Welcome to my Blog - What Is A Blog?

A blog is a personal diary. A daily pulpit. A collaborative space. ... Your blog is whatever you want it to be.

For many years I have kept a journal, which I don't write in as much as I once did. I have an inner yearning to communicate with the world through writing and pictures Part of my motivation is to leave something behind to a world that has given me so much - a mom, dad, brother, grandparents, a loving wife, high spirited and gifted sons, close friends and loyal customers. Most of us have had some help along the way to get where we are. In my 12 step program, step 12 is about giving back to others. I hope there are posts here that will warm your heart, make you smile and make you think. That is what my blog is all about. I hope you enjoy it. Ken

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Na Pali Coast

Na Pali Coast

It’s time to head back to the Kona airport to catch our short flight back to Kauai. We still have another two days before heading home.

Zach’s been chomping at the bit to go surfing again with Cousin Benny. In just a very short while, we’re back at Benny’s house. Benny’s happy we’re back. “Cousin Zach: You want to go surfing tomorrow? There’s been a hurricane at the Solomon Islands and it brought a big swell to Hanalei." Zach gives Cousin Benny a big smile that says “yes.”

The next morning, we get into Benny’s truck, load the boards and start heading towards Hanalei. From a distance, we can see the big ocean swell. Benny reassures me he will find a sport where Zach can safely surf. When we get there, I station myself on the pier that serves as a good vantage point: I can keep an eye on Zach and also watch the pro surfers that are gathered to ride the big waves breaking "right."

My adrenalin starts to pump as I watch these brave souls ride the big ones. When I glance over to check on Zach his expression tells me he's got an adrenaline rush going as he tries to avoid getting clobbered by the five and six foot waves. It can be pretty scary around big breaking waves - they can bite you! The sky is beautiful; mostly cloudy with broken patches of blue sky against the rich chocolate brown mountains and lush green hills. Hanalei is as close to paradise as I've ever seen.

After several hours of hanging-out at the beach, we head back to Benny's for dinner. Now we only have one more day left on Kauai. Kaikala says we must take a tour of the Na pali coast.

Our instructions from the tour company read, "drive to the Industrial Harbor, park your car, and register at the office. From there you will be escorted onto a large catamaran."

There aren't any roads to the Na Pali Coast. Its sheer cliffs that drop straight down, thousands of feet into the sea, making it accessible only by boat or hiking through the mountains.

Our Captain, young, tall and tan. Captain Dave, introduces himself. He says although the hurricane brought big swells, the weather radar shows things are settling down. "Our afternoon tour should be quite nice." After everyone gets on the big cat, our sail out to the coast is pleasant. We pass a Navy base with long beaches that are closed to the public. We see a convey of tour helicopters taking tourists on an aerial view along the coast and inside the Na Pali valley.

Kauai’s Na Pali Coast is one of the most awesome sites I've ever seen. Captain Dave says many big movies like Jurassic Park and Raiders of the Lost Ark were filmed here. Although complete strangers when we first boarded, the magical vibes of the ocean cause us to magically interact amongst ourselves.

Suddenly, a bright blue flying fish lands on the boat. A young Hawaiian boy, with a beautiful bronze tan, his name is Kauai, picks up this brightly colored blue magical fish with wings and lets us all take a look at it before gently placing it back in the sea where it belongs.

As our tour continues, we are being followed: It’s a school of bottlenose dolphins flanking both the port and starboard sides of our boat. They’re happy and are playing. We watch as they jump and spin before crashing back into the water. All they want to do is play. They certainly know a different way of living than me. I see the smiles on their faces as they enjoy being together and entertaining us. They’re motivation isn't about materialism – it’s about the love of being free and part of nature. I love it! Make a mental note: Something to learn here.

After awhile, they lose interest and move on. Their magic has spread among all of us and now we're really having a good time. As our Cat hugs the Na Pali coast we get to view some awesome sights. For one, the ocean is a deep turquoise color and is crystal clear. The rich brown volcanic cliffs and fertile green hills look this way because they receive their daily dose of rain. The colors are beautiful. As our tour continues, the Captain steers our boat way away from the coast and towards the ocean, Captain Dave calls our attention to a school of Humpback whales and their calves making their way towards Mexico.

A brief history lesson: To Hawaiians, the whale is a representation of the Hawaiian God, Kanaloa - the God of animals in the ocean. Humpback whales (na kohola) are found in all of the world's oceans, although they generally prefer near shore and near-island habitats for both feeding and breeding. A large percentage of the North Pacific whales migrate to the main Hawaiian Islands during the winter months, November through May, each year. The round-trip distance they travel during this annual migration is approximately 6,000 miles, one of the longest migration distances of any animal species. During their stay in Hawaii, they do not feed, but rely upon stored energy. Near the islands, the whales devote most of their time to mating and giving birth to their calves. While visiting the islands, na kohola have become renowned for their various acrobatic displays. We watch as they come up for air and see the water shooting up high out of their spouts and see their huge tails make a big splash in the water before they dive back down under the water. This is a Kodak moment!

Kauai takes a picture of Channa, Zach and me standing by the starboard bow of the catamaran, overlooking the Na Pali coastline. Every time I look at this picture, it’s clear that most, if not all the stress we brought to Hawaii vanished. It's magic! The spirits of Hawaii cleansed our souls, removed our burdens and in sum, worked their wonders on us. This tour turns out to be a fantastic wrap-up to our Hawaiian vacation.

Before heading to the airport to catch our evening flight home, Benny and Kaikala want to take us to Duke's Canoe Club restaurant. The hostess, who Kaikala knows, finds us a nice table with open air seating. Benny suggests we order the Ono fish, a local fish of caught in the Hawaiian waters. When I take my first bite, it has a texture like Tuna. It’s full of flavor and is delicious. During our meal, we're entertained by two local Hawaiian women. One plays a hand painted Ovation guitar and the other plays a ukulele. They’re smiling as they lovingly play and sing traditional Hawaiian songs. After our nice dinner and a re-cap of how great it's been getting reconnected, we thank our hosts, say our goodbyes, and head to the airport.

Friday, May 28, 2010


Looking back, Sam always was for the underdog. In Middle School, his teachers reported Sam asked to volunteer and help one of the special needs children get from class to class. If anyone tried to tease him, Sam would step forward and intervene to protect him. He loved animals and often talked about becoming a veterinarian.

Near the Karate studio where Sam took lessons was a pet store that specialized in exotic birds. After Karate, Sam enjoyed hanging out in the shop. Most of the birds were larger breeds like Parrots, McCaw’s and Cockatoos. The manager showed Sam how to properly hold the bird on his hand. If you saw him, you’d see in his eyes light up while interacting with the birds. Sam started asking if he could get a pet bird. He decided he wanted a Cockatiel but it had to be a baby so he could train it.

We stopped by several pet shops. All the birds available for sale were mature. Sam went online and found a lady in Rochester, MN who had young Cockatiel chicks for sale. After a brief phone call, we agreed on a time and place to meet. It was a cold Minnesota winter day. It took us almost two hours to get to Rochester, where we met in a McDonald’s parking lot. The bird was just what Sam wanted. The lady told Sam how to care for his new pet. I paid her and we drove back home with the baby bird.

