пятница, 25 января 2013 г.

Antony's Gift

By Jenny Scarborough

Follow your passion, and success will follow you.
~Terri Guillemets

The bus rumbles down the street, jolting as it stops and starts. The first rule of riding public transportation in Baltimore is not to make eye contact, but I feel safer when I know my surroundings so I glance up and around quickly. I think I see a familiar face, but that's not possible since I very rarely ride this bus. I turn my gaze to the book I brought to shield me from the world.
Finally, the bus arrives at my stop, down the street from the bookstore where I work my second job. I am a temp at an insurance company during the day and then travel to this book and music shop to work nights in the music department, an ironic occupation since I am basically musically illiterate. But this job is only for the Christmas holidays, to get enough money to buy gifts for the family. I can handle it if I set my mind to it.

I step off the bus and go only three steps before I hear someone calling me, "Ms. Arvidson! Ms. Arvidson!" I haven't been addressed by my maiden name since June, and at first I don't even acknowledge it. "Ms. Arvidson, is that you?" The voice is more insistent now. I can't ignore it, so I turn and see a young man. As his name comes back to me, I am flooded with memories.
* * *

Antony was one of my students during my one and only year as a special education teacher working with juniors and seniors at an inner-city high school in Baltimore. I had spent two years in graduate school earning my teaching credentials, but I was miserable right from the start and the year was an emotional blur. On the fifth day, there was a shooting in the cafeteria. In October there was a lockdown that we all thought was due to the O.J. Simpson verdict being read, but was actually due to "gangbangers" roaming the hallways. I sat huddled alone in my classroom for lunch, listening to the sound of heavy running in the halls above me and the voice of a TV commentator in front of me.

The roll books showed twenty to twenty-five students enrolled in each of my class periods. My actual classes consisted of five regular attendees and three or four who came and went. Drug deals occurred in my classroom, but there was no support from the administration or the single police officer assigned to the school. I tried to teach my students the curriculum, but was told by the "powers that be" that I should concentrate on life skills such as filling out job applications because "none of these kids are college-bound and they just need to get jobs to pay bills." The unfortunate truth was that my students were not going to get traditional diplomas, but only certificates of attendance for their four years of high school.

For special education teachers, the goal was to get the students released from their Individual Education Plans, or IEPs, before graduation so they could get a "real" diploma. I found that my students had never been told or educated about their disabilities. I sat down with my regulars, told them what their disability was, and assigned a research project where they learned about their individual disability and discovered ways to cope with it. Many of my students learned about famous people who overcame disabilities and went on to be successful adults.

Although most of the students completed the assignment, few believed that they could overcome their disability. Most believed that they would never escape their environment. One young man actually quoted news stories and explained, "I don't know why you think we should go to college, I'm gonna be dead by the time I'm twenty-five anyway." I didn't know what to say.

But Antony was different. He worked incredibly hard and did an amazing research project. He presented it as a speech and his voice was reminiscent of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. His audience was held captive by the resonance and intonations he used naturally. This child who had been labeled as learning disabled had a wonderful gift. I did my best to help him recognize this, and by the end of the year he was released from his IEP. He was the only one of my students to receive a regular diploma that year. I was proud of him, but my heart was defeated. What about the others? I resigned at the end of year.
* * *

"Hi, Antony. How have you been?"

"Ms. Arvidson. I'm so glad I ran into you."

"What are you up to? Buying Christmas presents?"

"Yeah. I have a job and I've been saving up for a while. What are you doing here?"

What am I supposed to tell him? I quit teaching? I'm an emotional wreck? I feel like I didn't get through to my students? I need to re-evaluate where my career is headed? That's why I'm temping during the day and working at a job I hate at night? I'm a failure?

"I'm working a night job to get a little extra money, too," I say, finally.

"That's cool." He pauses, suddenly nervous. "Hey, I wanted to tell you something." A hint of excitement is in his voice.

"Okay," I say, cautiously curious.

"Well, first, I want to say thank you."

"For what?"

"For helping me graduate. For making me believe I could graduate."

My heart skips a beat. "You did that on your own," I say quickly. "You worked hard. You have a gift and you used it."

"But I didn't believe I could until you were my teacher. You're the one who made me see that I could do anything I wanted. That was you, not me." He shrugs and looks away.

"You chose to believe that. I couldn't get through to the others. I couldn't do what I was supposed to do...." My eyes begin to fill.

"I'm in college," he blurts out and gauges my reaction. I can't speak so he continues, rambling. "It's community college, but I'm studying music and speech. My favorite class is English because it reminds me of you and what you made me believe in." I say nothing. If I speak, my voice will break. He goes on, a bit uncertain. "Anyway, I wanted you to know that and I wanted to thank you. So, thanks."

"You're welcome, Antony. I'm so proud of you." These words are whispered. I turn away quickly and enter the music store. I rush to the restroom, unable to hold back the flood of tears. I shake; I sob; I laugh out loud. My mind is spinning like I'm on a carousel. After several minutes, I manage to pull myself together enough to get through my shift.

As soon as I get home that night, I frantically dig out my teaching portfolio. I turn to the philosophy of education statement I had naïvely written in grad school. When I get to the last line, my vision blurs, as I read: "If I can help change the life of one student then I have done my job."

I wasn't a failure after all. I've been a teacher ever since.

License to Smile

By Julie A. Havener

A cloudy day is no match for a sunny disposition.
~William Arthur Ward

Anyone who knows me well would almost certainly label me an optimist. I believe in embracing hope and finding something positive even in the most difficult circumstances. My own optimism stems from a strong, personal faith in a loving God who I believe is very interested in the personal details of our lives, not just the "big stuff." I also believe that things happen for a reason and that if we keep our minds and spirits open, our invisible God often becomes visible, sometimes in ways that are quite humorous!
With that being said, even optimists can temporarily lose hope. This was the case for me on a particularly cold and gloomy January day. I felt overwhelmed by the painful challenges I was dealing with in my personal life. Marital, health, and financial struggles had joined forces to create a tornado of emotion that threatened to crush my spirit. I felt angry, frustrated, burdened, and distanced from the presence of God. The weather seemed to reflect my mood — the gray sky blocked even a single ray of sunlight. As I drudged through my workday, I just couldn't shake a sense of hopelessness and despair.

About midway through the day, I left work to get some lunch. Still feeling pessimistic and negative, I noticed that the sun had come out for a brief moment. I began to think about my negative attitude and reminded myself that I was responsible for choosing my state of mind. While I could not ignore the pain I was going through, I could choose to dwell on the negative or I could choose to shift my thinking to a more positive focus. Even as I consciously reminded myself of this truth, I felt incapable of making the shift. So I gripped the steering wheel and prayed an honest, heartfelt prayer. "God," I cried, my tears ready to spill out, "where are you? I don't want to feel this way but I am miserable and hopeless today. Please lift me out of this dark, gloomy place!"

