пятница, 26 марта 2010 г.

Love at First Flight

Chicken Soup for the Soul: True Love

BY: Melissa Face

Nothing compares with the finding of true love; because once you do your heart is complete.

I wanted an exciting job. Sure, I needed to pay my bills along the way. But money was not the first thought on my mind when I accepted a job as a ticket agent for Midway Airlines. I was sold at the mention of free flights and buddy passes for my friends. I didn't even ask about my hourly wage. I didn't care.

Two days prior to my first day on the job, I called the company to find out a few things -- things I couldn't ask the lady who interviewed me.

"Is this job fun?"

"Uh, I guess," replied a baffled male voice.

"Good," I said. "I'm starting Wednesday. What are the other employees like?"

"Well, they are mostly male. A lot of us are in our twenties -- except for the boss and a couple of baggage handlers. It's pretty laid back though."

"Perfect. I'll see you then. By the way, what's your name?"

"Craig," he said. "Craig Face."

I showed up that Wednesday wearing khaki pants and a Midway polo. I had my ID badge made, filled out paperwork, and then my boss, Rizz, introduced me to my co-workers.

"I'm going to have you start training with Craig," Rizz said. "Shadow him for a while as he checks passengers in."

I recognized the name right away. He was the one I had spoken with on the phone. And in case there was a chance he had forgotten, I reintroduced myself.

"I remember you," he said shyly. "You wanted to know if this job was fun."

"Guilty!" I laughed.

"This isn't the fun part. But wait until we go out to meet the planes."

For the next couple of hours, I watched Craig book flights, hand out tickets, and assist with lost luggage. I learned about three-letter airport codes, the list of prohibited items, and how to check baggage. It was interesting -- but not exactly "fun."
Since Midway was a small airline, we were also responsible for meeting the arriving planes, guiding them in with glow sticks, and unloading the luggage. That was the next part I needed to learn.

"Let's go," Craig said. "We need to head out to the tarmac before the CRJ gets here."

"What's a CRJ?" I asked.

"It's a type of plane. It stands for Canadair Regional Jet."

Craig handed me a pair of ear protectors as we walked through the terminal. I wondered why I would need them but I put them around my neck just in case.

Once we were outside in the sun, Craig and I sat on a luggage cart and waited for our plane. I was starting to have fun. I felt an adrenaline rush just watching the plane's landing gear meet the runway.

Then, I watched Craig guide the aircraft towards the gate. His tan arms were outstretched and the sun was glistening off his dirty-blond hair. He looked extremely handsome and I realized I was staring at him.

I also realized that I needed my ear protection after all. The jet engines were deafening as the plane approached.

Craig and I (and the other employees) worked together at the airport for about a week. Then our supervisor said she was sending me to Raleigh for training.

"I'm going to send you and Craig," she said. "You guys started around the same time, so it should work out."

It definitely worked out. For two weeks, Craig and I went to class during the day and went out to dinner at night. We tried every restaurant within walking distance of RDU (Raleigh Durham International Airport) and stayed up talking and laughing until the early morning hours.

I was sad when the training was over. Craig and I had gotten to know each other very well and I had fallen for his witty comments and easy-going personality. It was an amazing experience.

But once we returned home, the job wasn't as exciting as it first seemed. It was hot out on the tarmac, the customers were rude, and I was hardly ever scheduled to work with Craig. I quit the job a couple of weeks later.

Some things just aren't meant to be. That job happened to be one of them. It was fun for a while, but I needed to get serious about my life. I needed to go back to school and finish my degree.

That's exactly what I did. I enrolled in a summer class and focused on my schoolwork. But I didn't completely abandon fun. I still went out on the weekends and enjoyed the local bands with my friends and classmates. And I dated Craig.

I don't know that I believe that everything in life happens for a reason. But I do believe some things do. I believe that I was meant to work for Midway Airlines. How else would I have met my future husband?

Craig and I have been together for nine years and married for five. We've shared a lot of special memories over the years, but few are as fond as our two-week training in Raleigh.

And he still loves to pick on me about our very first conversation.

"I can't believe you actually called a job to ask if it was fun," he says.

"I know. That was pretty silly of me. But at least I knew what I was looking for."

"I did too," he argues.



"Yeah. And I found her."

четверг, 25 марта 2010 г.

It's Not Always about the Dog

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

BY: Ann E. Vitale

A boy can learn a lot from a dog: obedience, loyalty, and the importance of turning around three times before lying down.
~Robert Benchley

Every Monday evening, from April until late August, for twenty-eight years, a 4-H dog club met in my yard. I taught young handlers how to train their dogs with a minimum of tears and absolutely no bloodshed. At least, that's all I thought I was teaching.As many as twenty bright, active, eager children ranging in age from seven to eighteen hung onto the leashes of assorted ages and sizes of canines that were frequently boisterous and sometimes considerably less than enthusiastic about their owners' plans for the hours ahead.Each spring I surveyed the collection of newcomers and returnees with one thought in mind. "How can I help this youngster succeed with this dog?"The kids started out with great goals for the summer, but their attention often flagged with the repetitious basic obedience. They had to master "sit" and "stay" and the other exercises that gave them control over the dog. I coached them in patience, perseverance, and commiserated with their frustration. They knew that the reward for enduring several weeks of the monotony of "heel," "down," and "wait" was the exciting introduction of low jumps, barrels, tunnels, and a seesaw for an obstacle course.In short order, "My dog won't do that" was replaced with shouts of "Mom, watch us!" when the family cars arrived to retrieve kids and dogs.In addition to the training, the members had to keep expense records to appreciate the cost of maintaining a pet. They had to demonstrate that they could trim toenails, clean ears, and inspect for fleas. And the written records were displayed at the county fair. They didn't get a ribbon if the project book wasn't completed.On the last page of the book was the question, "What did you learn in dog training this year?" The rest of the page was blank in anticipation of a few sentences or a story.The most memorable stories ranged from the hilarious to the poignant.From an eight-year-old boy: "I learned to use the pooper scooper and that Mrs. Vitale doesn't like messes in her yard. But now that I know how, my father makes me do it at home even if it's my sister's dog."From an eleven-year-old girl who began the year giving commands to her dog in a timid, barely audible voice: "If I hadn't been in 4-H Paws and Tails and showed my dog in a show, I would still be too shy to do anything. Now I pay for my own ice cream cone instead of making my sister do it."One of a trio of sisters whose parents were going through a difficult divorce wrote: "When my mom and dad start yelling at each other, I take my dog and go to my room and sit on the floor and hug her. I can cry on her and she doesn't mind."And the most intriguing from a sixteen-year-old boy, who spent four years lackadaisically hanging out at dog club with his Collie, but didn't show much concern with advancing his training skills: "What I learned from Mrs. Vitale in several years of dog training helps me when I teach Red Cross swimming to the little kids."I wasn't sure I wanted to know exactly how training collars and leashes translated into teaching swimming to primary school children. When I crossed paths with him one day, I asked what he meant by that sentence."I saw," he said, "that sometimes when you demonstrated something to the whole group, some of the kids got it and some didn't pay attention. Then you would go and give them directions individually. And some didn't get it even then and you had to take their hands and help them hold the leash right. I do the same thing when I teach the little kids. Some get it when I show the group how to do something, some I have to talk to one-on-one, and some I have to move their arms to show them how."For the kids, the blue ribbons and the accomplishments of getting a pup to walk the teeter-totter, or a hyperactive Terrier to stay in place for five minutes, satisfied their goals for the year. They didn't know that the dog was a vehicle. That sometimes, what they learned wasn't about the dog.


среда, 24 марта 2010 г.

A Letter to My Mother

A Letter to My Mother
Chicken Soup for the Soul: Thanks Mom

BY: Gary B. Luerding

Perseverance is the hard work you do after you get tired of doing the hard work you already did.
~Newt Gingrich

Dear Mom,

How does a son say thank you when his mother has been gone well over twenty years? I wonder, now that I'm in the twilight of my life, if you ever knew how much I appreciated all that you gave me even though many times I simply said, "Thanks Mom." Those words sound so trite and shallow given the circumstances.

Growing up I thought nothing of the fact that you had only one arm and one leg, for you made everything look so easy. Missing those limbs seemed normal to me. As a small boy, I thought it was no big deal when you tied my shoes. I didn't have an inkling of what it must have taken for you to learn that skill.

Nor did I give much thought to you as a little girl of three, being swept under a trolley car, those steel wheels severing your left leg. Or the horrible moment when the motorman panicked and put the car in reverse, backing over your left arm and taking it off below the elbow. I couldn't comprehend the agony your mom and dad must have felt seeing you lying torn and broken in your hospital bed.

Later on, of course, I did appreciate all that you'd gone through. I cried when my grandmother told me the story of your uncle taking you swimming a year after your accident. You couldn't wait to get to the public pool, but your enthusiasm was dashed when many of the adult bathers stared and the children pointed at you. And you were mortified when your uncle picked you up in his arms and said to the onlookers, "Have a good look!" You were too young to realize that he was trying to protect you, yet for a long time, you were so embarrassed that you wouldn't go anywhere, not even answer the doorbell, without first strapping on your prosthetic arm.

Neither could I appreciate the joy they must have felt one visiting day as they approached the amputee ward and heard your voice singing loudly, "When It's Apple Blossom Time in Normandy." Right then they must have known you were a fighter, that your sunny disposition would infuse your entire life and shine on those fortunate enough to know you.

