"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

Sunday, June 30, 2013

G.K. Chesterton: Master Essayist

Today I am grateful for the new knowledge my practice of gratitude and this blog open up to me.I am grateful to remain teachable.

I first mentioned G.K. Chesterton in my post from June 9th of this year. You can read that post here. I did a little research and reading to find out more about him. As a writer, I am always curious about other writers and some of the inspiration behind the words. I learned that Chesterton's full name is Gilbert Keith Chesterton. He was British, born in 1874, dying in 1936.

He was a prolific writer across several genres. He wrote nearly 100 books and thousands of essays. He also wrote poetry and was probably best known for the "Father Brown" fiction series, about a priest sleuth. There is even a society called the American Chesterton Society that continues to promote his writing today. On the society's website, they commend his foresight and how he wrote about issues that continue to challenge us: from social injustice to attacks on the family and the dignity of human beings. He converted to Catholicism and his words are credited with leading to the conversion of at least 300 others (who converted after reading Chesterton's writing). There is even an effort to pursue sainthood for Chesterton.

I say all of this because I find it intriguing. I am sure I could research for hours and days and find out more, but suffice it to say that Chesterton's writing touched many during his lifetime and it continues to do so.

I read a few of his essays in a compilation titled In Defense of Sanity: The Best Essays of G.K. Chesterton. The essays were selected by Dale Ahlquist, Joseph Pearce, and Aidan Mackey. I call myself an emerging essayist and blogging has been an avenue to help me practice and hone my essay writing skills. As I read a sampling of Chesterton's work, I clearly saw how masterful he was at crafting an essay. Some of the historical references were unfamiliar to me, but the general point of the essays seemed timeless.

In his own essay titled On Essays he had this to say about essays: "By its very nature it does not explain what it is trying to do, and thus escapes a decisive judgment about whether it has really done it."  I love those words. I think a good essay leaves a mark on the reader by letting them think what they wish. Open-ended, thought-provoking, touching on one or more aspects of human nature. If my words inspire reflection and personal review of one's own life or the issue at hand, I consider that a huge success.

Here is the final paragraph of Chesterton's essay The Twelve Men, published in 1909. He was talking about being part of a jury and juries themselves:

"Our civilisation has decided, and very justly decided, that determining the guilt or innocence of men is a thing too important to be trusted to trained men. It wishes for light upon that awful matter, it asks men who know no more law than I know, but who can feel the things I felt in the jury box. When it wants a library catalogued, or the solar system discovered, or any trifle of that kind it uses up its specialists. But when it wishes anything done which is really serious, it collects twelve of the ordinary men standing round. The same thing was done, if I remember right, by the Founder of Christianity."

This is such a good example of his work, and the former social studies teacher in me loves the validation of the "trial by jury" system.

Thank you for your words G.K. Chesterton.

Saturday, June 29, 2013

The "Ultimate" Bag

Today I am grateful for a good 4-H camp experience for my son Sam. I am also grateful for my five senses. The last time I checked, they were all in good working order. You may want to check yours. It's a good dose of gratitude right off the bat.

In helping Sam get packed for camp, I decided to let him use a bag that has been mine for a long time. It was almost time to retire the bag. I can't remember when I got it, but it had to be around 25 years ago. I don't remember where I bought it, but it's not a brand name model and it wasn't expensive. The name on the tag is "Ultimate." (Though if you would have asked me about that name all these years I have had it in my possession, I would have had no idea it said that without looking at the bag itself.)

I got my money's worth and then some. It has covered many miles, been packed and unpacked dozens and dozens of times, been put in and taken out of a wide variety of vehicles. It may have even flown a couple of times, though I usually take the more durable suitcases for that. It was the right size for a weekend for someone like me who always needed her running shoes and attire along, and who always packed some extra clothes just in case.

It's a pretty basic black duffle bag, with three side pockets. Those side pockets came in handy and I got used to packing certain things in certain places. That made them easier to find when needed. It has developed a couple of holes in recent years, and isn't in good enough shape to donate. So I decided Sam's camp trip would be a fitting last trip for the bag, versus sending him with a newer, nicer bag that would have taken a beating.

I took a picture of it before officially throwing it away. But the picture doesn't do it justice. There are too many stories it could tell, too many memories it could help me relive. I will miss the bag, but ultimately I am grateful for the use I got out of it, and grateful to have traveled as much as I have.

Do you have an "ultimate" bag? What stories could it tell?

Friday, June 28, 2013

Escape Clause

Today I am grateful for an early morning bike ride with my husband and a break in the humidity. I am also grateful for a roof over my head and food in the refrigerator, two things so often taken for granted.

This was the quote in my gratitude journal earlier this week:

"If you can't be thankful for what you receive, be thankful for what you escape." (Unknown)

Gratitude's escape clause. Even if you overlook the gifts, and we all do, consider the undesirables that passed you by. That is good fortune at work in your life. The accident you narrowly missed. The poor choice that didn't come back to haunt you. The car repair that was cheap instead of expensive. Making it home safe when others didn't. A house still standing when two doors down a fire destroyed everything.

