воскресенье, 27 февраля 2011 г.

Finding Home

Chicken Soup for the Soul: Thanks Dad

BY: Diane Stark
Home is a shelter from storms -- all sorts of storms.
~William J. Bennett

There's an old adage that says, "You can never go home again." While I don't know the origins of the saying, I do believe it holds some truth. Leaving home changes you. It alters your perspective. It sometimes even changes the fundamentals of who you are.

When I was in college, I used to love going home for the weekend. I would visit with all of my old friends from high school, but hanging out with them seemed different. Like somehow we had all changed in that short period of time.

Halfway through my junior year, my parents sold the house I grew up in and moved to a different town. It was only thirty minutes from the old house, and truth be told, the new house was much nicer. But it still felt like I had lost a big part of my childhood. I could no longer lie on the bed in the room I'd slept in as a child or study at the desk where I'd learned to read. I couldn't look out my window and see the backyard swing set where my sister and I had pretended to be Mary Lou Retton. I couldn't go "home" anymore. I still went to visit my parents, and I still enjoyed the time with them. It just wasn't the same.

Four years later, my mom and dad split up after thirty years of marriage. It was devastating for all of us. My first child was just six days old when they told me they were getting a divorce. And that's when the real loss hit me. My newborn son would never know my mom and dad as I had known them. He would never go to Grandma and Grandpa's house for Christmas, but instead, he would visit one of them and then the other. I cried for what he would never have and for what the rest of us had lost.

We'd lost our sense of family and I felt I'd lost my center -- the last remnants of my home.

Just a few years later, my mom got remarried to a great guy named Doug. He was sweet to Mom and great with my kids. I liked him a lot, but he wasn't my dad. "Going home" now meant visiting Mom and her husband. That's how I thought of him. As my mother's husband.

That all changed the day that my own marriage fell apart. My husband called me on the phone and said those three little words no wife ever wants to hear.

"There's someone else."

I dialed Mom's number with shaking hands. How could this have happened? I thought over and over as I listened to the ring of the phone. Finally, someone picked up. But it wasn't Mom; it was her husband. The whole story tumbled out and Doug listened with patience and compassion. He promised to do whatever he could to help me in the coming months.

At that time, neither of us knew to what extent his promise would be tested. Within a few months, I could no longer afford the mortgage payment on my house, and my two children and I had no choice but to move in with my mom and Doug. As he unloaded box after box of stuffed animals, toys, and clothes, Doug just smiled and said, "My grandkids are moving in."

At first, it was strange living there. Before moving into their home, I had never spent more than a few hours at a time there -- or with Doug. Their house didn't feel like "home" for me. It was simply a roof over my children's heads.

But gradually, Doug's kindness made me feel comfortable. When he and Mom had dinner plans, he almost always invited the kids and me to join them. He never made me feel like I was intruding on their time or their space. He seemed to enjoy having us there. He called me "kiddo," like I was really his daughter. And more than once, he said he wished I were.

My children and I lived with my mom and Doug for almost five months. Although I hadn't grown up in their house, I grew tremendously during my time there. I cried a lot, but I had a big, strong shoulder to do it on. I struggled, but I didn't do it alone. And because of some wonderful listening ears and caring hearts, I began to heal.

During that time, I discovered that when you're deciding who your family is, biology is the last thing you should consider. Doug was no longer just my mother's husband. He'd become my second dad, and because of his kindness, their house became my second home.

You might not be able to go home again. But sometimes, if you're really lucky, you can find a new one.


The Saturday Treat

Chicken Soup for the Soul: Thanks Dad

BY: Sara F. Shacter
Perhaps the most important thing we ever give each other is our attention.
~Rachel Naomi Remen

Lollipops fanned out in a rainbow of colors. Gum so chock full of sugar that the crystals actually sparkled on the surface. Chocolate bars wrapped in shiny paper, reflecting the store's fluorescent lights.

And most important of all: my dad.

This is how I remember the Saturdays of my childhood. On that glorious day of the week, Dad took me out for our "Saturday treat." I could buy whatever I wanted, as long as it didn't cost more than a candy bar.

Though I had three siblings, my early "Saturday treat" memories feature just my dad and me. My older siblings had outgrown the tradition, and my younger brother was too little.

On our special day, Dad and I sometimes drove to the store. But in good weather, we would walk to our town's shopping district and chat along the way. Dad would point out interesting sights, like the ants on the sidewalk or a fallen tree branch. We'd stop at our halfway resting spot -- a short wall of cinderblocks, just the right size for a kindergartner to perch and dangle her legs.

Soon my younger brother was old enough for candy and began to join us on our trips.

And Saturdays changed.

My brother and I thrived on pestering one another. Dad became part referee, part chauffeur. My brother's predictable purchase -- a grape Charms lollipop -- made me roll my eyes. My goal became locating a more delectable item than his.

Time passed and I entered junior high. One Saturday afternoon, my younger brother and I sat under the television's spell. My dad popped into the room. "I'm going to run some errands," he said. "Anyone want a Saturday treat?"

We pulled our gazes from the flickering screen. "Yeah. Can you get me a grape Charms?" asked my brother.

"I'll take a Three Musketeers bar."

Dad waited. Neither of us budged. The features on his face shifted. Then he turned and left.

Soon after, the Saturday treat tradition ended.

In the rush of junior high, and then high school, I didn't mourn my lost candy bars. I had better things to do. Or so I thought.

Several years later, I teetered on the edge of adulthood. College loomed, only months away. My nerves jangled. Nostalgia washed over me at the slightest provocation. I'd catch sight of the green living room couch and feel compelled to appreciate it. All those stripes of different shades! How had I never noticed that before? I fell in love with every square inch of my house.

I tried not to think about leaving the people who dwelled inside.

On a spring Saturday, I found myself in the dining room with my dad. Just the two of us. I watched him as he read the paper.

How odd it felt, in the quiet stillness, just he and I.

Growing up in a house packed with people, I rarely had Dad to myself. In addition, Dad had a long commute to work, so he left bright and early. He arrived home for dinner, but shortly thereafter the younger children would be in bed, the older ones deep into their homework.

When did we ever have time to be with our dad?

And then it hit me: Saturday treats.

I sat up straight in my chair. "Hey Dad," I said. He looked up from the newspaper. "Want to go get a Saturday treat?"

He grinned. We headed out to the garage and grabbed our bicycles. Now that I was no longer a kindergartner with little stamina, we could hit the bike trail and head into the neighboring town for a yummy confection.

As we pedaled, we chatted. Well, actually, I did most of the chatting. Instead of anthills and fallen tree branches, I spoke of friends and school, hopes and fears.