Looking back, my best times with Sam were always in the car. It was a place where we could be alone. He would just open up and talk as the world whizzed by. All of life’s distractions that kept us apart, outside of the car, vanished when we were together in the car.

When we got home, Sam, in a very happy mood, took his bird out of the box and put him in the cage we had bought. His colors were a beautiful yellow with intricate markings of red and orange. Sam decided to call him “Flames” because he looked like a fire flame. Flames stayed upstairs with Sam in his room. Sam enjoyed petting him and taking care of him. Being an avid reader, he went to our library and checked out books about Cockatiels. He just loved this bird. He was gentle and Sam really took ownership over taking care of him. One winter night, we had a party in our home. Wanting to share our new bird with our friends, I moved Flames downstairs so everyone could see him. There was some cooking going on and candles burning. Flames’ was chirping away and seemed to enjoy all the commotion.

The next morning Channa took Sam to Hebrew school. He was preparing for his Bar Mitzvah. I had been out running some errands. When I got home and checked on Flames, he was at the bottom of his cage; not a good sign for birds. I tried to play with him but he wouldn't move. He didn’t look good. Being a Sunday, our vet was closed but her answering machine message gave a number in case of emergency. I jotted it down and called. I spoke with a woman there who said when birds get sick, they stay down low. She said there wasn't anyone there to see Flames but to bring him to our vet on Monday. Between picking up the phone and hanging it up, Flames had died. Not wanting to be the bearer of bad news to Sam, I desperately tried to revive Flames but the Angel of death had stepped forward and taken him. There was nothing I could do.

A few hours later, when Sam returned from Hebrew school, happy as ever, I broke the news to him. It did not go well. He started crying and ran into the woods behind our house. When Sam calmed down, he decided to bury him. Sam got a shovel and dug a small hole in the ground, in the woods, behind our house. We gently laid Flames to rest. It was a sad day in our household.

Knowing how painful it is to lose something close, I felt sympathetic of Sam’s loss. I wanted to erase his pain. A few weeks later, Sam had a piano recital in Excelsior. While waiting for Sam to play his piece, I walked over the pet store and discovered they had a fresh crop of baby Cockatiels. One of the baby birds looked just like Flames and I asked Sam to come take a look. When I asked Sam if he'd like me to buy him another bird he said no.

Feeling my own pain about our loss, I took it upon myself to go back to the store and buy the bird. When Sam saw the new bird he was angry. He was mad because he told me not to get it. I figured that sooner or later the bird would grow on Sam. Where Flames was docile and easy to pet; Neon was feisty and would fuss and fight when trying to pet him. Flames liked having his head stroked but Neon did not. He would try and bite your fingers if you got too close.

I really believe losing Flames was a bigger loss for Sam than it would have been for most. I also believe his loss connected to his being adopted. Not being adopted, I can’t get inside his head. But from the different books I’ve read on adoption, one of the common threads that run through adopted children’s minds is the nagging question of “why did my mom and dad give me away?” For whatever reasons that I’ll probably never understand, the loss of Flames was a pivotal turning point in Sam’s change in behavior.

Onomea Bay, Hilo – A Spiritual Experience

Today’s our last day on the Big Island. I'm feeling a lot more relaxed than I did a week ago back in Minnesota.

Channa wants to visit the Hawaiian Botanical Gardens. As we drive along Highway 19 towards Hilo, it's another eight and a half miles north before reaching the gardens. As we get closer, we start descending into a deep, lush and green tropical valley that meets the sea. The Hawaii Tropical Botanical Garden is a 17-acre parcel known for its seclusion and beauty. The founder and his wife, in an effort to preserve the valley and all its beauty and their desire to leave a legacy to the world, established the gardens back in 1977. “The Garden,” the brochure reads, “is dedicated to providing a plant sanctuary, a living seed bank, and a study center for trees and plants of the tropical world and to preserving the incredibly beautiful natural environment of Onomea Bay for generations to come."

Channa loves flowers and if there is a heaven, she's found it. Even stoic Zach is filled inside with good vibes; he’s smiling and enjoying the spirits of this botanical wonderland. I snap a picture of Zach beside a Tiki carving: His eyes are closed and a he’s got a million dollar smile on his face. The Tiki figure has his mouth open and in the picture it looks like he is about to eat Zach alive. Something’s happening here: There are positive spiritual vibrations that are working like a washing machine, cleansing our troubled souls.

I can’t explain but I'm overtaken by a flood of calm; I feel an immense spiritual power right under my feet. The Tiki's are important remnants of the Hawaiian religious system. The Tiki figure about to eat Zach is named "KU" after an ancient Hawaiian God. Hawaiian history says “KU” is supposed to give wisdom, strength and courage when engaged in competition. They're carved from old Monkey Pod trees that grow in this garden. I keep feeling this powerful spiritual vibration as I walk through the garden. We take our time to look at all the different varieties and colors of flowers - orchids, roses, birds of paradise, colorful palms and other plants and flowers whose names I don't know. We reach a point where we’re at the foot of the ocean. I find a bench to sit on, close my eyes, and sit still. The lapping of the small waves help wash away my feelings of loss over Sam.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

A Decision is Different than a Mistake

Monday March 26th. We’re leaving for Kauai on Wednesday. Sam’s nowhere to be found. Impulse says “call him.” Reason says “let it go.” But our vacation revolves around Sam getting out of Omegon. What’s Cousin Benny going to say when we arrive without him? My heart says Yes; go and find him but my head says No; let it be. Again, my inner voice says go find him and ask him to reconsider.

But everything I’ve learned at the Al-anon for parents meetings says “let it go.” Otherwise I’ll be acting codependent. But I really want him to come with.

Channa wants me to go to David's house and get him. But now I’m being stubborn: I’m pissed. I’ve drawn a line in the sand and say, “if he wants to come he needs to call.” Once again, I’ve been burned.

I'm mad at David's dad. I’m mad at myself. Why did I let for Sam stay at David’s? His dad promised he’d keep an eye on the kids. Obviously, he didn’t. Its obvious Sam’s been using. I should call David’s dad. I should tell him off; tell him how burned-up I'm feeling inside. Just thinking about it causes my heart to pound like a drum. I press the “pause” button.

Instead, I call Barb, Sam's social worker. When she answers my call, I’m soothed hearing her voice. When I tell her what’s going on, she’s sorry. I tell her I think we should cancel the trip. “No, Kenny,” she says. “You and your family deserve this trip with or without Sam.” “Go.” “But, I’m fearful Sam is going to get into trouble while we’re away.” I’m even worried he will try and break into our home. I’m thinking of getting an alarm system installed but now there’s no time. I’m stressed. We’re supposed to leave in two days and I have a ton of stuff to get done. How is this going to happen?

Every time I hear the phone ring, even at work, I hope its Sam saying he wants come to Hawaii with us. I'm not expecting any apologies, but it would be nice.

It's Tuesday, a day before we’re supposed to leave. We still have not heard from Sam. He's just like “Danny in the Toy Box” - he's really, really mad and he's not getting out of his metaphorical toy box. Finally, my hearts start to sink and reality sets in: He's not going to call.

