понедельник, 30 июля 2012 г.

One Hungarian Summer

By Irena Nieslony

Let food be thy medicine, and let thy medicine be food.

"I don't want to go," I said, the tears starting to fall again.
"You have no choice," my father replied. "I'll be working long hours all summer and I might even have to do night shifts. You're too young to be left alone. I'm sorry, but there's no alternative. The ticket's booked and you're going."

"No, I'm not," I shouted. "I'm nearly fourteen and I can look after myself."

I rushed upstairs to my room and threw myself on the bed. However, I knew that I wouldn't win this argument. Mom had just died of cancer and Dad had decided to send me to Hungary to spend the summer vacation with her sister. Mom and I had visited her last year, and I had gotten along well with my aunt, but I now was confused and lonely. I missed Mom and I didn't want to go to Hungary on my own.

Three days later, I stood in the departure lounge at London Heathrow airport. I was still thinking of a way to get out of the trip, but deep inside I knew that I had to go. After just a few hours, the plane landed in Budapest. My aunt, Gizi Neni, which is Hungarian for Aunt Gizi, came towards me and gave me a hug. She looked as if she had been crying. I realized that although they hadn't lived in the same country for many years, she had also loved my mother and now missed her.

When we got to her house, Gizi Neni tried to persuade me to eat something, but I wasn't able to face food. I burst into tears, which made her start crying. Her daughter-in-law was visiting, and she too began to cry. She had also been close to my mother. We were three women of different ages, but we were united in grief for a woman who had touched us all deeply. Eventually I went to bed without eating, and I cried myself to sleep.

I woke up late the following morning, having had a restless night. I looked in the mirror and my eyes were puffy from crying. I wanted to hide, but then the wonderful smell of baking wafted into the room. Suddenly, I felt very hungry. I crept into the kitchen, feeling shy and unsure of myself. The room smelt even more extraordinary when I went in. There were plates of cakes and pastries on all the surfaces, and Gizi Neni was busy preparing more. I could hardly believe what I was seeing. My mother loved to cook as well, but I had never seen anything like this before.

"Here, take," Gizi Neni said.

"Thank you," I replied. "It all looks delicious."

Gizi Neni didn't speak much English, and I didn't speak any Hungarian, but it didn't seem to matter. I smiled at her and looked around. This was an amazing breakfast, much better than cereal and toast! I headed straight for a cherry pastry. It was still warm and it was delicious. I could feel my appetite returning. I took another pastry, believing that this was my breakfast. However, while I was eating, Gizi Neni had taken some eggs from the fridge and was scrambling them. Fresh bread appeared, with hunks of cheese and slices of ham. By the time I had finished the meal, I felt completely filled up.

Not surprisingly, my aunt loved to eat. When she was a young woman, she had been extremely slim, but after she married, her love of cooking emerged. She started to eat much more and became very large. Although she was a lawyer and led a busy life, she would still cook with fresh ingredients every day. She always made sure that everybody in the house enjoyed their food and was well fed.

The long, hot days of summer slipped by. Contrary to my expectations, I happily settled into life in Hungary. Friends were often invited to the house, and the days would revolve around meals and entertaining. On the weekends, my aunt would think nothing of serving seven courses for dinner. Gizi Neni made delicious soups and goulashes. Soured cream was poured over her stews, and paprika was used liberally in many of her savory dishes. I developed a taste for paprika that summer and still use it a lot in my cooking today. Gizi Neni's cakes and pastries were always wonderful. As I loved desserts, I had to be careful to pace myself at her marathon dinners so that I would have room for them. One outstanding memory I have involves an enormous plate of doughnuts. Gizi Neni brought them to the table after we had finished dinner one evening. I was already full by this time, but I found room to try one. My aunt had one, then another, and then another. She stopped when she had eaten a total of fourteen!

Since the weather was hot that summer, we would sometimes have barbecues. I remember a friend of my cousin's bringing a deer to cook outside one evening. I can still recall the smells wafting around the garden and into the street. Even though I have been a vegetarian for many years and wouldn't be tempted by these smells anymore, the memories of those barbecues conjure up visions of sultry summer days that I spent with people who cared about me. Eating outdoors was a unique experience as well. Although they are popular now, barbecues weren't common in England when I was a child.

The summer ended all too quickly and I had to go back to school in England. As much as I hadn't wanted to go to Hungary, I now didn't want to return home. My aunt had helped me through the initial difficult stages after Mom died, and I wanted to stay longer with her. However, I was lucky enough to spend every summer after that with Gizi Neni until I was in my early twenties. Although she has been dead for many years now, whenever I think about my aunt, I remember the doughnuts, the pastries, the goulash, and all the other delicious food that she carefully prepared. She gave me so much love and comfort at a time when I needed it, and I will never forget the larger-than-life lady who loved her food and loved me as well.

воскресенье, 29 июля 2012 г.

An Iowa Steamer

By Dr. Sam Christensen

The uglier a man's legs are, the better he plays golf. It's almost a law.
~H.G. Wells

The skies opened, and by the time the storm was done our town had been deluged with nine inches of rain. I know it sounds unbelievable, but trust me, it was nine inches if it was a drop.
Our club course closed so the grounds crew could sort things out. But a phone call to a local public course, on a more elevated property suited to quicker drainage, found us a place to play. It was ninety-five degrees and the sun was out in force. It was a frightful day, a real steam bath. One of those days when you reach for one tee in your pocket, but the cloth is so damp and sticky that all your tees, ball markers, pivot tools and what have you come peeling out as well.

One member of our foursome was my then aged father-in-law, Mr. Louis Walker, who in his prime had played to a 3-handicap. He had been a player of statewide renown, a champion of tournaments at many levels. He was a very large man, not only in the physical sense but also ethically. Mr. Walker was one who played by the rules completely, in golf and life. He was a successful businessman, a prominent civic leader, a devoted father, and a pillar of the church.

Even as his skills declined with age, Mr. Walker's competitive edge never left him. His golf that hot day was frightful and he grew very upset about it. He played a losing front nine, the thick, suppressive air bringing out the worst in him. Uncharacteristically, his mood was down, and each hole he complained vocally about the conditions, his swing, and the world in general.

We stopped for liquids at the turn. After two lackluster shots on the par-5 10th, Mr. Walker was still not in range of the green. His son and I had just hit our second shots, when his son, speechless and with a flabbergasted look, mutely pointed across the fairway with his gloved left hand. I turned to see what was shocking him so.

Mr. Walker, ever the model of propriety, there stood in his boxers. We watched as the old man then carefully folded his trousers and placed them in the basket of the cart.

His son and I rushed over to see what his intentions were. "Simple," Mr. Walker said. "I've figured out the trouble with my swing. My trousers are too damp from the humidity so I can't pivot properly."

So there he stood, a man known to everyone in the city, in red and white boxer underwear, a blue polo shirt, a white cap, black shoes and black socks, and with very, very white legs.