Our tires whirred, our pedals clicked. Dad said little. But his silence was not passive. It hummed with energy. This, I realized, was how he had nurtured me for years. He was listening to every word I said.

One thought crystallized in my head that afternoon. I mattered. To my dad, I would always be someone worth listening to.

I don't remember getting to the store. I don't remember what I bought. But I do remember the peace and security I felt knowing that my dad would always be there for me -- whether next to me on his bicycle, cheering me on through college from across the country, or tucked safely inside my heart.

He cared. He loved me. Unconditionally.

What sweeter confection could there ever be?


суббота, 26 февраля 2011 г.

Grieving and Recovery

By Jo Anne Flaming

In a soulmate we find not company but a completed solitude.
~Robert Brault, www.robertbrault.com

Two simple, white boxes define my whole life. Four long years ago, these small items came through my front door, and still cause my breath to stop when I think back to their arrival.

There is a John Lennon song that says, "Life is what happens to you when you're busy making other plans." Just months before the unimaginable, we were on cloud nine.

After many years of hunting for our perfect home, the place of our dreams materialized for my husband Duane and me. We called it our Miracle House as it came into our lives the exact moment we needed it. We felt like teenagers, intoxicated at having a property that could be a retreat for friends, family, and occasional clients. It would house both our offices so we could work from home. Our postage stamp-sized piece of real estate was on a little jewel of a lake, so small it didn't have a name.

After we moved in, Duane often said, "We are simply the stewards watching over this place."
He didn't feel anyone could literally own something so magical. He carefully selected the right spot to place unique garden bells he'd made from recycled materials and proudly hung on a six-foot tall cedar frame. Their deep resonating range of sound would stop you in your tracks. The soft and tranquil sound blended with offerings of Mother Nature: Blue Heron, circles of carp, bull frogs and owls serenading one another across the water at night. Entertainment was at our back door. We were in awe that life on the edge of the city could be this good.The house itself overflowed with possibility, standing proudly over the water, a petite Titanic beginning its famous cruise. Looking through large French doors and windows, one viewed a long deck running the length of the house with various bird feeders hanging in large trees at its helm. A lower deck contained by wrought iron fencing to support the voyage to another world, lead to an even lower third tier with a small dock, just big enough for accessing a little boat on the water and further lounging. We joked we'd never leave this place; we'd have to be carried out, feet first on a stretcher.

Thanks to my husband, the vessel inside had 4,000 square feet of fresh paint, rich shades of butter, terra cotta, copper and turquoise in rooms begging to express themselves. The breathtaking views offered a glimpse into the sacred, watery otherworld. We filled spaces with farm tables, antiques, paintings, plants, hand-knotted rugs, books, music, and Duane's writing. Trays of candles, glass bowls of nature's offerings, vases of flowers graced the tables. The house was a work of art in comfort, colors, contrasts, and textures.

We shaped these spaces while honoring the kaleidoscopic views, working together as if joined at the hip. It was always hard to leave, even for errands. Completing this new place became our mission so we could expand our creative consulting offerings to the world, oblivious to what lay ahead.

Just six months after we moved in, unpacking almost complete, in the middle of a typical Saturday, life was normal one minute, but then with absolutely no warning, everything changed. The ship that was my life began to sink.

It was not really any different than the story of the Titanic, where people onboard were full of adventure and life. Suddenly the ship hit an iceberg. Bam! The party was over.

Our disaster happened on the kitchen floor, where my husband's head landed with an unbelievably hard thud on gleaming wood. He'd been making jokes just five minutes before. Then, he was in the kitchen starting dinner. He was never sick. This could not be happening.

Within ten minutes, the kitchen was turned into an emergency room. Paramedics were ripping off my husband's shirt as they performed mouth-to-mouth resuscitation, and using defibrillator paddles to restart his heart. I rushed, looking for his health insurance card thinking, "Thank God we have this." After minutes of unsuccessful resuscitations, my hands were shaking as I handed over the insurance card to the paramedic. The paramedic said, "That insurance card won't be necessary ma'am," as they carried him out to the ambulance on a stretcher. The next few days were a blur trying to figure out his funeral service. So much happened that I could only go through the motions.

Like the Titanic, my great voyage ended. Our life sank. Within 48 hours, he was cremated, and I was buried. Buried in the aftermath of not knowing where to turn, how to run a sinking ship, how to stay afloat while the one I cared about most was now gone. Later his precious, well-built body came back to me in a little white box draped in a burgundy velvet bag. That's all it was, one small, white linen box with his ashes in it.

Sometimes that's how life happens to you when you are busy making other plans.

After the funeral, the assistant funeral director dropped by our house. I had left prayer candles; he returned them in an identical white linen box.

"I have never before assisted in a funeral where it was so incredibly peaceful among family and friends, and I have been involved in this work for a long time. Believe me, what makes this business stressful is unpleasant tension and arguing during services," he said, as we stood outside on the upper deck. Then he looked out toward the little lake and said, "This sure is a special place and it feels so very peaceful here."

Duane's bell went off with a big gentle, deep chime as if his kind-hearted, appreciative spirit was present, saying "Thank you." It was that powerful "om" sound that vibrated through the day lily bed, put to rest for the winter, vibrated further out in waves through the microscopic world Duane loved.

Now, I believe he comes here in spirit, chiming garden bells, flickering house lights. Each chime reminds me to be in the present as I create visions vital to my own life. Numb while packing, I allow our relationship to continue its transformation, our dream and its glory. I say goodbye for now, saluting the mysteries of life, knowing timing is divine. Life could cease instantly, only to return in a simple, small white linen box that really takes no room in physical space, but encompasses the whole universe in my aching, yet trusting, heart.


The Power of Oatmeal

Chicken Soup for the Soul: Shaping the New You

BY: Sandra Stevens

The most indispensable ingredient of all good home cooking: love, for those you are cooking for.
~Sophia Loren

I don't want to blame my genes for not fitting into my jeans, but one thing my Italian mother taught me was how to eat. I was a chubby kid. Every day after school, my mother had a treat waiting for me: a slice of cheesecake, almond cookies or a plate of cannolis. I sipped my first cappuccino in third grade and found the taste bitter unless accompanied by a sweet. Then, I discovered the dynamic combination of taking one sip of coffee for every bite of pastry.

Sundays were the best. That's when we had our big spaghetti dinners, and to this day my mouth waters remembering the bounty of it all. Meatballs, sausages, antipasto, and rigatoni for a pasta backup if we ran out of spaghetti. There were so many people around laughing and talking, it was easy to lose track of how much you were eating. Not that you could get away with enjoying only one plate of food. If you refused a second portion of anything, my mother's response was, "What's the matter? You don't like my cooking?"

