5 Gifts of Living Sober

This past Sunday, I logged into AA Grapevine and entered my Sobriety Date to check the number of days I have been sober.  It’s just way of measuring success, I guess, like weighing oneself on a scale to stay motivated during a diet.  I am an alcoholic, so my “diet” will never end.  I have been sober for 7.7 Months.  If I did not have the “Sobriety Calculator” or any other means of measuring the number of days I have been sober, I, the Stubborn Doubter, have lots of empirical evidence that each hour sober is 100 times better than any vino fino tinto.  Here is my list of 5 Gifts of Living Sober:

  1. Stop Wanting And Start Living For years, I have had a restless spirit, longing to be and have things that were within sight but mysteriously unattainable.  Then, about 5 years before I got sober, I decided to approach life with more of an open heart.  “Perhaps if I pray to God to have an open heart, He can lead me in the right direction,” was my thinking.  I wasn’t ready to admit that I was avoiding doing things (e.g., the hard work of living sober) by preoccupying myself with having things.  I never believed I would have what it took to make that leap.  I do now! Each morning that I wake up sober, I thank God for leading me to pursue worthwhile things and also giving me the strength and courage to keep at it.
  2. Stop Gambling With My Health And Start Cherishing The Body God Gave Me  Of course, drinking is not a gamble to the non-alcoholic because they can stop.  Since I couldn’t, yet continued daily drinking for several years, I was literally treating my body like a garbage dump.  In my newly-negotiated relationship with Spirit (e.g., “Higher Power”), I truly believe harmful, self-destructive behavior that could potentially lead to death (like addiction to alcohol) is a beautiful opportunity to love oneself in disguise.  Does a person who really understands the importance of being healthy, physically, emotionally, and mentally, gamble with those gifts by sinking further into addiction?  I hear people in AA meetings say all the time, “I thank God for my alcoholism, it has given me the gift of (fill in the blank with anything valuable)”.  Again, if you’re not an addict or alcoholic, this “gift” may not make sense.
  3. Cherish The Company Of Other Alcoholics  I know I avoided going to my first AA meeting because I was sure it would be full of “depressing people” that I would not be able to “relate to.”  It’s the opposite!  It is home.  Alcoholics are the most compassionate, funny, friendly, dependable, humble and noble people I have ever met.  The “Hi, Joanie!” greeting you hear (often joked about, even) in meetings is warm, sincere, safe and accepting.  SAFETY is a major trigger word for alcoholics, the lack of which (whether it be emotional, financial or physical), because our disease plays with our minds and tells us that we must remain fearful and on guard at all times because no person or situation is safe.  I had a Counselor in my twenties (who was unaware of my binge drinking but completely pegged one of my alcoholic behaviors) described my emotional state like this:  “Joan, you seem to be in ‘fight or flight’ mode 24/7 – always prepared for the danger that lurks around the corner, feeling hunted.”  Precisely.  I was deeply unsettled but had no idea why.  My Alcoholic pals understand and I am so glad for each and every one of them.
  4. Accepting Endings And New Beginnings And The Process In Between3562ced271566a90f3770d5caa4487b8  Like “The Little Prince,” my favorite time of day has always been the sunset – and during my drinking days, especially so.  Watching the sun drifting into the horizon meant I had survived the challenges of the day (e.g., sick kids, frustrating work problem, hangover, overdrawn checking account, whatever) and that it would soon be time to open my bottle of serenity.  I avoided admitting I was an alcoholic for years because I knew it was a permanent commitment.  However, nowadays, my very grateful sober self sees something quite different in the concept of “forever.”  In her new book, “Bottled,” Dana Bowman describes the paradox:

“The toughest part was realizing that recovery would never be “over” – not if I was going to take it seriously.  When you’re a part of my club, taking out a lease on recovery is not an option.  When I really thought about the lack of alcohol forevermore, it felt like I’d been told to clean the Grand Canyon with a toothbrush, while blindfolded.  But every once in awhile, tiny moments of peace and joy descended upon me and were so defined and real, they lifted me out of my canyon.  I would focus on the higher horizon then, and just kept walking.

5.  “Ay, marry, now my soul hath elbow-room” (William Shakespeare, “King John.”)

