their country, both in times of war and beyond?

I can’t.

I can only say how grateful I am to my dad, my father-in-law, my uncles and countless others for what they gave up for me. They gave me a country where I could work, worship, play and love my family, then go to sleep at night without fear.

They gave me a country where a town like Mayberry can exist in every state, if we want it to.

Sure, those days of Mayberry were the 1960s, and we’re much more sophisticated now, aren’t we? We have touch-screen phones, spray-on tans, automated teller machines, and refrigerators that remind you when you’re out of eggs. Heck, I bet that fridge would even order you a dozen eggs and a gallon of milk and have it delivered to your door if you asked it to. We barely have to lift a finger to get through life these days.

But is that such a good thing?

We talk to each other by emailing, IM’ing or texting, not by picking up the phone, dialing and listening to a live voice (yeah, I’m guilty of it, too). The chirping bird I listen to the most? It’s the ring tone I hear when Mom calls me on my cell. At my Nanny and Papa’s house, if you wanted to make a phone call you had to wait for one of the other parties on your party line to hang up. I bet kids today don’t even know what a party line is.

Remember Sarah, the operator on “The Andy Griffith Show”? When Andy or Barney needed to call Mount Pilot or Raleigh, they talked to Sarah first. She had to put the call through.

Sarah knew everybody’s business.

So did Gomer, Goober, Floyd, Emmett, Howard, Aunt Bee and her friend Clara.

And when an outsider happened by, he wasn’t an outsider for long. Some of my favorite episodes involved needy “strangers” who came to town not knowing quite what they had gotten into, but leaving all the better for it. And by the time they left town, they weren’t really strangers anymore. They were just folks.

Remember Malcolm Merriweather, the very proper English butler? He rode a bicycle and taught Opie to draw faces on hard-boiled eggs. We missed him when he went back to merry old England.

Or the businessman whose car broke down in Mayberry on a Sunday – the day before an important meeting in Charlotte? He learned a lot about living the quiet life, just hanging around Mayberry, sitting on Andy’s front porch and listening to the sheriff quietly hum and strum his guitar. (Didn’t you love Andy’s front porch with its swing, where he could peel an entire apple with his pocketknife without breaking the strand?)

If you watched the show as much as I did, you’ll remember these sweet, funny, crazy and wonderful people and their shenanigans:

  • The Darlings (pronounced, of course, Darlin’s). Oh, how they could sing and play that mountain music.
  • The high-strung, rock-throwing Ernest T. Bass. Remember when he tried to get educated to impress “Romena” (Ramona)? Andy tried to teach him geography and such. Ernest T. would sooner throw a rock through a winder than learn manners.
  • Sweet, lovable Otis, the town drunk.
  • Aunt Bee and her pickles that tasted like they were canned in kerosene. Too many Aunt Bee stories to tell.
  • Barney Fife. There’s so much to say about goofy but lovable Barney, but probably my favorite Barney moment was when he told Andy he could recite the Preamble to the Constitution from memory, and then tried to prove it. Classic Barney and Andy.
  • Andy and Barney’s girlfriends, Helen Crump and Thelma Lou. (And before Miss Crump, Ellie the druggist.)
  • Gomer Pyle making a “citizens arr-ay-est!” of Barney.
  • Gomer’s appropriately named cousin, Goober. “Hey, Andy!” “Hey, Goob.”
  • Opie being mama to a nest of baby birds after he accidentally killed their mother with his slingshot. I still cry right along with Opie when he realizes the mama bird is dead.

Some of these were merely moments (or brief minutes) rather than full episodes, but they stuck in our memories and have touched our hearts over and over, no matter how many times we’ve watched. (And if you don’t get the warm fuzzies from watching Andy, Barney and the rest of the folks of Mayberry … well, then, you’re just an old grump!)

1960s Mayberry was a simpler time and place, and I think we like it so much, still today, because our lives have gotten so busy and complicated. And because our good-hearted Andy Taylor was so wise and patient (most of the time). All the town folk took their problems to Sheriff Taylor. With all the goings-on in Mayberry, both silly and serious, they knew he would always come up with the right solution to their problem.

Sometimes the stories made us laugh, and sometimes they touched our hearts. Much of the time they did both. The show was a unique combination of heart and humor, and I hope I get to watch episodes until the day I die. And who knows? Someday I may be watching it in hologram, or with some technology that hasn’t even been invented or imagined yet. Wouldn’t that be ironic?

And when past meets present, old meets new, technology ain’t always such a bad thing.

As I was writing this, a friend posted on Facebook: “Andy Griffith marathon on TvLand.”

