среда, 30 мая 2012 г.

Practice Makes Perfect

By Debbie Acklin

I didn't think much about it at first. I would be listening to someone and find that my mind would wander a bit from time to time. Suddenly, I would realize that there was an awkward silence. The other person was waiting for a response and I had no idea what they had said. It was very embarrassing.
After apologizing several times for "zoning out" during a conversation, I realized that I needed to do something about this problem of mine. It was like I had developed attention deficit disorder. One day I accidently stumbled down the right road to a solution.

I was sitting in a doctor's office, flipping through the reading material, when I came across one of those word search books. It was the kind where there is a grid of letters on each page with words hidden within the grid. You had to find the words by searching the grid. I was completely engrossed in one of these puzzles when I was called back to see the doctor. Wow! I had focused on something so completely that my name had to be called more than once.

After the visit, I went to a local bookstore and picked up several of these word search puzzle books. There were many variations on locating the words in the puzzle, but I found I enjoyed them all. In the beginning, I just started with the first word in the list, then searched the grid until I found it. This was very time consuming.

Having worked through an entire book, I began to develop tricks to find the words. I would group words that began with the same letter and search for them all at once. This speeded up my search since it reduced my passes through the grid. Then I realized that some letters were easier for me to spot than others. For instance, I can spot O, U, M, W, C, I, and L easily. So I began to group words that contained these letters.

Of course, there were several different types of puzzles. I could not use my new tricks to solve them all, but I developed other techniques for these. The important thing was that I was giving each puzzle my full attention. I was focused. I never left a puzzle undone. I always completed it before I put down my pencil. I never looked up answers in the back of the book. I stuck with it until I solved it.

One day I picked up a book to work a puzzle and something interesting occurred. I found that I could just look at the puzzle and the words would almost leap off the page at me. I found them quickly, zipping right through the puzzle. It startled me a little. I tried another one with the same result. I realized that I had trained my mind to recognize the patterns that made up common words. I began to notice that I was more focused on conversations. There were no more of those awkward silences. I felt happier and more confident.

I also realized that in the old days I had sometimes read the same line in a book several times before I focused enough to actually retain what I had just read. That seldom happened anymore. It was true. You can teach an old dog new tricks!

I thought back to younger days when I would sit and practice the piano for hours at a time. Then one day, I realized I could play the songs without the sheet music in front of me. I had not deliberately memorized the piece. My hands had been trained, from repetition, to move over the right sequence of keys.

I began to remember how constant practice in sports had improved my game. I had trophies for shooting from the free throw line in basketball because I practiced the shot hundreds of times. I could hit the basket in my sleep. I could put a ball in exactly the same place over a tennis net for the same reason. Repetition.

Somehow, I had lost sight of that simple lesson that so many teachers and coaches had instilled in me for years. Practice makes perfect. I don't do word searches as much as I used to. I have moved on to simple video games. When I master one, seeing the pattern or the path to winning repetitively, I move on to something else.

I plan to keep building those neural pathways in this old brain of mine, always searching for new challenges. Hopefully, it will serve me well for many years to come.

Dance Lessons

By Judith Fitzsimmons

There are shortcuts to happiness, and dancing is one of them.
~Vicki Baum

The feel of gliding around a dance floor gracefully performing a waltz or romantically moving in a samba is one of my greatest delights. In fact, dance has been a significant part of my entire life, and I have committed considerable time, money, energy, frustration and glowing success to mastering all different types of dance.
Would this passion have been ignited if not for the sacrifice of my mother? I doubt it. I grew up on the other side of the tracks in a very affluent town. What I mean is that while classmates were flying to Vail for the weekend to go skiing, my brothers and sister and I would get cafeteria trays to use as sleds on local golf courses. However, in our community, which is a suburb of a major metropolitan area, there were many benefits even us "townies" could enjoy. We attended outstanding schools and securely patrolled parks and streets and participated in extravagant town-directed summer activities.

But one activity that we could not enjoy by simply living in this town was dance lessons. In the early 1960s, my mother thought that dance lessons, table manners, polite behavior, and etiquette were important skills that her children needed to prepare themselves for their futures.

Her attempts at teaching us herself left her with bruised feet and left us frustrated and discouraged. Then one evening after dinner she presented us with our "church" clothes all freshly ironed and informed us that we were going to the dance school for lessons. There was such joy on her face that no one grumbled about putting on our Sunday best in the middle of the week.

For several weeks, each Thursday night we endured the sneers from our dance partners who commented on the fact that we always wore the same clothes. Their comments brushed right over me because within the first week of dance, I was hooked. The lights, the music and the intricate dance steps captivated me. For that one brief hour, I was transported to a life of gaiety that my wealthy neighbors took for granted.

At the end of the hour, my mother, who had been reading a book in the car during the lesson, would bring us home. There, she would clean up the house, make lunches for each of us for the next day, fold laundry, and review our homework. After we were tucked into bed, she would say, "I'll be back in a bit. Don't forget your prayers, and know that I love you."

This routine went on for weeks until one evening I realized that I had left my sneakers at the dance studio. Since I had gym the next day at school, I had to go back to get my sneakers. My father reluctantly drove me to the studio and just as I was about to knock on the door, I saw my mother on her hands and knees shining the hardwood floor. I was devastated; I banged on the door and my mother approached with a huge smile on her face. "Mama, what in the world..." I stammered, but before I could finish my sentence, she laughed and said, "Don't worry my precious girl, I saw your sneakers here and I was going to bring them home."

"But Mama, that is not what is upsetting me, I'm upset that you are working so hard so late at night," I wailed. She pulled me into her soft arms for a big hug and explained that the dance instructor was giving us the lessons in exchange for my mother cleaning the studio. "This is a wonderful solution, my baby girl," she stated firmly as she held me at arm's length. Looking me straight in the eye, she said, "Don't let anything take away the joy you have for dance. In fact, darling daughter of mine, never let anyone take joy away from you for anything."

As we walked arm and arm back to the car, I vowed then and there that I would honor my mother, I would honor my joy, and I would keep dancing -- and I have.

The Teamwork of Marriage

By Dayle Allen Shockley

Do not anticipate trouble or worry about what may never happen. Keep in the sunlight.
~Benjamin Franklin

Last summer, my husband and I stopped at a lawn and garden center and bought ourselves an outdoor fabric gazebo. It was something we'd wanted for a while, so when they went on sale, we took the plunge.
Driving home, I could already envision sunny days and balmy nights, spent outside under the gazebo's shelter.

Back at the house, our enthusiasm was high, until we carried the box from the truck to the back yard and opened it.

For a moment, we didn't move. Our eyes were fixed on this single box, containing 162 pieces, along with a few pages of instructions for assembling the ten-foot-by-ten-foot gazebo.

After the shock wore off, we looked at each other, as if to say, "What have we gotten ourselves into?"

I was designated the official instruction reader.

