вторник, 23 ноября 2010 г.

How Mark Martin Turned Me into a NASCAR Fan

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: NASCAR
By Lee Warren

The final restart of the 2005 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series season occurred with 11 laps to go in the Ford 400 at Homestead-Miami Speedway. During the final run, Greg Biffle, Dave Blaney, and Mark Martin battled for the lead. At one point during the run, they were three-wide going into Turn 2. Biffle eventually shot between Blaney and Martin, grabbing the lead. Blaney was on old tires so he began to fade while Martin charged hard after Biffle. Martin and Biffle were side by side as the white flag flew, signaling one lap to go.

They were still side by side coming out of Turn 2 and they raced down the back straightaway. Neither driver could shake the other and they entered Turn 3 door to door, just inches apart. Martin dipped to the bottom of the track while Biffle went up high, taking a slight lead. Martin charged back in Turn 4 and they raced to the finish line. Biffle crossed the line 0.17 seconds ahead of Martin to win the race.

I don't think I've ever seen such an exciting finish to a sporting event. The funny thing was, I didn't know who many of the drivers were and I didn't understand racing strategy or what it meant to race a competitor clean.

NASCAR was new to me. A few months prior, a publisher came to me with an idea for a sports book. The editor told me which sports he wanted me to write about and one of them was NASCAR. I told him I had never followed the sport so writing about it wasn't going to be easy. But I had some time, so I began to research it.

Once I had an understanding of the points system and a basic grasp of the lingo used in the sport, I decided to watch the last three races of the 2005 season, not having any idea what was about to happen. I didn't have a favorite driver in mind as I watched the first two races and I didn't have one in mind as I watched the Ford 400. But my heart was racing after the exciting finish in Miami.

Then Martin got out of his car for his post-race interview.

"Man, it was close," Martin said. "I thought we were going to pull it off. We were just inches short. I guess maybe we needed another lap -- or maybe I'd have crashed trying. I raced Greg hard and I raced him clean and vice versa. And he was in front when it was over."

I was fascinated by a sport that provided such high drama while also honoring a code of racing each other cleanly. Of course, I learned later that not every driver adheres to the code quite so strictly, but I had an instant respect for Martin. At that moment I became a NASCAR and a Mark Martin fan and I've been following both ever since.

The more I read about Martin, the more I learned that what happened that night in Miami is the norm for him. He has finished second in the overall standings five times in his NASCAR Sprint Cup career that dates back to 1981. He also finished third three times -- all of which often prompts analysts to refer to him as the best driver to never win a championship.

If you asked his competitors to sum up how they feel about him, the vast majority would simply say "respect." Although now that he's driving for Hendrick Motorsports, he might just end up with both respect and a championship. But I imagine that having the respect of his fellow competitors means more to him.

That's why I'm proud to consider myself one of his fans.


It Was Colder Than I Thought

Chicken Soup for the Soul: The Golf Book

BY: Y. John Lee

Sunshine is delicious, rain is refreshing, wind braces us up, snow is exhilarating; there is really no such thing as bad weather, only different kinds of good weather.
~John Ruskin

A sane man doesn't expect to play golf in Wisconsin in the middle of the winter. But the particular winter in question had seen little snow, though it had been plenty cold. Without snow, outside activities are limited in Wisconsin. Cabin fever had set in, and bad. So one Sunday, when the mercury in my porch thermometer inched just above freezing, I decided it was golf weather. I put on several layers of clothing, got my clubs out of the basement, told my wife and three children I'd be back in a few hours.

I decided to play the back nine first since it was more sheltered from the whipping winds. The greens were staked to keep off cross-country skiers, but the tees were open. The ground was frozen but I did manage to force the tip of a tee into the ground.

Number 10 is a par 4. The tee is elevated above a creek that feeds into a small lake hidden from view by fir trees.

After a few warm-up swings I whacked the ball pretty well, considering both my lack of recent practice and blood circulation. The low liner easily cleared the creek but was heading for a sand trap on the right side of the fairway. The ball didn't even slow down when it hit the trap. It bounced hard and high off the nearly petrified sand and down the fairway, finally skating to a halt just short of the green.

After getting that much roll, I remember thinking, this was going to be fun. As I crossed over the creek bridge, I glanced over at the lake to my right. It was frozen solid. Out in the middle were three guys in orange overalls, ice fishing. One of them saw me at the same time I saw him. For that moment, we just stared at each other. Simultaneously we smiled, doffed our woolen caps at one another. I stepped off the bridge onto the fairway and headed towards the green. He returned his attention to his hole in the ice, and I mine. I imagine he was as hopeful as I was.

It was colder than I thought.


суббота, 20 ноября 2010 г.

The Preacher's Kid

Chicken Soup for the Soul: Thanks Dad

BY: Patti Callahan Henry

To speak and to speak well are two things. A fool may talk, but a wise man speaks.
~Ben Jonson

The preacher's kid. Ah yes, the stuff of movies and stories and jokes: the PK. I'm also a mother, an author, a wife, a friend, even a nurse, but I have been this one thing since I was born and will be when I die: my father's daughter.

Sometimes we don't know why we love someone or something or somewhere -- we just do. Love that is. It's okay not to know all the reasons why, but I do know at least part of the reason I'm now a novelist, a piece of the reason I love stories: telling them, listening to them, reading them, taking them apart and putting them back together, and that reason is the preaching. All those sermons. All those Bible studies and Wednesday night services and parables and youth group bonfire lessons. There were too many to count.

There are the harder things that come with this PK title: moving towns, being watched by a thousand parishioners, going to church four to five times a week, enduring religious confusion. Then there are also gifts, and mine was this: I learned the power of story. Because really, what does a preacher do? Tells the same story over and over in as many ways as possible. The bottom line in every sermon is always the same: God loves you. He sent his Son to die for you. That might get a little boring after a while, right? So the preacher must find new and interesting ways to get to the same endpoint every single time. Sure, there's variation in the characters and disciples and plagues and sins, but it's always back to this: God's redeeming, relentless love.

Who really wants to sit in a pew for an hour and listen to a lecture except by the best preachers, the ones people come to hear, who tell us a story? Does it matter if the story is true? Well, yes... sort of, but maybe not always in the most literal sense. What are parables but truth hidden in story? What really matters is The Truth, not whether the particulars of the story are facts. Dad would get so carried away with the story that he'd teach the congregation the Greek word for the English word (as if they cared) and then what that word really meant. He wanted everyone to know what it all really meant, and he somehow knew that this Truth was inside all those words. He might have failed in other avenues of life, but here he never wavered -- wrapping words around faith and trust in an unfailing God.

And there it is. The power of story.

His other gift of story to me is less obvious. When I was twelve years old, God apparently told my dad to move the family from Philadelphia to Fort Lauderdale and start a new church (I didn't hear this particular marching order, so I still doubt it). Now God and I didn't exactly agree on this subject, so we had a long talk (God and I, not Dad and I) and with me God was silent on the subject. So we moved. In the process of finding the right place to live and the right place to plant the church, I attended four different schools for seventh, eighth, ninth and tenth grades until we finally landed where we stayed, in Coral Springs, Florida.

The desperation born of adolescent loneliness sent me into novels and stories. Libraries and small quiet rooms with a book in my hands became my sanctuaries. These books were my best friends, my confidantes. These stories understood the world beyond south Florida, beyond loneliness and into dreams. These books carried my heart and me to better places.

Then there were the days I'd be bored while the cool kids (meaning they had friends) were driving around in their Firebirds and T-top Camaros, while they had dates and went to football games. This is when I'd browse through Dad's library. Here is where I found C.S. Lewis. Not literally, of course. Mr. Lewis had departed from this world the year I arrived. But his words were there just as if he sat with me. I read The Screwtape Letters and understood the truest power of story -- how sometimes the thing that needs to be said is best said with fiction.