I immediately turned on the TV, saw what episode was playing, and texted my brother: “Andy Griffith marathon on TVLand. You working today? The Darlin’s are singin’.”

JT texted back that he was watching, then a minute later: “You did know that Andy Griffith show’s 1st show debuted on Oct 03, 1960.” I texted back: “I knew it started in 1960 but didn’t know Oct 3. That was a great day all around!”

Andy Taylor and Jim Taylor, born the same day.

Who knew a text message could give me the warm fuzzies?

Ain’t technology great?

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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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Truth, ultimately

I have a confession: I’m a fake.

Or maybe I’m just a flake.

I have spent years building the courage to write, to make it public, to be authentic – to put myself out there.

It’s not easy. I want people to like me, to think I’m perfect.

Then again, I don’t. (Want people to think I’m perfect, that is.)

God has spent years teaching me how to be OK with imperfection, in myself and others (He’s still working with me on that, and I have a feeling He’ll have job security for many years to come).

I’ve written a blog for about 4 1/2 years, getting (I hope) more transparent, vulnerable and honest (some might say too honest at times) with the passage of time and the chiseling of my character.

One of the enemy’s best weapons against me has been comparison. I most often compare myself not to the One who created me – the only appropriate standard by which to measure myself – but to other people. I even compare myself to my former, sometimes better, self. I’d like to think everything about me has grown better with age and wisdom, but that’s only if I don’t look in the mirror. (Wrinkles, saggy skin, blemishes … did I mention wrinkles?)

And getting my identity from what I do rather than who I am in Christ is always dangerous.

So the writing thing … it’s a big deal for me. The more I write, the less anxious I am about it, especially when it comes to mundane topics, such as my latest healthy-muffin recipe or what running shoes I just bought. On the other hand, the topic of my “journey to fitness” gives me butterflies sometimes; it means I am accountable to you, the reader. But “going public” with my precise weight last year was one of those scary things I knew I had to do, not only to help myself but to (I hope) encourage and inspire other women who struggle with similar issues.

When I write about spiritual things – and, who am I kidding, everything I write has a spiritual basis – I’m a little more apprehensive. After all, my writing, as I have mentioned recently, has a more “pedestrian” nature than that of others with whom I compare myself. (Just being able to end a sentence with a preposition is a challenge for this former copy editor!)

And I have some blogger girlfriends (and a blogger husband) who write more eloquently and elegantly than I. Most of the blogger girlfriends write about spiritual stuff, and many of them express themselves way better than I do.

For me, that is just one more form of intimidation in The World According to Suzy.

I haven’t written much about my past as a depressed, lonely, angry girl with low self-esteem. Maybe it’s that I don’t want to dwell too much on a life that seems so far distant now – a life that God has rescued me from but which I tend to want to revisit at odd and uncomfortable times, especially when I think He’s not looking.

When I was in college and part of a group then known as the Baptist Student Union (now Baptist Collegiate Ministry), I was around a lot of other young people who had a heart for missions and other types of ministry. As a young woman who wanted to follow Christ wholeheartedly, I found those people – especially the females – intimidating.

Even though I didn’t sense God’s call to formal ministry (seminary, followed by a church staff position, etc.), I thought those young women were more spiritual than I was. I thought they had some inside party line to God and that I had somehow missed the signal.

I thought it was all me.

I was comparing my own spiritual journey with others’. My path seemed to be taking me to the “secular” world rather than the vaunted world of “ministry.”

I now realize that God has always called me to ministry and missions; it’s just that it looks different for me than it does for others. He didn’t make me a carbon copy of Janae or Dianne or Stephanie, or Angela or Annette or Betsy. He made me me. He gave me the unique skills, talents, desires, hopes and dreams of a girl who one day would grow into the knowledge that she doesn’t have to please one person on this planet as long as she pleases Him.

Over the years, the confidence has grown, not because I have anything to boast about but, as one friend quoted in a recent post (citing one of my very favorite scriptures):

“But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me” (2 Corinthians 12:9, NIV).

I want my heavenly Father to use my weaknesses. I need to be vulnerable. I need to be OK that she is a better cook or he is a better writer or that I will never run a 7-minute mile, no matter how much I train and how hard I try. But another woman – the one who just passed me in the 5K, the one who weighs 50 pounds less and has mascara that stays put even when she sweats – will win the medal and she is beautiful and worthy of a huge cheer while whizzing past me (if I can catch my breath long enough to do it). I can look at others’ skills and talents and be OK with the ones He gave me, knowing that they are a gift to be used for His kingdom work.