I naturally carried this high-calorie diet into adulthood, though I rarely bothered making marinara from scratch. I could never emulate my mother's sauce. Consuming lots of breads, pasta and desserts never struck me as strange or self-indulgent; it just felt like going home.

It wasn't until I hit my mid-30s that I realized something had to change. I had little energy and, because my sluggish body didn't want to do anything, it seemed life was passing me by.

When a friend suggested I start each day with oatmeal for breakfast, I said, "You've got to be kidding!" But this friend looked great and possessed boundless enthusiasm so I took her advice.

I'm not exaggerating when I say oatmeal is one of the few dieting choices I've made to significantly change the quality of my life. It's filling without being high in calories or fat.

I used to get so hungry between breakfast and lunch, reaching for yet another cup of coffee and its charming companion, the pastry. Now, I don't even think about food until lunchtime where I pass on the pasta dishes, knowing I'll want a nap afterward.

After a year of eating oatmeal for breakfast every morning, seven days a week, I lost over 15 pounds. I have more energy to do things, like take a walk after getting home from work instead of plopping down for a snooze.

My friends and co-workers have noted the positive results of good old-fashioned oatmeal. I will admit this fundamental fiber can get boring. Try sprinkling some raisins or shaved almonds in the pot. Top it off with vanilla-flavored soy milk that's high in calcium, low in sugar and you're in for one healthy breakfast treat!

There's only one person in my life who is wary of this new diet. Every time I visit my mom, she pats me on the cheek and asks, "Honey, are you getting enough to eat?" To put her at ease, I'll pull a package of biscotti from my purse. As I sit down at a table with her and dunk one of the family favorites, I don't feel I'm cheating on my diet. Every once in a while, I just need to go home.



Chicken Soup for the Soul: Grieving and Recovery

BY: Barbara Ann Carle

Instead of counting your days, make your days count.
~Author Unknown

"Mom, I have cancer." These four words catapulted my son and me on a journey that lasted two years. On that day I felt a wave of paralyzing fear.

Scott was the oldest of my four children. He was 33 years old and a successful assistant principal at Sam Rayburn High School in Pasadena, Texas. He and his wife Carolyn were busy raising four active children. Scott was 6' 2", weighed 200 pounds and had never been sick a day in his life.

A few months earlier a mole on his neck had changed color. "Dr. Warner called," Scott said that spring morning. "It's melanoma." I tried to reassure him, naming all the people I knew who had survived skin cancer. Yet, I felt small tentacles of fear begin to wrap around my chest.

Our next stop was MD Anderson, the famous cancer hospital in Houston. Scott had surgery at the end of May and was scheduled for radiation treatments over the summer recess. "There's an 80 percent chance it won't reoccur," the doctors said. At the end of the summer, all his tests came back negative and Scott was back at school in the fall.

However, in December, Scott discovered a lump on his neck. It was biopsied and the results came back "malignant." We now realized that Scott fell into the 20 percent category. I could feel the tentacles tightening around my chest. He entered the hospital for an aggressive treatment, a combination of interferon and interleukin.

After five months of treatment, he had radical surgery on his neck. The test results were encouraging, only three of the 33 lymph nodes removed were malignant. We were very hopeful.

For the next six months, Scott's follow-up visits went well. Then in October, X-rays revealed a spot on his lung. The spot was removed during surgery and the doctors tried to be optimistic. It was a daily battle to control the fear and panic each setback brought.

In January, he was diagnosed as having had a "disease explosion." The cancer had spread to his lungs, spine and liver and he was given three to six months to live. There were times during this period when I felt like I was having a heart attack. The bands constricting my chest made breathing difficult.

When you watch your child battle cancer, you experience a roller coaster of emotions. There are moments of hope and optimism but a bad test result or even an unusual pain can bring on dread and panic.

Scott was readmitted to the hospital for one last try with chemotherapy. He died, quite suddenly, just six weeks after his last diagnosis. I was devastated. I had counted on those last few months.

The next morning I was busy notifying people and making funeral arrangements. I remember having this nagging feeling that something was physically wrong with me. It took a moment to realize that the crushing sensation in my chest was gone. The thing every parent fears the most had happened. My son was gone. Of course, the fear had been replaced by unbearable sorrow.

After you lose a child, it is so difficult to go on. The most minimal tasks, combing your hair or taking a shower, become monumental. For months I just sat and stared into space. That spring, the trees began to bloom; flowers began to pop up in my garden. Friendswood was coming back to life but I was dead inside.

During those last weeks, Scott and I often spoke about life and death. Fragments of those conversations kept playing over and over in my mind.

"Don't let this ruin your life, Mom."

"Make sure Dad remodels his workshop."

"Please, take care of my family."

I remember wishing I could have just one more conversation with him. I knew what I would say, but what would Scott say? "I know how much you love me, Mom. So just sit on the couch and cry." No, I knew him better than that. Scott loved life and knew how precious it is. I could almost hear his voice saying, "Get up Mom. Get on with your life. It's too valuable to waste."

That was the day I began to move forward. I signed up for a cake decorating class. Soon I was making cakes for holidays and birthdays. My daughter-in-law told me about a writing class in Houston. I hadn't written in years, but since I was retired I decided it was time to start again. The local college advertised a Life Story Writing class that I joined. There I met women who had also lost their children. The Poet Laureate of Texas was scheduled to speak at our local Barnes & Noble. I attended and joined our local poetry society. I never dreamed that writing essays and poems about Scott could be so therapeutic. Several of those poems have even been published. In addition, each group brought more and more people into my life.

I don't believe you ever recover from the loss of a child. Scott is in my heart and mind every day. However, I do believe you can survive.

Scott fought so valiantly to live and he never gave up. He taught me that life is a gift that should be cherished, not squandered. It has taken years to become the person I am today. The journey has been a difficult, painful process but certainly worth the effort and I know that my son would be proud.


The Gratitude Journal

Chicken Soup for the Soul: Think Positive

BY: Nancy Baker

If you want to turn your life around, try thankfulness. It will change your life mightily.
~Gerald Good

Head down, I trudged around the walking path in the park. I did not want to be here. Actually, all I wanted was to climb back in bed and suffer. Depression can drain all of the zest for life out of you. The doctor had prescribed antidepressants and given me a number of suggestions to help me out of the doldrums. Exercise was one of them. My husband Ted had taken it to heart and practically pushed me out of the house toward the park.