"Okay," I said, and cleared my throat. "Step one says, 'Fix the Panel A on the Panel B by using M6X35 bolts and nuts, which is Part L. Repeat this three times.'"

Our eyes met. I raised one eyebrow in a question mark.

Stan laughed. "Well, I guess we need to look for Panels A and B."

Within minutes, my handy man had Panels A and B completely upright. That left the nuts and bolts, and since I was also the keeper of the plastic bag, which was officially called Part L, I cut it open and offered up the M6X35 nuts and bolts, precisely as directed. While I steadied the panels, Stan secured them with the hardware.

It got harder from there. We discovered a few of the parts were flawed, so Stan had to improvise. Then there was his tendency to skip ahead in his thought process, thinking he knew what was coming.

I found myself saying things like, "Wait on that part," and, "No, that comes later," or, "According to the directions, blah, blah, blah." Other than these exchanges, we rarely talked.

At times, I could feel my husband watching me impatiently, as I fumbled in search of some elusive piece to the puzzle. I pretended not to notice. Putting together a gazebo required my total concentration.

Other times, I stood back and watched him work, admiring how he smiled whenever another step was crossed off the instruction list.

In our long marriage, this was not the first thing we had attempted to put together. Through the years there were dollhouses and baby doll strollers, swing sets, and an entertainment center or two. We knew the drill.

All of these occasions had taught us a lot about how a partnership is supposed to operate:

1. It takes two participating individuals to make it work.

2. There's a right way to do things, and there's a wrong way. (Do it the wrong way, and you'll wish you hadn't.)

3. If you want to see the end results, you have to stay with it. (And that's the tough part -- sticking it out when all you really want to do is split the scene.)

Marriage is a lot like that. It takes both of you to make it work. There's a right way to treat each other, and there's a wrong way. And if you give up when the going gets rough, you'll never know the joys that come from having hung in there, even when you wanted to quit... especially when you wanted to quit.

Three hours after arriving home with a cumbersome box of assorted parts, my husband and I high-fived and stepped back to admire the fruits of our labor. It no longer mattered that Part F and Part J did not measure up appropriately, nor that one of the nuts fell through a crack in the patio. The gazebo was standing tall and firm. Together, we had made it work.

Smiling, we admired our creation. Finally, we had our very own backyard gazebo -- a place to enjoy morning coffee and evening conversations, and every time I look at it, to this day, I remember that we are a team.

воскресенье, 27 мая 2012 г.

Filling a Need

By Robin Pressnall

The purpose of life is a life of purpose.
~Robert Byrne

As I approached my fortieth birthday, I realized that my life was quite meaningless in the larger scheme of things. I had friends and a loving husband and yet something was missing. With no children, I felt that I hadn't done anything that would help mankind or change the world. I would have no legacy to leave.
I was watching TV one day and I saw Billy Graham speaking about prayer. He said that we should ask God for the "desires of our hearts." He explained that this is different than just asking for your wants and wishes. It is not like asking for a new red sports car. He was talking about the deepest and truest desires of your heart.

My desire was to be someone who mattered. I wanted to make a difference in the lives of people and in the lives of animals. After all, dogs had always been a large part of my life, from the time when I was a little girl growing up in central Oklahoma. I thought that my "purpose" would somehow include my love of singing, writing, travel, and of course, working with animals.

Then, something happened that shook my entire core. The "love of my life" dog, my Nicholas, was diagnosed with terminal cancer. He died thirteen months later. I became quite concerned for Bear, our remaining Cockapoo, who was six years old. Bear had been Nicholas's shadow and now that Nick was gone, Bear wouldn't even eat. Our vet suggested that we get another dog to see if that would encourage Bear to eat.

I found an online ad for a Bichon Frise and when we arrived at the place it was a nightmare, like one of those puppy mills you read about or see on the television news. I decided to delay my search for my "purpose" as I needed to tell the world about the horror I had discovered right in my own backyard.

I had even a bigger fight ahead of me than Nicholas's cancer. This was a fight that would take years. I did research and then I spread the word on the Internet. People began to listen and we formed a small group of Bichon Frise lovers called Small Paws Rescue.

I started out sending the latest news on our rescue efforts to about twenty-five people. Within a few months we had grown to a group of several hundred. Some had Bichons and some had other breeds of dogs.

I felt bad about the delay in finding my "purpose in life," but after all, I was now on a mission.

A few years passed and my rescue stories were being read by more than six thousand people in twenty-eight different countries. National media outlets began asking me to do interviews and to film episodes for Animal Planet.

It took me a while to realize that I had not only found my purpose in life, but each of the desires of my heart had been included as well.

Yes, losing Nicholas was part of this journey. If I hadn't lost Nick, I wouldn't have found myself involved in this magnificent obsession called Small Paws Rescue, along with some of the finest people anywhere. Now my days are filled with helping people and animals. I travel this beautiful country attending Small Paws Rescue functions.

Because of this awesome and wonderful gift to me, in the past thirteen years, Small Paws Rescue has rescued more than 8,000 Bichons and has made a difference in the lives of thousands of people, too.

I've been made whole and complete, and what more could any person ever ask? The sheer joy of doing what I do overflows from every pore of my body, and I can never repay this wonderful gift that has given my life purpose.

You too can find your purpose in life, and the desires of your heart. And look behind you. You may even be followed by a few thousand small, white, fluffy dogs.


Twist and Shout

By Terri Elders

I'd never really understood what people meant when they claimed they'd thrown out their backs. I'd thrown out faded towels, broken alarm clocks and even coffee grounds, but never my back... nor any other part of my anatomy. I didn't get it.
And then one day I did. As a Peace Corps Volunteer, I'd been flying back to Belize City from a conference in Trinidad. When the plane taxied to a stop, I jumped up and bent down to retrieve my duffle bag from under my seat. As I straightened up, I shrieked with pain, startling my fellow passengers, and especially the flight attendants, who hustled down the aisle towards my side.

"What's wrong?"

I was crying so hard I could hardly get the words out. "I've done something bad to the right side of my back," I finally managed.

They called for a wheelchair to transport me to the baggage claim. Lucky for me, the Peace Corps driver had already pulled up at the curb, just as we'd prearranged. I couldn't tolerate sitting outdoors for long in the sultry 100-degree tropical heat.

"Going home to Regent Street?" he asked, helping me from the wheelchair to the car.

"No. I have to stop by the office first and see Nurse Jackie."

Nurse Jackie had been the Peace Corps Medical Officer since I'd been a Volunteer. She gave us our gamma globulin shots, dispensed our Aralen prophylactic pills to guard against malaria, and assessed us for the usual array of scrapes, bruises and fevers that seemed to befall us continually.

"What'd you do, girl?" Nurse Jackie frowned as she watched me creep across the floor.

"I hurt my back somehow. I don't understand it. I only reached under the plane seat to get my bag."

"Were you standing up, and then leaned to the side?"

"Yes, of course."

"Done say it," Nurse Jackie commented, as she slipped into Belizean Creole, shaking her head.

