"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, November 30, 2012

Express Yourself

Today I am grateful for the healthy ways I have to express myself. I am also grateful for my son Sam and the chance to express my love to him daily.

You may have guessed by now that today's word is express. I am choosing to focus on this simple definition: to represent in words. That covers it. Saying "I love you" to Sam is a natural thing for me to do, but growing up I didn't  hear those words much. I was cared for and provided for, but my parents were from families and from a generation that didn't say the words much. It was already hard to get enough attention and emotional support being one of thirteen children. This lack of expression did some harm to me and my view of self and world. I don't blame my parents. I don't blame circumstances for the choices I made. But it does help me understand a few things about myself. As I grew into adulthood, I pledged that if I ever had a child, he/she would regularly hear my love expressed.

At some point in the last year, I had a fortune cookie that said "The important thing is to express yourself." I saved that saying and added it to a frame with other words and numbers of inspiration in it. The writer in me has always known the truth behind the saying, but that writer hasn't always had the confidence to express myself in a public format. I owe a significant debt of gratitude to my friend Jenny who helped me find a new voice, who helped bring an essayist out of a poet. We collaborated on a book about our breast cancer experiences, being diagnosed within a month of each other. Jenny the novelist and Lisa the poet wrote essay after essay. It was a stretch for both of us, but that stretch and Jenny's support and encouragement brought a voice out in me that I never knew I had. The book remains in manuscript form, but it has already helped bring me to the next level of writing pursuits. Thanks Jenny!

Since then, "express yourself" has taken on more confidence and meaning for me. Commentaries in newspapers and guest blogposts followed. Then, this blog was born.

Spoken. Written. Typed. Thought. Expressed. Words are what it is all about.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

From the Depths of My Soul

Today I am grateful for emails with other people in recovery. They are a lifeline for me. I am also grateful for laughter.

D is for depth today. I was struck by the range of definitions for this word.

*a deep place in a body of water
*a profound or intense state
*a reprehensibly low condition
*the worst part
*the quality of being deep
*the degree of intensity, the quality of being profound or full
*the quality or state of being complete or thorough

A deep place in a body of water. I avoid the depths of pools because I can't swim well.

A profound or intense state. The depth of my gratitude when I cross the finish line of a marathon.

A reprehensibly low condition. The depth of despair was waking up from a blackout, with a bad hangover, trying to fill the gaps in my memory.

The worst part. The depth of cancer treatment came 3-5 days after each chemo round.

The quality of being deep. I love the depth of conversation I can have with many people near and dear to me.

The degree of intensity, the quality of being profound or full. The depth of joy that I feel when I hear my son laugh or see his smile or give him a hug.

The quality or state of being complete or thorough. The depths of my heart and soul feel the grace that comes with each day of recovery and sobriety, the gifts that come with working on my faith.

Some of the depths my life has taken me to have been the lonely and rejected depths. But more of the depths on my life's journey have been of the exhilirating and inspiring variety. For that, I am truly grateful.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

The Era of the Cassette

Today I am grateful for the music I grew up with and for sharing the contents of "The Valentine Vessel of Gratitude" with my family last night.

C is for cassette. I am going to stick with just one definition for this word today. That definition is a plastic cartridge containing magnetic tape with the tape of one reel passing to the other. And in that passing of one reel to another, some of my favorite music played over and over. My earliest memory of music recordings on something other than albums was the 8-track tape. There are many who would have no idea what an 8-track tape was if they saw one, but I have fond memories of bulky 8-tracks and their players taking up space in vehicles my older siblings drove. By the early 1970's, cassettes became common and were around for the better part of three decades before being replaced by CD's. 

I had dozens and dozens of cassette tapes, and have kept some for posterity's sake. Were you ever a member of the Columbia House Cassette Club?  I was and I loved the bargains I could get. When my new stash of cassettes arrived, I played my favorite songs over and over. Did you ever "lose" a favorite cassette when the magnetic reel got stuck in the player? Sometimes it could be saved, sometimes not. Currently the only place I could play these cassettes would be on my "boombox" that dates back to the early 1990's but still works fine. The Buick Rendezvous I drove for the last six years also had a cassette player in it, but we sold that vehicle this summer.

I will always have fond memories of cassettes. Music was one of my healthy outlets when I was younger, and I appreciate the musical tastes of my older siblings. They shaped my own tastes. I get a little sentimental when I think about how quickly the technology has changed in terms of music production. It's mind-boggling.

My favorite cassette? Impossible to choose one. But I can tell you which one was probably played the most and covered the most miles with me in various vehicles over the years. That would be Derek and the Dominoes "Layla."  I have always loved that song, I think because it runs the gamut of emotions throughout the song.

Did you keep any cassettes? Did you have a favorite?

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Striving to be More Benign

Today I am grateful for the kind and gentle role models I have had in my life. I am also grateful for progress in the area of "If you can't say something good, don't say anything at all."

My trip into the land of the B in my dictionary landed on the word benign. Even before my two sisters and I were diagnosed with breast cancer, I knew full well that a benign biopsy or tumor was good news indeed. I also remember feeling guilty after their diagnoses and before mine, each time I had a normal mammogram and got the all-clear. That guilt of getting the good news they didn't get to hear. And then I got the bad news too-the opposite of benign-malignant. I know how it feels to be on both sides now. There is a hard-earned perspective in that.

