вторник, 28 февраля 2012 г.

Power Out

By Shinan Barclay

My riches consist not in the extent of my possessions, but in the fewness of my wants.
~J. Brotherton

I awoke to a silent chill. In my cottage, no clocks blinked, no refrigerator hummed. In this rural Oregon coast area, power pauses are frequent: a minute, an hour, sometimes three. Then, eventually there's that cascade of welcome sound -- buzz, blink, hum and whirr -- as radio, refrigerator, clock, computer, TV, heater and answering machine snap back to life.
I've made it through numerous power failures. No light, no heat, no sound -- all that I can handle. But I can't function without morning coffee. I could have built a fire on the stone patio outside my back door and heated water. But it was pouring rain. I could have hiked up the hill to my neighbor's, to see if Jenn had coffee perking on her camp stove. But wind whipped through tree branches. At least the phone was working.

I telephoned my boss. "It's going to be a long time before the lines are repaired," she said. "Hunker down. Work's cancelled. There's emergency food and shelter in town at the Methodist Church." Groping in the dim morning light, I excavated a lantern and my down sleeping bag from the back of my closet. I set the lantern on the kitchen counter, reread the instructions, struck a match and lit the mantle.

Blessings to Coleman for inventing this marvel. The metal top heated quickly. Maybe coffee was possible after all. But what balances on a conical lantern lid? I attempted to heat water by balancing a thick-bottomed saucepan, then discovered a tomato sauce can from my recycling bin worked best. After rinsing and filling the can with clean water, I put on potholder mitts and steadied the tin with two plastic chopsticks. Soon a mini-cup of instant coffee steamed fragrantly. Four tins later, I'd enjoyed a jolt of caffeine and even had a half-cup of hot water for a spit bath. I relished the simple pleasure of a warm washrag on my face. It would ready me to cope with the powerless day.

I put on an old feather parka and sheepskin booties. Gathering several books from my bedside stand, I zipped up the parka, tied the hood tight and crawled into my sleeping bag. I adjusted the lantern and snuggled in to read. Descriptive passages from Under the Tuscan Sun transported me to sunny Cortona with Frances Mayes while outside my window the thermometer read thirty-four degrees. Poorly insulated, my old cottage was chilly and damp. Turning pages, my fingertips grew numb. I wiggled out of my down bag to search for wool gloves. I was mentally listing friends with wood stoves, yet I relished the thought of some solitude. Then my neighbor Jenn drove up. "I'm going to my boyfriend's," she said, poking her head inside my door.

"That's seventy miles and mud slides along the road." I was concerned.

"Lucky man has power. Lucky me. You're welcome to stay in my house, use the wood stove, except I'm out of wood. Keep company with my Lab and kitty. They'll keep you warm."

Walking back toward her vehicle, she added, "Oh, there's brandy left from the party. Help yourself to anything." My vision of a warm wood stove was about to become a reality.

I assumed there would be no problem finding wood. We live in a forest. Branches and twigs litter the ground. I scoured the yard, gullies and roadside, but found only water-soaked wood. Chopping branches kept me sweating for hours.

That night the temperature plummeted to well below freezing. With a barely smoldering fire, I needed multiple layers of clothing and three sleeping bags to keep me warm. The cat and dog curled up with me. We survived. The next day was much like the first: hunting for wood, chopping branches, feeding the fire torn cardboard and scrunched up newspapers -- anything to get the wet wood to burn. Outside the window, fir trees thrashed in the wind. While I watched the storm, the aroma of spicy lentil soup simmering on the stove wafted in the air.

On the third morning without electricity, I was desperate for dry wood that could fit into the stove without hours of chopping. I walked back to my cottage and hunted in closets, in cupboards and under the bed for wooden objects to burn. I scanned the walls, shelves and tables. In desperation I grabbed the engraved plaques from Toastmasters, the wooden clock my ex-husband had made, a redwood jewelry box, garage sale picture frames waiting for family photos, knickknack shelves that needed glue.

At first, it seemed like a crime to burn my teakwood tongs and salad bowls, but I rarely used them. Torching Grandma's rolling pin struck me as taboo, but it was moldy and missing one handle. I wrestled with the idea of burning my walnut bookshelf. No way! Instead, I stacked wet branches on Jenn's porch, getting them out of the rain, then sawed them into stove lengths and brought them in to dry near the fire. Who knew how long the power would be out?

I'd always intended to purge my cottage. Now, desperation pushed me past intention into action. For each wooden item, I quizzed myself: "Do I love this? Do I need this?" Soon objects were heaped by the door: the driftwood lamp, the myrtle wood breadbox, the dilapidated three-legged plant stand. As I whacked each item apart with a hammer, I began to feel a sense of inner strength. I hauled the wooden pieces up to Jenn's house. After I shoved the forlorn keepsakes and family artifacts into the wood stove, I realized the power outage had filled me with intent and courage -- a ritual release of my past.

While the crackling fire in the stove cranked out heat, I peeled off parka, sweater and turtleneck, rocked in an overstuffed easy chair and sipped apricot brandy, while snuggling with the pets. A pot of Swiss fondue bubbled on the stove and my cup steamed with hot coffee. Looking around, I appreciated Jenn's simple décor and reflected on how her energetic spirit seemed rarely weighted down. I picked up my pen and wrote Jenn a thank-you poem and decided that next Christmas I'd tell her boyfriend to buy her a mini chain saw.

Having to survive without electricity for eighty-four hours I developed a new appreciation for light, heat and an electric stove. I was also grateful for the experience. I'd burned relics that had cluttered my life. Thanks to the blackout, to Jenn, and to fire, the great purifier, I felt empowered and warm all over. My possessions were fewer, my blessings greater.
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Happiness Is a Full Freezer

By Diane Stark

It pays to plan ahead. It wasn't raining when Noah built the ark.
~Author Unknown

"Mom, what's for dinner?" my ten-year-old son, Jordan, asks me. It's seven a.m. and the child is shoving in the Apple Jacks like he hasn't eaten in weeks.

I sigh. The what's-for-dinner conundrum. It's the question I most dread being asked. (Well, besides the whole where-do-babies-come-from thing. But that's a whole other thing.) Yet each of my five children -- yes, five! -- asks me at least three times a day what fantastic fare he or she will be dining on that evening.
Often, the question is posed before I even manage to get out of my jammies.

This bugs me and they know it, but it doesn't seem to stop them from asking. Once, I asked Jordan why he did this. "Why, oh why, do you need to know what you'll be eating for dinner twelve hours from now?"

"I like to know what to get hungry for," he said with a smile. "It makes the food taste better when I get to think about it all day."

I thought about his answer. It made sense in an odd sort of way. And really, I was doing the same thing -- spending inordinate amounts of time thinking about dinner. But I was worried about the cooking aspect of the process. (I've got the eating part down pat.)

All day long, the what's-for-dinner deal plagued my thoughts. "What am I going to make?" The question hung over me like a proverbial dark cloud. It was time to find a little silver lining.

