Colorful ball of yarn

After my last meeting with Ron I felt lighter in my steps as I walked out of the clinic. We’ve covered a lot of ground over the past 15 months and my mind is no longer spinning, my shoulders are no longer hunched, and I’m not filled with that gray, foreboding sense of dread. I don’t feel like I’m rushing between things, or bouncing around like a pinball ricocheting off of flashing bumpers that ding and buzz as they shoot me off wildly in another random direction. My breathing is gentle and my mind is clear. I feel focused but also more aware of the little things that are happening around me. I pay attention and have renewed interest in others. I feel less selfish as I get stronger and I’m better able to share myself with others. 

When I get home I usually discuss some of what we talked about with Veloice – mostly to let her know I’m seriously working on some issues that needed to be identified and addressed, but also to show her that reaching out for help can really make a difference. My communication tools with Veloice are some of the ones that have rusted the most in our marriage over the years, but by working with Ron I’ve cleaned some up and replaced others with new ones. That afternoon we sat on the porch and had a good talk. I thought I’d share one or two of the four topics that I had discussed with Ron in the morning, but we ended up talking at length about all of them. 

What put me into the ditch? Drinking. What caused me to drink to the point I went into the ditch? Pain. Resentment. Anger. Fear. Low self esteem. What events led to these negative feelings about myself and/or others? That ball of yarn would have to be slowly unwound and each length laid out and examined individually. Ron couldn’t do that for me – he could only encourage and support my journey into those dark, primal recesses of my mind – but as each colorful length was separated from the ball it could be seen for the simple piece of yarn that it was. Each piece of my life could be looked at for clues. They were there. They were not unique. In fact, I’m sure they are quite common among most people who become dysfunctional in their addictions. It’s not the problems that occur during our lives that make us, or break us, it’s how we respond to those problems when they occur. And they will occur in each of our lives. Why did I choose to stuff feelings? Why did I choose to mask the pain, resentment, and anger with alcohol rather than deal with the underlying issues? I suppose there were lots of reasons – probably just excuses. And lies. The worst lies being the ones I told to myself. I believed them. 

Our lives are made up of so many individual strands – relationships (parents, siblings, spouses, kids, friends), work, hobbies, spiritually, money, sex, schedules, health, and numerous life experiences along the way (both good and bad). Some we control and some we can’t. Some can come to control us. Each strand is a piece of yarn wound into a ball with all the other lengths. The ball is soft and colorful. There is no beginning and no end. A kaleidoscope of colors blending together – intertwined into a chaotic mix – no ball the same as another. 

My time with Ron has been spent unwinding the ball and separating the strands of yarn so I could look at each colored length individually. A few of the many strands were black. They were the ones I had to separate and take a deeper look at. They couldn’t be ignored or quietly discarded. I had to be open to what I’d find and honestly confront the ones that caused pain and anguish. I had to change the ones I could change and accept the ones I couldn’t change – then let them go. They would no longer have power over me if I did the heavy lifting to understand them for what they were. Even these black lengths of yarn added definition, beauty, and character to the colorful ball of yarn. They are simply part of my story, and part of who I am. 

Today I feel alive. I want to feel happy and joyful. Who doesn’t? But I also want to feel disappointed, sad, and lonely. I want to feel them for the simple emotions they are so I can ask myself why I feel that way and do something positive about it. Talk about it. Go for a walk and think it through. Or just listen to music and enjoy the summer afternoon and my body walking smoothly up a hill without aching or breathing hard. I appreciate my 60 pound weight loss, good diet, and recent surgeries to fix things I can fix, and for being in the best physical shape I’ve been in for 25 years. Being in good physical health goes hand in hand with maintaining good mental and emotional health. I want to be the best “me” possible – for Veloice, my daughters, and my grandkids. For me, too. I know it will take more work, but I think I’ve come a long way. I can do it. Little steps – keep putting one foot in front of the other. One day at a time. 

Requiem for a president

I will be turning 67 in a couple of months and appreciate the perspective that experience brings to a person’s life. Thirteen presidents have lived in the White House during my life so far – that’s over 25% of all presidents who have been elected since George Washington. I lived through the Kennedy assassination, Reagan shot and wounded, and Ford shot at (twice). I watched Nixon resign in disgrace and Clinton impeached – both because they obstructed justice during scandals that enveloped their presidencies. But I’ve never seen anything like Donald Trump – the 45th president of the United States. How and when will this presidency end? Soon, and not very well. 

