05 August 2010

Tending Gardens...

It's been awhile. I almost forgot how to blog. A lot has happened since my last post - I believe in that one I had just announced the happy news that my daughter had become engaged way, way back in March 2009. Eons ago. As I write this, her wedding is just a hair over two months away.

When last we met, my son was preparing for his wedding in June. Justin and Stephanie have now been married one year and two months. They had a beautiful ceremony on Wrightsville Beach and a lovely, quiet reception in our backyard.

A lot has taken place in the past seventeen months. It's been a wonderful period of time. We've all grown in our individual ways and I'm not going to even attempt to pack it all into a synopsis, rather, I think I'll just write the first things that come to my mind because trying to recount history sounds more like an assignment and I've decided that writing should be more fun than that.

So here we are in early August 2010. It's hot here in the South and I love this time of year, though June and July are absolutely more favored months because there's more of summer to be spent. By August, we start hearing about fall and those silly "back to school" advertisements run ad nauseum. I used to dread that time of year. I never looked forward to relinquishing my summers. I gave them up kicking and screaming. I still feel like that. I'm not one of those people who can whole-heartedly enjoy Fall because of the looming winter that follows it. Summer fits me so much better.

This summer in particular, I have thrown myself into gardening. Flowers and vegetables have captured my attention. I have spent more time this summer with my hands in the dirt than ever before in my previous 50 years of life. I find myself entranced, mystified how you can pop a small seed into dirt and wind up with something as miraculous as a cucumber, tomato, cone-flower or daisy. It's incredible to me. I know it's been going on since forever, but for some reason I am new to this garden party and I just can't believe how crazy cool it is. Sometimes I walk out in the back yard and I just look around at an area that I seeded maybe six weeks or two months ago and I am thunderstruck to discover there are plants, blossoms, edible veggies where there once was a few weeds and black dirt. It's just nothing short of a miracle to me. I mean that with all sincerity.

Every evening after dinner, I grab a cup of coffee and Cassie and we do a walk about - making a wide circle through the back lawn...always stopping first at the "black eyed Susan" triangle which flanks the west end of the pool, bedazzled in yellow petals and dark chocolate centers, growing almost as if in a perfect sphere with some purple wave petunias garnishing the edges. Cassie seems as wide-eyed as me as we peruse the petals.

Then we amble over to the "true garden" behind the proper fence and through the morning-gloried gable. Inside there, tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers, mint and yes, big, beautiful canteloupes sit among the weeds and atop the soil. WOW. I can't help but whip out my Android and snap some shots of the bounty. I remember when those things were tiny seeds scattered in soil and they didn't show much promise at all or elude in any way to what they were destined to become. Who knew? Well, God of course. But I sure didn't. Even though I knew that planting can sometimes result in a harvest, I just didn't think it could happen to me. Not to any ground I clumsily tilled and dug around in. I considered myself to the far left of amateurish status and in a way I still do...viewing myself much greener than whatever tint my thumb might be, but there's the evidence and gosh darn it, stuff's growing all over the place in ways I can barely fathom. And I got to be the lucky girl who stuck the seeds in and had fun getting my hands dirty. Now, I'm starting to eat cucumbers and tomatoes that have emerged from that plat. Seriously - I stare at it all and I am incredulous. Baby, I'm amazed!

It's both a source of pride and a lesson in humility, all at the very same time because in reality, hands and elbow grease are merely tools...like rakes and shovels and sprinkler systems. Gardening has both empowered me and reminded me of my place, all at the same time. I didn't create the miracle of life at all, but I sure got lucky enough to get my hands in it!

How did it take me 50 years to figure this out? I don't know, and I don't really even care; I'm just glad I arrived at all.

It touches every single sense I have - I get to feel the dirt with my hands, smell the flowers and fresh produce, see the results with my eyes, listen to the crunch as I bite down on a ripe cucumber and taste the finished product. All of that from a seed. Is that mind-boggling or what?

