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

Friday, May 31, 2013

Five Years Out--Beware of Complacency

Today I am grateful for a cooling breeze and yet another commencement to attend. This one will be for the seniors at the school I work at. It is a good time to reflect on the connections I have made with some of these young people over the last 4-6 years.

The computer issues have yet to be resolved, but we'll just keep rolling with it.

I also continue to reflect on my cancer diagnosis anniversary. I say this with some caution, but I also say it because I think some people have a misguided perception. There is no "home-free and cured" when it comes to cancer. There is only NED-no evidence of disease. Many statistics talk about 5-year survival rates, but that does not equate to "if I make it five years, I'm safe."  I am very grateful to be five years out from my own diagnosis, grateful that many people I care about have made it five years and beyond. But I also know many who didn't make it five years, or suffered a recurrence or metastasis many years later. I won't be lulled into complacency.

No medical professional can ever guarantee anyone that their cancer won't come back. They can bandy about statistics and be reassuring that we've done all we can, but they don't have cancer's crystal ball. Those cells are sneaky, mysterious, and full of questions. That's why more research funding needs to be put to use finding some answers. (Not to get side-tracked, but pink ribbon hype isn't helping much in my opinion.)

For some, the cancer won't return. But for others it will, within a few months, a few years, or even decades later. Technically, I'm not a cancer survivor until I die of something else. Does that sound fearful or cynical?I was simply going for realistic. I don't live in fear. When it does come calling, I don't let it stay long. I don't live in hypervigilance either. But I am vigilant about noticing if there's anything going on in my body that seems different. So far, so good. But if something comes along, the first thing I want ruled out is a recurrence or metastasis of my cancer.

I do many things that are good for my physical health-no smoking, no alcohol, plenty of exercise, lots of water, plenty of fruits and vegetables. I do many things for my mental, spiritual, and emotional health too-starting with practicing gratitude and applying the tools of faith. I could do more, but alas I am human.I do pay attention though, and that's a good start.

Gratitude and a cancer diagnosis both keep me from slipping into complacency.

Thursday, May 30, 2013

Got issues? Get flexibility!

Today I am grateful for the rainbow I was just treated to. A real rainbow on the horizon.

I am also grateful for our local library, where I am sitting now doing this blog post. We do have some issues-computer issues. Neither my husband nor I are very tech savvy, but even we know when a computer issue may be a significant one. We will confer with my stepson Arthur and see what we might need to do. Our laptop is over four years old, so it's not like it hasn't served us well.

I was actually proud of myself and the apparent calm and acceptance I have greeted this computer issue with. Sure, it's an inconvenience. Sure, I'm worried about what it may cost to fix or replace our laptop. Sure, it's been really busy and we just didn't need a glitch like this.

Oh well. It could be a lot worse. A LOT. This is small potatoes compared to what some people are dealing with today. Gratitude practice allows me to reach this conclusion fairly quickly.  It also allows me to be flexible.

Flexibility takes many forms. This evening for me it means dropping Sam off at baseball practice, coming to the local public library, doing this post, and letting you know that over the next few days I can't predict how regular my posts will be.

Flexibility. Roll with the changes and challenges. Small potatoes. Big opportunity to flex my flexibility.

Freedom Rider

Today I am grateful for a bike ride with fresh air and speed. I am also grateful for headphones with high quality sound, so I can lose myself in a song.

I was energized last night, after catching my second (or third) wind of the day. I felt like going for a bike ride and Darcy joined me. It was humid and sticky here, so I enjoyed the chance to get a good breeze going.

I was also continuing to reflect on being five years out from my cancer diagnosis. I don't usually wear my prosthetics at home, so it was just me, my scars, and a t-shirt enjoying that refreshing breeze as we gained speed going down hills. There is a freedom in that feeling, a freedom in recognizing a silver lining that came out of the dark cloud of cancer.

"Freedom rider" came to my mind as we biked along. Gratitude to be physically able to bike, to be alive and well, to not be undergoing debilitating cancer treatment. Gratitude for a good bike, a helmet that fits, and a variety of routes to travel. Gratitude for my husband beside me.

Then thoughts about my other disease-alcoholism-came to mind. Recovery is freeing. Addiction was a prison. I owe much to many, including my Higher Power and friends and family who support me in my recovery. This debt I owe is paid back by trying to live with kindness and gentleness, with compassion, for others and myself.

Freedom takes many forms. Gratitude, gratituderty, always brings freedom because it releases the bondage of self-pity and "never good enough." Here's hoping you find your freedom today.





Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Five Years Out-- "Keeping Perspective Revisited"

Today I am grateful for the opportunities to make a difference in the lives of others, and grateful for the many people who make a difference in my life. 

I am also grateful for the perspective I have today...five years to the day since my breast cancer diagnosis was confirmed, two days after a MR-guided biopsy. The time has gone quickly, but I have tried to take each day as the gift it is.

