суббота, 29 сентября 2012 г.

What Mothers Are For

By Carol A. Boas

Being a full-time mother is one of the highest salaried jobs in my field, since the payment is pure love.
~Mildred B. Vermont
September 1987.

The phone rings. It's my daughter Jill, calling from Indiana University, where she has just started her freshman year.

"Mom, I need my prom dress... the blue silk one with the silver belt. I think it's hanging in my closet. Can you look... NOW?"

"I can't right this second," I say.

"But Mom!" she interrupts, a refrain I suddenly realize I have missed these past few weeks. "I need it Saturday."

She has just been invited to her first college formal. I'm thrilled. But it's a quarter to five on Tuesday afternoon. Even if I find the dress, I won't make it to the post office before it closes at five o'clock.

I don't tell her I'm up to my elbows in noodles for the noodle kugels (puddings) that I'm preparing for the sixty-plus people I've invited for our Break-the-Fast dinner at the conclusion of the Yom Kippur holiday.

For an instant, my mind wanders back to the Sunday three weeks ago. Leaving Jill — and dozens of shoes, jeans, shirts, sweaters and most of the contents of her bedroom that she insisted she could not live without — at her college dorm was much more emotional than I had expected. The parent manuals do not prepare moms for that day.

My attention snaps back to the present situation.

"The short blue one, right?" I confirm, stalling for time, and beating the eggs that need to be added to the noodles draining in the colander. I'm following my Aunt Fern's noodle kugel recipe, wistfully remembering it's Jill's favorite.

"Yes! That's the one! Can you please look for it now?"

"Sure," I say. "I'll call you right back." I dump the noodles and eggs into the bowl.

"Thanks Mom. You're the best. I love you!"

My "right back" buys me the fifteen minutes I need to blend the sugar, vanilla and buttermilk into the noodles, pour the mixture into the already-greased pan, set the timer and pop the kugel into the oven.

For this instant, I'm still her best friend... I haven't been replaced by Carolyn, Scott, Stacy, Brian (who will become her husband), Joanne and the others who have punctuated her conversations each time she calls home. I'm thrilled she's made so many friends in the three long weeks she's been gone, but worry I might be losing her to the cornfields of Indiana.

I take the stairs quickly, but stop short of going into her room. Her bed's made. The dresser drawers are shut, without shirtsleeves or tank top straps dangling from them. I can see her rug. No jeans crumpled in a heap or flip-flops strewn about. Entering, I fight the urge to knock the People magazine and a stack of papers off her neatly organized desk.

I rummage through the rejects in her closet that didn't make it to college... her once favorite green T-shirt with COOL in sparkly letters, the brown suede fringed boots she absolutely had to have, the black cardigan with mother-of-pearl buttons from the GAP that she said I could borrow... left behind like me.

I call her back.

"Did you find it?"

"Yes, but it needs to go to the cleaners. There's a stain down the front."

"Can you take it NOW and get it back by tomorrow?"

I've already anticipated this request.

The yellow digital clock on the nightstand in her room screams 5:03. I do the math in my head. The kugel will come out of the oven at 5:35. I can get the dress to the cleaners before they close and plead with them to have it ready by four o'clock the next afternoon. I'll be able to get to the post office by five, send the dress Priority Mail, and, if all goes well, Jill will have her dress Friday.

This is my daughter, my first-born, away at college, and still needing me.

I remove the kugel from the oven, stopping for a moment to inhale the smell of brown sugar and vanilla oozing from the toasty brown cornflake-crumb topping blanketing the bubbling kugel, before racing to Dean Cleaners. Mrs. Kim assures me the dress will be ready the next afternoon.

I return home. The first of the three kugels I need to make has cooled. Without thinking, I put it in the freezer, which is very out of character for me. I prefer food to be served fresh, so I am puzzled that this first kugel is now in the freezer. But there is little time to put the puzzle pieces together. The dress distraction has set me back about forty-five minutes, and will set me back another forty-five minutes tomorrow when I need to zoom to both cleaners and post office.

By Wednesday afternoon at 3:45, the dress is ready. Back home, I find a box and pack the dress gingerly, so it won't wrinkle, or at least will wrinkle less. Then, much to my surprise, I find myself walking to the freezer, removing the frozen kugel, and wrapping it in aluminum foil and ice packs so it won't defrost, or at least will defrost less. I slip it into the box with the dress, the kugel sequestered into several heavy-duty plastic zippered plastic storage bags so that dress and kugel do not meet in their travels to the Indiana cornfields, and head to the post office.

It's her first Yom Kippur away from home. It's my first Yom Kippur without her. She wants the dress. I want her home. The kugel! The puzzle pieces begin to fit together.

The phone rings Friday afternoon.

"Mom, thanks so much. The dress is perfect for the formal tomorrow and everyone is soooooooo excited to have kugel to break the fast after Yom Kippur. I can't believe you did that!"

Her voice cracks. My eyes well with tears that, thankfully, she cannot see.

"I am your mother," I tell her. "That's what mothers are for."

"I love you," she says.


April 2007.

The phone rings. It's my daughter Jill, calling from Denver where she, Brian and their two sons live.

"Mom, I need my prom dress... the blue silk one with the silver belt. Do you have any idea where it is?"

I'm in the midst of making matzoh balls for our Passover seder.

"No," I answer, about to ask why she needs her prom dress from twenty years ago.

"I just got invited to a Twentieth Reunion of our Senior Prom Party and we're all supposed to wear our prom dresses. If you can find it, will you mail it to me?"

"Sure," I say, recalling a similar request from two decades ago.

"Thanks Mom, you're the best. I love you!"

I smile. I didn't lose her to the cornfields of Indiana. Over the years we have become best friends. And although married with children of her own, she still needs me.

"I love you too," I say, hanging up the phone.
Aunt Fern's Kugel

1 lb. wide noodles (cooked)
1 qt. buttermilk
4 eggs (beaten)
1/2 cup sugar
1 stick butter (room temperature)
1 tablespoon vanilla

2 cups crushed cornflakes
1/2 – 1 cup brown sugar
1/2 stick butter (melted)

Mist first six ingredients together in a large bowl.

Pour into 9 x 13 pyrex dish.

Bake at 350 for 45 minutes and remove from oven.

Cover generously with topping mixture.

Bake at 350 for 15 minutes.