When I finished my first novel, Between the Tides, the last person I had in mind to thank was my dad. I'm the one who rose at four in the morning to write while my babies slept; I'm the one who toiled away for years on the art and craft of words to write a single novel. I'm the one who fell in love with words, and the way they sound and move and come together.

But there is a beginning for all loves: a first encounter; a first moment; a beginning. There is always a beginning. And my love affair with story and words began with and because of my dad.

So let me thank Dad for not only showing me the power of story, but also offering me the chance to lose and then find myself in its magic.


The Perfect Christmas Tree

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Tales of Christmas

By David H. Vaughn

I've seen and met angels wearing the disguise of ordinary people living ordinary lives.
~Tracy Chapman

When I first received my driver's license, I was willing to do anything to spend time alone behind the wheel — even if it was my mom's yellow station wagon with fake wood paneling! Some of those early desperation "get out of the house" excursions were to deliver hot meals through a program at our church to those who were shut in their homes due to age or declining health.

At first it was about completing the task as efficiently as possible in order to get back to driving. Knock on the door, deliver the food, and jump back in the driver's seat. One of the widows that a friend and I regularly took meals to was Mrs. Miller. Her bathrobe was the only attire I ever saw her wear and her Poodle yapped incessantly at us. After months of standing at her door and resisting her regular invitations to come in and talk, we overcame our initial hesitations and went in. Over time we developed an odd friendship with her. Her hospitality was always limited to a meager offering of cookies that were frozen as hard as rocks. The early stages of dementia that she was experiencing caused our conversations to consist mainly of volleying the same questions to her over and over again and receiving the same answers back every time. But somehow we became attached to her and looked forward to our visits.

A year or two later, my friend and I both left town to attend college. When we came home for the holidays, we just had to go visit Mrs. Miller. During one of our attempts at conversation, we asked, "Are you planning to have a Christmas tree this year?" She surprised us by answering "No." Unsure of whether she was fully aware of the question, we moved on to other topics. Later we asked her again, "Are you planning to have a Christmas tree this year?" Again, she surprised us by answering "No." We looked at each other and knew what had to be done. It was only two days until Christmas, so we sprang into action.

We made arrangements to drive to a friend's farm in the Tennessee countryside the next day, which was Christmas Eve, to cut down a Christmas tree for Mrs. Miller. It was a picturesque, postcard kind of morning with a light snow melting in the sunshine. We wandered up and down the hills looking for the perfect tree to cut down. We felt very masculine toting the small hatchet and some rope over our shoulders through the underbrush, surely in much the same way the rugged pioneers of the land would have done it!

After a few hours our initial adrenaline waned and we became irritated with each other. We were hungry and cold. We had argued over and over again what the perfect tree was for Mrs. Miller. Finally we compromised, made a selection and commenced with the hacking. It was no small feat for two college boys who had never used an axe before! However, once the mighty timber was felled, we dragged it through the woods and put it on top of the car (yes, I think it was the same yellow station wagon with the wood paneling). We drove back, two men on a mission — to give Mrs. Miller the perfect Christmas tree and to get away from each other!

We were still hungry but now we were not speaking to each other. We roared into the driveway, not sure how our great intentions had gone so wrong. We wrestled the tree and nearly each other in through her front door but we got the tree standing up. Finally, there we stood, admiring our handiwork and both supremely pleased with our efforts. Our hearts softening a little, we thought maybe all this work had been worth it. It was at this very moment we realized that we had failed to get any decorations for the Christmas tree. Our frustration had almost calmed, but now it flared again. With it now being late on Christmas Eve, we knew it would be impossible to get anything together in time.

We had failed to complete our task. We were not giving Mrs. Miller the Christmas tree we had planned and our friendship had been strained as well. What a great Christmas Eve this was turning out to be! As we plopped down exhausted onto the couch, still not speaking to each other, Mrs. Miller's face lit up and she pointed to the hallway closet. We shrugged our shoulders, wondering if she even understood what we had gone through or even what we had tried to do for her. Her eyes lit up and she walked over and opened the closet door. Not knowing what else to do, we both wandered over to look in and then could not believe our eyes.

More Christmas tree ornaments than you would believe! There were hundreds of ornaments — all hanging on the artificial Christmas tree that had been used the year before! I didn't know exactly how to feel but we both slowly reached for an ornament to pull off the tree in the closet. We both burst out laughing as we put them on our tree in the living room. It took hours to decorate the tree — not because it should have, but because we could not stop laughing. We joyfully chomped on frozen cookies, enjoyed the Poodle's yapping, and decorated Mrs. Miller's perfect Christmas tree!


вторник, 16 ноября 2010 г.

The Cookie Party

Chicken Soup for the Soul: Christmas Magic

BY: Deborah Shouse

Nobody can make you feel inferior without your consent.
~Eleanor Roosevelt

I set my briefcase on my gritty kitchen counter and traced the raised gold lettering on the thick ivory card. "You are Invited to a Holiday Cookie Party," the card read. The invitation was from a fascinating, creative, high-powered executive I had met only months ago. I was surprised and thrilled that she had invited me to such a gathering.

Each woman would bring a batch of home-baked cookies, she explained in her note. We would then get to sample all the cookies and take a bag of treats home to our families. I adored the idea of bringing my teenage daughters such an array of home-baked sweets. I envisioned a room filled with charming baskets of star-shaped sugar cookies, generously topped with red or green frosting. I imagined a jolly basket of Santa cookies, and a fragrant ginger-scented array of reindeer cookies. I wanted to bite into rum balls, sinfully rich fudge and even nibble a piece of golden raisin fruitcake. I fantasized about thumbprint cookies, gooey with jam, and about silky buttery sandies melting in my mouth.

Then I realized the implications. Given the nature of the invitation and the fact that its sender worked at such an innovative company, these holiday cookies would not only be beautiful, creative and delicious, they would be presented in festive and unusual ways. I didn't even have time to worry about what I would wear -- I could only think about what I would bake.

Given the fact I had never really baked anything other than the occasional clumpy chocolate chip, peanut butter or oatmeal cookie, I figured my offerings would be ignored and I would feel left out, inadequate and disgraced. Why hadn't my mother been a more glamorous baker, I fretted, as I turned on the kettle and rummaged in the refrigerator for something to make for dinner. She only made the plainest of cookies -- date crumbs, peanut butter and chocolate chip. As I sipped my tea, boiled water for pasta and heated up the jar of Mamma Somebody's Secret Marinara Sauce with Mushrooms, I analyzed the situation. Right before the pasta was ready to pour into the colander, a number floated into my head and I dialed it.

"If I decide to go to this cookie party, will you help me come up with a recipe and a cute idea for presenting the cookies?" I asked my friend Judith, who was graced with five-star baking abilities.

"Of course," she said. Judith had the kind of aplomb and panache that would fit right in at such a gathering. Briefly, I wondered if she could go to the party in my place, and just deliver my treats to me.
I told my daughters the good news -- in several weeks we would have our own private holiday cookie festival. Since our sweets were usually the mass-produced variety, made by some giant corporate entity, they were ultra excited.

A week later, I received a thick packet in the mail. Judith had selected a number of "easy" recipes for me to consider. I smiled as I looked over the pictures. These cookies were adorable, with just the sort of cute holiday twist that would help me blend in. I frowned as I read through the baking instructions. These cookies required a kind of culinary acumen I had never been able to achieve. Plus, each cookie demanded its own specialized pan, gourmet tool, thermometer or esoteric ingredient. This would never work for me.

The day of the cookie party neared and I had no recipe, no cookies, no plan and nothing to wear.

That night at dinner, I said, "I don't think I can go to the cookie party."

"Why not?" Sarah said sharply. She was thirteen and took promises and plans very seriously. Plus, she had a highly sophisticated taste for sweets and was looking forward to expanding her repertoire.

"I don't have anything cute to make. I can't just walk in carrying a paltry tray of blobby-looking chocolate chip cookies." My throat constricted and I wished I was the sort of mother who could whip up a chocolate soufflé from ingredients that just happened to be in my kitchen cabinets.

