вторник, 26 апреля 2011 г.

For Richer, For Poorer

Chicken Soup for the Soul: Count Your Blessings

BY: Mandy Houk

Nobody has ever measured, even poets, how much a heart can hold.
~Zelda Fitzgerald

I stood alone in the dairy section and stared at the price tags on gallons of milk. I blinked, swiped at the tear that trickled down my cheek, and snatched up a gallon marked "manager's special." I ducked my head as I pushed my cart away, not wanting other shoppers to read the distress on my face.

With both my husband and me out of work, our family was living entirely on the remains of our checking account. I knew that things would be infinitely worse without that bit of padding, but it was still hard to watch the numbers get smaller with each bank statement. Particularly with no job prospects on the horizon. So even the $1.59 for the gallon of nearly-expired milk felt like an enormous expense to me. I had no idea when, or if, we could replace that $1.59 with income.

Our fourteenth anniversary was a few days away, but I was having a hard time even thinking about that. I knew it would not be like any of our previous thirteen anniversaries.

The day after our wedding, we drove to a lovely bed and breakfast for our honeymoon. In the parlor that evening, over wine and cheese, we met three wonderful older couples. All three were celebrating anniversaries: twenty years, thirty-five years, and forty-eight years. When they asked us how long we'd been married, we giggled. "One day," Pete answered. After congratulations had been shared all around, we were showered with advice. I don't recall most of it, but Pete and I took it to heart when the couples agreed that we ought to make our anniversary a real occasion every single year. They had all found that going away as a couple, for a week or for just one night, had made a difference in their marriages.

And for the past thirteen years, we had followed that advice. On anniversaries three and six, with tiny babies at home, we chose to go out for an especially nice meal instead. We took this promise seriously enough to work it into our budget every year, setting aside a bit of money each month to pay for our special anniversary celebration.

This year, I knew it would not happen. It could not happen. All of our money had to go toward food and housing. I was forgoing haircuts, eating my meals just shy of being satisfied -- not to save on calories but on pennies. Surely I couldn't mourn an extravagance like a night at a hotel. But I did.

I desperately wanted to hide my sadness from Pete. He was discouraged enough by the mere fact of his unemployment. So I didn't even talk about our upcoming anniversary, because I didn't know how to bring it up without the conversation turning toward our traditional celebration.

But he knew. I could see it in the way that he looked at me, the tenderness in the way he kissed my forehead. As the days passed and we came closer and closer to our anniversary, his face seemed to grow darker. Not in anger, but in thought. Determination.

The morning of our anniversary, I awoke after Pete. I pushed myself out of our empty bed and shuffled into the bathroom to wash my face. And then I stopped. In the middle of the bathroom counter, there was a small scroll of sorts. White, narrow, tied with a shiny red satin ribbon that I recognized from our daughters' hair bow box. As I picked it up and pulled at the end of the bow, my fingers shook. As I unrolled the paper, what I saw brought tears to my eyes -- tears totally unlike the ones I'd shed at the dairy case. Pete had typed out a love poem from a book he'd given me for my birthday the year before.

So many images came into my mind as I read and re-read those words. I saw Pete thumbing through the book, reading all those poems until he found the perfect one. I saw him sitting at the computer -- when had he done that, since we were nearly always in the house at the same time? -- clicking through to find a fancy, poem-worthy font. I saw him trimming the printed-out page, most likely with a ruler to keep the edges straight. I saw him going into our girls' bathroom and digging around for a ribbon in that messy, tangled box. And I saw his thick man-fingers struggling to roll the paper up tight and tie the shiny red bow. Had he kept the little scroll in his nightstand drawer until this morning? Had he smiled, scroll in hand, as he eased out of bed while I slept?

Described in plain terms, what I received for my anniversary was a rolled-up piece of paper tied with a used ribbon scrap, bearing a recycled poem from a one-year-old book. What I really received was a piece of my husband's heart and evidence of his continued commitment to me and to our marriage. I did not need a night at a bed and breakfast or even a fancy restaurant dinner to see that, and to feel its impact.

Pete spent no money on this anniversary gift, and I was glad. Because numbers in bank accounts, as I was learning the hard way, are anything but permanent. And often, so are the things that we spend those numbers on. But the time and the creativity and the thoughtfulness that came straight from Pete's heart will stay with me forever.


Woven with Love

Chicken Soup for the Soul: Grandmothers

BY: Joy Faire Stewart

Grandmas never run out of hugs or cookies.
~Author Unknown

"Have any grandchildren, yet?" acquaintances would ask. "You'd better get busy or you'll be too old to keep up with grandkids." This bit of wisdom was usually followed by a brag book unfolded before me with adorable photos of chubby-faced cherubs in Easter outfits, kids clad in Winnie the Pooh pajamas tearing into Santa's packages, or a little dumpling planting a soggy kiss on Granny's cheek.

I often listened to friends reminisce about the special bond they had with their grandmothers; however, I had never experienced that relationship. My grandmothers were faded photos on my mother's dressing table, and stories shared by my parents of their childhood. Both my grandmothers died long before I was born -- my maternal grandmother died giving birth to her eighth child.

From the time I rocked my babies in the old wooden rocker, handed down through three generations, I dreamed of sitting in the same rocker spoiling grandbabies.

As the years quickly sped by, my husband and I were proud of the talents and accomplishments of our children as they each excelled in their chosen professions -- marriage and family on hold.

Many of our friends had grandkids in high school, while others were celebrating the birth of great-grandchildren.

Though at times it seemed there was a missing fabric in the crazy quilt of our lives, I loved the trips our kids invited us to take with them: Christmas in snowy Colorado, misty, early mornings on the cliffs of Maine, chairlift rides along the mountain range of Vermont.

Then, in her mid-thirties, our daughter announced she had met the man of her dreams. In a beautiful Christmastime wedding, our family increased -- not by one but by three. Her new husband came with a bonus, a daughter and a son. Instant grandma!

The world of karate opened to me when the grandkids asked, "Grandma, you're coming to my next match, aren't you?" When they earned their black belts, I cheered the loudest.

Through the years my brag book grew fatter with vacation, birthday parties, and holiday photos. The grandkids' favorite gift under the Christmas tree each year? Christmas pokes. Instead of stockings, I stitched each of them a bag from holiday fabrics and ribbons to hold small toys and candies. One of my favorite stories from my mom was of her mother hand-stitching gift bags from flour sacks she trimmed with cotton lace. She had called them pokes.

