среда, 30 ноября 2011 г.

Just Like Any Other

By Dena May

It has been said that adoption is more like a marriage than a birth: two (or more) individuals, each with their own unique mix of needs, patterns, and genetic history, coming together with love, hope, and commitment for a joint future. You become a family not because you share the same genes, but because you share love for each other.
~Joan McNamara

Bringing my daughter home on that cold November day was like many other new parents bringing their baby home. I sat in the back seat with her as she slept while my husband drove. My mind was racing, as was my heart. I looked at her and wondered how we could ever live up to such a tremendous responsibility. She seemed so fragile and innocent. I felt paralyzed by the fear that this was too great of an undertaking. The past nine months of anticipation for this very moment, where I had been consumed with nothing but how to get to this exact place, and now I was panic-stricken.

The difference in my story of bringing my daughter home was that she was eight years old on her first day with us. What seemed to be the end of a long road was really the beginning. We were finally at the end of a long home study process, her at the end of a nearly five-year foster care stay. In reality, it was the beginning of a long journey to building our lives together as a family.

I slept very little the first month she was home. I spent the first year with her hardly ever out of my sight. We did everything that we were told to do to facilitate bonding and attachment. At first, the all-consuming schedule was more than I could take. I had to choose what she wore, what she ate, who she talked to... every move she made was supervised by me. It was surreal to have a new person just appear in our lives and our family. Again, it was very similar to having a newborn in the house.

I'm not quite sure when it happened. We went from almost strangers, to family, to a very close mother/daughter team. Our family didn't begin in a very typical fashion, but we are a family just like any other. We've overcome obstacles and rejoiced together. My story of being a new mom, my fears, and my delights are like most others. So is my love for my daughter. I look back now, and the memory of all of the hard times, waiting for her to come home, and the fears I had those first few months are all just a blur.


вторник, 29 ноября 2011 г.

Eat, Exercise, Brush Your Teeth

By Amanda Romaniello

You are your own judge. The verdict is up to you.
~Astrid Alauda

"You have eating disorder N.O.S." Those words came from my physician only a few days after New Year's Day several years ago. N.O.S. stands for not otherwise specified. I had a cross between anorexia and bulimia. My eating habits had been deteriorating for almost a year.

I'd grown up living a healthy lifestyle. My parents were health-conscious and emphasized the importance of eating right and exercising. Growing up, Goldfish crackers were considered a treat, and there was no soda in the house. I already had small bones and a lean body when I got mononucleosis my junior year in high school.

Normally, there is a loss of appetite with the illness, but I had an abscess in my throat, and the only time that it did not hurt was when I was eating. On top of constantly eating anything that I craved, I could not exercise due to fatigue and the risk of rupturing my spleen, which is a concern during and after having mono.

I gained 10 pounds. So once I was better I went back to exercising and eating right. The springtime came, and people were complimenting me on how great I looked. But by the end of junior year, a falling out with my group of girl friends triggered a downhill spiral. I had a hard time controlling my emotions, and struggled to deal with everything going on in my life, so I started to over-exercise and under-eat.

The summer between my junior and senior year is filled with awful memories. I was a terror to be around for my younger sister and parents. I would eat a slice of cheese, a piece of chicken, and some vegetables for a day's worth of food on top of running several miles in the middle of a hot summer day.

Some days I found myself so hungry that I couldn't think straight, yet the compliments would keep flowing. "What a great little body you have," or "you're so tiny." Those comments kept me going, along with the discovery of laxatives.

I've always had a sweet tooth, so I still found it difficult not being able to eat candy or cookies. Some days I would eat everything in sight, and before going to bed, I would take at least four laxative pills, dehydrating and emptying my body.

I thought that I was losing all the weight and calories that I had consumed, but really I was just harming my digestive tract. In the winter of my senior year, I admitted to a friend that I had been using laxatives. She didn't run and tell my parents, but her genuine concern for me helped me to stop taking them.

Finally, I broke down to my parents. It was one of the hardest things to do: admitting that I knew I had a problem, and that I wasn't this perfect person that I lead everyone to believe I was.

I began outpatient treatment at one of the top eating disorder clinics in America. I saw a therapist once a week, along with a dietician and a physician. It wasn't easy and I did relapse.

I struggled for a year and started seeing a therapist in college. My eating habits would alter based on what was going on in my life, but as I learned in therapy, eating should not correlate with emotions.

While I was seeing my therapist in high school, she said the simplest, but most profound thing to me. "Eating is like brushing your teeth. Would you wake up in the morning and not brush your teeth? No. Well it's the same thing with eating."

I've learned that, for me, sometimes if I'm stressed I'll eat more or less, but that's okay. As long as I am eating, and conscious of what is going on, I'm fine. Being aware of my body and my surroundings brought me to the place I am today.

I can now say that I have not consumed laxatives in almost four years. I am beyond proud of myself. I exercise daily, not to lose weight, but because it makes me feel good and I enjoy it. I eat balanced meals because my body actually feels better when I'm not depriving it or feeding it with junk food.

Admitting I had a problem was one part of this journey, but overcoming it has helped me learn that, no matter what is going on in my life, one always has to eat, just like one always has to brush one's teeth.

понедельник, 28 ноября 2011 г.

My Little Town

By Timothy Martin

Kindness is the golden chain by which society is bound together.
~Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

While most college towns are crazy, mixed-up, wonderful places, Arcata, California is probably a little more crazy and mixed-up and wonderful than most. Arcata is the home of Humboldt State University, a throwback to the 1960s, and a haven for students, professors, hippies, artists, musicians, cannabis farmers and dreamy-eyed mystics. A lot of "senior citizens" live here, too. It's commonplace to see elderly women sporting belly button jewelry, pierced tongues, and eyebrow rings, and old men with a matrix of tattoos and gray Rasta hair. Arcata welcomes everyone.

People who visit Arcata come back again and again. Either that or they stay for good. The town has a way of drawing you in and making you feel good about life. It's something a person can't explain, like a climber getting a hit of oxygen at altitude, or a duckling that's fixed on a dog because it thinks the dog is its mother. It's called imprinting.

There's never a dull moment in Arcata. The place teems with an infinite array of hacky-sackers, Frisbee-flingers, bongo-beaters, skateboarders, earth mothers, and alcohol-modified transients. Most of them hang out at the Co-op or on the plaza, next to their brightly colored busses and chicken shack pick-ups, while their dogs run around in loose orbit. A bronze statue of President William McKinley stands in the center of everything, and an intonation-challenged guitar player often sits nearby, singing a folksy ballad that makes little, if any, sense.

Some folks call this place Sillyville. Others call it Haight-Ashbury North. I like to call it home. For me, real happiness boils down to one simple thing: the town where I live.

Arcata is a town with a big heart. It's always been a good place for folks down on their luck to find a job, or at least a handout. People who live here can't stand to see anyone go homeless or hungry. Everyone is out to help their fellow man and save the planet. There are movements to save the toadstool, feed the snail darter, and help the hairy-eared spotted owl. Arcata residents install solar panels on their roofs, brew their own biodiesel, and hang rainbow flags outside their front doors. At various places in town you will find Food for People (the food bank of Humboldt County), a hemp and beans farmers' market (where veggies and hugs are exchanged in equal volume), and the annual Arcata Bay Oyster Festival (where lots of shucking and even a little jiving takes place). You will also find such strange and diverse celebrations as Anti-Valentine's Day, Stop Road Rage Week, Future Sea Level Rise Awareness Month, Unicycle to Work, Kill Your TV, and, my personal favorite, Free Your Breasts Day.

The citizens of Arcata don't make their living through stock futures, tanning beds, or exploitation of third world workers. They do not wear Prada suits or expensive designer eyeglasses. Nor do they drive Hummers, wear fur, or turn their thermostats up past sixty-eight degrees in the winter. Citizens in this town live on vegan diets, petition to de-pave their streets, build homeless shelters, and drive their bicycles back and forth to the tofu store.

Arcata folks are green to the core. They recycle everything from gray water, plastic, and aluminum, to glass, cardboard, food scraps and fingernail clippings. They natural birth at home, eat vegan quinoa salads, drink ginseng tea, and make their own soap. They pick litter off nearby beaches without being asked to, march for peace, and celebrate equality and diversity in its many forms. Arcata residents have been called everything from heathens to hippies to lily-livered environmentalists. They consider such names to be supreme compliments.

You might say it doesn't matter if places like Arcata still exist. After all, embracing peace, love, and diversity in a town of fewer than ten thousand souls is just a small step in the right direction, not a full-blown manifesto. But for those of us who live here, life is about love and brotherhood, and the tickle you get in your spirit when you discover that good people still exist.

It's a feeling that leaves a lasting impression on all those who visit this town. Not because it teaches them something new. But because it teaches them something they might have forgotten: If you want to change the world, you have to start somewhere.

