суббота, 23 февраля 2013 г.

How I Clicked with Fitness

By Sherilyn Lee

You don't have to run on a treadmill. Find something you enjoy and just do it.
~David Snowdon

My sixth grade class was tested under the watchful eye of our physical education teacher as she held a clipboard and clicked a stopwatch. One of my classmates kneeled on my feet and held my ankles, while I rested on a mat, my knees bent like peaks. Click. Go! I led with the right elbow, then the left elbow, wobbling. Sit-ups counted only when both elbows touched both knees. My counting partner shouted out my score.

Click. On to push-ups. Click. Running. Click. Chin-ups. Several months later, our teacher presented some of my classmates a certificate signed by President Reagan and a round blue patch stitched with a gold eagle, the Presidential Physical Fitness Award. I never earned one. At eleven years old, I rationalized that this was okay because another set of test scores determined that I was reading at the high school level.

I didn't strive to be fit in high school either. By then, report cards were my interest. Physical fitness wasn't going to get me into college. If it was, my school would have offered it with an advanced placement (AP) option and my parents would have asked every night at dinner how I was doing in P.E.

In college, I avoided my grandmother and my aunt. They had started greeting me by commenting on how much weight I had gained, then bragging about how they never weighed more than 95 pounds. If I appeared hurt by their comments, they'd laugh and say that they were just making conversation. Over full plates at a holiday dinner, I confirmed that every woman in my family had a story about when Grandma told her she was fat. Today, when I thumb through old yearbooks and photos, my younger self doesn't look as bad as she felt.

After graduating from college, I traveled throughout Europe and Japan for my career, and by the time I was in my 30s, I stood 5'3" and weighed 200 pounds. With the guidance of the Weight Watchers program, I learned good eating habits such as portion control and smarter food choices. However, I took it a bit too far and lost 60 pounds in seven months. When Grandma saw me that spring, she gasped and couldn't say anything kind, so instead, she recalled when my behind was so big, it was "out to here."

Six years later, I regained 30 pounds during a stressful three-year work project. I worked at the office 70 hours a week, instead of working out, and my portion sizes grew, even though my choices weren't bad. I knew I could lose the weight again when the project ended earlier this year and without changing my diet or stepping into the gym, lost 15 pounds in three months. I can't explain this. Maybe the stress actually weighed 15 pounds? But soon enough, I reached a plateau and knew I would have to start working out, something I never enjoyed.

So I searched through WebMD for a new perspective. Many articles emphasized that heart disease was the biggest killer of women in the U.S. Forget dieting. I decided to watch my eating but really focus on getting my heart pumping. Exercise would no longer be tied to losing weight. Being fit and heart-healthy had become my new goal.

I looked up the Presidential Fitness Award program from grade school. Maybe their fitness tests could guide me or benchmark my progress? Presidentschallenge.org explained that the program had been expanded to include adults and seniors. The Presidential Active Lifestyle Award program encourages adults to get at least 30 minutes of exercise five days a week. Click. Steps registered on a pedometer counted towards exercise credit. Click. If I exercised five days a week sometime in the next six to eight weeks, I would earn a certificate signed by President Obama and a blue square patch. The words next to the blue star read, "Sign me up!"

My apartment complex had just renovated its gym and I decided to return to the elliptical machine. These new machines were different, even equipped with a plug for my iPod and individual television screens. While working out, I tuned into The Food Network for the first time in years and learned that it was fun to watch Paula Deen fry food.

The log at presidentschallenge.org helped me plan and track my exercise. I began going to the gym regularly. I liked the fact that there was an online record of my efforts after I worked out. After 36 workouts, I earned the Presidential Active Lifestyle Award.

For me, working out had always been about right and wrong — right and wrong food, sizes, weight, and appearance. With the help of the presidentschallenge.org website, fitness is now an investment in my heart, in my future.

Driving on Ice

By Morgan Hill

Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding.
~Proverbs 3:5

I was twenty years old in 1973, living in Kansas City and working two jobs to support myself while attending college. A year earlier I'd been forced to quit Stephens College in Columbia, Missouri due to lack of funds. When an invite came to return to my former college town for a party, I jumped at the chance to reconnect in Columbia.

It was November and I got on the road after Friday's work shift around 8 or 8:30 p.m. for the two-hour drive. The plan was to spend Friday night in Columbia at a local hotel, look around town the next day, and attend the party Saturday night.

My 1963 Corvair convertible was not air tight, so turning on the heater really helped with the outside cold. Ironically, I'd have to roll down the windows to let fresh air in because the smell of gas fumes permeated the car once the heater was on.

It had snowed earlier that day, but roads were clear and driving was nothing out of the ordinary. I had the radio cranked up loud, singing along, enjoying a beautiful moonlit night. About an hour into the drive, I hit an unseen patch of ice that seemed to take complete control of the car.

My high school driver's ed training had taught me to gently pump the brakes when in a skid (anti-lock brakes were nonexistent), but to no avail. The car spun. Then it swerved head first into a ditch dividing the four-lane highway. Simultaneously, the engine died and I was sitting in a car resting headfirst down a forty-degree angle, in utter silence. I was terrified. I was in the middle of nowhere and there were no other cars. I tried a few times to restart the car, but it was dead.

It was freezing cold and all I could see was an empty highway lined with trees, moonlight reflecting on the surrounding snow. To say I was scared was an understatement. I didn't have enough warm clothing to withstand spending the night out there. Cell phones didn't exist at that time. The night could get better or much worse, depending on who (if anyone) stopped to help this lone female stuck in a ditch. To add to my dilemma, I realized no one would even know I was missing for several days.

I sat in the car watching the highway for what seemed like an eternity, hoping a police car would drive by. Nothing. After a while, one or two cars drove past going in the opposite direction. No one stopped. The wind picked up as it made a whistling noise through the slightly tattered convertible top.

I decided to get out and see if there was any place close enough to walk for help. As I opened the car door and carefully stood up on the frozen ground, I looked in every direction to see nothing but snow, trees and a darkened, empty highway.

I didn't have snow tires and would not be able to grab enough traction to get out of that steep ditch, even if my car started. I got back in the car, berating myself for being so stupid. Why did I drive so late in the day? Why did I risk an old car in this weather? Why didn't I tell someone where I was going so that if I didn't show up they'd know to look for me?

I took a deep breath and began to pray. "God," I said. "I'm in trouble. Please, please help me to be safe and get out of this." I cannot remember the rest of my prayer, as I'm sure it turned into babbling at some point. The night grew later, the wind grew stronger. I was getting really cold.

After praying, I sat in the car doing nothing, thinking nothing... just sitting, staring at the wheel and the snow-covered ditch beyond the hood.

What happened next is hard to describe. But it impacted me enough that I still recall the incident vividly, even though it happened nearly forty years ago. Fear of ridicule prevented me from ever sharing this story with more than one or two people.

It seemed like a presence joined me in the car. Was I losing my mind? There even seemed to be a depression from the weight of someone in the passenger seat next to me!

If someone was there to help me, I needed proof. I could not get past the feeling that I was not alone. Okay God, I thought. If you or an angel or something is here to help me, then I'll test it.

I once again turned the ignition key. The car started right up. I couldn't believe it. But now I feared the tires would just continue to spin, as the snow had become frozen ice. "Okay Lord," I thought. "If I'm not going crazy and you are somehow helping me, I'm going to put the Corvair into reverse and see if I can get out of this ditch." Slowly, the car came right up and out of the ditch, almost as if there was no ice at all.

I backed out onto the highway, put the gear into drive and slowly made my way back onto the road. The radio had shut off when the engine initially died. I drove in silence and could not shake the feeling that there was still someone sitting with me in the car, occupying the passenger's seat.

Needing proof that I wasn't going crazy, I decided upon one more "test." I lifted my hands off the steering wheel. Something took over and was steering the car! I know my car. It needed a pair of hands to maneuver properly, unlike newer power steering in today's models. Someone, or something, was steering my car!

Afraid to "test" any further I placed my hands back on the steering wheel and thanked God out loud for this blessing. I did not see any other cars the rest of the way into town. The "presence" remained until I reached my destination. I did not physically see an angel, but there's no doubt in my mind that I was assisted by an unseen presence that night forty years ago.

Crazy for Cupcakes

By Stefanie Wass

When you look at a cupcake, you've got to smile.
~Anne Byrn

It's birthday treat time. My daughter, about to turn six, requests cupcakes for her party. "Yellow cake with lots of white frosting," she pleads.

"Sure!" I agree, thankful she has chosen a simple treat. But my mind is already spinning with ways to make the cupcakes extra special. "Maybe we can add some gummy bears on top," I suggest. "Or even rainbow sprinkles."

Cupcakes have evolved from the plain frosted desserts of my childhood. These days, the little cakes are artistic masterpieces — complete with rose petals, candies, and gooey chocolate centers. Cupcakes have gone gourmet with cupcake bakeries like New York's Magnolia Bakery and L.A.'s Sprinkles Cupcakes drawing rave reviews for their innovative recipes. When Main Street Cupcakes opened in my hometown of Hudson, Ohio, my children were ecstatic.

"I want the one with chocolate chips!"

"Can I have the Oreo cupcake?"

Choosing a red velvet cupcake for myself (red velvet cake smothered in white buttercream frosting), I sat in the bakeshop and marveled at the menu.

"Standard Items" included such flavors as:
Mimosa (moist champagne and orange cake covered in a champagne and orange buttercream)
Pomegranate Punch (pomegranate cake made from fresh juices and a tropical punch buttercream)
Cup of Java (classic chocolate cake mixed with espresso and topped with white buttercream frosting, sprinkled with cinnamon and topped with espresso beans)

There were cupcakes for all seasons, too:
"The Beverage Collection" featured summer flavors like Pink Lemonade, Margarita, and Mojito.
"The Fall Collection" offered warm spices like Carrot Cake, Apple Cider, and Banana Nut.
"The Holiday Collection" came complete with Hot Cocoa, Candy Cane, and Eggnog cupcakes.

