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The Side Streets Off My Road To Recovery (Day 810)

So here I am at the beginning of the days 800+ on the road to recovery.  I’m still going strong, I’m experiencing more days where I’m happy with my decision than not, and I’m finding myself more and more comfortable in my sober life with each day that passes.  It continues to be a good path that I’ve chosen; my brain is clearer, I’m better at remembering how nights end, and I appreciate more and more that my house doesn’t have that awful smell of stale beer at the end of the weekend.

All in all, it’s good to be sober.

This is not to say that there aren’t still the occasional bumps in the road.  Let’s be honest, if sobriety was easy, everyone would be doing it, right?  But drinking is fun – it’s social, it’s relaxing, it’s tasty.  Trust me; I haven’t forgotten about all of the fun parts of the bar scene.  It’s not easy to walk away from something that’s such an integral part of society.  But when the final call for last round comes in your life, realize that you’re not the first to go through it, and you won’t be the last (even though you will feel like the only sober person in the world at times).

So I thought I would share with you a few things that I’ve learned in my travels.  They’re not meant to scare you off the path of sobriety by any means; quite the opposite.  And hopefully by reading a little about what I’ve experienced, you’ll feel a little better prepared for the road ahead.

Everyone’s Path to Sobriety is Different:

I’ve said this before, and I’ll say it again, your addiction is your own beast to fight.  There is no magic one-size-fits-all recipe to follow when you decide to quit drinking.  Everyone drinks differently, so it stands to reason that everyone will get sober differently.  When you make the decision to stop drinking, you have to also contemplate how you want your recovery to go.  Are you a cold turkey kind of person?  Do you need a support group?  Can you get by with just one or two go-to people helping you out?

Also realize that there are many different ideas about what a sober life is.  There are some some who say no form of alcohol should ever pass the lips ever again – no non-alcoholic beer, no cooking with wine, nothing; the idea being that the slightest whiff of alcohol is enough to put some into a relapse.  Others view non-alcoholic beer as acceptable (provided we’re talking 0.5% alcohol by volume – such as O’Doul’s) because it still resembles the taste of beer and is helpful in social situations.

In case you’re wondering, yes, I have had a few NA beers throughout my sobriety.  Do I still consider myself 810 days sober…hell, yes.  Ask another recovering alcoholic and they may not feel the same way. But it’s my recovery, not theirs.  Did one O’Doul’s cause me to run to the nearest pub and stick my head under a tap?  Nope.  In fact, it actually helped me maintain a sober life on a few occasions.

There is no cut-and-dry way to approach sobriety.  With a clear mind, truly take the time to think about how you want to tackle your demons.  This first step will go a long way to a long-term recovery.

Don’t Get Hung Up On The Finality Of Your “Final” Drink:

“Well, I wasn’t thinking about it before, but now that you’ve put the thought in my brain…,” you may be saying to yourself.

It’s only fair that I mention it though, because at some point you will think of an upcoming event or milestone and suddenly realize you’ll be facing it sober: your 40th birthday, your 50th anniversary, your new home, your new job, on and on and on.  If you get hung up on the drinks that will never be, or lament too much about your last shot – you’re setting yourself up to give up and give in.  When I start thinking about vineyards I’ll never visit or new brews I’ll never get to sample, it can be downright depressing.  But then I remember that I can’t remember my last drink; which puts into perspective why I started this journey to begin with.  The milestones will never stop – regardless of if you’re drinking or not.  But you can always learn new and different ways to celebrate the occasions, and that will go a long way to making your sobriety successful.

Side streets on the road to recovery
Me…celebrating my birthday….with coffee!

Sugar, Sugar, Sugar, Sugar, Sugar:

I was never a huge dessert person…until I quit drinking.  Suddenly, I was ready to order cake as an entree with pie for dessert! Why the sudden cravings?  When you drink, the alcohol can temporarily raise dopamine levels in your brain.  Guess what else increases your happy hormones?  Sugar.   So if you’re a pretty consistent drinker, your body may be accustomed to a certain level of dopamine.  When you suddenly cut the supply, your brain isn’t going to just say, “That’s cool, we can do without.”  No.  It’s going to want you to find a replacement, and find it NOW!!!!!   And unfortunately, if you’re not careful, you may trade in your alcohol addiction for a sugar addiction without even realizing it.  So when you quit drinking, if you suddenly find yourself craving sweets where you never did before – it’s OK and it’s not unheard of.

side streets down the road to recovery

Cake for breakfast is fine…so long as it’s not the entire cake!