This previous definition of benign is probably the one that most of us think of first when we hear the word. But benign can be taken further. Other definitions include:
                    -of a gentle disposition, gracious
                    -showing kindness and gentleness
                    -favorable, wholesome

Or how about benignant? (Yes, it rhymes with malignant.) It is defined as serenely mild and kindly. Now there is a goal to aspire to. Serenely mild?  I wish I could remember that BEFORE I open my harsh mouth and unleash on someone (usually a family member). Kindly? I do better with that one, but there is always room for improvement, and again I need to start at home.

Oh yes, I know. One shouldn't be too kind or gentle. It is frowned upon as a show of weakness in our society today. I say bring on the weakness! It might allow some people to give up their stranglehold on the elusive pursuit of "perfect" and "just right" that has them running themselves and others into the ground.

I will work to show my gentleness today. I will strive for a disposition that doesn't send others turning away. I will strive to be more benign.

Monday, November 26, 2012

The Gift of Words A-Z: Affinity

Today I am grateful for hats and gloves to protect against the wind chill and I am grateful for Oliver being back home with us.

I have mentioned a number of times that an A-Z gratitude list is an easy way to think about gratitude when you are on the go. You can do such a list on your commute, a walk, sitting with a cup of morning coffee. You can write it, say it outloud, say it to yourself, say it to someone else. If you haven't tried an A-Z gratitude list, I would encourage you to do so.

I have done this A-Z list enough times that I sometimes get in a rut, saying the same things for certain letters. That's not all bad, because the things I repeat are worth repeating. But in an effort to mix it up a bit, I am taking a different approach for the next 26 days or so. I have my very own Merriam Webster's Collegiate Dictionary in actual book form. Call me old-fashioned, but I still like to pick up a book, especially a hearty, thick book like this dictionary. I am going to peruse each letter of the alphabet and see what words grab me and take it from there.

Today's word is affinity. One definition for affinity is sympathy marked by community of interest, kinship. I read that definition and I think about the many groups I belong to, officially and unofficially. Those include: breast cancer patients, recovering alcoholics, a writing group, my co-workers, 4-H parents, marathoners, people from large families, people who grew up on farms, and more. I am fortunate to have found kinship, comfort, and inspiration in each of these groups.

Affinity is also defined as an attraction to or liking for something. I have affinities for chocolate, pizza, ice cream, running, writing, and the changing seasons. I fully appreciate my five senses and my mental and physical capabilities that make enjoying and/or participating in the above-mentioned possible.

I had an initial affinity for my husband on the night we met. That affinity has grown and evolved into a lasting love and enduring marriage.

I had initial skepticism when we decided to get a dog in 2008, but when Oliver arrived in early July that year, an affinity quickly took hold. I didn't see that one coming, but I love Oliver and the joy he brings to our home and to each of us who lives here in his own special ways.

Affinity. Attraction. Liking.  What is on your list of affinities?

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Miles, Styles, and Smiles

Today I am grateful for safe travels over the last three days and for the chance to get to know Arthur's fiance Alyssa and her family better.

We had a nice Thanksgiving and a good weekend that included miles, styles, and smiles.

The miles refer to the 10K Darcy and I ran on Thanksgiving for the Banquet, a food ministry in Sioux Falls and for the hour we ran on Friday morning in the bitter wind chill to check out new trail stretches near downtown Sioux Falls. But miles also refer to the many miles we covered to and from Sioux Falls and into Iowa for some wedding preparation stuff and to meet more of Alyssa's family. On our way back to Minnesota we drove through Spencer and Okoboji, Iowa too, just for old times' sake for me. I lived in Spencer for 6 years and taught there. The Okoboji area will always be dear to me . . . I met wonderful people there, and my recovery from alcoholism blossomed there. To top it off, it is where Darcy and I met. It was fun to drive through and stop in Spirit Lake at "Hey Good Cookies!" and enjoy a cookie and coffee.

Styles would refer to bridesmaid dresses. Emily, who will be Alyssa's maid of honor, tried on several dresses, but Alyssa, her mom Donna, Emily, and I all agreed on which dress was our favorite. It's the one Alyssa ended up picking. It was fun to be part of that.

Smiles. The highlighted smiles of the weekend would be when we were playing Apples to Apples and Buzz Word with Darcy's sister's family. We had a good time, laughed a lot, and shared the fun.Never underestimate the power of games.

I am tired. I am feeling like there is much to do at home now. But I am grateful for a good Thanksgiving weekend.  Have a good day! 

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Happy Thanksgiving!

Today I am grateful for my own family that will gather in Iowa tomorrow for Thanksgiving, and grateful for Darcy's family, whom we will gather with in South Dakota. And I am thinking of all those in each of our families that live far and wide.

I am also grateful that a friend and fellow BC patient got good news after some appointments and tests.

