"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

Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Fossils

Today I am grateful to wake up to a new day. I am also grateful for my fossil collection and the hours I spent in my youth searching for them.
 
That makes today's word fossils. Below is a picture of two of the fossils in my small collection. (I am grateful I was able to locate this collection. I hadn't looked at it in years. I knew I had it here but I wasn't sure where. It was in the first place I looked.) They were all found on one particular hillside on the farm in northeast Iowa that I grew up on. It was a hill above the creek in the area where the pigs got to roam. That was when farms had a lot of fence lines, unlike now. So the pigs had their pasture area and the cows had areas of their own. I climbed and crossed many fences and gates in my day.
 
Back to the fossils. If my brief research is accurate, the fossils below are Brachiopods. They are common in Iowa and belong to some sort of sea critter that lived inside this two-hinged protective shell attached to the floors of the warm and shallow seas that covered Iowa 375 million years ago. Wow! That is what always fascinated me about fossils: the story and the time behind them.

  
 
In ways, I was a lonely and troubled child, but my rock collecting was a fun endeavor for me. I combed that hillside many times and enjoyed the thrill of a find. Pleasant memories I am grateful for.
 
And fossils remind me to look carefully and closely for the treasures in my life today. When I am paying attention and focused on gratitude, these treasures of today are much easier to find than the fossils of yesterday were.

Monday, December 30, 2013

Faith

Today I am grateful for a phone conversation with my sister Ann and for spiritual growth that happens when I put daily work into recovery from my daily disease of alcoholism.

That brings me to today's word: faith. There are many definitions for faith. Two that I like are:
-strong belief or trust in someone or something
-belief that is not based on proof

To me, faith is about not feeling alone in facing what can sometimes be a harsh reality. It is about spirituality, not religion. But religious practice can help deepen faith and I know that it does for many people. Faith and spirituality are about relating to a source of power beyond myself. That someone or something some call God or Higher Power, but can go by any name you like. It's about a personal relationship, not an institutional one. When I trust that source of power to help guide my thoughts and actions, that is faith.

These are only my thoughts and opinions, but I can tell you that over 24 years of recovery I have learned more about faith than I ever did prior to that. I have had many teachers-some human, some life experiences-and for that I am truly grateful. The exciting and motivating part for me is that I see no end to what I can learn, how I can grow in terms of faith.

The second definition I mention above is likely referring to proof that is scientific, that can be put in numbers and shown on charts. That kind of proof of faith may be hard to come by, but I have ample proof in my own life that faith exists, that I am not alone. There is not space here to talk about the people I have met, the wisdom that has been shared, the God-made coincidences that have happened, the strength that was given when I had none. That's my proof.

In closing today, one of my favorite lines about faith: "Faith without works is dead." It's from the Bible, but I believe is universally applicable. My faith can only broaden and deepen when I take actions. Actions like keeping a gratitude journal. Actions like calling a friend in need. Actions like prayer on my knees. Actions like an early morning run. Actions like sharing "I love yous."

What actions help you grow in faith?

Sunday, December 29, 2013

Expectations

Today I am grateful for a parking spot when we needed one and I am grateful for the warmer weather and sunshine we enjoyed yesterday.

Today's word is expectations. My expectations of myself have gotten me into plenty of trouble over the years. I am the toughest on myself and can push myself relentlessly at times. But I am making progress. I am learning to be kinder and gentler with myself. I am learning to keep my expectations more reasonable and sane.

It starts with me, but I can also be tough on others with my expectations. I wouldn't verbalize the expectations. They were mostly hopes. But when someone didn't come through like I had hoped, or expected, I was disappointed. I am making progress here too, being kinder and gentler with others as well. 

One of my mantras is "expect less, accept more." It bears repeating. And repeating. And repeating.

Healthy expectations keep me motivated. Unhealthy ones exhaust and frustrate me. Yesterday I had an expectation that got me plenty of fresh air and a sense of accomplishment: getting ice and snow off of our driveway. I am a bit picky about our driveway in the winter. I will be out there at 5:00 a.m. shoveling snow when needed. I enjoy the shoveling, the fresh air, the exercise, the time of day; but I also give myself an expectation to keep the driveway clean.

A combination of factors led to a snow and ice-covered driveway for us for several weeks. I learned to accept it, but I didn't like it. The last couple days of warmer weather allowed us to chip away and reveal a good portion of cement again. Healthy or unhealthy expectation? Maybe a little of both, but I enjoyed the time outside yesterday and was joined by Darcy and Sam for some of it as well.

Today, I really appreciate that time we had outside in the "balmy" temperatures yesterday. It was 40 degrees and it felt good, as did the couple of miles Darcy and I ran out in it too. Now, we are thrown back into the deep freeze with below zero temperatures and dangerous wind chills.

At least I have learned to not have expectations regarding the weather. Other than I expect it will change and sometimes I will like it and sometimes I will just have to accept it.

Today I will try to keep my expectations of myself and others reasonable and healthy. I hope you are able to do the same.

Saturday, December 28, 2013

Endure

Today I am grateful for warmer weather to enjoy for a couple days before it gets really cold again, and for my friends in recovery and the laughter and genuine emotions we share.

Today's word is endure: to last, to remain firm under suffering or misfortune without yielding, to deal with or accept.

I am thinking about my brother-in-law Randy, my sister Zita, their children, and Randy's family as they mourn the loss of Randy's mom Irene, who passed away yesterday. She endured ALS for the last couple of years. Her family endured watching her weaken and worsen. There must be some solace in knowing her suffering is over.

I am thinking about so many others who are enduring current and ongoing pain, suffering, hardship.I feel care and compassion for them and send them positive thoughts and energy. In the process, I send myself reminders of how fortunate I am. I have endured the recovery of bruised ribs and torn muscles for almost a month now, but I am making good progress, and I am trying to keep it in perspective.

We cannot avoid suffering and hardship in our lives. But to not have to face it alone, to have faith through it, to see silver linings; that all helps us endure.

I am also thinking about endurance. About running a marathon one step at a time, one mile at a time. We build our endurance as we train for each marathon, feeling stronger, more prepared as we up our mileage. I hope to endure through many more training seasons and marathons. But I will start with today, with one moment, one step. Staying present and mindful.

Friday, December 27, 2013

Extemporaneous

Today I am grateful for the wisdom others in recovery share with me. I am also grateful for a more relaxed pace during the holiday break.

Today's word is a mouthful: extemporaneous. It is most often defined as a speech (or other action) delivered with little preparation; impromptu. One part of the definition better fits me and what I aspire to-a speech prepared in advance but delivered without notes or text. I don't consider myself a good speaker, but I will concede to improving over the years.

I appreciate the speech class I took in college. I think it was my sophomore year. It was a great class to push me to be more comfortable speaking in front of others. I grew up shy and introverted. Teaching for ten years required public speaking, so I got plenty of practice. I lacked confidence, however, and would sometimes shut my classroom door so those passing by wouldn't hear my attempts to interest my students in the subject of the day.

I appreciate the opportunities I have had in my current job to give presentations from time to time, particularly to my colleagues. A roomful full of educators can be a tough audience. It's been a good confidence booster for me. I also appreciate more recent opportunities to speak on the topic of gratitude to a couple different audiences.

If I am responsible for a presentation, I often will spend hours preparing for it and practicing it. That is what my comfort level is. That is what helps me go in feeling ready. But I always have my notes with me. Like a security blanket.

I can say that I have gained confidence and experience as a public speaker, but my extemporaneous skills are still developing. I am grateful for the chances I have to hone such skills, grateful for the chance to speak to others about things I have a passion for.

If asked to give an impromptu speech, I would pick gratitude or running as inspirational topics to me.What would you pick?

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Death

Today I am grateful for nice enough weather to enjoy our front patio with my husband Darcy yesterday. (That means the temperature was in the 20's. It's all relative) I am also grateful for our dog Oliver and the way he stretches before our morning walks.

Like cancer last week, I am picking a tough word for my last of the "D" words: death.

I am thinking about it after hearing about a man who was a year behind us in high school dying suddenly on Christmas Eve. And thinking about my friend Sheila's brother Chris who died one year ago on New Year's Eve. The two were classmates. Too young. So sudden. So very sad.

I am thinking about my sister's mother-in-law who has ALS. I am thinking of my brother-in-law who has Lewy Body Dementia. I am thinking of Lisa Bonchek Adams and others with late stage cancer.

The reality is we are each a day closer to our own deaths. That may be a scary thought, but it is also an inspiring one in my opinion. Life is precious. This day, this moment are precious. Am I spending my time living or waiting to die?

Check out this Greater Good Science Center article by Jeremy Adam Smith from November of this year titled The Six Habits of Highly Grateful People. The first habit is:

1. Once in a while, they think about death and loss

     Didn’t see that one coming, did you? I’m not just being perverse—contemplating endings really does make you more grateful for the life you currently have, according to several studies. For example, when Araceli Friasa and colleagues asked people to visualize their own deaths, their gratitude measurably increased. Similarly, when Minkyung Koo and colleagues asked people to envision the sudden disappearance of their romantic partners from their lives, they became more grateful to their partners. The same goes for imagining that some positive event, like a job promotion, never happened.
     This isn’t just theoretical: When you find yourself taking a good thing for granted, try giving it up for a little while. Researchers Jordi Quoidbach and Elizabeth Dunn had 55 people eat a piece of chocolate—and then the researchers told some of those people to resist chocolate for a week and others to binge on chocolate if they wanted. They left a third group to their own devices. Guess who ended up happiest, according to self-reports? The people who abstained from chocolate. And who were the least happy? The people who binged. That’s the power of gratitude!

