суббота, 25 декабря 2010 г.

Tools for Life

Chicken Soup for the Soul: Thanks Dad

BY: Caitlin Q. Bailey

A child enters your home and for the next twenty years makes so much noise you can hardly stand it. The child departs, leaving the house so silent you think you are going mad.
~John Andrew Holmes

It was December when my father had to live the moment every dad dreads -- times two. I, with my bachelor's degree in hand, was officially and permanently leaving the nest for Connecticut. My sister, clutching her master's degree, was heading off to New Jersey to start her new life.

And to make matters even worse, there was a long-time boyfriend waiting for each of us. Not only was my father losing both of his girls at once, he was losing them to other men. He had us hostage for the holidays, but after that, all bets were off. The clock was ticking.

So that's the year he gave my sister and me the best presents we ever received.

A pony? No, I'd given up on that dream years ago when he bought me a stuffed horse instead. A car? Nope, my father insisted the old Buick he'd procured from our elderly neighbor was "a great car!"

Sitting underneath the tree on Christmas morning were two identical gifts my brother, muscles straining, pushed in front of his sisters. Large, slightly lumpy, and heavy enough to make me question what I'd do with a box of rocks.

"This is from your father," my mother said, eager to re-distribute the credit. With slightly nervous glances cast each other's way (my father does not do his own shopping), my sister and I tore open the paper to reveal... toolboxes.

Just what every little-girl-at-heart wants for Christmas.

"Open it, open it!" our very own Santa announced gleefully, clapping his hands.

So we did.

Hammers. Wrenches. Nails. Duct tape. Tire gauge. Tape measure. Screws.

The fun just kept coming, and he couldn't have looked prouder.

We couldn't have been more confused.

Like your average girls, we dutifully ooh-ed and ah-ed over our loot and kept our eyes glued to the clearly denoted GAP box under the tree.

"He did that all by himself, you know," Mom confided to us later when all of the crumpled wrapping paper had found a home on the floor and presents lay scattered about. "It took him hours to pick all of that out."

Suddenly, it was clear -- tightly packed into those cumbersome, clunky toolboxes were all of a father's lessons and love. He may have been passing us on to other men, but his girls were going to be able to take care of themselves -- and always remember who it was in their lives that first built a foundation and always picked up the pieces and hammered them back together.

Yes, my father gave me a tire gauge for Christmas, along with the forethought to avoid problems before they happen.

A spare key holder -- and the knowledge that everybody's human and forgets their keys sometimes.

A hammer -- and the strength to know that girls can swing them, too.

Nails -- and countless memories to hang on the walls.

A toolbox -- and all of the love and support to get through the good and the bad in life. No matter what's bent out of shape or broken.

Thanks, Dad. For all of the tools you've given me.


It Can Happen Twice

Chicken Soup for the Soul: A Book of Miracles

BY: Veronica Shine

To preserve a man alive in the midst of so many chances and hostilities, is as great a miracle as to create him.
~Jeremy Taylor

Some people are fortunate to have even one miracle in their lifetime. I am truly blessed with not one, but two.

Being a native New Yorker, I, like many others in the "Big Apple," made my career my priority. This can be exciting, not always easy, and occasionally cold and heartless. Working overtime was a regular habit to meet December deadlines. In my industry, fashion, a new line was being created and with spring market week less than a month away, I worked extra hours.

It was getting late one afternoon and the snow was starting to stick. I grabbed my coat and proceeded to my small one-bedroom apartment with work under my arm. I dropped off my handbag and paperwork at home, brushed the snow from my hair, and ran out to the Chinese take-out to get soup for dinner.

On the corner, I waited for the "don't walk" light to change, anticipating warm soup and a long evening of work.

There was very little traffic when the tiresome light finally changed. As I proceeded to the other side of the street, bright lights started racing toward me. I knew that in an instant I would be hit by a car.

A moment later I found myself getting up off the ground.

My first instinct was that the car had stopped and I slipped in the slush. What a relief! But then I realized something was amiss. My glasses were missing. So were my shoes.

Bystanders came running toward me. "Are you all right?" "I called the ambulance."

"I just slipped," I said, picking myself up off the street. "Where are my shoes and glasses?"

One witness motioned to a car parked to the side. "You were hit and your body landed on the hood of that car. Your head smashed the windshield."

I still did not believe I was involved. These people must have been mistaken. The police arrived and insisted that I go to the hospital. None of this made sense to me. Perhaps my body was in shock, but I did not feel any pain and there was no bleeding.

Someone found my mangled shoes... one block away. My glasses were located across the street, contorted like a pretzel. The implications were still not computing. I needed to get something to eat and go home and work.

But the ambulance took me to the hospital. Getting undressed, I found a few black and blue marks on my legs but nothing more. I was poked, prodded and X-rayed. I could walk, nothing was broken and I did not have a concussion. The doctors asked, "Are you sure you were hit?"

"The witnesses and police reports say I was."

As I left the hospital, I reflected that maybe I was saved from an awful fate to have a second chance. Perhaps it was a warning to learn to appreciate the precious moments given to me. I carried that experience as an informative life lesson and never forgot that message.

My life went on with a marriage and then a pregnancy. Like most couples, we were ecstatic. I watched my weight and ate right. In fact my craving turned out to be a healthy choice. I could not get enough fresh spinach.

My tentative due date was June 4th. The obstetrician said I was doing great. In January, I had a sonogram and was delighted to watch our baby bounce, kick and move about within me. The technicians informed me that we were having a boy.

The morning of February 3rd, I felt slightly queasy and noticed some blood. The doctor had seen me a few days before and everything was fine. I called him immediately and he said that this was likely a normal occurrence, but to be on the safe side, I made an appointment for that afternoon.

There the doctor discovered that I had an incompetent cervix. I had to get to the hospital immediately! I would deliver my baby seventeen weeks early. The doctor said sadly, "There is no way to save your baby; it's just too early."

When I arrived at the hospital, I was rushed into a room. My husband arrived within a few minutes and he held my hand as the doctor informed us that we could try to have a baby again in four months.

After I gave birth, our baby was quickly taken to the neonatal ward, alive, weighing 670 grams or one pound, six ounces. With translucent skin and visible organs, he could fit in the palm of my hand. Our baby boy made the neonatal ward his home until June 4th, my original due date. Then we took him home.

My husband and I witnessed his miraculous development each day for four months. He not only survived, but thrived. Today, after fifteen years, he still excels in his endeavors.

I suppose many would say the miracle of medical science saved him. But I believe God saved us both. He gave me that second chance. And I indeed appreciate the precious moments given to me.


Love in a JCPenney Catalog

Chicken Soup for the Soul: Devotional Stories for Mothers

BY: Meagan Greene Friberg

And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.
~1 Corinthians 13:13

I scanned the pages of the JCPenney catalog as our children slept. My husband was working the night shift, and this was the only way I could finish my Christmas shopping. I checked off items on each child's wish list. I tried not to think about how much I was about to add to my charge card. I flipped through the pages of children's clothing and drifted to the toy section to pick out a few items.

Ron and I had been married five years. Our blended family included his two girls, my four boys, and our toddler son. We both worked hard to provide a home for our children, but the past year had been clouded with arguments and resentment. Everyone in the family was adjusting to the challenges that so many blended families experience, including alimony, child support, and shared weekends. Each one of these challenges seemed to lead to a new argument, and I was having a difficult time pretending to be joyous about the Christmas season.

I let out a sigh and thought back to a day, five years earlier, when Ron and I had gone to marriage counseling.

"The average blended family takes five to seven years to gel," said the counselor.

"Hmmm," I mumbled.

"That is, if your marriage lasts that long. And only if you both have the support of your ex-spouses."

I glanced over at Ron. Oh, boy. Five years? Who has that kind of patience?

Ron took my hand. "What we need is the six-month plan, Doc," he said. "That's why we're here. We have seven children depending on us. This needs to work now, not five years from now."

She stared back at us. "I see. Well, good luck to both of you."

Five years had passed since that counseling session, and I had lost my enthusiasm for this marriage. Darn, she was right, I thought.

I thought about a recent argument with my stepdaughter that had escalated to an all-out screaming match. I had tried to be the perfect mother, stepmother, and wife, but I had been falling short of that goal for many months.

I flipped to the back of the catalog. On page 758, my eyes were immediately drawn to a wall tapestry with the same dusty rose and green colors of my bedroom. I reached over to the nightstand and grabbed my reading glasses. I leaned in closer to the page. My heart raced as I read the words from 1 Corinthians 13 in the center of the tapestry:

"Love is patient and kind, love is not jealous or boastful; it is not arrogant or rude."

I remember these words, I thought.

"Love does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful."

I took a deep breath and read further.

"It does not rejoice at wrong, but rejoices in the right. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things."

My chin dropped to my chest, and tears ran down my cheek. Finally, I started giggling.

"Sending your love through a JCPenney catalog? Well, God, that's different!" I laughed as I glanced up.

I ordered clothes and toys for the children for Christmas -- and the tapestry for our room.

Ten years have passed since that evening, and the tapestry still hangs on a wall in our bedroom. It is a constant reminder of God's unfailing love and our unconditional love for one another. We have had our challenges, but we continue to grow stronger in our love and respect for each other. We count our blessings, and we continue to believe, hope, and endure all things together. We are a family.