If you have read anything here on "Habitual Gratitude" you know I believe that every day is a day for giving thanks. But it is nice that we honor the idea of gratitude with a special holiday. Thanksgiving became an official holiday during the presidency of Abraham Lincoln, in 1863, at the height of the Civil War. Lincoln asked war-torn, grief-stricken, and weary Americans to pull together, persevere, and be grateful for the gifts of the previous year. That request still rings true, even if the times aren't as bleak as 1863.

I work at a Catholic school and we had a Thanksgiving mass yesterday. Our school's president addressed all students and staff in attendance before the mass began. She gave us all an assignment for over the long weekend. That assignment: give a handwritten thank you to someone. I love the idea and I love that she put it out there to hundreds of 7th-12th graders and dozens of faculty and staff. I know the value of putting pen to paper. I hope many do the assignment and realize the power of gratitude shared.

A couple of other random thoughts before I close:

*At the checkout line at a store on Sunday, as we wrapped up my transaction, the cashier asked if I had any big shopping plans for Black Friday. I said no, I'm not a big shopper. But then I said have a Happy Thanksgiving and left. It struck me as odd that she skipped over the holiday and asked me about Black Friday. (She does work in retail, so that is on her mind I guess.) It was an example of what is happening more and more-it's all about the commercialization and marketing. What about even a little pause for some reflection on gratitude? (Getting off my soapbox now.)

*I spent several Thanksgiving eves in my younger days, my drinking days, partying it up. Particularly when we were in college and just out of college. Friends would come home for the holiday and we would gather at one of our local bars. I would get drunk, because invariably that is what I did. The place would be packed and we would have a good time catching up. I would be hungover on Thanksgiving, but that didn't stop me from eating. Darcy likes to have some wine and a cigar for the holiday, and we had our Thanksgiving meal on Sunday so out came the wine and cigars. I still like the smell of cigarettes and cigars. I got a little craving. But it passed. And I return to the deep gratitude I have for finding recovery and the support I have in my recovery, including Darcy's. (He has a beer or two or a couple glasses of wine, then he says he's full. He's definitely a normal drinker.)
If not for recovery, my life's trajectory would have taken a much different path, and I maybe wouldn't even be alive to be blogging about gratitude.

I will be taking a blog break until Sunday, but I won't be taking a break from practicing gratitude.

Happy Thanksgiving! Enjoy the little things and enjoy your loved ones.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Moments of Clarity

Today I am grateful for recovery friends-old and new. I am also grateful for the reminder that I can't feel sorry for myself and be grateful at the same time. I do much better if I choose the gratitude.

I had a small "moment of clarity" on Saturday. I appreciate when those moments happen and what I take away from them. One such moment that is etched in my mind happened nearly 20 years ago. I was having a particularly rough day, mostly work-related, when I got home, stepped into my apartment and had the Serenity Prayer pop into my head on its own. I still recall the feeling and the impact-I felt like I was finally getting somewhere in my faith quest, like I was finally getting out of myself enough to seek help. That was a moment of clarity I will never forget.

The one on Saturday was less significant, but still worth noting. I have two jewelry boxes. One bigger one I use more, one smaller one that was full to overflowing but rarely used. . . broken things I didn't want to part with, one earring of a pair, those extra buttons you get with new clothes. I have already mentioned that I am a keeper, a saver. You never know when you'll need that button right? I needed more space for my growing earring collection. It occurred to me that most of the stuff in that second jewelry box could be put in a small bag and put in a drawer, making way for more earrings. And why did it take me several years to come to this realization? Because my thinking gets stuck at times. Because I thought that jewelry box was done serving its purpose. Now it has a new purpose. That is what moments of clarity provide-new purpose.

Not only did I clean out that jewelry box and find a couple pieces of jewelry I had forgotten about, I also found this little treasure on a well-worn note stashed in the box:

A Gentle Inventory: 
            What did you do today?
                        What did you like about what you did?
                                   What didn't you like that you'd like to do better tomorrow?

Another moment of clarity. Be gentle with self and others. Have a good day!

Monday, November 19, 2012

Personality #2

Today I am grateful for a nice Thanksgiving dinner with my family yesterday, and a nice walk together after. I am also grateful that although I still crave alcohol from time to time, the craving quickly passes.

And I will add that I  am grateful for my husband Darcy's forgiveness and sense of humor. He has learned to use both when my Personality #2 comes out.

Okay, I admit it. I am difficult to be around at times. Particularly when I am tired. That is when Personality #2 tends to come out the most. My need for control and my desire to always be right seem to get amplified by exhaustion and overdoing. I know I am probably not unique in this issue, so maybe you are reading something in this post that you can relate to.

My family gets the brunt of Personality #2. Isn't that the way it goes? We are toughest on the ones we love the most.

I am a work in progress and have much progress yet to make, but I am learning to keep my mouth shut more than I used to. And I am learning to put Personality #2 to rest sooner too. But what I am really learning is that behind my need for control and desire to be right is plenty of fear, most of it irrational. "If you aren't careful enough . . . if you don't do it this way. . . you need to make sure . . . " and other such drivel flits around in my head and comes out of my mouth, often harshly.