I call Orbitz to cancel his part of the travel reservations but the agent says I’m too late to cancel. Everything is forfeited. I hate to lose but what can I do? Now, if Sam calls, I’ll tell him that he's not going because I've cancelled his tickets! But right after cancelling his reservation, I get a bad, bad feeling. My inside voice starts telling me how I’ve just made a terrible mistake.

I stop beating myself up when a flash of wisdom from my Higher Power kicks in: “Kenny, don’t you remember what your AA sponsor told you when you once told him how you made a big mistake? He corrected you and suggested you re-frame your choice of words.” Now I remember: “Try using the word decision instead of mistake. A decision is different than a mistake. I get some comfort in realizing I’ve made a decision. The word mistake triggers all kinds of negative self talk and emotions. A decision is less emotional and more factual. I honor my decision to have cancelled the tickets and decide to move forward.

Wednesday comes. We get up at 3:30am to catch our 5am flight to Kauai via Phoenix. My friend Bobby graciously picks us up and takes us to the airport.Wednesday comes. We get up at 3:30am to catch our 5am flight to Kauai via Phoenix. My friend Bobby graciously picks us up and takes us to the airport. Right before our 757 turns onto the runway, I close my eyes, take a deep breath, and say a prayer. Lord, please watch over Sam and keep him safe.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Getting Ready

It's Friday, March 23rd, less than a week before we leave for Kauai. Sam’s just been released from Omegon and is back in our home. Channa stays busy, as usual: She comes to work, exercises at the health club, and keeps up with the household chores. Now she’s added another item to her list; getting ready for our trip to Kauai.

Sam is always on her mind. At home, she’s trying to do five things at once (her usual m.o.). While doing laundry, she takes our big houseplant, with big green leaves off its rolling stand to water it inside the shower; it’s still frozen outside. Busy, busy, busy and thinking about ten things at once, she forgets about the plant stand sitting on the floor, in the middle our family room. She picks up a big basket of laundry to take upstairs. As she’s walking with the big basket blocking her view, she takes a step forward and her left foot lands on the plant stand (on wheels). The laundry basket flies up in the air and Channa crashes down. The aftermath is laundry all over the place and Channa lying on the ground; it’s been a hard fall. She’s hurt.

I’m at work. The phone rings. It’s Channa and she’s frantic. She tells me what happened; that she’s at urgent care to see a doctor. I can hear in her voice that she’s in a lot of pain. The nurse comes on the phone and says, “You’d better get over here as soon as possible. Your wife needs help and won't be able to drive herself home.”

I call my good friend, an AA friend. When he answers, I say “Bobby, I've got an emergency on my hands. Can you please help me by picking me up and dropping me off at the urgent care center?” Bobby says he can help and comes over immediately. He drives me to the Urgent Care center. When I introduce myself, a nurse ushers me into one of the treatment rooms. I enter the room and see my wife lying on the table. The doctor comes in and says she’s done some serious damage to her left leg. The XRays show no broken bones but he fears there may be muscle damage but won’t know until after she has an MRI. He’s given her Demerol to help kill the. The nurse instructs me to take her home, put her to bed, and make sure she keeps ice on her leg.

Meanwhile, Sam needs to be picked up from school. Thinking of others, as she always does, Channa has already called our good friend Sally. Her older son attends the same school as Sam. Sally is happy to pick Sam up and bring him home. When we get home, Sam acts empathetic to Channa. He helps her upstairs and into bed, brings her some ice and does his best to help her get comfortable. After we get Channa situated, I suggest that we go get Thai food so we can have dinner together. Sam is happy to go.

Although a real bummer that she’s hurt, Channa’s injury causes the boy to step up to the plate and help. I need both boys right now: Sitting down as a family, over dinner has always been important to me. This value, I learned from my mom.

As we're heading to the restaurant Sam says he’s not hungry; is it be okay if I drop him off at Target so he can meet his friend David. I ask him, "Who is David?" Sam says I know him – when he tells me, I say “isn’t he the kid who got kicked out of Omegon?” Now I remember who he is. His parents were in the family support group with us. I remember his dad sharing in group that David had been in trouble for awhile and was even using the needle at one point. I look at my son, straight in the eye and say “Sam; David is not a good kid for you to be hanging around.” Sam counters by saying David really is a good guy and if I really knew him I would think otherwise. I'm stressed over Channa getting hurt and am in no mood for fighting.

I decide to give him some “line” and see what happens. As we pull up into the Target parking lot, I recognize David with a girl I’ve never seen, behind the wheel. Sam gets into the car smiling and waves goodbye.

Zach and I go to the Thai restaurant and pick up our dinner. I’m disappointed but determined not to let Sam sink me. Sam is living in the moment and is only concerned with satisfying his most basic animal instincts. Although I’d like to be in complete control, there isn't much I can do to stop him.

I get a call later in the evening from Sam, checking in to tell me that David’s having a bonfire and asks if he can sleep over. I ask to talk to David's dad. When he comes on the phone he tells me not to worry, that he and his wife will be home all night and keep an eye on the kids. I worry. When I tell Channa what has transpired, she worries too.

It’s Saturday afternoon around two o’clock, I call over to David’s house. His dad answers the phone. I ask to speak with Sam. He says kids were up late and are still sleeping. I ask him to please have Sam to call me just as soon as he gets up. Later in the day Sam calls. He still wants to hang out at David’s house. Channa tells him that he needs to come home and pack for Hawaii. Sam says, “I will.”

Saturday turns to Sunday. Now both Channa and I are angry. It's time for Sam to come home. I'm out running errands and am in the vicinity of David's house - I call over there and his dad tells me that they have left and are on the way over to our house. In between the time it takes for me to get home, Sam shows up at our house with David and his girlfriend. He’s come home to change into clean clothes. When Channa asks him to stay home Sam says he wants to hang out with David.

“Absolutely not,” says Channa. “You’ve been out enough and it’s time for you to get some rest. You have school tomorrow and we’re leaving on our trip next week, and you haven’t even packed yet.” Sam gets defiant. He raises his voice and begins yelling. In less than 24 hours something’s changed: Sam’s acting like an addict again. He's being disrespectful, he’s angry, and is agitated. When Channa asks him if he's been getting high, he answers NO!

Sam gets antagonistic and Channa becomes scared to the point that she locks the door preventing him from coming into the house. While Sam is banging on the door to come in, David goes around back and starts prying on one of the window screens, trying to open it. Channa calls me on my cell: I sense her panic and upset, besides being in excruciating pain from her fall. Sam's takes the phone and before I say a word starts arguing all the reasons WHY it’s okay for him to keep hanging out with David.

I get a gut level feeling that he’s been using. Sam’s agitated. I ask him to send David and his girlfriend home. “You need to get some rest.” “You have school tomorrow.” But I can tell; there’s no room for reasoning. He’s unreachable. I tell him the same thing I said to him when he first came home from treatment: “We have room in our house for a recovering addict but not a practicing one.” The conversation ends with his getting mad and hanging up on me. He takes off again. He’s gone.