I'd heard about this thing called "once-a-month cooking." Cooking only once a month? That sounded like heaven on earth. So my friend Google and I checked it out.

I waded through what felt like a million hits. I printed dozens of recipes and joined a really great online cooking group. The general consensus among the group was that if I wanted to start doing once a month cooking, I needed to start small.

Start small? Not me. I never do anything halfway.

I set aside an entire Saturday for my first marathon cooking session. I bought every boneless, skinless chicken breast within a fifty-mile radius and a whole cow's worth of hamburger. I purchased canned vegetables, fresh veggies, and some frozen ones too. I got tomato paste, tomato sauce, and even tomato puree. I bought so much food that I had to ask Jordan to grab a second cart. To which he said, "Ooh, I can hardly wait to have dinner tonight!"

I took everything home and started sorting the food. I got out the brand-new recipes I printed off the Internet and started compiling casseroles. I quadrupled all the recipes, figuring I could make four casseroles nearly as quickly as I could make one. All afternoon, I was like the Tasmanian Devil in my kitchen. Finally, my freezer was full of a month's worth of casseroles.

Inevitably, one of my kids meandered into the kitchen and asked the inevitable question. "So, Mom, what's for dinner?"

I grinned because for the first time in my life, the question didn't irk me. I already knew the answer. I retrieved one of my fabulous new casseroles from the freezer and put it in the oven. "Dinner will be ready in thirty minutes," I said, patting myself on the back.

I was still singing my own praises as my family took their first bites of my very first once-a-month cooking creation. "Wow, this is... not my favorite," my husband said slowly. And my kids were not nearly as tactful. "Mom, this is nasty," one said. Another child actually spit the food back onto her plate.

They didn't like my casserole. And I had three more in the freezer just like it.

After I finished crying, I got back online and discovered some important advice I'd ignored the first time around. It said, "Don't double, triple, and certainly don't quadruple any recipe that you haven't tried before. It doesn't make any sense to have dinners in the freezer that nobody will actually eat."

Now they tell me.

I revisited the "start small" advice and realized it had a lot of merit. The ladies in the online cooking group advised me to consider making meal starters, rather than whole meals for the freezer. "Catch a good sale on ground beef," they said. "Buy a ton, brown it all, and then freeze it after it's cooked. Then when you want to use it, thaw it and turn it into tacos, sloppy joes, or use it in a casserole."

I cringed at the thought of another casserole, but the taco idea sounded great. A few nights later, I put it to the test. I thawed the meat in the microwave, added the seasoning and warmed the tortillas, and had tacos on the table in less than ten minutes.

It was so easy and stress-free.

And best of all, nobody spit their dinner back onto their plate.


My new online friends told me I could do the same thing with chicken. I put some boneless, skinless breasts in my crock pot with a bit of chicken broth. I let it cook all day and then that night, I shredded the chicken with two forks. I froze the pieces in small containers, ready to be thawed and turned into chicken salad, quesadillas, or barbecue chicken pizza.

Or even -- gasp -- a casserole.

Another part of the "start small" philosophy is to double familiar recipes. If you love your lasagna recipe, make two pans or even three. Eat one for dinner that night and toss the extra one in the freezer for another time. It will come in handy, but remember, only do this with a recipe you've tried before. (Trust me on this one. Remember those casseroles I made? They're in my freezer, where they've been for a year and a half now.)

But I've come a long way with this once-a-month cooking thing. Now, when one of my kids asks me what's for dinner, I don't panic. I know that my freezer is full of foods that make dinnertime easier, more organized and far less stressful.

Once-a-month cooking has helped me become a much happier mama.

And by the way, if you happen to know anyone who's holding a potluck dinner, I've got some casseroles in my freezer I'd like to unload.
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Not All Alone

By Sally O'Brien

Love is not singular except in syllable.
~Marvin Taylor

"How many?" The perky young restaurant hostess asked with a professional smile. She picked up a stack of menus and peered over my shoulder.

"One," I murmured, looking at the floor.

"Oh, you're all alone." Her smile faded to sympathy. She led me to a small table in the corner and quietly removed the second place setting.
It's true -- I live alone, eat alone, go places alone. I am a widow, a word I still can't believe is used to describe me. When my husband Jim died, I thought the days of the two of us against the world were over. I would have to manage by myself. That was before I experienced the miracles. Not parting-the-seas, raising-the-dead miracles, just everyday small-m miracles that showed he was still with me.

While making arrangements at the funeral home, my husband's gray suit hanging on a rack in the next room, I spotted a $1,000 error in the itemized statement. It was merely a typo, easily corrected, but I had never found a mistake involving figures in my life. My husband used to nag me about it. "Look the bill over before you pay it. It might be wrong." Maybe other people routinely notice incorrect numbers. For me it was a miracle. I could almost see Jim's finger pointing at the offending number.

That was the first.

In April, six weeks later, I attended a family funeral in another state with my grown children: Julie, Veronica, Kathy, and Jean. We were all hovering by the door of our motel room waiting for Veronica when she asked, "Has anyone seen my little black dress purse? The car keys and my driver's license are in it."

We quit leaning against the wall and began looking around the room. As time passed, our alarm increased and the search intensified. We stripped bedding, shook shoes, crawled around the floor peering under furniture. No luck.

One by one, we admitted failure. "It's not here," Veronica said. "I know I had it last night. Maybe it fell into the car trunk when we got the luggage and we missed it in the dark." She reached for the phone book. "I'll call the rental place and see about getting another key. Why don't you guys go ahead with Jean?"

We said we'd stay with her even though we would miss the funeral. With sighs and slumping shoulders we plopped down to wait while she looked up the number. I had a conversation with my husband and reminded him of the times we'd searched for missing items -- glasses, gloves, especially keys. "We could use some help here," I told him.

Before Veronica could pick up the phone, Kathy looked down at the floor between the beds. "Is this it?" She held up a small black purse. Hard to believe none of us had seen it lying there in plain sight.

Jim always found his keys eventually.

That was the second.

The next month Kathy had surgery. I stayed in the hospital with her the first night and Julie took the second. From birth, one of Julie's best talents has been sleeping. Not much interrupts it, but that night she was roused by a voice saying, "Julie, wake up. Kathy needs you." And sure enough, she found Kathy struggling to breathe and unable to reach the call button for the nurse.

In June I attended my grandson's high school play fifty miles away. By the time I started home, we were in the middle of a downpour. Rain beat against the car so hard my windshield wipers could not keep up. Since on previous trips I had napped in the passenger seat while my husband drove, I wasn't totally familiar with the road. However, I did know I would have to negotiate two hard-to-see exits. The first one was a cloverleaf off an overpass. If I turned too soon, I could plummet forty feet down an embankment. If I missed it, the next exit was eleven miles away. I could barely make out the center line on the highway and reading traffic signs was impossible. "Honey, I can't see," I said, and the rain lifted long enough for me to make the turn. At the next exit, the rain let up again.


