Thoughtful Ambition

Recently a story trended across the media about a couple from Breckenridge, Colorado who’d sold everything in order to buy a boat to sail the world, only to have it hit a sandbar, capsize, and sink in the Gulf of Mexico two days into their trip from Madeira Beach to Key West (https://www.google.com/amp/amp.miamiherald.com/article199568349.html.) It brought back a flood of memories (pardon the pun), because my husband and I had sort of done the same thing a long time ago–39 years to be exact: escaped our everyday, workaday lives and lived on a boat.

It was 1979 and we were less than a year into our marriage when we made the choice to divest ourselves of jobs (he: elementary school counselor; me: special ed teacher), house, two vehicles, and nearly all the wedding gifts we’d been given only a few months before. We were landlocked living in St. Louis and knew nothing about sailing, but we were madly in love with each other and even more with the thought of adventure!

While our adventure lasted a bit longer than two days, I have experienced the terror of a boat hitting a submerged object and becoming disabled. Like theirs, our sailboat was 28′ in length with a 5′ keel. Sailing one afternoon from Key West to the Dry Tortugas, we hit a coral head as the tide was going out.

For hours the boat bottom banged and scraped relentlessly against the coral, and I was sure the keel would eventually give way but it didn’t, thanks to an incoming tide many hours later. In retrospect, I think it was our pride that was damaged more than the boat. Whatever romantic ideas we might’ve had about sailing away got slapped with a big dose of reality that day, but not enough to quench our thirst for adventure.

One way or another, the couple who lost their boat will be okay…whether they get another boat or not, whether they continue to pursue their dream or not, or even whether they remain a couple or not. But first things first: the sunken Lagniappe needs to be salvaged.

To that end, a GoFundMe campaign was started (https://www.gofundme.com/new-sailing-life) and as of this morning has exceeded its goal of $10,000 by more than $4,000. It seems like a lot of money, and it is. But it’s going to take a whole lot more cash to chase the nautical dream because that’s just a hard fact of the boating world: everything is more expensive when it’s marine grade. It’s really no surprise that an acronym for boat is “Bring On Another Thousand.”

I truly hope they keep pursuing their dream and not allow the setbacks to extinguish their spirits. I hope they meet nautical angels along the way to help them because Lord knows they have a gigantic learning curve ahead of them. If they keep plugging away and don’t quit before the miracle happens, I believe they’ll have few regrets and a lot of stories to tell. That would be a life worth living.

Howdy, and Happy Mardi Gras!

Cowboy Mardi Gras was celebrated in Bandera last week: Thursday, Friday, and Saturday. It had been promoted all over town since the beginning of the year, and spirits were high as the town braced for one of its biggest weekends of the season.

RVs began rolling in the RV park on Wednesday, and by Friday there was no vacancy. Quite a few of them hauled a cargo trailer containing another secondary mode of transportation: either motorcycle or 4-wheeler, mostly. There was an occasional electric scooter or barbecue smoker. Clearly, they’d done this before and knew that parking for traditional vehicles would be hard to find. No sooner were utilities connected (electric, water, and sewer) that the partying began. Out came the lawn chairs, coolers, party lights and stereos playing mostly traditional country and zydeco tunes. Some party goers proudly declared their fandom, and nearly all proclaimed to their love of Texas with all kinds of decor.

Personally, I LOVE Mardi Gras, especially after having lived along the Gulf coast for so long where it’s a real big deal, and I couldn’t wait! I love everything about it: the decorations, the music, the costumes, the Cajun and Creole food, and especially the parades! There were 118 floats in this one (huge, I think, considering the population of Bandera is 957), and thanks to getting the inside scoop from one of the workers here at the RV park, we walked just a few blocks into town and easily secured our viewing spot at the very start of the parade.

The Cowboy-element put a whole new spin on Mardi Gras, what with all the horses and their riders, the wagons, the steers, donkeys and mules. The people-watching was fantastic, and my palate was gratified with a King Cake made by the bakery here and a New Orleans’ style poboy loaded with fresh shrimp from one of the food trucks from San Antonio. I swear, the way I’m going to remember this trip is by all the places we ate along the way. And I’m going to have a lot of memories, considering the weight I’ve gained already, every pound totally worth it.

