воскресенье, 28 февраля 2010 г.

Opting for a Slower Pace

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Count Your Blessings

By Mimi Greenwood Knight

In the 1980s, my husband, David, and I married, bought a home, and began our careers. It wasn't long before a friend informed us we were "Young Upwardly-Mobile People" or "Yuppies." Who knew?

Then came the 1990s. Still childless, we were working from dawn to dusk and spending nights and weekends at the local amateur theater. It was a great life. That's when another friend told us we were, "Double Income No Kids" or "DINKs." It was news to us.

In the next few years, we went from double income-no kids to single income-three kids and began a whirlwind of diaper bags, minivans, and play groups. We decided I'd put my career on hold and be a full-time mom. After waiting so long to have a family, we wanted to do this thing right. Before we knew it, elementary school came along, and things really got hectic.

We signed up for gymnastics, soccer, Girl Scouts, T-ball, and karate. So much to do. So little time to do it all. There were art classes, French, and Suzuki violin.

A balanced dinner became nachos and a corn dog at the ballpark.

Some of our most meaningful conversations took place on our street with David sitting in his car heading home from work and me in mine dashing off with the kids in another direction. "Dinner's in the microwave." Kiss. Kiss.

I suppose it was inevitable that I discovered I was, once again, an American cliché when yet another friend informed me I was a "Soccer Mom." I could live with that.

Then one day, I looked around and thought "What are we doing?"

We had three beautiful, healthy kids and everything we ever wanted. Yet the five of us hardly knew each other.

I'd put my career on hold to be a full-time mom and had become a full-time maniac. My schedule was worse than it had been when I was working. I couldn't remember a time when we'd had dinner around the table like a real family.

Was this what we were aiming for? No time for us to be a family, no time for our kids to be kids, to use their imaginations, to enjoy just doing nothing?

By trying to give our kids everything, what were we taking away from them?

After several late-night discussions and a lot of praying, David and I decided we wanted out of the minivan marathon. Secretly, I wondered if it'd be that easy.

When friends asked, "Do you want to carpool to karate?" or called, "See you at the ball field?" I took a deep breath and declared we were taking some time off.

As they raced past our front door, we stayed home and built birdhouses, baked cookies, read books in the hammock, and planted a vegetable garden. My kids made stuff. They painted. We took nature walks and wrote nonsense poems. Our river replaced the van as the place we were most likely to be found.

I had moments of panic when I thought of all my kids were missing. The twenty-first century was going on without us. Should we clamber to catch up? David and I lay awake at night second-guessing ourselves. Maybe we didn't have to cut out everything. Maybe just French, gymnastics, and...

Then I began to hear my friends complaining that no matter how much they did, their children were always bored. Meanwhile, my own kids made blanket forts, performed original plays, composed songs on the piano, taught tricks to the dog, wrote stories, and were anything but bored. They didn't ask for TV. They didn't ask to go anywhere. They were too busy just being kids.

Instead of rushing out of the office to meet me at the ballpark, David came home to a picnic dinner in the backyard. He and I began to remember why we'd married each other.

For once we were bucking the trend, and we'd never been happier.

I guess it had to happen and this past week it did. Much to my dismay, a friend informed us we are "minimalists," and that "minimalism" is the newest trend with American families.

It seems that even when we try to be pioneers we're destined to follow the crowd.

All I can say is, if kids having time to be kids and families having time to be families is a trend, then this is one time this former Yuppie, DINK, Soccer Mom is glad to be considered trendy.


Staircase of Faith

Chicken Soup for the Soul: Count Your Blessings

BY: Janeen A. Lewis

In actual life, every great enterprise begins with and takes its first forward step in faith.
~August Wilhelm von Schlegel

When my son Andrew was born three years ago, my husband and I decided to live beneath our financial means -- way, way, beneath our means. I wanted to stay at home to care for Andrew, and that would mean cutting our already average income in half. It was a vast commitment, and our family's well-being hung in the balance.

The cost of our ever-rising health insurance, home mortgage, and monthly expenses loomed before us; but our desire to raise our son without the use of day care outweighed any other costs.

Needless to say, we were a little intimidated by what the future held. But I was consoled and filled with courage by something Martin Luther King, Jr. once said: "Faith is taking the first step, even when you don't see the whole staircase."

It felt like we were taking a running leap onto a one-step staircase when I quit my teaching job.

I already had experience living meagerly -- as a single woman on a teacher's income. I always knew I wanted to stay at home to take care of a family if I were blessed with one, and gave up expensive clothes and shoes to save for the future. I bought an eight-year-old Honda, ate out and went to the movies less, and moonlighted. I lived in a safe but no frills, low-rent apartment less than two miles from school, and went on vacation twice (including my honeymoon) during eight years of teaching.

I think it was during those single years of tightening the purse strings I first learned about humility, gratitude, and living on less. My thinking began to change about what it really meant to do "without."

I would catch myself feeling irritated that I had to walk down a flight of steps tugging and toting my overflowing laundry basket, detergent, and armored truck's worth of quarters to another building to wash my clothes. I would even chide myself -- if you weren't such a tightwad, you could just spend your savings and move to a bigger apartment with your own washer and dryer.

Then one day my barrage of complaining thoughts was interrupted with this thought: what would someone in a wheelchair feel like if she were in your shoes? Wouldn't she be rejoicing that she could walk to the laundry room?

I would silently resent it when I ate macaroni and cheese for dinner, and then I would hear about someone in Haiti who would have to drag a cup through the mud to catch enough water for a drink.

I began to realize that wealth is relative. If my basic needs were met and I was loved, I was rich.

The flip side was that as my savings increased; I slept better at night knowing I could afford to take care of emergencies as they arose.

I began to appreciate the small things, like a warm cup of cocoa on a snowy day all snuggled up in my warm apartment, or the toothless grins and pudgy-armed hugs of my primary students. I was giving up things, and yet I felt wealthier than I ever had. When I gave up my desire for lofty possessions, the simple things in my life became loftier.

While I came to my stay-at-home stint with some knowledge of thriftiness, I realized it was one thing to live frugally when I was single. It was quite another to do it while my husband and I were responsible for supporting our son.

Nonetheless, we were up for the challenge.

I nursed my son for eleven months, alleviating the cost of formula, and we washed cloth diapers, something I wanted to do for the environment anyway. I began comparing prices, buying store brands or using coupons, and rebating. Cashing in on franchise drug store rebates was like finding a gold mine -- I got almost all our toiletries and some household items free.

My husband learned how to fix our cars and do repairs around the house, and I continued driving my still-ticking sixteen-year-old Honda. I gladly gave up my cell phone, and began to freelance write and babysit to supplement. We ate out only on special occasions and stopped buying expensive gifts for one another, opting for beautifully written cards and time together as a family. Most importantly, I prayed without ceasing.

When my son happily opened his gifts Christmas morning, my husband and I didn't need anything under the tree to be content. We already had everything we wanted (and even some clutter that we didn't), and it was a relief to enjoy the season without the stressful scramble to purchase all the material trimmings. I told my husband, "Staying at home with Andrew is my gift. It's like my birthday, wedding anniversary, and Christmas all rolled into one."

We have been living on less for more than three years now. Before we took that leap of faith, I didn't know the blessings that would pour down on us, and what I have witnessed has been amazing. At this date, we are less than two years away from owning our home and being completely debt-free. We have ample insurance, save for Andrew's college education, and give to our church, individuals, and donation centers as much as we can.

The quality of my life has not changed; the wealth in my spirit has become an overflowing river. Andrew and I walk to the creek bordering our backyard, his dimpled hand in mine. He throws in a twig to watch it drift away, and I am marvelously aware of how that tiny bundle has grown since that first day when we could only see the first step in the staircase.

With the ever-changing economic climate, there are days when I still feel a little uneasy. But then I realize that my hope and security do not lie in the stock market, the deed to our house, our savings account, or anything material that can rust or fade away. How many people who have lost a loved one to disease or tragedy would give all their material possessions just to embrace that loved one again? My faith and contentment cannot depend on what our bankroll looks like. As for my husband and I, we are glad to climb an ever-lengthening staircase of faith and are savoring the priceless time we have with our newborn.

No, we don't own an expensive house or drive vehicles manufactured in this decade. We don't wear the latest fashions or dine out regularly. We don't buy our son expensive toys or baby gear. And do you know what? He doesn't notice because he doesn't know what OshKosh B'Gosh is or what "make and model" means. He just wants time with us. We give him as much time as possible and shower him with learning and love. We read, play, and sing, and the quality of our lives continues to get better every day.