As I bit into the rich buttercream frosting piled into a tall peak atop my cake, I understood — the cupcake is comfort food, indulgent yet small enough to justify the caloric intake. Decorate it with candy, cookies and nuts, and a gourmet delicacy is born. Cupcakes are making a comeback. My niece, graduating from high school this year, plans to serve mortar board-shaped cupcakes at her party. The online blog "Hello, Cupcake!" posts recipes and contests for "cupcakers." Even children's author Laura Numeroff is into the act. Her book If You Give a Cat a Cupcake tells the tale of a feline who prefers sprinkles to plain frosting.

At $2.50 apiece, gourmet cupcakes are a rare indulgence for my family.

"Maybe we can make our own birthday treats," I suggest to my daughter.

Flipping through Current Cupcakes for Kids, I find the perfect idea for my teddy bear loving little girl. "These are teddy bears having a picnic," I explain, pointing out the graham cracker bears sitting under paper parasols atop green-frosted cupcakes. "I think we can make these for your party."

With the help of Betty Crocker, we bake and frost, tinting white icing a light green for "grass." We add colored sprinkles and paper umbrellas before arranging teddy grahams in various poses under the parasols. The result? Cute, somewhat lopsided desserts that are a delight to create and, of course, eat. The sweetest part? Spending a morning with a six-year-old, spreading frosting, love, and cherished memories.

Cupcake bakeries are certainly trendy, fun, and convenient. But in this fast-paced world, it's nice to occasionally remember the pleasures of home baking.

The cupcake is back, filling me with simple sweetness, bite after decadent bite.

Decisions, Decisions

By Ellen Scoline

Interestingly, young people don't come to you for advice. Especially the ones who are related to you.
~Meryl Streep

My youngest sister is getting married. That's why I'm flipping through the end of the rack where the size XL bridesmaid dresses are hanging. I'm a large-size person on a good day, and these days I'm eight months pregnant with my third child. That just makes the task of finding an appropriate dress all the more daunting. But that's what happens when you get tapped for the "honor" of being a bridesmaid — again.

Luckily, my sister is a very fashionable person. She not only reads Vogue magazine, she marks the pages with things she wants to buy. More importantly, she didn't throw her fashion sense out the window when it came time to choose bridesmaid dresses. There were not going to be layers of pink tulle or deep purple satin embellished with bows to draw attention to the hips. Debbie issued the most practical, flattering edict possible — our choice of any long black dress.

"Oh, you'll be able to wear it again" has been said about every bridesmaid dress since Wilma Flintstone told Betty she would get a lot of use out of that off-the-shoulder wooly mammoth sheath. But with a black dress, it might actually be true. This might be a dress that could be flattering. So along with all the other plans and preparations, the search for a dress goes on.

My mother's goal throughout the entire prenuptial process has been to get as many vital decisions settled as quickly as possible, in good taste, without unnecessary input from the "never been on a budget in her life" bride. That's why I was surprised at the list I saw on my parents' kitchen table. It was a proposed contract from a local caterer outlining possibilities for the wedding menu.

In the stapled packet of seven pages, each page spelled out more and more elaborate, elegant presentations. The first page included basic hors d'oeuvres like mini hot dogs with mustard. By page four, the choices included a personal chef creating your choice of pasta in direct competition with a Chinese food station of steamed dumplings and egg rolls. Page seven promised a parade of waiters in tall white toques, marching in with flaming hand-carved filets. Next to each item on the lists, someone had written "Yes" or "No."

"What's this list?" I asked my mother. "Is this the food you're thinking of having? Who wrote yes next to individually prepared chocolate soufflés?" I asked, as I waved the pages in front of my mother's face. I wasn't exactly jealous. I just wanted some idea of the extravaganza we were headed for.

"Oh, that's just Debbie's checklist," my mother explained, dismissing the entire scenario with a wave of her hand. "She thinks that anything less than twenty-seven choices doesn't offer guests enough variety."

On all these topics — wedding dresses, food, flowers — I have proved to be a source of unwanted, out-of-date advice. I got married twenty-five years ago — before video cameras were invented. My bridesmaids were my younger sisters who were still in high school. They wore matching pale pink gowns that I chose because I got married in August, and that's the month when my sisters are always blond and tan.

I don't know why my old fogey advice should count for anything, but I feel compelled to keep offering it. I'm the oldest child in our family, and I always saw myself as Marcia Brady. Now it's clear I'm Florence Henderson.

Every time my sister fills me in on the detail that is her obsession du jour — whether it will be mixed spring flowers in the bouquets or just roses; pastel mints or hand-dipped chocolates — I want to tell her that her wedding will be fabulous no matter what kind of candy she chooses. No one will remember the mints, least of all her. What she will remember is that her wedding day is the start of a new life together. Their wedding will be an amazing, exciting, emotional, exhausting day that signals a new beginning. It's a big decision. A grown-up commitment. But maybe it's too scary to focus on that when you're the bride-to-be. That's why she's concentrating on the mints.

In keeping with her usual sense of style, the wedding dress my sister chose was nothing short of spectacular. Debbie has spent the months since she got engaged carefully studying the pages of every bridal magazine in the world. Not content with Modern Bride, she read Elle Marriage and Bridal Glory. She clipped photos from Young Bride and Not-So-Young Bride and cross-filed them with clips from Sexy You! Then, armed with a hanging file folder, she marched into a local bridal salon to test the waters.

Maybe it was because my mother and I were trailing along in her wake, but the saleswoman quickly sized us up and pulled out the big guns — the designer gowns from the Rapture of Love collection pictured in the clippings clutched in my sister's French manicured hand. For my sister, who is a size 6, trying on the sample gowns was a flattering, fairy-tale experience. The first thing the saleswoman did was put Debbie's hair up in a loose bun and fasten a double strand of fake pearls around her neck. This immediately made her look glamorous and different. Then, she brought out various headpieces and veils, each one more beautiful and bridal than the last. The accessories made every low-cut, off-the-shoulder gown look spectacular. The worn beige carpet and dusty crystal chandelier of the bridal store faded in the background as Debbie stood on the platform in front of a three-way mirror looking like a fairy princess, more beautiful than any magazine ad she had saved.

For my mother and me, the sight of Debbie in a wedding gown conjured up a jumble of feelings. Watching my youngest sister model a cream-colored satin wedding gown was an emotional experience. I expected my mom to cry — and she did — right after she gave the saleswoman a thumbs-up and mouthed the words, "She's out of our house!" But I didn't expect to be moved myself, just seeing my little sister swathed in satin. This is the sister who used to wear braces, who painted the names of favorite rock groups on her bedroom wall, and until very recently, devoted an entire wire cart to her nail polish and cosmetics collection.

How could she suddenly look like a princess just by trying on a dress? But she did.

I have wonderful memories of my own wedding. When I look at the photos now — after I recover from the shock of how young we all look — my memories of the day come flooding back. At the time, my wedding was elegant, special, and romantic. It was everything I dreamed of because it was mine. And that's why I'm hoping my sister plans a day that is just as special for her and her groom.

No matter what they end up choosing, it's not the hors d'oeuvres or the music we'll remember. It's the start of their married life together, and I hope she ends up with as many wonderful memories of her wedding day as I have of mine.

Honeymooning in a Clown Car

By Linda Jackson

It is only in adventure that some people succeed in knowing themselves — in finding themselves.
~André Gide

Here comes the bride... and the groom, and the matron of honor, and a groomsman, and a baby, and a dog, and... a radiator?

Our wedding was nowhere near a fairy tale. Well, on the other hand, maybe it was, seeing how most fairy tales have rather eccentric plots. My husband and I met while we were both seniors in college. We dated for about four months, got engaged, planned a wedding for seven months, and were married almost one year to the day we met.

And because we both participated in the Cooperative Education Program, alternating between school and work each semester, we still had another two years of college to go. So we had neither the money nor the time to go on a honeymoon. Instead we headed straight to our little cheapo apartment in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, and waited for classes to start at THE University of Alabama (as my husband likes to call it).

Oh, did I mention that my younger sister had gotten married the year before, and that she, too, was a college student — married to a college student? I guess falling in love in college and getting married without giving it too much thought runs in my family. But my sister and her husband, on the other hand, had already started a family — one baby girl and a dog. And like us, they, too, were continuing their college studies, but at Mississippi State University (MSU) in Starkville, Mississippi, which is located between Tuscaloosa and my hometown of Rosedale, Mississippi.

Prior to these whirlwind romances and weddings, my sister and I had been roommates and best buds at MSU. So, naturally, my sister was my matron of honor as I had been her maid of honor the year before. Her husband was also one of our groomsmen.

Well, something very interesting happened during the preparations for the wedding. My brother-in-law's car broke down and needed a new radiator. (I'll just refer to his family from here on out as "the stranded family.") I don't recall how the stranded family, baby girl, and dog made it across the state of Mississippi for the wedding, but they did. Yet there was still a problem. How would they get back to MSU after the wedding?

Since we were the only car heading back that way, it was only proper that we should give them a ride. Right? But did I mention we drove a Volkswagen Beetle? And I don't mean the newer model of the Beetle. We had the original Beetle — the one with the trunk in the front and the engine in the back — the one with the teeny-tiny seats.

And, even though our trunk was loaded down with our luggage and wedding gifts, we still managed to find room for the stranded family's luggage as well as their new radiator.

When we went to pick up the stranded family at the home of my brother-in-law's parents, my brother-in-law's great-grandmother took one look at our super compact car, then narrowed her eyes and said, "The next time you come, you might want to drive a bigger car."