Fear can be countered by faith. I guess Personality #2 likes to be in charge so much that she sends faith packing. To get back to a rational and reasonable person, I need some faith. And I need Darcy's forgiveness and sense of humor. In and of itself, the fact that we can now joke about Personality #2 is progress.

Gratitude can keep self-pity at bay. Faith and rest can keep Personality #2 at bay.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Of Trees, Decorations, Sentiment, and History

Today I am grateful for the beauty of the early morning sky.

I am also grateful for our collection of holiday decorations and the look and feel of our house when the Christmas tree and other decorations are up. We usually put up our tree on Thanksgiving weekend, but we'll be out of town this year, so we decorated yesterday. We actually have two new trees this year, both artificial, one small, one tall but skinnier than our previous tree. We enjoy the time together transforming the house, and it was fun this year to have a different configuration in our living room because of the new trees. We also decorate our fireplace mantle and add other decorations to our family room.

I dislike the commercialization of Christmas and the push that makes it all seem about buying the right gifts, with buying being the key word. But I love sitting in our house in the early mornings or in the evenings, when the tree lights are on, and just enjoying the atmosphere. There is something so soothing and inviting to me about the lights thrown off by our trees and various decorations. I think part of it is that as the days get shorter and shorter for these next few weeks, the lights are more prominent and more welcome. To me, this is what the holidays are really about-enjoying home and family.

Sentiment and history also come in each year as we unpack the totes with our decorations in. We can recall exactly where some things came from and when. We keep ornaments from when the kids were little. We bring out a tall, wooden tree that now traditionally goes in Sam's room. But that tree is "our first tree" in ways. I got it in Sioux Falls fifteen years ago, on our of my first "dates" with Darcy when we did some shopping together. We were married the next summer and the tree comes out every year to remind us of our good years together and our growing history as well.

The smaller tree we got new this year is a white one and it's decorated with blue lights and bulbs. Darcy was inspired by the memory of his grandma's tree from the early 1970's. As far as I'm concerned, that's the stuff that matters around the holidays far more than Black Friday shopping frenzy.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

A Prayer for All Reasons

Today I am grateful for the weekend and for our home. I am also grateful to have a run to look forward to this morning with my husband.

Yesterday it was ringtones, today it is screen backgrounds. The background of my cell phone screen is some of the words to one of my favorite prayers-the Serenity Prayer. It is the most useful prayer I know, as long as I remember to use it. I find that it works in ANY circumstances. Many people know the first stanza of the prayer, but there is more to it.

Here is the prayer's long form:

The Serenity Prayer

God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
 courage to change the things I can,
  and the wisdom to know the difference.

Living one day at a time,
 enjoying one moment at a time,
  accepting hardship as the pathway to peace.

Taking as He did, this sinful world as it is,
 not as I would have it,
  trusting that He will make all things right if I surrender to His will.

That I may be reasonably happy in this life,
 and supremely happy with Him forever in the next.

The original form was written by American theologain Reinhold Niebuhr, probably in
the early 1940's.

It is a reminder to me that there is so much that I need to let go of on a regular basis, and that my focus needs to be on my own attitude and actions-the only things I truly have control over.

I love that the prayer mentions living one day at a time, and that hardship can be the pathway to peace. The hardships, challenges, struggles in my life have helped me realize my true self and have helped me grow in ways that a gentler path never would have allowed. I don't go looking for struggles and challenges, but the reality is that we all face them, minor and significant. Applying the Serenity Prayer helps me weather them.

Like most prayers, some lines aren't really the kind that stick with me. So I would suggest to you: "Take what you want and leave the rest." I find there is plenty to take away from this prayer.

Serenity to accept. Courage to change. Wisdom to know.

Have a good day!

Friday, November 16, 2012

What's Your Ringtone?

Today I am grateful for the voice of Natalie Merchant. I am also grateful for the convenience of a washer and dryer right down in our basement to make doing laundry easy.

What's your ringtone on your cell phone? Maybe you have several and know who is calling based on the song that comes on. I keep it basic. One ringtone for all. My first cell phone had Loverboy's "The Kid is Hot Tonite" as my ringtone for years. That was partly because I didn't know how to change it after my step-son put it on there for me, but also partly because I have always liked that song and it's ability to transport me back in time.

My next ringtone has also been longstanding, though I couldn't tell you how long. It is the song "Kind and Generous" by Natalie Merchant. (from her 1998 album Ophelia) That song meant a lot to me in 1998 when it came out. That was a big year for me: I got engaged, married, became a step-parent, moved to a different state, left a place I had lived, worked, and recovered in for 6 years, started a new path in my career, and my father died suddenly that October. I was already working on regular practice of gratitude, but still more in the novice stage. This song was a good reminder to me.Listen to it here. I am deeply blessed in many ways and through the many people who touch my life.

The song gets me out of myself and thinking of others who help, support, encourage, and push me. "Kind and Generous" is what I aspire to. Kind to others and self. Generous, not referring to money, but my time, attention, prayers, positive energy.

Does your ringtone have a story behind it?

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Seasonal Gratitude

Today I am grateful to be part of the "Voices of Hope" DVD project and to know that it has made a difference in the lives of breast cancer patients and their loved ones.