It was when we loosened our hold on material possessions that we realized we were rich. If you are approaching a staircase and you can only see the first step, I challenge you to take a deep breath, have some faith, and leap. You may be surprised where you will land.


пятница, 26 февраля 2010 г.

Moon's Shot

Chicken Soup for the Soul: Inside Basketball

BY: Marc Narducci

Shoot for the moon. You may not hit it, but you won't come up with a handful of mud, either.
~Leo Burnett

Jamario Moon didn't take the common route to the NBA. One has to wonder how could anybody embark on such a trip, but more importantly where did Moon find the gumption to survive the journey? Only a stubborn belief in his ability earned Moon the long-awaited opportunity of suiting up in an NBA uniform as a twenty-seven-year-old rookie.

And now that he is a member of the Toronto Raptors, the 6'8" Moon has shown the NBA what countless other leagues have viewed -- a player with off-the-chart leaping ability and hunger for the game that enabled him to persevere when most others would have packed it in. While Moon can jump through the building, the fact that he stayed grounded while suffering one setback after another, gives a true indication of the fortitude he exhibited in order to finally make it in the NBA.

His career prior to his rookie season in 2007-2008 with the Toronto Raptors consisted of a litany of alphabet soup leagues. There was the CBA, the WBA, the ABA, the USBL, the NBDL, one lower-level league after another, but Moon used each as a stepping stone to the NBA. In addition to playing in the U.S. minor leagues, he also spent time competing in Mexico along with a stint with the Harlem Globetrotters. Finally, Moon not only won a roster spot, but eventually earned a place in the Raptors starting lineup as a rookie.

Actually it was a certain fear that kept Moon from quitting when the odds weren't exactly stacked in his favor. "I'm scared of failure and I just didn't want to fail and I didn't want to give up," Moon said. "God had a plan for me and if I stopped, I would have failed Him. I didn't want to do that so I wanted to keep going."

After just one season of competing at Meridian Community College in Mississippi, Moon applied for the NBA draft in 2001. Following that decision, he encountered the first of many road bumps when he wasn't selected in the draft. "I thought I would get drafted, go to camp and wind up making somebody's team," Moon said. "I wound up having to go a different route." A much more complex route.

In addition to his minor league experience, Moon played for NBA summer league teams of the Milwaukee Bucks, Los Angeles Lakers and Utah Jazz. He also participated in a Philadelphia 76ers mini-camp in 2002.

And of course there were the minor leagues. He said the toughest of all the lower-level basketball leagues was the American Basketball Association, where he played for the Kentucky Colonels in 2004. Sometimes the checks wouldn't arrive exactly on time. "I still wanted to play, but it's hard to play when you aren't getting paid," he said. "A couple of times I toughed it out and they finally came around with a paycheck but it was hard." Yet not impossible, especially with a mental outlook that was a strong as his drives to the basket.

"I always thought I would make it," he said. "I felt if I kept doing what I was doing and worked hard, I'd be there."

A big break came for Moon in the 2006-2007 season while playing for the Albany Patroons of the Continental Basketball Association. That season he was named the league's defensive player of the year and helped the Patroons advance to the CBA finals before losing to Yakima. A Toronto Raptors scout attended a few of his games and then invited Moon to mini-camp.

Whether it was as a scout, fan, or team executive, it was easy to identify Moon's enthusiasm for the game. "He is just a real fun-loving person who has a smile from coast- to-coast," said Albany vice president and general manager Dave Bestle. "Jamario was doing something he loved and he always believed in himself."

Despite taking an unconventional route to the NBA, Moon quickly earned the respect of his Raptors teammates. "It's not a common thing in the NBA to have somebody that old make it, but so much of it is getting the opportunity and the right chance and circumstance," said Raptors teammate Anthony Parker. "He's definitely gotten the right opportunity in a good situation and he has made the most of it."

Since he had to take the extended route to reach the NBA, Moon now takes nothing for granted. "What I went through makes me appreciate every little thing," he said. "If it wasn't for those different minor leagues I played in, I don't think I would be here because I always had somewhere to keep playing if I wasn't in the NBA." And then showing his gratitude, he added, "I am thankful for those leagues."

Moon has to laugh when he hears NBA players complaining about such things as the travel, the difficult schedule or any other perceived inconvenience related to their job. "I don't want to hear complaining because they should go down and play one month in some of the leagues I played in and they would come back and appreciate where they are a whole lot more," he said. "A lot of people feel they are in tough positions when they are really at the top."

Nobody feels more on top of things than Moon, who understands that his story could provide inspiration for the countless others who are chasing that NBA dream. "Hopefully I am an inspiration," he said. "People have to realize that they should never give up."


The Front Porch

Chicken Soup for the Soul: The Cancer Book

BY: Vince and Rebecca Yauger

"I don't think I can do this anymore."

My wife looked at me through huge brown eyes, rapidly filling with tears.

"Yes, you can. You only have five more radiation treatments to go."

I held her close, stroking her hair. She huddled deeper under the covers and relaxed in my arms.

Ever since the breast cancer diagnosis, she had tried so hard to be strong. I know she wanted to be strong for the kids and for me.

I had lost my first wife in a car accident and was happy to have taken another chance on love by marrying Becky, my high school sweetheart. When her diagnosis came, my first thought was, there was no way I could go through this again, no way could I lose another wife. Becky knew this. The doctors assured us we had caught the cancer early so we were feeling positive.

We managed to get through her lumpectomy and the recovery from that. After six weeks of radiation, Becky was facing her final five treatments. She was weak, fatigued, and couldn't find her usual fighting spirit. It angered me to see her suffering and burrowing under the covers on a beautiful Labor Day weekend. I felt so helpless and powerless. Once Becky assured me she was okay, I left her to rest.

I went outside. Always one to have a project going, I decided to tackle the front porch. There was wood rot, and some areas that needed to be replaced. As I got outside, long-held frustration and anger erupted in me like a volcano. I took a sledgehammer and suddenly was swinging as hard as I could, pounding and banging on the porch.

I imagined the splintering of wood to be the splintering of my wife's cancer. I couldn't tear the cancer from my wife's body, but I could ravage our front porch, imagining that with every bit of wood I smashed, I was smashing cancer.

With all my might, I pulverized the column that held the porch overhang.

Throughout this whole cancer ordeal, my wife had been very brave. She said she had it easy, because she didn't have to go through chemotherapy.

Looking at Becky today, I don't think it was easy. I felt inadequate at the time because I couldn't fix it. I had to give up control to doctors, surgeons, radiologists, and God. I tried to be strong for her, until that day when she folded and I finally blew.

A while later, I saw her standing at the window, shaking her head. The front porch was gone. I came into the house and walked into our bedroom, not knowing how she would react to the havoc I had wreaked in front of our house.

"Becky, you aren't mad at me, are you?"
She looked at me in surprise. "Mad at you? For what?"

I pointed out the front window. "For tearing down the porch."

She laughed. "Look how sunny this room is now. I love that it's brighter in here."

I was relieved and embraced her, grateful to hear laughter.

"Vince, can I ask you one thing?"

Becky looked at me, still holding on to my hands.


"Why did you tear it down?"

"Well, I couldn't tear the cancer out of you, so I tore down the porch instead."

"Do you feel better?" She asked, crying what seemed to be happy tears.

"Yeah, I think I do." I shrugged my shoulders but grinned at her.

"Thanks, honey, for tearing down the porch."


Becky had a huge smile on her face.

"You comforted me in my darkest hour, Vince, and you found a way to deal with your own frustration. By destroying the porch, you let the sun shine in, and not just into our bedroom."

As I looked around the brightened room that day, I realized the light that filled the space was the light of hope that shines so bright after the darkness.

We never did re-build the porch.


Helping Hands

Chicken Soup for the Soul: Inside Basketball

BY: David Nichols

If you need a helping hand, look toward the end of your arm.
~Charles Kettering

As a resident of The Emerald City, my heart swelled with civic and human pride when I read accounts of the Seattle Sonics' visit to New Orleans in January 2008. Professional athletes are often thought of as egocentric, self-serving individuals, but the actions of the Sonics' coaches and players threaten to destroy such characterizations.