Clouds sweep into every life, and one of our darkest made its appearance when our grandson was diagnosed with a non-malignant brain tumor. Following many surgeries, we spent long hours next to his hospital bed. When he lost his hair to chemo treatments, his dad shaved away his own mane of dark hair. We all wore yellow wristbands, and when asked about the band, I shared my grandson's brave battle. After years of intense treatments, his tumor was finally under control.

Our lives took another unexpected turn one Sunday morning after the young adult Sunday School class my husband taught. One of the young ladies asked if she could speak with him. Thinking it was a question about the lesson, he was surprised and humbled when she said, "Will you be my dad?" She had previously shared with us the difficult time she had growing up.

We instantly added a wonderful daughter and two more fabulous grandkids to our family. With these new additions, we were introduced to the exciting world of show animals as we sat for hours on backless bleachers at county fairs. It didn't matter if their animals won trophies. The pride we felt from our grandkids' dedication to hard work couldn't be measured. And who was called when an animal escaped from its pen? Grandpa!

When word got around about that special adoption, we were asked to be grandparents for two other beautiful baby girls. We were instantly transported back to the fantasy world of Disney characters and Barbie dolls. I began another brag book.

We don't know if our family is complete, but if other fabrics are added, they too, will be stitched with love and gratitude into the warmth of our family quilt.


Bagging It For Baby

The Perfect Accessory
From Chicken Soup for the Soul: New Moms

By Dawn Hentrich

It is the unseen, unforgettable, ultimate accessory of fashion that heralds your arrival and prolongs your departure.
~Coco Chanel

There's a point in everyone's life when change whacks you upside the head, forcing you to move on. Pregnancy and birth are the ultimate whammy. You've got a Greek chorus of hormones telling you to change your ways. So you give up cocktails and cigarettes, and you develop some sort of sense. You don the red cape of "mommy" with all the superpowers that entails.

Okay, I'd seen the fashion costs of motherhood. I didn't want to give up any of my spunky style, and I figured any gal with good fashion sense and bright red hair could make this transition from glam to ma'am. I didn't imagine the ultimate sacrifice.

Yes, ladies, it's true. The survivors sleep deep in the back of my closet, protected from the elements and my dormant yearnings. No, I'm not talking shoes. I am mourning the loss of the best handbags this world has ever known. A moment of silence if you would...

For any event or occasion, I could go through my collection to find just the right bag.
Sure, my obsession might have been a tad unhealthy, but isn't it always something? I had quite a collection: a few vintage pieces for those classy evenings, patent leather with embroidered cherries for rock-a-billy sass, Chinese brocade for elegance, the perfect jewel-encrusted clutch to spark up that little black dress. I even made a few from cigar boxes with a chic nod to my crafty side. Yes, ladies, it was a collection to drool for. And it was mine. All mine.

Until the guest room turned into the nursery. That closet could no longer serve as my repository for irresponsible spending. No, it had to make way for onesies and toys he can't play with for years. (Thanks, Uncle Joe.)

I decided I would keep ten. A nice round number, and enough to fulfill any fashion issues that might arise in the next year or so. Who knows? There could be a wedding or some cocktail party that we might be able to get a sitter for and might have the energy to actually attend. Ten. Tucked in until needed. Secreted away.

I cried. I physically shed tears over the choices I had to make. I wasn't crying for a knock-off Louis Vuitton bag. No, I knew this was it. No more spunky gal out on the town for a night. No more spending hours deciding which bag was just right. Those days were coming to an end, and it was time to buck up and start the cycle of sacrifices every mommy has to make. My life was no longer about me. Sure, the Today show has all sorts of segments about women holding on to their identity and being a mom. And, gee, aren't they something? But even they had to have had this moment. Bringing home a baby changes everything.

I wanted to be an example to my child. I didn't want him to grow up with irrational attachments. How could I raise a responsible human being when I had an entire closet full of irresponsibility? It's the one thing the books don't tell you while you're eating bon-bons and dreaming about soft cheeks and gurgly smiles. You have nine months to get yourself together. Nine months to recognize you are not #1. Nine months to (gulp) grow up.

They weren't just handbags. They were my freedom, my youth. They were carefree days full of promise. They were little girl memories in a grown-up world. Giving up these bags meant real growth -- however necessary and painful. If I wanted to be a good parent, I needed to "put childish ways behind me" (1 Corinthians 13:11 NIV).

So I culled and had a garage sale -- and, yes, I made a killing feeding the obsessions of young ladies free to buy frippery. I used those funds to buy the diaper bag I now carry -- an Eddie Bauer backpack with tons of pockets, and room for anything and everything under the sun. I wear it casually on my back so that my hands are free. I have something much more precious to carry now, and he has proven to be the perfect accessory for every occasion.


It Pays to Keep Walking

One couple shares how losing weight can be fun when you have a partner

BY: Laurie Penner

Afoot and light-hearted I take to the open road, Healthy, free, the world before me, The long brown path before me leading wherever I choose. ~Walt Whitman

My husband and I are both very creative. Dave is currently the househusband, but in his spare time he plays guitar and writes songs. I sew quilts and do freelance writing when I’m home from my full-time job. We are building our own house from the ground up. As a result of constantly being involved in our projects, we are not very sports-minded. The most activity I usually do outside is gardening, and Dave fixes our vehicles himself and runs most of the errands around town. We are involved in church activities and we play with our grandkids. But most of what we do is indoors, sitting down.

We’ve had quite a few medical problems and managed to rack up a lot of bills in the past for doctors and medical tests. Then in 2007 Dave had a heart attack and I was diagnosed with the muscle disorder fibromyalgia. We took a good look at making some lifestyle changes. Dave worked on the meal planning, which I benefited from as well. We both started losing weight. But we were also advised to get more exercise.

Walking. That’s all we needed to do. Just walk every day. Somehow that just didn’t fit in with our normal schedule, and we knew we were in for a challenge. We had already tried going to a gym, using a treadmill, etc. but nothing worked to keep us walking. Even just remembering to walk every day was a drawback for both of us.