One of the highlights for me happened on the very first night. Not knowing what to expect, we paid the $10 cover charge at the 11th Street Cowboy Bar Thursday night. The fact that it was a bar did not make me feel uncomfortable in any way, thank goodness. And really, the 11th Street Cowboy Bar reminds me of the fake town in the movie, Blazing Saddles--it’s a facade that takes up most of the block, and behind it is a big stage, an even bigger dance floor, lots and lots of places to sit, a smaller stage off to the side, and a couple of bars.

It was where the Canine Costume Contest was happening, followed by a Cajun band from Louisiana. Before, in between, and after, Country-Western music played, and the huge dance floor–kept dry and smooth for dancing by occasion liberal sprinklings of sawdust–swelled with couples. I was mesmerized watching them two-step counter-clockwise past where I sat; the intimacy of it overwhelmed me. All the while they danced, the partners touched, whether they was twirling or traveling. I have to admit, the Cowboy and Cowgirl ensembles played a big part in my attentiveness; everything about it was pleasing to watch. The fancy leather Cowboy boots, big Cowboy hats, leather belts with the big belt buckles, leather vests, fringe–the total package was exotic.

By Sunday noon, all of our transient neighbors had left. I thoroughly enjoyed the whole weekend, but I was glad to see things return to normal. I was exhausted! Bandera, Texas–of which I knew nothing previously–has exceeded any expectation I might have had for a winter escape. It has everything we need, and then some. It doesn’t get much better than that.

Bloom where planted

My mission in life is not merely to survive, but to thrive; and to do so with some passion, some compassion, some humor, and some style. -Maya Angelou

A friend back home recently commented that it looked as though I was enjoying life out here in Bandera, I guess judging by what I posted on Facebook. And I had to agree; I really like it here. But, if truth be told, I enjoy life wherever I am. I try to bloom where I am planted. I guess that’s because I’ve moved around enough to know that every place has its pluses and its challenges.

I think an unconventional lifestyle has a lot to do with it. My husband Dave and I (and the kids and the pets) have lived either on a boat or in an RV (one of them, a FEMA trailer) for ten years out of the nearly forty that we’ve been together. It seems longer than that–in a good way. Some might think in a crazy way. After all, how many parents do you know who bought their 15-year-old daughter her own sailboat* because she needed her own room? That’s what I mean by ‘unconventional.’

It can be challenging to live in a confined space with others, but there’s so much to be gained as a result. When I think of Kate and DJ sharing the fore cabin of our boat, I’m both amazed and proud because they were ‘tweens back then and had their own “stuff” to accommodate/assimilate, like two hamsters, a small TV, a boombox, a rather large Caboodle, way too many books and stuffies. Besides the bunkbed, their room housed a full head (shower, sink and toilet) AND the door that opened up into the engine room. Somehow they managed to live together in a tiny space, peacefully for the most part. Or so it seemed. Now in their mid-30’s, I wonder if they ever think back to that time in their lives and wonder how they managed to do it.

Add ‘travel’ to the equation, since that’s what boats and RVs are designed to do. Our kids were 13 and 11 when we took our boat through the Intracoastal waterway from Corpus Christi, Texas to Virginia, and then up the Potomac River to Washington, DC. Many, many nautical miles at a snail’s pace, partially because most of the waterway is a No Wake zone and partially because of the need to give way to MUCH BIGGER vessels, including tow boats and barges. The average distance we made in a day was 50 miles. We left Port Aransas, TX in February and arrived in DC in mid-April. Imagine how many brother-sister squabbles there had to have been! I chuckle now, but I’m sure I didn’t then.