When the Seattle Sonics team came to the city of New Orleans to play the Hornets that January, the team was blown away by the devastation that was left from Hurricane Katrina. As the darkness descended on the corner of Canal and Claiborne, they witnessed the homeless who occupied the dozens of tents that littered the underpass of Interstate 10. They had just concluded another day of despair and some coaches were moved to tears. They were staying at the posh Ritz-Carlton, and the harsh contrast when considering the plight of Katrina victims made them feel uncomfortable and guilty.

The day before their game with the Hornets, the team bus was directed to head to the tent area. Players and coaches spent forty-five minutes handing out food to the homeless who had congregated under New Orleans' busiest freeway since Hurricane Katrina. An entire homeless community was there, and it was an amazing scene when the Sonics' team bus pulled over on Canal Street and a group of tall, muscular young men pulled food, water and supplies from the bottom of the bus.

As the homeless people lined up, a frail-looking woman walked over and asked where the line started. There was no line; this was no scheduled stop. After the team had served those in a substance-abuse rehabilitation center near downtown New Orleans, they wanted to do more. The NBA suggests that teams run basketball clinics for those Katrina victims, but the team really didn't think the New Orleans homeless needed to work on their ball-handling skills. They wanted to help directly and reach out to those in Tent City.

One coach remarked, "Our players are just good guys, but a lot of times you do something like this and it's almost like you have to make the players come. With our players, it was the complete opposite; it's a great thing. New Orleans still has major bleeding and exposed wounds from Katrina, and Tent City is one of them. The state has set aside $6 million for the New Orleans Hornets practice facility, but is uncertain what to do with the homelessness issue."

That day they served the homeless, players and coaches lined up outside the bus, each with a food item. Assistant coach Ralph Lewis had sandwiches. Player Delonte West had dinners in a Styrofoam container. Rookie Kevin Durant had rolls.

The homeless ranged from a woman with a broken left arm who gathered all her food with her right arm, to a teenager who pulled out a cell phone during his meal. When the heavy traffic died down, the players scooped up all the supplies and personally delivered them to those sitting in the tents. They were intent on handing out every bit of food and water the Sonics purchased.
Their objective was to try and lift those guys up through a tough time; they wanted to encourage them and urge them to keep fighting. The people in Tent City are pretty much beaten down, and when the players and coaches paid attention to them -- treated them as human beings -- it meant a whole lot to them. The majority of them were sports fans and appreciated the concern from the team. It seemed to encourage them.

With their mission accomplished, a coach said, "It's a good thing and at the same time it's nothing." But it was a little something that demonstrated that NBA stars can respond with compassion, and the people appreciated it. These Emerald City shining gems, in the person of the Seattle Sonics, had indeed brightened the lives and hopes of Katrina's Tent City victims, personifying the association's motto: "The NBA Cares."


Seeing Is Believing

Chicken Soup for the Soul: Twins and More

BY: Linda S. Clare

There was never a child so lovely but his mother was glad to get him to sleep.
~Ralph Waldo Emerson

A few days after I brought my surprise twins home from the hospital, I was exhausted. My husband and I already had two boys. Overnight, our family had doubled in size to six. The wise advice to "sleep when the babies sleep" proved elusive when I was also chasing after a first-grader and a preschooler. By the end of the new babies' second week, I'd put the milk jug in the oven, brushed my teeth with hand cream and left my purse at the grocery checkout.

Friends and relatives dropped by with casseroles, but everyone I knew seemed terrified to take two newborns for even an hour. Life became an endless parade of feeding and changing, with my oldest son Nathan's math homework thrown in for good measure. Had I ever known the answer to nine take away three? As Nathan reminded, "That's easy, Mom. Just count how many in our family." After that, he asked his dad for help with arithmetic. I was a mom in desperate need of sleep.

Every day I plotted what I'd do if I found time. If only I could get the twins comfortable and down for a nap, I kept thinking, I'd do something important, like get dressed or wash my hair. But the kids always found my time before I did.

I finally broke down. I told my husband he could either entertain our two older boys for a few hours or else watch his wife have a meltdown. He wisely said, "I'll take them fishing!" I waved to the three of them as they drove off.

That afternoon, I sat on my bed and reveled in the quiet. The babies, looking cherubic in their bassinettes, both napped longer than usual. They each had the sweetest little rosebud-shaped mouths, the same wispy brown hair. My head touched my pillow, and I fell asleep, too.

I awoke with a start. At 5:00 P.M., my three fishermen were still gone. The babies weren't crying. I checked the twins, thinking that I shouldn't have let them sleep so long. I woke them -- something no mom should ever do -- and fed them, but the rest of the family still wasn't home.

On a whim, I decided to give my bundles of joy their first tub bath. I brought out the cute hooded towels I'd received as gifts and the miniature bottles of baby shampoo, lotion and powder. I used my elbow to test the bath water. One at a time, I bathed my newborns, and then swaddled each in a towel.

I dressed them in fresh diapers and laid them side by side on my bed. They kicked and cooed, two perfect children waving their newborn arms. But their hospital ID bands, which read "Baby A" and "Baby B," caught my eye. Wasn't it about time to snip those bands off? I grabbed a pair of scissors and went to work, thinking about how I'd scrapbook the bracelets in their baby book.

Suddenly, terror gripped me. Which baby was which? I stared down at my two-week-old twins and tried to think. I began to sob.
Just then, Nathan and Chris burst into the bedroom. "We're home!" Chris shouted. I nodded, still crying. My husband rushed to my side. "What's wrong?" He anxiously eyed the babies, still on the bed.

I sputtered and blubbered, but managed to blurt out what I'd done. "Now I'll never be able to tell them apart," I wailed.

My husband looked stunned for a moment, and then put his arms around me. "Take off their diapers," he whispered, grinning. I was so tired I'd forgotten that boy/girl twins aren't exactly alike.


A Semester with T.S. Eliot

Chicken Soup for the Soul: Campus Chronicles

BY: Kathleen Ingraham

The art of teaching is the art of assisting discovery.
~Mark Van Doren

It was the first day of second semester during my senior year at the University of Kansas. As an English major, I was looking forward to one more semester full of reading for hours and writing inspiring essays (I know, what a dork). It was going to be the last hurrah of my undergraduate career and I wanted more than anything to go out with a bang.

Then I went to my last class of the day. It was a study on the poet, dramatist, and critic, T.S. Eliot. I knew little of Eliot, but I figured that by now I could easily handle any upper level English course. I shouldn't have been so optimistic.

When my professor walked into the class I almost laughed out loud. He looked like a stereotypical college professor, complete with a corduroy jacket and a briefcase. I kept thinking at any moment he would pull out a pipe. He had a British accent despite the fact that his hometown was somewhere in South Carolina.

Like many of my other professors, he found it necessary to torture his students on the first day of classes by making them introduce themselves to the class, giving information that no one really needs to know. One by one, each student stated their name, hometown, and major. Afterwards we were supposed to tell one interesting fact about ourselves. This task was always much harder for me than it should have been. None of my classmates seemed to feel this way as they rattled off interesting literary works that they felt somehow related to them. The biggest overachievers of the class recited Eliot's work and then went on to relate it to their life. By the time it was my turn, I was so lost I almost got up and ran. It was obvious to me that I wasn't going to fit into this class unless I learned some new vocabulary quickly.

I introduced myself the best I could. I tried to make Lenexa, Kansas, sound exotic rather than a quiet, suburban town twenty-eight miles from campus. Then, I very excitedly announced that come May I would be taking the traditional walk down the hill to celebrate graduation.

My professor, who already looked disappointed in me, lowered his head and said, "Well, you have to pass my class first. So we'll see."

I waited for him to laugh. He didn't. A giant lumped formed in my throat. I already hated T.S. Eliot and I had yet to read a piece of his work.

For the next four months, it was Eliot who haunted my dreams. I would read his poems five or six times and write down comments that would make me look smart. It didn't fool anyone. My reading responses were always returned to me covered in red ink. Usually my professor would kindly write at the bottom: "I think you missed the point." But I would not be defeated. I had sat through too many boring lectures and written too many papers on topics I cared little about to let one professor keep me from getting the ultimate prize: my degree.

So I did the unthinkable. I gave my assignments everything I had. I stayed in on Friday nights and spent hours in a quiet corner of the library reading everything I could about Eliot. I wrote and rewrote my final paper until I was sure it was the best thing I had ever written. It had to be -- it was worth seventy percent of my final grade.

