среда, 24 июля 2013 г.

My Mother, My Hero

By John Lavitt

There is nothing like a dream to create the future.
~Victor Hugo
From a traditional perspective, when a man mentions the hero in his family, he tends to be referring to his father. Although I love and respect my father, I must admit I do not fall in line with this classic stereotype.
Ever since I was a young man, the hero in my family has been my mom. Beyond being a loving and present mother, Wendy Lavitt created an inspiring career as an American folk art dealer and antiques writer. But she did not enter this brave new world of writing and antique dealing by leaving the children and the home behind. Instead, she brought us right along with her. Throughout the latter part of my childhood when her work adventure began, I always felt part of the journey. In my memory, as my mother's career grew to such an extent that she eventually was included in Who's Who in America, I was right by her side, sharing in her boundless enthusiasm for antiques and American folk art.
So how did a Manhattan housewife go from painting T-shirts at school bake sales to opening stores on Madison Avenue, authoring coffee table books, curating museum shows and lecturing on American folk art across the country? All passions must ignite, so here is the spark. In 1978, the American Folk Art Museum sponsored an antique show at the famous Armory in New York City. The museum hired a relatively unknown caterer named Martha Stewart who transformed the Armory into a barnyard setting, with live chickens in coops, and bales of hay. Describing the scene as "a feast to behold," my mom was entranced by the display booths overflowing with Americana from weathervanes to folk dolls. On the spot, she decided this was the world she wanted to be a part of for the rest of her life. She has never looked back.
Do not think the road, however, was easy and smooth because it took a lot of hard work and some wrong turns to transform the initial spark into a fire. Wendy began her journey with a combination of collecting as a neophyte antiques dealer and writing for trade publications. Although her first article, for which she was paid seventy-five dollars, was accepted by a little magazine in Iowa called Antiques Journal, the collecting did not always go so well. All families have classic stories, and we have the legend of the pipe stand. An early purchase, the pipe stand remained for several years in Wendy's collection. I would lug it back and forth to the antique shows where it never was close to being purchased. Upon its return to our house, my father would shake his head and laugh, believing my mother's new passion was headed for oblivion.
My mother always paid me what seemed like a lot to a young teenager to be the official lugger. Although I initially came along because of my desire to buy more comic books, I soon grew to share her passion for collecting.
Although the antiques collected were hit and miss in the beginning, the shows she chose to attend could be even more vexing. I remember tagging along for a show in the parking lot of Shea Stadium. As my mother set up her booth, things seemed a bit off to me. Nobody else really had antiques, and most of the vendors were selling junk. I will never forget when a woman picked up an antique tea set and looked at the price on the bottom label. She snorted, "Fifty cents is too much, but I will give you a quarter for it." My mom snatched it out of her hands with the exclamation, "This piece costs fifty dollars and is from New England in the early nineteenth century. It's almost two hundred years old!" By the end of that day, not a single piece had been sold. Heads bowed, we packed up the pipe stand and headed home.
I began to appreciate her perseverance even if I had to carry all the heavy furniture on each trip. This trail of early rising, many miles, and small profits eventually led to her Holy Grail when my mother opened up a store called Made In America in 1981. It contained a vibrant display of the best of Americana, overflowing with folk art and antique quilts. For four years, it did excellent business and helped my mother reach the next pinnacle of her career. Since her first publication, Wendy had continued writing articles on folk art for various magazines. Using her formidable networking skills, she translated this early success into a book deal with Alfred A. Knopf.
Chicken Soup for the Soul: Stay-at-Home Moms
In 1982, Wendy's first coffee table picture book, American Folk Dolls, was published to excellent reviews, including in Timemagazine and New York Magazine. At last, she felt she had arrived in mainstream America. The publication led directly to her curating a museum show, "Children's Children: American Folk Dolls," at the American Folk Art Museum in New York City in 1983.
Never resting on her laurels, this initial success led my mom to a long career of publishing and lecturing. Wendy has published five other books, including Animals in American Folk Art andContemporary Pictorial Quilts. As my mother researched her books, she often needed to visit various museums in New England. On the pretext of taking me to camp in Maine, we headed up the coast, stopping at antique fairs and historical societies. To bolster my lagging enthusiasm, she promised to stop at any amusement park we passed on the way and even go on the dreaded roller coaster with me. She recalls that one in Rhode Island almost did her in.
Wendy has gone on to publish countless magazine articles and curate a number of museum shows. Her courage is reflected in the choice she made when she decided to have cosmetic surgery in 1987. She wrote an article about her face-lift for Salt Lake Magazine that included a thirty-day diary of her recovery. She believed she could help other women make the right choice in regards to cosmetic surgery by being open. Arguably, she had one of the most public face-lifts at a time when most women preferred to keep them veiled in secrecy.
Wendy was a stay-at-home mom throughout her early career. She always was present for her husband and children, and in fact just celebrated her forty-ninth wedding anniversary. As her son, I do not recall a single time when I ever resented her choice to go for her passion. Rather, I am so proud of what she has accomplished. By finding a precise balance between her career and her family, my mother enriched my life by making me part of the journey she has taken since that fateful day in 1978. Yes, my mother is my hero, and I hope to be able to emulate her success, her passion and her determination in my ventures. Wendy's success reveals a wonderful truth — it is possible to have it all.