I don't live in fear of death, but I am reminded that the two diseases which have impacted my life directly-alcoholism and cancer-are deadly to many people each and every day. Each day is a gift. I am reminded to live life fully. I don't live recklessly either. Life is far too valuable. Gratitude practice helps me see the value, honor it, protect it.

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Deal

Today I am grateful for family traditions and time together on Christmas Eve with Darcy, Sam, Emily, Oliver and I. I am also grateful for the simple pleasure of playing cards.

That leads to my word of the day: deal. As in deal those cards up! Let's play some 500 or euchre!Those are my favorite games to play at family gatherings. I grew up watching my parents play cards whenever "company" came over or when we went visiting. I learned to play at a young age. Invariably when my family gathers, there will be some card playing.

I appreciate that all you need are people and a deck of cards. Cheap fun! And we often spend plenty of time laughing as we play, though some are more serious than others. Darcy has learned to play over the years and enjoys joining in. Sam is even learning to play now, courtesy of his youth group involvement.

Then there's that other kind of deal. As in "let's make a deal!"  At our church services last night, the sermon was about sharing the Christmas spirit, and that the more we share it, the more we have. Now, that is a real deal! And that is also how gratitude works.

Sharing gratitude multiplies the appreciation. Today I will look for opportunities to share gratitude.Merry Christmas to all!

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Drift

Today I am grateful for safe travels over the weekend and for the chance to meet two new additions to my growing extended family. I am grateful for the time with my mom, siblings, and their families.

Today's word is drift. It came to me the other morning as I took a walk. Here is what I was treated to, just a few minutes from my mom's house:

 
 
Stunning beauty, courtesy of Mother Nature. Pristine snow, artfully decorating trees, against a backdrop of beautiful blue sky. The light snow drifted and landed naturally to create this winter wonderland. I felt deep gratitude for my eyesight and my mobility in that moment.
 
I was reminded of my younger days, when we would get enough snow that we could make tunnels in the drifts. Or when the wind-driven drifts were sturdy enough to bear my weight as I would go exploring across our farm fields.
 
I was also reminded of the other kind of drift; to wander from a set course, move away from. Are there healthy things I am drifting away from and need to move back to? Are there unhealthy things I am better off drifting from? Those are good questions as I reflect on one year ending and another soon to begin.
 
Honestly, the dangerous drifting has been away from good eating habits. It happens every holiday season and I let it. It will give me the impetus to drift back to healthier choices as we return to a routine and welcome a new year. But I am happy to report that otherwise I feel like I have stayed the healthy course: recovery, writing, exercising, committing time to relationships.
 
Does either kind of drift get you thinking today? Enjoy Christmas Eve, moment by moment.


Friday, December 20, 2013

Coincidence

Today I am grateful for our dog Oliver and his high cuteness factor after a visit to the groomer. I am also grateful for my family, near and far.

Coincidence is today's word. I was subbing at school the other day and saw this at a teacher's desk:

"Listen & Silent have the same letters. Coincidence?"

I had never seen that before. It really struck me. You can't be a good listener if you can't be silent. That applies to conversations with other people. But for me, it also applies to my conversations with my Higher Power. As I meditate, I try to remain silent so I can hear what comes through. It is a skill I struggle with, but I am making progress. Just slowing down and trying to be quiet is a good start.

I am grateful to be someone others feel they can talk to. I like listening. I have learned to be patient in the listening. So many times, we want to jump in and suggest something or offer advice. Often, the other person simply wants a caring ear. They will reach their own answers as they talk it through.I try not to try too hard when I listen. I am also grateful that I have a job that allows me to hone and practice my listening skills.

Everyone deserves to be heard, to have a true listener. There is a quote from Sue Atchley Ebaugh that reads: "The greatest gift we can give one another is rapt attention to one another's existence." I love that. That is true listening, and it requires more than ears.

As coincidences go, I am grateful for the many small and big ones in my life. It may have been a phone call just when I needed it, a song on the radio that made me laugh or tear-up, meeting someone new. I like to call them GMC's--God-made coincidences. I heard that from a friend in recovery. GMC's give me faith and hope, and those are gifts.

What coincidences come to your mind today?

I will be taking a blog break and be back next week. Enjoy the holiday time.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Cancer

Today I am grateful for my job and for the drug Tamoxifen. I have taken it for nearly five years. It is a proven medication for people with my kind of breast cancer and can help prevent recurrence.

Speaking of cancer, that is the word I have chosen for today. It isn't an upbeat word, but it does get people's attention, especially after they or someone they care about has been diagnosed with it. There are no gaurantees for any of us who have already had it and fear it returning, or those who are fearful of getting it in the first place. Cancer is wily and remains a mystery. There is no cure. It may seem like progress is being made, and in terms of treatment, it is. More is being learned, but a cure remains elusive. Cancer remains deadly to hundreds of thousands each year.

If you want to read an excellent blog by someone currently looking advanced stage cancer in the eye, read Lisa Bonchek Adam's blog. I have referenced it here before. Here is her latest post. In it, Lisa talks about CT scan results that brought more bad news than good, and a clinical trial she has to stop participating in. Her voice is genuine and real, her words straightforward. Simply put, she tells it like it is.

Here are a few words from the post mentioned above:

As many of you already know, my first tweet of each day is a mantra I’ve written: “Find a bit of beauty in the world today. Share it. If you can’t find it, create it. Some days this may be hard to do. Persevere.” I love to start my day with that saying each morning. It centers me.

Meaningful words for anyone to apply to this day. All any of us get is today. Lisa Adams is dying of cancer. She knows her days are limited. How many of us take this day for granted?

Gratitude practice helps me remember the gift of today. I will look for the beauty in it.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Cookies

Today I am grateful to be able to run a little again as I recover from my bruised ribs. I am also grateful to have some patience and acceptance.

Today's word is cookies. I have been doing some holiday baking, specifically two recipes from my Grandma Shindelar. She was my mom's mom and I have very little memory of her. She died when I was 5 years old. I don't have memories to connect me with Grandma, so the recipes are the next best thing. I try to make two of her recipes each year; chocolate star cookies and Christmas cut-outs. My son Sam helps me each year too, though I know that may not always be the case. He helps in shorter spurts these days, but he still anticipates batches of both each year, and I am happy to oblige.

I do enjoy indulging in the cookies myself. Amazing how good flour, butter, sugar, and eggs can taste. Of course, things like peanut butter, chocolate stars, and frosting are nice accents.

But I also enjoy sharing the cookies with others. My co-workers have gotten used to seeing them each year. My recovery friends were enjoying them the other night too. It's not surprising that they would go over well with a group that generally has a sweet tooth. (In case you didn't know, alcohol has a lot of sugar in it, so we find other sources now in recovery.) It's fun to share and I appreciate the compliments on the cookies. It brings me back to that connection with Grandma. She is long gone, but her recipes lives on.

Cookies. Just simple cookies. Nothing too flashy. But bringing gratitude in their own little ways.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Bosom

Today I am grateful for my job and for help from a friend last evening after I forgot my purse and it ended up behind locked doors I had no keys for. Thanks Greg!

Bosom is today's word. I was more intentional about the choice for today because it is the 5th anniversary of my bilateral mastectomies. It sometimes boggles my mind that it has been five years already. It sometimes is hard to remember what it was like to have breasts. But I can beckon memories of my breasts if given time, and such memories are bittersweet.

Check out my blog post from this day one year ago here.

I was not that bosomy. I wore a size 38C bra. And I was never one to flaunt my bosom. If you saw my cleavage, it was either an accident or I was in a swimsuit. I am more at ease, though ease is a relative term, showing someone my mastectomy scars than I would have been showing someone my breasts. I was neither proud of nor ashamed of them. I just wasn't all that confident in my physical features.

Five years later, I have some hard-earned confidence. Confident that I made the right decision for me. Confident that in my flatness I make a statement about health, wholeness, and moving forward.

I am grateful for my portable bosom, a.k.a. my prosthetics. They work for me when I need them and wait for me when I don't. They have helped me keep my wardrobe, especially my work wardrobe, in use.

And I always feel deeply blessed on this anniversary, any anniversary. I am still here to mark anniversaries, to celebrate birthdays and other notable milestones. I am still here to live this day. Blessings. All of them.

Monday, December 16, 2013

Brevity

Today I am grateful for phone conversations and text messages to keep me connected with friends and family. I am also grateful for my grandma's chocolate star cookie recipe.

Today's word is brevity. Shortness of duration. Conciseness of expression.

I could use more brevity at times. In my blog posts. In my other writings. Regarding my to-do list.I strive for brevity in my forays into stinking thinking, self-pity, and lack of faith. I can't seem to avoid such forays entirely, but I don't have to wallow in them anymore.