Shortly after Jim died, just as I was adjusting to the quiet house and his car never leaving the garage, I started having dreams that he was back, sitting at the dining room table waiting for bacon and eggs, the TV remote in his hand. A few weeks later I dreamt he was reviewing the bank statement. With the stern expression I remembered so well, he told me I had money, but not a lot. I could live comfortably but did not need another pair of black shoes. Another time he stood looking out the window at the garden. "Better pick the tomatoes before they freeze," he said. I argued that the temperature never got that low in early September. The next night we had a record-breaking early frost.

Similar dreams came periodically for almost a year. Then one night he said, "I have to go now." I asked what to do about a funeral. Most people had only one. How was I going to explain a second? He shook his head. "No funeral. You're the only person who could see me." And he left. That was the last time I had one of those dreams.

Before my husband's death I would have scoffed at such tales. But not anymore.
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суббота, 25 февраля 2012 г.

Spelling Bee Blues

By Annmarie B. Tait

My spelling is Wobbly. It's good spelling but it Wobbles, and the letters get in the wrong places.
~A.A. Milne

As a kid, the words "spelling bee" churned a considerable amount of acid in my stomach. In fact, my history of spelling bee fiascoes grew so notorious, Daniel Webster turned in his grave every time I stood up and headed for the contestant line.
Most of the time, striking me out of the competition didn't take long at all. I rarely made it past the second round. Yet with all that free time it never occurred to me even once to bone up for the next match. Watching others spell words with ease, confidence, and above all else, correctness, consumed me. Worse than that, the teacher had a dome-shaped bell on her desk that she slapped with the palm of her hand to ring out the triumph of every classmate who spelled a word perfectly. The clang of that thing pierced my heart straight through. Oh, how I ached for the skill necessary to set that bell dinging for me.

One classic spelling bee disaster occurred in the sixth grade and involved a word most fourth graders can breeze through -- cheese. I simply refused to believe that any one-syllable word contained three e's and practically right next to each other. How absurd! So there I stood, visualizing the challenge word, knees knocking, and fingers nervously twirling through the curls in my pigtails.

"Cheese" I said, stepping forward. "C-h-e-a..."

I figured the ripple of snickers spreading through the class meant things weren't going so well. Still, I forged ahead like an Olympic figure skater skidding across the ice, flat on my face headed straight for the judges.

"s-e, cheese."

"I'm sorry. That's not correct Annmarie. Please sit down."

The thin veil of sympathy on Miss Divine's face did little to disguise her disgust. Let's face it; I wasn't attempting to spell "pneumonia," or "ratatouille." A sixth grader plummeting to defeat on a first round word like "cheese" can fling a teacher into the disgust zone. Miss Divine proved no exception to that rule.

I dragged myself back to my desk, still smarting from the sting of Miss Divine's invitation to take a seat, and plunked down just in time to hear that smarty pants, Mark Meehan, throw those three e's into the cheese word in all the exact right places. He barely finished and don't you know that old bell was dinging again.

After the agonizing cheese incident, my phonetic confidence plunged to an all time low. The mere mention of a spelling bee triggered gastrointestinal disturbances in my belly strong enough to measure on the Richter scale.

As in most middle school mountains imagined from tiny molehills, I survived the spelling bee blues. Sad to say though, my spelling skills have not improved much.

A few years ago, I discovered my older sister Marie suffered a very similar spelling bee trauma in the very same classroom, with the very same teacher -- just two years before it happened to me. Which, as far as I was concerned, explains a lot about the disgusted look on Miss Divine's face.

"Business" is the word that stumped my sister. Or as she spelled it: "b-i-z-n-e-s-s." It's such a comfort knowing that I'm not the only sibling in my family with tainted spelling chromosomes.

Every once in a while, I fantasize about writing to Miss Divine and telling her that my sister and I own a fabulously successful "C-H-E-A-S-E B-I-Z-N-E-S-S." I can see it now. As she reads the letter, she faints dead away, and her head lands right on the old dome-shaped bell, setting off one resounding clang for the phonetically challenged at last.
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Letter to the Birth Mother

By Christine White

Biology is the least of what makes someone a mother.
~Oprah Winfrey

I've never seen your actual face, only evidence of it in your daughter, my daughter, our child. I can't tell you my thoughts. I don't know your name or address -- only the child you carried in your belly, who you passed through your uterus and into this world. Sometimes, I think we are like the two chambers of her heart. You made the blood and the muscle of her heart, but I keep the blood flowing and feed her 24/7 love.
If I could take the blue of the sky, the green of the trees and the yellow in the petal of a sunflower, I would make a palette for you and use the beauty of nature to try to reach you. I would send secret messages in Morse code through shooting stars and tell you, "Today, we went to the museum. She, now five, was exuberant. She stood inside the bubble-making machine, trying to create a see-through film around her. She placed particles of rug under magnifying glasses and used her hands to pedal a bike, which powered an electric bulb."

If I could, I would tell you how she was cradled in my arms on the subway ride home like a baby in the fetal position, and said, "Mama, Mama, I'm tired." Fifteen minutes later as the train emptied, she hung from the silver handles overhead like an Olympian. She lifted both legs waist high as I spotted her.

If I could, I would tell you how your daughter, my girl, has missed you. I have held her while she is deep in a keening cry, a thundering primal scream that makes me ache every time. I scratch and rub her sleepy back, and say, "It's okay. There. There. I love you. You're safe," until she returns to sleep, sometimes on me, "the mommy mattress." When she screams "Mama" in that guttural way, I know she's not crying for me. Do you know how she calls out for you?

How many times did she cry, unanswered in the orphanage, for your arms, your touch, your body? And how did she feel when you did not come? Didn't you hear her? What could have kept you from running to her side? I can't know. But I wish I could tell you she's okay. She's happy, curious, radiant, and playful. She's deep and thoughtful and silly.

She cried for weeks when she started pre-school. The first day she didn't cry, another girl did. She went over to her and said, "It's okay. Your mama will be back." They are still friends.

I realize how much you mean to me, and how distinct and private her journey to you will be. I hesitate to say too much about her now as she will speak for herself someday. And I don't know what she will feel about you. I can tell you my feelings, though. I am grateful you carried her to full term. I am sorry you live in a country with a one child policy, poverty, and overpopulation. I try not to judge you.

Once, when she said she loved you as much as she loves me, I kissed her head and said, "I love her, too, honey. She made you." I felt a grace I didn't know I possessed, and a tenderness I never predicted.

I don't always know the right thing to say to her, but at least we can talk. I don't know what thoughts or feelings you try to send to her. I wish you knew how wonderful she is, how I could fill a letter a day detailing our lives, but I know it would never reach you.

You share her blood. I share her home. You share her ethnicity. I share her days. If I could turn air into an aroma that would bring you a moment of my time, I would take you to her, to watch and see her for yourself as she is in the act of becoming. Now, at seven, she says things like, "I'm only 60 percent full on my hug-o-meter," or, "Did you notice how I'm getting less shy?" She doesn't remember you, but sometimes she tries to imagine what you look like. Sometimes, I wonder which of her features is most like yours. Did she get her dimples or her thickening black hair from you?