I patiently waited for my grades to be posted. I would wake up at six every morning and quickly log on to the computer, hoping that I had passed. I couldn't eat or sleep. Forget having fun, all I could think about were the works of Eliot. His poems raced through my mind days after our final class. I would go for runs and recite "Ash Wednesday" with every step I took.

Finally, the day came. Just before graduation, my grade was posted. There next to the name of that horrific class was the letter B. It might as well have been an A, because I had never felt more proud of myself.

I didn't have the heart to sell back my T.S. Eliot books. We had been through so much that I felt I couldn't part with them. I keep them tucked away in my closet for now. I'm not ready to re-read them yet. I'm worried the nightmares of that semester will return. But I happily look at my diploma and remind myself that with hard work and determination, I can always overcome even the biggest critic.


Cinnamon Hearts and Rocky Mountains

Chicken Soup for the Soul: The Cancer Book

BY: Bonnie Jarvis-Lowe

Sunbeams pour in through the windows, warming the room and giving it a cheery atmosphere. In the distance, I can see the stately Rocky Mountains, appearing deceptively close in the morning mist. People lie in huge, comfortable reclining chairs, their voices soft and muted, interrupted by an occasional beep. Enjoying the taste of a tiny cinnamon candy, I sit and soak up the glorious vista before me.

Then, a quiet voice brings me back to where I really am, and why.

"Mom, can you please adjust the blinds? The sun is shining in my eyes."

Turning to my daughter, I notice the sunlight is directly in her face. As I rise to adjust the blinds, the reality of our situation pierces my whole being.

We're in a Treatment Room in a large Calgary hospital. Each of the large, blue chairs holds someone receiving intravenous therapy, enabling these people to regain their health and move on with their lives.

A young man studying the lines of a play in which he has a role is receiving a much-needed anti-rejection drug. A grandfather receiving blood transfusions has a photo of his grandson taped to the IV pole. My daughter is receiving chemotherapy for the malignancy that has invaded her young body. Her purse holds an angel given to her by my sister to accompany her to treatments and various appointments.

The intravenous flow control pumps, so familiar to me from my years of nursing, hum, beep, and blink their miniature lights like futuristic, decorative trees. My daughter is settled in a chair at the end of the line, surrounded by her much loved books, yet constantly observing her fellow patients, chatting with her nurses, and occasionally reaching for her candy dish, filled with tiny red cinnamon hearts. A kind mother, whose son had undergone treatment, has told her that the cinnamon flavor will disguise the chemical taste caused by chemotherapy.

So many of those ailing people and their worried family members are sharing tips and stories. I've seen it often as a nurse and admired it so much. Now, the situation is reversed and I am the family member appreciating these tips, and my daughter is the patient.

We share anything helpful, anything that might ease the hurt for someone else. When I adjust the blinds, my eyes are drawn to the candy dish on the table connected to my daughter's chair. A tiny, dazzling sunbeam glistens off its shiny rim. The sun's warmth causes the red candy to emit the sweet smell of cinnamon. It's a smell of special occasions: mulled apple cider at Christmas time, stirred with a cinnamon stick, warm cinnamon rolls my daughter enjoys after skiing, and the smell of her favorite loaf I used to make. I decide to make it again soon.

As I remember these occasions, I am filled with heartache, but I won't let my daughter notice.
Never once have I heard her ask, "Why me?" I've never seen her be anything but pleasant to those she meets in this room or anywhere else in the hospital. She shares her cinnamon hearts, telling her fellow patients, "Mom got lucky, they're on sale after Valentine's Day," which makes those around her smile. I cannot help but admire her courage.

She is the young wife whose wedding pictures show a healthy, athletic, beautiful bride. She is the mother of a smart, equally beautiful three-year-old child, and she is my daughter who spreads words of encouragement to all she meets. I cannot help but be impressed at how patiently she sits for five hours while her life-saving medications are administered.

Peeking through the blinds a little later, I see that the mist has disappeared from the Rockies' peaks. The mountains look like the rock candy we had as children; the cinnamon hearts show their red blush and share their wonderful scent. Put it all together and it is a healing recipe for the soul.

I am in a room full of fear and courage, with a smiling, but very ill, daughter. And I have cinnamon hearts and Rocky Mountains. It is a moment to remember forever.


The One Who Never Was

Chicken Soup for the Soul: True Love

BY: Jeffrey Nathan Schirripa

'Tis better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all.
~Alfred Lord Tennyson

It was Thursday, around 5:30 P.M. on a perfect spring day; I was sitting in the patio section of a restaurant across the street from a busy train terminal, waiting for Marie to arrive. Every couple of minutes the terminal would unleash a fresh batch of homebound commuters. The seemingly endless waves of commuters served as a good distraction as I continued battling the army of butterflies in my stomach. I am not accustomed to being nervous but it seemed appropriate to feel anxious before my first date with the girl who I didn't want to remember and could never forget.

One week before, I had seen Marie for the first time since graduating college three years earlier. I had finally revealed the truth that had been haunting me since the first moment I ever saw her, a truth I had spent years trying to ignore, a truth which had to be confessed, a truth she deserved to hear, a truth she needed to believe -- Marie is the standard against which I measure all other women. Another train pulled in and the terminal started producing a new mob of commuters when Marie called to tell me she had arrived.

The butterflies kicked into high gear as I looked across the street. This wave of commuters contained the woman who forever changed the way I look at all other women. Marie stood out from the crowd like a rose in a barren desert. She wore an unforgettably bright smile and casually walked with an elegance that was as surreal as it was intoxicating. My breath was taken away at the first sight of her beautiful smile. Somehow Marie found a way to make her smile even more alluring when she spotted me from across the street and started walking over.

Little did I know, this date would be the start of an enlightening journey that would ultimately leave me with the knowledge that following your heart will prove insufficient if you allow your fears to create even the slightest bit of hesitation or restraint.

The next two years were a roller coaster. During good times we talked for hours, laughed and enjoyed being together as if our ups and downs and everything else in the world were completely irrelevant. I found myself totally at peace with the job I created for myself -- making her feel as comfortable, safe and happy as possible. I thought her eyes revealed that she reciprocated my feelings.
It was not only Marie's physical beauty that captivated me; it was something infinitely more rare and significant. By my standards, nothing can compare to a person who effortlessly exudes an energy that eases the mind of all stress, while simultaneously enabling all that truly matters in life to be displayed with brilliant clarity and joy. The women I had dated in the past all possessed the attributes I wanted (intelligence, humor, physical/inner beauty and compassion) but those characteristics were never enough to make me content -- I needed more. I needed a woman with the unique ability to profoundly strengthen and inspire me, a woman who forced me to become a better person simply because I knew she deserved the absolute best I could offer, a woman whose well-being I viewed as being equally or more important than my own.

Eventually we drifted apart, leaving me wondering why the vicious hot/cold cycle had continued for those two years. Was it because I hadn't been assertive enough about what I wanted? Was it because we are both afraid to trust each other with the inherent responsibility that a deep connection like that requires? Maybe my instincts were all wrong and she never felt the same way for me as I did for her. Regardless of what the real reason was, I don't feel any differently towards her or see her in a lesser light. In a strange way I don't care what the reason was; all that matters to me is that she is happy and safe. Regardless of how much I want to be the one to make her smile like no one else can, I'd be content knowing she is smiling and being treated like gold (as she deserves to be) by someone else.

Even though things turned out much differently than I believed they would, I learned valuable lessons from my experiences with Marie. Truth be told, although I have called Marie "the one who got away," the fears and hesitations which I believe to have ultimately kept us apart made Marie "the one who never was" more than anything else.

Even though I would love to go back in time and change how things unfolded between us, I have no regrets. I followed my heart, and although she never truly returned my feelings, she deserved the kindness I gave her nonetheless. I learned that when a person as special as Marie comes into your life you owe it to yourself and to her to follow your heart and put it all on the line. Otherwise you'll allow your fears to restrict your future, leaving you with nothing but memories of "the one who got away" or even worse, memories of "the one who never was."


First Year Drama

Chicken Soup for the Soul: Teacher Tales

BY: Robbie Iobst

Mistakes are the usual bridge between inexperience and wisdom.
~Phyllis Theroux, Night Lights

My teaching career lasted nineteen glorious years -- actually eighteen glorious years and one year of stupid mistakes. It all started with me sitting in the principal's office, desperate for a job.

"You teach English, Robbie?" He was a short, stocky man with kind eyes, but was obviously tired.