I couldn't have agreed with her more. Yet, somehow we managed to squeeze our matron of honor, a groomsman, a baby, and a dog into the tiny backseat of our lime-green Volkswagen Beetle and ride for three whole hours across the entire state of Mississippi. Whew! Can anybody say, "Honeymooning in a clown car?"

Two Pounds of Divine Intervention

By JP Jackson

Angels deliver Fate to our doorstep — and anywhere else it is needed.
~Jessi Lane Adams

There was a time I believed in coincidence. But that was prior to meeting my four-legged soul mate. Now, I am sure there is something much bigger at work in the universe. There also was a time when it irritated me to have people equate their pets to humans. Again, that was till it happened to me.

I had just been given a death sentence. At forty-five, a random virus had attacked my heart and left it functioning at a mere thirteen percent. Just like that. Active, working, raising kids one day. Being wheeled out of the hospital and lifted into the car to go home and die quietly a week later. What happened during that week is still a mystery to me.

Unable to take care of even the basics of my everyday living, I spent my days looking at cute puppy faces at various pet adoption sites online. Quite a contrast... someone who should be making her final arrangements, instead, filling every moment viewing and fantasizing about owning one of these yipping, yapping little furry balls full of life. Even I, the eternal optimist, knew this was the most ridiculous idea I had ever entertained. But I wasn't hurting anyone. And it filled my days and gave me hope. It became an obsession when I had nothing left.

The days stretched on. My test results remained grave. There was no improvement. And yet, I was still here. Sort of in limbo. Then, one day I received an odd and unsolicited e-mail from a woman who stated she had just the puppy I was looking for. What? What puppy? I hadn't made any requests for puppies (except in my mind). I was only window-shopping! She said she would be at an address near my home that Saturday and to please stop by.

Against his better judgment, my husband drove me to this mysterious location. I huffed and puffed up the driveway and into the yard where puppies of every size, shape and color ran with wild abandon. People were coming and going quickly and leaving with "puppy care packets" and their new additions. I still was a little mystified about how I even got here or why I came.

Soon all the puppies were off to their respective new homes, the yard was empty and quiet, and the woman turned to me.

"Can I help you?" Our brief conversation revealed that she had no idea about any e-mail regarding a puppy. I felt a little silly and more than depressed as I headed back down the driveway. It was about this time that a matronly woman emerged from the house and into the yard, wearing an old-fashioned floral apron. I offered a weak smile as we passed, and from the corner of my eye noticed a shaggy black and white head and little black nose poking out to see what was going on. I was immediately intrigued. As I got closer, the nosey little rag mop nearly jumped into my arms. If I had died right then, I would have died happy.

But my excitement was soon derailed when the woman said, "Don't take an interest in this one. She has severe heart problems and won't be with us much longer." What? Did she say what I think she said? Heart problems? Jackpot! My new "baby" was already in my arms and covering me with kisses.

After lots of grave warnings and signing of waivers, etc., my new puppy and I made our way to the car to break the news to the next naysayer. But jumping from seat to seat and right on my husband's shoulder, I didn't have much to do with convincing him. He was sold. So home we went. To our home that would never be the same.

And, as they say, the rest is history. And still is. That was ten years ago. Jasmine and I haven't spent a day apart since then. The vet never found a trace of any heart issues with her, and my test results began to show gradual improvement from the day I brought her home, and I am still here a decade later.

So, yes, I'm a believer in fate, divine intervention, or what have you.

Coincidence? Not so much.

The Making of a Hockey Fanatic

By Brandi South

Realize that now, in this moment of time, you are creating. You are creating your next moment. That is what's real.
~Sara Paddison, The Hidden Power of the Heart

If someone had told me ten years ago that I would become a hockey fanatic, I would have told them they were crazy. And if someone had told me that I would find myself standing outside of the Detroit Red Wings locker room shaking hands with Drew Miller, I would have told them they had lost their mind! But, both things did in fact happen.

Don't get me wrong — I love sports, but hockey had been nowhere near the top of my list. I grew up watching football, baseball and auto racing with my dad. He didn't like hockey because he didn't like "all the fighting." So I formed the impression early on that hockey was a divisive sport and not worth my time. That all changed when I met my would-be husband Andy.

Andy loved sports, Andy loved hockey, and despite living in Pennsylvania, Andy loved the Detroit Red Wings. As his new girlfriend, it was my duty to show an interest in the things that he liked. On Halloween night in 2001, Andy took me to see a minor league hockey game. The Grand Rapids Griffins — the Red Wings' minor league team — came to town to play against our local team, the Hershey Bears. I was open to the idea of trying something new, and I must say that it was quite exciting. I don't remember much about the game, but the highlight for me was watching Andy as he joyfully taunted the Bears' players who served time in the penalty box. Hockey was proving to be pretty fascinating after all, and I think I scored a few points with Andy that night!

Andy's passion for hockey continued and so did our courtship. We were married in 2003. With marriage came change — the birth of our daughter, moving (a few times), and new jobs for each of us. But hockey was still ever present in our lives. I enjoyed sitting and watching the Wings' games on television with Andy. It was a chance for us to unwind and spend some time together at the end of a long day. I learned more about the game and the players, and Andy could tell that I was really starting to enjoy it, almost as much as he did.

In 2009, we went to our first Red Wings game in Columbus. Andy was all decked out in layers, sporting a Red Wings hat, T-shirt, sweatshirt and Datsyuk jersey. The game against the Blue Jackets was great (Wings won!) and I found myself cheering, screaming and jumping out of my seat with Andy and the rest of the fans. I could feel the excitement in the air. It was as though the arena had come to life, and so had I. Was this really happening? Had I become a genuine hockey fan?

It was clear to me that my interest in hockey was no longer about impressing Andy — I was hooked! Almost immediately after the game, Andy and I began scheming about our next hockey game. But this time, we had to go to Detroit, to Joe Louis Arena. We knew there would be nothing like watching a Wings home game at the Joe. We planned our trip to Detroit for the following February to celebrate our anniversary. Andy wore the usual layers, but this time with a Franzen jersey. I had not yet committed to a favorite player, and I decided it was time to choose. I didn't want to choose a popular and well-established player. I've always favored the underdog, the new guy.

The Wings hosted the Buffalo Sabres and their star goalie Ryan Miller. Andy mentioned that the Wings had signed his younger brother Drew earlier in the season. In the program for the game, there happened to be an article about Drew Miller. It talked about his time at Michigan State, his disappointing start in the NHL, and his desire to contribute to the success of the Red Wings. I told Andy, "That's him — that's the guy!" And so I found myself even more connected to the game by choosing a player to follow and committing my loyalty to him as a fan.

Andy and I decided to continue with our new anniversary tradition and went to Detroit again in February 2011. In addition to celebrating our marriage, we were also celebrating another important occasion — I had just reached the five-year benchmark of being free of breast cancer. Unfortunately, the celebration did not last long. Shortly after returning home from our trip, I learned that the cancer had recurred. The news was devastating and the timing seemed too ironic. Our feelings quickly turned from joy to sorrow. We took our time processing this sad news; however, it did not take Andy long to come up with the ultimate plan to lift my spirits. He told me that he had contacted the Detroit Red Wings and shared my story. They would be hosting us for a game in the fall, and I would soon be meeting Drew Miller!

I spent my spring and summer dealing with surgeries and chemotherapy, but the anticipation of going to Detroit kept me encouraged. Finally September arrived, and the new hockey season was upon us. We were contacted by Christy Hammond from the Red Wings' Community Relations Office. She invited us to come up for their Breast Cancer Awareness Night in October. This time Andy and I decided to take our daughter Kaitlyn with us to share in the fun. The seats were amazing and the game was thrilling, but I was anxious the entire time waiting for what would happen after the game!

The game ended and we quickly headed downstairs where we were escorted to the Red Wings locker room. My heart and my thoughts were racing as we walked down the hallway. What a difficult year this had been, and now I was being treated to a very special evening! I was so grateful to be sharing it with my precious daughter and my loving husband, who had been so thoughtful.

Drew and Christy greeted us outside the locker room. They were very kind and gracious hosts. We were given a personal tour of the locker room, we had several pictures taken with Drew, and we left with some great gifts and autographed memorabilia. It was an amazing and unforgettable experience!

It may have taken many years, but I finally discovered that my first impression was far from the truth. Hockey is about much more than "all the fighting." Hockey does not bring division but unity. It fosters a connection between a husband and wife. It shows that community extends far beyond the boundaries of a city or state. And it can bring healing when your spirit is broken. Thank you Andy, thank you Detroit Red Wings, and thank you hockey for bringing joy to my life and for being there when I needed you most.

The Best Seat in the House

By Brian McFarlane

Get your children and small pets away from the TV, 'cause the NHL is in your living room!
~Doug McLeod

Perhaps my love affair with broadcasting booths, and one in particular — Foster Hewitt's famous gondola at Maple Leaf Gardens — began when I was six or seven years old. My father, Leslie McFarlane, was a guest in the gondola one night in the mid-thirties. It was the night the Chicago Blackhawks came to town with half a dozen American-born players in their lineup and gave the Leafs quite a battle before losing 3-2.

I'm not certain why my dad was invited to be in the gondola that night, participating in the radio version of Hockey Night in Canada. Perhaps it was because he had a reputation as a skilled writer of hockey fiction. He was also engaged at the time in writing many of the Hardy Boys books under the name Franklin W. Dixon for $100 per book and no royalties. But few people knew about that. When I told a couple of my teenage friends that my dad was F.W. Dixon they looked at me strangely. One of them said, "Oh, sure. And my dad's Turk Broda."

