In Search of …. the Perfect Sugar Cookie

I was 6 or 7 when I tasted the perfect cookie. And I have been trying to replicate it since. They were bought at the SunMart store on Mt. Vernon Road in Cedar Rapids, where DrugTown stood for years when SunMart closed, and where Goodwill is now located.

Business started declining at SunMart after Hy-Vee moved in up the street, and I was sorry to see it go. I got my first lesson in “rights” and “wrongs” when I was caught shoplifting, before I knew the consequences for breaking the law.

I have many fond memories of the store; my first Hostess pies and Snowballs; the flavored tabs that fizzed when you put them in water to make a concoction similar to Kool-Aid; the fresh-baked donuts that melted in your mouth; and SunMart’s amazing sugar cookies.

Fifty years later, and I still haven’t found a cookie, nor a recipe, that comes close to it. Funny how our taste buds hold a memory; as if I will know it’s the one when I finally taste it again.

I’m going to do my best to find the perfect sugar cookie this holiday baking season. And even if I can’t find the perfect sugar cookie, I hope I come close.

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NaNoWriMo-The Last Word

 

It was 10:15 last night when I put the last word on the last page, ending what I considered to be one of the most important months in my career as an author. It was important, because I learned more in November about creative writing than I could ever have imagined.

I put my life on hold for practically the entire month. I worked on my novel every day, but I didn’t always reach my goal of 1,700 words. It was tough; work, family, Thanksgiving, migraines, and lack of motivation kept me from completing the overall goal of 50,000 words in 30 days (I wrote 40,294 words, but I finished my story). However, I don’t see it as a failure.

I knew a week ago I wasn’t going to make my goal, and confided to my fiancé that I knew I would finish my story by then. But there was no way I would get to 50,000.

“But you worked so hard on it, and you’ll feel really bad it you don’t ….”

Honestly, I don’t feel bad at all about it. I didn’t do it to prove to anyone I could do it. I did it so I could learn from it. I did it for the experience. And now, I know the price I have to pay if I ever needed to write a 50,000-word novel in a month. I would basically have to put everything else on hold and put all my efforts into that novel. I would have to ignore my duties as a mother, a grandmother, a daughter, and a friend just so I could complete the task.

I truly enjoyed writing the novel, but it’s not done. The editing alone will take a few months, at the very least. Which is fine with me. I’m ready to take a few days off to work on all my other projects that have been waiting patiently for me.

My advice for people wanting to do the challenge next November:

  • This will take most of your spare time. Let your friends and family know you won’t be available for the month.
  • Stick to you goal of 1,700 words a day. Once you get behind, it’s extremely difficult to catch up.
  • Don’t give up. (If you started the challenge with a purpose, chances are you won’t have to worry too much about this one.)
  • Gather a support team. Whether it’s your boyfriend, girlfriend, mother, father, brother, sister, kids, whoever; you will need them to help you brainstorm and keep you on track. They will also become your cheerleaders.

Next year I will be better prepared. And I will also have an advantage; it will no longer be my first.

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In My Father’s Footsteps: The Navy Years

The following stories are excerpts from my father’s journal, his life story, which I am copying into blog form, under the title, In My Father’s Footsteps.

My father served in US Navy at the end of World War II on the USS Vella Gulf. He visited exotic places such as Hawaii, Japan, Guam, and the Philippines, and I didn’t know the extent of his adventures until I came across a box of typed pages in my mom’s storage room nearly five years ago.

My dad died in Sept. 2008, but his memory lives on through his stories. And after reading his stories about his time in the Navy, I have a deeper appreciation for those who have served in the military, and what was sacrificed so we could be free.

The atom bombs had decimated Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and Japan sued for peace. Later, I wondered about our choice of Nagasaki, which was something like 90-95 percent Catholic I find it hard to believe; is it possible that hatred of the Catholic church could poison a decision of such magnitude?

We anchored off the coast of Japan–was it the end of April,1945? –and everyone hit the sack.  There wasn’t anything else to do! Next morning everybody was talking about how we rode out a typhoon.

I missed it; slept right through it.

But our curiosity carried us topside to the flight deck gangway. The day was one color; dark, low-lying banks of clouds. Black seas with a little more roll than usual. And the distant land mass repeated the overall impression of foreboding.

