понедельник, 30 января 2012 г.

The Gift of Lost Friendship

By Rachel Joyce

You have enemies? Good. That means you've stood up for something, sometime in your life.
~Winston Churchill

When most people look back on middle school they remember their teachers and their best friends. But what I remember most is one person who isn't even my friend anymore. Lots of people will give you the gift of friendship, but this person gave me an even bigger gift. She gave me the gift of no longer being my friend. I know that sounds strange, but let me explain.

My heart was pounding as I climbed onto the school bus on the first day of middle school. I adjusted my backpack as I looked for a place to sit. My eyes landed on two girls sitting next to each other. They smiled at me and patted the seat adjacent to theirs.
"Hey!" the blond said. "My name is Heather. What's yours?"

"Rachel..." I stammered. Normally I'm not shy, but I barely knew anyone and was anxious to make new friends.

"Nice to meet you," said the brunette. "My name's Jessica."

I sat down on the hot vinyl seat and faced the girls. I looked at my Converse All Stars and frowned. Why hadn't I worn more stylish shoes?

"Do you live around here?" I asked.

"Over there," said Heather, pointing left.

"I just moved here from across town," explained Jessica.

It turned out we had first period together and we became friends. We ate lunch together, hung out at the park and had Smallville marathons in Jessica's room on weekends. We became the three musketeers. But our friendship wasn't without its faults.

Jessica made Heather and me laugh. She was very fashionable and we'd go to her for make-up and clothing advice. But she had an "I'm-the-boss" personality that demanded attention. She always had to be in charge.

One time, the three of us went to the mall. Being the preppy one, I wanted to go to Abercrombie & Fitch.

"Abercrombie, are you kidding?" Jessica said, rolling her eyes. "I'm not setting foot in there. We're going to Rave."

Not wanting to argue, I followed her into Rave, my eyes lingering on the door to Abercrombie.

"This skirt would look great on you," Jessica exclaimed. "Try it on!"

"I don't like it that much..." I said.

Jessica gave me a death glare so I made my way to the dressing rooms.

I ended up buying the skirt. I spent fifty dollars on a skirt that I didn't even like, just to make Jessica happy.

Throughout sixth grade, this was how it was. If Jessica went somewhere, Heather and I went there too. We had little fights, but nothing major. That summer was filled with sprinklers, lemonade, midnight trips to the pool and afternoon tanning in the backyard. But when seventh grade started, things were different.

Heather and I became Jessica's sidekicks. If Jessica wanted to go ice skating, Heather and I were obligated to come. If we were busy with other plans, it didn't matter. We had to come or she would say we "didn't care about our friendship." If Jessica was mad at me, Heather always took Jessica's side. When she was mad at Heather I did the same thing for fear of being yelled at by Jessica. Even though most fights were just minor misunderstandings, they usually ended with Heather or me apologizing and praying for Jessica's forgiveness. Then we'd mumble to each other about how ridiculous the latest fight was.

As time went on, I found I was behaving as a pretend version of myself just to please Jessica and to keep her from being mad at me. She complained I was different when I was around other people, when in truth I was being myself. I was always afraid she'd get mad at me for saying something that I wouldn't normally think twice about.

I was obligated to take Jessica's side even when I didn't agree. For instance, one time she got in a fight with a girl named Leslie and she expected me to be mad at Leslie too. When I told her I had no reason to be mad and that Leslie was my friend, Jessica didn't speak to me for three days.

Then, summer came around. Jessica invited Heather and me to go to Cape Cod with her. I decided to go to Florida with another friend instead, and Jessica got angry. When I came home, Jessica was gone. I went to camp and didn't hear from her.

One hot day, my phone rang and the caller ID glowed "Jessica." If I answered, I'd be yelled at. If I didn't, Jessica would get even madder. I flipped open the phone.

"Hey... How are you?" I asked.

"Fine," Jessica replied curtly.

"Is something wrong?" I questioned, biting my lip.

"Why do my other friends call and you don't?!" she demanded.

My heart raced. I remained silent for fear I'd say something wrong. Finally, I took a breath, "I'm sorry.... I've been at camp and in Florida. If you wanted to talk so badly, why didn't you call me?"

"You don't care enough to call me!" Jessica exclaimed. "I can't be your friend anymore if you don't care."

I needed to tell her the truth. I took a breath and whispered, "Jessica, I'm afraid of you. You're fun to be with, but you're intimidating. I never know when you're going to get mad at me." My voice shook. "It's hard to have a friend who's always angry -- there, I said it. I'm sorry if it hurts your feelings. I want to work things out but I thought you should know how I feel."

The line went dead. She'd hung up on me. Heather had a similar falling out with her within weeks.

I sometimes wonder what life would be like if I hadn't told the truth. But telling the truth is never a mistake, and that's what Jessica taught me. Without knowing it, Jessica showed me that real friends listen to what you say and care how you feel. Real friends are there for you through the toughest times -- they don't cause them. Real friends respect who you are and encourage you to be yourself, rather than asking you to be who they want you to be just to please them. Lots of people will give you the gift of friendship, but once in a while someone will give you the gift of lost friendship.


The Happy Book

By Jennifer Quasha

Every day may not be good, but there's something good in every day.
~Author Unknown

I've spent a lot of my life unhappy. Looking back there were times that it was okay to feel that way, for example when my parents got divorced, when I was mugged at gunpoint during a vacation, when two friends died in a car accident when I was in high school, and when I was brutally assaulted in my early twenties.
But there were the other times, too. In middle school I didn't think that I was as smart as everyone else; I didn't have cool enough clothes; my mother dropped me off at school in a beat-up car. Junior high was the same. I wasn't as tall and thin as all the other girls; my baby teeth hadn't fallen out yet; and where were my boobs? Fast forward to high school. Still the boys had eyes for others; still everyone was smarter; still everyone dressed better. Yes, my boobs had finally arrived, but somehow that paled in comparison to everything else. In my first job out of college I wasn't making as much money as my friends; my apartment wasn't as nice; when I looked around there was always something to feel miserable about.

I come from a long line of people who have suffered from diagnosable depression.

When I was single, I assumed that was just who I was -- it was the genes I had been dealt.

When I was twenty-four I met my husband. We got married three years later, and three years after that I had my first child.