In one photo of her crossing the monkey bars, her father said, "Look at that fierce determination on your face. I love it."

"I don't," she said as she rubbed her hands. "My hands hurt looking at the picture. I can feel it."

She feels you that deeply. Sometimes you are a gaping hole that makes her weep. Other times, you are a space she inhabits with pride. I'm trying to tell you what I can't say to your face, on a letter or over the phone. Your daughter, my daughter, our daughter loves and misses you.

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Comeuppance

By Barbara Brady

We worry about what a child will become tomorrow, yet we forget that he is someone today.
~Stacia Tauscher

Three young grandchildren were in my care for the day and I hoped no major catastrophes would occur. The usual chaos had temporarily halted and we gathered in the family room. The children amused themselves, at least for the moment.
Artistic Missy, age six, busily covered sheets of typing paper with pictures and designs. I didn't comment on the crayons and colored pencils scattered to the far corners of the room. Stephanie, age four, lugged in her big dollhouse and plunked it in the midst of the myriad of toys already spread out on the floor. Tiny pieces of doll furniture littered the carpet, adding to the already present obstacle course. Tommy, age three, kept busy by constantly flinging a tennis ball in an effort to make a "basket" through the roof of the dollhouse. Now and then Stephanie and Missy hollered at their pesky younger brother to quit bothering them but it didn't stop his Michael Jordan imitation.

I tuned out the name-calling and grabbed a chance to put my feet up in the big recliner chair to snatch a well-deserved break. Closing my eyes, I sighed gratefully for a day without unfortunate incidents. Suddenly a gap in the children's playful quarrelling alerted me. Missy, a precocious first grader, spouted orders to her younger sister.

"Stephanie," she commanded with authority, "you are never to use the F word or the S word."

Appalled at the thought of foul language coming from the mouth of a six-year-old, my feet thumped to the ground. I lunged from my chair to take charge. Surely my precious grandchildren hadn't learned such crude language from their parents. Certainly not from their grandparents! I shook my finger in Stephanie's face to get her attention. "Just what kind of language do you think you're using, young lady?" I barked. "Bad language will not be tolerated in this house," I warned with every intention of sending Stephanie to her room until her parents returned.

Stephanie looked shocked. Tears filled her brown eyes and her lower lip quivered. Missy moved close to her sister, eyes wide and puzzled. "But Grandma," Missy offered, eager to defend her sister, "I just told Stephanie it's naughty to use the F and S words. She called me Stupid. Mommy says we aren't ever supposed to call anyone Fat or Stupid. I'm sorry."

A chagrined grandma had overlooked the infinite wisdom of parents and the uncorrupted innocence of children. The grandchildren obviously could manage very well without interference from a clueless grandmother. I mumbled an apology and slunk back to my chair.

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вторник, 21 февраля 2012 г.

Coupon Bliss

By Megale Rivera

Happiness consists more in conveniences of pleasure that occur every day than in great pieces of good fortune that happen but seldom.
~Benjamin Franklin

When I was twenty-something and single, I had no real responsibilities and no real concept of the value of a dollar. I was just happy to have my own apartment and to "have it match" as my grandmother used to say.
As time went on, I began to embrace the so-called "adult things" in life, like comparison shopping and balancing a checkbook. As more time passed and I became a wife and mother with real responsibilities, I realized how truly important it was to account for every penny and stretch my money to the fullest.

One day last week I found myself a little down. I used to enjoy going to the bookstore and hanging out for hours reading the newest Anne Rice novel, or reveling in the company of girlfriends in the local sports bar catching up on gossip. Now I get to sneak some free time in here or there when grandma or the sitter is available, and that's just fine, but I began to ask myself... if things like going to a bookstore or hanging out with friends brought me happiness, what makes me happy now?

The more I asked myself that question the more depressed I became. What makes me happy? I do love spending time with my husband and family. But what really brightens my day?

I ran to CVS after work before picking up the boys from day care. I had a two-dollar coupon for diapers that I wanted to use before it expired. As I was checking out, the lady behind the counter pointed out that I had earned five dollars off my next household paper purchase. I politely smiled and made some appreciative remark.

I was about to drive out of the parking lot when I remembered that I also needed paper towels. I debated whether or not to go back in or wait and make the trip to Walmart on some other dreadful Mommy day.

I decided that since I was already there and I had my new coupon, I might as well go ahead and get the paper towels. What was another five minutes? So I picked out what seemed to be the best deal -- two dollars off with a CVS discount card. My afternoon was already getting a little better. I took the paper towels to the counter, and of course I heard "Back so soon!" I handed over my discount card for the two dollars off, my coupon for the five dollars off... already that was seven dollars off my twelve-roll pack of paper towels. I was feeling pretty darn good! Then just as I was reaching for my wallet, the lady behind the counter pulled out the big guns... she scanned in another coupon that someone ahead of me had left, and BAM another three dollars off. That came to a total of ten whole dollars off my twelve-roll pack of paper towels.

By the time I got into my car, I was so elated I could hardly contain myself. What was wrong with me? They were just paper towels! Then it hit me -- in my new life as a busy wife and mother, my happiness comes from these little moments that occur from time to time, like coupon bliss.

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A Car Whizzed By

By Susan Forma
Many years ago, I attended Drexel University in west Philadelphia. On the weekends, we'd do what most college students do -- stay up late. When we would get our second wind around 11 or 12 o'clock at night, we would often drive into south Philly for a delicious Philly Cheese Steak. Most of south Philly consists of old narrow streets, some of them still cobblestone, with lots of small alleys between homes and roadways.

On one particular night, about five of us loaded into one car and went to satisfy our late-night craving. It was always busy at this steak place, and the line was quite long. Somehow, I managed to get my cheese steak before the others. Despite the many people at the window ordering sandwiches, I was alone walking back to the car. Many years ago, my cousin was hit by a truck, and it destroyed her face. Therefore, I always thought of Cousin Hannah and took extra care to look both ways time and time again before venturing off a curb.

That night, however, I thought I was just crossing an alley. I wasn't aware that it was wide enough for cars to pass through, and it certainly wasn't a usual thoroughfare for cars. Therefore, I simply stepped off the curb to cross without looking. As soon as my foot left the curb, someone grabbed me by the back of my jacket and yanked me briskly back. At that exact moment, a car full of teens went whizzing in front of me and down the alley. My heart was beating a mile a minute as I knew I had just escaped death.

I turned to see who had saved me so I could thank him, but I found myself alone. My friends were just leaving the order window with their sandwiches and were way too far away to have helped. I knew that some loving angel had just saved my life! I am so thankful that someone was watching over me.

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понедельник, 20 февраля 2012 г.