воскресенье, 27 ноября 2011 г.

Green Card for Sale

By Bruce Mills
Husband of Canadian living in Eagle, ID, USA

Vive la Canada. This country is not for sale.
~Don Sweet

First of all, let's be clear. I am not a Canadian. While it is true that I was born just five miles from the Canadian border, in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, I never in my wildest imagination thought that I'd ever marry a Canadian. I mean, come on. They say "eh" at the end of every phrase, they sit on Chesterfields and they are so irritatingly... polite. Who can live with that?

Once I graduated from Michigan Tech, I headed west and eventually found myself in Salt Lake City, Utah, out of money and in need of a job. I was fortunate to find employment, and began dating and looking for Miss Right. Who could have imagined that I would find a Canadian girl? I mean, I had Idaho, Wyoming and Montana in between Canada and me, and those are very large states!

It started one Saturday with my joining several young men and women for a day of cross-country skiing. Out of nowhere, this little fireball plowed into me and knocked me down in the snow. "Are you are alright, eh?" she said. Did she say, "eh?" I must have had too much snow in my ears. As I brushed myself off and stood up, I found myself looking at her startling blue eyes and crooked smile. I was a dead man!

When I got up on Monday morning for work, and found my apartment door and my whole car bound in plastic wrap, I'll admit I was intrigued. This girl was enticing, even if she was nationally challenged.

I found out that she was teaching elementary school in one of the rough parts of town, and that she had a tremendous love for her students. Wow, I thought. Depth and those blue eyes. Did I say I was a dead man?

I'll admit that I was very interested, but I wasn't ready to get too serious with any girl at that particular time. That is, until I found out that she was about to walk out of my life forever. As it turned out, she had a work visa to teach school that never should have been granted to her. About the same time that I found her, Uncle Sam also found her, and decided it was time to send her back across the border. That is, unless she could get her hands on one of those green cards.

I'll be honest -- I had to do a lot of soul searching in a big hurry. Should I take a leap of faith with this girl I had only know a few months? And a Canadian at that? My head was swimming... don't rush things... but those blue eyes... there are plenty of other girls... what a sweet smile... she's older than me... what a caring heart... but... but... she's a Canadian!

So we made a deal. She would give me $10,000 to marry her. Then she would get her green card, allowing her the ability to live in the USA, we would get the marriage annulled, and I could use the money to buy a really nice new car. Perfect plan, eh?

So here we are twenty-nine years later in Boise, Idaho. She's got her green card, but I'm still waiting to get my $10,000! I'm not letting her go until I get every penny! Through the years I've grown to truly love this wild Canadian woman, with her pretty eyes, big heart, and her patriotism -- for Canada! She refuses to take out American citizenship, because, of course, she's Canadian.

However, there are some perks. I'm one of the few people who get to celebrate two Thanksgivings each year, and she makes a great stuffed turkey! Our two children have dual citizenship, and hey, she's still so darn... polite!

So a few years ago, I quit fighting it. I bought a large Canadian flag to fly from our house for those holidays from up North. I've learned to love vacations in beautiful British Columbia, and we love the traditional music of Cape Breton. I'm still not convinced that Smarties are better than M&Ms, but she is.

So hey, Blue Eyes. Slide on over next to me on the Chesterfield and I'll put on some Celine Dion, eh?


Full of Grace

By Hilary Heskett

The robbed that smiles, steals something from the thief.
~William Shakespeare

"I don't feel right about this," I whispered to one of my cousins. She nodded in agreement and tucked an errant hair behind her ear. I twisted my fingers in the napkin on my lap, not wanting to be the first to touch the food. Turkey, mashed potatoes with gravy, stuffing and green bean casserole called to me, but their siren song seemed muted. I sighed and waited for one of the older adults to start.

Thanksgiving usually meant laughter and stuffed bellies; however, this year was different. My family sat around the candlelit table staring at our feast. No words, no sounds of utensils clinking, only unmet gazes and shifting in seats. Everyone had a full plate, everyone except for Grandma.

After conquering throat cancer, the radiation treatment intended to provide life-saving therapy took away one of her greatest pleasures, eating. Grandma had received her feeding tube a few weeks earlier and this was the first of many food-focused holidays to come. I couldn't imagine what it would be like to never taste buttery rolls or pumpkin pie again.

The fabric in my hands was now more origami than napkin when my dad began to pray. A small ripple of relief passed through me for the few seconds of just having to listen. By the time he reached, "Amen," concern thundered around me again. This felt wrong.

My cousin Molly pierced the silence with a raise of her glass, "To Nat."

We all followed her lead, one crystal goblet at a time.

"Your courage and strength inspire us all," she continued.

Unshed tears sparkled as Grandma smiled and said, "Thank you. Please, please eat."

And with that, we all began to feast. Conversations erupted around the room while Grandma laughed and talked with us all. She graciously asked questions about the food, wondering if the stuffing was too dry or if the sweet potatoes had too many marshmallows. Cancer would take away her ability to eat, but not her gift of being the ultimate hostess.

The evening went on as normal Thanksgivings do, with rounds of Pictionary and jokes told over dessert. By the time the night was over, I felt closer to my family than ever before. I learned that we gather together on holidays not to eat rich fare and complain of "food coma," but to support and share with one another. We celebrated my grandmother's courage, but we all learned a lesson in grace.

In the years following, my grandma continued to create meals for family events that were just as delicious, if not better, than before. Not once did I hear her lament about what she was missing. She told me once with a laugh, "I may not be able to eat, but I can still taste things."

Her spin on what could have been a chute into the depths of depression showed me the value of a positive attitude. Instead of obsessing about what she lost, she channeled her focus into becoming a champion of taste. She discovered new recipes and made improvements on old ones, all the while surviving after a life-altering blow. With a selfless heart, she prepared what she could not have for the sole purpose of making us happy. She inspired me to learn to cook and helped me find the secret ingredient to make everything come together: love.

Best Restaurant in Town

By Virginia Redman

When love and skill work together, expect a masterpiece.
~John Ruskin

The dinners my husband so lovingly prepares each night are mouthwatering delights, from braised Chilean sea bass, to salmon bathed in sesame ginger sauce, to luscious chicken cordon bleu. He marinates filet mignon till it is fork tender, or he tops ultra thin pork chops with an apricot sauce that melts in your mouth. The aroma of rosemary and thyme that cover a lamb roast is a hint of a delicious feast ahead.

Almost every night he makes his signature salad of baby spinach leaves, blueberries, sliced strawberries, chopped walnuts, and thin strips of Dubliner cheese, topped with raspberry vinaigrette dressing.

He bakes petite Idaho potatoes or sometimes sweet potatoes and tops them with margarine or sour cream. Verdant asparagus or broccoli round out the plate, sometimes covered in homemade Hollandaise sauce.

As if all this isn't mouthwatering enough, you should taste what he does with the leftover meat or fish! He makes what I lovingly call a pizza. He places a large whole wheat and virgin olive oil soft wrap on a pizza stone, and brushes an appropriate sauce on it. Then he finely chops salmon, filet mignon, chicken, lamb, or whatever is left over, and sprinkles it on top, followed by baby spinach leaves, and then tops it with shredded Colby-Jack cheese. He bakes it on the pizza stone, and then he cuts it into wedges. This luscious pizza is served with freshly made guacamole. I almost love the leftovers more than the original dinner!

As if all this isn't sweet enough, he keeps a supply of my favorite ice cream in the freezer: white chocolate raspberry. However, after such scrumptious dinners, I hardly ever have room for dessert.

We've been to many restaurants. A few years ago we went out to a highly recommended new one on my birthday. As delicious as the Chilean sea bass was, it couldn't compare to what my husband serves me at home. I went to Michael's and bought a frame, matting, and sparkling letters. With the blue letters I spelled out "Best Restaurant in Town," and hung this framed piece between the kitchen and the family room -- rooms where masterpieces are lovingly created and enjoyed every day!


пятница, 25 ноября 2011 г.

Second Chances

By Garrett Bauman

We all have big changes in our lives that are more or less a second chance.
~Harrison Ford

The "Free Kitten" sign was nailed to a tree outside a rundown stone farmhouse. Carol and I drove in. Our four children, ages two to seven, were squeezed in the back seat like a litter of kittens in a shoebox. It was our first summer married, each of us bringing two children from first marriages. People predicted we wouldn't make it. Too much baggage on both sides, they said. Too much harm had been done to everybody involved. Damaged goods. Don't jump into something like this. Give it time to be sure. What they were really saying was give it time to die. But we were not dead inside. If you love someone, you should go for it with all you have. We got married before the ink on the divorces was dry, scraped together a minimal down payment for a handyman's special house, and now wanted a family pet to help bond our blended family. We had decided there would be no stepchildren in this family, no "her" children or "my" children, only "ours." A kitten would be a life that belonged to all six of us.