Once we had kids, my excuse of "it's-in-the-genes" didn't work so well for me anymore because that meant my kids were going to be depressed. And although I realize that that still might be the case, I began looking at my unhappiness in a new way.

It was something I had to work on myself.

Over the years many things have helped me fight depression: healthy eating, exercise, fresh air, friends, volunteering, church, therapy and medicine. It all helps.

But I have a little secret, too.

It's an exercise that I do every night before bed. By the side of my bed I have a small datebook. It covers January to December, but it's small -- every day only has enough space to write one line.

Every night I ask myself this question: "What made me the happiest today?"

Because I don't have space to write very much it seems easy, and it only takes me a few seconds. But in those seconds I replay my day and decide on its happiest moment. Some days I come up with answers I expect, and other days I find myself surprised.

Some days it's: "my husband came home early," "reading before bed with the kids," "laughing with a friend on the phone," "getting a parking space when I was late... right in front!"

And some days aren't as easy and it's: "finally getting to get into bed," "being able to stay calm during a fight with my daughter," "not having to cook dinner -- again."

But the spin on my life has changed. I actively seek the positive. Every day.

And sometimes, if I have a sour day, I look back through the book, read, and remember those happy moments in the past.

In fact, I wish I had started my happy book back in middle school. Entries might have been: "I don't need braces like everyone else," "I caught Charlie S. looking at me today," and "I didn't trip when I went up on stage to receive my Most Improved Player award."


пятница, 27 января 2012 г.

From Nuisance to Blessing

By Terri Elders

A dog is one of the remaining reasons why some people can be persuaded to go for a walk.
~O.A. Battista
From the first, I thought of him privately as Natty the Nuisance. My husband had picked up the puppy as a freebie from the Flour Mill, a local feed and hardware store where people bring unwanted litters. He'd been advertised as a Great Pyrenees mix, but he looked more like a Heinz 57 to me.
"Look, isn't he a lively one?"

Ken set the black ball of fur on the floor and our usually aloof adult female Akita bounded over to nuzzle him. She immediately flopped on the floor and rolled over on her back so that he could pounce on her belly and gnaw on her ankle.
"I just know this mutt will be a great companion for her," Ken said. "She's been lonely."
I just stared at the rollicking seven-week-old pup. That's just what I needed... another creature to pick up after, and a shaggy one, too. What a nuisance!
Besides the dogs, three cats also shared our house. I liked animals in theory, but Ken had been ailing for years, so feeding, grooming, walking and cleaning up after all of them fell on me.
I muttered through the weeks of mopping up messes until Natty was housebroken. I grumbled until he finally learned to lap water out of a bowl without tipping it over. He sensed I was not his fondest fan, and spent most of his time curled up in Ken's lap. When he got too big for that, he settled for resting his nose on Ken's knee as my ailing husband idled away his days watching reruns of Gunsmoke and Cheyenne. Whenever I walked into the living room, Natty would cast me a mournful glance, and then bound over to Ken's recliner to snag some petting.
The only time Natty ever came near me was when I ran a comb through our Akita's coat or cuddled a cat. Then he'd scamper over and nose my hand away from the other pet. If I ignored him and continued to groom or caress, he'd whine and whimper, and then poke my hand again, harder. A total nuisance, I'd say to myself, the world's biggest pest.
"I've never seen an animal that craved so much attention," I'd complain.
"Oh, he's just a puppy," Ken would say. "He'll outgrow it."
But he never did. Then last spring my husband died. In the days that followed, Natty's neediness quadrupled. He'd avoided me before, but now he wouldn't let me out of his sight. He'd track me from room to room, and if I settled down to read or to work on the computer, he'd immediately sidle up and start nudging my arm.
I felt sorry for him. Ken had been his constant companion. I know dogs mourn loss just as we humans do. Nonetheless, I didn't appreciate the annoying interruptions. I wondered vaguely if I should find another home for him, one where he could get all the attention he hungered for... maybe a family with children to play with. I had my Akita as a guard dog, so I couldn't figure out what purpose Natty really served.
Nearing his sixth birthday, which should be middle age for a dog of his size, Natty suddenly seemed to be sliding into an early senescence. I noticed that he spent most of his time in the backyard just lazing on the grass, watching the birds and occasionally barking as a truck passed the house. Where he used to shoot back and forth from the patio to the apple tree, now, if he even bothered to get up, he'd plod slowly across the lawn.
Kind of like me, I thought. But I'm well into my seventies and this dog was far too young to have severe arthritis as I do.
When I took Natty in for his annual checkup and shots, the vet didn't pull punches.
"No arthritis. He's pretty healthy. But he's overweight, and should lose around twenty-five pounds. I know it's hard, but see if you can walk him more."
I sighed. I needed to lose twenty-five pounds, too. I'd packed on weight during my husband's decline. In grief, I'd comforted myself with creamy casseroles and carrot cake. And though I lived on a country loop frequented by walkers, joggers and bikers, I found endless excuses to avoid walking that mile-long course myself. It was too hot. It was too cold. I was too tired. I was too old.
Twice daily I'd been taking the leashed Akita for a brief stroll up and down in front of my property, with Natty trotting along beside us. But I hadn't walked the mutt around the loop since his puppyhood.
The next morning I dragged out Natty's old leash. While I snapped it onto his collar he thudded his tail against the front door. At least one of us was excited. I put on my jacket and mittens and the two of us set out.
To my surprise, Natty confidently lead the way, keeping a steady pace, not stopping to sniff at every twig the way his Akita sister does. He marched ahead, tugging me in his wake, not even pausing when neighbor dogs scrambled to the front of their owner's property to growl their territorial rights.
To my surprise, I enjoyed breathing in the scent of lilacs on the fresh spring air, feeling my heart beat a little faster from the mild exercise, even running my fingers through Natty's coarse fur when I reached down to pat him in approval when he heeled rather than strained to chase a passing car.
The next day we did it again. Then again. Soon we settled into a routine. If I grow too engrossed in catching up on my e-mail correspondence, around 10 AM Natty will be at my side, shoving his snout under my arm. Or if I become too distracted by household chores, he'll plant himself by the front door and rumble until I remember it's time for our walk.
Nowadays I see Natty as a blessing rather than a nuisance. Though the Akita remains my bodyguard, my elegant and diligent protector, scruffy Natty has become my personal untrained therapy dog. Together we're striding into shape.
He's nudged me into a new lease on life.