A Christmas Eve Miracle

Chicken Soup for the Soul: Divorce and Recovery

BY: Michele Cushatt

Accept the things to which fate binds you, and love the people with whom fate brings you together, but do so with all your heart.
~Marcus Aurelius

I stood in the back of the church, bouncing my seven-month-old son while enthusiastically singing Christmas carols. I was one of nearly one hundred brave souls who'd ventured out in the winter storm to attend the Christmas Eve candlelight service. I wouldn't have missed it for the world. This was my first Christmas as a mother, and the significance was not lost on my feminine emotions. Interwoven throughout the season's celebrations were constant thoughts of my new family. It was a truly precious time, and I absorbed every smell, every sound and every sight, impressing the memories indelibly on my heart.

Partway through the service, and in the middle of a holy rendering of "Silent Night," I noticed a family: mom and dad on opposite ends with two very young boys sandwiched in-between. The boys were so very small, not more than four or five and full of wiggles and giggles. The grown-ups, sitting much like armed guards on either end, lacked their sons' joy. I knew little about this family other than the fact the mother left a couple months before, leaving her husband bereaved and broken. Upon seeing them together on Christmas Eve, I was hopeful they had reunited.

Unfortunately, it didn't take long for me to realize that this was highly unlikely. With a glance toward the wife, it became clear she resented being there. Unconcerned with whether or not she had reason for such animosity, I noted his grief-lined face. This was a broken man -- thoroughly and completely.

How my heart ached for them, for the hurt that had led them to this moment and for the greater pain that was certain to follow. With my son still in my arms, I ceased singing and began to silently pray: A miracle, God! I ask for a miracle! This is what Christmas is all about, right? And if ever a family was in need of a miracle, it is this one. Do something, please? Soften hearts and mend wounds. And somehow, through the wonder of Christmas, bring this family back together again.

Christmas passed, and I never heard what became of the family that had so touched my heart. The days and weeks that followed filled easily with the responsibilities of caring for my husband and young son. It was a year of firsts -- first holidays, first words, first steps, first birthdays. Thoughts of the broken family slipped readily from my mind.

Until my own family began to crumble. Ironically, I became a single woman six days before the next Christmas. Like stepping into the vision I had glimpsed the previous Christmas Eve, I was the broken and bereaved spouse watching the door close behind my husband for the final time. With a chill in the air of an otherwise mild day, he left without a second glance. I clung desperately to my oblivious one-and-a-half-year-old, as though he might be the next to leave. How could this happen?

As those six days passed painfully slowly, my despair deepened. Everywhere I looked, hand-holding couples and romantic symbols of the holiday season seemed to mock me and my loss. And then Christmas Eve came. I couldn't imagine how painful it would be. Only a year before, I had stood outside the glass looking in, thinking I understood but not having a clue. This year, it was my reality -- and the searing pain nearly destroyed me. More than anything, I felt betrayed by my own foolish notions of true love. My childhood imaginings of marriage and family were painted in such vivid detail. Now I believed that those Cinderella-esque dreams had led me astray. "Happily-ever-after" didn't exist, at least not for me. I don't know if I was angrier at a world that perpetuated such a false hope or at myself for swallowing the lie so completely.

Days turned into weeks, and weeks into months. The responsibilities of caring for a child and maintaining a household eventually trumped my desire to drown in self-pity. I got a full-time job, enlisted the aid of daycare, and eventually developed the routine of a single mom. In time, my internal storm began to subside. I learned to smile again, buoyed by the laughter of my precious little boy and the love of friends and family. All was not lost. The sun still shone bright and my roses still bloomed. Life was good. But love again? That was out of the question.

Until... well, until I ran into him again -- the father from Christmas two years earlier who was now a full-time single dad of two sons. We ran into each other at the same church where each of us had faced our greatest loss. Upon hearing of my divorce, he extended a truly empathetic hand of friendship. He understood the loss of self-worth, the grieving for lost dreams, and the sheer exhaustion of raising a son alone. With few words, but a healing presence, he infused me with courage and the hope that there was life -- and possibly love -- beyond divorce.

Within months, we were hovering precariously between the safety of friendship and the risk of relationship. Both afraid of opening our newly mended hearts, we did the cautious dance of intimacy and distance. It was during one of these uncertain moments, when our three sons were playing baseball at the park that the subject of Christmas Eve came up.

"I prayed for you, you know. On Christmas Eve. When your family was sitting in church together."

He looked surprised at my revelation. I continued, "I prayed for a miracle, for love to win. I saw how sad you were, and it nearly broke my heart. So I prayed."

He smiled, thankful I had been present with him in his darkest time, though he'd never known it. I didn't expect him to say anything, but he had a revelation of his own.

"The next year, you were the one alone on Christmas Eve." He paused. "I watched you, saw your pain, and remembered what it had been like for me the year before. And... well, I was the one who prayed for you that Christmas."

We sat speechless, humbled by the fact that years before we had unsuspectingly participated in something far beyond us. The threads of life's heartache, dark as they were, had been intentionally woven into the fabric of today, uniting the pain of the old with the exquisite wonder of the new. And in the unveiling of this truth, stubborn beams of light began to penetrate the thick guards of my heart. Love, real love, was not dead. Beauty would rise from the ashes of divorce, painting my life with rich color and filling it with fragrance once again.

I prayed for a miracle that first Christmas Eve -- a miracle for a family I knew little about. Today, as the wife of the man who resurrected my dreams of true love, I now realize the miracle was granted. And not just for them, but also for me.


Making Christmas Memories

Making Christmas Memories
Chicken Soup for the Soul: Christmas Magic

BY: Irene Morse

Each day of our lives we make deposits in the memory banks of our children.
~Charles R. Swindoll, The Strong Family

"I've been to that hotel, Grandma."

My seven-year-old grandson, Brandon, and I are driving to my mother's house to celebrate Thanksgiving when he spots a Radisson Hotel out the car window. Realizing that all Radissons look the same, my curiosity is nevertheless piqued and I ask, "Really? When did you go there?"

"You know," he replies. "You and Grandpa took me and Maddie there for ice cream after the music without words."

I'm silent for a moment, mulling over "music without words."

Ah, the symphony, I think, and glance at him in amazement. My husband Gary and I had taken two of our grandchildren to the symphony and then to the Radisson for their famous profiteroles -- two years ago. Brandon is remembering an enjoyable but hardly monumental afternoon that happened when he was only five years old. I realize this is important; a small child's pleasant memory from what to him would be the distant past deserves attention and, although I still don't know exactly how, I know that this conversation will forever change the way our family celebrates Christmas.

My husband and I have a beautiful cornucopia of children, their spouses, and grandchildren. Our kids were essentially grown by the time we married so we bypassed many of the problems typical of "blending a family." The issue of holidays, however, has always required creative planning. It has grown more complex as the children married and new family members and traditions were introduced into their lives.

We've tried traditional Christmases. I would bake and cook for days in order to prepare a typical American feast -- but when to enjoy this family meal eluded us. We've tried feasting on Christmas evening, then Christmas afternoon and then Christmas Eve. One year we tried Christmas brunch, but there always seemed to be a scheduling conflict with an in-law family. Our children would come to a table that was resplendent with turkeys, hams, platters of side dishes and scrumptious desserts, nibble a bit and be on their way to the next family home and the next feast.

I worried that, in a world where one in seven people go to bed hungry, it is wickedly wasteful to prepare such a feast when it can't be fully enjoyed. We longed for the company of our children for more than a couple of hours as we celebrated the season of family togetherness.

Grandchildren began to arrive, one-by-one until they numbered thirteen, and the issue of gifts took on an onerous dimension.

Then came the conversation with a little boy who remembered a fun afternoon spent with his grandparents and a cousin two years before.

Although the details were still fuzzy, we began to plan a special kind of Christmas. First, Gary and I agreed to stop giving them "things." Instead, we undertook to find a way to offer them opportunities to make memories. We needed some uninterrupted time and that meant that, most likely, Christmas would have to fall on a different day and traditions would have to be swept away like used gift wrap.

We decided to rent a cabin at Shaver Lake in central California, where we'd likely find snowy winter weather. The location is fairly convenient for everyone and we are there for a week that includes Christmas Day.

"Christmas is no longer on December 25th," we announced that year. "Whenever any family members can be there with us, that day will be Christmas." The plan was an adjustment for our more traditional children, but our grandchildren immediately embraced the adventure of it.

We never know exactly who will be there, when or for how long. In fact, there are days when we are alone -- we use the time to put our feet up, read by the fire or nap. When someone is there, I cook Christmas dinner. It's not a feast, just a nice dinner featuring the favorite foods of those who are celebrating with us. Dessert is more likely to be someone's favorite treat than traditional holiday fare. The money we used to spend on trucks, Barbies or the latest TV toy now pays the rent and buys food for the week.

We are a large, noisy bunch. We have a "game box" and I love sitting with a cup of coffee, watching our children and grandchildren playing board games, working puzzles or playing Uno with the cards Gary, who is blind, has brailed. Often, groups of skiers head up the mountain to spend the afternoon on the slopes, a graduation from the "Daddy-built" sled runs of years past.