With Republicans in control of all branches of government the checks and balances that the Founding Fathers enshrined in our constitution are stretched to the breaking point. We have been counting on the “Freedom of the Press” to hold those in power accountable for their actions. Not since Watergate, and the reporting by Woodward and Bernstein at the Washington Post, has the press been so essential to the survival of our democracy while politicians try to cover up their mistakes and misdeeds. Legacy media has found its voice once again and investigative reporters are tirelessly working their sources, following leads, and breaking new stories about the Trump administration at a furious pace. The steady drip of new disclosures is now becoming a torrent of breaking news and the sandcastle is starting to crumble. With the appointment of Robert Mueller as a Special Prosecutor the investigation just became even more ominous for the Trump White House. 
While Trump has only been president for four months, we are already witnessing a tragically unique moment in our nation’s history. 

Trump was elected to the highest office in the land by 3 million fewer votes than his opponent. He won the electoral college by a mere 77,000 votes in the 3 states that tipped to Trump in the waning days of the election – after unprecedented announcements by the FBI, and Russian interference with social media stories and leaks about his opponent with the intent of influencing the vote in Trump’s favor. Communication between the Trump campaign staff and Russian officials now suggests possible collusion that is currently being investigated. 

My money is on Trump finding a way to resign and claim victory. He will claim he WON by disrupting the “rigged system” and setting the stage for the incoming Pence presidency. His base will see him as a hero and he will fly off the White House lawn in Marine One – all smiles and waves – to start the new conservative Trump TV network to promote his version of the Trump Legacy. He cannot tolerate being seen as a LOSER so I don’t think he will stick around for an impeachment in the House of Representatives much less the removal from office when the Senate convicts him of high crimes and misdemeanors. He will protect his brand and massage his bruised ego. 

The Trump presidency will be studied for years to come – how his wealth allowed him to self-fund his way through the primary winnowing process against other candidates who had to grovel and appease the donor class to stay in the race for the nomination. How his simple messaging appealed to, and captured, the support of the disenfranchised older, angry, white population in flyover country – the consumers of Fox News – those who prefer red hats, rallies, and slogans over policies, facts, and details. They still will – which is why an eventual Pence presidency, that tries to color inside the lines of the legislative process, will ultimately be a letdown for frustrated Trump supporters that were energized by bombastic threats and pompous promises. They preferred the CEO that promised to break the rules, drain the swamp, and Make America Great Again. Instead, they got a thin-skinned reality TV star that liked firing people on The Apprentice, but ran into trouble when firing experienced people of stature and reputation in his administration who dared to get in his way by holding dear to their principals and integrity. 

Trump’s likeness will never replace Abe on the five dollar bill, or be sculpted next to the greats on Mt. Rushmore. He won’t have the shortest presidency – that will probably always belong to William Henry Harrison after giving the longest inaugural address, catching pneumonia, and dying 32 days later – but I believe it will be short. And his record of accomplishments even shorter. 
The disastrous Trump presidency will always be remembered for the asterisk after his name. There will be many footnotes in history for this unlikely president and the voters that elected him. 

Hammering words into shapes

I feel that tiny creative crevice – buried somewhere deep inside my turbulent and overactive mind – laboring to reignite idle synapses, long covered in dust, and thick with cobwebs from neglect and lack of activity. It comes slowly. Fleeting thoughts are grabbed out of thin air before they are lost in the blink of an eye. Like a blacksmith pounding on the glowing tip of an almost molten iron shank, an idea is painstakingly hammered into a recognizable shape – words into a sentence, sentences into paragraphs. Written and rewritten until the ring of hammer striking steel sings with a melody that pleases the blacksmith’s ear.

Pete’s First Helmet

Look up! Pigs are flying! Pete got a helmet! Somewhere an angel got her wings, or hell has finally frozen over. For over 50 years I have ridden bikes (pedal and motor) without head gear. A product of the 50s and 60s, when my buddies and I rode all over Clarendon Hills on two wheels, nobody had helmets. We didn’t have seat belts in our cars when we started driving either. There was no foam at the bottom of the slide, or under the jungle gym on the playground, just hard packed dirt and gravel – and I have the scars to prove it. It was a different time. 