Writing a New Story

By Tulika Singh

Keep a green tree in your heart and perhaps a singing bird will come.
~Chinese Proverb
"I'm sorry we don't have anything suitable for you," said the receptionist behind the desk as she handed me my résumé. I felt the now familiar feeling of despair. I counted off mentally -- this was the fifth "no" I'd received over the week.
It had been four months since my husband's transfer brought us to this small town and I felt like a fish out of water. Life seemed to have come to a standstill after the hustle and bustle of vibrant Mumbai. I missed my work, my colleagues, my friends. God, I even missed the overcrowded Mumbai locals. My job with a large financial corporation seemed like a distant dream. Back in the 1990s, smaller Indian towns had barely any financial activity. For someone used to spending over twelve hours at work, sitting home was punishment. I needed to work.

I went to the few placement agencies in the city. Not satisfied with that, I went to the business hub and dropped off my résumé at all suitable offices.
No luck! Either I was rejected for being "over qualified" or the jobs just didn't excite me. Now, after almost a month of serious job-hunting I was still jobless.
I pored over my résumé looking for other qualifications I could use. I had a dual specialization in marketing and finance... so if finance wasn't working out maybe it was time for a marketing job. Every city needed people to market something, I reasoned. I had no experience but I had to give it a shot.
Soon I was back at the offices with a new résumé highlighting my marketing qualifications, back to the placement agents telling them I was okay with a marketing job.
Then followed another wearisome round of interviews and the "no-thank-yous" really hurt. There were times I had a brusque "no vacancy" flung at me heartlessly. Sometimes people would glance at my résumé and dismiss me with a curt "but you have no experience." Other times the reasons were bizarre. "You are an MBA but you will be reporting to a college graduate; it won't work." Or even stranger, "we have an all-male team; you're a girl so you just won't fit." I'd have laughed if I hadn't been so miserable. Worse, there were times I couldn't even get past the receptionist. I'd plead with her to let me meet the management. But they were always "busy."
It was frustrating and I despaired. Was there really nothing I could do? I felt worthless. My self-confidence, always a tad shaky, took a deep plunge. My husband was busy with the demands of his new assignment and I felt well and truly alone.
Then one day a neighbour dropped in. While I brought her water she idly flipped through the "crib diary" I'd left on the table. This was an informal journal where I'd often pour out my anguish after tough days of job-hunting. "You write quite well," she remarked casually, even as I took the journal from her, terribly embarrassed about my private ramblings. She left, but the thought remained. After months of rejection the compliment felt good. I was good at something... or was she merely being polite? I dismissed the thought and tried to busy myself with the housework.
That evening over dinner I mentioned the incident to my husband. "I know someone at the local newspaper. Why don't you check with him? Maybe they have something suitable for you," said he. Newspaper? No way. My only relationship with the entire publishing industry had been that of an avid reader. It was uncharted territory.
However I did make an appointment with the shift in charge. I had nothing to recommend me -- no qualifications, no background, no experience. However I firmly pushed back all my anxieties. I tried to concentrate on what I DID have. My convent education and love for books ensured that I was fairly well acquainted with the intricacies of written English. That was what I had.
The next morning, armed with the shreds of my confidence and my résumé, I went to the newspaper office. I had nothing to lose -- perhaps it was that thought that gave me courage. I told the shift in charge I had never worked in publishing before. He silently handed me a copy and said, "Edit it." When I finished, I handed it back to him. I waited with bated breath for the dreaded "you won't fit" line.
"This is not bad," said he, "but you realize you'll be starting at the bottom of the ladder?" Bottom of the ladder? I was being offered a job! I stopped myself from whooping with joy and managed to reply with a serene "Yes, that'll be fine."
"Well then, go down to the Personnel Department and work out the compensation," said he. I tripped out feeling suddenly light and euphoric.
That's not the end of my story, though. Each day I was assailed with doubts. I made mistakes and got laughed at. But I learnt. I learnt the intricacies of news reporting, of conducting interviews, of scanning pictures, of dummies and layouts, of ads that came in at the last moment and upset my careful space calculations. Each day was a challenge and I fell in love with it all. I'd never enjoyed work so much before.
Ironically enough, a year later I was approached by the financial corporation I had been working for in Mumbai. They were setting up office in our city and wanted me to head the operations. And guess what, it was my turn to say "no thank you."

четверг, 26 января 2012 г.

The Parking Lot Mishap

I was late, as usual. A friend of mine had invited me to a spiritual conference, and I had been circling the parking lot for a good fifteen minutes. My mind was racing. Did the kids eat breakfast? Was my husband able to find the clothes I laid out for them? And, more importantly, would he have enough patience to look for a parking spot in this jungle of cars in order to meet me here with the kids later on?

Trying to go through the possible scenarios in my mind, I suddenly spotted a parking space. Since there was not much room, I decided to back up my giant minivan between the two white lines so the getaway would be easier after the conference had ended.
As I put my car into reverse and started driving backward, another car came out of nowhere and attempted to take my parking spot. I signaled to the driver that I was about to back up into the space, but she squeezed by me and parked her SUV in my spot! I couldn't believe her audacity! It made me so upset that I got out of my car and confronted the lady. By the way she was dressed, I could tell she was on her way to the conference.
I shouted at her, "That was not very angelic behavior!"
Much to my dismay, she completely ignored me, and I stormed off.
After a few minutes, I did find another parking space... behind a smelly dumpster and about a mile away from the conference (or so it seemed). Once I calmed myself down and tried to view the incident from a different angle, the possibility entered my mind that the woman may have needed the spot more than I did.
Later, I noticed she was actually one of the vendors at the conference. She must have been desperate to get there quickly in order to set up her booth and display her merchandise.

Offbeat Jobs and E's Story

By Laraine Paquette

There are no menial jobs, only menial attitudes.
~William J. Brennan
As I sat in my English as a second language class with my two students, I turned to the conversation part of the lesson. I was prepared to resume the topic of "offbeat jobs" that we had started in the previous class. First though, I asked M how he was doing in his new job as a car salesman at a large car dealership in the area. He told me that he was no longer working there but was looking for another job. Then I turned to my other student, an elderly man from Africa, and asked him about his job. "What is your job, E?" I asked.