Perhaps, subconsciously, listening to him on the radio that night, I considered the possibility of someday following him along the catwalk that led to that mysterious and magical place where Foster Hewitt made Saturday night the most exciting night of the week. Growing up, along with millions of Canadians, I thrilled to Foster's descriptions of the exploits of Syl Apps, Gordie Drillon and Red Horner. The Leafs were my heroes and I had the Bee Hive Corn Syrup photos to prove it.

One year I wore an old blue hockey jersey to my games of shinny on the local pond in Whitby, Ontario. I asked my mother to cut out a number — two numbers actually, a one and a zero — from a piece of white felt and I had her stitch them side by side on the back. Number 10 was for Apps — my favourite player.

One night, my dad said, "Come with me, you're going to meet one of the great stars of hockey." He took me by the hand to a smoke-filled hall in downtown Whitby. In this hall filled with large men puffing on cigars, my eyes stinging from the vile smoke, I met Syl Apps, captain of the Leafs. He wore a huge overcoat and a fedora. Over the hubbub I asked him for his autograph. He looked down and smiled, then signed my scrap of paper. When I looked at it I was thrilled. "Dad, Dad, look! He signed, 'Best wishes, Syl Apps.' He gave me two extra words." Many years later, I found myself sitting next to Apps in the Gardens' press box and he chuckled when I reminded him of that night in Whitby and how meaningful those extra words were to a young fan.

In the thirties and forties, the hockey broadcasts on radio were mesmerizing. At house parties, the men gathered in the living room around the radio while the women chatted in the kitchen. The party began when the game was over and Foster had selected his three stars. I enjoyed the intermissions, featuring hockey-wise regulars around the Hot Stove, men like Wes McKnight (later to become my boss at CFRB radio in Toronto) Elmer Ferguson, Bobby Hewitson and Baldy Cotton. I envied these men with the authoritative voices. They got in to see all the Leafs games… for free! I was even more impressed when my dad told me the Hot Stove Leaguers actually were paid to sit around a microphone and talk hockey. What a fascinating way to make a living. Even a part-time living.

Perhaps the broadcasting seed was planted then. If I failed to become another Apps, perhaps I could become an announcer! In the meantime, wearing my ragged blue sweater, I skated circles on the pond.

In time I would get to play three years of junior hockey where I would learn that checking Jean Béliveau or scoring a goal against Glenn Hall were daunting tasks. Then followed four years of U.S. college hockey at St. Lawrence University (where I set some records that still stand six decades later) and one brief tryout (I had to ask for it) with the Chicago Blackhawks. By then I had realized I was never going make it to the NHL so I turned my attention to broadcasting.

After two years with a TV station in Schenectady, New York (not much hockey there, folks, so we started a team called the Schenectady Generals and played outdoors on a rinky-dink rink), I put all my belongings in a U-Haul and moved with my family to Toronto. Surely I was ready for a role, any kind of a role, with Hockey Night in Canada.

No such luck. In 1959, there was an audition for the host's job and I was asked to try out. My interview with King Clancy went quite well I thought (who wouldn't look good talking to Clancy?), but Ward Cornell got the job. "You're too young," I was told. That same week, there was a stunning offer from CBS in New York. I was asked to conduct interviews (on skates) and handle commentary for CBS on the NHL Game of the Week. "We're looking for a young announcer, a fresh face," they told me. "And one who can skate." God bless America! I became the first Canadian to work NHL games on a U.S. network and was paid $200 per game. I commuted to the games from Toronto and was able to keep my job with CFRB, a CBS affiliate.

Four years later, there was another opening on Hockey Night in Canada. In those days, Bill Hewitt worked with a different commentator each week, usually a sportswriter. Somehow a decision was made to add a permanent man to the crew and I got the job.

For the next seventeen years I had the best seat in the house — a chair in the gondola — sitting next to broadcast legends Bill and Foster Hewitt and providing commentary to Bill Hewitt's play-by-play.

I chuckle when I recall some of the oddball things that were said and done in those early days. Prior to my very first game, my boss stuck his head in the gondola, called my name, held up three fingers and said, "Brian, I think you should speak three times a period. That'll be a nice balance between you and Bill." I was stunned. I couldn't believe he'd set a quota on the number of comments I was allowed to make. Sorry, boss, but I broke that edict in the first five minutes of my first game.

At the end of each game, I left the gondola and hustled to a place on the catwalk high over the crowd. There I would interview Foster Hewitt and ask him for his three star selections. Perched on the catwalk, above the fans in the green seats, fans would often crane their necks and hoot and holler at us. Occasionally, I'd hear someone shout, "Jump, McFarlane, jump!" Years later, when Gary Dornhoefer joined our crew, and made his debut on the catwalk, he was appalled to hear the fans urge me to jump. "I can't believe they taunt you like that," he said.

I said, "Gary, broadcasters, like referees, have to be thick-skinned."

Dornhoefer was even more shaken during his second trip to the catwalk. The fans below ignored me and began shouting, "Jump, Dornhoefer, jump!"

I told him later, "Gary, that's nothing. Years ago, I was making my way through the crowd one night when a guy yelled at me, 'McFarlane, you're the reason I come to the games. I can't stand listening to you at home.' I gave the loudmouth fan a big wave, indicating he'd come up with a good line, a line I used at banquet appearances at least a hundred times."

I witnessed some amazing sights from the old gondola. How we thrilled to the introduction of color television, preceded by the installation of huge banks of lights to illuminate the ice and to make the colorcasts a spectacle. Then there was instant replay. How we gaped at our monitors the first time a goal was scored and seconds later it was magically replayed on our screens. Later, we were able to bring our viewers highlights from games at the Montreal Forum — all within seconds. People everywhere watched in awe and said, "How in the world do they do that? It's amazing."

Sometimes, amazing things happened on the ice below. Hunched forward on my chair, I helped describe some of the greatest events in Toronto's hockey history. One night, February 7, 1976, Darryl Sittler set a record of ten points in a game. His mark has lasted almost forty years.

Ten years earlier, when there were only six teams and 120 NHL players, there was a dramatic Stanley Cup triumph of the Leafs. Imlach's team of old-timers stunned the Montreal Canadiens in the 1967 finals. It was the end of an era because the NHL was about to double in size and many of the Leafs would not be back the following season.

I often wonder how many people are able to say, "I was at the Gardens that night." It's a dwindling number — a few hundred perhaps — while the number of fans who've never witnessed a Leafs Cup win keeps rising — in the multimillions.

There was no better vantage point than the gondola to appreciate the magic of Orr, Hull, Howe and Béliveau, the antics of Eddie Shack, the artistry of Keon, Kelly and Mahovlich, the awesome strength of Tim Horton, the magnificent goaltending of Bower, Sawchuk, Plante.

All too soon they were gone. All too soon, so was I.

суббота, 16 февраля 2013 г.

The Birthday

By Wayne Summers

Adolescence is a period of rapid changes. Between the ages of 12 and 17, for example, a parent ages as much as 20 years.
~Author Unknown

After my brother and I began school, my mother got the first full-time job she'd had since getting married. It was important to her to regain some independence and meet some new people. Yet, somehow, she also managed to find the time and energy to keep our home looking immaculate and to make sure we always ate healthy, delicious meals.

Of course, having to live with three men wasn't easy. My father worked long hours and also spent time with his friends at the pub and the local bowls club. My brother and I liked to bicker and argue over every little thing. On top of that, there was the usual mess associated with a household of men — wet towels on the bathroom floor, clothes and toys scattered like confetti in our bedrooms and the tell-tale signs across a freshly washed floor that someone hadn't wiped their feet before coming inside.

"I didn't do it," I'd say.

"Well, I didn't do it, either," my brother would echo.

Mum wouldn't even bother asking Dad.

"It looks like it was Mr. Nobody again," she'd say with a sigh.

To my shame, my brother and I would sometimes be so aggravating that we would bring our mother close to tears, and I think we even succeeded a couple of times. Fresh arguments would then ensue.

"Look what you've done now!" I'd snap.

"You did it, not me," he'd counter.

"Will you two just SHUT UP!" my mother would scream, nearly going out of her mind.

"You two must really hate me," she said once.

"No I don't," we'd chorus, pointing at each other. "I hate him!"

It seemed my mother could never win, and no matter what she tried, peaceful times in our house never lasted for very long.

In my fourteenth year, Mum developed an interest in her origins and began researching our family tree. I don't know how many hours she put in writing letters to distant family members scattered all over Australia and around the world. We didn't have a computer then, so everything was at the mercy of the postal system.

And still on top of this, she kept a perfect home, cooked wonderful and interesting meals and put up with a moody teenager and a husband who spent even more time away from home.

Around this same time, I developed a modicum of maturity. I could appreciate how hard Mum worked for us and how difficult it sometimes was for her to live with all the tension that pervaded our house. It was then I decided to do something really special for her upcoming birthday. I wanted to show her how much I really loved her.

My grandparents lived across town and one day after school I rode my bike over to ask them a favor.

"It's Mum's birthday soon," I began, "and I was thinking of having a surprise party for her."

"What a fantastic idea," said Nan.

"I was wondering if I could have it here?" I asked.

Nan looked at Granddad and I knew from their expressions that I hadn't quite won them over yet.

"It's just an afternoon tea, but with a cake and presents. And I'll pay for everything," I said.

I meant it, too. I'd been working at the local supermarket for six months and had accumulated a few dollars, which would just about cover the goodies we'd need for the party. I wouldn't have much left over, but Mum was worth it.

Nan smiled.

"Of course you can," she replied. "Just tell us what to do."

Feeling as pleased as punch that my plans could now go ahead, I began to make a mental list of all the things I'd have to do. The first thing was to invite my guests. I rode my bike all over town, paying a visit to each of my mother's three best friends to give them the details. Then, over the following week, I bought supplies for the party, sneaking them around to my grandparents' house for them to keep until they were needed.

