Thursday, October 31, 2013

Boo Humbug

Is there such a thing as a Halloween Scrooge? If there is, then I'm it. 

You see, I'm not a big fan of Halloween. It's a holiday I think we could do without. And it isn't really a season like the Christmas season, it's just a day. So it would be easy to dispose of.

As a child, Halloween was sort of a mixed bag. I could never quite get the right costume and usually ended up going as a hobo, wearing old worn out clothes and putting charcoal on my face. None of us 8 Kingkade kids ever got those cool, trendy masks or costumes. 

I also heard that some kids got  "jumped by some hoods" and had their candy stolen or that someone found a needle or a razor blade in their candy. Maybe this was just urban legend but it made me leery of a holiday where those kinds of things occurred. You never heard of people putting something in someone's fruit cake, did you?

And then there was Halloween in small-town Iowa. As a first year teacher, I was warned by the locals that if I left my car outside in the driveway on Halloween, it would get vandalized. It seems that in small towns, Halloween was a license for destroying or stealing anything that wasn't locked up or tied down.  "Har, had, har, why back a few years ago, them kids took a goat and put it up on top of the elementary school, har, har, har." Main Street was blocked with a pile of park benches, signs, trash cans, and anything else you could get your hands on the next morning. A parent of a student offered up their spare garage for my car, but other teachers weren't as fortunate.

Not raising children may have also contributed to my Hallo-Scrooge-ism. There was a pretty big gap in the time when I last trick-or-treated to when I started to participate again. Like about 45 years. Last Saturday, we tagged along with our grandkids and their parents to a Halloween event at a wonderful children's farm in Kansas City. The girls are 4 and 19 months old and boy were they cute all dressed up in their costumes. My hardened pumpkin heart started to soften a bit.

Then today at work, some of the children from our new residential treatment center came around dressed in their costumes to trick-or-treat in my part of the building. These are children who have not had a great life yet. They are here because life has dealt them a heavy hand, but there is hope they will get better because our people here do great work.

As I was reaching into my stash of Kit-Kats, Mounds Bars and other goodies, I met a princess, Green Lantern, a Goth Witch, Batman, a soldier and a Geisha. They all told me who they were, thanked me for the treats and then down the hall they went. I was smiling.

What's the lesson here, Dan, I ask myself. Maybe Halloween isn't so bad after all. Maybe you could change your mind about it. Maybe, just maybe, you could come to embrace it.  

Let's not get carried away. I need a little time to think about this. Although I have to admit, I've had a couple of really good Hallo-moments this year so maybe there is hope for me yet.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Word of the Day--Change

Change-the summer of 1967 and I was involved in trying to change my community for the better. My parents were both activists of sorts and encouraged getting involved. And while it was somewhat idealistic and youthful in it's expression, I still have the desire to create positive change where I can. The other picture is a young man I mentor at a local high school near me where I'm involved in a youth mentoring program. It was taken last June at the Strategic Air Command (SAC) museum outside of Omaha before we said so long for the summer. I see him every Friday morning for an hour. The goal: be an encourager and create positive change. I'm supposed to change him-I think it's been the other way around.
My Teammate, Brady and I in June

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Old Timer

October is a weird month for me as months go. 23 years ago I had just run my second marathon in 6 months up in the Twin Cities. I ran my first marathon in April. I was reaching the end of my drinking life and the marathons, when I look back on them, were an attempt to prove that I could control things such as how much and when I drank. I had this notion that some kind of mystical transformation would come over me as I crossed the finish line and the urge to drink would be lifted, if not rendered more manageable. Neither happened. My first thought in St. Paul that October afternoon was "where's the beer tent?" I recognized that uncomfortable feeling of apprehension and anxiety that only a drink could level. 

It was over.  I knew what I had to do. A few phone calls and a meeting with the EAP at work led to my enrollment in a evening treatment program. On October 27, 1990, after nurturing a relationship with alcohol that began in high school, a love affair that had left me battered and bruised both emotionally and spiritually, I took my last drink. October 28th, 1990 was my first sober day. 