You May Become Just A Teensy Bit Judgmental:

Don’t be too surprised if that raucous, center-of-attention, loudly-laughing person at the bar that you used to love hanging out with is no longer quite as much fun to be around as he or she used to be.  In fact, suddenly he or she has become downright annoying when you’re trying to have a conversation, enjoy a meal or watch the game out with friends.  No, it’s not your imagination – you have officially stepped into the quasi-elitist Judgmental Zone of sobriety.

You laugh, but it’s true.

It’s not their fault – just like it wasn’t yours.  After all, it’s not called “Liquid Courage” for no reason.  Alcohol takes away all your fears and inhibitions. Suddenly you are everything to everyone and beyond.  Until you’re on the other side of it.  Then the booze just makes them loud and obnoxious, and unappealing, and clingy, and dreadful.  Were you and your fellow drinkers awesome when you were drunk – hell, yeah!  Are those same people awesome when they’re partying away and you’re stone cold sober…probably not.  Don’t be too hard on them or yourself, just chalk it up to another part of your life you’ve left behind and enjoy the people watching….

…..from a distance.

side streets on the road to recovery
no idea who i can give credit to for this…just thank the internet

Finally, Don’t Be Afraid To Be “The Sober One”

As I mentioned earlier, your life and the milestones in it will come and go whether you like it or not.  As a sober person, eventually you will find yourself in a situation where people around you are drinking and celebrating, and you’re standing there with a glass of water or a cup of coffee telling person after person, “No, I don’t need a drink…thank you anyway.”  Don’t worry.  You’re not the elephant in the room.  You’re not flawed or a failure just because you’ve decided to live the sober life….

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Airplane!….still funny when you’re sober

No matter what the internet tries to tell you.

In fact, you’re more self-aware than most people in the room because you’ve taken a hard look at your life and decided alcohol doesn’t need to be a part of it.  Raise a glass of sparkling water and toast your ongoing success!  Embrace your sobriety!  Be proud of it!  At the end of the night, you can still find your car (and be the one driving it home).  You’re not juggling money around in order to pay the rent.  You’re not waking up with your head on the seat and your hand in a toilet.

…not that ANY of these things has ever happened to me…. 😯

Ahh….it’s definitely good to be sober!

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A Visit To The Museum Of Neon Art (…It Definitely Deserves A Glowing Review)

She’s always buzzing just like
Neon, neon…
…Who knows how long, how long, how long
She can go before she burns away*

If you simply drive too quickly through the intersection of Brand and Caruso in the city of Glendale, CA you might do a double-take, trying to figure out why there’s a girl diving off a building into the deep blue sky.

MONA

But if you fail to stop and explore this amazing building, you’ll miss one of the most unique and amazing museums in the area: the Museum of Neon Art.

MONA museum
Seriously. Who doesn’t love a neon chicken??

The neon lights may be bright on Broadway, but it turns out that Los Angeles was once the neon capital of the world. At the MONA, you can learn all about the history of neon in Los Angeles, and check out the pieces they’ve rescued and recovered from all over the area. Started in 1981, MONA has inhabited several locations before finally coming to rest in Glendale.  The walls are covered in a wide variety of signs.  Most are working; but some are beyond repair, leaving you wistfully imagining what they must have looked like in their glory days.

MONA Museum
In the background, one of the girls of a tumbling series of signs that used to hang on the boulevard. Most of the lights are missing, but it must have looked incredible when it was all in place and working….

The MONA has made it their mission to collect and preserve these glowing jewels of the metropolis, displaying them for you to enjoy.  There’s also a lab on premises designed to encourage the education of the craft with on sight demonstrations and classes.

MONA museum

It’s a colorless, odorless, inert gas…so what is about the glow from a neon light that evokes such a wide variety of feelings?  Is it nostalgia: do we think about days gone past when streets were lined and lit with signs for everything from motor oil to the corner market, and think it was a simpler time?

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Or perhaps it’s comfort in the familiarity of a light that reminds us of places we frequent the most…

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Maybe we’re enamored in the artistry:  it’s more than a picture, but not quite a sculpture….