As I stopped at a red light, I looked at the car directly in front of mine. The personalized license plate caught my eye — it read "SUNZOUT." This brought an immediate smile to my face. It felt like a reminder from God that the sun was shining after all, and in the midst of the longest, darkest, coldest winter in years, this in itself was a blessing. But then my eyes moved to the car that was perfectly parallel to the SUNZOUT vehicle. The license plate on that car read "GROUCH." So as I read these two license plates side by side, I said out loud "SUNZOUT, GROUCH." This brought more than a smile to my face as I laughed out loud! Seeing the two very opposite license plates right next to each other at that exact moment in time also strengthened my previous recognition of my ability to choose my outlook despite my circumstances. I felt my spirits and mood lift as I made the conscious decision to choose a positive attitude.

I returned to work and shared my story with several co-workers who responded with warm laughter at what I referred to as my "message from beyond." I learned that day that when we are feeling too discouraged to bring ourselves out of a state of negativity, relief is only a prayer away!

Backseat Driver

By Kristen Nicole Velasquez

Make yourself familiar with the angels, and behold them frequently in spirit; for, without being seen, they are present with you.
~St. Francis of Sales

Six years ago my life seemed to be at a standstill. My faith was waning as I started questioning the painful events that had taken place throughout my life, even wondering whether God and the spirit world were real. I doubted myself, too. Was I a good mother? What was my purpose in this life?
I remember driving down the expressway with my four-year-old son, Dylan, headed toward Chicago with nothing but worries on my mind. As I drove, I asked myself questions. How was I going to pay my rent on time? Who was going to watch Dylan while I worked the next Saturday? And I reminded myself that my car needed an oil change.

Traffic came to a screeching halt. The freeway always jammed up just before the famous Chicago bottleneck, where basically four lanes merge into one. As my car stopped, I heard a voice in my left ear shout, "TURN RIGHT, NOW!"

Without hesitation my hands gripped the steering wheel, my foot hit the gas pedal, and I quickly steered my car onto a truck-stop ramp conveniently located directly to my right.

Seconds later I heard a loud squealing noise. I looked toward the spot where we had been and saw a large Cadillac smashing into the green car that had been in front of us before I swerved from that lane.

The entire back end of the green car looked like an accordion. I couldn't breathe. That could have been us!

The thought of almost losing my son or something terrible happening to him made me feel sick to my stomach.

I checked my rearview mirror, praying that Dylan was okay, as if we were victims of the accident. To my surprise, he was happily playing with his Spider-Man action figure making swooshing noises as if Spider-Man was swinging from building to building.

Still alarmed, my focus quickly turned to the road. My defensive driving mode kicked in. My hands gripped both sides of the steering wheel and I continued to watch my surroundings. What just happened? Whose voice did I hear? Were the other drivers okay? And how was I able to respond so quickly?

The voice had been that of a man's. It sounded human. And it was loud. It was as if someone sitting in the back seat on the driver's side had leaned over, put his mouth to my left ear and shouted those three words. "Turn right, now!"

I hadn't even given myself time to think or wonder if I was hearing things. I reacted instantly as if guided by someone else.

The only explanation was that an angel had intervened that day for two reasons. First, my son and I were supposed to be unharmed and on a safe path. And second, to confirm that God and angels do exist and that everything was going to be okay for my son and me. I truly believe this was God's way of getting my attention and helping me reconnect with Him.

Immediately after the accident, I quickly became a believer again. I no longer questioned my reason for living. Since then, life has become less complicated and I try not to sweat the small stuff. Although I may never know exactly whose voice spoke to me that day, I'm convinced it was my own guardian angel.

The Rainbow

By Elsie Schmied Knoke

And as he spoke of understanding, I looked up and saw the rainbow leap with flames of many colors over me.
~Black Elk

1995 was a bad year; my husband of forty-eight years died in August, then four months later my mother died. What was I supposed to do now after caring for him for ten years, and helping with Mother's care? Lonely days and nights stretched endlessly. Dark and dreary thoughts constantly filled my mind. If I slept at all, I had nightmares. One day my pastor invited me to his Grief Support Group and I went, reluctantly, and met others who shared their feelings, how they coped. Finally, in an effort to dispel the depression that threatened, I resolved to turn my mind to other things, to seeing the beauties of nature, beginning with my first ocean cruise. I was hesitant to travel alone, so I invited four of my teenaged granddaughters for company. On a lovely sunny day in June we boarded Holland America's Nieuw Amsterdam in Vancouver and headed for Alaska. The two older girls, sisters, shared one cabin. The other two bunked with me.
Each morning I awoke before the girls, walked the decks, and savored the sights, smells, and sounds of the ocean. The girls and I took in all the shows, went on three shore excursions, marveled at hundreds of bald eagles in the wild, and even walked on the Mendenhall Glacier. When they were occupied with teen activities, I relished my moments on deck and tried to banish the dark thoughts and nagging concerns. Watching the soothing waves helped.

For weeks I had debated and prayed about what was happening in my life. My greatest concerns were about the nice widower I had met in the Grief Support Group. I saw him at church each Sunday. He phoned occasionally to chat. We went to dinner and a movie once, riding in the red Firebird he was so proud of. He tolerated my depressed moods and bouts of tears and even managed to make me laugh a few times. But was I being fair to take up so much of his time? I couldn't forget that my husband had been dead less than a year. What was I doing? I was almost seventy. What would my children think? I needed a sign, but the rolling waves of the Inland Passage never showed me any.

The morning our ship sailed into Glacier Bay, I dressed quietly and hurried to the Promenade Deck. Alaskan time was four hours earlier than at home, so despite the ship's clock saying it was 4:00 A.M., my built-in clock insisted it was 8:00 A.M. I walked briskly around the deck and watched the ocean and the lightening sky. On my first turn around the bow I spied a brilliant rainbow spanning the western sky. I was almost afraid to hope, but I couldn't help wonder if this were the answer to my prayers.

Martha, another widow, joined me on my next lap. She also had a knotty problem: deciding whether to surrender her independence and move in with her lonely sister, who had recently lost her husband. We had discussed our respective dilemmas two or three times on previous days without coming any closer to conclusions. Now as we rounded the bow, we admired the intense colors of the rainbow.

"Martha, I wonder -- do you think this could be God's sign for us? You know, like when he showed the rainbow to Noah?" I asked.

"I don't know," she said, "but if it's still there on our next lap, I'll consider it." Our rainbow continued to brighten the sky on subsequent laps, fading only when we went inside for breakfast. We ate in silence, but I felt more relaxed and at peace than I had in weeks.

