It was the sheer determination that kept me watching. The scowled look of concentration took over his little face, unaware of any peripheral activity that took place in the room. Grasp after grasp, my grandson reached into the box of raisins, came out with a prize, chewed it carefully, then continued his focus until every single little bite was gone. He stopped, looked up and smiled at me, as if to say, "I didn't even know you were here!"

I know without a doubt that if I had emptied those raisins into a bowl, the interest would have dissipated way too soon. It was the struggle, the tediousness of the chore, that challenged Jayden to keep on going.

You know how it is. The fragile, spindly tomato plant sitting in the pot on your back deck just cries out for help. You carefully water it every day and react abnormally gleeful when first spotting a flower. The fertilizer is carefully monitored and the supports are set up to handle the growth. Then the day finally arrives and you pick the first itty bitty cherry tomato and it tastes wonderful! OK, maybe it wasn't that great, but I'm sure it was better than the package from the supermarket sitting in your fridge.

Anything that we hold dear is acquired with a challenge - at least it's always been true for me. I've always thrived in that atmosphere, which is a good thing, because nothing ever came easy for me.

My mantra, fostered diligently by my parents, was to work hard for something and then take time to enjoy the end result. The key is those last few words. Subsequently, these are the things I cherish most: the degree I went back for in the midst of poverty and chaos to land a better job; the hard-to-get guy I met at a wedding; the rhubarb from my grandmother's garden that needed so much TLC to finally bear those thick stalks that I remember so well; the stories I write over and over and over again until the words flow to my satisfaction; the tallies that rise bit by bit in my endeavor to save so diligently for our vacations and retirement; the precious hours spent with my grandchildren; and that bag of chocolate morsels that defies being found in the back of the cabinet, requiring me to get the stool, move things out of the way, undo the rubber band enclosure and grab a handful - ah, the reward of it all.

A recent article in The News by the Discount Diva caught my eye because it discussed and verified this very thing. I guess there were some people who wondered how much of an allowance their college graduates should have for "date nights, cell plan and gas." The columnist obviously had the same kind of childhood experiences I did, because she thought it was a "hilarious" question.

Those of us who, as young people, paid for our own schooling, cars, insurance, clothing and entertainment knew how to pick and choose the necessities very quickly and work to get the things we want - and got a handle on how sweet that victory was.

No, that kind of life is never easy, but the rewards will pay you back every day. Hard fought for, deserved and, most importantly, appreciated.

So the next time you see a box of raisins, try to fit your big fingers in there and catch a treat. You'll smile to yourself and remember how the simplest of things, through struggle, are the sweetest.

Jessica Cronenberger, who lives in West Seneca, is grateful her parents taught her the value of hard work.