"English is what I want to teach. I have an education degree with minors in English and speech."

He made little noises, as if he were trying to keep himself awake as he read my application and résumé. My eyes skimmed his office looking for a distraction to the war zone of nerves inside my brain.

"Is that Family Feud?"

A framed picture of five men lined up at the game show hung on his wall.

"Yes, my brothers and I were on the show."

"Did you win?"

"No, but we had a great time."

My nerves retreated behind friendly lines, and I began talking about TV. Soon we were laughing like old friends.

"You know what, Robbie? We're also looking for a drama teacher. I see that one of your minors was in speech. Drama and speech are really similar, right? Would you be interested in teaching drama as well as English?"

I'd never taken a drama class in my life, but I smelled employment.

I had three classes that year. First, an English class made up of twenty-seven juniors and seniors, mostly boys, who'd failed English at least once. And after lunch I taught a beginning drama class and then advanced drama.

I entered my first English class determined to be Sidney Poitier in To Sir, with Love. I was going to take my downtrodden ghetto rebels and turn them into citizens with hearts and dreams.

Contrary to the plan, my students were suburban and affluent. Most of them owned either a Porsche or a BMW. But still I had a mission. First battle: to win them over. Easy. I would use one of my greatest assets. I would smile and inspire them.
I walked into Room 219 and smiled widely. With a West Texan accent, my sweet-as-pecan-pie self drawled, "Hi, ya'll. My name is Miss Floyd and we're going to have so much fun."

Swift, knowing glances were exchanged between classmates and my fate was sealed within the first ten minutes.

That year in Room 219 was bumpy. I didn't know how to discipline. They didn't know how to behave. Occasionally, one of the worst of the lot, David, would somehow get into the classroom and set our clock ahead ten minutes. I lived and died by that clock, so when it said time for class to end, I trusted it. More than once, I let the class out to roam the grounds before lunch.

In my attempt to build a curriculum for these students who had failed English in the past, I decided to teach a unit on living life in the real world. This had absolutely nothing to do with English, but I was changing their lives, not just making sure they knew grammar. In that unit, I decided that I would teach salad making. When Poitier did this in To Sir, with Love it was a great success. But my galloping gourmet lecture in 219 didn't go so well. The students thought I was joking. Make a salad? You want to teach us California rich kids how to make a salad? My lesson only lasted fifteen minutes.

"Um, okay everybody. Study hall."

This was my answer to any class that went short. It was also my answer to any class for which I wasn't prepared.

One day, I'd planned to start reading a book. But when I arrived on campus, I found that copies of the book hadn't arrived yet.

Study hall.

I guess I might have earned a couple of extra points if I'd actually made sure they studied. But they weren't the studying kind. In fact, not studying had landed them in my class to begin with, so I let them sit around and talk.

We were having study hall when a woman I'll call Mrs. Pritchett, the curriculum development director, walked in and sat down.

"Can I help you, Mrs. Pritchett?"

"Do you have lesson plans?" Her request came through her nose. Her lips barely moved.
"Sure." I found them for her. "But the books didn't come in."

"So what are you doing?" I wondered if it hurt when she spoke. "I'll observe from here."

I was placed on scholastic probation after that. The good news was that they assigned a mentor to me who actually gave me ideas for curriculum. The bad news was that I'd already established myself as a too-lenient teacher who really didn't know a lot about teaching.

Drama was difficult, but got better with time. I bought a book on how to teach it, which I kept with me always. I faked it when I could and asked for help when I really needed it. I'm happy to say our first play was a big hit. After I had one under my belt, I fell into a rhythm of joy and work and relief. We would stay after class for rehearsals, and we naturally became quite close.

They called me Mom (even though I was only twenty-six), and we laughed about everything.

Unfortunately, my inexperience got the better of me again. The rules about student/teacher relationships had been laid out to me clearly. But I began spending a lot of time with the kids outside of school and even went to a movie -- which was strictly forbidden -- with two senior boys from my advanced drama class.

I ended up on probation for the second time that year. Even so, my principal offered me the drama position again for the following year, but only if I'd also teach music.

What? Music?

I declined and left the school. Later, I'd see him almost yearly at countywide school functions. "Hey Debbie," he'd always say. "How you doing?"

I never corrected him. It comforted me to think that that awful first-year teacher was named Debbie and not Robbie.

Fourteen years after my first year as a teacher, sweet poetic justice with a splash of irony visited me. During teacher orientation, one of the rookie teachers came up to me. He was tall and in his early thirties.

"Hello. I don't know if you remember me, but my name is David. I think I owe you an apology."
At first, I didn't recognize him, but as he explained, a bell went off.

David had been one of my English students that first year. Indeed, he was the ringleader behind the clock re-setting.

"David, it's okay. I made so many mistakes that year. I learned the hard way. So you're a teacher? How long?"

"This is my first year."

It was a wonderful moment and I laughed out loud.

"Oh David, God is going to get you back big time."


Spirit Run

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

BY: Veronica S. Hutton

If you're alone, I'll be your shadow. If you want to cry, I'll be your shoulder. If you want a hug, I'll be your pillow. If you need to be happy, I'll be your smile. But anytime you need a friend, I'll just be me.
~Author Unknown

We rarely see a streak of red now, in the distant hills, when we scan the surrounding countryside from our home. There was a time when we could count on it. We would look up and point excitedly, "There she is! Do you see her!?" It was a beautiful sight, exhilarating. We can still count on the beauty of that red creature now, but usually she's lying in a big lump at our feet or just running ahead of the truck to the barn and back. She's content now just to be. She's our dog, Ginger.

She adopted us several years ago when I learned that her owners had moved from a nearby home and abandoned her. She had been hanging out with our neighbors' dogs, scavenging for scraps of food and affection.

Well, I knew my husband, Lowell, felt we already had enough pets, with a Jack Russell Terrier, my son Chase's cat, and a goat. But when this timid, Irish Setter-type dog showed up one afternoon, I knew there was something special about her. In my head, I heard my husband warning me, "If you feed her, she'll never leave!"

So I fed her.

When my husband returned from the barn with my son, he stopped dead in his tracks when he saw us on the porch. I had one hand laid protectively on Ginger's head. Lowell just said, "Uh-uh. No way. If it were up to you, we'd have a dozen strays around here!"

He and my son began to pet her, and I started pleading her case. I didn't think I would be able to convince Lowell, but Ginger came to her own defense. When my son took off through the field toward the barn, Ginger went with him, staying right by his side, literally touching him the whole way. My husband immediately changed his mind and Ginger changed her fate and prevented a major battle in my household with that one loving gesture.

Before long, we observed behaviors in Ginger that revealed a disturbing past. Not only was she extremely timid and submissive, but she would flinch or cower at any sudden movement around her. She was so easily frightened that we all learned to move more slowly and deliberately around her.
She also hoarded food. She would hide or bury food and animal carcasses everywhere around our home. Although she was being fed well, even leaving food in her dish, she would often show up with scraps of food or food wrappers, and frantically search for a place to hide them. Once, I looked out the back window to see her with half a loaf of bread, the slices still intact, crammed in her mouth. She was madly pacing back and forth along the bank behind our house, looking for just the right spot to conceal her bounty.

Even her requests for attention were timid, although she incessantly craved love and affection. She would just gently place her snout against our leg or hand and stand there patiently. Sometimes we might feel a gentle nudge. Occasionally, if we were lucky, we would feel the delicate, fleeting touch of the tip of her tongue on our hand.

Most people couldn't resist petting Ginger, so she received a lot of love. But if Ginger wasn't able to get affection from us or from visitors, she would insist that Fred, our other dog, give her affection. Ginger would inch closer and closer to him, then nudge him with her snout until he would lick her face over and over again.

Fred -- the ultimate "Alpha" -- assumed the role of caretaker and guardian for Ginger, just as he had for our whole family, including our son, our cat, our goat, and our baby goats. Fred could literally walk under Ginger, but he watched over her as if she were his queen. He would groom her, clean her bed, and even boss her around a little bit. And, because Fred is a born hunter, he would catch poor little critters for Ginger to proudly carry back home. She would add those carcasses, and other found treasures such as bones and discarded deer hides to what we came to refer to as "the boneyard."
Over time, Ginger became less timid. She flinched less and less. She had found a home where she was loved, nurtured, and safe.

Then, one day, she began to run.