Even when an undesirable comes along, and they always do, gratitude's escape clause can still be applied. A Stage I cancer diagnosis rather than a Stage IV. The house is gone but no one was hurt.Those are stunning examples. What about the day-to-day minor examples? We got beat, but we learned from it. Dinner got overcooked, but the dessert turned out great.

Gratitude is a positive perception builder if there ever was one. Apply generously and it will help you recognize how gracious the world is.

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Overheating But Not Overanalyzing

Today I am grateful for the varied weather we get here and for ceiling and floor fans that work. I am also grateful that two of our three wall unit air conditioners are in working order.

Our house was built in the early 1970's and has hot water heat. I appreciate that because it is not as dry as forced-air heat is. But it means we aren't set up for central air conditioning. I do miss that from our previous home. We make do with the wall units, ceiling fans, and floor fans. When it comes down to it, the days we need AC only add up to a few weeks a year. It has been quite warm and very humid in recent days, but after snow in May, it seemed wrong to complain about it.

We decided it was time to kick the air on though. Guess what? Two of the three units work, but not the one in our bedroom. The bedrooms are on the top floor and bear the brunt of the heat. So. . . we do miss that AC unit. It will take some time to get it fixed/replaced. But I am trying to keep it in perspective. I could be frustrated that it's not working; one more thing to deal with, one more expense we must incur. Poor us. Boohoo! But healthy perspective reminds me that it could be worse, much worse. Healthy perspective tells me to appreciate the cooling machines we have that are in working order. Healthy perspective reminds me that I have options, like sleeping elsewhere in the house.

I may be a bit overheated, but I am not overanalyzing. It is what it is. It's an air conditioner. On the list of what really matters, it doesn't get anywhere near top billing.

That brings back another memory from my younger days. We did not have an air conditioner when I was growing up. No ceiling fans. I don't even recall a fan, certainly not multiple fans. And I shared a bed with one sister and a room with four of us total. We survived. We made it through heat waves.

It is there that I first came to appreciate the best form of air conditioning . . . a cool, fresh breeze coming through an open window.

Have a nice day and stay cool!

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

The Burn Barrel

Today I am grateful for conversations yesterday with my stepson Arthur and my friend Sheila. Thanks to you both! I am also grateful for memories of growing up on a farm.

One such memory involves having a burn barrel. I was thinking about it the other day when Sam and I were burning some branches in our fire pit. We always end up with branches down after thunderstorms with any amount of wind, but we have also had some tree-trimming crews in our neighborhood trimming branches near power lines. They are usually pretty good about cleaning up what they cut, but a small pile got left behind, so Sam was sawing that up and we were burning that too.

Growing up, we had a burn barrel in our cow yard, not too far from the house, but through a gate/fence. It was a metal barrel about four to five feet high. Food scraps went to the cats and dogs or on the gardens for fertilizer. Metal and glass were reused whenever there was a use for them. (Think old glass peanut butter or jelly jars.) If not, they went on the junk pile in a ravine on the farm. This was before communities had recycling programs and before plastic was as prevalent as it is today. Anything else went into the wastebaskets and eventually to the burn barrel. It was mostly paper-type products, things that would burn pretty easily.

(On a side note, there were cow chips available, but we didn't burn them. We did occasionally throw them at each other, however. If you don't know what a cow chip is, it's a dried cow pie. If you don't know what a cow pie is, look it up.)

Wastebaskets were emptied and a book of matches would come out. A strike or two and the fire would get started. I recall it felt like a rite of passage when I was old enough to be the one starting the fire with the matches.

But we learned respect for fire and the power of fire too. It was fascinating to watch the fire take hold in the barrel, but also a reminder of that power and danger. There were minor mishaps with burns, but nothing major. What was more major at times was probably the "discussion" about who got to light the fire.

Pleasant memories. To be appreciated. To be relived. To remind us of our younger days.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Go Yankees!

Today I am grateful for an enjoyable baseball season for my son this year and for cool morning air.

Congrats to the Yankees! Not those Yankees, these Yankees:



This is my son Sam's baseball team last evening after they finished their regular season 15-0. Good job boys and thanks to the coaches for a great season! They lost a game in a weekend tournament, and I think it's good for a team to have a loss to handle and learn from. They have the league's post-season tournament this week, and hopefully will continue to play well.

Sure, it's nice to win, and fun. But what I appreciate about this team and this season is that the coaches seem to have priorities straight; do your best, work hard, improve, support your teammates, show good sportsmanship, believe in yourself.  I also appreciate that the parents are supportive, but from what I witnessed, not too intense. The boys get along well and have fun. I think that has contributed to their success too.

Good job! I am grateful for Sam's positive experience this baseball season.

Monday, June 24, 2013

Just Being

Today I am grateful for safe travels over the weekend and for a chance to practice "just being."