I wrote a poem called "Keeping Perspective" between my 3rd and 4th rounds of chemo in October of 2008. For me, it was one of the most powerful poems I wrote during that time. It is really about being grateful rather than feeling sorry for myself.

Keeping Perspective

What’s sadder than
           Having cancer?
Not knowing you have it
           And it keeps growing

What’s sadder than
           Losing your hair?
Losing your life
           And second chances

What’s sadder than
          Being afraid to die?
Having nothing to live for
          And forgetting joy

 
Last evening, as I reflected on this 5th anniversary, I decided to write a new poem.
Here it is:

Keeping Perspective Revisited
What’s worse than being breastless?
          Not appreciating the body that remains

What’s worse than fearing cancer’s return?
          Taking days and daily gifts for granted

What’s worse than being a cancer patient?
          Not letting life’s experiences define and refine


Last year's post on my diagnosis anniversary can be read here.

It's still about gratitude. It always will be. That is the perspective that brings me richness and fullness of life.




 

 

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Family and Friends

Today I am grateful for the family and friends who traveled to help celebrate Emily's graduation. I am also grateful for a timely reminder from friends to "just breathe."

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

"Nothing purchased can come close to the renewed sense of gratitude for having family and friends."(Courtland Milloy)

It was a lot of work preparing for a graduation party and I am still recovering, but it was exciting and gratifying to be part of this event, this celebration. It is exciting and gratitfying to be witness to an 18-year-old's next steps into the future. I am proud of Emily and look forward to where she will go. I witnessed her father's pride and mixed emotions too, along with the support of family and friends who made the effort and took the time to be here.

Darcy and I are both blessed with family who care, who support us in many ways. It was nice to show some our home for the first time. It was nice to get a game of 500 in, and to circle up to watch Emily open gifts. Family and friends. I try not to take them for granted. I will try not to take this day for granted either.

Tired, yes. But a good tired.

Saturday, May 25, 2013

Smiles, SMILES, smiles

Today I am grateful for my family and friends, and especially my stepdaughter Emily on this, her high school graduation day. I am also grateful for smiles and laughter.

The topic of smiles came up in a conversation yesterday. Genuine smiles. Light-up-your-eyes smiles.You know them when you see them, don't you? You feel it when it's your own smile, don't you?

Random thoughts about smiles:

*Smiles are contagious.

*Everyone smiles in the same language.

*Smiles come in all shapes and sizes.

*My smile is one of the few things I've always liked about myself.

*Smiles are an outward show of an inward joy.

*Smiles can lead to laughter and laughter is a healthy gift.

There will be plenty of smiles among graduates and family members today, plenty of smiles for cameras. Smiles of achievement, pride, joy, relief, excitement, anticipation.

What makes you smile today? Give thanks for it.

I will be taking a blog break tomorrow and plan to be back Monday or Tuesday.
Have a good day and a good weekend!

Friday, May 24, 2013

Last Day, First Day

Today I am grateful for family and friends, and for milestones like high school graduation for those achieving it in the coming weeks.

Today is the last day of high school for my stepdaughter Emily and her classmates, and for the seniors at the school where I work. Such excitement and such energy! It always gives me pause to reflect on the hope and promise of a young life about to head into adulthood. Last day of high school, first day of the rest of your life.

I mentioned earlier this week, on the 19th, that my own high school graduation was thirty years ago to the day. Wow! I can't believe thirty years have gone by. I have been so deeply blessed, it is humbling. Recovery, running, writing, marriage, motherhood . . . and that is just getting the list started.

Some seniors will be out partying and celebrating. Some will make unhealthy and dangerous choices. I hope they make it through. I am grateful I did.

We all have those last day, first day milestones to reflect on. There may be regrets, grief, losses. But I hope there is also plenty of focus on gifts, blessings, gratitude, lessons learned, progress made.

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

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Ears and Shoulders

Today I am grateful for my gratitude journal and this blog. They help me keep my focus and a positive perspective. I'm also grateful for the lamps in our house. I appreciate the soothing light they give off.

And I am grateful for ears and shoulders, mine and others. Yesterday in a stretch of a few hours, I had several people do some venting to me. I was their sounding board, their safe place. Venting, sharing, unloading, unburdening, releasing frustration, commiserating--all have value because it's better to get rid of that which weighs on us, or at least keep it at a manageable size. Otherwise, tough emotions can become toxic, taint our view of self and world.

Ears and shoulders. I listen with my ears and heart, and I hope I do a decent job of it. I try. I'm not so much the one with shoulders people cry on, nor am I much of a crier myself, but my figurative shoulders can help absorb the burdens others carry. It's a gift to be trusted.