Vacation Cat

By Ava Siemens

The cat is the only animal which accepts the comforts but rejects the bondage of domesticity.
~Georges-Louis Leclerc de Buffon
A few years ago, my husband Jeff and I decided to take a trip to the Queen Charlotte Islands off the coast of British Columbia. It was going to be an adventure — complete with a seven-hour road trip, an eight-hour ferry ride, and a stay in a no-frills cabin once we got there. Our two cats would have to sit this one out, as their idea of roughing it meant not being allowed on the bed. It was always difficult to leave Minnie and Spookie behind, although we knew they would be well looked after.
On our first day, Jeff was outside our cabin chopping wood for the first morning fire, and as I sat on the step, I saw a blur of orange out of the corner of my eye. Under the stairs, two yellow eyes peered up at me. I called out, but once the cat knew that he had been seen, he scurried back underneath where he had appeared. I was intrigued, since we had been told that there were a number of stray cats in the woods nearby. We brought in the wood and decided to leave the sliding doors open to see if the orange shadow might return. It wasn't long before he walked in and made his way gingerly to a warm spot in front of the woodstove. While grooming himself, he kept one eye on both of us, but once he was content with his appearance, he wandered over to the couch where we were sitting and jumped up. We froze. Carefully he found his way between us and lay down. He was a shorthaired cat and when he moved we saw the outlines of his muscles in his sleek body.
That first evening, when I attempted to pick him up, he bit my finger. Not enough to draw blood, but a gentle warning. It was then that we decided he would be known as Bitey.
Bitey was a hunter and a fierce one. And yet, though his claws were sharp, his affection for us was overwhelming. He would climb up to my chest until he was eye level with me and stare deep into my eyes. We fed him, but soon found out that he did not need us for his meals. Disappearing for a short time, he would return with a small bird in his mouth, dropping it on the floor at our feet. When neither of us accepted his treat, he picked it back up and took it outside to eat it under the steps.
Bitey followed us everywhere. When we hiked the beach, he trailed behind, vocal the entire time. Why come along, we thought, only to make such noise? Did he think we were leaving? On the way back, he would run ahead and be there to meet us back at the cabin. That first night, he found a space on the bed and slept there through the night. At first I feared that he might have fleas, or even worse, but his purring won me over.
From then on, we had a constant companion at our feet. He would leave the warmth of the bed early in the morning to hunt and then return when we were about to have our breakfast. He groomed himself by the fire while we planned our day. In the evenings we built fires amongst the dunes and watched the sun go down. Bitey would lie just out of the light from the fire, his tail flicking back and forth. The week passed quickly and our hearts were heavy knowing that we would soon have to return to the working grind. Of course we were excited to get back home and see our own two cats, but it was going to be difficult to part ways with our new friend.
Chicken Soup for the Soul: My Cat's Life
On our last night, as he was nestled on our bed we whispered about how we could take him home with us. He would settle in, learn to be an indoor cat. We decided that we couldn't leave him. The last day arrived and we began to pack and load the truck. Bitey sat on the steps for a while and then disappeared. When it was finally time to go, Bitey had made his own decision. He was gone.
The following year, we decided to head back to the island for our holidays. This time, we planned to stay for two weeks and were eager to get to our destination. We both wondered aloud what the chances were of seeing Bitey again. It was a harsh life for a cat on the wet island. There were many dangers.
This time we took a small container of cat food with us just in case. We spent the first day chopping kindling, unpacking our supplies and making plans for the next day's activities. We watched for Bitey but there was no sign of him. Later in the evening, as the fire crackled and the wind howled outside, a glimpse of orange passed in front of the doors. We had left them open just a little, hoping for company. He hung back until we called to him. Then, as if he knew the routine by heart, he followed us inside the open door and settled down beside the fire. He didn't leave us to go and hunt that night.
Bitey stayed with us for the next two weeks, only leaving for his morning hunt. He brought many gifts for us, always leaving them outside on the steps. On the second-to-last day we were horrified to discover that he had brought us a squirrel. Not wanting to upset him, we stifled our screams of disgust until he took it back outside with him and proceeded to devour it under the stairs. Once again the time was upon us to say our goodbyes. Bitey watched for a moment, and then, without a backwards glance, he was gone. My heart was heavy as we pulled away, but I knew Bitey was not ours to take home. He would not be happy away from this life he had. It was perfect for him.

Monkey Soap

By Shannon McCarty

Accept everything about yourself — I mean everything. You are you and that is the beginning and the end — no apologies, no regrets.
~Clark Moustakas
"And what is your skin care regimen?" my sister-in-law asks me at the Mary Kay party. My sister-in-law has just become a consultant, joining the ranks of my other stay-at-home-mom friends who have started home businesses selling products such as Pampered Chef and Discovery Toys.
"Um, well, the kids have this great new soap that foams when it dispenses," I start.
"No," she laughs, "what products do you use on YOUR face for cleansing and moisturizing?"
"Like I said," I continue, a little annoyed, "the new foaming soap with the monkeys on the front does quite nicely for my skincare."
"Oh, honey," she says. "You do need help. First you must start with a clarifying agent...." She starts a long speech about the ten steps of facial awareness. It's not that I'm opposed to spending twenty minutes a day cleaning my face; it's just that I can't see where I can fit it into the schedule with the kids. I decide to keep my mind open.
By the end of the party, I am equipped with facial cleanser, moisturizer, clarifier, lipstick, lip liner, lipgloss, foundation, concealer, two kinds of blush, four colors of eye shadow, as well as a host of other products. All for $250, with a promise to make me a new woman. I feel great. I can't wait to start my new life the next day.
I wake up early to spend a little extra time using my new products. I'm not even through with the seventh cleaning step when my four-year-old groggily appears downstairs. "Bunny milk," he mumbles. "Teletubbies." I turn on the television for him, get the requested milk, and continue to step eight.
I am proudly applying my new Pink Pout lip color when my three-year-old daughter joins him. "You lips funny Mommy," she says, and before I can move she swipes a hand over my mouth, smearing my Pink Pout all over my freshly applied foundation and two layers of blush.
"Dammit," I say under my breath. "Back to step one." Undeterred, I get her settled in front of the video and begin the process of putting together the new me.
It isn't five minutes later and both kids are in the bathroom with me. "Are these toys?" my son asks, climbing on the vanity, sending my applicators all over the floor.
"No, they are for Mommy," I say. "It's make-up."
"Put it on me!" my daughter shouts.
Chicken Soup for the Soul: Parenthood

"No, this is special for Mommy." They both start whining and crying at the same time. I cave. "Okay, just a little." My daughter grabs the lipstick, opens it, and smashes it on her eyebrow, completely breaking it off. My son turns the fifty-dollar moisturizer over and spills half of it in the sink.
I lose it. "OUT! OUT!" I scream. My husband comes in. I mutter, "At this moment I am a danger to myself and to others. I need to be left alone in this bathroom for fifteen minutes." Knowing that look in my eyes, he backs out with the children, careful not to make any sudden movements. I'm alone, minus a few products, but I have enough to regroup and start over; the monkey soap sits in the corner of the vanity, mocking me.
Thirty minutes later, I emerge from the bathroom. "Wow!" my husband says. "Is that all the Mary Kay stuff you got at the party last night?"
"Yep," I say proudly. "I am a new woman."
"How much did all that stuff cost?" he asks, trying to sound nonchalant.
I give my usual answer. "Twenty-five dollars."
My beauty is wasted that day since we never leave the house. Soon it becomes clear that the emotional price of wearing Pink Pout and four types of eye make-up is too high.
I'm back to the monkey soap now, and life is easier, but every now and then, I don a Pink Pout face just to see the jealous looks of other women marveling at my perfection. My husband says they are staring and I need to "tone it down a bit," but I know they are marveling. Women can tell these things.