His son and I proffered that several problems could arise; other women golfers on the course could be offended, possibly the police would arrive with charges ranging from indecent exposure to lunacy. None of our warnings fazed him, however, and we played on. At one point Mr. Walker was so bold as to cross another fairway to point out to a female golfer where he'd seen her ball enter a hazard. Her thank you was perfunctory, nervous, careful, and while backing away.

And you know what? Mr. Walker managed those last eight holes in 1-over par. He took all the money and left me with a day of golf I remember with awe, comedy, and perhaps reverence.

суббота, 28 июля 2012 г.

Unlatched Doors

By Dana J. Barnett

For death is no more than a turning of us over from time to eternity.
~William Penn

When my maternal grandmother died suddenly and way too soon, I was unable to imagine my life without her. Grandma hugged everyone coming and going. She hugged so tightly often the huggees were left breathless. She also demonstrated her delight in visitors by her insistence on an unlatched screen door. Working in the kitchen, she entertained me and the other grandchildren with stories of angels, hobos, and bootleggers. We would swivel on the vinyl kitchen stools soaking up the words, aromas, and Grandma's warmth. After she died, I wondered where in the world we would swivel, where in the world we would find warmth.
In the weeks after her funeral, everything felt silly and useless. I found little to laugh about. The haziness of that hot Alabama summer enveloped things more than usual. I stumbled through my graduate school classes. The simple but necessary acts of sleeping and eating took great effort. Sometimes, I didn't bother with either.

Months after I lost Grandma, when I finally started sleeping a little, I had a dream with a message so profound it had to have been delivered by Grandma or an angel or both. I know this because I am not that wise.

In my dream, Grandma and I visited with each other. We sat in what had been her mint green living room. She wore a white eyelet lace dress and white low-top Converse Chuck Taylors, just like the ones I had purchased a week or so before she had passed away.

We sat next to each other, our knees touching, on the old plaid sofa. The same cuckoo clock hung slightly askew to the left of the couch. The dusty old bird popped out of its clock three times. And I began to cry. In her soft, sweet voice, Grandma asked me why I was crying.

"Because I miss you!" I wailed. "I want you here with me, with all of us."

She looked at me and smiled.

"Where I am, we don't miss people," she explained and patted my knee. "We just wait for them."

Our visit ended. She stood and walked to the screen door, unlatched of course, and turned to me. She said, "I love you now even more than I loved you then." She shook her head as if in disbelief. "I didn't know that was possible."

I must admit I did not want the dream to end, but I found my grandmother's brief presence and immense wisdom comforting. In time, I began to sleep regularly again. I also began to supply the salad for my friends' weekly cookouts again. I even began to enjoy the cookouts and other activities. Finally, I began to laugh again.

Twenty years later, I hope I am a little wiser; however, I always will nurse the hole left in my heart when Grandma died. Of course, since that time, I have lost others too, and I have grieved. It's never easy. Anytime someone passes on, it's way too soon for me. But my grandmother's words have remained close to me and have allowed me, I think, to cope with loss better than I once did.

I'm certain that there's lots to do in Heaven besides wait. I imagine as those dear to us go about their eternal lives, they anticipate our arrivals with great peace and happiness. Those of us here should take that to heart and live much the same way, knowing the screen door to Heaven is unlatched and a great big hug awaits us when it is our time to move on.

The Runaway Who Wasn't the Bride

By Pam Hawley

Dogs are not our whole life, but they make our lives whole.
~Roger Caras

Weddings have a way of driving a girl crazy. The "real-life" planning for the day she's dreamed about since she was a little girl can turn the kindest, sweetest bride-to-be into a shrill, sobbing, stressed mess if she isn't careful.
I've always been easygoing about things like that. I made it to the eve of my wedding without dissolving into tears over dress choices or seating arrangements. When my DJ canceled a week before the wedding, I took a deep breath and scrambled to find a replacement. When we had torrential downpours the night before the wedding, I told myself, "There's nothing you can do about the weather." We got a little damp going to the church for the rehearsal, but by the time we were all seated for dinner afterward, the laughter was flowing with the wine. I guess as brides go, I was pretty unflappable.

Stacey, my beloved mutt, was a different story. We were planning to leave for our honeymoon directly from the reception, and my grandparents were keeping her while we were away. I had taken her to their house that afternoon. If anything at all bothered me during the rehearsal, it was the memory of her soulful brown eyes giving me the silent guilt trip as I left. But by the time we sat down to our meal, I had pushed even that aside to enjoy the company of my loved ones.

My father got a call midway through dinner. We were all laughing and sharing bits of food from each other's plates, and I didn't even realize he'd stepped away. When he returned to our little cluster of tables, his face was grim. He whispered something to my mom, and they looked at me. I felt my heart start to pitter-patter just a little.

In addition to Stacey, my grandparents had also offered to house some of our out-of-town relatives who were coming to the wedding. A few them had not yet arrived when my grandparents left for the rehearsal. They had left a key on the back porch so our relatives could go on in and make themselves at home.

"That was your cousin," Dad told me, looking like he'd rather be getting a root canal than share what he was about to tell me. "They just arrived at Grandmom's. When they let themselves in, Stacey darted out. They tried to catch her, but... she's gone."

It took a second for my heart to start beating again. Stacey had been with me since college. She slept at the foot of my bed, and her sweet furry face and wagging tail greeted me each day when I came home. My fiancé loved her, too, and his face grew just as pale as mine. She was part of our family, and embarking on this new adventure without her just wasn't right.

Instantly, our dinner gathering transformed into a search party. Bands of aunts and uncles, cousins, bridesmaids, and groomsmen took to the streets. The rain continued to pour, and the October night was windy and chilly. But no one backed down.

The park near my grandparents' house was suddenly awash with not only rain, but women in dresses and heels and men in suits and ties who traipsed through the mud like an expert search party. My friends and family hunted tirelessly. Our high heels planted themselves firmly in the mud and wouldn't budge, so my bridesmaids and I kicked them off and stumbled barefoot over mucky ground. My elderly relatives forgot their aches and pains and climbed hills, calling endlessly for my dog. Those who weren't searching the park scoured the neighboring back yards. I still wonder what the neighbors thought, looking out their windows on that rainy night to find well-dressed but drenched men and women poking around in their shrubbery.

After a few hours, we realized we weren't going to find her. My mom and sister went home and set about making up signs. I said a tearful goodnight to my fiancé and curled up on my parents' couch. I wept long into the night, finally becoming one of those brides who loses it.

My wedding day dawned crisp and clear, finally free of rain. My head hurt, and my face was pale. I hadn't eaten my dinner, and my stomach was still too queasy for food. My eyes were raw and puffy. This was supposed to be the happiest day of my life, but my heart was heavy. I thought of Stacey out there alone, and my waterworks started anew.

The photographer arrived. Instead of finding a bride in her gown and make-up, he found a tousled, weeping lump of a girl in her flannel pajamas. My mother explained the situation, and he nodded gently and started taking shots of the bridesmaids instead. Mom nudged me into her bedroom, where she managed to get me into my dress. The make-up, however, was an entirely different story. As soon as I'd get on a bit of blush or some eye shadow, I'd drown it in tears and have to start over.