Previously, she would run with Fred on the hunt, or run to the barn and back with the truck, but she just started running in the hills on her own. It was thrilling, yet puzzling, to see her sprinting across one of the distant rolling hills around our home. She wasn't chasing anything or going anywhere in particular; she was just running. She looked so free.

It was during that time that I was struggling with some emotional and spiritual problems of my own. I had gone into the woods one day, with Fred and Ginger, to pray. For so many years, I had been burdened with a deep shame and regrets about my past that had darkened my whole outlook on life. I couldn't seem to forgive myself, and I didn't feel worthy of God's forgiveness, either. I sat down on a log and prayed for forgiveness yet again; I prayed for a release from that intolerable weight that plagued me. I desperately wanted to feel God's forgiveness, to feel renewal. Then, I began to cry.

Fred, our protector, had kept his position several yards away, standing guard. But when I began to cry, Ginger came to me, and tenderly raised her front legs, placing a large paw on each of my shoulders, with her face resting against my face.

She hugged me.

I reached out and hugged her back, as I sobbed even harder. At that moment, the sunlight burst through the canopy of the trees overhead, and I felt such a release, a lightness. I truly felt God's love and forgiveness and healing in Ginger's "embrace."

I have been able to let go of the burden of my past now. I can find beauty in this life, and I feel the freedom to live and love more freely. Since then, my spirit has continued to heal in countless ways.
Ginger doesn't run in the hills like she used to, unless she's assisting Fred in a hunt. But I know why she did run. Anyone whose suffering spirit has been healed by acceptance and unconditional love knows why Ginger ran -- why her spirit had to run.

The scars from her former life may never completely fade away. Thankfully, she hardly ever flinches anymore. But we still have a "boneyard." We still see her anxiously searching to hide morsels of food, or proudly toting around some ghastly animal carcass. And we still treasure those few, delicate flickers of her tongue on our hand.

But now, Ginger's free to be.

And so am I.


Figment of My Imagination

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

BY: Kristine Byron

I think the next best thing to solving a problem is finding some humor in it.
~Frank A. Clark

We were forever reminding our teenage daughter to keep the patio gate closed.

One Friday morning as I was returning from my walk, my husband was waiting in front of our home with a worried look on his face. Figment, our dog, was missing! The gate was left open and Fig was now roaming freely.

My husband had to leave for work and although I also had to work that day I had some time to begin the search. Unfortunately we had never taken the time to order a name tag for Fig... we always took such good care of him... and he was always with us -- on or off the leash!

Figment was a Springer Spaniel/Australian Shepherd mix. He was champagne in color with one blue eye and one brown eye. We taught him all the dog tricks that make a dog entertaining, respectful and obedient.

I exhausted my search and finally had to leave for work. My intention was to stop at the animal shelter on the way home, hoping that someone would have found him and taken him there for pickup. We live in a hillside community near a freeway. I prayed all day that he would avoid that direction!

I reached the animal shelter just as they were closing and was taken to the dog kennel -- soooo many precious pets with no identification. No way to contact their owner to come and rescue them. As I walked the aisle I approached one of the kennels... there was Fig, I thought! He was soooo excited... they were all excited! I looked closely and saw that this dog had two brown eyes. It couldn't be Fig. Where was the blue eye? I still held out hope so I said "sit"... every dog sat!

I left the kennel depressed and worried. We were facing the weekend and the kennel was only open a few hours on Saturday and closed on Sunday. Where was my dog?

Saturday I had a prior commitment and was unable to get to the shelter, so my husband assured me he would leave work early and stop on his way home. He arrived at the shelter as the woman in charge closed the window and locked the doors. She told him to come back Monday! WOW!

After a very depressing weekend I stopped by the shelter on Monday. There was the same dog... my dog??? Two brown eyes!!!! Again, I said "sit." Again, everyone sat! I said, "speak" and I had a chorus going all at once! I left... leaving behind a dog that had to be thinking, "What more does she want, I did everything she asked!"

I went home and called a friend to go by on Tuesday and check for me. I needed a fresh opinion! My husband assured me that it could not be our dog if he did not have one blue eye and one brown eye. Our dog would soon be on death row!
Our friend did go by on Tuesday but I would not find out what he thought until I got home and could listen to my messages. On my way home from work I picked up our daughter from school and took her directly to the shelter. "I will wait in the car," I told her. "You go in and tell me what you think."

A few minutes later, our daughter came running out of the shelter yelling, "That's our dog!" I said, "What about the eye?" She said, "Forget the eye, that's Fig!"

We paid the fees, brought a very distraught and relieved dog outside into the sunlight... AND HIS EYE TURNED BLUE! Bless the sun!

At home I listened to my messages and there was one from our friend, "Nope, it isn't Fig; he has two brown eyes!"

Lessons learned... Always have an identification tag on your pet. Always keep your gates closed when pets are outside. And, never, never get me mad or I won't recognize you!


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

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

BY: Dena Harris

I have noticed that what cats most appreciate in a human being is not the ability to produce food which they take for granted, but his or her entertainment value.
~Author Unknown

I took up yoga two years ago, around the same time we got our cat. Having read that owning a cat and practicing yoga were both fail-safe methods to soothe troubled nerves, I envisioned a life filled with peace and inner reflection. Now two years wiser, I know that people who own cats do yoga simply to release the stress in their lives that exists because they own a cat.

My cat mocks me while I do yoga. As I sit on my padded blue mat, tangled up in a pose the human body, or at least my body, was not meant to perform, she'll sit beside me and perform the same pose flawlessly.

"Now, raise your right leg, keeping your left leg fully extended," coos my video yoga instructor. "Balance on your sitting bones, and raise the leg over your head."

Puffing and grunting, I try to extend my leg. Without breaking a sweat, the cat plops herself down beside me and raises her right leg over her head, making sure her back leg remains fully extended. I look over at her. She looks back and, pointedly, bends down and licks herself, without lowering the leg.
I find this insulting.

I decide I need more personalized instruction, and sign up at our local Y, paying $75 to have a certified yoga instructor twist me into painful and humiliating poses. But the cat is not there, executing a better version of "Downward Facing Dog" than me, so it's bearable.

"You're doing very well," says my instructor.

"Thank you," I say. "I'm trying to impress my cat." The instructor backs away, and avoids me for the rest of the class. But I don't mind. I am raising and extending my legs at an advanced rate. I can't wait to show the cat.

I return home and pull out my mat. The cat looks pleased. It's been a few days since she's humiliated me.

"Ha! That's only what you think is going to happen," I say. "Watch this!" I proceed to execute a flawless "Dead Bug" pose. The cat looks amused.

"That's not all," I say. "I can also do this!" I move into Downward Facing Dog, remembering to breathe, as my instructor said.

The cat ambles over, takes a seat next to my head, and stares at me. My arms begin to tremble, but I refuse to give up the pose. The cat continues to stare, glancing significantly at my now shaking torso. I am no longer breathing properly. In fact, I think I am close to hyperventilating. The cat begins to purr.
I can't go any further. I collapse onto the mat. I'm pretty sure I've strained something. I can't locate exactly where at the moment, because my entire body is trembling.

Now that I'm on the floor, the cat yawns and stretches, fully extending her front legs and arching her back. She holds the pose. And holds it. And holds it. And darn it all, she's breathing. Releasing the pose, she takes a deep cleansing breath. Her final word on the subject is to claw at my yoga mat before exiting the room.

The phone rings. It's my yoga instructor.

"I was wondering if you wanted to sign up for our next series of classes," she said. "You were making such good progress."

I think about the physical anguish and sweat of the yoga class. Then I ponder the money spent to experience this pain. I tell the instructor I will not be returning to class. If it's pain I'm after, I can get that at home for free.

I'll just do yoga with my cat.


A Moment with a Legend

Chicken Soup for the Soul: NASCAR

BY: Douglas S. Fritz

I like to think there are two types of events in life, memories and moments. Memories are something that years later, you think back on and say, "That was great." Moments are times when you KNOW you are doing something that is very special and impactful while it is happening.

I started working for NASCAR in February 1990. Shortly after I began working for the France family, the opportunity arose for me to meet Bill France, Sr., patriarch of the family and the man who created NASCAR.

I was sitting in my office and a co-worker mentioned that he was heading down to another NASCAR building where Bill, Sr. had an office. I knew with Bill, Sr.'s ailing health I wouldn't have many opportunities to meet the biggest man to live in this sport that we all love, so I offered to ride along.