Our latest medical issues provided new incentive to get more serious about this, so we made our usual resolution to walk more. Dave drove down to the small lake below us and walked around it nearly every day, a good half hour of exercise. He admired the scenery, took pictures of the ducks and geese, and seemed to be doing fine with this routine, for a while. But as the initial shock of having a heart attack began to wear off, daily distractions took over and Dave began to plan less time-consuming exercise. A brisk walk down to the “Y” in our dirt road and back up the other side took only 20 minutes and was up- and downhill. That seemed to work at first. But he gradually grew more forgetful and when the weather was bad, it was difficult to keep it up.

My daily walking needed to be mostly at work because by the time I got home, I was too tired to do anything. Sometimes I even had to take a nap because of my fibromyalgia. I resolved that I would get away from the desk at break times and walk for 10 minutes. Two breaks would be 20 minutes. Unfortunately, I tended to be less dedicated when it was too hot, or too cold, or raining, or snowing, or I was too achy, or I wanted or needed to do something else during my break! I knew if I walked more I would feel better and maybe not need so many naps, but I still struggled with walking every day. However, my real worry was Dave. He had a life-threatening possibility if he didn’t keep up his walking. Something had to be done, so I prayed for a way to keep us both motivated to walk.

At last one day I had an idea. It seemed kind of silly at first, but I actually thought it might work so I told Dave about it. What if we paid ourselves to walk? My plan was this: we would each keep track of our walking time on the calendar, adding it up as “walking points.” Whenever we reached 120 points, we would get $10 to spend or save for whatever we wanted. In addition to the money, I figured there would be a little competition, which might add to the motivation.

Since our money is always budgeted for bills and living expenses, or catching up on credit cards, we don’t often have anything extra to buy things that are not necessary. Dave is always window-shopping in catalogs and online for electronic equipment to go with his music playing or song recording. Yet he almost never has the opportunity to buy any. I often want some clothes or certain books that are out of our price range.

Dave liked the idea, so we started applying it, and to our surprise, it worked! Dave soon began keeping up his 20 minutes a day. One of the first things Dave bought was a bass guitar. (Now that’s incentive!) Another time he got an MP3 player. As I write this, he has saved up $155 for some unknown item he hasn’t decided on yet.

The plan worked for me as well. I was now more inclined to walk at work during my break time. There was a certain pair of fancy shoes I wanted to buy, and a $50 sweater in a catalog. I found myself walking specifically to earn points to be able to get those items.

The competitive side of the plan worked as well. We found ourselves telling others that we had to go out for walks so we could earn our walking points. “Dave is way ahead of me this week,” I would say. One time I kept forgetting something in the car at a large church gathering outdoors, and Dave teased me. “You’re just walking back to the car so you can get more points!”

When I first thought of this idea, I also wondered how we could afford it. But as I told Dave at the time, if we kept walking we might save on medical bills. Didn’t it make sense to stay healthier and not need a doctor? We had spent thousands of dollars on medical bills in the past. Why not spend it on ourselves to stay healthy?

For us, this plan has worked 18 months and counting. Sometimes I just want $10 for something special, and other times I save it up for something more expensive. And thank God, we have been healthier -- what a bonus! Our doctor bills have been generally lower this past year. Could it be that the walking points plan not only kept us walking but also actually saved us money?

We may never know the answer to that, but one thing we can say for sure: it definitely pays to keep walking!


The Miracle of the Easter Pies

Chicken Soup for the Soul: Grieving and Recovery

BY: Bob Brody

You give but little when you give of your possessions. It is when you give of yourself that you truly give.~Kahlil Gibran

Twelve years ago, my mother-in-law, then age 78, went in for open-heart surgery. She suffered complications, and on a sweltering day in late June, she passed away.

My wife and I drove from the cemetery to her one-bedroom apartment in Brooklyn and started to go through her belongings. We scoured her drawers, cabinets and shelves, poring over her clothes, photos and mementoes, deciding what to keep, give away or throw out, and were almost finished. Antoinette -- or Nettie, as everyone called her -- had lived on little her whole life, so we expected no hidden fortunes. But how mistaken we were. We opened the freezer and looked in, and there were her pies.

It was quite a find. In early spring every year, Nettie would make an announcement. "I'm making the Easter pies," she would say. "Going to be busy, so nobody bother me."

The pie was an Italian specialty called pizza rustica. Her mother had once made the same pies from a recipe her family brought to America from Naples. Little Antoinette watched her mother prepare the pies for Holy Saturday, slicing the smoked ham and hot sausage into bits, filling the dish with fresh ricotta and Romano cheeses, brushing the beaten egg wash onto the crust to give it a glaze.

Nettie made 15 or 20 pies every April for more than 40 years. Her mother had handed down her recipe, but Nettie never looked at the sheet of paper, every spring making up the proportions in her head all over again. I can imagine her standing in the kitchen pressing the dough with a rolling pin, her cheeks smudged with flour, her fine hair in disarray.

The pies came out looking like two-inch-thick omelettes -- stuffed with cheese and flecked with meat, all topped by a heavy, flaky, dimpled crust baked golden brown. Nettie wrapped the pies in foil and labeled each for its intended recipient (the size of the pie you got was a measure of her affection for you). Her doorbell would start ringing at noon as relatives came from all over New York City and Long Island to collect this family dividend.

Now we had discovered that Nettie saved a few wedges of the pie, including one for herself, labeled "Nettie" (as if even in her own home, she had needed to earmark her handiwork for herself). My wife and I looked at each other in surprise, saying nothing. Then we reached into the icy mist and took out the pies one by one, putting each in a plastic bag.

In moments, we left her apartment for the last time and walked out into the hot, still afternoon for the drive home, holding the pies as tenderly as we might an urn.

That Sunday night, as we gathered at the dining room table with our 15-year-old son and 10-year-old daughter in our home in Forest Hills, my wife served us one of the pies, steaming hot and giving off a savory aroma. She sliced a wedge for each of us, and we ate silently, scraping our plates for crumbs.

I'd eaten my mother-in-law's pies every spring for more than 20 years, and they always tasted good. But now the pie tasted better than it ever had, as if somehow flavored by the tears of our grief. With each bite I recalled with fresh clarity everything Nettie had meant to all of us over the years -- how she had raised her daughter without a husband around, all while toiling as a seamstress in a factory, and especially how she had lavished love and attention on both her adoring grandchildren.

I'd never felt so grateful to anyone. Eating the pie that night felt almost sacramental, as if I could actually taste her kind and generous spirit.

