понедельник, 28 июня 2010 г.

The Rhythm of Summer

Chicken Soup for the Soul: Devotional Stories for Women

BY: Karen Talcott

This is the day the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it.
Psalm 118:24

We had been counting down the days to summer vacation, and it had finally arrived. No more cold lunches to pack, no more nights spent checking homework, and no more early morning alarms. Life was about to get a whole lot sweeter.

But, of course, if I have one plan in mind, the opposite is almost always certain to occur. The kids all roused from their beds at 7:00 A.M., hungry and wanting breakfast. By 9:00, they were already bored and looking for me to start "Mommy Camp." Wasn't summer about sipping ice-cold lemonade in a hammock under the shade of a lovely oak tree? I guess not when you are the mother of three.

But after a few days, we began to discover our summer vacation rhythm. The kids started to find things to amuse themselves. Climbing a tree and swinging down from a rope was absolutely thrilling for my five-year-old son. My daughter loved having a pretend tea party for her stuffed animals, serving them soggy crackers and water from her tea set. We didn't need to fill our time with busy theme parks and expensive attractions. Fun could be found in our own backyard or nearby park.

In my life as a mother, wife, and woman, it is so easy to get caught up in the drama of life. I micro-manage my life and fill every waking hour with things to do. What if I spent a day or two and started to notice the little things going on around me that could bring me joy?

Challenge yourself today to become more childlike. Look at this magnificent world that God created and find the wonderment in it. Laugh often, smile more, and appreciate all the beauty
that exists around you. This is the day the Lord has made. Let us rejoice and be glad in it!


пятница, 25 июня 2010 г.

Retaining Memories

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Thanks Mom

By Robert S. Nussbaum

Son, you outgrew my lap, but never my heart.
~Author Unknown

"Yes, Mom, I am in Utah with Robin and Steve, our friends from Philly. We're visiting Alex, who's working at a mountain and will be starting graduate school in New York in the fall. We'll be home Wednesday morning."

With that, I get off the phone and shake my head. This is at least the 500th time in the past six months that I have had the same conversation with my mom about her granddaughter. My mom is ninety years old and her short-term memory is long gone.

It is hard watching a parent grow old. If we are lucky, we have a fixed image in our minds of our parents in the prime of their lives. My dad passed away almost thirty years ago. I try to remember all the things that made my dad who he was to me. Every once in a while, this offensive image of how he looked the last time I saw him, ravaged by the effects of his cancer, creeps into my mind. I try to disgorge this image from my brain and replace it with the images of him that I treasure.

I grew up in a Leave it to Beaver household. My mom adored my father, and made my sister and I feel like we walked on water. My dad was the man who graduated first in his class from NYU Law at twenty-one years of age, was an all-American fencer, a successful attorney, and an utterly devoted father and husband. My sister, from the time she was little until this day, attempted to protect me and make sure my life was filled only with good thoughts.

I want to make my mom whole again. I want her to wake up this morning with clarity of mind and purpose. I want her to be able to pick up the phone and discuss new matters of import and interest. I want her to be able to drive her car again, like she loved to do. I want her to be able to live independent and strong. I want the mom I remember and still see in my dreams.

But reality does not deal in sentiment. It can be a cruel and unforgiving foe. It does not let us rewind, or cherry pick the moments we retain. It takes us where it wants to take us. If we don't like it, that is of no concern.

My calls with my sister now always begin with, "I just spoke to Mom and she is okay, but..." I never wanted to have a conversation like this with her again. Acceptance of what is, rather than what should be, is not an easy task.

My son has a wonderful capacity for being able to look past the images he sees and hears of his grandmother and interact with her in a gentle, effective manner. While he sometimes has to deal with five or more calls in an hour on the same topic, he never seems to lose his patience. We learn much about others and ourselves in times like this.

I know my mom struggles to cope with what is happening to her. She wants to say she is fine, and always asks what she can do for us. But she comprehends that her difficulties are our difficulties. She knows she can no longer remain thirty-nine, as she tried to do for almost fifty years. She knows that her role as matriarch of the family has been replaced by a new and unintended position. She can recall the glory days, but she has a hard time remembering what she ate for lunch.

I start every morning by picking up the phone to tell her we are all doing well, and asking her how she is feeling. I know she will try to do the best she can to be positive so that I can begin my day without having to call my sister and start the cycle of concern again. I know she wants us to retain the images of her as vibrant and independent, and carry those around with us each and every day.

It is now almost 9 AM in New Jersey. I am sitting in Utah, at the computer, knowing that when I finish my thoughts, I must pick up the phone. I hope it will be a good day for her. I hope she will be my mother again. I hope that there will one day be a cure for dementia so that the next person sitting at the computer does not have to remember the good times past, but can live in the moment. I hope today is the day that the present comes back into focus for my mom. I hope.



Chicken Soup for the Soul: Thanks Dad

BY: Donna Buie Beall

Old as she was, she still missed her daddy sometimes.
~Gloria Naylor

"Well, hello!"


My father reaches into the top pocket of his shirt and pulls out a five-dollar bill before I can even consider reaching into my purse for my wallet. Every day that he has been in town since the day after Christmas, I have stopped by the McDonald's on De Renne Avenue, which he frequents whenever he is in Savannah visiting me. It is a simple affair: he is always there first, finished with his sausage biscuit and coffee, his eyes focused on the newspaper in front of him, pen in hand, reading glasses balanced on his nose, looking unassuming when I walk in. I am no surprise at this point -- he has been in town for a week, leaving my house early each day to "get out of the way" as I prepare my daughter for school -- and I am tickled that each morning he raises his head from his crossword puzzle to watch me as I approach his table, his whole countenance lighting up as if my coming were a surprise.

"Thank you," I say as I take the five-dollar bill. Our faces wear expressions of mutual pleasure, and I enjoy being surprised with every visit that he is Daddy again, reveling in the fact that this means that I get to be a daughter again. Not wife, or mother or teacher. Not dishwashing machine expert. Just daughter. For this morning, I get to just be a girl.

As I approach the counter where the menu glows above me, seeming more to me like a five-star restaurant than a fast-food joint, the scents of sizzling buttered things tickle my nose and I feel comforted by the robotic buzzing of soda machine beverages trickling into plastic cups. Since I no longer have a childhood home, or kitchen, to meet my father in for breakfast, this has become a surrogate home, and it is really fine by me.

Here, there are no memories of family arguments or reminders that the room is too light or too dark or needs updating. There is only us, the gentle chorus of laughter from the post-holiday retirees who also frequent this popular spot at their usual tables, and my father's five-dollar bill between us, which I use each morning to buy the same favorites: a breakfast combo #1: one egg McMuffin, a hash brown, and a sugary-brown Coke that bubbles through the straw into my mouth and wakes up my still-sleepy eyes.

Over these meals, my father and I talk. We debate politics and finances, share a newspaper, and review the past. We are interrupted only by the casual comment my father makes to a person passing by: "Need any help with that?" he says to the woman with a walker who is struggling to squeeze by the Christmas tree, or "How 'bout today's crowd? Pretty good today, eh?" to the mustached-manager of the McDonald's with whom he has become friends.

But my favorite topic of conversation over our meal is my father's memories.

"I was the fastest thing in Darlington County," he says, and his eyes light up like they have fire in them as he reminisces about playing football, about how playing for St. John's High School in South Carolina was the closest thing to pure glory he had ever known. He reminds me of just how fast he was as he trades his crooked smile for a grimace, shifting in his seat since "that bad shoulder has taken to aching again."

We sit at a small square table as close to the direct sunlight as we can get. My father positions himself in a way that the sun's rays scissor straight down upon his bad shoulder and hip through the restaurant glass, this portrait of him sitting there reminding me of a cat. My father the cat, who could once sprint across a football field like one, like a mean cougar, and who now stretches his limbs under the small restaurant table so that the sun can massage away the aches of too many years of work and sacrifice and miles of football fields.

The morning hours pass into the afternoon. How long since I first strolled in to see him sitting here? The egg McMuffin and sausage biscuits have long been eaten, coffees and Cokes filled and re-filled, and my father's ritual of pulling out the breakfast "dessert" before I get up to leave has now come: homemade ice-lemon cake from an old neighbor who lived across the street from my childhood home.