It is addictive. Some evenings I have no intention of getting dirty and I may innocently reach down to pull just one weed or pluck a spent flower, and then before I know it, I'm on my knees regardless of what I'm wearing, and I am pulling dollar weeds and crab grass to beat the band and then I just give up and if I start out with a lot of concerns or worries, they wind up with the pulled weeds and my mind magically clears. There's nothing more to it - it just happens and no pharmaceutical company can compound or design a drug that can impart anything close to the feeling of clearing a patch of flowers or veggies of weeds and it's calming effect on one's mind...on one's soul. Side effects? You may have to use a nail brush and gritty soap to remove a little debris. No prescription required.

It's just plain good for you. It's so good for me that I have now decided that when this crop is finished, I am going to plant a fall garden - and in making that decision, I have ordered seed catalogs, a garden book from The Farmer's Almanac and a lot of googling of "best plants for fall planting in Zone 8". I've decided that just because summer will be shutting down, my garden doesn't have to and I'm not about to give up the great effects this summer of tending the garden has bestowed upon me. No way. I've got plans to plow it up and set new seeds and be dazzled all over again.

And that is what I'm up to these dog days of summer. I get up, I go to work, I get excited around 4:00 and I look forward to coming home, eating a bite and getting into my old shorts and t-shirts and playing in the dirt. If the rain precludes my plans, I just assume that God has decided that my crops need an extra drink and I need a rest...its become one of my healthiest obsessions. It bespeaks calm and it seems to spill over into many other areas in my life and I am grateful for that. A garden seems to produce more than beauty and nutrition...it's feeding me in other ways and satisfying hungers I didn't even know that I had.

Green is good. God is great!

22 March 2009

Can You Solve This????

I love puzzles. I love any kind of puzzle. I'm so weird I even love math word problems.

This will be a decidedly short post and because I love puzzles, I'm going to post one - see if you can solve it... :-)



John and Katie





PLUS (+)




One Engagement Ring



E Q U A L (=)

KATIE AND JOHN ARE ENGAGED!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Needless to say, we are excited, thrilled and happy for both of them. We love them both and wish them all kinds of happiness.

This means that my little family has TWO (count 'em two!) engaged couples - one wedding on the calendar (Justin and Stephanie - 21 June 2009) and the promise of another wedding (TBA).

We officially, and with great affection, and excitement welcome Stephanie and John to the Cook/Parker clan. I will officially be the grandma to three grandcats (Boo Radley, Olive and Soprano), and I am looking so forward to having a new daughter-in-law (Stephanie) and son-in-law (John).

Empty nesting was an adjustment, but it's turned rather exciting. I love the nests my kids are creating and the special people they have chosen to nest with.

I couldn't possibly be more happy and pleased. As any Mom will tell you, when the kids are happy - I'm happy!!!!

Today is about the endless possibilities and mystery of love.



12 March 2009

Forty Nine Years, in a New York Minute

And that's exactly where I spent my 49th birthday - in New York City, visiting my beautiful daughter and her handsome and very tall boyfriend. We celebrated with a dinner at Les Halles, my favorite French Restaurant on the Upper East Side of Manhattan, along with John's fabulous Aunt Melanie, who treated us to this sumptuous feast. Les Halles is the same restaurant where Katie and I shared a meal with my favorite French writer and best buddy Michel a couple of years ago. We remembered that fun evening with great fondness, as we went about the business of making new memories.

Michel, being the charming man that he is, sent me the most beautiful daisies on my birthday so that when I arrived back home, they were waiting for me - he knows they're my favorite flower - and they were exquisite. Michel is family, after all these years, and he's working on a book that I can't wait to read. He's promised us a visit after he sends it to his publisher. We're going to hold him to it.

Turning 49 was a piece of delicous chocolate cheesecake, complete with a candle and singing.

It was 12 degrees when my plane landed at La Guardia. To my southern sensibilities and skin, it felt positively Arctic.

