"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

Monday, December 31, 2012

It Took Me a Long Time to Get Here

Today I am grateful for my husband Darcy, our strong marriage, and a date night last night.

It took me a long time to get here. Not to this last day of 2012, rather to the place where I am comfortable, and dare I say confident, in my own skin. I'm both a slow learner and a late bloomer.But that was the only way I could get here. Shortcuts, fewer or different challenges, less stubbornness--all of those may have brought me to a different place, and I prefer to be right here, right now.

The years do seem to go faster, but I try to stay in the day and I appreciate each year I get. I am remembering those who died in 2012. For some it was a gift to go peacefully and it was their time.For others, it was a tragic, terrible twist of fate and it doesn't seem fair that it was their time. I don't live in fear of death, but I don't live recklessly either. Life is too precious.

Getting here also means a deeper humility. My ego wants to take the bulk of the credit, but I cannot. I thank my Higher Power and the many messengers that have been lined up for me over the years. It isn't so much getting from Point A to  Point B. It is more about the general direction of life. I was misguided, lost, wandering aimlessly in the figurative sense. Now, I have clarity and goals and faith and inspiration.

What gifts this day and this life are! And only possible for me through the daily focus on gratitude that continues to help me learn and blossom.

Have a good day!

Sunday, December 30, 2012

Reflections

Today I am grateful for sunshine and sledding.

I am also grateful for two songs with similar titles:
"Reflections" by Diana Ross and the Supremes
and "Reflections of My Life" by The Marmalade.
Both are from the late 1960's/early 1970's. I have always liked both and find myself listening to them on YouTube. They were on my mind today as I did some reflecting on the year that is winding down.

Reflecting tends to lead to randomness, so bear with me.

I am reminded of the late 1980's TV series China Beach (with Dana Delaney and Marg Helgenberger among others) that used "Reflections" for it's opening. I followed that show and I have rarely followed any show on TV. That opening song hooked me. "Reflections of the way life used to be. Reflections of the love you took from me."  I got sober in 1989. I could have been singing those words to alcohol.

Neither song has uplifting lyrics. "Reflections of My Life" has the line "The world is a bad place, a bad place, a terrible place to live, oh but I don't wanna die." But there is hope in those final words. More words I could have been singing to alcohol. But hope won out. Thank God!

Speaking of hope, I was reminded today, by a friend who had a tough year, that perception and perspective are everything. He lost his eye in an accident in May and in an instant his life changed. But today he could share his sense of perspective and humor that "he has a new view on life. . .literally." Thanks Dave!

Reflections make me think of mirrors. I used to hate mirrors and my own reflection in them. It was all about perception and perspective. I was full of self-pity and self-hatred. I would look in the mirror and say "You dumb, ugly bitch" and I meant it. I felt it to my core. No wonder I liked the numbing effect of alcohol.

But perception and perspective can change. That is where gratitude comes in for me. No single practice in my recovery has meant more to me than the practice of gratitude. To close out this random post, here are the words I wrote on this blog on June 26, 2012:

“Gratitude in action leads to positive results. Practice does not make perfect in this realm, or any realm. But practice builds a better perception, and that is worth a lot.

Doing this blog has been an ongoing blessing for me. I feel a deeper level of gratitude and appreciation for the many gifts in my life. I have more moments of calm, of peace with life as it is.

Gratitude will never take away all my struggles or make me immune to difficult emotions, but it helps smooth out the rough spots. It gives me a better view of the world and of my reflection in the mirror.”

 

 


Saturday, December 29, 2012

A Dove Promise

Today I am grateful for time with other people in recovery from alcoholism. I am also grateful for a nap yesterday afternoon. They are always a treat.

I was doing some cleaning out of my writing "stuff" yesterday. I have less space and more "stuff" than ever when it comes to all of my writing endeavors. Things get cluttered and need to be organized again. I have binders, books, and drawers for certain things, but they still get messy, just like some of my writing goals. During this minor cleaning out I came across a little piece of note paper on which I had written down these words from the inside of a Dove Promise chocolate bar:

"The more you praise and celebrate your life, the more there is in life to celebrate."
Love, Dove

Two of my favorite things are chocolate and words.

These words ring true and tell me to keep practicing gratitude. For the little things. Daily.

Friday, December 28, 2012

Able-Bodied and Alive

Today I am grateful for an enjoyable movie in "Parental Guidance." I am also grateful that my day yesterday gave me one reminder after another how fortunate I am to be able-bodied, alive, and living life fully.

I started my morning at the Y with my husband. I cranked up the treadmill speed and got the heart rate up. I definitely felt able-bodied and alive. That planted a seed I carried with me through the day.

Mundane events like doing the laundry, washing sheets, and making beds meant several trips up and down the stairs. I was reminded how these are regular jobs for me, and they require physical capabilities. What about those who would love to be able to go up and down stairs and make their own beds but can't because of physical limitations?

Next it was time to help my son clean his room. It was in need of some de-cluttering, dusting, and finding more storage space. Lifting, leaning, getting on my knees to store stuff under the bed, moving shelves and such all kept me in tune to my physical senses.

Gratitude made my perception richer and I found joy in the mundane. The seed of gratitude continued to grow.