The farmwoman searched the barn without luck, then hollered for her nine-year-old daughter. When the girl appeared, the woman said, "Where's that dang cat of yours?" The girl pulled a dirty gray fur ball from her jacket pocket. The tiny kitten lay limp. Crumbs and pocket lint clung to it. Its mother had been run over and killed by a truck. The plucky girl had fed the litter of three-week-old kittens with an eyedropper, but they wasted away and died one by one until only this kitten remained. He came from barn cats, probably had fleas and worms, and was about as damaged as goods come. But he was gentle from being handled and could now lap milk. Our children cooed and giggled as they passed him around. Like us, he needed a second chance.

In our kitchen sink, we lathered him to kill fleas and to clean off the grunge from the pockets he'd been carried in. The grime rinsed away to reveal bright orange fur. He was like a little orange sun in our drab kitchen. When we dried and fluffed him up, our oldest, Cindy, said, "What'll we call him?"

"How about holding a family meeting to decide?" I suggested.

"Let's do it like Indians!" our second-oldest, Amy, said. We had been pretending we were a Native American tribe with names like "Tiger Lily" and "Princess Moon Flower" to help bond us.

"Indians don't have meetings," Cindy said.

"They have powwows," I said. "They sit in a circle by the fire and vote to make decisions."

"And they eat cake," my wife added, to encourage enthusiasm.

So we sat in front of the fireplace, happily eating "buffalo" cake while the orange kitten scampered inside our circle. He jumped after strings and spun tiny paws as he skidded across the wood floor. "What'll we name him?"

"Cake!" our youngest, Jeremy, said.

The three girls groaned.

He tried again. "Truck!"

"You can't call a cat 'Cake' or 'Truck'," Diana sighed.

"Now, girls," I said. "In a powwow everybody has a chance to speak."

"Let's call him Powwow!"


Powwow? Carol looked at me and I looked at her. A ball of fluff named Powwow would represent our new family? I'd hoped for a name with more zing or glitter, but the looks on our children's faces told me this was exactly what we wanted. They solemnly passed little Powwow around the circle, each kissing him on the head.

We've brought fourteen other cats into our home since then; all but one were strays or orphans. Almost all have now passed on, but Powwow lived with us for twenty-three years. That's a lot longer than anyone would have guessed. He attended many naming powwows for other kittens. He supervised three litters, and unlike most male cats, he let kittens climb over him and wrestle his tail. If one annoyed him too much, he would only rest a paw on its head to hold it in a gentle time-out for a few seconds, then lick the kitten to let it know he forgave it, like a good father. I needed to be reminded of that at times during the next twenty years. Maybe he was grateful for the kindness of that little farm girl. Maybe it was just his nature. But he taught us that since we are all thrown together in this world, we ought to care for each other and not be stingy with second chances. Several times he even brought home stray cats for shelter and food. For him, strangers were simply family you have not met. That was a good message for our blended family.

Powwow saw our children off to kindergarten and college and was there when they returned on vacations, standing in line with them for a sample morsel of turkey before dinner. When a boyfriend turned sour, when Carol was in a car accident, when any of us needed comfort, Powwow sensed our distress and curled close, pressing his warmth into us. He visited the neighbors and sometimes stayed for a meal and slept in bed with them. He was a sociable guy who made up for lost family by liking everybody. He taught us that the world was our family. And that second chances can be the best thing that ever happened to you.

My First Dinner Date Disaster

By Christine Dixon

Cooking is like love. It should be entered into with abandon or not at all.
~Harriet Van Horne

As a child, I'd always heard the way to a man's heart was through his stomach. I believed it. What I didn't realize at the time was that the food had to taste good to get there.

When I started dating my boyfriend Tony, I made the mistake of bragging about how great a cook I was. I failed to mention that most of my gourmet meals consisted of peanut butter and pickle sandwiches and toast. I could go through half a loaf of bread before making edible toast.

I should have known it wasn't in my genetic makeup to be a great cook. My mother's favorite meal was boiled ground beef, pasta and cheese slices melted into the concoction. I don't know what I was thinking, offering to make lasagna for my Tony. Anyone else would have known better but I was determined to get into Tony's heart and stay there. Did I mention he was Italian and he loved his mother's cooking?

I shopped at the grocery store for everything I was going to need. I bought everything the recipe called for. I even bought garlic bread -- the kind you just throw in the oven and heat up. I got home with several hours to spare before Tony was supposed to arrive.

I prepared everything perfectly and popped my tray of lasagna into the oven. I figured I'd wait and heat up the garlic bread just before we ate so it would be hot and fresh.

I ran upstairs to get ready. It took me almost an hour to do my hair and make-up and choose the perfect outfit. Just as I sprayed the final touches on my hair, the oven bell rang and I knew the lasagna was finished. The box had said to bake for an hour. How could I go wrong?

I pulled the lasagna from the oven. It smelled delicious. I popped the garlic bread into the oven and set the table.

The sound of the doorbell set my heart racing. Would Tony love my cooking? Would he compare it to his mother's and declare mine the winner?

I opened the front door and for a second I couldn't breathe. He stood there, gorgeous as ever, holding a bouquet of flowers and a bottle of sparkling grape juice. It was so romantic.

"I'm really looking forward to this," he said as he stepped toward me and kissed me on the lips.

"Me too," I said, or squealed. I'm not sure.

He followed me into the kitchen and helped me put the flowers in some water. I watched him carry the vase into the dining room. I felt so proud of myself. My very first romantic dinner. It couldn't be any more perfect.

Tony walked back into the kitchen and gave me a soft lingering kiss. The sound of the oven bell rang. "It's ready!" I said.

I pulled the garlic bread from the oven, cut it into pieces and carried it into the dining room. Then I brought the lasagna in. Just as I was about to start cutting the lasagna into pieces, Tony walked over and took the knife gently from me.

"You worked so hard, let me serve it at least," he said sweetly.

It was too good to be true. No, seriously, it was too good to be true. He tried to cut through the beautiful tray of lasagna, and all we heard was the sound of knife hitting hard pasta. I was horrified. Okay, maybe it was just that noodle. He moved the knife to another spot, and again tried to cut through.

After several unsuccessful attempts, he set the knife down and turned to me. "I think maybe you forgot to cook the noodles."

My eyes must have grown so wide at that moment I probably scared him half to death. Then the tears. Those terrible tears that erupt whenever I don't know what to say or do.

He grinned. "It's okay."

"No it's not! I wanted this to be perfect," I said as I tried not to break into a full-out cry.

He sat me down in my chair and poured a glass of sparkling grape juice for us both. He sat down beside me and told me a joke that finally got me to stop being sad. We ate garlic bread and laughed and ended up having a super date despite the ruined lasagna.

A week later he invited me to his parents' house for dinner. His mother cooked up a delicious Italian meal. I felt silly for thinking that I could have made a better lasagna than her.

As we sat down to eat, she motioned for me to sit next to her. "Tony told me what happened with the lasagna," she said.

I was embarrassed all over again. Why did he tell her?

She smiled at me. "That's nothing. The first time I cooked a meal for my Anthony, I burned everything. I was so nervous, I set the temperature too high and nearly burned down the kitchen."

We laughed about our cooking fiascos and then his mother and father told us a whole bunch of stories about all the crazy things that happened to them over the years. The way they smiled at each other with each memory made me realize something -- the way to a man's heart may be through his stomach, but you'll only stay there if you can laugh together.

четверг, 24 ноября 2011 г.

Real Father

By Barbara Edwards

It is not flesh and blood but the heart which makes us fathers and sons.
~Johann Schiller

Having decided to leave my marriage of seven years, I was fully prepared to take on the new role of single mother, but not necessarily inclined to take advantage of my newly single status. For so long my social circle had consisted of my husband's coworkers, their wives, and other young mothers in the neighborhood. After the divorce, I moved out of the neighborhood and my ex-husband kept the friends and their wives, while I kept the kids. That was fine with me. I wasn't looking for a relationship or even someone to hold my hand in a way that might suggest even the most casual involvement. But just a few short months later I met the man who would become my second husband.

Something in my gut kept telling me not to blow him off, and this time I was going to go with my gut feeling. Kim had never been married and had no children of his own, and as the mother of two young boys, I felt an enormous responsibility to ensure that anyone I introduced into their lives would respect and support my commitment to them.

Exactly two years later we were married. The boys' father, who self-admittedly was more of a part-time "buddy" to the boys than a father figure, readily relinquished the job of parent to my new husband. Kim stepped into the position without hesitation, and with a sincere enthusiasm. His buddies and coworkers were stunned that the man they had seen as the proverbial bachelor was not only a devoted husband, but also a shining example of a committed father.

