"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

Thursday, February 28, 2013

February 28, 1924

Today I am grateful for the blogosphere and the sharing that goes on there. It informs and inspires me.

I am also grateful for my father, his life, his lasting memory.

February 28, 1924 was Dad's birthday. He died on October 23, 1998. During those 74 years, he was a son, brother, husband, uncle, in-law, father, grandfather, farmer, council member, board member and more. He and Mom celebrated 48 years of marriage the year he died. Father to 13, grandfather to 26. He never met the three youngest grandchildren, including my son Sam. He never met his great-grandchildren--22 and counting. But his legacy is lasting.

Dad worked hard his whole life, but also appreciated celebrating holidays, playing cards, visiting relatives, watching sports, reading the newspaper, playing Yahtzee, and much more. The farmer's life is not an easy one, but Dad seemed to strike some sort of balance. I recall fondly his dry sense of humor, his love for ice cream, his striped bib overalls and how he would tease grandkids that there was a mouse in the front pocket, his desire to learn more and stay up on current events, and his inquisitive nature. He could strike up a conversation with anyone. Dad's formal education ended after eighth grade, but his informal education continued until the day he died. Thanks for instilling that desire for knowledge in me too Dad.

Like my mom, my dad will always be something of a mystery to me. I wish I would have had more conversations with him, asked him more questions. But I do have many good memories and was proud that I quit drinking years before he passed away. I'm so glad that he met Darcy and hold dear the memory of he and Mom walking me down "the aisle" at our wedding. It was one of the last times I saw him.

Dad died suddenly of a heart attack. I will always remember being called out of a classroom in Sioux Falls to take the phone call from my brother. I knew it was bad news before he ever said the words. Though it was such a shock to the ones he left behind, he had a good life, and for his sake I appreciate that he died suddenly. He was semi-retired and slowing down, but to be in declining health and capability would have been so hard for him and so hard to witness.

One man. Born on February 28, 1924. His life a gift. My life a gift.

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Flat

Today I am grateful for a working washer and dryer and for electricity, something I really do take for granted. I'm also grateful that I don't stay stuck in the muck as long as I used to.

I am feeling a bit uninspired and overly tired. I can point to reasons why, but more importantly, I can just keep moving, in twenty-four hour segments.

This is a poem I wrote over two years ago. It speaks to some of what I am feeling now.

Flat

I feel flat
Not literally
Though that
Is also
My reality

Inner flatness
Stalled out
Spent battery
Out of ink

Tamoxifen-induced
Moodiness?
Perhaps
Post-cancer
Depression?
Maybe
Letdown
After the marathon?
Quite possible

How does one
Fight back
Against the
Flatness?
Bring some
Contour back
To the
Brain waves
And heart strings

Change the
Vantage point
Pick the
Next hill
And start
Walking

LV  11/25/09

Tamoxifen is a medication used in breast cancer treatment. It is an anti-estrogen. Mood swings can be one of the side effects. Heck, I was having mood swings before I started on Tamoxifen. I appreciate that I don't have some of the more unpleasant side effects of the drug, but I definitely can tell that it impacts how I am feeling and handling my emotions at times.

Like the poem says though, I will start my day by walking. Literally by taking Oliver for his walk. But also in the figurative sense . . . walking in the moment, doing the next right thing.

Onward! Have a nice day.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

And Then There's The Shoveling

Today I am grateful for my physical capabilities and jobs like shoveling snow that I am willing and able to do.

A couple days ago I was talking about sledding, today it is shoveling. I have always liked shoveling snow. I like the exercise, the visible progress, the fresh air, a clear driveway and sidewalk.

In February of 2011, I had the following piece published in the Des Moines Register.


The Philosophy of Shoveling the Driveway
            Life is a lot like shoveling snow. Expected or unexpected, we get dumped on and have to dig out. That process seems slow—one shovelful at a time—but any faster might be detrimental to our health and the lessons might get lost in the piles.
           There can be a bright side to a few inches of snow. A new coating on our sidewalks and our world can give us a fresh start, a do-over. Just look outside. Today is a new day. A good attitude to embrace.        
            Our nation is struggling to make an economic turnaround. There are optimistic signs, but too many are still buried in difficulty. It occurs to me that if we each do what we can for the common good, and for our own good, that the turnaround might gain momentum. Pick up a shovel and do your part. Every shovelful counts.
            It is easier for me to do my part if my attitude is right, if it hasn’t drifted to the negative and gotten stuck.
            Early morning shoveling brought me some strong reminders.  Maybe it was the crisp, cold air. Out in the quietude, before the din of neighborhood snow blowers rose, I was greeted by awesome beauty, pausing from time to time to take in the pristine picture Mother Nature had created. No air-brushing here. This scene demanded notice. Respect nature, revere its beauty, remind ourselves we are not in charge. I am both as insignificant and as amazingly unique as the millions of snowflakes around me. A lesson in humility.
            Tiredness crept in, but my next thought was gratitude. Two years ago I was recovering from breast cancer surgeries and treatment. No shoveling for weeks. Healing and gaining strength back, I try never to take my health and physical capabilities for granted. Gratitude is a positive perception builder if there ever was one.
            Pitching snow brings to mind pitching other natural substances in my youth. I grew up on a pig and dairy farm in Iowa. Believe me, there are far less pleasant things to shovel than snow. Keep things in perspective. Living in a free and wealthy nation, Americans are better off than a vast majority of the world’s population. Yet, we drift. Problems stack up. We forget our manners. We forget to smell the roses. Grab a shovel.  Let’s pile up some optimism for a change.
(Des Moines Register, 2/6/11)
I have always liked shoveling snow, but especially so since my cancer diagnosis.