I felt relieved immediately, because "done say it" translated into "Okay, I hear you, I've got your number." Nurse Jackie would know what to do. Maybe I'd be able to stand up straight once again, or sit down, or even take a few unaided steps.

"I'm giving you a muscle relaxant and I'll ask the driver to take you home. Get in bed and stay there as much as you can for the next couple of days. You've pulled a muscle in your lower back and I'll tell you exactly how you did it."

"I just leaned over to the side," I sputtered.

"That's not all. You didn't make your nose follow your toes. Never twist or bend your body when you're lifting anything. It doesn't matter how heavy it is. You can throw out your back just by reaching down from your chair to pick up a dropped pencil. And if you're standing up, make sure your nose and toes always point in the same direction."

For the next two days I played invalid, dozing atop my sheet, sipping limeade and reading a Jonathan Kellerman paperback. I still suffered whenever I tried to stand up. It continued to take me ten minutes to inch my way down the hall to the bathroom. But by the third day, time, rest and the muscle relaxants finally combined to get me back on my feet.

For the remainder of my Peace Corps service in Belize, no matter what I did, I always made certain my nose followed my toes. I'd remind myself as I washed my laundry in the bathtub and hung it on the line, as I plucked a basket of mangoes from the trees in my yard, as I stooped over to pat a preschooler on the head. Nose follows toes. It became my mantra.

It still is, and I've Nurse Jackie to thank. Done say it! She had my number, and she had my back.

Miracle Soup

By Deborah Howard

You may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it.
~John 14:14

Our five-bedroom ranch house in the suburbs sold in the divorce proceedings. The boat, motor home and cross-country travels disappeared. My Chrysler LeBaron, the only new car I'd ever owned, was replaced with a rundown twenty-year-old clunker, symbolic of my own life -- nondescript and nameless. The car soon fell apart, along with the dream I cherished. My bank account took a nosedive. Left with few options, I was forced into an efficiency apartment, which created a large gaping hole in my ego.
I frequently used the ten-minute walk to my barely-able-to-make-ends-meet job to convey my dissatisfaction to God. I wasn't sure He cared or even if He heard.

One evening at the opening night of a conference held close to my apartment, I bumped into Kathryn. She couldn't find a hotel room so I offered to let her stay at my place. She agreed to drive me back and forth to work during the day and we'd both attend the evening meetings.

The next morning I readied myself for work. As I approached the door, I felt a heavy presence, like a shepherd's staff on my chest, blocking my way. With every step it became weightier. "What is happening to me?"

I heard a still small voice say, "I have something else for you to do today. Go to the conference."

Counting the loss of a day's wages too costly, I resisted. "How can I not go to work?" My question dissolved into repentance. "Lord, I'm sorry for looking to my paycheck as my source of provision."

I phoned work, asking for the day off and received it. This time when I walked toward the door there was no restraint.

Kathryn and I quickly found seats in the second row. Before we sat down, Lois and Cindy from New York introduced themselves to us. Behind me sat Pat, from Indiana. Surprised that everyone around me was from other cities, I thought, "Invite them to lunch."

They all accepted the invitation immediately. When I realized the repercussions of their acceptance, I chuckled. "What will I feed these strangers?"

We ate chicken-broccoli soup left over from the weekend and chatted about family, work, church and life. After lunch, someone suggested we pray.

My own prayer shocked me when I said, "Lord, is there anything You need?"

Someone sang, "I will come and bow down at your feet, Lord Jesus."

"That's what I need," came His response, followed by another instruction. "Just ask."

We exhausted ourselves with asking, then agreed to rest before the evening service. Lois headed to the door, but turned rather abruptly to face me. "What do you need?" she said.

I searched for words but none surfaced.

"Tell me tonight." With that she was out the door.

I turned to the others in disbelief, repeating her question. They laughed. "It's obvious. You need a couch, a car, a better job."

They knew my needs better than I. I stepped outside to conceal the tears. Pacing back and forth in the parking lot, I asked God, "What do You want me to ask for?"

His response startled me. "Tell her you need a car."

I tried to gain composure while combating fear. "How can I tell someone I just met I need a car? I only gave her a bowl of leftover soup and you want me to ask for a car?"

I was still asking that question when Kathryn and I walked through the double doors of the 5,000-seat auditorium that evening. Lois saw us walk in and bolted down the aisle. "Do you know what you need?" she commanded insisting I reply.

I spit out the words. "I... I... need... a... car."

She grabbed my arm, walked me to her front row seat, and turned me to face the judge-like gaze of her three kids and their spouses. "Now, tell them what you need," she demanded.

I fidgeted, wondering if they would criticize me for answering honestly before sputtering, "I need a car."

They all howled with laughter!

I swallowed my tears and embarrassment.

"Let me explain," Lois said. "I didn't have to bring my car on this trip. In spite of the kids' opposition, I drove as well."

Another chimed in. "She told us last night, 'I'm suppose to give my car to the lady behind me.'"

While I was making soup in Kentucky, Lois was driving from New York. Neither of us knew the Lord was stirring our hearts to obey Him or that He would pour us into each other's lives.

Handing me the keys to a late model Ford Taurus, Lois beamed, "Next time, you drive to New York, and we'll have soup at my place."

Confessions of a Stress Management Consultant

By Shirley Dunn Perry

Crisis is a great teacher. In 1978 my marriage was crumbling, my thirtieth birthday was approaching, and my three-year-old son was begging me to stop smoking. I was desperate, so I booked a massage, unaware that it would crack open a miracle, allowing peace to slide in and change everything.
Back then I didn't know what the word relaxation meant. I was a nurse working in the ICU and I lived on the adrenaline. Death and grief were my constant companions. I drank ten cups of regular coffee a day, exercised little, and consumed lots of sugar and fat. I didn't know what it felt like to be calm, relaxed in my body, connected to my spirit, or have a clear mind that was open, alert, and flexible.

When Mimi, the massage therapist, asked me where I held tension in my body, I didn't know how to answer her. Unless I had a headache or had hurt myself, I never felt my body. Mimi started with soft rhythmic movements of my limbs, and then kneaded my muscles like I kneaded bread dough. Tension evaporated under her touch. I closed my eyes, drifting to a kinder world, one where there were no divorces, where I was cared for, and where the world managed all on its own. Gliding in and out of a reverie, a thought flitted through my consciousness. Was it possible to feel this good and be alive?

After the session I walked across the street and sat in the park. The spring sun was lighting the leaves in the trees. Black squirrels scrambled up and down, occasionally stopping to gaze at me. Tears rolled down my cheeks and I wondered what had happened. I felt whole and connected to everything. In some deep mysterious place within, I made a decision to live a relaxed life. I didn't know what it meant, and I never mentioned my desire to anyone. Looking back, I realize it was the first time I had experienced being present, relaxed, and awake. I wanted more. I saw the possibility of living at one with my body, mind, and spirit, a choice that I had never known before.