There is a "boot box" with extra snow gear and we take a box full of photo albums crammed with family pictures -- and memories -- of hairstyles and Christmases past.

Someone always brings up a Christmas tree. These days, it is decked out with traditional lights and decorations, but when the grandchildren were little, we provided a "crafts box" full of glitter and glue and they made decorations. Some years, silver stars, glittering angels, cotton snowmen and pipe-cleaner reindeer adorned only the bottom two or three feet of the tree.

One year the tree didn't arrive until late in the week and a tall 1970s orange lamp was pressed into service. When the grandchildren are asked to name their favorite Christmas tree, they always laugh and shout, "The Christmas Lamp." The Christmas Lamp is a silly, happy memory shared by all.

Each year brings a different configuration of family members together to ski, play in the snow, thaw out in front of the fire or take long, icy walks. Generally, everyone is able to be there for at least a couple of days. Relaxed, uninterrupted time together has allowed our children to become as close as biological brothers and sisters. Relationships among the thirteen cousins have formed and reformed as the years pass and each has found a special bond with the others.

Last year, a grown-up Brandon arrived at the cabin with his enchanting new wife. The joy of the season will come full circle this year when they bring their new son to play with his cousin, Maddie's daughter, and to help our ever-expanding family make Christmas memories.


Richard and Me

Shaping the New You

By Fran Signorino

The only reason I would take up jogging is so I could hear heavy breathing again.
~Erma Bombeck

When I tell people that I've been "doing Richard" for more than 10 years, they look at me funny. My affair with Richard started the way many relationships begin -- I was troubled and depressed. My parents had passed away within six months of each other. After that most stressful time, my blood pressure rose from normal to high. My doctor, believing that the condition was temporary, did not feel that I was a candidate for medication. He suggested instead that I exercise -- preferably an aerobic exercise -- of the low impact variety.

At that time, the last thing I felt like doing was jumping around. But because I am a lover of dance, I purchased a "swing along" with Richard Simmons tape and so began my daily encounters with him.

Richard's screaming and carrying-on irritated me somewhat on bad days, but his movements and "c'mon, get up -- you can do it -- I know you can" soon had me infatuated. Hey, you can't have everything in a relationship. On the plus side, I didn't have to travel back and forth to a gym; I didn't have to force myself to get up early to walk. I could meet him on both our terms. And in my own home. I quickly learned his routines as if I were appearing in a Broadway show. He was a steady and driving teacher.

I even got a perm during this period to save me time not fussing with my hair. Alas, it came out a little too curly, and lo and behold, now we looked alike. I had Richard Simmons' hair. Not by choice, but there he was looking back at me in the mirror.

The exercise outfits I bought brought me closer to his "look." My kids started calling me "Richard."

Within a month, my blood pressure stabilized, although my life did not. My daily workout with Richard helped me vent the stresses piling up each day. It was during one of these "workout" hours, intense on my part, that someone called me on the phone. I answered it, breathing heavily. "I can't talk now, I'm doing Richard."

"Scandalous," the caller replied.

Whenever I answered the phone totally out of breath, my callers would say, "I'll call you back — you're doing Richard." My son gave me a new workout tape for my birthday. He said, "New positions for you and Richard."

So now Richard and I could move while Sweatin' to the Oldies, and Dance Your Pants Off! while we were Groovin' in the House. And we got down with Tonin' Downtown. Richard and I went on company trips and vacations together. I brought Richard to the shore. He always wore the same clothes. We still had matching hairdos. Richard and I have been together longer than some of my past relationships.

I anticipate his every move and we mutually experience heavy breathing and sweating. This also beats some of my former relationships. Yes, I admit after all these years, I still "do Richard" and I'm now a grandmother. He's always there for me, he's always in a great mood, he always smiles and boy can he make the moves.

And judging from the assortment of tapes in the stores, it's been as good for him as it's been for me.


понедельник, 20 декабря 2010 г.

A Mother at Last

Chicken Soup for the Soul: Thanks Mom

BY: Joyce A. Anthony

Christmas is not as much about opening our presents as opening our hearts.
~Janice Maeditere

It was a typical Christmas day in western Pennsylvania -- snow-covered ground that hadn't seen a speck of green for over a month and air that stung your cheeks when you stepped outside. My two sisters, mother and I had driven the fifty miles to spend the day with my grandmother.

My grandmother was my world at that age. She had been born Sarah RhuEmma, but was known simply as Rheuie. In her lifetime, she had given home and refuge to four children and seen that they grew into adults -- yet she never did have a child from her own body. The oldest one called her Aunt Rheuie, as did the next two. She was no relation to the first, and the story of how he came to live with her and her husband was never clear. The next two were her biological niece and nephew. She and her husband had "rescued" them from a children's home where they had been placed. These children also called her Aunt Rheuie.

The youngest of her "children" was my mother. She had been presented this eight-month-old baby as a Christmas present one year. "She's yours; I don't want her," they said. Already in her fifties, Rheuie took to mothering the little one. This one did call her Mom, but there was always that nagging sense that the child's real dad was nearby, and the knowledge that there had been no official adoption.

That Christmas we entered her cozy home and shed our coats. As usual, there was the smell of good food cooking and wood burning in the stove. There were presents exchanged, but there is no way I can remember any of them. The final gift given that day was to take center stage.

Grandma held the tiny blue velvet box in her hands and I saw how they trembled as she raised the lid. Nestled inside was a silver band with the word Mom on it and four brightly-colored stones representing the birthdays of each of the children she had so lovingly cared for over the years. Tears flowed freely from her eyes.

I didn't understand the tears then, but age and experience have helped with that. Sarah RheuEmma cried that day -- not from sorrow, but from the pure joy of being acknowledged as a mother. That one moment made all those years of caring for others worth every minute.


воскресенье, 19 декабря 2010 г.

Umbrella Chairs

Chicken Soup for the Soul: Family Matters

BY: Felice Prager

The best advice is this: Don't take advice and don't give advice.
~Author Unknown

She wanted large; I wanted small. She wanted an event to remember; I wanted intimate with only close friends. She wanted country club; I wanted backyard. She wanted a six-course meal; I wanted chocolate cake and champagne. It went on like this until she suggested umbrella chairs, and I said I wasn't coming to my own wedding. In retrospect, what my mother wanted was very generous and done with tons of love. However, what my mother wanted wasn't me. Sam and I had been living together for several years. We were just going through a formality. My mother was the one who wanted a party. We would have been happy making it formal with just a handful of our closest relatives and friends.

The "discussion" came to a head on an unusually warm Sunday in April. After several phone calls from Mom, I told her we were going out. This was before cell phones, so the ongoing stressful wedding conversation would have to wait until I got back. That's when Mom started calling the machine. I was sitting by the answering machine with Sam, listening to my mother's messages as they came through.

"It's Mom. I'm sitting in the backyard. It's about noon. Since you're insisting on doing YOUR WEDDING in the backyard, I just wanted you to know that it is already very hot out here. In August, it will be sweltering. This isn't a good idea." That was the first message.

A few minutes later, she called again. "I'm still in the backyard. It's 12:05. We need a tent. We need a large tent with some kind of air conditioning pumped in. People will melt if they have to be out here in the heat of the summer. That's how hot it is. You'll have to have ambulances on call."

Continuing her one-sided dialogue, she left a third message. "It's Mom again. Are you sure you don't want to just do this at a country club? CALL ME BACK!"

I told Sam I wanted to elope.

The messages continued.

"It's Mom. I don't think the backyard is large enough for a tent."

"It's Mom. I don't know why you have to be so stubborn. A country club would be so nice. All you would have to do is SHOW UP. We can tell the orchestra that you don't want to do a first dance and the caterer that you don't want to make a fuss about cutting a cake."

"It's your mother. I was thinking. If I cut all my second cousins and friends I haven't seen in over two years off the list, I can get it down to 150."

"It's Mom. In August, it's also very humid. This backyard wedding idea of yours is inhumane. People will die, and then we'll be planning funerals."

"It's Mom. I've got it! This is brilliant: UMBRELLA CHAIRS!"

On that, Sam looked at me and asked, "What's an umbrella chair?"

"It's Mom, the one who carried you for almost ten months and was in horrible labor for a week before you decided to make your entrance. Umbrella chairs will solve all the problems."

I picked up the phone before she hung up. "What's an umbrella chair?"

"So you were home."

"We just walked in. What's an umbrella chair?"

"You know. Chairs with umbrellas on them to block the sun. I'll bet we can get them to match whatever color you choose for your wedding. We can even have cup holders on the chairs so people who are prone to heat stroke can have a glass of water. We can have the umbrellas removable so the guests can carry them around when they're not sitting."

"And if it rains, Mom, they won't get wet!" I added, with a definite tone of sarcasm.

Sam scribbled on a pad and put it in front of my face. "Your mother has lost it," I read.

Then, "Don't fight!"

There was a long pause from my mom. Then she said, "You're making fun of me, aren't you?"

"No," I said. "But umbrella chairs are stupid. If you order umbrella chairs, I'm not coming."

"Then how will we keep everyone comfortable?" she asked, in all sincerity.

