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Posted by Suzy Taylor Oakley, writer • editor in reading, 0 comments

A new chapter, and what that means for you (and me)

All About You graphic

A lot has changed since 2019 ended.

On Jan. 1, I began working from home after having been “downsized” from my full-time job. I’m still employed by the company I’ve worked for since 2015, but now my status is “on call,” and I love that!

I’ve spent the past few weeks trying to find my “new normal.” I floundered around for a while — shuffling things around on my desk, writing a little on my book, updating my freelance editing profile on LinkedIn, researching some income streams and feeling a little off kilter (but free!) because of the new schedule — but I finally got serious and grabbed my Google Calendar. Now I have my daily schedule laid out, and it feels good.

The blog content is about to change, and I’m going to be on a regular schedule instead of this sporadic stuff I’ve been playing around with. Really. I have it on my Google Calendar. 🙂

If you don’t want to miss a post, sign up for my email newsletter to be reminded. (Also, subscribers get extra content that doesn’t appear on the blog.)

In a sense, I’m going back to my blogging roots. When I began this journey in 2007, I posted at Suzy & Spice whatever struck my fancy. Sometimes that included book reviews, sometimes recipes, sometimes goofy stories about my life. I’ll still sprinkle in goofy stories (I live to put a smile on your face), but this space at SuzyOakley.com will be more focused than that. It will be more akin to what I started posting at To Well With You in 2015, including productivity tips, admonitions to get more sleep and take care of your body (preaching to myself, too), inspiration for living life to the fullest, and things I’m creating for an Etsy shop I’m about to open. (Jesus will still show up here, too; that’s not gonna change.)

The blogging experts say you have to “niche down” to be successful, and I get that; if you narrow your target audience, you’ll serve your readers better because you’re not wasting time on what they don’t need or want.

Here’s what you’ll be seeing at SuzyOakley.com:

1) Ways to get organized. I recently became a certified paper organizer and will start hosting workshops (in person and online) this spring. The method has helped me set up a system to get my nightmare of papers under control (the influx just never seems to stop), so I’ll share more about that soon.

2) Printable things. I like to make checklists and trackers and stuff that helps me stay organized, and I get giddy sharing them with others. I’m actually working on one right now, but here’s one I quickly threw together. It’s a very basic menu planner that you can download as a PDF. I also have a grocery shopping list and menu planner in one, but it’s still a work in progress. Feel free to leave a comment telling me what types of planners and printables you’d like me to create, or would you like me to teach you how to make your own???

3) Budgeting tips. I’m a certified budget coach, and I’ve been a crazy spreadsheet nerd for many years. I like sharing ways to help you live within your means. (We don’t have to call it a budget if that word gives you hives. 😊)

4) Tech tips. I share things such as keyboard shortcuts, productivity apps and other ways to make your electronic life more efficient — that’s another thing that makes me giddy. (I’m the queen of keyboard shortcuts. Just sayin’.)

5) Tutorials. As we go along, I’ll ask you what you need, and I’ll create little tutorials (maybe an email course, maybe a YouTube video) to demonstrate some fun and easy ways to do things. 🙂 Let me know what you’d like to see.

6) Content that YOU suggest. This space is about you. Tell me what you want.

Please send your ideas via email (sign up for my list here — I’m also working on an organizing-related free opt-in) or by using my contact form here.

xoxo,

Posted by Suzy Taylor Oakley, writer • editor in reading, 0 comments

Embracing change and a fun look back

I’m about to enter a period of uncertainty (but, really, when is anything certain in this temporal world?). On Jan. 1, Ill go from working a 40-hour-per-week day job – with my creative work during nights and weekends as my “side hustle” – to being mostly self-employed with a change to on-call status at the company I’ve worked for since 2015. This means I’m reviving my freelance editing career (launched in 1994 as a “side hustle” to my full-time newspaper job), adding virtual assistant work to that and writing more books. I published my first book this month, and I’m already working on Book 2, a prequel in the series.

This may be an uncertain period, but I’m wildly excited to see what the Lord is about to do. I’ll have more time for the things I’ve been shoving off to the side for way too long, but it also means irregular income. (Pray for us!) I’ve learned to roll with a certain level of uncertainty 😊, even though it’s uncomfortable at times. I know that the Lord is faithful, and He’ll never leave us or forsake us.

Any change - quote

I actually started my first blog, Suzy & Spice (suzyoakley.com is my THIRD blog), during a year of tremendous uncertainty, upheaval and family illness. I’ll share the details with you sometime, but I wanted to share this fun post below if you’re heading into 2020 hoping for a little less crazy and frantic.