The only apparent life ashore was several figures in flowing white attire. Later somebody told me it was a sign of mourning in Japan.

While my shipmates and I slept through the typhoon, the fury made landfall and carried the unsuspecting into eternity.

Once in a while, it seemed, the white robes appeared to pause in their dreamlike pursuits, gaze silently out to sea. To seek comfort perhaps?

Or maybe it was to pray that the salt spray cleans their loss, their sudden grief.

When we finally got clearance to enter the harbor, we did it with painful care. It reminded me of when we slowly made our way up the majestic Columbia River to Portland, Oregon right after the shakedown.

I swear there was no more than a few feet on either side of the bank. My memory’s dim, but I think power cables inched us along.

Now, entering Tokyo Bay, it seemed unreal we should be doing so, peacefully. We passed a famous Japanese battleship, the pride of the fleet, sitting on the bottom.

The USS Arizona was avenged.

Before they set us ashore for liberty in Yokohama, they told us we had to have an officer with a sidearm, peace hadn’t been signed. But at the small boat dock, all’s I saw were enlisted men and a smattering of commissioned officers and they seemed to be in charge of the dock.

So, I and a buddy took off by ourselves. The following are mainly observations; not necessarily in order. Cause I’m not sure when, only that. My first impression was dozens upon desolate dozens of flattened city blocks.

And the sickening sweet, almost suffocating smell of countless bodies beneath the bombed-out rubble. And maybe ruined sewage systems; putrid decaying flesh, alone, couldn’t smell that bad. An occasional lone plane droned high overhead, triggering Pavlovian panic and frantic stabbing toward the sound, “B-29! B-29!”

I’ll never forget boarding the little old-fashioned trolley-most of the citizens were women and old men-pretty much all dressed, it seemed to me, in the same type of uniform, same drab color. They wouldn’t take our money. Without exception, everyone bowed politely, the beautiful Japanese custom, when we came into speaking range.

What a surprise when I took my hand down the pole that ran down the length of the car, the one you hang onto. Surprise! My palm was black with sooty dust. Japanese, small in stature, didn’t aspire to those heights!

We stopped at a little shop that also had postage stamps. The only clerk in that shop, housed in a small building, was Caucasian. She gave us some yen we used for change. I bought a tiny carved elephant ornament. I don’t know human nature, but I do believe the look she gave me with my change could be interpreted:

“Hmmnh … the last of the big-time spenders! Sayonara!”

Which reminds me. At one point, two or three Japanese teenagers followed us, taunting insults. They would keep their distance, stopping when we stopped, and then stand there and jeer something in the mother tongue.

And of course, in the true spirit of the international code, the first thing they learned from the GI’s careening around in their Jeeps was to flip us the bird and then run away, hysterical.

I felt like I’d never left home!

At one point, we found ourselves atop a windswept hill in Yokohama. A small cottage was the focal; apparently the man and wife thought we were coming their way, and came out to meet us. I believe a teenage daughter held back about 12 paces. They bowed politely, of course, hoping to put them at ease and no one to interpret; we showed good intentions with generous handfuls of Camel cigarettes.

Message received, we took our leave.

One phase of the Navy not touched on: the opportunity came to move up to the ship’s photo lab with Jack Evans from Spokane. I jumped at photography; it’s fascination was just short of fanaticism. It was a good life. Cooks sent up yummy stuff like veal steak; we never cooked anything, except in butter! And another fringe benefit; I learned to process film and print pictures.

Once I got the hang of it, I blew up our family portrait (minus Molly), an 8 x 10 to something like 11 x 14. I think I ended up with enough of these to paper the bathroom!

Jack Evans also taught me how to use different types of cameras, including the K-20, a handheld aerial camera. The closest I came to a news photo. I was on the flight deck near the bridge superstructure, when this F4U came in too high … or the water may have been choppy.

The inverted gull-wing fighter, preferred by many of our Marine pilots, actually had landing gear not built for setting down smoothly on a rolling flight deck. Too static?