John and Katie's new apartment is on the Upper West Side, just a couple of blocks from the Time Warner Center and dangerously close to Border's Bookstore. Before my send-off to NYC, my office surprised me with a cake, candles, singing and two extremely generous gift cards with instructions to use them on my trip. I didn't disappoint them and Borders was the better for it, as was Barnes and Noble, and several other establishments.

Katie and I spent my actual birthday walking around Manhattan, seeing "He's Just Not That Into You", drinking hot coffee in very cold and wintry Central Park, and eating delicious food. And giggling - we giggled a lot. Made keen, obtuse observations, and in a way it was like hanging with a best friend, who just happens to be my daughter.

On the day after my birthday, we made our way to the Barnes and Noble near Lincoln Center where she hung out with the cookbooks and I drifted off to biographies and nonfiction. We lugged our loot to a sitting area just across from LC, and while Katie perused her baking book acquisitions, I sat back and took the opportunity to do what I love doing most in Manhattan - watching people. There was much to see, as there always is. NYC never disappoints and is always lively and over-stimulating.

It was a delightful way to spend a Saturday Afternoon and, thankfully, the temperature rose above freezing. Hardy NY'ers were positively basking in what they considered "mild" conditions. Me? I was gloved, wrapped in a scarf and ensconced in the faux fur coat my best friend Sharon lent me because living in Wilmington, I refuse to own outerwear that's more substantial than my leather jacket. I would have frozen solid without Sharon's generous contribution to my comfort. It's just one of the many reasons I adore Sharon.

We dropped back by K & J's apartment long enough to collect John and headed for a late lunch at the Olympic Torch Diner. But before venturing out, we ventured up - to the roof garden of their apartment building which happened to be on the 57th floor. It was breezy for certain, but what an incredible view! As sunset enveloped the city, the lights twinkled before us, like scattered stars - some static and others in a sort of Brownian motion. What a sight it was - the Hudson River to the left and Central Park to the right and everything imaginable in between.

However, at that haute height, the only noise to be heard was the wind whistling a very icy tune. I still can't imagine that my daughter lives up there and has made that town her own in the almost three years she's been a resident. Amazing. It constantly amazes me. She thoroughly thrives up there, as does John. It's like they've always been there, so comfortable and at ease in a town I always liken to semi-controlled chaos.

I'm so happy for them because they're so happy! I miss having her in town, no question about it, but taking queues from my parents, I choose to revel in their joy and right now, their joy is in the 18th floor apartment that is surrounded by glass buildings and busy streets and throngs of people; if that's where they find happiness, where they thrive and live and have carved out an inestimably interesting life with a view that won't stop, well, then that makes me happy, too! And very proud. So very proud of both of them.

Katie has grown into such a lovely, capable woman - the young girl who was always wise beyond her years has matured into an insightful, thoughtful, creative, accomplished adult. Watching the metamorphosis has been captivating, enchanting...a precious gift from a young lady who has generously given me ever so much along the way. As she has expanded her horizons, she's exponentially expanded my heart and my mind. Can you tell I'm proud? I make no apologies for this gushing - she can back up my accolades in a way that words can't come close to expressing in any sort of adequate form.

On Sunday Morning, 8 February, I packed up my suitcase and Katie rode the elevator with me downstairs and she gave me one final wonderful "Katie" gift of the weekend...she allowed me the comic thrill of watching her hail the cab that would start my journey back where I belong - in the land of iced tea and warm southern breezes. I love watching the NY side of her...so determined, full of chutzpah, certainty and with a confidence her very southern mother couldn't possibly manage.