Finding My Happy Place

By Ava Hope

If I had to sum up Friendship in one word, it would be Comfort.
~Terri Guillemets

I can hear the door slamming and curse words being yelled. I feel alone in my room with my pillow over my head. With tears running down my face, I swallow my sadness and try to find my happy place. But where is my happy place? It is hard being a teenager, but it is even more difficult being a teenager with a father who's an alcoholic.
Being in a position like mine, you have to find ways to cope with situations like this. I sometimes try talking to people who care. Andria has been my best friend since I was four. Now I'm fifteen, and I can't believe we've been friends for eleven years. There is one downside to talking to Andria. She lives 216 miles away. Somehow we manage to stay close. In fact, her move brought us closer than ever. When I talk to her about my dad, I just want to cry because I wish she could be there sitting next to me while I hide in the room from everything... my dad, the alcohol, my life.

The recent years have been especially rough. My dad is always drunk, arguing with everyone, blaming everyone else for his problems. Someone who was close to me passed away recently, and, of course, Andria moved away, making everything harder. Some days I wake up crying. I had to be taken out of class one day because I was crying too hard. None of my friends have an alcoholic parent, so when I attempt to vent, they don't respond as I wish they would. They don't understand; they don't know what I'm feeling.

I began to see a counselor. It helped me feel better and more confident for a while but then I began to feel like I didn't need that anymore, I needed something different. I needed to talk to someone who understood me, someone else just like me -- someone who also has an alcoholic parent. So my mom showed me something called Alateen. Alateen is for teenagers whose lives have been affected by someone else's drinking. When I go to Alateen meetings I don't feel lonely anymore. When I sit in that room with all those other kids, I know that I can be open with my feelings and I feel safe because I can trust them all. It is easier to talk to someone when they have been in your position at some point and time in their life. Alateen may be my happy place.

Sometimes I cope with my anger, frustration, and loneliness by writing. I like to write songs -- not too many people know that about me. I didn't even tell Andria. I also like to listen to music. It distracts me, just lets me listen to the beat and stop focusing on all my stress.

If you have an alcoholic parent, I'm sure you would sympathize with a lot of my experiences and feelings. It's really frustrating. I know that I cannot do anything about it. It is my dad's choice and he is the only one who can change it. All I can do is pray that my dad gets help, because if he doesn't he will lose his family. He will lose us. Family comes first... not alcohol.

I have realized that my happy place can be anywhere I want it to be. All I need is to be confident and positive. I will stand up for myself and my family, and I will learn from my dad's mistakes. I will not let alcohol take over my life and I will live life to the fullest. I know that there will be rough days, but all I can do is remind myself to take one day at a time.

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воскресенье, 19 февраля 2012 г.

Summer Faith

By Tina Wagner Mattern

It was one of those dreary, cold rainy days in February that Portland, Oregon is famous for, and my mood was as miserable as the weather. Some people like rain. I am not one of those people. I had already gotten drenched once that day; taking my three-year-old daughter Summer to her Christian preschool, so the last thing I wanted to do was to go out in it again. But it was two o'clock and she needed to be picked up by two-thirty.

The traffic was terrible. When I finally pulled into the school parking lot, it was quarter to three. I knew Summer's teacher was not going to be happy.

I parked the car, pulled my coat collar tight and buttoned it, then reached for my umbrella, which wasn't under the front seat where it should have been. Someone (it couldn't have been me, of course) had left it in the garage that morning. I muttered a couple of words that likely made my Guardian Angel cringe, and hurried through the lake forming on the concrete.

Inside, Teacher Jennifer lifted an eyebrow at me, obviously annoyed with my tardiness, and pointed down the hallway. Summer was bent over a table, working to finish a painting.

"Hi Mommy," she chirped.

"Come on, honey," I called. "We're late. Teacher Jennifer wants to go home."

She held up her artwork. "Look! I drawed it for you!"

I took the paper and squinted impatiently at it. "Uh-huh. Good." I nodded and handed her coat to her. She put the picture down and folded her arms.

She wasn't going anywhere until I apologized. And it better be believable.

"It's wonderful!" I gushed. "Best one you ever did!"

She finally nodded and obediently held out her arms for her jacket. Outside, the rain was now a freezing, nearly sideways sheet. Both of us were soaked by the time we got to the car.

"It's wainin," Summer observed from her car seat behind me.

"No kidding," I said, drying my dripping hair with a handful of Kleenex before starting the car. I was just pulling out when Summer yelled, "Wait! We gotta go back!"

I slammed on the brakes and turned around. "What are you talking about? Go back outside? Why?"

"My Care Bears mitten," she cried, waving a lonely right-hand Care Bear at me. "My mitten's gone. I musta leaved it in school."

"Oh for heavens... Wait a minute," I muttered, backing the car to the curb. Parking, I turned around to lean over the seat and undo her seatbelt. "Okay, look in your pockets."

"I did!" she wailed. "It's not there!" She turned both pockets inside out to demonstrate their mittenless-ness to me.

"Get up," I sighed. "Maybe you're sitting on it." She climbed out. No mitten. We checked around and under the seat and on the floorboards. No mitten.

"See!" Summer cried. "We haffa go back!"

"No! Maybe it's outside, next to the curb." I opened the door and stuck my head out. Niagara Falls poured over what was left of my hairstyle. No mitten.

"That's it!" I pronounced with finality. "You have three pairs of mittens at home, for crying out loud. Now, get back in your seat so I can buckle you in."

"I want my bestest Care Bear mitten!"

"Well, I want a week in Jamaica."

Thinking on that kept her quiet for a moment or two, allowing me to get the car headed for home.

But five minutes later, "I want my mitten!"

Looking at her distressed face in the rearview mirror, I said, "You've made that perfectly clear. Now give it a rest. Please."

Eyes narrowed, frown lines deep, she muttered something threatening under her breath.

"What did you say?"

"I say," she pouted, "I ask Jesus. Jesus will get me my mitten."

Rolling my eyes, I said, "Jesus is NOT going to get you your mitten. He's busy with more important things."

"He will too," she stated firmly.

Once we finally got home and parked in the garage, we went into the house. I told Summer, "I've got a lot to do before I get dinner ready. Go play in your room, honey."

I hung up our coats in the laundry room and headed to the kitchen to deal with the dishes in the sink when I remembered the mail had to be brought in -- from outside -- in the rain. Groaning, I put my coat back on and stomped down the hallway to the front door. Summer followed on my heels.

Opening the door, I looked hopefully up through the rain for any sign of blue sky. A clap of thunder echoed in the distance. "Oh hush up!" I muttered, and prepared to sprint to the mailbox.

Before I could take a step though, Summer squealed.

"What now?" I groaned, spinning around.

"I tode you!"

"Tode me what?"

She pointed out the door, grinning.

I turned, and following her finger with my eyes, looked down at the doorstep.

There, on the welcome mat, was a Care Bear mitten. A left-handed Care Bear mitten.

I blinked in disbelief, my mind scrambling to make sense of what I was seeing.

What? How? My common sense tried to reason that she must have dropped it on her way out this morning. But no, we hadn't been anywhere near the front porch. We'd gone out through the garage. In fact, she and I had not been out the front door in more than a week.

