"In daily life we must see that it is not happiness that makes us grateful, but gratefulness that makes us happy." Brother David Steindl-Rast

Friday, December 19, 2014


Today I am grateful for a run yesterday with Oliver. I am also grateful for my family, immediate and extended.

That makes HOLTHAUS a good word for today. I don't often use proper nouns on my A-Z journey, but I can be flexible. It's my blog. Holthaus is my maiden name. It is of German origin. I have always liked my maiden name, other than those times growing up when I was tired of everyone and wondered briefly if perhaps I had been adopted.

In fact, I planned on keeping my maiden name if I ever got married. But then I met Mr. Valentine. I fell in love with him and his name. I am forever proud to be a Holthaus though.

I will see many family members this weekend at a holiday gathering. Some carry the name Holthaus, some have other names, but we are all family. There is strength in a name that has survived generations, and there are more in the next generation to keep carrying it forward.

Our names are part of our identity. Like when and where we are born, we initially have little choice as to our given names. We can always change them if we wish, but I wouldn't change a thing about mine. Lisa Holthaus Valentine. There's a lot of life lived in those three names. For that, I am truly grateful.

I will be taking a blog break for a couple days. Have a nice weekend!

Thursday, December 18, 2014


Today I am grateful for our local breast cancer support group and the friends I have there. I am also grateful for my laptop computer's convenience and portability.

GOPHERS is a "g" word that may not cross a person's mind all that often. If you happen to live in Minnesota, however, you will hear it frequently and see it on shirts, sweatshirts, and car bumpers. The Golden Gophers of the University of Minnesota. Minnesota: The Gopher State. Apparently back in the mid-1800's there was considerable debate about whether or not Minnesota should be called the "Gopher State" for the many striped gophers prevalent on the prairie, or the "Beaver State."  Long before social media, political cartoons helped give the nod to the gophers.

Minnesota history aside, this Iowa girl wants to talk about the gophers of my childhood. I confess to not being a regular follower of Minnesota Gopher athletics. At one time in my life, however, I would spend some weeks in spring and summer following gophers. Actually we were trapping them. They were numerous and could be destructive to farmland. So the local county extension offices would offer rewards for the paws of captured gophers. I recall ten cents per pair, and then it moved up to a quarter. It was worth our time back then.

The process began by looking for fresh gopher mounds-piles of dirt they create when they make their burrows. The trick was finding the opening, clearing it enough to fit a trap in it, then covering things back up and putting a post nearby to both hold the trap and mark the mound. The next morning we would check our traps and see if we had caught anything. If we had, I would usually let someone else take it from there. It was one of the many ways I learned about life on the farm. I recall the challenge of the trapping and some excitement if we caught a gopher. In some sense, we were doing our part to help out.

From grief to gophers, and now wishing you a good day full of gratefulness.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014


Today I am grateful for energy to be productive and for my health.

GRIEF is something we all face in minor and major ways as we live our lives. No two people experience it the same way in the same time frame. We can share grief, but it is also an individual journey for each person's heart, soul, and mind.

Grief is an appropriate word for me today. It is the sixth anniversary, December 17, 2008, of my third surgery during my cancer treatment-bilateral mastectomies. I will never forget waking up from surgery and looking at my new flat terrain and what that felt like in that moment. The grief was raw and real in the days, weeks, and months following surgery. But there was also relief, healing, and much gratitude for my returning health.

I think of my sister Danita and the absolutely grueling grief process she is in the midst of as her husband Roger further declines with Lewy body dementia. I think of them both every day. Grief is not meant to be categorized, but I believe circumstances like my sister's, losing someone in this manner, must be some of the toughest, most heart-wrenching grief to face.

We may grieve lost dreams, our youth, friends we have lost contact with. We may grieve decisions we regret making or choices we regret not taking. Face the grief. Feel it.

If I have grief over a loss, it must mean I had a blessing first.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014


Today I am grateful for my favorite sweatshirt and for the range of feelings I experience. Each teaches me something about myself.

As the easy listening, sometimes nauseating mellow 70's song says: "FEELINGS, nothing more than feelings." And nothing less either. Feelings are gifts. The joyful, the frustrating, the agonizing.

Gifts? Without the full range of emotions, without a willingness and a stability to feel all of them, we are less than we could be. Without the tough ones, we cannot fully appreciate the inspiring ones. Without the joyful ones, we would never make it through the times of despair.

As an elementary school counselor, I would show up in classrooms with a little gift bag. We would talk about feelings as gifts. The good ones tell us what is going well, the bad ones are telling us something is wrong and we should talk to somebody. It may sound simple, but I think it is a message adults need to hear as much as young people do.

The other visual I used with students was mentioning a Pringle's chip can. I asked them what would happen if we kept stuffing feelings we didn't want to talk about into the can. It would explode. It would burst. Things would come out sideways. That is what happens to us if we aren't tuned into our feelings, our heartfelt emotions.

I feel more with my heart and soul than I do with my head. But how much time do I spend thinking about feelings rather than acting on them in healthy ways?