Just before I got in the cab, headed back to La Guardia and the commuter plane that would deliver me back to my corner of the US, we snapped two photos. No tears, not even the hint of them did I feel. We had a spectacular visit, shared so much fun with Katie's seamlessly ascerbic and amusing turns, but it was time for me to head home to the much more decidedly genteel land of tea, Andy Griffith reruns, cats, a dog , so many cichlids and two parents I enjoy so very much, and it was time for her to return to her epic pace of ordering groceries from Fresh Direct (just a click of the keys and the cupboards are restored!), baking sinfully rich and mouth-watering desserts, and the quiet (it's all relative!) life she lives on the 18th floor of a very tall building in a very large city with a very tall boyfriend, two cats and a red kitchen-aid mixer. It's good we know our place, eh? :-)

I've been working like crazy since my return,. I've been slammed at work and I've enjoyed every minute of it. Every single minute. I am also typing this from a new Toshiba laptop that my parents bought me last week and I'm loving that, too. It's lightning fast, has a 17" screen and I can load my huge spreadsheets on it, have five applications running and never miss a beat. It's great fun and we're still getting to know each other, but I'm feeling a delicious synchronicity.

There is, however, excitement in the air! Upon my return from Yankee Town (NYC), I was informed by my beautiful daughter-in-law to be, that she and my son had set a wedding date! Yes! June 21st, on Wrightsville Beach, my son Justin and his lovely fiancee Stephanie will officially TIE THE KNOT! We're all very excited for them.

On April 3rd, I will be catching another plane and this time I will head North by Northwest to a town I haven't visited for over 12 years - Charleston, WV. I'm flying up to spend four days visiting my son because I haven't seen him since August and I need a Justin fix! I can't wait to see Justin and Stephanie. I'm looking forward to a tour of my old hometown courtesy of my 22 year old son and his soon-to-be-bride. I have talked with his boss, who happens to be his father, and he has agreed to let the fellow off for a few extra hours to entertain me. I'm looking forward to this trip and by the time I return on 6 April, before you know it, Katie will be coming down to visit and help prepare for the wedding - at which she will not only be the sister of the bridegroom, but will also be the official photographer!

We have much to celebrate, to be grateful for and sometimes when I think of my family, my friends, my town, my animals, my books, the ocean, and the list goes on, I am struck - literally - by just how blessed each of these days of our lives truly are - they are so inextricably intertwined, but in the best way possible, because somehow they are fashioned in a way that allows us to be close, even as we each chase our own dreams, realize our respective goals, struggle and learn and make our way on paths that feel bathed in dappled-sunlight and I know intrinsically that this light must absolutely originate from the center of heaven. It really does feel that way and I am in awe of every single second of it. It occurs to me that I wouldn't understand how precious all of this is, how illuminated these paths are, without having walked down a few dark wrong curves and you know, I'm grateful for those, too. For the lessons they impart, a determination they stoke, and a perspective that would be impossible to understand by any other means.

Spring is in the air, daylight lingers later into the evening now, and though I don't own a sailboat as of this writing, I appreciate these days of fair winds, and following seas.

25 January 2009

Brrrrrrrr, Brrrrrrr Birthdays

Thanks to a perfectly orchestrated plan and the cooperation and eager participation of an office filled with similarly sneaky people, not to mention a wife who went the extra mile to deliver the birthday boy, we managed to surprise Mr. Richard Early. He thought he was simply having lunch with his lovely wife but, lo and behold, when he walked into Longhorn Steakhouse this past Friday at 1:00 PM, he found his entire staff around the table, eagerly awaiting his arrival. Everything went off like clockwork.


He was COMPLETELY surprised. I kept reminding him all week that this was his LAST full week of being 50 - his real birthday is Tuesday, January 27th, - but he suspected NOTHING on January 23rd and the look on his face was PRICELESS. We were fortunate to also have as fellow conspirators, his three children (Caitlin, Keegan & Liam) and grandson, Ty.

I just have to say that this man absolutely deserved this surprise celebration and I believe it was evident by everyone's willing participation just how much we respect and enjoy working with Rich. He is easily one of the most delightful chiefs I've ever worked for and his crazy personality and sense of fun and mischief make going to work everyday seem less like work and more like an adventure. We are truly blessed to have him at the helm as a fearless and funny leader. He has created a progressive and positive work environment and because he loves what he does, he's made us learn to love it as well. It's a privilege to work under his direction. He definitely had this party coming to him.