Every Mother Is a Working Mother

By Barbara Curtis

The phrase "working mother" is redundant.
~Jane Sellman

It was the kind of splendid September day when sending kids to school just feels wrong. Fortunately, that year I was home schooling and calling the shots. Plus we were living in California, an hour from the Pacific Ocean. For all I knew, it could have been the last day of summer, and we wouldn't want to miss that. So it was off to the ocean with five children under eight — Josh, Matt, Ben, Zach, and Sophia.
Together, we cleaned up from breakfast, prepped the car, and then gathered beach blankets, umbrella, towels, swimsuits, diapers, sunglasses, sand toys, first aid kit, sunscreen, a cooler full of snacks and drinks — ay yi yi yi yi! Hello, motherhood; goodbye spontaneity. I loaded the assorted car seats and strapped, snapped, and buckled five wiggling bodies into Big Blue — the 1989 Suburban we outgrew only a few years later. We were on our way.

With everyone else in school, the whole beach was ours. I staked out our territory close to the water, hauled everything down from the car, and set up camp. For five hours I served as personal valet, sunscreen slatherer, weather advisor, recreation director, swim instructor, lifeguard, EMT, food concessionaire, manners consultant, bus boy, interpreter, peace negotiator, psychologist... not to mention keeper of the lost-and-found.

Finally, I hauled everything back to the car, strapped, snapped, and buckled five sunscreen-and-sand-coated-but-no-longer-wiggly warm, limp bodies back into Big Blue and headed for home. The sun through the window was soothing, and the car was full of contentment. It had been a wonderful day and I was pleased with myself as a mother. Then, from the back seat, I heard Zachary clear his throat, and in his deadpan four-year-old Eeyore voice ask, "Mom, when are you going to get a job?"

"This is my job," I said, somewhat amused and just a little edgy.

Homeward bound with the kids falling asleep one by one, I was left alone with my thoughts. I began to see the beauty of Zach's question. Somehow — even though it could be hard work and even though I had my testy moments — my kids didn't think of motherhood as a job.

And I decided that was a good thing because it's not really a job at all, but a calling. And callings just don't look like jobs, because they require more of a person than a job requires. This is particularly true of stay-at-home mothers whose days are spent conquering mountains of laundry, creating peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, and kissing owies.

We live in a world where success is measured by progress, as recorded on report cards, sales reports, performance reviews, pay raises and symbolized by ribbons, trophies, and merit badges. In our lifetimes, our husbands and children will bring scores of these items home and make us proud. We'll put them in scrapbooks, sew them on uniforms, frame and hang them up for all to see.

But I don't know of any special awards for teaching a child to tie her shoe or come to dinner when called. No raises or praises when a mother drops everything to drive someone out for poster board — "your project's due tomorrow? But it's almost eight o'clock!"

Every day this goes on with everyday moms doing everyday things — sometimes struggling with feelings of inferiority or even worthlessness — just being obedient to their calling.

But while motherhood can look easy (after all, it certainly is not rocket science), the irony is this: while lots of important people in important places conduct lots of important business every day, the truly most important work in the whole world is really going on at home, where the CEO is mommy.

I guess if we got disgruntled enough from lack of appreciation, we could start a Mommy Power movement with bumper stickers that say, "If Momma ain't happy, ain't nobody happy."

We could sue people who put us down at parties and maybe even become a protected minority.

But that wouldn't be very mommy-like, would it? Because there's something about mommies that should be soft where others are hard, kind where others are cruel, patient where others can't wait. We may not start out that way at all, but there's absolutely nothing like motherhood to change anything about us that needs to be changed.

At least, that's how it's been on my motherhood journey. I set out to make a home, to grow a family, and to help my children reach their potential.

The most amazing thing is that while I was helping them reach theirs, they were helping me reach mine.

Who's Your Daddy?

By Joyce A. Laird

Call it a clan, call it a network, call it a tribe, call it a family. Whatever you call it, whoever you are, you need one.
~Jane Howard

Everyone has read articles, seen stories on television, or watched videos on social websites about mother animals adopting babies of another species: mother cats nursing puppies and visa versa, cat and dog mothers adopting and nursing squirrels, fox cubs, coyotes, rabbits and skunks — I once saw a story about a dog that nursed and raised an African lion cub. All are amazing. My Sparky adds a little twist to this nurturing instinct that appears to be very strong in all types of mothers... regardless of species.
From the time I rescued him, I knew my Pug-Beagle mix was a cat lover. That's why he fit right into my little family of three cats. Wherever he came from, he had obviously shared his life with cats. He wanted to be friendlier with them than they preferred, but the two old toms and one queen accepted the little dog with resigned dignity, hopping out of his reach if he got too affectionate.

I learned quickly that Sparky takes accepting cats farther than any other dog I have owned. He adores them. If it were up to him, he would take every cat he saw home with us when we go on our walks. He cries, he moans, he begs with sad eyes focused on them, then on me... for more cats. This makes him quite the dog in our neighborhood. Everyone jokes about him.

In his first year with me, one cat in particular became his best friend on our walks. She was just a simple gray-striped little tabby and she would run out to greet us from her yard as we passed by each day. She would rub against Sparky and he'd lick her, and they would tumble on her front lawn until I had to pull him away. He would follow me reluctantly.

One day, I saw the moving trucks in front of the cat's house and told Sparky, "It looks like your Miss Kitty is moving away."

Unfortunately, within a few days after the trucks left Miss Kitty appeared again. I don't know if she was abandoned or if she snuck back home after the move. The good news was that the people next door to the now vacant house said they would take her because she was so loveable.

The bad news was that they did not spay her. Within a few months, I could tell she was very, very pregnant. Sparky seemed to think the whole idea was wonderful because they still played together every time they met on our walks.

Miss Kitty had her kittens under a rosebush in a front yard driveway and was immediately disowned by her new hosts because a cat with kittens was simply too much to deal with. With her friendly attitude toward dogs, and with dogs that were definitely not like Sparky running loose in the neighborhood, I couldn't leave this little family under a rosebush two feet from the main sidewalk. I'd seen too often what happened to kittens when roving dogs found them or if they wandered into the street.

Once we had the mother and kittens safely settled in a spare bedroom, Sparky stepped in. Overwhelmed with delight, he became the surrogate father to the three kittens. He moved in with Miss Kitty and her babies, gently washing them, letting them snuggle up to him and allowing the little blind squeakers to crawl all over him. Miss Kitty could go rest by the window when she wasn't nursing her crew, safe in the knowledge that Sparky would take good care of them.

As the kittens grew, I wondered what they thought. Did they think that Sparky was some weird looking — and weird smelling — cat? Did they think that they were puppies? I couldn't imagine.