 

 

Monday, February 25, 2013

Perpetual Dissatisfaction--Lurking Again

Today I am grateful for friends to whom I can reach out and for phones that can connect us across the miles.

I reached out to a couple trusted old friends yesterday because I was struggling with perpetual dissatisfaction. One call went to voice mail, but it was nice to at least leave a message. The second call was brief but enough to pull me out of the muck a bit. The muck of perpetual dissatisfaction. Also known as "the poor mes."

Here is a poem I wrote in December of 2010:

Perpetual Dissatisfaction

What is it
With you
Anyway?

Never enough
Time
Goal progress
Presence
Balance
Never enough

You know
Better
So do
Better

But . . .
I suffer from
Perpetual
Dissatisfaction

Perpetually
Pushing myself
Perpetually
Running out
Of time
In a day
In a week
Perpetually
Carrying a weight
Of dissatisfaction
That often
Gets heavier
But only rarely
Seems to
Get lighter

Perpetual
Dissatisfaction
Be gone

I need
Daily doses
Of gratitude
To sweep it
Aside

LV December 2010

After finding this poem and reading it I realize that I have made some progress. Yes, perpetual dissatisfaction creeps in from time to time, but it seems to get booted out by gratitude sooner, before it gets too long and strong of a hold. I have also made progress because I realize that time is not the issue, how I use and prioritize my time is the issue. I used to "have to" get my "to-do list" as done as possible before I turned to what I "wanted" to do, like write. Now, writing is a top priority, as it should be. I make time for it. Even if clothes go unfolded or some other household chore goes undone.

Progress to help slow the wave of perpetual dissatisfaction and self-pity that lurks and gathers steam if I feed it. I am learning not to feed it. For that, I am truly grateful.

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Sledding Memories

Today I am grateful for the return of some singing birds in the morning and for the earlier sunrises and longer daylight we are noticing.

But that doesn't mean winter is over. In the upper Midwest, March can still pack a lot of winter, so we don't get our hopes up too soon. There are advantages to snow this time of the season though.Temperatures tend to be more bearable and that can entice sledders to come out. Sam and I did a few runs yesterday on a hill we can walk to. It's on the golf course across the street from our house, offering smooth, obstacle-free runs. We discovered that the snow was too deep for a fast ride, but Sam decided that just rolling down the hill was fun too, and I decided that laying there looking at the blue sky was just fine.

A few weeks ago, our local paper carried a story about a toboggan run built in the 1880's down a hill that now is the street that carries you in to our historic downtown area. It was quite the attraction at the time, and sparked memories for me. We had an old toboggan too, but got a new one for Christmas probably when I was 8 or 9. We could fit 6 of us kids on that and enjoyed trying it out on some of the hills we had on our farm. On one hill, if we made it to the creek we knew it had been a good run. My memories are of fun, laughter, fresh air, and if we were lucky some hot lemonade when we got back to the house.

We also had runner sleds that we used. Crazy! They had a wood seat with metal runners. The front end swiveled enough to allow the lead rider to steer with his/her feet. No brakes though. You could fit a couple riders on, maybe three if we were small enough. These sleds could really get some good speed going. When we were sledding at night, you could see sparks fly from the runners.

If conditions were good, we would start up by our garage, head down towards the barn, have to steer around a building that was then "the sheep shed" and make our way towards the creek. There were many near misses and probably many prayers said by our mom that we never knew about. But it was fun, invigorating, and remains a pleasant memory from my younger days.

Our river town is not lacking for hills, so sledders have several options to pick from. What we do lack at times would be sledders. Too many stay indoors in front of screens and the day slips away. Sam is 11 and it wasn't his idea to sled yesterday, it was mine. But we went and both enjoyed ourselves. I want him to have pleasant memories of sledding like I have.

I appreciate the simple pleasure of sledding and what it can bring: family time, fresh air, laughter, exercise, and those new memories.

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Post #300: The Great Fullness of Life

Today I am grateful for the great fullness of life that gratitude brings me. I am also grateful for the calm wisdom and motivating words of Brother David Steindl-Rast.

Today is post #300 for me and my blog. Wow! That is a lot of posts in less than eleven months. But I know more firmly now than I did when I started this blog that habitual gratitude is what I need. And I jokingly add that I can't call it "Habitual Gratitude" if I don't practice what I preach. Another shout out to my sister Danita-her use of the term "habitual gratitude" in an email last March gave me a blog name and the push to actually leap into the blogosphere.

If you have been following my blog, you are becoming familiar with the name Brother David Steindl-Rast. You see his words at the top of my posts page:

"In daily life we must see that it is not happiness that makes us grateful, 
but gratefulness that makes us happy." 
 
These are absolutely some of the most profound words I have read when it comes to gratitude. I think it also explains why "stuff" will never make people happy. If we have all the "stuff" we want, but feel entitled to it, want more, or simply don't appreciate it, we don't have sustained happiness.  If we appreciate who and what we have, in little ways and big ways, we have a daily sustenance that brings  "great fullness of life."
 