After the midday celebration, I stopped at Romanelli's to pick up an order of prime rib, lasagna, salads and not one but TWO decadent desserts and arrived home for yet another birthday celebration! My Daddy turned 84 yesterday and what a great birthday he had! He spent the day yesterday fielding phone calls from far and wide and the first one to ring in his birthday was his favorite grandson, Justin! At 12:01 AM Saturday Morning, the phone rang and it was Justin and Stephanie calling in to wish him happy birthday and what a great way to start any birthday.

Though yesterday was generally gray and drizzly outside, the mood inside the house was warm and filled with love and good wishes. My dad enjoyed calls from his sister Clara in WV, his former boss and good buddy Harry Burke in Scottsdale, Arizona, and Katie rang in yesterday evening from Manhattan to wish her Pops a happy birthday. Daddy also received e-mails from family and friends and a very special and unexpected note from Stephanie came in yesterday morning that meant so much to Pops. It was beautifully written and made his birthday even more special.

So what do you get for the man who has everything? Last Sunday, I searched around the internet, contemplated, googled and finally decided on an Aerogarden - a hydroponic indoor gardening system that grows plants indoors or starts seedlings for transplantation into an outdoor garden. Of course, I got the coolest one they had - the Aerogarden Pro Series - and I also ordered some seed kits to go along with it. I thought it would be great fun for our master gardener.

The Aerogarden arrived on Thursday afternoon and it really is an impressive technological marvel and, while my Dad was just kind of staring at it (though he did have a lot of fun with all of the paper it came packed with), he didn't quite know where to begin in setting it up. However, my Mom swooped in and was immediately reading the booklets, assembling the parts and examining the seed kits and had the whole system set up in the kitchen in no time flat. It became obvious to me that I had ordered my Mom a present for my Dad's birthday and while I know he'll enjoy taking care of the plants once they are ready to be set out in the outdoor garden, he really had very little interest in tinkering with the system indoors. I was still glad I ordered it because Mom and I are having a great time planning what to plant next and marveling at the seeds which are already showing signs of germination.

What to do?

First things first - yesterday morning I placed an order for a strawberry shortcake with "Apple Annie's" - a local bakery which specializes in rich, high-caloric desserts. I headed out about 1:00 PM yesterday to pick up the dessert I ordered but, as I was waiting for them to box it up, I spied a chocolate mousse pie that I had ordered on Mom's birthday back in December. Well, I figured, since she inherited the Aerogarden, she should really have her own birthday pie, so I bought that one too!

After that confectionary acquisition, I found myself walking into Office Depot because there were a couple of things I knew my Dad wanted for his computer. After perusing the aisles and careful deliberation, I walked out with a cool wireless keyboard and mouse, and a 320 GB Maxtor backup drive which I felt would be a little more interesting to my Dad than an Aerogarden.

I arrived home with both desserts, computer presents, a card and walked into lots of smiles. Yes, this was a present more in keeping with my dad's interests and, after he delighted over his techno presents, we officially transferred power of the Aerogarden over to my Mom who was pleased with both HER new toy and the chocolate mousse pie. We had plenty of leftovers from the big dinner the night before and so we ate well and, after dinner, I hooked up my Dad's keyboard and mouse, and I will install his backup drive later today.

All in all, Pops had a wonderful birthday and Mom had a wonderful "Pops" birthday as well! As for me, I just sat back and enjoyed their "joy" and realized, as I often do, just how BEYOND blessed I truly am to have both of them for parents. They have such a contagious love for living that honestly, it is IMPOSSIBLE not to feel it when you walk in this house. They are such a living, thriving blueprint for our family, in how to squeeze the very best out of every day, every situation, and to zero in on the positives and quickly discard the negatives because life is just too short and time is so very precious. When you're surrounded by this much positive energy and zest, you can't help but "catch it" - it's positively contagious.