Of course, being just a kid, I didn't relate to the little girl who danced professionally with her sisters on the stage of the Curran Theater. I didn't see you as the accomplished musician who, at the age of sixteen, became a member of the San Francisco all girl symphony orchestra. Nor did I see the teenager who learned to drive a stick shift on the hilly streets of San Francisco.

Thank you for teaching me how to live life by your example. You taught me that nothing is impossible if you want it badly enough and go after it hard enough. I'm reading your sentiments now as I look at the article and photo in the San Francisco Examiner. It quotes a sixteen-year-old girl holding her trumpet in her right hand while smiling at the camera and speaking those words. Words I've remembered and put to use as I've gone through life. Words I've tried to instill in my own children.

As a child, I had a rebellious nature. You may not know it, but Grandma always said I took after you in that respect. She told me when you were a little girl you'd come in with blood dried stiff on your pants from falling down as you tried to roller skate wearing your artificial leg. But you never cried for fear those skates would be taken away. Instead you gritted your teeth as she bathed the abrasions on your knees. Then you'd go right back out, put those skates on, and try again. Nothing was going to stop you!

On your twelfth birthday, when Grandpa gave you your first trumpet, you had no way of knowing that you would instill in your son an intense love of music and of the piano. You always told me that if only the motorman hadn't put that streetcar in reverse, you would have been a pianist. But you didn't tell me until I was in my teens and had been taking lessons for four years. I guess you didn't want to influence me in any way. But once I decided I wanted to learn to play, you wouldn't let me quit when I got discouraged. Instead, you sat on a chair next to me correcting my mistakes in rhythm and phrasing and, most times, making it seem fun. But quitting wasn't an option. You never quit anything in your life and weren't about to allow your son to do so. You told me that being able to play piano would always be something I'd be able to fall back on when times were tough. I relied on that talent many times in my life in those early years when money was tight. The piano even played a part in courting my wife. For that, Mom, I thank you once again.

You might not have realized it, but when things I tried to accomplish seemed very difficult, I always thought of the myriad hardships you turned into triumphs. The times when I complained of those difficulties, I felt foolish.

When I joined the Army Special Forces, the training was rigorous and exhausting and many times I was tempted to quit. But then I'd recall the photo of that sixteen-year-old girl holding her trumpet and remember what you told that reporter so many years ago. "Nothing is impossible if you want it bad enough and go after it hard enough."

Mom, I fervently hope, for the time God granted us together, you realized how much you meant to me, how grateful I am for your guidance, and how much I love you for being my mother.

Thank you from the bottom of my heart.

Your son.


вторник, 23 марта 2010 г.

Our Royal Jet

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

BY: Sally Kelly-Engeman

A daughter is a gift of love.
~Author Unknown

My husband, Jim, and I were enjoying a quiet evening and planning a Caribbean cruise when our phone rang.

"Hi Mom. I've got a little problem."

Flattered that Kathy, our animal-loving elder daughter, still valued my advice I listened. "That dog I rescued several weeks ago is very loveable, but she's too hyper for our other dog. I've decided that with Dad traveling so much and us kids gone, you need a pet to keep you company. She'd love running around your huge fenced backyard."

Caught unprepared, I swallowed a sigh. How could I tell my elder daughter that I relished my quiet time without hurting her feelings? "Dad's right here. Why don't you talk to him?" Like any sensible wife, I passed the phone to her father.

While they chatted, I recalled how Kathy and her husband had gone to a Seattle restaurant several weeks earlier. While dining, they noticed a small dog shivering in the rain as it wandered outside in the parking lot. When Kathy mentioned it to the server, he said that someone abandoned the puppy a week earlier. Restaurant employees had been feeding her, but none could give her a home.

After dining, Kathy took a box of leftovers and fed them to the dog in the parking lot. By the time she reached her car, the dog had devoured the food and followed her. When Kathy opened her door, the dog jumped inside.

Rain continued to fall so Kathy talked her husband into stopping at the veterinary clinic on the way home. After Kathy explained the circumstances to the vet, he examined the dog and commented that the puppy was a rare Sheltie-Basenji mix and in good condition except for cigarette burns in several places on her body. Unable to let the abused dog go homeless any longer, Kathy adopted her.

She named the dog Jet because she soared like the jet airplanes Kathy flew regularly as a flight attendant. Now, it seemed that Jet was too flighty for Kathy's other dog. One of them had to go. So what did Kathy do? She did what every clever daughter does when she has a problem. She called her parents.

I should have known better than to let her talk to Jim. He always was a pushover for his daughter's requests. He agreed that we'd adopt Jet.

A few days later, Kathy called and advised us that she had followed her vet's suggestions and given Jet a sedative, put her in a traveling kennel and boarded her on a plane. Jet would be arriving in Denver in a few hours.

We drove to the airport and as soon as I saw the small orange puppy, with the white blaze on her forehead and white-socked feet, huddled in her travel kennel, I melted. Jet resembled a little fox and looked at me with frightened brown eyes when I opened the kennel door. Shivering, she staggered out and collapsed at my feet. When I picked her up and gently stroked her soft fur, she licked my fingers and snuggled in my arms.

For the first week, she avoided Jim whenever he had a cigarette in his hand. As days passed, she became more comfortable with us. My husband's gentle ways soon won her over. She greeted him at the door when he returned from work each day, "helped" him with yard work, and slept at his feet when he read the newspapers or watched TV.

I soon learned that Basenjis were often royal dogs of Egyptian pharaohs. They don't bark, but Jet's Sheltie genes did, so she was a great watchdog. In keeping with her royal status, we let her sleep on a bed in a spare bedroom, but otherwise, she wasn't allowed on any of our other furniture.

Some mornings, I awoke to find her asleep on the floor beside my side of the bed. She became my shadow and stayed close whether at home or on our daily walks. As days passed, she played out in our backyard, calmed down and became a very affectionate and disciplined dog. She kept off the furniture and responded when called. She even walked regally as we strolled our neighborhood, where curious people frequently asked if she was a pet fox.

One cold winter night, months later, while Jim was out of town on a business trip, Jet and I went to our respective beds while winds wailed and slapped snow against our windows in below-zero weather.

I fell into a deep sleep quickly. It was still dark when I heard Jet whine and felt her paw rub my shoulder.

"What are you doing on my bed?" I grumbled. Winds were still howling and I was in no mood to take her outside in that weather. When she continued to whine, I sat up and quickly realized the house was too hot. Something was wrong with the furnace!

With Jet at my heels, I raced to the furnace room. Fortunately, I remembered Jim's instructions on what to do if this very event happened. Had Jet not awoken me, the overheated boiler might have exploded and damaged our home. Jet had saved my life!

After that, Jet seemed to know that she had earned special privileges. She waited until we were asleep, crept up on our bed, curled against Jim and pressed her paws against my back. Sometimes she even pushed me out of bed.

What could I do? Royalty demanded royal treatment.


Bright Lights, Big City

Bright Lights, Big City
Chicken Soup for the Soul: Thanks Mom

BY: Tom LaPointe

There is nothing wrong with today's teenager that twenty years won't cure.
~Author Unknown

In so many ways my mom was a saint. Maybe she wasn't unique compared to most moms, but she meant the world to us. She was someone who would always give up the last piece of cake for her kids. She would always make a special effort to make each of her six children feel like they were the most important person in her world. And her strength of character and compassion are attributes I have strived to emulate my entire life.

She came from meager means and endeavored to raise six children with even greater financial duress, never straying from her values. She proved time and again that she loved each of us to the depths of her caring soul. Nothing etched that in my mind more than an incident along the shores of scenic Lake Tahoe when I was fifteen.

There we stood atop the mountain amidst the pine-scented air, toe-to-toe in the light of a full moon, verbally duking it out over my future like so many mothers and sons through the ages. It is incredible how my mom's wisdom in those volatile moments would impact me for decades, and define my measure of success for a lifetime.

We had been living in a small town on the northern Great Plains for a couple of years. Financial struggles, and being newcomers, made us big targets for bullying in a little school. A summer road trip to visit family at Lake Tahoe was a welcomed opportunity to get away from an unpleasant situation. Growing up in rural Michigan, and then the Grain Belt, I had never seen a major city -- much less one that was active twenty-four hours a day. I was absolutely mesmerized by the lights and sounds, and especially the money. There were millions of dollars changing hands within those glittery buildings. Coming from nothing, I desperately wanted a piece of it.

We enjoyed a glorious week of adventure visiting family and taking in the breathtaking beauty that is Lake Tahoe and its surrounding attractions. And then it was time to leave. I was utterly crushed at the prospect of going back to what I considered an insignificant town with mostly insignificant (and cruel) people. In my mind, there was no way I would consider returning, and I was willing to do virtually anything to avoid it. It was that conversation with Mama that gave me a permanent sense of her maternal devotion.

After explaining my feelings to her with conviction, she let me know that not returning home with the family wasn't really an option.

"I'm not going back, and there's nothing you can do to make me," I said, grossly naïve to the fact that millions of teens have uttered the same sentiment.

"You don't have a choice," she said, raising her voice. "You're part of this family whether you like it or not, and that's where home is. Besides, how do you think you would survive?"
"I'm tired of being poor. I'll find a way to fend for myself." And then I had one of those moments that seem to pass in slow motion, when you wish you could stop the hurtful words from leaving your mouth, but they just keep rolling. "I'm not going to be like you. I'm not going to be a fail...." I didn't finish the word, but she knew what it was and I knew I had hurt her. I felt bad immediately.