Go to www.gratefulness.org and you will see where I got "great fullness of life" from.
What a wonderful play on words and what a fitting way to capture what rigorous gratefulness can bring. I use words like rigorous and habitual because I believe gratitude takes work. But it is the best work I do. Some days I don't want to do the work. Some days I just act as if. Experience has shown me that good habits can survive a lapse of a day, but I don't push my luck. You will find plenty of material at www.gratefulness.org if you are looking for motivation and inspiration.
 
I also have three previous blog posts where I talk about Brother David and his work:

Most recently from earlier this month--"Just for Today"

And two from October--"Worth the Risk"

and "Are You Awake?"

I just got Brother David's newly released book titled "99 Blessings: An Invitation to Life."  I will have more to say as I work my way through it.

For now, I am so very grateful that the practice of gratitude came in to my life 18 years ago and this blog has only served to deepen and broaden a better perception of myself and surrounding world.

If any of these 300 posts have touched you, I would love to hear about it.

Thanks for reading. Have a good day!

Friday, February 22, 2013

Grounding

Today I am grateful for the simple pleasure of a grilled cheese sandwich. I'm also grateful for my co-worker Germ.

Germ is a wonderful spiritual guide for me individually and for our school collectively. We work at a Catholic school but I appreciate that she draws her spiritual tools from many practices and many faiths. She is doing a Lenten series-focusing on a word a week. When I was able to attend last week, the word was grounding. Centeredness. Another way to be present, but more in the physical realm, connecting to earth.

I admit I have spent more time working on mindfulness, clearing my mind so I can be more present. Grounding and mindfulness are definitely related, but Germ helped me see that grounding is really where it all needs to start. She gave us some good practices to try.

Here's one that couldn't be easier, but I have already found effective. She referred to it as "calling your soul home." Simply say your full name, or any names you go by, outloud. I have used "Get out of the way Lisa" before, but that has a different feel and happens after I have gone down the road of overthinking. "Calling my soul home" can help prevent the overthinking.

Another easy practice--get close to the earth. Lay down in the grass or on the ground. Build a fire. Feel the dirt. Take a walk. (Of course, some of this will have to wait until the snow cover melts here.) Maybe this is one of the reasons I look so forward to spring. The earth and soil come to life. You can smell the dirt and new grass. But snow is part of the earth too, so I will appreciate today's fresh cover.

She gave us some other ideas too. Did I feel comfortable trying them all? No. Was I willing? Yes. And when I could feel a couple of them working, I started using them.

Sometimes I feel that as a society, within our fast-paced American culture, so many of us have gotten out of touch with ourselves, our souls, our surroundings, our earth. Grounding can help. Thanks for the ideas Germ!

Thursday, February 21, 2013

The Simple Things

Today I am grateful for the simple things I noticed yesterday throughout my day. Thanks for the idea Dorothy! And thank you God/Higher Force for those blessings.

I tried to tune in more to the little blessings that fill each day. At least most days for most of us if we but pay attention.

Here are some of the things I made note of yesterday:
*a warm shower
*fresh-smelling soap
*a heated house on a bitterly cold morning
*slippers
*peanut butter and jelly on toast
*pants that fit and flatter
*the day's first cup of coffee
*a comfortable car to commute in
*music on the radio
*ears and eyes that work
*school spirit
*state tournament excitement
*hot tea
*cold water
*homemade spumoni
*old friends
*a comfort level with co-workers
*dinner made by my husband
*BC support group connections
*reading to my son

Start your own list today. Have a good day, just for today.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Happy 82nd!

Today I am grateful for my mom and her continuing health. I am also grateful for perspective-that today is a blessing in and of itself and I need to revel in it. My friend Dorothy reminds me to thank God for the little things.

Today is my mom's 82nd birthday. Happy Birthday! It was nice to be with family to celebrate this weekend. We have tried to get home for Mom's birthdays for the last few years. It seems more important to me-since Dad died, and let's face it, there is a sense of "how many more will she have?"

One of my early posts was called "Parental Wisdom" and is about a line Mom would use with us.Read it here. Today I appreciate spending time with my mom, but she will always be a bit of a mystery to me.

Here is a picture we came across this weekend. It is from Mom and Dad's 25th wedding anniversary in 1975. Dad was 51 and Mom was 44. Look at those smiles!

 
I do appreciate that my mom and I have some things in common, some things that will forever connect me to her. We are both journal-keepers. Hers are more about family and farm happenings and the weather. Mine pour out my deeper thoughts and feelings along with the chronology of my life. But we have both chronicled our lives and that is a treasure.

Mom and I also share a love of the outdoors and the changing seasons. She is always in tune to that and I grew up with an appreciation for nature that continues to be important in my life. She still takes her walk most mornings, after she feeds her chickens.

Have a nice day Mom!

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Altering Attitudes

Today I am grateful for safe travels to and from Iowa for a gathering for my mom's upcoming birthday. I'm grateful for a run with my niece Katie, hills included, my sister Danita's "scarflets," and for some 8-handed euchre fun. I appreciate seeing my growing family. The youngest in attendance is about 8 months old and Mom will be 82 tomorrow.

There's a perpetual calendar in one of the bedrooms we use at my mom's house. I got it caught up to yesterday's quote and found today's blog post idea at the same time. The quote for February 18 is:

"I can alter my life by altering the attitudes of my mind."

I would credit the author, but it didn't name one.