At my Saturday morning meeting this week, the topic was "what do you old timers do to maintain your sobriety differently than when you were first getting started?" Immediately I started to formulate my thoughts on that question hoping I would get called on to share, because  I had good stuff to share.  But it's a large meeting and several members talked more than they should  (sorry, I'm taking their inventory, I know). So I'm going to share now and when you are done reading, could you please say out loud in a monotone voice,  "thanks, Dan". That's what we do at those meetings.

"My name is Dan and I'm an alcoholic". You can say "Hi Dan" as you read this, but feel free to say it silently in case there others around you. It's kind of fun once you get used to it, but it's sounds pretty weird at first, like you've just joined a cult or are at a Toastmaster's meeting.

Old Timer. Am I an Old Timer? I don't think of myself as an old timer even though I've been doing this deal for some time. I'm not sure what qualifies a person as an old timer...20 years? As far as I'm concerned, anyone with more sobriety than me is an old timer.  But if you want to call me an Old Timer,  I guess that's OK.

A woman at our meeting was celebrating 90 days of sobriety. (round of applause here if you playing along). 

She told of having 5 years of sobriety at one time but started drinking again and was out there for several years before she found her way back.  She said she thought that with 5 years of sobriety and all the tools she had acquired along the way,  she could drink responsibly again. That was not the case. I needed to hear that. 23 years of sobriety and all the tools and experience I've gained has not taught me to drink responsibly. That's a lie. She spoke the truth. What I have learned is how to live responsibly without alcohol in my life, plain and simple.

Then she shared about how hard it was for her to come back to the meetings . She knew where we were but she just couldn't bring herself to walk back in. Driving by the meeting houses and seeing people gathering, she talked about being on the outside looking in...again and again and again. Yeah, I know that feeling. That was my life 23 years ago. On the outside looking in. I needed to hear that too.

My life is really different today than it was 23 years ago. I need my program of recovery as much now as I did back then but for different reasons. So I try to keep it simple and follow a few basic routines-show up on a regular basis and offer encouragement to those who need it, remain teachable and humble and with a little bit of luck, get another day. And before I knew it, 23 years had passed.

So am I an old timer?  I suppose, but I'll leave that up to you. You can call me whatever you wish, just don't call me late for dinner (rimshot-cymbal crash here).  Speaking of dinner, I hear Georgette in the kitchen putting the final touches on yet another wonderful  Sunday evening meal so it's time for my boot heels to be wandering. That's all I've got. I'm glad to be sober.

(This is where you can say " thanks, Dan" if you are still playing along)

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Fall Ramblings......

Bless me Father for I have sinned. It's been 3 weeks since my last blog entry. 

True confessions time, I lack focus and discipline. My blogging goes in spurts and some of that is due to my tendency to want to write longer, more complete stories. Another blogger whose writing I really admire suggested that I try to mix things up-short, medium, long. Or break entries up in parts (part 1, part 2, etc.). Or instead of writing stories, do observations or short commentaries. 

 So starting today, I'm going to attempt to follow that advice. Today's blog entry will be a catch-up version with several variations of the forms described above. Wish me luck.

Our trip to Colorado was a good one in spite of several challenges. The trip out took 2 hours  longer because of the road closings that resulted from the flooding.  And our lodging was changed because the place where we usually stay had no working toilets (Georgette said she was not going to use a port-a-potty on vacation. I can't blame her). Our new accommodations were really nice, in some ways nicer than our usual place, just no river running right outside our door.

We spent our  first full day enjoying Rocky Mountain National Park with all it's fall splendor. It was a little bit surreal as the park was nearly empty of people. With the road closings, the number of day visitors was way down, even though Estes Park was back to normal. There is nothing like having an entire National Park all to yourself. We came across a herd of Big Horned sheep at 11,500 feet up on Trail Ridge Road..that was a first for us.