He explained that he was on the cleaning staff at a nursing home. Then he went on to say that in his country, he had been the owner of an air conditioning business with several employees working for him, including engineers and technicians, whom he had personally trained, being an air conditioning expert himself. Unfortunately, due to political conditions in his country, the economy suffered greatly and it became more and more difficult for him to carry on his business, even though it had been successful for more than thirty years. Consequently, he retired, and decided to devote himself, as he put it, to preparation to meet God. And as is the custom in his country, he would depend on his children to support him in his old age.
However, there came a day when he wanted a change and he came to America. Some of his family already lived here. When he arrived, he realized that here in America everyone was expected to take care of him or herself and therefore, he needed to get a job. His wife had found a job as a cleaning person in a movie theater and he was able to get a job in the same place as an usher. He said that it was very humiliating at first, because his supervisors were young people, the same age as his own grandchildren, and they treated him very rudely and disrespectfully. But he told his wife that this was probably good for his soul. It was very humbling to be sure, but he, after all, had been an employer himself for so many years, directing those under him and now he had been given the opportunity to experience what it felt like to be the person at the bottom.
Eventually, he and his wife were able to find work in the nursing home facility, and he said that they are very thankful because they are able to work together. Also, he told us that he loves his work because he has the opportunity to show love and kindness to the residents of the nursing home, even if it is simply through his smile and kind words.
As he spoke, I felt my heart warmed by his story. I never imagined that this quiet stooped old man had had such a life and could share so much to encourage both the other student and myself. I told him that I believed that when he gets to heaven, God will put His arms around him and say, "Well done, good and faithful servant."
Many people would consider this man's job to be one of the lowliest in our society and would wonder how a man who had been an educated business owner could find peace and fulfillment in his present job. When he first came to this country, he was told that with a year of study, he could find a good job in his field of expertise, but he decided to choose a different path and he is very happy with the choice he made. He no longer carries on his shoulders the heavy burden of owning a business, and is able to spend his non-working hours in prayer and quiet contemplation or in spending time with his family.
I was deeply impressed by E's quiet faith and positive outlook. His words touched a chord in my own heart, because as a small business owner faced with the present economic instability, I suddenly felt a tremendous sense of peace. Even if we were to lose our business and our so-called security, there would always be a place for us somewhere where we could carry on loving God and people, in spite of circumstances.
Who would have guessed that the subject of "offbeat" jobs, designed to be an interesting, entertaining and humorous topic of discussion for the improvement of English conversation skills, would lead to the story of this precious man's experiences and open our eyes and hearts to a new perspective?

вторник, 24 января 2012 г.

If Only I Had Time

 By Jennifer Flaten

I've got dreams in hidden places and extra smiles for when I'm blue.
~Author Unknown
Sometimes, what at first seems like a negative event actually turns into an opportunity to try something you've always wanted to do. I had the perfect job. Well, the perfect job for me; it was part-time and flexible. My boss let me fit work around my kids' school schedule. It was great. I got out of the house, interacted with adults and as an added bonus, I made enough money to help with bills and give my family a little "fun" money.

Everything was great and then the economic downturn hit. Like every other company, my company started to feel the pinch. They specialized in large corporate meetings; once the economy went south, the first thing clients did was eliminate their large corporate meetings.
At first, the company insisted we would weather the downturn just fine. A few months later, a couple of employees were let go, but the company assured us remaining employees that they did not intend to let anyone else go.
No one believed them. I was especially worried, and it was only a matter of time before management decided that they no longer needed a part-time "office gal" in their satellite office. Each day, I went to work ready to hear the words "You're fired."
After a month of uncertainty, the day finally came. I walked into work to find my boss and the district boss huddled together. The minute they invited me into the conference room I knew this was it.
While they both were very nice and it wasn't a total surprise, I was shocked by my sense of loss. I'd worked in some type of job since I was sixteen years old. I went back to work after each child. It was part of my identity -- what would I do now?
I cried on the way home, and I spent a few days moping. Then about a week later, I began to see the positives in the situation. Sure, I enjoyed working and goodness knows we could use the extra money, but this was an opportunity for me to relax a little bit.
Like most women, I spent the better part of my life juggling work and home. Now, I could finally enjoy myself a little bit. Who doesn't have a list of things to do "if I only had time"? I certainly did.
I could spend more time with my recently retired mom -- we could do some cool day trips or just enjoy a long, laugh-filled lunch, something we hadn't done in a long time.
Speaking of the kids, this was a great opportunity to volunteer for more field trips and classroom activities. My kids were young enough to want me involved in school so why not take advantage of my suddenly clear schedule? I didn't have to juggle work and field trips. I could say "yes" on a moment's notice, which I was never able to do before.
Plus, there was something else, a little niggling question -- what would happen if I actually dedicated myself to writing full-time?
For the past couple of months, I was doing a bit of writing on the side, squeezing it in between everything else. I wondered if given the opportunity, I could make writing into a full-time career?
I admit I was nervous. Who was I to think I could be a full-time writer? Sure, I published a few pieces in the local paper, but would this translate into a real job?
I continued to toy with the idea, filled with self-doubt, but then I remembered a piece of advice I read on a writers' forum.
"You have to fake it, until you make it."
On the surface, it is pretty strange advice. It sounds hokey, perhaps even a wee bit suspicious until you really think about it -- you have to believe in yourself and present yourself as confident, capable and successful until you really are all of those things.
I wasn't going to become a full-time freelance writer by sitting there thinking about it. I had to go do it.
In order to succeed, I had to try and I had to fail. The trying is a piece of cake; it is the failing that is the hardest part. I had to view every rejection as an opportunity to improve myself. I won't lie to you -- maintaining that attitude is easier said than done.
Receiving a rejection is hard. Writing is a very personal endeavor; you are presenting a piece of yourself to the reader. To a writer, hearing the words "Your piece isn't right for us" is akin to hearing, "We don't like you."
I try to maintain the attitude that a rejection means I tried. You only get what you put into it. I am officially a full-time writer; my work is published -- not as often as I would like, but I have built up a client base and I do make money from my writing.
Some days I want to give up, but I don't. I keep trying. I am also a lot happier and I still find plenty of time to do the items on my "if I only had time" list.

