The Many Modern Paths to Sobriety

no drinking

Bob the Bartender got sober four years ago, while working full-time behind a bar, and without ever attending an AA meeting. He just reached a point where he knew he had to get sober, and he knew he had to do it on his own. He says sobriety still gets better by the day. It makes you superhuman, he says, and then he whispers that we should keep that a secret, lest everyone learn the path to omniscience.

Behind his bar, you’ll find whatever weighty tome he’s currently devouring. You can ask him the name of any capitol city ON THE PLANET and he knows it. He can discuss Herman Melville’s personal quest for sense in the world. And, yes, I still belly-up to his bar, for a ginger ale or a Virgin Mary, and we have conversations that give my brain more nourishing mental superfood than any of my graduate-level philosophy or ethics classes ever did.

A friend in my meditation group won’t tempt herself with a bar or pub setting, and hasn’t in nearly five years of sobriety. She attends AA meetings and nurtures her sobriety with meditation and journaling.

Another dear friend completed a month of residential treatment that included AA meetings, medical care, counseling, meditation, and therapy with horses. She attends AA meetings almost daily and a meditation group twice a week.

A relative of mine dove straight into the deep end of AA and still swims through it, mermaid-like, every day. Her conversations are sprinkled with AA lingo, with praises for God, and expressions of gratitude. She staffs the desk at a drop-in help center and studies addiction therapy at the community college.

Very un-mermaid-like, I dipped my toe into AA and put my shoes right back on. I attend a Buddhist-oriented meditation group. I write daily and read everything I can find on the subject of sobriety. I use phone apps that provide daily inspirational readings, remind me to meditate, and track my days sober as well as dollars saved from not buying alcohol. I have a Pinterest page where I stash any little gem that feels inspirational, soothing, or motivating so I can dive in when needed.

Back in the old days, when I was a kid whose adult relatives were divided between the diligently sober and the lavishly inebriated, I overheard countless homilies on the commandments of sobriety. There was one right way to do it. Even relatives who hadn’t had a drink in ages weren’t considered truly sober unless they were doing it right.

To be fair, my family’s conservative Mormon and Irish Protestant DNA didn’t predispose them to Transcendental meditation retreats or communing with therapy horses, even if those options had been available to them. In those days and in our circles, AA was it. You were in or you were a drunkard. And if you were in, there were rules:

Taking a nighttime cold medicine was cheating.

Non-alcoholic beers or mock cocktails were as dangerous as Russian roulette.

Bars and pubs would lead right back to the bottle.

God was an essential travel companion and no one could journey all the way to sobriety without Him.

Rarely did the sober relatives veer from these commandments. One even tried valiantly to live without doctor-prescribed anti-depressants. It didn’t work, and she still feels hints of judgment for treating her unbalanced brain chemistry.

In this new generation of sobriety, the rules are generously broad, and the judgment is mercifully muted. The old ways still surface, but with less authority. In my circles, one of the Old Guard convinced a woman that true sobriety required her to stop the medications that manage her bipolar disorder. Fellow group members said she was quickly “off the deep end” and they had to pull her to safety.

There is a clear shift in the world of sobriety. There are many paths. All are good.

AA’s Big Book was written in the 1930s by Christian white guys, and little has changed since. The program is still the standard, saving lives every day, and even comforting in its weathered and old-timey feel. Fortunately, today there’s also a welcoming spot somewhere for the Godless, the counter-culture, the non-conformist and the non-joiners.

I know people who find sober sanity in a good pair of running shoes, on a yoga mat or a meditation cushion, in a church pew or a secluded forest path, and even on a bar stool across from a philosopher mixologist.



Every Weekend Warrior’s Reality

It was hot (for our climate): 86 degrees. I weeded and cleared. I hauled lumber and sawed and drilled and built the boxes. My husband drove the wheelbarrow hundreds of round trips, shoveling and filling. Typical DIY weekend warrior stuff: we were exhausted by Sunday night. My fingers were numb, our cheeks were reddened from too much sun, but we were happy to sit back and admire our handiwork.

But there’s always more.