Ted greeted me with a big grin as I plodded up the driveway. "How was it?"

I forced a smile. "Fine. I'm going to bed to rest."

"At least you can be thankful that you were able to take a walk in this beautiful weather," he called after me.

Yeah right, I thought. What have I got to be thankful for anyway? Beautiful weather? I hadn't even noticed. I sank into my bed, closed my eyes, and prayed for sleep, blessed relief. But it was not to be. Frustrated, I stared into space, trying not to think, when my eyes fell upon my long unused journal. On impulse, I picked it up and wrote at the top of the page: "What do I have to be thankful for?" Nothing came.

"Oh, for Pete's sake!" I muttered. Writing so forcefully that I almost tore the paper, I scribbled, "I am grateful that I have a roof over my head, food to eat, and clothes to wear!"

"There!" I slammed the journal shut.

Day after day, Ted encouraged me to walk. Mostly I did, just to please him or on some days, just to get him off my back. Sometimes, I'd take a shortcut through the woods. But I did walk. And surprisingly enough, I also wrote. It became my habit to pick up the journal when I came home from my walk. At first, I recorded the biggest, broadest things I could think of, much like my first reluctant try. I was grateful for my husband, my family, my friends. But as time went on, I became more particular. I was grateful for Ted rubbing my back and the call I received from Linda to check on me.

I amazed myself when I began to look for things to be thankful for, things to chronicle in my journal. I saw a tiny yellow flower trying to survive in the heat. It was so delicate. Into my journal went the yellow flower, along with a brief note to God about how good he was to sustain such a small bit of beauty. A crepe myrtle tree had two different color blooms. It was a lovely combination. So, pink and purple blooms became part of the journal. The more I walked, the more I wrote. The more I wrote, the more I found to be thankful for. The more thankful I became, the more my depression and self-immersion lifted.

I noticed that after a while my discovery of things to be thankful for extended beyond my walk. Like the man whose grocery cart was stacked to overflowing who let me in line ahead of him. Or, the woman who noticed my checkbook had fallen out of my purse and chased me down to return it. Grocery store heroes and heroines were recorded also. This made me more aware of things I could do to be helpful to others. Maybe I could be an item in a gratitude journal.

I began to mutter little "thank you's" through the day. Thanks, Lord, for letting me find that jar of pickles I need for my new recipe. The pickles went into the journal. Thank you, God, for letting me see that kid on his bicycle. What a tragedy it would have been if I had hit him. Of course, this one made the journal.

The words "thank you" came easily. I found myself thanking people for things that I had previously taken for granted. There was the nurse that took extra care to straighten out my bedding when I was hospitalized and the dog walker who always waited while I crossed the bridge. Once I tried to write down all the things I had said "thank you" for during the day. I was overwhelmed that there were so many and I'm sure I didn't remember them all.

One morning, taking the short cut through the woods, I was brought to a hasty stop. There before me, standing in a pool of filtered, dusty sunshine was a fawn, no bigger than my Golden Retriever. Tiny white spots dotted her coat and ears that looked way too big for her perked high at my appearance. We observed each other for quite some time, and then she skipped off, searching for Mom, I'm sure. It was just too beautiful, mystical even. Tears came to my eyes and I sat down right there and gave thanks for this gift God had granted me. Needless to say, I went home and documented this marvelous event in my journal.

Thus, began my gratitude journals. I have a whole box full of them now. I literally count my blessings each day by writing them down. I look for them. I'm always watching out for the amazing surprises God has in store for me. If I ever doubt that I have anything to be grateful for, all I have to do is flip open a journal to see the countless blessings God has bestowed on me. My perspective has become optimistic and anticipatory, very unlike the droopy person that once couldn't think of anything for which to be thankful. Now, one of my frequent entries is "Thank you, Lord, for the gift of gratitude."


Never Lose Hope

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Count Your Blessings
By Carly Collins
The only disability in life is a bad attitude.
~Scott Hamilton

From a young age, I was intelligent and athletic and lived a pretty easy life, with my future full of trophies and awards. I met my true destiny at the age of thirteen as I lay on a soccer field, clinging desperately to my last shards of consciousness. Finally, I let go and tumbled into a world of darkness, leaving behind pandemonium as people struggled to help an unconscious girl who, just hours ago, had been perfectly healthy. Maybe if someone had warned me how drastically this was going to change my life I would've clung to my consciousness and made a miraculous recovery.

Three months later I was still spending most of my time in bed. I was in eighth grade at the time, and still had not returned to school. Most of my friends had become distant and doctors did not know what was wrong with me. Every day became more and more frustrating.

Eventually I returned to school on a part-time basis. Instead of getting the sympathy I expected, I received dirty looks and harsh rumors about how it was "all in my head." Things that were once easy for me became extremely difficult or altogether impossible. I could never concentrate on my schoolwork and the sports I'd once excelled at were completely out of the picture.

Somehow, I made it through the year and moved on to high school. Since my dreams of being a soccer and cross country star were ruined, I joined the drumline instead. I passed out at nearly every band practice and people were constantly complaining about always having to take care of me. Some people even tried to get me kicked off drumline. Luckily the band director stuck by my side. I think she knew how desperately I needed somewhere to belong. Still, I continued to be bullied and labeled as an "attention-seeker." I was even abandoned by the few friends I had left.

As I struggled through my health problems and loneliness I kept promising myself that things would get better, and eventually they did. I made friends with a few members of the drumline and even developed a crush on one of them. In my PE class I met a few nice girls who were on flagline, another section of the band. By the end of the year they convinced me to try out for flagline, and I made it! My crush also asked me out.

In my sophomore year, things began looking up. Most of the flagline girls understood that my sickness was real and they took good care of me whenever I passed out. My new boyfriend also helped care for me. Finally, I had an understanding group of friends and a boyfriend who loved and supported me through everything. Unfortunately, my struggle still wasn't over. In October, my health began deteriorating and I developed severe throat pain and lost my voice. Once again, I spent most of my time in bed and couldn't attend school, but this time I had friends to help me through it. In December, I still wasn't better and my doctor decided to send me to the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota in hopes that the doctors there would be able to solve the case that had puzzled every other doctor I'd seen.

After a week of testing, the Mayo doctors diagnosed me with a problem called POTS, postural orthostatic tachycardia syndrome. They were certain that the fatigue, headaches, passing out, brain fog (trouble concentrating), and other problems I'd been suffering from were not "in my head" and that I'd outgrow the sickness within a few years. They also determined that my throat pain and voice problem were caused by an inflamed nerve, which could be treated with medication.