I saved the best gift for last:  Living a Sober Life means spending your time the way you want to, free from the chains of an addiction that leads to darkness.  There is so much LIGHT in my life because of the new freedom I have discovered that it is okay to feel and express emotions and spend a day doing as I please instead of constantly weighing and measuring myself against impossible standards.  Reading poetry has always been one of my favorite hobbies, but I gave it up to lead a more “serious” life of career and family.  Now it is back in my life and I feel rejuvenated.  Here is a new favorite poet and her artful examination of leading one’s own life:

Mary Oliver
The Journey

One day you finally knew
what you had to do, and began,
though the voices around you
kept shouting
their bad advice–
though the whole house
began to tremble
and you felt the old tug
at your ankles.
“Mend my life!”
each voice cried.
But you didn’t stop.
You knew what you had to do,
though the wind pried
with its stiff fingers
at the very foundations,
though their melancholy
was terrible.
It was already late
enough, and a wild night,
and the road full of fallen
branches and stones.
But little by little,
as you left their voices behind,
the stars began to burn
through the sheets of clouds,
and there was a new voice
which you slowly
recognized as your own,
that kept you company
as you strode deeper and deeper
into the world,
determined to do
the only thing you could do–
determined to save
the only life you could save.









James McNair’s Caesar Salad with Garlic Croutons


One of my favorite wedding gifts looked like this wooden salad bowl and stand.  It got lots of use for many years.


Twenty years ago, my husband and I received a beautiful wooden salad bowl with a stand and tongs along with a salad cookbook, “James McNair’s Salads,” as a wedding gift.  The stand is long gone but we still use the large bowl and I have memorized the recipe for Caesar Salad with homemade garlic croutons – and serve it on special occasions!

Here’s the recipe from the cookbook and a brief excerpt from the Author’s Introduction:

Since its inception in a Tijuana restaurant, this classic has never gone completely out of favor.  Recent years have seen the resurgence of its popularity in America’s trendsetting restaurants.

I prefer to leave the lettuce leaves whole, to be picked up with the fingertips for nibbling.  If you would rather use a fork, break the leaves before tossing them with the dressing.

The dressing may be made without the traditional coddled egg; a drizzle of heavy cream will add the richness normally provided by the egg.  James McNair



Wash, dry, and chill the lettuce leaves.  Prepare the Croutons



  1. 1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter
  2. About 1/2 cup fruity olive oil, preferably extra-virgin
  3. 2 tablespoons minced or pressed garlic
  4. 4 cups day-old bread, preferably French style, cut into cubes or thin slices.

  • In a large sauté pan or skillet, melt the butter with the oil over medium-low heat
  • Add the garlic and bread and toss until the bread pieces are well coated.
  • Reduce the heat to low (or transfer to a preheated 350º F oven) and cook, stirring and turning frequently, until the bread is golden on all sides, about 20 minutes.
  • Transfer the bread to paper toweling to drain and cool slightly.
  • Use immediately, or cool completely, then store in an airtight container for up to 1 day.



  1. 4 medium-sized heads romaine lettuce, tough outer leaves discarded, separated into about 48 leaves
  2. 4 cups Croutons, made with plenty of garlic


  1. 3 eggs
  2. 6 flat anchovy fillets, drained and minced
  3. 1 tablespoon minced or pressed garlic
  4. 2 teaspoons Dijon-style mustard
  5. 1 cup fruity olive oil, preferably extra-virgin
  6. About 3 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
  7. About 1/4 teaspoon salt
  8. About 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  9. 1/2 cup freshly shredded Parmesan cheese, preferably parmigiano-reggiano
  10. Freshly ground black pepper for serving


  • Just before serving the salad, prepare the dressing.
  • Bring a small post of water to a rapid boil over high heat.  Place the eggs, one at a time, on a spoon, lower them into the boiling water, and boil for 1 minute.  Transfer the eggs to cold water to cool.  Break the eggs, separating the yolks into a small bowl; discard the whites.
  • Add the anchovy fillets, garlic, mustard oil and about half of the lemon juice to the yolks and whisk to blend.
  • Whisk in the remaining lemon juice, or more to taste, and salt and pepper to taste.
  • In a large bowl, combine the whole lettuce leaves, about half of the croutons, and half of the cheese.
  • Add the dressing to taste and toss well.
  • Arrange the salad on a serving platter or individual plates.
  • Sprinkle the remaining croutons and cheese and serve immediately.
  • Pass a pepper mill at the table.

Serves 10 to 12 as a salad course, or 6 to 8 as a light main course



In Creation All Needs Are Met Instantly


“In creation, all needs are fulfilled the instant they become needs, which is why there are no needs. If everything you need has been provided, having needs makes no sense.” (ACOL, C:19.14)

This quotation about needs being fulfilled is an echo from A Course in Miracles. Our wants are not always satisfied, maybe especially when those wants are ego-oriented, but our needs are met, and at the point of their arrival in our lives.