Weekend warriors, take heart. There’s always more. Always will be. Do what I did: just ignore the nagging to-do list for a little bit. It’ll still be there when you come back.

When You Find a Baby Animal: Myths and Facts

Roger the baby squirrel

Roger the baby squirrel

I still grieve the day 25 years ago when a friend and I found a baby bird on the sidewalk under a tree. She was tiny, helpless, nearly featherless. We both believed the first, most fatal myth: if you touch the baby, the mom will reject it.

We had accidentally touched her, because my friend almost stepped on her. She was on a busy sidewalk, so we moved her aside. And then we felt certain we couldn’t leave her there.

I took her home, believing I could somehow care for her. I tried a number of feedings, from varieties of baby food to sugar water to fruit and vegetable purees.

I gave it the college-level try, but I was kindergarten-level naive. The baby never ate anything, and over 48 hours she became weaker and weaker. I eventually carried her to the bank of a pond, soothed by self-delusions that nature would somehow make it all okay. I left her there, believing…what? Little Disney characters would flutter in and sprinkle her with fairy dust? She’d be adopted by a nanny bird or a benevolent fox would nurse the bird along with her litter of pups?

The baby bird died there, alone and hungry.

Nature wasn’t going to step in and save her, because I’d already thwarted nature’s one perfect plan. To allow nature to save her, I needed only to do one thing: Put the baby back in the tree. Right where we found her. Right where her mother surely watched us carry away her baby to a certain death.

Barring that, I could have reached out to any number of resources I had no idea about back then: Audubon Society, local wildlife rehabs, animal shelters, veterinarians. I didn’t even know to do that. And get this: we didn’t have Google then. It was the dark ages.

Fast-forward a quarter of a century to this past weekend, when I found a baby squirrel under my apple tree. Wide-eyed, passive, trusting little creature that can only be a baby squirrel, he was all too happy for me to pick him up. I’ve rescued several, and they always do the same thing: crawl up my chest, nuzzle under my chin, and make a snuffling sound that shatters my heart. I wrapped him in a piece of fleece fabric, and he kneaded it with his paws, trying to suckle it like he would his mother’s soft belly.

My husband and I fashioned a little nest out of a small box and attached it to a tree limb. There the baby waited, sleeping peacefully, for 3 1/2 hours until it grew dark and cold outside. I brought him inside for the night, keeping him safely in his fleece wrap and a cat carrier, while I Googled emergency feeding and re-hydration for baby squirrels. Again, I gave it the college try, and much less naively this time, but the baby still didn’t eat.

The emergency nest where Roger waited for his mom.

The emergency nest where Roger waited for his mom.

Bright and early the next morning, I put the baby back in his tree, this time sitting in the open on top of his fleece wrap. After about an hour he got playful and explored the tree. He found some hidey holes I didn’t know were there. I learned he could climb down, but couldn’t climb back up, and would panic when he wanted to return to his fleece but couldn’t. So it was clear he wasn’t quite ready to fend for himself, and his mom wasn’t returning.

Usually the mother will return. When she doesn’t, there’s still hope.

I turned to the experts: a local wildlife rescue center that’s expert in saving the hordes of nature’s innocents who nearly lose their lives each spring. Whether from natural predators, the unnatural predation from family dogs and cats, traffic accidents, deaths of parents, or untold other reasons, youngsters in the wild face an uphill climb to survive to adolescence. The wildlife center looks like a nursery this time of the year: babies of every conceivable species suckle bottles and take nourishment from eye droppers and are swaddled and nurtured by nanny humans who, no matter how skilled and compassionate, readily caution that they are a poor replacement for the infants’ actual mothers.

Roger in his much-loved fleece

Roger in his much-loved fleece

Roger (that’s his name, because, as you can clearly see, he looks like a Roger) will spend perhaps a week in the adorable wildlife nursery under the care of people who know how to feed and raise him, and then he’ll come back here, to his home tree, hopefully to thrive.