Afterwards, my wife waved us all into the kitchen. She opened the door to our freezer and pointed toward the back. And there it was: one last slice of the pie, the one that was labeled "Nettie." "This one I'm saving," she said.

And so she has. And there Nettie's pie remains, untouched, unseen, but never forgotten. Other families leave behind insurance policies or furniture or jewelry, but Nettie left us her pie. That single slice will serve as heirloom enough, and feed our hearts year-round, giving us all the Easter we'll ever need.


The Master Plan

Chicken Soup for the Soul: New Moms

BY: RMB McManamon

Determine the thing that can and shall be done, and then we shall find the way.~Abraham Lincoln

I was twenty-eight when I got married. Tom and I dated for five years before our big day. We had a summer wedding -- a perfect time since I am a teacher. I had already earned tenure so I felt secure in my job -- again, a perfect time to get married.

Who knew that I would choose to transfer to a different school district the year after we got married? Better pay and a better district were the reasons. To achieve tenure again would require four consecutive full-time years instead of just two. I had to start over, but that was okay. Having kids would be put on the backburner for now. I would only be thirty-three when I earned my tenure at this school, and we could start our family then. This was our new "master plan."

The four years went by quickly. I earned tenure and was ready to have children. I was pregnant within a year. We were excited. From the moment we found out I was pregnant, we were on cloud nine. In bed, Tom would talk to my belly and say the infamous words of Darth Vader, "I am your father!" It was cute.

Unfortunately, I miscarried at eight weeks. We were crushed. The doctors, although sympathetic, were matter-of-fact. "These things happen to a lot of women. It's not uncommon at all." I felt no comfort in those words. The doctors said to try again in a couple of months, and I was pregnant three months later. This time it was different. We put up our guard. We didn't let ourselves get excited. "Let's hope for the best," we kept telling ourselves.

This second pregnancy lasted twelve weeks. This time, the doctors ran tests and found a chromosomal abnormality. But they said there was still no reason why I wouldn't be able to carry a healthy baby to full term.

We tried to get pregnant for about a year after the second miscarriage, but were unsuccessful. We decided to give ourselves a short break from the stress of trying to conceive. "It will happen," we thought to ourselves. Deep down, I wasn't so sure.

Instead of getting pregnant, I got cancer. It was a rare type of breast cancer. Several surgeries followed by chemotherapy were scheduled. During one of my initial appointments with the oncologist, he asked, "Do you and your husband plan on having kids?" I answered, "We were hoping to." With that, he suggested I get my eggs extracted by an IVF doctor.

Several doctors informed us, "Your insurance doesn't cover this." When I asked what all of this would cost, I was told somewhere around $25,000 with no guarantee that the result would be a baby. Tom and I thought long and hard about it. Ultimately, we decided this was an "investment" worth making.

In my effort to work out a payment plan, I spoke with a woman named Lee from a certain doctor's office, and she turned out to be our saving grace. Although she verified that insurance companies don't often cover egg extraction, there were three exceptions: having cancer that required chemotherapy; being thirty-five or over and trying to conceive unsuccessfully for over six months; and having two or more miscarriages. I informed her that I actually fit into all three of those categories! She took my insurance information and fought for me. She won! Insurance would cover it!

I had to undergo two extractions, but the result was four embryos that were to be frozen for future use. It felt like a victory although I still had so much to go through. Even after chemotherapy, I had to be on medication for five years and was not to get pregnant during that time. Our dream of being parents seemed so distant. Our "master plan" needed revision.

The important thing was to fight this dreaded disease and get healthy. I wouldn't let it beat me. Chemo was hard at times, but I was one of the lucky ones. I didn't suffer much nausea, just extreme exhaustion, achy bones, and low immunity. I did lose all of my hair, including my eyebrows and eyelashes, but I continued to teach, struggling to make the seventy-five-mile roundtrip drive to work. I wore a do-rag of sorts to school, and most of my high school students and other teachers thought it was just my new fashion statement.

I made it through stronger than ever, but still my life wasn't complete. However, all that changed when my sister called me at work one afternoon. It was a phone call I will never forget. Her exact words were, "Why don't we see your doctor about making you a mom? I could be your surrogate!" I burst into tears.

The entire process took over two years, but I am now the mother of a beautiful, healthy son who was born in September 2009. I will forever be grateful for this wonderful gift I've been given. What a sister I have! I am truly blessed. It was a long journey, but the "master plan" finally happened... thanks to my sister.


Life Is Not an Emergency

Chicken Soup for the Soul: Think Positive

BY: Debbi Stumpf
I was privileged to be at an event with both Mark Victor Hansen and Jack Canfield. Jack was speaking when suddenly a cry came from the crowd indicating that one of the attendees needed medical attention. A handful of medically trained attendees emerged from the crowd and went right to work attending to the lady who needed their help. Jack quieted the audience and asked that we direct our thoughts to healing the person. A quiet calm came over the audience. There was a feeling in the room of such compassion and stillness that it made an indelible mark upon my memory that I would carry with me always.

I remember thinking how the serenity of the room was in stark contrast to the busy hospital where I worked the night shift and where calls for help were often so stressful. In that moment, at the conference, I made a mental note that "life is not an emergency." I decided that when an emergent situation in my life arose, I would meet it with the same peacefulness that I felt in the conference. Little did I know that a few weeks later I would put that lesson to the test.

It was a Saturday that started out like any other Saturday, filled with the activities of a busy family. Ken filled his morning in typical fashion, working at our rental properties to ensure that our tenants were well taken care of. His to-do list could have been completed within a few hours except that he loved to spend time with each family, catching up on their activities and listening to the adventures of their children.

We met up in the afternoon at a family birthday party. Then we returned home where Ken worked on our own projects, including painting our bathroom. When we realized that it had been quiet overhead for a while, I went upstairs to find Ken slumped over on the floor and barely breathing.

My own first aid training kicked in and as I called for help, I remembered the moment at the conference when a similar call for help was made and the incredible feeling of calm that accompanied it. Those feelings of peaceful calm washed over me.

At the hospital, after many tests, we learned that my forty-four-year-old sweetheart had suffered a severe stroke. We began to form a plan for this unexpected new chapter in our lives. I realized that our lives would never be the same.