I once heard a story at an AA meeting about a Frog and a Scorpion: The Scorpion asks the Frog to carry him across the river. (Scorpions can’t swim). The Frog says, "No way," You'll sting me and I’ll die.” The Scorpion explains to the Frog that there is no way he will sting him because if he does he’ll die too. The Frog still refuses. But the Scorpion is relentless. Once again, he calmly explains he has nothing to gain and everything to lose by stinging him. Finally, the Frog relents and agrees to carry the Scorpion across the river. Halfway across, the Scorpion stings the Frog. The Frog says, "Why did you sting me, now we're both going to die?" The Scorpion explains that he is sorry, “its my nature.” Similarly, when Sam is using, the “nature” in the drugs he’s using take over. His personality changes, from a nice kid to someone I don’t want to know.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Volcano National Park

The brochure reads: “Hawai'i Volcanoes National Park, established in 1916, displays the results of 70 million years of volcanism, migration, and evolution -- processes that thrust a bare land from the sea and clothed it with complex and unique ecosystems and a distinct human culture.”

Some more history: “The park encompasses diverse environments that range from sea level to the summit of the earth's most massive volcano, Mauna Loa at 13,677 feet. Kilauea, the world's most active volcano, offers scientist’s insights on the birth of the Hawaiian Islands and visitors can see views of dramatic volcanic landscapes. The terrain ranges from isolated tropical beaches to snowy mountain summits to lush rain forest alive with rare wildlife and plants. The park is located at 4,000 feet, so one should be prepared for rain and temperatures ranging from 30 degrees to 75 degrees. The weather down at the ocean can be hot, dry, and windy.” Source: (http://www.nps.gov/havo/index.htm)

We drive to the entrance gate at the park - the park ranger greets us and we pay the ten-dollar entrance fee. It is now 4 o'clock in the afternoon and the park has thinned-out; most of the tourists have gone back to their hotels. Channa stops at the visitor center where she gathers maps and learns what areas of the park we should see first. I'm glad the concierge suggested bringing long pants and sweatshirts - it's cold up here! We change out of our shorts and into warmer clothes – it is cold but nothing like the Minnesota Winter we've left far behind. Zach walks towards a place where thick white smoke is coming out of the ground; it has a pungent sulphuric smell. We learn this is a steam vent and is the earth's way of relieving pressure that builds up underground, beneath the volcano.

I get a sudden flash of inspiration: Even our Creator needs a pressure relief valve! What a blessing and privilege it is for us to be here and be able to take cover from the storm we are having with Sam. It's been tough living like this. It seems whatever we do for him he has throws in a monkey wrench to screw things up. I can relate: for many years I often sabotage many a good thing before sobering up.

We walk through a lodge until reaching a wooden picket fence in front of a crater. We’re looking at the base of a mountain that was once a mountain; a mountain with a volcano on top. It looks like what I envision to be the aftermath of a nuclear holocaust. The crater is at least a mile- maybe two miles in diameter. It's huge. Our visitor brochure says the Hawaiian Islands were formed through many, many thousands of years of numerous volcanic eruptions until the islands were formed from the bottom of the sea.

As we were driving to the park, we saw a thick plume of white smoke from miles away. I thought maybe there was a fire burning but it turns out the smoke is from hot lava flowing down the mountain into the sea. A portion of the park road is closed because the flowing lava has crossed its path.

This is exciting! The volcano’s aren't erupting but the activity is drawing a lot of people back to the park as day changes into night. A park ranger suggests we hike out to a certain point where we’ll be able to see red hot lava flowing down the side of the volcano. We get back in our car and drive as far as we can until seeing a sign saying “Road Closed.” We park behind a large line of cars that belong to other tourists wanting to see what we want to see. We hike to a vantage point; high up on the volcano overlooking the ocean. As the sun begins to set, the color of the sky transitions from a turquoise blue, to a deep, rich blue. The smoke is noticeable but as it gets darker and darker, the smoke looks bright white like puffy cumulus clouds building over the mountains. The changing light makes the ocean appear deep blue and the mountains deep chocolate.

Something very spiritual is building inside of me – I’ve brought my Nikon, tripod and a big telephoto lens. A ranger suggests if we walk along the volcanic rock about a half a mile we’ll be able to see the flowing lava - forgetting about my bad ankle, I aske Zach to carry the camera gear. Even though walking on the lava rock is difficult, I am determined to make it out to the vantage point where we will see the lava flowing down the mountain. The spirituality in the air is contagious; even Zach, who normally is stoic and reserved can’t refrain from getting excited. We meet a father and son from the East Coast. The boy is around Zach's age. They struck up a conversation and me with the father. As we’re talking, we’re interrupted by a large commotion of people talking. Their heads are turned towards the mountain on our left. As we looked out we see a faint line of glowing red lava flowing down the mountain. It’s hard to see but as it gets darker, the colors become more pronounced. Excited and eager to capture this experience with my camera, I quickly set up my tripod and Nikon, doing my best to balance the tripod on the rocks we’re standing on. It takes a few moments to get the shutter speed and lens aperture dialed in until I begin to capture images of red hot lava flowing down the mountain. All of a sudden it’s really dark. I've never been to outer space but from all the pictures I've seen, I’m there. The sky is a dark, dark pure and clean blue, contrasted against the now black volcano. The molten lava is a steady red glow flowing down from the mountain to meet the sea. And nothing’s going to stop it: This is nature and nature prevails over man. To witness such an event is hard to describe in words but the feeling is quite overwhelming. Everyone stops talking and watches in awe as nature takes its course. After taking at least 30 or 40 pictures and satisfied that I can share this experience with Channa and my family, Zach and I make our way across the volcanic rocks to meet up with Channa. How did it get to be ten o’clock?

Our concierge had warned us to take it easy on the drive back to our condo because the roads are dark and poorly lit. I take her advice and take my time. We’re hungry and try to find a place to eat but we’re in the country and out of luck. Most of the stores are closed. I keep driving and driving and am rapidly reaching the point of exhaustion - the curvy roads don’t make the drive any easier. I’m relieved when we reach Kona by the Sea safely - I'm sure I’ve been on autopilot! We make our way out from the car and into our condo. All I remember is peeling off my clothes and hitting the pillow - I was out for the night! What a day!

Black Sand Beach

It feels like we are in a jungle instead of being at the beach - there are tall palm trees behind us and rocks protruding out from the water looking on at the beach in front of us. The coarse black sand is unlike anything I've ever seen: It's black as coal. There’s a sign that says "leave the sand on the beach." Zach and I go for a swim, while Channa sits on the beach hoping her body will recover from her fall. We are in awe of the beauty around us. The waves are good and Zach is disappointed he didn't bring his boogie board: Ever since surfing lessons with Cousin Benny, Zach has surfing on the brain! We stop to admire sea turtles that are washing in and out with the tide - the turtles are so graceful in the water - I get a spiritual feeling watching them. Hawaaiian folklore includes many stories about these giant sea turtles from this exact location. The story goes something like this:

Long, long ago, a magnificent turtle appeared on the moonlit shores of Punalu'u. Honu-po'o-kea was no ordinary sea turtle. Her head was as white as the snows of Mauna Kea. Honu-po'o-kea paused at the ocean's edge, searching for the perfect place to build a nest. Gentle waves tugged at the black sand beneath her. With a deep sigh, she pulled herself ashore.