When ‘weather’ is added to the mix, things can get harrowing in an instant, like when we took the boat from San Diego to Catalina Island. The moment we got offshore and the lights of the coast disappeared, everyone–including the dog–got sick, except me. What a long trip that was and no fun for anyone initially. A few years later, we were in DC for the Blizzard of 1996 when 12 inches of snow fell in 24 hours, shutting down the federal government for a whole week. The weight of all that snow on our boat was tremendous and potentially disastrous, so we spent the whole day shoveling the snow off the deck with cookie sheet pans. A true family-bonding experience. To this day, I think we’re all a little more aware of weather and the power of Mother Nature.

I really do think that all of the memories and the stories that can be told are the reasons I like traveling so much. I love the adventure! I find it fun meeting new people, seeing and learning new things, eating local cuisine. My view of the world has expanded and has been positively impacted by travel. I’m lucky to say that because of this unconventional lifestyle, I have friends all over the place. Yet another blessing.

The two months we’re staying in Bandera is the longest we’ve stayed anywhere while traveling, and I’m so grateful we discovered it! The change of scenery has been so good for both of us. Dave’s a lot more active, and walking every day, too. I’m writing again. In the five weeks we’ve been to the big city, San Antonio, 50 miles away, only once. We have all we need right here in this little town.

I don’t think of this as ‘vacation,’ but simply as a place to escape the cold winter back home. This is where I’m living today. Granted, I seldom know what day it is…I rely on my pillbox for that. Soon enough we’ll have return to the real world, but until then I plan on living as fully as I can in this 24-hour chunk. No matter where I happen to be.

This is the day the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it. -Psalm 118:24

* This photo of the sailboat was taken in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, 2005. It saved the life of our neighbor, who used it to ride out the storm. Most sailboats have one keel, but this one had two. Good thing, because after the winds and waters of the hurricane subsided, it came to rest just right, and gave our neighbor shelter for several days.

Southwestern Winter

“One’s destination is never a place, but always a new way of seeing things.” -Henry Miller

We’ve been in Bandera, Texas four full weeks now. The weather’s cooperated with my wanting to be outdoors as much as possible, so the pups and Dave and I have done a fair amount of walking around town and exploring. It’s fun to get off the main drag and see where the real people live.

I especially love that aspect of being at this particular RV park, Pioneer River. We’re within walking distance of a beautiful city park, the downtown business district, and my recovery meetings. That last one is a bonus. Being able to go to meetings regularly was an important part–if not the most important part–of deciding where to spend the winter. That, and being relatively close to Austin, where our son and his family live.

Bandera is a small town (pop. 957), but its heart is big. On Sunday we attended a fund-raiser for a local woman, a horse-and-carriage operator, who’d been tragically rear-ended and killed a couple of weeks ago. The heavily publicized event attracted so many people that volunteers were outside barbecuing chicken, brisket, and sausage most all afternoon. Food, a 50/50 raffle, and a silent auction were all a part of the fund raiser. Music played and people danced. Out front were an almost equal number of horses and motorcycles. For being a somber cause, the atmosphere was light-hearted and very genuine, and one that we were happy to be at.

Yesterday we met up with some old friends who were in town for a Winnebago-owners rally. Ann and Tom live in Clear Lake, near Galveston Bay and the Gulf coast of Texas. Our paths first crossed more than twenty years ago when we all lived aboard our boats. They were retired and cruised full-time, whereas Dave worked, I was a homeschooling, stay-at-home mom and our kids were young. They went from boating to RVing like we did, and our paths continue to cross from time to time.

We met for lunch at a place we’d eaten at once before, Brick’s. It is unassuming as it sits behind a motel on Main Street, along the Medina River. It’s one of those restaurants with a huge menu featuring unique items like fried green tomato BLTs. Yesterday I ordered the Dr. Pepper hamburger, a hamburger patty topped with melted cheddar and jack cheeses, fried pickles, onion straws, and Dr. Pepper barbecue sauce. “Oh, my!” does not begin to convey how absolutely wonderful this hamburger was! So much so that I spent the better part of the evening looking at recipes for Dr. Pepper barbecue sauce.