"But how do we get Mum over here without her suspecting anything?" I asked Nan.

Not much ever got past my mother. Her knowledge of the things that went on behind her back was astounding, sometimes baffling.

"I know," said Nan. "We'll tell her that a relative from the east is popping in to visit us and that they have some information for her family tree."

At that moment, I thought my Nan was the cleverest person in the world.

"That's fantastic, Nan!" I gushed. "That is just so... fantastic!"

The following day, Nan rang my mother to tell her the news. Finally, Saturday came.

"I'm going to hang out with Michael," I told my mother after lunch.

She didn't notice I was wearing my next-to-best clothes.

I raced around to my grandparents' house and found that Nan and Granddad had already set out the coffee cups, plates, snacks and had even bought a couple of bottles of wine for the occasion. The cake looked amazing with a ring of unlit candles standing up in the whipped cream. I blew up a few balloons to add to the party atmosphere.

One by one, the guests rolled up with their presents, but I was so full of anticipation that I didn't perform my duties as host very well. I paid more attention to the front window, waiting for my mother to arrive, than I did to the people I'd invited to help celebrate her birthday.

"Here she is," I shouted, as I watched her walking down the path toward the house, her arm cradling a stack of files, notepads and photos. I could tell she didn't suspect a thing.

The doorbell rang.

Nan answered.

"Sorry I'm a bit late," I heard my mother say. She always said that even though she was never late.

Footsteps. Footsteps coming down the short hallway toward the kitchen. Then she appeared.

"Surprise!" we all shouted.

The look on my mother's face was worth a million dollars. Her mouth was agape and her eyes watered.

We started singing "Happy Birthday" as Mum choked back her tears. The smile on her face was wider than I had ever seen it before.

"It was all his idea," said my granddad.

I think I blushed.

"Happy Birthday, Mum," I said, giving her a big hug. "I love you."


By Mitali Ruths

Shoot for the moon. Even if you miss, you'll land among the stars.
~Les Brown

Ever since I was a little girl, I have dreamed about going into space.

I grew up in Houston, Texas, about a mile from NASA. On an elementary school field trip, we visited Mission Control and ate lunch in the enormous shadow of the Saturn V rocket lying on its side in a field of grass. A rocket like this one, our teacher told us, had taken Apollo 11 to the moon.

Since that day, I had wanted to be an astronaut. I would imagine myself sitting in a capsule at the top of that huge rocket pointed toward the heavens. The massive thrusters would fire on the launch pad in Cape Canaveral, and the countdown would begin in my head.

"10... 9... 8... "

I would flip some imaginary switches in front of me, legs up on the sofa in my living room, ready to head to the moon.

"3... 2... 1... Liftoff!"

Then my imagination would shift perspective, and I'd be looking out a window at all the people I loved. They would be cheering and waving, shrinking below me as I climbed higher and higher until the world became a swirl of clouds around a blue sphere, like in the pictures I'd seen taken from space.

Finally, I would be floating among the stars. That was the favorite part of my daydreams, I would later tell my boyfriend, Drex. Of course, I didn't believe it would actually happen. Going into space had become a childhood fantasy.

Although on some deep level, I still wanted to be an astronaut, by the time I met Drex my freshman year of college, my career aspirations had become more down-to-earth. As an undergrad, I was pre-med, and he was a computer science major who lived in the dorm room right below mine. It wasn't love at first sight, but we got to know each other and then realized, to our mutual amazement about a year later, that we were actually soul mates.

We dated for five years. I started medical school, and he started graduate school. My second year, I got an opportunity to spend a month at a rural clinic in Honduras. Drex said that he would fly down after I was done with my work at the clinic so that we could have a long weekend together. Drex and I decided to go to the island of Roatan in the Caribbean Sea off the coast of Honduras. Since I was busy preparing for my clinic rotation and brushing up on medical Spanish phrases, Drex offered to make the arrangements for our getaway.

I felt comfortable leaving all the vacation preparations to him. On his apartment wall, Drex and I had a map studded with pins to mark all the places we'd been together. Through these trips and all the misadventures that came with them, we discovered that we had the same easygoing travel style, which involved minimal packing and planning. I knew we would have a good time no matter what.

We arrived at La Pura Vida Resort on the west end of Roatan. I took a shower and changed into my bathing suit, and then we headed out to enjoy an afternoon at the beach. Drex said that we only had one thing on our itinerary -- he had planned it for after dinner that night. I tried to hold off plying him with questions because I have an intuitive knack for guessing his surprises.

After swimming in the turquoise water of Half Moon Bay, followed by lying on the sand doing absolutely nothing, we walked to a thatched-roof restaurant on the beachfront and had bowls of conch soup and plates of fried fish with spicy mayo. Then Drex steered us farther along the water to a wooden dock. On a post, it said: Roatan Institute of Deepsea Exploration.

Drex explained casually that he had chartered a submarine to take us into the Cayman Trench, a long and narrow depression in the floor of the Caribbean Sea. He had read about Karl Stanley, featured in National Geographic Adventure magazine, who had built his own submarine and now offered underwater adventures to a depth of about 2,000 feet below sea level off the coast of Honduras.

Needless to say, I was very excited when I saw the yellow submarine. It was round with a large Plexiglas viewing bubble in the front, like a giant fishbowl eye where we would sit. We climbed into the hatch on top of the submarine. Drex and I got strapped into our seats behind the Plexiglas bubble, and it briefly crossed my mind that the submarine was somewhat like a spaceship. We were going to be taken into another world. Karl would do the steering behind us.

As we started our descent, I noticed that Drex looked anxious. We were holding hands, and I could feel his racing pulse and sweaty palms. I asked him if he was nervous about the dive, but he shook his head.

Through our viewing bubble, in the bright submarine headlights, we saw unusual creatures like blood-red starfish and walking sea lilies. Karl started playing music -- a CD of favorite songs Drex had made for our submarine adventure. Still, I didn't suspect anything. I was totally engrossed, like Jacques Cousteau, taking in this alien underwater world. It was vivid and surreal.

After about twenty minutes, we began our ascent to the surface. Karl turned off the submarine lights, and everything outside our bubble turned inky black. Then, all of a sudden, we were in a field of stars.

We were crossing a bioluminescent layer of tiny fish and squid that live in the Cayman Trench. They glow in response to the light from the submarine. Staring out from the capsule, I was in my girlhood dream, surrounded by a galaxy of creatures swimming around us. It actually felt like I was suspended and weightless in the darkness, an astronaut flying through space.

Overwhelmed, I barely heard the romantic speech Drex made, but when I saw the ring and heard him ask me to marry him, I said yes immediately. This incredible proposal made me realize that, no matter how ridiculous, unlikely, or out-of-reach they might seem, Drex would always, to the best of his abilities, help make my dreams come true.

My Mantra

By Donna Reames Rich
February 2005.

I am okay, I remind myself.

I'm lying on a stretcher, headed for an operating room in the same hospital where I work five shifts a week. I'm a registered nurse. I know a lot of the doctors by name. I could walk this campus blindfolded. But I've never been here as a patient.

It feels cold in this waiting area. I don't know if it's from the cold or from nerves. I close my eyes, thinking. I'm here for brain surgery. Someone I've met for fifteen minutes is going to slice open my skull and remove a tumor from the right frontal lobe of my brain.

At this moment, I am not thinking of dying. I am thinking of how weird it feels to know that someone, other than God, is going to see such an intimate, vital part of me. It's my brain, for crying out loud. This guy, this surgeon, is going to touch it with his hands. I can't get that out of my head. I shiver all over again.

A young guy in blue scrubs walks up, smiling, and hands me a purple Sharpie. He points to my head.

"Make an 'X' where your tumor is," he explains. I'm starting to feel a little groggy.

"You're kidding," I say, looking up at him and grinning. It's a normal magic marker. "For something like brain surgery, you'd think they'd be a little more high tech."

He chuckles. "Yep, that's what you'd think."

After I mark a clumsy "X" on the upper right side of my forehead, he rolls me to the operating area.

"You're gonna be just fine," he says.

I nod. I hope he's right.

Nine hours later, I open my eyes. I feel like a million tiny ants are crawling all over me. I itch everywhere. I scratch fiercely. A week from now, I'll be covered with tiny, open sores from what I discover is the morphine. I'll need it for the pain, but it will wreck my body. I'm in so much pain I can barely keep my eyes open. Everything hurts. It's like the world's greatest migraine. Light cuts like a knife. My mother's soft voice sounds like the shrill scream of a train.

But I am awake.

I am alive.

I repeat that thought over and over. It becomes my mantra when the pain gets too deep.

I am alive. I am alive. I am alive.

February 2006.

I have passed the one-year mark. My tumor was not benign and the doctor said there was an eighty percent chance of it returning within three years. He congratulated me on surviving and recommended radiotherapy, and if it came back, chemo. He said I should make out a will, just in case.

He was an excellent surgeon, but he didn't know how devastating the whole ordeal would become for me. He was not a psychiatrist. He took out the tumor. He healed me physically. He didn't intend to hold my hand for the rest of my life. He didn't say a word about the Frontal Lobe Syndrome I would face, the mounting confusion and mental fogging that would force me out of work for two long years.

I am not who I was before the surgery. I was optimistic and carefree. I ran on the beach with my kids and my dogs.

I haven't properly recognized my own children for six months. I know they are mine, but I don't know which daughter goes with which name, or which one is oldest.

I can't remember the words for ordinary things. Making a salad, I ask someone to hand me "the green ball in the refrigerator." Crossing the street, I cling tightly to my daughter's hand.

"Do you go on green?" I ask in a panic, "or red?"