All I knew was that the little family grew up, rolling and playing together like puppies, not cats... and yet they still kept all their feline instincts and actions with the other cats in the household. I assume they thought, and still think, that they are some type of cross-species creatures.

That was three years ago and they are all still together, all safely spayed and neutered. The young tom, Ringo the Third, is taller than his daddy, Sparky. They still roll, play and chew on each other like dogs, with Ringo keeping his claws retracted. The two girls, Duchess and Friday (named Friday because she was born a day later than the other two), still sleep on top of their daddy, Sparky.

In the last three months, another throwaway rescue dog has come into our house and he seems to take it all in stride. Although he does look at Sparky with a questioning face when he sees the cats pile on top of him to sleep on the couch.

Sparky is a protective father even though the kittens are all grown. If one of the older cats picks on Miss Kitty or one of his "family," or if the new dog growls when Duchess or Friday try to jump on him, Sparky is at the ready with a bark, leap and a quick snap at the offending animal, as if to say, "Nobody messes with my kids!"

Talk about a mixed relationship. However strange, the one thing that is very clear is that they love each other. And I guess that says it all. In the end, it's always love that really counts, isn't it?

There's Always Pie

By Laura J. Davis

Home cooking: where many a man thinks his wife is.
~Author Unknown

I married a man whose mother loved to bake. Naturally, he assumed I would be just like her. I wasn't. My mother served Jell-O, store-bought pies, or fruit for dessert. I took after her in the extreme. When it was time for dessert, I would get a can of fruit cocktail out of the fridge and say, "Have at it!" For some reason, that didn't go over too well with my new husband.
After our honeymoon, we settled in a nice apartment with everything any housewife would need. Unopened gifts were our first order of business and they filled me with trepidation. Pots, pans, dishes and cookbooks reminded me of one thing I had failed to mention to my dear husband. I didn't know how to cook.

Unfortunately, that did not stop me from trying.

One day, while making spaghetti, Jim walked into the kitchen and caught me throwing wet noodles at the wall.

"What are you doing?" he asked as I peeled the noodles away from the wall.

"I'm checking to see if they're done."

Something akin to revulsion played itself over Jim's face. "Do you do that with all the food?"

"Of course not! Everyone knows you throw spaghetti at the wall to see if it's done."

That night, Jim decided to teach me how to cook.

While I soon mastered "meals," my true test would come when I made his favorite - lemon meringue pie. I followed the recipe diligently. Egg whites were separated with the skill of a professional. My meringue whipped into a perfect foamy froth and before I knew it, I had created my first dessert. The oven was ready. I slipped the pie inside and waited to present my husband with something I knew would be just as good as his mother's.

My anticipation grew as delicious smells emanated from the kitchen. The timer on the oven sounded and with oven mitts at the ready, I carefully reached in and drew out my perfect pie.

Only to have both sides of the foil plate I had used, fold in half, dribbling my beautiful pie all over my oven door!

My husband came running at my cries and stared at the oven door, then at me. He didn't say anything. He turned the oven off, retrieved two forks from the kitchen drawer, sat down in front of the oven door and proceeded to eat his pie.

Instead of tears, there was laughter. Instead of anger there were giggles. I joined him on the floor and we ate the entire pie off the oven door, knowing that in years to come this would be a story to share with our children.

Today, I make a mean lemon meringue pie, with a proper glass pie plate. I've learned a valuable lesson that has kept my marriage strong for twenty-eight years. Compromise is always a good alternative to anger and there are no troubles in life that can't be solved with a piece of pie!

Julie Marie Carrier

Miss Virginia USA, Speaker, and Author

We all have a unique calling in life, but it's our job to discover it.

Quick Facts:
• Award-winning national speaker for teens and girls
• Author of the book, BeYOUtiful! The Ultimate Girls Guide to Discovering Your True Beauty!
• Founder of beyoutifulclubforgirls.com; an e-mentoring club to help girls achieve their goals
• Emmy-nominated TV show host
• Crowned Miss Virginia USA 2002
• Started her first company at age 14 to save for college
• Was a senior management consultant in leadership training and development at the Pentagon at age 23
At age fourteen I heard a speaker who changed my life. At the time I was 4'7'' with a high-pitched voice and I was often called a nerd, a loser, and a munchkin — but the message I heard the speaker share that day was something I desperately needed to hear.

Dressed in a white tuxedo, the speaker came into the auditorium that day with such power and confidence that I thought, "Who is this guy?" He began his talk with a bold statement: "I'm wearing my best because you deserve the best. To make the best choices and have the best life."

I've always believed that everything happens for a reason in life. So as I watched this man speak, I knew I was hearing this message for a reason. It was a really tough time for me, and the school bullies were slowly wearing me down and getting into my mind. But after this one school assembly I remember leaving thinking that it didn't matter if I was 4'7" and couldn't get a date to the prom. I did deserve the best and I could make the best choices.

From that point on I began working really hard to stay focused and make the best choices I could. I stayed drug free, set high standards in my relationships and friendships, and became committed to finding out what I was called to do in life. And at age fourteen I decided to start my own company.

Believing we are all given certain gifts and talents, I used my artistic ability to make clay beads. Using an ancient Greek technique, I was able to make funky, uniquely detailed beads, and I began selling them to local bead stores. There was lots of buzz about them because they were so unusual. At age fifteen, I started entering competitions and soon became a nationally renowned bead artist. While I didn't make big bucks, I had the opportunity to get a lot of scholarships for being an entrepreneur and starting my own business. That success taught me how important it is to stay focused and not get sidetracked, and that a person can take something that might seem insignificant, hone the skill, and turn it into a company.

As time went by my goals changed from wanting to be a leader of my own company to having the courage to run for Senior Class Vice President (this of course, would be a huge turnaround for me because I was the class "nerd"). I told my friend from the drama team about my plans and she said, "Sure, why not Julie? You run for VP and I'll run for president!"

I really didn't think a nerd like me could ever be elected, but I knew if I didn't try I would look back and regret it. It was a process I will never forget. Even I was shocked when we won! This made me realize that the whole concept of "the popular crowd" is actually very different from reality. I soon found out that being truly popular means that people like, appreciate, and respect you for who you really are, not because you try to be what everyone wants you to be. That discovery completely changed my world and I learned that being yourself and staying true to what you believe is what ultimately brings rewards in life.

When it came time to go to college I still wasn't sure what I wanted to do with my life or what major to pick. My family and friends knew I loved animals and they all kept telling me, "Julie, you should be a vet. You would be so good at it." With no other ideas, I finally agreed with them and made getting my veterinarian degree my entire focus. I quickly became so buried in my studies that I never asked myself what I really wanted or what I was really called to do. Every summer of my college career while I studied to be a vet, I volunteered for youth leadership camps and conferences. I had a blast, but I soon noticed that each fall when I went back to my really tough science and math classes, something just didn't feel right.