Later in the day, Sam and I enjoyed some Wii Sports games and I almost pulled a muscle in my leg while trying to bowl. (Sad, isn't it?)  But I was there, with my healthy son, with my healthy self, and together we enjoyed ourselves. But just below the surface was a deep sense of appreciation for the little things that made my day big. Big in terms of feeling blessed. Deeply blessed.

We awoke this morning to a couple of inches of snow. I truly enjoy shoveling snow, so I started today again feeling able-bodied and alive. I never want to take my physical capabilities for granted. So many have disabilities or limitations they didn't choose. It is so important to me to continue to choose to take care of my physical self.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

"A Glad Awakening"

Today I am grateful for Wii Sports fun with my son, and for exercise that keeps endorphins flowing.

I am also grateful for my sobriety and the support I get from many in my efforts to continue in recovery.

Now that my A-Z days are done, for the time being anyway, I am going to switch focus to what I have been reading lately. I just finished "Betty: A Glad Awakening." It is from 1987 and is Betty Ford's story of her own recovery from alcoholism and prescription drug abuse, then the story of the creation and opening of the Betty Ford Center for addiction treatment.

I am a big fan of Betty Ford for several reasons. She redefined First Lady during her time in the White House. Just months after becoming First Lady, she was diagnosed with breast cancer and had a mastectomy. In 1975, breast cancer was still discussed in hushed tones. Betty Ford went public with her own personal challenges and in so doing, helped raise awareness about BC and helped bring it out of the closet. I applaud her courage and how that courage helped open doors of discussion and brought visibility to a terrifying disease.

When she went to drug rehab in 1978, following a family intervention, Betty was again open and public enough about her own struggle with addictions that she helped bring a stigmatized issue out in to the daylight.

I was 10 years old when Mrs. Ford was diagnosed with cancer and 13 when she went to treatment. Little did I know that I would share both of her diseases.

I read up a little on her biography. She was outspoken enough that some demanded her resignation as First Lady, but most found her openness appealing and her approval rating reached 75%. She was a vocal supporter of the Equal Rights Amendment. During the 1976 election some supporters wore buttons reading "Vote for Betty's husband." She gave Gerald Ford's concession speech that November because he had a bad case of laryngitis.

When she went to treatment herself, and then continued in recovery, she saw a need for more treatment facilities, particularly those that could focus on the unique problems of women alcoholics and addicts. That became the impetus to getting the Betty Ford Center going. It is now a very reputable treatment facility.

Thanks for the inspiration and courage Betty. Thanks for making a difference in two causes very near and dear to me.

The name of the book, "A Glad Awakening," is so fitting for those of us fortunate enough to survive our active addictions and proceed with a life of recovery and hope.

Betty Ford died in 2011, at age 93.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Zeal and Zest for Life

Today I am grateful for a relaxing Christmas Day and the simple pleasures of watching two of my holiday favorites: "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer" and "How the Grinch Stole Christmas." I am also grateful for the simple pleasures of my son helping make breakfast on Christmas morning and enjoying a cozy fire in our fireplace.

I have enjoyed going through the alphabet and picking words from each letter to give me focus for my gratitude discussion for the day. Like yesterday, I couldn't settle on just one "z" word, so today I close out the 26 days with zest and zeal.

Zest-keen enjoyment, relish, gusto

Zeal-eagerness and ardent interest in pursuit of something

Three pursuits come to my mind immediately as I write these two definitions: recovery, running, and writing. I thoroughly enjoy all three, though each present their challenges. And that only serves to enhance the zest and zeal. They require commitment, patience, persistence, but I never seem to run out of motivation or inspiration to continue, or if I do it is short-lived.

The heights of zest and zeal for each include:

Recovery-making a healthier choice than I previously made, including how I react and respond to others, getting to witness the growth and wholeness in others who share their recovery with me, a level of faith beyond any I thought I would ever have

Running-crossing the finish line of any road race I run, but most especially marathons and most especially those I finish side-by-side with my husband, the hours after 20-mile training runs when I can just relish in the accomplishment and in being done

Writing-this blog and what it has brought to me as a writer and gratitude practitioner, my first paid and published piece (December, 2010 in the Minneapolis Star Tribune Opinion Exchange) and those that have followed, the opportunity to be a guest blogger on two blogs (Pink Ribbon Blues and Nancy's Point) and the recent addition of a monthly column on gratitude in our local newspaper (Hastings Star Gazette)

All of these writing aspects have helped me believe in myself as a working writer, but more importantly, I have been a writer my whole life. The words first saved my life at the height of alcoholism and self-hatred and have since brought clarity, shaped my goals and dreams, and given me a voice I never knew I had.

If you are suffering from post-holiday letdown, are exhausted, feeling disappointed for whatever reason, I encourage you to list the things that you have the most zest and zeal for in your own life.

Write them down. Share with others. Pursue them in this day if possible.


Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Yule, Yardage, and Yesteryear

Today I am grateful for the family Christmas celebrations we have already had and the simple pleasure of playing games like "Apples to Apples" and euchre together.

I am grateful for the quiet and relaxing Christmas day that awaits. Our Christmas Day is usually quiet and we like it that way. Good food and a nap await. (Sam woke us up at 4:30 to let us know Santa had been here.)

As I wind down my travels through our alphabet, I had several "y" words that I felt like writing about, so it's a hodge-podge of randomness that will follow.