But for as warm and wonderful as these two people are, it was no match for the sub-freezing temps that arrived Tuesday Night, along with a rare flurry of snowflakes. When I arrived home early from work on Tuesday (Rich made us all leave at 4:00 due to the impending icy roads), I realized this house wasn't so warm and around 7:00, it was obvious we weren't getting any heat. Of course - this was the coldest night of the winter (thus far).

I put in an order for a technician but no one would be checking our heating system on Tuesday Evening so I consulted with my Dad and we determined it was time to fire up the Vermont Castings woodburning stove in the living room which, given our "southern exposure", doesn't see a lot of use in southeastern North Carolina.

Fortunately, we had a stash of wood in the shed beside the pool house, but I quickly noticed that the patio and deck around the pool were now sporting a thin layer of ice, as was the grass. I told Dad I would go out and bring some wood in and he could start a fire. I did NOT want him traipsing around the patio or grass because I was scared to death of him falling on his thinly padded behind (he weighs a whopping 142 lbs...not a lot of fat on those bones!).

While I was busy looking for a jacket, that man was stealthily making his way to the woodshed and I ran outside, still pulling my jacket on yelling at him to "STOP! HALT! - Don't Move!". Of course, he completely ignored me and went about filling a wheelbarrow up with wood. I finally caught up with him and I sternly informed him that he had no business out there in such slick conditions. He gave me a wry look and, implementing his "selective hearing", he just smiled and kept filling the wheel barrow paying absolutely no mind to my admonitions whatsoever. He was having NONE OF IT! I finally started laughing because I might as well have been talking to the grass or a wall. No amount of begging or pleading was going to stop this guy. I'm sure I looked mighty silly out there waving my hands and yelling for him to cease and desist.

He parked the wheelbarrow by the sliding glass doors just outside the living room and then began loading the wood stove with kindling and as the fire began to light - the living room immediately began filling with smoke because we couldn't figure out how to set the damper. My resourceful Mom quickly stepped in and fiddled with the levers and in no time the smoke cleared and the fire blazed and the house began to warm up.

However, as wonderful as these woodstoves are, they really consume the wood and one has to be vigilant and ready to toss in more food for the fire. The next morning, around 7:00 AM, my Dad climbed the stairs and brought me a HOT cup of coffee and told me he had tended the home fires all night - making sure the fire never went out and even made another trip to the woodshed to fill up the wheelbarrow again. Good grief! I was thankful I didn't find him sprawled out in the backyard with broken bones while I was sleeping snuggly in my bed oblivious to his daredevil ways. It's challenging keeping tabs on these senior citizens!

Thanks to Dad's hypervigilance, the house stayed warm until the service technician arrived around 11:00 AM Wednesday Morning and diagnosed the problem as a worn out thermostat. After replacing the old one with a much nicer new one, the heat clicked on and warmth was restored. If it hadn't been for our woodstove and Dad's West Virginia "know how" with fires, we would have had to check into a hotel Tuesday Night, no question about it.

As I listened to my Dad talk about getting up Tuesday Night to periodically check on the fire, and watched as he tweaked it from time to time, I swear I think he almost enjoyed taking on the task and it must have brought back a lot of memories from his childhood and young adult years when the only way to heat a house was a wood and coal burning stove. I believe it turned out to be a source not just of warm heat, but also a chance to relive some warm memories.

Once again, it was just another opportunity to turn what could have been an annoying malfunction, into the perfect chance to reminisce and relive times in the past, how things used to be and lots of "remember when?" moments that accumulate when one has been granted the gift of living well year after amazing year. I believe he was rather proud of himself - demonstrating he could still keep the family warm and safe when modern heating technology failed us - and he did it well. So very well. Even a cold, wintry Wilmington Night bears gifts - you just have to be willing to recognize it. The ability to do so is perhaps the most amazing and useful gift of all.