I am also grateful for the faith I have in God, in my Higher Power. I am still a work in progress when it comes to my faith, but it is growing and I am feeling it. Faith helps me see that I am never alone and that I don't have to have all the answers.

I do have a question today though. Why does gratitude become a more common topic only in November?  I get that Thanksgiving, the gratitude holiday, falls in November and that makes this month "gratitude month" to many. And to others it just makes Thanksgiving "gratitude day." And to still others, the gratitude gets lost in the busy pace, the stress of day-to-day stuff, the disappointments and the lack of hope.

Gratitude should not be seasonal, should not be the focus of one holiday. Gratitude should be DAILY. The only way we can truly change our perception of self and surrounding world is through regular practice of gratitude. I love Thanksgiving. It has always been a favorite holiday for me. But I get frustrated when there is so much talk of gratitude for a few weeks and then it just falls by the wayside again. It gets lost in the next holiday-Christmas-which is really about gratitude too, but you sure wouldn't know it with the way it is marketed and given such high expectations. (Not to mention the real meaning of the holiday being lost on many. The birth of a savior. The hope of redemption. Whatever your religious beliefs are, I think we can all agree that Christmas has lost much of its original meaning. I would argue that gratitude was lost along with it, replaced with expectations and a sense of entitlement.)

For gratitude to work in one's life, it must be more than seasonal. This is the driving force behind this blog. The substantial dividends only come with habitual gratitude.

If you don't already practice regular gratitude, use this month, this holiday, as a springboard to get you there. Keep on keeping on!

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Taking Actions

Today I am grateful for my earring selection and for sweat that brings endorphins.

Today's post is about taking actions. That is what gratitude is about. Like anything worth doing, there is effort involved.

How is your gratitude journal coming along?
Just fine. Thanks for asking. I write in it every day, early in the morning.

When is the last time you did an A-Z gratitude list?
Just this morning when I was exercising and the other day when I was walking Oliver.

How about a 3 x 3?
How about doing one right now? 
Sam, my son=
his laugh, his imagination, the fact that he still wants me to read him a bedtime story
This blog=
a channel for my writing passion, an opportunity to learn more about gratitude, a way to meet others I wouldn't have met otherwise
Cooler weather=
less humidity, layers of clothes to feel warm in, my favorite hooded sweatshirt

Written any gratitude letters lately?
Just mailed out #12 and #13 in the last couple of weeks.

The above are direct gratitude practices. Here's another action I would encourage you to take if you haven't already. Join the Dr. Susan Love Research Foundation's Army of Women and Health of Women Study. See the links below for more information:

Army of Women blog


Taking the actions makes all the difference. Have a good day! 

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Keeping Perspective

Today I am grateful for the first snowfall of the season and the chance to run in it. But I am glad it melted for now. I am also grateful for our dog Oliver and his reminders to me to slow down and take it easy each day.

After sharing Lois Tschetter Hjelmstad's poem yesterday, I wanted to share one of my own today. I wrote "Keeping Perspective" between rounds 3 and 4 of chemotherapy. Most of my hair was gone. The effects of chemo were adding up. I was getting closer to my final surgery-bilateral mastectomy.But all in all, I was doing well and feeling plenty of gratitude. And humility. Cancer is humbling. Accepting help from others is humbling. We were getting weekly meals from co-workers as I went through chemo. They were very much appreciated, and they were very much a lesson in humility.

Between the hair loss and the humbling experiences, this poem was flying around in my head. One day when I was at the gas station, it started to come out in lines. I took out a check deposit slip and wrote on it. I love it when a poem is just clamoring to get out. It is one of my favorites of the many I wrote during those months.

Keeping Perspective
What's sadder than
      Having cancer?
Not knowing you have it
     And it keeps growing
What's sadder than
     Losing your hair?
Losing your life
     And second chances
What's sadder than
     Being afraid to die?
Having nothing to live for
     And forgetting joy


I think it shows the place that gratitude had in my thought and healing processes. I hope it shows the power of the practice of gratitude. Have a good day!



Monday, November 12, 2012

Bed of Nails

Today I am grateful for a comfy couch to snuggle on in the early morning hours. I am also grateful for the book Fine Black Lines: Reflections on Facing Cancer, Fear and Loneliness by Lois Tschetter Hjelmstad.

I was first introduced to Lois's writing via a great blog I follow called Nancy's Point (http://nancyspoint.com/) She wrote a guest blog post there, as did I a few weeks later. Her blog post was one I could relate to, being about why she chose not to have breast reconstruction. Lois is a poet, author, speaker, piano teacher, wife (of over 63 years), mother, grandmother. I ordered the book mentioned above and read one zinger of a poem after another. She's my kind of poet. Here is one of those zingers:

Bed of Nails
if you lay
a blanket of joy
over everything
the spikes keep poking through
perhaps it would be better to
flatten the points

(Excerpted from Fine Black Lines, copyright 1993, 2003 Lois Tschetter Hjelmstad.
Used by permission of the author.)