These words hold a lot of meaning for me. I have come to accept that all I control are my attitudes and actions. I would like to think at times that more than that are in my realm of management, but when it really comes down to it, they aren't. The attitude I bring to any given situation and the actions I choose to take are the only ways I can impact the outcomes of life's happenings. The rest is up to others and a higher force beyond all humans.

When my attitude toward life was negative and full of self-hatred, my actions included drinking to excess, smoking cigarettes, and literally hitting myself with my fists. Not to mention the steady stream of never-good-enough garbage that went through my head, created by me. Garbage in. Garbage out.

It has been recovery from alcoholism that has taught me how to change my default mode from that negative train to a more positive train of self-acceptance. And it has been the practice of gratitude that has really been the springboard to changing my "attitudes of mind" to ones that create a healthy perception of myself and surrounding world.

The practice of habitual gratitude has indeed been life-altering.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Last Go-Round

Today I am grateful for new experiences and old traditions. I am also grateful for my stepdaughter Emily.

Emily is a senior in high school and we are trying to take part in some of the last go-round events for her as her final months of high school wind down. One such event took place last night. She is a member of the pep band and last night they traveled to St. Paul to play for a Minnesota Swarm professional lacrosse game. We went last year and enjoyed it, but the lacrosse crowd is still new to me. The game and the announcer's approach had me both enjoying myself and shaking my head at times. (Brief step up on to my soapbox--why do so many sports have to break out in fights from time to time and why do so so many crowd involvment pieces end up being a little-or a lot-disrespectful to the other team? Where are we headed with this?)

The game was a high-scoring one and the Swarm lost to a team from Calgary 17-16. But those 16 goals meant the crowd got to do the "goal dance" a lot. And that was good, clean celebration. It was fun to look around the Excel Center and see so many just having a good time with it. The crowd was over 8,000.

I had been looking forward to another new experience last night--seeing roller derby live for the first time. The Minnesota Roller Girls took on the Old Capitol team from Iowa City, IA. I did learn about the sport, but I must say it wasn't what I expected. Chalk it up as another new experience.

Emily is enjoying her senior year and doing well. Darcy and I both recall the excitement we felt during our own senior years a mere thirty years ago.

Appreciate the last go-rounds as they unfold this spring Emily. They are the stuff lasting memories are made of.

Blog break tomorrow. See you Tuesday. Have a good day!



Saturday, February 16, 2013

In this, our only moment.

Today I am grateful for a slower-paced morning, the smell of fresh-brewed coffee, and my health.

I wanted to revisit Dani Shapiro's book Devotion one more time before putting it on the shelf.I hope you'll consider getting it off the shelf and reading it. There is much food for thought she leaves with readers. I thank her for so openly sharing her own "spiritual detective story."

These two paragraphs on p. 139 capture something at the heart of faith--trusting in a source of power beyond ourselves; putting ourselves in God's hands so to speak.

"I had begun to feel--and it was a bitter feeling--that the world could be divided into two kinds of people: those with an awareness of life's inherent fragility and randomness, and those who believed they were exempt. Parenthood had created an even wider gulf between these two categories. I was firmly on the shore of fragility and randomness, and I could barely make out the exempt people dancing across the way. They seemed like a different species to me. Honestly, I resented them. They were having such a good time.

I didn't know that there was a third way of being. Life was unpredictable, yes. A speeding car, a slip on the ice, a ringing phone, and suddenly everything changes forever. To deny that is to deny life--but to be consumed by it is to also deny life. The third way--inaccessible to me as I slunk down the halls--had to do with holding this paradox lightly in one's own hands. To think: It is true, the speeding car, the slip on the ice, the ringing phone. It is true, and yet here I am listening to my boy sing as we walk down the corridor. Here I am giving him a hug. Here we are--together in this, our only moment.

It also gets to the heart of gratitude. Staying present and recognizing the blessings that continue to flow if we are only paying attention.

The gifts are found, in this, our only moment.

Friday, February 15, 2013

Chocolate and Hearts

Today I am grateful for tools like BSN-breathe, surrender, now-to help me approach my day with more acceptance and willingness. I am also grateful for traditions.

One more post to linger over Valentine's Day just a little longer. My husband Darcy comes through each year with a heart-shaped box of candy for me. My dad always gave my mom a heart-shaped box of candy every Valentine's Day. And then Mom would share that candy with us kids (which means she probably didn't get much herself). I share too.

I always remembered that from my growing up days. I didn't see a lot of affection expressed between my parents, but this gesture seemed like such a sweet and romantic one to me. Dad would sign cards to Mom "Love, Art." I hung on to such gestures because they were few, at least in my memory. I believe my parents had a strong love, they were just of the generation and upbringing where it wasn't expressed outwardly too much. That is a pattern I have definitely broken with my own family. Hugs and "I love yous" are common.

I have a couple of the heart-shaped boxes that Dad gave to Mom among my treasured possessions.I keep the ones that Darcy gives me too, and I put some of the things I save in them.

But the chocolate doesn't last long. I LOVE chocolate. Too much. But I justify it this way: I don't drink and I don't smoke, so I get to have some chocolate.  If it's in the house, I'm going to eat it. So that means I need to keep it out of the house if I hope to meet my Lenten goal-giving up five pounds. Many of you are familiar with giving up something for Lent as a form of sacrifice and preparation. I think it is also good to do more of something positive. So I will continue to practice habitual gratitude and see where it leads.