A similar statement from ACIM, that the solution is always found with the problem, is appropriate as well. What are our needs except problems waiting to be solved? For what else do we normally pray?

A Course of Love is so heartwarming, and this is certainly appropriate for a work that focuses on listening to our heart as the way to live. This particular quotation reassures us that needs are not actually there at all in…

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Classic Chocolate Mousse Recipe

A couple of months ago, my son went to Homecoming and enjoyed some of Kansas City’s finest dining before the dance.  I decided to try to  recreate his exquisite chocolate mousse dessert for him yesterday.  His response was “What’s IN this?”!!  Perhaps it will take a few more tries.  Here’s the recipe:

Courtesy of Bon Appetit


6 servings

  • 3/4 cup chilled heavy cream, divided
  • 4 large egg yolks
  • 1/4 cup espresso or strong coffee, room temperature
  • 3 tablespoons sugar, divided
  • 1/8 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 6 ounces semisweet chocolate (60-72% taco), chopped
  • 2 large egg whites


  • Beat 1/2 cup cream in medium bowl until stiff peaks form; cover and chill.
  • Combine egg yolks, espresso, salt, and 2 tbsp. sugar in a large metal bowl.  Set over a saucepan of gently simmering water (do not allow bowl to touch water).
  • Cook, whisking constantly, until mixture is lighter in color and almost doubled in volume, about 1 minute.
  • Remove bowl from pan.  Add chocolate, whisk until melted and smooth.  Let stand, whisking occasionally, until room temperature.
  • Using an electric mixer, beat egg white in another medium bowl on medium speed until foamy.  With mixer running, gradually beat in remaining 1 tbsp. sugar, increase speed to high and beat until peaks form.
  • Fold egg whites into chocolate in 2 additions; fold whipped dream into mixture just to blend.
  • Divide mousse among six teacups or 4-oz ramekins.  Chill until firm, at least 2 hours.
  • Before serving, whisk remaining 1/4 cup cream in a small bowl until soft peaks form; dollop over mousse.



Dear Mom, You’re My Favorite Badass

My Mother was born prematurely during a record blizzard on December 1, 1932, in Memphis, Tennessee (a night, we learned later, on which her Grandmother was babysitting her future husband, one-year-old Dickie Killion!).   She lived in an incubator the first few weeks of her life before her parents, Opal and Ronnie, were allowed to take her home to Hayti, Missouri, a rural farming town in the Southeastern part of the state.  As a young child, she contracted rheumatic fever and the doctor said there was nothing he could do – he advised her parents to buy a coffin for Rhetta.  So they did.  Fortunately, they did not need it.  And even more fortunately, this impish child who cheated death early in life continued to thrive and grow into a beautiful young woman who would marry and bear 7 children, the youngest of whom is me.


Growing up in the  post-Depression South, there were certain expectations of young ladies that Rhetta continuously defied.
For instance, one of her very best friends, Carliss, was African American.  They enjoyed playing outdoors together for hours.  To Rhetta, the color of her friend’s skin was of no particular consideration at all.

Rhetta was strong-willed and did not want to go to school.  She recently confessed that she was, in fact, expelled from kindergarten for refusing to stop pulling the little girl’s pigtails who sat in the desk in front of her!  Rhetta did not mind the unconventional.  To her Mother’s horror, while performing in a piano recital, Rhetta suddenly forgot the music so she stood and sang the words instead!  When she was instructed to trim the rosebush – a chore she despised – Rhetta simply cut off all the lovely heads to hasten her task.  When cautioned that young ladies did not get muddy, she rode her bike through every single mud puddle she could find.

Spanking never worked because Rhetta refused to cry!  She liked visiting an Uncle who purportedly had taken up the company of a “woman of ill repute” because the woman was so friendly!  She had a daily habit of stopping along the way from school to home at the courthouse to enjoy a cigarette in the ladies’ restroom.  Rhetta was, indeed, incorrigible!

Mom recalls there was an internment camp for German Prisoners of War (for some reason in Hayti, Missouri!) when she was a child.  Fearful of what unknown harm could become of the adorable blue-eyed blonde little girl, Rhetta was absolutely forbidden from ever riding her bike to “that part of town.”  Well she did.  And Mom remembers talking through the fence to the Germans, they speaking German and she speaking in her inimitable Southern drawl – and relishing the smiles on their faces and laughter on the other side of the fence.  “I’m sure they thought my accent was as strange as I found theirs’ – but we were fascinated with one another,” Mom remembers.