A year before graduation I was fortunate to receive a Rotary Ambassadorial Scholarship to study abroad in Northern England. It was an amazing experience. I was traveling all over England speaking on behalf of the United States to build international goodwill and understanding. While I was in England, away from all the distractions back home, something amazing happened.

I began asking myself if being a vet was really what I wanted to do. I remember that the turning point happened when I was sitting at my desk in my dorm room in England surrounded by a massive stack of biology books and I asked myself an important question: What job would I love so much that I would do it for free? Like a flash of lightning, the veil lifted from my eyes. I felt so stupid when I realized I had already been doing what I was meant to do for the last four years... I had been involved in leadership camps and conferences. I love leadership! I just knew in that instant this was what I was meant to do.

I was now faced with a big decision. I could graduate with a degree in Biology and become a vet, or I could change course and spend two more years getting a degree in leadership. It was a tough decision, but I chose to spend the next two years attending Ohio State University collaborating with three advisers to design and eventually graduate summa cum laude and receive a degree with my major in Leadership Studies.

Everyone wondered what I was going to do with a degree in Leadership Studies. Even when I graduated, one of my friends made a joking comment wondering if I was going to be a "leader" flipping burgers at McDonald's, but I knew I was doing what I was called to do. And although I was afraid I might starve doing it, I kept volunteering at leadership camps and conferences.

At one of the conferences in Washington, DC, I met an individual who provided strategic planning services to the Pentagon. She was looking for someone to do leadership training and development. Unaware there was such a thing as a degree in Leadership Studies, she asked me to send in my resume. Within three weeks I was driving to DC, where I was hired on the spot. I could hardly believe I was working at the Pentagon at such a young age. But it confirmed my belief that when you stay true to your passion, work hard and make positive choices, life does reward you.

I was excited at first, but I soon started having doubts. I began to think that maybe it was a huge mistake believing a young person could help older people with leadership skills. But I recalled the best advice I had ever received from an incredible leader I met in England: Remember your ABC's — Always Be Confident. Even if you don't feel confident, act confident and no one will know the difference.

Although I didn't feel confident, I entered that classroom remembering my ABC's, believing that age did not dictate what I could accomplish. I might have been younger, but I was there to serve my students, and I focused on the fact that I had a fun and interactive training and something valuable to offer them. As a result of being true to who I was, the interactive class I designed and taught was so successful I was asked to redesign all the leadership courses for the group. My contract was renewed so I could teach more leadership development workshops for another three years!

I loved my job, but I still felt a strong desire to do something to help young people. Because of the life choices I made, I was able to experience much success and I felt I needed to share that with other teens. But changing my focus from being a senior management consultant in leadership development at the Pentagon, to speaking to teens, meant I would have to target two very different audiences. To make that change, I knew I had to have a plan. I decided that entering a pageant and possibly winning would make it easier for me to transition from working at the Pentagon to speaking with teens.

My goal was simple: Do my best. I hired a pageant coach, and boy, did she have her work cut out for her. I didn't know how to walk in heels or even apply my make-up, but with her help I was finally ready to enter the Miss Virginia USA contest. I didn't think I would win, but my friends told me just to have fun. I was so nervous that I ended up tripping on my evening dress. So when I was given the title "Miss Congeniality" I was happy thinking that it was a good start and I'd try again next year. Then, much to my surprise, I heard my name called as Miss Virginia USA 2002. I was so shocked they had to announce it twice before I responded!

During the year I represented my state as Miss Virginia USA, I had the opportunity to work supporting our troops, speaking at teen leadership conferences, and attending many girls' events. Those experiences gave me the courage to finally leave my attractive position at the Pentagon. In making that choice, people have asked me if I miss the prestige and money from that job, and I can honestly say, "No." While that experience was a remarkable opportunity and I respect the Pentagon community so much, I have to say that I absolutely LOVE speaking with girls and teens and no amount of money or prestige can ever replace that!

Now I am very excited about my new book, BeYOUtiful! and the beyoutifulclubforgirls.com e-mentoring club that I've formed along with it. It is all about being the "real you," discovering the amazing talents you are born with, and embracing the real beauty — the BeYOUty! — of who you really are. It took me a long time to fully realize this, but I want other young people to know that they are valuable and special just the way they are. This is the core message that changed my life.

The biggest roadblock to our success is self-doubt, but when we are in tune with ourselves we will be less affected by outside forces. I have spent lots of time learning to sort out my own self-doubts from the real truth. When my mind is telling me one thing, I also try to listen to what my heart is telling me. If my mind is saying something that doesn't feel right, I give my heart the veto power. As time goes by, I get better and better at sorting out my self-doubts, which makes the answers clearer and clearer.

Now I am living a life I never dreamed of. People can't believe I've been able to do this at such a young age. The truth is that it all started with the choices I made at age fourteen.

I look at life as though we live in separate chapters. Although chapter one or two might not have been so good, the following chapters can be awesome. Life is truly about choices and ultimately those choices are made by you. That is a fun and powerful responsibility. Take it from me, you can be successful if you listen to your mind and heart, seek your calling, work hard, and persevere. BeYOUtiful!

Two Journeys

By Carol E. Ayer

What greater gift than the love of a cat?
~Charles Dickens

"Sammie! What are you doing here?" I couldn't believe it. My neighbor's cat was at my back door, gazing at me through the glass. This wouldn't have been unusual if it weren't for the fact that Sammie had moved across town with her family the week before.
I immediately called Sammie's owner, Laura. Laura told me that Sammie had been missing for two days. We came to the only possible conclusion — Sammie had walked the three miles from her new house back to her old neighborhood. Although it's possible that Sammie remembered me feeding her a few times, Laura and I agreed that there was more to it than that. The cat missed me.

Sammie and I had become friends over the previous few months. I would sit on my front steps every afternoon and call to her. She'd come running over from her house. Then I'd scratch her ears, chin, and lower back. She would purr, and look deep into my eyes, as if to tell me how grateful she was. The feeling was mutual.

Now I had a big decision to make. Should I offer to keep Sammie? It seemed clear that she wanted to stay with me, but I had my reservations.