I'm not sure most people would view their most difficult and tragic times as miraculous, but that is how we chose to view our circumstance. We determined that we were being given a great test, one that as a family we would need to endure together, and as we lived through the test we knew that we were experiencing a true miracle.

Five long months and many sleepless nights later, after rejecting the suggestion that Ken should live out his life in a nursing home, he finally returned home. This once strong, independent man had to rely on us for his every need. My kids were stellar in attending to their dad as he struggled to do even the most basic things for himself.

He received therapy for a short while until it was determined that he had come as far as he would ever come and would not get any better.

The last day of therapy was the day I bought Ken watercolor paints and brought him home to our own brand of therapy. Though we aren't trained in physical therapy, we worked Ken's muscles and his mind. Each family member shared in the responsibility of providing Ken with the attention and stimulation he needed to improve. The greatest ingredients in home-style therapy have been patience, creativity, and lots of love.

Over the course of the past few years, Ken has made monumental progress. He can walk using a cane when he was once wheelchair-bound. Where he was virtually blind in one eye, he now can see. He can say about thirty whole words, with "I love you, forever" and "thank you" at the top of his list. He can sing the songs that have been the soundtrack in our lives together. He gives us hope that we can do anything we set our minds to doing. His determination teaches us never to quit. Ken's courage inspires us to better our lives and to reach for impossible goals. We don't take even a single breath for granted. He is our own living miracle.

Our lives have been so richly blessed in the midst of this most difficult time. Our family has received such strength as friends and family have supported us and cheered us on. Though we wouldn't wish this on anyone, we can see that in the moments of deepest despair we have been given the comfort of peace. In the dark nights of doubt we have been given the light of optimism. We have come through the storm with a calm that I learned to draw upon in a moment when I learned a most valuable lesson, that "life is not an emergency."


Meltdown in My Heart

Chicken Soup for the Soul: Devotional Stories for Mothers

BY: Tracie "Sissy" Taylor

Listen to my cry for help, my King and my God, for to you I pray. In the morning, O LORD, you hear my voice; in the morning I lay my requests before you and wait in expectation.
~Psalm 5:2-3

The morning started out in a mad dash because I did something I never do: I overslept. For most people, that wouldn't be such a big deal, but my ten-year-old son, Rett, is autistic. Sudden changes in routine frighten him because he cannot process outside stimuli quickly enough to respond. Any disruption in routine frustrates and angers Rett and usually results in a meltdown.

As I helped Rett get dressed, I kept repeating, "Mom overslept, so we need to hurry, okay?"

"Okay," he droned, but didn't move any faster.

For a while, I thought we were making progress. Rett sat with one shoe off and one shoe on when I heard the bus honk. Oh, no, he's going to miss the bus! I ran out and motioned for the driver to please wait a minute. If Rett didn't get to ride the bus to school, he would surely have a meltdown. I scurried back into the house, helped him put on his other shoe, and then rushed him out the door. Too late. The bus was gone.

"Oh, no!" Rett cried. "It's gone!" His obvious distress confirmed my worst fears. A meltdown was inevitable.

Still, I tried to defuse the situation. "That's okay, bud. Mom will take you this morning." I used my most soothing voice.

Silence. I looked at Rett's disappointed little face and waited, expecting him to jump up and down and flap his arms. I waited for him to emit high-pitched squeals and pace from one end of the room to the other, repeating, "Oh, no. Oh, no..." punctuated by a self-inflicted slap to the head. Yes, I waited -- but nothing happened.

After breakfast, Rett hung his head and shuffled out to the car as if his shoulders had suddenly turned into stone. "Lord, please don't let him stay angry with me," I prayed. "And please don't let this destroy his whole day."

That's when I realized we'd missed the most important part of our daily routine -- morning prayer. That day, Rett said the prayer I had taught him in the car as traffic whizzed by, and all kinds of sights, sounds, and smells assailed his already overloaded senses.

When we arrived at school, I handed him over to his teacher. "You have a good day now, Rett, okay?" It was more a plea than a request. I felt like I'd held my breath the whole way over just waiting for the inevitable outburst.

"Okay," he said, his voice void of expression.

I started to drive away, my heart heavy with guilt for marring one precious day of Rett's already difficult life. As I eased over the first speed bump, I heard Rett yell, "Hey, Mom!" My window was down, so I could hear him, but I couldn't see him without turning around.

"What, honey?" I tried to sound calm, but inside I cringed. Oh, no. Here comes the meltdown.

Rett couldn't hear me, so he continued to yell, "Hey, Mom. Hey, Mom. HEY, MOM!"

By then I had stopped. I looked over to find Rett running toward the car, dragging his teacher behind him. As soon as he reached the passenger window, we made eye contact. "I love you, Mom," he said. Then he put his little hand to his lips and blew me kisses.

And that's when the meltdown finally came... not in Rett, but right inside my heart.


вторник, 12 апреля 2011 г.

God's Mountain Garden

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Stories of Faith
By Bertha M. Sutliff
The best place to seek God is in a garden.
~George Bernard Shaw
I grew up on a farm in the mountains of northwest Arkansas. As children, my brother and I roamed every inch of the little mountain facing my parents' house. We knew where every giant boulder and animal burrow was on that little piece of mountain bordering my dad's farm.
One day, my grandpa came to visit from his home several miles away. We sat on the front porch swing looking at the mountain, and he began to tell me a story. It was a delightful tale about him and me living in a little cabin on the mountain.
"Can you see it?" he asked. "It's right there by that big acorn tree. See it?"
Of course I saw it. What eight-year-old child wouldn't see what her imagination wanted her to see?
"We're gonna live in that cabin. We'll catch a wild cow for our milk and pick wild strawberries for our supper," Grandpa continued. "I bet the squirrels will bring us nuts to eat. We'll search the bushes for wild chickens and turkeys. The chickens will give us eggs, and we'll cook us a turkey over the big ol' fireplace. Yep, we'll do that some day."
From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Stories of Faith