I spent the entire day on deck, drinking in the glaciers, the blues and greens of the ice, each from different decades, even different geological ages. The summer day was warm, the sky a clear cerulean, the water a mirror, as if posing for reflecting pictures and broken only by the occasional otter splashing playfully in the ocean. Ice walls towered above the ten-story deck, their beauty demonstrating once again God's majesty.

When we docked in Ketchikan, I phoned my widower friend, Cal, but didn't mention what had happened. He was cordial and offered to pick me up at the airport on my return. Cal is a retired engineer, an avid woodworker, and a bicyclist who loves to travel. He and his late wife had not been able to do so during her many illnesses any more than I had been able to travel during my husband's illnesses.

When I returned from our cruise, he visited my house often and I soon realized I was developing strong feelings for him. But I never put a name to our relationship until the night my daughter phoned. When I mentioned I had been out to dinner with Cal, she exclaimed, "Mother! You never told me you were dating!" She sounded happy.

During the rest of that year we attended plays and the ballet and took day trips to state parks in the area in his Firebird. He often brought me flowers; he became very affectionate. In January, Cal knelt down on one knee and proposed marriage. I accepted. After consulting with our pastor, we set a date in April, sold our homes and bought one together. Our wedding arrangements were overseen by the watchful eye of the congregation, some of whom even threw us a shower. In our joy, we invited the entire church membership to attend the ceremony.

Tennessee's spring in 1997 was at its most glorious. The redbuds and dogwoods put on a spectacular show for our northern guests while Southern magnolias and azaleas burst with crimson and white blossoms. All seven of our children flew in from distant parts of the country to participate; his sisters and their families drove down from the Midwest; two of his cousins came from Ohio and Missouri. My late husband's brother and his wife drove in from across the state.

On the day of our wedding, it rained lightly at intervals, but the sun finally showed itself in time for our evening ceremony. When my brother arrived to escort me to the church, we both marveled at the glorious rainbow in the eastern sky. I may have had doubts that the rainbow I saw in Glacier Bay was a sign, but I firmly believe that this one on our wedding day was showering God's blessing on us.

Cal and I have been married for twelve years now and each day our joy and love grow deeper. He still brings me flowers. No more dark thoughts plague me.

We spent our honeymoon on a Caribbean cruise, trying nightly to count the millions of stars and watching the Hale-Bopp comet process regally across the sky. Together, we experienced both the rough Atlantic and calm Pacific oceans on our recent voyage through the Panama Canal. On the last night aboard, we had the rare pleasure of viewing a full lunar eclipse away from all city lights. One year we plan to share the beauties of a different Alaskan cruise. God has been good to us.

The New Teacher

By Dorothy K. LaMantia

"For this is what the LORD, the God of Israel, says: 'The jar of flour will not be used up and the jug of oil will not run dry until the day the LORD sends rain on the land.'" She went away and did as Elijah had told her. So there was food every day for Elijah and for the woman and her family.
~1 Kings 17:14-15

"You look like you've had a toothache for the last six weeks," said Nancy. "Are you okay?"
"Oh, sure. I'm just tired," I lied, unwilling to admit to a co-worker that my becoming a teacher was a mistake and that I doubted I would last that first year. Making it to November looked uncertain.

During the job interview, I impressed the principal and the English supervisor with confidence and enthusiasm — even when they explained that the students assigned to me would be difficult, and the program lacked a curriculum and books. The supervisor promised, "Don't worry. I'll mentor you. We'll work together."

On the eve of my first day, my mentor handed me a box of discarded books and said, "You might find something useful here." She paused, and then blurted, "Dorothy, I'm sorry. I've accepted another job. I won't be here to help you." She headed to her office to pack, leaving me stunned, though unshaken.

But Day One shook me. Teachers say the first weeks are easy, with students eager to make a good impression. My students' glazed eyes, sullen faces, and rude responses hinted we would have no honeymoon. Still, I believed my upbeat attitude would carry me. But it held no sway over kids biding their time until they could quit school forever. I shopped for motivational strategies and educated myself on teaching at-risk children. But the struggles only escalated. Within two weeks, a lump in my throat and a tightness in my gut were constant.

One Sunday, I was scheduled to read the Scripture passages at church. When I opened my Bible to rehearse, I found the assigned verses in Chapter 17 of the Book of Kings. The widow of Zarephath, expecting that she and her son would die of starvation, received this promise from the prophet Elijah: "The jar of flour will not be used up and the jug of oil will not run dry..." The knot in my stomach loosened at the words, "So there was food every day for Elijah and for the woman and her family." In those words, I detected a sign that translated into "Don't worry. You'll make it until June."

At school, the kids and the job did not change that much. But I did, as I claimed God's promise and faced each day with strength and confidence. Nancy even noticed that I was smiling again. Several weeks later, the principal stopped to say, "I am impressed. Yesterday, I stood outside your door. I never saw a teacher get as much out of those kids as you did."

"Thank you, sir," I answered. But to the One who is truly in charge, I prayed, "Thank you, God, for the graces to recognize that I only have the power to change myself and to know that with your help I can meet any challenge life sets before me."

My Prayer

Lord, help me be mindful that the little things I do every day when I am teaching others, I do for you. Thank you for allowing me to fulfill my spiritual gift of teaching and to become a better Christian in the process.


Send Cookies

By Jean Davidson

Yes, I'll admit it. I cried when my daughter went to college. A mother-in-mourning, I curled on her bed hugging one of her little pink teddy bears. When she finally called to say — in a voice radiating sheer joy — that she was unpacked and settled, I got up, baked her some cookies, and moved on with life.

Two years later, the scenario replayed itself when our older son packed his car and headed to college. I felt like my heart was broken. Like a good mother, I carefully researched and wrote out a list of every possible place along the route where he could find friends and refuge. I even called people and told them he might show up on their doorstep. He, too, phoned to say he had arrived safely and was excited about his new beginnings. I got up, baked him some cookies, and moved on with life.

Then our younger son turned seventeen and announced he intended to enlist in the Marines. Nothing — and I do mean nothing — could have prepared me for that bombshell, no pun intended. A huge lump of steel dropped straight into my stomach and lodged itself there.

"No," I gasped. "You're just a boy."

"Mom, I'm almost out of high school," he argued. "Besides, I've already talked to the recruiter."

I waited for my husband to say something like: "No, not only no, but NO!" Instead, all I saw was a father's beaming grin.

Granted, no wars were going on at the time, a fact the boy made certain I knew. But why had my quiet, tender-hearted son decided to be a Marine? This time I didn't wait until he drove off into the sunset. I broke down and cried right there on the spot.