A month later I began to study massage with a goal to integrate it into my nursing practice. In the 1970s, therapeutic massage in a clinical setting was unheard of. However, in the middle of the night, when every dose of painkiller had been given and pain still roared, my patients were willing to try anything. I witnessed profound miracles. Soon I added visualization, meditation, and guided imagery to my repertoire, even making audiotapes for patients and families to use on their own.

The more I learned, the more I saw a million ways to actively shift an experience of stress into an opportunity for relaxation. By 1986 I was teaching a range of techniques for pain and stress management in hospitals. By invitation, I spent ten days on a pediatric oncology unit in Paris at the Curie Institute. In 1987 I wrote and self-published the booklet, Ten Five-Minute Miracles: How to Relax.

Somewhere along the way, I realized that developing ways to relax had become my spiritual practice. It was also practical. When I slipped on an icy sidewalk and cracked an ankle, I leaned against a building, and using my breath, I put myself into a light meditation. Immediately the pain subsided. Visualizing healing light flowing into my ankle, I did a prayer-mantra, and then walked six blocks to a friend's home.

Another time when I came upon a car accident, I was able to quickly teach a breathing technique to the victim, helping to stabilize him until the ambulance came. When I had to have major abdominal surgery, I was equipped mentally, emotionally, physically, and spiritually, and I was discharged four days earlier than expected. When my friend Jenny was dying, I relied on my methods in order to stay present to her pain, her two-year-old's grief, and my own sadness.

A part of me believed that if I practiced long and hard enough, I would have no stress in my life. What I've learned is that I'm a sensitive, vulnerable human being, and that allowing myself to feel and experience all of life opens me even more to stress. I've empowered myself to live fully, not numbing the feelings through old habits such as caffeine, over-eating, smoking, or by focusing on others' drama. I rejoice to bear witness to ups and downs, calm and terror, simple and complex. I love that I can handle big and little stresses, sometimes gracefully and sometimes with anxiety, until I get my bearings. But the awareness to know the difference, and to have that choice, is truly a life-giving miracle.

четверг, 24 мая 2012 г.

Dry Her Tears

By Jean Ferratier

Tears are the safety valve of the heart when too much pressure is laid on it.
~Albert Smith

Dani could not dry her own tears as she walked off the airplane trailed by the flight attendant carrying her backpack. I was allowed to go to the gate, which is unusual in this day and age, to pick up my 23-year-old daughter.
There she was, wearing flip-flops, gym pants, and a tank top. Never mind that in Springfield, Illinois, it was winter; she was coming from balmy Florida. These were the clothes her friend found that fit over her two broken arms, heavily encased in casts.

Sometimes small slips have large consequences. In Dani's case, it was literally true. Dani was an event planner. While helping a caterer bring in trays, she slipped on wet pavement and fell backwards. Both of her arms were fractured.

I helped her into the car and covered her with blankets. The ride home, after hours of flying, was excruciating. Looking in my rearview mirror, my mind raced with panicked thoughts of "How are we going to do this?" as I calmly told her how glad we were that she was home and that we would take good care of her.

The "we" in this case was an exceptional word. Thankfully, I was on very amicable terms with Louis, my ex-husband. It meant that we would work as a team.

Once home, I helped her to the couch and really started assessing the situation. Her left arm was cast from above the elbow, hanging straight down the side of her body. The other arm was cast at an angle toward her right shoulder, but she could not reach her mouth.

I thought, "Straws are the first thing on the shopping list." It took about two seconds to realize that Dani was as helpless as a baby. She would not be able to feed, wash, or dress herself.

We found a routine that worked for us, but those first days were filled with adaptations. Solutions had to be found to the challenges we all faced in caring for a handicapped person. Fortunately, Dani was instrumental in being able to help us learn how to help her. What a reminder for me that survival issues do not apply just to the sick and elderly! I salute people who care for those with physical and mental disabilities day in and day out.

It was obvious to her father and me that Dani could not be left alone for any length of time after she awoke in the morning. I sent substitute plans to school for the first few days, while Louis arranged to take vacation time from work. He would come to the house around 10:00 and leave soon after I came home. What a relief it was that he was able to feed her lunch, take her to appointments, and keep her company. We joked that television with Dad was watching the Food Network. Television with Mom was catching up on past seasons of Grey's Anatomy.

It was very difficult to dress Dani. The lower body was easy. Her arms, however, were at strange angles. Like a contortionist, Dani moved this way and that so I could get a sleeveless tank top on her. Ponchos that slipped over her head were our clothing salvation.

Soon after arriving home, we braved the cold, snow, and ice to get her to an orthopedist. I took one of my winter jackets and made cuts in the sleeves so she would have something warm to wear. The orthopedist recast one arm into a more comfortable position. She could wiggle her fingers, but not enough to hold a food utensil.

Dani had abdominal muscles made of steel. Hours of ballet had really paid off in developing core strength. She could lift herself up from a seated position without using her arms. What most impressed (and scared) me was that after a bath, when the water flowed down the drain, she would rock back and forth and stand up. Her first bath felt so awkward to me. My daughter accepted that I had to help her, but I was very self-conscious bathing and drying her the first few times. Together, we adjusted to an uninhibited manner of dressing and undressing. At night, instead of getting her ready for bed, I would dress her for the next morning so all she would need was shoes and socks when her dad came. We made arrangements with a hairdresser to have her hair washed every two days.

It was a very difficult time for Dani. She was in physical and mental pain. Thankfully, she could walk, talk, and think, but could do very little for herself physically. She could use her fingertips to dial an oversized speakerphone and to slowly tap out keys on the computer. She tried to be very brave through it all, but it was an ugly day when her boyfriend sent her a computer message breaking off their relationship. I was in the kitchen hearing the tap-tap of the keys and sobbing. My heart ached because I wanted to give her privacy, but I knew even in her misery she could not blow her runny nose.

After that event, she was in such a state of nausea, pain and anxiety that she lay on the bathroom floor and could hardly get up. It was as though a portion of her soul had splintered apart. After what seemed to be a long time (but was actually less than an hour), I took her to the emergency room. Once there, she was given medicine that dulled some of the physical pain, nausea, and anxiety.

It was very late when we got home, and I put my daughter to bed. As I gazed at her face, her eyes spoke volumes of silent communication. I knew I could not leave her room. Dani's raw vulnerability brought out a depth of tenderness and love that had been dormant in me since she was very small. I sat next to her on the bed so I could stroke her hair. I have no words to describe the energetic bond that took place as I held my vigil until she fell asleep.

A month passed, but Dani was not yet physically ready to return to her job as originally anticipated. As time passed, shorter casts were applied to her arms. She wanted to be able to brush her teeth and comb her hair before she returned to Miami. After a few weeks, she had to go back to Florida to coordinate a work project that was due. She could brush her teeth, but not her hair. When she flew back, she was able to stay with very close friends whom we all trusted to see her through the rest of her convalescence.