It has been three months since my return from Mayo and my voice has made a full recovery. Although I still suffer from the many painful symptoms of POTS, I am extremely grateful to finally have a name for my illness. If it hadn't been for my family's perseverance in finding a doctor who could diagnose me, I'd still be wondering if my problem really was "in my head."

In the end, I'm glad that no one warned me what would happen if I let go of my consciousness. I may have lost the easy life of trophies and popularity that I used to have but right now I'm still happier than I've ever been before. I have new friends and an amazing boyfriend whom I never would have met if I hadn't been forced to quit sports and join band instead. I understand now that no one can be perfect, no matter how hard they try, and that strength isn't measured by how far we can run or how many pounds we can lift but instead by how we handle ourselves in the face of adversity. And, most importantly, I've learned to never lose hope because perseverance can get you through any situation, no matter how impossible it may seem.


New Dresses

Chicken Soup for the Soul: Thanks Mom

BY: Stacia Marie Erckenbrack
Your children need your presence more than your presents.
~Jesse Jackson

Although I knew we were not wealthy as a child, I didn't know we were "poor." I always had everything I needed and wanted, including fancy dresses. But according to my mother, I did not have enough dresses. I can still remember so vividly going to KMart to look at them -- the beautiful dresses. When my mother said that we would be doing this, I knew it meant that I would soon be performing as a model, trying on new dresses for an eager audience of one -- Mom.

I also knew that I would be going home with a new outfit. I always held my mother's hand in the parking lot and through the store. She would lead me to the fitting rooms in the rear, and as I marveled at all the lights and displays of items available for purchase, she would scour the store for anything and everything she wanted me to try on. She could examine sizes, styles and prices and still know exactly what I was doing. It amazed me how she seemed to know when I was about to be tempted to dive under the clothes racks or wander away.

Once her load of dresses was ready for me to model, the dressing room lady would set me up in my own room to begin the show. After each fitting, my mom would rush up with a new dress and maybe a coordinating hat. The look in her eyes is still etched in my memory -- an eager, loving look that said, "Yes, this one may be better than the last." She'd say, "Baby, try on just one more," and then, when I walked out of the dressing room, she would put her hand over her mouth in awe, and smile.

Sometimes, during this process, I would look up at her and see a sort of yearning. It was a painful look. It was almost like she'd give up any of her things just to buy me one more pretty dress. But even more than that, she had a look of pure love and joy. She wanted so much to give to her little girl everything she needed and wanted, but what she didn't know was that her little girl already had everything she needed and wanted -- her mom.


вторник, 22 февраля 2011 г.

Kevin Harvick's Gift of Caring

Chicken Soup for the Soul: NASCAR

BY: Amy Clipston
After a year of suffering on dialysis, my husband, Joe, underwent his first kidney transplant at the age of 32.

When the transplant date was set in stone, I set out to find something special to give him as a get-well gift. Since both of us are diehard NASCAR fans, I considered purchasing a special addition for our collection. However, I wanted something more personal than just another die-cast car or T-shirt.

On a whim, I e-mailed our favorite NASCAR drivers' fan clubs, asking them to send Joe something -- a note, a card, or even an e-mail -- encouraging him to get well after his surgery.

Within a week, a large manila envelope arrived from Kernersville, North Carolina. I gasped when I read the name on the return address -- KHI. Kevin Harvick Incorporated!

Bursting with excitement, I tore the envelope open and pulled out an oversized postcard featuring the famous No. 29 Chevrolet and its driver, with a personalized note saying, "Get Well Soon. Kevin Harvick."

My heart swelled with awe, appreciation, and joy. I had expected a form letter from the fan club wishing my husband well, and instead I had received a personalized note from the superstar driver. The sentiment meant more than words could express. It was a dream come true!

Impatient by nature, I yearned to give the postcard to my husband immediately. However, I knew it would be a treasured gift for him after the transplant. I shared the card with family members, swearing them to secrecy. Then I hid it, planning to present it to Joe when he arrived home from the hospital.

On March 29, 2004, Joe received a kidney from his younger brother, Jason. The procedure went as expected, and within hours of the surgery, the kidney was working and Joe's skin tone transformed from a yellowish hue to a warm pink. It was a miracle! Joe was going to start a new life, free of dialysis.

Jason struggled with the painkillers during the first 24 hours of his recovery. However, Joe's recovery began in a typical fashion until three days later, when he hit a roadblock. He had contracted a staph infection during surgery.

What transpired next was worse than the transplant.

Joe endured a more painful surgery than the transplant. After the procedure, his mood became glummer due to lack of relief from the excruciating pain.

To make matters worse, we were informed that he couldn't go home when he'd originally planned. More than anything, Joe wanted to continue his recovery in our bed, surrounded by our family, including our 3-year-old son, our spoiled rotten cats, and me.

When I heard the news that Joe wasn't coming home for at least another week, I knew I needed to do something to cheer him up. Before I left for the hospital that day, I grabbed the large manila envelope containing the precious postcard.

Upon my arrival at the hospital, I found Joe propped up in a chair, frowning. His eyes reflected the depression that had settled into his soul due to his pain level, and not being able to pack up and come home with me. I pulled the envelope from my bag and handed it to him, telling him it was a special surprise.

I'll never forget his expression when he pulled out that card. Not only did his eyes widen in shock, but they also filled with tears.

Joe asked me how on earth I'd gotten Kevin Harvick to send him a card, and I grinned, stating that I owed it all to Kevin's wife, DeLana, since I'd e-mailed her, along with Kevin's webmaster and fan club president. I explained my plan to find him a very special get-well gift and that Kevin took the gift to the next level -- a precious treasure we'd always cherish.

Shaking his head, Joe was stunned and overwhelmed. He couldn't believe someone as famous as Kevin Harvick would take the time to send him a card. Holding that card in his hand gave Joe a renewed sense of hope that everything would be OK.

The staph infection lengthened Joe's hospital stay by 10 days and added a team of infectious disease doctors to the white coats marching in and out of his room.

Joe's recovery at home was also extended due to the infection. An in-home care nurse tended to his incision for several weeks, and he was unable to work for a few months. However, he made a full recovery. With his new kidney, he was strong and healthy.

Joe was back to his old self, and we enjoyed traveling to many NASCAR races. We frequented Dover International Speedway and Richmond International Raceway. Our admiration for Kevin Harvick grew, and his signed postcard hung framed with our collection of NASCAR die-casts.

Our lives have changed since Joe received his kidney from his brother in 2004. We welcomed a second baby boy into our family in March 2005, and we moved from Virginia to North Carolina in 2006. The postcard from Kevin Harvick is still framed and displayed in a place of honor between two of our NASCAR die-cast collectible cases in our boys' playroom.