"We won't, Mom. If they're too hot, they'll eat fast, leave a present, congratulate us, and go home early. Then Sam and I can get back to our apartment and start making babies."

"Making babies?" my mother asked.

"Sure. Why else do you think we're getting married?"

At that, my mom sighed, "Babies..."

I got my small backyard wedding on one of the hottest days recorded for that day in August. People came dressed comfortably and commented on the heat, but no one complained. We handed out "Sam and Felice, August 1, 1982" spray bottles and champagne as each person arrived in case anyone needed to cool down. It was a wonderful wedding. My mother did hire a caterer because "You can't just serve chocolate cake and champagne, Felice."

And Sam and I went home... to make babies.


суббота, 18 декабря 2010 г.

On a Cold Winter Night

Chicken Soup for the Soul: A Book of Miracles

BY: Debra Manford

Since you are my rock and my fortress, for the sake of your name lead and guide me.
~Psalm 31:2-4

I finished my last evening shift of the week and could hardly wait to get home, take off my nursing shoes, and relax. I said goodnight to the rest of the girls and headed out the door.

It was so cold I could see the ice crystals in the air. As I approached my car, I saw one of my coworkers standing by the bus stop. I thought it would only take a couple of extra minutes to give her a ride home, and besides, it was too cold to be standing outside on the coldest night in January. I didn't know where she lived, but I was confident I would be able to find my way home from her house.

We chatted about our evening of work as I drove and before we knew it, we arrived at her house. As she headed up the steps to her door she turned around. "Do you know how to get to your house from here?"

I assured her I would be okay. "How hard can it be? I'll just backtrack the way I came."

I started driving. Nothing looked familiar, but at first that didn't bother me since I'd never been to this neighborhood before. I kept driving, and soon I sensed that something was wrong. I recognized nothing, not the neighborhoods, not even the street names. I told myself to stay calm. I was sure I would find a familiar street and I'd soon be home snuggled in my bed.

I drove. I was beyond neighborhoods. I was beyond streets. I was even beyond streetlights. I no longer knew if I was heading away from town or back toward town. I crossed over two bridges that I didn't remember crossing earlier. Even though I was the only person in the car, I was embarrassed. How could I be so stupid? My husband would be worried about me and wondering where I was. I looked down at my watch. It was now 2:30 a.m. I'd left work at 11:30 p.m.

I truly was in the middle of nowhere. How could I get myself in such a mess?

I stopped the car and turned off the ignition. I thought I'd better take stock of my situation. It was one of the coldest nights we'd had. My gas gauge was slowly going down. What should I do? I could keep driving, but with no sense of where I was going?

I could stop my car and conserve what gas I had left and wait to be found. I would be able to start it throughout the night to warm myself with the gas that was remaining.

In total defeat I put my head down on the steering wheel and asked for help. My heartfelt prayer came from the deepest part of me. "Please God, help me get out of this mess." I was going through a difficult time at that stage of my life and had lost a lot of my faith. As I look back on it, I realize that I was praying not only for my "physical being" that was lost, but also my lost "emotional being."

I lifted my head. I saw a shadow down the road in front of me. It hadn't been there before. I turned my headlights on. It was a car. It was not running but just sitting there in total darkness. I drove a little closer. There was a silhouette of a person sitting in this car!

What was a car doing in the middle of nowhere at 2:30 in the morning? Was this the answer to my prayer?

Hesitantly, I got out of my car and knocked on the window of the other car. An elderly man slowly rolled his window down. He did not say a word.

I said, "I'm lost and don't know how to get back into town."

In silence, he rolled his window up, turned the ignition on, and started driving.

I ran back to my car, praying to God that I was following someone trustworthy and I drove behind him.

I followed that car... in faith.

Finally I recognized a familiar street. As I turned to head home, I lost sight of my guardian angel. I knew in my heart this was a miracle. As I pulled into my driveway the warning light for my gas tank turned on.

This was such an amazing experience for me, and so very personal, that for many years I did not tell anyone what happened. It gave me hope, it gave me strength, and it confirmed for me that miracles do happen. After this experience, I prayed more often and believed that God was truly in my life. I only needed to "ask." When I finally told my story to someone, she wisely pointed out that perhaps I was the answer to that old man's prayer as well. Why was he just sitting there in the middle of the night, in the middle of nowhere, with his engine off? Maybe he was saying a prayer also, asking God to give an old man a purpose in life. It truly made me think... life is a circle... and perhaps we helped each other.


No Longer Needed

Chicken Soup for the Soul: Count Your Blessings

BY: Helen Stein

We all have big changes in our lives that are more or less a second chance.
~Harrison Ford

The ringing of the telephone greeted me as I walked into the house after another long, stressful week at the office. I tossed my purse on the kitchen counter and glanced at the caller ID screen on the phone. It was a call from the staffing company that sent me my paycheck for the last twenty years. With a sense of dread, I slowly picked up the receiver. The voice at the other end of the line informed me that today would be my last day on the job because my services were no longer needed. My inner strength trickled down to my toes and my heart beat faster as I cleared my throat and remembered to breathe.I swallowed hard and said, "Are they going to hire another person to do my job?"

Her voice sounded a little too perky as she answered, "No. The company has been downsizing, and we are sorry, but they eliminated your position. However, you are eligible to receive severance pay, and please let us know if there is anything we can do to help."

I stumbled through the rest of the conversation trying to come up with good reasons for them to keep me -- as if I could change her mind. After all, the office would still need someone to maintain department records, create correspondence, edit the newsletter and take care of numerous other tasks. I knew that it wasn't her decision, and in the end, all I could do was sigh and accept my fate.

I walked over to the mirror that decorates the living room wall. Hazel eyes with long, dark lashes stared back at me through gold, wire-rimmed glasses. There were a few wrinkles around my mouth, and the skin under my chin sagged a bit. A picture of a rooster's wattle popped into my head, and at that moment I felt like an old hen that had been booted out of the coop.

That life-changing day was also my wedding anniversary. Ken and I had been married for thirty-eight years. We were going out to dinner the next night to celebrate. Well, now we could also celebrate my early retirement. The problem was that I wasn't ready to retire and my income helped to defray the high cost of gas, food, and medication that we both needed. I felt betrayed. I worked hard for that company and gave them twenty good years of my life. In spite of that, I knew the company's new quest -- to become a "big fish" in the trucking industry -- called for restructuring. Experienced, dedicated employees were being trimmed like excess fat from a big, juicy steak. I always knew that sooner or later the cleaver would swing my way.

When Ken came home from work that evening, I gave him a big anniversary hug. I didn't know how to tell him the bad news, so I just blurted it out. "Happy anniversary, hon, and by the way, I was laid off today."

He looked a little stunned, and I thought I saw a few more strands of his salt-and-pepper hair turn gray. He raised his hand to his forehead. "Wow! You really know how to jazz up an occasion. Happy anniversary. Are you okay?"

"Yeah, I'm okay. At least I think I'm okay. Pinch me to make sure I'm not dreaming. No, wait... that might hurt."

Ken said, "For now, why don't you think of it as a well-deserved, long vacation. The weather will soon be warm, and you'll have a lot of time to work in your garden. We'll cut back on our expenses. We'll only go out to eat once a month and this year we'll spend our vacation at home -- we'll find some good, inexpensive day trips to take. And, don't worry, I'm sure we can find more cuts to make in our budget."

"I think you're right," I said. "I'll bet I could trim our grocery bill by using the extra time to cook and not have to buy those expensive convenience foods."

So I filed for unemployment benefits and adopted Ken's strategy. I had to admit that it was easier to rise and shine in the morning without being rudely awakened by the urgent beeping of my alarm clock. I didn't miss sitting in traffic during early morning rush hour. I went grocery shopping on a weekday morning and enjoyed the ease of shopping without the pushy, annoying weekend crowd of people who block the aisles and stand right in front of the product I need to grab. I even bought a guidebook about North American feeder birds to help me identify the songbirds that come to my birdfeeder during the winter months.

All of a sudden, my world slowed down to a more enjoyable pace. I found time to dig in my garden, read, make daily entries in my journal, take an online writing class, and spend more quality time with my grandchildren. I discovered a new kind of happiness, and my fear of fading into oblivion dissolved. I am now eager to discover how the next chapter in my life will unfold, and since I can't travel back in time (and I'm not sure that I would want to) I will forge ahead and think positive. I may even crow a happy tune in the early morning hours.


Lights of Hope

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Christmas Magic

By Kat Heckenbach

In the depth of winter I finally learned that there was in me an invincible summer.
~Albert Camus

I was diagnosed with cancer in October of 2004, which meant my treatment lasted straight through the month of December. Chemo for Christmas was not something I looked forward to. I prayed every day that Christmas would not be ruined by my illness and treatment. With two small children, and a need for hope, I wanted desperately to keep the magic alive.

The doctors were very aggressive because I was only thirty-four years old and in an early stage. The chemo didn't knock my hair out, but it made me sick as a dog. The radiation zapped all my energy. At 5'9" I actually felt puny. Weight loss and exhaustion left me weak and barely able to walk across the house. In the past, I'd carried the Christmas tree into the house, but that year I could barely manage the ornaments and had to delegate most of the decorating to my mom and kids.