When people hear stories about the time Dani broke her arms, they ask how we managed it. I say it was difficult, but I think to myself that this experience was one of the most sacred, healing times that we had ever shared as a family.

Success by Failure

By Debbie Acklin

Even if I don't reach all my goals, I've gone higher than I would have if I hadn't set any.
~Danielle Fotopoulis

I had failed again. It was the day of the big marathon. I had resolved three years ago to train for the half-marathon event and take home a medal. There I sat, in front of my TV, while I watched others cross the finish line. It was just the latest in a long string of failures. I had never met a single weight loss or fitness goal that I had set in the last three years. I was majoring in the art of failing.
We are a family of explorers and often plan active, adventurous vacations. It seemed that on every vacation I was the one who couldn't go the distance. I had sat on massive stone steps, halfway up ancient Mayan pyramids while my family explored the antiquity and the views from the top. I had almost made it to the Great Gallery, a rare and ancient display of Indian art work painted on the side of Horseshoe Canyon in Utah. Perhaps the most humiliating failure was sitting on a mountainside in Arkansas as an old man, carrying an umbrella to shield himself from the sun, practically skipped past me on his way to the summit. He nodded to me. "Nice day for a walk," he smiled. Yeah. Sure.

Each time I urged my family, "Go on without me. Bring me lots of pictures and videos. I'll be fine just sitting here taking in the view." I lied.

Sick of being left behind, I resolved that it would never happen again. Sure I was in my 50s, overweight and obviously out of shape, but if an old man with an umbrella could skip to the top of a mountain, surely there was still hope for me. I always spent weeks of walking to prepare for our active vacations. If I hadn't, I would probably have waited in an air-conditioned car while my family went on exciting adventures without me. I had lost weight, the same weight, many times. I just always seemed to fail to get where I needed to be.

But this time I would do something different. I was going to train to walk a half marathon. Surely I would lose weight and get in shape if I could complete over 12 miles in four hours. Besides, this would be training. Training sounded cooler than diet and exercise. I was revved up and ready to go. I bought the appropriate gear, checked out what type of drinks would be handed out at the marathon and stocked up on them. I had a plan! Now two years later, there I sat, watching thousands of people of all ages succeed where I had failed.

I walked out onto the deck, frustrated with myself, sat down and held myself a pity party. I was a master at the art of pity parties, having a great deal of experience in throwing them. "I bet the old man with the umbrella runs marathons," I said to two robins on the fence. Having observed their plump bellies, I was sure they were allies.

I closed my eyes and reflected on the failures of the last three years. It was much too depressing to go back any further than that. What was my problem? Where was I going wrong? I stopped and considered each failure, one by one. I made some very interesting discoveries.

I had failed to climb to the top of that Mayan pyramid, but I did climb it and stood on those ancient stones. I failed to climb to the summit of the mountain in Arkansas, but I almost did and I had a wonderful view of the countryside and the Arkansas River. I failed to see the Great Gallery in Horseshoe Canyon but I did hike almost two miles down a steep canyon trail, three more miles through a sandy wash to see the other galleries, and then hiked two miles back up the canyon wall. I may not have gone the distance, but I didn't sit in the car either. "I have some great stories!" I shouted to the robins, who promptly vacated the fence.

I had failed to meet a single weight loss goal and yet I had lost 43 pounds. I couldn't walk 12 miles in four hours, but I could walk 12 miles. Shoot, I was even starting to do a little running.

All my failures were sounding suspiciously like a success story. Feeling much better about myself, I sat back and closed my eyes again. This time I was giving thanks. I was thankful that I had been given the spirit of failure because failure meant that I was trying, that I didn't give up, I didn't quit. I decided that at the rate I was failing, I would be crossing that finish line next year.


Four Corvettes

By Barbara LoMonaco

Let me close as I did in Gander on September 11, 2002 when I went to that community to thank the people of Gander and the people of Canada for the overwhelming support and help that was given to us in the wake of those attacks on September 11, 2001.
~Paul Cellucci, U.S. Ambassador to Canada

Four Corvettes. Four couples. Four weeks. We were going on a road trip with our friends; each of the four couples would be driving a Corvette and we would be away for four weeks. The planning for our adventure took about six months. It takes a lot of planning and coordination to get dates that work for eight people, figure out what everyone wants to see, plan a route, reserve the hotels and pack. Packing for four weeks in a Corvette's tiny luggage space takes lots of creativity. You wind up wearing the same outfits more than a few times. It's a good thing that we were all such good friends! Our strategy was to make everything fit in the car and still leave room for shopping along the way.
Finally it was time to leave. We all lived in California, so our route took us east and north through Montana and then into Canada. We tried to stay off the major highways so that we could see as much of the beautiful, natural scenery as possible. We crossed over the border into Canada after driving through Glacier National Park. The border crossing was a small kiosk on a lovely two-lane country road. There were no buildings or people to be seen -- just open road for as far as you could see. There was one person stationed in the kiosk -- how lonely for him! We slowed down, preparing to stop but he just tipped his hat to us and waved us on... right into Canada. We didn't even have to stop. Now I must say we were pretty spiffy looking -- four Corvettes of various colors, all in a row. I think he was impressed.

We were impressed. Canada is beautiful. Our first few nights were spent in Calgary. And then it was on to the Banff Springs Hotel for some time in the Banff National Forest. What an amazing place. Driving through the Canadian Rockies was so breathtakingly beautiful. On our last night at the hotel we had a fabulous dinner in the main dining room and then sat in the immense lobby talking with our friends. We felt as if we were in a fairy tale. We never wanted it to end.

But end it did. Abruptly. The next morning was September 11, 2001. We awoke to the news of the terrorist attacks on our country. This nightmare just couldn't be happening. But it was. We met our friends in the hotel restaurant for coffee. No one felt like eating anything. There were groups of people gathered around television sets and radios, watching and listening as the horror unfolded. Everyone was in shock. The disbelief on the faces of the people told the whole story. No one knew what to do... or what to say.

We were in a foreign country and all we wanted to do was go home. We wanted to be with our families. We wanted to hug our kids. But we couldn't go home. The borders were closed. No one could cross. Thank goodness for cell phones! At this point we were just midway through our trip. Even though we still had plans to be in Canada for a while longer, it was weird knowing that we couldn't go home if we wanted to. It was a scary, spooky feeling. And we were to be on the road again. We were moving on to Lake Louise.

Our somber group of caravaners hit the road. When we pulled up to Chateau Lake Louise we were again in awe of the beautiful surroundings -- both the natural beauty around us and the beauty of the hotel itself. But the thing that impressed us the most was the wonderful Canadian people. Our four Corvettes did attract attention. And our cars had California license plates that made it pretty obvious we were visitors from the United States. Strangers -- hotel guests and employees alike -- came over to us to offer us their condolences on the tragedy that had happened in our country. Strangers became friends. Without exception, people asked us if there was anything that they could do for us. They assured us that our two countries were united -- that the border between us was just an imaginary line. And I'll never forget this. There were two flags flying at the hotel overlooking beautiful Lake Louise -- the Canadian flag and the flag of the United States of America. Both were flying side by side -- at half-staff. It brought tears to my eyes.