Just as the plane touched down, the sea suddenly rose to meet it. I squeezed the shutter of the K-20 … or maybe the speed graphic … just as the left wheel buckled, fire shooting out with the escaping fluid. I shot the camera again, ending up with a two-photo series of the accident.

I had the duty the morning of the fatal accident. Pilot misread the flight officer’s signal to elevate the flaps two degrees.  Seven degrees simply threw the doomed plane into the sea. The pilot’s body was never recovered.

The picture of the funeral service was a perfect variation of the Missing Flyer Formation. Purely by accident, of course. But the fact that our skipper was late, left an empty chair in the front row.

The expressions of grief, subdued sorrow among the remaining members of the pilot’s squadron made the empty chair the focal point of that moment of silence.

One day in San Diego, shortly before we would begin our cruise up the coast for decommissioning, I had a ball with a K-20, boxes of Kodacolor film spools at my side. I spent all day shooting planes coming in for landings and taking off. It was a good experience, keeping those beautiful birds inside the frame, coming and going.

I never got to see the results; it was something like six weeks back and forth to Eastman labs. But I can imagine they set the tone for the day.

I promised I would get back to you about almost buying the Deep Six at Waikiki. It was a piece that followed my adventures in qualifying for sea duty in boot camp at Farragut, Idaho.

My buddy and I wore swimming trunks under our uniforms, and wandered wonderingly through the breath-taking lobby of the Royal Hawaiian hotel. In 1945, this beautiful red sculpture was the top-of-the-mark of the South Pacific.

Imposing majesty describes it pretty well. We were the only two in the lobby, and our heel-clicks echoed, “intruders!” down from the high-flying ceilings. 

Maybe it was the soothing silence of the quiet A.M. that felt good. But more than likely, it was because we weren’t tossed out, persona non grata, on our Navy Blue Butts!

“I guess I’ll get my feet wet,” I said standing and brushing sand. I was being accurate.

“Go ahead, I’ll sun awhile.”

Explanation. I must tell you, dear reader, for background. Fire Control is not manning the hoses.  It is aiming and firing the big guns! The Navy seeks to determine personnel best qualified to do this, through testing.

Which of these lines is parallel? Which of these lines intersects? Which of these two lines curve away? Which of these lines is longer? Which of these lines is thinner? If you stare at line A, does Line B appear to merge or move away?

I honestly thought, all those years before my Company Commander, a Chief Petty Officer named Steve Stracchia, formerly a coach in the Chicago school system taught me the difference between a granny and a square knot, that I knew the meaning of the shortest distance! 

I didn’t; not by the wildest stretch.

I slowly walked out into the silent surf-hardly a ripple-in an, imperceptible to me, widening line. Like I had good sense.

When the water rose above my belt line, I turned and started back in a straight line. 

Oopserblub!

Who moved the bottom of the ocean?

A small voice, panic, I think, kicked-in my best Dog Paddle; I rediscovered air. Another tentative feel for the bottom; all water. Then i spotted a small Hawaiian boy–must  have been 9 or so–swimming toward me, straight out from the faraway beach.

“Hey!” I hollered. “Where’s the bottom?”

Without interrupting his strong methodical strokes, he pointed straight down. And nonchalantly pursued his Olympic swim to — I don’t know, make a monkey out of a non-swimmer we all know and love …

After that, a lifetime to compose an oath never to so much as venture levity on the subject of swimming in unsupervised oceans … specifically the Pacific!

As my account attests, I made it; 25 years later, I also made it through a drunk-up-the-bucket head-on collision. The accident was bloodier–and I vaguely remember an out-of-body experience, but the result would have been the same. 

So much for close calls. I’d like to leave swimming behind, too. But one more experience was when we were in Guam. It doesn’t involve me; just silly things a guy will do for attention.

A big Polish kid, a deck hand-and I say it with all the respect a guy that chases false echoes all over a radar screen can muster for men who do the hard work-just off the fantail in his dungarees on a dare…for 20 buck actually. But was it worth it? Getting called up before the captain, having it on your permanent record. Unless you go for a Hollywood stunt stint, how would this sound?

“Jun 15, 1945 — Seaman First Class Harvey Youngblood. Captain’s Mast. Charge: Jumped into the waters off Guam from the ship’s fantail, against all regulations and rules of common sense. For a lousy 20 dollars. Disposition: 30 days restricted duty and loss of credibility and bathing privileges.”