The Case of the Flying Squirrel

You can't be suspicious of a tree, or accuse a bird or a squirrel of subversion or challenge the ideology of a violet.

~Hal Borland, Sundial of the Seasons
Summer had finally arrived, after a long Canadian winter and a wet spring. The only problem was that the summer was looking like "monsoon season" and was putting a damper on my desire to go camping. But my husband had pulled our trailer to the mountains by the middle of June and I had promised that after the first weekend in July, I would join him. Friends that we camped with every year were also at the campground awaiting my arrival. I decided, rather grudgingly, to go even though the skies were dark and cloudy and the weather reports promised more rain.

It was good to see everyone and the next few weeks were a flurry of shared dinners and visits around the campfire. I spent time reading, walking with friends and taking photographs of the stunning mountains, sky and wildlife.
One evening as night closed in, we sat around the campfire laughing and teasing one another. Suddenly there was a crunching sound. We stared beyond the fire, into the darkness. Something was out there.
"Did you hear that?" one lady asked.
"I heard it," I said. My heart began to pound wildly. Maybe the cougar spotted a few days earlier had returned.
Silence prevailed as we strained to see anything beyond the rim of firelight. There was a plopping sound, then a grey creature moved across the gravel, just beyond the light.
What was it? We held our breath as the thing again dropped onto the gravel and scurried out of sight beyond our friend's trailer.
"Maybe it's a flying squirrel," someone said.
There was another plop and disappearance near the trailer. Something seemed odd. What was it?
A friend grabbed his camera and waited for the creature to return. We waited and waited. "I think it's gone," someone said.
But it landed again and just as quickly vanished.
"You'll have to tell me when to shoot," our camera buff said to me. "I can't see it fast enough."
I stood and waited. "Now," I shouted, and he tried but was unable to get a picture of the strange rodent.
He moved to the rim of the firelight, positioning himself for a better shot, then began to laugh. There was a crunching of gravel and from beyond the trailer's darkened end emerged the thirty-something son of a couple who were sitting around the campfire. He carried a fishing rod. On the end of the fishing line was a grey sock, stuffed to give it a head and body. We had all been duped by a flying grey sock!
Laughter prevailed. We sat long into the evening reminiscing of past years and other pranks. I smiled as I pulled a blanket around me to keep out the encroaching night chill. Yes the camping weather differed from most summers but the friendship remained the same. I looked at the faces, with firelight dancing across them, and thanked God for this group of friends. No, I corrected myself, these were more than friends. They were family, chosen summer family. And my heart swelled with love for them. I pulled the blanket closer and smiled. There was no place I'd rather be.

понедельник, 23 января 2012 г.

Honoring Our Love

By Sallie A. Rodman

It's the company, not the cooking, that makes a meal.
~Kirby Larson, Hattie Big Sky
"Hey Sallie, what do you want for lunch?" my husband Paul would call out to me.
"Oh, is it that time already? Well, let's see... I'd like an egg salad sandwich with lettuce and tomatoes, pickles and onions, and toasted lightly, please," I would reply.

At dinnertime we would repeat this scenario.
"Hey Sallie, what do you feel like eating for dinner?"
"Oh babe, whatever you want to cook is fine with me, but orange chicken with jasmine rice sure would be yummy. Maybe artichokes with lemon butter on the side?" I would reply.
Paul and I had developed this routine. He never seemed to mind that I asked for exactly what sounded good to me and he was always willing to comply with my requests. Paul delighted in making my palate sing. He loved to cook and I hated it. We were nicely matched. We often laughed about our younger years when the children were still living at home. I said, "The children grew up in spite of my cooking." He would just laugh and nod.
A few years after the kids moved out, Paul took on the cooking and I was thrilled. I would rather be in my studio writing or doing artwork. He also loved to grocery shop, always bringing home new food items he found that he thought I would like.
I took the love he poured into this chore for granted until Paul passed away suddenly last December. My world crumbled. My sweetheart of forty-six years was never coming back. I found myself lost, broken-hearted and alone.
Everyone keeps telling me to keep up my strength and eat healthy. Not only do I not have an appetite, but I have no clue how to cook anything.
I buy all the wrong items at the grocery store. I am still shopping for two but there is only one of us now. I want to have some friends over to keep me company on the lonely Sunday nights but I can't even make them a decent meal.
I'm overwhelmed with the long list of things to learn to do for myself, like when to take the car in for a tune-up, how to invest my money and how to file my income tax. Now I also have to learn to cook.
I bought a simple cookbook and I'm happy to say I'm feeling my way with mixed results. I've had some catastrophes, like burned biscuits and tough rice, but I'm not giving up. I keep trying and have mastered a couple of simple dishes. I even served my sister-in-law, Joan, a halfway decent Sunday dinner.
I can still hear Paul humming in the kitchen as he cooked my favorite meals. I remember his daring way of just throwing in seasoning, while I have to measure everything. I think of his kindness in the little touches, like adding parsley to a plate. So I make myself sit and eat each meal at the table, not on the run, or standing at the counter. I set a full place with a fancy napkin and plate.
My husband showed his love by cooking my meals, so I can honor his memory most by learning to cook. He would be so proud.

суббота, 21 января 2012 г.

For Mind and Body

By Stefanie Wass

Exercise is good for your mind, body, and soul.
~Susie Michelle Cortright
"Want to take our walk?" My husband, home from work for his lunch break, hastily clears our sandwich plates and heads toward the door.
"Sure," I say, getting up to find my sneakers. "Bring the keys and your cell phone."