And then came Tuesday and the government closed the park.  Nice. Thanks a lot all you knuckleheads out there in DC.  Actually, all was not lost. We were able to get to a lake south of Estes Park, Lily Lake,  that is part of RMNP. It sits alongside a highway and doesn't have a gate that can be closed. So we scurried over there and found a group of other travelers all trespassing on federal property since they hadn't officially blocked off the access. We went back on Wednesday and it had signs and plastic orange fencing blocking the parking hiss! And we found other things to do...miniature golf, more time relaxing in the condo, hanging around downtown Estes having an ice cream cone while sitting alongside the Riverwalk that runs through main street.

The weather was beautiful and everywhere you look there are mountains and the color of the aspen against the pines-you would have to work hard not to have good time. We were planning on staying until Friday, leaving for home at the crack of dawn, until we read the weather forecast. "Winter Storm Warning. 6-12 inches of snow possible in mountain areas." Shit. First THEY close the park. And now THEY are predicting a blizzard. Better scoot before all hell breaks loose. Actually hell did break loose which is why the roads were closed, the toilets didn't work and the park was closed. So we decided to head home a day early but before doing so rescheduled our annual dinner reservation at the Dunraven Inn from Thursday to Wednesday.

The Dunraven Inn is an old roadhouse that has been an Estes Park classic forever. We love it's charm and good Italian food. It is usually bustling when we make it back there every year  even though the tourist season is winding down. When we got there it was only half full and like everything else this year, suffering from the circumstances related to the floods and access to the area. Our meal was superb and as we clicked our glasses of ice tea in a private toast, we spoke of how we made it back here one more time..together...17 years...breaking records everyday. Is anyone getting  a little verklempt reading this yet? OK, we had a little moment there but when the salads arrived it was back to business as usual.

I suspect we will go back again same time, next year, we always do. Hopefully the park will be open, the toilets at our usual lodging will be working and the weather will be the weather. 


I spent 5 hours working in the garden yesterday, digging up canna and planting about 300 tulips. It was a gorgeous fall day to be outside. I had the football game on the radio, reminding me of my childhood back in the 60's when Dad would put the radio on in the window and we would rake and burn leaves while listening to the Iowa Hawkeye games. I can still smell the sweet, smoky fragrance of burning leaves today.

I was thinking while working yesterday, that planting tulip bulbs is a expression of optimism. Most of them won't bloom for 6 months and in between there will be the remains of fall and all of winter to endure. I'll forget where I planted some of them, what colors they were and what was going the day I planted them. But in the midst of a dark, snowy January night, I will fall to sleep thinking about the first days of spring when the tops of the tulips start to appear. I will sleep well in anticipation of spring.

Speaking of spring, nature can do some funny things sometimes. While working in the garden yesterday, I came across a lone daisy that had bloomed and a lone iris that is just about to bloom. The last iris to bloom was back in May and most of the daisies were done in July. Harbingers of spring or holdouts till the very end, it was good to see them again.


We are going to see the Book of Mormon at the Orpheum Theater tonight after having dinner at a nice restaurant in midtown. Its sort of a date night, except that our whole married life has been an extended date night so its really just a night out. If the show is as funny as it's been reported to be, we both might die laughing. Wouldn't be the worst way to go. We both love Broadway musicals and the music and dancing in this show have need described as an homage to classic Broadway theater.

The Orpheum is a classic old theater that was saved from the wrecking ball and refurbished. We are sitting up in the Loge, which is kind of like the mezzanine, but with fewer seats. At some point in time during the show, I will reach over and take Georgette's hand and we will give each other a look that says, "isn't this great and aren't we lucky to share this together."

October is a funny month for me. 23 years ago  I was nearing the end of my drinking life. I was scared, unhappy and ready to run. I had a plan in my head about how I could load the car with stuff and head off to some city, somewhere and leave all my troubles behind. I also knew that  no matter where I went, I couldn't outrun me. And so I surrendered. Tonight will be a bit of a celebration shared with the one I love. A little reward for 23 years of hard work and commitment. Tomorrow, it will be back to work again. There is no resting on your laurels, but tonight we will laugh and dine and enjoy the view for the Loge.