Her Dad, Ronnie Greenwell, was a proud member of the Missouri Cotton Producers Association and Lions Club.  He somehow gained access to President Harry Truman and took his precocious daughter along with him to meet the Great Democrat from Missouri.  Mom only recalls President Truman asking her how she liked school – and that she was fairly bored throughout the encounter!


In spite of all her youthful spiritedness, Mom managed to easily slip into the “ladylike patterns” of the day and married my Dad, whom she adored, at the tender age of 20 in 1953.  They began a life together in Southeast Missouri in a small farming community where Mom bore 7 children and participated fully in the spiritual life of the Catholic parish to which our family belonged.

Mom smiling

But there was always a restlessness about Mom – she loved life and learning and wanted to participate in the world as more than a caregiver.  She convinced Dad to move to St. Louis, where she began a wallpaper business and eventually became a tax preparer for H & R Block.  She brought energy and life into our family with her diverse group of interests and friends.  Mom volunteered for hospice and a program for teenage runaway girls.  She helped the local United Way with its annual “100 Neediest Cases” Christmas program.  She became enthralled by the study of Jungian Psychology which led her to the work of Elisabeth Kubler Ross, whom Mom personally escorted from the airport to a workshop she attended!  And she handmade beautiful quilts that are treasured by many.


Now in her eighties, Mom is confined to her bed.  She still enjoys a lively imagination and interest in many people and things, especially the St. Louis Cardinals! Here she is meeting one of her great-grandchildren, a beautiful gift she treasures.

She never fails at giving me the perfect advice.  Ever.  When I was in my twenties, Mom often sent me “Affirmations,” her own compositions in her own handwriting, to help me navigate the difficult adult world.  She once wrote to me, “I love you.  Don’t give your personal power or your $ away.”


For these reasons and so many more, my beautiful Mom is and always will be MY FAVORITE BADASS!  I thank God every day for the blessing of a life with Mary Henrietta Greenwell Killion as my Mother.


Bitter With The Sweet

I am ashamed to admit it, but I am outrageously jealous of my friends who are enjoying the companionship of vibrant and involved octogenarian parents.   This is such a selfish and unfair statement, I know.  I had great parents (Mom is still living) and they were there for me when I needed them.  So many people can’t even say the same.

So many of my friends did not have the joy of being given away by their Fathers.  I did.


So why am I feeling sorry for myself that my parents weren’t the “take the family on a trip to celebrate our 50th Anniversary” type?  For many years, whenever we were together, Mom and Dad took the family to their favorite Italian restaurant in South St. Louis, Missouri, Giuseppe’s.


My parents cooing with my nephew and one of the family’s closest friends over amazing Italian cuisine in South St. Louis.  GREAT memories.

I can’t help but feel a pang of jealousy, though, when I hear a friend tell me she spent the afternoon shopping with her Mom and then out to dinner with both parents – and they are in their eighties and enjoying active lives.  Like the famous Carole King song, I know I need to do a better job at taking the bitter with the sweet:

“A friend of mine once told me

and I know he  knows all about feelin’


He said, “Everything good in life you’ve

got to pay for

But feeling’ good is what you’re paving the way for”

But you can’t enjoy the sweet without “paying for it” with the bitter, right?  That’s the deal.  Sometimes it stinks!

The morning my Dad passed away and I called my husband to share the expected but dreadful news, a feeling washed over me I had really never felt before and I told him through my tears, “I wasn’t done with him yet.”  That must be why sometimes in my dreams I watch him ride away, alone in a limo with darkly tinted windows – no room for me.  The separation of death is bitter.  Memories are sweet.  I guess I will always taste both.


In my heart, this is where my parents remain – in their late 60’s, active, involved, enjoying life.  Laughing with me.  Together.

Nobody prepared me (or maybe I just wasn’t paying attention) for this constant ache you get from watching your parents age and then losing them.  Maybe it’s because loss from death is the first thing I have ever encountered in my human existence that simply cannot be prepared for.

And the really strange truth about losing a parent is this:  the permanent pain is because of the sweetness of their love.  Like C.S. Lewis writes in “A Grief Observed,” -“For in grief nothing ‘stays put.’ One keeps on emerging from a phase, but it always recurs. Round and round. Everything repeats. Am I going in circles, or dare I hope I am on a spiral?”

At the end of the day, I don’t begrudge any of my fortunate friends who are still enjoying happy times with both parents.  It’s a gift and, after all, not something to be overly examined.  I had what I had and that’s it.  Boy, was I lucky.