Just being. Staying present in the moment. Observing. Listening more, talking less. It's not a bad approach to apply in any situation. This weekend it included a shower for my stepson Arthur's fiance Alyssa. I appreciated meeting more of her family and having the chance to spend time with them. It was a pleasant afternoon.

Just being. Just being at the right place at the right time. On our way home yesterday we stopped at a rest area. A handicapped woman fell in the restroom. She had someone else with her, but after assuring us that she was okay, I helped her companion lift her back to the stable grasp of her walker.I appreciated being able-bodied enough to help. I gave thanks for my own mobility.

Just being. Just being flexible when plans change. My son's 4-H camp has had to be delayed a day because of storm damage sustained at the camp. That threw a wrench into some of the other plans I had made, but that is minor in the whole scheme of things. As my friend Kelly pointed out, we can be thankful our kids weren't there during the storm. I am thankful that the safety of our children is a priority for camp organizers.

Just being. Just being open to noticing my blessings today, and giving thanks for them.

Just being grateful to be alive and well.

Just being.

Friday, June 21, 2013

Splurge

Today I am grateful for a cool breeze and friends in recovery who teach me what living life a day at a time is all about.

I am thinking of Mark Weber's family today. His funeral is this morning. I am also thinking of those impacted by storms in our area overnight. We were spared this time, almost exactly a year since we had a destructive windstorm go through our community, leaving us without power for a couple days after taking down hundreds of trees.

I treated myself to a pedicure and manicure yesterday. Professionally done. I had never had a pedicure before, and had just one manicure years ago. It always seemed like an unneccesary extravagance, and why spend money on it when I could take care of my own nails? Besides, I was always tough on my hands and feet, with all my activities, so nice nails wouldn't last long anyway. Yesterday was a splurge, but I'm glad I did it. I used money earned from the monthly column I write for our local newspaper.

I am a low-maintenance gal for the most part. My hair is short and requires little time. I don't typically wear make-up (and by typically I mean almost never). I have polished my toenails a handful of times myself, and my fingernails maybe a few times more. I like being low-maintenance and enjoy adding the accessories like earrings and trendy glasses that add some flair.

I'm not a girly-girl and usually I am just fine with that. Sometimes I wish I were more polished-pun intended-but today I am comfortable in my own skin. It was a long journey getting to that point, but I made it. So a pedicure and a manicure wasn't just a splurge, it was a step outside my comfort zone. I must admit that I like the results.

We have some special events coming up, and I wanted to look nice. I'm not a person who usually notices little details like other women's nail polish, but maybe I'll pay more attention in the next days. And I will be curious if anyone notices my nails.

I appreciate a good splurge. Cliches aside, I am worth it.  I will be taking a blog break Saturday and Sunday. Have a good day and a nice weekend!

Thursday, June 20, 2013

What Are You Counting?

Today I am grateful for shade trees on hot days and for enough of a breeze to keep the bugs away. I am grateful for the women in the BC support group I attend, the connections we have made, and the laughter we share.

I am also grateful for what I have learned from practicing gratitude.

This was the quote for yesterday in my gratitude journal:

"Better to lose count while naming your blessings than to lose your blessings by counting your troubles."  (Maltbie Davenport Babcock)

I hadn't seen that quote before, but it hits on one of the best lessons I have learned from practicing gratitude. I can't be grateful and feel sorry for myself at the same time. I'm either in the solution or the problem. Which one do I choose?

From pen to paper in my journal, to typed words on a screen for this blog, to letters, A-Z lists, gratitude walks, and more; gratitude practice helps me count my blessings. When I pause and focus on what I have, what is going well, I "invent" fewer troubles. You know, the troubles we create when we get overly tired or overly busy, when we try to manage unmanageables.

Certainly, some troubles  are real and need to be addressed. Car issues. Tooth pain. Camp packing lists. But a grateful approach to each day tends to give me a better perspective and more energy to face the real troubles.

Counting blessings doesn't mean ignore your concerns, it means keep them in a healthier perspective.I would rather magnify blessings than troubles. Blessings open up the view. Troubles narrow the view.

We all have a choice today: blessings or troubles?

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Early Losses, Late Grief

Today I am grateful for a beautiful evening last night to enjoy the outdoors. I am also grateful for the work of healing from pain. It brings me to a better place.

Here is an example of that healing from pain. I grew up on a farm and cats were always around. They stayed outside the house, unless you didn't get the back door closed fast enough and one got in for a little bit. But they didn't stay out of my heart. From a young age, I enjoyed the new litters of kittens. That is, if we could find them. Cats, at least our farm cats, are known for going into hiding to give birth and during the early weeks of life for the new batch. Like so many animals, baby kittens are just about the cutest. Once their eyes opened and they got more mobile, we would see them out and about.

I would often name the kittens in a new litter and pick out a favorite. I recall crawling into an old milk cooler (It was the size of a large freezer and it held the 10-gallon cans of milk we filled with each day's milking, until we got a new barn with a pipeline and a bulk tank. If none of that made sense to you, go back to the large freezer visual.) Probably around nine or ten years of age, I was quiet and shy, and somewhat starved for attention. I turned to the kittens and gave them attention and love. I would sit in that cooler and hold them and confide in them as only a child can.