Suddenly, he was the dad who spent sleepless nights fretting and tossing if he felt that someone had wronged one of the boys. He was a homework cheerleader, even though he had no clue what a linear equation was. He frequently called on his artistic skills to assist in designing Cub Scout derby cars and posters for biology. When the boys were ill, he called from work every hour for an update. When they expressed an interest in sports, he was the one sitting in a lawn chair at every pee-wee football practice and arriving half an hour before game time to watch them warm up. When they didn't get the playing time they had hoped for the first year, he put both boys on a weight lifting program to increase their strength and speed. He surprised the boys with go-carts when they were younger, and dirt bikes and cars as they got older.

Both of our sons are now young men. Both have held national athletic records. The older one, Tom, is currently in college on a full athletic scholarship and his younger brother, Dan, is a senior in high school with the same potential. As they were growing up, I often wondered if they truly understood how fortunate they were to have such a loving father. But looking back, there were moments where the connection was impossible to ignore.

One such moment was Tom's "Senior Night." Senior Night is a common high school tradition recognized at the last game the senior players will play on their home field before graduating. During the game halftime, the field was teeming with parents, siblings and players waiting to line up and be introduced. As tradition requires, I was wearing my son's jersey. The player's father carries his son's helmet. The announcer instructed the players to line up with their families. As I watched, Tom turned toward Kim, silently offering him his helmet. Kim grasped the helmet by the facemask. I waited for one of them to say something, but not a word was spoken. I realized at that moment that there was nothing that needed to be said. There were mutual nods as Tom handed over the helmet and the two men turned and stood shoulder to shoulder, a proud father and his son.


Full of Grace

By Hilary Heskett

The robbed that smiles, steals something from the thief.
~William Shakespeare

"I don't feel right about this," I whispered to one of my cousins. She nodded in agreement and tucked an errant hair behind her ear. I twisted my fingers in the napkin on my lap, not wanting to be the first to touch the food. Turkey, mashed potatoes with gravy, stuffing and green bean casserole called to me, but their siren song seemed muted. I sighed and waited for one of the older adults to start.

Thanksgiving usually meant laughter and stuffed bellies; however, this year was different. My family sat around the candlelit table staring at our feast. No words, no sounds of utensils clinking, only unmet gazes and shifting in seats. Everyone had a full plate, everyone except for Grandma.

After conquering throat cancer, the radiation treatment intended to provide life-saving therapy took away one of her greatest pleasures, eating. Grandma had received her feeding tube a few weeks earlier and this was the first of many food-focused holidays to come. I couldn't imagine what it would be like to never taste buttery rolls or pumpkin pie again.

The fabric in my hands was now more origami than napkin when my dad began to pray. A small ripple of relief passed through me for the few seconds of just having to listen. By the time he reached, "Amen," concern thundered around me again. This felt wrong.

My cousin Molly pierced the silence with a raise of her glass, "To Nat."

We all followed her lead, one crystal goblet at a time.

"Your courage and strength inspire us all," she continued.

Unshed tears sparkled as Grandma smiled and said, "Thank you. Please, please eat."

And with that, we all began to feast. Conversations erupted around the room while Grandma laughed and talked with us all. She graciously asked questions about the food, wondering if the stuffing was too dry or if the sweet potatoes had too many marshmallows. Cancer would take away her ability to eat, but not her gift of being the ultimate hostess.

The evening went on as normal Thanksgivings do, with rounds of Pictionary and jokes told over dessert. By the time the night was over, I felt closer to my family than ever before. I learned that we gather together on holidays not to eat rich fare and complain of "food coma," but to support and share with one another. We celebrated my grandmother's courage, but we all learned a lesson in grace.

In the years following, my grandma continued to create meals for family events that were just as delicious, if not better, than before. Not once did I hear her lament about what she was missing. She told me once with a laugh, "I may not be able to eat, but I can still taste things."

Her spin on what could have been a chute into the depths of depression showed me the value of a positive attitude. Instead of obsessing about what she lost, she channeled her focus into becoming a champion of taste. She discovered new recipes and made improvements on old ones, all the while surviving after a life-altering blow. With a selfless heart, she prepared what she could not have for the sole purpose of making us happy. She inspired me to learn to cook and helped me find the secret ingredient to make everything come together: love.

вторник, 22 ноября 2011 г.

Lessons from My Son

By Ellie Braun-Haley

Remembrances last longer than present realities.
~Jean Paul Richter

"Stop! Mom! There's a car beside us!" I was about to change lanes on a busy highway when my son called out a warning. I looked over my left shoulder and sure enough, in my blind spot, a vehicle loomed.

Jason had an innate understanding of humans and a sense of timing to deliver the right words at just the right time. His sisters were seven and twelve years old when he arrived on the scene and I thought I was an old hand at child rearing. But Jason came with a guarantee, to teach each of us something new, or at the very least to consider new ways to look at life.

One afternoon he was bouncing his soccer ball off the outside of the house. The neighbor had already mentioned it was irritating her. Despite my earlier request to stop, he was back at it again; maybe he wanted to see how far he could push. Quite irritated with him, I shouted, "Jason, stop with the ball already!"

He grinned at me, which further fueled my anger and I shouted again. Then my skinny, 6' 2" muscular athlete walked over and picked me up! Exasperated, I tried to continue my lecture but the annoyance was soon overridden by a rush of warmth and his winning smile. My frustration evaporated as he teasingly held me. I could feel his love for me. At that moment I saw things through his eyes. I laughed, appreciating his goofy sense of humor.

Another day he went to school in a yellow sweatshirt I'd been given. It bore the emblem of a rival school's football team.

"Surely you didn't wear that to school today, did you?"

"Yes I did."

"Oh my goodness. What happened?"

"Well," he responded calmly, "some kids threw me up against the lockers and called me names."

"Oh Jason, I guess you won't be doing that again!"

"Yes I will," he promised. "Why not, Mom? It builds character!"

The day Jason was to compete in a track and field competition he hugged me just before he left. It was our last hug. Just an hour later, he lost control of his car and within minutes he was dead.

After losing him, trying to find balance, meaning and comfort was a slow, arduous and complex process. Five years passed.

Out of the blue one day, the pain of missing him was suddenly so sharp I broke down sobbing. Between huge gulps I begged, "God give me a dream where I can once more see my beautiful son." I pleaded. "It's so simple for you God. Please, please give me this dream. I miss him so much. All I ask for is just one hug in a dream." I cried and begged as if my life depended upon this one thing.

That night I dreamed of Jason when he was about seven years old. I was chastising him for something he had done. "Don't do that. Do you want to get killed?"

He looked at me, then spoke the most compelling words he ever uttered: "But Mom, death isn't forever."

I awoke, upset. I hadn't received my hug. As I became more fully awake, it dawned on me I'd been given something far better. Jason's words filled me with hope and reassurance for tomorrow. Even after death, this son of mine gave me another lesson, better than a hug -- until we embrace again in heaven.


Knight in Shining Armor

By Lil Blosfield

To find someone who will love you for no reason, and to shower that person with reasons, that is the ultimate happiness.
~Robert Brault, www.robertbrault.com

Ted was a friend of my very best friend, Barb, who often told me hysterical stories about Ted's escapades. One day, I agreed to meet Barb at the establishment where Ted bartended on a part-time basis. Ted and I were introduced and shared many a laugh. That was not when I fell in love -- although Ted would tell you that it was exactly the time that he did!

Since we had shared so many laughs and so much fun, Ted and I began dating. At that same time, I had just switched jobs. Unfortunately, after starting with my new employer, I came down with an atrocious head cold.

I got up for work one morning, feeling more like the walking dead than someone heading off to a workday full of challenges. I realized that having been at my new job less than a month it probably wouldn't be a brilliant decision to call in sick, so I persevered and forced my sneezing, feverish body into my office.

Ted was working the night shift at a local manufacturing firm. He would be finishing his workday as I was beginning mine. He called me before he went to sleep to see if I would like to meet him for dinner.

Ted immediately understood why I declined when he heard my voice, with my scratchy throat and tremendously congested nose, along with frequent coughing. I replied, "I'll be lucky to make it through this day and if I do, I'm planning to collapse under a warm blanket on my couch." I thanked him for the kind invitation and said I'd talk to him later.

I assumed that Ted would go to sleep while I continued my struggle to make it through my workday. But shortly after midday I received a call from our security downstairs. "Lil, you have a visitor." He didn't even give me the chance to question who my "visitor" might be. I had no idea if, in my clogged and muddled state, I had forgotten an appointment.

I dragged myself to the stairway to open the door, and as I walked onto the landing, I looked down and there was Ted, charging up the stairwell. I immediately envisioned the movie Pretty Woman when Miss Vivian speaks of dreaming of her knight charging up on a white stallion to save her from her imprisonment in a castle tower.