Signed (Captain)

Vella Gulf”

Remember back when, I was talking about our Radar gang studying shipboard units on the old World War I 4-stacker destroyer, The USS Moosehead? The only time in the Navy we rigged our canvas hammocks, and actually slept in them!

Took me back to E Avenue, of course, and the homemade hammock Mr. Hess fashioned from baling wire and barrel staves.  Except the Navy type had no hesitancy about showing you the flip side!

A week or two really isn’t enough time to get acquainted with a ship; but she had her moments. Porpoise, related to the dolphin-one step down would be my guess-swam beside us like patient sheep dogs. I think I know attitudes; in reality, I imagine attitudes. But if I could read the Porpoise that attached themselves to our outfit, they seemed to be saying, “We know you don’t think we know. We know you don’t think you need us. But apart from being refugees from Sea World, we are in our element. And we will show you the way back to San Diego. Trust us.”

I must admit, Porpoise create greater phosphorescence accidentally, than man-made fountains do on purpose! The phenomenon was awesome! And while the huge swimmers weren’t silhouette, they cut through the water like swift shadows, swirling the eerie bubbles.

Other little animals, sea lions, occasionally made infrequent appearances near the dock; the little guy with the push-broom mustache and Eddie Cantor eyes, was a real character. He’d lay there, swimming on his back, and stare at us, unflinching, like sailors were something in a zoo, and was afraid he’d miss something if he looked away.

This little guy was so covered with oil, he resembled an Alaskan disaster.

But back on board, and out to sea: The waters had gotten choppy, and destroyers, being the smallest first line fighting ships, really bob like tin cans.  So a few of us went topside after evening chow and the up-and-down and round-and-round motion is easier to take when you’ve got the open sky to take a fix on. 

Three or four of us were strung out along the railing; none of us saying a whole helluva lot. Rather, we were listening to what the sea was saying to the Lamb Stew, which we were looking to settle peacefully.

Now, I’ve got nothing against Lamb Stew, but most of my shipmates can’t say the same.  Or prefer not to. I’m afraid they want to vote with the majority, who claim they hate Lamb Stew!

They insist it’s BAAaaaad. 

I like it. I doubt I would ever get enough of it.

And now, standing here beside me was Jonathan Booker; the tall guy who looks like Nat King Cole, and our connection to M.I.T.  I said something to him, noncommittal, and his eyes told the whole story. Picture a nice guy with a Master’s degree, wearing a white sailor’s cap, squared at two fingers, of course, and you’d see the same thing I saw:

An egghead in a sailor cap. You couldn’t miss him. Eyes at half-mast and down at the mouth. I wasn’t just communicating, so I simply observed, fascinated. 

Is that a gyro, maritime folks use in navigation? I think Seaman Booker was trying to create a mathematical equation using peristalsis–his internal move-alongs–and the up-and-down pitch and roll of the heaving sea.

When the USS Moosehead reared up, Jonathan just reached over to the railing and claimed the motion with an index finger until his inner ear lined up with steady-as-she-goes.

And he was comical. Methodical. 

Jonathan slowly removed his white hat, folded it carefully and tucked it into his waist. In the same, slow, purposeful, metered motion, he removed his tie from the middy collar, and placed it carefully at his feet. It was ritual. 

Continuing in deliberate slow motion, Jonathan pulled the jumper over his head; nothing said. The mood was unhurried patience as he bent to place his blouse on the pile at his feet.

Then, leaning as far over the railing as common sense and safe procedure permitted, it came up for a vote.

Bleeaaaahh!

And man and seas were one once again.

I think they waited until we made port before Jon Booker and another fella went over the side to wash down the Lamb Stew, and anything else that came up.  By the way, through all the upheaval, my black buddy’s white T-shirt stayed spotless. For although we were landlovers, we did not know better than to spit into the wind!

In My Father’s Footsteps

Perspective

There’s no doubt that when we change the way we look at something, we see it in a whole new light; a different perspective, if you will.