Another knock sounded at the door, and my father greeted my great-uncle. I heard him and Dad talking in whispers, and then Dad uttered a loud "Thank God!" I flew from the bedroom, a ghost of a girl in a long, not-quite-buttoned white gown that matched the color of her pale, sleepless skin.

"She's home," Uncle Don smiled. "I went back to the park at first light and found her. It seemed like she was trying to find her way home. She was wet and hungry, but she's fine, honey. Now go get married." I flew at him and threw my arms around him, laughing and crying all at once.

No bride has ever rushed so much to get ready for her big day. When I walked down the aisle, my make-up couldn't hide the blotches left by my sleepless, tearful night. There was a speck of mud on my dress from hugging the uncle who had just traipsed through a waterlogged park with my dog. But my eyes were shining, and the smile on my face had never been more genuine. Sometimes, even when things don't turn out perfectly, they are still beautiful in the end.

Years later, the memory of my sleepless anxiety has faded. What I have never forgotten is the love of the family and friends who ruined their finery and soaked themselves to the skin helping me search for my wayward pup. Of all the gifts I received for my wedding, their selflessness was by far the most precious. I am forever grateful to the uncle who searched past midnight and still rose at dawn to bring Stacey home.

A wedding is about two people pledging their love, but it is also a reminder that we should cherish the loved ones who surround us and support us through our days. I couldn't have asked for a stronger reminder of that.

Fishing with Robby

By Ferris Robinson

My son Robby opens his tackle box and shows me his fishing lures. Each is in its own little compartment like an expensive box of chocolates. He names them, carefully holding them up between his fingers and turning them, like he is seeing them for the first time himself. Rapala, Broken Back, Jitterbug, Rattle Trap....
Fishing has brought out a new side to my son. He hoards his equipment like it's gold, preferring his old rusted fishing rod and reel than any harm coming to his new set. And this child, the same one who loses important math papers and tennis shoes, hates losing a lure to a branch on the bottom of the lake, so much so that he won't even use them.

The other day, I was stressed out and not looking forward to my evening, wondering if I would ever get to bed. Robby asked me to go out in the paddleboat with him and watch him fish. Torn, I sighed and began to apologize for how much I had to do that night.

"It's okay," he said disappointedly.

One look at his eyes and, reluctantly, I went along, all the while thinking of how much this little excursion was going to put me behind.

We paddled out to the middle of the lake, and he cast. It was long and smooth and landed with a plop about three yards from where a fish had just jumped.

"See, I don't want it right on top where that fish jumped because he'll know it's a fake worm. He won't believe a worm just dropped out of the sky right in front of him. You want him to swim to it," he explained in a low voice.

We sat quietly for a while, my son scanning the lake for his target before he drew back his arm and, in one fluid motion, floated his bait far out into the lake. I looked out over the water, beyond where he had cast. A blue heron was standing on a log by the shore, one leg pulled up under his body, his long neck smooth and elegant. He was still, like a statue. I pointed him out to Robby, and, as if the bird could sense that he was detected, it took off, its wings barely flicking the water. We watched him fly, his long neck curved in like the letter S.

"He likes that log over there," my son whispered. "He'll be back." I nodded, wondering why I'd never noticed the heron before.

"Here go the crickets," he said.

I was suddenly aware of crickets surrounding us from all sides, their grinding melody as deep as the woods themselves. I realized how much I'd been insulated by air conditioning lately, how little I'd heard of the outdoors. I closed my eyes and listened.

I heard the deep croak of bullfrogs and the far-away call of a morning dove. I heard a fish splash now and then, sometimes near us and sometimes far across the lake. And over and over, there was the slow squeak of my son reeling in the line, then a gentle whir as he cast it out again.

"I like this time of day," I said, my to-do list long forgotten.

"Just wait," he said. "In a little while the trees and the sunset will reflect off the water. It is so beautiful."

"I will wait," I said, and I thought about what I would have missed if Robby hadn't asked me to join him. I leaned back in my seat and watched my little boy, the one who, in finding his own way, is helping me find mine.

A Fragment in Time

By Victoria Robinson

Love has no desire but to fulfill itself. To melt and be like a running brook that sings its melody to the night. To wake at dawn with a winged heart and give thanks for another day of loving.
~Kahlil Gibran

The day was a total disaster from the moment I awoke. The dog had decided the cat was a most interesting chew toy, much to the cat's indignant cries, and if that was not enough, the toilet overflowed onto newly installed carpet. The cat, once again in a pickle as she lifted each paw in disgust and shook the water from it, looking at me accusingly as if I had made her life miserable on purpose.
As I entered the kitchen to get a cup of coffee, I heard a scratching sound coming from my cabinet. I slowly opened the door as quietly as I could, and sitting in the back munching on a box of Cheerios was the fattest mouse I had ever seen!

I sighed and closed the door, hoping he was enjoying his breakfast. After all, the Cheerios were ruined anyway -- he might as well have the rest! Before tonight, I would have to find some way of coaxing him out of the house and back in the field where he belonged!

I had twelve people coming for dinner and had not done the shopping. Time was slipping away, and my nerves were standing on end screaming, "Told you so!"

I locked the cat in the bedroom and scolded the dog, who looked at me with innocent eyes wondering what he did in the first place. Then I donned my coat and, totally frazzled, headed for the store.

There was a chill in the air as I pulled into the parking lot of the grocery store. The wind's icy fingers tugged at my coat as I hurried towards the door of the supermarket. I grabbed a buggy, and of course the wheels refused to go in the right direction, clattering through the aisles. Fine! I grumbled to myself. A perfect ending to an already perfect day. I decided that at least I would win the battle of the shopping cart. I shoved the cart next to the cashier's aisle and chose another that was more cooperative. Ahh, the sound of silence and smooth wheels; it didn't take much to bring a ray of sunlight into my life that day.

As I was standing in the produce section pinching the avocados, I heard that familiar annoying rattle of wheels, and I turned to the unfortunate person who'd obviously chosen my old buggy to say, "You have the shopping cart from hell!" What I saw changed the rest of my day into one I will never forget.

An elderly man with white hair and a face that was etched with wrinkles was pushing a hospital stretcher with one hand and pulling the basket from hell with another. He didn't notice the clatter or the wheels that went in different directions. He was busy guiding his wife, who lay upon the stretcher, closer to the produce so she could have a look.

She was a frail woman with gray at the temples and large blue eyes. Her hands and feet were twisted in odd directions and she could not raise her head but a tiny bit. He would pick up a piece of fruit and, with a sweet smile, hold it close to her, and she would nod her head and smile in return. They greeted everyone with a smile and a nod of their heads and didn't seem to mind that they were the subject of gawking and attention. Some people shook their heads in disgust that he would bring a stretcher into the grocery store; others whispered disapprovingly that they didn't belong.