Turns out that the reverence to Dr. Pepper is not just because it was originally concocted in Texas, but because it’s the oldest soft drink in America, beating Coca-Cola by a year. A pharmacist in Waco, Charles Alderton, came up with the recipe, but it was the owner of the drugstore Alderton worked at, Wade Morrison, who came up with the name, hoping to impress the father of a girl he planned to marry. Alderton was more interested in medicine than manufacturing a soft drink, so he just gave the recipe away and Morrison is the one who became rich. Like the recipe for Coke, the one for Dr. Pepper exists in two parts, each part in two separate bank vaults in Dallas. Morrison’s marriage proposal wasn’t accepted after all, a decision no doubt made before the mother lode was discovered and most likely regretted in hindsight. I find local folklore interesting!

I was lucky to have a dad who was an excellent chef and was, in a culinary sense, absolutely spoiled. I place a high standard on food and truly believe that good food is love, so we’re on a mission: eating our way through Texas.

We don’t eat out all that often because we like to cook, too. And to that end, we patronize Bandera Meat Market at least twice weekly. Given all the cattle in Texas (not including Libby, of course), the beef is excellent! On the occasions we eat out, we’ve been relying on the Trip Advisor app, paying special attention to reviews of restaurants with one dollar sign and at least four out of five stars. Good cooking need not be expensive and besides, we prefer going to where the locals go. Because they’ve helped us so much, I try to be diligent about writing reviews for Trip Advisor afterwards. What goes around comes around.

That’s the story from Bandera. Next week ought to be interesting…Mardi Gras is a BIG DEAL here, and the shops and restaurants along Main Street have had the purple, green, and gold decorations up for a couple of weeks already. It seems like Christmas was just yesterday. A pet parade kicks off the three-day celebration, and we’ve got a bag-full of decor from Dollar Tree to dress up our pups! I can’t wait to see how cowboys celebrate Mardi Gras. Variety is definitely the spice of life.

Second Sunday

I didn’t think I’d be writing again so soon, but yesterday was too good not to write about.

The visitor center of any town we’re at for awhile is usually our first stop, and so it was when we got to Bandera. The people who work at visitor centers are so nice and know exactly what direction to point visitors in, depending on what they’re looking for. We had been to the one here on our second or third day in town, just to get general information about the area. But we went there again last week and asked specifically about live music. It just so happened that something called “Second Sunday” was being held this weekend at the Frontier Times Museum, five blocks from our RV park, and we were encouraged to go.

We were recovering from spending the previous day in New Braunfels (about an hour and a half away) with our son and his family, to include our grandsons, Wiley, 4, and Remy, 1. We were reminded of how much energy it takes to keep up with little ones, and we were exhausted when we finally got home. So I was quite surprised that Dave suggested we walk to the museum. And this was after we’d just returned from washing the truck! For some reason, he’s lots more active and walks a whole lot more when we’re traveling. And that’s a good thing!

We have not had a chance to explore this museum yet, but from what little I saw on the way to being ushered to the performance, I definitely want to go back when we have a couple hours to wander. The venue started at one o’clock and by the time we got there, all but three seats were taken. I counted at least fifteen musicians who’d gathered for a little un-orchestrated fun. Since we were in the very back, I had a clear view of only half of the performers: five guitarists (including one 12-string), one banjo player, someone playing a mandolin, a cello, and a bass fiddle. A violinist, a fiddle player, someone on the harmonica, and more guitarists also played, but we couldn’t see them as well. All but two musicians were men, and every one sang.

For more than three hours we and about twenty others were entertained at this most intimate of concerts. I was astounded at the ease with which the performance unfolded. These musicians had not practiced together; today was simply an invitation to get together and play. Literally and figuratively. And they were GOOD! One performer would start and eventually others would join in, on cue it seemed and so effortlessly. One song after another after another it went on. Songs of various genres–country, gospel, Southern rock. What an awesome afternoon! And it was free!

Only once was it mentioned that next month’s Second Sunday would feature a young local woman who had somehow benefited from these performances through scholarship. In a very discreet way, the message was conveyed that donations for today’s performance would surely be appreciated. Glancing at the jar perched on top of a dresser nearby, I’d say the scholarship fund got quite a boost yesterday.