I expected her to lash out at the hurtful remark, but she remained composed. She looked me in the eye with a gaze that pierced my soul.

"You think I am a failure? Not even close!" she said. "I have six children who I love dearly. I take care of a husband who I love, and each one of you. I have what I want in life, and by that standard I am every bit a success... and it has nothing to do with money."

In the heat of the moment, I didn't believe her, but in my heart I knew she was right. It was a conversation that has stuck with me for more than a third of a century, and her words have always reverberated in my mind whenever I've been tempted to base my success on material measures. As it turned out, my sister and I were able to stay with Grandma at the lake for a couple of months and work to pay rent. The family moved to the nearby desert later in the summer. In the end, I never did have to go back.

My heart still aches from my mother's death, but whenever I pause to soak in the light from a full moon, her words come back to me and refresh my perspective on life. No matter where I am, I can close my eyes and see clearly across the lake to where her remains sit atop a mountain, and I feel the warmth of her love. I am no less determined to achieve financial security than I was standing at the lakeshore so many years ago, but as a Godly man and devoted husband and father, I thank my mother for her wisdom, and pray that I achieve a fraction of the success she measured with her heart.


воскресенье, 21 марта 2010 г.

A Wedding to Die For

A man's dying is more the survivors' affair than his own.
~Thomas Mann, The Magic Mountain

We always promised ourselves that when our daughter, Annie, got married, the wedding would begin at the exact time printed on the invitations. It never occurred to us that my father-in-law would inadvertently spoil our plans, let alone that he would do so in such a dramatic way.

Annie's would be the first wedding in our congregation's new church building. We let our creativity soar. My husband, Mike, along with the groom, Greg, and other friends and family members hauled in "marble" pillars belonging to the church's Easter cantata set, and we draped white netting from them as a backdrop for all the flowers and candles. We strung hundreds of tiny white lights across the platform and filled the auditorium with other special decorating touches.

In addition to being the mother of the bride, the matron of honor, and the wedding soloist, I was also in charge of the reception food. Two hours before the ceremony was to begin at 5:00 P.M., I hadn't quite finished instructing the kitchen crew about pasta salad assembly when it was time to join the wedding party for formal photos.

At 4:00, twenty-eight people crowded onto the platform for pictures of the bride and groom with Mike's immediate family members. More photos followed, and by 4:30, the wedding party retired to a side room. Mike's brothers, Wayne and Karl, went over their notes for the ceremony. Since they were ordained ministers, Annie had asked them to assist our pastor. I went to check food preparations. The clock above the kitchen sink indicated it was a few minutes before 5:00.

In the side room, my father-in-law, Edmund, lay down on a row of chairs. Annie's groom, Greg, asked if he'd be more comfortable on the carpeted floor. "I'm okay right here," Edmund replied. "I just want to rest a bit."

About a minute later, my father-in-law began to snore and turn purple. As I entered the room, I saw my brother-in-law Karl shaking his father and shouting, "Wake up, Daddy! Breathe, Daddy, breathe!"

My sister, Jaclyn, and her husband, Lamar, are emergency medical technicians (EMTs), so I raced to the auditorium where my brother-in-law was setting up a video camera. "Lamar!" I shouted. "Edmund has stopped breathing!"

He dropped the camcorder. "Get Jaclyn!"

Still clutching the long-stemmed rose I'd held in the photo shoot, I dashed on high heels to the nursery where Jaclyn was dropping off their baby. "Edmund isn't breathing!" I said. "Lamar's doing CPR alone!"
Jaclyn ran to the room and knelt in her bridesmaid's dress next to Lamar. Together they worked on my father-in-law while we all prayed and waited for paramedics to arrive. Greg took Annie to another room.

It seemed an eternity before an ambulance and fire engines screamed up to the front of the church. The auditorium continued to fill with puzzled guests as five o'clock came and went.

Neither Mike nor I knew what to do. Dismiss everyone and postpone the wedding to another date? Proceed with all the fanfare we'd planned? Find a way to combine the joy of a wedding with the drama of a medical crisis? None of the wedding-planning books we'd consulted covered anything like this.

Finally, Wayne said to me, "We've talked with Annie and Greg and the rest of the family. Since the guests are all here and the paramedics are still working on Daddy, we think we should just explain to everyone what happened, ask for their prayers, and carry on with a low-key ceremony. Can you do that?"

I thought about my matron-of-honor duties and the song I was to sing. "First let me have five minutes for a good cry," I said. I found an empty office where I could give temporary release to my emotions. Then I repaired my make-up, squared my shoulders, and joined the processional.

As Mike escorted Annie up the aisle to the strains of Pachelbel's "Canon in D," everything seemed surreal. Somehow I sang "Sunrise, Sunset" without a quaver until I got to the last line, "One season following another, laden with happiness and tears." At that point, Karl, who had just served communion to the couple, broke down and wept. He was a former EMT himself and knew the paramedics would have taken Edmund to the hospital if there was any hope. From the platform, he could see the ambulance still sitting empty by the front door, and he realized they hadn't been able to save his father.

Not only did our family have the first wedding in the new church building, but we also had the first death. My mother-in-law, Noreen, stayed by her husband's side and missed the entire wedding of her first grandchild to get married. When Annie and Greg took a break from the receiving line to find out Edmund's status, Noreen tried to relieve the tension with a bit of dark humor. "Well, your grandfather sure knows how to ruin a wedding!"

After the coroner left the church, Wayne volunteered to drive his father's remains some three hundred miles home to the other side of the state. The pastor helped load Edmund's body into the back of Wayne's pickup. Halfway to his destination, Wayne realized he should probably keep to the speed limit since he didn't have a death certificate with him. He imagined trying to explain to an officer, "But the corpse back there really is my father. He died today at my niece's wedding."

Once I got home, all I wanted to do was collapse. Instead, we packed our suitcases, loaded the car with leftover wedding food and flowers, and headed across the state for the funeral.

My husband's family was well-known in the region, and news spread as fast as an Internet virus. Just like in the old bridal-shower game of "Gossip," a few details changed along the way. A couple of people got so mixed up that they announced that Edmund had passed away at his granddaughter's funeral.
Our family handled grief the same way many others do. We alternated between laughter and tears as we recalled Edmund's quirky sense of humor and then remembered we would never again have the opportunity to hear him tell his jokes.

After the country-church funeral, mourners drove to a hilltop cemetery and gathered around the freshly dug grave at the family plot. A tree nearby shivered as wind whipped across the rolling ranchland. To my numb mind, it was a scene right out of an old-time Western.

The patriarch of Mike's clan was gone. In the last photograph ever taken of Edmund, he is surrounded by his large family -- his wife of fifty-six years, their six adult children, four daughters-in-law, fifteen grandchildren, and one soon-to-be grandson-in-law. When the photographer clicked the shutter, none of us knew the way in which we were about to be tested. But we did what all good families do in crises. We helped each other cope. It's a wonderful legacy for a family to have.

Another legacy from that day is the standard reply Annie now gives to people who inquire about any recent wedding she's attended.

"Well," she says, "nobody died."


пятница, 19 марта 2010 г.

Get Here

Chicken Soup for the Soul: The Story behind the Song

BY: Brenda Russell

Written and Recorded by Brenda Russell

"Get Here" is my biggest song to date. I spent a few months living and recording in Sweden. I was under a lot of pressure to create a hit song for the album I was working on. The record company was fixated on a dance hit, which was popular in the '80s, but this melody came to mind. Since I knew that it wasn't what they were asking for, I tried to put it out of my head. Usually if I don't write it down right away, I forget it. (I don't read or write music) But the next morning, the music was still in my head. Since that never happens to me, I thought that if I worked on it right away I could let it go.

My apartment was an old penthouse and my piano was in a beautiful octagonal room with windows overlooking a spectacular view of Stockholm. I played the melody while looking out of the window, and I started thinking about all of the ways you could get to a person. It became a game:

You can reach me by railway, you can reach me by trailway
You can reach me on an airplane, you can reach me with your mind

From there, I wrote it fairly quickly. One day soon after, when my engineer came to visit, I sang it for him. I rarely do that, but I wanted his feedback. I thought it was really corny at first. He thought it was beautiful.

When I got back to Los Angeles, I dragged the song around to so many places but I was having trouble getting a record deal. I had no money, but my manager and I decided to take a risk and get a place for me to perform live in concert. We invited a lot of industry people and friends. Herb Alpert, president of A&M Records was in the audience. While I was singing "Get Here," people started yelling out loud. Melissa Manchester said that everyone at her table looked like Alice Cooper, with makeup all over their faces from crying. Herb signed me to his label because of that concert and he particularly fell in love with "Get Here."

But, if you want to hear something wild, a man came up to me that night and said that he had a new artist he'd like to record the song. It was someone by the name of Whitney Houston. If I'd known then what I know now, would I have let her record it? Probably not. I had a lot of faith that recording "Get Here" would get me the record deal I was looking for, and it did.

In 1991, Oleta Adams recorded it. The irony is that she first heard it when she was shopping in a store in Stockholm! She loved the song and as soon as she got home, she recorded it. After it was finished, my publisher played it to me over the phone and I cried. Fortunately, it became very popular.