The outdoor Christmas lights went up around my neighborhood, and my husband, Jeff, asked if I'd like to go out and see them.

"Not if I can't see all of them," I said. I wanted to go on our traditional family Christmas walks at night, but how could I when I couldn't even make it to the end of the driveway to get the mail? I wanted to drive around the surrounding neighborhoods, but how could I when riding in the car caused motion sickness? The thought of sitting in front of the house, staring at the same blinking string of lights across the street, roused the snarly head of depression.

"I know how you can see all of them," Jeff said, and darted to the phone to call his parents. "Mom, Dad... do you still have Grandpa's wheelchair?"

Night after night, Jeff loaded me into the wheelchair, covered me in thick blankets, and pushed me -- thump, thump, over the threshold -- out the front door.

My two-year-old daughter, bundled in her little pink jacket, snuggled under the blankets with me, her warmth calming my shivering bones. My son, four years old and much bigger than his sister, walked next to us and held my hand or helped his daddy push.

And just like that, wrapped in the love of my husband and two kids, I rode around my neighborhood.

The Christmas lights were more amazing than they had ever been before -- than any lights had ever been before! Colorful, white, twinkling and bright, they sparkled of promise and joy... hope and healing. My spirit lifted higher than I thought possible because of those lights, and because of the love that allowed me to see them all.

Chemo took away my cancer, and it didn't take away my Christmas.


Little Boxes

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Christmas Magic

By Lisa Pawlak

The only gift is a portion of thyself.
~Ralph Waldo Emerson

Mom wanted to go Christmas shopping. It was hard to understand why exactly -- she was so sick at this point, and if she would just give us a list, we could take care of this for her -- but no, she wanted to go Christmas shopping. One day when her pain seemed relatively under control, we put aside our "sensible" thoughts about whether Christmas shopping was an appropriate activity for someone terminally ill, and we decided to go.

Somehow, we managed to get her, the wheelchair, little Joshua, his stroller, and the rest of the gang packed into the minivan and we were off to the mall. We took the diaper bag for Joshua and a bag full of pain meds for Mom. It was December 23rd, and we felt full of mischief.

The mall was packed, obviously, and it was helpful that we had the handicapped parking permit, so that we didn't have to battle it out for parking. We took turns pushing Mom in her wheelchair and Joshua in his stroller. Most people were pretty decent about getting out of our way. Joshua smiled over at his grandma, wheeling along next to him. He actually sat in his stroller without complaint.

Soon after we arrived, after the initial giddiness of the outing wore off, it seemed as though Mom got a little overwhelmed. We started in a department store, but it was hard to wheel her through the racks of clothes and gift items. We tried to figure out what she wanted to look at, leaving her in the aisles while we brought things over to her.

Eventually she got a little upset. "I just want to go over and look at things, like everyone else." Once we understood this, we made greater efforts to wheel her through those tight spaces.

We went out into the main part of the mall and she finally told us what she was really looking for — little boxes. She wasn't looking for traditional gifts at all, and this caught me off guard. She was looking for little boxes in which she could display her most prized pieces of jewelry, to give them away to her loved ones on her final Christmas.

We found some little boxes at a watch store, and returned home soon after. Mom was exhausted from the outing.

On Christmas morning, Melissa, Mark's then fiancée, now wife, was the first to open her little box from Mom. It was one of Mom's favorites — a necklace with matching earrings, made of topaz. Melissa looked both stunned and deeply touched.

I knew what would be in my own little box, opened a bit later in the morning. It contained a marvelous diamond pendant on a spectacular gold omega chain. My dad had given Mom this piece on her 50th birthday, five years earlier. It was her most beloved piece of jewelry, and she had given it to me.

"Don't save it for special occasions," she told me. I couldn't answer. The lump in my throat made it impossible to speak.

Despite Mom's advice, most days the diamond pendant on its omega chain simply sits in its little box, tucked away in my armoire. When I do wear it, typically on special occasions, I feel as though I'm carrying around a little piece of her.

Just like Mom, it is beautiful and sparkling and never fails to attract admiration. But I am much too afraid of losing it, of losing this little piece of her, to wear it every day.


Breakfast with a Friend

Chicken Soup for the Soul: Think Positive

BY: Erin Fuentes

No life is so hard that you can't make it easier by the way you take it.
~Ellen Glasgow

"Good morning." I answered my business line at work.

"Good morning!" came the male voice on the other end. "What do you want to eat this morning?"

The caring voice on the other end was a pleasant surprise. We shared a common interest and problem that neither of us could share with anyone else we knew. There was peace and safety in the early morning question.

Thinking of foods I loved but could no longer enjoy, I responded, "I wish I could have pancakes with lots of butter and syrup."

Feeling tearful over the loss of the sweet pleasure of eating, my mind settled into my new pattern of sadness. The eighty-two-year-old man on the other end of the line interrupted my pity party. "Go get your carrot juice and we'll have breakfast together on the phone."

Running to the refrigerator, I grabbed the all too familiar light blue plastic cup, now permanently stained orange. "Okay, Bill, I've got it."

"Alright," he said from another state, two hours away. "Let's enjoy those pancakes."

Drinking my carrots and celery, I pictured him drinking his juice on the other end of the phone. It was the brightest moment in my dismal mealtime ritual and I was so grateful he'd called to encourage me.

The conversation only lasted a couple of minutes, ending with his signature, "I've gotta go take care of business." His thoughtfulness made me feel like I had my own angel helping me.

A prostate cancer survivor, Bill was remarkable. In his eighties, he still worked from 6:30 in the morning until after 5:00 PM on his lumberyard six days a week, while managing to single-handedly keep up with the other businesses he owned.

The first time I met him I knew he was special. Within moments of meeting me, he asked not about how I could help him and his business, but about my goals and purpose in life. Discovering that I, too, was on an all-juice diet due to medical reasons spurred him to give me juicing recipes and advice.

After being told his cancer was incurable and he would die soon, Bill researched alternative medicines and began juicing every meal every day. The only meal he did not juice was Thanksgiving dinner. I could not fathom going years without a piece of food touching my lips. Yet his resolve encouraged me and drove me.

After his initial early morning phone call, which took me by surprise, I began to relish hearing his morning greeting. Soon I was asking him what he would like to have for breakfast. His response was usually "Coffee, bacon, ham and gravy."

We were two unlikely candidates to become friends -- he reminded me of Colonel Sanders and I was a frail twenty-year-old. But the universal prospect of sickness, death, and recovery spanned the generations and miles.

Within weeks I was no longer dreading the various forms of juice that needed to be consumed, thanks to Bill taking time from his busy schedule to encourage a young girl in need. Years later whenever I would pull out my dusty juicer, I would remember Bill's kindness to this near stranger, and would remind myself that being positive amidst the trials of life can propel a person higher than the most advanced medicine.


Some people speak of taking lemons and turning them into lemonade. Only Bill spoke of carrots and celery as if they were country-fried steak. With Bill's positive attitude, even radishes and cabbage can taste like warm brownies with hot fudge and ice cream.

среда, 15 декабря 2010 г.


From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Christmas Magic

By Susan Farr-Fahncke

Each day comes bearing its own gifts. Untie the ribbons.
~Ruth Ann Schabacker

Nothing warms the heart quite like Christmas caroling. The holidays can be hectic and the spirit of Christmas can easily become lost in the rush and worry of getting everything "just right." Eight of us neighbors decided to take a much-needed break and spend an evening Christmas caroling with our children. Setting out with the intention of lifting the spirits of our other neighbors, we spread Christmas cheer until we were tired, cranky and felt like popsicles.

One more house, we decided, and piling into our cars again, spotted the perfect target. The elderly man sitting alone in his kitchen window seemed like he needed us. Pulling over, we parked our cars in front of his house and argued about which songs to sing. Half of the children were either whining or crying about the cold and the Utah snow seemed to have lost its sparkle despite our good intentions.

Finally settling on four songs for the man, we rang the bell and waited for him to open his door. Already thinking about getting the kids to bed and the work I had yet to do, I automatically started in on "We Wish You a Merry Christmas" with the others. But as the man stood in the doorway, his eyes filling with tears, my sidetracked thoughts came to a screeching halt. As we sang, I could hear the tears in many of my friends' voices and my own voice caught and my singing grew softer as I fought the tears myself.

The elderly gentleman stood in his doorway, the ceiling fixture lighting his soft silver hair like a gentle halo. He clapped with delight as we finished the first song and glided right into the next. Warmth spilled from his home and out the door. He didn't seem to care, so happy he was with our visit. He seemed to personify the Spirit of Christmas and I felt a guilty twinge at my grouchiness. True joy began to fill my soul as I sang my heart out for this man. No one had greeted us with such enthusiasm and joy all night. No one had made us feel so welcome and so loved. Gratitude filled me like hot cocoa and I was so thankful we were guided to this man.

Finishing up with "Silent Night," we sang with great love for our neighbor, and I heard his own shaky voice join in with ours. Tears streamed down my cold cheeks and I knew not one of us would forget this man. Our song ended and we all stood on his porch, no one willing to break the spell of this glorious moment. The man stood grinning through his tears as we grinned right back through our own.