After my boyfriend's death a few years earlier, I'd retreated deep within myself. I didn't see my friends very often, and I tried to limit my commitments. I worked from home and didn't go out much. Then, when my mother's cat passed away, a cat I was also very fond of, I'd subconsciously made the decision to not have a pet. I didn't want any more loss in my life. Although I loved Sammie, I just wasn't sure I wanted to take on the commitment of caring for her, both physically and emotionally.

However, when I discussed it with Laura the next day, we decided that the best thing for Sammie would be for her to stay with me. We certainly didn't want to risk her trying to return to me if she went back to her new home. We knew that whatever route she had taken, she would have had to deal with traffic, other animals, and who knows what other dangers. So there it was. I had a pet.

Today, Sammie is thriving. We have multiple "scratchie" times a day, and we both are happy to have each other. She spends a lot of time on the deck, but also comes inside to sit on the couch. Sometimes she walks across my keyboard, inadvertently typing for me.

I have taken on the commitment wholeheartedly, and I know I came to the best decision. I now understand that it is always the right thing to open up to the possibility of love, even with the knowledge that loss often follows.

Sammie made an incredible journey when she walked from her new house back to me. But I made a significant journey, too, when I went from a closed heart to a wide-open one. Sammie seemed to know what I needed more than I did.

In Like a Lion, Out Like a Lamb

By Shawnelle Eliason

No animal is so inexhaustible as an excited infant.
~Amy Leslie

I tried to comfort my two-week-old babe, but he wouldn't be comforted. I held him over my shoulder. He cried. I stretched him over my lap and rubbed his belly. No comfort. I sang softly into his tiny pink ears. He cried louder..
"I don't know what to do," I said.

"Let me try," Aunt Jane said. She'd arrived the day before from out of town. She swooped in and intercepted Logan. She bounced him and rubbed his back and moved her body in the mama-sway, but Logan still cried. "Well, I don't know what to do either," she eventually said. Aunt Jane continued to jostle and jiggle my babe, and I perched on the edge of the sofa.

"Maybe he wants to be rocked," I said.

Aunt Jane plopped into the rocker and turbo-rocked. Logan's fists curled into tiny red balls.

I could tell that the crying was unnerving Aunt Jane. She was older than me. She had raised her own children. And though she possessed a wealth of experience, she was accustomed to a quiet, still household.

Truth was, I was unnerved, too. Logan seemed to have his days and nights reversed, and I hadn't slept for fourteen moons. Aunt Jane's visit added pressure. As much as she desired to help, I needed to figure out how this new baby thing worked.

"He needs to nurse," my aunt said. "That's a hunger cry."

I'd tried to nurse him ten minutes before. He was too mad. But Aunt Jane was older and wiser. "Okay, I'll try," I said.

Aunt Jane slipped Logan into my arms. I tried to fashion a drape from his receiving blanket, but it was hard to do with seven pounds of wriggling baby on my lap.

When I thought I'd created a sufficient tent, I lifted Logan and fumbled under the Mickey Mouse flannel. Aunt Jane poked her head under the blanket.

"You have to get him latched right," she said.

Logan's rosy, tiny mouth stretched and contorted and produced louder, faster screams. He beat against the blanket. He had grown sweaty, and so had I. I could feel my own heart pounding in my head. Could I take Tylenol? I didn't know. I couldn't think.

Just then my husband, Lonny, whisked through the back door. He'd been helping the neighbor. "I heard the baby screaming all the way down the block," he said. "I came right home. Let me help."

Lonny reached under the collapsing flannel and extracted Logan. "Daddy's here," he said. More bouncing. More jostling. More singing.

"Try this," Aunt Jane said. Suddenly, Logan was in her arms again. She held him in one arm and did something that looked like it should involve a hula hoop.

"No," Lonny said. "I read that babies like the washing machine. Let's go start the washer." Lonny and Aunt Jane started down the stairs. Jane was wringing her hands, and Lonny was on a mission.

I caught a glimpse of Logan's dear, sweet, purple face as they rounded the corner.

I ran my fingers through my hair and bit my lip. I didn't want to cry. I was too tired to cry. I tried to listen to the muffled conversation in the laundry room, but Logan's shrieks drowned out the words.

Then my body kicked into action. Milk. Running hard and fast and making deep red stains of color on my red T-shirt. I could hear the washer chugging and Logan screaming. Aunt Jane and Lonny were coming back up the stairs, devising the next plan. The noise and the tension mounted.

I didn't hear the back door open. Suddenly, my neighbor friend, Barb, stood in the center of the chaos. Her hands were on her hips, and she wore that take-charge-mama face that I'd seen her wear with her teenagers.

"What is going on here?" she asked. "That poor baby's cries are traveling clear across town."

No one answered, except for Logan, whose cries had grown raspy and jagged.

Barb looked at Lonny and Aunt Jane, still flipping Logan back and forth. She noticed my T-shirt, growing more deep red by the minute.

"This baby is over-stimulated. You're moving him back and forth like a Hacky Sack. Mama is tired and uptight." Then she walked over to Lonny. "Now put that baby down."

Lonny was surprised. But he listened. He walked to the cradle and set the tiny bundle inside.

Logan drew a few deep gulps of air. His arms and legs relaxed. His eyes closed, and his color returned to a healthy pink.

Barb turned to me. "Now you go shower while your baby is sleeping. Then you curl up on this sofa and take a rest, too."

Then she turned to Lonny and Aunt Jane. "Lonny, you go back to your work outside. Jane, it would be a good time to make dinner."

Lonny and Aunt Jane looked at one another. Then their eyes refocused on Barb. They knew she wasn't finished.

"Now when Logan wakes up, you keep busy. Let Shawnelle and Logan have some time. The baby will need to eat, and that only takes two. They have everything they need."

The room had grown quiet. Very, very quiet.

"Now I'm going home," Barb said. She turned and left, leaving the three of us bewildered. There was no sound except for the swoosh and click of the back door.

After a moment, Lonny broke the silence. "What just happened?" he asked.

"I don't know," I said. I peered into the cradle. Logan's breath had fallen into a sweet, peaceful rhythm. "But it worked."

Lonny shrugged. "Guess I'll go mow the lawn," he said.

"I'll peel some potatoes," Aunt Jane said. "And start the pot roast."

"I'm heading for the shower," I said.

We dispersed.

I climbed the stairs for the shower and shook my head. The house was so quiet, I could hear the creak of the steps.