The babies I’ve saved since then always awaken my grief over the one I killed with kindness 25 years ago. The babies saved don’t erase that loss, but help me feel I’ve tipped the scales in the favor of the innocents. And since nature isn’t populated by magical faeries with gold dust, these babies need all the help they can get.

The Day Prince Saved Clapton

prince and clapton

Watching Purple Rain Drew Clapton out of a Depressive Spiral of “Drink and Drugs”


While the world awaits Prince’s autopsy results, there are the usual speculations (Was it a pain meds addiction? Accidental overdose?) Meanwhile, the usual tributes continue to pour out. There’s something a bit unusual, though: the uniquely personal and emotional tributes from celebrities to The Purple One.

You’ll find none more personally felt than than Eric Clapton’s social media post, picked up by Huffington Post.  Clapton retells a grim period in the mid-80s when he was touring, despairing about the dismal state of music culture at the time, and spiraling into a mire of “drink and drugs” and depression. Watching Prince (then totally unknown to Clapton) in Purple Rain filled him with hope. He sat among the empty bottles in his hotel room and penned “Holy Mother.”

Much is written and opined about the apparent tie between creative personalities and addiction. In one of my current favorites among inspirational books, author Meredith Bell writes that our mythology of the brilliant, drunken writer or musician is a ruse. What more would Hemingway and the like have produced if they had lived longer, lived clearer, nursed the muse instead of the bottle? What more would Jack Kerouac have given the world had he not died at 47 from cirrhosis of the liver?

The hard truth is, alcohol likely has cut short more brilliant lives than it unleashed. On the flip side of this tragedy: the fact that some of our best treasures are the creative souls who journeyed to the bottom of the bottle, swam back out, and went on to write and sing about it.

The Best Trick to Calm Your Dogs During Thunder


Last night we had a doozy. The weather folks call it a “severe thunderstorm.” My girls call it, “Holy mother of Dog, we’re all going to die.” Now, a nervous dog is one thing. You can comfort and console while they look for a safe hidey spot. No problem. I’ve known that game for years. But after I adopted Roxy I had to up my game by quite a lot.

Roxy is no shrinking violet. For her, hiding is not an option. She goes into take-no-prisoners mode. So, the first couple of storms we experienced with her resulted in accidents on the floor, gouged windows and doors, shredded curtains, and an alarmingly close call when she slammed an upholstered chair into a 6-foot picture window.

Enter her trainer, Lola, aka Mary Poppins. I named her that after I called her in the middle of a storm and said I didn’t feel I could keep Roxy safe. Roxy was determined to get out of the house and go kill that $#@% thunder shit, windows be damned.

Lola hopped in her car and breezed through our front door with games and treats and calming herbs and a thunder shirt. She even introduced my dogs to a game that involves something that looks suspiciously like a magic wand. Quite fitting. An hour later she left behind calm, sleeping dogs and an eternally grateful dog lady. She also left me with this one life-changing thunderstorm hack:


A hot-air popper.

And music.

We’ve done this enough times that now my girls expect it. So last night at the first bright electric flash of impending doggess doom, Roxy and Willow ran – – wait for it – – they ran – – to ME. Not the window. Not the nearest door or the plate glass. Me.

They gave this unison bark/whine that was half demand/half plea. Basically, the sound conveyed, “I’m freaking out here. Get out the popper.”

While my husband loaded the Beethoven into the stereo, I grabbed my dusty, clangy old air popper. Pretty soon the music and popping kernels reduced nature’s chaos to a distant murmur. During a lull in the storm, they were okay without the popper running. The snacks and music alone were enough for about 30 minutes (that’s the peaceful scene in this video.)

The storm escalated again and the popper came on again. We played through the entire CD twice. But we weathered the chaos without shredded curtains or messed floors. In the wee hours this morning, as Roxy leaped into bed to claim her spot (right between us, head on the pillow, because we’re ridorkulous) she stood up, raised her hackles, and hurled her most vicious bark at the window. “And don’t let the door hit you on your way out. You want a piece of this, just try that crap again.”

Good job, Roxy. You murdered the storm. We can all sleep.