When I use my ears and shoulders to hear and support others, I am better able to keep my own life in perspective. I am better able to remain grateful because I am reminded that others are facing challenges and struggles too, and I'm not alone.

Ears and shoulders. I will try to make mine available today.

Thank you to those who are my safe place, my sounding boards. You help me so much.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

PLEASE JOIN: Every Woman Counts

Today I am grateful for Sam's enjoyment of his baseball season, his teammates, his coaches, his improving skills and confidence. I am also grateful for all of the compassion in the world and I hope to contribute to that amount today.

With talk of cancer lately, it's time for me to make another pitch for women to join Dr. Susan Love's Army of Women and also the Health of Women Study. Action helps me feel like I am making a difference, like I am throwing my positive energy out into the universe. There are actions we can all take when it comes to getting to the causes and finding cures for breast cancer. Any answers we can find about breast or other cancers may help us address all cancers.

I wrote a post last October about these two intiatives, sponsored by the Dr. Susan Love Research Foundation (DSLRF). You can read the entire post here.

Below is a portion of that post that provides links and tells you how to take action to help in the search for causes and cures for breast cancer.

"Here are a couple ways to take action. Join the new DSLRF initiative called the Health of Women Study at www.healthofwomenstudy.org. It is open to women worldwide over the age of 18, both those who have had breast cancer and those who have not. The goal is to build a huge database of information from women about women to help find potential answers to the causes of and risk factors for breast cancer.

You can also join the on-going DSLRF initiative known as the Army of Women at
www.armyofwomen.org. This is also open to all women regardless of breast cancer history. This database helps researchers locate research participants in months instead of years, allowing the pace of research to pick up.

It just takes a few minutes to sign up for either and then you have taken positive action for a good reason. You can then decide what you want to participate in. It is all totally voluntary and your information is protected.Please consider joining one or both of these initiatives."


At the time of that post last October, there were over 8,000 women who had joined the HOW study. Now there are over 41,000. That's good progress, but it could be better. The goal of the Army of Women is to be one million strong. Last October, there were 369,000 who had joined. Now the number nears 373,000. Let's help pick up the pace.

Women, consider joining. Men, encourage the women in your life to step up. Together we can make a difference. Action empowers.


Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Gratituderty

Today I am grateful for the flexibility others exhibit, and I am grateful for my job.

My thoughts and prayers go out to the tornado victims in Moore, Oklahoma.

Today's post is another word to add to our family gratitude vocabulary list. This one is courtesy of my sister-in-law Elaine. The word she contributed is gratituderty. This is added to the list which contains gratituding, gratitudeness, gratitudinal adjustment, and gratitunity. You can read about the previous words here. 

Elaine combined gratitude and liberty to create gratituderty, because of the liberty that comes from being grateful for what a person has and experiences. She was framing it from the perspective of a significant change in her job situation.

Gratitude is liberating isn't it? Instead of feeling trapped in "not enough," I am freed by what gratitude teaches me-that I truly have "more than enough." Gratitude allows me to keep more of an open mind, to be accepting of life on life's terms. That liberates me from some of the fear and worry and gives me positive energy to proceed.

My husband and I watched the movie "Silver Linings Playbook" this weekend. It was good and it was thought-provoking. Silver linings played out in unexpected ways. Life has a way of doing that. Even in difficult times. Especially in difficult times. Gratituderty was evident in the movie too.

Practicing habitual gratitude allows me to better notice the silver linings and to simply better notice the daily gifts I receive.

Thanks for the addition to our vocabulary list Elaine!

Monday, May 20, 2013

Hills Anyone?

Today I am grateful for a good half-marathon run yesterday, for my family, for the lush green that has emerged in the last couple of weeks.

That half-marathon kicked my butt. Or more accurately the hills kicked my butt. I knew it was a hilly course-I've run it before. But I guess I forgot how hilly-one after the other. I didn't count, I just tried to conquer the hills one at a time. I was hoping to come in under two hours, but when it looked like that wasn't going to happen, I accepted it. I cut myself more slack than I used to. My 2:08 time wasn't shabby and I reminded myself that it was really just about being out there, able to run, able to participate in life, hills and all.

I typically don't walk up hills when I am running. It's a psychological thing for me. It may zap my physical strength a bit with each hill, but it gives me mental strength, and that's just as important to a runner as physical strength. I am stubborn too. I don't want a hill to get the better of me.

I did do some reflecting, but the running and the hills required plenty of my focus. I did think of my own cancer journey, but I also thought of those who have died of cancer, of those currently undergoing surgeries and treatment to address cancer. I thought about family members and friends who are facing their own challenges on many fronts.

I returned to gratitude, appreciating being able-bodied, appreciating the experience, painful hills and all. I finished. For myself, but also for those who can't run at this time.

Like the literal hills I ran, the figurative ones in life can be overcome. One step at a time. One day at a time. With gratitude to help paint a healthier perspective.