In 2008, we discovered that Joe's transplanted kidney had failed. His health deteriorated quickly, and he is back on dialysis and awaiting a second transplant.

While our lives took an unexpected turn with Joe's health, I do know one thing for sure -- there are special people in this world, like Kevin Harvick, who will go that extra mile and take a few minutes to brighten someone's day.

Each time I see Kevin Harvick in an interview on television, on the Internet, or in a magazine, I smile and remember how his simple postcard took my husband from dark, suffocating despair to a bright glimmer of hope. Someday I'll get a chance to meet him and thank him for giving my husband hope during one of the darkest moments of his life.

Until that day comes, I'll continue to root for Kevin from afar.


суббота, 19 февраля 2011 г.

Give 'em the Knuckles

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Runners
By Tim Brewster
It's a great feeling when someone like Bernard Hinault comes up to you
on the podium to say "Welcome to the club."
~Lance Armstrong

Remember that scene from Forrest Gump when he's trying to find a seat on the bus and at each row someone says "seat's taken" or "you can't sit here." It's a pretty extreme example of how not to treat an outsider, but it is probably still pretty uncomfortable to watch for just about everyone, because we've all been there. Maybe we haven't been openly rejected like that, but certainly we've been in that spot where you're new to a club or a town or a group or something, and unless you're completely cold-blooded, you've always got at least a little desire to fit in somewhere, find where you belong. Sometimes we don't make the effort with the new guy because we don't have the time or energy to do the whole "welcome to the club, my name is so-and-so, did you find everything alright...." But it doesn't have to be that formal.

We learned that when we joined Juventus, our current bike club. We were new, nervous, excited about taking a chance at leaving the comfort of our old club. There were elite athletes around; people who knew real racing, how to dress, what to ride, how to win. We were just recreational riders and it was intimidating at first.

Now, right from the start we got a lot of help. We were fully welcomed by the established riders and coaches. I remember getting advice from one of the fastest racers around right before a big race, even though he had to prepare for his own race and take care of the rest of the team, and it meant a lot. Another coach invited us to train with the juniors when it fit our schedule better, even though he was busy getting the kids going. All of these gestures made a huge difference for us, but one really stuck out for us because it was at the very beginning, even though it was something pretty small.

At training in the winter, in the very beginning, there was always this one fast guy who trained with the elites. He knew everyone and was part of the main group. After each hard workout, he'd saunter over to his buddies and stick out his fist and they'd clank their knuckles on his, as if to say, "nice work." They "got the knuckles" is what we started calling it. Now, I don't need someone else's approval to feel good: I get what I want out of things, and we didn't view him as some sort of hero or anything, just a fast dude in the club, but we couldn't help wondering if we'd ever be part of the group like that.

Then one day, my wife came home from the workout. It had been a hard one and she was spent. She hadn't felt very strong and she might normally have been a bit down, but she was pumped. She was grinning from ear to ear. "So how'd it go?" I asked.

Then one night I got them. No grand gesture, no formal welcome, not even a word or anything. Just suddenly one night the fist was pointed at me. It made my week.

We joked about how "getting the knuckles" was some sort of secret handshake at the club and it was the only way to know you were in. We have a friend new to riding and she joined us at the club. Last week my wife came home and said, "Shauna's pretty excited; she got the knuckles tonight."

It really showed us how it doesn't take a lot of time or a big formal effort to make someone's day. So maybe next time you see someone new, maybe the new guy at work, or the new guy at your club, you don't have to take a lot of time to make them feel welcome.

Just go over and give 'em the knuckles.


Driving Lessons

Chicken Soup for the Soul: Family Matters

BY: Arthur Wiknik, Jr.
Giving your son a skill is better than giving him one thousand pieces of gold.
~Chinese Proverb

The severe winter storms we remember from our childhood always seem to be noted for wild tales of ten-feet-deep snowdrifts and families trapped in their homes for a week at a time. Just how often that occurred in southern New England is purely speculative, but during the 1950s my family sometimes waited a day or two before the snowplow showed up.

We lived in the last house on a mile-long dead-end road that crisscrossed the town line. Every time there was a major snowstorm, the adjacent towns squabbled over whose turn it was to plow. As a youngster, I didn't care if we ever got plowed out, but my father wasn't so accommodating. He'd get angry and phone in a complaint even before it stopped snowing. That tactic sometimes worked, but at a price. The snowplow drivers usually did a lousy job, leaving the travel lane too narrow for oncoming vehicles to pass each other. This new problem only further annoyed my father.

To ease his frustrations, Dad took it upon himself to widen the travel lane by flattening the snow banks with his pickup truck. Driving at thirty miles per hour on the wrong side of the road, he'd skillfully gouge a tire path through the windrow until the truck lost momentum or a hapless motorist coming the other way ran into a ditch. The few times he got stuck were rationalized as a small price to pay for making the road passable.

One afternoon, Dad drove into a snow bank with a little more aggression than usual and flipped the truck onto its side. Dad wasn't hurt and the vehicle suffered only minor damage, but it cost him twenty dollars to borrow a neighbor's tractor to right the truck.

My father refused to believe that he was at fault for the accident. After all, he had been knocking down snow banks for years and considered himself somewhat of an expert.

Determined to find the cause, he reconstructed the mishap by driving through the same snow bank again. Everything seemed normal for the first fifty feet (whatever "normal" is for people who drive through snow banks). Then the front wheel hit a solid object, sending the truck airborne and then, once again, flipping it onto its side.

Unhurt, Dad climbed out of the wreck and began digging in the snow to find what the truck had hit. It was the stump of an oak tree that he himself had cut down a few months earlier because he thought it was growing too close to the road.

Word spread fast about Dad's driving escapades, and everyone joked that flipping a truck over twice in one day in the same spot had to be some kind of a record.

When it was time for me to learn how to drive, my father didn't want me wasting money on a formal driver's training course. Instead, he taught me. Naturally, I mastered most of his vast driving skills, especially how to knock down snow banks.

Several years later, while transporting a pickup load of firewood, I was confidently plowing through snow banks as if I were in command of an Army tank. I was doing fine until the front wheel hooked on a buried chunk of ice and spun the steering wheel out of my hands. The truck slid sideways and flipped over, scattering firewood into the middle of the road. I was a little shook up, but not hurt.

After composing myself, I began to clear the wood off the road before I caused a real accident. Two friendly men stopped to offer assistance, which I gratefully accepted. They continued to move the wood while I went to the nearest house to call for a wrecker to right my truck. I left the scene for no more than ten minutes. When I returned, the two men were gone -- and so was all my firewood.