That was around the time of the first Gulf War. So many people dedicated messages to loved ones in the Gulf on the radio playing this song for them. Some of the responses I got were the most intense I've ever had. One soldier told me, "I lost my mind and you helped me to get it back." I've never forgotten that. Someone else said he wanted to kill himself but that when he heard my song on the radio, instead he drove 40 miles in the rain to buy the record. Unbelievable. It gave me a great, great feeling to help to ease someone's heart.


среда, 17 марта 2010 г.

Tools of the Trade

Chicken Soup for the Soul: Teacher Tales

BY: Beth Ekre

Words can sometimes, in moments of grace, attain the quality of deeds.
~Elie Wiesel

There are days when I find it necessary to step outside my classroom and check to be sure that my name is still in the TEACHER space over my door. Sometimes I feel that I am a student in my classroom rather than the teacher.

My sixth grade students were seated in a large circle on the floor of our classroom. Each student held a different tool in his or her hand. Some were common tools -- a hammer, a wrench, a flashlight, a screwdriver -- and others were unfamiliar tools to the students -- a copper pipe cutter, an awl, a chalk line. The lesson had gone perfectly. The students discussed how words are like tools -- they have the ability to build or to destroy, and they discovered how the right tool used at the right time for the right job can yield great results. The sixth graders freely shared personal stories of how they had experienced someone's words used as a tool, to wound or to heal, and some even bravely shared how they had personally used their words at times as tools to hurt or to help others.

I watched and listened with a sense of satisfaction -- the students were engaged, attentive, and enjoying the lesson. They got it! It was one of those times when I sat back and reveled in the magic of being a teacher -- to have the opportunity to watch young people discover a greater truth about life, about each other, and about themselves.

A few days later, one of my students, Laura, had an unexpected and uncharacteristic outburst of disruptive defiance in class. She refused to work with her group. I was aware from reading Laura's file that she had struggled with defiant behavior in previous years, but we had developed a good rapport and she was always a respectful, thoughtful, and positive contributor to our class. Her behavior caught me off guard. I asked her to excuse herself and told her I would visit with her in our next door team center in just a minute. She refused to leave and sat silently glaring at me from the back of the room. I rather firmly told her she needed to excuse herself -- this was NOT optional. She knew I meant it. She marched from the back of the room to our classroom door -- huffing and shooting me an angry look, then proceeded to slam the door as she left for the team meeting room.

I continued our lesson and when the students were working together in their groups, I motioned to my aide that I was going to step out to visit with Laura. I gently closed our classroom door behind me, then marched the five steps next door to our meeting room where Laura was seated. In an unexpected and uncharacteristic gesture of frustration, I slammed the meeting room door behind me. As I stood over her, I began to express how disrespectful and uncalled-for her behavior had been to our class. Her defiance had triggered a wave of out-of-character anger in me and I was sharp in my tone and harsh with my words.
Without looking at me, she absorbed the brunt of my anger with a rigid and steely exterior. When I paused for her response, she slowly turned and smugly stated, "You're using your tool against me."

I was speechless. There are times as a teacher when you are at a critical crossroads with a student and the road you choose will make all the difference. Although part of me resented that she was continuing to be so defiant -- even in her brilliant rebuke -- I paused to reflect on a quote that is posted on our team center wall: "THINK! What is the right thing to do, and do that." The truth of Laura's words and our team center's quote penetrated my conscience like a sharp scalpel.

I knew at that moment the right thing to do was to humbly bend my knee, kneel down next to her chair, and softly say, "You're right, Laura, you are so right. I have used my words unwisely and unkindly. Will you forgive me?" I paused and waited silently next to her chair and gently put my hand on her arm to reassure her of my sincerity. Her defiance slowly melted away. She turned and looked me in the eye and simply said, "Yes, I forgive you, Mrs. Ekre. I'm sorry, too." We continued to visit a bit longer and shared a few laughs and a couple of tears. Eventually, we walked back into the classroom together.

For the rest of the day and the rest of the year, Laura never had another outburst. At the end of the year, she wrote me a beautiful letter about how she loved being in my class and that some of the most important lessons she learned, she learned in Room 25. Attached to the note was a small key -- a tool, she said, for a language arts teacher who taught her how important words can be. It serves as my reminder of a lesson I taught as a teacher but one I really learned from my student.


понедельник, 15 марта 2010 г.

Faster than Fear

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: NASCAR

By Roy A. Barnes

A few years ago, I was heading out of Madrid, Spain with a friend of mine to a small village. At times, he drove the small rental car we were in at about 100 miles per hour. Other than the fact that he had to mildly correct his steering while going that fast, I didn't really feel too anxious about the fact that he was exceeding the speed limit by about 40 miles per hour!

But even this didn't prepare me for what I would be doing one spring evening in 2008, in a city roughly 25 miles northeast of Charlotte known as Concord, where the NASCAR Racing Experience provides NASCAR fans the opportunity to either drive or be a passenger in a former NASCAR stock car.

I'm never going to forget my experience of riding three laps at 170 miles per hour in one of Jeff Gordon's former stock cars around one of NASCAR's legendary tracks, Lowe's Motor Speedway. The races are so popular here that crowds in the grandstands often outnumber the population of Cabarrus County, North Carolina, where the track is located.

As I waited in line, I became more anxious. I'm a bit of a ‘fraidy cat when it comes to the idea of going super fast or up and down a lot, which is why I avoid roller coasters.

Before racing, I had to sign a waiver and fill out a health questionnaire so they would know how to treat me if anything happened to me while I was in the car. I had to put on a sheet-like cover on my head under the helmet, plus a neck support apparatus before I could get into the car.

I asked the others who finished their laps if they were scared and what it felt like to go so fast. They all told me just how much fun they had and that it didn't feel that scary at all.

Still, I was unconvinced. I thought I would most likely be scared out of my wits, but I wasn't going to give in to fear, either.

Since NASCAR stock cars don't have any doors, I had to go in through the window. I was strapped in comfortably, and had plenty of leg room on the passenger's side.

Once seated, and given the signal to go, the skilled driver took off from pit road like a bat out of Hades. There was no going back. Within about five seconds, he was increasing his speed in a 2007 Chevrolet Monte Carlo numbered "24" so fast that I felt like I was being mildly crushed as the engine roared loudly.

In order to deal with this, I let out a mild scream and closed my eyes, just hoping I would survive. We made a quick turn around the oval and then another. Then came another burst of pressure on my body as the car's speed down the track increased again. I felt so creeped out, closing my eyes again because everything was coming so fast at me, like a colored blur.

But after the second turn was over, I started to get used to it and looked straight ahead. I thought several times that we were going to hit the wall of Lowe's Motor Speedway as we came toward it so quickly, but the driver always made the turns at exactly the right time. I was squinching up as much as I could though, and keeping my eyes open about half the time.

By the time I was more comfy with being in this car, my three laps were done. It only lasted a couple of minutes.

So this is what it's like to go 170 miles per hour with one's life in another's hands? Wow! One lady told me that when she looked at the speedometer, it read over 170 miles per hour. I was too busy being scared to look at the speedometer in the car I was in. Still, I would definitely do this again if given the chance, because it's fun, and I now know what to expect.

The talent that these NASCAR drivers have is incredible. It's one thing to race around the track when there is just one other car, as this riding experience is done with two cars that are close together, but not racing.

But to do this in a race with a whole bunch of other stock cars trying to pass each other while dealing with bumping, accidents, etc., for hundreds of laps at those kinds of speeds is a different experience altogether.


Cat under a Hot Tin Roof

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

BY: Brenda Denton

Grow flowers of gratitude in the soil of prayer.
~Verbena Woods

On June 27th, a truck from our local charity, St. Vincent de Paul, in Phoenix, arrived to pick up a mattress and box spring set I was donating after a move to a new home. I put my dogs in their crates and watched the front door to make sure none of my four cats got out as the men loaded the items onto the truck.

Life went on until Friday evening as I was clipping everyone's toenails. I counted five, not six, sets of paws. I went searching for Milli Vanilli, my shy Himalayan cat. I checked all her usual hiding spots as well as closets, cabinets, the garage, the backyard, behind appliances, but she was nowhere to be found. I started to get a little anxious because I couldn't pinpoint the last time I had actually seen her. It's not unusual to go a day or so without seeing her because she likes to hide. I thought back to each day that week. I knew I hadn't seen Milli since the mattress and box spring were picked up. I thought maybe she had hidden in the box spring because part of the backing had come loose.

I tried to reach someone at the charity that evening and I left messages regarding Milli on every phone number posted on the website related to thrift store donations. I then called one of the thrift stores and was told no one would be available until Monday. Since I wasn't one hundred percent sure Milli really was on the truck, I also I put ads in both local papers as well as some websites for lost pets, and went to the pound and Humane Society. I also posted fliers and knocked on all the doors in my neighborhood. I couldn't find Milli anywhere so I became even more convinced that Milli had stowed away on the truck.

On Monday, July 2nd, I called the charity in the morning and told the operator I thought my cat had accidentally been picked up on the truck on the 27th and asked if they would they please find the mattress and box spring I donated and check it for Milli. I know she probably thought I was one crazy cat lady but she took the report anyway and said someone would get back to me. I am very impatient and Milli had already been missing for four days in the heat of summer in Arizona so I called back three hours later to see if there was any news. Shirley told me that someone had seen Milli on the truck on Wednesday and she got spooked and ran into the warehouse. I drove to the warehouse with Milli's picture and her crate to begin the search.