Fortunately, a calmer head prevailed. My husband, an Army veteran, took it upon himself to educate our son in the whys and wherefores of military service — including the fantasies and realities of boot camp as well as the loneliness of being far from home and family. When our son grinned with anticipation, I knew I had lost not only the battle, but the war.

In the end, we did sign the early enlistment form — after he fully investigated all branches of the military, finally choosing the Air Force. With utmost care, he studied the calendar and made certain he could finish boot camp and be home for up-coming events, like his sister's wedding in October, and all important holidays.

At the end of summer, he boarded a plane for Texas.

"Mom," he informed me, "Don't be sending me stuff, okay? And don't be writing. It will make me look like a wimp."

I gulped and nodded, all of my motherly instincts squashed. When he left, I bawled like a baby. Except he did not call to say he arrived safely. That would not have been soldierly, I guess. A week crept by before he rang.

"Hey, Mom. I'm here. I'm fine. I hate boot camp!"

My heart soared. He wanted to come home. Not.

"Send cookies," he begged. "And write letters. Lots of letters. Everybody is getting mail but me!"

I baked and mailed cookies before day's end.

When boot camp ended, our son prepared to come home as planned. Instead, our phone rang and, while a horn honked in the background, he told us he was being transferred.

In the wee hours of the morning, he called again. His voice cracked with uncertainty. "Mom, I'm somewhere in Florida and I don't know what I'm supposed to do. I only have $10 and I haven't eaten since morning. I'm starved."

Now large and in charge, I gave instructions on "how to survive far away from Mommy" and told him to call me from the new base as soon as he could.

Suffice it to say, in the weeks following, he missed his sister's wedding, his birthday celebration, Halloween parties, Thanksgiving, and – yes — Christmas with the family. Our holidays were significantly subdued.

In January, his training completed, our son came home to visit. He stepped from the car dressed in crisp blue, his long blond hair replaced by a crew cut, his slouched shoulders replaced by a straight, proud stance. I admit it, I cried again. My little boy had come home a man.

Here I offer simple words of inspiration to other parents. Be brave. Cry a little or cry a lot. Above all, hitch your resolve to the future — for that's the direction your kids are headed.

Send cookies... and move on with life.

воскресенье, 20 января 2013 г.

Working the Obama Inauguration

By Ella Damiano

Safety doesn't happen by accident.
~Author Unknown

It's been sort of a whirlwind.
~Barack Obama

Sometimes everything comes together and you get to combine all the things you love in one day. That happened to me when my friends and I who work in our student-run emergency response service were given the chance to be volunteer EMTs at the inauguration of President Barack Obama. Since I had worked on the Obama campaign and am very interested in government, this was a great opportunity to combine my interest in health care with my interest in politics. Plus it was a very exciting time in Washington and it was a privilege to be part of it all.

In December, all of the volunteers were trained to deal with various health crises that could arise on the big day. The training was impressive and comprehensive, and it was reassuring to see how officials from the DC police and other security agencies were paying attention to every detail. Luckily, we did not have to use most of what we were taught.

Inauguration Day came and we left Georgetown at four in the morning to reach our deployment location. We were then bussed to various locations in DC so that we could get to our first aid stations in time for the crowds to arrive.

Some people were assigned to the Capitol, a great spot, but we felt lucky too. We kept looking for the "aid tent" that we were assigned to, but we couldn't find it. It turned out that we were assigned to City Hall — indoors! Our team was responsible for the people who were at viewing parties on all six floors of the Wilson Building, which houses Mayor Fenty and the city administration. We also aided spectators who came in from the cold, mainly children suffering from hypothermia.

We had been given ID cards that enabled us to circulate more freely than the general public during the ceremony and parade. It was very hard to move around Washington that day, but with our IDs we were able to pass all the security checkpoints and boundaries. That came in handy when we were walking to our station at the Wilson Building, because it is at the corner of Pennsylvania Avenue and 14th Street, and Pennsylvania Avenue was closed to everyone but uniformed personnel.

The ability to cross Pennsylvania Avenue came in handy at one point when I took care of a young boy with a fever and an ear infection whose parents were frantically trying to cross Pennsylvania Avenue to get their sick child back to their hotel. They had walked what felt like miles to them, unsuccessfully trying to cross, and I was able to show my ID and get the barricades moved to escort them across the street and get them back to their hotel.

I know I made a contribution on Inauguration Day, but I felt a little guilty about being warm, and having a great viewing spot, while other people stood in the cold for hours and could barely see anything. It was really a lucky break.

The best part of the day for me was interacting with such a large number of patients. Being an EMT normally involves a lot of waiting around — some days there are only one or two calls in an eight-hour shift — so I enjoyed all the patient contact. It was also great working with all the EMTs who came in from so many other jurisdictions — we are all trained differently, and as a student I learned a lot from the more experienced EMTs, as well as from all the nurses and physicians who headed up our team that day.

When my assignment ended at six in the evening, I was exhausted, but thrilled to have been a part of such an important and inspiring event, and relieved that it had all gone so well. I made my way back to Georgetown and finally caught up on my sleep.

Life Changes

By Peter D. Springberg, M.D.

Your body is the baggage you must carry through life. The more excess the baggage, the shorter the trip.
~Arnold H. Glasgow

"Dad," I said, via phone to Florida, "I've given away lots of Paul's stuff, kept the few things that we need to save, but don't have any idea where his car might be. Any ideas?"
While everyone else in the family had lived past ninety, my brother had managed to defeat his heredity by gaining over 50 pounds and dying of a heart attack at age fifty-seven. A pedestrian found Paul lying on a street in Skokie, Illinois near where he lived. I'd come to clean out his apartment and I couldn't find his car.

Dad suggested, "Look in the parking lot of the nearest Kentucky Fried Chicken."

It was there! I decided on the spot it was time to change my own diet. I wanted to emulate the long-lived members of my small tribe. Though I weighed only a few pounds more than I had in high school, the distribution of those pounds had shifted some... actually a bunch.

I was fifty-three, had been exercising moderately on a regular basis and eating a fairly reasonable mix of foodstuffs. I shifted to more fruits and vegetables and ate considerably less red meat. My wife, Lynnette, was a lifetime member of Weight Watchers — one of their success stories. She had lots of suggestions!

Two years later I was sitting in the cafeteria of a very large Air Force hospital where I was a senior physician and overheard two nurses talking about the latest fad diet. One planned to lose 10 pounds before the holiday season. I remembered that the previous year she had gone on a different fad diet, lost 12 pounds and then gained 15 back. Then and there I invented my own lifetime diet.

When I got home that day I asked Lynnette to hear my ideas, partly to see if she was interested in trying the plan with me. I weighed 177, only three pounds more than usual, but that was well up from my college wrestling weight of 155 and my waistline measurement was three or four inches larger than I wanted.