Have a good day! Are you giving up/adding something for Lent?

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Happy Valentine's Day!

Today I am grateful for the beauty of winter . . . like the weekend snowfall that helped create this fitting Valentine's Day picture:

 
 
We put up Valentine's lights in the front of our house each year. More accurately, Darcy puts them up and I enjoy them. Thanks dear!

I am grateful for the love that I have in my life today; faith, family, friends, self.

And for the unconditional love I have most learned from others in recovery from
alcoholism and addiction.

There were a few years in my life, quite a few, when Valentine's Day served as a reminder, and a painful one at that, of what I didn't have-a husband, a family of my own. But the practice of gratitude helped me reach the point where I could frame it positively. I have always been loved by my family of origin and I have never been friend-less. I came to appreciate the love I did have in my life, not the one I felt I was missing. But I did hope to find that missing love. And I did.

I always planned to keep my maiden name of Holthaus-a good German name-when I got married. But then I met Mr. Valentine. I am a Holthaus at heart, but I love being Mrs. Valentine. I joke that with our name, every day is Valentine's Day for us. Truly it can be for everyone. Taking the time to be grateful for the special people we have in our lives, and letting them know in big ways and small what they mean to us, can and should happen year-round.

Heart-shaped chocolates may be seasonal, but the love isn't.  Have a nice day!




Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Midlife Crisis

Today I am grateful for all the people and things on my A-Z gratitude list I did while I was exercising. I am also grateful for Oliver and the way he follows me from place to place.

Back to Dani Shapiro's book Devotion. She had me dog-earing numerous pages. These words on p. 123 were noted:

"Who was I, and what did I want for the second half of my life? I mean, I was in the middle of life, the middle of midlife, the middle of a midlife crisis. I had been shaped by choices and decisions, not all of them conscious. I had turned left instead of right; had taken (or not taken) the trip, the flight, the challenge, the chance. Everything I had ever done had led me here-and while here wasn't a bad place at all, it also wasn't enough. Some essential piece of me was missing . . ."

I think many of us have some version of a midlife crisis. It's personal and it's real. When do we know we have survived the crisis? When do we know we have defined our own level of "enough?"  We are each the only ones who can answer such questions for ourselves. And crisis may be too strong of a word to use. The crisis, as I see it, is how close is my life today to the goals I set for myself? The bigger the distance between the two, the more serious the crisis.

My perspective on midlife is a bit skewed. I drank for ten years, between ages 14 and 24. It is said that when you start drinking you stop growing emotionally. In that case I didn't really "grow up" until I was in my thirties. But before I left my thirties, marriage, motherhood, stepmotherhood, and marathoning had all helped me "grow up" in many new ways.

A cancer diagnosis at 42 presented a look at mortality that you can't get any other way. Before that diagnosis, I was feeling a little stale in my job, and had been trying to write more and seek publishing. Cancer was a catalyst for me, helping me keep the right priorities front and center. Writing gets more time and focus and has really taken off. My job gets kept in a healthier perspective.

Midlife crisis or midlife perspective?  It sure feels less like a crisis today and more like a healthy perspective. I have gratitude practice to thank for much of that.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Fits and Starts

Today I am grateful for the ability to read. Talk about something I take for granted. I am also grateful for the mix of hard copy reading material I have-including Runner's World magazine, our weekly paper, and whatever book or two I am reading at any given time.

The book I just got done with is Devotion, a memoir by Dani Shapiro. She has written several novels and another nonfiction work. She was referenced in a blog I follow. That is the blog of Lisa Bonchek Adams (http://lisabadams.com). I have mentioned Lisa before. I don't know her personally, but she is an amazing writer and a metastatic breast cancer patient. So when she suggested Shapiro's book, I followed up.

Devotion is about Shapiro's journey to find faith, to find life's meaning. The book jacket calls it a "spiritual detective story."  I like her approach in the book-102 short chapters. Lots of good stopping points, which is good for someone like me who often falls asleep when I read.

"Fits and starts" comes to mind because that is how I would describe her efforts (and mine too) to get to the heart of the matter, the matter of life. Growing up in a traditional Jewish home, facing the tragic early death of her father, and seeing her son through a grave health issue as an infant were some of the experiences she worked through, in fits and starts. She is genuine, sharp, and witty in her writing. That's the kind of writing that grabs me and hooks me. She left me feeling hopeful, although the search for meaning in life can be messy and difficult. It is worth it. That is her message, at least the message I got. It is worth it.

She uses a variety of meditative practices, including yoga. On p. 76, she talks about meditation this way:

"All I knew was that sitting helped-and by that, I don't mean that it helped make me feel better. Let me be perfectly clear: meditation was not helping me feel better. It was hard, scary, and sometimes felt silly. What was I doing?"

I have found the practice of meditation to be difficult and it has literally taken me years to find ways that are effective for me. Effective in turning off mental overload and allowing in the important thoughts that need to get through. She calls it like it is. Hard work. I appreciate that.

But she found, as did I, that persistence pays off. It gets better, more productive so to speak. And then the labor starts bearing fruit.

Monday, February 11, 2013

Fulfilling Seasons

Today I am grateful for trusted recipes. Yesterday's recipes included a turkey casserole we all like and cookies I hadn't made in quite a while--jubilee jumbles. I am also grateful to share time in the kitchen with my son.