"Just one slice," he requests before I go, pulling out the plastic knife to make the incision.

I have one small slice, and it is delicious. But I certainly don't need it. I just want to enjoy the taste. But not the taste of the ice-lemon. I want one last tangible experience of my father. One for the road. Tomorrow he leaves.

With the final serving of the lemon cake come a few more stories about him as a boy, and I can't resist. I chew my cake. I close my eyes and listen to his laugh -- the mix of a rumbling clearing of his throat and a wise-cracking guffaw. I memorize this laugh, soaking it in like the warmth of the sun flowing in through the restaurant glass that is covered up by decorative holiday paintings of snowmen and candy canes. As I rise from my seat to return to the rigors of life, I am filled with gladness and comfort. Whether I am age five or thirty-five, my father still rescues me sometimes from life's responsibilities and feeds me breakfast, and in the process, nourishes both my appetite and my spirit.


Furring the Nest

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

BY: Mary E. McCloud

One man's trash is another man's treasure.
~Kevin Smith

There's dog hair everywhere! Oh, that Bo! Why does he shed so much? I know. My fault. One look at those big brown eyes, pleading with me from the back porch, is all it takes for me to open the door. Into the house he bounds. Nose sniffing. Tongue hanging. Tail wagging.

Bo is our four-year-old golden Labrador Retriever. He's loyal, gentle and affectionate. Bo can plop his sixty-five pounds of love and fur in your lap, and lick your face at the same time. There's only one small annoyance. His thick, golden, hairy coat sheds -- a lot. One morning, as I was sipping coffee and absorbing the sights of the budding trees, five little sparrows landed on the porch. Bo was in his usual laidback pose, oblivious to the feathered friends hopping around him. As my half-awakened eyes focused, I noticed something in one bird's beak.

What is it? I thought. Oh... it's Bo's hair. What's that bird doing? It's gathering some of Bo's soft fur to line its nest!

I remembered all those times I silently grumbled about his cast-off hair. Sweeping. Vacuuming. Assembling the vacuum hose and its attachments. All the times I made sure everyone had a turn using the lint roller before leaving home. Now, I'm observing a bird about to use something I consider a nuisance.

I watched it as it flew to its nest. The back porch scene I had just witnessed swayed my view of Bo's shedding hair. My sentiments were transformed from irritation to the realization of nature's superb resourcefulness. In the cycle of life, nothing is wasted. Through time, things that appear destroyed, that are shed or discarded are used again. Endings decompose and nourish beginnings.

I sat and imagined how the new hatchlings would feel as they nestled and snuggled in the comfort of their soft nest. Naked and defenseless, yet warm, secure and protected in the plush surroundings of Bo's golden fur.


More than a Medical Kit

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Campus Chronicles

By Jaclyn S. Miller

Luck can often mean simply taking advantage of a situation at the right moment.
It is possible to "make" your luck by always being prepared.
~Michael Korda

"Anybody have a bandage?" a voice echoed down the dorm hallway.

It was our first week at college and we were all experiencing "forgot-it-itis." I had neglected to bring snacks for late-night munchies. Some poor girl on the wing had apparently forgotten bandages. We all felt a little displaced.

Several months before, I sat at my high school graduation party admiring my gifts and battling waves of post-high school sentimentality. The usual and beloved inspirational books were scattered around my feet, silently proclaiming the wealth of wisdom they wished to share. A small pile of personal checks lay nearby. Laundry items, desk supplies, sewing miscellany -- all well-intentioned and well-received. They would demonstrate their givers' thoughtfulness over and over during my college career.

But one gift struck me as strange. I frowned when I opened it. Medicine? A small packet of pills and creams, ointments and lozenges lay within the wrappings. Who would give that as a gift?

"You'll need that once you're at school," Mom pointed out. "You won't have to chase down the campus nurse for every cough."

Good point.

Not long after, in August, I packed my life into a borrowed truck and slipped the bag of medicine in with my toiletries. I barely thought about it once I reached campus, caught in the whirlwind of unpacking, book-buying, scheduling and meeting new friends.

When "anybody have a bandage?" rang out in the dormitory hall that day, I remembered my little medicinal package.

I swallowed self-consciously. "Actually," I gave a little wave, "I have one."

"Great," my new wing-mate chimed.

As I dug out the kit, we began to chat.

Soon, many of the other girls on the wing heard of my little kit and paid me a visit. One had bug bites -- anti-itch cream popped out of my supply. The wing-mate with the headache nearly kissed my hands when I passed her simple painkillers. As cold season approached, many needed cough drops. Each girl stayed to chat for a few moments.

The little gift I had questioned now led me toward new friendships. As it broke fevers, it also broke the ice, allowing me to meet and befriend many on the wing.

Gradually, the others purchased their own supplies and my kit rarely left the closet.

Eventually, I graduated and threw the dangerously outdated bottles into the garbage, along with stacks of papers and trash -- all items now unnecessary. I began my adult life, forgetting the simple medical kit and how it helped me befriend others.

Then one day, I received a party invitation. A young friend was graduating from high school. "Come celebrate with Sarah!" read the cheerful type. Memories of my own party rushed back to me, and I smiled at the opportunity presenting itself.

As I drove to the pharmacy, I knew exactly what gift I would give her. The chance to be a friend.


A Ride Down Memory Lane

Chicken Soup for the Soul: Thanks Mom

BY: Christopher Hartman

Life is like riding a bicycle -- in order to keep your balance, you must keep moving.
~Albert Einstein

It was a bright sunny day. I was enjoying a nice cold Coca-Cola and lying in my backyard hammock when I heard children shouting and quarrelling in the back alley. I turned my attention to the conversation between two little girls for only a second before I figured out what they were arguing about.

"Quick, get back on the bike, you almost had it that time," said the older girl.

"I can't do it, let me put the training wheels back on," said the younger of the two, whose legs were covered with scrapes and Band-Aids.

"No, this is my bike, and I don't want to drive around with training wheels all the time because you think you can't ride without them."

I chuckled at the innocence of the two girls, sisters who lived across the alley from me. I readjusted my ball cap over my face and continued to rest my eyes. I tried to get back to the state of total relaxation I was in before it was interrupted, but their conversation took me back to the memories I had the day I learned how to ride a bike. I was about four years old.

"Christopher," my mother called from the family room doorway, leaning against it with a tea towel thrown over her shoulder. She had snuck up on me as I was playing with my toy cars on the carpet. Pushing the cars around, I drove to and from the imaginary neighbors, stopping over in the field to say hello to my father. I had been playing all morning with my little brother but he had tuckered himself out and was napping on his back, arms stretched away from his body, his head to the side with drool coming from his little face, his fat little belly protruded from underneath his shirt.

"Yah," I said when I briefly turned my head toward my mother then back toward the car that was exiting the imaginary field.

"Come, let's go outside," she said. "It's a nice day out today and I'm finished with my work."

At that moment, I really wasn't interested, thinking she would want me to help her in the garden or something like that, so I continued playing and asked, "What are we going to do?"

"Oh, I don't know," she paused. I looked up at her and a smile came over her face. "I thought you could learn how to ride that bike today."

I jumped up in joy as a rush of excitement spread through my body. I ran through the house as fast as I could, out the door and onto the deck. I grabbed my muddy rubber boots from beside the door and dove out into the sun, grabbing my sister's little purple bike with white tires. My mother came out of the house behind me, "Take the bike over to the garage."
I was wound up, so I ran the bike toward the garage. The driveway in the farmyard was slanted slightly; we were going to use it for a starting hill. I jumped on the bike and waited for my mother's instruction.

"Okay, Christopher, when we start, I'm going to hold on to the bike and you pedal as fast as you can and don't stop."

"Don't let go," I warned.

She placed a hand on the handlebars and the other on the back of my seat, "I won't," she assured. "Okay. Ready?"

I nodded and stared straight ahead; ready to take off like a gust of wind.

"Go!" she shouted. I started pedaling fast as the bike started to move down the small hill, picking up speed. My mom was running alongside me with both hands on the bike like she promised; I had all the faith in the world when I was with her that nothing bad would happen. She started to tire. Out of breath, she hollered, "Good job, but stop the bike and we'll try again."