Yule was an obvious choice for today, as yule refers to Christmas and here we are at December 25. Yuletide greetings to those of you who celebrate this day. I keep my expectations low and focus on family time. I can't help but think of the devastated families in Newtown, CT who are facing a Christmas that must be so very difficult. And of anyone who is facing a Christmas without a loved one-because they are serving in the military overseas, because they died this last year, because rifts keep them apart.

Yesterday, in the collective sense, is full of both good memories and regrets. But recovery teaches me to not dwell on yesterday. If I have amends to make, I need to do that. But I can't live in resentment and regrets. I also can't keep reliving glory days or lamenting the good memories that have passed. If I do that, I will miss today and the new memories to be created.

Yardage jumped out at the runner in me. My favorite yardage used to be 880 yards. When I ran track in high school, the 880 was my favorite and best event. Two laps of fast start, settle in to a solid pace, then turn it on the last 220 yards. I still can relive some favorite races in my mind. But I sure wish I had some video coverage of those days. Now they use meters and 880 yards is an outdated term.

I don't usually think in yards when I think running distance, but I was curious about how many yards are in a marathon, so I looked it up. There are 46, 112. That means I have covered 461, 120 yards in official marathons. Millions and millions of yards over my 30-plus years of running. Wow! One step at a time. One yard at a time. This is also a good analogy and reminder to take life one day at a time and enjoy each step. That requires staying present.

And I close with yesteryear, referring to this last year, 2012, that is now winding down. I am a reflective person, if you haven't noticed, so year's end is always a time to consider the previous twelve months. What were the highlights? The low points? What goals did I accomplish? Which goals were abandoned?

There will be more to write on this in the coming days, but I am so very grateful for the push from certain people and for my sister's use of the term "habitual gratitude" earlier this year that led to me starting this blog. It has enhanced the power of gratitude in my life. Thanks for reading! There is much hope in what is yet to come.

Saturday, December 22, 2012

X-Rays

Today I am grateful for family time and our holiday celebration with our immediate family. I am also grateful for the A-Z gratitude list I did as I exercised this morning, and the story my friend Dorothy shared yesterday about her own A-Z gratitude list experience. (It may find it's way into another blog post.)

I knew there weren't many "x" words in the dictionary, but I was still surprised to find less than 75 filling less than two pages.  My choices were limited, but X-rays was the obvious choice for me. X-rays have played more of a role in my life the last few years. I started with a baseline mammogram in my mid-30's before I got pregnant. Before I hit 40, breast cancer hit my sister. So at 39 I began my yearly mammograms, nervous each time. I was called back once in the next couple of years. That was scary, but most call-backs come out fine, and that was the case. At 42, I got the all-clear on my April mammogram, but my doctor and the radiologist suggested a MRI. By now, my second sister had been diagnosed with BC, and along with my dense breast tissue, they felt a different look would be a good idea.The MRI found my cancer, which was likely missed by at least a couple mammograms, though we'll never know for sure how long it was there before the MRI detected it. Thank God for that MRI though.

After my diagnosis, I moved on to more x-rays in the form of a PET/CT scan. It is the CT part that uses x-rays. That first one was nerve-wracking. It would show if any cancer had spread elsewhere in my body. It was a huge relief to get a good report back on that. I have since had 3 more PET/CT scans, including a follow-up one 3 months after one showed an enlarged lymph node (which there can be many causes of.)  It was a bit unsettling, but again I got the all-clear. Then, I had a chest x-ray about a year ago that showed NED (no evidence of disease.)  That was the protocol my oncologist suggested and at this point she isn't recommending any more imaging unless there's a reason. I hope no reasons surface.

X-rays come with risks. They detect cancer, but also cause it. They kill cancer via radiation, but that treatment can also cause cancer down the road. That's the tough part about cancer treatment--the various side effects that can be dangerous in their own right.

My breasts are gone, so no more mammograms for me. If I face another form of x-ray down the road, I hope it's for a broken bone, because if it's for another reason, I will be one nervous patient.

If you have faced diagnostic tests of any kind, you know what I mean. The waiting is the hardest part.X-rays and their use have gotten more safe and effective, but I hope other imaging techniques are advanced as well.

Switching grears now, enjoy the pre-holiday weekend and if you find yourself getting upset, pause and do an A-Z gratitude list. I bet you won't even get through the whole alphabet before a smile returns. I will be taking a blog break until Christmas Day. Have a good day, unless you've made other plans.

Friday, December 21, 2012

Weather Watching

Today I am grateful for the changing seasons and the varying temperatures where I live. There are things to like about each time of the year. (And things to help make the things I dislike about each time of year bearable.)

I am also grateful for the interest and respect I have for weather and watching it unfold. That interest definitely runs in my family, with a couple of my brothers being particularly notorious for their weather watching. Then I married Darcy and he fit right in. Ask either one of us what the forecast is, especially if a storm is coming, and we'll be able to get you up to speed.

I think growing up on a farm gave us a fuller appreciation of all sides of the weather. We saw it across open fields. We spent time out in it daily.

It has become easier and more accurate to follow weather with the technology available. That is both good and bad. Many of you may understand the disappointment that comes with a projected snowstorm that moves too far north or south, or much-needed rain falling elsewhere.