I was grateful for Lonny and Aunt Jane's well-intended help. But mostly I was grateful for Barb, who walked into a household that roared like a lion and walked out of a household that was quiet as a lamb.
By Sherry Poff

I cannot forget my mother. She is my bridge. When I needed to get across, she steadied herself long enough for me to run across safely.
~Renita Weems

I sat in the dimly lit lunchroom next to Becky Bailey. Neither of us spoke as the chicken gravy and peas on the tray before us cooled and glazed over. We could hear our first-grade classmates out on the playground. Their laughter and shouts drifted in through the open door of our elementary school and down the stairs to where we sat at our table in the basement. We could go outside, we were told, when we had eaten some lunch.
I had never been forced to eat anything. When it came to meals, my mother operated on a rule handed down from her father: If you have to make children eat, it doesn't do them any good. I had led a very happy existence at home for nearly six years before entering school, cheerily eating oatmeal and my mother's big puffy biscuits for breakfast, peanut butter crackers for snacks, and beans, potatoes and cornbread for supper.

In the summer, Mom let me have all the fresh lettuce I wanted and baked plenty of crunchy cornbread to eat with green onions and sliced tomatoes. She took me to the garden to pick corn and cucumbers and then let me help pick and break green beans, which I ate with enthusiasm. Whenever we got a watermelon, Daddy cut it in big, plate-size slices and sprinkled salt on top. I slurped it up. There were many foods I loved. Chicken gravy, however, was something I would not like to try, and canned peas smelled funny. Becky didn't like them either.

So there we sat day after day, Becky with her blond curls and me with my straight, dark hair, side-by-side, closed-mouthed and silent. We knew the routine. When the bell rang signaling the end of recess, we would be allowed to empty our plates and go to class, where Mrs. Williams would sigh over us in exasperation and turn to write on the board.

One fateful day, in complete frustration I suppose, Mrs. Williams stopped me on my way to the large gray trashcans where I would rake out my plate. Grabbing my fork, she scooped up some spaghetti and pointed it at my mouth. I was stubborn, but not usually disobedient. She had caught me off guard. Without thinking, I opened my mouth and in went the spaghetti, now cold and slimy from sitting on my plate for nearly an hour. In a very few seconds, the spaghetti came out again, and with it what was left of my biscuits and oatmeal. Mrs. Williams grabbed my plate. "Go to the bathroom," she barked.

The entire lunchroom staff was disappointed. I think they worried about Becky and me. We were both little girls from the mountain hollows. I lived on Skinfork, and she was from Turkey Creek. The good ladies in the kitchen seemed to feel that it was part of their job to get some nourishing food in us. They did not see our mothers preparing our breakfast in the pre-dawn darkness or know that they would have supper waiting for us when we got off the bus in the evening. No one at our school ever brought lunch from home. So we ate in the lunchroom — or sometimes didn't eat, much to the dismay of the adults. And now I had created a real mess. It made me sad when Mr. Webb, the custodian, a nice man I liked, was called to clean up after me. Although he whistled cheerily and gave me a big wink, I knew that the clean-up was not fun.

On the bus ride home I thought about it again: the slimy spaghetti hitting my tongue, the sudden warmth rising from my stomach, and Mrs. Williams' look of horror and disgust. It felt awful. After weeks of hiding in the cloakroom, I had finally learned to like school, and now it was going badly. I told the story to my mom at home, getting ready for bed. She didn't have a lot to say, just some questions as she poured hot water from a steaming kettle into the big round tub for my bath: "What happened then? Did you go to class? How do you feel now?"

In just a few days it was time for a meeting of the Parent-Teacher Association. My dad didn't like to attend these events, but I could count on Mom to be there. I was so proud of her. Mom was tall and slim, with black curly hair and a lovely smile. She was quiet and a little shy, and — I later realized — felt somewhat inadequate, but she had business to attend to at the PTA meeting, so she went.

At night the dreaded lunchroom was transformed into a meeting hall. A stage at one end provided a platform for programs and speakers. After hearing us sing "Smokey the Bear" and recite Joyce Kilmer's "Trees," parents were dismissed to classrooms where they met with our teachers. Mom and I looked around the room, oddly unfamiliar in the evening. We found my desk, and I showed off my colorful pictures and handwriting samples. Then it was Mom's turn to talk with Mrs. Williams. After only a minute or two, we were ready to go.

I rode the bus to school the next day, just like always. I wrote in my writing pad with my fat red pencil, went to the bathroom in a line to wash my hands before lunch, and picked up my tray from the counter by the kitchen just like always. But something had changed. When I sat down with my food, I ate the warm, yeasty roll that I enjoyed, stirred my mashed potatoes, and even sampled a few bites, but when the time came to leave, no one held me back. I was allowed to rake my uneaten potatoes and meat loaf into the trash can, run up the stairs and out into the sunshine with the rest of my class. My mother — my beautiful, quiet, smart mother — had been to school and had left clear instructions for everyone: "Do not try to make Sherry eat."

воскресенье, 23 сентября 2012 г.

The Second Dress

By LaTonya Branham

A successful marriage requires falling in love many times, always with the same person.
~Mignon McLaughlin

My friend, Pam, and her business partner, Kim, were wedding planner consultants. They had coordinated some of the most beautiful weddings I had ever seen. Quite often, Pam and I would talk about upcoming weddings, colors, and her special clients. All of them were unique. I can clearly recall back to 1996 when Pam asked me to go with her to a few bridal shops to look for a gown. For some reason, the bride — one of Pam's newest clients — was out of town and did not have time to shop for a wedding dress that particular weekend. Pam told me that I was the same size as the bride-to-be, so she wanted me to go with her to try on dresses. "How fun!" I thought.
So off we went to Cincinnati, Ohio, to look for wedding dresses. When we arrived, Pam and I began to look at some of the most beautiful gowns. After trying on several dresses, we concluded that the cream-colored, fully beaded dress with a sweetheart neckline was the prettiest gown of all. The fit and style seemed to be just right according to Pam. It did not take long — this would be the recommended gown. Pam asked the store assistant to put it on hold, and then we left the store.

While riding home, I asked, "Why would a lady not have time to shop for her own wedding dress?"

Pam laughed and said, "She is just one of those women who will pay for other people to take care of her personal matters. But, in my mind, that is just too personal to relinquish to someone else."

Fast forward a year later. My husband and I had planned a vacation get-a-way that I was really looking forward to. My girlfriend, Dawn, knew that we were leaving in a few days so she offered to give me a pedicure. I accepted her kind offer because she was really good. It wasn't something that I had planned — I was ready to go!

The weekend arrived, and it was time. Morton, my husband of almost ten years, told me that we needed to go by the church before we left. That was typical because we are very involved in church ministries. When we arrived at the church, I saw my cousin coming out the back door. I thought, "She's not a member. What is she doing here?" We spoke briefly, and then she rushed off. Then Marty, a family friend and Pam's husband, came out of the church door and said, "Tonya, I need for you to go downstairs and see someone."