I've become a hypochondriac. Every symptom drives me to the doctor.

I tell my wonderful new husband, Dave, that I hope we live together for a long time, "but you never know." I try to enjoy life, but there's always a cloud hanging over me. I won't relax for two more years, at least. I look for the three-year mark in 2008.

"Everything will be great in 2008," has become my new mantra.
February 2007.

As I edge closer to my target, I have become easier to live with but now I am fat. Now, I eat chocolate, lots of it, and pasta, and bread. Food comforts me. When I was a little girl, every time I was sad, or scared, or hurting, my mother offered me food. We didn't have a medicine cabinet filled with pills. We had chicken soup, fresh-squeezed orange juice, and loads of sweets.

I am beginning to believe that I will live a normal life. Seven MRIs have been clean. No more tumors. I stopped the Dilantin this year. I had an entire year free from seizures. I can drive again. The doctor who treats me for Frontal Lobe Syndrome tells me "it can go either way." I can stay on disability or try working again. My neurological testing shows some delay, but it's improving. I am remembering more.

But I look in the mirror and don't recognize the woman looking back. Still, something good is happening. I am getting in touch with my faith. I talk to God openly. I ask Him why I had the tumor. I thank Him for letting me live.
June 2008.

My life has come full circle. My daughters, Zoe, Chloe, and Caroline, are beautiful and full of life. I will start work again, as a nurse at my younger girls' elementary school.

I've gone three whole months without thinking about tumors, or cancer, or chemo, or dying. I am healthy and whole. I am okay, I say to myself, over and over. I am okay.

It has become my mantra.

Heavenly Chocolate

By Barbara Canale

If there's no chocolate in heaven, I'm not going.
~Author Unknown

I was only thirteen when I began corresponding with Corporal Steve Conboy, a young U.S. Marine stationed in Cambodia during the 1970s. His letters pulled me into the war that surrounded him. While there, Steve was determined to use his free time wisely. He worked with nuns who cared for children orphaned by the war. I was touched by his compassion and vowed to devote myself to orphans someday too.

When Steve was reassigned to another part of the world, we lost touch. I married Patrick after college and planned for a family. We decided to adopt orphans from Romania.

It was not until I adopted my two children that I realized how influential Steve was in that decision. With just a little searching, I found Steve again after so many years. He was an active duty Marine stationed in Quantico, Virginia. The military was the focus of his life, yet he found time to listen to reports about my daughters. It might have been because he never had children of his own, or perhaps there was a soft spot in his heart for orphans after working in Cambodia, but he always made my children a priority. The conversations we had helped me through many rough days. We kept our friendship alive through letters, e-mails and occasional phone calls.

Steve and I only saw each other twice, but I felt close to him and appreciated our unique friendship. When my daughter Juliana turned thirteen, the same age I was when I began corresponding with him, Steve was scheduled to visit us. I circled that date on my calendar and planned a few things we could do together. I could not wait to see him.

On the day he was supposed to arrive, I received a call telling me Steve had died unexpectedly. I was shocked that a fifty-three-year-old Marine who lived through war could die so suddenly without a good reason. The only justification that I could accept was that it was more important for Steve to go to heaven on June 20th than to visit me. He was now Heaven's angel.

My father and I drove to Washington, D.C. to attend Steve's funeral. It was during the mass that Steve appeared to me. He did not say anything. He merely stared at me with a solemn expression. I was afraid to take my eyes off him for fear he would disappear, and after just a few minutes, he faded away. I wondered if my brain was recalling past images of him, but I realized I had only seen him twice before and the image I saw was new and undeniably Steve.

When I returned home, Patrick and our daughters rallied around me offering support as I grieved. One thing that bothered me about Steve dying so unexpectedly was that I never got the opportunity to say goodbye to him. Even though I saw him in the coffin and the vision of him during church, it was not the same as talking to him alive and face to face. In the thirty years I knew Steve, I had only "seen" him two times! I was disappointed that he died on the day he was planning to visit me.

One night, shortly after his death, I dreamed he called me on the phone. I could hear his breath through the receiver so vividly it made the conversation feel real. He explained that he had to go away for a while and although it was not his choice, he had to do what he was told. I understood the Marines would send him to places throughout the world that were not to his liking, but he always did what he was told. That was the life of a Marine. So, hearing Steve tell me that he was going away seemed almost natural and I accepted it.

I wanted to keep talking to him, but the conversation seemed awkward, and in my dream, I looked out the window and saw Patrick walking up the driveway with Juliana and Andrea. They were carrying a huge bag of M&M's and I could see the excitement on their faces. They knew how happy that would make me. I told Steve I had to get off the phone because the girls and Pat were at the door.

We hung up the phone and then I woke up. I began to cry when I realized it was just a dream. Then, I noticed the phone on the dresser across the room was out of the cradle. I thought that was odd and I wondered if I was losing my mind. Did I just dream that I had a conversation with Steve or did I really have a phone call from him? I looked out of the bedroom window at the sky full of twinkling stars and asked God to tell me if that was really Steve I was talking to. At that instant, a falling star streamed across the sky. I was stunned, unable to comprehend it all.

The next day at work I told Michelle, my co-worker, about my dream and the falling star.

"I think it was God," she said.

I sighed deeply. "If someone gives me M&M's today, then I will know it was God."

Michelle burst out laughing. She pushed her work aside, looked straight at me and said, "All of those signs were not good enough? You seriously want more?"

"Yes. I am a woman and I want chocolate."

We chuckled. And then a drug representative approached the small glass window at the doctor's office where we worked. I slid the glass door open and greeted her. She handed me a small plastic container and said, "Here you go." Then, as quickly as she appeared, she was gone. I carried the container back to my workstation and set it on top of the files I had been working on.

"What's that?" Michelle asked.

"I have no idea," I responded.

"Who was that?" she asked.

"I don't know," I said.

Michelle reached over, lifted the lid and gasped. It was a container full of M&M's!

God works in mysterious and miraculous ways.

A Steamy Romance

By Stefanie Wass

Those who bring sunshine to the lives of others cannot keep it from themselves.
~James Matthew Barrie

Walking in the back door, I kick off my shoes and throw my purse on the counter. I can't wait to sit down. Pulling off my socks, I uncover four raw blisters — badges of pride for a full day on my feet. Although exhilarating, my new job as a substitute teacher is an adjustment after ten years as a stay-at-home mom.

Searching the cupboard for Band-Aids, I notice the clock: 3:30. In just half an hour, my younger daughter will bound off the school bus, bustling with cursive handwriting papers, tales of gym and recess, and complaints about her grumbling stomach.

Rummaging through the cupboard, I find my salvation — a lone bag of microwave popcorn peeking from behind a bag of stale pretzels. Snack dilemma solved, I walk into my bedroom to change into jeans and collect two overflowing laundry baskets. Though I'd love to read a magazine or watch Oprah, I know I'd better throw in a load of my husband's Dockers and Polo shirts. How much longer can I ignore my daughters' hampers, overflowing with grimy jeans and spaghetti sauce-stained sweatshirts?

Guess I'd better wash the jeans before dinner. I can do the whites later.

Just as I'm about to drown in self-pity, I stop dead in my tracks. I rub my eyes to make sure I'm not seeing things. Could that be a row of clean, perfectly pressed pants hanging in my closet? Weren't those the same Dockers and jeans that sat crumpled in a heap before I left for work?

Pulling on a pair of crisply creased khakis, I hurry into the laundry room. Where are the piles of grape jelly-encrusted T-shirts and pizza-stained capris? Sunlight glistens through the window, spotlighting my glorious discovery: two baskets of spotless jeans, tees, and sweatshirts, lovingly folded and sorted, as if by magic.

I touch the clothes to make sure they're for real. The laundry is done. All of it.

A warm tingly feeling, not unlike puppy love, jitters through my veins. He did this, just for me. I'm light and giddy, like a schoolgirl with a secret admirer.

As soon as the garage door creaks open, I'm there, ready with a welcoming kiss. "You didn't have to do all the laundry."

My husband shrugs, as if washing clothes is some type of recreational sport. "Just threw a few loads in during lunch. No big deal."

No big deal? A mountain of mind-numbing whites, darks, and cool-water washables? Sudsing and sorting and ironing, too? For a girl pressed for time, this was beyond romantic. Forget the chocolates and roses. Turns out, Tide and Clorox emit their own type of pheromones.

After fifteen years of marriage, I've discovered the secret to romance: a husband who whistles while he Woolites. What could be sexier than a guy who knows the difference between the spin cycle and permanent press? Nothing beats walking into the bedroom and finding my husband plugged into his iPod, dancing around the ironing board and pressing his dress shirts.

Now that I'm a working girl, I know it's wise to accept help in the domestic department. A closet full of perfectly pressed pants is a fine surprise any day. As far as I know, there are no heavenly rewards for sacrificial sudsing and sorting. I'd be better off listening to E.B. White's words of advice: "We should all do what, in the long run, gives us joy, even if it is only picking grapes or sorting the laundry." For me, laundry is arduous: a weekly mountain to climb when I'd rather be playing with my girls. Why not accept a reprieve from a man who looks awfully smooth moving back and forth behind the steam iron? Why not teach my girls that washing clothes isn't necessarily "women's work?" If I pass the laundry basket into my husband's able arms, my hands will finally be free: to hug my girls and maybe even relax with a good magazine.

Suds, steam, and heat are surefire ingredients for true passion.

Add an ironing board and a helpful husband for love that spreads far beyond the laundry room.

Homemade Love

By Helen Zanone

The family is a haven in a heartless world.
~Attributed to Christopher Lasch

Valentine's Day is usually spent with the one you love. Not me. Mine is spent with the four people I love. It wasn't always that way, but six years ago a new tradition was started.