Originally posted on Suzy & Spice in 2011, when I was working full time, in school part time, trying to sell our house 90 miles away and generally STRESSING OUT. (As for the headline, if you don’t remember Susan Powter and her tagline “stop the insanity” from the early 1990s, it won’t mean anything to you, but old-timers will get it.  😊 Also, a nod to my late friend and colleague Michael Storey, who had a satire column in the voice of his dead cat Otus and periodically talked about the “humidity pods” that descend on Arkansas each year.)

stop

Photo by Gary Bendig on Unsplash.

Stop the insanity (pods)!

A giant insanity pod has descended upon me and has taken up residence on top of my head. For the past few days, it’s been trying to make its way through my dense thicket of hair to creep into my cranium and wreak havoc with my internal circuitry. It threatens to annihilate me if something is not done to stop it.

What is an insanity pod, you say? You won’t find the precise definition in any dictionary, but an insanity pod is much like the humidity pods that descend upon Arkansas about this time of year and don’t leave until October or November. It’s a presence you dislike, but you learn to live with it, much like you learn to live with oily skin, or a husband who steals the covers. Until it’s time to cry out, “Enough is enough!” or “Out, out, darn pod!”

But, unlike with the humidity pods, you have some measure of control – within predetermined parameters – over an insanity pod. For instance, you can control how large it gets and how long it stays attached to your brain – or whether it makes it past your scalp in the first place.

In case you have never heard of insanity pods, we offer this helpful Q&A:

How do insanity pods form?

No one knows for certain how the first pod came to be, but it grew and spawned other pods (much like Amish friendship bread). They approach the most vulnerable victim first (they can tell who you are). They begin by spotting someone with an overloaded schedule, too much stress from the challenges of life, a poor diet, the inability to sleep through the night and a merely compulsory reading of the Word. To that they pile on more stress, which leads to impulse eating, more insomnia, uncontrollable drooling, chocolate cravings and a worried mother (well, that last one is just a fact of everyday life, but it becomes more obvious as the insanity pod tightens its invisible tentacles around your nerve endings).

How do insanity pods manifest?

The list of symptoms is exhaustive, but, among other things, the pods cause forgetfulness, crankiness, night blindness, a messy house and the Scary Mama Voice when the dogs misbehave (which means when they act like themselves).

Who suffers from insanity pods?

As mentioned above, the pods attack the most vulnerable members of society first. The most likely victim is female, age 35-55, premenopausal, works full time, goes to school part time, volunteers at church and takes care of children, an aging parent, a chronically ill spouse or at least two pets – or all of the above. (We should mention that the sufferers include not only the victim, but relatives and members of the victim’s work and social circles.)

What can a loved one of an insanity-pod sufferer do to help?

Just stay out of the way, baby.

How does one “stop the insanity”?

As with an addiction to alcohol, food, shopping, gambling or Dancing with the Stars, the insanity-pod sufferer, or IPS, must admit her affliction. That is the first and most crucial step. (If the malady is caught early enough, there is no need for a formal 12-step program.) Then she must recite the insanity – er, serenity – prayer:

God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and sufficient distance from sharp or heavy objects that can be used as weapons.

The next step is to begin removing obstacles to sanity, starting with items (even seemingly important ones) on her social, business and volunteer calendars, even if others don’t understand why this is happening. Would they rather find out about it in the newspaper or on the 10 o’clock news? (“Disgruntled worker takes out 23 colleagues, then turns the staple gun on herself – coming up after the break!”)

Relief can be immediate, much like when an Alka-Seltzer grants the first gut-relieving belch. In fact, when the first one or two items fall off the calendar, the IPS begins feeling lighter and the furrowed brow begins smoothing out. Then recovery can begin in earnest.

Within weeks (or perhaps days, depending the sufferer’s commitment to the program) a balance has been struck – the schedule is more manageable, school is out for the summer, the sufferer’s mother and the dogs are speaking to her again, the husband has stopped sleeping on the sofa. At this point, it is probably safe to approach, but proceed with caution. There could be a relapse. It is best to monitor the IPS from a distance for a few days to be sure equilibrium has, indeed, been restored.

How can you tell when the insanity pod has left for good?

As there is no immunization at this time, there is no way to permanently remove the threat of insanity pods. But you can minimize the risk by remaining vigilant. The sufferer should get adequate sleep and exercise, stay hydrated, restrict caffeine, take long baths, play with the dogs, spend time with her husband, immerse herself in a few pieces of quality literature (no, we’re not talking about People magazine), work/play in the garden, write in her blog, eat 1-2 ounces of dark chocolate daily, watch Saturday morning Food Network and/or HGTV, listen to music, visit her mother more often (this should go without saying), pray and read Scripture regularly, and start reading the Sunday funny pages again.