Okay, he was not riding to my rescue, but he did have a crock of homemade chicken noodle soup. He was taking every step ever so carefully so as not to spill a drop. It was somewhat difficult not to laugh aloud at the intense concentration on Ted's face.

Not only had Ted foregone his sleep, he had gone to the store, purchased groceries, and toiled in the kitchen making this soup from scratch. To make it even more incredible, my office was forty minutes from Ted's home through a fair amount of traffic. Yet, he made the journey balancing this hot soup in the car. He even brought crackers.

That was the moment I fell in love.

Over nearly twenty years of marriage, there have certainly been times when I have wanted to pour chicken soup over Ted's head, but then I think back and remember that special day in the stairwell. Homemade chicken noodle soup has become not only a comfort food, but also a dear symbol of my husband's love for me. I've made what seems like millions of meals for us over the years, from traditional mashed potatoes and meatloaf to glorious holiday feasts. Yet none can surpass my knight coming to my rescue with steaming hot chicken soup. That was truly a recipe made entirely with love.

Wanting Versus Have

By Miriam Hill

If a man could have half his wishes, he would double his troubles.
~Benjamin Franklin

"Mom, I can't wait to own a fast Porsche someday and peel out and lay rubber in front of my friends," announced sixteen-year-old Steve, as he drove our old family car home after he passed his test for a Florida driver's license. I studied my son's excited face as he fantasized about his future transportation.

"I hope you get your dream car, but a Porsche is expensive," I replied. "You'll have to work hard to earn one."

Over the next several years Steve excelled. After high school he received a full scholarship to the prestigious Coast Guard Academy and graduated as an Ensign. Later he earned an MBA and a master's degree in engineering and got a job with a large corporation. The demands of working long hours competed with family obligations to his wife and young son.

One day he called and sounded happy.

"Hey, Mom. I'm inviting you and Dad to spend the weekend with us. Andrew is eager to play with his grandparents and Stephanie wants you to come for dinner on Friday."

"We'll be there."

We arrived to a round of hugs, and then Steve asked me to stand in front of the garage. I noticed a mysterious look on his face.

"I want to show you something, Mom."

He opened the garage door.

I shrieked and my mouth dropped open. I stared at the silver Porsche convertible, with the top down.

"Oh Steve! What a gorgeous car! It's your dream come true!"

My son grinned. I noticed tears of happiness in his eyes.

"It's a used 911 Carrera 4 Cabriolet, in mint condition, and one of the fastest cars on the road. I got a good deal, for less than half its original cost of a hundred grand. C'mon, let me take you for a ride and show you what this car can do. I'll take Dad later."

After I buckled up in the jazzy sports car, I studied my son's excited face, as I had the day he got his driver's license and fantasized about this car. Then he started the engine and we sped off. When my head was thrown against the headrest I clutched the door handle for support.

First, we roared from zero to sixty on an open stretch of road. Next, we raced up a steep bridge where I feared we'd go airborne, until Steve downshifted the engine. Finally, we executed a fast 180-degree turn in a deserted parking lot before we headed for home.

"Wow! That was a white knuckle ride!" I gasped, as I climbed out of the bucket seat.

"This car exceeded all my expectations," Steve said with pride.

Months later, during another visit, I stood next to Steve in his garage and admired his immaculate sports car. I was unprepared for what came next.

"I've decided to sell the Porsche," he said.

"Why?" I asked, in disbelief.

"I don't have time to enjoy it, and it's too small for our family."

Then, after a thoughtful pause, Steve shared an important lesson.

"I have discovered wanting a Porsche... was more fun than having one."


суббота, 19 ноября 2011 г.

Wind Chill Redux

By David Martin Ottawa, ON

I am told that the Inuit have some sixty words for snow... for different kinds of snow. That doesn't surprise me; they see a lot of it. I live considerably south of the tree line, but even I have seventeen words for snow -- none of them usable in public.
~Arthur Black

"Cold enough for ya?" Frankly, no. It won't be cold enough for me until your lips are frozen shut and you are physically incapable of asking such inane questions.

What is it about winter weather that turns people into blithering idiots? How come normally intelligent beings start spewing forth vacuous meteorological comments?

At first, I assumed that winter temperatures must freeze the lobe of the human brain that governs common sense. How else to explain such time-wasting observations as: "Boy, it's cold outside!" and "How about that snow?" and "Lookit that ice!"

But now I think there must be another reason. After all, not every member of the species insists on stating the obvious over and over again.

The only explanation I can offer is that these folks actually like winter. Why else would they continually underscore its least charming attributes on a daily basis?

Personally, I don't care for winter. And in the case of something I don't like, I find the less said, the better.

I don't enjoy dwelling on the negative things in my life. That's why you won't hear me talking about death, taxes or our longest, loneliest season: winter. It only serves to make me miserable.

So when I hear people standing by the window announcing "Hey, it's snowing!" I have to assume that they are happy about it. Either that or they possess a mean streak beyond the sadistic.

My preferred method for dealing with winter's charms is to say nothing. In my view, winter is a six-month ordeal that is best endured in silence.

There is no need to parse every aspect of this season from hell. I am well aware that winter is cold, snowy and dark. Rather than endlessly remind myself of these obvious facts, I'd prefer to at least temporarily forget them.

But many people, it seems, can't get enough of winter. Despite having experienced it dozens of times before, they insist on asking "Hey, did you see that freezing rain?" or "How about that snowstorm?"

How about that snowstorm, indeed. I just spent ten minutes putting on boots, mitts, a toque, a scarf and three layers of clothing. I spent another twenty minutes shovelling out the driveway and ten more minutes scraping snow and ice off the car. Let's just say I'm not in the mood to joyfully kibbutz about that "amazing snowstorm."

If there's a death in someone's family, how do you react? That's right. You quietly approach the person and succinctly express your sorrow with a quick "I'm sorry." Or you leave the person alone. As far as I know, you don't say "Boy, was that some death!" or "How about that corpse?"

Well, that's the same approach you should take when it comes to winter. If there has been a nasty winter event (e.g. -- temperature below minus twenty-five degrees, more than fifteen centimetres of snow or more than five millimetres of ice on the windshield), just let me mourn in peace. Or, if you must, simply say "I'm sorry" and move on.

Don't ask me "Did your car start?" or "Did you get your driveway shovelled?" I made it in to work, didn't I? Your insensitive and silly questions are like road salt on an open wound.

It's only January and it's going to be very cold for a while. And it's going to be snowy, slushy, icy and unpleasant for months after that. I know that. You know that. We all know that.

So do me a favour, please. Don't talk to me about winter. I don't need a gleeful discussion about the wind chill factor or whether or not we broke any records.

Unless, of course, it's happening somewhere else. If Halifax got two feet of snow then I want to hear all about it.


пятница, 18 ноября 2011 г.