The Bag Lady

By Bobbie Probstein

The willingness to share does not make one charitable; it makes one free.
~Robert Brault
She used to sleep in the Fifth Street Post Office. I could smell her before I rounded the entrance to where she slept, standing up, by the public phones. I smelled the urine that seeped through the layers of her dirty clothing and the decay from her nearly toothless mouth. If she was not asleep, she mumbled incoherently.
Now they close the post office at six to keep the homeless out, so she curls up on the sidewalk, talking to herself, her mouth flapping open as though unhinged, her smells diminished by the soft breeze.
One Thanksgiving we had so much food left over, I packed it up, excused myself from the others and drove over to Fifth Street.
It was a frigid night. Leaves were swirling around the streets and hardly anyone was out, all but a few of the luckless in some warm home or shelter. But I knew I would find her.
Chicken Soup for the Soul 20th Anniversary Edition
She was dressed as she always was, even in summer: The warm woolly layers concealing her old, bent body. Her bony hands clutched the precious shopping cart. She was squatting against a wire fence in front of the playground next to the post office. "Why didn't she choose some place more protected from the wind?" I thought, and assumed she was so crazy she did not have the sense to huddle in a doorway.
I pulled my shiny car to the curb, rolled down the window and said, "Mother... would you... " and was shocked at the word "Mother." But she was... is... in some way I cannot grasp.
I said, again, "Mother, I've brought you some food. Would you like some turkey and stuffing and apple pie?" At this the old woman looked at me and said quite clearly and distinctly, her two loose lower teeth wobbling as she spoke, "Oh, thank you very much, but I'm quite full now. Why don't you take it to someone who really needs it?" Her words were clear, her manners gracious. Then I was dismissed: Her head sank into her rags again.

Six Teachers

By Ryma Shohami

I make the most out of all that comes my way.
~Sara Teasdale
I'm convinced that dogs, like people, enter your life for a reason. Some drift in, hang around, and drift out, leaving you wondering if it was something you said. Others stay and stay and stay until you start wishing that they would drift out soon, please. Some bring substance, others pure fun. And sometimes, the catastrophes prove to be the biggest blessings. With the benefit of hindsight, I have learned to appreciate the itinerants and the lightweights as much as the keepers. They are all lessons learned.
As a child, I drove my parents to distraction with my incessant pleas for a dog, but dog hair was not welcome in my mother's Spanish Provincial living room. Marriage presented a new opportunity for dog ownership. One day, my husband arrived home with the princess of cute, our Beagle, Winnie. We were like new parents and Winnie bore the brunt of our inexperience. But she forgave us our blunders.
When Winnie contracted encephalitis and died after only three months, I climbed into the shower and sobbed my way through half the daily water supply of Montreal. A friend, not known for her sentimentality, rolled her eyes and said, "For heaven's sake! Two months you had it. Go get another one." I got another friend instead.
That day I learned that the depth of one's love has little to do with the length of the relationship. That a hot shower helps soothe a broken heart. And that you never forget your first love.
Twelve years later, as I rounded a corner on my bicycle, I was knocked over by a cuddly Doberman. Boyee literally crashed her way into my life. By then, I was a divorcee, disillusioned with my not-so-swinging singles lifestyle and the teaching profession. I abandoned both for a six-month stay on a kibbutz in Israel. I had resolved to find myself before becoming entangled in any more romantic relationships. But Boyee captured my heart, as did her owner, and four months later we were a family. I learned then that love is not bound by our schedules. That the right person is more important than the right time. And that romance could be just around the corner.
Attie, our Dalmatian, was the epitome of naughty exuberance. I forgave my daughter Naomi's ripped bunny pajamas. I remained calm over the gnawed teak coffee table. I even swallowed my expletives when Attie destroyed my daughter Shelley's new running shoes. But seeing my lace designer blouse hanging in tatters on the clothesline resulted in a meltdown. I was not in a forgiving mood and Attie tried to avoid my vile temper for the rest of the day.
That evening, passing by Shelley's room, I overheard crying. Peeking in, I saw Attie gently licking Shelley's hand while my little one poured her heart out. In that moment, all was forgiven. I was reminded that "things" are cheap, no matter how expensive. That the love and loyalty of those who care about us is priceless. That a sympathetic silence is more meaningful than words. And that nothing is more powerful than a well-timed kiss.
Several years later, against my husband's better judgment and protests, we adopted Mitch, a deaf Dalmatian. He was impossible to control and destroyed our entire lawn with his obsessive hours-long digging. Despite our sincerest efforts, we never succeeded in calming him down. When the vet advised us for the eighth time to put Mitch out of his misery, we finally admitted defeat. I learned the heartbreaking way that no matter how heroic and altruistic and loving my intentions, I can't save everyone. That there is a fine line between "try, try again" and "enough is enough." And some relationships are just not meant to be.
Chicken Soup for the Soul: What I Learned from the Dog
Wolfy was on a reconnaissance mission when I first spotted him casing out the neighborhood. How anyone could abandon this beautiful, intelligent Husky was beyond my comprehension. On the fourth day, displaying infallible instincts, he followed me home.
His fierce independence and refusal to pander to humans often elicit comments about his lack of affection. I believe that he has resolved to err on the side of caution. I'm sad for him, sad that I can't reassure him that this family would never dream of leaving him by the side of the road. But he won't risk having his heart broken again.
Yet sometimes, in the midst of a spirited romp, he forgets to be aloof and bestows a loving lick on my hand. It startles both of us and causes him to withdraw in embarrassment.
Living with Wolfy's fear and hurt, I have learned that history does not always determine or predict the future. That my love must be unconditional and given without expectations. And that those who do not plunge in with trust, deny themselves the love they seek.
And then there's Puppy, he of the cheery disposition and the optimistic tail, who loves and hugs with his entire body and soul. He has been my best teacher. Abandoned in a supermarket parking lot, he ignored the drizzling rain as he hopefully approached everyone leaving the store. His velvet brown eyes and the wrinkles of concern on his forehead melted my heart. Blocking out the reality of the very male Wolfy waiting at home, I opened my car and invited him in. For several minutes he danced a canine cha-cha-cha, with each approach-and-withdraw iteration bringing him closer. Finally, he dove into the car and settled down for a nap before I had a chance to change my mind.
Puppy's motto is "Bark with Gusto, but Compromise." It's effective. He has yet to meet a dog or human that he hasn't won over.
Watching Puppy navigate so successfully through life, I have learned that an untamed ego can ruin the most promising friendship. That it pays to keep my tongue soft and sweet. And that I must always let my tail wag with joy and abandon.