I recall at least two untimely deaths of my favorite kittens. One involved our dog, the other involved a car. It may have happened more than that, but I even remember their names in these two instances--K.C. (probably for K.C. and the Sunshine Band) and Holthaus (my maiden name). I was not a crier, thinking it was a show of strength to carry the pain of loss without breaking down. I may have been consoled by family members, but I don't remember. What I do remember is deciding it was just too painful to have favorite kittens. So I stopped. I turned my back and walked away, burying grief and healthy adjustment with those kitties.

I didn't realize how significant those losses, and the way I handled them, were in my life until about fifteen years later. I went into counseling for a time, and as I worked through some of the "stuff" from my childhood, I finally came face-to-face with the grief I had buried. My show of strength was nothing more than a faulty way to deal with difficult emotions. (That was a theme that played over and over in my life, especially in my years of active alcoholism.)  The grief that finally came, the feelings that were finally recognized, led to catharsis and the beginning of true recovery.

Losses early in life. Grief recognized later in life. Both important parts of my story.

After that, I still wasn't interested in pets. More from a practical approach than a fear of loss. I didn't want the added work and expense, and I lived alone and was gone a lot.

It took some time for Darcy to help me warm up to the idea of a dog, but seeing my son around dogs, and enjoying himself, certainly helped. Getting a cancer diagnosis shot down some of the other barriers too. Once I met Oliver, it didn't take long before I was ready to love an animal again. What a gift that counseling was in my twenties. What a gift Oliver is in our lives now.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Soul Awakenings

Today I am grateful for an early morning run with Darcy in the cool air. I am also grateful for ears that can hear--even when they are hearing the somewhat annoying squawking of some crows.

That's the thing about gratitude. If I can put annoying things in perspective by being grateful in a wider sense, then they seem less bothersome.

As I read "Where the Red Fern Grows" I thought about my own experience with animals and pets.

I came across this quote in recent years, since we have had our dog Oliver:

"Until one has loved an animal, a part of one's soul remains unawakened." 
(Anatole France)

When I first read the words, I thought how true they are, how I better realized this now that I did indeed love an animal. Oliver has been with us for five years now. He came into our lives in the midst of a difficult time--I was awaiting my first surgery for breast cancer. He was just the distraction we needed. But he is far more than a distraction now, he is part of our family. We each love him in our own ways and we all love his little quirks and his personality. He indeed nourishes my soul in ways that only an animal can.

Another thing I love about Oliver is that he is always glad to see us. What a wonderful way to greet those you love . . . with excitement and joy. Oliver teaches me a lot about balance and taking the time to just be.

But Oliver wasn't the first animal I loved. Recent reading has brought back some memories from when I was growing up. I will share more about that tomorrow.

For today, I will appreciate Oliver, his wisdom, his devotion to his family. Thanks pup!

Monday, June 17, 2013

"Where the Red Fern Grows"

Today I am grateful for sunshine, time to just sit and watch ball games, and cold water on a hot day.

You may recognize the title of today's post as a classic children's book. It was written by Wilson Rawls in 1961, and is set earlier in the 1900's. It was around before I was. It was one of my favorite books in upper elementary, along with S.E. Hinton's The Outsiders. I recall reading it in 6th grade. I don't remember if we all had to read it, or if I chose to read it, but whatever the reason I read it, I was glad I did. It was about a boy and his coon hounds.

As this school year wound down, the library at the school I work at was discarding some books. Where the Red Fern Grows caught my eye and I picked it up with my 11-year-old son in mind. But then I decided that it would be good for me to read it again myself. So I did. My hope is that Sam will read it this summer too.

Reading it when I was 11 or so, and now reading it at age 47 gave me an interesting perspective.I appreciate that it was about life in the country, hard work, faith, love of the deepest kind. In the book, Billy worked to save $50 over two years so he could buy two coon hounds of his very own. Then he trains them and they become successful hunters. But his training aside, the two dogs have a special connection and a true love of their owner. Billy was a pre-teen and then a teen as the story unfolded. His determination to achieve a goal and his dedication to his dogs, as well as their dedication to one another, were impressive. They are what makes the book inspiring.

As I read it again, I also realized there are some real shows of faith in the book as well, of a Higher Force at work. An early example was how Billy determined the names of his two dogs when he was making his journey home with them for the first time. He was resting with them, pondering names, when he noticed on a nearby tree trunk "Dan + Ann" had been carved into the bark. His dogs became Old Dan and Little Ann.

There is also the legend of the red fern. I will tell you the legend, but not exactly how it plays out in the book. Read it to find out. The legend is told in the first pages of the book: "I had heard the old Indian legend about the red fern. How a little Indian boy and girl were lost in a blizzard and had frozen to death. In the spring, when they were found, a beautiful red fern had grown up between their bodies. The story went on to say that only an angel could plant the seeds of a red fern, and that they never died; where one grew, that spot was sacred."