Lost and Found

By Pegge Bernecker
And I tell you, ask and you will receive; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks, receives; and the one who seeks, finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.
~Luke 11:9-10
We had waited nearly two years to get a Chesapeake Bay Retriever puppy. I daydreamed of names, felt the brown puppy fur between my fingers, and smelled a young warm-bellied pup. The breeder called with a possible dog for us; he was four months old, had no training, and could not be AKC registered. I explained he would be our family dog and accompany my husband and son hunting. I assured her that his age and lack of early attention was okay with us. For some reason unbeknownst to me, I was determined to have this dog, no matter what. Thus, on a windy day, in late December, we met him. He was shy and afraid of us, of everything really, but I just knew he was my dog. We named him Kenai after our favorite river in Alaska, where my parents lived.
Less than one month later, our only child, our sixteen-year-old son, died. As I grieved, whimpering and crying in my pain, Kenai sat at attention at his fence, listening for my movements in the house. He watched and waited, 24/7. I spent more than an hour each day sitting cross-legged on a railroad tie in the yard, Kenai lying across my lap. His fur became a prayer blanket to me, his eyes a healing solace. I sometimes wondered if he was an angel, sent to companion me in my grief.
On April 1st, a little more than two months after Justin died, I made a business trip to California. It was a mistake for me to travel so soon. I didn"t realize how exhausted I was and how little energy I had to expend. I couldn"t wait to get home. On a Sunday evening, I called to check in with Jim, my husband. He sounded awful and told me he had some very bad news. While at the fire station on Interstate 80 in Wyoming where he volunteers, a train passed, blowing its whistle. Kenai, standing next to him, had bolted in fear, simply disappearing into the stark barren landscape. Jim searched for hours and finally drove the forty-five minutes home, bereft. He knew how much Kenai mattered to me, and couldn"t believe this loss.
When I got home, we drove to Wyoming and searched and searched. No one had seen him. On Holy Thursday, a friend and I drove to every house, every ranch, and posted lost dog signs. I berated myself for seeking a lost dog, while there were places in the world with people searching for missing family and friends. Yet I knew the loss of our son had left us hopeless. We could do nothing to change it. I had to do something now to try to find Kenai, to ease our loss. I had to believe again.
Kenai was only seven months old -- a shy, frightened dog. But I had to try, to hope for a miracle. I posted a missing dog report on dogdetective.com.
The summer passed. Whenever we went to our cabin, ten miles south of where we lost Kenai, I scoured the landscape. I knew that perhaps someone had found him and kept him, or he had been eaten by a predator, or killed by a car. But I still looked. Something inside me believed in hope. I stopped telling my husband what I was doing. He felt bad enough.
Nearly nine months passed. Christmas was coming and we planned to visit my parents in Alaska. It had been the worst year of our lives, and we needed a respite. On December 23rd, we left Colorado in a snowstorm. Two feet of snow had fallen; cattle were dying on the plains. Arriving in Alaska, the serenity and beauty welcomed us. My parent"s cozy lodge was a comforting place to spend Christmas.
The morning of December 24th, my husband was on the telephone. I heard snippets of the conversation. "In a dead cow carcass? Brown dog? Skinny? Can"t get near him?" He hung up, shaken, and explained. A rancher out with her cows had spotted a small animal on a distant ridge. She determined it was a dog. She could see it had a collar and flash of silver around its neck. When she approached the animal, it ran. Searching the Internet for lost dogs, Brenda found my notice I"d long given up on but never deleted. She promised to leave food near the cow carcass the dog used for shelter, and warned there was another big storm coming.
At Christmas Mass, I couldn"t concentrate. Images of shepherds, ranchers, sheep, dogs, mangers, cradles, and cow carcasses traversed my mind. Was it possible that Kenai had survived all this time, alone? Did I dare I believe he was alive?
I asked myself, as I do every Christmas, "How is the Christ-child birthed within me this year?" Might the birthing be hope in a dog that was lost and found? That what seemed to be dead could live? Dare I believe and hope for a miracle?
Brenda promised to keep feeding him until we returned on December 31st and could meet her at the ranch. She was certain the skittish dog was Kenai. Though he wouldn"t let her within twenty-five yards of him, the kibble she left on the snowy ground was wolfed down each morning.
January 1st dawned clear and sunny and we drove to Wyoming. Entering the ranch, we stopped to scan the landscape with binoculars. On a distant ridge we saw him. There was no doubt now. My stomach started to churn. Within a few minutes, we met Brenda. I could barely breathe. There was only room for one of us in her tractor cab. Jim stared at me and whispered, "Go."
Maneuvering to the ridge top seemed longer than ten minutes. Cows followed as we lurched through icy snow drifts. The sun radiated brilliance against snow and rock. We stopped where Brenda had left food for Kenai. Heart pounding, I stepped from the cab.

Brenda backed the tractor away. I walked forward. Suddenly I saw a flash of brown on the other ridge. Clapping my hands, I called, "Kenai, Kenai, Kenaiii," over and over and over. Could he hear me, would he remember?
Kenai stopped and sniffed the air. Instantly wiggling with recognition from nose to tail, he raced through snowdrifts toward me. Whimpers and cries erupted from both of us. I fell to my knees in the snow, arms wide open, calling him. I could see his puppy collar! A solid, furry hay-smelling body launched into my embrace. He was undersized, but unharmed. We jumped up, tumbled around each other, playing, touching, petting, tears pouring forth. I can"t believe he remembers! He"s safe!
When Jim was within one hundred yards of us, I knelt, presenting to him Kenai. Kenai looked to me, then rushed to Jim as I watched, sobbing with joy.
Oh yes, I hope. I believe.

The Honeymoon

By Yvonne Kays
You will do foolish things, but do them with enthusiasm.
Keith and I were blessed to find love at age sixty. I had planned a trip to Florida with a friend and when she had a change in plans it became the perfect honeymoon for us. Neither Keith nor I had ever been to Florida, and the thought of palm trees, warmth, and sun after a cold, rainy Oregon winter was a dream come true.
Our first day was amazing. Driving from Orlando toward Cape Canaveral, we were curious about a group of people who had stopped along the roadside and were looking up into the sky. We pulled over to find out why they were there. Suddenly, we were gazing in awe at a shuttle blasting off and disappearing into space with a spiraling vapor trail. Later, a walk on the beach hand-in-hand and a romantic candlelight dinner capped off an incredible day.
"Let's explore the St. Petersburg area tomorrow," Keith suggested, little knowing what that next day held in store.
Driving west to St. Petersburg, we continued wandering southward into Fort DeSoto State Park. We were pleasantly surprised to be greeted with a sign that read, "#1 Beach in America in 2005." Wisps of clouds floated in an azure sky. A postcard had shown the beach covered with bodies, but we shared the warm, caressing waves and beautiful palm-shaded shore with only one other family. To our delight, a group of graceful dolphins swam by as we gazed from the pier. We spotted the angular form of a huge frigate bird soaring high above.
"Frigate birds are usually only seen along shore when a storm is brewing," a passing park ranger told us. No hint of that -- what a treat!
After a swim on the idyllic beach, we continued exploring southward, trekking over a magnificent cabled bridge that stretched over the bay with no end in sight. Hunger overtook us as we reached civilization again on the far shore. Unable to find a park nearby, we stopped to munch local vegetables and fruit on a dead end street just off the freeway. A bench seemed to invite visitors, but we chose to sit in the shade of our rented PT Cruiser and observe the neighborhood. I watched a young man stroll across the street with a weed eater, and envisioned him heading to an elderly neighbor's house to help with yard work.
Suddenly a sheriff's car appeared on the right side of our vehicle, and a young officer quickly approached with his hand on his gun. I had a sudden vision of a chubby Barney Fife.
"What are you doing here?" he asked.
"Having lunch and drinking my buttermilk," I replied as I held up the milk carton. "Is there a problem, officer?"
"Well, yes -- if you are selling drugs," he said.
Selling drugs? How absurd! I laughed aloud. The young officer flushed, and looked at me sternly, as my husband Keith jabbed me in the ribs.
"What are you doing having lunch in the ghetto, then," the officer said, "unless you want to be carjacked?"
I gazed in disbelief at the neighborhood homes. What did he mean, ghetto? It was not an affluent neighborhood by any means, but certainly not my idea of a ghetto.
Suddenly another officer appeared by Keith's door, and I saw in the side view mirror that a second sheriff's car had pulled in behind our vehicle. As my husband was asked for his license, he tried to explain that our plight was just an innocent mistake. Gradually, the young officers began to realize we really were just lost tourists from Oregon, not drug dealers. We were only too glad to follow their directions to leave the area and get back on the freeway.
"What were you doing, laughing at that officer?" Keith sputtered. "Did you want to get us arrested?"
"I can't believe they thought we were drug dealers. I should have pulled out my county ID badge that shows I'm an Alcohol/Drug Prevention Specialist and let him look at that," I said.
"Oh yeah -- I'm sure he would think you were just using that as a cover!" Keith retorted.
"Do you think a drug dealer would choose a grandmotherly car like a PT Cruiser? I'd have a Corvette or a Cadillac for sure," I quipped, choking with laughter. Looking down the freeway, I gasped, "Oh, please hurry, and find a rest area soon," as I held my sides and tears ran down my cheeks. Two senior citizens accused of being drug dealers on their honeymoon. This was one day we would surely long remember!

четверг, 17 ноября 2011 г.

Dusting Off Memories

By Jenny R. George

The happiest moments of my life have been the few which I have passed at home in the bosom of my family.
~Thomas Jefferson

As a young girl growing up in rural Alabama, I never understood why my mom spent so much time baking bread from scratch, and making my brother and me help her. One day every other week was dedicated to making bread. My brother and I were in charge of grinding the wheat into flour while Mom prepped the remaining ingredients. One of us would pour the wheat, a little at a time, into the hopper while the other turned the handle, and then we would trade positions as our small arms tired. The grinder was attached to a metal desk in the corner of the dining room, and occasionally the vise-like grip would loosen and we would have to stop and tighten it.

Eventually, Dad bought Mom a motorized grinder and our routine changed from pouring and grinding to grinding and keeping the flour dust from settling on everything in the kitchen and dining room. Despite our best efforts, the flour dust always went everywhere. So at the end of the day, while the bread was baking in the oven, we dusted the white off every coated surface.

While I went about my bread baking chores obediently, I chafed at the hours spent in the kitchen. I would wistfully look out the window as my horses grazed contentedly in the nearby pasture. I preferred to be outside with my horses. Looking back, I never appreciated my mom's idea of quality family time with my brother and me, at least when it came to time in the kitchen.

Years have gone by and I have become a mother myself. Home is now North Idaho. I handle kitchen chores with more grace as an adult, but I prefer to leave most of the cooking and baking to my husband. He's quite good at it, too.