"Why not?" my older daughter Jessica said. Even during the holiday season, she kept to her black-themed wardrobe. She looked Gothic and serious as she coached me. "Everyone else will be all silver bells and fancy sprinkles. You will represent the good old-fashioned approach to the holidays -- the working middle class and all that. Your simplicity will be a breath of fresh air."

I took a breath and took in her words. If worse came to worst, I could always pretend I never saw those cookies before in my life.

That evening, my daughters and I made chocolate chip cookies. We put them, as usual, in a simple tin lined with aluminum foil. In honor of the holiday season, I unearthed a shiny red bow to top the tin. They analyzed my clothes and helped me select something reasonably festive to wear.

Walking into the party was like walking into a fairyland. Christmas lights lined the windows and a sparkling tree spread its branches in the living room. The dining room table looked like the December cover of Gourmet magazine. Stars, hearts, Christmas trees, snowmen, all the icons of the season were out and glowing with icing and sprinkles. Some cookies were nestled in handmade wreathes. Others shone from star-shaped or tree-shaped boxes. A fruitcake was surrounded by a miniature set of reindeer. A charming wicker basket lined with red velvet cradled a mound of delicate meringues. Walnut-topped fudge nestled in a wrapping paper covered box and a galaxy of colorful star-shaped cookies decorated a tiered silver-server. I admired each display, all the while looking for a quiet corner where I could tuck in my tin of chocolate chips. I finally settled them between candy cane cookies and the gingerbread Santas.

My hostess offered me a glass of champagne and introduced me to several women. The conversation flowed. Then our hostess announced, "It's time to gather the cookies." She had a large silver gift sack for each of us and encouraged us to take several of each cookie. As I began the table tour, I sneaked a look at my humble confection. What if no one took any? What if I had to take the whole batch home? What if... I thought as I filled my sack with samples of every delectable cookie there.

"Who made the chocolate chip cookies?" someone asked. The room quieted. I concentrated on the rum balls in front of me, considering my options. The silence spread and finally I said, "I did."

Though I spoke softly, I felt like the announcement blasted into the room from a bullhorn.

"What an interesting idea," someone said.

"Yes, I never would have thought of it. It's comforting, you know, it reminds me of my mother and home."

I smiled as I put three rum balls in my sack and headed for the reindeer.

That evening my daughters and I had a magnificent holiday feast, consisting of cookies, cookies and cookies.

"Here's the strange thing, Mom," Jessica said, as she leaned back, sated. "Your cookies are really just as good as any of them. Not as cute, but just as delicious."

"More delicious," Sarah said.

I smiled, thinking that about my mom's cookies when I was growing up. Maybe there was something to say about the plain old recipes offered in the plain old way, so sturdy, so unglamorous and yet so deliciously comforting... like coming home.


Chicken Soup for the Soul: Think Positive BY: Diane Stark

Enjoy the little things, for one day you may look back and realize they were the big things.
~Robert Brault, www.robertbrault.com

It was one of those days when there was way too much to do. I had fallen behind in most of my household chores. I hadn't been to the grocery store in nearly forever and we were out of pretty much everything. The laundry was piled up well above the tops of the hampers and the house was stretching even my reasonably loose standards of cleanliness. And besides all that, I had two article deadlines and needed to spend some serious time at my computer.

All of that, and my four children were on a break from school. They were thrilled to be home and asked me repeatedly how we would spend their day off.

They were going to be disappointed with my plans for the day. There was absolutely nothing fun about them. Nothing special, nothing school break-worthy at all.

The kids woke up that morning, expecting their usual bowls of cold cereal. But we were out of milk, and my kids hate dry cereal. There were no eggs and no bread, which left few breakfast options. I searched through the freezer, hoping for a box of frozen waffles. No such luck. I rooted around in the fridge, finally finding a tube of buttermilk biscuits. I sprinkled them with cinnamon and sugar, baked them, and gave them to the kids.

"I'm sorry that I can't offer you anything better this morning, but I haven't had time to go shopping," I said. The kids didn't bother responding. They were too busy shoving my makeshift cinnamon rolls into their mouths.

After breakfast, I started a load of laundry and sat down at the computer. My youngest daughter, Julia, walked toward me, wearing her I'm-about-to-whine face. "But, Mommy, I thought we were going to do something fun today," she said. "Since it's our day off from school."

"I know it's your day off, but it's not Mommy's day off," I explained. "I have work to do."

"Can you play a game with me?" she begged. "Like Candy Land? Or beauty shop?"

I sighed. I really didn't have time to play. I desperately needed to get some work done. But then I had an idea. "Can we play beauty shop while I work?"

So I got my article done, and my toenails painted at the same time.

My oldest, Austin, volunteered to fix lunch so I could keep working. The younger kids were thrilled with his selections. Not exactly the choices the food pyramid people advise, but the kids had fun and I met my writing deadlines.

Shortly after lunch, we made the trek to the grocery store. Austin pushed the cart, while the younger kids collected coupons from the little dispensers scattered throughout the store. I got what I needed -- with a few additions from my entourage, of course.

Back at home, the kids decided to play "grocery store" with the coupons they had collected during our trip. They lined up the canned goods on the kitchen counters and the snacks on the island and pretended to re-buy our groceries.

For the remainder of the afternoon, I cleaned house, folded laundry, and started dinner. The kids continued with their game until my husband, Eric, walked through the door.

He spotted me and grinned. "So how was the kids' big day off today?"

I began to explain that we hadn't done anything special because I'd been too busy with chores. But the kids interrupted me.

"Daddy, did you see Mommy's toenails? She let me sit under her computer desk and paint them while she typed!" Julia said. "It was so much fun!"

"And, Dad, we had the best breakfast today," said Austin. "Have you ever made those special biscuits for Dad? They were awesome!"

Eric gave me a questioning look and all I could do was shrug. My two middle kids, Jordan and Lea, piped up to tell their dad about the coupon game and Austin's special lunch. "We had such a great day today, Dad! It was a blast!"

I looked at my children's faces. They were lit up with excitement. Excitement about makeshift cinnamon rolls, a most unhealthy lunch, coupons from the grocery store, and painted toenails.

"You guys really had a good day? You're not disappointed that we didn't do something fun?" I asked.

Austin shrugged and said, "Life is only as fun as you make it, Mom."

I nodded, realizing how right he was. Happiness is far more about our attitude than our circumstances.

I hugged my kids and thanked them for reminding me to look for happiness in the little things.

Julia smiled and said, "And the little things that make you the happiest are us, right, Mommy?"

Wow, my kids sure are smart.


Struggles Are Relative

Chicken Soup for the Soul: Thanks Mom

BY: Desiree Diana Amadeo

And mothers are their daughters' role model, their biological and emotional road map,
the arbiter of all their relationships.
~Victoria Secunda

It seems strange to think of Mom right now as I struggle up this hill near the end of a race. I mentally relive being six years old and sobbing in my big sister's arms, as Mom was loaded into an ambulance. The doctors had thought she had grown progressively weak due to the flu. But tests revealed an exacerbation of multiple sclerosis. Mom's vision, hearing and ambulation were gone that day and would be gone for months. That night changed my life forever.

My legs grow weary at this point in the race. But the thought of my mother's delight at every opportunity to walk supports me. My arms pump hard in efforts to propel my fatigued body forward. Mentally, I see her struggle just making it from one room to another. There is a curve in the next pass so I inhale deeply, ready to face the next obstacle that lies ahead. She faces obstacles with every breath she takes.

My breath becomes shallow, my calves tighten. She talks about "charley horses" and leg spasms from disuse. I gasp with air hunger. Mom often takes a startled breath when her blood oxygen level is low. I close my eyes, frantically trying to search the depths of my body for that last ounce of energy. She would find the energy. Somehow, somewhere, she would find the energy.