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Running to Reflect

Today I am grateful for my morning walks with Oliver and for the role that running has had and continues to have in my life.

I am heading out to run a half-marathon this morning-the Apple Blossom Races. Darcy and I have both run this race a few times, but not since 2009. I will  be going solo today, and in ways that is fitting. I am running to reflect and I am running in celebration. Celebration for life. The life I continue to be blessed with five years after a breast cancer diagnosis.

My diagnosis was early stage. I had three surgeries and went through four rounds of chemotherapy. But I came far closer to dying from my other disease-alcoholism-than I have from cancer. I hope it stays that way. But I know that there are no guarantees. Cancer is mysterious and cunning. It could rear it's ugly head in my life again. I don't live in fear of that, but I do live with a sense of mortality I didn't have prior to May of 2008.

I take actions to live a decent life--physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually. Could I do more? Sure. We all could. I do the best I can day to day, and gratitude is always part of that "best."

And I realized that it was thirty years ago today that I graduated from high school. My stepdaughter is just days away from her own high school graduation too. More to reflect on as I run this morning.

I'll take it stride by stride, step by step. You do the same and have a good day!

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Thanks To The Beautiful People

Today I am grateful for recovery from alcoholism and the relationships I am blessed to have with other people in recovery.

I got to spend some time with a few such folks yesterday and I really appreciated it. I have been quite busy; caught up in a long to-do list and behind on rest. There are many good things happening. It's not like the things making my life hectic are negative things. That in itself makes me grateful. But it still wears me out.

So I have been out of balance, off-kilter. I have been feeling like the proverbial "hamster on a wheel" or "dog running on linoleum." A lot of energy is being dispensed, but there's always more to do. I have lost perspective, forgotten to pause, slow down, keep my priorities straight. Those priorities include daily work on the daily disease of alcoholism.

The friends I got to see yesterday reminded me of my priorities. They are truly beautiful people. The light in their eyes, the smiles on their faces, the heart and soul they pour out in their words. We laughed. We talked about balance, grace, self-discipline, change.

And as one friend so aptly put it: "Let's try not to get swallowed up by life." Pause. Just pause.

Perspective regained. Thanks to the beautiful people! You know who you are.

Friday, May 17, 2013

Cancer On My Mind

Today I am grateful for rest. I am also grateful for the people in my life who continue to do well after their own cancer diagnoses.

Cancer is on my mind. A co-worker's spouse has surgery today. A friend's friend just got diagnosed. Four years ago today (May 17, 2009) I ran a half-marathon--five months to the day after my mastectomies (December 17, 2008). It was a memorable milestone in my recovery. I haven't run that particular race since, but I will be running it on Sunday. It's my way of celebrating being five years out from my own diagnosis. (That anniversary comes later this month.)

Truth is, cancer is on my mind often. But it is often on the fringes, not the forefront. Angelina Jolie's op-ed piece in the New York Times and all the discussion that has generated has been all over the news as well this week. Jolie made a personal decision based on the information she had. That information clearly showed her at high-risk for getting breast cancer. The preventative measures she took are the ones many women choose, they just don't make the headlines. I commend Jolie for the way she came forth with this, but I commend the everyday heroes who face these choices too, some without the good fortune of access to exceptional health care.

And I commend people like Lisa Adams and Mark Weber, living each day with Stage IV cancer. Lisa Adams' latest blog post talks about time, about six minutes. You can read it here.  How does that look to someone dying from cancer?

How does that look to someone like me? No evidence of disease today. Set to run a half-marathon in a couple days. Though the lens I am viewing life through is much different than Lisa Adams' lens today, I think we both would agree that time is precious. Today is precious. I will try to honor that by taking gratitude with me throughout the hours and minutes.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Last Chicken Standing

Today I am grateful for open windows and ceiling fans. I am also grateful for my experiences growing up on a farm.

When I talked to my mom on Sunday for Mother's Day, the topic of chickens came up. Mom informed me that she is now down to one chicken. She has only had a few for some time now, but apparently the winter was hard on them, leaving the last chicken standing. She may end up getting a few chickens again, but she may not. It could be the end of an era.

I got off the phone with her and thought about this. She has had chickens on the farm for six decades.We grew up with fresh eggs. Some were even still warm when we would gather them each day. And you haven't had fresh chicken until you have had chicken for supper that was still clucking at breakfast time. That may sound cruel to some, but if anything growing up on a farm taught me respect for life and how there truly is a circle of life, a purpose for all living things.

Some of the chicken chores were drudgery, but I bet every one of my siblings has several chicken memories to recall--from the baby chicks arriving in the spring to the butchering in mid-summer, to cleaning out the chicken coop each year.