The warehouse was massive, probably the size of a football field, with thousands of boxes, pieces of furniture, etc. I was not hopeful about finding Milli. I searched for two hours, but there was so much noise and commotion that the dock supervisor suggested I come back at around seven when it would be quieter. He also set up a humane trap with tuna fish in it. At around nine or ten, I went to the security desk, and explained the story to the guard, left my name, number and asked the guard to please watch for my cat on the cameras and call me if he saw her no matter what time it was. I went home extremely discouraged and concerned for Milli's safety.

At one in the morning, I got a call from the security guard. He had spotted a cat on the surveillance camera. I rushed to the warehouse where the guard showed me the footage and there was Milli making her movie debut, looking pretty good, I might add. We went into the warehouse and looked and called for Milli but she wouldn't come out. We went back and watched the cameras. I went home around four to get my dog, who was a pretty good tracker, but he couldn't find her either. I knew she wouldn't come out with all the people working during the day so I went to work.

After work, I took one of my other cats in her crate to the warehouse thinking Milli might respond to her. No luck. The next day was July 4th and the temperature was supposed to hit 115. The only people at the warehouse would be the security staff. I made sure they still had my name and number. I had done everything I could think of to find her. I had prayed for her safety but I felt like I wasn't being heard. I wanted to call my church and add her to our prayer list but I was afraid they would ask too many questions and realize Milli was a cat. I searched the Internet for special prayers to recite for missing pets. Instead, I found a place where people would pray for lost or sick pets, prayersforpets.org.
I posted Milli's story very late on July 3rd. I believed, even though she hadn't been seen in a while, that she would be found and for the first time in days, I was at peace. I knew I had done everything I could and it was now out of my hands. On July 4th I was flooded with the most touching prayers for Milli. There were no Milli sightings on the 4th but I was still hopeful and ready to go back the evening of July 5th to resume the search at the warehouse.

On the 5th, I received a call from the charity. Milli had been spotted again and they were trying to catch her. I hung up the phone and headed back to the warehouse. By the time I got there, they had caught her, and put her under a milk crate until I could get there. She was smelly, dirty and her eyes were matted with tears. She was downright boney because she hadn't eaten in eight days. I put her in her crate from home and took her around to all the people that helped get the word out to find her. It was a very happy ending and so many things could have happened resulting in a different, not so happy ending. I was so impressed with the determination and the compassion of all the people at St. Vincent de Paul who helped find my kitty and the people who offered up prayers for her. They are amazing people who really put faith and love into action. They acted as though finding Milli was as important to them as it was to me.

Milli did have to go to the vet for hydration but she came home, ate and drank well, and slept and purred by my side all night.

This whole experience taught me a lot of things. First, always check furniture for stowaways before you donate it, but more importantly, I was reminded of the amazing power of prayer and the goodness and compassion of total strangers which I had really begun to doubt. Her adventure proved to me that God still does perform miracles and answer prayers, and how much He cares about even the smallest of creatures.


суббота, 13 марта 2010 г.

Walking Away with an Open Heart

I was on my lunch break in the city, enjoying a salad at an outdoor cafe, when a disheveled homeless lady came walking towards me. She was yelling and begging everyone who walked past her for spare change and she looked like a mess. My instant reaction was fear... to close off and hope she didn't come near me, but she did. I was on the phone and when she came over yelling, I said, "I'm on the phone," in the nicest way I could, assuring myself what she needed was a lesson in manners. After all, that is rude to interrupt someone and I have very little money as it is, if she only knew and on and on... She walked away, mumbling, "I'm annoying you. I'm sorry, I'm sorry. I'll leave." And she turned the corner.

Normally, I would feel relieved or satisfied, but something in me couldn't rest. Without another thought, I looked in my wallet for the spare change I had. It was just dimes and pennies, but I found a few and was going to give them to her. Suddenly, something amazing happened. I started searching through my entire purse, the bottom, the pockets, everything - for ALL of the change I could possibly find to give, and something in me cracked. It felt like my heart broke and poured open and the restlessness abruptly stopped.

I got up and walked towards this lady as she was ranting and yelling and said, "This is all that I have." And for once, I meant it. It wasn't just some cop out, or some pained smile -- for once, I reached out and gave a person all I had. She held my hand and said, "Thank you! Thank you!" Her hand was calloused, and rough and dirty, but I didn't mind holding her hand. I wanted to be there for her for some reason, when normally I would turn the other way.

She looked at me and said, "Will you touch my face?" And for some reason, I did. I reached up and put my hand on her cheek and she started to cry. Her manic energy stopped and she was still and calm and it sent a shock through me that I can't really explain. Right there, on the corner with people walking all around, I sat there for a few brief moments with my hand on her cheek. Her rough hand, over my soft, manicured hand. I could sense it was as if she had not been touched by a loving, soft hand in ages, if ever, and so I held it there, trying to comfort her with my heart open. It was powerful.

After a few moments, my embarrassment of what others might be thinking kicked in, and I took my hand away. I said, "Take care of yourself, okay. You will be okay. Just take care of yourself. Be careful." She thanked me, and she walked away quietly. She wasn't yelling or begging anymore, and I walked away with an open heart, trying to make sense of what had just happened.

I don't know if it mattered, or if she was just crazy, or if I am crazy, or what. I wasn't even going to tell anyone about this because I felt embarrassed and strange after this bizarrely intimate experience, but my roommate found this website and insisted I tell my little story. I don't know why I did what I did, and I don't really know what happened on that street corner, but it changed something in me and has made me want to be a kinder person to the people I meet during my day.


Are You the Twin I Like?

Chicken Soup for the Soul: Twins and More

BY: Karen H. Gros

Truth will sooner come out of error than from confusion.
~Francis Bacon

My identical twins, Ashley and Christy, never tried to confuse boys about their identities on purpose, but sometimes it just happened naturally.

When they were starting middle school, Christy found out that a boy had a crush on her. She came home from school every day with news about the boy with the hopeless crush. He would say hello in the hallway or the lunchroom every day. And whenever he saw her, he always had a big smile on his face.

Then, one day, he passed her twice in the same hall -- or so he thought. He was very confused until he learned that Christy had a twin sister! Our local schools have a school uniform policy, so the girls always had on the same clothing at school. This made identification for teachers and some friends a little difficult.

However, this did not put a dent in this boy's determination to get Christy's phone number. In fact, it became more of a mission, in spite of the difficulty in identifying Christy. From then on, whenever he would talk to one of the twins, he would say, "Hello, Christy... at least, I think you are Christy. Am I right?" Routinely, he would confirm which twin he was talking to before continuing the conversation. But as time went on, he got more confident that he could identify Christy, and he talked more freely.

Each day, we would hear a new story about the daily conversation, and it quickly became the hot topic of the day at our house. We were always treated to a comical tale, but soon we had the laugh that topped them all.

Ashley came home one day and told us that the boy who liked Christy had stopped her in the hallway to talk. He went on and on, but she just stood there and listened since she knew he thought he was speaking with Christy.

Finally, it dawned on him that perhaps he wasn't speaking to Christy after all! With a look of total horror on his face, he suddenly said, "Wait a minute, are you the one I like or not?"


Doing the Right Thing

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Thanks Mom

By Steve Chapman

You don't raise heroes, you raise sons. And if you treat them like sons, they'll turn out to be heroes, even if it's just in your own eyes.
~Walter M. Schirra, Sr.

I have come to realize that while we are growing up, some of the lessons we need to learn the most are often the ones that we don't appreciate until later in life. Let me share with you one such lesson that I learned.

When I was seventeen, I found a watch while walking down the hallway of my high school. The watch was expensive looking, set with gold and pearls. As I picked it up, greed suddenly came over me, and instead of taking the watch and turning it into the office like I should have, I decided to keep it.

When I got home from school, I found my mother cooking dinner in the kitchen. Thinking that she would be impressed, I proudly held out my prize for her to see. Mom, however, was far from impressed. Instead, she was angry that I had kept the watch instead of turning it in. Mom then ordered me to drive straight back to the school and take the watch to someone at the office. I started to argue, but after taking a good look at the expression on Mom's face, I realized that would get me nowhere. There was nothing left for me to do but obey.

I have to admit, I was rather angry with Mom for making me give up the watch. I felt that it was justly mine since I was the one who had found it. Yes, I knew she was right, but greed had compelled me to keep the watch, and now pride wouldn't allow me to admit that I had done something wrong. But time passed, and I forgot all about the watch until four years later.

While I was attending college, I had managed to get a job at a Walmart pushing carts off the parking lot. One morning, I found a checkbook that had been left in a shopping cart. Immediately, I took it to the customer service desk and gave it to the employee there so that the customer who had lost it could pick it up.

Later, as I was outside pushing carts, a man came up to me and told me that his wife had left their checkbook in a shopping cart the night before; he wanted to know if it had been found. When he told me his name, I realized that he was the owner of the checkbook I had found. I explained to him that I'd found his checkbook that morning, and that he could go inside and claim it at the service desk.

The look on the man's face was a combination of gratitude and relief. He pulled out his wallet and offered me some cash, but I refused. I was proud of myself, prouder than I had been in a long time, and I wasn't about to let something like money spoil that.