It started when my husband and I got a sitter for our three kids and went to our favorite Italian restaurant. The smell of warm bread and dipping oil wafted out as we approached the restaurant. I had barely eaten that day just to leave room for all the yummy food I was about to consume. Would I have chicken parmesan? No, chicken marsala. I couldn't make up my mind.

We waited for a table, along with twenty other people. I knew it was Valentine's Day, but was this everyone's favorite restaurant? To make matters worse, the people who were seated took their time. They savored every bite and then ordered more. They sipped their wine, lingered over the meal and then ordered dessert.

Two and a half hours later, we were seated. The food had lost its appeal. It was no longer dinnertime, it was bedtime. Nothing was worth that long a wait, but we knew every other place would be the same. In an attempt to save the evening, I put on a smile and worked through my lasagna. Never again would I subject myself to that kind of torture.

The following year, John asked, "Where are we were going for dinner?"

"Nowhere!" I said. His look was quizzical. "It's a surprise. Just be home by six."

While John was at work and the kids were at school, I got busy with the preparations. I warmed some cream and added a split vanilla bean, the essence floated on an invisible cloud. After whipping some egg yolks and sugar to a light yellow color, the cream was added and melted dark chocolate was folded in. Then the crème brûlée was put into the refrigerator to set.

I began setting the table. It was better than any restaurant I had been to. The red tablecloth was sprinkled with pink rose petals, then layers of white toile were added. Votives were scattered around the settings of my best china. I placed a box of chocolates and a handwritten card on each plate. All my table needed now was a good meal and my family to enjoy it.

I preheated the oven and began to stuff a large chicken. I used onion, a quartered lemon, a whole head of garlic, thyme and salt and pepper. Then, under the skin, I rubbed a butter mixture with shallot, thyme, salt, pepper and lemon zest.

As the chicken cooked and the skin turned a golden brown, I began to boil potatoes. Once they were cooked and drained, I whipped in some warm cream and lots of butter, creating a mound of fluffiness.

The meal was coming together. I roasted some asparagus, warmed some rolls and made a rich gravy out of the pan drippings from the chicken. This was the kind of meal to be talked about for years to come.

The kids came home full of questions. "Aren't you going out to dinner?" my daughter Caitlin asked.

"Do we get to drink out of those wine glasses?" my six-year-old son asked. My fourteen-year-old son didn't say much but I caught him looking over his book, gazing at the table.

"When is Dad going to be home?" Caitlin asked impatiently.

"Don't worry, Dad won't miss the fun. Now go play while I finish our dinner." She couldn't pull herself away and she remained under my feet while I placed the food on platters.

John walked in the door as the last tray of food was placed on the table. He handed me a bouquet of roses that I placed in the center of the table. Perfect, I thought, as I looked at the glowing faces around the table.

It was a meal we would never forget, especially when I torched a layer of sugar on top of the crème brûlée. No one wanted to be the first to get up. I had never seen the kids so mesmerized or well behaved. There were no elbows on the table and the napkins were placed on their laps.

In the years to come, the kids would start talking about dinner weeks before Valentine's Day arrived. I always surprised them and tried to top the year before.

Now my oldest is twenty, and he still makes sure he is here for Valentine's. Instead of having four loved ones to spend it with, I now set the table for six, seven, even eight people. The kids bring their dates, because no one wants to miss out on the festivities.

Maybe one day I will be lucky enough to share this tradition with my grandchildren. I smile as I look across the table at my husband. This is what Valentine's Day is about — showing your family how much they are loved.

Double Love

By Samantha Ducloux Waltz

I guess you don't really own a dog, you rent them, and you have to be thankful that you had a long lease.
~Joe Garagiola

"It's a moving van," Joel, my six-year-old, announced one summer morning as he ran from the breakfast table to the front window. I joined him and we watched the truck move warily past us toward the only other house on our narrow, gravel road.

"Let's give them a country welcome," I suggested. Tami, my twelve-year-old, helped me make chocolate chip cookies and our family headed to meet our new neighbors. Rex, the Golden Retriever we'd recently rescued, bounded beside us. A Japanese woman answered the door. Within moments a man and a boy about Joel's age stepped up beside her.

"Hello," she said with a little bow, her eyes glowing with pleasure as I handed her the cookies. "I am Machiko Tomita. This is Mas, and our son Ken."

I introduced my family. Her eyes settled on Rex.

"He is so big," she said, her eyes sparkling. "And so beautiful. We have no dogs like this in Japan."

"He is very handsome." Mas nodded.

Rex was handsome, ninety pounds of gleaming, feathered coat, doleful brown eyes in a broad face, and a gentle disposition.

"How old is he?" Machiko asked as Ken tentatively ran his hand along Rex's long back.

"About two and a half. A teenager in dog years," I replied.

"A teenager. He wants to be busy and always meeting people," she said laughing. "Please come in. Excuse the boxes. Our boys can play."

We accepted a cup of tea and chatted for a few minutes about the neighborhood and about Mas's work.

"Where did you get Rex?" Machiko asked.

"His first owners didn't want him. They hardly fed him," I answered.

"How could anyone not want him?" Machiko asked in wonder, kneeling beside him and petting him. We visited a few more minutes, then my husband Hal, Tami and I headed home, leaving the boys to play. Rex trotted at our side. An hour passed before I realized Rex wasn't underfoot, as usual.

"Rex," I called out.

He didn't come. I went outside and called again. If he wandered down our road to the street it intersected, where the occasional car sped by, he'd be in danger. My heart lifted when I looked toward the Tomitas and he galloped into view, long ears flying.

"You're grounded for a week," I told him as he skidded to a stop and I gave him a hug. "You really worried me." But I couldn't be very angry with him. As a puppy, he probably hadn't felt wanted. Now he had new friends.

Within a week Rex was making daily trips to visit the Tomitas, like a teenager hanging out with his buddies.

"It's wonderful," Machiko assured me. "I never had a dog before."

At first I felt a stab of jealousy, but the feeling quickly evaporated. How could I deny Rex the added love and attention?

Rex courted Machiko the way a high school sophomore courts his first big crush. He often took her gifts, a slightly damp apple or orange from the fruit platter, cookies from a tray left on the counter, or a bag of chips intended for a child's lunch. Heading into the kitchen one afternoon, I saw him nose open a deep kitchen drawer, take a bag of corn flakes in his mouth, and carry it to the front door. Standing on his long hind legs, he put a front paw on the curved door handle and pressed down. One click and he was off to the Tomitas. In return, Machiko always had a dog treat for him.

With the awkwardness and exuberance of youth, he knocked flowerpots off the Tomitas' deck, stole sushi off their counter, and splashed water from a proffered water bowl all across their tiled kitchen floor. She forgave him everything.

It was a halcyon summer. The boys ran through a sprinkler on Machiko's front lawn, Rex pushing the sprinkler head around with his nose, spraying everyone from surprise angles. They gathered materials from our house-cum-construction site and built forts in the woods of fir, maple, and scrub oak that covered the hillside between our houses, Rex darting about, acting as foreman. Boys and dog splashed in the shallow creek that ran along the edge of the Tomitas' pasture, happy shouts filling the crisp country air. Then Rex put the Tomitas' generous hospitality at risk in true teenage style.

Machiko had been cleaning and cooking for days so she and Mas could entertain all the dignitaries connected with his job. I made sure Rex was at my side as the chatter of guests reached us, followed by the aroma of steaks on the grill. I was making a simpler meal of turkey tacos for my family and turned to offer Rex a bite of browning ground turkey, but he wasn't in the kitchen.

"Have you seen Rex?" I called to the kids, panic tightening my chest. I needn't have asked. I knew where he'd gone. I grabbed a leash and car keys. A big, salivating dog was surely the last thing the Tomitas would want on this important occasion. It took me minutes to drive up the hill, but Rex had already crashed the party and was circulating among the guests, feathered tail wagging. Machiko had filled a lovely, lacquered wooden bowl with water for him. Mas had given him a steak.

"He can stay. He is very welcome," Machiko assured me as I hurried to the deck, leash in hand, gushing apologies and feeling as out of place as my dog. I couldn't believe they weren't cross. Then I looked at Rex's big Golden Retriever smile and understood. They truly loved him.

Over the next four years, our families shared every snow day, every outing to the park, every holiday. Rex was always with us. Then one day he grew desperately ill and I rushed him to the vet. An hour later I called Machiko, sobbing. "He has congestive heart failure. The vet can't do anything to save him."

"I want to say goodbye," Machiko said, her voice breaking.

We got Tami and the boys out of school and gathered around Rex in the waiting room of the veterinary hospital, tears streaming down our faces. I cradled his head in my lap, Machiko stroked his back, and the kids patted him and told him what a great dog he was. Machiko and I were both with him when he was euthanized and the two families gathered to bury him in the woods between our homes.

"It's so sad," Machiko said dabbing her eyes with a handkerchief. "Just six years old." I put my arm around her shoulders.

"But he had four wonderful years. Not many dogs have two families."

Machiko smiled wistfully. "That's right. We all really loved him. He went from no love to double love."

Treasure Hunt

By Steve Manchester

It was so much fun, we proposed to each other all day long.
~Melissa Errico

Andrea slammed the phone into its cradle and shrieked, "I can't believe him!"

Her mom entered the room. "Jeff?"

"Yeah. He just did everything he could to pick a fight!" Shaking her head, she added, "I haven't seen him in three days and it doesn't even bother him. He says he's busy at work and can't break away. I don't know how much longer I can take this."

"Don't get impatient," Emma smiled slightly and patted her frustrated daughter's shoulder. "The best things in life are worth waiting for. Trust me."

"I don't know, Ma. Maybe he's the one that should be doing the waiting." She stormed out of the room.