Thanks to visitors centers, we find out about local happenings we might’ve ordinarily passed up. That’s how we ended up at the Bandera County Livestock Show last Thursday. But that’s a whole other blog! Suffice it to say that this little town of 957 residents has more than its share to keep us busy for the next few weeks. I doubt there’s ever a dull moment. In fact, this Thursday is COWBOY CAMP. I can’t wait to find out what that’s about!

Getting back in the saddle.

“Better to write for yourself and have no public, than to write for the public and have no self.” -Cyril Connolly

I was really good for awhile about updating this blog regularly, at least monthly…but then life happened midway through 2017, and it seemed like there was new drama happening every day. I couldn’t have written much without revealing too much, and some things should just be kept private.

Time–that saving grace–has ensured that my new normal has become almost routine, which is a godsend. Normal is good, and so is routine. I have a newfound respect for both and don’t think I’ll take either of them for granted like I once did.

Part of the new normal found Dave and me moving back into our RV in September. We felt grateful to have that option; the 5th wheel we got as a result of losing our house in Bay St. Louis, Mississippi in Hurricane Katrina has become our refuge as well our escape. Between that and living on a boat for several years, downsizing comes easier for us than it would for most. I know the difference between needs and wants. I like ‘simple.’

We lived at the Western Hills Trailer Park in Hopkinsville, across from Western Hills Country Club and Western State Hospital beginning in September. For many reasons it was a good location, but we’re open to living elsewhere when we come back in the spring. Somewhere quieter. Police car and ambulance sirens resounded at all hours of the day and night, every single day. Between that and the discomfort caused by the presence of certain others–some residents, most not–we’re open to calling another place ‘home’ when we return.

A cold winter was predicted for Hoptown, and neither Dave nor I like cold weather like we did in our younger years. So in October we decided we’d go somewhere south for a few months for the winter. We’ve dreamed about being ‘snowbirds’ for years and knew we’d do it someday. Neither of us expected to do it so soon though!

After briefly researching a few Florida locations, we opted for Texas. Our son and his family live there, and we’ve always had the impression that RVers in Texas are welcomed and much more appreciated than those in Florida. At least, that’s been our experience, having been on both sides of the fence–resident and RVer–in both places. But where in Texas? It’s an awfully big state.

I began researching RV park websites in the Lone Star State. We knew we wanted to be able to see our little grandsons in Austin once in awhile, but we didn’t want to be IN Austin. Or any big city.

We’d become acquainted with the Hill Country, west of Austin and San Antonio, when we promoted”The Unsinkable Legend” for Boston Whaler about a dozen years ago, and remembered it as rugged and beautiful. How I happened upon “Bandera, Texas,” must have had something to do with being near a river…water has factored a lot in our lives over the past 40 years. After calling a couple of places that had no availability, I was frustrated and wondered if I hadn’t begun my search for a winter reprieve early enough. This particular RV park, Pioneer River, had just one space left for the months of January and February, a God-wink, I imagined, so I snagged it.

From there my research turned to the Hill Country in general and Bandera in particular. It’s called the Cowboy Capital of the World because it was the starting point of the Great Western Cattle Trail in the late 1800’s. Its population is a few less than 1,000 residents, but we’ve heard that people from all over the world come here, drawn to the chance to experience the independent spirit that’s prevalent here.

We left Kentucky the Friday before Christmas, and made stops in Little Rock, Arkansas, Campbell, TX (northeast of Dallas) and Buchanan Dam before arriving in Bandera on January 1st. We’ve been at this RV park for nearly two weeks and love almost everything about it. It’s extremely convenient to downtown (1 block), the city park (next door), and AA meetings (10 minute walk that includes a 55 degree slope up. No kidding.) Downtown consists of several blocks of stores and restaurants, antique shops, the library, a bakery, and an outdoor outfitter where kayaks and tubes can be rented. Angled parking in front lines both sides of Main Street. Traffic through downtown is steady and moves relatively slowly.