The Post-it Note

By Debra Ayers Brown

God not only sends special angels into our lives, but sometimes He even sends them back again if we forget to take notes the first time!
~Eileen Elias Freeman, The Angels' Little Instruction Book
My bond with Papa grew stronger after he and Mom moved in with us after her fall. Two families living together wasn't easy, but soon I appreciated the blessings associated with day-in, day-out togetherness. Maybe that's why his death hit me so hard.
It seemed like no time since the strong, quiet man with the big smile was diagnosed with asbestosis, had lung surgery, and then moved into the nursing home for twenty-four-hour rehab care. One day, he said to me, "I'm never going home, am I?"
"I hope so, Papa," I answered, but we both knew it was unlikely.
He never asked again, and our lives revolved around Mom spending her days with him. I'd pop in for the night shift. Many times, I brought work with me. He'd snooze, and I'd meet marketing deadlines — all within his curtained section of the room.
One night, Papa said, "You shouldn't work so much." He pointed a bony finger at my pile of notebooks, Post-it notes, proposals, and works-in-progress. Everything I needed to complete my projects except my laptop, which remained in the car. I didn't want to be so obvious about working. But Papa knew each time my BlackBerry dinged a message.
"You've got Post-it notes stuck on everything," he said, grinning.
"My memory isn't what it used to be," I said to him with a smile. "They remind me what's important to do."
"Just remember there's a difference between important to do and what's important." He patted my hand and lingered a beat.
To lighten the mood, he spent the rest of our visit teasing me about my Type A personality traits, something he swore I got from my mama. At the end of the night, he said, "Take it one day at a time, and you'll be fine. I do, and it works for me... with help from our Lord." His bright blue eyes twinkled. "Maybe you should make a note about that."
"Maybe I should," I said and laughed. "I'll remember... Don't be so serious. Be happy. Be happy. Be happy." I giggled, drew a smiley face, and printed his name, Delmar Ayers, above it. I slapped it against the pocket of his pajamas. He chuckled, and then he reminisced about dates with Mom. I updated him about my daughter Meredith's college life. He shared WWII stories. He said he'd like to go fishing again.
When I got to the car, I wrote on a sticky note: fishing trip for Papa — doable?
But the Coastal Georgia January weather turned cold and windy. The fishing trip had to wait.
On a cloudless, blue-sky Friday, Papa's lung specialist called Mom and me into his office. We studied a large mass on the screen. "There's nothing we can do," he said. "I've operated on folks older than eighty-six, but Mr. Ayers isn't a good candidate." We agreed not to tell him. "It will only depress him," the doctor said.
Instead, we spent the afternoon planning the fishing trip. We ate a burger. We talked about everything except lung cancer.
Over the weekend, EMS brought Papa to the hospital with sirens blaring, and he didn't regain consciousness. He struggled to breathe. "We'll try to keep him comfortable" resounded through the room. Mom and I huddled together, shell-shocked, after learning the cancer had spread into his stomach. The doctor contacted hospice. We stayed with Papa day and night.
The hospice nurse said, "His pulse reacts to your voice. He can hear you, so talk to him and share what's in your heart."
We poured out our love and memories while Papa's chest thrust up, then plummeted with raspy, ragged breathing. I turned to the nurse and said, "He was the best dad." And Papa breathed his last breath.
He died on Wednesday, and I had no idea how hard the finality of it would hit me. Why hadn't I made his fishing trip happen? Spent more time with him? Why hadn't I...? The list went on and on.
Chicken Soup for the Soul: Messages from Heaven
Family and friends rallied around us. "He's in a better place," someone said. "He's not suffering now." Another friend shared a story about how a bird started showing up after her father's death. "Daddy was a florist," she said. "We decorated for Christmas together, and I missed him more than ever during the holidays. Still do," she admitted. "But I started noticing a bird hanging around. Once, I took the truck to get a large potted tree, and the bird landed on the back of the truck. It wouldn't get off. I knew Dad was with me."
I prayed for my own message from heaven.
A week later, we'd planned to spend Meredith's twenty-first birthday at her North Carolina college, a six-hour drive for us. I said to Mom, "I don't have enough energy to drive, but we have to go... I want to."
So I stood by the car and studied my list. I'd picked up Papa's belongings from the nursing home at daybreak, sobbing so much I had to pull off the road. I marked it off, but my heart sank. How could Mom and I get it together enough to celebrate this major milestone? I sighed and focused on the list: birthday cake, candles, Meredith's presents, camera, and other items waiting to be placed in the just-vacuumed car trunk.
I heaved our suitcases and pushed them to the back of the trunk, leaving ample room in the front part for our toiletry cases and birthday paraphernalia.
"Check the mailbox," Mom called from the door. "I forgot yesterday."
I walked down the driveway, shivering against February's biting wind. A bird flew in front of me, landed on our mailbox, and didn't move when I approached. I walked around the gray-brown bird, staring, but he ignored my movements. All of a sudden, he sang. Was it Papa? I grabbed my camera from the car and took picture after picture from every angle before I went to get the rest of our stuff.
When I returned to the car, the bird landed in a nearby tree. I lifted the trunk lid, and gasped, staring at the empty space I had left in the trunk. The yellow sticky note with Delmar Ayers and a smiley face beamed like a ray of sun from heaven. My heart thudded. Memories of a younger, smiling Papa flowed through me, bringing a sense of peace. I looked around and the bird flew away as I slammed the car trunk shut.
"One day at a time," I promised. "Mom and I will be fine. I'll make a note of it."