We did the exact same thing four or five more times. Each time we both gained more confidence in my abilities. The next couple of times, Mom took her hand off the handlebars, giving me more of a taste to explore balance on my own. When it looked as if the bike was wobbling too much, she guided me back to safety.

"Okay, now this time, I'm going to let go of the bike," she warned.

"No! Don't let go!" I pleaded. "I'm not ready yet."

"Okay, I won't let go this time."

I started out again just like the times before. I was pedaling furiously as Mom sprinted to keep up, holding the seat in one hand, pumping her other arm in sync with her legs, her voice always making its way to my ear, constantly reassuring and encouraging, "Good job, keep going. Good job. I'm letting go now."

"Don't let go!" I shouted in fear. "I'm not ready, don't let go. Don't let go!"

"Fine. I won't," she lied. "Keep going, faster, faster, you're doing so well."

Her voice became quieter and quieter. Then I realized what she had done and became angry.
"You let go!"

"Keep going; you're doing it all by yourself. Good job!" she shouted. My anger suddenly turned to joy at the realization that I was riding a bike for the first time.

I flew down the driveway toward the gravel road. My old tired dog woke from his afternoon nap on the deck and came up to run beside me, barking as though he was applauding me as the wind blew through my hair. The smile on my face was a mile wide as I slowly turned the wheel and made a large turn back toward my mom. I rode the shiny purple bike up beside her and came to a wobbly stop and was greeted with hugs and kisses, and a good lick on the cheek from my loyal dog.

A car in the alley woke me from my daydream. I had a feeling I had only reflected for a matter of seconds. I smiled; I hadn't thought about that for a really long time. Mom passed away later that winter, and my few memories of her had faded away like footsteps in the sand. I try as hard as I can to never forget our times together. My brothers and sister and I gather during the holidays and share our memories of her to help us to never forget. The stories have been getting old and repetitive lately but this one is a new one; I have never told this memory. I have never remembered it before now. It is a memory as simple as learning how to ride a bike, yet cherished more than words can describe.

I rose from the hammock, reached down into my cooler, and pulled out a couple of cans of pop. I walked across the lawn toward the back alley where I could still hear the girls arguing over the training wheels. I offered them a drink to quench their thirst in the hot summer sun. Their eyes lit up as they gladly accepted my offer. I turned back to go into the house when I heard from behind me, simultaneously, "Thank you!"

The two words hit me in an unusual way as if I didn't deserve their thanks. I turned back and waved. I was in debt to them for rescuing the memory. Softly I muttered back to the girls, "No.
Thank you!"


суббота, 19 июня 2010 г.

The Golf War

Chicken Soup for the Soul: The Golf Book

BY: Eric Stark

Golf, he replied, was much too serious a matter to be called a sport.
~John Pearson,
James Bond: The Authorized Biography

It's not that Jimmy and I were warmongers bent on finding trouble. We were just two typical forthright Scots who didn't put up with nonsense on the golf course. If a slow foursome didn't let us play through, or a group perpetually took too long to hunt for lost balls, we got vocal. Jimmy, especially, received a typical Scottish pleasure in confrontation. Being of a similar nature, this never put me up or down. But the return to golf of a chap named Gordon Angus made us reexamine our ways.

After an absence from the game that lasted years, Gordon turned up one Saturday morning with a set of old clubs to play a round on his own. Gordon had gone to junior school with Jimmy, some forty years earlier, and despite being opposite personalities (Gordon was studious and serious while Jimmy most definitely was not) the two were good friends. Jimmy and I wouldn't hear of him playing alone. So we invited Gordon to join us that Saturday, and from then on the three of us started playing regularly.

The behavior of Jimmy and I was no doubt a shock to Gordon. Once, when someone hit a ball that just missed my head without shouting "Fore!" and Jimmy and I waited for the culprit to ignite a loud verbal battle, Gordon nearly fainted. After it was over, Gordon meekly suggested, "I'm sure he didn't do it on purpose. Maybe you should just have had a quiet word of advice with him later in the clubhouse."

"What?" Jimmy demanded, as if he couldn't believe what he was hearing. I didn't give Gordon's suggestion much credence either.

So it went on. And if Jimmy and I didn't have any problems, we would instead take up arms on Gordon's behalf. Why was his entry into the golf club taking so long? Why couldn't he get a locker when we knew someone else who had got one? And so forth.

For these battles, Gordon always had a much more peaceful solution, but we never listened. "It's Gordon's way," Jimmy explained to me. "He always was a bookworm. Very quiet and never spoke up for himself."

One morning, there was a single playing in front of the three of us. On one hole, the man left his caddy cart with his golf clubs just off the edge of the green and disappeared.
We waited and waited, Jimmy in particular growing more and more irate. Finally, we all played our shots and began to walk up to the hole.

As we neared the hole, we saw the man sitting in a small old pavilion near the 12th green. Jimmy roared over at him full throttle, "What the... what do you think you're doing... who do you think you... why didn't you waive us through..." And so forth.

It was Gordon who said, "Jimmy, wait, I think he's in trouble."
We walked nearer. The man was grey in the face and clasping at his chest, barely conscious. I realized right away the man was having a heart attack. I had once served as a medic, and so proceeded to do everything I could for him while Jimmy used his mobile to call an ambulance. By good luck, the 12th hole was not far from the main road and within fifteen minutes, the man was off in the ambulance.

All three of us were silent. Jimmy sighed, "I hope my shouts of abuse are not the last words he ever hears on this earth." We called the golf to a halt and went back to the clubhouse, where Jimmy remained much quieter than usual.

A few days later, we heard that the man had "died" in the ambulance but that the doctors had miraculously managed to bring him back again. He was in intensive care for a week, but finally made a complete recovery.

Once he was out the old man lost no time in contacting us to give his thanks. As we spoke of the day, it was obvious that the man had not been aware of Jimmy's shouting.

The next week, we were halfway around the golf course when Jimmy turned to Gordon and said, "There is some sense to what you say, about always giving people a chance to explain before you tear into them." Gordon and I stared at Jimmy, and then at each other, in amazement. Jimmy shrugged, "I've been thinking about my roaring at the guy having the heart attack."

Two weeks later, a man and his dog walked straight in front of the 4th tee just as Jimmy was about to drive. "What the he..." Jimmy cut himself off on mid-sentence, "He... have a nice day."

The man smiled back. "Hi Jimmy. I thought I recognized you. Say, I have some golf balls for you. The dog picks them up all the time."

Jimmy turned to Gordon, "You are definitely right, and this proves it."

Jimmy has passed away now, and it would be fine to say that from that time onwards he took a calmer approach to golf and to life. But in fact, his change of heart only lasted until a remarkably lethargic foursome playing in front of us did not wave us through. When Jimmy discovered two of them were men he had never liked since his teenage days, he ran ahead and gave them a verbal blast and a lecture on the etiquette of golf in his own special terminology.

Years after Jimmy had passed, Gordon and I were reminiscing. "You know, I was glad his transformation of character didn't last long." Gordon said. "It was his volatile outbursts that made me like him so much. You knew exactly where you stood with Jimmy. He was the most honest man I ever met. Sure, I got on him about being nicer to people, but really I admired his courage."



Chicken Soup for the Soul: Thanks Dad

BY: Amy Lyons

Love is missing someone whenever you're apart, but somehow feeling warm inside because you're close in heart.
~Kay Knudsen

Father's Day approaches and I am a little sad that my dad lives 3,000 miles away. I would love to barbecue burgers with him and pepper our conversation with reminders of the stellar job he did raising three daughters as a widower.

I was eight when my mother died. My sisters, Mary and Kim, were nine and eleven. My mother fought cancer for two years, and during the battle my father made my life amazingly cheerful. He tucked us in by shining a flashlight on his hand, casting shadows of bedtime creatures on our wall. He took us candlepin bowling and easily convinced me that renting used shoes was luxurious. His endless cheering as the only spectator of my underwater handstand act at the beach made me proud. His idea of after-dinner entertainment was holding the transparent lid of a pastry box against his face and performing a one-man television program.

My mother was nursed by her sister and my father while cancer diminished her abilities to walk, think and remember. When my father -- a social worker at the time -- was not at work, he spent every available moment at my aunt's with my mother. I cannot imagine how he salvaged a fulfilling childhood for us. But he was there, diagramming sentences, working on book reports, reading, and taking us to movies. I have memories of my tired father half-smiling through a trip to Disneyland, a Monopoly marathon and several jigsaw puzzles. I recall taking a business trip with him to drop off two foster kids at their temporary home after getting them ice cream. There was always spaghetti, soup or something simple at the end of the day.