The Universe at work. Power beyond human power. Faith. Belief. Signs.

Don't we all have sacred places on our own journeys? Haven't we all been given signs that we aren't alone? These are thoughts I will ponder in my day. Have a nice day.

Sunday, June 16, 2013

A Father's Love

Today I am grateful for my husband Darcy and the great father he is to all three of his children. I am grateful for a nice morning to enjoy some time on our back patio.

I am also grateful for time with Darcy's sister, our brother-in-law and their two daughters. We enjoyed some softball, some catch, a good meal, a train ride and a bunch of laughs.

Happy Father's Day to all the dads out there. A special thought and mention of those fathers who can't be with their children today, to fathers celebrating their first Father's Day, and to those who are facing their first Father's Day without their dad, like Mark Weber's three sons.

My husband Darcy gets an extra special Father's Day wish. It has been a busy year in the lives of all of his children, particularly the two oldest. He has been steady and stable support throughout the year for all three of them. I love and respect many things about Darcy, but high on the list is the father he is. Without sharing too much, I can also say that I tremendously respect the work, heart, and soul he has put in to break a pattern in his family when it comes to fathering.

And I always think of my own father on Father's Day. I remember how much I missed him on those first Father's Days after he died. The hurt has faded some, but I still miss him and I miss that my son and stepchildren never knew him. Thank you Dad for the good man and the good father you were, in the ways only you could be.

Apply gratitude to this Father's Day and see what it yields.

Saturday, June 15, 2013

"Look at the view, young lady. Look at the view."

Today I am grateful for the people who inspire me in big ways and small, people I know personally and ones I only know through their words or actions. I am also grateful for both a "date night" last night and a "date morning" (a.k.a. a training run) with my husband.

I continue to think of the family and friends of Mark Weber and the myriad emotions they must be feeling. I hope it is a comfort to them to know that he touched many lives by the way he lived his.

Here are the final paragraphs of Anna Quindlen's book A Short Guide to a Happy Life that I mentioned two days ago:

"I found one of my best teachers on the boardwalk at Coney Island many years ago. It was December, and I was doing a story about how the homeless suffer in the winter months. He and I sat on the edge of the wooden supports, dangling our feet over the side, and he told me about his schedule, panhandling the boulevard when the summer crowds were gone, sleeping in a church when the temperature went below freezing, hiding from the police amid the Tilt-A-Whirl and the Cyclone and some of the other seasonal rides.

But he told me that most of the time he stayed on the boardwalk, facing the water, just the way we were sitting now, even when it got cold and he had to wear his newspapers after he read them. And I asked him why. Why didn't he go to one of the shelters? Why didn't he check himself into the hospital for detox?

And he stared out at the ocean and said, "Look at the view, young lady. Look at the view."

And every day, in some little way, I try to do what he said. I try to look at the view. That's all. Words of wisdom from a man with not a dime in his pocket, no place to go, nowhere to be. Look at the view. When I do what he said, I am never disappointed."

Such amazing perspective and such amazing words from Quindlen in the telling of the story.

Look at the view today. That's all. You won't be disappointed.

Friday, June 14, 2013

R.I.P. Lt. Col. Mark Weber

Today I am grateful for an early morning bike ride with Darcy and a nice walk and conversation with my friend Jenny.

The ending I wanted to share from Anna Quindlen's book will have to wait until tomorrow. Today is about another ending. The end of the life of Lt. Col. Mark Weber. He died of cancer yesterday afternoon, at age 41. May he rest in peace. The pain and suffering he endured over the last three years is over.

I met Mark in January at a book signing for his book "Tell My Sons." I blogged about him and the book back in March. You can read those posts by clicking on the links below:

Suggested Reading: Tell My Sons

Squeeze Some Joy Out

Embrace Your Bufords

Thank you Mark Weber for so much wisdom, grace, and inspiration. In your honor, I will try to squeeze some joy out of today and I will continue to embrace my Bufords with courage.

The post on Mark's Caring Bridge site just hours after he passed away can be found here:

http://www.caringbridge.org/visit/markmweber/journal

It will put things in perspective real quick. Take that into your day.

My thoughts and prayers are with Mark's family and friends as they grieve his death.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Another Favorite Writer: Anna Quindlen

Today I am grateful for early morming sunshine and conversation and a game of catch with my son last evening.

I mentioned Anna Quindlen last August when I came across her book Being Perfect at a book sale at our library. Read that post here. I like Quindlen's writing style and her books. They are quick reads loaded with wisdom. (I haven't read one of her novels yet. I'll add them to my ever-growing reading list.) She is an award-winning columnist and novelist and she's someone I would love to sit down and have coffee with. Her and Anne Lamott. Their genuine humanness shines through their words and I appreciate and respect that. It is what I aspire to in my own writing.