After raising 3 daughters with more elaborate strollers and car seats than we ever had as kids, covering electrical sockets, putting latches on cupboard doors, watching them participate in Safety City classes in school, wear helmets on bikes – and now THEY are raising kids of their own – with even MORE sophisticated equipment to keep their kids safer still! As I look ahead, and realize I’m bearing down on turning 70, maybe it’s time to take better care of myself. My luck may be running a little thin after all these years of living on the ragged edge. 

For the past 21 months I have tried to get in shape: by moving more (mostly walking and a little Yoga), eating less (and understanding what I eat), dropping 60 pounds (I did it), and climbing out of my alcohol addiction ditch (16 months sober through counseling and AA). It has been quite a journey and the path to sobriety has led me to places I never expected, and a willingness to surrender and accept things I never would have even considered in the past. 

Losing my license for 8 months has been a blessing in many ways (at least it is when I look at it with a positive attitude – and attitude is everything in life). If “need is the mother of invention” then losing my license has helped me get more creative in how I get around. I plan my trips carefully. I’ve used Uber. I’ve mastered using MetroTransit to explore downtown and hopped the light rail to meet the grandkids at the Science Museum in St. Paul, and for a picnic at Minnehaha Falls. After taking Uber to TRIA for a doctor’s appointment I walked 9 miles home on a beautiful spring morning. I’ve walked to Cheers almost every Saturday morning and had several meetings with Lance and Bill about new job opportunities this fall – and walked to all of them. 

The hardest part of this license revocation is seeing my covered motorcycle in the garage on these beautiful spring days and knowing I can’t ride it again until October. I live for my summer rides around the lakes and motorcycle trips to the mountains with my friends. 

Yesterday I got my bicycle down from the rafters and cleaned it up. I degreased the chain and put fresh oil on all the moving parts. I grabbed my new backpack and headed out for a ride. This could be the next step in my diet and exercise plan – and give me another mode of transportation if I can stick with it and not get discouraged. I headed down Golfview and over to the bike trail. I wanted to pick up a lemon and some cocktail sauce for the shrimp I got yesterday so a ride to Kowalski’s was my mission. While only a couple of miles, it felt like I had completed the Tour de France when I finally arrived. I walked into the store on my wobbly legs and picked up my things. Next door to Kowalski’s is Erik’s Bikes and I went in to look around. A half an hour later I walked out with my first helmet and a lot of information about seats, derailleurs, brakes, apparel, and had a knowledgeable technician check out my handlebars and seat for proper ride positioning. 

There is a Caribou Coffee close by so I stopped for a cup of coffee and sat at a table outside where I could keep an eye on my bike, fine tune the helmet strap adjustments, and snap a selfie of me wearing my new helmet to text to my wife and kids. 

Yes, pigs must be flying today. I smiled all the way home. I’ve come a long way, and not just on the bicycle. 

Bubble Ministry

I will be meeting Megan and the kids at Minnehaha Falls later today. I stuck a bottle of bubbles in my backpack. When I went to Bolivia I was on a work project high in the Andean Altiplano. We worked side by side with some of the indigenous Amyran people. Their families would come watch. One day I saw this little girl watching me. She probably was confused by this sweaty, dirty white guy working with adobe blocks. She was very shy and always looked away when I waved at her. 


During a break I ran back to my bunk and grabbed a bottle of bubbles from my duffle bag. I sat down on a pile of dirt, not too far from the little girl, and opened up the bottle. I started blowing bubbles and watched as her eyes followed them floating on the gentle breeze. It took a few minutes before our eyes connected, but then I watched a tentative smile spread across her face. Some of my teammates slowed down their work and watched. They began “catching” the floating bubbles. She giggled. 

The little girl had one land on her and laughed when it popped at her touch. I waved her over and she turned away – but not for long. I offered her the bottle and wand. Her mom whispered in her ear. She got up slowly. Unsure. But curious. One step, then another. I held them out again. A smile grew bright and her eyes twinkled as she drew close and hesitantly sat next to me on the pile of dirt. The team slowly got back to their tasks on site, but the little Amyran girl and I blew bubbles in the Andes Mountains on a crystal clear day. That is a moment I will never forget, and I’m sure I will be telling Sawyer that story later today. Bubble Ministry at its best.

Candle Crumbs

Yesterday we watched our grandkids (Sawyer and Ruby) so their mom and dad could sneak out for a brew and some time away from the chaos of parenting two toddlers. Seeing the smiling faces of Nana and Papa come through the door is usually the promise of laps, hugs, stories, and assorted antics. 