Honu-po'o-kea dug a shallow hole and laid an egg, as dark and smooth as polished kauila wood. Her mate, Honu-'ea, had been waiting offshore, his reddish-brown shell bobbing in the surf. As Honu-po'o-kea covered her nest, Honu-'ea joined her. Together the turtles dug into the black sand and created a spring. Then, as silently as they had come, they disappeared into the ocean.

In time, the egg hatched into a magical turtle named Kauila. Kauila made her home at the bottom of the freshwater spring that her parents had made. People called it Ka wai hu o Kauila, the rising water of Kauila. Children would come to play in the spring, and if they saw bubbles rising from its depths they knew that Kauila was sleeping. Sometimes Kauila would transform herself into a girl so that she could play among the keiki (a Hawaiian word for baby). Always, she kept a watchful eye on the children, insuring their safety. Honu, or green sea turtles, still come to the black sands of Punalu'u on the Big Island. They can be seen grazing on seaweed in the surf or basking in the warm sun, oblivious to the people that gather to watch them. At night the rare honu'ea, or hawksbill turtle, has been known to nest in the area, just as Honu-po'o-kea did so long ago.

Here and there the black sand bubbles, as cool mountain water, from Mauna Loa percolates through the porous lava. This was Kauila's gift: fresh water for the people of Punalu'u. Long ago Hawaiians would dive to the floor of the bay to collect the fresh water in gourds. Hence the name Punalu'u, which means diving spring. (source: http://www.tammyyee.com/tt-kauila.html) After soaking in the sun and swimming we break beach camp and we head towards Volcanic National Park.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Progressing at Omegon

I’ve always wondered why Sam went the way he did. Was it the pain he felt about being adopted? Whatever bothered him, he wouldn’t say.

Channa and I tried to do it right as parents. Sam was adopted as a newborn. An open-adoption; his birth mom lived in Mississippi. Channa was in the hospital room when she gave birth to Sam and was first to see him open his eyes. We gave him all the love we had to give. Our extended family and friends embraced him. Mommy and me classes, horseback riding, religious school, Big Bird, Mr. Rogers – we really tried our best to set instill good values so his moral compass would always point true North.

It’s time for a quarterly review of Sam’s progress at Omegon. Channa, Sam and I are seated with his primary counselor moderating the meeting. The various players file into the room, one-by-one: His teachers, counselors, and even Peg, the program director. During our meeting we receive detailed accounts of his progress. He gets glowing reports of doing well in school, participating in group; he gets good marks all around. I’m proud of the change in Sam’s attitude and behavior.

One of my favorite musicians, Eric Clapton is coming to town and I’ve purchased tickets for our family to go to the concert. I’d asked the staff at Omegon if Sam could go. Because of his good behavior, they agreed. I’d bought an extra ticket so his best friend Staci could come too.

Before the concert, we eat dinner at our house. Channa’s prepared Sam’s favorite food: Steak, cooked on the Weber grill, baked potatoes, and canned peas. Out of nowhere, tears well up around my eyes. I’m filled with gratitude that Sam is with us at a sit-down meal. We’re together again as a family!

When it’s to go to the concert, Sam asks to drive with Staci in her car to the Excel Energy Center. I say no. He starts arguing. I tell him unless he changes his tune I will take him back to Omegon and he can forget about attending the concert. He backs down and we go in one vehicle.

Robert Cray, a soulful blues musician opens the show with a song called “Phone Booth,” and we’re not disappointed. Cray has a way of reaching inside and grabbing my heart; it’s as if his heart connects to mine and I can feel what he’s feeling: The pain of loss, the joy from finding a new love: The blues is a language from the heart and Cray is fluent. Sam and Staci are seated behind us. It looks like they’re enjoying the show. Between acts, Sam and Staci go walk around for a bit, probably to smoke a cigarette, but when Clapton comes on, they return to watch him play. Back in the day people there was a saying, “Clapton is God.” I won’t go that far but for me, listening to him play becomes a religious experience, as if God is channeling all the deceased blues legends right through his soul – the late Albert King, Elmore James, Robert Johnson, and Freddie King. Clapton is flat-out amazing.

After the show we drop Sam off at Omegon. I feel sad because he’s not coming home. I’m reminded me of my own separation anxiety I experienced when I was a kid: Being left behind and abandoned. It feels like I’m abandoning Sam. But on the flip side, I feel grateful he was able to get out and spend time with us; something we haven’t done in a long while. Everyone enjoys the show. We have good memories for weeks to come. Sam’s good behavior continues enabling him to get “leaves” to spend with us at home. He’s now earned privileges for three hour passes.

I remember the first pass. Grandma Rose is in town and we think it will be fun to take Sam out to lunch. I pick Sam up on my BMW F-650. I bring an extra jacket and helmet. Before meeting for lunch at Maynards, a lakefront restaurant in Excelsior, MN, we take a ride through the country roads. It’s April; the beginning of Spring. The smell of fresh cut grass and burning wood is in the air. The landscape’s turning from brown to green. We pass several farms and see herds of Black Angus cattle and horses. We weave through the country roads until we reach Excelsior. Grandma Rose is excited to see Sam. We enjoy a lunch of hamburgers, French fries and cokes. When our time is up, I let Sam keep the jacket and helmet at Omegon until next time. Sam gets extra attention when some of the kids at Omegon spot him riding up on a motorcycle and walking in with a helmet and leather jacket. He seems to like the added attention. During this time, I feel our relationship is getting better.

Off drugs, Sam’s a great person to be with. He’s back to his old self; funny, animated and level headed. The three hour passes progress to overnight stays at home: We enjoy having Sam back home. Channa makes him malts and Sam and Staci comes over to hang out with him. He wants me to take to a Saturday night AA meeting. I felt encouraged again: Is recovery happening? Sam’s good behavior continues but his primary counselor Kate and him are butting heads. She’s real strict and Sam is challenging her authority. Sam loses and Kate penalizes him for being disrespectful.

I speak often to Barb, Sam’s social worker. We think it’s odd that Sam’s only getting one night passes, after being at Omegon for almost nine months. We both ask Kate. She holds her ground saying until Sam can be respectful to her; he’s not getting a weekend pass. Knowing Sam, Barb and I petition the director and soon Sam starts getting weekend passes.

The passes are structured so the kids can gradually rejoin their families. Sam continues with attending AA meetings. He wants to smoke cigarettes: Omegon officially doesn’t allow smoking on passes but according to Sam “all the other kids smoke.” When I asked the therapist, at Omegon, he says he didn’t want to make an issue of it. He says it’s up to us if Sam smokes or not. Channa and I talk it over and decide not to buy him cigarettes. We tell him that he can’t smoke on our property. Sam has Staci bring him cigarettes and together, they takes walks to the nearby woods to smoke. His good behavior continues.