A quick glance at the top of the hill revives my hope. The finish line is so close. Another shallow breath comes. She would do this if she could. Then I hear her, somewhere in the distance. She's always there for me, no matter how she feels. Knowing that the next relay runner needs to run her portion of the 5K, I charge past the finish line. Mom is calling my name. Race completed, I turn about to cheer on the rest of the first heat as they conquer that same hill. Then I look about. At first she can only be heard, but suddenly I see her. There she is, as always, in her chair, cheering me on.

I am struck by the parallels between this race and the obstacles of life. Some obstacles are more difficult than others, but courage helps you face problems head on. Perseverance gets you through to the finish line. Mom taught me that, just by living. For a dozen years she has been living with multiple sclerosis. Our home is a gathering place of wheelchairs, electric scooters, Lofstrand crutches and colorful canes. For years, she lived exclusively from the wheelchair, being carted around by her three children and loving husband. As a registered nurse, she made good judgment calls on medications, physical therapy and procuring a meticulous medical staff. There is no cure for MS but many treatments. Through research, experience and faith, she does whatever she is capable of to keep her body healthy. Whereas twelve years ago she had periods of blindness, paralysis and hearing loss, today my mother can walk unaided for up to a half hour at a time.

Through MRIs she has discovered that although MS lesions are still present on her brain and spinal cord, their "signal" is less intense. A balance of mind, body and spirit seems to have "turned off" the erratic firings in her brain. She is enjoying her life and reminding me to enjoy mine, too. During middle and high school's typical teenage angst, I used my mother's example to approach life one day at a time and to maintain focus on what was important.

My mother taught me the joy of completing a task, no matter how trivial it may seem. She showed me that large goals are often achieved by many small tasks and a mighty grateful heart. Mom showed me individual success is great and the thrill of accomplishment in working for others is terrific. Teamwork means so much more when there is the pride of helping one another. My mom has shown me that so much more is learned by trial and error, little failures and mundane tasks than immediate, easy successes.

As a cross-country runner, I imagine my mother beside me at every race, struggling with every step, fatigued and weakened but never giving up. Together, we recognize the best way to conquer the challenge; we run it at full force and give it everything we have. The task may be difficult, but the success at the end makes the whole journey worthwhile. Together we are victors, not victims.



From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Runners

By Christina Dymock

Laughter through tears is my favorite emotion.
~Steel Magnolias

I slowly made my way to the finish line. The baby rolled in my large belly and I had to stop until she finished adjusting.

"Only four weeks left," I reminded myself when she finally settled in and I started off again. "Come on, or we'll miss your dad," I told my three boys. We were going to support my husband as he ran his first 5K.

We found a spot where we could watch the runners cross the finish line. My boys ran circles around me as we waited. I felt like a sun with all my little worlds circling around me. No wonder pregnant women feel like the center of the universe, I was large enough to have my own gravitational pull.

A ripple went through the crowd as the first runners came into view. I looked at the time clock and my jaw dropped. I couldn't believe that someone could run so fast. I watched as people cheered for their spouses and children and kids cheered for their parents. There was this surge of emotion and everything in view started swimming as my eyes filled with tears. I was so proud of each runner.

"You made it," I'd yell and clap as they ran past me.

One lady was struggling. "You're almost there!" I encouraged.

Then my husband came into view. "Cheer for Dad," I told my boys.

They lined up and started yelling, "Go Dad! Yeah Dad!" their little hands clapping hard and fast. If I had been holding back the tears before, I couldn't now. Watching my boys cheering for their hero struck a chord and, while my smile was as wide as the race was long, tears streamed down my cheeks.

Craig crossed the finish line and found us. I kissed him in congratulations and he wiped my cheeks. We both laughed off the tears as hormones. I may have been emotional, but after three other pregnancies I'd learned to laugh at myself.

"Next year I'm running with you," I told him.

So the next year we lined up together with the other runners. This time I had butterflies in my tummy and no matter what I did they wouldn't settle down. I had been running for a couple of months and felt ready to run 3.2 miles, but the whole race atmosphere was new.

The course wound through a small town -- past the church and school and through a couple of neighborhoods. There was only one hill to climb and that was at the start of the last mile. I could do this.

The race official yelled, "On your mark," and my adrenaline spiked.

I heard her yell "Go," and it was all I could do not to break into a sprint. Craig took off and stayed thirty feet ahead of me for the remainder of the race. I wasn't really worried about beating him -- because there was no way it was going to happen. I focused on regulating my breathing.

I'd been going steady for about two and a half miles when a little boy and his dad came running out of their house and started cheering for the woman ten feet ahead of me.

"Go Mom!" the boy shouted as he pumped his fists in the air. Mom smiled and waved with both hands. It was so touching that my heart opened up and tears fell out. I was crying -- again. Arg! What was with me and crying at races? I slowed down as my breath came a little harder. I hit a button on my iPod and a hard pounding song blasted into my ears. I shook myself -- literally -- and was able to keep going.

I hit the hill and climbed it like a champ. I was feeling so high. I headed around the last turn and had the finish line in sight. Right next to the timekeeper was Craig and he was yelling for me. I was so happy and proud that I started tearing up. I reached down and found the reserve I'd held and sprinted to the finish. I ran past him and took another twenty feet to slow down. I stopped for just a moment and leaned over to catch my breath.

"How was it?" Craig asked as he rubbed my back.

I looked up, showing the tears on my cheeks, and saw the concern on his face. "What's the matter?" he asked.

"Oh this?" I wiped the tears from my face. "I always cry at a run." He shook his head and laughed at me as I laughed at myself.

I've run many races since that day and there hasn't been one that I haven't cried at. I never know when the tears are going to strike or what will set them off. Kids cheering for their parents do it to me every time. Other times it's feelings of gratitude for what my body is able to do. Sometimes it's just the feeling of accomplishment as I beat my last time. They are good tears -- tears of pride, of happiness, of hope, of admiration -- I guess I get emotional when I run. I'm not usually an emotional person, but running gives me such a high that I can't hold back.

So I'll see you at the races -- I'll be the one with a box of tissues.


Throw Mama from the Wheelchair

Chicken Soup for the Soul: Family Matters

BY: Lori Wescott

You will do foolish things, but do them with enthusiasm.

Whether you call them in-laws or outlaws, it is always a struggle to fit in with your new family. I had been married five short months when my mother-in-law, Janelle, invited me to Chicago with her and her two sisters. It was a "sister trip," and I was invited. How exciting! This was my first official sign of acceptance. I had made it. I was in.

The plan was to spend thirty-six hours "power shopping." No time for sightseeing or lollygagging; we were on a mission. We arrived at Midway and hurried to baggage claim. But when she picked up her suitcase, Janelle threw out her back. The sisters looked nervously at each other. There was no way Janelle would be able to keep up the pace for our shopping trip. One of her sisters decided to call the hotel and arrange to have a wheelchair waiting for us.

"It will be fine," I told Janelle. "We can push you around from store to store, and you won't miss a thing."

When we arrived at the Omni Hotel, there was a wheelchair waiting for her, but it was missing one foot rest and was completely rusted over. We pretended the chair was fine, but as we pushed her to the elevator, we heard the screeching serenade of rusty wheels. It was bad enough that Janelle had to be in the wheelchair, but now everyone would hear her before they saw her. She wasn't discouraged, however, so we began the first leg of our mission.

I volunteered to push first. After all, I was practically a nurse and far more experienced in that sort of thing than her two sisters. As we approached Michigan Avenue, the traffic light changed, prompting us to go ahead and cross the intersection. However, I began to have second thoughts. What if I didn't have enough momentum to get across all six lanes with my heavyset mother-in-law? I decided it would be best to pick up a little speed. While guiding the wheelchair into the road, the foot rest became caught on the curb. The wheelchair was at a dead stop, and my new mother-in-law was airborne!