But what hasn't changed is the excitement that comes with the first warm spring day or the first snow of the season. Weather provides a constant source of gratitude for me, because it offers variety and beauty and hope.

Weather deserves our respect though. If there was ever a reminder that "you don't fool with Mother Nature," weather is it. We never have and never will be able to control the weather, so it reminds humans of our small stature in the whole scheme of things. It's humbling and we need that.

I think about Superstorm Sandy, the recent blizzard that hit my family in Iowa, the windstorm that felled hundreds of trees in my community in June. I think about the post-tornado devastation I have seen and the 2007 hailstorm that shredded our gardens and trees and pelted our house so much that we got a new roof and siding.

Though it's not always friendly, weather is always fascinating.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Filling a Void

Today I am grateful for the Hastings Breast Cancer Support Group and my friends there. I am also grateful for my co-workers and the friends I count among them.

Void jumped out at me as I moved through words that start with a "v" in my dictionary.

Void-not occupied, vacant, containing nothing, being without

The word void first takes me to the thought of the void in my life that I used to fill with alcohol. That void wasn't as much a vacancy as a being without. I was without self-esteem or emotional health. I was without a clear identity. Add alcohol and the dis-ease becomes bearable for a time. In early recovery, the void remained and I didn't do what I needed to do, so instead of alcohol, I started filling the void with work. Way too much work. Not that workaholic is a clinical term, but I can tell you I was one. Now I try to do what I need to do and the void has been filled with healthier things like faith, direction, confidence, trust, openmindedness, willingness, gratitude, self-care and much more.

But as I think about the word void today, at holiday time, I feel for those who have a void left by the loss of loved ones this year. Those voids are real and may or may not ever be filled again. There are many ways to look at it, but I hope for healthy grieving and hopeful healing for those facing such a void, including so many devastated families in Newtown, CT.

And I end on this encouraging note. Gratitude is a void-filler of extraordinary value. It helps me focus on what I do have, thereby filling the void. Instead of focusing on what I don't have, which only serves to widen the void.



Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Ubiquitous

Today I am grateful for a walk in the fresh, cold morning air, and for Oliver by my side on that walk.

For the letter "u" I chose a word that I have always thought was fun to say--ubiquitous. Say it a few times, it grows on you. It means existing or being everywhere at the same time, constantly encountered, widespread.

When I hear ubiquitous, the first thing that often comes to mind is the presence of the pink ribbon for breast cancer awareness, especially during the month of October. It's everywhere from NFL players' uniforms to garbage receptacles. But I believe we need fewer pink ribbons and more action. Which leads me right into another plug for joining Dr. Susan Love's Army of Women AND signing up for the Health of Women study. They are two related but different initiatives to help pick up the pace and type of research being done to solve the mysteries of breast cancer. Let's make the pink ribbon less ubiquitous and the number of participants in research more ubiquitous.

Please take a look and join if you haven't. You need not be a cancer patient to sign up.

www.armyofwomen.org

www.healthofwomenstudy.org

In light of the time of year, and the tragedy in Newtown, CT, I would like to see peace and nonviolence become more widespread as well.

And let's do the same for the practice of gratitude-share it with others to spread the word and the good results that can come from it.

Have a good day!

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Seeking Tranquil Times

Today I am grateful for resiliency, on a personal level and that which I see exhibited by others, young and old. Gratitude is a producer of resiliency in my opinion.

I am also grateful that my journey through the alphabet has me coming across wonderful words I don't think about or use often. One such word is today's tranquil.

Tranquil-free from agitation of mind or spirit, free from disturbance or turmoil, unvarying in aspect; steady, stable

That is a lofty definition, a lofty goal to aspire to. But it is a good one. It is one I am slowly learning more about and experiencing in growing doses.

But it is also a stark reminder about those suffering today, particularly the families in Newtown, CT and that entire community. Tranquil times will be hard to come by for many grieving people for many days, weeks, and months to come. But if a moment of tranquility comes along, it will mean a lot. Let us not forget, either, the many helpers, both those professionally trained and those just wanting to be supportive, who have been a steady, stable, tranquil presence in the lives of the most devastated families.

In my own life, tranquil makes me think about recovery from alcoholism. I had a thinking problem that was exacerbated by drinking. The drinking is gone, the thinking can still be problematic. But I am more aware, and quicker to squelch the negative train of thought, quicker to avoid mental turmoil. Looking back, it seems like I went for years lacking tranquil times. I was always agitated in one way or another. Always regretting shortcomings or striving to prove myself. To who? Why?

Today, through daily efforts that include prayer, meditation, and the practice of gratitude, among many other things, I can identify a tranquil time when it comes. That is progress. I can also slow myself down enough to actually invite a tranquil time.

That is worth being thankful for.

Monday, December 17, 2012

An Anniversary and a Multitude of "S" Words

Today I am grateful for the simple pleasure of making Christmas cut-out cookies with my son using my Grandma's recipe. I am also grateful for this tradition, the other holiday traditions we carry out each year, and for new ones we create.

It is hard not to think about the people of Newtown, CT. They are certainly in my prayers. I am limiting my news time because it is just too disturbing, too unsettling.

I am breaking from my pattern and not choosing just one "S" word today. I am choosing several. I had considered calling the post "A Slew of S Words" but quickly disgarded the idea. Slew not only means "many" but is also the past-tense of slain. Like the innocent victims in Newtown.