Sam’s sixteen and his younger brother’s Bar Mitzvah is coming up. It’s a big event: Our families are flying in for the celebration. I ask Sam if he will to be the DJ at the party. He loves pushing buttons and working electronic equipment and is excited to help out. He comes along with me to rent the sound equipment. Mark, the store manager, talks to Sam like a friend. He shows him how to use the equipment. For the Bar Mitzvah ceremony Sam puts on a suit and tie and participates in the services. My mom and dad are super happy to see Sam. His safety and well-being are in so many of our hearts. He smiles a lot and seems very happy being in the presence of our family. When it’s time for the party, Sam does a wonderful job being the “DJ” and emcee. It looks like he is finally turning the corner. Some of his friends are at the party: He’s elated to be hanging around with them. Everyone has a great time.

The staff decides it’s time for Sam to transition to public school to a program called HAP (Hopkins Alternative Program). Sam is excited: This means he’s reaching the end of his treatment at Omegon.

The first day at school, he runs into a lot of his old friends from Hebrew school. In an enthusiastic tone of voice he tells me how he ran into Mark, Nathan, and other old friends. The HAP program has an affiliate program at Hennepin Technical School where twice a week, Sam is enrolled in auto mechanics class: Sam LOVES cars. He comes home on weekend passes and brings his dirty laundry. He asks me if I’ll get him an Ipod. I discuss this with Channa and she tells me not to do it. I don’t listen and buy him one. After the second or third day the Ipod disappears. Sam says someone stole it right out of his backpack.

Sam is chomping at the bit to get out of Omegon. He is still butting heads with Kate, his primary counselor. She’s threatening to pull him out of the HAP program if he doesn’t change his tune. I’m still keeping in regular contact with Sam’s social worker and we both reach the conclusion if we don’t get him discharged soon, that he will do something to get himself kicked out. Channa doesn’t agree. She wants to keep him in treatment as long as possible. Hers is fear-based thinking: In treatment he’s safe. But Sam’s been at Omegon for almost a year and he’s only received one or two weekend passes. My feeling is he’s gone about as far as he can go at Omegon: He needs to get out, spread his wings, and fly.

I often feel guilty and shame over the whole situation; having a son with challenges and his being angry most of the time. I want things to be better. Finally, after some prodding by Barb, it is decided that Sam will be released from Omegon and come back home on March 15th.

Spring break is coming up; I think taking a family trip to Hawaii will be a nice way to celebrate Sam’s completion of treatment.

In February, I’m in Las Vegas on a business trip. My first cousin, Benny, who lives on Kauai, also happens to be there visiting his dad and brother. We connect on the phone and make plans to have dinner. Over dinner, my cousin and his wife extend an open invitation to come visit. We can stay with them.

I return home with the idea of taking a family vacation to Hawaii. In the twenty years of our marriage, I’ve not taken Channa to Hawaii. With Sam getting out of treatment, what could be a better way to reunite our family than taking a trip to Hawaii? I email my cousin and tell him the dates we’re thinking about. He replies saying “come over.” I book a flight. A decision has been made: We’re going to Hawaii! On my next visit with Sam at Omegon I share my excitement with him that he will be leaving Omegon at the end of March and we’re going to Hawaii to celebrate. He seems excited to hear the news.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Happy Father's Day

Father’s Day is coming up.

I’ve planned a trip to California to see my father. Dad is in his eighties and hasn’t been feeling well. Before leaving for the airport, I have a Father’s Day card I want Sam to sign. Over the phone, I ask if it’s okay to stop by Omegon to have him sign a card for Grandpa. Sam says okay and asks if I will bring him his mezuzah, a religious amulet I gave him as a Bar Mitzvah gift. When Channa catches wind of what Sam’s asked for, she tells me not to give it to him. I don’t listen. I love my son and want to believe he is on the road to recovery. We meet, Sam signs the card and I give him his mezuzah.

I am at my mom and dad’s house in Los Angeles, when the phone rings. It’s Channa. She’s in panic mode. Sam has run again from Omegon with another boy. She reminds me, “I told you not to give him the mezuzah!”

“Shit,” I say out loud. My blood starts to boil. I am infuriated. “Fool me once, shame on you: Fool me twice, shame on me!” When I hang up the phone, my mom says “Kenny, what’s wrong?” I tell her. When dad finds out what’s happened, he just shakes his head. I remind him that I was no angel growing up and he laughs. He reminds me of the time when the police called at two in the morning and how drove to Palm Springs to bail me out. A friend and I were arrested for trespassing after hours at Andreas Canyon Park during Spring Break. Although he wasn’t too happy back then, our eyes meet and we have a good laugh. He says, “do you remember saying ‘Dad, are you pissed?’” He got us released and then turned around and drove another two hours back to LA so he could go to work. I didn’t appreciate dad back then: I sure appreciate him now.

I cut my trip short and catch a flight back home to Minneapolis. After a few days, the boy Sam ran with is caught by the police while trying to board a bus. Sam manages to elude the authorities. A few days later, the phone rings. It’s the police. Sam’s been arrested. Someone called the police when they notice there’s a boy sleeping in the corner of their backyard. Because he hasn’t stolen anything, he is sent back to Omegon. But Peg, the director is mad. She doesn’t want to let him come back. Staying with us is not an option. So the child protection authorities send Sam to a shelter called St. Josephs Children’s Home.

The mezuzah is gone. When I ask Sam where it is, he says the cops took it from him – which is complete bullshit. Why can’t he be honest and tell me the truth?

At home, the phone rings. It’s Sam. He asks if I’ll bring him some fresh clothes over to the shelter. Suddenly – like a pop bottle under pressure, my pent-up wrath of anger, hurt, and disappointment come pouring out.

“How could you sell the mezuzah?” I’m at the point of no return. Sam stepped outside my moral boundary lines. I’m so angry he sold it. I associate the mezuzah as a special spiritual personal belonging – something to keep close to my heart. But to Sam it’s just a piece of gold he could sell for money to perpetuate his self seeking behavior. I’ve been used. I get angrier when I realize Sam set me up. He was planning to run and used me as an instrument to enable him. It doesn’t help that Channa keeps saying, “I told you not to give him the mezuzah.”

So the answer to his question about bringing him fresh clothes is an emphatic “NO.” I tell him I don’t care if you run around in dirty clothes for the next year - I’m not going to help him anymore. The only color I’m seeing is red. While I’m still yelling and foaming at the mouth, he hangs up on me. He calls Barb, his social worker and asks her to bring him clean clothes. Barb calls and Channa puts some clean clothes together for her to bring to the shelter. An addict has no shame in asking and asking until he or she gets what they want.

Peg, the program director at Omegon meets with Sam a few days later, at St. Joe’s Children’s Home. She tells him he can come back but there are no more chances: If he runs one more time he can’t come back. Sam agrees. From this point on we sense a change of attitude – Sam settles back into the program, stops fighting, agrees to take his meds and participates in his treatment.

We start getting positive reports: Sam is now participating more in group sessions and is doing well in school. He receives “the student of the month award” for being the first student at Omegon to read Moby Dick, from cover to cover. One of the many positive qualities at Omegon is the outside curricular activities they make available to the kids. They have a full-time program director. He plans activities for the kids – this includes going to professional sporting events, picnics, comedy clubs, AA meetings (for those willing to attend), and an annual camping trip. The staff wants to show the kids alternate ways of using their free time, besides sitting around and getting high.