Why I Love My Writers' Group

By Mimi Greenwood Knight

Only your real friends will tell you when your face is dirty.
~Sicilian Proverb
I can't speak for others, but for me a writers' group is invaluable. I'd sooner do without my thesaurus or — perish the thought — spell check than without the support of my group. We've been together about five years, through several incarnations and a few times when our collective schedules got so crazy it seemed the group would fizzle. But the times when it's cooking — like it is now — make all the rest worthwhile.
Our group consists of Bert, a forty-something appraiser who, for the past three years, has been writing a "book about people and horses, not necessarily in that order"; Ellen, a retired nurse who hasn't quite settled on a genre; Anna Marie, a bookstore manager and old soul in a twenty-five-year-old body who's crafting a fantasy novel; Ron, a middle-aged salesman who writes side-splitting humor; and me. I'm the Erma Bombeck of the group, specializing in humorous essays about my four kids.
Our eclectic group meets every two weeks, usually in a coffee shop. Each writer brings something he's working on, one copy for each member, and then reads his selection out loud while the rest of us take notes. Next, we proceed around the table one by one, offering our opinion, asking for clarification, and making suggestions. The operative word is "suggestions." Each critique is just one person's opinion and should be looked on as nothing more. Take it or leave it. The writer always has final say.
That's the first rule. The second is simple. No one is allowed to defend his work. You can't say, "Well, I didn't introduce my main character until the second page because..." You won't be there to defend your work when it's published, so you can't defend it during group.
One thing that happens a lot is a writer will write one word and then — without realizing it — read another. Usually, what he reads sounds more natural. We'll make a note and let the writer know, "In the middle of the third paragraph, you wrote, 'She was still alive,' but you said, 'She was alive.' I think the second is stronger." We discuss the big things, then make notes of typos, spelling boo-boos, incorrect tenses, and punctuation, and give the writer back his work with these more minor suggestions written in.
Chicken Soup for the Soul: Inspiration for Writers
Part of what makes our group work is that we all genuinely enjoy each other's writing. Our styles are different enough to keep things interesting, and there are no prima donnas. We let Bert know when one of his horse terms goes over our heads or tell Anna Marie if her dialogue doesn't sound authentic for her time period. We share calls for submissions and info on writing contests, celebrate each other's publishing successes, and help keep the parade of rejection letters in perspective.
The last thing I love about our group (and some months this would be first) is that, when I know there's a meeting coming up, I'm forced to write something. During the weeks when the muses are giving me the cold shoulder, it's a help to know I have to put something down on paper before the meeting.
Some weeks, I desperately scour my computer in search of something old I can rework and present to the group, then stumble upon a gem I'd forgotten about. More than once, I've unearthed one of those golden oldies, brought it to group, given it a spit shine, then turned around and sold it. I love that!
I hope this group stays together until I'm an old woman writing about my grandkids. I want to attend Bert's first book signing and buy a dozen copies of Anna Marie's novel. I want to be around when people are laughing at Ron's literary skullduggery and wrapping themselves in the warmth of Ellen's prose. The time we've spent together has taught me more than any book or class on writing ever could.

The Miracle

By Lynn Sunday

It's so hard when I have to, and so easy when I want to.
~Annie Gottlier
I was twenty-nine in 1974 when I rushed my seven-year-old to our family doctor. Doug, who was impulsive, had leaped from a swing in the park, somersaulted and landed on his head. The cut on his scalp wasn't serious although it bled profusely. "No worries," the doctor said calmly, needle in hand. Sure enough, three stitches and a Band-Aid later, the kid was fine. He left the office sucking a lollipop and bragging to his eleven-year-old brother Brad about his "operation."
I wasn't fine — more like a wreck — sitting anxiously on a stool in the antiseptic-smelling office with its paper-covered exam table, shelves piled with cotton swabs and bandages, its container of needles. My fists were clenched, my breathing shallow, and my stomach felt like I'd swallowed rocks. Tears stung my eyes as I turned to leave the office. The doctor noticed and put his freckled old hand on my shoulder. "You're upset, Dorothy," he said kindly. "What's going on?"
That bit of concern was all it took. Crying now, I sat down again and bored the nice doctor with the entire sad story of my recent split from my husband; how he'd taken off and now I had no husband, no job, and no child support.
Having bitten off more angst than he cared to chew, the doctor smiled and scribbled a prescription. "Here, dear," he said, handing me the piece of paper about to change my life. "This will calm you down."
"Couldn't I become addicted?" I asked, eyeing the prescription suspiciously.
"Follow the directions on the bottle," the doctor assured me. "And relax."
The prescription was for Valium; ten milligrams for anxiety, every four hours, or as needed. The bottle contained ninety small blue pills, each one providing hours of blissful, chemically induced calm, enabling me to present myself to the world as a functional person. I worked part-time as a substitute teacher, cared for my kids, even started dating. I sighed with relief; I could sleep again.
It took four years to disentangle myself from the drug.
My husband and I divorced in 1975. He and his girlfriend moved to Nevada. I loaded my sons and what possessions I could fit into Big Bertha, our battered station wagon, and moved across country to San Francisco's Haight-Ashbury district to start over.
Life was good. I made artwork and sold it to the public. I provided for my kids. I dated. I also consumed forty to fifty milligrams of Valium a day, but was so pleased with my new calm self, I didn't question my habit.
Truthfully, I didn't know I was an addict until I ran out of pills over a holiday weekend and had to wait three days for more. Within hours, my anxiety returned full force, erupting inside me like molten lava preparing to escape a volcano. Every muscle in my body ached. My solar plexus was as tight and hard as a trampoline; my head throbbed constantly — at my temples and between my eyes. I could barely perform routine tasks, like going to the supermarket, or having my car serviced. My moods swung wildly. I couldn't sleep.
I realized then I had a problem. My solution was to never run out of pills again. In the San Francisco of the 1970s, Valium was freely prescribed — easy to come by as alcohol or cigarettes. I had co-workers in the crafts community known as "the Valium for lunch bunch." They were always good for a few pills for a friend in need. I scored fifty once, no questions asked, by telling my doctor my bottle fell in the toilet. Another time I bought fifty from a disabled man who sold his prescription drugs for extra income, to addicts like me.
Chicken Soup for the Soul: Think Positive
I wasn't the only rat in the Valium trap. In 1977 at the Balboa Theater, I saw the film I'm Dancing as Fast as I Can starring Jill Clayburgh, about a longtime Valium addict who finally quits cold turkey. She's overwhelmed by anxiety, becomes unable to sleep, feels like bugs are crawling under her skin, goes into convulsions, ends up in a straitjacket, and is carted off to a mental hospital. As a grand finale, she has a nervous breakdown.
"Don't attempt quitting without help," the doctor in the movie warns sternly. "This could happen to you."
Now I not only knew I was an addict, I feared insomnia, bugs under my skin, convulsions, and insanity if I tried quitting. I don't know what to do. I felt trapped. Getting off this drug would take a miracle.
The miracle happened in February 1978. Stuart, my best friend and lover, thirty-nine years old, was killed when his motorcycle was struck by a car that ran a red light. Devastated, I tried to stay strong for my sons' sake. Stuart was their friend and father figure. I saw the hurt and pain in their eyes.
At almost midnight, on the day of the funeral, my sons were asleep in their bedrooms. I sat, wide awake at my kitchen table, with a glass of water in one hand and three Valiums in the other. My intention was to ease my pain.
The thought of Stuart stopped me. He'd known his share of pain — from poverty, harsh parenting, drug use, and bitter divorce years ago, in which he lost custody of his only son. But I never saw him angry, or bitter, or blaming; he always saw the glass as half full. "Sometimes, life knocks you flat," he said, "but if you get right up again — and get up smiling — it can't ever beat you down."
I regarded the pills in my hand. Artificial courage, I thought. They cover the fear, but they can't make it go away. I decided I didn't want them any more and felt my mouth curve into a rare smile. I flushed the pills down the toilet and went to bed.
I can't account for why there were no withdrawal symptoms the next morning, or the next, or after that. I can't account for how a miracle happened at my kitchen table that night, but thankfully, one did. My addiction to Valium was broken from that night, to now, thirty years later.
I wonder if what it really takes to break an addiction is realizing life has knocked you flat — and having the guts to get up smiling.