For example, if we get stuck in the loop of believing that nothing good ever happens to us – that the only luck we have is bad luck, and the world would be better off without us – we are going to see the world as gray and meaningless.

But once we find that spark of hope that tells us that we have the power to change the way we think, our lives become better. We become empowered to want to do more, be more. 

All we need is a little nudge; something or someone to show us that it is possible.

Let me tell you a little story:

“Once upon a time there lived a little girl who came from a large family. The members of the family were  much too busy with other things to care much about the needs of the little girl. This unhappy little girl decided if no one cared about her, she wasn’t going to care, either. Her once lively spirit diminished, until all that was left was a shell.

As she grew into an adult, she found herself searching for something that would fill the emptiness inside her. But no matter what she did, happiness was always just out of her reach. She looked for it in relationships, her work, and her children, but nothing ever seemed to fill the hole inside her.

One day, she realized she couldn’t go on living that way. The way she saw it, she only had two options; end it all, or do something about it. Fortunately, she choose the latter.

She quit drinking and smoking and joined a 12-Step group. She started hanging around positive people , good examples of who she wanted to be. She  faced her demons and her fears. She began to accept life on life’s terms. And after years of being what everyone wanted her to be, she learned who she really was; a wonderful, caring, generous, socially-awkward basket case. And she learned to love every aspect of who she was.

She learned to let go of her resentments and was finally able to forgive those who had hurt her.  She took chances on love and life, and learned that every little success brought her closer to where she wanted to be. And every setback made her even more determined  to become the person she was meant to be.

Years passed before she was able to look back and understand that the suffering, the pain, and all the heartache she had gone through, had a purpose.  She had to go through the bad to appreciate the good. She learned to look at obstacles, not as something trying to defeat her, but as lessons to learn from, so she could grow as a human being.

And as she contemplated her life, she realized for the very first time she was truly happy. Oh, she’s had happy moments throughout her life, but they were fleeting.  Now she was happy, truly happy, just because. And that is how she lived her life.

And she lived happily-ever-after.”

As you might have guess, this is a true story. This is my story. But it’s not the only one. It’s the one that catapulted me from my simple existence, to become an active participant in life. Not only did my attitude change as a result of my ‘Self’ work, but so did my life. I became more positive, and ambitious. I had more energy and drive to help others.

There was a time when I hated my life. But hard work and determination paid off; somewhere along the way, I learned to love myself, and my life.

Today, I may be a better version of myself, but it doesn’t mean I don’t have problems. I face new challenges every day; whether it is health, work, relationship-related; but I can go to bed with peace of mind and thank God for the opportunity to learn and grow.

I know; it sounds too good to be true. But I am living proof that it can be done.  When I think about where I was, and where I am now, all I can say is that it is truly a miracle.

But it’s not magic. It’s a lot of work, it takes time to unlearn bad habits and develop new, healthier habits. You will have to challenge your beliefs and let go of everything you thought was real. You will have to reach deep inside you and pull out your most painful memories so you can finally resolve them, instead of just pushing them away.

You will cry so much you think you might never ever stop. But then one day, you will wake up and realize how great your life is. You will feel like shouting it to the world and you will want to share it with everyone. And then you will know you have changed the way you look at life.

In My Father’s Footsteps

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Just Another Thursday

 

 

 

It’s just another Thursday. But is it, really?

When you think about it, today might be just one of approximately 27,500 days of your life, for the average person (by the time you reach 50 years old, you have lived 18, 266 days), but it’ a day you will never get back.

Let’s look at this Thursday we have in front of us; for the next 24 hours, we can do anything we want. I imagine you’re sitting there thinking, “Nope, not true…I gotta work, stuck behind a desk …. Gotta take care of the kids … other obligations …. gotta do this, do that … my life is planned … and there’s nothing I can do about it.”

True, but it’s all in how you look at it.  We all have obligations. We all have things we feel we have to do, but that is the result of the choices we made. We tend to forget that we always have the power to choose whatever it is we want to do with our life. And honoring those obligations, no matter how frustrated or stressed it can make us, well, that just makes us good people.

So, today, if you find yourself in a place you don’t to be, or you’re wishing “the day would just hurry up and get over, already,” take a few moments and appreciate where you are.