I watched as he picked up a loaf of bread and touched her hand so softly. The connection between the two of them filled the space with so much love that it was palpable. I realized I was staring, as if to hold them in that moment of enchantment. Concerned that I was intruding, I forced my eyes to look away. I turned back to the avocado that was resting in my hand and noticed I had squeezed it a little too hard. I placed it back in the rack and moved to the dairy aisle, trying to catch another glimpse of this couple who seemed to be a magnet for my heart.

They had moved on to another part of the store, and I didn't see them again until I was finished with shopping and back in my car. I started the engine, and suddenly noticed that there, next to my car, were the elderly man and his wife. His vehicle had been parked next to mine, and as he put the groceries in the front of his van, his wife waited patiently on the stretcher.

He hurried to the back of the van, and a gust of cold wind blew the blanket off her frail body. He lovingly tucked it back around her as you would tuck in a child before bed, reached down and placed a kiss on her forehead. With a twisted hand, she reached up and touched his face. Then, they both turned to look at me and smiled. I returned the smile with tears rolling down my cheeks.

What tugged at my heart and brought tears to my eyes was not the condition either of them was in. It was the love and laughter they shared in going to the store together and being as they always had been... in love and needing each other.

The man placed the stretcher in the back of the van and made sure it was secure, and then he came around to the driver's side and stepped in. As they were leaving, he looked at me once again and smiled with a wave, and as he pulled out of the lot, I saw a small hand wave from the back of the van, and the most beautiful, vibrant blue eyes returned my gaze.

Sometimes in life one is struck with an astounding realization -- that within a moment of time, which seems to move in slow motion, one can grasp the total beauty of life and love in its purest form. It plays before your eyes like an old black-and-white movie with only the sound of silence and the movement of the actors who, without words, will touch your heart. In that fragment of time, sitting in the parking lot, I felt the pure radiance of the profound, unconditional love of two perfect strangers who crossed my path on what I had thought was going to be a disastrous day.

I started for home with my car full of groceries and my heart full of hope. This couple had taught me a priceless lesson -- that the little things don't matter, and the big things are just small hurdles when there is enough love.

среда, 25 июля 2012 г.

Raising the Barre

By Joan Hetzler

I knew this would not be a typical ballet class when I looked down the row of ballerinas in pink tights and black leotards and saw several with gray hair. One or two had the posture, taut muscles, and lifted chins of the younger students. Others, like me, bulged in places.
Could a fifty-eight-year-old woman -- devastated by mononucleosis for the past year, out-of-shape, and overweight -- do ballet? Did I want to?

Yes. After weeks of lying in bed, I decided to take up ballet. I bought an exercise video put out by the New York City Ballet in which a soothing man's voice led me gently through stretches, pliés (slight knee bends), relevés (raising up on the toes), and tendus (pointing the toe out to the side) with lots of additional floor exercises before some final leaps and then relaxing steps. All this movement was done with classical music in the background. Starting out slowly, doing only the first few stretching sections on the tape, I built up to following the dancers through the whole hour.

I soon saw the unique advantages of ballet for the aging body. The slow stretches elongated my limbs and joints and kept me flexible. Most of the steps were traditional positions that emphasized the correct form rather than speed and power. This helped me focus on controlling my muscles, not just using them. Standing on one foot, while lifting the other, helped with balance. And a surprising bonus was that learning the steps helped my memory.

When I wanted to move beyond the basic steps on the tape, I found a low-impact ballet class for adults in my town. Would they let me in? Yes, if I bought the uniform and paid my money.

Unlike the tape, this class offered the advantage of a long bar, known as a barre. It ran the length of the room, about waist-high. The "disadvantage" was that it faced a wall of mirrors.

We lined up sideways against the barre with one hand on it, all facing the same direction. I shyly stepped to the back of the line. The teacher, Ms. Jones, turned on the traditional ballet music with beats we should follow to be in sync, and led us through the basic foot positions and arm placement, sometimes linking the two into actual dance sequences. However, to my aging ears her voice blended in with the loud music and echoes of moving feet on a solid floor. I found myself mostly following the woman in front of me. Then we turned. Instead of hiding at the back of the line, I was now at the front! I really was lost. I'm sure the woman behind me did not try to follow my steps. Ms. Jones soon moved me to the middle of the line.

This experience made me realize that the live class had a big advantage over the tape. I had to think because I didn't know what was coming. I also had to concentrate on the beats of the music. I had memorized the dancers' movements on the tape and became adept at them. Now, I had to learn, move, and listen all at once because the routine changed every class. It was a welcome challenge.

Fortunately, after a few classes, the positions and steps became a little easier. But Ms. Jones did not cut us any slack. Despite the fact that we were never going to become professional ballerinas she insisted we do the steps correctly, just as she did her younger students. I appreciated her attitude. She did not lower her standards because of our age. Nor did she give us a pass for making the effort to simply show up. Of course, she did not expect the impossible. She did not expect us to do splits or dance on pointe. However, she would physically take my foot and say, "You can do better than that! You have very good feet for ballet. POINT your toes," as she pushed them farther than they had planned to go. Other students, too, found their knees pushed higher than they had meant to lift, or arms guided to the proper angle.

As the semester progressed, I began to know the other students. One lady in her seventies said, "I started taking ballet for my arthritis and neck problems several years ago. It helps so much." Her years of practice showed in her posture and lifted chin. Another woman in her thirties or forties said, "I take classes while my children are in theirs. It really helps with the stress and gives me some time for myself." The most surprising comment came from a strikingly beautiful young woman in her twenties with a perfect body and face. At her age, I was exhausting myself doing two aerobic classes or competing on the tennis court. She said, "I love this class. It's the perfect workout. I leave feeling I've had just the right amount of exercise."

By the end of the year, I felt fitter, more flexible, and healthier from the physical exercise. And I was uplifted by expressing myself in an art form while striving for a goal set at a high "barre."

Super Strong Mom

By Brenda Barajas, age 16

Mother love is the fuel that enables a normal human being to do the impossible.
~Marion C. Garretty

My mom is the greatest mom ever! As I grew up, I saw her as my hero for all the things she would do for me. I remember when she would fix my baby dolls or when she helped me color pretty pictures when I started elementary school. I remember in middle school, I would see her do things that fathers were supposed to do, like fix the car without caring how greasy her hands would get. Now that I'm in high school, I see how she is strong but sensitive at the same time. She looks at life with a positive attitude no matter what the situation is.
One day I came home from school and saw papers on the kitchen table and my mom sitting with a worried face looking at my dad. My dad wasn't working at the time because he had broken his arm. I had heard my parents talk about money issues a couple of times before but I never asked about the situation.

"What's going on?" I asked.

"We have to be out of the house in two weeks," my mom said. She had her elbows on the table and one hand over her forehead. Then I realized this was a serious problem. That very day, she made phone calls and started to look for a place to rent.