The Cardinal Rule

By Hope Maven

The path I travel is lit by those who came before me, and it will shine brighter for those who follow me.
~Author Unknown
My son Ryan's diagnosis of autism spectrum disorder at eighteen months brought about a dramatic paradigm shift. Without hesitation, I accepted the diagnosis and moved forward with intensive early intervention. Time previously spent on my marriage, friendships, and career was reallocated to attending appointments, completing paperwork, researching, and acquiring funding for services. Any remaining energy was devoted to directly teaching Ryan new skills. The depth of unconditional motherly love I devoted to him was awe-inspiring, even to myself.
Three years into our early intervention journey with Ryan, my younger son William, at nineteen months, was also diagnosed with autism. The persistent demands on my time, finances, social life, self-care, and the amount of energy required to implement evidence-based behavioral strategies in our daily lives were beginning to take their toll. By the time William was diagnosed I was growing weary and hadn't quite learned how to respond to the judgment of others.
Not long after his diagnosis, I stopped by a mini-mall with William in tow. Until this day he had no history of escape attempts. I believed I could complete the errand while keeping him safe. I was wrong.
When we entered the store, I buckled William into a shopping cart and provided him a lollipop to keep him busy while I shopped. When the sucker was gone he began thrashing violently in the cart. This is where I made my first mistake. I did not yet understand that bringing my son shopping comes with the risk that I may not finish before we need to leave. I was stubbornly determined to finish my shopping despite William's growing discontentment.
As my son's tantrum became louder, a nearby shopper lowered her chin and looked at us with disapproval. I felt pressured to quiet him. This led to my second mistake. Instead of using my behavioral training, I was more concerned about the impression of the other customers. So, I unbuckled William and set him down in an aisle between two rows of clothing. I reached back into the shopping cart to retrieve my purse and when I looked down, he was gone.
I peeked under the rack of clothes directly in front of me. No William.
I turned around to check under the rack behind me. No William.
I called his name. Silence.
I rushed out from the clothing racks to the main aisle but he was nowhere in sight. My son had disappeared.
I scurried toward the back of the store, shouting, "William? William! Where are you?" All of my shouting was to no avail; he did not answer me.
Then it hit me.
My child could not speak. William was not going to respond. As I surveyed the scene I continued calling his name, each attempt more desperate than the last. There was no time to stop for help but maybe if someone heard me they would join my search.
After systematically combing through the store I headed back toward the front door. I looked up and standing before me was a woman with beautifully styled hair, carefully applied make-up, and neatly pressed clothing. She was practically perfect. On her hip sat William. What a relief.
William's face was calm but hers was bright red, with narrowed eyebrows, a lowered chin and a stern glare. She was fuming. I ran to her and took him tightly into my arms. The woman said, "Do you know where I found your child? He was wandering around outside in the parking lot."
I peered over her shoulder at the front door. It was the kind that opens automatically. William must have run straight to that door and the door opened up for him to run outside.
Chicken Soup for the Soul: Raising Kids on the Spectrum
I looked at the Good Samaritan who rescued William, my eyes pleading for understanding, and managed to eek out, "Thank you." By now I noticed a group of onlookers glaring and seemingly sharing in her disgust. The woman held her glare steady, then sucker-punched me with: "Some people were just not meant to be mothers."
Not meant to be a mother? Are you kidding me? Did she have any idea what I had been through in the last three years with Ryan? Thousands of hours dedicated to paperwork, appointments, therapy, school district, parent training, medical bills, marital strain, and now I was doing it all over again with William.
Despite everything I had endured in the name of motherly love, there I stood, the center of attention of a disapproving crowd questioning whether I was qualified to be a mother. Should I have told them he had autism? Would they have even understood how that related to what just happened?
At that moment I remembered that an experienced mother of a child with autism had given me information cards about autism. I retrieved the cards from my purse and handed one to each of the onlookers, including the Good Samaritan. It was empowering to educate the public who judged me so harshly. I smiled graciously and said, "Thank you for all of your help." I held my head high as I carried William to my car. We never did buy the items we needed that day, but my son was alive and safe.
Later that evening, I thought of the experienced mother who armed me with autism information cards. I wondered how she knew that I might one day need those cards.
Today, six years into our journey, there is more clarity about what is involved with raising children with autism. Our family has created a new dream. My husband and I have reclaimed our marriage. My sons have benefitted from an early diagnosis, educational services, funding for therapy, intensive early intervention, rehabilitative and alternative therapy. I am proud to say our family is strong and thriving.
Meanwhile, my perspective on raising children with autism has expanded from family-focused to community-focused. I appreciate the value of forming connections with other families so that we can encourage each other and build each other up. Thanks to the tenacity of experienced parents who are continually clearing pathways on behalf of all of us, my sons' futures are bright. These mentors, who have walked this path before us, lead by example in passing down the cardinal rule for parents of children with autism: We pay each other back by paying it forward.