It seemed to happen in slow motion, and there was nothing I could do but stand there watching in horror. Clad in a dressy black pantsuit, her flight was less than effortless. Her blond hair was swept back by the wind, and her arms flailed at her sides. When she finally came to rest, Janelle found herself three lanes over, in the middle of Michigan Avenue with her head a mere six inches from the bumper of a cab. Her sisters immediately began pointing and broke into hysterical laughter while the cab driver shook his head at their insensitivity.

I thought about how the traffic light would soon change, and she would be run over. I was going to have to call my husband and tell him that I killed his mother. That was not how it was supposed to go! I had just made it into the club of acceptance, and I show my gratitude by dumping my mother-in-law into the middle of a busy intersection.

Meanwhile, Janelle was trying to get up off the ground by herself because her sisters were incapacitated with laughter and I was frozen still. Then, as I had feared, the light changed. In an effort to avoid being run over myself, I instinctively backed out of the road while still clutching the wheelchair. In doing so, I was oblivious to the fact that Janelle had gimped back over to me and was attempting to sit down in the chair. Thanks to my survival instinct, I pulled the chair right out from under her and she landed, yet again, on the dirty Chicago asphalt.

Seeing Janelle in the road for the second time, her sisters quickly got their acts together and helped her back into the wheelchair. Shortly thereafter, I relinquished my wheelchair-pushing duties and began my apologies.

Thankfully, there were only minor scrapes and bruises to add to Janelle's back injury. Although I'll never live it down, I was quickly forgiven. This experience did, however, turn out to be a great litmus test regarding my new family. If your mother-in-law still loves you after you dump her in the road and leave her for dead, then she's probably a keeper.


Every Day a Friday

Chicken Soup for the Soul: Think Positive

BY: Elaine L. Bridge

Monday is a lame way to spend 1/7 of your life.
~Author Unknown

I love Fridays, and I'm not alone. Most people associate the last day of the workweek with feelings of relief, relaxation, and anticipation of good times to come in the weekend ahead. You know there has to be something special about a day when the feeling of celebration that accompanies its arrival is even commemorated in the name of a restaurant chain!

And so I, too, celebrate Fridays. After dropping my son off at school I head to Starbucks, to pick up a coffee treat of one type or another. Then instead of driving straight home I generally take a long route through the most scenic roads I can find, which usually includes my favorite corner of the local state park. On and on throughout the day I find myself smiling and happy for no other reason than that the day's name starts with an "F" rather than a "M," "T," or "W."

When I pick my son up again hours into the afternoon we high-five physically and vocally, our chorus of "FRIDAY!" resonating at least as loudly as our hand slap. Then we point out to each other the signs of beginning celebration in the college town we drive through. We see footballs being passed on fraternity lawns, hamburgers being thrown on grills, people parked on front porch swings, and parties everywhere swinging into action. Sometimes it seems as if the whole world is celebrating Friday!

The other day I emerged from a doctor's office happy over a positive prognosis in a health situation I was concerned about. My good mood was amplified by the signs of spring that were bursting all around me -- flowers blossoming, birds singing, bright sunshine warm upon my back. I was suddenly ready to celebrate, and java-scented thoughts wafted through my brain. I whispered the word "Cappuccino!" and headed for the specialty coffee bar that was conveniently located just around the corner.

My mind rebelled. "What are you doing? It's Tuesday! Coffee treats are reserved for Fridays!" And suddenly I realized how ridiculous that line of thinking was! Why should Fridays be any more special than any other day of the week? Why waste six days while waiting to rejoice on the seventh? Minutes later I was walking back to my car with a big grin on my face and a raspberry mocha in my hand.

A small victory, to be sure, but it's also an accurate example of how many of us live our lives. We're waiting for conditions to be right before we allow ourselves to enjoy our time here on earth. Maybe when we finally graduate from college and get a job it will be time to celebrate, or perhaps when our toddlers are old enough to be in school all day. We'll rejoice when the car is paid off, or enjoy life when we're finally able to retire. And in that waiting we waste so much of the life that God has given us and the happiness that can be found in our todays. What if we moved a little of that "Friday feeling" into our rainy-day Mondays, our gloomy Tuesdays and our mid-week Wednesdays? Surely our lives would be much happier as a result.

It's interesting to note that T.G.I. Friday's isn't open for business on just the last day of the workweek! No, they celebrate all week long and into the weekend.

So should we.


суббота, 13 ноября 2010 г.

The Green Christmas Ball

Chicken Soup for the Soul: Christmas Magic

BY: Aletheia D. Lee

If you have much, give of your wealth; if you have little, give of your heart.
~Arabian Proverb

By the third year of teaching I had begun to anticipate Christmas break more for the school holiday and less for the excitement of the children. I was teaching fourth grade and my students, combined with medical problems, had exhausted me. I prayed for strength enough to get me to 3:15. I just had to get through one of the hardest days of the school year.

I groaned out loud as the morning bell rang. Time to begin the circus. I trudged through the cold between my mobile classroom (nice name for a trailer) and into the overly heated school building. I sighed and turned the corner. Twenty-two smiling faces greeted me on the fourth grade bus hall. I forced myself to return their smiles and enthusiastic hugs. "Seven and a half hours to go," I thought to myself.

Back through the cold and into the room they chattered, comparing plans for the vacation. I had to remove one student from each arm and one from around my waist before I could take a seat at my desk for my morning duties. Before I could find my roll book my desk was covered with cards and gifts followed by a chorus of "Merry Christmas" wishes.

"Oh, thank you," I must have responded a million times. Each gift was truly special to me, despite my sour mood. It was kind of them to think of me.

After the tornado had calmed to hurricane levels, I heard a small voice say my name. I looked up to see Brandon standing shyly by my desk, holding a small, round gift. "This is for you."

"Thank you, Sweetheart." I hugged him and laid it on my desk with the others.

"Um, could you open it now?"

I stopped my frantic pace to give him my full attention. This was important to him. "Sure."

I gently tugged at the crumpled paper and mounds of tape. "Careful," he said, "it's breakable."

"Oh, okay," I assured him. Slowly I unwrapped a small, green Christmas tree ornament, complete with a hook already attached. It dawned on me what he had done.

"You know he just pulled that off his tree!" a nearby student commented rudely.

I swallowed some tears. "Yes, I know," I answered. "That makes it even more special."

"It's my favorite," Brandon informed me.

"It'll be my favorite, too. I don't have anything green on my tree."

He beamed.

Later that day, during a rare quiet moment, I sat turning the ornament over in my hands. Was I really so important to this child that he had searched for something to give me? His mother did not hand him a gift bag with an elegant bow as he ran for the bus. He had considered this gift himself.

Now every year as I delicately pull a green Christmas ball from my ornament box I remember the profound impact adults have on children. More importantly, I remember the impact my students have on me.


среда, 10 ноября 2010 г.

Chicken Soup for the Soul: True Love

BY: Christine Trollinger

There's nothing in this world so sweet as love. And next to love the sweetest thing is hate.
~Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

Looking at our wedding pictures always makes me giggle. I recall the young man that my brother brought home to dinner one night well over forty-seven years ago. It was not what one could call love at first sight. It was more like loathing at first sight.

The first time I had met him was a few weeks earlier. It all began with a phone call to my high school principal's office. I was a senior in high school at the time. I worked after school at a local restaurant as part of our school work-credit program.

This particular day, I was not scheduled to work, but Mrs. K (the owner) had called and left a message with the office that I would have to take another waitress's place. Mrs. K was not the nicest person in the world to work for to say the least. She never asked if I was available -- she just said in her message to "be there at 4:00 P.M." Since not showing up would affect my grades for graduation, there was no way I could wiggle out of the unplanned shift.

My mother was quite the taskmaster herself, and I found myself caught in a bit of a pickle. My mother expected me to be home immediately after school to start dinner for our family. I tried to call my mom at her workplace to tell her of the change in plans but was unable to reach her. Unfortunately there was no voice-mail in those days. There was no way my mom would just let it slide if she did not know of the change in my work schedule. I could count on being grounded, no matter how good the excuse was, if I did not get my message through to her.