I get over my anger about the mezuzah and move closer to Sam again. It seems like we are making some progress. In our therapy sessions, we reach a point where Sam stops arguing with us. He has his opinions but doesn’t explode when we question him about his past behavior and decisions that got him here in the first place.

I learned a long time ago that my nature is to let my impulsive thoughts carry me away. I once shared with a therapist how I hated cold-calling – picking up the phone and calling business people “cold” and trying to make an appointment. I told her I was quitting my job. “I hate cold-calling,” I told her. She asked, “So, Kenny, “what are you going to do after you quit your job?” “I don’t know but whatever I do is going to be better than this,” I told her.

She got real quiet. She turned her head and removed her glasses – I remember her beautiful blue eyes. She calmly said, “Kenny, it’s okay to have these feelings but you don’t have to act them out.” This is probably the most valuable information I ever received from any therapist. I’ll always remember her words. I apply what she taught me and decide to forgive Sam.

I need to remember that my primary focus as his father is to be a positive example. I won’t quit my son. Nope, not giving up!

Friday, May 21, 2010


As Sam’s behavior gets more unmanageable, it’s harder and harder to be around people. I’m embarrassed my kid isn’t perfect (like everyone else).

I belong to the local Rotary Club in Excelsior, MN. At the time I join, my intentions are to meet new people in the community and do service work. Rotary International is a great organization and does a lot to help disadvantaged people around the world. I volunteer to lead the community service group. On several occasions we prepare meals and bring them to the Ronald McDonald house to serve meals to the kids and their parents who stay there while undergoing medical treatment. Jack, another member with a daughter Sam’s age asks if he can carpool over to the RM House. I say sure. We become friendly acquaintances. Sam is a big help. He is a sensitive kid with a big heart and shows a lot of compassion towards special needs kids. He’s there, he is present and is a big help. I’m proud of him!

One of the Rotarians is Peter Dennis, superintendent of the Minnetonka School system. He knows who Sam is. As Sam gets into more and more trouble I’m having a hard time facing people. I go to the Rotary meetings at 7 am on Wednesdays. Some members know I’m having big challenges with Sam and ask how he is doing. I’m getting edgy. Things start to bother me. There is a pledge and prayer before every Rotary meeting. Oftentimes members end the prayer by saying “in his name, our Lord and savior . . ..” It bothers me. I start thinking how Rotary is supposed to be an International organization that embraces diversity. Ending a prayer like that doesn’t feel very inclusive and I am beginning to feel out of place (the story of my life). It bothers me to the point that I voice my concerns to the president of the club. He smiles, gives me the "Minnesota Nice" treatment and says he will take care of it but things don’t change. At home and school, Sam’s deviant behavior is revving up like a spinning top.

My “mentor” and motivation for joining Rotary was the president of the bank. I’m a customer. My good friend and fellow AA member, Bill W. works at the Bank of Berlin. The president, Klaus Schmidt, bald, with a tight-trimmed mustache runs the bank like a dictator. He makes sure everyone working there has blonde hair and blue eyes. Klaus's bank runs on Swiss time.

I'm thinking maybe I can learn some things to help me run our business more efficiently, by getting to know Klaus. He is one of the founding members of the local Rotary Club. Rotary starts out pretty good but as Sam’s downward slide progresses it gets harder and harder for me to show up at the meetings.

Three significant events cause me to re-think my affiliation with Rotary: First: Sam takes one of his savings bonds without our permission. Sam, only fifteen, walks into Bank of Berlin and the teller cheerfully cashes the savings bond without thinking to call me. We would have never found out about this but the teller makes a mistake and gives Sam too much money. The bank calls to tell us what happened. They need him to come in and return the extra money.

Besides being furious that Sam took the savings bond what really frosts my nuts is the bank cashing a savings bond presented by a fifteen year old kid. Now that I know what’s transpired, I get in my car and drive around to the places I think Sam will be. I find him at the Super America next to the skateboard park. He’s just finished buying pop and candy for his friends. “Sam, get in the car.” We drive to the bank. Sam hands over what’s left of the money I redeposit it into his savings account after paying them the extra money they gave him by mistake. From here forward, I become a signer on his account. This means Sam will not be able to draw money without our knowing about it. I’m super pissed-off that the bank would cash the check without calling us.

I pick up the phone and call Klaus on his direct line. I get his voice mail – his message ends by says “and remember to keep smiling.” Soon the phone rings – it’s Klaus. “Klaus,” I ask him “why in the world would your staff cash a savings bond to a minor without first calling my wife or me?” Expecting an apology from him, he says, in a non-emotional and cold tone that “they had acted within the laws of the State of Minnesota.” I couldn’t believe it. That was the first straw.

The second incident was at a Rotary meeting. There are two Jews in the club, me and Rich Levine. Rotary has an invocation program where new members get up and talk about where they grew up, life experience, and what they do for a living. Rich is introduced by the president and walks up to the podium to make his speech. As he began speaking, Jack gets up to leave the meeting. Rich kiddingly asks Jack “Don’t you want to hear my talk?” Jack “jokingly” says “no, I don’t like Jews.” I do a double take – did Jack say he doesn’t like Jews? I must have heard wrong. But my suspicion is confirmed when I see and hear Klaus lean over to one of his buddies: He’s laughing and thinks it’s funny. Still, it takes me a few more minutes to connect the dots but when I realize what has just transpired I’m in shock. This is the same guy I let in my car to go to the Ronald McDonald event.

The last straw: Sam is attacked by three boys who ride over to our house in a golf cart from the neighboring Stone Bridge development. One of his former friends is angry with him – I can guess it must have been over drugs and money that’s owned – just a guess. They’ve come over to “kick his ass.” Zach calls me on my cell phone to tell me to come home. I’m on my way to see a customer. I make a u-turn, call the client to cancel and hurry home to try to intervene. But I’m too late.

The finale is one of the boys picks up a baseball bat and takes a swing right on Sam’s right knee. When I get home I chase the kids off our property and call 911. The police quickly catch up with the boys who are charged with assault with a deadly weapon, which is a felony. Channa takes Sam to the ER where he gets X-Rays and treated.

We have to appear in court to press charges. At the courthouse I’m surprised to see fellow Rotarian, Jack, the lawyer (who doesn’t like Jews). With an outreached hand, he says hello. I don’t take his hand. In a few moments I see he’s talking with the boys parents who assaulted Sam. My fellow Rotarian has been hired to defend the boy who had assaulted my son. Isn’t that nice!

The Bank of Berlin was also one of our customers. Our company provided them with their promotional merchandise. Klaus didn’t have a clue about how livid I was. My impulse was to resign from Rotary but instead, I decided to take a leave of absence. Meanwhile, Klaus is calling me at work and putting the squeeze on me to come back to Rotary. He tells me many of his vendors are members of Rotary. I get defensive and quickly remind him that I’m also a customer of his bank.

He keeps calling and harassing me. He keeps pressuring for me to come back to Rotary. Finally, I boil over. I tell him that I don’t appreciate the lack of inclusiveness Rotary. I tell him I didn’t appreciate the anti-Semitic remarks Jack had made to Rich and how he (Klaus) thought that it was funny. Finally, I tell him that I learned a long time ago that if I don’t stand up for what I believe in, that I’ll fall down for anything.