I looked for Morton as I proceeded downstairs, but he wasn't around. Then I walked into the church choir room. All of a sudden, people came out from the shadows and shouted, "Surprise!" I was stunned! Some of them were family members and friends. Then I spotted my cousin from Dallas, Texas, and I started to cry. "What is going on?"

Marty brought Morton into the room, and everyone was crying and laughing. And then Morton looked deeply into my eyes and said, "It's been ten years, Tonya. Would you marry me — again?"

Then Pam walked out with a wedding gown in her hand and hung it up for display. I cried, "YES! And that's the dress!" I glanced over at my mom and saw her looking at me with so much love and pride. She appeared speechless. More people walked into the room, and I realized it had turned into a bridal shower! Cameras were flashing, gifts were appearing, and people were hugging.

Pam said, "Okay, we have forty-five minutes for the shower, and then everyone must get dressed. Your wedding is in an hour!"

Later, Pam told me that it had all begun the previous summer when we were at Kings Island Amusement Park. While Marty and I were riding a roller coaster, Morton told Pam that he wanted to do something different for our tenth wedding anniversary. Since Pam was a wedding consultant, she agreed to help him. Many people became involved, and it seemed that everyone knew about this wedding except for me.

The shower was finally over. Out came the shoes, my veil, garter, hosiery, undergarments, jewelry, bouquets — everything! I was amazed. Within a few minutes, I was a bride again. I walked out the door, and my uncle Spunky greeted me. He was ready to walk me down the aisle and give me away — again! All of my bridesmaids and even a few new ones were all lined up and looking lovely. The colors were cream, gold, and black. Just dazzling!

The doors to the sanctuary opened to reveal a church filled with guests. Music was playing. My eyes were so full of tears that I could barely recognize the guests. As I made it down the aisle and stood with Morton, I looked out into the pews and zoomed in on my aunt from Dallas, Texas. There went the tears again… I didn't know that she was in town. Our friends from Virginia were in town as well. I think more men were amazed that Morton had pulled this off.

After the wedding, there was a wonderful reception with the most beautiful cake and décor. Ms. Shirley — a great friend and a wonderful cook — was the caterer. We ate and danced the night away. A day later, we drove to Suffolk, Virginia, with our friends. It was a beautiful time that I'll never forget. We now celebrate two anniversaries, and I have two wedding gowns.

суббота, 22 сентября 2012 г.

Running with Joy

By William Sanchez

It's not your finishing time that's important but the kind of time you have finishing.
~Art Castellano, Director New Jersey Marathon

While every marathon is 26.2 miles, New York's is special because of its sold-out field of 38,000 international participants, the thunderous cheers for the runners throughout the five-borough course, and -- well -- because it's New York City. The 2008 marathon was my second New York City Marathon and my fourteenth marathon overall. While it was my slowest marathon, it nevertheless would be one of my most memorable.
The day before the marathon, I had lunch with eighty-one-year-old Joy Johnson, who was about to run her twenty-first consecutive NYC Marathon -- a streak that very few have accomplished. Joy still had the competitive juices flowing through her, as a younger rival, a champion runner the prior year, had entered the eighty to eighty-five age group to challenge her for first place. Joy was determined to better her 2007 winning time. She had stepped up her training regimen, including fifty miles of running each week plus speed work, hill-repeats, and running on stadium steps. Joy had been coached by former Olympian Jeff Galloway and at the Dick Beardsley running camps. Indeed, I first met Joy at Jeff's annual summer camp where we bonded during breakfasts after the morning's wake-up jog. Because we were again enjoying each other's company at our lunch with family and friends, Joy asked me to "pace her," to stay close to her sub-six-hour goal for the marathon. I happily accepted the challenge.

On marathon Sunday, Joy was eager to run; I had to keep reminding her to slow down during the start and stay on the agreed pace. Our strategy was to run for 2 minutes and then to walk a stretch to conserve our legs and reduce the adrenaline rush. We had many bridges to cross before we would cross the finish line in Central Park near the Tavern on the Green. It was important that we conserve our energy. The start was across the two-mile-long Verrazano Bridge. We dashed through Brooklyn for the next eleven miles, followed by a quick hop over the Pulaski Bridge for a short visit to the borough of Queens. At mile 15 we pounded up the ramp of the 100-year-old 59th Street Bridge feeling groovy. We cantered this mile-long stretch leading back into Manhattan, our hearts pounding in anticipation of stepping onto First Avenue, where the largest and loudest bunch of fans waited for the runners and their final ten miles of the marathon. The sound of the cheers in many languages coalesced with the sight of all the colorful running outfits from France, Mexico, Japan, Spain, and other countries. We had huge smiles on our faces and goosebumps on our arms that had nothing to do with the cold, windy day.

Family and friends lined the avenue. We made time for quick hugs and nourishment of energy gels, concentrated paste that we call "vanilla frosting," washed down by water. As we made our way up the avenue, we knew the fastest runners had long gone by. It was now a people's run and the folks on the sidelines did not disappoint, her admirers shouting "Go Joy," and others cheering "Go CERT Will," the "CERT" a reference to my proudly worn embossed shirt honoring my volunteer colleagues in the Community Emergency Response Team.

Joy was on target for her sub-six-hour time when she got leg cramps after mile 18 that almost caused her to fall. Joy leaned on my arm as she pressed her fingers into the cramp but worried aloud that she was now out of the race. At this moment, my role changed from pacing Joy to helping her regain mental focus. I kept us moving and reached out for help. From another runner who had salt packets, Joy spilled some on the back of her hand and licked the salt to recoup sodium into her blood stream. Then, luckily, we spotted a local coach who always sported the biggest smile, cheering everyone on the course. We were relieved to realize he was holding "the stick" that runners use to massage cramped limbs. We did a quick stick massage on Joy's calf to break down the cramp. To my delight, Joy was receptive to my suggestions to change to a quick, short walking stride with head held high, back of neck elongated, eyes scanning ahead, shoulders relaxed, and arms swinging backwards as if hitting a bar with the elbows. Joy soldiered on and waited for her body to tell her when she could start to run again.