Just like that, we're off -- out the garage door, walking side-by-side down the cul-de-sac. My determined, brisk strides, made prettier by my lace-adorned shoes, are no match for my husband's fast-stepping Sperry Top-Siders. We must make quite the sight, I think, looking over at my beloved, clad in his usual "business casual" attire: blue Dockers, polo shirt, and boat shoes. I pull my T-shirt down over my jeans, hoping to conceal a missing button. Sure hope we don't run into anyone we know.
A late September breeze pushes us forward, past crimson-tipped maples and yellow-leafed oaks. "Look at those gorgeous mums," I say, pointing to a home already costumed for fall. "And they have pumpkins!"
"It's a little early yet," my husband says, wisely diverting my envy. "I'll plant some flowers this weekend."
Sidestepping a lifeless white-bellied frog, we forge ahead, holding hands like teenagers. We walk a mile, past rows of colonials and stately brick Georgians. As we pass the neighborhood piano teacher's house, my worries spill out unexpectedly, like air from a popped balloon.
"Emily hasn't been practicing the piano too well," I say, wondering aloud about my parenting skills. "I just don't know if I should be sitting down next to her on the bench or letting her learn the notes on her own."
"You're doing the right thing," my husband assures me, squeezing my hand as we round another cul-de-sac. "Just be there if she needs you."
"And what about Julia?" I continue, my worries now wrapped around our younger daughter. "She burst into tears at the mere mention of choir practice."
My spouse shrugs his shoulders. "She'll end up just fine in the end -- choir or no choir. Maybe she should take a break this year."
Although I'm skeptical, I feel better. The rhythmic sound of our shoes striking concrete offers steady assurance. Maybe I am on the right course. The hand in mine tells me what I already know: I have a true partner, in exercise and in life. The guy in the funny looking boat shoes will always be by my side, offering support and encouragement.
"Watch out," my husband warns as we approach a growling German Shepherd. "That thing's a beast!"
"At least there aren't any snakes today," I answer, remembering the slithering garter that surprised me by sunning himself on the sidewalk. That day, I nearly hung up my walking shoes for good.
As we circle the neighborhood, I marvel at the woodland creatures making their home in our suburban subdivision: a fluttering Monarch, a creepy, oversized cricket, a family of black squirrels. A rustling in the trees causes me to pause. A white spotted fawn looks up from his lunch of shrub leaves, eyeing us with suspicion. We are a startling sight, I suppose -- this odd couple holding hands like newlyweds and circling the neighborhood each day at noon.
Despite the stares from our forest friends (and a few neighbors, waving wildly as they drive by in sports cars and SUVs), we continue to walk. A maple tree sporting the colors of fall -- yellow, burnt orange and red -- seems to smile upon our exercise efforts.
"Walking is really the best thing," my doctor advised at a recent physical. His eyebrows furrowed with concern for my family tree, its branches brittle with osteoporosis. "Just take a walk every day," he said. "It'll strengthen your bones."
With each measured step, I think about my mother, her once-stately 5'9" frame now a fractured 5'4". I hear echoes of my aunt's confession: "The last time I was at your house, my back hurt so badly I couldn't even find a comfortable chair."
And so, we walk -- past the lake, honking geese, and yellow-tipped oaks. At the three-mile mark, I wipe my forehead, flushed yet energized from the journey.
"Want to do one more loop?" My husband looks my way, reluctant to return to his office and work routine. Perhaps walking makes him feel like I do -- stronger somehow, connected down to our very bones. I wonder if we will walk forever, holding each other up through life's bumpy paths.
"Sure," I say, reaching for his hand. Crunching through the leaves, we walk side-by-side down the wooded road: a path that, for me, has made all the difference.

Rain in the Pond

By Crystal Brennan Ruzicka

I should have known better. I did know better, in fact, and I told myself as I balanced two bowls of cereal and a glass of juice between my fingers that it was a really bad idea.
I felt them slip milliseconds before they fell. No time to do anything but watch everything smash onto the floor, spilling milk, juice, and broken glass across the kitchen. I remember screaming as I hammered my fist against the side of the refrigerator.

My four-year-old daughter and one-year-old son were patiently waiting for breakfast. Hot tears rained down my face as I wondered how to explain to them that there was nothing else to eat. We were dead broke. Paycheck to paycheck didn't describe our life; it was more like paycheck to three days before the next paycheck. Those bowls of cereal and that glass of juice represented more than breakfast. I'd been so proud of the fact that I'd rationed our groceries so that we had just enough food to last until my husband came home with his check.

So when I cried, the tears were for so much more than the mess.

"It's okay, Mommy," my daughter said quietly. I turned to her, wiping my eyes as I thought of how to explain how not okay it was. "It's all just rain in the pond, Mommy," she continued, her wide eyes shining with understanding.

The power behind those words struck me profoundly. What's one storm to a pond? Nothing. It might seem like a big deal in that moment, but when the clouds part, the big pond sits unchanged.

I had no idea what was coming down the road. I didn't know that my sweet boy who called me Mama and giggled through peek-a-boo games was going to lose his voice to a monster called autism. I didn't know that my world was going to seem so dark as I fought for my son, that the blackness would threaten to consume me.

But thanks to my daughter, I did know this: No matter how awful those storms felt when I was standing within them, they would pass. I might be different after passing through them, but the core of who I am as a child of God would be unchanged. And I would never weather them alone.


пятница, 20 января 2012 г.

Cleansing the Soul

By Machille Legoullon

Everyone who has run knows that its most important value is in removing tension and allowing a release from whatever other cares the day may bring.
~Jimmy Carter

The crisp air stings my face. While I lace my shoe, she circles me with anticipation. The sun winks a sleepy greeting and I stretch my arms to the clouds above me. I breathe in the fragrant morning and exhale with intent. It's time to begin. I move forward and she responds, taking the first steps in this well-practiced routine that never ends the way it begins. My footfalls are heavy next to hers. We struggle to find rhythm in this dance we've done a hundred times. Our warm breath escapes in front of us.
The smell of licorice tickles my nose while dawn creeps up on the still and silent Earth. The hillside glistens with dew; the skyline, freshly painted, meets the mountain's outline. The colors are more vibrant than at any other time of the day. I'm breathing deeply, and I slow our pace. She is always too anxious in the beginning. I hear my shoes on the pavement and the clinking of her collar.

It isn't long before we find our stride and move in unison. I feel my body lighten as the worry and stress of life falls from my shoulders and is carried away by the breeze. My faithful partner runs silently beside me, often glancing in my direction. Is she happy? Is this process as healing for her as it is for me?