This poem hit me straight on when I read it for the first time, and it continues to do so every time I read it. It speaks to me of what the practice of gratitude is really about and can accomplish. True gratitude can bring joy, and it does bring joy to me in big and small ways on a regular basis. But it doesn't gloss over the pain, it doesn't just throw a blanket of false joy over everything.

Gratitude flattens the points to make them more bearable-the points of pain, disappointment, loss, illness, fear. It hurts but I'm still mobile. I miss him but I so appreciate the time we had together. My submission got rejected, but I'll keep trying because I love to write. Point flattening.

From one poet to another, thank you Lois!

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Stubborn Hills, Stubborn Lisa

Today I am grateful to all of the veterans who have fought and worked to first gain and then preserve our freedom. Too many of us, me included, take that freedom for granted too often. Today I will try to appreciate that freedom as I go through my day. . . doing what I choose and feeling safe.

I am also grateful for time with Arthur and Alyssa, a run with Darcy, and the hills on our running routes.

I have always run on hills. The two farms I grew up on had hills. The river city I live in has hills.I like the challenge of hills, facing them with a "You aren't getting the better of me" attitude.Hills make good metaphors. Facing a cancer diagnosis, surgeries, and treatment was a series of hills to traverse. Not taking a drink when I really wanted the escape was a big hill to climb on many days. Practicing gratitude habitually can be an obstacle when self-pity slips in. Finding time to write in a busy day with many commitments seemed like a mountain at times, but has become much more manageable in size.

Hills are stubborn. But so am I. Being stubborn has helped me, but also hindered me. Most of us probably could speak to both of those aspects. I decided to take a look at the definition of stubborn.  Here it is:
1. a. Unreasonably, often perversely unyielding; bullheaded.
b. Firmly resolved or determined; resolute.
2. Characterized by perseverance; persistent.
3. Difficult to treat or deal with; resistant to treatment or effort: stubborn soil; stubborn stains.

The definitions in 1.b. and 2 are the type of stubbornness that serve me well.  1.a. will get me in trouble, particularly in places like marriage and motherhood. Cancer and alcoholism fit definition 3.But the right kind of perseverance and persistence can get me through. This is where the wisdom of one day at a time and the help of a power beyond myself can really help me climb.

I am the kind of runner who sees a hill and says "You're mine" and then starts climbing a step at a time. Some of the steps are painful, slower, but I keep moving. The view from the top is worth it.It's a mind game for me now. I won't walk a hill because I am just stubborn enough to keep plodding along. I will walk away from an argument or not start one in the first place because I have learned that that is the kind of stubbornness I can do without.

How is your own stubbornness serving you well? How is it hindering you? There is much to learn from both kinds.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

200 and Counting

Today I am grateful for time with friends in recovery. They inspire me, sharing the wisdom they have gained from experience. They help me get through the next 24 hours.

I am also grateful for safe travels for my stepson Arthur and his fiancee Alyssa, and for the time we got to spend together last evening and will have together today.

Earlier this week I surpassed 200 blog posts. As a beginning blogger and long-time writer, I continue to appreciate this avenue for my writing passion. It has broadened and deepened my level of gratitude as I have put more thoughts into words and more ideas into actions. It has also given me a regular outlet as a writer. Even if my blog is the only writing I do on a given day, and it usually isn't, I have given that 15-20 minutes of my time to honor the writer in me.

I did plenty of writing before I started blogging, but on too many days I would set out to give time to my writing, and then see the day slip away. Other commitments, other things that needed to be done, frustration that I only had a few minutes so "why bother?" I did end up disappointed and frustrated. I wasn't carving out the time I needed to give to writing. Thoughts and words would get stuck and jumbled, and maybe lost.

Starting the blog, and calling it "Habitual Gratitude" meant that I was going to make a regular commitment to posting. There has been a significant bonus in that commitment. I honor my writing every morning I sit down to create a post.(And evenings too, as I begin some posts the night before.)That need to write, that voice clamoring to be heard, gets the chance. That has made  all the difference. Writers write. This blog presents the daily opportunity I need to write.

The frustration and disappointment are gone because I can regularly channel my energy here. 

I write for me, but I also write for you. I would love to hear from you and encourage you to pass this blog on to anyone else you feel may like or need the message of gratitude.

Friday, November 9, 2012

Perspective via a Toothache

Today I am grateful for a laugh shared with my son Sam.

I am also grateful for a 7:15 a.m. dentist appointment this morning. Okay, grateful is a stretch on that one. But I am glad to have some idea of what may be going on. Unfortunately, there may be a root canal procedure in my future.  But it could be worse.

It could be worse. That doesn't sound all that optimistic, but really it is. I started with some tooth sensitivity over a week ago and had a few days of on-again, off-again toothaches. At times it hurt bad enough to take some pain relievers, which I seldom do.  I couldn't even pinpoint the tooth that may be problematic, as the pain seemed to move around some. (As I found out today, that is an indicator of nerve issues . . . I probably have a nerve that is dying.)  I made the dentist appointment early this week and almost cancelled it yesterday after it seemed better. I am glad I kept the appointment. I know now what is likely going on, and I am the kind of person who likes to know, even if it means unpleasant procedures may follow.