Thanking us profusely and wishing us a Merry Christmas, he went back inside his warm home, his big grin and the tears on his cheeks the last things we saw. We slowly and regretfully left the man, whose spirit and tears made all the difference in our night, all the difference in our Christmas. Although he had sat alone in his window, looking as if he needed us, we had no idea how much we needed him, and what a gift to our group of carolers that man would be. In him we found the true spirit of Christmas.


Christmas Grace

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: A Book of Miracles

By Mary Z. Smith

You are excellent of men and your lips have been anointed with grace, since God has blessed you forever.
~Psalm 45:2

Snow continued its determined onslaught outside the assisted living facility windows. By late evening, I grew anxious about how the roads would be when I headed home. It was the week before Christmas. I should have been on my way home by now. The evening receptionist who was scheduled to relieve me had phoned to say she'd been unable to get her car started. Why was I the unlucky one stuck behind a receptionist's desk when I should have been home sipping hot cocoa and decorating the Christmas tree?

The telephone shrilled. Answering a little grouchily, I heard a man's voice. "Is this Avis rental car?"

I tried to remain calm. "No, I'm afraid our phone number here at the assisted living facility is one digit different than Avis. Let me give you that number so you don't have to look it up again." Sighing, I quickly glanced at the familiar number of the car rental company on the pad of paper in front of me. I finished giving the gentleman the number, wishing him a Merry Christmas. Just as I was about to hang up, I heard his voice in midair.

"Wait a minute please!"


"I know this must sound insane, but I have to ask: do you believe in miracles?"

I sat straighter in my chair, startled at such a question from a total stranger.

"Definitely; why do you ask?"

"I'll try to make a long story short. My parents recently passed away in a car accident. I have no one left in the world but a grandmother somewhere in Virginia who I haven't seen since I was little. An uncle placed my grandmother in an assisted living facility when he grew too ill to care for her any longer. He's gone on to heaven as well. I have to ask — do you happen to have a Grace Sheperd at your facility?"

My heart beat faster as I recognized the familiar name. I pictured the gentleman holding his breath on the other end while I listened to the pinging sound of the icy precipitation pelting the window to my right.

"Are you still there?" he asked finally.

"Yes, I'm here. I wish I could give you the information you're after. I'm afraid there's a privacy policy that prohibits me from answering. The director of the facility will be in her office on Monday morning, however."

"I understand your responsibility in protecting the residents." The young man sounded so sad. "Thank you for your time, and Merry Christmas!"



"Virginia is a beautiful state to visit at Christmas time! Let me give you our address in case you happen to be traveling through our area any time soon!"

"Bless you!"

Christmas Eve I arrived at work earlier than usual. Christmas lights twinkled on the decorated trees up and down the hallways. Carols drifted from beneath a resident's closed door as I delivered the morning papers.

I was passing Grace Sheperd's room when I suddenly froze in place. Grace sat in her usual rocking chair, her Bible open in her lap. Seated on the stool directly in front of her was a handsome young man with curly dark hair. His hand gently clasped Grace's as she read The Christmas Story.

Suddenly Grace spotted me. "Paul, here's the woman who helped you find me! Mary, please come and meet my grandson, Paul!"

I hurried inside as tears clouded my vision. The young man slowly rose to his feet, taking my hands in his.

"How can I ever thank you for leading me to my grandmother?" Shaking my head, I attempted to talk around the enormous lump in my throat.

"We both know it was a Christmas miracle!"

"Yes it was... Merry Christmas!"

"Merry Christmas, Paul. Merry Christmas, Grace!"

Making my way back to the reception area, I sent a silent prayer heavenward.

"Father, now I know why I was meant to stay late the other night. Thank you for the miracle of Christmas and for your abiding grace.... Paul's Grace too!"

I couldn't help smiling. It was going to be a glorious Christmas!


Around the Bend

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Think Positive

By Karen Majoris-Garrison

In the depth of winter I finally learned that there was in me an invincible summer.
~Albert Camus

The snow arrived earlier than predicted as I stuffed grocery bags into the Chevy's trunk and shut the hatch. Several feet of snow already covered our community, and this new storm was another cruel blast.

"It'll probably be the storm of the century," I grumbled, revving the engine and thinking about the past few difficult years. I'd worked through illness, financial loss, and the deaths of friends, but something else was distressing me -- the hopelessness that results from unattained goals and broken dreams. And, now, the seeds of regret, something I'd never nurtured in the past, had sprouted.

"Another storm," I whispered aloud, usually relishing wintry evenings such as this.

Tonight, though, my thoughts lay heavy as I edged toward our country home.

Usually a positive person of faith, I had always viewed life as a series of hurdles to overcome. In recent years, however, the hurdles seemed endless and more difficult to clear. Though I thought I'd handled the adversity well, I hadn't realized that the real me, the one whose passion for life had inspired others, had burned out.

In the past year, I had been faced with unexpected choices. And in my disillusioned state, I'd chosen wrongly, making critical mistakes. Now I was afraid to trust my judgment, afraid to make decisions, and afraid of the future.

The headlights flashed along my home's white picket fence. I maneuvered the skidding car around a sharp curve, up the icy slope to our driveway, then parked and shut the engine off. Exiting the car, I lifted several bags of groceries, dropping a package of apples. The plastic bag burst -- sending an apple rolling into the snow. Picking up the bruised fruit, I stuffed it into my coat pocket, thankful when my husband, Jeff, hurried out to help.

"I'm glad you're home," he said. "This storm hit sooner than expected, and that curve on our street freezes quickly. I prayed you'd remember to take that bend cautiously."

"And I did remember," I said, thinking of how well I knew the curves of our neighborhood roads. How I wish I knew what lingered around the bend for our future....

Jeff's hazel eyes studied me. "You've been crying?"

"It's melting snowflakes," I joked, attempting a smile.

"You don't have to be strong all the time," he pointed out later inside our home.

But I do, I reasoned. Too many people depend on me, and I can't afford to make more mistakes. Yet, I'm so tired and in need of a positive surprise.

After putting away the groceries, my children and I settled by the fireplace to play a board game. When nighttime arrived, I prayed with each of them by their bedsides and then returned downstairs. My husband had fallen asleep on the couch, and I covered him with a blanket before moving towards a window to peek outside. The white snow glowed against the dark backdrop of night.

I decided to take a walk in the crystallized world outside, and pulled on my coat and boots and gloves. Outside, my feet seemed to disappear in the endless white as I plodded along snowy fields toward the forest a quarter of a mile or so ahead.

The hushed quiet -- a peace that only a freshly fallen snowfall provides -- encouraged me to surrender my burdens. It was during heavy snowfalls like these, I'd told my children through the years, that time stood still.

Somewhere along my journey, I realized I'd been crying. Pausing to catch my breath, I felt a moment's panic. I'd somehow traveled off the recognizable path from my home. "Oh, no," I murmured, uncertain of my location. "Help me, Lord."

Through the windblown snow I searched for familiar landmarks and found none. It was symbolic of my life, making mistakes like going for a walk in a snowstorm, and wandering off course. I had fumbled in unfamiliar territory again, and I was suffering the consequences.

Tired and defeated, I slumped to the ground, resting my head on my drawn-up knees. Minutes passed, and then I felt a nudge against my arm. I slowly lifted my head and my breath caught.

A doe stood only a few inches away. She locked her gaze on mine, and then she snorted -- sending swirling puffs of steam into the air. I studied her. She seemed thinner than most does I'd seen, and she was alone -- an oddity since I'd always seen deer in groups.

My father, an experienced hunter, had told me that during harsh winters, hungry deer ventured closer to residential areas in search of food. Perhaps this was one of those times.

Mesmerized by her beauty, I waited. Her nervousness suggested she'd flee at any moment, so why had she approached me? The snowfall eased and peaceful silence seemed to encourage a mutual trust between this mysterious creature and me.

She stepped closer, my heart raced, and then she lowered her head and nudged the right side of my coat. I felt my pocket and realized I still had the apple I had retrieved from the driveway. I offered it to her.

A few moments passed as she sized up both the apple and me. I couldn't believe this was happening. I had walked off the beaten path, gotten lost, and was now experiencing a remarkable moment.

"You've given me what I'd hoped for," I said to my new friend. "Mistakes can bring positive outcomes, after all." As if she'd been waiting for me to say that, she took the apple in her mouth and sprinted away into the night.

"Thank you, God," I whispered, suddenly unafraid as I stood up. I was warmly dressed, not in imminent danger, and so I picked the most logical path to head home. If I made a new directional mistake, perhaps another astonishing wonder waited around the bend.

Just like in life, I told myself. Mistakes, regrets, and incorrect choices... they come with consequences, pain, and fear, but it's the wisdom and willingness to learn from the past and then press onward that can lead to a surprising and joyful future.

Excited by my new insight, I trudged ahead in powdery drifts of snow, growing tired but pressing onward, determined to be just as persistent in life... even if that life contained unfamiliar, unseen bends in the road... because maybe once-in-a-lifetime moments waited just around the corner.