Stunned, I turned to look into Summer's shining face.

"I tode you Jesus would get it for me!" she beamed.

Gathering her into my arms, I whispered, "Yes, you did, little girl. You really did."

Holding her tightly, I was overwhelmed with awe at our God who would perform such a miracle for a little child, simply because she stood steadfast in her faith.

After a minute, Summer pulled away to say, "Thank you, Jesus!" Then she picked up her mitten and skipped off to her room.

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I looked up to heaven and whispered, "Amen to that, Lord."

The Rescue

By Jami Perona

Chains do not hold a marriage together. It is threads, hundreds of tiny threads which sew people together through the years.
~Simone Signoret

It had been one of those days. My three-month-old son, Tate, had not napped all day and now lay with his head on my shoulder, sobbing. Laundry waited by the washing machine, oatmeal was hardening in the breakfast bowls, and dirty diapers were emitting a smell from the trashcan. I surveyed my chaotic little world. Exhaustion washed over me, leaving me lightheaded. When would this day end?
For the last couple of weeks, I had managed to have the house cleaned and dinner well under way when my husband Jim got home from work at the end of the day. He worked all day and I got to stay home with the baby. It seemed like a fair trade. Jim had been very impressed, which made me very happy with myself.

This week, however, Tate was not his normal, happy self. He was getting his first tooth. Nothing seemed to relieve his pain for long.

Now Jim was on his way home during his short lunch break. I heated leftovers while holding my whining little guy. As Jim came in he surveyed the mess in the kitchen. "Not a good day?" When he turned to me he didn't need an answer. He could see I was still in the sweats I had slept in. When Tate let out an earsplitting cry, Jim picked him up. "I've got him. Take a break." I ran upstairs and cleaned up, got dressed, and did the minimum of my make-up routine so I felt more human.

Later that afternoon I managed to start the laundry and do some cleaning but then Tate started screaming again. Dinner would not be ready.

When Jim walked in, he took Tate from my arms, gave me a smile and threw his son playfully in the air. Tate squealed with delight. "Why don't you go up and take a break? Tate and I can handle things down here." He shooed me upstairs, telling me not to worry about anything. Lying on the bed, I briefly wondered what he was up to, but only for a minute. The next minute I was fast asleep.

I awoke two hours later. Jumping out of bed I ran downstairs. "Shhhhh." Jim pointed to Tate who was asleep. I walked into the kitchen and found that the love of my life had made one of my favorite meals. Coming from Italian roots, my husband knew how to create a very delicious spaghetti sauce. Before we met I had never been a huge spaghetti fan. But the combination of spices my husband used to make his sauce from scratch had me hooked from that first romantic meal he had made for me. It was all arranged -- the meal, the light smell of vanilla candles, the soft music in the background. The oven even boasted dessert yet to come. Peeking in, I realized my husband had somehow made a trip to Applebee's and bought my favorite dessert ever -- a Maple Butter Blondie.

"I thought you needed a night off." My husband smiled as he came into the kitchen. "You have been doing way too much around here. I can see you need a break." He escorted me to my seat and served me. We ate the savory spaghetti, tossed garden salad, mouthwatering, buttery garlic bread and enjoyed each other's company. As he served the blondie we grinned at each other. We shared it on one plate with two forks clinking together. And when Tate let out a loud cry from his crib upstairs, Jim said, "You stay right there. This will only take a moment and we will finish the rest of dessert."

The rest of the night consisted of foot rubs, long talks, and romance. Even to this day when we have spaghetti or blondies from Applebee's we always feel a little more romantic. My now six-year-old son knows when we have this meal we will act a little more "smooshy," as Tate puts it. And it always reminds me I am blessed to have such a thoughtful man who can turn a bad day into delicious perfection.

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пятница, 17 февраля 2012 г.

Withstanding Winter's Woes

By Terri Elders

Don't worry about a thing, cause every little thing gonna be all right.
~Bob Marley

Though I've always seen myself as a "glass half full" person, this winter I've nearly changed my mind. I'm sad to say that I've temporarily set aside positive thinking, forgotten how to make an affirmation or a wish upon a star... and have even rubbed a cynical thumb across my unicorn key chain, which I usually stroke like a good luck charm.
Give me a crisis, and I can cope. But give me an avalanche of crises, and I get too smothered to function. For instance, this winter my son survived three rounds of layoffs at the metropolitan newspaper where he's a copy chief, but a fourth round is pending, and things look bleak. My husband, diagnosed with end-stage renal failure, held up well throughout the holidays, but his remaining energy seems to be dwindling more rapidly than either of us ever anticipated. And my own good health has suffered a series of small setbacks, colds and coughs that I can't shake, accompanied by vague aches and pains that interfere with solid sleep and managing housekeeping chores.

I just feel stuck. Spring can't come too soon, but even Punxsutawney Phil saw his shadow on Groundhog Day, guaranteeing six more weeks of gloom.

So when I look out my kitchen window this morning, and spy Chico, a black ball of fluff silhouetted against the gray sky and snow-covered pastures, I am astonished. Once again she is perched on top of the birdhouse, scanning the sky.

Now, let me set the scene a little more clearly. It's early February here in Northeast Washington... which my California friends allude to as Southern Alaska. We've crept above freezing exactly three days this winter. There's still a two-foot chunk of ice on my roof. And I can't recall seeing a bird other than a wild turkey anywhere near the yard since last November.

But if Chico expects a tasty snack to fly down to her, maybe one will. I've learned a lot about Chico and her expectations. She's the only cat I've ever known who dedicates herself to the principles of the Law of Attraction. This means that if you believe good things are going to happen to you, then they simply will. And for Chico, they often do.

Chico, and her siblings, Groucho and Harpo, were a freebie litter at The Flour Mill, an animal equipment and supply store in town. I had gone to the shop looking for a kitten, but couldn't settle on just one. I leaned towards Groucho, the tuxedo cat, and then towards Harpo, the marmalade. Chico, wholly black with emerald eyes, just sat and stared at me as if I'd be crazy to leave her behind.

Billed by the Mill as "barn cats," the trio belied that tag, taking to our house, particularly to the quilt on our bed, like babes to toyland. But from the onset, Chico demonstrated her difference from her siblings, her independence and daring. While the others hop into my lap, seeking affection, Chico prefers to curl up to Natty, our shaggy Great Pyrenees mix. The others rarely venture out in winter. Chico races the dogs to the door. Always up for adventure, hunting mice and birds is her obsession.

This afternoon I glance out the kitchen window again. Chico's back atop the birdhouse, but this time she's no longer alone in the yard. Dozens of English sparrows cavort in the adjacent tree, nibbling on the seeds. Chico watches them closely, swatting out a lazy paw whenever one flies near. She nearly loses her balance once or twice, but always digs her claws into the birdhouse roof just in time.

A little later she hops up on the windowsill outside our dining room window and yowls for my attention. Apparently today was not the best of hunting days because when I let her in she heads for the bathroom where she settles for a tamer meal of kitty kibble from her lavender dish.