Emma's smile widened.

Not an hour later, the doorbell rang. Andrea rushed to answer it. It just has to be Jeff, she thought. He'd never hang up angry.

Emma stood back, wiped her hands on a flowered apron and reclaimed her mischievous smile.

Andrea tipped the young messenger and rushed the package into the house. Under the watchful eye of her curious mother, she tore through the brown wrapping. It was the most beautiful dress she'd ever laid eyes on. As she lifted the white lace into the air, a piece of stationery floated to the floor. It read:

Baby Cakes,

Sometimes I say things I don't mean. Sometimes I'm stubborn and defensive. Sometimes I want to go to you, but fear rejection. Andrea, I love you, and because I love you I'll try harder to be understanding and have more patience. Forgive me. I saw this dress and thought how beautiful you'd look in it. Please wear it tonight and meet me at Capriccio's at 6:00. Can't wait to see you!



As she wiped her eyes, Andrea caught her mother's grin. "I'll be there, "she smirked. "But this time he's gonna wait!"

Her mother just laughed.

It was almost 6:30 when Andrea screeched into Capriccio's lot. She intended to be a few minutes late, allowing extra time to get ready. She wanted his wait to be worth it when he saw her. The valet attendant took one look and swallowed hard. She noticed and smiled. The extra time had paid off.

Greeted by the maitre d', she expected him to escort her to Jeff's table. Instead, the older gentleman smiled and handed her a dozen long-stemmed roses.

"Mr. Stanton called and said he was running late. He said that the card would explain."

Blowing a wisp of hair from her eyes, Andrea reached into the baby's breath and retrieved the card.


I would say I'm sorry, but those would just be words that you have heard many times before. This time, I'll say I love you, a truth that lives within my heart.

Meet me at the Eagle for drinks at 7:00.


Andrea looked at the maitre d' who continued to grin. "Did he say anything else on the phone?"

"Not exactly," the kind man muttered. "Just that he can't wait to see you."

"It certainly doesn't seem that way," she lamented.

As she reached the parking lot, she was surprised to find that her car hadn't been moved. The valet attendant opened the door, smiled sweetly and said, "Best of luck!"

"Same to you," she replied, confused by his curious comment.

Within ten minutes she was at the Eagle waiting in the lounge. She would give him ten minutes to show; otherwise she'd go home to contemplate their future.

The bartender sauntered over. "What'll you have, Miss?"

"Margarita, no salt and a cup of ice on the side."

"Cup of ice on the side?" the man questioned with a silly grin dancing across his face.

"Yeah," she confirmed, her irritated tone approaching anger. If she didn't know any better, she'd swear she was the butt of some cruel joke. She checked her watch again. He had seven more minutes. Looking down at the beautiful white dress she wore, she shook her head. What a waste, she thought, fighting back the tears.

Within seconds, the bartender returned with a bottle of champagne and the same smile he'd left with.

"I ordered a margarita," she roared, then realizing her rude outburst, quietly added, "I'm sorry; it's just that my boyfriend was supposed to..."

"Meet you here at 7:00? I know. He called and ask ed that I pour you a glass of champagne and give you this card." With a wink, the bartender was gone. Andrea reluctantly opened it.


Please bear with me! There are going to be times when other things might seem more important than you, but you have to trust that they're not.

The rest is up to faith. I'll be at the Dockside at 7:30. I'm hoping more than anything that you meet me. Please be there with the champagne.


Andrea stood and noticed that every patron in the bar was gawking. She was right; it was a conspiracy. Her first thought was to go home and put an end to Jeff's foolish game.

Then it hit her. There was no way Jeff would have had the time to drop off both cards. Realizing it was all a carefully planned scheme; she smiled back at the crowd. Her excitement grew and, within minutes, she was in her car speeding to the Dockside.

As expected, Jeff was nowhere to be found. Instead, a white stretch limousine idled in front of a dilapidated shack. The chauffeur held a sign that read Andrea Evans.

With her dozen red roses, bottle of champagne and tears in her eyes, she climbed into the car. The driver offered a familiar smile and handed her a tiny card.

I knew you wouldn't give up on me. Enjoy the ride. I'm waiting! I love you!


Andrea enjoyed the ride and when the car stopped, she stole a peek out the window. She was at the beach and Jeff was waiting somewhere in the dunes.

The driver parked the car, opened the door and assisted her out. "Have a beautiful time," he said. "I'll be here when you get done!"

Andrea felt like hugging him for his smile — the same one she had seen on the faces of strangers all day. Something big was up and the quest was not yet complete. Not forgetting her roses and champagne, she kicked off her shoes, grabbed them and started for the ocean.

A path of small seashells glimmered under a full moon. It was obvious each shell had been carefully placed, looping through the shifting dunes until they reached several large conch shells. Arranged in the shape of an arrow, they were the last clue on Jeff's peculiar map. She took a deep breath before stepping over the last dune.

The sight nearly brought her to her knees. Jeff was seated at a small round table in the middle of the beach. Dressed in a black tux, he stood when he saw her. She hurried toward him.

On the table, a hurricane lamp illuminated two place settings, an empty vase and empty ice bucket waited to be filled, and soft music drifted through the breeze.

As she reached him, she expected Jeff to embrace her, but he didn't. Instead, he dropped to his knees, grabbed her hand and blurted, "Be my wife, Andrea. Spend the rest of your life with me."

Instinctively, Andrea dropped to meet him in the sand. "Yes!" she answered through her sniffles. "I thought you'd never ask!"

Jeff laughed and pulled her to him. "I love you," he whispered.

"And I love you," she countered. Gesturing toward the table, she added, "I love all of this! But why?"

"Because I needed to know that you wouldn't give up on me when you thought I may have given up on you. I needed to know you love me as much as I love you."

"Do you know now?"

"I do," he whispered.

"Good," she giggled. "Because this is the last time I chase you!"

Proof Positive

By Tom Lumbrazo

Angels are direct creations of God, each one a unique Master's piece.
~Eileen Elias Freeman, The Angels' Little Instruction Book

On Friday, February 9, 2001, an angel talked to me. I had not believed in angels. I was pragmatic, fifty-three years old, and happily married for thirty-two years. I made decisions based on my five senses.

Around noon, I was driving my Jeep alone at sixty miles per hour on Highway 65, a four-lane expressway. All of a sudden, a male voice shouted to me from the front passenger seat "SLOW TO 35." Even though nobody else was in my Jeep, I looked around to see who said it. I knew the voice was real, but from someone or something I could not see.

I tried to figure out what to do. How could this be happening? My sixth sense kicked in. My mind told me "This sounds important." My intuition told me to do what it said. I immediately slowed to thirty-five miles per hour. Within seconds, a car sped past me and stopped at a traffic signal that was hundreds of feet ahead and showing green.

"That is crazy," I said to myself. "Why are they stopping at a green light?"

Then to my surprise, as I approached that green light, that car turned into my lane.

I slammed on my brakes, but kept skidding right into the side of the car and landed on top of the hood. Both vehicles were demolished. I was shaken, but not injured.

When the California Highway Patrol arrived, I told the officer what happened. He said, "Mister, if you were going sixty, you would most certainly be dead. I see this all the time."

At that moment, everything came into focus. I realized that the voice and my willingness to follow the message saved my life and the life of the other driver. Who was that voice and why me? What would I tell people about this? Would they call me crazy? Should I keep this to myself? Was my encounter with an angel? I knew that I had to find out.

For the next three years I consulted with all kinds of professionals who might know whose voice it was, yet with no tangible results. Then one night as my wife Carol and I slept, we were woken at 1:30 a.m. by our bed shaking violently from side to side and all the lights going on and off. This lasted for about a minute.

We were startled and scared, but could not find anyone in our house, or any reason for these events. As I was starting to go back to sleep, with my eyes closed but still awake, a bright light came into the center of my vision. This light instantly turned into a picture of an incredibly large and beautiful angel standing in profile.

I saw huge wings that towered over his head. I knew it would be impossible to describe the intricate detail of his body, wings, and feathers to others. Then the angel turned its head and looked directly at me. The figure rapidly transformed into this same angel, but on a horse with warrior clothing, a shield, and a sword.

As quickly as it had come, it disappeared. I realized that I had experienced a "vision." This vision was so unforgettable that I could not sleep the rest of the night, wondering who it was, why I got to see this vision... so many questions.

The next morning, I felt this intense message to go to a nearby bookstore to look for angel books. As I got to the metaphysical section, I took the very first angel book off the shelf and turned to a random page in the middle of the book. And there He was — plain as day. It was an illustration of an angel on his horse with his shield and sword. The book identified this angel as Archangel Michael.

It was clear to me that I was led to this store to find my answer. I finally got the confirmation of the angel in the vision.

Three years later in May 2008, the confirmation process continued on a trip to Sedona, Arizona. We had become interested in labyrinths, so when we found one at the St. Andrew's Episcopal Church there, we decided to walk it. This one was painted on the large concrete parking lot surface modeled to match the one in Chartres, France. As we walked it, I noticed that the clouds were building rapidly overhead. I looked up and, incredibly, this angel came to me again in the form of a cloud — the same image on his horse with a sword. We could not believe our eyes! Carol and I were so excited. It was surreal. How could clouds do this?

Fortunately, I had my camera and I hurriedly took photos of Archangel Michael in this cloud before it disappeared. Now I had my proof!

Over the years following these events, I have had over 200 visions. Visions of people, animals, and symbols, but never another angel.

Yes, I was saved by an angel. So you might wonder what this all means. The last eleven years have changed everything for me. I have discovered the world of the angels, and I have felt their caring messages being sent almost daily through whispers in my ear, messages in my mind, cloud images, songs, and meditations. All of us can tap into such messages with consistent meditations and patience.