Now moving as one, I loosen my hold on her leash. I relax and extend my limbs. Momentum carries us up and down the country hills effortlessly. I feel like I am floating and my mind is flooded with thoughts and ideas. I notice the sounds of birds now echoing in the trees. The sun has fully risen and beams down. Deer stand statuesque in the distance, watching us. I'm thankful for their quiet stance; she doesn't notice them.

We follow our well-worn path and sometimes find a place of euphoria, unexplainable and intoxicating. Our pace quickens and the air no longer feels cold against my skin. We are lost in time. Time is not always my own, but in this moment, it is. Only I will say how far I go and how long I run. There are no interruptions. No demands on my time. When I run, I am not Mrs. or Mom. I am a writer, a runner. Limits only exist if I've set them for myself. She is content just being with me.

This moment carries me deeper into a sense of self. I feel I could run forever. However, life awaits my presence. We slow our pace and begin our journey back. Now, free of all burdens, I am inspired by the day; I am ready to take on all that life might throw in my direction. Slowing to a walk, I take a deep breath and release her. She hesitates to leave my side.

I whisper "go home." She, so obedient, turns and runs up the drive.

As I take my final steps through this ritual, I reflect. I feel strong and energized. Renewed. Running, my addiction, has worked its cleansing magic on my soul once again. I am now ready to enjoy what I love most -- being a wife and mother.


четверг, 19 января 2012 г.

The Write Feeling

By Malinda Dunlap Fillingim

Fill your paper with the breathings of your heart.
~William Wordsworth

As a military brat, I moved a lot. I mostly went to school with other kids whose parents were also in the military, so I had an instant family. But when my dad retired from the Marines after twenty years of service, I found myself attending a civilian school with twelve-year-olds who did not understand about deployment, PX, commissary trips, and making friends instantly because we were all in the same boat. Suddenly, I was a new sixth grade student in a small town in Georgia, where we had settled in to help my mother's father.
I was a stranger in a strange land. Everyone in my class had grown up together, were cousins or other relations, and they had no room to spare for an outcast such as myself. I wore different clothes, had different thoughts, and spoke with an accent (so they said). I cried for the first few weeks of school. I had no friends, no activities, and no promise of a bright future.

To cope with it all, I began writing in my diary every day -- stories of adventure, of old friends, of feelings that I could not speak. I wrote as if my life depended on it, as if the very next breath I took could not happen unless I wrote down words. I sat under trees at recess and wrote while other kids talked about me and played games, often pointing at me and laughing.

One day, my teacher, Mrs. Bush, came to me and asked what it was I did in that book. I didn't tell her about the adventures of my characters, all strong girls who roamed the world helping those in need. I didn't dare tell her about the pages that were wet from my tears. I hid the fact that sometimes I wrote about her students who made snide remarks to me and how it made me feel all alone in the world. But I did tell her I enjoyed writing and preferred writing to playing.

She smiled at me and walked away.

About three weeks later, Mrs. Bush gave us a writing assignment. It was connected to a history lesson somehow, but I can't remember how. All I know is that I was excited about it, thrilled that I could now participate in something I knew I excelled in.

That night I worked and worked on the essay. I wrote with great passion. It was my one chance to feel important and accepted by the class.

A few days after handing in my report, Mrs. Bush called me up to the front of the classroom.

I stood before thirty pairs of eyes looking at me, my long brown hair, my freckled face, my crooked teeth and I worried. Was I in trouble? Did I do something wrong?

Mrs. Bush gathered her stack of papers and told the class how much she appreciated all the work that went into the essays and that everyone had done a great job. But, she said, one student stood out as an excellent writer, one with imagination, creativity, and word mastery. That student was me!

The class clapped politely and Mrs. Bush handed me my paper, with the following remarks on it: "Malinda, you are an excellent writer. Please keep on writing and share your gift of writing with the world. I am proud of you and glad you are in my class."

Mrs. Bush helped me feel a sense of belonging, a place of purpose, and a way to survive a transition in life that was pivotal. She helped me gain confidence in myself that stayed with me well beyond sixth grade.

The Lesson

By William Bingham

Teaching is not a lost art, but the regard for it is a lost tradition.
~Jacques Barzun

On the southeast corner of Star Ridge Road and Route 6 in Brewster, New York, a rundown ATI gas station beckons travelers north and south, east and west. Two mighty interstates cross nearby and the steady drone of their traffic is a constant presence. Brewster is a small border town, lying on an imaginary divide between upstate New York and what at times seems like the rest of the world. The ATI is a catchall kind of joint, a throwback to the old garage-style coffee stops of rural America, only maybe not as picturesque. Hard to find one of these in upscale Westchester County just across the line to the south. Way too grassroots for Westchester County.
Inside, there is no place to sit, only narrow aisles and shelves crammed with everything from imported English chocolates to engine oil. You can get good, hot coffee at all hours, a fresh doughnut, or an icy beer for the road. I have two friends who work the mornings there. Gus, the owner, is a soft-spoken man from India who handles the register and makes the best fried egg sandwich in Brewster. And Page, a robust horseman in his sixties with a round, friendly face and eyes that smile at you when he speaks, greets everyone who comes through the door. That's because Page knows everyone who comes through the door.

"How are things up on that mountain?" he would inquire loudly, referring to the small private school where I work in Kent, Connecticut. The campus occupies over seventy acres on top of one of the tallest mountains in the state.

"Just fine," was my usual reply. Only this particular Saturday morning in February things weren't really fine. I had left my house in North Salem a few miles away, at 6:45 AM in a foul mood. After a long week, the considerable demands of a boarding school had spilled over to one of those periodic weekends when you pull extra duty. And I was the Weekend Head, for godsakes, no getting out of that. A shepherd with a flock of precious, needy sheep to tend, feed, entertain, and get to bed on time. And heaven help you if you lose one. All the way to the ATI station I grumbled about this and that, the mortgage payment, the leaking ceiling in my kitchen, how little I see of my family. I mulled over my uncertain future as a teacher and questioned decisions made years before when I chose to give the profession a try, decisions which were repeatedly challenged by many close to me.

"Those who can, do, and those who can't, teach," a former acquaintance in the advertising business once snickered when told I was taking a hiatus from writing film stories and television shows to teach.