It doesn't take but a few seconds to consider a couple of things to be grateful for each day. That is really all it takes to start changing one's perspective. Daily gratitude practice and daily brevity can be compatible. On some days, there is more to say and that's okay. On other days, short is fine.

If you are feeling at all like I am today, short is good. Both time and energy are limited because of the many directions I am feeling pulled in.

So I will just leave it at this, borrowing some words from Brother David Steindl-Rast:

Gratefulness, even in small doses, is the ticket to the great fullness of life.



Sunday, December 15, 2013

Assuage

Today I am grateful for the food, clothing, and shelter that my family and I have. I too often take such things for granted.

Today's word is assuage. It is a word that has always intrigued me, but I don't use it often. That may explain why I have been pronouncing it wrong. To hear the correct pronunciation, click here.

Assuage has these main definitions:
-to lessen the intensity of (something that pains or distresses): ease
-pacify, quiet
-to put an end to by satisfying: appease, quench

The first definition is the one I am most familiar with. I wish I could assuage my sister's pain and grief as her husband slips away with Lewy Body Dementia. I can only be a source of support via phone calls and emails, and I will continue to do so.

That is just one example of how I can try to be a good family member, friend, listener, and in the process possibly help assuage another's pain. (And in my own home, remembering to keep my mouth shut when opening may amplify hurt, not assuage it.)

I have learned, in part, to ease my own pain and frustration when I start to spin too fast through my day. I slow down. I remember my priorities. I ask myself: "How important is it really?"

My heart and soul, which used to be both assuaged and assaulted by alcohol and negative thinking, is now quieted through prayer, meditation, active gratitude practice.

And the hungry writer in me, who strives for more time and energy to put into my writing, has been assuaged by this very blog. Daily focus for my gratitude and my writing. Spiritual thirst quenched.

What does assuage bring to your mind today? How does that tie in with gratitude?

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Amplify

Today I am grateful for extra energy yesterday afternoon and evening to give to holiday preparations like shopping, getting cards and letters out, and making treats. I am also grateful to help at our church today for a special holiday outreach project.

Today's word is amplify: to increase, strengthen, add to. My first recollection of that word growing up is when people would talk about good amplifiers for their stereo systems. I do like my music loud at times, especially when I am alone in my car, or if a certain song hits me at the same time as a certain emotion. The volume amplifies the listening experience for me. I appreciate the technology that now creates great sound in small packages. No more big speakers needed, though they used to double as little table tops.

A funny college memory I recall: During our sophomore year, my roommate Deb had a couple such speakers in our dorm room. I don't remember what she had put on top of one of them, but one evening we were playing Twisted Sister's "We're Not Gonna Take It" a bit too loud with some of our other friends down the hall. The speaker shook enough to knock the item off. That was the kind of song that amplified the fun when shared in a rowdy group setting.

I was thinking of amplify this morning as I walked Oliver. We had gotten a dusting of fresh snow overnight. The snow amplified the light in the darkness and decreased the sound. It made for a nice early morning walk.

I am so blessed today to have so many things that amplify my life experiences on a daily basis and bring me more happiness and contentment. Gratitude practice allows me to notice the amplifiers, appreciate them, human and other, and cherish them for the gifts they are.

Amplify your level of attention today and see what you notice. I'll do the same.

Friday, December 13, 2013

More Gifts of Words from A-Z: Alone

Today I am grateful for my reading and writing abilities and that I have opportunities to use them daily.

Last year at about this time, I did a series of blog posts on different words from each letter of the alphabet. I called it "The Gift of Words From A-Z." Here is the description I have in my post from November 26, 2012, the day I started my word journey through the alphabet:

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.


I am back to perusing each letter, and if more than one word grabs me, I will give a letter of the alphabet more than one post.

I begin with the word alone today. I used to feel alone as an active alcoholic. No one understood my pain. No one loved me enough. No one could make me quit drinking. Alone with alcohol. We were not a good pair. Sure I may have been around others, I may have even been laughing and having a good time, but by the end of the night I was alone with my disease.

Feeling alone has also fit me as a cancer patient. Even though I had sisters and friends who had been or were going through some of the same things, I went into surgery alone. I was the one who got the IV chemotherapy. I was the one who had her breasts removed. I was alone with my fear of the unknown. I still can be.

So I know the alone that leaves us wanting contact, that leaves us feeling disconnected. The alone that is associated with fear and other tough emotions.

But I want to close by talking about the alone that I am grateful for today. I am grateful to drive alone on my commute to and from work. I get 30 minutes (or twice that on icky winter commutes) to myself to and from work, an hour to reflect, to listen to what music I want to listen to as loud as I want it playing. I am grateful to have time alone in my house in the early mornings. My family is sleeping upstairs and our dog Oliver is hanging out with me, but I am alone with the quiet and have some time to write. I prefer to write alone and pray alone. I like to take some of my runs alone. I appreciate the alone time I get because it doesn't happen that often. I'm an introvert. I need that time.

What does the word alone have you thinking about?

Have you tried an A-Z gratitude list? If not, why not start now?

Thursday, December 12, 2013

A Lot of Work, A Lot of Joy

Today I am grateful for warm boots and hooded sweatshirts. I am also grateful for laughter, even if it still hurts a little when I laugh.

The phrase that is my post title today was something I heard in the context of a person talking about a new puppy his family had gotten.  "A lot of work, but a lot of joy."  It struck me immediately when he said that . . . isn't that really all of life?  It takes work, but there is plenty of joy?  And I believe the joy is in the work; the day to day strivings to live life, love others, pursue goals, remain healthy, and follow our hearts.

I think first about the work I do in recovery from alcoholism. Sometimes it does seem like work, drudgery, same old, same old. But more often, the work I do opens doors, gives me hope. To be comfortable in my own skin and to wake up with a purpose are joys that recovery brings.

As I thought further, I realized that all the things that matter most to me fit this description of "a lot of work, a lot of joy."

Running. Writing. Parenting. Marriage. Faith. Friendships. My job.

All joy all the time? No. All work all the time? No. But if I love (or at least like) what I am doing, it doesn't seem like work.

And I will wrap up by returning to my comment from the end of my blog post yesterday. The quick fixes and instant results we are sold are lies, traps. Life wasn't meant to be easy and convenient. What do we learn from that? It also wasn't meant to be an uphill climb 24/7. I strive for some sort of balance between the two. I feel satisfied and my life has more meaning when I am doing meaningful things, not looking for shortcuts. I appreciate the work ethic I was raised with, though it can have traps too. I am concerned for those who feel entitled and aren't learning that the joy is in the work.

I will do my part today to enjoy the work of living and the joys that come with that effort.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Incremental Improvement

Today I am grateful for my glasses; the old pairs that I can run in but have to take off to read and my newest pair of progressive lenses. I am also grateful for my sight. It needs some assistance, but still works very well.

As my bruised ribs and torn muscles slowly heal and feel better, I am thinking about incremental improvement. Most things that need improving don't happen overnight. But if I can notice and appreciate the improvment by increments, I am given hope. I am given enough to keep me plugging along.

Recovery from alcoholism is about incremental improvement for me. It's about changing my stinking thinking to more sane and positive thinking. I couldn't have imagined 24 years ago that I could feel like I do today-about myself and my life. Patience. Acceptance. Daily work. The improvement continues, sometimes slowly, sometimes in flashes of insight.

Recovery from bilateral mastectomies offered more incremental improvement. I was motivated to keep doing my physical therapy exercises because I noticed the improvement from day to day and week to week. I felt less pain. I could reach further, higher. The healing didn't happen rapidly. It couldn't.

If I am having a tough day, noticing a few good things can bring incremental improvement to my attitude, to my perception.

I am saddened and concerned about all the messages we get in our culture about quick fixes and instant results. They are traps. I will talk more about that tomorrow.

For today, I will work on improving my attention to the gifts that surround me.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Roses and Thorns

Today I am grateful for the exercise bike we have in our basement and that I could use it comfortably this morning. I am also grateful for sensible drivers who share the road with me.

The following was a recent quote in my gratitude journal:
"Some people are always grumbling that roses have thorns; I am thankful that
thorns have roses."  (Alphonse Karr)

Karr was a French writer and journalist who lived in the 1800's, but this quote seems timeless.It's all in how a person looks at things. Perspective. Perception.

If I look for negative, I will find it. But the converse is true as well. If I look for the positive, I will find it too. Where do I prefer to go looking? For the thorns or the roses?

Gratitude practice helps me keep the focus on looking for roses, looking for what is going well, what I can be thankful for in this moment, this day, my present life circumstances. It doesn't mean I naively choose to only look for the positive and deny that things can be tough at times. The thorns can't be avoided entirely. They are part of life.

But when I am paying attention, as practicing gratitude requires, I see more thorns before I hurt myself on them. And the ones that can't be avoided? They don't seem to cut as deep and painfully. The scars heal more quickly.

This quote also reminds me to endure through a difficult time. Sometimes the thorn is there for a while before the rose is revealed. Gratitude practice teaches me to hang in there, to have hope. It teaches me to have faith in the dark until more light dawns.

Roses or thorns? Which are you looking for today?