Here's one more post about teachers and coaches. This one is about my time as a coach. I knew I wanted to be a coach before I pursued being a teacher. I was coaching before I left college. I started out as a Little League softball coach and went on to spend 10 seasons as an assistant varsity and head junior varsity softball coach. I loved playing softball and I thoroughly enjoyed my coaching experience, particularly the six years I coached at South Winneshiek with my friend Bonnie, whom I mentioned in an earlier post.

It sounds cliche to say that those teams felt like family, but we sure did seem to click. I believe that if you have team cohesion and respect, team success often follows. Bonnie worked hard to build those aspects of her teams, and she was highly successful. She was inducted into the Iowa Girls' Coaches Association Hall of Fame in 2011. There are many fun memories of road trips to play in Urbandale and passing the time at all-day Saturday tournaments. And witnessing young girls maturing into young women as both softball players and people of character.

I also coached high school track for five years. I was at South Winneshiek for three years, and then BGM (Brooklyn) for two. I was the girls' varsity coach and did my best to teach kids how to do everything from running hurdles, to high jumping, to making decent hand-offs in relays. I had been a distance runner and discus thrower myself, so I was learning along with the athletes I coached. I was single at the time and had the heart and energy to pour into the seasons. More good memories and a very gratifying time in coaching.

Throw in five years of coaching junior high girls' basketball and I was busy much of the year. I appreciated getting to know students in ways that you really couldn't in the classroom. And that went both ways. They got to know me differently as well. I appreciated the opportunity to help shape young lives. It was never primarily about winning. It was about learning, growing, getting in shape, trying hard, being part of a team, and gaining self-confidence. Winning was a bonus.

I hope I am remembered as a coach who had that right mix of cheering on and coaching. I was there to help and I believed being positive and supportive worked far better than being too harsh and critical. The highest compliment I received as a coach:
"You helped me believe in myself."

It truly was my pleasure to coach. But that energy is now reserved for my family and the one athlete I still "coach"--my son Sam.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Sharing Gratitude

Today I am grateful for an early morning run on trails and roads that were relatively safe. That could change as a mix of precipitation and a few inches of snow are expected later today.

I am grateful for the nice audience I had yesterday for my "Habitual Gratitude" talk. I joked with them that an easy audience is kindergartners--show up with a book to read and a smile and they love you. A tougher audience may be seniors in a required social studies class. But I knew right away I was in front of a receptive and kind audience and I appreciated that.

It meant a lot to have Darcy and Sam there and some friends who are part of my support system here.

I gathered myself and said a prayer before I headed to the venue. At that point, there's not much more you can do but wait for your turn. I feel good about how things went, but honestly couldn't tell you a lot about what I said. It just sort of fell out of me. But that's exactly why practice is important.

I was affirmed by that kind audience yesterday. Affirmed that gratitude is of so much value and we all understand that. We just need the motivation and inspiration to incorporate it regularly into our days.

I especially appreciate the women who took the time to thank me after I was done, and to share some of their own stories with me. Sharing gratitude takes many forms. Thanks for sharing with me and allowing me to share with you.

Starting this blog last March continues to open more doors, and for that I am truly grateful.

Saturday, February 9, 2013

Gathering Gratitude

Today I am grateful for the opportunity to give my first public presentation about gratitude to a local church group. I am grateful for the chance to gather and organize my thoughts about the role of gratitude in my life.

I am also thankful for my sister Zita. It is her birthday today. Happy Birthday and thanks for being you!

I have spent hours in the last weeks preparing for this talk; first in my head, then on paper and in a PowerPoint, and most recently practicing the talk out loud. Commutes to and from work and when I am exercising have been good times to practice.

Practice. Practice gratitude. Habitually.

Putting this talk together has afforded me the opportunity to gather together the wealth of thoughts and feelings I have about gratitude and what it has meant in my life. It is amazing and humbling to me how I got from hating myself and having a pretty negative perception of myself and the world around me, to where I am today. I accept my reflection in the mirror, I have a confidence I never had before, and I have a less cluttered, more present mind and soul. Gratitude reminds me that I am surrounded by blessings and gifts that don't need to come wrapped in packages.

I am both excited and nervous for my presentation this morning. Onward.

Gratitude is truly an ongoing process. It pays the best dividends when I tap into it regularly.

Gather gratitude. Today. Begin or continue. Either works.

Friday, February 8, 2013

Coaches

Today I am grateful for a good morning greeting from our dog Oliver and I am grateful for the opportunity to present to others on the topic of gratitude tomorrow.

I also appreciate the many coaches I had in my younger days, and my own coaching experiences.

As I spoke of favorite teachers and a little bit about my own teaching, it was a likely place to end up going to thoughts of the coaches I had over my years involved in competitive sports. Some taught me what to do, others showed me what not to do.

When it came to running and track, I think of Jim and Sara. Jim was also my 8th grade teacher, but was the first to foster a more serious approach to running. We didn't have a track team in 8th grade, but he took the time to write out a training program for me. Sara was my track coach my junior year of high school. I had three different coaches in my four years of high school track. Sara stood out, and ranks as one of my favorite coaches overall, because of her approach. She was always positive and encouraging, that right mix of push and inspire while having fun and recognizing us as teens. She was one of the reasons I decided to pursue coaching myself. Thanks Jim and Sara, wherever you are today.