Then there were our teenage years when our mother was gone and the questions of female pubescence abounded. My father attempted to act casual in the dreaded health and beauty aids section. I wonder how he managed to get time in his own bathroom.

Last Father's Day, I flew to Kim's home in Pittsburgh and we drove to Boston, meeting Mary and my dad. It was the first Father's Day in years that my father had all of his "babies," a nurse, a reporter and a freelance writer, with him. Kim's teenage son, who is my father's favorite person lately, was with us. My dad had tears in his eyes when Kim and I appeared at his door after his day of work at the post office. He will have another weepy moment when he meets Kim's newborn son later this month.

This Father's Day, I cannot travel to Boston. I will celebrate by phoning my dad to talk about books and tell him for the millionth time what I will do in the event of an earthquake. And I will finish celebrating at the beach where I will honor my father's support, unconditional love and survival by doing the best underwater handstand I can muster.


понедельник, 14 июня 2010 г.

"Walkin' in the Sun"

Chicken Soup for the Soul: The Story behind the Song

BY: Jeff Barry

Written and Recorded by Jeff Barry

Sometimes a writer's favorite song is not one of his biggest hits. That's the case with "Walkin' in the Sun." It is very meaningful to me.

My father was blind since he was about 6 years old. He was an insurance broker and did most of his work from home in Brooklyn, New York. Most of his sales were done on the phone; he was really good at it. Once in a while, though, he had to go to the office in Manhattan. Although my parents were divorced when I was 7, I still spent a lot of time with my dad.

One day, when I was about 13 or 14, I went to the city with him. We were heading to the subway and I remember it must have been the end of the day, it was kind of chilly. We talked about how the sun was on an angle jutting through the tall buildings. My dad asked if the sun was out on the other side of the street and, sure enough, it was. He said, "Let's walk there where it's warm."

Many years later, when I was probably in my early thirties, I was writing songs for myself. I had an office at A&M Records and they wanted me to record some of my songs. I thought about that day and "Walkin' in the sun." It's very simple. There are three verses and no bridge. The lyrics say that when things have been negative long enough, you need to know when they get good. The last line of the verse is:

Even a blind man can tell when he's walkin' in the sun.

I was the first person to record it but I'm very moved by the fact that it's also been covered by many cool artists, that soulful people have chosen to record this song -- Glen Campbell, Percy Sledge, B.B. King, Chaka Khan, and others. I think people like it because they can tell it comes from a place of sincerity.


воскресенье, 13 июня 2010 г.

NASCAR to a "T"

Chicken Soup for the Soul: NASCAR

BY: Tommy Dampier

When racing lost one of its pioneers October 7, 2008 with the passing of T. Taylor Warren, one of the few remaining original members of the world of NASCAR was gone. Taylor lost his battle with ALS (Lou Gehrig's Disease), silencing the shutter of his Nikon camera for the last time.

"T," as his many friends in all echelons of the racing world called him, gained renown for his now infamous shot of the finish of the 1959 inaugural running of the Daytona 500 on the shiny new 2.5 mile tri-oval track that is, to this day, NASCAR's equivalent of the Super Bowl. The race found its new home at the monster track after being moved from its original sandy beach course.

Johnny Beauchamp and Lee Petty finished the day in a dead heat, and Beauchamp was declared the winner. It took officials three days of developing and combing through the black-and-white still photos that Warren had shot to reverse the decision and proclaim that Petty was the winner of the race.
To this day, there hasn't been another decision to change the position of the winning car at Daytona.
Taylor Warren started his racing career in 1947 at the Milwaukee Fairgrounds photographing Sprint and Midget races. He was given his first part-time NASCAR deal by Bill France, Sr., who hired him to photograph the Daytona Beach races in 1952.

In his 60-plus years chronicling auto races, he became known as the father of photography on the NASCAR circuit, photographing all 50 races held at the Daytona International Speedway. His last was in February 2008. He also captured photos of all the Darlington races, from September 1950 through May 2008, the final Darlington event preceding his death in October.

T was the only photographer to receive the International Motorsports Hall of Fame's prestigious Henry T. McLemore award. He was presented this coveted award in 2006. He was one of the most respected photographers in the history of the sport. He was best known for his smile and easygoing demeanor both on and off the track.

I sat at the table with T for the 2008 National Motorsports Press Association's inductee banquet, in January. He was in high spirits and I teased him about being dressed in a coat and tie instead of his trademark yellow suspender britches with the matching yellow Goody's fishing hat. You never saw him at a race track when he wasn't wearing these two specific items.

Our paths didn't cross again until Mother's Day weekend in May. He didn't look well at Darlington, but was as always a trouper, lugging his camera equipment all over the track's expansive grounds, trying to get that perfect frame.

He told me on Saturday evening after the Southern 500 race had taken the green flag that he wasn't feeling well. He had seemed not to be himself all weekend, tiring easily, something that wasn't in his demeanor. He was typically one of the first people at the track and one of the last to leave, long after the race had ended. He enjoyed staying around and reminiscing about events that had occurred during the weekend's festivities.

But this time it took only one look for me to tell him that he should just go home and rest, and I'd get him any photos that he might need. He said, "I think that's what I'll do." He left the track about halfway through the race, telling me he'd see me at the race in Charlotte at the end of the month.

He did make it to the Coca-Cola 600 weekend, but told me that he hadn't bounced back like he thought he would. We shot Victory Lane together and talked briefly after the race in the media center. I left, telling him I'd be off the circuit until the October race in Charlotte, and I'd see him then. As always, I told him to give me a call if he needed anything, and I'd do the same.

I never saw or spoke to T. Taylor Warren again.

Numerous racing colleagues attended his funeral in Darlington. Photographers, writers, public relations directors, track officials, racing personalities from television and radio, NASCAR officials that included Mike Helton, President of NASCAR and Jim Hunter, the Vice President of Corporate Communications for NASCAR and former president of Darlington Raceway.

T's final memorial was a Nikon camera and that yellow Goody's hat arranged alongside a large picture of a smiling Taylor, a very fitting memorial for someone who devoted his entire life to the task of snapping photos of the sport of auto racing.

I was indeed fortunate and blessed to have known T. He made me a better person just by being in his presence. He took me under his wing and helped me succeed in a tough business.

T never forgot a name or face in all the years I knew him. I was and always will be honored to have called him my friend. He was an inspiration to me as well as to legions of other photographers over the years. He made me aspire to be the best that I can be when photographing and providing print coverage of the various types of racing, from the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series to the Saturday night dirt tracks.

To this day I'm continuously trying to live up to that standard, and hope that every now and then, I'll get that perfect shot that brings it all together through the camera's lens. Taylor captured the core essence of auto racing in his tens of thousands of photos. The racing community is a better place for having him in it. There are few that will ever be able to live up to the high standards he set during his illustrious career.

Always let your photograph tell a story and the printed words will follow. If you succeed in accomplishing this task, then you've done your job well, and that would have made T. Taylor Warren proud.


"Why Is Golf Mean to Me?"

Chicken Soup for the Soul: The Golf Book

BY: Nick Henry

When asked "What does golf mean to me?" my knee-jerk Socratic response is "Why is golf mean to me?" Like many amateurs and pros alike, my on-course failures come in every shape and color; snaphooked tee shots, chunked approaches, skulled chips, unfortunate wardrobe choices, to name only a few. Fortunately, most of my humiliations have been witnessed by only my regular playing companions, who are equally, if not more, terrible. One exception however comes to mind.

My youngest brother has always been a great athlete. While I can still hold my own against him in other sports, it was clear from early on that he would be giving me four shots a side for a long time to come. Several years ago, we were lucky enough to have our educational paths cross when he was a freshman and I a third-year law student at the same university. He made the golf team and since I was losing my interest in legal studies, we saw a good deal of each other at the course.