We had no money and no idea what we were going to do. I read the papers on the table; it said we had lost the house because we hadn't been paying rent. I was surprised that all this was going on and my dad seemed to be doing nothing about it and my mom never said anything about it. It seemed like everything was falling apart, but my mom seemed as if this was making her stronger.

That whole week she tried her best to find a place for rent. Besides the fact that we had no place to move to, we also had nothing to eat since the food my dad had bought the month before had run out. Even though she didn't show it, I felt my mom's pain and how much it hurt her to not be able to provide a good shelter and food for us.

After that whole week of seeing her struggle, I came home and she had a smile on her face and was cooking, which was really weird because she doesn't like to cook. I assumed there was good news and asked her, "So what's new?"

"We are starting to move today," she said with a smile on her face. "There's a place near your school and thank God they allowed all of us even though the place is pretty small." I could tell she was relieved and happy. At that moment, I admired her so much.

My mom is the greatest mom ever. I would not know what to do without her. Times like these are moments that make me admire my mom's strength. Some people might give up in bad situations. My mom looks at bad moments in life as a test, or a chance to make her stronger. When things seem to be the worst, she makes everything seem so easy to fix. I want to be like my mom when I have children of my own. I thank God for giving me such a wonderful mother like her.

The Solitary Cottage

By Dennis McCloskey

An inability to stay quiet is one of the most conspicuous failings of mankind.
~Walter Bagehot

"Oops, sorry." Those two simple, solitary, apologetic words once got me kicked out of an outdoors game that I like to play at our cottage. The game is called "The Silent Hike" and it is based on the premise that nature and silence go together. It is played on a series of groomed trails that have been blazed in a forest across the road from the log cottage that my wife Kris and I had built on a lakeside lot two hours north of our Toronto-area home in 1992.
Everyone who plays the game must adhere to one simple rule: You must not talk at any time during the one-hour hike. Not. One. Word.

On one occasion several years ago, on a warm July afternoon, I stood at the edge of the forest and explained the rules to a group of six gamers who included Kris, her brother Bob, his now-deceased wife Ann, and their two preteen sons, Andrew and John.

"You must be quiet as a mouse," I explained. "Even if you see a bear, you must keep your trap shut," I joked. "Utter a sound and you're out of the game. The winner is anyone who can complete the hike in complete and golden silence."

For the first twenty minutes, we tramped through the woods as "noiseless as fear in a wide wilderness," to quote John Keats. I took up a rear position and was thoroughly enjoying the serenity of the hike through the woods. We all became immersed in the tranquility of this walk with nature, where the only audible noise, other than the gurgling sound of the babbling brooks we crossed, was the rustle of snapping twigs under our feet. I was paying close attention to the stillness of the event when at one point, while lost in my thoughts, I came up too close to Ann and accidentally stepped on the heel of her hiking boot. "Oops, sorry," I said, automatically. "That's okay," she whispered, politely.

Well, you'd think we just killed Bambi! Everyone stopped and pointed at us, noiselessly but accusingly, and indicated in no uncertain terms that we were out of the game. Since I had created the rule, I had little choice but to suck up my punishment. We all trooped onward.

Now that I had been banished, I played devil's advocate. When I spotted a tiny snake slithering through the grass, I yelled out: "Hey, John, I'll give you $10 if you can tell me what kind of snake this is." John didn't bite. Neither did the snake. Later, I called out to the tight-lipped adolescents. "Kris and I have two extra tickets to a couple of Toronto Blue Jays games next week. Would you two like to come?" Both boys nodded their heads excitedly and in silent unison. "Which game would you like to see? Wednesday's game against the Yankees or Saturday afternoon against the Red Sox?" The expression in their bulging eyes was painful to watch. "Speak now or forever hold your peace," I teased. "Let me know now or we'll take your mom and dad instead."

Bob thought I was being a tad unfair and he let his feelings be known when he uttered a sympathetic "Awww." Both boys jumped up and down and, still under the gag order, demonstrated a universal sign that their father was toast by drawing their forefinger across their throat.

"Ha," laughed my wife.

And another one bit the dust!

To their everlasting credit, and despite the best efforts of four scheming adults, the two youths completed the journey without so much as a peep. Later that evening, Kris and I hosted an Awards Barbeque to honour the winners. Everyone got a chuckle when they saw the booty bag of prizes which included aptly named chocolate bars and candy, namely Turtles, Snickers and Smarties. I had tried to find a Noisette bar -- delicious caramelized hazelnuts buried in milk chocolate -- but they are available only in the U.S.

The Silent Hike is just one of many quiet activities that Kris and I enjoy at the cottage. I can easily spend a speechless summer afternoon chopping wood for the fireplace while she enjoys the sweet serenity of reading a novel on our deck that overlooks the still and deep waters of Lake Manitouwabing.

Whenever I feel like exercising at this soul-satisfying place, which is surrounded by tall pines and maples, I put on my running shoes and run up and down the wooden stairs that lead from the cottage to the lake. When my father Wally died a year after the cottage was built, I had the staircase built in his honour. There are fifty steps, and at Step #25 I placed a gold-plated plaque that reads: "Wally's Stairway to Heaven." If I'm going down for a swim or coming up from a canoe ride, I know I'm halfway there when I stop at Step #25 and whisper a silent prayer. Often, the prayer is one of gratitude for owning such a place of splendid isolation. We feel extremely fortunate, especially when we learned that only seven percent of Canadians own a cottage. Our secluded spot is indeed a treasure. Even a poor little rich girl like the late Diana, Princess of Wales -- who seemed to have it all -- once lamented: "I've got to have a place where I can find peace of mind."

During snowy winter weekends, at our four-season cottage, we are reminded of the phrase that "serenity is not freedom from the storm, but peace amid the storm."

As much as we love the stillness at our lakeside retreat, we decided to put the cottage up for sale this year. We got a bug. The travel bug! We want to explore more of the world before we get fitted for the "Forever Box." But no matter where we travel and whomever we meet, having owned a cottage will give us lots to talk about.

воскресенье, 22 июля 2012 г.

Purple Candles

By Sharon Dunski Vermont

What a wonderful life I've had! I only wish I'd realized it sooner.

Until recently, my life seemed extremely orderly. I was following an imaginary script, living out some unwritten play, doing exactly what everyone expected of me. I graduated high school. I went to college. I got my M.D. degree. Eventually, I got a job, got married, and had two kids. I was the good little girl, always doing the right thing.
Once I had my daughters, I left my job as a pediatrician and became a full-time mom. Being a mother was much harder than being a pediatrician, but the payoff was much more rewarding. As a mother, I got paid in kisses instead of cash. I fixed bruised egos instead of ear infections. I prescribed hugs and snuggling instead of amoxicillin. Life was certainly different when I wasn't a career woman, yet I wouldn't have traded it for anything.

As a mom, my life was also very orderly. I did exactly what everyone thought I was supposed to do. I volunteered at my girls' schools and signed them up for all sorts of fun and engaging activities, which led to hundreds (probably more like thousands) of extra miles on my car. We had play dates and went to playgrounds. We rode carousels and bicycles. We played in the pool and in the snow. Each day was filled with surprises, and each day was more exciting than the last.