I return to my computer and check my e-mail... at least there's no bad news from my son. I hear my husband upstairs and it sounds as if he's getting up to come down for an afternoon visit, still well enough to manage the stairs. The ache in my hip has subsided enough that I think I'm up to mopping the kitchen and hallway.


Chico ambles in and nudges Natty, licking her whiskers, satisfied and content.

Her message gets through to me. Maybe good things don't have to happen every day. Maybe it's enough just to be content simply because bad things didn't happen either.

And then I remember. Sometimes lowering your expectations is a part of the Law of Attraction. It doesn't always have to be great expectations. Like Chico, I simply could expect something that is readily available.

Hmmm. Birds in the trees once again. Spring can't be too far off. I manage a smile and go upstairs to greet my husband, trailed by Chico. Even though it's afternoon, I greet him, singing the verse from Bob Marley's "Three Little Birds" -- "Rise up this mornin', smiled with the risin' sun."

My husband sits on the edge of the bed, smiling back. Chico jumps up next to him, waiting for a pat. She gets it.

So do I.

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Learning How to Love

By Julia Valentine

Let no one who loves be unhappy... even love unreturned has its rainbow.
~James Matthew Barrie

At age sixteen it is hard to see past your first love. It can be all consuming, it can be great, and it can also turn out to be the worst heartbreak you have ever experienced.
His name was Evan, and he was a friend first. His sister was my best friend all through elementary school, and I always thought that her brother was the coolest guy. They lived just down the hill from me. Sure, Evan would tease us, but when he invited us to hang out with him and his friends we really felt like we were part of the cool kids. His basement, where we would all hang out, had dirty carpet and posters of rock and reggae musicians. Everyone wanted to be around him -- he just had this personality that drew people to him. Everyone wanted to be his friend because he was so smart and always had something interesting or funny to say. He knew everything from dumb movie quotes to philosophy.

He told me that he had never had a girlfriend before, although he was very popular. He just didn't think that girls liked him. But he was so wrong. He was the most attractive person in the world to me. I felt like his personality and mine went so well together. I knew already that I was in love.

We were all hanging out in his basement one night when he took me aside and told me that he had feelings for me. I was ecstatic, and after that we were inseparable. Since it was summer, we spent every moment together for three months. We had so much fun, having sleepover parties with his sister, watching The History Channel, and just talking and laughing all night. Whenever I looked at him I would get this feeling... I knew this wasn't just puppy love. It was real love, and he was my first.

When we finally said that we loved each other, I took it to heart. Then school started back up and our relationship changed. We didn't get to see each other as much, and it killed me. For him, seeing all his friends made him want to spend more time with them and less time with me. I knew I was being too clingy but I couldn't help it. I was still so in love with him and I didn't know how to handle my feelings.

Everything seemed to be spiraling out of control. All I could do was cry. I hated fighting with him and I could not see the light at the end of the tunnel. I couldn't eat or sleep. My parents were so worried about my depression that they checked me into the hospital. They put me in a smock that was pretty much like a burlap sack, gave me a book and a bed, and locked the door. I couldn't use the phone. I wanted to know if Evan and I were breaking up or not. We had fought but there was no resolution.

When I got back, my mom told me that he had been trying to call. She said that he had asked me to come over, and it gave me some hope. I was there in a heartbeat. When I got to his house, he told me he had feelings for another girl. He broke it to me so coldly. I was so angry with him for having feelings for this new girl. How could he leave me for someone else? I felt totally betrayed.

Two weeks after our break-up, I was finally starting to heal when my whole life was flipped upside down. I was watching TV in my living room when I heard the wail of sirens. I saw a parade of police cars going down the hill. I didn't think much about it at first, but when ambulances started coming I really took notice and I retreated to my room to avoid the noise.

A few minutes later my mother came and knocked on my door. She had a very solemn look on her face. "It's about Evan," she told me in a quiet voice.

"I don't want to talk about him, Mom!" I hollered back. I was still so hurt about our break-up. I knew if she brought him up I would start to cry. I had no idea how right I was.

She wouldn't take no for an answer. Then she broke it to me as gently as possible. "He passed away. He passed in his sleep. They think it might have been a brain aneurism."

I was so confused... I didn't know what to think. I was still mad at him for breaking up with me, but the process of forgiveness started right there. How could I be mad when the person I loved had just passed away? I was heartbroken all over again but I began to appreciate all of the things he had done for me. He taught me how to love, and he gave me love in return. A first love is such a huge milestone in someone's life and to have shared that with such an amazing person was a blessing.

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Passages in Stone

By Laudizen King

Little children, headache; big children, heartache.
~Italian Proverb

When couples hike in all kinds of weather and terrain they develop a special intimacy built on those experiences. They learn about each other in an environment far removed from normal domestic life. There is not a lot of veneer on a person when he or she is wet and cold and struggling to continue on a long trail. They learn each other's quirks related to preparation, and each other's facility to recuperate from pain, as well as the strength they pull up from deep inside when the trail is hardest and the going most difficult.
Shirley and I hiked together for six wonderful years in many diverse locations in the West. We were older when we met; she was a grandmother and I was in my fifties. We forged a relationship built on weekend hiking trips that gave us plenty of satisfaction and also showed us a lot of fine country that we never would have seen otherwise. It also grew in us that special intimacy borne of hard hours on the trail.

On every trip Shirley would collect a couple of stones. These were not stones of any geologic value, but rather rocks with interesting shapes and swirls or those with varied colors or patterns. When we would reach the summit, or were halfway, or even when taking a needed rest, she would peruse the ground looking for stones of interest. She would pick one up and run it through her fingers, turning it over and around on her palm to inspect it in detail. If the stone met the standards of some ineffable criteria, she deposited it in her daypack for transport back home.

Two fates awaited these stones on our return. A stone could be deposited in the great urn by the fireplace that held other stones from other trips, or, if it was special enough, it was set aside for Chad, the younger of her two grandsons by her son Danny. When Chad was six or seven he started to enjoy looking at rocks with Grandma, whether it was at a family outing at the beach or in the mountains.

So it was that Shirley shared these stones with Chad. They held them and inspected them and Shirley would relate the story of their origin in detail. She would describe where the stone was from and what the weather was like, what the trip had entailed. Chad enjoyed this and it gave his grandma a chance to interact with him and to look inside the boy as he grew. It also allowed Chad a look inside his grandmother, whether or not he knew or appreciated it at the time.

The stone collection also kept the connection between Shirley and Chad intact as Chad grew up. Shirley never felt she had enough time with her grandsons, so when the opportunity presented itself, Shirley would use the stones to connect to Chad.

And so they appeared, stone after stone. Small rough stones came from the high passes of Yosemite, and rounded stones came from its watercourses and waterfalls. From Death Valley came samples from the low salt flats of Badwater to the high trails in the Panamint Mountains, and from the craters of Ubehebe. We gathered them from every area of the Pinnacles National Monument; from beaches at Morro Bay to the coast at Malibu, from the Los Padres to the San Gabriel Mountains came small pieces of wonder to hold and describe. She gathered them where we hiked in Southern California: in the Cuyamaca and Laguna mountains, the wonderful Anza-Borrego Desert, and in Palm Springs.