That pretty much brings us to today, Sunday, January 14, 2014. Currently it’s 34 degrees (about 20 degrees warmer than Hopkinsville), and we’re grateful. This afternoon is a jam session from 1-4 this afternoon at the Frontier Times Museum that we want to attend after we do some chores, to include washing the truck, after we walk a few blocks to the bakery we recently discovered. Our days have become an interesting blend of productivity and discovery and some routine. My adopted recovery fellowship meets every day just a few blocks away, so that’s part of the routine, too.

I really want to do a better job of staying in touch and keeping this blog current. Hoping that the worse is over with regards to last year’s dilemma and being so far from home, that shouldn’t be a problem. Life happens every day. I’ll keep you posted!

Surprise.

The other day while painting the fence in our backyard, this thought popped into my mind: Do the Kardashians have babies so that they have job security? I laughed out loud at the notion, not that I care about the Kardashians, but because it was one of the few ridiculous thoughts I’ve had recently. In twelve weeks, to be exact. That’s how long my family’s “new normal” has been in effect. 

While the whole series of events leading up to it are still somewhat incomprehensible, the fact is that it is what it is and somehow life goes on. We’re left to wonder about so many things, and the truth is that we’ll never know the truth. What is true is that nearly half of my daughter’s life–and a good part of ours, too–has been undermined by lies, and that is only part of the damage she is contending with these days. It’s enough to bring anyone down. 

But not everyone. 

I am more proud of her today than I’ve ever been. Whereas some may have stayed down for the count, I’ve seen the reemergence of the stubbornness, strength, and determination she had as a rebellious teenager channeled in order to keep things running. 

Having the rug pulled out from under her was shocking, heartbreaking, and humiliating, and having to deal with another’s issues and actions on an ongoing basis continues to be emotionally, physically, and mentally draining. Ironically though, the series of onslaughts opened her up to the idea of spiritual help. Unbeknownst to her, she had come to the point of surrender. The pump was primed. 

It is a testament to the spiritual program of Alcoholics Anonymous that she is “how” she is today, and that is to say that she is okay, all things considered. The only way I know how to support her these days comes straight from what I’ve learned in the program. It’s amazing that the right words come at the right time, and that she is receptive. I’ve even thought as they left my mouth, “Where are these words coming from? They are not mine.” That’s how active God’s grace has been throughout the past twelve weeks. Well, in this particular case, anyway; God’s grace is always present, though we’re not always of it. 

She’s not only survived literally, but she’s learning so much. The growth will continue, and it won’t be easy. It never is. But it is worthwhile. After all, life goes on. 

There are, and there will always be, things that we don’t understand the “why” of. And that’s okay. We don’t have to. Philip Yancey said that “faith means believing in advance what will only make sense in reverse.” I guess that’s so, because reflecting on the past twelve weeks makes me grateful for this unforeseen fork in the journey. I predict that someday she will, too. I have faith!

The Climb


Last Tuesday my family and I experienced the most fun day we’ve had in a long time when we went to The Climb Adventure Lagoon, http://www.survivetheclimb.com/, in Russellville, about 40 miles east of here.  I happened to stumble upon its website while looking for climbing opportunities for my grandson, Bobby, who’s always had a passion for it. Gauging by the photos, it looked to be a lot of fun even though it wasn’t the rock-climbing experience I was originally looking for. Nevertheless, that’s where we decided to celebrate his 11th birthday. 

No one I asked had ever heard of the Climb, so I depended on the website and Trip Advisor reviews for information. Words like ‘old-fashioned swimming hole’ and ‘quarry’ jumped out at me and made me think back to when I was about 9 and the quarry near my house where my cousins and I often played. That was such a fun time in my life, and I think I was the most excited one about going. As for the others, they didn’t know what to expect. 

It took two vehicles to transport all the stuff we thought we (three adults and four kids) might need for the day: food, drink, towels, floats, foam noodles, lawn chairs, canopy. Our daughter had the four kids, ages 9-11, and we had everything else. 

As we turned into the entrance, I immediately thought of my 9-year-old granddaughter and chuckled…first impressions of public places mean everything to her and will either seal the deal or break it. Her first experience of public transportation (the tour bus at Mammoth Cave National Park) was not a pleasant one because “she didn’t know any of those people.” So now she says she’ll never ride a bus ever again.  I laughed when I thought of what must have gone through her mind when all she could see was a wide open, rocky expanse leading to who-knows-what? After all, “adventure” was part of its name. 