I quit knocking down snow banks after that.


When Health Fails, Paint Nails

From Chicken Soup for the Soul:Think Positive
By Shawn Marie Mann

Your attitude is like a box of crayons that color your world. Constantly color your picture gray, and your picture will always be bleak. Try adding some bright colors to the picture by including humor, and your picture begins to lighten up.
~Allen Klein

Over and over again I heard from people that I was just too young to have diverticulosis. I was in my mid-thirties, but I did indeed have it and I had a very bad case too, one that required surgery.

I had rarely been sick in my life so the idea of being in the hospital and spending hours on an operating table and then days in recovery frightened me. I liked knowing what was going to happen; I liked being in control. There was nothing I could do to control this disease or the treatment I had to undergo to be healthy again. I just had to trust that things would go well. The alternative was unthinkable.

A few days before the surgery, I was in the bathroom picking out the things I would need to take with me to the hospital. I knew showers would be out for a while so I packed ponytail holders and barrettes to keep my hair off my face. As I rummaged in the drawer for a few extra barrettes, I saw a bottle of rosy pink nail polish.

The color of the nail polish reminded me of climbing roses my mother used to have in her yard. I knew following the surgery I would be bedridden for a few days while my incisions healed and that it would be a long time before I could bend again to touch my toes to paint them.

Putting my packing aside, I set to work on a first-class pedicure for myself. If I was going to be staring at my toes for days on end, I wanted them to look good. Even though the inside of me looked bad, at least I could have pretty feet. I took great care to do a neat job and when I was finished I had to give myself credit -- my toes looked wonderful.

The morning of the surgery, as I lay on the gurney in the hallway next to the operating room, my father stood beside me looking nervous and scared. Carefully, so as not to bump the new IV in my hand, I pulled back the sheet covering my feet and said, "Look Dad, I painted my toenails."

He was surprised and said, "I never knew you had such pretty feet" and he began to point my toes out to every person who came to check on me. Nurses, surgeons, anesthesiologists -- and even one man sweeping the hallway -- all got to see my rosy pink toenails as my dad tried to take the edge off the fear we both had by focusing on my toes and not the surgery.

It worked. We were laughing and not thinking about what was going to happen to me. When they finally came to take me into the operating room my dad no longer looked nervous or scared; he was smiling. The last thing I remember before the anesthesia took me under was my surgeon saying how great my pedicure was and asking whether I would do her toes when I got better.

The surgery went well, though it took longer than they expected, and soon I was in recovery coming out of the anesthesia. I was still a little groggy, but understood the nurse as she uncovered my toes and said, "Can't cover up those pretty pink nails." It made me smile. My toes and I had made it through.

All those long days of recovery, my pink toenails continued to delight the hospital staff and the people who visited me. It was one small thing that shined a positive light on an otherwise painful experience.

If I ever face a hospital stay again, you can be sure I'm going to round up a bottle of bright pink nail polish... or maybe I'll try red next time.


вторник, 15 февраля 2011 г.

The Sign

Chicken Soup for the Soul: Grieving and Recovery

BY: Lisa Naeger Shea
The angels are always near to those who are grieving, to whisper to them that their loved ones are safe in the hand of God.
~The Angels' Little Instruction Book by Eileen Elias Freeman

Valentine's Day was always special in our house. Dad would return from work bearing an armload of sweetheart roses for Mom and a small box of chocolates for me. My younger brothers, who thought the flowers-and-candy ritual was too mushy to bear, managed to find delight in whatever heart-shaped bakery goods Mom provided. After dinner we would sit on the family room floor, shaking a flurry of dime-store valentines from hand-decorated boxes we'd fashioned at school. We ran our hands through the piles, searching for cards with sweets attached. Only after the candy hearts and foiled chocolates had been retrieved would we bother to read our classmates' sentiments. Our rituals were simple and predictable. We took comfort in that.

Even after my brothers and I grew up and began our own families and traditions, Mom could count on those street-vendor roses, still wrapped in damp newspaper. They weren't as fancy as the floral shop variety, but they were hand-delivered by the man of her dreams. None of us, in our comfortable little world, could have predicted that Dad would be only 56 years old when he brought home his last bunch of roses. Cancer took him swiftly and left our family with a few short months to say our goodbyes. In that time, Mom begged Dad to send a sign once he was "settled in" and watching over us. He promised he would.

Nearly three years passed and Mom watched diligently for something. Nothing came. Nothing, anyway, that prompted her to confidently say, "Now that's a sign!" There had been a Thanksgiving evening when she stood washing dishes and felt the weight of a hand on her shoulder so surely that she had turned around to see who it was. She briefly played with the idea that it was Dad, but convinced herself it was probably her imagination. "Holidays are the hardest," she often confided to me. "That's when I feel most alone."

If holidays were hard, I imagined, Valentine's Day must be the hardest. My brothers must have felt the same way because we all tried our best to distract Mom with gifts, cards and restaurant meals. Nothing ever felt adequate. Last year, Mom insisted we enjoy Valentine's Day with our own families. She spent the afternoon shopping with her sister, who had also lost her husband at a young age. The two chose a simple diner for their evening meal, one that wasn't likely to be filled with couples on the most romantic day of the year.

Over meatloaf and country fried steak, the two widows playfully badmouthed their late husbands for leaving them alone. They suspected perhaps the men were having so much fun in the afterlife that they had forgotten about the women who still missed them very much. Lost in their commiseration, they didn't notice a stranger who quietly approached their table. The gentleman gave six roses to each of them, then mysteriously walked out of the restaurant.

"Red roses," marveled my aunt. "Herm always gave me red roses."

"They must know we're mad at them," Mom joked. But they were both washed with an inner calm that had for so long eluded them. The flowers were, it must be told, pathetically wilted. "Oh, well," laughed Mom. "Dead roses from dead husbands. It seems rather appropriate." The next morning, Mom took the roses to the cemetery and put them on Dad's grave. She thanked him for the long-awaited sign.

Holidays are still hard. But thanks to a miracle delivered by a Valentine's angel, we believe that Dad is okay and watching over us. And that makes every day a little easier.


Spirit in the Classroom

Chicken Soup for the Soul: A Book of Miracles

BY: Kristy Duggan
There is nothing on earth worth being known, but God and our own souls.
~Gamaliel Bailey

"Those things never really happen," said Michael, sitting in the front row of my eighth-grade classroom. I had just read a story from Chicken Soup for the Soul about a teenager who dropped his books while walking home from school one day. He was planning to commit suicide. However, because another boy stopped to help him pick up his books, his mind was changed and he went on to be successful in high school and beyond.