This way, when the fall semester begins and the cycle threatens to repeat itself, the insanity pod will be less likely to try to park its ugly head on top of this particular victim’s. It will simply move on to the next unsuspecting forty-something woman and try to suck out her brain.

Help researchers find a cure for insanity pods! Contribute your suggestions by leaving a comment below. Or just send me a check.

Posted by Suzy Taylor Oakley, writer • editor in books, editing, writing, 0 comments

How to stay true to your mission when you’re tired or weary

This is a repost from one of my older blogs, To Well With You. It originally appeared Aug. 7, 2015. I ran across it as I was searching for an old quote that I wanted to reuse in an Instagram post about revisiting my “why.” – SuzyO

Gandhi quote

When you purport to be a coach, a teacher or a mentor (of anything), it’s tempting to let everyone believe you’re a strong, infallible and powerful superhero, no chinks in the armor, ever.

I used to be that person. No, not strong, infallible and powerful, but someone who wished she could come across that way to the world (remember, recovering perfectionist here).

But if I were trying to advise you in how to do something (or stop doing something), wouldn’t it be better if I could relate to the challenges you face, and better still if I had gone through those challenges (or similar ones), myself? Whether I had succeeded the first time or failed 1,000 times and finally figured it out, you’d be more likely to come to me for advice … or at least for empathy, right?

Sometimes a “superhero” needs to just be real.

Sunday, we had a visiting missionary in our church services. He has written before on his blog about how missionaries are expected (by some) to be perfect saints, and, in fact, some missionaries try to perpetuate that myth. The tendency is to think you can’t show vulnerability or you’ll turn people off to Christianity. After all, isn’t following Jesus supposed to make our lives rosy and perfect?

Well, no.

In John 16:33 (NLT), Jesus said, “Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows. But take heart, because I have overcome the world.” He never said life would be perfect; He said he’d never leave us to face life alone (Deuteronomy 31:6).

Our missionary friend knows this truth. In fact, his wife and daughter couldn’t be with us Sunday because they were with his wife’s family, grieving the unexpected loss of his father-in-law a week earlier. And Sunday evening, he told us that he had just gotten a call from his mother; she and his dad were meeting with hospice the next day because his dad is dying of cancer and the end is that close.

IT IS WELL

There is plenty to be weary about, but this missionary friend told us, “It is well.” He knows where his source of strength comes from, and it is not from striving and trying and wearing himself out in an effort to attain perfection. As he told us Sunday morning, Jesus didn’t come to heal the well, but the sick.

The missionary’s wife has written beautifully, too, about the struggles they face on the mission field and, heck, just as human beings living in a broken world.

I use the word beautifully a lot when I share others’ words, and the common denominator – the thing that causes it to be beautiful to me – is that the speaker is letting herself or himself be vulnerable.

Authentic.

Imperfect.

Real.

I’m writing about being real today because I’m tired and I want to let you know about it. I know my mission, but lately the path to fulfilling it has seemed to take a lot out of me. I’m learning a lot, but some weeks I feel as though I take two steps forward and one step back. I’m working on learning how to discern the essential from the nonessential, but figuring that out is not easy or simple.

The one below – picking out a birthday card for my mom last week – was an essential. Waiting until the day of … not the wisest decision. But I allowed hubby to help, and he picked out a beautiful card for her. (I think I’ll keep him.)

TextMsgScreenShot073115HOW TO STAY ON MISSION

Here are 10 things you (and I) can do to stay on mission when you’re tired or weary – or when life is just plain hard:

  1. Be honest. Don’t try to hide the fact that you’re hurting. Talk to a trusted mentor. Ask for prayer from your circle of friends. You don’t have to go into all the gory details, but share what’s on your heart. We were made for community. Reach out.
  2. Take a break. If you can’t take a full-blown vacation, escape for just a day, or even an hour. This will help refresh your mind and your body. If you can do this on a small scale every day or week, even better.
  3. Spend some time examining the things that got you to this point. Don’t think about it for five minutes and quit; really reflect on what’s going on in your life.
  4. Remember your “why” (aka “look at the Big Picture”). Have you figured out your mission – your purpose? If not, get in touch with me or a trusted mentor to help you through the process. Remembering your why is probably the most important thing on this list. I have it as a reminder on my idea board, in notebooks, on my bathroom mirror and as a hashtag when I post a workout to my running app. Remembering my “why” carries me a long way when I’m tired or wondering why I’m doing this.
  5. Decide what’s important. Figure out what is essential for you to fulfill your purpose and what is not.
  6. After thinking through what’s important, focus on the No. 1 thing on the list. Get rid of what isn’t essential to your mission, with the realization that you cannot do everything. (I’ll be writing a review of the book Essentialism as soon as I finish reading it – so much great advice.) Last weekend, our missionary friend’s wife and daughter stayed behind in their home state to grieve with their family before they return to the mission field. This was their No. 1 priority at that time. (If family is not near the top of your list, it should be.)
  7. Pray. I pray to God for peace, comfort and guidance.
  8. Ask for help. I’m not talking about divine help, notwithstanding Item 7. If you have a task that’s overwhelming, ask someone to help you accomplish it. As wise King Solomon said, you get a better return for your labor; a cord of three strands is not easily broken (Ecclesiastes 4:9-12).
  9. Celebrate what you’ve already accomplished; recall the progress you’ve made – even the small stuff – and take time to appreciate it. If you have trouble remembering any of the good, ask a friend! (See Item 8.)
  10. Let go of “perfect.”

This isn’t a comprehensive list. What have I left off? (See, I’m asking for help! Leave a comment with some of the things on your list.)

Posted by Suzy Taylor Oakley, writer • editor in faith, hope, mission, 0 comments

When small sacrifices have big meaning

Today’s post was supposed to be about memorizing Scripture — a follow-up to last week’s post about handwriting the Scriptures — but we’ll get to that next time. I wanted to use this space to tell you about an unexpected pleasure I had this evening.

Dad's grave with U.S. flag

Dad served in the National Guard. The spelling of his first name is Bennie on his birth certificate and Benny on other documents. Most people called him Ben. Lots of my friends in youth group called him Uncle Ben.

After I had made my daily trip to the local convenience store to get my ginormous glass of ice tea — because I’ve lost my ability to make great iced tea at home (insert the saddest emoji you ever saw) — I decided to mosey over to Emily’s grave again. I wrote about Emily and other family members after my trip to the cemetery on Easter weekend.

The lanes in that cemetery, as in most cemeteries, are narrow, and when I drove up, a very nice lady, Susan, was putting U.S. flags on the graves of her loved ones. She apologized for blocking the lane and said she was almost finished, but I told her not to rush. I got out and looked at the graves she was fussing over (her in-laws’) and mentioned that I wasn’t sure whether Emily’s parents would be visiting this weekend, because there’s usually something new on her grave when they’ve been to town.

Susan said she had an extra flag, and she handed me one, plus a flathead screwdriver to bore a hole in the hard dirt.

Emily's grave with U.S. flag

Emily never served in the military, but she sure served Jesus in her short little life!

She told me exactly what to do, because she’s been putting flags on graves in that cemetery for several years — not just those of her loved ones but on the graves of other veterans who have passed away.

It touched me, and it made me a little embarrassed at how cavalier I am at Memorial Day, Independence Day and other holidays where our nation remembers and honors the men and women who have dedicated their lives to our freedom. On some of those holidays (Memorial Day and July 4), I have the day off work, and on others (such as Veterans Day), I go to the office.

It’s awfully tempting to think of those occasions as just an extra day off work (although I appreciate every one!), so I’m grateful that this evening I met Susan and got a reminder that it’s not a burden but a PRIVILEGE to take a few minutes to remember and to honor.

Susan’s father-in-law served in World War II, and her son is deployed now.

I think that having someone close to you who has served or is serving gives you a heightened sense of their sacrifice. (The families sacrifice, too, in ways the rest of us probably will never understand.)

After I left Emily’s grave, I drove across to the other side of the cemetery, where Dad is buried.

Someone had put a U.S. flag there, too.

Then I walked over a few yards to the grave of Emily’s great-grandparents. Yup. A flag on her great-granddaddy’s grave, too. Dad’s flag and Richard’s flag looked identical, from the same batch, so I suspect that the same good soul had planted them. (Thank you, whomever you are.)

Some people never serve a day in the armed forces, but they serve our country, just the same.

People like Susan remember. They honor and respect. They give. And they don’t consider it a burden to take the time to buy flags and drive around the cemetery putting them out, even on the graves of someone they never knew. Or to hand an “extra” to a stranger.

I imagine they consider it their duty, in a sense — contributing in their own small way to what makes this a great country.

But it isn’t small at all.

Blessings,

SuzyOakleySignature

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Posted by Suzy Taylor Oakley, writer • editor in patriotism, 2 comments
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