On paper, I had the perfect life: great house, great kids, husband who loved me, a medical degree. What more could anyone want? My friends would tell me often that they wished they could do as much as I did in a day. I sometimes got teased about how incredibly clean my house always was. I even overheard a few people say that my marriage seemed perfect.

Yet, as a wise friend told me once, "When a house seems too clean, and a life seems too right, something is probably terribly wrong."

Suddenly, I hit thirty-five and my world simply fell apart. Somehow, I just couldn't hold it together any longer. I suppose that the stress of living up to what I thought everyone else's expectations were got to be much more than I could handle. At the time, I called it being overloaded. Yet, now I admit and even talk freely about the fact that it's actually called being depressed.

At first, I was just a little sad. I didn't enjoy life quite as much as I used to. But gradually, the sadness turned into despair, until one day, I just couldn't do my life anymore. I didn't want to get up in the morning. And, when I finally did, I counted the hours until I could go back to sleep. My once-spotless house was now piled high with trash, dishes, and long-overdue laundry. I'm not sure how or even what my family ate. I'm not sure who did the cooking; it certainly wasn't me. Not only didn't I cook, but I didn't eat. I lost ten pounds in two weeks. What I had once called my life now seemed like the beginning of my death.

The day my husband found me curled up on our bed crying hysterically, saying that I wanted to go to sleep and never wake up, turned out to be the best day of my life. Hitting rock bottom like that, having a complete and total meltdown, forced me into the hospital, and subsequently, into recovery.

Initially, I was extremely ashamed that I, the middle-class doctor and mother of two with the proverbial white picket fence life, ended up in a locked psychiatric ward and on antidepressant medication. That just wasn't supposed to happen to people like me.

People like me... What does that mean anyway?

My psychiatrist made me realize that depression is an illness, just like heart disease or diabetes, and it can happen to anyone. Depression doesn't care where your house is, what you do for a living, or how great your life was supposed to be. Illness doesn't discriminate.

Once I accepted the fact that I was actually sick and that I wasn't just crazy, I was able to start talking about my depression openly. Immediately, the shame I'd buried deep inside disappeared. Putting it out there, admitting to what I'd been going through, honestly, made everything seem okay. And, what I found as I began discussing my illness with more and more people was that depression was so much more common than I'd ever imagined. Suddenly, friends and acquaintances alike were sharing their own deeply personal stories with me. Sadly, many of them had, previously, been too embarrassed or ashamed to talk about their illnesses, just as I had been.

I quickly learned that talking about what I'd been going through, instead of keeping all of my emotions bottled up inside, actually helped my recovery be that much easier.

Several months into treatment, with therapy and the right medication, I finally began to feel like my old self for the first time in forever. But, recovery was a process, and a long one at that. There were days when I felt like I could really take on anything, and then there were days when I worried that I could easily be headed back to the hospital. Yet, overall, I was on an upswing from the day I hit bottom, and I knew that, soon, it would all be okay.

I was lucky because I got help. And through that help I learned how important it was for me to take some time each day, just for me. Having some personal time gives me the chance to relax and regroup, and honestly makes me a better wife and mom. My kids, over the years, have learned to give me alone time in my room when I need it to rest and unwind. That time, I've discovered, is priceless.

Right now, it's evening and my girls are asleep. I'm in my comfy chair, wearing my favorite pajamas, enjoying the glow of nine purple candles burning brightly on my kitchen counter. There's just something so relaxing about candles, and something so calming about purple. For me, this is therapy, and I'm happy.

Life is complicated, but it doesn't have to be overwhelming. I've finally taken the time to get myself in a very good place. As I watch the flames dance and flicker in my kitchen, choreographing a dance of their own, moving to a rhythm that only they can create, I feel that someday soon, I too will be that free.

The Rock Lover

By Pamela Underhill Altendorf

We cannot live only for ourselves. A thousand fibers connect us with our fellow men.
~Herman Melville

Jake was a wanderer, and no one in the neighborhood was exactly sure where the large black Lab had come from. It's lake property here. There are year-round residents, summer residents, vacationers, and a steady stream of people who come to fish for the day. Seeing a wandering dog that summer was not an unusual sight. Seeing him on and off for weeks was. Upon first glance, Jake was a pretty indistinguishable black Lab. I'd like to say he had special markings or a particular gait, but he didn't. What he did have was an innate ability to expect only the best from everyone he saw and the tenacious temperament to make sure his expectations were met.
His demands were simple: throw a rock or a stick for him to fetch and return. He would drop a rock or a stick at your feet, and prance around and bark a time or two to make his intentions known. If that didn't work, Jake could make himself look pathetic or lonesome, thereby appealing to our kinder nature. Either way, Jake got to play, and the rock/stick thrower usually finished with a smile, greater self-esteem, and the momentary gift of distraction from worrisome thoughts. In time, we all came to think of Jake as our friend, but it was my neighbor, Ben, who bonded most with Jake, and I was to understand just why in the days to follow.

Because property owners on a lake often build walls of rock to stop erosion, no one was surprised when a truck filled to capacity with rocks pulled up to Ben's home. There was a powerful wind that day. What we saw as an opportunity to stay indoors and catch up on household chores, Jake saw as an opportunity to play. The sight of a truck carrying twenty tons of rock and a man who just might throw them to him must have seemed like a dream come true for Jake. The noise of the wind coupled with a loud truck engine and a cargo of rattling rocks echoed through our closed windows as we continued with our daily work.

The truck driver, intent on completing his delivery, never saw Jake playing with a rock that had fallen behind the truck. That wind kept up for three days blowing small branches and yard debris, and on the third day, the man building the wall came to do the work. Minutes later, he stood at Ben's door. Pale, shaken, and almost unable to speak, he said he had heard the whimper of a dog beneath the twenty-ton pile of rocks. A shout went out, and all within hearing distance came running. The situation was assessed, a plan was calculated, and rocks were gently lifted so as not to make them tumble and cause further injury.

Maybe it was God. Maybe it was some universal force that made the rocks fall in just the perfect way to save him. Maybe it was the right people at the right time. Maybe that wind kept the air circulating through the small spaces in the rocks so Jake could breathe, or maybe it was just Jake's unwillingness to leave his new friends.

But, out of that pile he came, fragile, feeble, and hovering near death. After an immediate trip to the vet, Jake was placed on a mattress in a space in Ben's garage that had been hastily prepared just for him. The unmistakable smell of death soon permeated the area. With rotting flesh in shades of pink and red, and the word "raw" in my mind, I stood back, witnessing what was taking place. Ben tenderly put his face down on that ailing dog and repeatedly uttered a loud hum. Jake responded to the sound and the comfort offered by the hum. The connection from human to animal was complete.