Butchering chickens was a family affair, though I recall some of the boys getting out of it because they were doing the milking. We would start early in the morning, so Mom would call upstairs to wake us up. Mom and Dad would do the toughest stuff. That started with cutting their heads off and finished with dressing them to be eaten or frozen. In between, we got to help with plucking the feathers. I can't say I dreaded the job, but I can't say it was fun either. It was a job, and it was best when it was done.

My most pleasant chicken memories were when the baby chicks would arrive in the spring, with their baby chirping and their cuteness.

So we are down to the last chicken standing. I wonder how many hundreds and hundreds of chickens my mom has helped raise, tend to, and butcher over these years. It is an impressive number no doubt.

I am grateful for the memories and the life lessons that came with feathers on.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

To the Extremes

Today I am grateful for my job and the paycheck. This time of the school year can get challenging, so I needed to bring in some gratitude.

I am also grateful for the green that is finally surrounding us, for trees that have filled in with leaves, for the yard beautification my husband Darcy did yesterday, and for the cardinal on our front porch when I pulled in to the driveway yesterday afternoon.

Two weeks ago we were waking up to 8 inches of snow. Yesterday there were record highs. We got up to 98 degrees. Crazy! It brings to mind that common Minnesota joke: "Don't like the weather? Stick around 5 minutes, it will change." 

Weather extremes can offer challenges, but the extremes I find most challenging are emotional ones.I used to spend a lot of time feeling sorry for myself and down about life, my life. Alcohol allowed for some escape, and a false "feeling better." But it didn't last. I spent more time hanging around the negative extremes and it painted a rather bleak picture of the world through my eyes.

Enter recovery, growing faith, gratitude practice. My emotional bottoms don't drop as low and don't last as long. I feel good, on the upswing, more than I feel caught in a downward spiral. I even feel joy and recognize it. Alcohol-induced highs have been replaced by natural ones fed by things like endorphins and regularly making note of my blessings.

The slippery slope for me now is getting overly tired. That will get me running to extremes, and I was in that place last night. I was not pleasant to be around by the end of the day. Tiredness does what self-pity used to do-send me down the negative thinking path.  So I had my moments last night, and then I got some sleep.

Self-care prevents the negative extremes. For me that includes enough rest, proper fuel, exercise, and actively practicing gratitude.

I am extremely grateful today for the lessons I continue to learn.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Many Messengers, One Message

Today I am grateful for the opportunity to speak with parents last evening and for the invitation to do so from my former colleague Kate. Thanks Kate and thanks to the parents who were there and shared of their time and experiences.

They became part of a "many messengers, one message" idea that came to me this morning for this post.

The overall topics of my presentation to the parents revolved around positive psychology-focusing on strengths, identifying what works in keeping us on the right track and continuing to use that. The concept of resiliency (handling stress and challenges in healthy ways) and the practice of gratitude fit very nicely into the overall idea of "using what works."

I hope the parents got some food for thought from me. I know I got some from them. I think the idea of gratitude practice struck a chord with several of them. One mom talked about how gratitude is love expressed. Isn't that a great way to look at it?  One dad talked about reading an article about the true power of prayer is how it helps the person doing the praying. Taking simple actions to get out of myself helps give me a better perception.

I got a message on Sunday at church too. "Give Thanks" is a contemporary hymn we sometimes use. I like the song and the sentiment, and I especially liked what happened on Sunday when it was time for that song. As I flipped the 800-plus-page hymnal open, the first page was the one I was looking for, the one with "Give Thanks" on it. Sometimes it is that easy.

Oliver, our cockapoo, gave me a message last evening when I got home. It had been a full day and I was exhausted. But it had been a good day. Oliver was happy to see me, and he was happy to roll around on the carpet and make a spectacle of himself, bringing a smile to my face. Roll with it. Just roll with it.

Many messengers. One message. Gratitude is always available and always possible.

Monday, May 13, 2013

Mobility

Today I am grateful for a relaxing Mother's Day and some time to read and write. I am also grateful for a working computer.

Yesterday my husband Darcy, our son Sam, and I went on a bike ride. All able-bodied and healthy, we easily donned our helmets, got on board, and took off down the trail. We rode through parts of our community, up and down hills, free and easy (maybe some of the hills weren't easy, but we still made it).

We have a little tradition on these bike rides-stopping at one of the convenience stores on our route for some refreshments. The guys went in to the store and I sat down on the curb. I observed an older lady moving slowly out of the store and toward a  nearby car. I am guessing it was her son helping her, probably out celebrating Mother's Day. It looked painstaking for her to get off the curb and maneuver into the car. The man appeared gentle and patient. I was far enough away to not hear any spoken words or see any facial expressions, but the actions spoke loudly and lovingly.

The word mobility popped into my head, along with a real dose of gratitude for the mobility that I have, that my family has. Talk about taking something for granted, how many of us do just that with our ability to move from place to place, up and down stairs, through doors? 