As I watched the man go to pick up his checkbook, my thoughts went back to the day when Mom had made me return the watch. Suddenly, the lesson she'd taught me that day came into focus.

Mom wasn't trying to be mean when she made me give back the watch. She wanted to make sure that her son would always be honest, and never take what didn't belong to him. Because of her, I did the right thing when I found that checkbook. Because of her, I had been rewarded with a feeling of self-worth that no amount of money could buy.

Thanks, Mom, for teaching me to do the right thing.


четверг, 11 марта 2010 г.

A Name among Thousands

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Campus Chronicles
By Lisa Geiger

When you realize you want to spend the rest of your life with somebody, you want the rest of your life to start as soon as possible.
~Nora Ephron, When Harry Met Sally

I was a junior in college at Arizona State University in Tempe, Arizona. I had been dating a senior, and in May I found myself attending his graduation from ASU's School of Business. We were sitting high in the stadium, watching a very long ceremony and I was bored. The procession of students seemed endless, and the air horns were giving me a headache. It would be at least another hour until his name was called.

To pass the time, I began thumbing through the directory of graduates looking for my boyfriend's name. A name other than the one I was looking for caught my eye. Brian Geiger. My favorite uncle is a Geiger, and in all my years in Arizona, I had never met anyone with that last name. It jumped off the page at me. Laughing, I pointed it out quickly to my mom, and then kept searching through the thousands of names. Little did I know I had just picked out my future husband's name -- nor did I know that fate would introduce us a few short weeks later.

The next month passed without much incident. I was working as a research assistant in a university science lab, and because I was employed by ASU, I had a summer pass to the campus gym. My relationship with my boyfriend had deteriorated since graduation, so I spent a lot of time at the gym playing volleyball. A group of us played every Tuesday and Thursday. That day, I had signed up for research lab time but didn't feel like being alone in a sterile science lab. I decided to stop by the gym and see if the regular crew was there to play.

The minute I walked in, I noticed a new guy playing on the far court. Wow. He was amazing! He hadn't seen me, but all I saw was him. I felt my face flush, and I knew I had to meet him. Luckily, I did. By the end of the afternoon, there were only enough people left for two teams of three. I was supposed to go to work at the lab, but that would have left uneven teams. I knew I should leave, but I still hadn't officially accomplished my goal of meeting this new man. When the game was over, the new guy, Brian, and his friend, Matt, asked me to go with them for drinks. Volleyball and drinks gradually became a weekly routine: just Brian, Matt, and me. However, it wasn't until a few days later that I actually realized who this Brian guy was.

In order to check out a volleyball, students use their ID cards. When the ball is returned, the ID is given back. One afternoon, I had checked out the ball, but I had to leave before everyone was ready to quit. So my new cute friend, known simply to me as Brian, gave me his ID to exchange for mine. On the walk down the hall, I looked at his name. I got chills. It was Brian Geiger.

If he had graduated, why was he at the campus gym? I later found out that he had intended to move back to his home state of Illinois immediately after graduation, but he couldn't bring himself to leave Arizona. And he had persuaded the gym to let him have a free summer membership. I was stunned. ASU didn't give out free memberships. He never should have been there. We never should have met. I hadn't ever put a lot of stock in destiny, but I was becoming a believer.
By August we were dating. He took me to meet his parents and we laughed that we were all in that same stadium, watching that same graduation ceremony. I knew after four months that he was the man I would marry. Looking back at the graduation ceremony, I am now fully convinced that I didn't notice his name by chance. It was just too unlikely. Thousands of names, and I saw his, which was later to become mine.


среда, 10 марта 2010 г.

To Everything There Is a Season

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

By Andrea Peebles

It always gives me a shiver when I see a cat seeing what I can't see.
~Eleanor Farjeon

After months of pleading, my husband had finally agreed I could have a cat.

And Cody was definitely mine from day one. He was in my lap, between my feet, on the arm of my chair, on the side of my tub and even once from a miscalculated jump, in the tub with me. For twelve years he followed every step I took.

When you are that close it's amazing what you can learn about an animal that cannot talk. I learned that he loved to drink warm water that dripped from the faucet. He was a lefty. He loved to be combed but not brushed. He preferred to sit on my right side. And when he got mad at me for any reason, such as clipping his nails, he would park himself in front of me where I could clearly see him and turn his back to me ignoring any pleas for forgiveness. His favorite food was chicken. He never drank water that was not dripping or running. But he always had to have a fresh bowl of water on the right side of his food dish. He knew the word "milk" even when you spelled it and went running full speed to the refrigerator anytime it was mentioned.

He had a claustrophobic aversion to closed doors. He wanted all inside doors open at all times even though he had no desire to be on the other side of them. He dearly loved milk and ice cream together -- vanilla but not chocolate. And he could apparently tell time. On more than one occasion when our power went out, he would come to my side of the bed, lock his claws into the sheet, and "pop" the sheet until I woke up. And was the sole reason that we were never late to work.

From the very beginning we noticed something strange about his eating habits -- he never put his head in a bowl and ate from the bowl like other cats. Instead he picked up his dry food with his left paw and raked it over the edge into his water bowl, swished it around, and then fished it out and ate it off his left paw. If his bowls got mixed up and the water was on the left he would push and shove until he turned it over trying to get it where it belonged. He couldn't or wouldn't eat canned cat food because when he placed it in the water bowl, it sank to the bottom and disintegrated and he couldn't get it back out.

For twelve years it was our nightly routine to spend a half hour before bed in my bedroom recliner. I would read and my faithful friend kept me company on the right arm of my chair. He used to fall asleep there every night, at which point all four paws would dangle off the sides and his head would be hanging down over the end. Although it looked uncomfortable, for twelve years it remained our way of winding down the day. Wherever I sat, if he wasn't in my lap, he was on my right on the arm of the couch or chair I was in. We were close and we knew each other very well, which is why when he started nudging and pawing at me I couldn't help but notice behavior that was out of character for him. Cody hadn't been himself since just before Christmas and at first I attributed it to a ploy for additional attention and just passed it off.

All through December he got slower and slower. He slept more and ate less and seemed to be having difficulty getting around. In mid-January he took a turn for the worse. My friend kept urging me to "do what is best for Cody and let him die in dignity." I knew she meant well and though I tried, I could never make peace with that decision. I couldn't look in those big gold eyes and convince myself that was best for Cody. He wasn't himself but he never seemed to be in pain. He got slower and his breathing seemed labored at times, but he still followed my every step. I justified my aversion to euthanasia by thinking about how I valued the older people that were in my life. Their breathing was sometimes labored, they had slowed down, their memory wasn't what it used to be -- but they still had a purpose and a place in my life. I simply couldn't do it. And so he lived. And he continued with his strange new behavior of nudging me in one spot... for attention.

And though I did notice that it was always the same side, since he sat primarily on my right I assumed it was just convenient. However, after three months of him pushing his head up against me and just leaving it there, he began to do something else strange. He began to place his paw on that same spot and just hold it there even if he had to lock his claws into my clothes for support. Finally, one night out of sheer exasperation at carefully removing his claws from my new sweater for the fourth time, I just blurted out to my husband, "Do you suppose Cody knows something about this spot that I don't?" And that is when he looked up from the TV and said, "Isn't that the same place where you have that unusual dark spot?" I said, "Yes, as a matter of fact it is and maybe I should go and have the doctor look at it after all."

I had noticed an odd looking mole more than a year before and had been watching it for any changes; since none had occurred I had pretty much forgotten about it until now. However, I began to think back and realized that Cody had been gravitating to only this one place for the past few months, so I decided to make an appointment with a dermatologist just to be on the safe side.

I made an appointment to have that "mole" removed. Nine days later, my beloved Cody-cat died peacefully in his sleep in a little bed I'd made him in my closet while I sat quietly at his left side.
My one last gift to him -- to allow him the peace and comfort of dying in his own home with the one he loved at his side. And his one last gift to me -- a biopsy confirming malignant melanoma in the earliest possible stage, caught early only because of his persistent nudging in the last days of his life.


Whatever Works

Chicken Soup for the Soul: Teacher Tales

BY: Marcia Rudoff

Good instincts usually tell you what to do long before your head has figured it out.
~Michael Burke

"Billy Wagner's father will be here at 10 AM. He wishes to speak with you," the note in my teacher's box read. I felt the color draining from my face and tried to keep my hands from shaking. I knew I was in trouble.

I was thrilled when I landed a teaching position in my new hometown's high school. The school district had a reputation of hiring only experienced teachers and I was just beginning my career. An exception had been made in my case because this was a pilot program and even the principal didn't know if it would work. (Experienced teachers probably knew to get more details about the plan and turned the position down.)

At the time, Millard High School included the seventh through twelfth grades. Each of the four elementary schools that fed into it had graduating sixth graders who, for one reason or another, would need a more sheltered environment to progress in such a large institution. Eager to teach so close to home and for such a fine school, I oozed confidence and enthusiasm for the opportunity to be a part of this pilot program, even if I had no clue about how to run it.

When I received my class rosters I was delighted -- the enrollments were extremely small. My largest class had thirteen pupils. This was an unbelievable number for a public school. It should have tipped me off that my task would not be as simple as I imagined. I assumed my students would be behind in their skills and a little remediation delivered with large doses of encouragement would solve their problems. Five minutes into the first day of school, I realized things were a lot more complicated.