My students had listened quietly while I was reading. I was surprised to hear Michael's voice filled with so much doubt.

I defended the story, saying, "Chicken Soup for the Soul is a book series telling only true stories that happen to ordinary people. Actually, I have a personal story of a similar event that could be in a Chicken Soup for the Soul book."

I don't know why I said that; I didn't want to tell my personal story. It was so unbelievable that most non-Christians would think I was crazy.

However, the class begged to hear about my experience. Even Michael seemed interested. Looking at the clock, I decided that there was just enough time before the bell rang. Starting slowly, choosing the words to my religious story very carefully, I shared:

"I attended a church youth group on Wednesday nights when I was in high school. One night while I was sitting on the floor in the audience listening to the youth pastor, I heard a voice in my head. It kept saying, 'Go take the microphone. I have something for you to say.' I argued with the voice in my head, looking around to see if anyone else was hearing things.

"The voice reassured me, 'Go up on stage. Tell the man that you need the microphone. I will give you the words.' I argued some more, seriously beginning to worry that I had lost my mind.

"However, I found myself on the small stage, interrupting the pastor who was just about to dismiss the group to play games. He gave me the microphone and I stood facing the audience of about sixty teenagers, my peers.

"I don't know where the words came from but I heard myself saying, 'Someone here tonight is planning to commit suicide. The Lord has asked me to come up here and tell you not to do it. He has a plan for you and loves you. Tell someone how you feel.'

 "I sat down fast and was in shock at what I had done. Now, the story could end here, with my friends looking at me oddly, but it doesn't. A couple of months later, my mom bumped into a woman from the church, an acquaintance of hers. They exchanged pleasantries and then the woman told my mom a story about her daughter. She had been planning to commit suicide but didn't. She arrived home one night after youth group and told her mom what she was thinking about doing and what I had said that night."

Looking around, I noticed that my students were very quiet as they listened to me reminisce. I smiled. "I have shared this story with only a few people. It still gives me goose bumps to think about it."

As I took a deep breath and wondered if I had said too much in a public school, the classroom radio popped on, loudly playing the song "Spirit in the Sky." No one was near the radio.

The whole class sat in awed silence for several moments. Everyone looked around a bit dazed, listening to the Spirit in the sky... and our classroom.


воскресенье, 13 февраля 2011 г.

For Taking a Stand, Take a Seat

Chicken Soup for the Soul: Inside Basketball

BY: By Donn Nelson, Executive, Dallas Mavericks
Courage is not the absence of fear, but the mastery of it.
~Mark Twain

Dallas Mavericks season ticket holder, Neal Hawks, has an eye for great real estate deals. He is also on the lookout for ways that he can encourage seriously wounded soldiers who have returned from Iraq and Afghanistan. That's why he came up with the idea of "Seats for Soldiers."

"These men and women have put their lives on the line so that we can enjoy the lives and freedoms we have here. Many of them have returned to the United States as amputees and burn victims. This is just one way to say 'thank you'," explains Hawks. In 2004, Hawks read an article about returning soldiers who needed surgery and rehabilitation. Not only did he donate his eight front row seats, he even paid the airfare for the veterans to be flown from San Antonio's Brooks Army Medical Center. Then Hawks enlarged his vision. He did missionary work to bring other courtside season ticket holders on board.

Mavericks' owner, Mark Cuban, who donates his five courtside seats for Seats for Soldiers Night, is ecstatic about this show of community support. At the most recent fête, 145 courtside seats were filled with soldiers. "Seats for Soldiers has been a true source of pride for the Dallas Mavericks and the community. We should never take our freedoms for granted and must remember that there is a cost. Heroes such as these defend our abilities to enjoy our lives," Cuban notes.

American Airlines now donates the flights from San Antonio to Dallas. Abacus, a Dallas restaurant, donates pre-game dinners to the soldiers. At game time, the guests of honor receive a standing ovation from 20,000 appreciative fans.

Seats for Soldiers is a special salute to those who have served. It's our way of saying thank you to our country's true heroes.


Partners in Craving

Chicken Soup for the Soul: Shaping the New You

BY: Felice Prager
Food is our common ground, a universal experience.
~James Beard

In the early days of our low-carb diet, my husband and I sat on the couch, and as if we were reading romantic love poems to each other, we recited how many carbohydrates our favorite foods had. For Valentine's Day, we had purchased pocket-sized editions of Dr. Atkins' Carbohydrate Gram Counters for each other instead of candy, so that we could remain loyal to each other and to the lifestyle, and not get fat again.

"Two tablespoons of cream cheese with chives and onions have only two net carbs," I said, "and they also have two grams of protein."

"That's a good one," my husband replied, "but what are we going to do? Lick it off our fingers?"

"We can have it on celery!" I said, with false enthusiasm.

We went back to our side-by-side net carb browsing and dreaming.

"Pesto sauce!" my husband said, "There are only 1.2 net carbs in two tablespoons of pesto sauce, and it has 5.6 grams of protein!" I knew his mind was where mine was, inhaling the memories of Pasta Pesto from our favorite Italian restaurant, a dish that went perfectly with their garlic bread. We hadn't been to that restaurant for many months because there were too many temptations, even though both of us admitted to dreaming about lapping up the last few drops of pesto sauce with a wedge of garlic bread.

"We can't put pesto sauce on celery," I sulked.

"Yeah, but we can put it on a steak!" my husband, the barbecue maven, said.

"That actually sounds good," I said. "But I need it on something that crunches. Like focaccia or Italian bread."

Having seen success losing weight on this diet, neither of us wanted to spoil a good thing. My husband had lost 30 pounds and was nearing his perfect weight. I had lost 60 pounds, and I now weighed less than my husband for the first time in 20 years, since before my first pregnancy. I had about 25 pounds to go to reach my ideal weight.

But nonetheless, we have our cravings.

Some couples discuss politics, the effect of El Niño, or their children. When my husband and I are relaxing, we talk about the foods we would eat if they were good for us and we did not have the tendency to gain weight. We often discuss Dairy Queen hot fudge sundaes, the smell of homemade bread baking in the oven, apple pie à la mode, and potato chips. We also discuss hot pretzels, baked potatoes with gobs of butter and sour cream, and eating Thanksgiving stuffing as a main course. But mostly, we discuss things that crunch.

My husband has even begun cooking things on the grill a bit too long so that they are charred. "You cooked the steak too long," I say.

"Yeah, but it crunches!" he replies.