A check-in shack stood alone in an enormous parking lot, as though it were an oasis in the desert.  We paid the admission fee of $20 each for everyone older than 10, and signed waivers if they hadn’t already been signed online. Once those formalities were taken care of, we were given paid-admission bracelets and the lowdown of what to expect once we drove to the quarry. 

It turned out that there is so much to do here that it’s hard to take it all in initially because everything is literally right there. The quarry is that big. Swimming, zip-lining, waterslide, paddle boards, kayaking (life jackets provided), fishing, walking the suspension line crossing the quarry, just floating in the water. No frills at all, no lifeguards, and not many rules. (No facilities either–well, there is the dilapidated trailer, aka “The Clubhouse,” in which there’s a toilet–but remember, this is a quarry. You’ve been warned.)


I took a lot more videos than photos, simply because there was so much activity and memories to record! There wasn’t a whole lot of sitting and relaxing. Since there weren’t that many people this midweek afternoon, and we had much of the place to ourselves. Though I wish we had thought to bring old tennis shoes to make walking the rocky paths from one activity to another easier, carefully taking one step at a time eventually got everyone to wherever they wanted to go. After more than six hours of fun in the sun, everyone was exhausted and ready to go home, but already talking about “next time.”

Finding this western Kentucky gem was an eye opener for all of us. Bobby said it was the best birthday party ever. Ever?! That says a lot. My daughter commented that it was the most redneck thing she’d ever done, and that she’d had a blast. For me, it was the no-frills, simple, old-fashioned summer kind of fun. Three generations having fun together. I’d say it was a perfect day. 

Life…it’s what we make it

It’s the last day of the month of May, and I still haven’t posted a blog. My goal is at least one per month. It doesn’t sound like much, and it really isn’t, because once I get going, my fingers fly. Particularly when I’m on the bandwagon about something like I was when I quit Facebook for more than a year and felt all righteous. 

But Life happens and we have been adjusting to our new-normal, taking each day one day at a time. The month flew by faster than usual, but maybe it just seems that way because I’m getting older. It’s kind of funny that this last minute essay is exactly how I approached school assignments as a kid: waiting until the last minute to do it, no matter how much lead time was given. 

In spite of being a procrastinator, I’m both goal oriented and stubborn, so here I am, writing feverishly. I have about two and a half hours before I meet with a sponsee (recovery-talk for “person I’m working with”) and then it’s the weekly women-in-recovery meeting, followed by going to a funeral home to pay last respects to an acquaintance who died last week much too soon. She was only 50. 

She and I shared the same disease and she tried time and time again to stop drinking. I went to her house once when she begged for some women in the program to come over and help her. She cried and said she wanted to get sober, but I don’t think she really wanted to do what was necessary to get there. Talking to her was futile. Multiple hospital/rehab stays were of no use. 

She is the sixth person I’ve known from the rooms of Alcoholics Anonymous to die in the last eleven months. Only two were known to be sober when they died. I wonder if one-in-three people who want to recover and succeed in doing so is about average, or if two people have to die in order for one to live.

The message couldn’t be clearer: Just don’t take the first drink! Alcoholics Anonymous has a saying that serves as a warning against taking that first one–which can lead to the second, and the third: “It’s the engine, not the caboose, that kills you.” I have learned what just one drink will do. I have a choice when it comes to taking that first drink. 

One of my sponsors told me that I can do anything I want, as long as I’m willing to pay the price, but I really don’t want to pay that price anymore. I must be on guard if I want to remain happy, joyous, and free. My life’s never been better. 

It’s taken awhile to learn how to live one day at a time, to become disciplined in applying the Steps to my life, and to practice daily gratitude. I reap the benefits every day, though! This is not to say that life is grand. It definitely is not! In fact, what’s happening in my world currently is the third time in a year that both faith and sobriety have been put to the test. But somehow through each situation I’ve experienced a peace and serenity that I would not have experienced if not for the program of Alcoholics Anonymous. I don’t have to understand why certain things in life happen. I don’t have to like what happens.  I just have to accept that everything will eventually be alright, and that all of this is working towards the accomplishment of God’s will.