We live in a culture and society that has many ways to numb feelings, that has gotten really good at looking okay on the outside while falling apart on the inside. Let's do ourselves and others a favor. Honestly identify and discover our range of feelings. Discard the toxic ones. (It takes work, but lightens the load.) And nourish the positive and uplifting ones. (Work also required, but the dividends are great.)

Monday, December 15, 2014


Today I am grateful for phone conversations with my sister Danita and my friend Deb. I am also grateful for eggnog.

For my first "f" word I have chosen FRAZZLED. It is defined as "to cause to feel completely exhausted, wear out; to fray." I can honestly say I have experienced being frazzled a few times in my life. And that's an understatement. I can also honestly say that I am not currently feeling frazzled.

I can create my own frazzled state or life circumstances can create them. I do better when it is life circumstances that frazzle me. It's like I rise to the occasion, buck up, and proceed. When I create the fraying and confusion in my own head, it is much harder to find my way out. I am my own worst enemy at those times.

I have learned that if I just do the next right thing, my life tends to unfold, versus the unraveling that happens when I try to manage and control. In order to do the next right thing, I need to be here and now. Gratitude practice helps keep me present, and has a calming effect all its own. Consider it an anti-fraying strategy.

This time of year can put people in a frazzled state. Ironic isn't it? Peace on earth, good will to men, but too many are running around like crazy people trying to do too much and not enjoying any of it. Expectations low. Boundaries high. Heart open. Less frazzled.

Keeping priorities in the forefront and saying no to some things that don't make the priority list can be helpful too. Where can and should I put my energy? Where is the joy in today?

I can't control all of my life circumstances, but I do have some control over my state of mind and a less frazzled state is my goal for today. How about you? Pause. Embrace the moment. Feel the small joys.

Sunday, December 14, 2014


Today I am grateful for a nice pace to my day yesterday-from a morning run, to some gift-wrapping, to family time shopping, a pleasant meal out, and an entertaining Christmas play at my school.

EVENTUALLY is the word that struck me on our run yesterday morning. Eventually the fog that has been with us on and off for several days lifts by mid-morning before it settles back in. Yesterday we even saw sun and blue sky, but only briefly.

It seems inevitable that our dog Oliver would eventually injure himself. He sprained a leg yesterday morning jumping off Sam's bed. When we considered how many hundreds of times he has jumped off beds, recliners, couches, and raced up and down stairs, it is surprising that his eventual injury took over six years. He was slowed down, and it was concerning to see him limping. But today he is much better. Eventually, he will be back to running with us.

Eventually, after I hurry enough, get frustrated enough, waste enough energy, I will let go of what needs to be let go of. One of my goals with the recovery work I do, and the meditation and prayer I try to practice, is to help that "eventually" come sooner rather than later. I am at least making some progress and sometimes I don't even pick something up that isn't mine to pick up. Less letting go required that way.

And the sobering thought as I pondered the word eventually, is that eventually we all die. It's something we don't always want to consider, and I try not to live in fear of it, but I think it is okay to ponder our mortality from time to time. It brings an appreciation of the life we do have, even with all of it's trials and tribulations. Maybe it also helps us be more thankful and less frustrated with our life circumstances at the moment and with the people who are sharing in it with us.

I am thinking of those who are looking more closely at death because of illnesses that have them or a loved one on the inevitable path to the end. My thoughts and prayers are with them all.

Saturday, December 13, 2014


Today I am grateful for a tooth extraction that wasn't too painful, for my Grandma's recipes, for family time. I am grateful for time with some of my women in recovery friends.

EXPERIENCE is today's word on my A-Z journey. I experienced that tooth extraction early yesterday morning. I have had plenty of dental work done, and this was minimal compared to some other procedures. There was infection, so good riddance. I am grateful it went well and grateful I am not feeling much pain at all. I ponder how many people around the world need dental work and don't have access to it. I ponder how painful a toothache can be to experience. I am grateful for accessible and affordable dental care.

I decided to make my Grandma's Christmas cut-out cookie recipe yesterday. My son Sam helped me make some of the cookies, and then he, my stepdaughter Emily, and my husband Darcy all helped decorate the cookies. It was a family holiday experience. We do the cut-outs every year.

I pondered what the experience was like for my Grandma in her kitchen with her family all those years ago. I ponder what my Grandma's life experience was like. My mom's mom passed away when I was barely five. I have only a couple of vague memories of her. But when I use her recipes, we in some way, share an experience. I am grateful for my family and the previous generations that made it possible for us to be here today.

Experience goes hand in hand with the discipline I wrote about yesterday. Experience teaches me that if I stay consistent and disciplined, I get to keep reaping rewards. That certainly holds true for running, recovery, and gratitude practice. They have each enhanced my life experience in ways I couldn't have predicted.

Experience as teacher. Experience as pause. If I truly want to experience a moment, an emotion, I need to pause, slow down and be there in that moment.

Experience as hope for the future. I have been shown that with faith and patience, and trying to get out of my own way, I can be led to places I could not have found myself. To share those experiences with others is an ongoing gift.