Just as importantly, I need to be OK that He forgives me even when I cannot understand why He would forgive the same sin over and over … and over. Once I have given my sin to Him and know that He has forgiven me – at the highest price He could pay – refusing to forgive myself is a form of selfishness and ungratefulness.

And even when I ramble and put people to sleep and I veer off the subject to such a degree that I annoy even myself, it merely shows that I am human. And I eventually get back to the point.

Yes, I do have a point:

My point is Truth. Truth comes from being vulnerable, honest and open, and ultimately it comes from God.

This evening I received a Facebook message from my college friend Janae. She started a blog recently and wanted me to share it with others in the hope that it might be an encouragement – to minister to you and me and our friends.

Janae was one of those college women who intimated me. Back then, I knew she was going to do “great things for God.” And she has, only she wouldn’t look at it that way. She would say she’s simply letting Him use her in His grand scheme to redeem the world and that she’s just a small part of that plan. (Wouldn’t you, Janae?)

So after spending an hour or so reading through all her blog posts, I can confidently say that I wholeheartedly want you to read her blog. And if you like hers better than mine, well, then it’s the Lord speaking to you through her in a way that I can’t. I speak to those I speak to, and that’s OK. We both want to bring God’s ultimate Truth to those willing to listen.

Read Janae’s blog and be blessed, dear friend.

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Sole mates

My house is cluttered right now, and I don’t even care!

That’s what running does to my brain.

The floor around my chair is littered with running shoes and smelly socks (not to mention smelly dogs). I actually am enjoying this fact right at this very moment.

Why? A couple of reasons:

  1. Insanity runs in our household (it runs outside our house, too, har har).
  2. I still have the “runner’s high” from this morning’s wog in the park.

Every Saturday that we go out there with our “girls” (the remnant from last year’s Women Can Run clinic) is a good day, but today in particular was a very good day.

I started off with a buddy, but, even though my knee started feeling funky very early on, I persisted and ended up doing about half of the course solo because I passed up my buddy and was having too good a time to slow down and let her catch up. It’s not that I’m fast – it’s just that this was her first time out on the Penguin course with us (the Penguin 10k/5k is next weekend, so I guess she figured it was time to hit the trail and get familiar with the course. We won’t mention the fact that she’s 75 years old, because that really doesn’t seem to slow her down. This awesome lady does Zumba, boot camp and any other crazy thing you can imagine!).

So, even though my knee hurt in the beginning and I imagined myself walking most of the route, I kept jogging and eventually forgot about my knee problem. And since the race is jut seven days away, I really didn’t want to walk any. So I kept up a good pace and outran my buddy by about 3 minutes. Today, running solo helped me clear my head a bit.

Running is good for the sole.

When I run/walk/jog/wog, especially solo, I can clear out some of the clutter in my brain, so much so that when I get home to a cluttered dining room it doesn’t bother me so much.

So I like running solo.

But I also like running with buddies.

(Does this make me seem schizophrenic? Haven’t we already determined that I have sanity issues?)

Bruce and I are usually giddy after a jog, but today we seemed sillier than normal (I don’t think too many people noticed). And after we got finished at the athletic store, he was even worse!

You see, he got new shoes. And he was like a little boy. (We didn’t realize just how worn his old shoes had gotten until he got a brand-new pair.) I don’t think I’ve ever seen him as excited about a pair of shoes as he was this morning. I’d like to bottle that smile and take it to work with me every day.

Running is good for the sole, and it’s good for the soul.

Happy feet

Because I ran the 5k route this morning and the other 5k-ers drove away soon after but I still had to wait for the 10k-ers to finish, I debated about how to pass the time. I decided to put my coat back on (shed during the run), sit on the hood of my car and pray while I watched the mighty White River rush by. (Our Saturday morning parking spot is by the dam.)

Nature brings out the praise in me.

A mighty rushing river reminds me of God’s power, His strength and His ability to control the universe. This morning I thought of how He stopped an ocean so His children could pass – and all the other things He did for those ingrates.

He is the God of the ages.

Just as He saw the Israelites through a myriad of problems (most due to their own stubborn rebellion), He sees me through my problems today (most of which are … drum roll, please … due to my own stubborn rebellion).

I’m taking a class called Perspectives, and the readings immediately began reshaping the way I think of God – and the way I pray. (I’ll save the specifics for a later post, but I’m dying to tell you about this class.) But I’m getting off topic …

Jogging has brought Bruce and me closer together in a way I hadn’t imagined it would. We enjoy being silly together most of the time, and running just jacks that up to a whole ’nother level. I’ll spare you the details. (You’re welcome.)