I also played softball and basketball. I had two softball coaches in high school, Bonnie and Denny. I later went on to coach with Bonnie and I will talk about that wonderful experience in a different post. I loved the game of softball, and I appreciated the varied approaches that Bonnie and Denny had. I also appreciated that they saw the big picture. This wasn't just about fundamentals and how to defend a bunt situation. They saw that this was also about developing young lives and instilling values. We didn't win any championships, but we had a lot of fun and I grew as a teammate and a young woman during those seasons.

I played softball through four years of college as well. My coaches were many, my experiences with them varied. But they all helped shape me as an athlete, and as the coach I later became myself. They are part of my life experience and I appreciate that.

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Life's Classrooms

Today I am grateful for the feeling of putting pen to paper, as well as the power behind the keys on my keyboard as words form on my computer screen. I am grateful for the power of writing in my life.

And I thank the many teachers who have taught me in a wide variety of life's classrooms.

Mrs. Becker and Mrs. Walker are just two of many master teachers I have had the opportunity to learn from and work with over the years. I had several college professors. . . at Waldorf College, the University of Northern Iowa, and Buena Vista University. . . that pushed me, that had me looking forward to class, that awed me with their level of knowledge, energy,  and passion, and that were just a little crazy, because that's what it takes. In my ten years of teaching, I worked beside wonderful teachers who showed me the way and who set the standard of excellence high. The last 15 years I have been working as a school counselor, but continue to have the privilege of working with teaching professionals who impress me with their techniques, their flexibility, their communication skills, and this seeming innate ability to reach all different kinds of students. And do it all with a smile on their face and love in their hearts.

I have also had many teachers in the classroom of recovery from alcoholism. People who share their own experiences so I don't feel so alone. People who share how they get through tough moments and days without a drink. People who practice honesty and humility and use those as springboards to personal reflection and growth. People who are walking examples of what gratitude practice can do.

And then there's the classroom of cancer. I have had fellow cancer patients and others teach me about grace, about facing fear, about keeping a routine, asking the tough questions, and not forgetting to laugh.

Some of my favorite teachers are right here at home. My family. And our dog.

Today I appreciate the teachers I have had and still have.

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Master Teachers

Today I am grateful for all of the teachers I have had over the years, both in schools and in life.I am especially grateful for Mrs. Becker and Mrs. Walker.

The last two days I blogged about a little booklet Sam created and how at the end of it, he thanked me for teaching him about life and sports. That got me thinking about some of my own teachers.

Mrs. Becker was my 3rd grade teacher. Prior to that year, I don't recall liking school very much and my siblings tell me I would sometimes have physical complaints and could stay home for a day. (I guess I was playing hooky.) I was shy, insecure, and couldn't keep my "sh" and "ch" sounds straight, among other things. Mrs. Becker was different than the other teachers I had had, and she brought an energy and enthusiasm to teaching that I needed. I don't recall details, but I know I started liking school more. The only specific memory I have was playing bingo in class. But as the year went on, my feelings about school changed and I ended up never avoiding school again. Mrs. Becker is now the principal at that little school I went to. I realize that when she taught me, she had to be in one of her first years of teaching. Nearly forty years later, she's still committed. That's a master teacher.Thanks Mrs. Becker!

Mrs. Walker was one of my high school English teachers. She had that mix of humor, knowledge, toughness, and compassion that really struck a chord with me. I liked reading and especially writing, so I took several classes with her. I recall some great discussions and some good laughs together. She pushed me to think beyond my own experience. She made the learning fun and motivated me to continue. By the time she was my teacher she was likely in her sixties. I wrote her a letter of thanks when I was in college or shortly thereafter. She has since passed away. But mine was just one of the many, many lives she touched. Thanks Mrs. Walker!

It turns out that this thread has me thinking a lot about teachers, teaching, coaches, coaching. So I guess I have fuel for a few more posts.

Have a good day, unless you've made other plans.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Life and Sports

Today I am grateful for my friends in recovery. We hold each other accountable and remind one another of the value of humor along the way. I am also grateful for my progressive lens glasses.

On the last page of Sam's little booklet that I mentioned yesterday is a note to me. It reads:

"But most of all I am thankful for . . . Mom, Because I am thankful for all you've taught me about life and sports. Love, Sam"

It goes both ways buddy. Definitely both ways.

Here is a picture of his work:

 
 
This is when I am glad that I save things. I already have several boxes and totes (though they are small or medium-sized) full of Sam's schoolwork and art projects. I tell him, and myself, that we can't save it all. And when he goes through his papers he throws out a fair amount. Maybe the next time we go through some of the older boxes, he, and I, will be willing to part with more "stuff."  But he definitely got this affinity for saving things from me. Not his father. I wish I could be more like Darcy in this respect. He gets rid of unneeded papers much more readily than I do. I'll keep it "just in case" and then it stacks up. But I don't regret saving things like the above. Sam is growing up fast. This is a reminder to me of the child he still is. The child I love so dearly.
 
I didn't ask him specifically what I have taught him about life. I don't plan to ask him. Sometimes I ask too many questions. But he teaches me every day to be grateful for what I have right here in front of me: a family I love, a house that is a home, a pet that is part of the family, our health. He teaches me to be patient and accepting and that we are all "works in progress."
 
And when it comes to sports, I am glad I can pass along my love for games and exercise. It all starts with a game of catch in the backyard.
 
Thanks Sam!
 