Breathing Back a Trigger


My husband and I met a friend last night. We look forward to our visits with her. She and my husband were drinking beers and I was loving my spinach/ginger smoothie when she launched into an animated rant about how much homeless people disturb her life. They rifle through the Dumpster behind her high-end condo and they sleep in the alleys and doorways of her posh downtown neighborhood. Trash is dirty, and they just don’t have any self-respect, she said.

My husband and I tried to inject compassion into the conversation. How hard would it be if your only option for the night was to sleep on cardboard in an alley? How desperate would you feel if you had to search other people’s trash hoping to find some food or a half-full bottle of shampoo? “I get that,” she shot back. “But I’m not backing down on the fact that they aren’t hungry. I don’t think anybody is hungry in my city; there are so many soup kitchens and programs.”

Now, when I quit drinking, there wasn’t any drama or monumental dysfunction driving my choice. I had never had a brush with the law or embarrassed myself or become someone other than myself. I simply realized that I relied too much on alcohol as a coping mechanism. If I’d had a stressful day, or I was angry, or anxious, or bored, I’d soothe the feelings with alcohol – which, let’s be honest, is how most people use alcohol. I simply realized I was doing this on a regular basis and I was playing Russian roulette with my genetics.

So I quit.

Mostly it’s been a happy change. Until last night. We were at a restaurant that’s hippy enough to serve smoothies and bowls of veggies and quinoa, but it also has a full bar. There was whiskey over there. Probably good Irish whiskey. It was so close, and it would help me swallow down this lump of bitterness and disappointment that was caught in my throat as I listened to my friend sound so mean-spirited.

But I can’t let people drive me to drink. What I really want is to live in a kinder world. A shot of Jameson in my belly won’t make the world any nicer; it will only result in me breaking a promise to myself. So I breathed.

In for the count of four; out for the count of eight. Repeat.

Breathing won’t make the world any nicer, either. I couldn’t do anything at that table in that moment that would heal the world. So I could only say to my friend, “I’ll be curious to hear how you feel about this issue after you’ve thought about it. What I’m hearing from you is uncharacteristic of you. You’ve lost your compassion.” She agreed. And then she changed the subject.

And then I breathed. In for the count of four; out for the count of eight. In for the count of four; out for the count of eight. It’s a calming Yogic breath that has never failed me. Maybe I’ll nickname it Jameson.

My husband and I left and laughed at how stressful that conversation was. And then we noticed the beautiful bright moon.


Pocket Hole Jig: The $40 Tool That Changed My DIY Life


Behold the Mighty Jig


Why did I not know about this before? How did I ever get anything done before? This little tool is the coolest, simplest thing ever, and I didn’t even know I needed one.

I learned about it in Ana White’s plans for this console table.console 1 I’m not a raving fan of gadgets, but this intrigued me, especially because this jig promised to create strong, wiggle-free joints in my table. That’s great, of course. But what really sold me is the price. It’s $40. That made trying it a no-brainer.

Straight out of the box, I tried my new jig on some scrap wood. I made only two bone-head goober joints before I hit my stride. This tall, narrow console table is a little powerhouse, thanks to the wiggle-proof pocket holes hidden in the insides and undersides of its joints.

Now I can’t do a project without my trusty jig. It’s like when I discovered nutritional yeast and suddenly couldn’t remember what I ate in the decades before. I don’t know how I made stuff without pocket holes. The manufacturer has bigger, fancier versions of this tool, and some of them are likely in my future.

Pocket holes, hidden way down yonder

Pocket holes, hidden way down yonder

The Store’s Cull Pile Can Save You Huge $$$ on Your Projects

console tiles

My $1 tiles


Here’s an easy way to save a bundle and make unexpected things:

Spend a little time cruising the departments of your mega home improvement store (think Home Depot, which is practically my second home). In the paint department are gallons of custom-mixed paints that didn’t turn out as planned. In the lumber department – usually in a big wooden box at the very back of the store – are deeply discounted odds and ends ranging from 2x4s to molding and plywood. In the tile department you’ll find deep discounts on small quantities or last year’s favorite color.

console 1

Here’s a console table I made for our living room. I used some guidance from Ana White’s console design. Ana’s design is also where I learned about one of my new favorite tools (behold the wonders of the pocket hole jig!)