And wogging has brought us lots of new friends. Since I got involved in the Women Can Run/Walk clinic last year – and dragged Bruce along one day when we needed an extra coach – we have had more lady friends than we can shake a baton at!

Now, Bruce is the mother hen to several ladies who caught the running bug and didn’t want to stop when the clinic ended. He is now Coach Bruce, and it has lit him up in wonderful new ways.

We’re getting ready to launch the 2012 clinic (next week!), and both of us will be volunteers this year (my goal last year during the clinic was to become a volunteer this year, and that time is finally here!).

If you are a woman who wants to add a little workout to her schedule but feels intimidated at the thought of “running” with a bunch of super-running-chicks, please put that thought right out of your head. The women’s running clinic is composed of females of all ages, shapes, sizes, colors, political and religious philosophies, incomes (the clinic is free), shoe types, aches, pains, diseases, life stages, fitness levels and speeds. No matter who or what you are, fast or slow, you will fit right in with the rest of us.

I’m not a super-running-chick. I’m just a gal who can’t say no … to the idea of being healthier (mentally, physically, emotionally, spiritually and in all others ways that running, fellowship and camaraderie can affect a person) … and to the idea that maybe, just maybe, I can be an inspiration to someone else.

Running and walking are good, clean fun. (Most of the time.) We would love to see you at the Batesville clinic this year. The sessions are from 5:30-6:30 p.m. Tuesdays and Thursdays and from 8-9 a.m. Saturdays. You can register online or show up between 5:30 and 7:30 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 23, at White River Medical Center, Women’s Center, Conference Room B. I will be there until about 6:20, when I have to leave for class.

To register online (or to find a Women Run Arkansas clinic near your hometown), click here.

We also have a Facebook page. If you’d like to get in on the fun before the clinic starts, click here.

Come on out and meet your new sole mates.

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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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Farewell, Barney Sellers

My family said goodbye to a dear friend on Friday.

Barney Sellers, faithful husband, father, grandfather – and friend – passed away on Jan. 2, 2012, at age 85. He and his wife, Betty, had just celebrated their 64th wedding anniversary on Jan. 1, and he died about three hours after midnight.

Barney was an award-winning photographer, known for capturing on film everything from civil-rights marches to celebrities to heads of state, including at least two kings: Elvis Presley, the king of rock and roll (happy birthday, Elvis), and “Martin Luther the King Jr.,” as the hospice chaplain who spoke at his memorial service jokingly told the gathering.

But I knew him as a gentle man devoted to family and friends first and to taking pictures second.

When Barney retired to Batesville after 36 years as a staff “photog” (as he called it) at The Commercial Appeal in Memphis, he and Betty Sue moved across the street from my parents in 1988, while I was in college at ASU. Barney and I had that in common: We both earned journalism degrees at Arkansas State University in Jonesboro, not too far from Barney and Betty’s old stompin’ grounds in Walnut Ridge.

While he and my dad became fast friends (they both loved to tell stories, and lots of them), I looked to him as a source of teaching. As a student journalist, I, too, was interested in photography. Beyond technical skills, however, the tips I picked up from him had more to do with composition than f-stops and shutter speeds.

Dad and Morgan at Barney’s

Barney wasn’t one to photograph people – although one of my favorites is a black-and-white picture he took of my dad and niece sitting together on a bench in Barney’s front yard when Morgan was about 3. And, as a favor, he took my wedding pictures (and wouldn’t accept payment). In fact, it was on my 14th wedding anniversary last week that my mother told me of his passing. (If you subscribe to The Batesville Daily Guard, take note of Page 1 of the Jan. 3 edition, which features not only a photo of Barney accompanying the article but a shot he took of downtown Batesville under a huge full moon.)

My house and my mother’s house are adorned with pictures Barney took, and I can’t recall being allowed to pay him for a single one of them. I would be at his house, admire a picture among the dozens (or sometimes hundreds) he showed me on a particular visit, and the next thing I knew the photo was double or triple matted (by Barney) and given to me or my family as a gift. Mom was responsible for taking them to the frame shop, although the birthday gift he gave me one year (an aerial shot of the White River dam in Batesville), a wedding gift (of a huge full moon above a barn) and my favorite gift from Barney – a photo of double streaks of lightning in the night sky above the Memphis bridge – came complete with frame. He was very generous with his artwork.