And the pain I felt with my come-and-go toothache over a few days?  Nothing like the chronic pain some deal with every day. Nothing like what some storm-ravaged people out East are dealing with.Nothing like what metastatic cancer patients face with endless rounds of chemo.

It could be worse. Perspective via a toothache. Onward!

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Fifteen Years Ago Today . . . A Life-Changer

Today I am grateful for the many journals I have filled with my thoughts, feelings, and memories over the years. They preserve the moments-big and small-that make me the person I am today. They help me recall details I would have lost otherwise.

One of those details is the day I met my husband Darcy. I knew it was either November 7 or 8, but my journal confirmed that it was indeed a fateful day 15 years ago TODAY. Our meeting significantly changed the course of my life and it has been so much for the better. I can't tell you how grateful I am to have Darcy in my life.

November 8, 1997 was a Saturday night and I planned to go with a friend to a singles dance in Okoboji, Iowa. I was 32 and my options for meeting men were limited. As a recovering alcoholic, bars weren't appealing. I wasn't a church-goer then. I took my job way too seriously at the time to consider involvement with anyone there.

I had had a few dates in the previous months, but nothing had panned out. I was frustrated on the one hand, but trying to put trust in God's larger plan on the other hand. I had reached a level of self-acceptance like never before. But I had some disdain for things like singles dances. I wrote in my journal "I am proud of myself-this is taking some courage-and getting over that 'only losers do this' mentality." It seemed you had to be pretty desperate to go to such an event, but I wasn't meeting anyone sitting at home on Saturday nights. My supportive friends urged me to go, helped me pick out a new outfit, then went home to their boyfriends or husbands. The friend who was going to go basically backed out, and my married friend Diane agreed to go. I appreciated her support and she played a key role that night.

When we arrived, I scanned the room and quickly caught my first view of the man who would become my husband. From across the room, I was attracted to his good looks, his physique, and what I called his "cute little intellectual glasses."  I was hoping one of the random dances would bring us together, but it took a ladies' choice dance and some serious nudging from Diane to get me to ask this man for a dance. I did. We danced and conversed and I was interested. The night wore on and I was happy with the risks I had taken to come to the dance and mix and mingle. I was ready to head home and I hadn't connected again with the guy in the cute glasses. Oh well.

So Diane and I headed out to my car. As we backed out, Diane saw him come out a side door. Maybe he was looking for me. She decided she needed to go to the bathroom. (Not really, but she's no dummy. Thank God!)  We went back in and I took the plunge. I walked over to Darcy and we talked some more and he asked if he could give me his number. We exchanged numbers-red marker on white pieces of paper-cherished forever in our wedding album. We began communicating shortly after that.

When we later talked about the night we met, when Diane saw Darcy step outside, he was indeed trying to spot me. Destiny. Thanks Diane! Thanks Darcy!

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

The Never-Ending Story

Today I am grateful for our cozy couch to watch election returns on last night. I am also grateful for the large family I have. We have a never-ending story.

One of the challenges of a big family is keeping in touch with them all. That is true of my family of origin, with 12 siblings, and now over 80 people with marriage, children, and grandchildren. And it is true of my extended family. My dad had 6 siblings, my mom had 7. There are dozens and dozens of cousins. I have some sadness that there is no way to know all of my family. I am close to some, have rarely even met others. That is a loss going both ways. But it is reality.

So when I walked into my Aunt Esther's Chicago apartment on Saturday, it was my first time there. I was fortunate to meet some of my aunt's friends who became part of their family. Sandy met Esther through work and her two daughters considered Esther to be their second grandma. Christina had known Esther, Esther's husband Carl, and Larry and Mary for decades. These friends knew my aunt in ways I never did. But as I told Sandy, there are many ways to define family and they are all legitimate. I was glad to meet these folks and hear them share stories and memories.

Larry and Mary wanted family and friends there to help go through some of his parents things and to take away items of meaning. I quickly realized that I have this in common with my aunt--saving lots and lots of stuff. It was fun to see treasures unearthed, to hear stories behind certain things, to see pictures I hadn't seen before. And in those photos, to see the younger faces of our parents, to see ourselves.

My own family didn't amass a lot of "stuff" as I grew up. Being a big farm family, we shared and got used to hand-me-downs. We didn't have a lot of extra space, time, or money. I simply don't have many treasures that belonged to my parents or grandparents. Maybe that is why I became a saver myself.  It was very meaningful for me to see the history in the things we looked through this weekend, to bear witness to the never-ending story of my dad's family-the story that began long before my father was born and that will continue with future generations long after I am gone.

I felt a bit like an interloper, but not because anyone else made me feel that way. In the end, I was so grateful to be there, to have made the trip, and to have some treasures to take back for my mom, myself, and siblings. Even though I wasn't part of the story with some of the items, just knowing that they had been my aunt's made them important to me. There is a deep need to connect generations of families. That is what was happening this weekend.

In the end, we had a fuller Suburban on the way back to Iowa than we did on the way there. But it wasn't just full of more stuff. It was full of more stories from our weekend together. Stories to add to the never-ending story.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

A Suburban from Farm Country Heads to the City

Today I am grateful to live in a democracy where I can freely cast my vote in elections. I am also grateful for rain this morning.