MONA

Or maybe it’s just plain fascination about a sign that glows.  Science meets magic, as it were…..

Paratrooper at MONA
By far, one of my favorites at the museum. (This is a single row sign, with individual elements lighting up as the paratrooper glides towards ground – but I wanted you to see it in one panel)

My friend Mollie actually turned me on to the awesomeness of neon signs.  I mean, they were always been around…usually lighting the way to the nearest dive bar for me to haunt.  But one night, as I watched her snap pictures around the skyline at the Baltimore Inner Harbor, she explained the beauty and magic she saw in a neon sign; and how much she loved capturing that on camera.  Seeing what she saw through her lens, I found a greater appreciation for them from then on.

Yes, the real sign from the Hollywood and Vine location!!
Yes, the REAL sign from the Hollywood and Vine location!!

The museum may not be very large, but it is filled with interesting anecdotes, history and awesome, beautifully lit signs.

Neon signs at MONA
It may look small, but you’ll easily get lost in the vast number of stories and history.

So if you find yourself blowing some bucks at The Americana, take a break from the glitz and glamour of shopping and take a walk through history at the Museum of Neon Art.  If you’re able to linger a bit after dark, be sure to check out the pieces that come to “light” nearby.

By the way, MONA also hosts Neon Cruise nights through Hollywood and DTLA; so if you can’t get enough of the lights inside, jump on the bus and see what else the city has to share!  Hopefully I’ll see you there!

PS…Mollie….don’t forget your camera!  😎

The Museum of Neon Art is located at 216 S Brand Blvd in Glendale.  Learn more about the museum HERE!

*Neon” by John Mayer (lyrics by Douglas Clay Cook / John Clayton Mayer)

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Learning about Lawn Bowling (or…How I Was “Bowl”ed Over in Hermosa Beach)

Autumn is a season of change for the weather outside and for our family inside.  I find myself getting excited for cooler weather, the upcoming holiday season and football…lots and lots of football.  However, fall also means changes to Nick’s schedule, which means I don’t see him quite as much as I do in the summertime.

Last year, to make up for the added hours I had to myself, I occupied my time with a lot of food based activities – most of them centered around National Day Holidays  (Candy Corn Day,  Cake Decorating Day, Apple Betty Day, and Spicy Hermit Cookie Day – just to name a few…) .

Mmmm…autumn 2015 was such a tasty season!!

However, as the effects of this particular experiment led me to join a new gym (more on that later…), I realize this year I need to work my way out of the kitchen before find myself working my way into larger sized clothing.  I also want to make sure I make the most of the time that Nick and I do have to spend together.  It’s time to get out and explore.

So out into the wide open world we go, looking for new non-food adventures…starting at the Hermosa Beach Lawn Bowling Club.

Hermosa Beach Lawn Bowling

Lawn bowling???…..you say.  What in the heck is Lawn Bowling??

Well….let me tell you a little bit about it!

Lawn bowling is similar to bocce, shuffleboard, or curling (without the ice and brooms). You roll balls towards a target in the hopes of getting closest to the mark in order to score points. Most points wins. The main difference between bocce and lawn bowling is that in bocce the balls roll straight, whereas lawn bowling balls (called Woods) are biased (meaning they have a heavier, wider side and a leaner side), so they curve as they roll along.

Hermosa Beach Lawn Bowling

The Hermosa Beach Lawn Bowling Club has been rolling along since 1935, when then-Mayor John Clark had a green installed (on his own dime), and started the club.

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The club boasts quite a few awards and trophies from years past and present.  Club members compete in tournaments with other lawn bowling clubs in the area (Long Beach, Santa Monica, Beverly Hills, Laguna Niguel to name a few).  They’ve even sent members to represent the US in the World Championships of Lawn Bowling!

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Now, forget what impressions you may have about Lawn Bowling being an exclusive, upper crust type of game.  Clubs are open to anyone who wants to learn, and the game itself is quite down to earth, with minimal costs and equipment needed.  Fees at the HB Lawn Bowling Club cost less than a latte a week!  Our initial visit cost nothing and the lesson was free (I just dropped a note to the club ahead of time to make sure we were OK to pop in).