At dinner that night, people in the restaurant were quiet and subdued. No music played. Word had gotten around that the table of eight over in the corner of the room was a table of people from California. People kept coming over to comfort us and to console us. Was there anything that they could do for us? Did we need anything? In times of tragedy, the true goodness and kindness of people comes forth. It certainly did for us at that time.

And the warmth and friendliness of the Canadian people continued as we travelled on down the road. From Lake Louise to Jasper to Whistler to Victoria, the story was the same. The towns were different but the people were the same. They reached out to us to offer a kind word and a hug. We were completely impressed by the physical beauty of Canada and by the warmth, hospitality and generosity of the Canadian people.

When it was time to go home, the borders between our two countries were once again open. We were to board the ferryboat in Victoria and return to U.S. soil in Washington.

This time our border crossing was quite different. Because of the attacks, the security was tight -- to say the least. We were required to arrive at the loading area three hours early. Each car that was going onto the ferry was searched completely; each piece of luggage and its contents were checked thoroughly. Mirrors were used to check underneath all cars. Passports were checked and rechecked. Once you and your car had been cleared you couldn't leave the locked yard. Not for any reason. But all Canadian security personnel were polite and professional. They made a difficult situation as easy as possible for us.

Finally we were allowed to drive our cars onto the ferry for the crossing. We arrived at Port Angeles, Washington. We were back in the United States. Disembarking was just as difficult as embarking. You couldn't just drive off the ferry. Cars and luggage were checked again, passports were checked again, people were questioned again. Security personnel even had bomb-sniffing dogs checking around each and every car. Difficult, yes -- but we were home!

We will never forget Canada. It is such a beautiful country. And we will never, ever forget the Canadian people. How wonderful they were. They taught us a lesson during the time we were there. We all need to reach out to others with kindness and compassion. It really does help and comfort during tough times and it really does make a difference. Thank you, Canadian people. We really appreciate you. We are making plans to come back soon and explore more of your wonderful country. You'll know it's us. We'll be the four couples driving those four Corvettes of various colors, all in a row. Don't forget to wave when you see us!

Ready? Set. Go!

By Cathy C. Hall

If you want to kick your brain into overdrive, give it a little competition!

A few years back, I'd slipped into a writing rut. I was writing mostly full-time then. But I'd fallen into a few bad habits. I spent hours writing blog posts, or updating on a social network, or reading about writing. Basically, I was in front of my laptop the entire day, but I wasn't really producing anything creative. My imagination seemed to have dried up.
It just so happened that my dry spell came along about the same time as an annual poem-a-day competition. It's a simple concept. For the month of April, we were challenged to write a poem based on a prompt. It didn't have to be pages long; it could be a haiku. But in order to "win," competitors had to produce a poem every single day in April.

Honestly, I'm more of a fiction and essay writer. But I love poetry. Especially short poems. So I took the challenge, knowing that a competition would bring out my primordial need to win, to push myself over the finish line. Plus, maybe I'd jumpstart better writing habits.

It's not that I wanted to write a poem a day for the rest of my life. And I didn't expect much, as far as the poetry went. But I desperately wanted to prod those brain cells out of their safe little box and into wild, open and creative spaces.

At first, it was difficult. Who am I kidding? It was very difficult! I wanted to put off that prompt like I was a five-year-old running from her mom and the spoonful of medicine! But after the first few days of waiting till the last minute to get the creative juices flowing, I sat myself down and gave myself a good talking-to. I decided that I would write the poem first thing in the morning. Or at least check out the prompt so I could think about it during the day.

By Day 7, I'd started my new routine. I'd check the prompt in mid-morning when it was posted. Then I'd go about mundane writing chores, take a shower, eat lunch, and maybe run an errand. By the time I sat down to write again, my brain had been mulling over that prompt for a couple of hours.

Sometimes, it took all day to think up a few brilliant lines. But by the end of the evening, I always got my poem finished. By the end of the month, I had 30 poems. I'd "won" the competition! And here's what I'd won:

I won bragging rights to say I wrote a poem a day for the month of April.

I won a few poetry contests when I later took some of my favorite poems, polished them up, and sent them off for competitions.

I won a little confidence, feeling that I could, in fact, write a pretty decent poem.

Mostly, though, I pushed myself out of that writing rut and produced every single day. I exercised my creativity and imagination, and limbered up my problem-solving skills. (Don't believe me? Try writing a villanelle.) I learned something new about poetry almost every single day. I felt like my brain exploded in April -- in a good way, of course.

Now, when I feel a rut coming on, I find another writing-every-day competition. I've done National Novel Writing Month, and I give myself serious daily writing goals, too. But I have to admit that public competitions work better for me. I suppose it's a little bit of pride. Once I've put myself out there and signed up, I have to cross that finish line.

Why not try a write-every-day competition and see where your brain takes you? No one has to see the results except you. But don't be surprised when glorious and creative thoughts cross the finish line!

воскресенье, 20 мая 2012 г.

Channeling Dad

By Camille Hill

Death is not extinguishing the light; it is putting out the lamp because dawn has come.
~Rabindranath Tagore

Father and I agreed on many things in life but strongly disagreed about some issues, including what happened after death. He believed that when a person died, that was it -- no heaven, no hell, no bells tolling, and no continuation of the soul.
I believed that when a person's body died, the soul crossed over to somewhere. I didn't necessarily imagine that "somewhere" as heaven, but rather that the soul returned to God, Spirit, Source, or whatever anyone else called that sense of the Divine. Then, after resting and reviewing the life just left, the soul could choose to return to earth -- reincarnated.

Mom and Dad lived several provinces away from me for the last twenty years of their lives. Every three months I would fly out to visit for a week or so and I did that consistently until they died. Mom left first. Dad and I were there in the end and he dispassionately described the physical dying process to me (being a retired nurse) as Mom lay slowly leaving. Although it was a lesson in the physicality of dying, it was a hard one emotionally for me, as she and I had been extremely close.

They had been together almost sixty years by that time and her passing left a huge hole in Dad's life for a time. He lived in a retirement community in the beautiful Okanagan Valley in British Columbia and over the years they had lived there he had made many friends, who all rallied round him. For the next five years he stayed actively involved in the community in a variety of ways. I continued to visit regularly.

We talked about death and dying from time to time. Dad researched the funeral costs and picked the provider he wanted us to use. He posted his wishes on the fridge door so my two brothers and I would know what to do when his time came. He was very pragmatic about it all. And he and I talked. Our different views about death were very apparent and rather then get into any argument about it I started to use humor with him. As I spoke of the soul journeying onward and not dying Dad would tell me that I was just plain crazy! In turn I would tease him and say that when he crossed over I expected to hear from him. Further I gave him the words I expected him to say to me -- "You were right, daughter!"