Today, December 17, is the fourth anniversary of my third surgery to address my breast cancer--bilateral mastectomies. Here are some "s" words as I mark this anniversary. Surgery.Symmetry.Scars. Sacrifice. Sadness. Smooth sailing. It took time to get to that final phrase of smooth sailing, but I am here. I accept my body as it is, I wear prosthetics when I feel like it, I don't need mammograms. I am healthy and whole in ways I wasn't when my breasts were intact. But I will always remember the day I woke up with breasts and went to sleep that night without them. I will always remember the feeling of a strange vacancy for the first weeks and months after surgery. I will always remember the first look I took at my chest just minutes after waking up from surgery.

But compared to the trials and tribulations many must face on a daily basis, compared to the pain and agony that a community, a state, a nation is feeling over the senseless loss of life in Newtown, CT, this anniversary is simple.

Here are two poems that I wrote about my mastectomies. The first was written in the weeks prior to surgery, the second was written on last year's anniversary.

Goodbye Breasts
                      
You came forth
In my early teens
Moving me towards
Womanhood
I've carried you
With me
For thirty years
And now I have
To say goodbye          
                                   
You have covered                              
Every mile
I’ve ever run                                       
Leading the way
So to speak
And now I have                                              
To say goodbye

You have brought                                                       
Pleasure                                                                      
At intimate moments
You will be missed                                                     
Because now I have                                                    
To say goodbye                                                                      

Your greatest                                                              
Accomplishment
Has been                                                                     
Nourishing my                                                            
Infant son                                                                   
Feeding his body                                                        
And brain                                                                   
Connecting us                                                             
As only           
Mother and child                                                        
Can be                                                                        
But now                                                                      
I have to                                                                     
Say goodbye                                                               

I didn't always
Accept you
As you are
Self-conscious
As I am
But we were
On good terms
Until cancer
Came along
Now I have
To say goodbye
 
Goodbye breasts
 
(Lisa Valentine 12/6/08)
 
Three Years Ago Today
Three years ago                                             
This morning                                                
I headed to                                                     
United Hospital                                             
Prepared to say                                              
Goodbye                                                        
To my                                     
Cancerous
Right breast                                                    
And its partner
 
Three years ago
This morning
I wondered
What I
Would feel
Physically
And emotionally
At day’s end
And in the
Months to follow
 
But this morning
Sweat flowed
Endorphins rose
As I reveled in
The exercise
I can do
 
My spirit soared
And gratitude
Went off
The charts
As favorite
Songs played
And life
Went on
 
This morning
No regrets
About my
Decisions
And ample
Appreciation
For the
Healing and
Acceptance
That has
Come since
My breasts
Took their leave
 
(Lisa Valentine  12/17/11)
 
 

Sunday, December 16, 2012

A Robust Approach to Life

Today I am grateful for my family and their safety and for roadways that are now clear of last weekend's snow.

I am also grateful for the robust approach to life that I have. Robust-having or showing vigor, strength, or firmness.

I have always had a robust physical nature, leading a very active life in physical terms and rarely being sick or slowed down. I started out with a couple of hospital stays at ages 4 and 5, but until cancer came along at 42, the only other time I was in the hospital was when Sam was born. I feel strong and healthy today and for that I am very thankful.

But when it comes to the other areas of my life-mental, emotional, and spiritual-I was not always living vigorously and robustly. I was suffering from low self-esteem, active alcoholism, self-pity, and my emotional growth was stunted for a number of reasons. My thoughts were not very productive, my feelings were often bottled up, and my faith was lacking.

I am a late bloomer and a slow learner, but I am so grateful today that with the help and support of others, with a growing faith in my Higher Power, and with daily work, my life is robust in all areas.My thoughts are more positive and directed. My feelings are acknowledged and felt. My faith continues to gain strength.

Gratitude is key to my robust approach to life. It is an endeavor that pays back in how I feel physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually. It is an amazing gift if I work at it. This blog helps me work at it. Thanks for being out there. Have a good day!

Saturday, December 15, 2012

From Quest to Questions

Today I am grateful I was able to come home and hug my son yesterday. I am also grateful that my quest for spiritual growth continues.

That is the word I had chosen for today: quest. Pursuit or search. I was going to write about my quest to learn more about myself and to explore deeper faith. I was going to write about how my quest for daily gratitude has given me a fuller life.

And then I heard the horrific news from Newtown, Connecticut. My heart aches as I think about the parents who rushed to the school in search of their children. The huge relief the ones who found their children alive and well must have felt. And the incomprehensible pain and grief the ones who lost a child are waking up to today.

There are many questions that law enforcement officials are trying to answer. Questions that frightened children have for their parents. Questions about broader social issues like gun control and the availability of mental health treatment.

And any thought of gratitude seems tough to grasp this morning. But we need to grab on to it. We need to grab on to some good.

Friday, December 14, 2012

This Little Piggy

Today I am grateful for motherhood and the lessons it teaches me. I am also grateful for a job that keeps me motivated-at least in the hours I am at work.

I opened the dictionary to pick out a "P" word and the page I turned to had pig at the top. It sort of jumped out at me. Maybe I still had lard on my mind. The farm girl in me knew I would have a few things to say about the swine I was familiar with growing up.