Mrs. K never allowed employees to use the phone while on duty and I knew she would not budge on her rules, even though she was the one who had created the situation. I had to stop for gas so I decided to call my mother again from the gas station. My dad had an account at the local Shell station, where I could sign for gas, and Ed (the owner) would bill my dad later.

I was surprised to see a total stranger running the gas station instead of Ed. The young man was quite a flirt, and took his time putting the gas in the tank, washing the windshield, checking the oil, etc. I tried my best to get him to just put the gas in the tank and forget the other routine services, but he kept on trying to impress me. I tried to be polite, but flirting with a strange guy was the last thing on my mind. He was seriously threatening my job and my big date for the Sweetheart dance the following day if I got grounded.

I finally told him, "Look sir, I am in a big hurry. I have to get to work. Now please put the gas on my dad's credit line in Ed's book." Naturally this lead to more delays as he insisted he had no idea where such a book would be or how to do it, so I had to go inside and find it behind the counter for him. I was beginning to think he wasn't very bright. It was a red ledger, exactly where I told him he would find it, right beside the cash register.

My next big mistake was in asking him to give me a dime for the payphone, and put that on the ledger charge too. Good grief! He began to lecture me about taking money from a stranger and other nonsense. By that time I was furious and stomped out hurrying to get to work, and decided to try and talk Mrs. K into letting me use the phone at work.

Naturally, with all the time wasted at the filling station, I was late to work and Mrs. K refused my request to use the phone. Not only that, she also said I had to stay late and do clean-up duty to boot. By the time I got home at midnight my mom was fit to be tied and as I had feared, I was grounded. A rude stranger had ruined my life. I hoped I never would lay eyes on him again.

As luck would have it, a few weeks later, my mom called me at school and asked me to pick up an extra pound of hamburger as we were having a guest for dinner. Sounded normal to me, so I was totally unprepared that evening when my brother walked in the door with his new friend named Gene that he had met at the gas station. I wanted to hide in the kitchen as I was still so angry at him, but manners precluded my doing so.

By the time the meal was over, the young man apologized for all the trouble he had caused me and he became a regular visitor in our home. When time for the prom came, my boyfriend and I had broken up, so Gene offered to be my date. From there a loathing at first sight became a love story which resulted in forty-one very happy years of marriage and three beautiful children. Obviously, I decided he wasn't so bad after all.



Chicken Soup for the Soul: Thanks Dads

BY: Robyn Kurth

Adolescence is a period of rapid changes. Between the ages of 12 and 17, for example, a parent ages as much as 20 years.
~Author Unknown

When I was a junior in high school I was convinced that I would be the last member of my generation to obtain my driver's license. Even though I turned sixteen the summer before my junior year, I was scheduled to take a driver's education course at my suburban Chicago high school during the fall semester, which meant that I would not be able to test for my license until a few months before my seventeenth birthday. While I dreamed about having private driving lessons and a car of my own like some of my classmates, my father had other plans in mind.

Dad was a guidance counselor/college consultant at another local high school, and he wasn't about to spend my future tuition money on private driving lessons, teen driver insurance rates or my own car. As far as he was concerned, he and my mom were working hard enough to save money for a college education for my younger sister and me.

The car I would be training on was the family vehicle -- a 1978 white Oldsmobile Delta 88 Royale that was at least seven years old by the time I was old enough to drive it. When the Olds was brand new, it was a powerful, gleaming "King of the Road" with spoke hubcaps, a V8 engine, and a crushed red velvet interior. By the time I was driving it, the car was a rusting gas guzzler that maneuvered as easily as a cruise ship. The engine occasionally died at stoplights, or ran on for another fifteen seconds after I turned it off. My parents had the entire vehicle repainted twice, which kept the bottoms of the car doors from rotting off; and a thin layer of rust bonded by new paint would shudder every time I slammed a door shut.

There was no way on earth that I could look remotely cool in my father's Oldsmobile, not even when I cranked up my favorite Tears for Fears song on the car's AM radio.

Of course, my father was more than happy to supplement my driver's education classes with his own behind-the-wheel lessons. He was right next to me when I first started lurching about an empty parking lot in the oversized Oldsmobile that I lovingly nicknamed Coche, which is Spanish for "car." Since Coche had a bench seat in the front, Dad had to bend his six-foot-three-inch frame to accommodate me every time I adjusted the driver's seat all the way to the front so I could comfortably reach the gas and brake pedals. For hours at a time, he would calmly advise me on the finer points of left turns and lane changes while his knees were shoved up around his ears.

I can still recall the day I obtained my license -- March 3, 1986 -- and I remember being grateful to Casimir Pulaski, the Polish-American Revolutionary War hero who was the reason why public schools throughout Illinois were closed, enabling Dad and I to spend an entire weekday morning at the Department of Motor Vehicles. I seemed to be the only person who was happy to be there, as I anxiously awaited my turn.

My study skills served me well on the written exam, and Dad's careful instruction paid off during my behind-the-wheel test. As the DMV instructor took notes, I carefully maneuvered Dad's enormous Oldsmobile through parallel parking, a three-point turn and a trip around the block.

By lunchtime I became the proud owner of my first driver's license. I grinned giddily as a dour DMV employee took my photograph in front of a bright red background. As I showed my father the license, clearly marked "Under 21" in several places, I could see the expression of pride on his face. He handed me the car keys, which dangled from a Bicentennial keychain that was even older than his car.

When I got behind the wheel of Coche I turned to look at Dad, who was already tensing up his leg muscles as I prepared to slide the front seat forward. For the first time in my life, I realized the patience that was required of my father as he waited for this day. I thought about all those hours that he sat with me without complaining, twisted up like a pretzel while I jerked the family car around empty parking lots and navigated busy suburban roadways in hazardous winter weather, striving to gain my own independence.

Suddenly it occurred to me that after all this patient waiting, I had a lifetime of opportunities to drive ahead of me -- a lifetime of places to go, passengers to transport, and cars to drive (hopefully with power steering, bucket seats, and an FM stereo).

I lowered my hand from the ignition. "Dad, you've been cooped up enough these past few months," I said. "Why don't you drive us home?"

Dad was surprised but I could already see his muscles relax. "Are you sure?" he asked.

"I'm sure," I said, handing him the keys. "It's my treat."


суббота, 6 ноября 2010 г.

How to Be Special

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Thanks Mom

By Jeannie Mai

Always be a first-rate version of yourself, instead of a second-rate version of somebody else.
~Judy Garland

Olivia Mai rocks. She's my mom, and because of her, I learned that fashion is powerful. Mom's daring, playful and unconditionally loving personality taught me that being attractive has nothing to do with good looks, but everything to do with great style.

Growing up was a show with my mom. We glittered it up for grocery shopping, gave makeovers to friends who stopped by, and had fun with style for the sake of creativity, not for money or because of trends. Mom believed looking good said two things about a woman: First, that she cares about herself; and second, that she wants others to care about themselves. And she was right. Taking the time to dress yourself builds the confidence to feel good, therefore making you give your best to everyone. People will see your positive energy through your style. Fashion is powerful.

For the first few years of my life, everything was cupcakes and cashmere. I had no problem being myself, and had the most enjoyable time decorating my moods each day. Then came my first day of school.

All month, Mom and I had been preparing for this day and I had everything set the night before to walk in and make new friends. I had decided my first-day color had to be a powerful purple, and sprung out of bed that morning ready to throw on my purple and gray plaid jumper with my favorite T-shirt underneath that spelled "J-E-A-N-N-I-E" in bold black letters. I had also chosen funky, fresh pink fishnet stockings and glossy purple rubber galoshes that my mom had purchased for rainy weather. (It was seventy-four degrees and sunny that day.) She helped me with the finishing touches of sparkly bangles to my wrist, gave me a wet kiss on my cheek, (careful not to smudge my glittery lip gloss), and walked me into school.