“Klaus, do you understand where I’m coming from?” He says, “I hear you.” And that was the last of my relationship with Klaus Schmidt, The Bank of Berlin and Rotary. He can take his advertising pens and shove ‘em up his ass. I’m done with him. Thank God, I don’t need his business and I sure don't need or want his abuse.

I have bigger fish to fry!

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Spring Fever

Minnesota winters are long and cold. Eventually spring comes. As the weather gradually warms up the trees grow buds and flowers bloom. Spring is a time of renewal: The birds start singing, the big honking Canadian Geese return from their hiatus down South and the neighbors come outside after being held hostage to the cold for so long. We call it “Spring Fever.”

At Omegon the kids want a taste of freedom. Some want it so much they decide to “run.” Usually the kids run and will go to a friend’s house where they can get high and hang-out. Usually they’re picked up by the police and returned to Omegon. During our Saturday visit Sam tells me one of the kids he knows ran but got caught. Late Tuesday night, our phone rings. It’s from Omegon. Sam and another kid have run. Father Flannigan, a visiting clergy, saw them running and yelled out for them to stop. The boys turned around, waved, and laughed as they ran off. They’re trying to get as far away from Omegon as they can. But they can’t run fast enough. They look for bicycles so they can ride to Chanhassen to connect with friends. But they don’t find any. As they keep walking they come to a church. In the parking lot is a car with the keys left in the ignition. Sam and the boy get in the car, start it up and drive off. For several days, the boys manage to elude everyone and hang-out with their friends. At night, they sleep in the car. They keep this going for four or five days.

At 1:30 in the morning our phone rings. I feel like I’m dreaming but it’s the Chanhassen police department. The boys have been arrested. They are taken to the Juvenile Detention Center in Minneapolis. They tell me the times for visitation – a very small window.

It’s a long drive downtown from where we live. After showing my identification and passing through a metal detector, I’m allowed inside the unit where Sam is being held. When he comes out to the visiting area, he's dressed in green pants that match his green shirt. I ask him, “why did you take a car that wasn’t yours and out of a church parking lot yet?” Sam says they needed wheels to get out of the area. In a boastful voice, he describes the car: A metallic silver Chrysler 300 with leather seats and with a big V-8.. “The car was cool and fast.” After listening to him, I take a deep breath and say, “Sam, there’s only one problem.” He says “yea?” I say “Sam, the car didn’t belong to you.” He gives me a shrug: I’m not feeling any remorse from him. I leave Sam shaking my head. I’m baffled. I try getting inside his head. I want to understand so I can at at least try and help him. I’m discouraged, disappointed and embarrassed. Sam has to stay at the juvenile detention center until we have a court hearing scheduled later in the week.

Meanwhile, Peg, the program director at Omegon visits Sam. She asks him how he likes being locked up. "It's not so bad," Sam replies. Peg asks if he’d like to stay there for awhile. "Not really,” says Sam. She offers him another chance to come back to Omegon and get serious about the work that is expected of him – not just be present but to be involved and participate in the program. She wants Sam to be open and honest about learning a new way of thinking and living. Sam says he would like that. When our court date arrives, Peg tells the judge that she is willing to take Sam back to Omegon.

Back at Omegon, Sam resumes his schooling and treatment and seems to embrace the program. The other boy who ran with Sam wasn’t so fortunate – he doesn't’ get another chance and is kicked out of the program.

In life, sometime we get second chances - and sometimes we don't.

AA on The Big Island

I get up early to attend an AA meeting that meets daily at 7am outside of the Stone Church in Kona. The meeting is named called Aloha Mana. It means chanting for healing and prayer. After introductions, the moderator asks if there are any people visiting from outside the area. I raise my hand and am presented with a necklace that is strung with small, smooth black and white Hawaiian shells. I love the inclusiveness of twelve-step programs. I don’t ever remember meeting many or any caring people at the bars I used to frequent.

I’ve found a meeting where I can be a friend among friends and be accepted for who I am. As we go around and share what’s going on in our lives, I find relief in knowing I’m not the only person with earthly problems. Some of the guys are struggling with “ice,” a slang term for meth and others, although sober, are struggling with other issues – relationships, employers or financial matters.

As a visitor, the group I wear it every day I am on the Big Island – it’s a reminder how much thanks I owe AA for helping me to get and stay sober one day at a time. Listening to the others shares reminds me although my life isn’t perfect that in sobriety I can face my problems instead of my past behavior of running away from them. Picking up meetings, having a sponsor and most importantly, a relationship with my Higher Power helps to provide the spiritual strength I need to be strong.

After the meeting I return to our condo. Channa wants to know where I got the beautiful necklace I’m wearing. “At the AA meeting,” I say. She’s antsy to go into the town of Kona to do some shopping. Zach wants to go boogie boarding.

The last time I was in Kona was in the late seventies. It was a relaxed, sleepy little community. Now it is nothing of the sort – I see a gigantic cruise ship anchored offshore. A small transporter boat is ferrying passengers from the ship to the pier so they can shop. There are all kinds of big restaurants and retail stores. Channa loves to shop. I don’t. We drop Channa off in the center of Kona and Zach and I head to the beach. The beaches aren't great on the Big Island - there are lots of rocks and not much sand.

We find a place where I can sit on a rock and watch Zach ride the waves. There are two local Hawaiian boys, around the same age as Zach. They’re having a great time – they’re speaking in their native Pidgin English. Hawaiian Pidgin originally developed as a means for people who spoke different tongues to learn one language in order to communicate with each other in order and to do business. The first merchants to visit the Islands were Europeans who traded iron tools, cloth and other items for supplies of fresh food and water. As the sugar plantations grew, contract workers were brought to the islands from China, Japan, the Philippines and other places, to work the plantations. Words and phrases from each of these languages worked their way into the language that all understood thus pidgin evolved into Hawaii's unofficial language. We get a kick listening to them. One kid says, "nice wave brah, you really got that one!" Every other word is brah which is short for brother. The boys are so relaxed and happy. You can tell the difference between these guys and people that live on their blackberries

Zach catches and rides wave after wave until he’s had his fill. We leave the beach and head towards downtown Kona to find Channa.. After crawling through traffic, Zach spots Channa. In both hands are shopping bags – she’s happy. Now she wants to stop at the local Safeway store. We spend about $200 for groceries, which doesn’t buy much in Hawaii. Dinner consists of barbequed Mahi Mahi fish, white rice and steamed broccoli. Amazing how we can relax in different ways.

As relaxed as we are, there is a corner in our hearts and heads that keep hoping we’ll hear from Sam. With pain in our hearts, we keep moving forward as best as we can.

After dinner Zach finds a TV show called “Dog the Bounty Hunter,” who hunts for bail jumpers in Hawaii along with his dysfunctional family. When he catches the criminals he tries to instill in them that crime does not pay along with suggestions that spirituality he can turn their lives around for the better. I flash back to what my grandfather used to tell me, “that it's a lot easier to swim with the current than trying to fight it.”