Here are a few of my recollections:

*I saw baby pigs being born and recall a whole litter feeding at once. Sometimes a sow (adult female) had 10-12 little pigs suckling all at the same time. I saw some amazing things on the farm and the miracle of birth was one.

*We tried to ride pigs without much success. It's tough. There's nothing to hang on to and they sure don't like it if you grab their ears.

*I was a tomboy and enjoyed helping with farm chores. One of my favorites was helping my Dad make the "swill" that was fed to the pigs. I can't tell you for sure what it all had in it, but ground grain of some kind and water were key ingredients. I liked stirring it. It had a pleasant odor too. Of course, pleasant odor is relative when you are standing just feet away from a literal pigpen.

*You haven't heard a real squeal until you've heard the squeal of little pigs being castrated.

*Sows get protective of their young, just like other mothers. I am grateful for one such sow because of her role in helping bring to light a serious health condition with my Dad. I was only about 12 or 13, so my memory may not be totally accurate, but here's how I remember it. Dad was bitten on his arm by a sow with newborns. I remember seeing the bite mark on his forearm. When the bite didn't heal quickly or properly, tests were run. Artery blockage was found and at 54 years of age, my father had quadruple bypass surgery. He lived for twenty years after that. The way I see it, that sow saved my Dad's life and gave us those 20 additional years.

*And of course there was the game Mom and others would play with us when we were young.  Start with one finger and say "This little piggy..." and make up something like "did the dishes" or "swept the floors" and then when she got to the last finger she would say "And this little piggy went all the way to town" and run her fingers up our arm and tickle us. That still makes me smile.

And with that smile, I will close. In gratitude. Even for pigs.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Open-mindedness

Today I am grateful for early morning quiet and the playful quirks of our dog Oliver.

Open-mindedness is the word I have chosen for today. It is a challenging word for me. It is a word I aspire to but often don't live up to as well as I would like.

Open-mindedness means being receptive to arguments or ideas. I too often, especially with people like those I live with, tend to think that my way is the best way. I close my mind to other ideas because "why bother?" Mine's the best. Granted, we aren't talking about earth-shattering things most of the time-laundry, doing the dishes, cleaning the house, etc. But I definitely have work to do in this area.

In my teens and early twenties, which also coincides with the years I drank alcohol to excess, I was very closed-minded in ways. I thought my life was tough, unfair, and that I was pretty much a loser who would amount to nothing. I stayed stuck there, added alcohol, and ended up with an excess of self-pity and false pride.

I needed to open my mind enough to consider recovery and to seek help from others. I cannot conquer my addiction on my own. I don't know anyone who can. So my mind has opened to new ideas. I am a slow learner, but I am moving in the right direction.

Here is where gratitude comes in. Practicing gratitude has many benefits, one of which is open-mindedness. I hadn't really thought of it that way until I started writing this post, but it's true. When I practice gratitude, my heart and soul find the good in the world around me, the people I come into contact with, and myself. When my heart and soul open to the beauty of humanity and nature, my mind follows.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Nuzzle

Today I am grateful for the other bloggers I follow and read. They inform and inspire. I am also grateful for our warm, comfortable bed.

I am over halfway through the alphabet on my trip through the dictionary. I came across nuzzle in my search and knew that was my "n" word of choice right away.

To nuzzle is to lie close or snug, nestle, to rub or push gently against something.

The word immediately elicited this cherished memory. I breastfed my son Sam and found it to be a wonderful experience and a great way for the two of us to get off to a good start together. It is the ultimate parent-child bonding. I continued to breastfeed Sam for about eight months.

I absolutely loved the times in those first weeks and months after he had fed and would fall asleep on my chest, just a little, warm bundle nuzzling against me. I especially recall this memory sitting in the recliner in our living room in our old house. I would often fall asleep with him for a while. Those times were pure joy, joy that I felt intensely then and can still recall today.

When I faced bilateral mastectomies four years ago, and did some reflecting and goodbyes, this memory helped me appreciate the gift my breasts had been. I am so grateful that I became a mother and had the breastfeeding experience. My breasts are gone, but the treasured memories live on.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Just a Few Mementos

Today I am grateful for safe travels to and from Iowa and for the chance to see family members I don't see often. We stayed an extra day there because of the foot of snow we got here.

I am also grateful for the chance to record some more family memories as my Mom and I talked over the weekend.

I missed blogging yesterday, but the word I had already selected fits well with the weekend I had. That word is memento. It simply means a souvenir or reminder. I have a vast array of mementos, but I like to broaden my definition of memento out to include more than just physical items. Memories are also souvenirs and reminders of the decades I have lived. And of course, the two often go hand in hand. The physical item sparks the memory or the memory starts a search for the item.

The mementos I treasure the most typically evoke pleasant memories, but I also deeply value ones that may mark difficult times. Pleasant or difficult, they are all part of my story or the stories of those near and dear to me. I am a keeper and I have boxes full of souvenirs and reminders. I have become  more discerning about what I keep, but I still have many boxes and totes full. What will come of them? Time will tell. But I just got another idea for some more blog posts.