I was humbled by Ben's quiet strength and his ability to teach simple courage to the rest of us who just wanted to help. In the days that followed, the garage became a hub of activity. Ben moved a cot out there to be close to Jake. A card table was set up in the corner, and the chairs around it were always occupied by a changing array of friends and neighbors who came to check on Jake's progress and to keep Ben company. The dual role of supporting both Ben and Jake soon grew to include taking on the task of slowly waving a flyswatter over Jake to keep investigating or intrusive summer bugs from landing on the salve protecting his open wounds.

Although our neighborhood had always been one of friendly "hello" and "isn't it a nice day" courtesies, Jake had brought out the best in each of us and helped our neighborhood grow closer. He became the topic of discussion, and in so doing, gently melted away any boundaries that kept us disconnected. Cordial words and routine politeness gave way to sincere emotion, caring, and friendship. We became comfortable with each other, able to share our joys and sorrows, and, in the process, learned more about each other as individuals.

In the weeks that followed, Ben's wife and daughter continued with the constant care and cleaning and frequent trips to the vet. After months of recuperation, Jake was Jake again and the first thing he wanted was to fetch a rock. Jake had reached celebrity status in the neighborhood and he had also become distinguishable. His mouth was crooked, a toe had been amputated, and some of the body damage was permanent. He now kept his wandering to just our street, but he spent most of his time at his new home with Ben's family. Five years later, Jake died. He simply crawled on his mattress, since moved to the living room of Ben's house, and fell asleep. We carried him to a lovely place, brought a few flowers, put some rocks and sticks on top of his grave and shared our stories. It was a peaceful death for a dog who had gone through so much, and in the process, united a neighborhood in a common spirit of kindness and love.

From Hare to Tortoise

By Juliette Rose Wunrow

Success is blocked by concentrating on it and planning for it.... Success is shy -- it won't come out while you're watching.
~Tennessee Williams

I entered my freshman year of high school with a definite philosophy: work hard and stick to whatever I could succeed at. In this way, I reasoned, I'd be able to skate through high school and out the other side with a 4.0 and some impressive accomplishments. I wouldn't waste my time in areas where I didn't excel.

And this philosophy served me well. I worked hard in my classes and on cello practice and got the results I wanted, usually in the shape of grades, successful recitals, and other materialistic rewards. My academic standards were high, because my dreams for the future were ambitious. An A- would've been the end of the world. My friends would tease me about my all-or-nothing attitude, but in my eyes, it was the only sure path to success.
At the beginning of sophomore year, I fully intended to keep that same attitude. Then I joined the cross-country running team, a year after I'd watched cross-country races and said, "I could never do that!" I joined mainly because my brother was on the team; he was entering his senior year, and I wanted to spend as much time with him as possible before he left for college. Also, most of my friends were on the team, and they'd been trying to cajole me into running for months. When I came to the first practice, I was filled with optimism and grandiose dreams of making the varsity team.

But as the distance we ran each practice gradually increased from three, to four, to six miles, I realized with surprise that no matter how hard I tried, I wasn't physically capable of running as fast as my friends. I wouldn't be on varsity; in fact, I was one of the slowest on the team. This concept eroded my dream of running prowess. And the muscular strain of cross-country was often unbearable, especially on the last scorching and humid days of summer. With every step I ran, my mind reined me in with an endless string of complaints. Not only did I suck at running, but I was having no fun! What was the point of putting myself through so much pain? I'd never make points for U-32 in a race; I'd just be letting down my team. After the first few weeks, I wanted to quit.

Then we had our first cross-country meet. When we got off the bus at Lamoille High School, decked out in our blue uniforms with our team name emblazoned on the jerseys, the sight of the other teams warming up made me cringe. I wasn't the only one; our whole team was wired with nervous anticipation. We jogged to the starting line and went through our warm-ups silently. When we started the race, I felt the enormous pressure of expectations sink onto my shoulders. I watched the churning tide of runners begin to surge past me and was overwhelmed with frustration. It was a brutal course, comprised of a series of short, steep hills that looped around twice, and after a while I stopped running and struggled to walk up the last mammoth hill.

But then I heard my coaches yelling my name from the top of the hill, their cries of encouragement mingling with those of my teammates. I felt confused and embarrassed; why were they cheering for me? I was running terribly!

As I broke into a weary jog up the last stretch of hill, I realized that my coaches didn't care how fast I ran. Neither did my teammates. During the rest of the season, they were always on the sidelines of every race, cheering for me just as loudly as they'd cheered for the frontrunner. Those expectations that had weighed on me so heavily at the beginning of the race were simply my own. And once I realized that, I decided to cast them away. I began to put my effort into supporting my teammates instead of obsessing about my own performance. In that way, I celebrated my teammates' victories as if they were my own; I felt their pain and exhaustion as if they were my own. After a while, it didn't matter if the runners struggling up the hill were on my team or not -- I rooted for them anyway. And they would always return the favor whenever I needed it most, because we were linked by the understanding of having been in the same position.

The relationships forged within our cross-country team are ones that will carry on past our running days and into old age. The comradeship of sharing the intense emotions which sprung out of a grueling sport made the bonds between my teammates and me surpass friendship. And often, the emotions we shared were frustration, pain, disappointment, and sheer exhaustion. But together, as a team, we were able to push through those moments together and come out as champions -- not as champions of ribbons or trophies, but as champions of perseverance. The memories that stand out most clearly aren't the bitter ones; they're the moments when a teammate loses his shoes in the bog, keeps running barefoot, and laughs about it at the finish line. They're the expressions of pride on my coaches' faces when I tell them I didn't walk once during a whole race. They're the subconscious grins that spread over the runners' faces when they hear us yelling ridiculous things from the sidelines, and the frenzied jumping-up-and-down finish line moments when a teammate breaks his previous best time by two minutes.

To be honest? I don't remember the exact grade I got on my U.S. History summer assignment. When I got my first A- at the end of sophomore year, the world managed to keep turning. Cross-country running made me realize that I don't need to be the best to be successful in life. It taught me to value my relationships with people more than my relationship with my ego. It taught me to cheer for others even if I never learn their first names. High school doesn't last forever. But maybe someday, way down the road, an old high school friend will call me out of the blue. We'll gradually ease back into the familiar with summer memories we shared and jokes we used to laugh at. Maybe we'll stretch our memories all the way back to the days when we were limber enough to run three miles, and she'll say with a laugh, "Do you remember that State Championships meet when there was that downpour and Zac lost his shoes in the bog...?"

And I will.

My Memories of Mud

By Jeff Boerger

The year 2001 was eventful for NASCAR fans across the country. The sport lost Dale Earnhardt, but gained two tracks in the Midwest -- Kansas Speedway and Chicagoland Speedway. But this story actually begins a few years earlier.
In 1997, International Speedway Corporation (ISC) was searching for a Midwest site for a race track and I was working with the Kansas City Area Development Council to help recruit ISC to Kansas City. As Lesa France Kennedy and Grant Lynch (vice president of ISC Strategic Projects) were searching for sites, Grant, who's an outdoorsman, and I started talking about pheasant hunting, one thing led to another and I started working at Kansas Speedway in 1998.