"Here's my plan," I said. "Basically I'm going to eat less and do more, but I've come up with three ideas that form the centerpiece of the diet part of my regimen."

"I'm perfectly happy with my Weight Watchers plan," Lynnette said, "but tell me what your three ideas are."

"First, I'm abandoning the Clean Plate Club; I'll cut off a part of everything served to me and not eat it. Second, I need to quit snacking; I'm going to put our microwave popcorn container on the kitchen island with a bright red measuring cup on it and use that as a signal to STOP my frequent trips to the refrigerator. And third, I'll quit eating after supper even if we're at a party."

Twelve years have passed and I'm lighter than I've been since I was in eighth grade. When I see the red measuring cup, I say, "You Dummy!" and turn back at least 95 percent of the time; once in a while I eat some popcorn without butter or salt. I routinely pre-eat some fruit and cereal and then none of the goodies at parties.

As usual, I took things to extremes and started pushing my exercise, originally on a recumbent bike, later by hiking on mountain trails. Now that we're living in Fort Collins, Colorado at 5,190 feet, it's much easier to adapt to even higher altitudes. Recently, at age 68, I hiked up to 12,000 feet twice. I've got a third similar excursion planned with our friend Maggie, an accomplished mountain hiker, as my companion.

Next year I hope to hike one or more of Colorado's "14ers." We have 54 mountains that are over 14,000 feet high and 14 of those are rated as moderate hikes, ones I think I might be able to accomplish using good boots and hiking poles.

I'm working on next summer's expedition already. I've got a Base Camp with Lynnette and two friends, Maggie as our group leader and one other guy who wants to climb with us.

When I weighed 153.2 pounds one morning, under my intermediate goal of 155, I took a break from the diet and ate an appetizer, a full dinner meal, and a custard dessert at our favorite Thai restaurant. I've broken my diet plan into five-pound decrements, stick closely to my three ideas until I reach an intermediate goal, and then relax for a few days to a week.

Lynnette bought me a digital scale and I weigh myself every morning and keep a log of my progress. If I gain three pounds over a goal, I go back on the strict version of the diet; the weight melts off in a day or two.

My experience so invigorated me that I wanted to share it with others. I've started writing a short diet book, while Lynnette, who is the kind of cook who can fling together wonderful dishes from scratch, is adding the recipes.

Most people can't be as active as I am, but I've come up with suggestions for everyone. I park far away from stores, so I have a longer walk to get there. I hide the TV remote so I have to get up to change channels. And I'm deliberately absent-minded, so I make more trips upstairs to my den to get things.

As I neared the end of my first hike to 12,000 feet, I felt my brother climbing right beside me. I knew Paul would be glad to see how he'd changed my life.

пятница, 18 января 2013 г.

A man without shoes

Today, as I was riding a transit bus from Unicity to downtown, I did not realize that I would be a witness to something amazing.

The ride was, as usual, long and uneventful, until we reached the corner of Portage and Main Street. That's when the driver pulled over. This, of course, surprised all of the passengers on the bus. But, what happened next still brings tears to my eyes.

The bus driver jumped off the bus to chat with a man that looked to be down on his luck; by all accounts, a homeless man. I first thought the driver was going to offer the man a ride until our driver took off his own shoes and gave them to the man on the sidewalk.

That is when I realized that the man the driver was chatting with was barefoot. The bus was dead silent. I think we were all stunned and speechless. As we proceeded to our next stop, one of the passengers got up to speak to the driver.

"That was the most amazing thing she had ever seen. Why did you do that?"
"I just couldn't stand the thought of that poor man walking without shoes," the bus driver answered.

Wow. No judgment. It was just, "Here buddy, you need these more than I do."

There wasn't a dry eye on the bus. All the passengers were moved by this bold and selfless gesture.

Now, a homeless man will have shoes for his feet because of a bus driver's random act of kindness.

Not bad for a Tuesday morning in downtown Winnipeg.


Here Come the Brides

By Annmarie B. Tait

Once in a while, right in the middle of an ordinary life, love gives us a fairy tale.

"How do you feel about a winter wedding, Annie? January 14th is the only weekend I can get away," he said.
"January 14th?" I said.

"Well, if that date doesn't work I'm afraid it will be another six months before I'll be able to take time off."

In those days the United States Navy had the last say in any plans that we made. But this one time, it didn't matter a lick to me. My parents had gotten married on January 14th, 1948, while my father was in the Marines, and now I would marry my Navy man on January 14th, 1984. I liked the idea of that and I knew my parents would be honored by it as well.

"Annie? Are you there? Is January 14th okay with you?"

"Yes, Joe. January 14th sounds perfect."

"Okay Annie, I'll fill out the request. I'd better go, long distance is expensive and we have a wedding to pay for now."

I laughed and we said our goodbyes. With Joe in San Francisco and me in Philadelphia, three thousand miles separated us but in my heart the miles started shrinking away as soon as the date was set.

The next day I went over to my parents' house bursting with my wonderful news. I expected my parents would be happy for us and get a chuckle out of the date, but it never occurred to me that Mom would be so touched.

In 1948 circumstances dictated that a traditional wedding was not in the cards for Mom and Dad. The priest performed the service at three-thirty in the afternoon on a Wednesday at the parish church. My father looked dashing in his dress blues and Mom's ensemble included a winter white wool suit with brown suede pumps, brown gloves and a smart winter white felt hat trimmed in a braided gold cord.

The guest list included my grandparents, the best man and the maid of honor. Directly following the service they went across the street to a photography studio and had their wedding portrait taken. Then it was off to a local restaurant where the reception dinner was served to a group of twelve. By eight o'clock that same evening the party was over and the marriage well on its way to a fifty-two year run until by death they did part.

My mother recounted the events of their wedding day and their two-day honeymoon at Haddon Hall in Atlantic City, New Jersey many times over the years. Never once did she utter a lament that it was not the fairytale wedding most brides dream about. They had the wedding they could afford and found their pleasure in building a home and raising five children.

"Yes, Mom. You and Daddy are going to get all dressed up and go to a big party on your next anniversary!"

"I can hardly wait," she said. "It will be a first." And I saw in her eyes just the tiniest glimmer of excitement that she would at last experience a bit of a fairy tale even if only from the sidelines.

"Let the planning commence, Mom!"

Joe and I decided from the start to keep the wedding small and affordable. We had no intention of asking anyone to help us pay for anything. Our guest list totaled sixty in all and with Joe three thousand miles away I had nothing but free time to shop for the best prices, from the caterer to the wedding dress, and every item and service in between. Mom's nose for sniffing out a bargain came in mighty handy too. It was such a comfort to have her there to help plan. Goodness knows the groom wasn't available and she was so tickled to be a part of making decisions.