We finally trotted into the Bronx via the Willis Avenue Bridge, a tough spot as mile 20 is called the "runner's wall" that separates those who ran smart from those who were hurting. Since we had run smart, we galloped over the Madison Avenue Bridge back into Manhattan. Looping back into Central Park, we felt a surge of energy knowing we had only two miles to go. We left the park one last time at East 59th Street and, jogging towards Columbus Circle, we could see ourselves on the JumboTron. We did a quick check to be sure we were smear-free -- we wanted to look good for our finisher's photo. We did it -- and Joy was again first in her age group, shaving over 50 minutes from her 2007 win! When Joy jogged the final two miles, I had the biggest smile of all because I made a difference by being there for her, every step of the way.

With our finishers' medals draped over us, I escorted Joy to her midtown hotel and then I floated home to the East 60s. What kind of time did we have? Priceless!

Card Shop Quandary

By Shauna Hambrick Jones

Love is the ability and willingness to allow those that you care for to be what they choose for themselves without any insistence that they satisfy you.
~Wayne Dyer

I stood in the card shop in my little town. Normally, I took pleasure in picking out cards for celebrations and milestones. Today was different; it was the first Thursday in May.
The two annual events that I dreaded were Mother's Day and my mother's birthday. I treasure the cards I receive from my own son, whether homemade or store-bought. The problem is buying them for my mother, because it brings to the surface so much cynicism, dread, sadness and love, all entangled.

I found myself grabbing a card, reading the verses, then putting it back. I searched for nearly an hour to find a card that said what I felt. I didn't care about the design or the price. Objectively, the cards were quite suitable, sentimental and lovely. Subjectively, however, I felt insincere if I picked up a card that gushed "To The World's Best Mother" or "You Did Everything For Me."

I needed a card addressing the mother who left me with grandparents until I was nine years old, when my grandmother died. A verse for the mom who reentered my life for good after that death, bringing two younger brothers and a sister with her but not bringing fathers for any of us. A poem for the mother who went through the hell of alcoholism, abuse, poverty, a brief stint of homelessness, a bevy of questionable men and many run-down residences, all the while exposing her children to some harrowing situations.

The irony was that the card would also need to address the mommy who would snuggle me on her lap and read Dr. Seuss to me when she was around, thus igniting my lifelong passion for words. A poem for the momma who probably did questionable things just to provide food and keep us from being split apart by the welfare department. A sentiment for the mom who was simultaneously cool and immature, dressing in her teen daughter's clothing and sporting Def Leppard posters on her bedroom wall.

This mom who put her fist through the windows of her rented houses, yet kissed each of us children four times on the forehead before bedtime. The mom who found God only to lose Him again, which is a cycle she continues to this day.

I don't know why I cannot casually snatch up a pretty, lace-trimmed card, breezily sign my name and pop it in the mail. Perhaps it is because I feel that words are too precious to be trivialized and maybe, just maybe, so is my mother.

Candy-Apple Sweet

By B.J. Taylor

The secret of a happy marriage remains a secret.
~Henny Youngman

"Great drive!" one of my girlfriends remarked.
"Your longest yet," said another.

"Thanks," I replied sheepishly, as I put the head cover on and gently placed the golf club in my bag.

"What did you use?" one of the girls asked.

"Oh, it's a club from the garage."

"Let's see it."

I pulled it out and tugged the cover off. The candy-apple red head glistened in the bright sun, the black shaft accentuated the brilliant color.

"But that's a seven wood."

"Yeah, you know I can't hit a driver. I lose control of the big head on the down swing."

"Well, you hit that club further than all of us off the tee. Good job."

Weeks went by and I hit the sweet spot on that seven wood each and every time. It felt great to finally get some good drives down the fairway. But I knew it wouldn't last.

"You're really hitting that club well. Where'd you get it?"

"Ummmm," I hedged, not wanting to reveal the truth.

"Well, where did you buy it?"

"I didn't. It's my husband's club. And he doesn't know I have it."

"You didn't ask him if you could borrow it?"

"Nope, and if he finds out, I'm dead. He made the mistake of letting me use it once when we were playing together. I'd flubbed a shot off the tee so he handed me the seven wood and said, 'Here, try this.' So I did, and fell in love."

"So why can't you tell him you're using it?"

"When I asked him if I could borrow it he said no, it's a man's club with a graphite extra stiff shaft or something." I smiled, then added, "He probably thinks I'd wreck it."

My girlfriend started to laugh, then said, "So what are you doing -- sneaking it out of his bag?" She glanced at me sideways.

I looked at her. "He plays with the guys on Saturdays, and I play with you girls on Wednesdays. I pull it out of his bag after he leaves for work and I put it back as soon as I get home."

"And he can't tell that you've used it?"

"Not yet."

We finished that hole and went up to the next. I stuck the tee in the hard ground, placed my ball on top and adjusted my stance. Then I took careful aim with what I now called "my sneaky seven wood," then let the ball fly. It went quite a way, resting in the middle of the fairway with a great approach to the green. I began to walk back to the cart and flipped up the club to look at the bright red head. That's when I noticed a nick, probably from the wooden tee.

"Oh, man, look at that," I said to my girlfriend.

"You'd better polish that out," she replied.

Scrubbing the head and face of the club when I got home from a golf game became a weekly ritual. I tried different polishes to bring the luster back and to remove the scratches. I knew my husband only used it in the fairway, and scratches from a wooden tee would raise an eyebrow or two. He was sure to suspect something if it looked used.

Months later, even though I was keeping the club polished, guilt got the better of me. I wanted to tell him, but I didn't want to give up what was now my favorite club. "Honey," I said one afternoon, "remember when you let me use your seven wood off the tee? I want to get one of my own, just like it."

"That's a man's club, made for a man. It's not right for you."

Stiff shaft or not, it was perfect for me, but I couldn't tell him I'd been hitting with it for almost a year. "So where did you buy it?"

"I got it from a friend of mine who designed it specifically for me and my swing. It's one of a kind."

Later, I dug out the receipt and called his friend. He agreed to make a club for me, with the exact same specs as the one he made for my husband. And he agreed to keep it a secret.

A few weeks later, I picked it up. Candy-apple red head, black shaft -- a gorgeous club, just like the other one. That Wednesday I met the girls at the course.

"Guess what? I got a seven wood of my very own!" I shouted.

"But will you hit it as well?" they said. "We think you liked that club just because it was forbidden."

"You might be right. Let's see how this new one works today." I pulled out my brand new club and approached the tee. Just like before, I hit the sweet spot and sent the ball sailing through the air. "Magic!" I shouted.

"Well, you've got the number with that club. No need for you to ever get a driver. You hit that thing farther than all of us."

Did I ever tell my husband I used his club for almost a year? Nope. Some things a woman just has to keep a secret. And that sweet, candy-apple red club is one of mine.