When it was Dad's turn, I was there along with one of my brothers. Dad passed in the early summer. About six weeks later, a friend and I travelled into a neighbouring province to visit another friend at her camp at a lake for a weekend. On our way home, we happened to be driving by a retreat centre that we both visited from time to time. We decided on the spur of the moment to pop into the retreat and see if anyone was home and have some tea.

Sun Carrier, one of the partners at the retreat centre, was a person who channelled three different sources of Enlightened Beings. She and her partner were home, and as we sat with our tea and caught up with events, she offered to channel for us. My friend Priscilla and I were delighted to have that opportunity and quickly agreed.

After we all meditated Sun Carrier began to channel. The guidance offered through the channel was loving and expansive -- which had always been my experience. The message was flowing along when all of a sudden there was a switch from that channel and my father came into the channel with a message to me.

Father's message to me was not, "You were right, daughter!" He did not use those words. What he did say was that he was sorry for being such a stubborn old codger (words that were common for him to use), and that I had more knowledge about dying than I even knew. He continued on by saying that my use of humour when talking to those who were getting close to dying was a gift, as it eased the fear in the individual, and I should continue to do so. His closing words had me laughing and crying at the same time. He touched on his stubbornness again and said that I had a bit of the same -- something that I had been struggling with for a number of years. Then he was gone and the other channel continued.

As we sat around at the end of the channel and talked, Sun Carrier expressed her surprise about Father coming into the channel. I was astonished, and emotionally elated and grieving at the same time. Although Sun Carrier had known that my father had passed, she had no prior knowledge of how he and I used to talk about death. When I explained the conversations he and I had about death, about my expectations that he would contact me and say "You were right, daughter," we laughed about his message to me. Even then, he was not willing to say the actual words, but the message was clear -- my view of death was "more right" than his view. An argument I was happy to win!

Hockey Pucks

By Jacqueline Rivkin

A hundred hearts would be too few
To carry all my love for you.
~Author Unknown

My husband had only two culinary skills -- coffee and tuna salad -- and although he did those both very well, he was terrified to take things any further.
He broke into a cold sweat if I so much as asked him to take something out of the oven. He required detailed instructions when asked to pick up an onion or a dozen eggs. The good news is that cooking was such a complete mystery to him, he thought I was brilliant because I could transform raw chicken into dinner. The bad news is that left at home with a little girl to feed, he was utterly helpless.

But early on, my husband committed a deed of culinary derring-do, when he set aside his fear of anything involving food preparation because he loved me so much.

I had just returned from the hospital with our new baby girl. She was not sleeping and neither was I, and between hormones and sleep deprivation, I was a wreck. The baby cried. I cried. I was also hungry and not up to doing anything about it. He looked on, worried and desperate to help.

"What would you eat if you could eat anything?" he asked, nervously. We both knew that unless it was take-out, whatever "anything" was would be beyond his capabilities, probably involving an oven or stovetop and baffling ingredients from little jars. But even his wanting to try helped. I dried my eyes and considered.

"If I could have anything I would want some whole grain applesauce muffins," I said, with no hope that there would be any until the baby permitted me fifteen minutes to bake them. (I figured sixteen years, give or take.) He sat on the edge of the bed for a moment, thinking hard, and then vanished into the kitchen.

An hour of banging cabinets and refrigerator doors later, he walked in, flushed and sheepish, carrying a steaming mug of perfect decaf... and a plate of hockey pucks. I bit into one. They were warm and cinnamon-y and odd. I am not sure why they turned out that way -- the recipe is foolproof-- but they were half an inch tall and rubbery. "They're awful, aren't they?" he said, defeated. He didn't get it.

I started to cry again, because of hormones and sleep deprivation, but also because I had a plate full of the most wonderful muffins that I would ever eat, a husband who loved me so much that he would crack raw eggs for me, and the baby I had dreamed of. I was the luckiest girl on earth.

People like to say that food made with love tastes better. We know that's not necessarily true. We've all choked down Grandma's stringy pot roast or Aunt Rachel's parsnips and prayed for a reprieve. What is true is that sometimes food is made with so much love that the taste is irrelevant. When my husband made the applesauce hockey pucks he overcame fear and insecurity because he wanted me to feel better.

Sometimes the best dish that you ever had is a transcendent blend of tastes and textures and beautiful presentation. And sometimes it is an even more transcendent blend of courage and dreams and love.

Whole Grain Applesauce Muffins

2 cups of multigrain flour (whole wheat works fine too)
2 eggs
1 cup of milk (soy or rice milk works fine too)
1 cup applesauce
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1/2 cup sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup raisins, walnuts, or a combination of the two (optional)

Combine dry ingredients with the exception of the optional nuts/raisins in a large bowl.

Beat the eggs lightly and stir in the milk and oil. Quickly stir together the two mixtures until just combined and then add the nuts and/or raisins in a few quick strokes.

Spoon into greased muffin cups and bake 15-17 minutes.
(recipe has not been tested by Chicken Soup for the Soul)

The Ice Bucket

By Drema Sizemore Drudge

Don't ever save anything for a special occasion. Being alive is the special occasion.
~Author Unknown

After leaving home for college, I never felt like I quite fit in with my family again. A layer of ice seemed to form between my mother and me as I began spouting opinions radically different from those with which I had been raised. I felt the chill of disapproval. Mom and Dad came from blue-collar families and remained so themselves. Though I saw nothing wrong with that, I preferred the artistic life, one that they didn't seem to understand.
"What kind of a job can you get if you're an English major?" my mother asked. I knew her concern was only because she wanted a better life for me, but it infuriated me.

"I never tell you how to live your life. Don't tell me how to live mine," I would say. "I want to be a writer." It's funny that when you're in the middle of a situation you never realize what a cliché your "problem" is. You think you are the only one to ever disappoint your parents. Eventually we learned not to talk about certain topics, but it hurt to feel like I hadn't won my parents' approval.

My parents came from more conservative times, and one of the symbols of that to me was Mom's ice bucket, which sat atop the refrigerator. My parents didn't usually have parties, but during my childhood my mother did have a Tupperware party. She planned it for days and we children helped her prepare the house for it. Mom and her friends had a great time, and Mom obtained enough hostess points for the one item in the catalog that she coveted -- the ice bucket with tongs.

When it came, it was unwrapped carefully and reverently put in that place where all household treasures resided -- the top of the refrigerator. Though we moved several times after that, that ice bucket was carted from house to house and a new house wasn't home until the ice bucket was placed on top of the refrigerator.

The bucket was never used. I think Mom was saving it for a "special occasion." The only occasions we ever had were the usual milestones -- someone's twenty-first birthday, a baby or a bridal shower. I suspect that Mom was hoping for a slightly more glamorous occasion -- perhaps a cocktail party, or a New Year's Eve celebration where everyone wore something besides jeans. I think in her heart she thought that life (and their income) would get better.