I let Grant and Lesa know that I didn't know the ins and outs of NASCAR and if they were looking for a NASCAR guy, I wasn't him. Over the past several years, I've become a fan of the sport as a whole because of how it brings people together and the impact it has on people's lives.

When this project started, there were a lot of skeptics saying we couldn't make this work and that NASCAR wouldn't be successful here. With Kansas Speedway celebrating its 10th birthday in 2010, I'd have to say we proved those skeptics wrong.

There's something exciting about seeing a project through from its beginning -- the recruitment, land acquisition, construction, operations -- to where it is today, a vibrant part of the Kansas City community, and it has had a huge part in helping the development of Kansas City, Kansas.

I was fortunate enough to be a part of the construction phase of the track and to actually see the rolling fields in western Wyandotte County transformed into a venue that becomes the fourth largest city in Kansas during a NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race.

It was difficult for people in the area to imagine the size of the race track when I first gave tours of the facility during the initial building phase. I had to compare the size of our facility to two other Kansas City sports arenas -- Arrowhead Stadium (Kansas City Chiefs) and Kauffman Stadium (Kansas City Royals). You could see the amazement on their faces when I told them both stadiums would fit inside our infield.

There's also a misconception that Kansas is flat -- trust me, it's not. We had to move 11 million cubic yards of dirt to start building.

Race cars were not the first equipment to race at Kansas Speedway. During the excavating process, some of the operating crews decided to race some of the scrapers around the tri-oval.

One of my favorite memories happened the day the late Bill France, Jr. visited in the early stages of building with one of his friends (John Cooper) and Grant. It had rained heavily the night before they arrived and I was concerned about driving them around the facility and getting stuck in the mud -- we didn't have any jet dryers to help out with the drying process!

As we headed toward the infield, Bill told me to stop the "blank'n" truck, and took over driving duties from me. I expressed my concern to Bill that because of the mud he might get stuck. He told me not to worry, and proceeded to push the accelerator to the floor.

For the next 10 minutes, we basically four-wheeled throughout the infield and along the backstretch in my Tahoe. Mud was flying everywhere and Bill was like a little kid, enjoying every minute of it. When he finally handed me back the keys, he said, "That's how you drive in the mud."

It's memories like this that I'll never forget.

I've made a lot of memories as the president of Kansas Speedway and every time we host a race, I see all the families and friends that are here, and it's a great feeling to know that everything we've put into making Kansas Speedway the best guest experience in motorsports is helping these fans create their own lasting memories.

четверг, 19 июля 2012 г.

Me and Lady Gaga

By Malinda Dunlap Fillingim

Stress and I have been best friends for a long time. As a result of befriending stress, I have had three wrecks, chronic pain, high blood pressure and headaches that paralyze me. My job as a hospice chaplain is hard, stressful and offers me little time to relax and care for myself.
I knew when I lay flat on my back in the hospital parking lot with three broken bones in my left ankle, something had to change.

I re-evaluated my work, my life goals, my schedule and my lack of self-care. I created a schedule that allowed me to have more time at home, more time to exercise and I began eating healthier.

Those were all good changes to combat stress. But the gift my daughters gave me was the best tool of all.

I am not a technology gadget kind of person and the Beatles were my favorite musical group growing up. So when I unwrapped the gift of an iPod full of music my girls selected for their fifty-something-year-old mother, I was surprised.

They explained that this gift of an iPod was to help me use music to calm myself down, energize me when working out, and keep me on an upbeat path. It took me a while to learn how to use it, but once I did, I was hooked!

Of all the songs they put on it, I somehow have gravitated to the music of Lady Gaga. I can't figure out how this middle-aged, somewhat conservative woman from the South has found Lady Gaga's sound so welcoming and invigorating. Yes, I don't understand all the words, but when I hear "Bad Romance" come on, I step a bit faster on the treadmill. "Poker Face" makes me smile and "Born This Way" just makes me want to dance!

Music is certainly a tool for coping with stress and the little iPod I carry with me every day is a constant reminder of the love my girls have for me and my need to take time to tap my feet, clap my hands, roll my head and dance along this road of life. Music is a small thing that makes a big difference in my life. And while I may not wear meat as a dress, or balloons as a cover, I certainly do like the way I feel listening to Lady Gaga's music. It transforms me from the reality of my world and allows me to escape just long enough to rid myself of toxic thoughts and feelings of stress.

I don't understand why it works; I just understand that it does.

среда, 18 июля 2012 г.

The Blessed Event

By Jane McBride Choate

I'm not interested in being Wonder Woman in the delivery room. Give me drugs.

My husband and I prepared for the arrival of our first baby with the attention of a general preparing for an invasion. We did it all: Lamaze classes, nutrition classes, even a pregnancy bra fitting, not an easy task for a girl who had been brought up to be modest at any cost.
No amount of preparation, though, could equal the reality of giving birth.

Two hours into labor, I promised to devote myself to good works if I survived.

My husband held up a wedding picture for me to focus on. I ripped it to shreds and snarled, "I want drugs."

"But, honey," my hapless spouse said, "we decided we were going to have a natural birth."

I grabbed him by the neck of his hospital gown. "You have it natural. I want drugs."

With my promise that I'd take a contract out on his life if he ever laid a hand on me (translation: got me pregnant) again ringing in his ears, he meekly asked the nurse for painkillers.

At six hours, I vowed celibacy for the rest of my life as the back pains hit. You know the ones I mean -- the kind that make the Inquisition rack seem like a session with a masseuse.

By the tenth straight hour of agonizing pain, I changed my mind and decided to skip the hit man. I'd do it myself. I fantasized about ways to do in this man I'd promised to love and cherish. First, though, I'd make him suffer.

Twelve hours into labor, I heard my husband excuse himself to go have breakfast.

Seriously? The monster abandons me in my hour of need and goes to have breakfast? Death was too good for him.

In between screaming, I plotted. Suffering took on new meaning.

The doctor had yet to arrive. Alone with the nurse from Hades, I felt an uncontrollable need to push.

"Get this thing out of me!" I yelled.

"Pant, honey," the whey-faced nurse with ferret-like eyes encouraged.

"You pant."

"We don't have to be unpleasant," she chided.

"We don't have to be anything," I snarled through gritted teeth.

She snagged a doctor unfortunate enough to stroll into the room.

"I'm not an obstetrician," he whined. "I'm a proctologist."

With my last ounce of strength, I roused myself and grabbed him by the neck of his green scrubs. "I don't care if you do nose jobs," I said in a voice hoarse from screaming. "I want this thing out of me, and I want it out now."

He stuck his head between my legs and held out his hands just in time to catch a nine-pound squalling scrap of humanity -- a beautiful daughter.

Eventually, I forgave my husband and allowed him to touch me again. The pain of giving birth must have faded for I endured it three more times. Each brought a miracle.

Thank heaven for drugs.