My profile picture is one of the mementos from the weekend. It is a snowman my son and I made in my mom's front yard. It was perfect snowball snow. Sam did the detail work. I brought back many mementos of my day Saturday. I spent a few hours with my two sisters Zita and Ruth and my sister-in-law Terri. We had a holiday baking and creating frenzy. We had a fun time, good conversation, and delicious results for our efforts. Many containers left Ruth's house to be shared with many others.Of course, I will enjoy a few of the treats myself.

When Mom got out her little Christmas tree on Sunday, we talked about the ornaments on the tree. There are several red, velvety balls that I remember from when I was little. (Siblings out there reading . . . maybe some of you recall them, or would if you saw them.) They are a little worn, but still a nice adornment. Mom told me that they had gotten those ornaments one of the first years her and Dad were married. A selling point was that they weren't breakable. Indeed. They are somewhere in the range of 60 years old.  I took a few notes in my journal about these decorations and a few other things Mom and I talked about.

Mementos and memories. I so appreciate capturing a few more of Mom's memories and the stories behind some of the things I recall from my own earlier memories. And I am grateful to be a writer with the desire to capture the memories on paper. Or should I say in a retrievable format that is more reliable than my own memory bank?

Have a good day! 

Friday, December 7, 2012

Lard Anyone?

Today I am grateful for my husband Darcy and for our marriage. I am also grateful for a bike ride in early December.

I am taking a break from the deeper, more intensely meaningful words today and have chosen lard as my "L" word. 

Lard-a soft white solid or semisolid fat obtained by rendering fatty tissue of the hog.

To think about lard for me to is to think about my early years. We used lard and mom rendered her own. I recall a silver canister that always had a supply of lard in it. We used it for baking and frying. If a recipe called for shortening, lard was our version. A small amount on the frying pan was the starting point for frying eggs. (Though I later decided I liked eggs fried in a little butter better.)

It worked and it was one of many examples of making good use of everything you had. I remember the smell when mom rendered lard after a hog had been butchered. It was a fine line between a pleasant smell and an unpleasant one. What was left behind after the rendering was something called "cracklings" and I think as kids we tried to eat them. Probably not the most advisable.

Lard takes me on a sentimental journey of sorts. Of course it is just one example of high-fat content foods that we used on the farm. Whole milk being another one. Today I use butter when I bake and Pam and olive oil for most everything else. But lard will always be part of my memory bank.

I will be traveling and taking a blog break the next couple of days. Have a good weekend!

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Kinetic Energy

Today I am grateful for recovery tools, like patience and tolerance, that help me approach my day on a more even keel. I am also grateful for the smell of brewing coffee.

The "k" word I chose on this trip though the alphabet is kinetic.

Active. Lively. Dynamic. Energizing.

Those are words I would like used to describe me.

Some random thoughts on kinetic today, as my brain is in random mode.

Active. I have always been very physically active and have rarely been slowed by injury or health issues. My worst post-chemo days and the first hours and days after my three BC surgeries were challenging for a number of reasons, but one was certainly that I couldn't be my usual active self. It impacted me emotionally and mentally in ways I wouldn't have anticipated. But those hours and days have allowed a fuller appreciation of my physical capabilities and I take them for granted less than I used to.

Lively. I love a lively conversation. There are several people, who shall remain nameless, that I particularly enjoy conversing with. We feed off of each other. We get deep and nitty-gritty. We run out of time before we run out of things to say. We give each other much food for thought. We validate one another's existence and thought processes. I love a lively conversation.

Dynamic. In motion. Changing. My writing aspirations and inspirations are a frequent source of kinetic energy for me. I keep getting more ideas to pursue. And often when I start to write, the energy builds and I get intense in a way that I love, in a way that tells me "Yes Lisa, you are meant to write. Be a writer."

Energizing. Many aspects of my life energize me. Many people I know and love energize me. Practicing gratitude energizes me.

Kinetic. Active. Lively. Dynamic. Energizing.

All good words to ponder today.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Juggling Life

Today I am grateful for sweat, endorphins, and moving meditation as I exercised this morning on the Nordic Track.

The word of the day is juggle. To juggle is to hold or balance precariously, to handle or deal with usually several things at one time so as to satisfy often competing requirements.

The more roles a person has, the more juggling, but sometimes one role helps balance out another.I am a wife, mother/stepmother, recovering alcoholic, writer, friend, sister, daughter, cancer patient, school counselor, colleague to name a few. I cherish all of my roles and take energy from each that I can give to another. Some days it may be the job that drains me and the runner that revives me. Other days, the family roles may both zap and inspire me. Giving time to my recovery and to writing on a daily basis gives me the perspective and the direction to "juggle" all the other roles.

I think sometimes I, and many others, can fall into the trap of juggling too much. The precarious balance gets off-kilter and something gives. That is when cutting back or saying no is not only helpful, it is healthy. Realizing and accepting there is only so much time in a day and it can't all get done helps me better enjoy the task in front of me versus rushing and stressing about all that I still have to do after this. The prayer "Slow me down Lord" comes to mind.

I also have to be careful of the "competing requirements."  Am I overdoing it and why? Some days and weeks truly are overloaded with commitments that are all a priority. But most of the time, if I am prioritizing with the right motives, I can let a few things go, or put them off until tomorrow, making the juggling easier.