It started out like any other Friday. I dragged myself out of bed at the crack of 11:00 for my 11:30 tee time, drove the two miles to the course, and met three other law school friends who had also made the wise decision to abstain from classes. The first seventeen holes progressed normally. A few pars, a few bogeys, a couple of "others." We had cheeseburgers at the turn (the best in town), several tasteless jokes -- all in all, a typical round. Then we arrived to the par-5 18th. After the downhill tee shot you can either lay up or try to carry a large pond and hill that guard a multi-tiered green that's adjacent to the 10th tee and the clubhouse. I never viewed six as a bad score and was always ecstatic to end my round with a five. After my friend Toby sliced his into the cow pasture and exclaimed his customary profanity, I teed my ball. The result was one of my best -- 290 down the middle (okay, it's a severely downhill tee shot) and in great shape to have a go at it in two. Engulfed in the moment, I did not hesitate as I pulled 3-wood for my second shot. Imagine my surprise as the ball flew off the clubface on a direct line at the pin. Posing, eyes locked on the trajectory, I watched the ball land softly on the middle shelf and trickle up to the top shelf, stopping three feet from the flagstick.

As I strode triumphantly toward the green, I counted on one finger the number of eagles I had made in my life. Sure, there had been chances, but never anything inside of twenty feet. Like an adoring gallery, my friends slapped my back and offered the obligatory congratulations, even Toby who muttered, "Nice shot, loser." Reveling in what was sure to be a dramatic eagle, I was about 50 yards from the green when I noticed two foursomes of swaggering youngsters milling about on the 10th tee. The identical blue and white golf bags gave away their identity as the university golf team, my brother among them. I quickened my pace to call attention to my position which surely even they would admire and hopefully envy. "Hey Bro, check it out. Lying two!" I yelled perhaps a bit too loudly for this sleepy semi-private club. His face beamed his ever-present smile as he yelled back, "Knock it in, dude!"

My friends finished off their sixes and sevens so as to clear the stage for my crowning moment. I felt the eight sets of eyes from the 10th tee on me as I steadied myself over the putt. I took a deep breath and swung the putter back and through.

It missed badly to the right. Never had a chance, never even caught a piece of the cup. The energy of life drained from my limbs as I was dealt this most public of golf failures. My reaction was similar to Curtis Strange's at the 1995 Ryder Cup (walking off the green blank-faced with shock and shame) although inside I felt more like the Reverend in Caddyshack who raises his arms and putter towards the heavens in angry defiance of all the forces that have conspired against him. The golf team collectively just shook their heads and turned away, going back to their mindless undergraduate chatter. My little brother, smile now gone, looked at me and simply offered, "You'll make it next time." A small consolation for the choke of my life.

The day went on and the afternoon beers eased some of the pain. I also started to think about what my brother said. A perfunctory comment, but somehow it made the lesson clear. Just as in the rest of life, there is always hope in golf and it keeps us playing even when we are tempted to deposit our clubs into the nearest water hazard. I will play golf again. I will probably hit some good shots. I may even hit one as good as that 3-wood. And if I do, I'm gonna knock that putt in the dead center of the hole.


Dad's Tomatoes

Many things grow in the garden that were never sown there.
~Thomas Fuller

My father was always an avid gardener. I think his Irish blood called to the earth in much the same way his own grandfather's had. One of my earliest memories is standing barefoot in the freshly tilled soil, my hands blackened from digging in the ground, still a bit cold from the turning. As a small child, the garden was an amazing fairyland, full of possibility. As a teenager, though, it was often a source of contention between the old man and me.

As a child, I loved following Dad around in the garden. I remember Daddy pushing the tiller ahead in perfectly straight lines. His gardening gloves, banana yellow, would grip the handles of the old tiller; the roar of the machine was pleasantly deafening. After a while, he would stop and pull the gloves off to wipe his brow. Daddy loved growing all sorts of things: yellow and green onions, watermelons almost as big as me, rows and rows of yellow corn, and our favorite -- ruby red tomatoes.

As I grew into a cantankerous teenager, I didn't get so excited about gardening with Daddy. Instead of the magical land of possibility, it had turned into some kind of medieval prison. It was one extra chore, one more thing to keep me busy and out of trouble. One more thing on a list of demands that I imagined no one else in the world had to deal with.

Dad would say, "Tina, come help me plant the garden today. It's a beautiful morning to be outdoors."

"Aww, Dad, I was going to the movies with my friends," I would whine.

"Tina, I could sure use a hand weeding the garden today," he would remark.

"Today? Sorry, Dad, I already made plans," I would stubbornly say, digging in my heels. "Why do we have to have a garden, anyway? It's stupid. You can buy carrots for a quarter at the grocery store," I would point out. He would just smile knowingly. I usually got my way, and didn't have to help out if I really didn't want to. After all, I had better things to do with my time.

As Dad grew older, his passion for gardening never waned. After all the kids were grown and had started families of their own, Dad turned to gardening like never before. His garden took up most of his backyard, which was quite a stretch. Even when he was diagnosed with stage four kidney cancer, he still put out his garden. Still, he planted the zucchini and yellow squash, the juicy cucumbers, the spicy jalapenos, and of course, the tender tomato plants. Sometimes, I would come over to visit, and we would enjoy a glass of iced tea or a cold soda on the patio while he lovingly watered his garden in the evenings. The sunlight reflected off the spraying water and created shimmering rainbows that played hide and seek on the grass. He would share the bounty of his garden with me, as we would walk together through the carefully weeded rows.

But then, something changed. Like the weeds he so carefully kept from his little patch of heaven, the cancer, bit by bit, invaded his body. Like the weeds, it stole his livelihood, his independence, his humor. Like the weeds that took over his garden, the cancer grew rampant in Dad, and the oncologist had run out of treatments.

Hospice is a whole other ballgame. Somebody has to be with the family member twenty-four hours a day. I found myself in all kinds of uncomfortable situations with Dad, and more than once I felt the brunt of his anger at his helplessness. Little by little, I had to do the things he used to do. Soon I was cutting his grass, paying his bills, putting his pills in a cup, and adjusting his oxygen. These things he resisted, but I knew things were definitely changing when I began caring for the garden.

Though I had heard the words of the oncologist as well, what really convinced me that Dad was dying was the state of his garden that year. That year, the rows and rows of multicolored vegetables were gone. That year, he only planted tomatoes. Too tired to weed them, he simply tied them with twine to the fence and let them be. It made me sad to see them neglected, so I would come over and water them occasionally, and pluck out the weeds. I still remember the day I picked the last tomato from the vine. That day was one of the saddest I had ever experienced.

Five years ago, Dad planted his last little patch of tomatoes. For the first few years after he died, I couldn't even bear to look at anyone's garden without having strong memories pour over me like cold water from a bucket. Three years ago, though, something changed, and I decided to plant my own garden. I decided I would start out with just a few tomatoes.

That morning, I got out the old tiller and it roared to life, almost as if it had been waiting. After breaking up a fair amount of soil, something caught the corner of my eye and I had to smile. It was my eight-year-old son Nathan, standing barefoot in the freshly tilled soil, his hands blackened from digging in the earth. He was happily playing in the freshly tilled soil, still a bit cold from the turning.


вторник, 8 июня 2010 г.

NASCAR's Strong Family Foundation

Chicken Soup for the Soul: NASCAR

BY: Darrell Waltrip

In a race near the end of the 2009 NASCAR Sprint Cup season, the championship points leader, Jimmie Johnson, was caught up in an accident and had to take his car to the garage on Lap 3. Crew members from other Hendrick Motorsports teams rallied around their teammate and worked together to get the car back on the track as quickly as possible. The next day, everybody was talking -- and a lot of them were criticizing -- their efforts.

It's funny. I was listening to some of these people complaining about crew members from other Hendrick Motorsports teams coming over and helping to fix that car. And I thought to myself, "What is wrong with these people? Have they lost their minds?"

Teamwork is the very essence of our sport. That is why we are successful. And that is why when people look at the selfishness it takes to be successful in other sports, sometimes they miss the fact that in NASCAR, things just don't work that way.

Through the years, there is not a one of us who has been around for any length of time who has not needed help from somebody else. I've had to borrow engines from other competitors to put in my car to go out and race. I've borrowed crew members because I've needed somebody to change a tire. I've borrowed trailers, and I've borrowed trucks, just so I could get to the race.