The artist, Grandma Moses, said that “Life is what we make it. Always has been. Always will be.” So do what you have to do to MAKE it a good one! It’s your choice.

Those black puzzle pieces of life


Sometimes when I try to understand why some things in life happen the way they do, I think of those grotesquely shaped, black pieces found in many puzzles, and somehow that seems to help. 

Viewed individually, each piece seems totally unnecessary and doesn’t seem to fit anywhere. One is left to wonder how something so bizarre could possibly have a place in the big picture. But somehow it does…eventually. Perfectly. And ironically without it, the puzzle wouldn’t be complete. 

My family is dealing with one of those dark puzzle pieces now. It’s an unexpected, unfortunate game-changer whose ramifications and backlash will probably be felt for a very long time. 

Initially the shock evoked raw emotions and physical reactions that included a lot of tears, nausea, and very little sleep. This, plus disbelief and denial, made the first few days of the new-normal really hard to get through. It made me grateful that I’m learning to live in 24-hour chunks. 

As the days have passed, stark reality has begun to be revealed. Life is different. Something is missing. It seems incomplete. Even so, the days go by. 

They go by slowly, and at the same time quickly if that’s even possible. Or is it that I’ve lost track of time and each day melds into the next? It doesn’t matter. There are a lot of things that must be done now and in the days to come, which is a good thing. Being busy will pull us off the pity pot, if we so choose. Each of us has to decide if we want to be a part of the problem or part of the solution. 

Just remembering to breathe–breathe slowly and deeply–helps. That simple act alone somehow settles my non-stop mind that’s trying to separate ‘moving on’ with the emotional ties that would keep me stuck, if I allow. 

I’m grateful to have learned certain coping skills to help me deal with life on life’s terms. I call it my “spiritual toolkit” and mine is quite sizable. It includes, among other things, a morning ritual of readings (devotionals and the Bible, etc.), guided meditation, and journaling my gratitude daily (twice actually–written and electronically on social media). Every morning I get out my spiritual toolkit before doing anything else. Well, almost. I get a cup of coffee first. 

I really have to work on my connection to a higher power because my natural inclination is to run on self-will. I have to practice letting go of control. My morning routine reminds me that I’m really not in charge of anything, and I have to remember that. 

There are other tools as well, like physical activity, either work or play–going for a walk, mowing the grass, washing the dishes, doing the laundy, making one’s bed, playing catch with my grandson… Just doing the next right thing, whatever it may be, helps getting through each 24-hour chunk doable. Most importantly, it gets me out of myself. 

At the same time, I have to know when to stop doing so much and just relax. It’s important to keep a balance. Easy does it. Though I want to let go of my self (centerness), I don’t want to lose it!

Living in 24-hour chunks and staying in today takes a lot of vigilance and discipline, but the benefits are worthwhile. There are things in life that are so hard to bear and get through, so learning how to live one day at a time is a godsend. After all, this too shall pass.

Regretting what has happened or worrying about what might happen in the future are of no use, since I can’t do anything about either. Really, if I could, I would. But I can affect what happens today by my attitude–and I know it–so I’m trying react better…more thoughtfully, anyway. As a friend once told me, “We can do anything we want, as long as we’re willing to pay the consequences.”

Life is too short to let those black puzzle pieces stymie us. The world really is beautiful if we are willing to look beyond the limitations of our own humanness and whatever is happening now. It takes a little effort, but I have to believe that those black puzzle pieces fit somewhere. 

Philip Yancey said, “I have learned that faith means trusting in advance what will only make sense in reverse.” I find this attitude both liberating and assuring; liberating in that it releases me from worry, and assuring in the knowledge that everything will be okay.  

It’s only through times like this that I realize what “serenity” truly is: peace in the midst of chaos. It’s true that the sun is always behind the clouds, even on rainy days. Sometimes it’s just hard to remember.