Letters to Mamaw

Chicken Soup for the Soul: Grandmothers

BY: Lisa Kulka

To send a letter is a good way to go somewhere without moving anything but your heart.
~Phyllis Theroux
My grandmother's eightieth birthday was approaching and I was at a loss as to what to give her. She had recently moved into a nursing home and didn't have room for extra "stuff." She insisted that she didn't need a thing.
Finally, I came up with an idea. In her birthday card, I sent her a gift certificate for "A letter a week for the next year!" It was a big commitment. I've never been much of a letter writer, but now I was living far from home, and should be able to find plenty of news. Growing up just a mile from my grandparents, we'd always been close. I knew that she'd love to hear what was going on in my life.
The letter gift certificate was a huge hit. She got fifty-two letters that first year. Some were long and filled with homesickness. Others were short and newsy. More than once what she received was just a funny card with a few short lines. All showed her that I was thinking of her regularly.
As her next birthday rolled around, she asked for another letter gift certificate for her birthday. In fact, that's also what she wanted for her next eight birthdays.
For nine and a half years I wrote her. She was rarely able to write back. So much happened in those nine years! At first I wrote about the cold Michigan winters and working on my graduate degree. Then I wrote about my pregnancy, which turned out to be twins! We lived in four different places during those years and I described them all. During the boys' preschool years I shared every funny thing they did and said, and as they grew they started adding "picture letters" to the envelope. I sent postcard letters from vacations.
I flew home annually to visit and soon realized that the entire nursing home staff knew all the details of my life, as more and more often they were reading the letters to her.
My last letter arrived the day after her death. I've always wanted relationships with no regrets. None of that "I wish I had told her I loved her" for me! I felt I had given her the best gift I could.
What I hadn't counted on was how her gift would come back full-circle to me.
Months later, while going through her things, my dad found a box full of her correspondence. It was filled with letters from me. Those letters are a journal of my life. Some were unremarkable. Others were filled with moments and pictures I had completely forgotten. Such as on May 22, 1997, when I told her that the twins were having Western day at preschool and that when I explained to three-year-old Ben that the boys would be dressing up as cowboys he asked, "Will the girls be dressing up as cows?" Funny, I don't remember that. In some ways it seems I missed those years due to motherly exhaustion. She saved those memories for me in my letters.
Life really does fly by. Loved ones come and go. But sometimes our gifts to others come back to us in unexpected ways. This is one of those times.


Graveyard Spirits

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: A Book of Miracles
By Bobbie Clemons-Demuth

He will yet fill your mouth with laughter and your lips with shouts of joy.
~Job 8:20-22
It had been over a year since I'd been to the Ten Mile countryside cemetery. I used to visit once a week but as time had passed and my heartache lessened, so did my visits. As I stepped out of the car, the hot summer sun blazed against the nape of my neck. In the distance I could hear a lawnmower and I smelled the fresh-cut grass. Across the road a few straggling cows halted their lumbering march towards the feeding trough to stare at me. I stared back until the smell of cow dung assaulted my nose, then I turned and continued on through the front gate and into the well-manicured graveyard.
A strange mixture of emotions churned inside me. Since it had been so long since I'd been here, a part of me was excited to say hello to my old friends, while the other part remembered the grief that I'd carried so heavily for so long. But I was there to pay my respects, so I swallowed hard and marched on, one foot in front of the other, towards the three graves that I used to visit so often.
That's when I spotted the sprinkler. A very large, farm-like sprinkler stood four feet tall, rotating in a circular motion to water the cemetery. Round and round it went, shooting long, straight, ten-foot shots of water every thirty seconds or so. It looked awfully close to where I was headed so I stopped and stood watching to see just how far it shot and just how close it sprayed to where I was going. I watched it go round four to five times before determining I would be safe. Its spray could not reach me at the three gravesites.
As I stepped forward I unconsciously found myself following my old routine. I always started at my boyfriend Shannon's grave, then took two steps to the right to his mother Becky's, then lastly, three steps back to his grandmother "Nanny's" grave. At Shannon's I started with my usual greeting -- "Hello baby. How ya doin' up there? It's a really beautiful day down here today," -- and whatever other small talk I could think of to delay, for just a few more seconds, what I knew was coming... that same old, familiar, sadness. I lowered my head as I felt it rising up towards my chest and that second it happened. BAM! I was shot with a blast of water from the sprinkler. Yes, that very same sprinkler that I had just watched go round and round shooting short of my spot every time.
I shouldn't have been surprised really. Shannon had always been a comical person so he would do something like that. But he was dead after all. When he was alive though, he could make people laugh no matter where we were. He could even make perfect strangers laugh, and did so with ease. He could have the person at the other end of the drive-thru speaker laughing while ordering fast food, or people in line at the grocery store, bank, video store, anywhere. In a matter of minutes he'd have the clerk busted up laughing.
I remember one night he decided to go down to the neighborhood tavern in his bathrobe and slippers just for fun. Well, as usual, everybody there loved it and at two in the morning he paraded home with half a dozen people following him from the bar. They danced, laughed and sang for hours!
He was twenty-three when I was eighteen. He was my first true love. We planned to be married and start a family -- the whole nine yards. So naturally I was devastated when the state trooper came to my door and told me he'd been in a fatal accident. Even more devastated were his uncles and his very dear Nanny. They shared a very special bond since both Shannon's mother and father had died before he was nineteen. It was so hard on Nanny that she died three months after Shannon.
So at the age of eighteen I began this routine, one that hopefully not too many eighteen-year-olds have... once a week I went to the Ten Mile countryside cemetery and visited my three friends. I always walked in with churning emotions. I always went to Shannon's grave first. I always started with a short greeting, always lowering my head as I felt the sadness well up inside me. Then I moved on to his mother and grandmother's graves.
But never, ever, on any such occasion had something like this happened to me.
I was a bit startled at first, thinking that it must have been some kind of fluke. So I stayed exactly where I was, not moving an inch, and turned towards the sprinkler to watch it go around. It didn't hit or even come close to me again. After a minute or so, I turned back to Shannon with another short greeting, and lowered my head as the sadness filled my heart. BAM! I was shot with water again. Mopping my wet face, I looked up and watched the offending sprinkler go around without a hit. I shook my head in disbelief and stepped to the right to Shannon's mother's grave.
I stood for a moment, watching the sprinkler go around, spraying far away from me, then said, "Hello Becky." As I lowered my head, the sadness began to fill me and would you believe it? BAM! Wet again!
This time I chuckled to myself, wondering how in the world this was happening. I scanned the entire graveyard trying to see who could be doing this to me. A real practical joker this must be, picking on a grieving person. Who could do something like this? But there was no one else around. Just me, the cows across the road and that darn sprinkler!
I still had one last grave to visit, directly behind Shannon's. I shook my head and chuckled my way back there, watching the sprinkler go round far from me. I said my hello, then lowered my head and... BAM! Soaked again!
Exasperated, I threw my hands into the air and yelled, "Well, I guess you guys don't want me to be sad today!" I laughed and giggled and shook my head as I walked right past the sprinkler, without getting hit, right out of the cemetery and had myself a fantastic rest of the summer day.
Now when I visit the cemetery I come not with sadness but with gratitude for having loved such a wonderful family.