We looked to save money in every way that we could. When it came time to shop for my wedding dress just by chance we found a beautiful gown marked down from nine hundred dollars to ninety-nine because it had been altered and the bride never picked it up. When I tried it on it fit like a glove.

"Mom, maybe it's a bad omen that the bride didn't pick it up. Maybe it would be bad luck to buy it."

We stared at each other in silence for about ten seconds and then we both burst out laughing.

"Don't be crazy," she said. "That dress has your name written all over it."

It did too, from the Queen Anne neckline to the leg-o-mutton sleeves, clear to the beautiful train trimmed in lace with floral appliqués.

We joked about the fact that her lovely dusty rose chiffon gown cost more than twice the price of my wedding dress. And she looked stunning in it too. It turned out that she was the one who went to have her dress fitted, not me. Mine didn't need so much as a hem. It was such a pleasure to see the seamstress fuss over her. My mother spent a lifetime making do with what she had so that one or the other of us could have a new dress or new shoes or whatever was needed. It was her turn to be a princess and my pleasure to watch.

When we arrived at the church on the big day I stood in the vestibule with Mom, Dad and the bridesmaids as the last of the guests were seated. Mom's panicked expression was priceless when she saw my fiancé Joe standing at the altar with the groomsmen by his side ready for the ceremony to start.

"What are they doing? Who is going to take me to my seat?" she said.

"I think it should be your handsome groom, Mom."

Daddy stepped toward her and she slipped her hand around his arm. Though he wasn't wearing his dress blues, Daddy cut a fine figure in his white tie and tails.

"I feel like Cinderella, Annie," Mom whispered.

"Cinderella was just make believe, Mom, and for us this day is a dream come true."

Down the aisle they went, the handsome groom and his beautiful bride in her dusty rose chiffon gown thirty-six years to the day after they were first wed. Every eye in the church was upon them as Mom had her moment in the sun. It was our little secret though. Mom and Dad insisted on no fanfare regarding their anniversary. Once Mom was seated Daddy came back for me and we followed the bridesmaids up to the altar where Joe was waiting to take the hand of his own bride.

Joe and I shared eighteen wedding anniversaries with Mom and Dad before heart disease took my father from us. Two years after that my mother was gone as well.

Flipping through our wedding album it's easy to see the bride, but whenever I look I always see two.

Mustard Seed Angel

By Patricia Morris as told to Lisa Dolensky

If you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, "Move from here to there," and it will move. Nothing will be impossible to you.
~Matthew 17:20

I never expected to be a young mother with a seriously ill child, much less at a world-renowned pediatric and research hospital. But then again, does any parent or child?
Like many other families there, we found immediate comfort with the caring staff and family accommodations, which even extended to lodging the child's healthy siblings. The hospital's mission? Discover cures and lengthen lives. Such miracles did happen there. However, other miracles were also occurring, often unseen by adult eyes, but thankfully claimed and witnessed through the eyes of children.

During one of our hospital stays, I wanted to have a heart-to-heart talk with another young mother in a similar situation. The well siblings were away playing in a nearby staff-supervised area while our sick children received treatments. I confided, "I could really use some time to talk without little ears to overhear."

It was such a release to share worries and encouragement with a kindred spirit. We soon found ourselves discussing mustard seed faith and what Jesus had said in scripture. "I tell you with certainty, if you have faith like the grain of mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, 'Move from here to there,' and it will move, and nothing will be impossible to you." Matthew 17:20 (ISV)

Suddenly, my new friend's response was interrupted mid-sentence by her healthy preschool son bursting through a swinging door from the adjacent community kitchen. He grinned from ear to ear and excitedly handed his mother a small jar. He was too young to read and we both could hardly believe the spice container labeled, "Mustard Seed."

"Matthew, where did you get this?" she asked.

"The big boy angel in the kitchen told me to give it to you."

We both stood motionless, temporarily frozen with mouths and eyes wide open in awe. My heart instantaneously warmed with indescribable joy.

Seconds later, Matthew led us to the empty room where he had seen the big boy angel, on a wall mural of handprints made by children once treated there. Chills rippled over us. Looking at all the painted handprints with each accompanying name, date, and diagnosis, we couldn't help but wonder. Could our mustard seed angel's handprints be somewhere on that wall?

Our gazes met the clock and we realized it was, unfortunately, all too soon, time for us to resume our schedules. We talked and walked to the elevator pondering the coincidences of the angel, mustard seeds, scripture reference from the book of Matthew and the angelic message given to her little boy, coincidentally named Matthew.

Overwhelmed, we glanced at one another saying, "Do you really think...?"

The empty elevator doors opened and we could hardly believe what awaited us as we stepped inside... little, white floating feathers filled the air all around us. They tickled smiles upon our surprised faces and touched our souls with promise.

Feathers from an angel? Heaven only knows.

All we did know for certain was that there was only one place for our elevator and hopes to go... "Up!"

No Accident

By Christine Trollinger

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

Nothing was going right that morning. My husband was due to be released from the hospital after cancer surgery and I was frantic to get everything done before I picked him up. The electric bill was overdue. I had to get to their office and get it paid before noon or they would turn off the electricity. I had totally forgotten about it in the couple of weeks of turmoil we had been through. I had just gotten the air conditioning fixed that morning, so I was running late after waiting for the repairman.
Trying to calm myself and get to the electric company before the deadline, I got my purse and checkbook and headed out to pay the bill. I kept telling myself to calm down. "God is in His heaven and He is going to see us through this."

As I drove downtown, I decided to take the scenic route beside the old cemetery. For some reason it always comforted me to pass by there. It was a special cemetery in our town that went back to the Civil War days. Cole Younger of the notorious James-Younger Gang was buried there as well as many of the town's founding fathers. As I drove past the cemetery, I mused about what a nice and decent Christian man Cole had become after his release from jail. He became a mentor for troubled youth and everyone called him "Uncle Cole." He was also one of the founding fathers of the early Youth for Christ in our area. That is why our town held Cole Younger Days every year. He had done a lot of good for our little town, and we strove to keep those memories alive.

As I drove past the cemetery I said a little prayer for all of our deceased ancestors who were buried there. Just as I reached the corner of the cemetery a car came barreling through the stop sign. All I saw was a flash of brown before it was going to hit my driver's side door. I remember thinking "Oh! God save me." The next thing I knew my little four-cylinder car took off like a rocket. It was almost surreal how fast it sped up. Then I came to a stop in the yard on the opposite corner of the road. I looked up and saw the other car also stopped in the yard. Inside were a woman and a little girl.