In less than two weeks, there will be another birthday - #49! I'll be spending that weekend in Manhattan and I look forward to spending time with Katie and John in their busy Upper West side neighborhood! I'll be flying up on 5 February, turning 49 on 6 February and will return to Wilmington on 8 February. My friend Amy, a native of the great North, has made it her mission to ensure that I'm appropriately layered and has loaned me a warm scarf, leather gloves, a thick leather jacket and a woolly hat. Otherwise, I would probably freeze to death - I have no idea how to dress for such conditions - even though I grew up in West Virginia, I don't recall how one dresses in response to arctic conditions. Thank you Amy!!!!!!!!!!

Looking forward to warmer weather - we can't wait to visit Justin and Stephanie hopefully in March or April. I miss those two SOOOOOOO much but my goodness, we hear great news of their work, the building of the business, and how they are learning to thrive in the cold weather and snow of West Virginia. Justin sounds like an excited young boy when he tells me about the latest snowfall and, from all reports, they are doing extremely well and enjoying their work with Tim and Jennifer. We miss them both so much, but we're really proud of what they're doing and happy about the new adventure they've set out on together. I'll post some photos of them when I FINALLY GET THEM!!!!!! .

In the meantime, work is great at NorthStar, the days are getting longer little by little, and before you know it, spring will have sprung. I'm ready for warm sunshine and long swims but, in the meantime, I'm enjoying these days of winter more than I ever have before. This is a winter of sweet contentment and I am very grateful for all of it.

12 January 2009

Five Years, Fine Friends, Countless Blessings...

Today was a very precious day for me. It started out sunny and just kept getting better.

One of my best friends in Wilmington dropped by my office with a beautiful plant in a huge tea cup and saucer. What a perfect present - I am, after all, a confirmed teetotaler. I believe Sharon was the prototype God used when he was compiling His list of attributes that should go into the creation of exactly what a friend should be.

My VP went out for lunch and offered to bring me a sandwich because I was snowed under with work. He returned a short while later with a sandwich and a gorgeous orchid. He's a pretty wonderful person.

I went to a meeting tonight and I received lots of hugs and hand clasps. I picked up my five year chip. It serves as a reminder of so much more than five years. The past five years have been filled with more blessings than I could possibly merit and grace beyond my imagination.

After the meeting, a very special friend patiently waited for me to finish a business meeting, and then took me to one of my favorite restaurants to celebrate this miracle of a milestone that started five years ago on a day that felt like the darkest hour the universe could deliver. No surprise I guess, I read somewhere that it's always darkest before the dawn, and even though I was in no shape to realize it at the time, my "dawn" was about to begin.

Five years ago my Daddy told me that it would be OK, that I would rise up from the low place I found myself inhabiting. I found it impossible to believe, but I had to believe this man I revere and respect and trust so much, was telling me the truth. I clung to the hope that he was right. As it turns out, he knew what he was talking about and, one day at a time, the fog began to lift, my vision began to clear and my focus returned.

When I finally put down the bottle, I picked up a white chip and, with the help of God, I also picked up a real life. A sober existance.

So many times today, as I shared with my friend Steve over an incredibly delicious prime rib, I was frequently startled today as my mind replayed the events of that day five years ago. I didn't know you could get from where I was then, to where I am now. I had tears in my eyes five years ago, mostly from sheer desperation and fear. I had tears in my eyes this evening, too, but they sprang from immense gratitude and a measure of thanksgiving that just feels huge.

Learning to live life on life's terms can be frustrating, confusing and sometimes downright annoying but I have to tell you, it's just the best gig going and I just have to say that the good days have far exceeded the not so good moments.

To my daughter Katie, my son Justin, my amazing parents, my sponsor, my faithful friends both inside and outside the Fellowship, I just want to say a huge, heartfelt THANK YOU, for holding me in your prayers, holding my hand when I needed it, encouraging me when I felt small and inadequate and cheering me on through every one of those "steps". "The Promises" Bill Wilson wrote about in the Big Book aren't fiction. It's about "AMAZING GRACE", and it saved me, in every way a person can be saved. Life isn't perfect - it never has been and it never will be but I can tell you this without reservation...

Life is good.