And finally, I first titled this post "Juggling Act," but as I wrote, I realized that if it's an act there's a problem. I am probably letting the wrong motives sway me.  "Juggling Life" is a better fit and I appreciate the opportunity to do just that today.  Have a good day! 

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Irritable as Indicator

Today I am grateful for stability in my family and for the health that we have.

I can put that stability to the the test when I get irritable.

Irritable-capable of being irritated, easily exasperated or excited.

The potential for irritability exists in each of us. It is part of our humanness. I was prone to being irritable when I was actively drinking. I spent too much time, especially in my mind, wanting to get drunk or recovering from being drunk. I cursed myself as a weak fool. Darn right I was irritable!

Today, I am prone to being irritable particularly when I am tired, but also when fear takes over and everything becomes important and everything becomes a threat to the precarious balance my controlling mind has contrived. It is the tired irritable that makes me unpleasant to be around and often harsh of tongue.

I guess one way to look at it is that my level of irritability can be my inner compass. Am I tired and needing to keep my mouth shut and get some rest? Is there a valid danger or fear present that needs to be addressed? Is my irritability telling me to exit a situation? So irritable is not always bad. It can be an indicator and a guide.

"Getting in touch with one's feelings" is a phrase that has probably been overused and lost meaning, but it really is important to peel away the layers and understand why I may be feeling frustrated, depressed, angry, or irritable. Simply masking or hiding the feelings doesn't make them go away.

That is where gratitude comes in handy yet again. I often say the more grateful I am the less self-pity I have. And the less self-pity, the fewer other negative emotions. Practicing gratitude helps keep the layers peeled back and helps keep the more positive emotions closer to the surface. That is a gift.

Today, if I feel irritable, I will look to the cause. 

Monday, December 3, 2012

On The Horizon

Today I am grateful for a phone conversation with my friend Sheila and for a walk with my husband Darcy.

I am also grateful for the many beautiful and awe-inspiring sunrises and sunsets I have seen on the horizon over the span of my life. Horizon for my discussion today being given these two definitions: 1) the apparent junction of earth and sky and 2) range of perception or experience.

My traveling hasn't been extensive, but I have seen sunrises and sunsets near mountains and oceans. Still, I have to say that my most memorable views of the natural horizon have come close to home, close to the familiar. That is when I notice the play of light, the sun through the trees as the seasons change, the view out of a certain window. That is when I feel peace and ease surrounded by house, home, family and truly appreciate Mother Nature's spectacle unfolding. I do still hope to see more sunrises and sunsets on more travels though.

Horizon as it encompasses the range of my perception and experience has gotten broader and more beautiful over the course of my life. My emotional and spiritual journeys have found hopeful horizons after bleak and dark times. It is such a gift to have hope, to have horizons to be moving toward. Some days I am moving well and the view is good. Other days, it may be one step forward, two steps back, but I am still moving in the direction of my goals. And still other days, I may not move at all. But I find that if I am at least pointed in the right direction, facing that horizon of endeavor, I am still okay.

What horizon do you hope to broaden in your own life?

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Gleaning from Life

Today I am grateful for a nice day yesterday, taking in a little holiday shopping and seeing a great movie in "Lincoln."  I am also grateful for the promise this day, and every day, holds.

Part of that promise is the chance to learn each day. Learn more about who I am, about what life is really about. That fits today's word: glean. I have always liked this word and even look for opportunities to use it because I like how it sounds and I appreciate what it means. To glean is to gather information or material bit by bit, to pick over in search of relevant material. That doesn't sound like all that glamorous of a definition, but each day I glean something from is a day worth living.

Gleaning can refer to picking up grain left behind by reapers. How much do I leave behind each day when I am not paying attention? The relevant material and information I glean ranges from more love and forgiveness, more grieving and letting go, more acceptance and patience, more inspiration and motivation, more desire to learn and grow, more joy, more challenges. And more gratitude. Always more gratitude.

Don't get me wrong. To glean doesn't mean I pick up everything. It means find the wheat and leave the chaff. The key word here is relevant. To know what matters in my life, I need to be in touch with it. Practicing gratitude helps me stay in touch.

Go and glean what matters to you today.

Saturday, December 1, 2012

One of a Kind Fingerprints

Today I am grateful for the laptop computer that allows me to do this blog easily. I am also grateful for a cold glass of milk to go with my pre-run peanut butter and toast.

The word I have chosen from among many "f" words (smile) is fingerprint. There are many things about each and every one of us that make us unique, make us one of a kind. Our fingerprints are one of them. Thankfully, the only time I have been fingerprinted was for background checks to attain teaching/counseling licensure.

It amazes me that no two people out of the billions on the planet have the exact same set of fingerprints. Even the same person's fingerprints change slightly. That alone tells me there is power far beyond human power around us.

I am blessed today to feel comfortable in my own skin, to embrace my uniqueness. But it takes time to get here. It took me more time than it takes some, because I stunted my emotional growth for years while I struggled with my drinking and low self-worth. Sadly, some people never get to the place where they embrace who they are. They are too busy trying to fit some unreasonable mold or trying to be what they think other people want them to be. Such a loss.

When I began working on my recovery, I began to uncover and discover who I really am. When I got married and then became a mother, I discovered much more about myself. When I finished my first marathon, faced a breast cancer diagnosis, became a published writer, there was more to be revealed.

Follow your fingerprints and find the person inside.