"Really?" I had answered glibly while wondering why he didn't say that to John Irving, or Gardner, Oates, and Galbraith. Or why not insult the ghosts of C. S. Lewis, Tolkien or William H. Armstrong, who wrote Sounder and taught at the Kent School in the valley for years? The list could go on and on. All teachers and hugely successful writers whose works have impacted generations. On second thought, the "cream-fac'd loon" had probably never heard of them.

So it was with a sense of relief that I carried my troubles into the ATI that morning to a chorus of greetings from my small fraternity. Page poured coffee in my travel cup and stood with me while I waited to pay Gus at the counter. As we chatted about the school and whose horses he was exercising that day, I noticed a man come through the door and make his way over to the coffee machine. He was older, perhaps seventy, dressed for the weather with a woolen cap pulled down onto a kind, unshaven face. When he had finished he took his place in line, listening casually to our conversation. I had just started complaining to Page about my schedule when the gentleman with the woolen cap suddenly leaned in.

"You work with kids?" he said, looking at me with deep, inquiring eyes.


"You a teacher?"


"What do you teach?"

"English... mostly." My voice trailed away, almost apologetically. I felt slightly uncomfortable. He nodded, took a beat, then thrust out his hand.


I stood there, wondering first if I had inadvertently paid for his coffee or something. Then it dawned on me. He was thanking me for what I do, for teaching. Slowly, I reached out and shook his hand but couldn't manage to say more than something muffled and indistinct. I was utterly taken back by this complete stranger. No one had ever... he slapped me on the shoulder, handed Gus four quarters, turned and walked out.

There are stretches on Route 22 where the road is a glistening ribbon in winter, especially during the peripheral hours of day. I drove north with a gray, overcast morning breaking, passing all the oncoming commuters pouring out of rural Putnam and Dutchess Counties. My lane was comparatively clear and I made good time in silence, thinking of nothing other than what was to me, at least, an extraordinary act of generosity. For the first few miles I was fine. And then, from somewhere foreign and with no warning, a rush of emotion poured through the cracks of what used to be my very formidable armor. By the time I reached the little covered bridge over the Housatonic River just south of Kent, I had to pull over to compose myself and think about the irony of what had happened that day. Of all the mornings I had stopped at the ATI for coffee on my way to school, none had been bluer than this one. And yet, in the briefest of encounters, the immense, incandescent power of a single word changed everything. It was simply meant to be, I was certain. Meant to remind me how many times in a single day I find solace in a glance, or a smile, or a casual touch. Gratitude in lilliputian portions, but always there.

I checked my watch and knew it was time to go. First class began in fifteen minutes and I didn't want to be late, even on a Saturday. As I backed my little truck out onto the road and drove across Bull's Bridge, one last revelation came to me. I knew that when my colleagues and I gather for our last faculty meeting in June and the Head of School asks each of us to recall one meaningful event that made our year, my response will be clear and succinct. I know now that for me, it will have occurred not in the halls, in the classrooms, or on the playing fields, but away from the school. Miles away in Brewster, New York, at an old gas station where the coffee is always hot, the greetings easy, and where, for a moment, all thoughts other than the brilliantly plain and simple reasons why I teach faded away.


вторник, 17 января 2012 г.

Mirror Messages

By Rita Billbe

I'd always refused to pierce my ears... until I arrived home tired from work one day and noticed something taped to the bathroom mirror. Glistening diamond earrings seized my attention with a message written below in eyebrow pencil by my husband, Mike. "Now you have to get your ears pierced. Am I good, or what?"

A quick painful click in the hairdresser's chair and I made a fashion statement.
Mike's note on the mirror started a joyful new tradition in our family. We communicated through mirror missives. Our son Shawn joined in and soon funny notes, rhymes, and messages adorned our looking glasses, both bathroom and dresser. The game often replaced paper reminders in our household. Shawn left word where he'd be after school. During his teen years he left requests for gas money or field trip permission. He often signed them, "Love, Shawn" or sometimes, "Your son, Shawn."

My Mary Kay saleslady likely scratched her head over frequent orders for lip and eyebrow pencils, but we loved our fun family custom. We thought we'd keep it going forever. We'd be featured in family magazines standing next to mirrors defaced with scrawled prose. We'd tell our future grandchildren about it. The practice would be handed down for generations. Our housekeepers squandered gallons of extra Windex removing the epistles. We didn't care.

When Shawn turned nineteen, senioritis struck and he struggled with grades, anxious to enter the big bright world of jobs, college, and his own living space. We continued our mirror messages and occasionally I'd sneak encouraging cards in his backpack to quell his nervousness about graduation and life on his own.

We'd move at summer's end to begin retirement living in Arkansas. Shawn would remain to start community college and a new job.

Prom night arrived bright and clear. I admired Shawn's tux and his silver vest. "No one else will have one like it, Mom." I hugged him and watched the taillights of the gleaming borrowed Corvette leave the driveway. Our mirror scribe had grown up into a fine young man.

The next morning a drunk driver stole our messenger and stilled the writer's fingers forever.

I grieved for months. A strong faithful person, I struggled for answers. How could I continue without his comedy, his laughter, and his love? No answers came. My husband had a wonderful dream in which Shawn called out to him through an open window and handed him shirts, the same size and type he always wore. When Mike called to him, Shawn turned, smiled and left. I craved such a dream, a whisper, a touch to assure me he was all right.

Eventually, in tiny increments, healing crept into my heart. I gained a measure of peace but still longed for reassurance. I believed in my son's life in a heavenly kingdom, but a mother's heart is never quiet when doubts about her child's welfare are concerned. I looked everywhere and anywhere, praying for a sign from Shawn.

Two years later we opened a fishing resort, furnished the lodge, and our grief journey progressed in our peaceful spot on the White River. We purchased a new dresser for our bedroom and planned to move ours to the guesthouse. I transferred drawer contents, removed dust bunnies, and cleaned the mirror. I looked sideways checking for streaks, and gasped. The words "I love you" appeared in Shawn's handwriting. I wept with relief and gratitude. A new measure of comfort entered my heart.

"All in God's time," a friend of mine often says. The hands of God's timepiece chose that moment to grace my life. He didn't send a lightning bolt, a burning bush, or a magnificent dream, but the perfect mirror message of love from my child.