Seeing the limited mobility of this woman reminded me to appreciate my own mobility, to be thankful for it, to be cautious in protecting it.

As you move through your day today, think about what a gift it is to be able to do so.

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Mother's Day

Today I am grateful for a good training run yesterday and the return of green to our landscape. Spring green is more vivid, more welcomed this year after such a long winter.

On this Mother's Day, I am also grateful to be a mom and stepmom, and grateful for my own mom.I became a stepmom at age 33, and our son was born when I was 36. I had already lived a few years in adulthood, or tried to anyway. I had already weathered some storms and been blessed with much.But my son and stepchildren have only added to those blessings. They have also been some of my best teachers. I am grateful that motherhood is part of my life experience. It has enriched it beyond measure.

I found a couple of quotes that ring true for me:

"Motherhood has a very humanizing effect. Everything gets reduced to essentials."
(Meryl Streep)

The essentials are take care of those you love, share what you have with them, be present emotionally and physically. Those are the kind of essentials I want in my life. I loved my son's time as an infant and toddler. He needed us so much, but he was a wonder to behold as he grew and changed. He still is.

"Motherhood is the greatest thing and the hardest thing."
(Ricki Lake)

True. It's both gratitfying and frightening on a regular basis to be a mother, to love with a mother's love. But it's worth it. I consider it a gift to have my son and stepchildren in my life. Thanks to all three of you!

And thank you to my Mom. She's plugging along at age 82, still setting an example for and imparting values to her 13 children, over 25 granchildren and 20 great-grandchildren.

Happy Mother's Day Mom and all mothers! Enjoy your day and reflect with gratitude throughout the day.

Saturday, May 11, 2013

Just Take a Minute

Today I am grateful for a quiet house and a beautiful sunrise.

It just takes a minute to practice gratitude. A moment really. And if I don't have time to take a moment, I am in serious need of gratitudinal adjustment.

This morning I paused to watch the sun rise in a blaze of orange glory. Amazing. Humbling.

I sat and enjoyed my first sips of coffee for the day. Aromatic. Comforting.

I will try to pause during the busy day ahead and take moments to practice gratitude.

A minute of focus on gratitude carries over in to my other minutes and hours.

Try it. Just take a minute.

Friday, May 10, 2013

Gratitunity

Today I am grateful for food, clothing, and shelter-the basics we so often take for granted. I am also grateful for warm clothes at a chilly baseball game.

I appreciate that my sister Zita provided me with yet another gratitude word and the focus of today's post. She is the fourth sister to do so. Read about the first three words here.

No pressure on my other three sisters. (You know who you are.)

Zita created a word and definition that call us all to action. The word is gratitunity and she defines it as any opportunity to express or feel gratitude.

Opportunities abound for both feeling and expressing gratitude every day. But action is required for both. I can feel some gratitude just by thinking about it, but generally the feeling runs deeper and more intensely if I combine action with it. Gratitude journaling, A-Z gratitude lists, quiet time on my commute, gratitude letters, a sincere thank you face-to-face, a gratitude walk or run . . . and the list goes on.

I have said often when discussing the power of gratitude practice with others that self-pity and gratitude cannot coexist. Where I decide to focus my thoughts and energies is what I am going to end up experiencing. I used to experience self-pity much of the time, and I fed it with my stinking thinking. Eighteen years of intentionally practicing gratitude have helped me change my default mode from one of "never good enough" to "I am worthy and deeply blessed."

Blogging here on "Habitual Gratitude" gives me the regular opportunity to express gratitude. It has enhanced my level of gratitude and shortened my forays back to self-pity. Whereas self-pity closes my mind and heart to blessings, gratitude opens me to them.

We are busy in our lives and it can seem hard to find time to do everything we may want to do. Gratitude teaches me to prioritize and that taking a few minutes (or even seconds) to notice my surroundings and my good fortune is always worth it. Some things can wait-that load of laundry for example-but I should always take time to express and feel gratitude.

Seize the gratitunities that present themselves today. Thanks for the inspiration Zita!

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Further Observations

Today I am grateful for my job and the communication skills I have gained there. I am also grateful for my co-workers and the support we lend one another.

I want to share two further observations from our weekend travels. As we drove through Worthington, MN and then arrived in Sioux Falls, SD on Friday, we were met with some scenes of destruction. Both communities were hard hit by an ice storm recently. The ice and wind combination had done a real number on many trees. With our late spring this year, the trees were still bare and the damage was quite visible. Many trees had numerous branches snapped off. The trees looked battered and beaten, but they were still standing strong. They had new scars, but now they have new leaves too. There are some obvious analogies there. Life is tough on each of us at times. Storms come and go. No one is left unscathed, but that adds to our character. In losing something, we often gain something else.