Monday, December 9, 2013

Somebody to Love

Today I am grateful for my husband Darcy and the 16 years over which our relationship has grown and evolved.

Sometimes a wave of gratitude hits me when I wasn't even looking for it. The more I practice gratitude and the more I am aware of the gifts surrounding me, the more this seems to happen out of the blue. Yesterday it happened when I heard a song on the radio in my car. That song was Queen's "Somebody to Love."  Listen to it on YouTube here.

Not only do I appreciate plenty of Queen's music, I appreciated the gratitude this particular song sparked yesterday. I thought of my husband Darcy, how solid our marriage is, how much I love him, how much my life has changed and grown since we met in November of 1997. A wave of gratitude hit.

I met Darcy when I was 32. I hadn't given up on finding the love of my life, but I wasn't holding my breath either. In the weeks or months prior to meeting Darcy, I remember being out for breakfast with my friend Ellie. She pointed out a saying on a perpetual calendar in the restaurant we were in. The saying was "God's delays aren't necessarily God's denials." She was trying to offer encouragement and hope. It turns out it was true for me. And I think Darcy would agree that we both met when we were meant to. We had each been through some life experiences that had brought us to a healthier place, more ready for a relationship.

It has worked out well for the two of us. Our lives and our marriage aren't perfect. Whose is? But we do well together in so many aspects and we have a true partnership. We have passion and compassion, shared likes and concerns, common goals.

I always had love in my life. I just didn't always recognize it or accept it. Family and friends showed me love and support, even when I was distant and sick with alcoholism. But a spouse, a marriage is a different kind of love.

I am deeply blessed to have found somebody to love in Darcy. My life has changed and blossomed in so many ways since that night 16 years ago.


Sunday, December 8, 2013

All Walls Have Doors

Today I am grateful for the community we live in and the many services it has to offer. I am also grateful for the ease of using pictures stored on CDs.

I have one more Seattle Marathon tidbit to blog about. I enjoy reading the signs that people will hold along a marathon route. Seattle didn't have a ton of spectators or signs, but of those I saw, my favorite was a sign around mile 18. It was posted several feet up on a tree trunk and written plainly on a piece of cardboard. No one was near the sign when I saw it. It said "All walls have doors." It really resonated with me at that point in the race. My legs were tired and I knew there were hills ahead.

Running a marathon is as much a psychological undertaking as it is a physical one. Many are familiar with the phrase "hitting the wall" being used to refer to the point in a marathon or other race where the runner encounters serious fatigue. I have hit that wall on long runs, but for me it has been a wall I could climb over, run around, or through.I have never hit the wall so hard that I had to stop. Walk maybe. Stop no. But I am not running competitively, nor am I pushing myself to go as fast as I can. I am trying to maintain a pace that will carry me through. (That sounds like a good philosophy for my days too.) I can understand why some who do run for time, who are truly racing, may have a different experience with hitting the wall.

When I saw the sign "All walls have doors" I began to think more about life in general, beyond a runner's wall. What walls have limited me in my life? Were they real walls or just in my head? How did I find the doors? I kept moving. I kept trying. Trying to quit drinking on my own was one wall I could not scale, one wall that seemed high, formidable, and with no doors to be found. I failed time and time again. Only when I had "hit" that wall enough times, felt enough pain, and bruised my ego enough did I finally surrender and seek help. Surrendering started to crumble the wall. Sobriety helped me see doors that may have been there all along. I kept moving. I still keep moving and taking daily actions to avoid hitting the wall of active alcoholism again. I am grateful for what the walls in my life have taught me and continue to teach me. I am grateful to those who have helped me find the doors.

What are the walls in your life? Have you been looking for the doors? Have you found one but are afraid to open it? Take a leap of faith today and open it.

Saturday, December 7, 2013

Savor

Today I am grateful for a conversation with my friend Jill yesterday and for our dog Oliver and his personality. He makes me smile daily.

I was reminded yesterday, from some of my recovery friends, how simple and yet how important it is to savor the little things as much as the big. Maybe even moreso. The big things to savor don't come along every day. The little things are in ample abundance at all times. Laughter among friends. The beauty of ice crystals on tree branches. Being able to painlessly put one foot in front of the other.

Revel. Relish. Savor. The marathon experience is behind us now for another year. The reveling is winding down. I will continue to relish and savor the big picture: Darcy and I have been able to run and complete 11 full marathons. But I will do more relishing and savoring of the little things: being able to get back to running when my ribs and muscles feel better, being able to get in and out of my own bed without pain, sitting in the recliner enjoying our Christmas tree, conversations with friends.

Savoring and gratitude practice go hand in hand. It is referenced in articles found at the Greater Good Science Center's website, including this one by social psychologist Fred Bryant. The GGSC at the University of California, Berkeley is a great repository of information and suggestions regarding gratitude and other topics such as alturism, compasssion, empathy, forgiveness, happiness, and mindfulness. Start here to find out more.

My plan for the day today? Seize the moments, then savor them. Smell the coffee. Really smell it.Hear the noises in the gym where Sam will be wrestling. Really hear them.Feel the brisk, cold air. Really feel it. Taste the food I am blessed to have.Really taste it. See the good in the world. Really see it.

Friday, December 6, 2013

Relish

Today I am grateful for warm blankets on a cold night. I am also grateful for the life of Nelson Mandela and the difference he made, not only in South Africa, but around the world.

It hasn't exactly been a week of relishing our marathon experience and finish, what with exhaustion, busy days at work, a sneeze that was more than a sneeze. But relish can be more than an action. It also happened to be the name of the restaurant in our hotel last weekend: the Relish Burger Bistro in the Westin Seattle.

We enjoyed two meals there, the first on Thanksgiving evening and the second was our post-race meal on Sunday. I relished both meals for different reasons. On Thanksgiving, I was relishing our safe arrival, time with family, and the beginning of our time in downtown Seattle. On Sunday, I was relishing the fact that we had finished marathon #11.

A strong hunger hits me a few hours after completing a marathon. I satisfied that hunger with the same menu item from Thursday. It was a burger and seasoned potato tots. More specifically the bacon & egg burger and potato tots tossed with parmesan and herbs. I have had plenty of bacon cheeseburgers in my day, but never with an egg added. It was very good. I have always been a fan of burgers.

The Relish Bistro wasn't the only thing we relished at the Westin. Our city views from the 33rd floor were great. The lobby ambience was inviting. The marathon expo on the 4th floor was easily accessible to us. Our rooms were clean and the beds were comfortable. I am a farm girl at heart. Spending time in a major city's downtown is always worth relishing because it has been a limited experience in my life.

Today I will try to relish little things. Like my back feeling a little better and my movements being less strained. Like the soft light thrown off by our Christmas tree in the early morning hours.Like sharing some oatmeal at breakfast with my son Sam.

What will you take time to pause and relish today?

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Lessons in Humility

Today I am grateful for perspective and for my husband Darcy's help.

I was planning to write a post today called "Relish" because it followed nicely after "Revel" from yesterday. Things change. Instead, let's talk about the lessons in humility that I am getting.

After successfully completing the marathon on Sunday and getting some water therapy in the hotel pool and hot tub, I slipped in the shower and hit my left mid-back on the tub. Lesson in humility #1. To do it after running 26.2 miles? Really? I wanted to revel, not be humbled.

I didn't feel intense pain and I could breathe okay, so we proceeded with our day. I could feel some muscle pain in my back and certainly some movements were challenging, but I made it through the flight home the next day, and through two days of work. In fact, it felt pretty good during the day when I was up and moving. It was tougher to get comfortable at night.

All that took a turn for the worse with-of all things-a sneeze. I sneezed at my desk at the end of the work day yesterday, felt a sharp pain in my back, and got very uncomfortable. Uncomfortable enough to go to the doctor. Lesson in humility #2. It is likely that I have bruised ribs and some muscle tears. The sneeze may have tore a muscle that was weakened by the fall, not to mention exhausted from the marathon and travels.There's not much you can do for such an injury except give it time. Ice. Pain relievers. Rest. More time.

I was in quite a bit of pain yesterday afternoon and evening, moving slowly and in limited fashion. That is hard for me, someone who is always active and on the go. Lesson in humility #3. The last time I felt that much pain and immobility was in the first days after my mastectomies.

My husband Darcy helped me get situated in a recliner, brought me some dinner, assisted in applying ice to the affected area. Thank you dear! Lesson in humility #4.

Lesson in humility #5 is the one most fitting to wrap up a post on a blog about gratitude practice. That lesson is "I am human and it could have been worse." We are fragile and deserve tender, loving care from ourselves and others. Sometimes we need to be reminded of that. I am grateful that the fall happened AFTER the marathon and not before. I am grateful that I have a point of reference that keeps it all in perspective. I would rather be recovering from this physical injury than something more serious, more chronically painful.

Lessons in humility. Lessons in gratitude.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Revel

Today I am grateful for safe travels to and from Seattle and for a pleasant time taking in that city's downtown. I am also grateful for my sister Leonice and sister-in-law Annie, the time we got to spend together, and the kind gestures they extended; like picking us up and taking us back to the airport to name just a couple. Thanks you two!