It was on one such occasion that my husband, Christopher, was preparing dinner. I was at the kitchen table going through the day's mail when our two-year-old son, Cody, asked his Papa if he could help him cook. Christopher smiled and tried to explain that the stove was hot and it wasn't safe for him to be near it. Undeterred and resourceful, Cody grabbed a chair from the nearby table, and with all his effort began dragging the chair toward the nearest kitchen counter several feet away. While he struggled with the chair over the carpet, he made fast progress on the linoleum and soon had it placed in front of a counter centered between the refrigerator and the pantry. I sat there amused at his determination.

Cody climbed up on the chair and reached for a glass on the counter containing two dozen or so wine corks that Christopher had collected. With corks in hand, he pointed to the coffee pot on another counter. His Papa handed him the unplugged coffee pot. His final request was a wooden spoon. I put the mail down and watched as Cody carefully removed the glass pot from the brewer and placed the corks inside the pot. He stirred the corks with his wooden spoon for several minutes before returning them, and the pot, to the coffee maker.

"What are you doing?" I asked.

"Helping Papa cook," he replied with a big smile on his face. "I'm making cork soup!" It didn't matter that Christopher was behind him tending food in the oven. He was in the kitchen helping his Papa and that was all that mattered to him.

At that moment, something from within me stirred. I thought back to all those times as a kid when my own mom asked for help in baking bread, and I had grudgingly, but obediently, complied. Perhaps she was trying to create something more than just fresh baked bread. Maybe Mom was trying to instill a sense of togetherness through family time. Maybe she was trying to create a few lasting memories.

As I watched Cody take the corks in and out of the pot and stir them with all the dedication of a two-year-old, I realized that he had created a forever moment for me, a moment in time in which Christopher's willingness to let him "help" in the kitchen created a profound sense of family for our son. When the wine corks were sufficiently stirred to Cody's satisfaction, I got up from the table and offered him the small counter scale. Weighing the corks would let the moment linger even longer as I savored my newfound appreciation for the experiences my mom had given me years ago in her kitchen, a place where I was welcomed and belonged, flour dust and all.


The Quilt

By Rosalie Grangaard Grosch

Tears streamed down my face as I reminded myself, "It's only a thing."

Earlier in the day, the ringing of the telephone had startled us. It was the snowplow operator at our lake home. "I noticed that one window is broken and another is open."

With great haste, my husband set out on the hour-and-a-half drive. Not wanting to face the fear of the unknown, I stayed home.

Ken's call came. "They must have had lots of time because the place has been ransacked. They broke the bedroom window when they entered and exited with the loot through an open kitchen window."

Sawdust on the counter looked familiar to Ken. Checking the basement, he realized his chain saw was missing. That, along with other objects, must have been packed on the kitchen counter.

The drawers in the upstairs dressers were upside-down on the floor. Things were strewn around all over. A container of pennies was missing, as was the microwave from under the counter and guns from the closet.

With Ken's second phone call, I asked, "Is the quilt still there?"

"Just a minute. I will look." The phone was silent while I waited.

"It is gone. They must have wrapped everything in it when they fled."

I was heartbroken. That quilt meant everything to me. We were living out of the country when Mother died, and I was not able to attend her funeral. The quilt had been her project. Each piece told a story from my family's past. The partially finished quilt was given to my daughter. While at college, she finished the piecing. On an unforgettable trip to the other grandma's house, my two daughters and Grandma sat around the big frame, stitching everything by hand.

"We are doing this for Mom and Dad's twenty-fifth anniversary," our daughters sang as they stitched. In the center, embroidered in bright colors, was a special square: "Ken and Rosalie, 25 years of love and laughter."

We wept with joy when the quilt was presented to us. We pictured so many hands lovingly working: Mother cutting and piecing the old remnants; our daughter sewing the pieces between college classes; our two girls sitting around the quilt frame, stitching with Grandma.

Now, it was gone. I took off a day from work and went on a scavenger hunt, stopping at antique stores on the way to our cabin. No one had seen or heard anything of the quilt. I put up flyers with pictures asking people to call if they ran across the quilt.

I dream of someday finding a stained and worn quilt with our names stitched in the center. With a few left-over pieces, my daughter and I replicated the quilt in a smaller size. And as I look at those familiar fabric pieces, I give thanks.


вторник, 15 ноября 2011 г.

Hard Truth

By Shawnelle Eliasen

We are so accustomed to disguising ourselves to others that in the end we become disguised to ourselves.
~François Duc de La Rochefoucauld

I picked through the jumble in my locker. Only a few students clustered in the hall. The class bell was about to ring. Where was that science book?

"C'mon," I said. My heart was beginning to beat a little fast when I saw the blue binding at the bottom of a pile of books. I tugged hard. The book slid from the stack. I pushed it under my arm, slammed my locker door, and bolted down the hall to Mr. Countryman's room.

As I walked through the door, my heart beat a little harder still. My eyes scanned the room. Our sixth grade classroom had short brown tables and cream-colored plastic chairs. Two kids per table. And the seats were assigned.

I cleared my throat and trudged toward my table. My tablemate was already there, twisted backwards in his seat, visiting with someone at the table behind him. His thick blond hair hung over the collar of his sweatshirt. I felt that I could melt into a puddle, just being so close.

The bell rang as I reached my seat. I dropped my books to the tabletop and created a sharp "Slam!" Scott turned in his chair and flashed a smile. There he was. Golden boy of the junior high school. Handsome. Athletic. Strong. And nice.

"Tough morning?" he asked.

I plunked into my seat and conjured my best growly voice. "Stupid science. It smells like frogs in here. I just hate science."

Scott produced a sad, crooked smile. I set my jaw and flipped my book open as Mr. Countryman made his way to the front of the classroom.

Unsettling. That's a good word to describe my first year of junior high school. In our town, three elementary schools, two from town and one from the country, fed into the junior high. I was from the country school. We were a tight group, and it was different to be sprinkled in with the kids from town who all seemed to know one another well. There was a lot of new stuff to keep up with. A cool crowd. Nike athletic shoes. Just the right brand of jeans. Talking the right talk. Then my best friend became best friends with a town girl -- one who didn't care for me. I felt overwhelmed and insecure. I masked my uncertainties behind an angry exterior. My new classmates had no idea I was like Jell-O inside.

Mr. Countryman began to talk about different types of rocks. Several students opened their notebooks, tipped their heads, and scrawled notes. But I was distracted. It was hard sitting at the same table as Scott. I wanted him to like me. I daydreamed about being his girlfriend -- another big, new thing that was customary in junior high. I could picture myself in the bleachers watching him rule the basketball court. I'd cheer at all the right times and maybe there'd be pizza at Joe's Pizzeria after the game. Many of my classmates were allowed to walk there after sports events.

A jab on the arm brought me back to reality. A boy from the next table thrust a rock sample in my direction. From the corner of my eye, I saw Scott watching me. I held the crumbly rock with distaste, poked my nose in the air, and passed it to him.

The remaining forty-five minutes of class flew by. Science class always did. I didn't have any other classes with Scott, and I enjoyed every minute of sitting there, though no one would have known that.

When the bell rang to end the period, the science students screeched their chairs back and bolted out the door. Scott hung back a bit. It appeared that he wanted to talk. I was hopeful and excited. But I was also scared, so I was sure to not smile.

"Shawn?" Scott said. His eyes were so blue.

"What?" I answered a little gruff.

"Well, I just wanted to say something."

I acted annoyed. "Go ahead."

"I think you're a real pretty girl," Scott said. "Nice to look at. It's just too bad you don't act nice, too." Then he pulled his red sweatshirt from the back of his chair, shrugged his shoulders, and walked out.

I stood beside the table for a minute or two. My face felt hot and I knew tears were close. I wanted to yell at the top of my lungs. He was wrong! I was nice! Didn't he know that I was just scared? The answer was no. He didn't see my fear -- only my grouchy attitude.

I learned a lot from Scott that day. I wish I could say that the honest, hard truth caused me to do a fast 180. It didn't. In fact, for a while, the words may have made me feel even more insecure with who and where I was. But later, when middle school anxiety melted away and I didn't feel the need to protect myself with a grizzly exterior, I found honesty and kindness in those simple words.

Scott never became my boyfriend. And he never treated me to pizza at Joe's. But he had given me something of value. Though it had been hard to hear, he'd given me the truth.


Manitoulin Connections

By Rose McCormick Brandon, Caledonia, ON

If it matters at all, it's because we know who we are. I'd never leave Canada. This is my home and I got to be everything I am right here.
~Sarah McLachlan

One fall morning, surrounded by empty cottages and bronze maples, I perched on a picnic table at Lake Mindemoya's vacant beach. Quiet waves nudged my thoughts back to childhood memories -- swimming for hours with my sisters, sunning ourselves crispy, then years later taking our babies for their first beach experiences. Dad's freshly caught lake trout dinners, Chinese checkers and visits to relatives' homes on rainy days. Memories of these warmed my heart while my body shivered in cool October breezes. It was time to let go of the cottage and that wouldn't be easy.