And have a happy Thursday. 🙂

The trouble is, you think you have time.

In My Father’s Footsteps

(Please visit my new blog … and thanks!)

Scrolling

I opened my WordPress tab this morning, like I do most days.  Colorful photos caught my eye, along with headings for blogs written by friends I have come to know through their artistic creations.

Most days I go straight to my writing tasks, but today I paused to admire the handiwork … and I started scrolling.

I found poetry blogs, and how-to blogs, and inspirational blogs. I found blogs about the Theology of Carrots ( “We hide our best underground”), Carl Jung’s view of the human psyche (“Very often do we see our own faults in others”), and Peaceful Shit (“Just when I thought things were getting good; Good shit never lasts long.”).

This last one made me chuckle, mostly because the author speaks the truth; “good shit never lasts long.”

But if we didn’t have bad shit, we wouldn’t appreciate the good shit. And, as everyone knows, shit happens. And the world goes round and round …..

And I’m scrolling ….

“Validation is for Parking.” This is an interesting insight.

“Frankly, the validity others provide for us has nothing to do with us. It has all to do with how THEY see themselves and their world.”

I agree with the author. We all have our realities, our own perceptions, about life and the world, which we created based on who we are, what we believe, and our experiences up to this point. No one seems the world in exactly the same way.

The author goes on to say that we need to validate ourselves instead of looking for others to do it for us.

“… we need to learn how to embrace ourselves, learn how to live our lives without asking for another’s permission or acceptance. It is our life. Our journey. ”

And I’m scrolling ….

I see my Blog #2, In My Father’s Footsteps, Chapters 31 and 32, with the familiar family photos I use to decorate my father’s stories. I impulsively click on Chapter 32, though the words are firmly planted in my mind. My motives are purely honorable; research, I tell myself. And Validation.

“My dad was my hero. I’m sure most little girls see their fathers that way. And though my relationship with my dad hasn’t always been the best, he was there when I needed him most, and for that, I am very grateful.”

A few years ago, I found a box filled with typed pages, memories about his life, which he transformed into fun and entertaining stories about his childhood, his time in the Navy, being the oldest boy in a Catholic family, and what he thought about life in general.

I changed it up a bit in Chapter 31, letting my mother take the reins to tell the story of how she and my dad met.  (Despite everything that was against them, they managed to hang on to each other for nearly 50  years.)

They were married Oct. 24, 1959. They caused quite a scandal back then. They had both been married before and divorce wasn’t as accepted as it is today. (And besides, my father was Catholic; definitely a no-no for that denomination). Mom had three kids from her previous marriage. Dad had two, but only Tim came to live with them. And after they were married, they had five more.

If that wasn’t enough, they survived a horrific experience when Dad nearly died in a car accident in 1967. And once the older kids became teenagers, they had to deal with drugs, unplanned pregnancies, and the draft (It was the ’60s, after all).

A few years later, they had to go through it all again with the second batch of kids. By this time, they were either too tired to care, or figured that life was too short to get too stressed about it and learned to relax a little.

“’Story of our lives…’ she tells me.  And she is not wrong.”

And I’m scrolling ….

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Butterflies

 

I have a butterfly tattoo on my ankle; a reminder of the changes I have made in my life. Sounds kind of corny and cliché, I know, but it’s a good analogy of  my life.

Twelve years ago, I was broken. I hated my life. I hated my job. I hated me.  I felt lost and alone, and what hope I had left was quickly diminishing.

But something happened that year. My first grandchild, Thomas, was born April 18, and at the time, I was unaware of the impact he would have on the decision to change my life.

Later that year, in July,  I was climbing the 20-plus stairs to our apartment. It was a hot and humid day; one of those days that Iowa’s known for. I had to stop half-way, because I couldn’t catch my breath. I drew air in air in, but I felt like I was suffocating. My heart began racing, and I literally saw my life flashing before my eyes.

I saw Thomas growing up without me. I saw an empty chair at his wedding. I saw him holding his child, and I wasn’t there to tell him how proud I was of him.

But as fast as the visions came, they were gone, and I was back in the hallway of our building, breathing normally.

The thought that came to me was, “I don’t want to die.”