It was another memorable marathon experience. Marathon #11 successfully completed. The rain held off, the wind was bearable when present, the route was scenic, the hills challenging. We got a street-level view of an impressive city and the beauty of the Pacific Northwest. The 26.2 miles were varied; along water, across an interstate bridge, through scenic trees and vegetation. One step at a time. One mile at a time. Darcy and I spent the first 16 miles together, and then had our individual journeys the last ten miles. It was great to see family out on the course, and the orange slices really hit the spot.
Thanks again!

Approaching the finish, hill after hill, seeing the Space Needle and knowing that was my goal. Running, albeit slowly, into Memorial Stadium, a few spectators remained, and an announcer said my name. I pumped my fists and crossed the finish line. That is a feeling I can't fully describe, but I am reveling in that post-marathon euphoria that takes days to wane. I am feeling deeply blessed to have been able to make this trip. I am referring to both the trip to Seattle itself and the 26.2 mile trip in Seattle.

Here is a picture of Darcy and I in the recovery area at the finish:

 
Let the reveling and the recovering continue. 

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Happy Thanksgiving!

Today I am grateful for the insights and peace gained from gratitude practice. I am also grateful for fond memories of family Thanksgiving celebrations growing up and for my mom's dressing.

The quote in my gratitude journal from November 24 seems particularly fitting today:

"Gratitude is the inward feeling of kindness received. Thankfulness is the natural impulse to express that feeling. Thanksgiving is the following of that impulse."  (Henry Van Dyke)

Follow the impulse. Give thanks. Inward and outward.

Then yesterday I received this in an e-card from A Network for Grateful Living (ANG*L) (www.gratefulness.org) and one of my favorite writers on the topic of gratitude:

"In the continuous flow of blessing, our hearts find meaning and rest."
(Brother David Steindl-Rast)

I would add that my soul and mind also find meaning and rest when I focus on blessings. Brother David also talks about gratefulness as the great fullness of life.

All I know is that when I give focus to the blessings in my life, when I take time to pause and notice the little things, I feel better. I think better. I see better.

Happy Thanksgiving! I will be back blogging next week.


Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Lesson #3: Nature and Humanity are Spectacular

Today I am grateful for recovery wisdom shared by others and I am grateful I am learning to "accept more, expect less."

Lesson #3 from marathon training leads nicely into the official marathon experience itself. That lesson is: Nature and humanity are spectacular.

Running outdoors is a great way to see nature, a city, the changing seasons. I love to run outside and will do that as much of the year as I can. I love being a participant in the ongoing evolution of season to season.I appreciate having running attire for all seasons, and I appreciate the mobility I spoke of yesterday. I love the crisp fall air. I love the first warm, sweaty spring run. I love everything in between, with the exception of the extremes. I will put up with heat and humidity and bitter cold, only because I have to where I live. I guess they do provide the benefit of bringing even fuller appreciation to the beautiful days with perfect running conditions.

I enjoy running solo and being alone with nature and my thoughts, but I also am thankful for the company of my husband Darcy on many of my runs. We are blessed to share this hobby, this passion. We motivate and push one another when needed. Our running strengthens us individually and also strengthens us as a couple.

Seattle and the Pacific Northwest will offer a different running experience than the Upper Midwest this time of the year.There may be precipitation but it's not very likely to be white. Seattle and the thousands of other runners will also offer a glimpse into the best parts of humanity. Comaraderie. Support. Humor. Drive. Determination. Each runner with their own story, their own goals.

Spectacular views. Spectacular company to share it with.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Lesson #2: Mobility Matters

Today I am grateful for friendly and practical doctors and for the wind at my back for part of my walk with Oliver this morning.

Lesson #2 from marathon training is: mobility matters. It matters a ton. It matters so much, but if you are like me, it is one of those things that I regularly take for granted. I am not just talking about my own body's mobility either. We have two working cars in the garage and money to pay for the gas they need. How many people in this country would consider that a luxury? How many people in this world will never have such mobility?

I live in an urban area that offers buses, taxies, and light rail trains as modes of transportation locally and airplanes as an option for wider travels. If I could only rely on my two feet, my world would shrink. That wouldn't be all bad, but my first thought is how often would I get to see my family-most of whom live 150 miles away and some who live further away? What about Darcy's family? They are 250 miles away. Emily is 250 miles away and Arthur and Alyssa are 450 or so. Take away our mobile forms of transportation and life changes.

But I am also talking about my personal mobility. Many people could run or walk a marathon if they chose to train and prepare for it. They are mobile but opt out. But there are many who, even if they wanted to run a marathon, wouldn't be able to. Their mobility is limited because of health issues, disability, chronic pain, injuries, and more. Still others wouldn't be able to find a safe place to run or wouldn't be able to find comfortable shoes and clothes to run in.

I am deeply blessed. Being able to train for a marathon, then look forward to the trip and the marathon to come, fill me with the best kind of anticipation. And I get to share that anticipation with my husband, like we have shared so many training runs. I may be sore, slow up and down the stairs, after some of those runs, but I still feel great and I so appreciate the mobility I do have. Whether on foot, by car, or plane, I get to view the world around me through a lens of gratitude and that makes for a great view.

Monday, November 25, 2013

Lessons of Marathon Training: #1 One Step at a Time

Today I am grateful for a nice weekend, a chance to write more gratitude letters, and a good Thanksgiving meal yesterday. I am also grateful that my husband Darcy is getting over his cold and that we got a training run in over the weekend.

Marathon week is here! We run the Seattle Marathon on December 1. I love the anticipation that builds as the marathon gets closer, and I love the week before the event. It is the best kind of anticipation. I appreciate that we are at this point and able to make this trip. After a very busy year and a couple of setbacks, we are feeling ready to run.

This will be our latest marathon, in terms of the time of year. We usually run our marathons in September or October. But we moved it to later after those setbacks and the the full year we have had. The few exta weeks of training have us feeling more prepared and I am thankful for that.

There are many lessons learned in the months that it takes to train for a marathon. There are many miles and hours of running in which to ponder those lessons. I will share three such lessons over the next three days. Today's lesson: Take it one step at a time.

Whether it is a 20-mile run or "just" a 5K, it can only be done one step at a time, one mile at a time.I try to appreciate those steps and miles, what I get to see as I run past, how I get to feel as the endorphin flow gets going. But this lesson also applies to other areas of my life. Actually, I can apply it to ALL areas of my life.

Stay in today. Take it a day at a time. And on some of the toughest or most joyous days, an hour or a minute at a time makes it either manageable for the former or more to relish for the latter.

Gratitude practice helps me be more mindful because it assists me in slowing down and paying attention to the here and now.That is what mindfulness is. That is where the joy and the gifts of this day reside.

I have been shown the importance of this lesson in so many ways, especially in my alcoholism recovery, in my cancer journey, my writing pursuits, and my roles as wife and mother/stepmother. There is no better teacher than running. One step at a time. One mile at a time. Paying attention along the way. That's my plan for today, and for the Seattle Marathon.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Four Lanes

Today I am grateful for our Christmas decorations, their variety, the enjoyment we can now get from them, and for the family time yesterday spent putting things up. I am also grateful for bridges, both literal and figurative ones.

I am especially grateful for our new bridge, which now has four lanes open. It's expansive and it's been enjoyable for me to watch the construction progress over the last three years. Like any big project, it took time, patience, and planning. I was just an observer, but after a couple setbacks in the first year of the project-including flooding and a state government shutdown-the contractors actually finished a month ahead of schedule. For that, and the safety of workers and travelers during construction, I am truly grateful.

When it comes to bridges, more lanes seem like a blessing. Compared to the most heavily traveled two-lane bridge in Minnesota we used to have, we now have smooth sailing. But what about in my own life? Too many lanes can be overwhelming. And if I choose the fast lane all the time, what am I missing? It's good to have choices, but what I do with those choices is what matters. I choose to try to spend some time in the slow down each day and not miss the little joys of life.

Bridges are analogies for many things in life. The picture below, and my current profile picture, bring to mind "out with the old, in with the new." It took me time to replace my old attitude-full of self-pity and "poor mes"-with a new attitude of gratitude. This newer attitude helps me see the good in life and helps me be more resilient through the tough times. It energizes me and inspires me.


 
The shift from a two-lane bridge to a four-lane one took time and effort. The shift from negative thinking to positive thinking continues to take time and effort. But it is some of the best work that I do and well worth it.

 
 


Saturday, November 23, 2013

A Writing 3 x 3

Today I am grateful for quality headphones and YouTube music videos. From Carly Simon to Roberta Flack, I enjoyed the listening last evening as I wound down from the day and the week.

Here's an example of a gratitude practice I would encourage you to try. I call it a 3 x 3. I put three things I am grateful for and three reasons why I am grateful for each. Today I am focusing my 3 x 3 on my writing and what it has brought to my life.

1. I am grateful for this blog.
    a. It has helped deepen and broaden my own level of gratitude.
    b. It gives me a regular channel for my writing energy.
    c. It has made me a better writer.

2. I am grateful for the poetry I have written.
    a. It gave me a healthy outlet in the depths of alcoholic despair.
    b. It was the first type of writing I did consistently.
    c. It lends itself to being shared with others.