Quindlen started working in the copy room of the New York Times at 18. Her mother died of ovarian cancer when Anna was 19. It changed her life and drove home the importance of living life to the fullest. She helped raise her younger siblings and continued her writing career. She has an extensive resume of columns and both fiction and non-fiction books. She is an impressive writer, but I go back to her impressive style. It touches the soul and hits my benchmark for great reading material-laughing and crying at the same time. (Or in my case, laughing and tearing up at the same time.)

At my last dentist visit, I came across a mention of Quindlen's book A Short Guide To A Happy Life.I went and picked it up at our local library. It contains many quotable quotes, but here is one of my favorites:

"Life is made up of moments, small pieces of glittering mica in a long stretch of cement. It would be wonderful if they came to us unsummoned, but particularly in lives as busy as the ones most of us lead now, that won't happen. We have to teach ourselves how to make room for them, to love them, and to live, really live . . . to love the journey, not the destination."

I love these words. They are in direct line with what this blog is about and provide a clear explanation of why gratitude practice is needed. Glittering mica is only noticed when we pause, when we take a breath. For a moment, just a moment. Habitual gratitude teaches me to make room, to summon life's gifts to the forefront of my mind. In turn, the journey goes more smoothly-mainly because I am paying attention.

A Short Guide To A Happy Life ends with a profound lesson from an unlikely source. I will share that tomorrow.

Just for today, look for the glittering mica.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Life's Orientations

Today I am grateful for my son Sam's involvement in 4-H and what he learns and gains from that experience.

I am also grateful for the loud young people who walked past our house at about 4:30 this morning. Grateful because one of them was talking about blackout drinking. I appreciated the reminder that I sure don't miss the torture of blackouts.

The word orientation is on my mind because my stepchildren both just had orientations. Emily got signed up for classes at her post-secondary institution and is now set for classes to start in August.Arthur and his fiance Alyssa both got their first look at their new community of residence for the next couple of years and he attended orientation for his graduate school program.

I am excited for them, excited for the fresh starts they will have, excited for the learning and growing that await them, in the classroom and beyond.

To orient means to become acquainted with the existing environment or situation. To me, it means figuring out where I am and what I should/can/need to do next. Little orientations happen on a daily basis in my relationships, in my writing, at work and at home.

Gratitude is my compass to keep me heading in the right direction. It lights the way, making it easier to see the path ahead. How's that for staying oriented?

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Gratitudology

Today I am grateful for the way our dog Oliver stretches when he gets up. He reminds me to be flexible. I am also grateful for a little snuggle time with my son Sam this morning. Such times are fewer as he gets older, but still very much cherished.

Hats off to my sister Danita for adding to our gratitude vocabulary. She has given us the term gratitudology.  It is defined as the study of gratitude. Danita also provided the inspiration for this blog's title "Habitual Gratitude." And both Danita and my sister Aileen provide regular email support and wisdom that I truly appreciate. Thanks to you both!

Gratitudology joins our list that already includes gratitudeness, gratituding, gratitudinal adjustment, gratitunity, and gratituderty. Read about how this vocabulary list started and grew here.

I am a student of gratitude, and a willing one at that. Another posthumous thank you to my friend Terrie who gave me my first gratitude journal and encouraged me to start writing about gratitude. I began that practice eighteen years ago. One of the most significant lessons that I learned as I started practicing gratitude regularly was this: I can't be grateful and feel sorry for myself at the same time.Where will I put my energy? I had been full of self-pity and selfish thinking for a long time. Exacerbated by alcoholic drinking, it all led to self-hatred.

Gratitude has slowly cleared my vision and given me a perspective that is much healthier, emotions that are much more positive, energy that goes to productive pursuits. In other words, gratitude practice has changed my life. In amazing and subtle ways. Experience is the best teacher and I am firmly convinced that actively being grateful is a huge boon to my physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual wellness.

As I have evolved, so has my study of gratitude. There is always more to learn, always more growth and improvement possible. Like my study of faith and recovery from alcoholism, my research in the area of gratitude is ongoing. Sure, some days I am a bit of a reluctant student. But on most days, I simply remember this "It works!"

Fellow students, what has gratitude practice taught you?

Monday, June 10, 2013

Post #400: Inspiration, Not Drudgery

Today I am grateful for our dog Oliver and our early morning walks and for a bike ride yesterday that allowed me to pedal out some frustrations.

I am also grateful for this blog and how it has helped me learn more about being grateful. I thank anyone who has ever stopped by to read a post and to those who have left comments. This blog helps me, but I write it to help others too. I hope it has.

In honor of blog post #400 today, I went back to my 100th, 200th, and 300th posts to gather some thoughts.

From post #100, July 12, 2012:
"Practicing gratitude is not wasted time or energy. Regular practice maintains a good supply of appreciation, which maintains my sanity and serenity." (Read the full post here.)

From reflections on post #200, November 10, 2012: "
As a beginning blogger and long-time writer, I continue to appreciate this avenue for my writing passion. It has broadened and deepened my level of gratitude as I have put more thoughts into words and more ideas into action." (Read the full post here.)

From post #300: February 23, 2013:
"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." (Read the full post here.)