Scarred, but still standing. I think of that as I consider my mastectomy scars and the health I have been blessed with since completing cancer treatment. I lost something, but I gained too. I gained perspective and a deeper sense of how my physical body is but a part of my whole being.

That was observation number one. Observation number two came on Sunday morning when I went for a run. I decided to run to Upper Tuthill Park where Darcy and I were married in a simple outdoor ceremony on a beautiful night in July of 1998. They don't call it Upper Tuthill for nothing. To get to our wedding site, I had to climb a sizeable hill. It was worth it Sunday morning to get to the top and to honor where our marriage began. More analogies. In marriage, there have been some hills to climb, but also some wonderful views and plenty of smooth cruising. Commitment and healthy relationships take time and attention. Just like climbing a hill does.

I am grateful for Darcy and our marriage. Grateful for the observations that come my way when I am open to receiving them.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

A Trip Down Memory Lane

Today I am grateful for sweat and endorphins. I am also grateful for a nice evening last night to watch Sam's first baseball game of the season.

My husband Darcy is a native South Dakotan, so this weekend we took the opportunity to return to the area where he grew up. We hadn't been back there for some time. There is no one to go visit, only graves. We did pay our respects at the cemetery, and we did drive past the farms where he lived. The place where he spent the first 10 years of his life is now an empty farm place with just one barn standing. That is hard to see. I am grateful I have my anchor, my roots that I can still see, visit, walk through.

As we drove on Saturday, our satellite radio provided us another memory. The "Top 40" countdown from April, 1983 was playing.Thirty years ago, both Darcy and I were in our last weeks of high school. "Come on Eileen" by Dexie's Midnight Runners, "Let's Dance" by David Bowie and "Jeopardy" by the Greg Kihn Band were some of the familiar tunes we appreciated hearing.

It was a literal and figurative trip down memory lane.

What do you appreciate down your memory lane?

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Happy Birthday Boys!

Today I am grateful for the wisdom I learn from others in recovery. I am also grateful for my stepson Arthur and for our dog Oliver.

Arthur turns 22 today and Oliver turns 5. Happy birthday boys!

I met Arthur when he was 6 1/2. Now he is a college graduate, poised for graduate school and a dietetics internship. He is also just a couple months away from his wedding to fiance Alyssa. Our family will be growing. Watching Arthur grow up and being part of his life has been a gift to me in many ways. Arthur is a great big brother to his siblings and he and my husband Darcy have a solid and good relationship. Within seconds after meeting him, Darcy was talking about his kids. Arthur and I gave each other a chance right away, and today we have mutual respect. Thanks Arthur!

Oliver came into our lives when he was about two months old, in July of 2008. I was awaiting my first surgery to address the cancer in my right breast and I was going crazy. Oliver became a good distraction and then he became my buddy. I often say that Oliver and my post-cancer self grew up together. It's true. He is a good teacher, teaching me to slow down, take care of the basics, and always be happy to see the ones you love. He has brought so much to our family as well. Thanks Oliver!

It is only the 7th and already in May there has been a birthday for Alyssa, my brother Linus, my brother-in-law Clay, and now Arthur and Oliver. I am blessed with family, friends, and a pet I love.

That's a good thought to start the day with. Have a good one!

Monday, May 6, 2013

Commence

Today I am grateful for safe travels this weekend and for the accomplishments of my stepson Arthur and his fiance Alyssa as they achieved their Bachelor's degrees. I am also grateful for time with Darcy's family.

We attended undergraduate commencement ceremonies at South Dakota State University on Saturday to watch Arthur and Alyssa walk across the stage. I made many observations as I watched the pre-ceremony and then the ceremony itself. Every graduate, and there were around 700, has an individual story. I hope everyone had loved ones there to witness their accomplishment and celebrate with them.

Those four years went fast. Darcy and I only have vague recollections of our college graduations, back in 1987. Those 26 years went fast too. The commencement speaker on Saturday was author Kathleen Norris, with roots in South Dakota herself. She had good wisdom to impart in her address titled "Refusing to live on an island." My favorite of her lines was "Wherever you go, try not to mistake it for the center of the universe." Beware of complacency and look for ways to serve others. "Take what you have learned on the island of SDSU with you . . . " Am I using what I have learned from my time on the various "islands" of my life? It's a good reminder.

The student speaker was senior Ty Littau. He spoke of relationships. Those his peers and he created at SDSU. Those that await them as they leave school and enter their careers, start families, move to new places, etc. From the podium, he also advised fellow graduates to not forget what he believes is the most important relationship-the one we each have with our Maker. I rarely use the term "Maker," opting for Higher Power more often. But I appreciated that he used that term. None of us created ouselves. And we have all had ample help along the way. Let us not forget that. Let us be grateful for that help and support.

Commence. Go forth. Make a beginning. Start with today. That applies to each of us as much as it applies to these most recent graduates. If you haven't made a start on regularly practicing gratitude, I encourage you to begin today.