Sitting in the car for that ride seemed to take hours even though it was just a short trip from Daytona International Speedway to his office. I was filled with excitement. All I could think about was the fact that I was about to walk into a moment. I was going to meet and shake hands with a man who was larger than life. Compare it to a baseball fan who had a once-in-a-lifetime chance to meet Babe Ruth. Bill France, Sr. was and still is NASCAR. Who he was, what he had done, knowing that I was about to meet the largest figure in the history of this sport -- THIS was my moment.

As I walked toward the door to this legend's office, I was filled with emotions. I knocked on his door, was invited in and introduced myself. I could hardly believe I was standing in the presence of a legend. The conversation didn't last long, but Bill, Sr. did say one thing that stood out to me. It's something that NASCAR still lives by, and as a track promoter, I live by. He told me to never forget that "NASCAR is all about family."

When Big Bill mentioned family, he was talking about the race fans, our extended family.

That statement sank in as I walked out of his office. I knew I had just experienced a moment in my life I would never forget. When I think back on it today, I am grateful for the short time I was able to spend with Bill, Sr., because that ended up being the one and only opportunity I had to meet and speak with him.

Bill, Sr. prided himself on being family-oriented and he built his business on that premise. Remembering that NASCAR is about family reminds me of conversations that I have had with Brian France and Lesa France Kennedy about their grandfather. He taught them that our race fans are family, and we should always remember that and treat them the way we treat our own family.

As president of Richmond International Raceway, I try to live by Big Bill's words, making sure that our fans are treated like family. We pride ourselves on being family-friendly and realize that our youngest family members will grow up and one day become our biggest fans.

As I walk around on race weekends, I see fathers with their sons and mothers with their daughters, so excited about a chance to see their favorite driver. It takes me back to my first trip to a NASCAR race with my father. A huge race fan who spoke highly of his visits to Darlington Raceway, Dad invited me to join him at Dover International Speedway for the day. At the time it didn't have a real impact on my life, but many, many years later I had the proud opportunity to take my son, Scott, to Daytona International Speedway for his first-ever NASCAR race. It was not until that day that I realized the impact that the first race with my dad had on me.

My father died long before I started working in NASCAR, but I know he'd be proud and excited about what I do for a living and the fact that his grandson loves NASCAR as much as he did.

That brief meeting with Bill France, Sr. is a moment in my life that I often think back on. Because of the statement he made to an up-and-coming young adult with dreams of being successful in the NASCAR business, I do everything I can to make sure our race fans feel just like family.

I'd like to hope he knows I heard his words and strive to make sure that my contribution to this sport continues to be all about treating our extended family of NASCAR fans just the way he would have wanted me to.


The Life with Lisa Show

Chicken Soup for the Soul: Power Moms

BY: Lisa Bradshaw

The art of living lies less in eliminating our troubles than in growing with them.
~Bernard M. Birch

I could not have known when I was starting my Internet company, in order to supplement my husband's income and to stay at home with our four-year-old son, that a year later I would be a thirty-two-year-old widow and a single mom finding my way through an abyss of grief and recovery that seemed impossible to bridge much of the time.

After a year-long illness, my husband of nearly eleven years died and I was left with the agonizing reality that the two-person team that once brought this family through all things good and bad, had been reduced to just me. I'd met my husband, Wesley, when I was only eight years old and I couldn't remember my life without him in it. Wesley trusted that I would take care of our son and myself after he died, but facing life without him was arduous and lonely. Our son was counting on me to pull us both through.

Over the next several months, I learned to delegate responsibilities and concentrated on my son and rebuilding our life. There was nothing to juggle in the first two years after my husband died because I didn't allow chaos in our lives. I worked when I could and when I couldn't -- I didn't. There was no negotiating what was needed of me. My son needed me and I needed him. Sales decreased in those early years of rebuilding my personal life but never to a level where the business wasn't profitable. Somehow, everything managed with and without me, with the care and extraordinary help of the quality people I had in place.

Within five years of starting my Internet company, I had been a guest on The Rachel Ray Show and the Oprah & Friends radio show. Numerous placements in national magazines sang the praises of our children's decorative products and our story, and our products were placed as set decoration on hit national television shows. It was then that I decided to make a change in my life and close my business, but not without a plan to better our lives and continue our ever evolving story.

When my son was nearing ten years old, I started to feel like I needed to show him more of the world outside of my home office and teach him that some people actually go to work to earn a living. I spent the first ten years of my son's life being there for him at every turn, every hour of every day. I loved this about our life and so did he. Now it was time to refresh my goals, achieve new dreams and bring him along as I did it.

I had been wanting to do a radio show for several months. I had developed an interest after being interviewed when my first book was released, and I was encouraged by a radio producer to move forward with my efforts. I told myself I would have a show by December 2007, within six months of setting the goal. By January of the following year I had done nothing to work toward that goal, so in February I finally got with it, produced a demo CD, and got a meeting with the general manager of seven radio stations in my area. After an hour-long meeting, I was given the opportunity to produce The Life with Lisa Show and was offered an additional job that I would be creating as the Community Service Coordinator for all seven stations.

I committed to part-time and made sure it was known that I would only work twenty hours a week on the community service aspect of my job and that my son was my first priority. I would still pick him up every day after school and be at every school and athletic event. And when summer came, we would need to create a new schedule that would accommodate my son's schedule. My new boss understood that I'd made promises to my son's dad to take care of him for both of us, and being the mom and the dad and doing it well was a full-time experience that I wouldn't trade for any job or opportunity. It is my life and I am grateful for all that it brings me every day.

One of the greatest benefits of my new venture is that it belongs to both of us. My son is involved in the community aspect of my work, learning to reach out to those in need who can benefit from our help. He enjoys coming to my office and often sits in the studio quietly listening as I interview guests and conduct my show live.

He recently asked me, "Mom, how did you get your radio show?"

"I paid attention," I told him.

"To what?" he asked.

"To life," I answered.

He smiled big. I love it when he smiles big.

I always tell my son that we can ask any question. We have the right to ask for anything, and it's best to have earned the right to ask the question. When I asked for my radio show, I knew I had lived enough life and worked through enough adversity and triumph to have earned a show I wanted to produce and call The Life with Lisa Show. The station I asked to air my show also had the right to say no, but they didn't. They said yes. And had they said no, I would've asked someone else, because I knew what I had to say was worth asking for.

In the past decade of my life I have been a wife and mother, a cancer survivor, an author, an entrepreneur and a widow. I have met countless survivors like myself, both in illness and in life, and my message has remained the same and is borrowed from Henry Ford: "Whether you believe you can do a thing or not, you are right."

This holds true in all areas of life and I consider this statement and its possibilities every day. Whether facing a life threatening illness, changing careers at middle age, going on a first date after fifteen years of thinking I'd never have to, or being enlightened by my child who I hope to inspire each day, there is possibility at every turn. I've always believed in finding the balance between what I have lost and what I can gain from the experience of life. And if I help others along my own journey, then it's the right life.


Teaching from Courage

Chicken Soup for the Soul: Teacher Tales

BY: Quyen Thai

You block your dream when you allow your fear to grow bigger than your faith.
~Mary Manin Morrissey

Sixteen kindergarten students scampered in at a quarter past eight. Their little eyes stared up at me. "Substitute teacher," I heard them whisper.

After their little backpacks were neatly put away, they started doing something that wasn't in the substitute plan. They opened their folders and began reciting their spelling. Mothers and fathers were sitting at the short tables, helping their children learn their spelling lists, and I felt like an outsider, which I was.

Suddenly, it was five to nine and it was time to gather on the carpet. But the parents didn't move and the kids remained at their desks, their lips moving quietly. Big heads and little heads, focused on a small piece of paper that was obstructing the flow of my day.

I was only a novice teacher then, and I didn't really understand the concept of being flexible. All I knew was that I had to follow the daily plan. Then I looked across to the other classroom (we were in a shared space), and I saw that the teacher next door was already taking attendance. I was supposed to be doing that too.

Suddenly I was compelled to have the whole class on the carpet; I needed them in a neat small square where I could see them. Years later, I learned that gathering the children on the floor was a great way to control the classroom when everything was out of control -- gather and focus. The difference was, this class wasn't out of control; and it just felt that way to me.

After five long minutes, I had most of the children sitting quietly on the carpet. Except one.
A mother with scraggly brown hair was still working with her daughter.