That's what makes NASCAR different from all the other sports. When we say we're a family sport, people think that means all those people in the grandstands are actual families who come with their wives and their kids -- and they are, and they do.

But what I'm talking about here is the garage area, the camaraderie and the respect that we all have for each other. We all know how hard you have to work to just show up at a race track, particularly back in the day. And so when someone's there and they need something and you've got it, you never give it a second thought. Even if you loan an engine to somebody and then they go out and beat you with it, you take pride in the fact that your engine was in their car, and boy, look how it ran. Or that's your tire changer, and boy, he did a great job for you guys, didn't he?

That's something that so many new fans do not understand about our sport and how we all feel about each other. This is a fraternity in every sense of the word. These people live together, probably 325 days a year. We're all in the garage together. We police each other; we're accountable to each other. It's a different atmosphere in NASCAR than it is in some locker room somewhere, or out on some field. It's just not the same.

Things never stand still. They always progress; they always evolve. The atmosphere I grew up in was different, because we truly did depend on one another a lot more. Nowadays, some of the guys are more independent. There's a lot more money, and there's a lot more opportunity out there for guys to sort of isolate themselves. For the amount of exposure this sport gets, the kind of coverage it gets, and the kind of microscope that everyone involved with it is under, you have to admit that it's a quality product, with quality people. Every driver is a role model. They all have a lot of morals, a lot of values and a lot of ethics, and that is what makes our sport great.

In every part of society and every part of life, there is a season of change, and I think we're going through some of that right now. You don't want some things to change, and sometimes you don't understand why they have to, but that's just a product of the times.

But I still look at the core people in the sport today -- the Hendricks, the Yates, the Pettys, and the France family -- and those are the people that built the foundation of NASCAR, and they built it strong. As long as we don't shake that foundation too bad, I think we'll be OK.


Arms of Love

Chicken Soup for the Soul: The Wisdom of Dads

BY: Jeff Gemberling

I sat looking out the window, seeing new life growing in the early dawn of spring. The more I stared at the scenery, the more my sight blurred: I felt a warm drop -- my own tear falling -- as I wondered how life could be so cruel to me. What had I done to anger God so much that he would allow everything I ever loved to be taken away, one by one, piece by piece? I had made many poor choices in life, but God had always forgiven me. Where was he now? Why didn't I feel his mighty arms wrapped around me like I did when I was a kid?

Two years ago, I met a woman and saw life in a way I had not experienced before. Simplicity. Friendship. Communication. Love. I did all the things I knew to do: brought flowers, made home-cooked dinners, read books with her, watched the mist from a waterfall we'd spent all day hiking to, prayed together while holding hands. 

What happened? What did I miss? What didn't I hear? I lived life to the fullest with her, and we gave God our best, inspired to live a wholesome life under his eyes. But, in our humanness, we made a choice. One that God would not overlook this time. I would be a great poster child for "it only takes once."

For the next nine months, my baby's mother vanished. It affected my work, my eating, my sleeping; anger and bitterness consumed my time and thoughts. 

Then, domestic relations called to inform me that I had a son, and papers were on their way for wage attachments. Why didn't she tell me? What was his name? Did he look like me? Why, God, why?

I prayed I would find the right legal help and be able to create the income needed for funding a campaign to have my son in my life. I was able to find two attorneys and had the help of family and friends to encourage me throughout the whole mess.

Finally, eight weeks after that first call, I met my son for the first time. One look at him and love like I had never felt before overwhelmed me, accompanied by the pain of seeing his mother for the first time since the fateful evening of his creation.

The next year was spent in the courtroom. I exhausted my entire savings, sold my home, let the car go back to the bank and now rely on private funding and donations for the food on my table and the house I currently live in. 

His name is Noah. He looks like his daddy. He acts like his daddy. He lives with me half the time, but we love each other all the time. I sit and stare at him for hours and watch him while he sleeps. I listen to his breath in the night while he lies next to me, asleep and snuggled against my chest. I help him count the toes he has recently discovered, as he wonders why they move by themselves. 

As I sit here, I look out the window at the springtime of new life. But the more I stare out the window, the more my sight blurs. I feel a warm drop -- my own tear falling -- as I sit wondering how life could be so good to me. What have I done to please God so much that he would allow everything I have loved to be given to me, little by little, one day at a time? I have made many poor choices in my life, but God has always forgiven me. I feel his mighty arms of love wrapped around me like I did when I was a kid. His name is Noah. He is my son.


Domestic Romance

Chicken Soup for the Soul: True Love

BY: David Martin

Only two things are necessary to keep one's wife happy.
One is to let her think she is having her own way, the other, to let her have it.
~Lyndon B. Johnson

In my ongoing attempts to bridge the linguistic chasm between the sexes, I thought I had the meaning of one word down pat: "romantic." After all, how hard is it to define that word?

"Romantic" is a moonlit walk hand-in-hand along the beach. Or a quiet candlelit dinner for two at a quaint out-of-the-way country inn. Or a late night torch-lit champagne dip in a backyard whirlpool.

Whatever "romantic" meant, I knew it had to be at night, involve my wife and include a word ending with the suffix "lit." Even a flashlight-lit night camping in a tent should qualify by my reckoning.

But apparently "romantic" has a far more flexible and mysterious meaning if my wife's lexicon is any indication.

On more than one occasion, Cheryl has suggested some work-related endeavor that the two of us could pursue together. Something like digging up the garden or assembling a piece of IKEA furniture. When proposing such a project, she invariably closes by saying, "It would be romantic."

At first, I always thought she was kidding. After all, sweating, grunting, and groaning while holding a hammer, saw, or shovel does not seem romantic to me in the least unless, of course, it involves some slightly kinky sexual role-playing.

But I'm now convinced that my wife really means it when she says that performing household chores together will be romantic.

Recently Cheryl mentioned that the apple tree in our backyard desperately needed some major trimming. Notwithstanding it was the first day of my holidays, I foolishly suggested we rent a chainsaw and cut the offending branches. "Yes," said Cheryl, jumping at my offer. "That would be romantic."

So we headed off to the hardware store where we picked up a chainsaw and some chainsaw oil. Since the rental was for four hours, the only thing I had in mind was getting home and getting the job done as quickly as possible. Cheryl, on the other hand, seemed to be enjoying the romance of the moment.

For our romantic encounter, I donned work boots, old pants, a red flannel work shirt, and a pair of work gloves. In my mind, this was undoubtedly the least sexy outfit I had ever worn, except perhaps for my gardening ensemble which features rubber boots and a silly hat. But for Cheryl, it was apparently akin to a knight in shining armor.

Four hours later, we had removed and trimmed two large branches from our apple tree and a couple of smaller ones from the neighboring birch. Tied-up bundles of branches and two bags of leaves, twigs and apples ended up at the curb for pickup and some prime firewood was delivered to a neighbor for his fireplace.

At the end of our afternoon of torture, I found myself sweaty and exhausted. Years ago, I might have considered that an apt description of a romantic encounter. But since this one involved a chainsaw and a ladder, it was hard for me to find the romance in the now-completed task.

Yet Cheryl persisted in her belief that our afternoon chore had been romantic. Since it took place before sunset and there was no extra light involved (apart from the sunlight reflecting off my sweat-soaked brow), I failed to see how it qualified. To me, the only common denominators seemed to be that I had to wear protection and I needed to take a shower after it was over. But I sure didn't have that satisfied feeling I usually associate with romance.

After our latest romantic afternoon, however, I think I have a better handle on the meaning of the word "romantic." It doesn't necessarily have to occur at night with soft lighting. Apparently it can happen any time so long as it involves the two of us and some measure of extended physical exertion.

As I now see it, romance simply involves togetherness. So to husbands everywhere, the next time you want to sweep your wife off her feet, forget about candies, flowers, dining and dancing. All you have to do is say: "Honey, let's clean out the septic tank." It may sound like work to you, but trust me, it will be sweet music to her ears.


суббота, 5 июня 2010 г.

Praying for Your Enemies

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Christian Teen Talk

BY: By Julie Johnston

Prayer is less about changing the world than it is about changing ourselves.
~David J. Wolpe

Last year I was put into a lower-level math class at school. The reason I was in the class had nothing to do with my intellect or math skills. I am blind. The school decided that it would be better for me to learn at a lower level because it takes me a great deal longer to complete assignments and grasp visual concepts.