Ana White's Design

Ana White’s Design


You’ll see that my table is a rather loose interpretation of Ana’s. That’s because I needed somewhat different dimensions for this space, and also because I found some nice $1 stone tiles in the cull pile and they ended up determining the dimensions of table top. Four tiles, four bucks. Plus about $30 in lumber (I used 2x2s for a sleeker and less rustic look that goes better in our place. Bonus: they’re also inexpensive.)

This table was super inexpensive, took about four hours to make, and is a custom fit for our living room. Hot veggie dog! Win/win/win. And who can’t use more bookshelves?


console 2

Gahhh!! The dogs spend so much time trashing the couch I don’t even bother to straighten it up before I take a photo. Around here, Doggess is lord and benevolent ruler.



Five AMAZING Virgin Cocktails

Part of the fun of a cocktail is that BOOM factor: that hot or smoky or astringent taste that just gets you right there. Nursing a glass of club soda all evening will keep your head clear, but it might make your taste buds fall fast asleep. Invite them to the party too with some mocktails that deliver a jolt of smoky, salty, tart or sweet. Opt for the wow factor of ginger and lemon and fresh herbs. Skip the sugar and simple syrup and corn-syrup-laden sodas. Here are some favorites that are healthy and natural and hassle-free. One is from my own kitchen and the others are happy finds from the interwebs.


bloody mary

These days I’m all about the Virgin Mary.

In my boozy days I practically worshiped at the feet of any bartender who could make a showy, delicious Bloody Mary. Done correctly, I’d say, it was like a really good, spicy salad with vodka dressing.

Well, vodka schmodka. This virginal version is missing nothing. I order these when I’m out, and they’re always good, but nothing compares to the ones I create at home. The way I make them requires no fuss or measuring. All I need is a few minutes to worship at my refrigerator’s condiment shelf. Don’t skimp on the pickled goodies, because they really make this special.


Low-sodium tomato juice or vegetable juice cocktail (think V8)

Tabasco sauce

Vegan Worcestershire sauce

Spanish smoked paprika



Celery stalk (leafy part intact)

Cocktail onions

Pickled asparagus

Pickled green beans

Green olives with pimento

Salt and pepper for garnish

Coarse salt (optional)

Cucumber spears (optional)

Start Creating:

(Optional: dampen rim of glass with lime juice and dip in coarse salt to create a salt rim.)

Fill a large, clear glass 1/3 full with ice cubes. Add 2-3 shakes of Tabasco and 4-5 shakes of Worcestershire. Sprinkle in about 1/4 tsp smoked paprika and fill glass with tomato juice. Squeeze one wedge each of lemon and lime into the juice, add the celery stalk, and use it to stir the drink. Taste and adjust seasoning if needed.

Garnish with a toothpick or skewer well loaded with olives, onions, pickled asparagus, and green beans. Sprinkle a little salt and pepper over the veggies.

Add cucumber spear alongside celery if that floats your olive boat. Garnish with lemon and/or lime wedges if you like.

You’re only limited by the size of the glass. Use longer skewers if you want. Load that baby up.


summer twang

The Summer Twang at bon appetit


Fresh cantaloupe and fizzy club soda with some sweetness (use agave nectar in place of honey to make it vegan.) The unexpected twang comes from a hint of apple cider vinegar.






Herb Garden Spritzer at GoodToKnow

Simple, fizzy, and full of summer flavors. This spritzer is easy to make and the sugar is optional.







tornado twist

Tornado Twist at AllRecipes

It doesn’t get much simpler than this: a bottle of juice and a bottle of sparkling water. Use a sugar-free and zero-calorie sparkler like La Croix to keep it light.






pink grapefruit

Pink Grapefruit “Margaritas” from Martha Stewart

Colorful, festive, and cool. These are as simple as a sugared rim, pink grapefruit juice with Grenadine, and a bit of lime. But they look like you went to much more trouble.