Ladies Who Launch

Chicken Soup for the Soul: Power Moms

BY: Victoria Colligan

There is no comparison between that which is lost by not succeeding and that which is lost by not trying.
~Francis Bacon

Even before I had my own children, I was inspired by the beauty of the lifestyles created by women entrepreneurs. For years I had been working in the corporate world, first as a lawyer and later, after obtaining my MBA, as an investment banker. I felt desperately uncreative and I kept thinking that there had to be more to the real world of work. Having come from a family of business owners, and being a lover of academics, I felt completely let down. After working for a few start-ups, I began to notice how different work was for women who ventured out on their own. Rather than compartmentalize their lives, they were building their passions, lifestyles and businesses together in a holistic way. So I decided to start my own business -- a magazine that would showcase these courageous women.
I began putting together the pieces and learning the media business as I went along. But then I became pregnant with my first child. My husband and I decided to move to Cleveland, Ohio, which made the chances of launching a magazine that much more difficult. So I went online. On my own, and full of doubt as to how I was going to do this and make money with a small child, I started slowly -- building my subscriber base by word of mouth. Most of this was done during nap time, those few precious hours when I could work on my passion, adding layers into my life beyond being a stay-at-home mom.
Ladies Who Launch was a one-of-a-kind website when I started it in 2002, which amazed me. Women were launching businesses at twice the rate of men, were making choices based on their need for freedom and flexibility, and were reaping excellent returns by redefining traditional business models. I was floored that no one was addressing this astonishing fact.
There were so many female success stories out there that my entire goal for Ladies Who Launch at the time was to showcase these triumphs as well as the passions that brought them about.
The concept for my weekly e-mail success story was simple. It highlighted women who built businesses on their own terms along with the off-the-beaten paths they took to get there. Some women went to business school, others had no experience whatsoever, some started on a hunch, others wrote elaborate plans -- but the bottom line was, there was no single foolproof process that worked. My newsletter, with its sincere words of advice, inspiration and shared stories created momentum among women far and wide, encouraging them to give their dreams a shot!
As the weekly e-mails continued to circulate and the website grew in scope, it became clear that women were craving community, tools and education. They wanted an outlet for sharing information, ideas, experiences and resources. Ladies Who Launch quickly evolved to offer local and worldwide workshops in addition to an enhanced array of accessible tools online. My mission evolved as well -- making entrepreneurship a viable option for every woman became the main goal.
I am and will always be personally invested in this goal. I know that by providing solid roadmaps, start-up and growth packages, workshops and access to expert seminars on everything from phone systems to online marketing, my company can make women's dreams reality. The truth is, every woman has a project, a passion, a dream or a creative outlet that she would like to explore more deeply. By removing the intimidation, fear and hardship from the process, we can make it fun by connecting women with each other and giving them tangible tools and resources they can really use.
Now, six years after I started Ladies Who Launch, women are still driven by the same lifestyle desires and still derive as much pleasure from picking up their kids at school as they do from running million dollar businesses. The idea of working from home, growing a business organically, taking small steps and testing plans as they go, still outweighs for many women the security of a corporate job, the perks that go with it and the chance to enjoy predictable financial rewards.
As the mother of two small girls, my life is never easy, but never dull. I'll admit there are times when I wonder if I'm doing it all wrong and missing out on something special. Am I there when it matters, am I having fun? Do I feel joy on a regular basis? Can I define joy by the moments in between the planning and executing? Am I in the "flow" of my life, my work, my family and love? Rather than let myself be consumed by guilt, I have learned to let go of it and live in the moment.
One thing I know for sure is that every day I demonstrate commitment, hard work and passion that make me an unparalleled role model for my little girls. It is my hope that they will find their own joys and passions and develop self-esteem by trying things, failing, succeeding and overcoming. I have failed many times in my life but my motto is "never give up on your dreams." Whether you want to build a multimillion dollar business or take up gymnastics in your forties, anything is possible, and often we learn more from failure than success.
Each of us has a purpose. Interestingly though, as the Founder and CEO of Ladies Who Launch, I don't think mine is to be a leader. I'm more of a master facilitator and communicator. I believe that I was meant to inspire and awaken possibility in others. However, for one person to inspire another she must first be inspired herself and be actively living her dreams, parallel tracking both, which I am.
Every day I try to be aware of my choices then decide how I want to live my life and adjust my strategies accordingly. The only constant in this world is that everything is always in flux. The sooner we realize this inevitable fact, the sooner we can play the game of life the way we want, taking full responsibility for our choices and diving head first into them with enthusiasm.
I have many more ideas and passions up my sleeve and many more dreams to play out. I would like to try opening a restaurant, buying a ski house or traveling with my girls and my husband to exotic and fresh, new places. I feel optimistic about the future both personally and with respect to Ladies Who Launch. Optimism, I believe, is the ultimate mindset for success!