The only problem with being in this class was that I was surrounded by "at-risk" students. These were kids who did not do well in school and didn't want to be there most of the time. Their home lives were obviously much different from mine, and they were constantly in trouble with the school and the law.

I remember sitting at my desk one morning, wondering what I had gotten myself into. We had already finished our lesson for the day, and the rest of the kids had begun to talk about what they had done the past weekend. I tried not to listen, but it was virtually impossible not to. I heard things in that classroom that shocked me. Even though the teacher was in the room, that didn't stop my classmates from discussing the parties they had been to, how drunk they had been and who they had slept with.

I began to dread going to math. I was tired of their swear words, their stories of drugs and violence, and their negative attitudes. Some days they would come into the room in such a bad mood that everyone could feel it. I began to resent the fact that I had to be there. One girl in particular began to eat away at my nerves. Some days I wanted to hide under my desk.
One Tuesday morning, I went to a Christian Student Union meeting before school. There was a guest speaker there that day talking to us about praying for our enemies.

I began to think about this. As I pondered the idea, I prayed and asked God how I could pray for the kids in my class. I had forgotten that they weren't bad kids; they were just lost.
At first, the prayers were mechanical. When I would hear their voices in class, I would pray, "Dear God, please bless so-and-so..." But as I continued, I began to think of the kids more often. I especially thought of the girl who got on my nerves the most. I began to think of her more and more, and in my quiet time at home I would ask God to bless her and the rest of my classmates.

As time went on, my classmates became more than just annoying kids to me. There was something growing inside my heart for them, something that wasn't there before. They began to feel like family, and I was learning to love them in a way I never thought possible.

I now see that praying is such a powerful act. Prayer is the most powerful tool a Christian has. When I pray for those around me, it also blesses my life, and it changes my perception of others. I realized I needed God's blessings to see the world through loving eyes. The prayers I said for others turned out to help me the most.


Accidental Blessings

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Count Your Blessings

BY: By Elizabeth Bryan

Coincidence is God's way of remaining anonymous.
~Albert Einstein

Behind every book, every movie and every work of art exists a "how we got here story." Some are brief, and some are long, but regardless, there is always a journey. Typically, journeys are fraught with ups and downs, strung together by some odd series of coincidences that later take on some greater meaning. They are also usually full of reasons to be grateful that we can't always see at the time. But if we examine any of life's stories, even the ones defined by huge challenge, there really are silver linings on every cloud--better known as "blessings-in-disguise."

The story of how Chicken Soup for the Soul: Count Your Blessings came to be is no exception. It began with me as I woke up, pinned underneath my silver Ford Escort at 5:30 A.M. on July 3rd, 1981. The tire was holding me down by my hair and the sleeve of my white peasant blouse that I had put on the evening before. At nineteen years of age, I had no idea that l wouldn't live forever; nor would I have believed it if anyone had told me so. I had fallen asleep while driving with my two best friends in the car, under no influence other than exhaustion. There, underneath that tire, my entire world changed.

I had no pain, as my body was in shock. What I did have was a strange numbness in both of my legs. I wanted very badly to get up, walk away, and explain to my parents that I hadn't meant to dent the car. Because I was under a tire on the passenger's side, my only vantage point was to turn my head to the right and look underneath the vehicle through to the road. I could hear my friends' faraway voices calling for help--but all I could see were their two sets of legs, running in the middle of the parkway.

Seeing those two sets of running legs crystallized the purest moment of gratitude that I had ever experienced. In that singular moment, I understood two things: I was alive, and my two best friends had not been hurt--I was grateful.

As the paramedics lifted the car off my body, the lack of feeling in my thighs quickly turned to blinding pain. I had severely fractured both of my femurs, several ribs and my nose. I was lucky, although that is not how my parents felt when they got the 6:00 A.M. call that I had been in an accident. All they heard before driving the thirty miles to the ER was "Your daughter was alive when we put her in the ambulance."

For my parents, history was repeating itself in the form of a nightmare. Thirty-eight years and eleven days earlier on June 22nd, 1953, they had flipped their convertible, driving from New York to Virginia on their honeymoon. Like me, my twenty-five-year-old father had been pinned under the car, fractured a femur and broken some ribs. He'd sustained other serious internal injuries that made his recovery in 1953 much more challenging than mine. My mother couldn't help but question: How could the same accident be happening again; what was the reason?

I had heard about my parents' accident my entire life--how they had nearly died together after just being married, how my grandmother had moved in with the local postman so that she could care for them daily, and how the only way my mother knew my father was alive was by hearing his screams each morning as the orderlies turned him over in bed. Now, it was all happening to me.

My own first days in the hospital were a blur of intensive care, being strung up in traction, and all kinds of theories about my treatment and my fate. My parents barely left my side--their own experience in the hospital had left them terrified that something even worse might happen if I were left alone. On the fifth day, I woke up with a slight fever and a piercing pain in my back. The nurse placated me, saying I had probably pulled a muscle when I lifted myself up in my bed with the traction bar. By midday the pain was excruciating, my fever was rising and breathing had become difficult. The overworked staff was nowhere to be found when I began coughing up clots of blood, but my mother was right there. I heard her in the hallway, demanding that somebody bring me oxygen. She insisted that I was having a pulmonary embolism, and if they didn't help me soon, I would die.

My mother knew this because of a "coincidence"--only two days before, she'd read someone's firsthand account of having an embolism. And there I was, having one, right before her eyes.

It was hours before the doctor came, confirming my mother's fears. If I survived the night, the odds were that I would probably live. For me, the pain had become so unbearable that I no longer cared. My father spent the night whispering softly to me, trying to assuage the pain as I drifted in and out of consciousness. When I next opened my eyes, the sun was filtering through the hospital blinds and my parents were still sitting in chairs beside my bed. We'd come through it together.

In the space of one week, my world had gone from predictable and safe to "all bets are off." Would I walk again? Would my legs ever be right? Would my lung heal from the embolism? Thoughts like these dominated the minds of everyone in my immediate world. Yet, something else was stirring inside me. I was a young woman faced with the possibility of being handicapped for life, and somehow, I was grateful.

I had "woken up" under that car in more ways than one. No matter what the doctors said that was ambiguous, overwhelming or frightening, I heard another voice--one that kept reminding me that I was still here. My friends weren't injured, we had insurance, and my family had come together as never before to help me heal. Yes--I had moments filled with anger, fear and self-pity. But as my recovery continued, my gratitude grew to such a degree that I began to understand: there was a much bigger reason that I had survived.

Three months later I was discharged from the hospital in a full body cast. The joy of my homecoming was eclipsed by sorrow; one day earlier, my adoring grandfather had suddenly died. My grandmother moved into our home, and sat vigil by my bed, just as she had done thirty-eight years before with my parents.

In March of the following year, I took my first steps with no crutches, walkers or braces. My legs were miraculously the same length, and would eventually run anywhere life would take me. Things that I had taken for granted, like sitting on the toilet alone or getting dressed without help, had become momentous occasions. My parents and I had bonded in a way that I could never have imagined, and I had become incredibly thankful for waking up each day. I had glimpsed Life's Big Picture, and while my mother will say she didn't need to go through it twice to understand the lesson, I felt truly blessed.
I also knew that it was part of my path in life to somehow share what I had learned.

Fast forward to July 3rd, 2009--exactly twenty-eight years to the day that I woke up underneath the tire of my car, I was getting much different news about my future. After months of typical contractual back and forths, all the terms of our agreement with Chicken Soup for the Soul Publishing had been settled--on the anniversary of my accident. Was this even possible? My business partner Laura and I would be co-authoring this book, and launching the Chicken Soup for the Soul: Count Your Blessings board game for the 2009 holiday season--my life had come full circle. And now I would have the opportunity to share my feelings of gratitude with a large audience of Chicken Soup for the Soul readers--what an incredible way to spread the message and share the gift of my accident.

When I considered the entire journey from my parents' story to my own, and what was now happening with this project, beginning on this magical date, the undeniable synchronicities confirmed what I already felt in my heart--there really are no "coincidences."

Talk about counting your blessings.