3. I am grateful for my first diary at age 11 and every journal since.
    a. They have helped me capture memories that would have been lost.
    b. They remind me that life is worth writing about.
    c. They have helped make me a disciplined writer.   

What is your 3 x 3 going to be about today?

Friday, November 22, 2013

Speaking of Five Years . . . Here's to my Friend Sara

Today I am grateful for the lamps in our house. I like the warm light they give off in these longer days of darkness. I am also grateful for my friend Sara and the news she recently shared with me.

I remember the exact date that I met Sara: Saturday, September 27, 2008. I remember it because it was the day I got my head shaved. I was two weeks out from my first chemotherapy treatment, and it was starting to come out plenty steadily. I certainly had mixed feelings about getting my head shaved, but I was trying to keep it in perspective. There are far worse things to lose than hair.

I was feeling pretty vulnerable that day, but it was a nice day and I donned my new pink hat and we went to a fall celebration in our downtown area. They were giving wagon rides to families and so we took one. Darcy, Sam and I were joined on this ride by a woman clearly in a chemo cap, an older woman, and two small children. I noticed the woman in the chemo cap, but didn't say anything to her until the ride was done and we were leaving. We talked for a few minutes and I found out that she also had been diagnosed with breast cancer earlier that year. It meant so much to me on that day to connect with someone else who knew what I was going through, who knew the vulnerability. We didn't share names or anything, but I appreciated that random meeting very much.

Fast forward a few months, spring of 2009, and I go to Sam's school to pick him up. I notice this woman from the wagon ride also waiting. Her hair was growing back, as was mine a little. We reconnected and this time we got names and numbers. That's Sara. She was with her mom and her two kids that day on the wagon ride. She is almost exactly 10 years younger than me. Her cancer was more advanced than mine and she had to undergo much more treatment. I was impressed with and inspired by her positive attitude and "keep plugging along" approach, even as she had to endure multiple side effects from multiple treatments.

The good news is that she is doing well and she is almost done with the treatment regimens that needed to last five years. She doesn't have to go to her oncologist for a year now. Those are milestones every cancer patient hopes to reach. Congrats Sara!

Sara and I don't see each other often. We might run into each other at the store and get caught up, or see each other at our kids' school. But Sara continues to make a difference in my life because she also supports me in my recovery from alcoholism. Sara sends me a weekly text of support and encouragement and I so appreciate that.

Such stories confirm what I believe to be true. My Higher Power puts people in my life when I need them. Thanks HP! Thanks Sara! Onward!

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Five Years of BC Support Group

Today I am grateful for the clothes in my closet. My wardrobe isn't extensive, but it is certainly adequate. I am also grateful for the breast cancer support group I attend.

I realized yesterday, as I thought about going to breast cancer support group last night, that it was November of 2008 when I attended my first support group meeting. I was diagnosed in May but didn't decide to try a meeting out until after I had already had two surgeries and four rounds of chemotherapy. I still see some of the same wonderful women at support group, but one woman who really helped me at that first meeting five years ago is someone I haven't seen since. I don't even recall her name.

This woman was just a couple weeks post-surgery after bilateral mastectomies. I was about a month away from having my own double amputation. To see her out and about was heartening. But she also showed us her surgical camisole and the drain pockets. It was good for me to have that visual as I headed into my own unknown. Thank you nameless fellow BC patient. You really helped me that night.

One of the reasons I continue to go to support group is to see the friends I have made and talk about our ongoing treatment, side effects, families, other health challenges. But I also go to be there for the new person who may walk in the door for the first time.

That is what support groups are about, and I am thankful for mine.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Prepared for Friction

Today I am grateful for my job, my co-workers, and the students and parents I work with. I am also grateful for homemade ice cream, courtesy of one of those co-workers. Thanks George!

I am also grateful we were prepared for our 20-mile training run on Saturday. I ran into a friction issue. Friction and running 20 miles are not compatible. Blisters, chafing, and other painful situations can arise. Darcy and I have learned some tricks to reduce the potential for such issues. One of those tricks is a product called "Body Glide." It is an anti-chafing balm. It looks like roll-on deodorant and you can apply it anywhere you tend to have friction.

For some runners, that's their feet. For many men, it's their nipples. Before my bilateral mastectomies, it was my bra lines. I wore two running bras for added support. The straps and under-breast areas were prone to chafing, especially in warmer conditions. Generous application of "glide" was an effective preventive. I appreciated this balm when I needed it. Darcy still appreciates it.

On a brief tangent: One of the things I can appreciate about being breast-less when I run is that I no longer need running bras and I no longer need to worry about chafing there.

This last Saturday, I was wearing my favorite running pants. They are so comfortable and work well in cooler and then colder temperatures. They are lightweight and they have pockets. I was carrying some of our sustenance in my pockets-a Clif bar, some Gu chomps and Power gel. Just a couple miles in, I could feel some friction in one pocket. Something was rubbing against my upper thigh, likely one of the corners on a packet. I didn't think too much of it and it wasn't too painful, but when we made a pit stop about an hour and 40 minutes into the run, I discovered that the area was scraped and bleeding.

Luckily I had some money along and we had decided to make our pit stop at a K-Mart after discovering the park bathrooms we had just passed were closed for the season. I bought some bandaids and took care of the friction issue. I moved stuff around in my pockets too. But without a protective layer between the new abrasion and my attire, the area would have continued to rub for 2 1/2 more hours and could have gotten much more uncomfortable and problematic.

That's the thing about friction. Be prepared for it. Avoid it when possible. Get a protective layer in place as soon as you can if friction starts. It doesn't take much friction to have a real problem on your hands.

How about friction between humans and in our daily lives? Isn't it the same way? What starts out small can get worse and worse if the abrasive thought or action continues. Consider gratitude practice to be the "glide" for such friction. Instead of dwelling on what frustrates me about a person in my life, I try to dwell on what I appreciate about them. Instead of giving much energy to something that is frustrating me, I try to give my energy to what is going well, what I can be thankful for.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Home Away From Home

Today I am grateful for the late afternoon run Oliver and I took yesterday in the sun and shadows.I am also grateful for recovery wisdom shared by fellow alcoholics.

Home away from home. I feel like I have two such places. One is my mom's. The other is my mother-in-law's. I appreciate that we are able to visit with each a handful of times each year. And I appreciate that they each have space for us, like to have us there, spoil us a bit, and that I feel comfortable when I am there.

We can spread ourselves and our stuff out. We each have a place to sleep. We know where things are when we need them. That makes for a more relaxing visit. We get spoiled with things like good meals, fresh cinnamon rolls, garden produce, and someone to watch Sam while we run. It's a win-win there because Sam gets to spend time with his grandmothers and they get to spend time with him.

One of the best parts about our homes away from home is that I can truly relax in each. I love our house and I am so grateful we have it, but when I am here, I relax in a different way. I can take it easy, but I still am surrounded by things I might be tempted to do--cleaning, laundry, going through a pile that has accumulated.

When I am at my mother-in-law's or at my mom's, I feel the comforts and space of home, but I don't have the nagging distractions of things I think I should be doing. Relaxation of a different kind.

Thanks Marlene! Thanks Mom!

Monday, November 18, 2013

Scenic Sioux Falls

Today I am grateful for safe travels over the weekend and time spent with Darcy's family.

I am also grateful for a good 20-mile training run in Sioux Falls Saturday morning, our last 20-miler before the Seattle Marathon on December 1. We enjoyed the opportunity to run somewhere else besides the streets and trails of our own community. We love our hometown, but appreciate the change of scenery when we can get it. And Sioux Falls is near and dear to us, as we were married there and spent the first two years of our married life there.

I am thankful that Darcy's family lives there, so we get back there a few times a year. The city is booming and ever-changing. The trail system is also a good one, so we knew we could hit the trail for a tour. The running conditions were near-perfect with no wind, overcast skies, and temperatures in the forties as we set out Saturday morning.

We hadn't run this entire stretch of trail that goes around the city for over two years. We got to see the changes and the new construction in some areas. We got to appreciate the completed construction along the trail. Only one short detour was needed. And we got to partake in the natural beauty along the Big Sioux River. The crown jewel of that beauty, in my opinion, is Falls Park near downtown. The three-tiered falls are breathtaking. I never tire of seeing them.

Darcy and I were both happy with our run. A little back pain I have been having didn't pose any problems, though I did have another issue surface. I will blog about that soon. We enjoyed the time together. Sometimes silent. Sometimes conversing. It was all quality time. And then we got to revel in the sense of accomplishment and the endorphin flow the rest of the day. We are both so grateful, and humbled, by the fact that we can run that far, one step at a time, one mile at a time.

What are you grateful for today? 

Friday, November 15, 2013

Swirl Head

Today I am grateful for early morning quiet and for an opportunity to talk about my spiritual journey with others.

The morning quiet is when I pray for others and reflect on my own life. It's when I write in my gratitude journal and on this blog. It's a time when I can avoid "swirl head." My sister used that term the other day and it brought a smile to my face because I knew EXACTLY what she was talking about. Overthinking. Overanalyzing. Worrying. Fear. Too much to do. Not enough time to do it. Notes all over because I am afraid I will forget something if I don't write it down. Swirl head.