 


Monday, February 4, 2013

Artwork

Today I am grateful for the places I have lived and the places I have been able to travel to. My catalog of memories and pictures is full of treasures.

I was thinking about those places after I came across something Sam had made.

Before Christmas, Sam did a little piece of artwork at school when he had some free time. We discovered the little booklet in his backpack days later. He said he forgot to give it to me. We go through his papers every couple weeks and decide what to keep and what to throw. I was intrigued by this colorful 5 x 8 inch booklet because I always like to see what Sam is up to at school, but also because it had "I am thankful . . ." on the front cover.

I added it to my pile of "potential blog material" and it has finally arrived at the top of that pile. (It's a figurative pile as well as a literal one.)

Along with different designs made out of construction paper creating each page in the book, here is what it says page by page:

I am thankful . . .
                  for the brown earth we walk on . . .
                  for the tall pines and big oaks . . .
                  for the tall, pointy mountains . . .
                  for the bright shining sun . . .
                  and for the big blue sky . . .

So I think about the walks I took on the two farms I grew up on, and the smell of that brown earth in the spring when it was freshly plowed.

I think about the willow tree that used to be in my parent's front yard and how beautiful it was on a frosty morning.

I think about the majestic Rocky Mountains and the natural splendor of Denali National Park.

Do I take the time to see the sunrises and sunsets, to appreciate a clear blue sky?  I try to. Practicing gratitude helps me stay present, mindful. That helps me notice the natural beauty I would otherwise miss.

Have a good day!


   
                 



Sunday, February 3, 2013

Super

Today I am grateful for a good movie to watch in "The Help." I'm also grateful for a chance to talk to my friend Beth and for the prayers I can offer to others. It is all I can do in some cases, but it is something.

Super is a word passing many lips this weekend because of the Super Bowl football game. I am a pro football fan, so I do like the game and I get a little sad knowing the season will then be over. It's the only pro sport I care to watch. I go way back to some Sundays when I was tired and often hungover in my younger days. I would fall asleep on the couch during the first game of the day and then wake up to eat supper and watch the end of the second game. Memories.

But I get a little tired of the hype surrounding one game; the week of pre-game, the commercials, the half-time show, and so on. So how about a little different look at super.

According to Merriam-Webster here are some of the various meanings of super:

1. of high grade or quality, used as a generalized term of approval
2. very large or powerful
3. exhibiting the characteristics of its type to an extreme or excessive degree 

The second and third meanings seem to fit the Super Bowl, so let's talk about the first meaning.I am not one to use the word super very much. But when pressed, and when looking at the first definition above, I can sure come up with some super things in my life:

*my marriage
*my parenting/step-parenting experiences/lessons
*friendships I have been blessed with
*the difference our dog Oliver makes in our lives
*our 10 marathon runs/finishes
*the relationship I have with some of my co-workers
*recovery and a growing faith
*journaling. blogging, and other ways to practice gratitude


The dividends of gratitude are indeed super! Go invest in some.


Saturday, February 2, 2013

Review, Re-view

Today I am grateful for the weekend and time to slow down the pace I keep during the week. I am grateful for my family and friends and the unique qualities they all bring to this world and to my life.

I am done reviewing the "17 Points of Clarity" and thought you might like to review the complete list one last time. Which ones stood out for you? Why?

17 Points of Clarity
1. All any of us have is today.
2. For me, fear of the known is less than fear of the unknown.
3. Having to consider my own mortality helps me cherish my life.
4. Gratitude is a good pair of glasses to wear. It makes everything look better.
5. Laughter is always possible.
6. I can live without my breasts. Just don’t take my heart and soul.
7. Endorphins are free and very effective.
8. You can’t beat having a friend by your side.
9. Faith and a pen can trump fear and despair.
10. An open mind allows inspiration in.
11. My body is just a vehicle. The life in it is what counts. But I take care of both.
12. Drink lots of water. Then drink some more.
13. Three words . . . keep priorities straight.
14. My husband is a blessing in so many ways.
15. Children and pets are great teachers.
16. Life isn’t always fair, but it’s still precious.
17. All any of us have is today.

As I typed review, I realized that re-view is what gratitude allows. A different look at a situation. A better take on a day that offered challenges. An enhanced view of the little things too often taken for granted.

Nancy over at Nancy's Point blog had a beautiful take on snowy days in her recent post. It's called "Snow Globe Days" and you can read it here. Thanks Nancy!

Have a good day! Clarify what matters.

 

Friday, February 1, 2013

Just For Today (Point #17)

Today I am grateful for the music I love and working ears to hear it with. I am grateful for my eyes, to see the beauty created by nature and humans.

We have arrived at point of clarity #17: "All any of us have is today."

Point #17 is purposefully the same as Point #1. It's that important. Stay present.

I came across this TEDx talk/film by cinematographer Louie Schwartzberg titled "Gratitude." It is a wonderful wrap-up to my "17 Points of Clarity." It is about 10 minutes long and contains amazing time-lapse photography as well as the wonderful voice and words of one of my favorite "gratitude gurus"--Brother David Steindl-Rast. Watch it here.

For now, I will leave you with some of the words spoken by Brother David in the film.

"You think this is just another day in your life. It's not just another day. It's the one day that is given to you, today. It's the only gift that you have right now, and the only appropriate response is gratefulness. If you learn to respond as if it were the first day in your life and the very last day, then you will have spent this day very well."