One hot summer day we were on a hiking trail above Donner Canyon on Mount Diablo east of San Francisco. It was dry and dusty and we were pushing a real sweat as we trudged our way higher up the slope with Shirley out in front. She stopped at a turn on the trail and looked down at something in front of her. She bent over and picked up a small dark stone with three bands across it. She first ran her fingers over it and then studied it as it lay in the palm of her hand. Then, with a look of sadness that she tried to conceal from me, she slowly tossed it off to the side of the trail.

Things change, and time moves on. Chad was now almost a teenager, and the wonder over his grandmother's stones and the stories of where they came from was now of little interest to him. He had crossed a threshold leading to adulthood and the door of that threshold was closed forever; gone with it was the portal that had connected Chad and Shirley in such an illuminating way these last six years.

The look on Shirley's face was one of pain and resignation. I walked up the trail to her side and there in the sun-drenched day we embraced. For everyone, feelings of anguish come to us like this throughout our lives. We need to see these passages for what they are, appreciate them for what they were, and then let them go. There is beauty in what is brief, and for those formative years that were so important to Shirley, those stones gave her special access to the young man growing up before her.

We stood there for a second on the trail sharing the moment. We turned and, lifting our faces from the stones at our feet, gazed over the canyon spreading out below us as the peaks and ridges rose up into the blue sky above. Then we continued up the trail to whatever awaited us there.

At home, the urn of stones sits by the fireplace.

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Cereal Killer

By Rebecca Hill

There is no sincerer love than the love of food.
~George Bernard Shaw

My friend Dominique and I are innkeepers at Channel Road Inn. Working at a bed and breakfast hotel is fun! We take reservations, help guests with their dinner plans and we bake homemade cookies, breakfast cakes and goodies from scratch every day for our guests.

Dominique and I have been friends for a while now. We've shared secrets, lots of laughs and even a few tears, but lately something has come between us... it's her granola recipe. She won't tell me (or anyone!) how it's made.
Dominique's granola is the best thing I've ever tasted. Sure I love the homemade banana bread and blueberry cakes we bake at the Inn. Our scones, egg soufflés and French toast are amazing and our homemade chocolate chip cookies are to die for but nothing -- NOTHING! -- can top Dominique's granola.

When you ask Dominique what's in the granola she pretends to tell you. "Oh, it's simple -- just your basic granola but I add in some fruit and I sweeten it with coconut and honey," she says (while not looking you in the eye). But she must be leaving something out of her description because I have never tasted granola (or anything) that tastes as good as this. I cannot even hear, much less talk, when I'm eating this granola. The whole world stops moving and all I can hear is the crunching of the granola in my mouth. I can't hear the phones or the doorbell ring and even when people talk to me, I can see their lips moving but their voices sound like they are in slow motion. In that sense, Dominique's granola is an occupational hazard for me, so I try to eat it only after my shift has ended.

I am known to get overly exuberant about certain things, so I took a sample of Dominique's granola to one of my girlfriends at Curves so she could tell me if she found it as amazing as I do. By the time I drove home, there was already an e-mail from my girlfriend saying, "Wow, you were not kidding! That stuff is addictive! Yum, yum, yum! I'm thinking Dominique should start small and go to farmers' markets, fairs, etc... and just sell locally... word will spread!"

And word has spread! Though Dominique has not had time to go to farmers' markets or fairs yet, we do have guests e-mailing and calling to ask for the recipe for Dominique's homemade granola. Over the past twenty-three years all of the innkeepers at Channel Road Inn have been open and generous with our recipes. We freely and willingly give them to our guests and we'll even let them watch us bake the cakes or prepare the egg soufflés and French toast so they can replicate them at home. Dominique's granola is the only recipe they cannot have. Their response is always the same. They laugh and say, "I always knew you innkeepers had a few tricks up your sleeves," and then they add, "No problem. But can I buy some of that granola? Could you mail it to me? I keep thinking about it."

I like these phone calls and e-mails because they reassure me that I have not lost my mind. This granola is that good! I think about it every day and always hope Dominique has had a chance to make it when I come into work. I've even been known to call down to the Inn on my days off just to see if, by chance, Domi has made any granola. I scour the freezer at the Inn looking for leftovers and hidden stashes, but I rarely find any because the guests eat it by the heaping spoonfuls. On the days Dominique's granola gets served, our homemade cakes are barely touched. People are nuts for this stuff.

My girlfriend from Curves asks me on a weekly basis how she can get more of Dominique's granola. Though she has an apartment nearby, she's considering booking a room at Channel Road Inn just so she can come to breakfast and eat granola. It's that bad -- this granola is ruining the lives of everyone who eats it. We all become addicts and start devoting our lives to finding out how and when we can get more granola.

And all the while, Dominique sits in the kitchen feigning surprise that everyone is rabidly searching for more granola. She's like the Master of the Universe -- the one who holds the key to our happiness. When she knows I'm having a hard week, she definitely makes granola. One time she even went out and bought coconut herself because the Inn was out of it and she knew I wanted and needed (yes, actually needed) her homemade granola that day.

We have a repeat guest at Channel Road Inn who has stayed at the Inn several times a year for the past ten years. She's crazy about Dominique's granola too! Like me, she has begged for the recipe and then finally settled for just eating a bowl of granola once she realized that Dominique's vague description of "fruit, coconut and honey" is just a dodge. We all adore this guest -- from her Missouri drawl to her darling grandchildren and impeccable manners, she is the most charming woman in the world.


Under normal circumstances, there's nothing I would deny this guest, but when she checked in last week and immediately asked if "Dominique had made any granola" I had to think fast. The technical answer was, "No, Domi has not had time to make granola today." But the underlying truth, the one that troubled my heart was, "Domi has not had time to make granola today... but she did give me a small bag of it last week. I have it hidden in the back of the freezer with my name on it and I have been rationing it out to myself half a cup at a time."

I stared at our loyal guest, wondering if I should share my secret stash with her. I love this guest... but I also love Dominique's granola. I adore this guest... but I also adore Dominique's granola. I should have shared my granola with this guest... but I didn't. I tried to ease my conscience by offering her a cup of tea and a slice of hot vanilla streusel cake, fresh out of the oven. She politely said, "No thank you" and as I watched her walk down the hall to her room, I felt slightly bad -- but not as bad as I would have felt had I given her the last of my granola.

Dominique shows her love for Channel Road Inn's guests -- and employees -- through her baking. She works on her recipes for weeks to perfect them and is truly delighted when the guests "ooh and ah" over her creations. She is generous with most of her recipes, except for one. And that's okay, because this granola is so good, I'm betting one day it will be available in stores, and then our charming guest from Missouri, my girlfriend from Curves, and I can all eat Domi's granola to our heart's content!

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