I approached the wooden table, very aware that the rest of the kids were sitting down waiting for me, feeling that at any moment they would start scrambling around looking for things to do. With a burning face, I spoke to the woman.

"She has to go. I'm sorry," I said as my face flushed red again. I was upset that they were affecting my progress.

"She has to finish her spelling," said the woman, with her hand on the child's green spelling book.

"Well I'm sorry, but I was instructed to have her on the floor at this time," I said, feeling apologetic and upset at the same time.

The child stopped practicing her spelling and looked up at me, her eyes mirroring the accusation in her mother's eyes.
Unsure, I finally told the mother to continue. I felt my authority vanish. I felt unsettled.

"It's too late now," the mother declared. "You've upset her and she doesn't want to spell anymore." I was scared. Her lips were downturned and her tired eyes darted accusations at me. I felt like I failed. I didn't want to upset her, but somehow I did.

She walked out the glass double doors, the sun illuminating her outline as she left. I was left with her daughter. Part of me wanted to go after her, persuade her that I did the right thing. I wanted to show her the plan, see... the plan proves me right.

Instead I said, "Go and sit down Stephanie." I half expected her to refuse. Luckily she went calmly to join the other kids.

The day went by quickly. Reading, writing, lunch, math and recesses came and went... but I felt uneasy.

I spent the day treating her daughter like china. "Stephanie, how are you feeling?" or "Stephanie, what would you like to do now?" Of course the girl loved the extra attention that I was giving her.

As it approached three o'clock, I kept thinking about how afraid I was of doing the wrong thing. I was afraid of not following the plans properly, I was afraid that I was going to look bad in front of the other teacher. Now I was afraid that I might have upset a parent.

Finally, I realized that being scared wasn't helping me, and I decided to ask myself what I would I do if I wasn't afraid. The answer came to me instantly.

That afternoon, as I was bidding the children goodbye, I approached Stephanie's mother with my heart pounding again.

"Mrs. Cosmos, I would like to speak to you," I said looking her straight in the eye.

Her face was stiff and she had her hands on Stephanie's shoulders.

"I'm sorry for what happened this morning," I said, my face flushed again, but this time with relief.

"I know that all you want is the best for your child, and I should have listened to that," I said, and I realized that I believed what I was saying.

In that moment, the woman in front of me transformed, her shoulders sagged and she looked at me earnestly.

"You have no idea what I have to go through. I have six children and I try so hard to come in and help." Suddenly, it all made sense: the desperate need to finish her daughter's spelling, the abrupt change of her mood when I asked her to stop. As a mother, she worked so hard to be there with her daughter each morning, and although it strained her to do it, she did it anyway.
"I'm sorry," she continued. "I know it must be hard if you don't know the school and if the instructions aren't complete."

I stopped breathing, because in less than a minute this mother was telling me her problems when before she could hardly talk to me.

I realized that teaching was not just about getting the lesson plan right, but it was about making a difference to the people I would be working with, and that included both the students and the parents.

Most importantly, I realized that if my teaching was guided by my fear, I would also impart a sense of fear to my students. Once I realized that, I suddenly saw the children and parents for what they were: human beings, with hopes, dreams and hearts that wanted to achieve many things in their lives. Like every human, I recognized that they might have fears of their own... just as that mother did. So I made a choice that day. I chose to stop listening to my fear, and to teach with courage and love. And by making that choice, I had the privilege to make a difference to these precious people, simply by being a teacher.

So these days, the classes I teach usually go as planned, but when they don't, I understand that it's still okay.


Secret Wedding

Chicken Soup for the Soul: True Love

BY: Stefani Chambers

When love is not madness, it is not love.
~Pedro Calderon de la Barca

We were engaged -- complete with a nice-sized ring -- and our wedding date was set for October 5th. We wanted to get married ten years to the day from the first time we had verbally expressed our love. We had been high-school sweethearts. Already engaged and planning a wedding a year away, we moved into a place of our own. Then we decided we just needed to be married right away. We made it legal.

It was a small affair with immediate family members and a few friends. Our dearest friends let us get married in their living room. We borrowed some folding chairs from the church and our pastor did a brief ceremony. We exchanged platinum bands, repeated vows, kissed and voilà -- we were married. The afternoon was made complete with coffee, two small cakes from the supermarket on the corner, and an arrangement of daisies that cost less than twelve dollars. My best friends wanted to make me a bouquet but I refused. They did, however, convince me to buy a new white blouse to wear with my khaki skirt.

We had the ceremony after church, and then did what we do every other Sunday afternoon -- we relaxed with friends. We played spades well into the night and my new husband re-strung his guitar. Peculiar, I know. But in all sincerity we were so ready.

That was my wedding day, well really, my marriage day.

As I consider all these things, it seems so very un-romantic -- all except for the fact that it was a secret wedding, because we were still planning our formal wedding for October 5th, my dream wedding in the rose garden with a white dress, a string quartet, and mini-quiches.

Is it weird that our marriage license has a different date than the day we celebrate our anniversary? That the minister who married us is not the same minister who conducted our wedding? That I still haven't told my grandparents? Are these things that will thoroughly confuse our children one day?

I admit that it sounds weird, but we have a "married" date and a "wedding" date. Even though I don't expect flowers on both occasions, I feel like this simply reaffirms the fact that I am high maintenance. I got two weddings to the same man.


Mud-dling Through

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

BY: Saralee Perel

You can avoid having ulcers by adapting to the situation:
If you fall in the mud puddle, check your pockets for fish.
~Author Unknown

"I'd like to arrange a photo shoot," a newspaper editor said to me recently. I had written an article on kayaking and he wanted to include pictures of my husband, Bob, and me in our two-person kayak.

With cool professionalism, I set a date. Then, in my ever-so-sophisticated fashion, I raced to the bedroom and tore through my closet, flinging shirts, shoes, and shorts over my shoulder.

"What are you doing?" Bob asked when a T-shirt landed on his head.

"They're taking our pictures Friday!" I screamed. "You have to tell me which outfit doesn't make me look fat!"

He left the room. I could hear him muttering down the hallway, "Oooh noooo...."

Early that Friday we kayaked to a lighthouse near where we live on Cape Cod. We scavenged for mussels. We were covered in black sea mud and caked-on sand. But we had allowed enough time to go back home so I could shower, change, obsess about my hair, and decide on earrings before we had to be back at the boat landing to have our photos taken. So we didn't have to rush as we returned from the lighthouse.

As we slowly paddled back in the dwindling afternoon light, we saw the beautiful silhouettes of a woman and her dog on a distant sand bar. Then we saw the dog lay down. And he didn't get up. He looked to be a very old Golden Retriever.

We watched as the woman coaxed him and then supported his hips so he could stand. They ambled on.

"Do you think they need help?" Bob asked.

"Would we be too late for the pictures?"

"I don't know, but there's no way we'd have time to go home first if we stop."

After a few labored steps, the dog laid down again. I looked down at my muddy clothes. I hesitated, hoping he'd get up. But when I saw that he couldn't, we turned the kayak towards them and began the long paddle to the sand bar. "Can we help?" I asked, as we beached the boat.

"We're fine," the woman said, in a way that showed she was used to caring for her old friend. She extended her hand in a warm greeting. She told us she lived in one of the cottages near the lighthouse. Then she looked at her dog. "This is Dexter."

Dexter got up and took a few steps toward me; then he fell. I carefully put my arms under his belly and lifted him. "I went through this with my last dog," I said to the woman. She looked away and shook her head. I knew then, that anytime we kayaked past her cottage in the future, I'd never ask, "Where's Dexter?"

The sweet dog stood comfortably in the water for a while, which took some weight off his basically useless hips. When his panting turned into what looked like a big goofy grin, we all laughed. It was a brief moment of bliss in the late day sun. And I knew I was lucky to be there for it, as I watched the shadows cast their lengthening fingers over the dunes behind the lighthouse.

Eventually we headed back in the kayak, arriving at the landing just as the photographer showed up. "How do I look?" I asked Bob.

He put his paddle down and assessed me. I stood in front of him, smiling. There was mud on my sunglasses and my left knee. My water shoes were encased with sea muck. My clothes were soaked. My hair had coagulated into several masses of knots held together with glue-like bug spray.

He didn't see any of those grimy remnants of the day on me. He just saw, in his mind, that we tried to help a failing dog on a sand bar. "You look beautiful," he said. And in my heart, I know he meant it.