As I reflect on all the posts, some of which came easily and others which had to be pushed out, I continue to be amazed at how habitual gratitude works, how it is transforming my thinking on a daily basis. I am also reminded that there is always more work to do, more improvement to be realized. And that doesn't sound like drudgery to me, that sounds like inspiration. How do I keep going? How do I keep writing about gratitude? One post at a time. One hour at a time. One day at a time. Thanks for being there!

Sunday, June 9, 2013

Of Coffee and Stockings

Today I am grateful for a god run with Darcy yesterday and the return of a healthier perspective. I am also grateful for the young people who have touched my life through my job.

I am thinking about coffee and stockings. That is an interesting combination isn't it? My sister sent me a link to this video, which will explain the coffee:

"Life is like coffee."

It's a good reminder of gratitude and basically asks us what our priorities are. Coffee is the priority, not the cup it comes in. Sometimes we get that turned around. In pursuit of the best cup, the coffee gets cold and stale and we end up pouring it out because we didn't take the time to slow down and enjoy it. Who is, what is the coffee in your life? The coffee in my life includes family, friends, recovery, faith, running, writing. People who always want a bigger, better cup have lost sight of what really matters. And if I care too much about what others think of my cup, I  have lost perspective too.The intangibles of love, grace, friendship, forgiveness, laughter, and learning should trump the tangibles of home, car, stuff. If not, I have work to do.

Part two of this interesting combination would be the stockings. This quote was in my gratitude journal recently:

"When we were children, we were grateful to those who filled our stockings at Christmas time. Why are we not grateful to God for filling our stockings with legs?" 
(G.K. Chesterton)

I see G.K. Chesterton quoted many times on gratitude and other topics. I don't know anything about him, so I am on a mission to find out more and will blog about him some other time. For now, I appreciate his words above. How often do I take my physical capabilities for granted? I got up out of bed this morning and I walked down the stairs. I was a little sore from yesterday's run, but I didn't think much of it. Gratitude starts right here, right now. My eyes can see. My  heart is beating. My fingers are typing. Thank you Higher Power for such amazing gifts.

Have a good day!

Saturday, June 8, 2013

Calling Up The Reserves

Today I am grateful for time with recovery friends yesterday and some honest discussion about what I need to work on. I am also grateful for the practice of habitual gratitude, for the healthy perspective that it keeps at the ready.

I am tired, drained, spent, tapped out in more ways than one. The school year has just wound down and it was a full one. Although I have less than a full-time position, I work full-time when I am there and it has been a busy year. The piles just keep getting shifted around my office. That feeling of "it will never all get done" zaps a person over time.

A busy month just wound down with graduations, hosting a graduation party after spending a lot of time getting ready for it, baseball games, and other commitments. Most were good and positive things, but still draining.

And there are worries and concerns that lurk, from a variety of sources. They range from financial to health to the well-being of those I care about. Nothing new, just ongoing. You don't need details to understand that such concern depletes a person in a different way.

Because of the hectic pace, my writing didn't get the time it deserved, my reading stalled out because I would only get a couple paragraphs in before I fell asleep. I did pretty well keeping up on exercise, but I overinduldged in sweets and other foods I shouldn't have. I am cutting myself some slack because of everything we had going on, but I am feeling like I need to call up the reserves now to help me get back on track physically, emotionally, mentally, and spiritually.

What reserves? The extra stores of gratitude, motivation, grace, humility, appreciation that are created when I give at least a few minutes each day to the practice of gratitude, recognizing the gifts in my life, slowing down at a busy time to realize that life, overall, is really good and I am deeply blessed. There are days when I may be "acting as if" or just going through the motions. But even on those days, a little is placed in reserve for times like this.

What these reserves actually do is allow me to keep healthy perspective close at hand. So when I lose sight of that healthy perspective, it doesn't take long to find it back. That is progress for me. I used to lose perspective for weeks and months at a time. Gratitude practice prevents that from happening now, and for that I am truly grateful.

Have a nice day! Call up the reserves if needed.

Friday, June 7, 2013

Cancer as Catalyst

Today I am grateful for a nap and a chance to read a favorite book from my childhood-"Where the Red Fern Grows."

As I continue to reflect on my cancer diagnosis, I am also grateful to be healthy today, grateful my diagnosis was early stage, grateful that I currently have no evidence of disease. Does that mean I am grateful I got cancer? No, it doesn't. Does it mean cancer changed me in many ways, some good, some difficult? Yes, it does.

"Cancer as gift" is often misconstrued and rightfully so. Life-changing, yes. Gift, no. A gift implies it is something I want, something given in thoughtfulness. That is not cancer. I have read blog posts and comments in the blogosphere about this very topic of "cancer as gift" and it certainly evokes a lot of emotion and discussion. Maybe it is just semantics, but cancer and gift don't seem to fit in the same sentence. That said, I don't know anyone who has had cancer who hasn't been changed by that experience. It's how the change unfolds, how life unfolds, that defines cancer's impact on a life.