A Brush with Disaster

Chicken Soup for the Soul: Family Matters

BY: Linda Apple

It is foolish to tear one's hair in grief, as though sorrow would be made less by baldness.
In my scientist husband's perfect world of order, there would always be a place for everything, and everything would always be in its place. But, in our family of seven, that just didn't happen.
Neal had many pet peeves, but having to search for his brush each morning ranked among the highest. Sometimes, he'd find it in the boys' bathroom. Other times, it would be in the girls' toy box with Barbie hairs tangled in the bristles. On rare occasions, he might find it where it belonged in his bathroom drawer.
While looking through our local home improvement store, he hit upon an idea, a stroke of genius in his mind, to end this hide-and-seek routine with his brush. When he came home, I noticed the small bag he carried.
"What's that?"
"You'll see." His grin bothered me.
After a trip to the garage, he went straight to the bathroom. While I cooked supper, banging and drilling noises added to my misgivings. Finally, he called me to see his inspired solution.
He had chained his brush to the wall!
There, beside the sink, his brush sat on a pile of chain. He'd drilled a hole in the end of his brush and, to my chagrin, drilled a hole through my new wallpaper. It looked awful. But Neal's motto is "practical is better than pretty."
Every morning, the brush was right there beside the sink. His idea was working out just as he planned.
Or so he thought.
You see, spiking hair with gel was the "in" style for boys at that time, and every morning my youngest son, William, watched his brothers get ready for school. A few days after Neal attached his brush to the wall, I noticed William's hair. It looked strange. Kinda slick.
I asked, "Honey, what did you do to your hair?"
"Gelled it." His blue eyes danced. He was so proud of himself.
It didn't much look like gel. "Show me the gel."
He took my hand, passed the kids' bathroom, and went straight to mine. On the counter was an open jar of Vaseline and, lucky for him, a brush -- chained to the wall. He explained to me that since he couldn't take the brush back to the boys' bathroom and use their gel, he used this other jar of "gel" that he found in our bathroom right next to the chained hairbrush.
I wanted to get that stuff out of my baby's hair. I tried shampooing it, but the petroleum jelly sucked in the shampoo like some kind of swamp monster, turning into a gelatinous mess.
Then I called my neighbor who owned a hair salon. I explained what William had done, and when he finally quit laughing, he suggested I try dishwashing soap, the kind that is supposed to cut through grease.
It did a fair job, but William still looked like a teen from the fifties. The kids came home, I made supper, and the whole thing was forgotten.
Until the next morning, that is.
While cooking breakfast, Neal yelled for me. I ran to the bathroom to find him, brush in hand, looking a lot like William did the day before. Giggles bubbled up in my throat and demanded to be let out, but I didn't dare.
"Look at me!" He stared in the mirror. "I can't go to work like this! What is this stuff in my brush?"
I couldn't hold the hilarity in any longer and erupted in laughter.
"I don't see anything funny about this."
By now, tears were rolling down my face. But I managed to get him the dish soap. It helped -- a little.
There is a proverb that says, "There is a way that seems right to a man, but in the end it leads to death." Well, chaining his brush to the wall seemed right to Neal, and while it didn't lead to death, it certainly led to disaster!


понедельник, 11 апреля 2011 г.

A Little Love

Chicken Soup for the Soul: Teen Talk High School

BY: Nicole Lee

Love -- a wildly misunderstood although highly desirable malfunction of the heart which weakens the brain, causes eyes to sparkle, cheeks to glow, blood pressure to rise and the lips to pucker.
~Author Unknown
"Is the ground wet? My flip flops feel funny."
"I don't know, go over there and check it out."
"Are you kidding? There are sprinklers! I'm not getting wet!"
"Look, it's our lucky day.... They turned off."
I knew it would be one of the best days of my life. I had a date with a guy who I seemed to have liked forever. It was really only about a year, but with our schedules and separate set of friends, things never seemed to work out. He was so perfect! He was nice, cute, and overwhelmingly sweet. Every time I saw him, my stomach filled up with butterflies. I had a special feeling deep in my heart -- tonight was the night! Tonight would be the night that he asked me to be his girlfriend. And I would say YES!
We went to Baskin Elementary, past the school, past the basketball court, right next to the playground. There was an empty field with a nice number of hidden trees a few yards away. And although I didn't know what he was planning until that night, it was perfect. He made me walk in circles for what seemed to be the longest time. He said that he needed to find the "perfect spot."
A few minutes later he stopped, and I knew that this was the spot that he was looking for. Although I could have sworn that I had seen greener patches in the field, I knew that it didn't matter what I sat on as long as I sat next to him. Right when I was about to sit down he said, "STOP." I looked at him with a confused look as he placed his backpack on the ground.
He smiled as he unzipped his backpack, not his normal smile but a silly smile that he would always make when he laughed or was excited about something. All I was thinking was, "Oh God, what is in that bag?" When he popped out a square-shaped object, I smiled although I hadn't quite figured out what it was yet. Then I realized it was a blanket; it was as if he had read my mind. No one had ever done anything like this for me. It was like my own personal fairytale, but it was real!
We sat next to one another on the blanket for a while. I tried to look at the stars, but I couldn't keep my eyes off him. I would look at him, and then turn back to the sky before he could see me. I did this for a few minutes until he caught me. He would just laugh at me; I would have been embarrassed except I would see him doing the same thing out of the corner of my eye. He was not one of those guys who made me blabber to try and keep his attention. We didn't have to talk at all; I could just stare at him and not feel weird.
As we were lying there looking at the formations of stars above our heads, he leaned over and whispered a question in my ear. It was the question that, at the time, I thought would complete my life. He said, "I'm sorry that this has taken me so long, but I was wondering if you would like to be my girlfriend?" I was so happy, I swear that I could hear an orchestra playing Handel's "Hallelujah." I grabbed his face and gave him a huge kiss! He smiled at me, and we both began to laugh.
I couldn't wait until school started again that following Monday. I felt like a thirteen-year-old girl with her first boyfriend. After only a few days, writing "I love Brandon" became like a second signature to me, and no paper within arm's reach was safe from being branded.
The following Saturday was his sixteenth birthday. I reminded him frequently that I was a month and three days older than him just to see the annoyed expression on his face. The Thursday night before his birthday, I went to the pet store and bought him a goldfish. No one understood why, and most people thought that it was a stupid gift, but he liked it and that's all that mattered to me. It was a joke between the two of us from before we got together. One of the things he had said to me was, "I need you like a fish needs water," and ever since then we had an obsession with getting a fish and naming it Herbert. When I was around him, I was happy, and when I wasn't around him all I could think about was being around him.
This was the first time in my life that I actually felt like Cinderella. I'd always seen those cute movies where two people fall in love and are together forever -- that's what I felt like. Yes, I am young, and there will most likely be a handful of guys that make me feel that way in the future, but he was the first one, and that makes him so special to me. Although I shared many happy memories with him, it is hard to smile now because we are no longer together. Luckily for me, although it was a heartbreaking experience, we are still good friends. There are so many things that I wish he knew -- I wish he knew how much I still love him, I wish he knew that even though we're back to calling each other best friends, I will never see him that way again. I wish he knew how hard it is for me to keep from crying every time I see him with another girl. And although it is hard for me to admit, I want him to find happiness, even if it's not with me anymore.