The moment I walked into my classroom and took off my coat, every single kid stared. Parents, too. Mom saw Mrs. Clark, my new teacher, and left my side to say hello. I immediately felt the eyes all over the room pan head to toe over my outfit. Several of the parents raised an eyebrow, while many of the kids pointed and laughed. For the first time, I felt insecure. Even scarier, I felt like I'd rather be anybody else but me. I saw that everyone else had slicked smooth hair, barrettes, matching dresses and socks and appropriate sandals and shoes. I sat down wishing I could take off my galoshes and hide.

By midday, I was known as Jeannie Weenie Wild. At lunch, nobody sat by me and at the end, where new friends waited in pairs to be picked up, I waited by myself. When Mom rolled up, I lunged into the backseat, kicked off my boots and headband, and slouched low in my seat. I didn't even wait for Mom to ask what was wrong. Through tears, I wailed about how she let me go to school looking like that and why didn't she buy me clothes like the other kids and why did she name me something that rhymes with Weenie and why...?

Mom immediately pulled the car over, took off her seatbelt and turned around with such a thrilled, elated expression of joy that I wondered if I was in the right car. "They already know your name? What did they say? That's WONDERFUL!"

I sat there dumbfounded. "Did you hear what I said? NO! I don't want them to know my name! I hate school! I'm never going back! Everybody is too mean and I hate my clothes!"

I never forgot the next words my mom said: "Con (which means "my child" in Vietnamese), this is the best day ever. I raised you to stand out and be something to talk about. I don't care what they're saying. You were noticed and unforgettable. You are my daughter and I am so proud!"

Those words changed my life forever. The very second her words slipped into my ears, I understood the difference between "owning it" and "being owned," a philosophy I advocate today when adopting new styles. Never again would I let anybody else tell me who I was. She spent those years teaching me to celebrate myself, and now was my turn to learn how to make a statement. This lesson has built the wall of protection I need in this business. As long as my actions come out of love and a fun spirit, I'm a "Do" all the way.

Thanks to Mom, I use that confident foundation to influence others through fashion.

And just so you know, I wore those purple galoshes the next day, too.


пятница, 5 ноября 2010 г.

The Toolbox

Chicken Soup for the Soul: Divorce and Recovery

BY: Mia Gardner

"So, how was your day?" Chuck, my ex-husband, asked on this, his third call of the day. It was Friday night, I'd had a long week and I had to report to my second job, waitressing at a pancake house early the next morning. Usually, I screened his calls, but that night I was wondering what the heck I was doing with my life. We had been married for eighteen years. We had a son in his senior year of high school and college-bound. I was sleeping on a mattress on the floor because Chuck had taken the waterbed when we divorced. Was I really better off?

Chuck went on, "I'm really missing you... and Alex of course. I've learned a lot, and I think we should talk about getting back together. When are you going to get over this so I can come back home?" We had separated four months earlier -- which included the three during which we were formally divorced. I had started the divorce proceedings in March, moved out of our master bedroom to the guest room, and got a second job to help soften the blow of losing his income.

In late March, I took a trip and drove to my sister's house in California, partly just to get out of the house, but also to give myself time alone to think. Was I abandoning my marriage vows? Was I going against my religious beliefs? I trusted my sister, and during one late night talk at her kitchen table, I talked to her about my fears.

Her answer: "Chuck has never lived up to his vows as a husband. He never worked in the marriage and has not taken care of you or Alex, physically or emotionally. You've had to shoulder the role of wife, husband, mother, and father for too many years. No wonder you're burned out." Her words helped me to focus my doubts about getting a divorce and made me realize I had been unhappy for many years.

Now Chuck's call came at a time of weakness. Had I wanted too much? Was life just about this -- living with someone who you have memories with and can finish your stories -- or, is there more out there? Someone to love who can love me back? I went to bed on my mattress and slept poorly, thoughts and doubts running through my head, as I wondered whether I should give him a second chance.

The next morning, before I went to my waitressing job, I realized the light bulb on the back porch needed replacing. I felt insecure with the light being out, right next to my sliding glass window. I went for the toolbox that Chuck had made up for me before we parted.

Before he moved out, as I was packing up the kitchen, I made sure he got his fair half of everything, including anything his parents had given us. When he packed the garage, he asked, "What do you want out of my tools?" I had purchased tools for him every birthday and Christmas, hoping he'd find a hobby to fill all his free time.
"Just make me up a toolbox so I can repair little things around the house," I'd replied. And, as I helped him move out that July day, I noticed a small toolbox set aside for my use. It was a busy day and I never did go over to check on what he had left for me in the toolbox -- until that October morning.

I pulled out the toolbox to find one flat head screwdriver, one Phillips-head screwdriver, an old rusty set of pliers, and a broken hammer. This, after I gave him half of the kitchen stuff and he doesn't even cook! While I made use of the old and broken tools to replace the light bulb, using every cuss word I knew directed at Chuck, I realized that this thoughtlessness was the real reason we had divorced. He had never thought of my well-being at all -- and the toolbox was my physical proof that kept me from making the big mistake of taking him back, just because I was lonely.

I'm happy to say it was the right decision. After dating some total losers during my first year of singlehood, I found a gem seven years later.

I threw away the old toolbox and tools without a second thought.


Almost Human

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

BY: Laura F. Chesler

"On the Internet, nobody knows you're a dog."
~Peter Steiner

"To the parents of PHOEBE CHESLER!" the headline blared. "We want YOUR daughter for our Young Miss Preteen Pageant!!" The slick glossy mailer went on to tell us how we could prepare Phoebe for a glamorous, successful life as a model/actress/pitchwoman simply by taking advantage of this fantastic opportunity! All we would have to do, we were informed, was send in a $150 entry fee (apparently the old adage "you've got to spend money to make money" can be applied to those not yet in puberty), procure a formal "party" dress for the pageant, and have some professional headshots taken. For a nominal fee, the company hosting the pageant would be delighted to provide this service for us.

You might think that visions of my child becoming the next Brooke Shields danced tantalizingly in my head. Was I tempted, even for a minute? You bet I was. The image of someone looking in disbelief at a picture of my Border Collie wearing a taffeta petticoat made me dissolve into laughter. You see... Phoebe was a dog. A beautiful dog, yes, but a dog nonetheless. And the thought of her in a party dress still makes me smile.

We adopted Phoebe when she was just three months old from an animal shelter in Auburn, California. I took one look at the black and white puppy yapping her head off, determined not to be overlooked amidst the chaos of the shelter, and fell completely in love. She was the first dog my husband and I had together, and was as smart as they come. In retrospect, perhaps she was a little too smart, but her Mensa-level intelligence was perfectly offset by the innate sweetness of some Springer Spaniel blood. We forgave her for doing things no dog should really know how to do, like opening the door that leads from the kitchen to the garage, then leaping up and hitting the garage door opener button that allowed her to escape, on her way to freedom.

My husband and I had a good laugh over this first letter, and briefly wondered how a dog got on a mailing list obviously intended for children. We figured it was a one-time deal, and had fun sharing it with a few friends. Then, we forgot about it -- until the deluge began.

"HEY!" the next mailing trumpeted. "We're looking for Hollywood's NEXT CHILD STAR! We think that child could be PHOEBE CHESLER! You owe it to HER to sign up NOW for our series of acting/modeling workshops!" All this company needed to secure my child's wildly successful future was a check for $500. They assured me it was just too good to pass up.