The Lost Coin

By Lucille Rowan Robbins as told to Elsi Dodge

And when she has found it, she calls her friends and neighbors together, saying, "Rejoice with me for I have found the piece which I lost!"
~Luke 15:9
"I've got something for you." I set down my cup of tea to take the thick manila envelope my co-worker held out to me. I tipped out a pile of papers, recognizing one as my son's official adoption certificate.
"Edie, where... where did you get this?" I gasped.
"At the children's home."
She smiled at me, the same friendly smile I'd seen for three months as she and I answered phones for Trinity Broadcasting Network, praying for callers.
"Who are you? Are you... are you Ron's mother?" I almost whispered it.
"No," she said calmly. "I'm his sister."
I threw my arms around her. "This is unbelievable!"
We'd adopted Ron in 1958, when he was five. Our daughters loved him and enjoyed teaching their new brother about life on a Colorado ranch. Ron looked enough like me that one teacher accused him of lying when he said he was adopted.
But as he grew older, he asked the questions adopted children often have. "Why didn't my parents want me? Where are they now? Do I have sisters and brothers somewhere? Can I meet them?"
We'd tried to find his birth family, but the records had been sealed. There was no hope.
"They probably don't want to know me anyway," Ron finally said bitterly.
The morning after Edie's revelation, my husband and I met her for breakfast, carrying family photo albums. Joy in her eyes, Edie laid a handful of photos on the table and I put mine beside them.
Ron's little-boy pictures matched Edie's perfectly. His adult pictures resembled Edie's brothers. We read the reports from the orphan's home. There was no doubt. Edie really was Ron's sister.
My husband put his arms around me as I wept. Edie started to cry, too, and I took her hand. "How did you find us?"
"Our family was having trouble, and my parents placed Ron at the children's home when I was a teenager. The social worker persuaded them to relinquish all rights so Ron would have a real home, with a mother and father. My sister and brothers and I have been praying and searching for Ron for over ten years. We've asked and written and phoned and visited the orphan home, but the information was sealed."
"That's what Ron was told when he tried to find you," I told her. "So what did you do?"
"I called the children's home again," Edie said. "The woman who answered said they destroy all records after seven years, but she was willing to check the files anyway. When she called me back, she said she'd found the paperwork! I went there and she allowed me to copy everything. I couldn't believe it when I saw your name on Ron's adoption certificate."
"God connected us at work," I said, "so you could find me... find Ron."
We decided Ron's upcoming thirty-second birthday would be the time to introduce him to his long-lost family. This would be the best surprise birthday present ever.
Edie joined our family as we gathered that day. "Listen to this," Edie said when everyone had arrived. She started to read from Luke 15. "Suppose a woman has ten silver coins and loses one. Does she not light a lamp, sweep the house and search carefully until she finds it? And when she finds it, she calls her friends and neighbors together and says, 'Rejoice with me; I have found my lost coin!'"
Her unsteady voice continued, "I too lost something very valuable twenty-seven years ago. Today the Lord is restoring that which had been lost to me."
She put a fat brown envelope in Ron's hand. He shuffled through the sheaf of papers, stopping at the social worker's report of his stay at the orphanage. There wasn't a sound in the room.
"If this is a joke, it's not funny!" Ron looked around in desperation.
His dad and I smiled encouragingly.
"Are you trying to tell me that you are my sister?" he asked.
Chicken Soup for the Soul: Answered Prayers
"Yes," Edie said, wrapping her arms around him. "Our father passed away several years ago. Our mother lives in Lakewood, just a few miles from here. You have three older brothers, Vern, Danny, and Richard, and another sister, JoAnn. The family's waiting at Danny's house."
"How far is that?" Ron stammered.
I spoke up. "It's just behind the nursing home where Grandpa has been the past several years. Every Sunday when we visited him, we were driving by your brother's house... and we didn't know it. If it's okay with you, they're coming over now."
When Ron's brother Danny arrived, he stopped and stared at our daughter Rosanne. "You... your son's on our son's baseball team!"
We were astounded to learn more Divine coincidences. When Ron drove a truck years before, he had frequently gone by his sister JoAnn's home in Albuquerque. And Edie lived within walking distance of Ron's house.
I started to put out refreshments for the birthday party. I cut the cake, scooped ice cream, and handed plates to all the strangers in my house, strangers who were now my family too.
When Ron's mother arrived, Ron ran outside to greet her and her husband. He brought them in saying, "Mom and Dad, this is Bernice and Rich, my mother and stepfather."
We'd all been praying silently, asking for the right words, and those prayers carried us through the momentary awkwardness. I offered them coffee and birthday cake and we sat down to share stories of Ron's growing-up years.
From the birthday party on, our family activities included both families and their extended families. When Ron had back surgery, we were all there.
"What a wonderful family you have," a nurse said.
Ron smiled. "You don't know the half of it."

Reel Joy

By Jack Blandford

Honesty is the first chapter of the book of wisdom.
~Thomas Jefferson
Our children Emma and Tucker learned early in life about the joy of fishing, whether from their grandpa's boat, casting from the shore, or snapper fishing off the jetty at the beach near our summer home. It focused them on the moment, with no video games, no TV, no distractions.
Whether we caught something or not, it was the quest that counted and the fun we had together enjoying nature. They learned how to bait the hook, cast, and "present the bait." They learned how to snag the fish and bring it in. They also learned how to clean and filet their catch and prepare it for dinner. They learned the patience and persistence that it takes to be successful.
And of course there was always a little bit of competition and sibling rivalry that added to the fun as long as it was by the rules.
Each year, toward the end of July, our beach association held its annual "Snapper Fishing Contest" (small bluefish that have not yet come of age for the deeper water) at the marina inlet. It always drew quite a crowd. All of the kids were full of energy and anticipation. The parents were a bit anxious and wondered where the hook would actually end up when the cast was made.
To start the competition all the kids would line up along the inlet and when the "First Mate" would sound the horn, everyone would cast their lines into the water in hopes of coming away with the biggest fish of the day. It was like something out of a Norman Rockwell painting.
It was a mixture of talent, from the "experienced" anglers just crushing the cast, to some of the more inexperienced kids who spent most of the time tangled in yards of monofilament. There was an occasional scream of pain, as the hook would get caught on a finger or other body part, or even a parent. You could also tell which parents grew up with a rod and reel and which ones had just purchased the starter set.
Help and guidance was always within easy reach. Although it was considered a "contest," most parents understood that it was a fun way to introduce everyone to the sport of fishing. The more experienced parents would help anyone who needed it. Overall it was a great day of fun, with no distractions from the outside world.
Determination was written all over those little faces. As one of the kids would catch a fish you would hear a screech of excitement: "I GOT ONE!" There were squirming, slippery, smelly fish flying everywhere, wiggling, trying to get back into the water. The kids giggled and wrestled their prizes into the bucket.
When they caught what they thought was their biggest fish, they would take their prized catch to the judging table under the pavilion on the beach. There, the "First Mate" would carefully place the catch on the scale. Then the kids would release their fish back into the Sound from the jetty.
One year, however, when our daughter presented her fish to be weighed, the judge reached over and sliced open the fish, removed its entrails, and then weighed it.
My wife Jeanne and I were shocked. "Joe," I asked. "What happened to catch and release? Why do you have to clean each of the fish?"
Joe looked up with a rather apologetic look on his face, and whispered, "We found that last year some of the fathers were dropping fishing weights down the throats of the fish before the kids brought them over for the weigh-in. So their fish would be heavier."
Chicken Soup for the Soul: Parenthood
We were dumbfounded. A simple, fun competition between five- and six-year-olds became a crass example of how adults had lost touch with right and wrong. Their lust for winning had tarnished something that was a pure, fundamental joy.
It was Emma and Tucker's excitement that snapped us out of the harsh moment. We all gave Emma a big hug and congratulated her as Joe announced, "We have a new record to beat." Emma was at the top of the leader board and she was excited.
As we walked away from the weigh-in table we took notice of the father and son behind us. The father was anxiously pushing his boy up to the table. When his fish was weighed it came in four ounces lighter than Emma's.
The father became irate and insisted that it be weighed again. When it came up the same, he grabbed his son and pulled him back to the inlet. The father handed him his pole and said, "Are you going to let a girl beat you? Get your line in the water. Catch a bigger one."
Jeanne and I gave both kids a big hug. Together we had a good laugh and figured he was probably one of the fathers who had stuffed weights into the fish the prior year.
Emma just shrugged. Exhibiting understanding beyond her years she grabbed her little brother and together they headed off to fish some more. For them it was just fun.
The kids are grown now but fishing continues to teach us all valuable lessons. Watching my kids experience its joys has become the prize catch for me.
Some folks take a little longer to really understand what fishing is all about. All we can do is hope that they will soon realize the joy that's found in its simplicity. Cast the line. Have faith. And enjoy the reward of what you reel in. It continues to be a thrill in our lives.