We got out and looked over our cars, and amazingly there were no scrapes or damage to either car or ourselves. As we stood there musing how lucky we were, the little girl said, "Mommy did you see the angels pushing our cars?" We started giggling that, yes there were angels around us, just to humor her. Then we noticed a large beer truck that had pulled to the curb. The driver came over to see if we were all right. His face was completely white as he exclaimed, "I never believed in angels but I sure do now. I was right behind you and saw that there was no way for you to avoid the collision. Suddenly there were angels all around your cars. I saw the cars actually pass through one another and yet there isn't a scratch on any of you or your cars."

Amazing. A child and a stranger had seen what neither of us had figured out. We knew we were very lucky but had no idea how blessed we had been. God is in His Heaven and His angels are watching over us.

A Stranger's Eyes

By Mary Eileen Oakes

People see God every day; they just don't recognize him.
~Pearl Bailey

I was twenty-five. I had a rewarding job and a close circle of friends. I was loved by my family. I had a good education, food on the table, and a roof over my head. I was healthy. It looked like I had everything, but I was just going through the motions. I was lonely.

The night that I became aware that there was something missing from my soul was on a cross-country driving adventure with my sister. As we drove across the flat darkness of Kansas, she described a feeling that someone was always with her, guiding her. She felt as if there was a greater force that comforted her. After a long philosophical conversation, she fell asleep as I drove. I secretly cried that night.

My downward spiral of doubt, pain, and sadness continued until one night, as I lay awake, the phone rang. My sister was calling to let me know that my brother and his wife were on their way to the hospital to deliver their first baby three months early. As my sister-in-law was rushed in for emergency surgery, my brother stood alone and scared in the sterile, pale blue hallway. When I arrived, he met me with a quivering chin, fearful eyes, and a request for prayer. Although prayer had become a thing of the past for me, I was struck with the urgency for some sort of faith.

The next couple of days we waited while my nephew, Taylor, lay in the incubator with tubes attached to his feeble body. The rest of the family came daily to the hospital where we all prayed, cried, and even laughed at times.

On the third day after Taylor's birth, I went grocery shopping and someone caught my eye as I was getting out of my car. She was an ordinary-looking little old woman wrapped in a long wool coat. As she walked slowly past, she looked at me, and in her eyes I saw oceans of kindness and warmth. When she smiled, my fear for my nephew's life disappeared. Her eyes and her gentle smile touched me so deeply that in one second I forgot what it was like to feel alone. After she continued out of sight, I continued to look at the people passing by, only this time they were different. Every person carried with them, whether it was obvious or not, innocence and the ability to heal — God. I cried for two weeks from the overwhelming feeling that He was, and had always been, right there with me.

Taylor will be sixteen this year, and my faith has not wavered since. In all those years, I have gone against everything I was taught as a child about avoiding eye contact with strangers. I listen with my eyes to what they have to say. In their eyes, I see laughter, I see tears, I see loneliness. I see a new engagement, a celebration, an anniversary. I see longing for forgiveness, and I see absolution. I see the child within. I see old age. I see sickness, and I see confusion. I see regrets, hope for a new job, fear and victory. I see culture, and I see family. I see love and faith and hope. I see the future, and I see humanity. But, most importantly, I see God. And I know that I can give to others the gift that was given to me in a stranger's eyes.

Lunch with a Facebook Friend

By Carol Band

The Internet is the most important single development in the history of human communication since the invention of call waiting.
~Dave Barry

It was a typical Tuesday morning. The alarm didn't go off and everyone overslept. We ran out of milk, the coffeemaker overflowed and my husband stepped in the water that had cascaded onto the floor and soaked his last pair of clean socks. The printer cartridge ran out of ink while my son was assembling a history project that should have been done the night before, and the cat hacked up a hairball under the dining room table. Frankly, the day wasn't looking very promising.

My husband squished out of the house without kissing me goodbye and, as I shooed Lewis off to school, he grabbed his iPod, but forgot to grab his lunch and his history project. I unfurled a wad of toilet paper and cleaned up the cat puke (the last of the paper towels went to mop up the coffeemaker disaster), then collected Lew's lunch and homework and trudged to the car in my slippers. "What a stupid life," I thought.

My daughter had left the gas tank empty and the front seat littered with Frisbees, parking tickets, and paper cups. I coasted downhill to the school and rolled into the closest gas station, where the attendant pointed out that the inspection sticker had expired.

Back at home, I walked the dog, fed the damn cat, ran the dishwasher, threw in a load of laundry and took a tepid shower because all of the hot water was gone. I looked in my closet for something to wear and pulled on a white T-shirt. Then I pulled it off because it made me look fat. I tried to button up a blue button-down. Ugh. Four shirts later, I settled on a black turtleneck, paired it with my favorite black pants and searched the house for a roll of Scotch tape or a lint brush.

Normally, I don't agonize over what to wear. But today, I was meeting a friend for lunch.

Actually, she's not a real friend. She is a Facebook friend — someone who popped up on my laptop some twenty-odd years after we had attended college together in upstate New York. I signed up for Facebook a few months ago, although I realize it should probably remain the domain of the young (to quote my daughter: "Mom, old people are ruining Facebook!"). Kids have the time and technological know-how to take online quizzes, post pictures of their parties and keep the world abreast of their status — "Just ate a pint of Ben & Jerry's!" I have stuff to do — like hunt for my car keys and try to get the cat hair off my black pants.

As I drove to the restaurant, I checked my reflection in the rear view mirror. Never do this — especially if you're meeting someone for the first time in twenty years. Nothing will deflate your self-esteem more completely than the slightly green-tinged view of the top third of your head in direct sunlight. Ugh. As I walked into the restaurant, I hoped that my old friend looked worse. She didn't. I saw her sitting in a corner booth and she looked terrific. Her hair was coiffed, her clothes were designer. Frankly, she looked better than she did in college. I sucked in my stomach as I walked across the dining room.

"Sorry I'm late," I apologized. "It's been a horrible morning." I slid into the booth, grateful that my cat-hairy pants and the twenty pounds I had gained since 1983 were hidden.

"You look fabulous," she lied.

"No, you do... really," I said.

I wanted to order the turkey Reuben because I was craving comfort food, but my friend ordered a salad and I said, "Make that two." We started to awkwardly outline the past two decades.

"What about you?" she asked, and I heard myself talking... Three kids — all doing great, a husband who can still make me laugh, occasional vacations, a house in a neighborhood that I love, and some interesting freelance work. I didn't want to brag, so I told her about the cat puke and the coffeemaker and how I almost ran out of gas. And then I realized — it might have been a bad morning, but it's still a pretty good life.