What You Don't Know

Chicken Soup for the Soul: True Love

BY: Jamie Driggers

Love one another and you will be happy. It's as simple and as difficult as that.
~Michael Leunig

When you are young and uneducated in the game of life and picking a spouse -- particularly if you are a young, stupid Christian and trying to obey God -- your reasons for getting married probably don't go much further than the fact that you are "In Love" and your hormones are raging. A year seems like a long time to have been together, thirteen years is rather obscure, and a lifetime is unfathomable.

You don't know that thirteen years will pass in the blink of an eye.

When you put on the white dress and vow "for better or for worse," you don't know how bad the worse can really be. You don't know how hard it is to suffer three years of infertility, defend your decision to adopt to people who think you should put your resources into fertility treatments, or how another three years of postpartum depression when you do have a baby can tear you apart. You don't know when you vow "for richer or poorer" how poor that really means. You don't know that the $100 a month you lived on in college will look like a windfall after thirteen months of no income with small children.

When you pack up your things and move into your new home together, you don't realize that that pair of pants that he wads up on the floor will always be there, and the dishes she leaves in the sink will, too. Even though you didn't intend to marry your father or mother, you don't know that you will pull them into an argument in order to make your point that dishes shouldn't be left in the sink and pants don't belong on the floor if you intended to wear them again.

You don't know that those deals you made in the first week, on the honeymoon, won't be kept and that no matter how much you hate it, no matter how many times you remind them, the dirty dishes will still be out and the toilet will still have a ring (until the mother-in-law comes to visit).

You have no idea that he will still want you with baby flab and saggy breasts. You don't know how special it will be to look into little blue eyes and see your spouse. You don't know that when you look into the brown face of your son, you will also see your husband because nurture makes a fool of nature. You don't know that when you do finally get pregnant after adopting that your husband will tell you that when a white baby comes out, he'll know you've cheated because his babies are brown.

You don't know that when you get a wild idea to become a writer or start your own company that your spouse will be your biggest cheerleader. You don't know that when even your family thinks your spouse is crazy, you'll cling even tighter to him. You don't know the good that will come.

Face it, when you're young and stupid, you don't know what you are getting into.

You don't.

But I'm glad I got into it.


суббота, 11 декабря 2010 г.

My Chemo Hero

Chicken Soup for the Soul: What I Learned from the Dog

BY: Ann M. Sheridan

Better to lose count while naming your blessings than to lose your blessings when counting your troubles.
~Maltbie D. Babcock

My friend Terri, who worked as a volunteer at our county animal shelter, told me about the white pup with brindled markings that included a patch around one eye and who reminded her of Petey, the dog that appeared on The Little Rascals show. I can still recall the sadness in her voice as she relayed how a policeman had found the eight-week-old puppy, sealed in a cardboard box that had been tossed into a snow bank. The puppy was trapped, alone and shivering in below-freezing temperatures. The box had been abandoned late on a Saturday night in the parking lot of a large mall, one that would not open again until Monday. If that policeman had been less observant, the dog could not have survived those thirty hours. He took the pup to the animal shelter where she was checked over, warmed up, fed, and placed in a cage for the night.

When Terri reported for duty on Sunday morning she immediately fell in love with the tiny pup. Her markings identified her as an American Staffordshire Terrier, a breed that fell under the Pit Bull classification. At the time, shelter regulations prohibited families with no prior shelter relationship from adopting Pit Bulls, because those breeds were under attack by anti-"vicious dog" activists and this was the shelter's way of preventing their adoption by unsavory characters.

"If someone we know doesn't take her, she'll have to be put down," Terri sobbed.

I had heard Terri's refrain about other animals she had tried to place, but this time was the right time. My husband and I had recently purchased our first home, and were anxious to adopt a dog. Terri pulled some strings, we signed affidavits and waivers of liability, agreed to participate in obedience training, and the puppy was ours. The paperwork stated she was an American Staffordshire Terrier and would grow to approximately forty pounds as a medium-sized, adult dog.

That small bundle of love immediately brought joy to our new home and, after several days during which she remained nameless, we eventually settled on the name Bimbo, because she resembled an animated character from Betty Boop cartoons with that same name. Her antics never failed to entertain us, and over the years she grew into a gentle ninety-pound giant. Bimbo was the first dog I'd ever owned, and she turned me into a dog person almost overnight. She taught me all the usual things that dogs teach their owners: unconditional love, go for the gusto, and live each moment to the fullest, but those lessons are not what this story is about.

After more than ten years during which Bimbo continually proved that you can't judge a "Pit Bull" according to the stereotype, our beloved Bimbo was diagnosed with lymphoma, a cancer that attacks the lymphatic system. While still reeling from the shock of her diagnosis, we faced an overwhelming decision -- either put her down or try a few rounds of chemotherapy to see if she would go into remission. I researched the potential side effects of the foreign-sounding drugs, and became adept at navigating the world of veterinary oncology as Bimbo's advocate. We opted for chemo and Bimbo was the perfect patient. She enjoyed the weekly car ride to the animal hospital, wagged her tail with enthusiasm as we entered the clinic, and spread her good nature and love to all members of the veterinary staff the entire time we were there. I realized that Bimbo remained fearless and optimistic because she had no preconceived notions about the meaning of the word cancer. She accepted whatever each new day brought to the table. If she felt tired or ill, she rested. If she felt good, she played with her toys and lived that day to its fullest.

Mere months after we learned of Bimbo's illness, I discovered a small lump in my breast that turned out to be an aggressive form of breast cancer. I sat in the office of my new oncologist, listening to him rattle off the names of the chemotherapy drugs I was certain I'd be blasted with in the upcoming months. I became almost giddy, because my drugs were some of the same drugs that were being given to Bimbo. Suddenly I was navigating familiar terrain, because I had witnessed how Bimbo had tolerated the side effects that are so common with these toxic but necessary treatments. And if Bimbo could do it, so would I!

Bimbo and I journeyed through our chemotherapy side by side. By following her example, I learned to rest when I was tired, eat when I was hungry, and take advantage of every energetic moment I was granted. When my compromised immune system caused chills and fever, Bimbo crawled under my blankets to provide additional warmth. And after Bimbo's third remission failed, I was there to comfort her with my love as she rested her head in my lap and took her last breath.

During the remainder of my treatments and recovery, I was inspired to share what I learned from my chemo hero. If chemo is so hard for me, I thought, how do little kids do it? Many young children do not understand the word cancer. When confronted with cancer, children may sense the fears of their siblings, parents, or grandparents. They may feel guilty for causing their families to be upset. I wanted to share Bimbo with those littlest cancer patients, who must fight a huge daily battle with this grown-up disease. I wrote a story called Dogs Get Cancer Too, in which Bimbo teaches children to discuss their fears while enabling them to realize that cancer sometimes can have a positive side. It invites children to identify with Bimbo while encouraging them to express their feelings and reassuring them that they are not alone.

I then formed an organization called Bimbo's Buddies so I could communicate her message of hope and courage to all pediatric cancer patients. Dogs Get Cancer Too has evolved into an illustrated picture book, and our mission is to provide these kids with free copies of the book and a companion plush toy created in Bimbo's likeness. In this way, Bimbo will live on and continue to be the model she was for my own journey with cancer, by teaching children how to navigate their illness.

I have often wondered whether that dedicated policeman knew what a special pup he found on that snowy night, and how, by saving Bimbo, he played a role in her being able to help so many others.


The Bandit Who Stole Our Hearts

Chicken Soup for the Soul: What I Learned from the Cat

BY: Donna Lowich

A meow massages the heart.
~Stuart McMillan

Moving Day began hot, blisteringly hot, but nothing was going to keep us from our new home. Many boxes were stacked in the garage, along with some rolled-up area carpets. As we took turns bringing the boxes into the house, Jeffrey came running in, breathless and overjoyed. "Guess what, Mommy? Guess what? We have a cat in our garage! Come look! Quick!"

Sure enough, there was a large black cat, with white on all four paws, and the tiniest of white spots on the tip of his nose, roaming through the garage. He was definitely inspecting our belongings, jumping from one stack of boxes to the next, and walking along the rolled-up carpets as a gymnast on a balance beam would do. He stopped to check out all the open boxes, and having been satisfied with his preliminary look-see, decided he would go inside and make sure things were satisfactory there, too.

He sat near the door that led into the family room, turned his head and looked at us, with every expectation that we would let him in. He waited patiently while we figured that out. Which we did, eventually. It wouldn't be the last time that we would do this large cat's will.

Bandit, we found out from our new neighbors, was this cat's name. He was a well-known character, known up and down the street as a real schmoozer, always on hand to take that last bit of cat food (or people food, for that matter) off your hands.

At a neighborhood Christmas party we found no fewer than four families who admitted that they succumbed to Bandit's wiles, and were feeding him on a regular basis. But, as far as we could tell, it was our house he preferred to shelter him from inclement weather.

He was a street-smart cat who never lost his ability to love a little boy. Despite the not-always-so gentleness of a three-year-old, Bandit never got angry or upset. I never saw him hiss or even bare a claw despite being put into baskets, lullabied to sleep and cradled lovingly, but sometimes uncomfortably, in a little boy's arms, a little boy whose normally gentle ways with animals were sometimes lost in his exuberance to play with his brand-new friend. Bandit somehow knew this, and was content to be placed in a shirt-sized gift box one Christmas Day, which was then moved from place to place, until the proper spot was found for the lullabies and loving pats on the head to begin, which continued until Bandit fell asleep.