Barney’s newspaper years were successful and spanned decades, but, after his official retirement, he was better able to indulge his passion for rural scenes. His “business” was called Barney’s Barns and Rural Scenes, but he was more teacher than businessman. He held photography workshops, taking eager students around scenic Arkansas and elsewhere, teaching them how to see the beauty in a simple dirt road, falling-down barn or old rusty plow.

His son Stanley – or “Chobee,” as I’ve always known him – told me Friday that probably 80-90 percent of Barney’s work centered on his beloved Ozarks.

Yes, Barney saw things that no one should have to see – he photographed civil unrest in the Memphis of the mid-20th century, he went to war (serving two stints in the Navy) and he was there the day singer Jerry Lee Lewis lost his 3-year-old son to drowning in 1962. But despite that – or perhaps because of it – he was able to see the beauty in God’s creation that many of us are too busy to notice.

I remember the time he was visiting my dad at the shop Dad had built in our back yard, and Barney saw a spider web hanging from a corner of the building. Barney said, “Don’t touch that,” or some such admonition to leave the web alone. He trudged back up the hill to his house, returned with a squirt bottle, misted the spider web and shot a typically stunning picture of it, water droplets sparkling in the moonlight.

If not for Barney, I probably wouldn’t have had the “eye,” or the presence of mind, to snap a picture of the spider-web-covered jade plant in Morro Bay, Calif., when Mom and I visited in 2006. In fact, I’m sure that my affinity for photographing “plant life” over “real life” had something to do with Barney. When I spent a summer in Guatemala after college graduation, I took lots of shots of hillsides, mountains, rivers, lakes and volcanoes, and when I returned home and proudly showed my parents all my wonderful pictures, Mom said, “Where are the people?” (She is more of the “line people up like statues” school of photographic thought, whereas Barney wasn’t so much into that.)

Barney liked to tease my mom; he had a wonderful sense of humor – sometimes mischievous, sometimes dry like mine. He loved to laugh, and he loved people.

Barney’s “uniform,” as I recall it, was a pair of khaki pants, a chambray shirt, a bandanna, sometimes a vest, thick eyeglasses and – more often than not – two cameras hanging from his neck. And when he would amble down the hill to our house – whether on foot or in his Jeep on the way to photograph some dilapidated thing down some dirt road (Chaplain Brent said he was told that Barney “knew where every barn was in the state of Arkansas”) – he frequently carried a can of Coke supplemented with Metamucil. “He’d nurse that thing all day, it seemed like,” my mother recalled Friday as we reminisced on the way home from the service. To me, the Coke and Metamucil were simply part of the Barney package.

Barney was old school and had his own way of doing things (hence the recording of Frank Sinatra’s “My Way” at the memorial service). According to his family, he took “thousands and thousands and thousands” of photos in his lifetime, all of them with a film camera. His daughter, Susie, had tried to convert him to digital photography but didn’t succeed. Chobee told me about all the prints and negatives in the house, in the garage, in a 10-by-16-foot storage building. Chobee had tried to get his dad to let him sort and catalog them but, again, didn’t succeed.

“He had his own way of cataloguing them, and none of us knew what that way was.” Chobee tried to reason with his dad: Someday we’ll need to know your system. Barney promised to teach him the system, but that day never came.

Barney’s health hadn’t been good in several years. His children had been trying to persuade their parents to leave the split-level house in Batesville – where Barney didn’t do well on the stairs “and kept scaring the daylights out of all of us,” according to his son Richard. They wanted their parents to move back to Memphis, where Barney’s cardiologist and other doctors were. So, even though “his heart was in Arkansas,” according to Chobee, he and Betty Sue finally left their home state and in 2007 moved back to the Memphis area, where Barney died.

There are a few things I regret in life – not getting my Nanny or my Aunt Jo to teach me how to quilt (I paid for classes at a store after both of them had passed on), not getting my Grandma Tressie to really teach me how to sew garments, not spending more time with Dad underneath all those cars he worked on, so I’d know how to change my own oil … and not spending more time at Barney’s elbow, soaking up his knowledge of photography and his love for all things rural. Now it’s too late for all of that.

But if there is anything Barney taught me, it is to keep doing what you love – and to love your family and friends while you’re doing it. I’m determined to keep working on that lesson.

We will miss you, Barney.

It’s appropriate that Barney’s family had his remains deposited in a vintage camera case. On a date to be announced, his ashes will be scattered at his favorite spot in the Ozarks.

I took a small portion of information for this post from The Batesville Daily Guard and The Commercial Appeal. To view some of his work, please visit both newspapers’ websites (links above). The Commercial Appeal‘s site includes a gallery of Barney’s news and feature photos.

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