Spider Raid

Chicken Soup for the Soul: All in the Family

BY: Susan Farr-Fahncke

If you want to live and thrive, let the spider run alive.
~American Quaker Saying

The shrieks of the thirty-year-old man alerted me. The ensuing crashing sounds and his screaming demands for the fly swatter confirmed it. A spider. Sighing, I grabbed the jumbo-sized can of Raid (step two in his "system" for spider killing) and headed for the sounds of panic. The thirty-year-old man is an arachnophobe, and he is my husband. "Marty" (I'll try my best to protect his identity) can fell a ten-point buck at one hundred yards without a flinch. He can pick up a snake with his bare hands and change a dirty diaper with barely a grimace. He rode his bicycle twenty-four hours in the Sierra Nevada Mountains for charity. But show him a Daddy Long Legs, and he runs like a little girl, with shrieks that make our three-year-old (who is deaf) leave claw marks on my neck.

I wish I could send him to a Spider Sissies Anonymous meeting. With so many people in the world living in fear of eight-legged creatures, one would think it would be very popular.

"Hello, my name is Marty, and I am terrified of spiders."

"Helloooo, Marty!"

Unfortunately, there isn't such an organization. Our fourteen-year-old, Nick, used to be our Family Spider Killer. But fear must be a learned trait because he is now the quivering mess that my husband is at the sight of anything with eight legs.

I tried to train the three-year-old to kill spiders, but being the quick-minded toddler that he is, he now knows to point, scream and run--in that order.

That leaves my eight-year-old daughter, Maya. Maya is as tough as a Humvee. She once found a Brown Recluse the size of a peach in the shower. Calmly stepping out, she announced, "Someone needs to get that thing." She's tough, but she's not stupid. Half a can of Raid and a shredded fly swatter later, my husband went to our room to lie down and recover while Maya fearlessly finished her shower.

And then there is me. I am a woman. It's expected of me to fear them. Our family lives in Utah, which is home of the Monster Spiders. My first experience with a Wolf Spider (a slightly smaller version of the tarantula) was actually while I was driving sixty-five miles an hour on the freeway. Something moving on the passenger floor of the car caught my eye. Glancing down, I let out a scream that actually froze the spider in place. It was the most horrid, hairy, striped thing I had ever seen. Slamming on my brakes and jetting sideways into the median, I went from sixty-five to zero in less time than it takes to wet yourself.

It just so happened that I had a pile of rocks on the front seat next to me. (They were for my garden, which is probably where the spider came from in the first place.) Snatching one in my trembling hands, I hefted it onto the spider and then repeatedly stomped on it, screaming the entire time. From that point on, I got weak-kneed at the sight of Wolf Spiders--or anything vaguely resembling them.

So, "Marty" (not his real name, I swear), who vowed to love, honor and protect me, is forced to be the exterminator in our home. I run to another room and shut the door until it's over. My favorite part is listening to the sound of furniture being knocked over, pictures falling off the walls, my husband cursing, the kids squealing, and much thumping and crashing in general. I don't want to see it, but it's fun to listen to. And it's the only way to get a spider killed in this house.


Hearth Smart

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Power Moms

BY: By Janeen Lewis

Women do not have to sacrifice personhood if they are mothers. They do not have to sacrifice motherhood in order to be persons.
~Elaine Heffner

I always wanted to be a stay-at-home mom. As a preschooler, I rocked my dolls and dreamed of the day they would be real babies. I grew older, and still the dream did not fade.

When I was thirteen, I was perusing the shelves in my favorite place, the library of my junior high school, when one of my teachers asked, "What would you like to be when you grow up?"

"I want to be a wife and mother," I said without hesitation. "I want to stay at home and take care of my children."

She gasped in unbridled horror.

"You are too smart for that!" she said.

I explained, with all the wisdom a scrawny, bespectacled eighth-grader could muster against such a formidable adult, that education was very important to me and that I did indeed want to get a degree. However, I still wanted to be a homemaker. My explanation didn't change the bewildered look in her eyes, and the drip of her disappointment permeated my sanctuary.

The years went by, and I did, as my eighth grade voice declared, get my degree. I got three of them, actually. I wrote for a small town newspaper after journalism school. Then I got a teaching degree and taught for eight years, during which time I got a master's degree. Ironically, I was often told I was very smart and ambitious, but the real ambition was the dream that never let go of me--the aspiration of caring for a family. I am sure there are many whose sentiments would have matched my junior high teacher's. The fact that someone with so much education would want to be "merely a homemaker" wouldn't be considered smart. I grew up when it was hip to be Murphy Brown or Claire Huxtable. But I wanted to be Caroline Ingalls or Donna Reed. When I was in college, I read about the biblical Proverbs 31 woman, whose primary job was to care for her household, and thought "now there's a woman with a resume."

It felt like the role of stay-at-home-mom, instead of being lauded, was becoming a dinosaur, and a simple-minded one at that. It started my own barrage of nagging, doubtful thoughts. I was stimulated by school and keeping busy. Sometimes I would glimpse myself down the road. Would I end up on the sofa, hundreds of pounds heavier in a bon-bon-and-Doritos-induced stupor while my kids from the future hit and screamed at each other? Obviously, my teacher's remark had stayed with me.

Almost twenty years after that memorable conversation, a delivery room nurse laid the warm bundle of blankets that held my newborn son, Andrew, in my arms. The reality of it was much sweeter than I had imagined, and my instincts were right. I loved everything about motherhood from the beginning: the triangle of soft, warm glances between my husband, son, and I; the way Andrew's hungry cry subsided when he was nursed or cuddled; and the sweet rhythm of his baby snores as I cradled him on my arm. I even looked forward to that dreadful deed of diapering my son. I would smile and he would coo and flail his little arms and legs with excitement. My husband was my hero when he graciously agreed that I would stay at home. I would finally learn the answer to the question that had been posed two decades earlier--would it really be a smart decision to trade in my schoolbag and life with adults for diapers and a small little being that spit up more than he talked? Would it really be wise to stop setting my watch to the workplace clock and start setting it to Big Bird time instead?

It has been two years since my dream of becoming a stay-at-home mom was realized and my "smart" research began. Here is a small sampling of all that I have learned. There is nothing "mere" about being a stay-at-home mom. It involves training a child, with emotional endurance, ten to twelve hours a day, every day. It is full of decision-making and problem-solving. Anyone who has convinced a picky eater to try a new food or trained a toddler to crouch and "go potty" on a miniature toilet knows this. Being a stay-at-home mom requires patience with little hands and feet that are slow and clumsy with tasks, but incredibly light and quick with mischief. It is having childhood rhymes and counting songs swimming around in your brain all day, and modeling manners repetitively. It's going non-stop; forget the bon-bon stupor.

Staying at home is about creativity and cleverness because there is less income for things like decorating, landscaping, and chic ensembles. My seamstress mother and aunts, former stay-at-home moms themselves, can whip up a great Halloween costume or reupholster a couch without batting an eye or spending a fortune. Being a stay-at-home mom is about analyzing finances and arming oneself with a stealth-like thriftiness that allows no bargain to escape. Staying at home requires inventiveness wrapped around flexibility and versatility. It's about being the chef of all things warm and cheesy, the baker of Elmo birthday cakes, the singer of songs, kisser of wounds, finder of all things lost, and soother of ruffled spirits.

Finally (as if the list of required skills isn't already long enough), being a stay-at-home mom is often about supplementing a husband's income. After Andrew was born, I began freelance writing from home, something I had wanted to do since journalism school but had been too afraid of failing to even try. The day I put my son down for a nap and found an e-mail with my first magazine article acceptance, I danced for joy. Being home with Andrew gave me the bravery to expand my creative outlet of writing.

In the adult world I get pats on the back followed by "good for you... you get the best of both worlds," when I tell people I work from home. I do like the choreography in this mambo of writing and meeting my son's needs, but the truth is I write so that I can spend my days with Andrew, and the job titles in his world mean more to me than a glamorous career.

I know my teacher, who was genuinely a kind woman, meant well that day in the library. She just didn't understand then what I have come to know better. Being a stay-at-home mom takes a great deal of savvy, and I am the better for it. Staying at home with Andrew has brought out traits in my personality that I never even knew existed. For me, it was at the hearth that I found my heart. I found a beautiful medley of strength and sacrifice, challenge and love, warmth and ambition, work and home. Being a stay-at-home mom is the smartest thing I have ever done.