"To the parents of PHOEBE CHESLER! If something happened to you, do you have adequate life insurance to provide for YOUR daughter?" Somehow, I think the insurance company sending the letter would look askance at our application. Imagine the look on the adjuster's face who reads this:

Child's Full Name: Phoebe Alexandra "Feeber-Deeber-Dog" Chesler

  • Age: 8
  • Height: 2 feet on all fours, approximately 4 feet when on her hind legs.
  • Weight: 50 lbs.
  • Nationality: Border Collie/Springer Spaniel.
  • Hair: Black and white
  • Allergies: Flea spray and corn meal

Over the next few years, we received many letters asking us to consider Phoebe for modeling schools, pageants (I wonder what they would have done had I sent in the application with "herding" listed under the "talent" section?) and acting workshops. I decided to start saving them when I noticed the nature of each solicitation coincided with Phoebe's age. We had fun opening the latest ones and seeing just where Phoebe was supposed to be in her "human" life at that moment.

As she grew older, the "Preteen" offers gradually gave way to "Teen" opportunities, Army recruitment and then, lo and behold, college solicitations. How fast they grow -- our "baby" was about to start college! It was around this time that the credit card applications began arriving, thick and fast. According to whatever database she was in, she was now in college, and urgently needed to start building her credit history as quickly as possible.

Up until this point, the whole thing was a great source of amusement for my husband and me, but the credit card solicitations were upsetting. I hadn't realized just how much the big card companies preyed on college students. The "offers" were amazing, and not in a good way: huge annual fees, exorbitant interest rates, and credit limits that shouldn't be offered to most adults, let alone a student. I worked myself up into a fit over it one day until my husband gently reminded me that our "daughter" could not and would never be a casualty of America's overspending. She was in fact, at that moment, enjoying a rawhide chewie. Still, I felt for all the parents and students who must have been constantly barraged with these offers.

Over the years, I have never stopped wondering why it was Phoebe who mysteriously made the leap into the human system, while none of our other dogs ever did. I'd like to think it was some sort of cosmic destiny, as she was the smartest dog I've ever known, but I seriously doubt intelligence is the criteria for most mailing lists. One person suggested it was because we had given her a "human" name. Hmm. Our other two dogs were named Chloe and Madeleine, so, no, I don't think that was it. Yet another friend jokingly suggested that perhaps our veterinarian sold his client list to marketers. It got to the point where an accountant friend dryly remarked that if we could only issue Phoebe a social security number, we could claim her as a deduction. My husband brightened considerably at that idea, until I reminded him it was illegal.

Those of us who love dogs feel that at times that they are almost human, to the point of attributing human characteristics to much of their behavior. Still, we know they are dogs, and as such are usually exempt from the annoyance we call junk mail by virtue of their species.

Phoebe lived to the ripe old age of fifteen, and after she died, the offers slowly stopped arriving. How did they know? There was no hospital death certificate, no obituary. How did they know to remove her from The List? We may never know, but I'm wondering if maybe my veterinarian is chuckling even now, enjoying his secret prank. One of these days, I'll have to ask. For Phoebe's sake... and for mine.


The Classics

Chicken Soup for the Soul: All in the Family

BY: Carol Genengels

One man's trash is another man's treasure.
~English Proverb

As a mother, I've learned that having grown sons often demands long suffering. Their toys aren't picked up as easily as their Matchbox cars once were. Take Ryan's motorcycle, for instance. Though he hadn't ridden it in years, the bike held a place of honor in the blackberry bushes. "I'm gonna restore it someday, Mom. I can't get rid of it!" My youngest child knew he could usually wrap me around his little finger. As a teen, he'd once accused me of child abuse for buying fat-free ice cream. When he drove off to college in a Toyota pick-up, he abandoned his first love -- a 1977 Camaro -- next to his brother's red 1967 Firebird and a brown 1979 Datsun with no windows. Next to the cars, a sixteen-foot boat and trailer languished in the sun.

Home for summer break, Ryan was in the backyard tenderly spreading gobs of Bondo over the rust spots on his Camaro. "Listen, Ryan," I said lightly, "since you drive the truck now, why not sell the Camaro?"

"Sell the Camaro?!" Ryan gasped as if I'd asked him to cut off his foot. His expression of sheer terror let me know that I'd have to tread carefully. He continued, "When I get it all fixed up, it will be worth a lot more than I paid for it. It'll be a classic someday!"

"I can hardly wait," I muttered before returning to the house to consider my next tactics.

Number-one son, Shawn, the owner of the Firebird and Datsun, came over to work on a marine engine. I found him under the sundeck, muscles rippling as he hoisted an outboard motor into a barrel of fresh water. I sauntered over: "Say, Shawn, have you considered selling that Firebird? You don't drive it anymore." Shawn wiped grimy hands on his jeans. His blue eyes stared as though I'd said something ridiculous. "Mom, that car has sentimental value. I bought that in the Navy, remember? It took me ages to pay that thing off. Besides, it's almost a classic!"

"Well, what about the Datsun?" I persisted.

"Aw, Mom, nobody will buy that thing the way it is. New windows will cost more than it's worth."

I sighed and went back in the house. I recalled the day that Shawn parked the Datsun at the top of the road with a "For Sale" sign. In the middle of the night, vandals broke out all the windows. The next day, Shawn sadly drove it down the driveway and parked it next to his Firebird.

My husband, Ted, came up from the basement. "Carol, have you seen my torque wrench?"

"I wouldn't know a torque wrench if I stumbled over one. Try the backyard."

"Those guys never put anything away," he mumbled.

"Ted, our backyard looks like a junkyard," I said, seizing the opportunity to complain.

"What's wrong with it?"

"It's all those cars! Shawn's Firebird, the Datsun, that junky boat and trailer nobody uses, and Ryan's Camaro and truck."

"There's nothing wrong with Ryan's truck."

"That's not the point! With our cars, and all their junkers, our place looks like a used car lot in a bad part of town! This is a nice neighborhood, or at least it used to be!"

"I would like to get rid of that Datsun," Ted admitted. "It's a shame about those windows."

As the summer progressed, I grew to hate those cars. I prayed that God would spur my boys to car-selling action, or maybe consume the cars in a freak fireball. Everyone who entered the yard was asked the same question: "Do you know anyone who wants an old Datsun with no windows?" No one jumped at my offer.

One day, I got tough. "Shawn, it's almost wintertime. You'd better do something about that Datsun, and soon!"

"Okay, Mom, I promise I'll do something tomorrow."

When I came home from work the next day, the Datsun was draped with blue tarps. "Aughhhhhhhhhh!"

By spring, the tarps had blown off, and mushrooms were sprouting in the back seat. "Please, Lord," I prayed. "Send someone to take this wreck away."

Meanwhile, Ted was asked to consider running for president of the small mission congregation we attended. He prayed about the matter, but heard nothing. Pastor Tim said he needed an answer by the following Sunday. All week, Ted wrestled with his decision. By Saturday afternoon, he was still undecided. "You'd better let Pastor Tim know your answer pretty soon," I said.

Ted sighed. "I just don't know."

"Hey, why don't we put out a fleece?" I suggested.

Ted frowned. "What kind of a fleece?"

"You know, something so out of the ordinary that if it happens, you'll know for sure that you're supposed to serve as president. Hey, I've got an idea. Let's tell God that if somebody walks down our driveway tonight and buys that old Datsun, then you'll know."

Ted laughed. "I guess we're safe on that one!"

"I'm serious. Let's pray."

About 9:30 that evening, Ted said, "I'd better call the pastor. I hate to let him down, but..."

Just then, the doorbell rang. Our teenage neighbor, Alex, and a friend of his greeted us. "Hi, Mrs. Genengels." He nodded politely. "Mr. Genengels."

"Hi, Alex, what's up?"

"Well, my friend here was wondering if you'd take fifty bucks for that Datsun."

We doubled over.

"What's so funny?" Alex asked.

"Are you sure you want that car?" Ted said.

His friend answered, "Yeah, it's perfect for the demolition derby. I've had my eye on it for awhile."

"You've got yourself a deal," Ted said before excusing himself. "I have to go call someone."

Ted served as congregational president for two years. Eventually, all the "classics" found new homes, and we got our yard back. Through it all, I've discovered that being the mother of grown sons has its own special challenges, but I wouldn't have it any other way.