Use Your Courage

By Ryan Walter

Success is not final, failure is not fatal. It's the courage to continue that counts.
~Winston Churchill

During the late 1970s I was blessed to be drafted second overall into the National Hockey League, where I continued to play professional hockey for fifteen seasons. In my rookie season it felt like our Washington Capitals played the Philadelphia Flyers ten times. When I checked, it turned out to actually be only four! Those four games swelled to ten in my memory bank because the Flyers were known as the "Broad Street Bullies" in those days, and for good reason.
Many of our games against the Flyers spiraled out of control into bench-clearing brawls. Before each of these games, every player on our team struggled with the fear of which injuries he might incur during the upcoming sixty minutes of play. I can recall as if it was yesterday how the bus ride from the hotel to the Spectrum was always stone cold quiet. All of our players were deep in thought, pondering what might be about to happen. Fear often grows out of our perception, before any harm has actually taken place.

I learned a very important lesson during my early NHL days: "Courage is not the absence of fear." Courage is choosing to be my best, independent of the fear I am feeling.

A second lesson I learned was the importance of taking action. Some games the only way I could overcome my fear was to take action. After a while the feeling of courage seemed to follow. How we feel affects what we do; what we do affects how we feel.

These are not easy times. My wife Jenn and I have observed many families around us going through hard stuff. But just like those difficult games against the Flyers, this is not the time to shrink from the challenge; this is the time to grow and develop our personal courage.

I explore the connection between the inner game (including our courage) and the actions that we take (our performance) in my latest book, Hungry! Again, inner feelings and belief are always the drivers of our outer performance, and the inner quality of courage not only drives our personal performance, but inspires it in the people around us.

My wife Jennifer and I are both passionate about adding value to people's lives and developing leaders worldwide. We accomplish this through speaking at leadership conferences or delivering long-term interactive leadership development sessions. During these sessions I have been challenging leaders across North America with this simple thought: The only thing that I can guarantee leaders in today's economy is... problems! If this is true (and I believe that it is) then developing the courage to tackle these problems head-on becomes essential.

As you and I battle through the fear generated by our own "Philadelphia Flyer" situation, let's remember these simple but powerful concepts:

1. "Courage is not the absence of fear."

2. How we feel affects what we do; what we do affects how we feel.

3. Courage and integrity form the foundation of character.

4. Personal courage inspires team performance.

5. When tough times hit, be mindful of Churchill's "It's the courage to continue that counts!"... and Christopher Robin's timeless instruction to Winnie the Pooh: "Promise me you'll always remember: You're braver than you believe, and stronger than you seem, and smarter than you think." A.A. Milne.

The New Refrigerator

By Ruth Smith

The best babysitters, of course, are the baby's grandparents. You feel completely comfortable entrusting your baby to them for long periods, which is why most grandparents flee to Florida.
~Dave Barry

Since I am the grandmother of seven, blessed with vast experience and lots of free time, I'm used to being called to help out in a variety of different situations, ranging from picking up a sick child at school, taking one to a doctor's appointment, or providing a place to hang out when there is a school holiday. So when my daughter called to ask if I would stay with her twenty-year-old son, Geoff, who had just had four wisdom teeth pulled, I quickly agreed.
Since my daughter had taken the day off to be with Geoff, she also arranged for delivery of a new refrigerator in the afternoon. However, she had just been called into work for an emergency meeting. All I had to do was keep an eye on Geoff, change his dressings and get a glass of water down him every two hours. Nothing sounded easier.

Arriving at my post, I showed the proper sympathy to my six-foot, five-inch grandson, who was curled up on the couch, his mouth stuffed with cotton and drool running from his slack lips.

The counter that separated the kitchen from the living room was covered with food items that are normally housed in the refrigerator and I assumed that the old appliance was ready to be replaced.

I settled myself down with a good book. At the appointed time, I woke up the patient, who insisted that he didn't want to have the packing replaced nor did he want a drink of water. I won, the cotton was changed and the soggy slimy packing discarded.

When the phone rang, I was surprised to hear my oldest granddaughter's voice. She had just been called in to interview for her dream job and she needed a sitter for her thirteen-month-old daughter.

"It will just be for an hour or maybe a little more. You're my only hope," she pleaded. I quickly weighed my options and realized I had none — I was needed.

Before long I had a grandson drooling and sleeping on the couch, a baby balanced on my hip and a dog scratching at the door to get in.

Thirty minutes after the baby's mother left with a wave and a smile, the refrigerator deliveryman made his appearance, early. He refused to make the delivery through the back door because there was a dog in the yard.

So I plopped the baby in the large overstuffed chair with a bottle and opened the sliding door to get the dog. The dog, thrilled to be included in the fun, bounded into the house and jumped on the baby, who started screaming. Geoff flopped over on the couch, mumbling. I grabbed the dog and dragged him into the master bedroom just as two men appeared with the dolly. They asked me if the old refrigerator was empty, and to my dismay I found the freezer crammed full. The men waited patiently while I unloaded the food. The baby was leaning over the back of the chair watching with fascination and the patient appeared to have returned to his peaceful slumber.

As the old kitchen appliance was being hauled off, things began to fall apart. I was faced with an empty space behind the old fridge that was littered with stray dog and cat food, dried peas, pet hair, milk bottle lids, bread wrapper clips, a broken pencil and dust.

Trying to keep one eye on the baby, I got busy with the broom, finishing up just as the shiny new refrigerator was wheeled in and positioned at the end of the counter — blocking my exit. The deliverymen returned to their truck to get some tools.

So, here's the situation: Geoff was on the couch, the dog was in the bedroom, the baby was in the chair, I was stuck behind the new fridge in the kitchen and the sliding door was open.

The baby spotted the open door and off the chair she went. My calls of, "No, no, Makayla. Don't go out!" were unheeded as she headed for the wide world beyond. I couldn't squeeze between the refrigerator and the cabinet so I had to force my ancient knees and legs up and over the counter, being careful not to kick any food onto the floor. I reached the baby just as she got the first handful of dog food into her mouth.

The deliverymen finished their job, I put the dripping items back in their new home and the dog was put back outside. All was well in the world.

Geoff stirred, peeked his tousled head over the back of the couch, and through soggy cotton and drooling lips, he muttered an indistinguishable sentence ending in "dog."

Dog! I forgot the dog. With the baby clinging to my neck, I threw open the sliding door and tore around the corner of the house to confirm my worst fear — an open gate and no dog. I closed the gate, as my mind sorted through excuses, hoping to find one my daughter's family would accept for the loss of the family pet.

Back in the house, I changed a now fragrant diaper, replaced Geoff's packing and forced water down his throat. I dug around in the closet until I found the dog leash and headed out for what was expected to be a fruitless search. To my delight, when I opened the front door, there sat a silly brown dog with her tongue hanging out, panting after a good run.

The baby's mother returned to find a sleeping baby. My daughter came home to a new fully stocked refrigerator, a tired dog in the backyard and a son sleeping peacefully on the couch.

Smiling, I said, "A good time was had by all."

I stopped by the store on the way home to get a good bottle of wine.