I didn't know much about cats back then, but I knew that this was a rare blend of outside-cat toughness and inside-cat gentleness. He was a true gentle giant of a cat.

Jeffrey and Bandit grew up together and became fast friends. In fact, whenever there was a storm coming, we could rely on the fact that Bandit would spend it with us, sometimes allowing us to keep him indoors overnight during hurricanes and snowstorms. It seemed as though he took comfort from being with us -- Jeffrey, in particular.

Jeffrey, in return, seemed to always enjoy Bandit's company. He grew to be both confident and gentle with animals, especially cats. This was the direct result of his close friendship with his pal, Bandit.

Bandit is gone now, and is sorely missed. He had lived a long life, but it wasn't long enough to suit us. I think he knew how much he meant to us. But I wonder if he could ever know how much he influenced a small boy. From the moment they met, Jeffrey loved cats. Bandit, through his own good nature and gentle treatment of a little boy, taught our son to be kind and gentle with animals.

Thank you, Bandit.


Pajama Day

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Christmas Magic

By Laurie Higgins

Don't underestimate the value of Doing Nothing, of just going along, listening to all the things you can't hear, and not bothering.

~Pooh's Little Instruction Book, inspired by A.A. Milne

As wonderful as Christmas Day is, for me it takes second place to December 26th -- otherwise known around our house as Pajama Day. It's a tradition that came into being entirely by accident about ten years ago during a particularly hectic holiday season.

That year, Christmas Eve found my husband Steve and me staying up until close to dawn, wrapping presents and preparing for Christmas with our four kids. Just as our heads hit the pillow, the door to our two younger children's bedroom opened and we heard them sneak out. I took a nap to the sound of their excited whispers.

Christmas Day at our home is one long and joyous celebration that includes a revolving cast of family members from both sides that arrive in shifts. We host a breakfast for eight to twelve people, with a break for clean-up and showers, and then begin prepping for dinner for up to twenty-five people.

I was so exhausted I found myself dozing off, head propped in hand, while sitting at the dining room table over shrimp cocktail and artichoke dip at 3:00 in the afternoon. Luckily my chef husband was in charge of dinner because I simply couldn't do it.

The next day, while poor Steve headed to work, I slept late and then curled up on the couch with the new novel he had given me for Christmas. The kids played quietly with their toys and it was a lovely day all around. When Steve came home, I was still in my pajamas and we had leftovers for dinner. The day ended with me finishing the novel in front of a crackling fire.

вторник, 7 декабря 2010 г.

Fit to Be Tied

Chicken Soup for the Soul: Family Matters

BY: Ann Williamson

A lovely thing about Christmas is that it's compulsory, like a thunderstorm,
and we all go through it together.
~Garrison Keillor

Whoever said that second marriages are twice as hard as first marriages hit the nail on the head. When I met my second husband, I felt my dreams had been answered. We both agreed we wouldn't introduce our children to each other until we knew our relationship was serious. When we got married, I had no illusions that blending two families would be easy.

We were married in May. When Christmas rolled around, we wondered how we would fare with five kids between us, ranging in age from six to fifteen. Some days were pretty hairy, but we were managing.

Shortly after Thanksgiving, we made the decision to go on a search for the perfect Christmas tree. We hit a couple of tree lots, but nothing looked good. Finally, we found a lot where the trees were reasonable and well-shaped. We had four of the five children with us. They were full of Christmas spirit and starting to get on my husband's nerves. To me, they were just being kids.

We all jumped out of the car on this cold day, and the children immediately started wandering all over the lot. My husband, getting grumpier by the minute, ordered everyone back to the car.

It was evident his patience was wearing thin. I gathered the children, and we all sat in the car while he paid for the tree we had selected. We waited patiently while the man from the tree lot placed the tree on top of the car. The lot man gave my husband some rope to tie it on. Being a dutiful wife, I followed my husband's directions as he handed me an end of the rope and advised me to hand it back at the demanded time. This process was repeated several times.

By now, he was on the verge of going ballistic, so I dared not say a word as he completed securing the tree to the roof of the car. After checking it by tugging on the rope several times, he was sure it wouldn't blow off or move until we got it home, just a few short blocks away.

Then, he attempted to open the driver's side door. He pushed the button on the door handle and pulled on it. He had tied the door shut with the rope!

The children looked terrified. I, on the other hand, started to smile. The smile turned into an audible giggle, and the giggle sparked relief and amusement on the part of the children. My husband, realizing what he had done and feeling more than a little foolish, started to relax. But the calmness turned to embarrassment as the lot attendant stood watching while he untied the tree and re-secured it, tying it to the bumpers this time.

By the time we got home, we were all laughing so hard that tears ran down our cheeks. My husband, still not happy but not enraged, laughed along with us until we got home and took the tree off the car.

That happened more than twenty-five years ago, but we still retell the story every Christmas. And every Christmas my husband begs us not to retell it! But it is a fond memory of a particularly difficult time for all of us, which we recall with affection and love.


The Constant

Chicken Soup for the Soul: Thanks Dad

BY: Kimberlee Murray

Love is the condition in which the happiness of another person is essential to your own.
~Robert Heinlein

My parents divorced when I was seven years old. My dad moved out of our house and into his own place and we began our memorable routine of weekly visitations on Wednesday nights and sleepovers every other weekend. It was the characteristic and predictable court-appointed agreement for divorced families. My dad's idea of visitations and parenting, however, was vastly different from the Court's. He made a promise on the day his divorce was final that would change the course of my life forever.

My dad promised that he would be more than just a "weekend dad" who fulfilled his obligatory parental duties with limited visits. He wanted more than anything to be a significant presence in my life even though we were not living under the same roof. To this day, I am so grateful to him for overcoming the many obstacles that face divorced dads and cementing an unbreakable bond with me, his youngest daughter.

Throughout my life my dad made me a priority and everybody knew it. He would stop by my house every day, usually after school, to chat for a minute and tell me how much he loved and missed me. I waited on most days with eager anticipation for his shiny, yellow 1976 Stingray Corvette to turn the corner of our block and meander slowly toward my house. When I spotted my dad with the T-tops off and the windows down, I just knew my day was going to get better. Sometimes he would take me for a ride and sometimes we would just sit in the car and talk for a few minutes in the driveway while he learned about what went on in my day.

I felt like the luckiest girl in the world to have someone so interested in what was happening in my life. If he could not see me in person he would call on the phone. For the next eleven years until I left for college, I talked to my dad every single day.

During the weekends that I spent at his house I can remember him grilling the best pork chops I've ever tasted. He made scrambled eggs for breakfast every morning and cooked pot roast to perfection on Sundays. He always let me help because everything we did, we did together. He rarely accepted any party or dinner invitations on our weekends together because he cherished our time alone as much as I did. We played catch or Frisbee in the yard and rode bikes or took walks to find secret treasures. My fondest memory of those weekends, however, was when my dad would turn on the stove after dinner and I would hear the slow crackle and smell the unmistakable aroma of Jiffy Pop popcorn. I can remember like yesterday the excitement I felt as the tinfoil pouch began to rise and steam poured out from the sides of the pan. My dad would shake and jiggle and pop those kernels to absolute perfection every time.

My adolescence was a typically confusing time, but the bond I had with my dad was the constant in an otherwise chaotic life. After the divorce, and during all of the tumultuous times that the divorce brought to our family (remarriages, stepfamilies, bitter ex-spouses etc.), he always listened patiently. He never discounted the sometimes complex feelings of a young girl. He just listened. And he remained the only reliable, stable presence in my life. I could count on my dad to take me to every doctor or orthodontist appointment, watch every softball game, attend every conference and be present at every significant life event. He always lived up to his promise. I cannot say that about anyone else.

All of my life lessons I learned from my dad. He taught me that you must keep your word. Period. He taught me to be kind, fair and just. He taught me to take the high road, give 110% and never let 'em see you sweat. He taught me that success is a journey, not a destination. But most importantly, he taught me by example.

Conventional wisdom says that to be successful you should simply develop the traits you admire in other successful people. As I figured out what to do with my life and how I wanted to live I didn't have to look too far for inspiration. My dad is, by far, the most successful person I know. Ever since I was a little girl, I have admired his sense of humor, determination and integrity. He taught me that my only limitations were those that I imposed on myself. I will always be thankful for having such an encouraging and loving teacher in my father; something that many young women of divorced families never get to experience with their own fathers.

Even though I recognized and appreciated my dad's love, it wasn't until I had my own children that I realized the profundity of our bond. The closeness we share has always transcended space and time, but I am even more in awe of our relationship because now I can fully appreciate his sense of purpose. To comprehend my dad's unconditional love for me I need look no further than my own children. When I look deep into their adoring eyes and promise to love them forever and ever, I see the reflection of pure happiness and joy staring back at me. I know my dad must have seen that same blissful reflection in my eyes.

The confidence and security I possess today as a person and a parent is directly related to the man who vowed so many years ago to be more than just a "weekend dad." He made good on his promise in more ways than I can convey in one story. However, I am most thankful for the father who took in his arms a scared, confused and angry seven-year-old and whispered in her ear, "I love you and I will never leave you."