I immediately opened the door of my apartment, took my cigarette pack out of my purse and threw them into the wastebasket.

I tried to quit smoking before, but it was only a day or two before my willpower gave out. But this was different. I knew if I kept going the way I was, smoking two packs a day, I would die. I was sure of it.

I got through the first day, and then the second, and soon I was celebrating a month without smoking.  I felt great! I could climb the stairs to my apartment without stopping to rest. I stopped coughing up crap from my lungs. I could take deep breaths again, and I knew it could only get better.

I was so proud of myself, because quitting smoking was no easy task. I used the patch for eight weeks, and then graduated to nicotine gum. I used the gum for a year and then switched to mints, which I carried in my purse to curb any lingering cravings.

I quit smoking when I found out I was was pregnant with my first baby, but started again as soon as she was born, kicking myself with every drag I took.  By the time I finally quit, I had convinced myself that I would die with a cigarette in my hand.

That is, until I realized I had two choices; I could continue living my life in the prison I had built for myself, or I could break free and do something with my life.

You see, smoking wasn’t my only problem. I had a drinking problem. I used alcohol to self-medicate, to calm my fears,  alleviate the stress, and numb the feelings of shame and guilt that consumed me.

My intention was to just to have one or two beers, to take the edge off, but once I started, I couldn’t stop.  I was drinking a 12-pack of beer a night, and that still wasn’t enough to keep those horrible feelings down.

The night of August 31, 2005, I was sitting at the computer, while my daughter was doing homework. She’d had a rough year and was trying to catch up so she could graduate with her class.

The third time she asked me for help, and I said, “Just a minute, I’m busy,” was her breaking point, and she threw her books against the wall.  She had a history of extreme outbursts, but that’s not what this was. I truly believe it was divine intervention, because what she said next blew my mind:

“I’m sorry you have so many problems, and that you’re so unhappy, but I have problems, too. …”

For the first time, I heard her words. She saw my pain and my unhappiness, and I saw hers. She was reaching out to me the only way she knew how.

She taught me something significant that night, something that has made me get out of myself and really look at the world around me:

“We don’t live in a bubble; what we do affects others.”

I had been so busy worrying about me and focusing on how bad my world was, I wasn’t seeing what my own children were going through.  My selfishness and self-centeredness had kept me from being emotionally available for my children, and now I had to take responsibility for it, and do something about it.

I was hurting, and I didn’t know what else to do but to close the world in on myself. All this time, I had been inadvertently killing myself, because I couldn’t face the pain I had caused others. It had gotten so bad, I couldn’t live with myself.

I knew I needed to take control of my life.  That night, when I went to bed, I did something I hadn’t done in years; I prayed. I asked God to help me. I promised Him that I would do whatever it took to have a better life, to be a better mother, a better person. I begged him to show me how to do it.

And he did.

The next day, I threw all the beer away and got rid of all the empty cans.

A few days later I met someone who introduced me to Alcoholics Anonymous and I started attending weekly meetings. A few months later I ran into a friend, who was also in the program, and she became my sponsor.

God was putting people in my life to help me.

But that was just the beginning.

To be continued ….

 

That’s What Friends Are For

One day a woman found herself in a hole. She looked around for a way out, but there was none. Suddenly, a man’s head appeared in the hole.

“Hello! Do you need help?” he called. He was wearing a stethoscope around his neck and holding a note pad.

“Yes, thank goodness! Please, help me, Dr.!”

The doctor wrote something on his notepad, tore it off, and tossed it down to her. 

“Take these pills and call me in the morning.”

She looked at he paper in disbelief. Then she crumbled it up and started to cry. 

“Hello!” she heard from above. She looked up and saw a man with a white collar. “My child, why are you crying?”

“I’m stuck … I can’t get out of this hole!”

The pastor made a sign of the cross, and said, “Bless you, my Child,” and walked away.

Just when the woman began to lose all hope, a shadow was cast across the the hole. She looked up and saw a face, smiling down at her.

“Need some help?”

Before she could answer the man jumped down into the hole with her.

“What are you doing?” she exclaimed. “Now we’re both stuck down here!”

“Yes,” he told her. “But I’ve been here before, and I know the way out …”