I hope the election is a smooth one and that those impacted by Sandy out east are able to cast their votes.

Now there's more to tell about my weekend. After my visit with Sheila, the second part of my weekend was all about family. But let me back up a little. I made the trip to Chicago with six other travelers. Three sets of sisters and a real sister. We took my sister Zita's Suburban and we needed all the space it had to offer, particularly on the way back. Our cousins Lois and Eileen (my dad's sister's daughters) and Joan and Rosie (my dad's brother's daughters) joined Zita and I. And the real sister? That would be my dad's sister, our Aunt Norma Jean. She's a sister of the Franciscan variety.

Leaving northeast Iowa and heading to Chicago, this particular group had never traveled together before. I really appreciated the time to reconnect with my cousins and to get updates on their lives and the lives of their family members. I appreciated more family history and stories provided by Norma Jean. (This crew was only a small portion of the entire family that started with my dad's parents.)  We laughed. We talked about lots of different topics. We appreciated the great driving weather and those who did the driving.

We took care of one another too-from driving, to packing and unpacking, to taking leg-stretch breaks. It seems we share a practical efficiency that our parents passed on to us as well. That would come in handy as the weekend progressed. It was a smooth and enjoyable trip to Chicago.

There was more family waiting for us. Our cousins Leo, Jean, and Kathy had also traveled there. We had been invited there by our cousin Larry and his wife Mary. (Thank you so much for the invitation, the hospitality, and your generosity.) The goal was to go through some of Larry's mom's things. She was our Aunt Esther, the eldest of the family our parents came from. She died in March of 2011 at age 91 after a long and full life. As is the case in a large family, Esther was one I didn't see that often, but I always enjoyed her company and her questions. You could tell she took a sincere interest in your life and enjoyed hearing about it.

More tomorrow about meeting Esther's Chicago family, unearthing treasures, and learning more family history.

Monday, November 5, 2012

Face to Face, Friend to Friend

Today I am grateful for safe travels over the weekend and for the opportunity to spend time with people I don't see often. (More about our special family outing tomorrow.)

One of those people was my friend Sheila. I hadn't seen her in over four years when we finally connected face to face again on Friday. We talk on the phone and text, but there's nothing like the real thing. The last time we saw each other was at our 25-year class reunion, after my first two BC surgeries and before I started chemo. A year ago Sheila was diagnosed with BC. We talked frequently and at length when she was going through treatment. It was a challenging time for her, and an opportunity for me to be her support. I never would have thought we would both end up with breast cancer, but we did. It added to our own life experience and it added to our already deep-rooted friendship. (Check out Life Saver #1  from April of this year at http://habitualgratitude.blogspot.com/2012/04/life-saver-1.html )

Truly, Sheila and I have supported one another in many ways over the last 30-plus years, often from across the miles. It was a long overdue hug we shared on Friday. Check out Sheila and I in my profile picture. Her post-chemo hair is coming back in curly, as sometimes happens. We talked about losing our hair and how good it felt when we stopped wearing our wigs and it was just our own hair. It meant we were on our way to recovery. We talked about a lot and would have kept talking if our time together hadn't run out. I was so looking forward to seeing her, and now I am sad because the time is over. But gratitude helps me keep it in perspective. I so appreciate that we have maintained our friendship all these years even though we haven't lived near each other since our college days. Many friendships fall by the wayside. Ours hasn't and won't.

I can't tell you how much it meant to me to be able to spend time with her and her family and to converse in person about our cancer experiences, our families, our history together, about many things that good, old friends talk about. 

I sometimes wonder how the heck we got here so fast, some 30 years after we met. But I thank God we got here and I thank Sheila for her part in helping me get here.

When we had to say our goodbyes, I thanked her for the difference she's made in my life, for continuing to make a difference. Now, as we face midlife. Then, when I faced alcoholism.

Thanks Sheila! Great to see you!

Maybe there is someone in your life today who you want to tell "You've made a difference. Thank you!" What are you waiting for?

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Don't Pollute the Morning

Today I am grateful for a fun and safe Halloween evening for my son and his friends. I am also grateful for the clothes in my closet. I have plenty to pick from.

Going back a couple weeks, I talked about coming across Sarah Ban Breathnach's book Simple Abundance  while staying at a B and B for my niece's wedding. The morning I came across the book, the quote for the day was by one of my favorite writers-Ralph Waldo Emerson.  Admittedly, I only read him in small doses, but I find so many of his words to be profoundly meaningful to me.

"If you have not slept, or if you have slept, or if you have a headache, or sciatica, or leprosy, or thunder-stroke. I beseech you, by all angels, to hold your peace, and not pollute the morning."

Don't pollute the morning. Every day deserves a fresh start. Every day is a fresh start if you approach it as one.

Complaining and negativity create a sour perception of the world. The world will look bleak and unfriendly.

Gratitude practice creates a positive perception of the world. The new day looks more inviting.

Don't pollute the morning.

I am heading out of town and won't be posting until Monday. But I will still be practicing the gratitude.  Welcome to November and have a nice day.