A few months ago, Mom called to say she was bringing over some things for me to sort through. She and my father had moved into a smaller place for their retirement, and they just didn't have room for all the stuff they'd accumulated. I rooted through the box and gladly rescued a few ceramic roosters from the thrift shop pile before I saw a bag with a familiar shape peeping out from the top.

"Do you want this?" Mom asked as she sadly handed me the ice bucket. "Wait," she said, not letting me respond. "I know the tongs are in here somewhere." Daintily she handed me the items, pinkie outstretched, the same daintiness that would not have been out of place in a queen's court had her life circumstances placed her there.

"Of course I want them," I said.

I knew then that she was still hopeful about my future, still believed my life would be better than hers had been, and that the ice between us had started to thaw. That ice bucket told me there were unexpressed desires in my mother's heart for me and that she wasn't as different from me as she might appear.

Some time later, I threw a surprise birthday party for Mom. I stipulated that the dress code was to be "Sunday Best." Not since that Tupperware party had my sisters and I spent so much time fussing over a party. Once I told them about it, the whole family was on board; my dad even bought Mom a new dress "from the mall," he told me proudly.

The star of the party was, however, the ice bucket. We elevated it in the center of the table, swathing it in pink tulle, filling it to overflowing with ice.

The surprise party flabbergasted my mom. After the initial greetings, I put Mom to work. "Would you get us all some ice?" I asked, as I handed her the tongs. Standing there in the teal silk dress that made her blue eyes sparkle, pinkie extended, she complied, dipping into that bucket as if she were handing out gold coins.

Afterwards she introduced me to her new friend from church I hadn't met.

"Lisa," she said, "have you met my daughter... the writer?"

Never High-Five Your Cat

By Lynn Maddalena Menna

Cats as a class, have never completely got over the snootiness caused by that fact that in Ancient Egypt they were worshipped as gods.
~P.G. Wodehouse

When a little black cat decided to become part of our family, there was a certain period of adjustment. Not being pet owners, we were absolutely clueless on the care and keeping of felines. You'll be happy to learn that Toonsie turned out to be an excellent teacher and my husband and I are now very well trained. For those of you contemplating adopting a kitten, I'd like to share with you a few pearls of wisdom that we picked up.

10. Never High-Five Your Cat

There may be moments when you wish to congratulate your cat for a task well done. Try to avoid the traditional high-five -- or low-five, for that matter -- as they tend to flex their claws on impact, leaving your palm with tiny triangular flags of skin. It's your cat's little way of reminding you who's in charge. Not that you need reminding -- that was firmly established in the first five minutes of making her acquaintance.

9. Avoid a Midnight Swim in the Dark

Now of course we know that cats don't swim. Most of them hate water and consider anyone who immerses themselves in liquid to be a total idiot. Still, if your cat is used to watching you take a daytime dip, she'll keep her eye on you, but leave you to enjoy your swim. Not so if you decide to take that dip in the dark. Avoid this at all costs unless you wish to have your cat clinging to your screen like a very loud decorative ornament. You see, you think you're alone in the dark, but your cat can see all the nocturnal creatures out there and will continuously scream a warning at her rather obtuse parents.

8. Napping One Hour Prior to Your Cat's Supper Is a No-No

You know how you stick a toothpick into a baking cake to see if it's done? Well, Toonsie will stick one sharp claw into you to see if you're still alive and able to feed her dinner. She may not be hungry yet, but prefers the peace of mind that food service will run smoothly at the first rumble of her tummy. She will continue this test every ten minutes just to be on the safe side. Not only will you not have slept, but you'll probably have thrown your back out from the landing you took every time she used you as a human pin cushion and you flew into the air.

7. Decorate Your House to Match Your Cat

This may seem like a silly hipster affectation, but trust me, it's not. If the color of your cat matches the color of your rug, sofa, bedspread, any and all comfy spots where she will choose to sleep, it will save endless hours of vacuuming in the long run. Fortunately for us, everything in our house was already black before Toonsie arrived. If down the road we ever get a tabby, for instance, I'd definitely redecorate in beige. It's just easier.

6. Remember that Cats Like to Read

Cats like to keep abreast of current events, so should you open a newspaper, be prepared for your cat to jump on top of it and snuggle in for the long run. Feel free to read around her, but she will not be budged from her sweet spot. Even if you buy your cat her own paper, she will still prefer to read along with you. Just enjoy it.

5. Cats Are Natural Helpers

I can't tell you how many times Toonsie got involved in construction projects around the house. She helped the TV man install a satellite dish on the roof. She assisted the cable guy with wires in the attic. The phone man couldn't have wired the phone in the basement drop ceiling without her. I even watched her follow my husband step for step between the pool filter and skimmer, sticking her nose in to inspect the process right along with him. Of course Toonsie was the most helpful when my husband demolished the bathroom down to the studs in order to remodel it. She never missed an opportunity to get into the floor or ceiling to do an inspection.

4. Never Think You Can Outsmart Your Cat

Like world champion chess players, cats plot their game plan several moves in advance. Whether you are trying to get in or out of the door, climb a stepladder or a flight of stairs, your cat will find a way past you. Just because your cat is sleeping on the other side of the house doesn't mean she is unaware of your actions. Try sitting down for dinner while she's sleeping. Your stealth cat will be sitting between you instantly without the sound of even one paw step. You may not know where she is, but she knows where you are. Get used to it.

3. Keep to a Schedule and NEVER Take a Vacation

There's an urban myth that cats are independent creatures who are aloof and can fend for themselves if left with enough food and fresh water. Not true. To arrive home so much as one hour later than her supper time will result in a very angry cat. She will sit with her back to you and let you know that you are no longer on speaking terms. We needed to take a business trip that would only keep us away one full day. Toonsie was fed breakfast on day one, brunch on day three, and was left big dishes of all her favorite dry foods and canned foods on timers. When we arrived home, not one morsel was touched and she was royally pissed. She stared at us accusingly, stamped her paws when she walked, and refused to come near us. You've never been stung until you've been snubbed by a cat.

2. Always Buy Extra Sushi

Believe me, it's just easier. When placing your sushi order, decide what you can eat and then just order a few extra pieces of sashimi -- cats watch their carbs. Toonsie can eat sushi faster than you can cut it into pieces and put it on her plate, and it's probably the only food she will overeat if we don't control her portions. It's a culinary treat that gets to be pretty pricey since she prefers it from a good Japanese restaurant as opposed to the supermarket. Why do we do it? The look in her eyes that tells us, "Raw fish, you two are smarter than I thought," is reward enough for us.

1. Thank Your Lucky Stars Every Day

You've never been loved until you've been loved by a cat. They become an addiction. Toonsie gives us endless hours of entertainment and affection. From waking us for breakfast at sunrise until she gets her goodnight kiss, Toonsie never lets us forget that we're happier people for having her in our lives.