All of the students were in my room for more than one subject and operating at different levels because of different handicaps. For some it was intellect, for others the problems were emotional. Two were new to the country and needed to learn English. Some were late bloomers, who with a little more maturity would eventually catch up with their peers.

And then there was Billy. Skinny, sensitive Billy. Billy the outsider. Unlike others who knew at least someone else in the room from their elementary school days, Billy didn't. He was easily upset and cried a lot. He cried if he had answers marked wrong on his paper, he cried if I called on him and he didn't want to answer, he cried if classmates tried to joke with him. I was embarrassed to see a twelve-year-old boy crying like that. I didn't know what to do, so I left him to it.

There was no way I could teach a lock-step lesson with this group. Their ability levels were too diverse. We did some things together, but I had to give a lot of time to individualized instruction. I tried, with fingers crossed, to have meaningful assignments for the others to do while I worked with a single student. This didn't always make for a quiet, orderly classroom. Free-wheeling and chaotic would be a more accurate description.

Strange things happened. While I was working with Sally, Kanzo, who entered the class knowing only the alphabet and how to count to one hundred in English, was somehow able to help Danny with his math. Danny had no trouble understanding him. Mickey, Steve and Bobby began grouping together to do their work. Some might call it cheating; I preferred to see it as collaborating.

In spite of my constant fear that at any moment the principal might come into my room to complain about the noise and be horrified by my lack of control, things began to settle down. It was still noisy and a bit too social, but Wally, the withdrawn one, had begun to interact with Sally, who sat in front of him. It was a start, even if it was only with one other person. Helge now spoke in full English sentences, if you ignored the mangled syntax. Mickey's compositions had stretched from one paragraph to a full page, even if the spelling and punctuation remained abysmal. Mess-producing Myra was finally picking up after herself, and Billy had stopped crying.

Small victories. Where was the accelerated academic growth? When was I going to set stricter standards and get these youngsters up to grade level? When was I going to take control and have them acting like high school students? I wanted to, but I felt in over my head. I just didn't know how. Was it any wonder that Mr. Wagner wanted to talk to me about his son Billy's progress? How long before a mob of parents appeared, demanding to know what was going on in my classroom?

Ten o'clock was the start of my student-free period. I rushed to the faculty ladies' room a few minutes before, sick to my stomach with dread. I splashed water on my face, applied fresh lipstick and tried to smile a brave smile into the mirror. I needed time to calm down, but the meeting with Mr. Wagner couldn't be put off. I hoped he'd be late.

I found him already in my room, seated behind a student desk too small for his stocky build. I greeted him cheerfully and we shook hands. I slid into the seat next to him and steeled myself for what was to come.

"I won't take too much of your time," he said, "but I wanted you to know how much my wife and I appreciate what you have done for our son. Billy has absolutely blossomed this year. Do you know he used to cry and have stomachaches when he had to go to school? If we asked him about his school day, he'd clam up on us. Now all he talks about is school! I don't know how you did it, but our son is a happy boy again. My wife and I are so grateful; I had to come here to thank you personally." He stood up and straightened his suit coat. "Now I'd better get back to my office so we can both get some work done," he said.

I remained in my seat, stunned. He didn't know how I did it, but he was grateful for the change in his son! I didn't know how I did it either, but Mr. Wagner's comments gave me the confidence to continue with my classes the way they were. I stopped thinking I needed to get tough, be strict and concentrate solely on the academics. Billy and his father had taught me that my free-wheeling classroom, born of my inexperience, was giving a troubled young adolescent room to gain the self-confidence he needed to be able to concentrate on schoolwork. I learned from Billy that there is more to a student than the amount of English one can stuff into his head.

Over the years, I encountered other students who made me realize why I became a teacher, but Billy Wagner was the first, and the one for whom I am most grateful. When Billy went on to college, I felt as successful as he did.


вторник, 9 марта 2010 г.

Healing Toxin

Chicken Soup for the Soul: Count Your Blessings

BY: Maria Victoria Espinosa-Peterson

We have no right to ask when sorrow comes, "Why did this happen to me?" unless we ask the same question for every moment of happiness that comes our way.
~Author Unknown

When she was four months old, our daughter Eva got sick for the first time. The doctor thought that it was just a cold. But Eva became more silent and still as the hours passed. We called another doctor and he told us it was probably a bad virus and that she would be fine. "That's how babies fight these things," he said. "They just shut down until they fix the problem."

Two days later, our baby was not only "shut down" but almost gone.

Running to the ER wasn't easy. It was late at night, and one of us had to stay with our two-year-old son.
We decided that my husband would go with Eva. I am from Argentina and moved to the U.S. when I was twenty-eight. English is not my first language, and it was important that every word in that exchange with doctors was understood right away. After the longest hour of my life, my husband called. "You should come right away. This is serious." My knees were weak, but in a flash I left my son in the care of good neighbors and rushed to the ER.

When I got there, I saw my baby daughter lying on a stretcher, now completely limp and barely conscious. She was making a soft, weak sound. I didn't cry or ask many questions; I was shocked. I just watched as if standing in the eye of a hurricane of white and blue scrubs.

During our first night at the hospital, my husband and I looked into each other's eyes in silence while holding this limp little baby. That night I memorized every single feature of her face. I would have given my own life in a second to secure hers. That night, my husband's hug felt like a life preserver.

The next day we were transferred to a bigger hospital where they hoped doctors could figure out what was happening to her. She was steadily getting worse. Eventually she was completely paralyzed. Gradually, inexplicably, she was fading away.

We decided to call family, and from all of those phone calls I only remember the voices of my parents asking, "How serious is this?" and my response, "You might not see her ever again."

Two days later, my mother came from across the world. She and a good friend took care of our son, Martín, while we were at the hospital. I always tried to make it home for Martín's bedtime and after kissing him good night, headed back to the intensive care unit.

We felt Eva's life slipping through our fingers. Would she survive? And if she survived, would there be disabilities?

Eventually somebody had an idea: botulism. Infant botulism, called an "orphan disease," is a rare paralytic illness caused by a nerve toxin that is produced by the bacterium Clostridium botulinum. All forms of botulism can be fatal and are considered medical emergencies. Botulism is very rare in infants; there are around eighty cases each year in the whole U.S. Even though botulism could be lethal, it doesn't have any long-term effects if it is overcome.

Given the other possible diagnoses, botulism was our best-case scenario. It was impossible for me to believe that she had botulism since she was exclusively breastfed. However, I was told later that the bacterium is in the air and soil, and medical science does not yet understand the factors that make one baby more susceptible than others to botulism spore germination.

There was no time to lose. Doctors decided to treat Eva for botulism even before the final results came back from the lab.

In the hallways of that hospital, I met other parents. From them I heard about transplants, neurological impediments, cancer, and post-surgery complications. I heard about parents' plans for organ donation if the worst happened.

Some of these children had been in intensive care for a long time. Others were "frequent flyers" -- as their parents call them. They spend weeks at a time in the hospital and go home hoping that the next time they come for a checkup they won't end up staying.

My husband and I stood by Eva's sleeping body day and night, waiting for a sign of recovery. Days later, Eva started to react. One day she moved her fingers and toes. The next day she opened her eyes. In time, over many days of waiting and then receiving the confirmation that she did indeed have botulism, life clearly began to circulate through her whole body again. Eventually her eyes could fix on mine. She was holding on to life. She managed to smile, and that was when we knew she would return to normal. Some days later, her smiles brought life back to our hearts and for the first time I was able to sleep.
I still find an inexplicable peace when holding Eva. We still almost burst into tears when Martín kisses her forehead.

One friend whose daughter is a "frequent flyer" supported me greatly when Eva's hospitalization started. When I asked, "Why is this happening to us?" she replied, "Why wouldn't it happen to you? There are lots of people out there to whom these things happen all the time."

Some people live long lives, some don't. Instead of asking why, we are grateful for what we have. We also notice the good things that come to us during, and even because of, the worst of situations.


воскресенье, 7 марта 2010 г.

How Will You Fill Your Flower Vase?

Last night after reading some inspirational posts on HelpOthers I decided it was getting a little late so I decided to go to bed. As I was lying there I was thinking about the stories I had just read. For some reason my mind flashed back to my first day at College (High School). The head girl was standing up on the stage giving us a speech about your life and your life journey being a vase full of flowers. Now that may seem a strange context but that speech has stayed with me for many years.

I would like to share it with you all! It went something along the lines of… Imagine a big vase of flowers being your life. Each person has a vase of flowers but it is their opportunity to fill it in the way they decide. You could fill your vase with a few flowers or fill it with many beautiful flowers of all shapes, colours, textures and sizes. It’s entirely up to you.

You could be one of those people who go to school, then get a job and everyday is the same – work, home, work, home OR…you could be someone you goes out, gets a job, goes to University but lives everyday to the fullest, someone who wants to make a difference in the world, someone who helps others at every opportunity and goes out to meet people of all kinds, many cultures, different backgrounds. Everyday is a gift. 

Back then, in the hall, I thought I wanted to make the most out of my life! I want to fill my vase with lots of flowers! I want to live a life helping others, live a life of smiles and kindness. I’m telling you I’m not anywhere near perfect but I try my hardest to be the best I can! Our lives are our Journey! There maybe times when you are so low but then you do get back up again. 