It's been a busy and full week, but a good week. I got to prepare and then give a presentation about resilience and gratitude. I got to ponder my own spiritual journey and then share some of that as part of a panel talking to teenage girls. I got to experience Sam's first two wrestling meets and the organized chaos they appear to be. I got to learn many new things at work as my new duties continue to unfold.

Swirl head. I maintained my sanity most of the time. And I sit here typing this morning feeling substantial gratitude. These were good things I was facing this week. I was able to so enough self-care to keep myself from "spinning off the face of the earth."

I am thinking of the typhoon victims in the Phillipines and the week they had. I am thinking of a nearby school community that is grieving the tragic loss of two students in the same week. I am thinking of people who suffer chronic pain and have serious health conditions. I am thinking of addicts and alcoholics who continue to spiral downward.

And I am humbled. Perspective gained. Swirl head slowed.

Have a good weekend! I will be taking a blog break and will be back in habitual form on Monday.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Small Gesture, Big Difference

Today I am grateful for our washing machine and dryer and for the smell of fresh, clean laundry.

I am also grateful for small gestures of human compassion directed my way. Maybe it is just a friendly smile and a hello when I need one. Maybe it is someone letting me go in front of them in line, just when I am in a hurry. Strangers making a difference with a little show of kindness.

Maybe it is my loved ones doing the same sort of things. Taking care of a chore that is usually mine. Going to run an errand so I don't have to. Gently suggesting to me that something can wait until tomorrow. Small gestures that make a big difference in my days. And give me hope.

I was thinking about this because of something I was reading in Archbishop Desmond Tutu's biography. When he was a young boy, living in the separated world of apartheid in South Africa, a simple gesture by a white man made a profound difference in his life. Tutu and his mother were out walking when a white man tipped his hat to Tutu's mother. It was the first time he had seen a white man pay respect to a black woman.

The white man just happened to be an Anglican priest, Trevor Huddleston. He went on to become a bishop and was also active in the anti-apartheid movement. In the words I read online "The incident made a profound impression on Tutu, teaching him that he need not accept discrimination and that religion could be a powerful tool for advocating racial equality."  Small gesture. Profound impact.

You can hear a little about it in this YouTube clip here. And you will hear more about how Trevor Huddleston's compassion helped Tutu when he was sick and in the hospital.

I appreciate true stories like this. True stories about how we touch one another's lives. Sometimes without even knowing it.

Today I will look for opportunities for small gestures of hope and kindness. Those I can give and those I receive.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Wrestlemania

Today I am grateful for a car with working heat and for my warm weather gear like coats, hats, and gloves. We have needed them this week.

I am also grateful for the experience that my son Sam is having with wrestling this year. It is the first time he is trying the sport. They had their first meet yesterday and it was away. When I arrived at the school and located the right place, it felt like "wrestlemania" to me after a full day of work. At times, there were three matches going on at once, in a fairly limited space, with lots of wrestlers and coaches moving about and making noise, and a small seating area for spectators. Add to that the fact that this is a sport I don't entirely understand, and my head was spinning.

I observed. I learned. I had brief conversations with people as clueless as I was. And then some conversations with people who gave me a clue. It all helped. I will continue to learn. And I appreciate that one of the people teaching me is Sam himself. He tells me about various moves and how to score points and more. He wrestled one match and I was proud of how well he did his first time out. He lost the match, but felt good about his effort and got good encouragement from his coaches. That is what it's all about.

Two of my older brothers wrestled, as did one of my younger brothers. But I wasn't paying much attention then. What I remember most about wrestling from my younger days is how much my dad enjoyed watching professional wrestling. He didn't watch much TV, but he would when he could catch come pro wrestling action. I think Saturday nights is when it would be on. It's a far cry from the true sport of wrestling, in my opinion, but it entertained my hard-working father and that was a good thing.

Sam is enjoying his experience with this sport and for that I am truly grateful.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Topic of Discussion

Today I am grateful for my job and the variety of experiences that come with each day I am there.

I am also grateful for the opportunity to speak with parents last evening, with gratitude being a key topic of discussion. I appreciated the opportunity to plan for this presentation, because I learned more myself and further consolidated some of my own thoughts and beliefs on the practice of gratitude.

It was a small group of parents and I am thankful for their willingness to hear me out, try a few things on paper, and to share their own wisdom and insights. I found it all heartening and energizing. I was able to include in my discussion some of the growing reasearch base about the benefits of gratitude practice for adults and young people alike.

The evidence is clear. Regular gratitude practice improves our overall well-being. Physically, our immune systems are strengthened, our blood pressure is lower, and we sleep better, exercise more. Psychologically, we have more positive emotions and are more alert, more optimistic. Socially, it helps us be more helpful and compassionate and less lonely and isolated.

For more information go to the Greater Good Science Center here. It is good to see the research starting to build, but I don't need it to convince me of the power of gratitude practice. The transformations in my life and my thought processes over the last two
decades have proven to me that gratitude is a true life-changer.

Thank you parents, and my friend Kate, for giving me the opportunity to talk about something I feel so strongly, and warmly, about.

Monday, November 11, 2013

The Words of Desmond Tutu

Today I am grateful for time and conversation with my friend Jenny this weekend, phone calls with sisters, and ongoing writing inspiration.

One of the priests at our church, Frank,  borrowed to me a book by Desmond Tutu. It was written in 2004 and is titled God Has a Dream: A Vision of Hope for Our Time. He thought I might appreciate the book and he was right. Thanks Frank!

I really didn't know a lot about Archbishop Tutu other than he was a key figure in South Africa's peaceful move from apartheid to democracy. His book was a quick read and full of wit and wisdom. God is a key figure in the book of course, but so are we. All of us human beings trying to make our way in the world. The Archbishop's words could be boiled down to "We would all make our way better in the world if we spent our time getting along and supporting one another rather than fighting and being at odds.We are all one family." That can be applied to countries, factions, parishes, families. Any group.

If you struggle with the word "God," consider that there is something bigger than human power at work in our world. We each have a role. That higher force has a role.

Archbishop Tutu talks about many aspects of human and divine relationships in this book. Compassion. Humility. Forgiveness. Service. What I like about his writing is that it is universally applicable. A nation at war or a family at odds could both benefit from applying the ideas he sets forth.

Later in the book he talks about "seeing with the eyes of the heart" and on p. 100 he writes:

"I am deeply thankful for those moments in the early morning when I try to be quiet, to sit in the presence of the gentle and compassionate and unruffled One to try to share in or be given some of that divine serenity."

Gratitude practice helps me see with the eyes of the heart. Noticing blessings helps me feel blessed and in turn opens my heart and mind to others. And I can only notice blessings if I take time to be quiet, take time to commune with the higher force I consider to be the source of those blessings.

Serenity is a goal in my life. A daily goal. Unruffled? It's possible. I have known unruffled times. I seek more of them. Thanks for the sagacious thoughts Archbishop Tutu!

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Partnership

Today I am grateful for interesting conversation with fellow wedding-goers and for a visit from my stepdaughter Emily.

We attended the wedding of Dena and Paul yesterday. Dena is the daughter of good friends of ours.It was a nice wedding in a nice setting. We enjoyed the church ceremony and felt the happy energy and fellowship next door in the reception hall. It was a pleasant evening and I was glad to be there. Congratulations and best wishes Dena and Paul!

The pastor who performed the service used the word partnership in her sermon. Marriage really is a partnership, a two-way street, a work in progress. That is how I view it anyway. I appreciate the partnership I have with my husband Darcy. I appreciate that we both went into our marriage with enough prior life experience to know that it would take work, compromise, time, and forgiveness to grow in our partnership. We knew it wouldn't always be "a bed of roses." I think that realistic approach is helpful because then you aren't as disappointed when the going gets tough at times. And it will. I don't know anyone whose marriage has always been smooth sailing on calm waters.

Darcy and I have a good marriage and we have had far more good times than tough times in our relationship, but we both bring our quirks and flaws to the partnership and they will flare up from time to time. I am thankful that Darcy is quick to forgive and that I am learning to keep my mouth shut more.

The partnership I have with Darcy is key to my life path and happiness. We continue to learn and grow together. We weather difficulties and move forward. Having gratitude for the many good things in our relationship gives me a positive perception of what I believe to be a healthy and whole partnership. It's not perfect, but it's ours and we cherish it. We work at it. We love each other through it. Thanks Darcy!

Saturday, November 9, 2013

A Pair of Scars

Today I am grateful for laughter and pleasant conversations I had with friends yesterday. I am also grateful for a warm blanket, a comfortable couch, and a head massage from my husband Darcy.

Back to those painful reminders. They can be physical, like my fingertip cracks mentioned in my post a couple days ago. They can be emotional ones too. My mastectomy scars were both physically and emotionally painful early on, but I am grateful to say today that on most days I barely think of them. The physical pain healed. The emotional pain was processed. Acceptance arrived.

The two most physically painful aspects of my cancer surgeries were parentheses of pain that happened at the beginning of my first surgery and the end of my third surgery. Prior to my lumpectomy, I had a shot in my right nipple to help prepare for the sentinel node biopsy. A few seconds of intense pain I will never forget. Five months later I had my third surgery, bilateral mastectomies. Twelve days after that surgery, my drain tubes were removed. Yowza times two! I had no idea the tube parts under my skin were as long as they were. Again, only a few seconds of intense pain, but memorable nonetheless. What a relief when those were out.