The several hours passed quickly and the kids ran to the door when a refreshed mom and dad came in from the garage. Mike lit the grill for some awesome looking pork chops and Megan busied herself in the kitchen preparing the rest of the menu. The kids were munching on some fruit to tie them over until the “later than routine” dinner could be served. Sawyer kept an eye on Mike as he got the coals going. A gust of wind whipped across the deck and glowing embers swirled around for a moment. Sawyer watched intently as the sparks danced in the air before being blown away on the breeze. 

A moment later Mike came back into the kitchen to get the pork chops and saw Sawyer watching the grill. “It’s breezy out there” Mike said. Sawyer smiled and said “I know! I saw all the candle crumbs flying in the air!”

Candle crumbs. The perfect words to describe what he saw. A 3-1/2 year old who already knows how to use his words to tell a story. 

Muddy Hands

I don’t like working in the dirt. Or weeding. Or mowing. It brings back memories of being a kid and not being able to play with my friends after school until the weeding in front of our house, under the evergreen shrubs, where the mosquitoes were thick, was done. Then done again – done until it was done to dad’s expectations. If I forgot to mow, dad would huff out the door after dinner and I’d have to listen to the mower, through my open bedroom window, going back and forth across the lawn as the sun began to set. I had let him down. Again. And he knew how to make me feel very small. 

I really didn’t have a real lawn until we moved to our home in Eden Prairie. Our small, shady yard in Newark, Ohio could be mowed with an electric lawn mower. And a short power cord. The kids were too small to help, so it was just a matter of keeping whatever was green in our yard short enough to look groomed for the neighborhood. Our condo in California was part of an association so our minuscule landscaped “yard” and assorted bushes were well maintained by a pickup truck gang of undocumented day laborers. That worked for me – I had better things to do with my time. 

By the time we moved back to the Midwest and bought our home in Eden Prairie our kids were old enough to need some money and our thick growing grass provided a great summer opportunity for the kids to earn their allowances. Three daughters, well spaced out in age, provided years of domestic yard help. I mowed, too. Occasionally. When I had to. There were times I enjoyed it when we first moved back and I was in pretty good shape, but as the years passed, and I gained weight, whatever “fun” I got out of mowing quickly faded away. Thankfully, our neighbor had a grandson who was starting to mow yards, and the transition after Kayla went off to college in Duluth meant our yard had uninterrupted 3rd party care. And it still does to this day. Once Nik goes off to college I will have to figure out a new plan. 

For the last few years the two flower beds in front of our house have literally gone to seed. A few stubborn flowers still poke up through the thick weeds, and the Hosta plants are like cock roaches – they could survive a nuclear winter. But the rest of the beds looked like the overgrown space between two abandoned tenement buildings on the south side of Chicago. I finally decided that the front of the house was “our space” and if I wanted it to look nice I’d have to get in the dirt and get my hands muddy. Veloice could do more to make it look nice if I got dirty and weeded, edged, pulled out old roots, raked out the old rocks, and spread 11 bags of cedar chip mulch to give her something promising to work with. 

Yesterday I went out and got started and this morning I was out the door and in the dirt without reading the Sunday paper, watching the morning shows, or having a 2nd cup of coffee. As I sit here writing this, while taking a break and drinking some tea, with still muddy hands pecking away on my iPhone, I realize this has actually been enjoyable. Not only doing something together with Veloice that completes a long unfinished project that led to much frustration, but I was amazed at how good I felt bending, digging, sweating, lifting, raking, and sweeping – even with my shirt off in the sun and not worrying about a fat belly anymore. Down 62 pounds and in great shape after daily walks and occasional bike rides has given me a new sense of enjoying physical work. Seeing the results with two pretty flower beds that have transformed the front of our home brings satisfaction and a sense of accomplishment. For once I’m proud of the dirt under my fingernails and what Veloice and I completed together. 

When Nik goes off to college, maybe I’ll have to buy a used lawnmower and make that a part of my new summer routine. The sound of a lawnmower no longer reminds me of my dad grudgingly finishing my unfinished chore, and muddy hands no longer remind me of those mosquito infested evergreens that had to be weeded before I could go out and play. Muddy hands and dirty fingernails simply mean I found my way through the weeds back to the basics of what’s really important.