Our lives are full of twists and turns. “Life is like a bowl full of spaghetti with many twists and turns but sometimes you may come across a meatball.” Now there have been times in my life when my family and I have come across a meatball such as when my Mum was diagnosed with breast cancer with 8 tumors at only 44 years of age when I was 11. But we got through it as a family. In actual fact it has made us stronger, it has made us closer. I love my family so much!

I’m so thankful I stumbled across this HelpOthers site. Your posts inspire me each and everyday. Since last October when I joined, although it seems as if I have been joined to this site for a lifetime, each day when I get up in the morning I think, “How will I help others today? How will I make a difference in someone else’s life this day?” 

Although I am only 18 years old and at the beginning of my Journey through life, I am continually inspired by each and everyone of you! Thank you so very much, everyone of you is special! Remember that!

Hope you all have a wonderful day! 


The Science of Speed

Chicken Soup for the Soul: NASCAR

BY: Dwight Drum

While waiting for my first ride in a two-seater Richard Petty Driving Experience (RPDE) stock car with NASCAR Sprint Cup Series driver Denny Hamlin during media day at Disney World several years ago, I chatted with employees as others completed their two-lap tour at 140 mph. I was curious what most first-time ride-along participants had to say about their experience.

I was definitely on the right track, and this one wasn't asphalt. The RPDE employees all agreed the most common statement right out of the cockpit was, "I had no idea it was like that!"

One media colleague in queue for her ride commented that the cars didn't look like they were going very fast. The one-mile track at Disney limits high speeds, but hitting 130-plus was common for skilled drivers.

Before my turn came up the media colleague who thought the cars weren't going that fast got out of the car after her ride and said, "Wow!"

As I'm a photographer and reporter, I had to get out permission from the driver to take my camera with me during a ride. Hamlin had no problem with that.

After putting on a helmet and a HANS device and having seat belt straps secured around me, I quickly realized I couldn't turn my head all the way to the left, aim the camera, and snap an image of the driver at the same time. So I simply turned the camera that way, snapped a bunch of images and then checked it for the right focus.

It hadn't occurred to me that while taking the ride I would be holding onto my camera and not any solid part of the car, like a section of the tubular frame. The camera couldn't brace me for the speedy ride in and out of the corners, or the high speeds just inches from the wall on straightaways.

I remember getting out of my first ride pumping my fist. My 2006 comments: "What a thrill! You see it, hear it, feel it in every virtual way, but until you are in a race car with a pro at the wheel you can't know it."

I mentioned the impact of a ride-along to other drivers many times after that and got some curious responses. Jason Leffler noted that during ride-alongs he wasn't in the passenger seat closest to the wall, where the effect is the scariest. Jimmie Johnson doesn't like being in any fast-moving vehicle he can't control, and won't ride with jet fighter pilots. The g-forces in supersonic aircraft are renowned.

According to Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia, the g-force experienced by an object is its acceleration relative to free-fall. The term g-force is technically incorrect as it is a measure of acceleration, not force. However, it is treated as a force because the mechanical stresses it produces are always felt as a force even if they produce no physical acceleration.

Whenever the vehicle changes either direction or speed, the occupants feel lateral (side to side) or longitudinal (forward and backwards) forces produced by the mechanical push of their seats.
That's the official definition. Here's what it means in real life.

Inverted g-forces like those felt in the loops of roller coasters are the last thing one wants to feel in a stock car, as that would require flipping over on the track. Top Fuel dragsters produce 5.3 g on a straight path. Open-wheel race cars in F1 produce about 5 g during heavy braking. Normal stock cars' g-forces lie somewhere in between 1g and 4 g, depending upon the size and banking of the track and the speeds attained in a hot but successful lap. Crashes increase g-forces exponentially.

When Dale Jarrett described a ride-along incident among the many he has performed for fans, reality superseded science.

"I was doing one at Rockingham years ago and actually blew an engine going into Turn 3 there," Jarrett said. "I got into some oil and we were spinning. The guy thought I was doing that on purpose. Whenever that happens we have no control, either. If you blow a tire it doesn't matter how good you are."

Oh. So that's the reason why they have you sign several pages of waivers before you get into the seat.

Jarrett commented on fans riding along.

"It's easy to tell the ones that are really enjoying it," he said. "There are some with their eyes literally wide open. They are not sure what's going to happen. Those are the ones that are fun. You want them to appreciate what's happening. I've had ones that you could have hit the wall and they wouldn't have cared. They were looking for something exciting to happen. Others are sitting there and realizing this is a ride of a lifetime for them."

Since my first ride with Denny Hamlin I've experienced stock cars with Greg Biffle and RDPE employee drivers. In 2009, I morphed into sort of a speed junkie with a ride in an IndyCar two-seater with Davey Hamilton at the Disney track, plus a ride on the streets of St. Petersburg, and pace car rides with Brett Bodine at Darlington Raceway and NASCAR champion Jimmie Johnson on the famed Daytona International Speedway.

I took my camera on a few warm-up laps in the open-wheel cars, but at speed they wouldn't allow a camera that might easily take flight in the wind created by those aerodynamic darts on wheels.

"Gentleman Jimmie" was anything but gentle in a new Camaro at Daytona when he left the tri-oval for sliding turns in and out of the Grand-Am road course paths. This time I was in the back seat, holding onto my camera and being pushed side to side by g-forces when Johnson pulled out of the turns to go 160 mph on Daytona's high banks.

When asked later about the many ride-alongs he has done and how he tells whether fans are thrilled or scared or both, Johnson went graphic.

"You can usually tell when you shake someone's hand after the experience. If their palms are sweaty, you did a good job and you did scare them. The other day in that Camaro there were a lot of reasons to have sweaty palms. That's a fast, fast car and I think we all had a lot of fun."

When I mentioned it was great fun that surely scared me, the gentleman smiled. "Good. Mission accomplished."

Obviously none of my rides were in race conditions, so the total real effects of racing are still not part of my resume. I've covered motorsports for nearly a decade, and knew speed and noise in many close but intangible ways before I actually got in a car and felt what driving on the edge was like. It's only in the past few years that I have been privileged to feel that speed.

I expected fast, but as for knowing it, I truly had no idea.


Searching for a Soulmate

Chicken Soup for the Soul: True Love

BY: Jill Pertler

There are two kinds of sparks, the one that goes off with a hitch, but burns out quickly. The other is the kind that needs time, but when the flame strikes... it's eternal, don't forget that.
~Timothy Oliveira

My husband and I met in driver's training class when we were fifteen. We've been best friends ever since. How corny is that?

Friendship doesn't always lead to romance, however, and for us that leap didn't come until years after we'd declared our best-friendship.

During the time after we met, but before we started dating, we helped each other out in the romance department. I set him up with my friends. He provided comfort when an unbelievably stupid boyfriend broke up with me. I often criticized his choice in women; he hardly ever liked the guys I went out with.

Each year, on our birthdays, we'd go out on a "date." And on New Year's Eve, if neither of us was in a relationship, it was agreed that we'd celebrate the night together. You know, sort of like best friends would do.

All the while I was in search of Mr. Right -- my soulmate. The mere thought of him made me sigh with anticipation. I knew he was out there -- somewhere -- the guy who was born just for me, and I him.
Trouble was, this soulmate of mine wasn't making himself easy to find. He had no distinguishing characteristics that I knew of. I couldn't tell him from a hole in the wall, or a best friend.

A funny thing happened on my search for a soulmate. One summer, my best friend and I began to see each other in a new light. The air around us changed and was charged with an energy we couldn't ignore.

By this time, we'd been friends for so long that we already knew almost everything about one another. A romance like that is brief. We were engaged after just weeks and married within the year.

I'd been searching for my soulmate and he'd been right there beside me the whole time! Or so I thought.

It wasn't long after our honeymoon, when I looked at him lovingly and posed the hypothetical question: "Do you think we're soulmates?"

His answer was not what I expected. "What's a soulmate?" he asked with the innocence of a newlywed.

I was stunned. How could he be my soulmate if he didn't even know what it was?

Thing is though, I was in love with the guy. Soulmate or not, I was committed to him for better or worse. So for us, life went on -- together. I tried to quit worrying about silly ideals like soulmates.
Through the years we've learned that in many ways we are more different than alike. I am a bargain hunter; my husband is an impulse shopper. I read poetry; he scans the front page. He hunts; I knit. He prefers spicy hot barbecue; I'm a cool ranch fan. I believe in soulmates; he doesn't know what they are.

But as different as we seem to be, we've managed to keep each other interested (and at times entertained) for more than twenty years. Despite the fact that I tend to hog the covers and he (occasionally) snores, we've found a weird sort of rhythm that works for us. There is a happy cadence to our days.

Each night, I get the coffee maker ready for the next day. And each morning, he brings me my first cup, poured just the way I like it with the right amount of cream. One evening, I was tired, and said, "It's late. I don't think I'll make the coffee tonight."

His answer wasn't what I expected. "But then I won't be able to bring you your cup in the morning," he said. "And that's what I do." His words had a certain tenderness that can only be earned after years together.

Needless to say I made the coffee that night.

I haven't forgotten about finding my soulmate, except my definition has changed. I no longer think a soulmate is someone born for me. I realize that would be way too easy. A soulmate is someone you grow with and into over time until the day comes that something as simple as cup of coffee illustrates feelings so deep that they bring tears to your eyes.

That is what my soulmate -- and best friend -- does for me.