Everyone at the HB club was very warm and welcoming – especially our instructor, Mo, who was more than happy to show us the ropes of the game.

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Awesome instructor Mo!

Lawn bowling is played on the bowling green (grass, or a grass-like surface) and is divided up into rectangular areas called Rinks.  As I mentioned earlier, the lawn bowling balls are called woods (or bowls) – which is what you roll towards the opposite end of the rink in order to score points.  Woods are sized to fit your hands and come in different weights – so you have options when it comes to selecting which ones to use.  The other equipment used is the Mat and the Jack.

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Now, I’ll be honest with you…I don’t have a whole lot of luck playing games that involve balls rolling around on grass.  The last time I was out on any type of green was the first (and very last) time I attempted to play golf.  And let’s just summarize that event by saying the day ended badly for the golf clubs (which are probably still rusting away at the bottom of the water hazard at the El Dorado Country Club). But as I watched people laughing and talking as they bowled, and saw how relaxed and mellow the play of game was, I figured I could handle this with minimal risk of losing my composure.

Plus, no water hazards on the rink.  The game is already safer for all people (and equipment) involved.

Begin by placing the mat on the rink – centered at one end – and  rolling out the Jack (which looks just like a cue ball in billiards) to the other end.  The jack serves as the target that you then roll your wood towards.  And just like horseshoes, closest to the jack gets the point.

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Lawn bowling is relatively easy to learn – but it does require a bit of skill. First, keeping in mind that the wood rolls on a bias and not straight, you have to mentally plan the path you want the wood to take.  The direction in which the bowl veers depends on how you hold it in your hand.  Imagine a huge banana-shaped arc on the ground, and that’s about how the wood rolls.  “Little to the middle” (meaning you hold the smaller side of the wood closest to you in your palm) will roll the wood inwards right to left; while holding the wider side in veers the arc left to right.  Then, with the wood in your hand and a path in mind, you have to consider how far you want to swing your arm back before going forward and releasing the wood to gently roll down the green towards the jack.  Too much “torque” in your swing and the wood can roll past the jack and out of bounds; not enough torque may not get you close enough to the jack at all.

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There are a lot of variables when it comes to releasing the wood onto the green.  Like golf, small imperfections in the grass will affect where the wood rolls.  As with regular bowling, twist your hand a slight centimeter upon release and the wood will travel completely off the path you intended.  Be mindful of your stance and body position.  Make sure you follow through.  Each of these components adds up to total where the wood comes to rest on the green.

Now, did I also mention you also have to have a little strategy in order to win?  Similar to curling, you can bump your opponent’s woods out of the way with yours in your effort to reach the jack – but be careful, bumping a wood in the wrong direction may send it into the jack, sending it rolling away from all your previously hard work!

Once everyone has rolled all of their woods towards the jack, the points are tallied.  This completes an “end”.  The next end then starts the same way – roll the jack, roll your woods, tally points, start again rolling towards the other side again.

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This is me…closest to the jack in this particular end

Typically, you go through about 14 ends in a game – which takes close to 2 hours to complete (which may seem like a long time, but it really did go by quite quickly).  I think we managed to make our way through 10 ends with a final score of 3-Gina, 3-Mo and 4-Nick.

(I think Mo took it easy on us newbies)

But can I tell you just how much fun we had???

There was something very relaxing about being outside, soaking up some lovely morning sun, gently rolling woods along the green.  Unlike golf, since your target is closer than a mile’s walk away, you have a bit more control over where your bowl winds up and less chance of screaming and cursing the day the game was invented.  The pace of the game is brisk, but unhurried.  and although it’s not an intense workout, I still felt a little fatigued (and starving!) by the end of the game.  And as I mentioned before, everyone was so very friendly – making sure to tell us that they’re always looking to add more members to their team.

So if you’re looking for a fun, easy way to spend a beautiful morning outside, check out Lawn Bowling in your area.  All you need are flat bottom shoes, a bottle of water, some sunscreen, and an awesome instructor named Mo.

OK…I can’t guarantee that you’ll end up with Mo, but you’ll still have a good time and you’ll get to spend quality time with someone you like.

And in the end, isn’t that what really matters anyway?

 

**The Hermosa Beach Lawn Bowling Club meets Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays.  To find more about them, visit their website HERE

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