Below my mastectomy scars are two sets of much smaller scars from the drain tubes. They remind me of the help those tubes provided in my healing process. They remind me of the emptying of the bulbs at the end of the tubes several times a day in the first days, measuring amounts of fluid, seeing how things were progressing. I am always grateful when I see progress. In this case, progress meant less and less fluid draining.

The days, weeks, and months after my mastectomies brought healing, a return of arm mobility, and acceptance of my new chest terrain. My scars and I got used to each other. Gratitude was not hard to find amidst all of that. Gratitude for improving arm movement. Gratitude for being done with regular visits to surgeons' offices. Gratitude for recognizing how fortunate I was to not have to deal with chronic pain like some people do. Gratitude for being alive and going on with life.

Although on many days I barely notice my mastectomy scars, they still can serve as a painful reminder of what I lost to cancer. Thankfully, it is possible to live, and live fully, without breasts.

What have your scars taught you? Onward we go!

Friday, November 8, 2013

The Next Generation

Today I am grateful for a phone call from my stepson Arthur and a visit with my niece Katie.

These two fine young people are members of the next generation and they give me hope. Of course I am biased, but the way they live their lives and the ways they are helping others are encouraging to me. Arthur shares a message of the importance of good nutrition in an overall healthy lifestyle. Katie supports and coaches other women in their pursuit to feel and be healthier. Thanks for your work you two. Keep it up!

Arthur called me after receiving a gratitude letter from me. I am touched by the impact one of my actions had on him at a difficult time in both of our lives. He said it continues to inspire him and that touches me deeply.

Katie is visiting before I take her to the airport this morning. I have 25 nieces and nephews on my side of the family. A sadness for me is that I don't know any of them as well as I would like to. But Katie and I have a good connection and I really appreciate that. She and her husband were part of the inspiration that started Darcy and I on our marathon path. That has made a huge difference in our lives and I will always be grateful to Katie and Danny for helping ignite that spark. Read more about that here.

I am tapped out today from a busy work week, but feeling thankful for the next generation coming up and what they are going to bring to the world. I know I mentioned yesterday that I would talk more about my mastectomy scars today. I will save that for tomorrow.

Have a good and grateful day!



Thursday, November 7, 2013

Painful Reminders

Today I am grateful for a healthier perspective on life and on myself. I am also grateful for our dog Oliver and the joy he brings to all of us.

The other day I blogged about joy and pain both being necessary in our lives. They are both unavoidable really. I get why people want to avoid pain, but why would someone want to avoid joy? Good question. I don't think it's that people try to avoid joy as much as they simply miss it because they aren't paying attention, or they are focused on the wrong things and those things swallow up the joy. Gratitude practice helps me uncover and notice the joy.

One of my unavoidable pains this time of the year would be splits and cracks on my fingertips. The dry air and cold weather lead to these nuisances that can also be very painful at times. I have tried various lotions and night treatments, but since I use and wash my hands so much, I haven't found an effective way to totally avoid these cracks and splits. They have, however, become an effective perception-builder in their own right.

When they are flaring up, I marvel at the nerve endings in a fingertip because even a little bump can cause an excruciating moment of pain. I remind myself that I would rather have moments of pain than chronic pain. And these cuts don't render my fingers useless, so I can proceed with my day. Perspective. And then a few days later when a couple splits have healed and no fresh ones have emerged yet, I can enjoy that respite. I also enjoy the respite from the humidity. Even though it causes these cracks and splits, I appreciate the drier air after another kind of discomfort during the humid summer months. Perspective.

Do you have any painful reminders in your life? What do they teach you?

This also gets me thinking about the reminders provided by my mastectomy scars. Some painful. Some not. More on that tomorrow.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

First and Last

Today I am grateful for our local writing group and the chance to share and stretch with others interested in the craft of writing. I am also grateful for my marriage to Darcy.

We had our first snowfall overnight. It wasn't much. The grass is white but the roads and sidewalks stayed clear. Yesterday afternoon, I went for my last run before our first snowfall. I run outside through the winter as much as possible, but I still wanted to appreciate clear roads and trails because for the next few months there are no guarantees what the conditions will be. As I ran, I saw a golfer getting in what was probably his last round of the season on the course we live near.

It got me thinking about first and last. And gratitude. As long as one of my first actions of the day is to give focus to gratitude, and I do that by journaling and blogging, my day gets off to a solid start. My perspective starts out positive and clear, and that helps carry me through to my last task before bed. There may be bumps in the road during the day. That's life. But I can set myself up to handle those bumps better if I stay grateful and energized.

One of our activities at writing group last night was to consider the first lines of books. We picked a line we liked from a list of several actual first lines of published work and then began to take our own story from there. It was an interesting activity and I appreciated the opportunity to step beyond my usual writing approach.

The first line of each blog post I do starts out with "Today I am grateful for . . ."  That seems like a good last line for today's post. Today I am  grateful for this day. It's all any of us get.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Pain + Joy = Life's Beauty

Today I am grateful for the energy created from taking right actions. I am also grateful for our home and the comforts it offers to us.

This was the quote in my gratitude journal a couple of days ago:

"Taken separately, the experiences of life can work harm and not good. Taken together, they make a pattern of blessing and strength the like of which the world does not know."
(V. Raymond Brown)

Gratitude helps us integrate the painful with the joyful so both become part of what makes us who we are. If I only focused on the painful, gratitude would be a tall order. If I only focused on the joyful and denied the pain, I would never gain full perspective. Life needs both the highs and lows.

I don't go looking for pain. I guess I used to when I was drinking. Actually, I drank to kill the pain I felt. But no one is immune to pain, life challenges, difficult situations. If something difficult happens, I can still apply gratitude however, and that helps me not keep spinning it negatively. I return to a healthy mindset more quickly when I apply gratitude. I learn lessons that had to be learned the hard way.

I have been shown the effectiveness of this approach time and time again, particularly in my daily recovery from alcoholism. And certainly when I was in the midst of cancer treatment and surgery recoveries. A pattern of blessing and strength really is possible. And the pattern is more beautiful when I realize I am not the only one weaving it.

Monday, November 4, 2013

Pause. Repeat. Back to Basics.

Today I am grateful for the wisdom shared by others in recovery. I am also grateful for a fall breeze and the sound of leaves rustling and skirting across the trail or road.

One of the many benefits of gratitude practice for me is that it reminds me to slow down. Pause. Literally to take a moment. Notice. Be still. Savor. I remain prone and susceptible to overdoing life.I start doing, I find more to do, I add to my to-do list. I get to a certain tipping point and I can't seem to stop myself.

On a good day, I become absorbed in what I am doing and it is a time of mindfulness and presence. On a rough day, I get swallowed up by my own best intentions. I go from mindfulness to mind fullness. I get scattered and frazzled and worry about running out of time. I stop noticing. I stop enjoying. I wear myself out.

Yesterday I was headed for frazzled and frustrated, but I am learning to take the right actions. Pausing is an action. I made a decision to go see some friends and leave my to-do commitments at home for an hour or so. I took time to take time. Instead of being lost, some moments were magnified and I returned to some sort of balance.

And in the midst of pausing, I saw a reminder looking right at me. A reminder on a pencil. It said "Let's get back to BASICS."  In some minds, that would have registered as a pencil manufacturer advertising itself. In my mind, my focused and still mind, it was a much-needed message from a power beyond me. Back to basics. Stay in the moment. Take it a day at a time.

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Keep Those Letters Coming

Today I am grateful for the chance to talk with others about gratitude and the realization of all that I have learned and continue to learn from practicing it.

I am also grateful to be preparing a presentation for parents that has gratitude and resilience as the key focus areas. There is a growing body of research to back up the effectiveness and healthy rewards of gratitude practice. I know them from experience, but the validation is nice.

For me, practicing gratitude is about taking action. I can't just sit and think about being more grateful. I need to make conscious choices and take true action in order for the real gifts of gratitude practice to come to fruition in my life. Yes, it takes work. But I don't mind it because the dividends paid are endless.

One of the actions I take is to write gratitude letters to people I want to personally thank for the difference they have made in my life. Handwritten and mailed the old-fashioned way. I hadn't written any gratitude letters for about four months. Now, in the last month, I have written five more. That's 30 gratitude letters. It isn't the number that matters. It is the heart and thought that go into each one.

My husband Darcy got a nice note from someone the other day. This is someone he knows through his involvement at church. She has set out to send a note of thanks to someone every day for a year. Good for her! That's what I call taking action. Darcy certainly appreciated it.

If you are looking for further inspiration along these lines, I have a book to suggest. A Simple Act of Gratitude was written by John Kralik about his experiences with gratitude. At a low point in his life, he was inspired by a thank-you he received. He set out to write 365 thank you notes over the next year and his life was changed in ways he never would have imagined. It's a good read.

A full year of notes may sound daunting. I write my letters in spurts. Start with one. Who is someone you appreciate and would like to thank? Get out pen and paper and proceed.