Nine years a widow, cottage-owner responsibilities had become a burden for Mom. My husband and I had come to the cottage on one last vacation. On arrival, we hammered a For Sale sign into the ground. It'll go fast, passersby said. Three bedrooms, attached garage, indoor plumbing, a short sprint to the beach, someone will snatch up your four decades of memories in a hurry.

If not for a small island blocking my view from the picnic table, I would see a hilltop log cabin across the lake. Built by my great-great-grandparents, John and Sarah Galbraith, when they were newly married Scottish immigrants, the stone foundations of the cabin are a monument to their determination to carve out a homestead in a new country. They and other pioneer couples seeded central Manitoulin Island with their offspring.

My parents, both children of pioneers with farming in their veins, moved to a nearby booming paper town because it promised a better and more regular paycheque than life on the farm. I was four, my sister three when we left what citizens call The Island.

Once a month, on Dad's long weekends, we made the seventy-mile trip back to Manitoulin to visit grandparents, aunts and cousins. When our family's number reached seven, fitting us into a relative's already full household wasn't easy. So, my parents built the cottage, our Manitoulin home.

When the cottage sells, my identity here disappears. People here know where I come from -- "That's Bill and Millie's oldest girl," the folks used to say when I visited the general store near my grandmother's house.

Another would nod, "Yea, she's a McCormick alright."

Whenever our toes touched the Island, the local paper added the event to its social column. Even now, mysterious forces report our visits. The following appeared recently -- "Doug and Rose Brandon and family visited Evelyn Pattison [my aunt] and had lunch with Ted and Georgeanne Legge [my cousins]."

Friends who also visit but don't have roots on the Island wonder why our names, and not theirs, appear in print. "You're not connected," I say. My husband's not connected either but he caught onto the importance of connections on his early visits. Other fishermen, recognizing him as a non-local, would ask how he knew where to fish. That was another way of asking, "Who are you and where do you come from?" Curiosity is an Island pastime.

His answer was always, "I'm married to Bill McCormick's daughter."

"Is that a fact? That means you're related to the Galbraiths too." He was in, connected, almost as good as homegrown. Son-in-law status became his calling card. Few people know his actual name.

These connections made me reluctant to sell the cottage to strangers. As I gazed at the water, I wondered if I should heed sentimental memories and buy the cottage. Were my memories getting in the way of a common sense decision -- letting go?

In the end, I decided that my memories are more than sentiment, that it really matters to me, my children, and their children, that we maintain our connection to Manitoulin Island. We are people who care about treading in the footsteps of our forefathers. I've shown my children John and Sarah's original home. We can envision their tired, scorched bodies dunking in the waters of our lake after a hard day of gathering stones.

That day at the picnic table I decided to buy the cottage. My two grandchildren have become the sixth generation to connect with our Island. I know my Scottish and Irish pioneer ancestors would be pleased that I've decided to keep my Manitoulin identity.


Glove Lost, Purpose Found

By Elaine L. Bridge

Success has nothing to do with what you gain in life or accomplish for yourself. It's what you do for others.
~Danny Thomas

The automatic door opened and the wintry weather carried a host of shoppers into the grocery store in its icy blast. Most hesitated a moment at the entrance, removing hats, stashing gloves in pockets, and unzipping coats before grabbing their shopping lists and heading down the aisles. The situation then reversed itself once they passed through the checkout lanes and donned their winter garb and prepared to head out into the cold once more.

The process seemed to take longer than usual for one elderly female shopper who came through my line that winter's day. Her order processed. Then I was surprised to see her lingering in my lane, fumbling in her pockets and looking about with a worried look on her face. Eventually she asked, "Have you seen my missing red glove?"

There was no sign of it at the register, so she reluctantly moved in the direction of the exit door. People leave belongings behind on a regular basis, and this missing item was likewise no big deal -- she'd either find it somewhere or get herself another pair.

But instead of leaving, the woman remained, circling the checkout area, obviously concerned. The next time I saw her she told me she had walked the whole store, repeatedly retracing her steps to see if she might have dropped her glove.

Finally realizing there was more to her troubled heart than just a lost item of clothing, I listened as she told me the gloves were a gift from her sister who had since passed on. "They are simply irreplaceable," she said.

Suddenly my heart connected to her problem and I started looking for that glove almost as determinedly as she. I searched through her grocery bags in case she had accidentally dropped it in one. I gently urged her to check her coat pockets one more time. Then I circled my register a couple of times, my eyes scanning all the nooks and crannies on the floor where an item might have been dropped and inadvertently kicked out of sight. No luck. I suggested she leave her name and number at the front desk so the store could contact her if the glove was found and turned in. Despondent, she turned to go and I went back to work, but my mind stayed on that woman and her distress over the missing connection with her departed sister.

A short time later I had a few minutes to spare while nobody was in my line. I realized that, while I could do little else to help her, I could pray. In recent weeks God had been building my faith with many answered prayers, and I firmly believed He would show up in this situation as well. So I lifted a simple request in faith, affirming my belief that He knew where the missing glove was and asking that He direct her to it. I smiled to myself as I realized it was just the sort of situation He specializes in, after all -- finding that which is lost and healing broken hearts.

Ten minutes later my white-haired friend was back, a huge grin on her face and her hand madly flapping a red glove in my direction.

"I found it! I found it!" she called. She'd decided to take one more tour around the store and found the glove at last, lying on the edge of the meat counter where someone must have put it. We rejoiced together and I watched as she finally exited the store, her step lighter and her heart happy once more.

I expected God to find her lost glove, but as usual He did more than that. It turned out that more than just a glove was missing. I had clearly lost my focus on why I stood behind that register in the first place. He reminded me that He places me in all my situations each day deliberately, to be a conduit through which His love flows to the people around me. I needed the reminder to be about my Father's business even in my place of business, as well as in my home, my car... and in all the hidden corners of my life where His desires might have been dropped and absently kicked out of sight by the seemingly more pressing problems of the day.

I worked the rest of that shift with a totally different attitude, believing God sent that woman to the store not for groceries, but for me. She may have found her lost glove, but I found my missing purpose.


воскресенье, 13 ноября 2011 г.

The Small Things

By Michelle Vanderwist

Why not learn to enjoy the little things -- there are so many of them.
~Author Unknown

I dated Dan for two and a half years, through the end of high school and my first year into college. Like any other naïve teenager in love, I hadn't anticipated that someday we'd break up, so when this happened just before my sophomore year of college I was devastated. I clung to my feelings for him, and tried masochistically to maintain a friendship with him through the semester that followed. It hurt worse than I could have imagined seeing him go out with other girls and pretending to be happy for him. As I sank further and further into a solitary depression, my friends could see that I was turning into an entirely different person. Weeks turned into months, summer turned into fall, and as the air chilled and the last leaves fell I began to seriously consider transferring to another city where I couldn't torture myself anymore.

On one of my particularly down afternoons -- one of those gray days in early winter where even nature itself seems to be in low spirits -- I met up with my good friend Jon for lunch. We sat in the dimly lit second-floor common room, eating sandwiches from the nearby Wisemiller's deli (a student favorite, affectionately nicknamed Wisey's). I unloaded my troubles on him, and, like the patient and caring person he is, he listened sympathetically and gave me a shoulder to cry on. He also gave me what I later realized is some of the best advice I've ever gotten:

"Do something each day that makes you smile, no matter how tiny or how dumb that thing is."

"I'm going to need an example," I said.

"When I feel down, I call and place a pickup order at Wisey's. When they ask me what name the order is under, I say 'Pants.'"


"Yep. There's usually a pause on the other end of the line, and then they ask me to repeat. By the time I pick up the order and announce myself as 'Pants,' I can't stop smiling."

I'm fully aware of how odd and insignificant this may sound, but it worked where nothing else had. The next day around lunchtime I called and placed the order. I hadn't even said the word "Pants" before I felt a huge and genuine grin spread across my face for the first time in months. I'm still not even sure why this works so well, but it was definitely worth it to take the time out of my day to do something silly, solely for the purpose of making myself smile.

This quickly became my go-to tactic when I needed a quick grin. I changed it up a bit, sometimes ordering as Harry Potter or other fictional characters, and slowly started to get over Dan and climb out of the slump I had fallen into. I began to find other small pick-me-ups to add into my daily life: letting myself eat Spaghetti-O's out of the can for dinner, watching the sun set over the city from the benches on the rooftop of my dorm building, keeping a baggie of peanuts in my coat pocket for feeding the squirrels...

The best advice I can give to anyone who needs that extra boost on an off day is simply to find your own version of "Pants." Do something tiny, something silly, something relaxing, something pointless... most importantly, do something every day that makes you smile.