Friday, May 3, 2013

Tired, Just Tired

Today I am grateful for my son Sam's help with a little project. I am also grateful that we had a few nice days before snow returned.

Happy Birthday to my stepson Arthur's fiance Alyssa! I am enjoying getting to know her and I look forward to the future.

Yesterday's snowfall was historical. I don't ever remember accumulating snow this late. The six inches we got broke the record for most snow in a May snowfall for our area. I'm tired of snow. Tired of breaking records that are better left unbroken. I'm just tired.

But I am keeping it in perspective. Last week it was the beauty of the snow on the trees. This week it is the humorous commiseration with my fellow Minnesotans. What else can I do? I am definitely not in charge of this deal. I can get frustrated, or I can save my energy for better endeavors.

I'm not just tired of snow. I'm plain tired of the busy pace. It is a slippery slope for me . . . if I stay too busy for too long, I fall back into old patterns and I get overly tired and not so nice. To others and to myself.

So this blog post is as much a reminder and caution to myself as it is a reaching out to anyone who may be reading. Red flags are going up. More notes to myself in more locations. Waking up at night and thinking of things to add to a list. Not getting to bed at a decent time because I have a few more things to get done. Slow down. Stop the train wreck. Prioritize. It doesn't all have to get done today.

I tested that out this morning and got a moment of clarity. I wanted to exercise but wasn't sure I could fit it in. I made it a priority, just running a couple of miles, but it felt good. I headed out and snow was falling. Yes, more snow! To go with the snow cover from yesterday. I was surrounded by white, but even amidst all that, it didn't hit me until I saw a flag on a green on the golf course. A white flag.Surrender Lisa. Take one thing at a time. Don't squeeze the joy out of today.

Sounds like a good plan!

I'm taking a blog break. I will be back on Monday.

Thursday, May 2, 2013

One Shovelful At A Time

Today I am grateful for electricity and for yet another opportunity to appreciate my physical capabilities while out shoveling.

We got over six inches of snow and some happy kids have a snow day in May! I was out shoveling early this morning, doing a moving meditation, praying for others who have health and other concerns. I didn't want snow in May, they didn't want their issues. But it gave me perspective once again. I am healthy and able to shovel and there are many who would have gladly traded with me to be able to shovel.

It is a good approach to take into my day. Take it one shovelful at a time. Acceptance.

When I was out shoveling, our power went out. It was a little surreal. The snow threw some light until daylight arrived. I came in the house and appreciated the quiet that only comes when the appliances aren't buzzing. But I hoped the outage would be short-lived. It was. Less than an hour and a half. Enough to remind me not to take electricity, and other sources of power, for granted.

So I will proceed into the day with my shovel and see how it goes.

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Write On Peggy Orenstein

Today I am grateful for a good day at work yesterday. Planned activities for our safe driving campaign went well. I am also grateful for the many footfalls that carried me through my day yesterday.

The month of May brings my breast cancer diagnosis anniversary and a similar anniversary for others I know.

It's been a cancer-weighted couple of weeks on the periphery of my life... a cancer death, a couple new diagnoses, a return to work for a co-worker, a fundraising benefit for a young cancer patient. People I know, people I only know of. Thoughts of cancer don't fill my mind most of the time. Some days I barely think about it . . . putting on my prosthetics is habit, taking my Tamoxifen just part of the routine. But then times like this come along, and I get a bit inundated.

And then Peggy Orenstein's recent cover story in the New York Times magazine came to my attention through the blogging community. I quickly set to work reading the article, titled "Our Feel-Good War on Breast Cancer." It is very well-written and clearly states the problems with current breast cancer protocol and the pervasive pink ribbon culture.

You can read it here.

Orenstein has now had breast cancer treated twice (the first time in 1996 and a local recurrence last year.) After her first diagnosis, she wrote an article about mammograms and felt she was one of those whose life was saved by a mammogram. She came to regret writing that first article as she continued to learn about the intricacies of breast cancer (which isn't just one cancer, it's several different kinds) and also about how detrimental the whole "early detection saves lives" awareness campaign has been in ways. 

She has credibility as a writer and someone who has experienced cancer herself, but her article isn't about her own experience, it encapsulates where we've been and where we need to go to make a difference with this disease. BC is such an emotionally charged issue that many can't see past their own experience, or that of a loved one. Cancer patient or not, I encourage you to read this article and consider the bigger picture. It clearly lays out the drawbacks of pink ribbon culture and also tries to bring the emphasis (for funding and other attention) to where it belongs: solving the conundrum of DCIS (so women aren't overdiagnosed and overtreated) and working to help those currently living with metastatic disease.

Even if you don't agree with everything she has to say, please give it a chance. I found it affirming and very informative. Thanks Peggy Orenstein. Write on!