The Magic Wand

By Harriet Cooper

An idea can turn to dust or magic, depending on the talent that rubs against it.
~William Bernbach
My friend Cath and I were having our weekly phone conversation. "So, how's the magic book coming along?" she asked. "Does J.K. Rowling have anything to fear?"
"Well," I hedged, "it's kind of stalled. Since I've gone back to teaching, I haven't really had the energy to write. I did change the main character's name. Oh, and I worked out a fairly detailed plot line. But as for writing..." My voice trailed off.
For my birthday that year, Cath gave me a beautiful desk set and a package of yellow paper. "This is special paper," she said. "You can only use it to print your book."
I smiled and later printed out the first five chapters of my manuscript. I promised myself I would work on it during the summer break. But the summer came and went with little added to the book and no additional chapters printed.
Five summers passed, but something else always seemed to take priority. I needed the time to de-stress and relax. The house needed painting, a new roof, or a bathroom remodel, and I'd schedule the work for summer when I was around to talk to the workmen. If those excuses didn't work, it was too hot to toil over a keyboard in a house without air conditioning.
During the sixth summer, Cath called with an invitation. "The Harry Potter exhibit is here. Do you want to go? Maybe it will give you the impetus to get back to your book."
Two days later, Cath, her daughter Casey and I spent the morning strolling through scenes and props from the movies. As we exited the exhibit into the gift store featuring Harry Potter memorabilia, Cath said, "I know it's not your birthday for months, but I want you to choose something that will get you back into writing. Casey was so excited when she read your first five chapters, but that was years ago."
I walked around, trying to find the perfect present. Within minutes, I was drawn to the magic wands. I tried one, then a second. When I picked up the third one, the world tilted. Although the logical part of my brain told me it was just overpriced molded plastic, the creative part heard the words: "Magic seeks a willing heart." "This one," I said. "I'll take this one."
For weeks afterward, I'd hold the wand in my hands, letting it work its magic on me. I taped poster-sized sheets of paper on the wall and worked out an intricate plotline. I started a notebook, writing down ideas and bits of dialogue. I bought books on castle construction, medieval customs, and herbal lore. Gradually, the manuscript grew from five chapters to seven and, finally, to thirteen.
September came, and I was back teaching school. Each week, I held the wand less and less as handouts and homework to correct took up my time. Eventually, I placed the wand back in its box and tucked it away in my linen closet. The reality of earning a living took precedence, and I deafened my ears and barricaded my heart against its soft murmurs.
By the time the next summer came, and the ones after it, the magic was muted, and I had lost the thread of the story. Cath hadn't.
"Whatever happened to the book?" she said during one of our weekly phone calls. "You started writing it when Casey was about eleven or twelve. She was really excited when she read the first few chapters. Do you realize she's now twenty-one? At this rate, she'll be able to read it to her own kids."
Chicken Soup for the Soul: Inspiration for Writers
I sighed, thinking of the magic wand for the first time in years. After our conversation, I dug it out of the linen closet and placed it on my lap as I sat in front of the computer. I opened the box and stared at the lifeless piece of plastic. After a few moments, I ran my fingers along its carved surface, picking out the details of the intertwining vines.
For a second, I could have sworn the wand shimmered. My imagination, I told myself. Or, more likely, my guilt. Still, I cradled the wand in my hands for a few more minutes before carefully placing it back in its box. But this time, rather than hide it, I placed the box on the bookshelf behind my office chair.
The next year was difficult. After two previous occurrences of cancer, my friend Susan was diagnosed with terminal cancer. I spent that summer helping her get her house in order and then sat with her on her last journey. Any thoughts of reviving my book died with her.
The next September, I returned to school, teaching even more hours. But a particularly difficult class had me considering early retirement. "So what are you waiting for?" I asked myself. "Now's your chance to devote yourself to the book. If not now, when?" But thoughts of my puny pension scared me off.
Toward the end of the school year, after a disturbing incident in class one Friday afternoon, I decided I needed a break. Luckily, we were heading into a long weekend. For two days, I simply sat on the couch and read. On the third day, I e-mailed my principal that I needed the rest of the week off. I had barely hit the Send key when I got an idea for the book and scribbled some notes. On the fourth day, I began thinking about reworking the first chapter. On the fifth day, I called my principal and said I wouldn't be coming back for the last six weeks of term. Since she knew how much I had been struggling with the class, she wasn't surprised.
After the phone call, I cleared my desk of all the handouts I had been working on, picked the textbooks off the floor and stuffed them in a cabinet. Then I reached for the wand. My hand hovered over it, not quite steady. I took a few deep breaths. When I picked it up, the wand felt as if it had been made for my hand. Once more, I heard the words: "Magic seeks a willing heart."
I sat there for a few moments, letting ideas for the book wash over me. I figured out how to weave a stubborn subplot into the story. Two additional characters jumped up, begging to be written into the book. I realized I needed to cut out the backstory in chapters 12 and 13 that had ground the action to a halt.
I gently set the wand on my desk, booted up my computer and began to type: Chapter One. Flames danced over Mara's hands...