I prefer to use the term "cancer as catalyst." That descriptor fits what cancer was and is for me.

Before my diagnosis, years of recovery from alcoholism were already shaping me into the person I wanted to be, with healthier, more balanced priorities. So was marriage, motherhood, and marathoning. The writer in me was emerging, but not fully. Cancer served as a catalyst. It brought my priorities front and center-family, friends, faith/recovery, running, writing-and has kept them front and center better than I was able to do pre-cancer.

Cancer and sharing the experience with a close friend and fellow writer also moved my writing to a new level. The long-time poet also became an emerging essayist, and then a blogger. Read about that here.

My life story includes cancer. It has shaped who I am today, literally and figuratively. It is part of my life experience and I can't separate it from the rest of my life experience.

Gift, no. Catalyst, yes. And as a catalyst, it is a powerful one. What I try to do with that is live life fully with my priorities in the right order.

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Painful Passages

Today I am grateful for a phone conversation with my friend Deb. I am also grateful for the abilities to read, write, and type.

Yesterday I blogged about new passages and the bridge being constructed in our community. Passages come in all forms, and getting from one place to another can be easy at times, painful and difficult at other times.

We have all had painful passages in our lives. It may have been from childhood to our teenage years. It may have been a move from one home to another. It may have been the ending of a relationship. It may have been a job that didn't work out or a business venture that failed. It may have been the death of a loved one or a disbaling accident.

Painful passages cannot be entirely avoided. Arguably, they shouldn't be. Avoidance and denial often create bigger problems. Facing the challenge and taking the tough steps builds character and teaches us how to cope with life. Life will not always be fair and life will not always go the way I want it to. All the better to be prepared for those times and all the better to have healthy tools and strategies to help us through.

Gratitude is one such healthy tool for me. When facing a difficulty, gratitude doesn't remove it entirely, but it often helps take the edge off. It also keeps me facing in the right direction, and perspective is everything in the face of adversity.

I appreciate what the painful passages in my life have taught me.

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

New Passages

Today I am grateful for the fourth and final commencement of this spring season for me and that it went well last night. I am also grateful for the passages I get to take in life, physical, emotional, and other.

That fourth and final graduation in this last month took place last night at 8th grade graduation at the school where I work. I appreciate the students and parents I have worked with over the last couple of years. These 8th graders are ready to pass on to high school in the fall. The passage through elementary and middle school was challenging for some, smooth sailing for others. But a growing and learning experience for each in their own ways.

Passages. We all make many each day, literally and figuratively. A passage is defined as: the act or process of moving through, under, over, or past something on the way from one place to another. Two significant passages happened to me yesterday on my way to and from work. Yesterday morning I traversed the bridge that has been on my commute for 13 years for the last time. I felt a tug of emotion. The end of an era for the 62-year-old structure. The end of my relationship with that bridge on my drive, the view I got only from that unique vantage point.

On my way home, I got to make my first passage across the new structure, nearly three years in the making. It was dark out, so I won't get the full effect of this new passage, this fresh vantage point, until today. The passage has moved a bit to the west of the old one. The view will be a little different, but it's the same river passing beneath.

Passages are like that. They can be huge or minor. Difficult or easy. But they all bring us to this point in this day and make us who we are. I am grateful for the passages in my life.

Here is a picture, though not a great one, of the two structures I speak of:



Two landmarks, side by side, but only for a few more months. I appreciate all the work, engineering, brains, resources, and planning that have gone in to this bridge construction project. And I appreciate having seen it come together over the last years.

There was a memorial walk across the old bridge last evening, allowing locals to walk the bridge before it is closed and dismantled. I had to miss this walk, but I am grateful my husband was able to take part. It was fitting that at least one of us could bid the bridge farewell.

There is another definition of passage that refers to a portion or section of a written work. I am thankful for the many passages from many writers who have touched me over the years. I hope some of my blog passages touch you.

Thank you! Enjoy the passages you make today.

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

More From Peggy Orenstein

Today I am grateful for the students and parents I work with, and my colleagues. I am also grateful to be a woman comfortable in her own skin-at least most of the time.

A few weeks ago I wrote about Peggy Orenstein's cover story in the New York Times magazine.You can read that post here. I had seen her book Cinderella Ate My Daughter referenced before, so this time I decided to read it. Our local library had a copy and I dove in. I liked her investigative approach and I like her writing style and sense of humor. The content was definitely thought-provoking and unsettling. She was talking about what she calls the "girlie-girl culture" and the harm potentially being done to young girls. What seems innocent at first glance is, in my opinion, sexualizing girls at younger ages. Our culture and the rampant consumerism targeted at young females seems to be telling girls that exterior looks matter more than interior assets. That is Orenstein's concern. I share it.

It is not only harming our girls, it is ultimately harming our boys too, and the future relationships that await both genders. It is a tough tide to turn when there is so much money to be made at the expense of the beauty that really matters-inner beauty.

Like Peggy Orenstein, I have had some things to say about this. Like Peggy Orenstein, I am a breast cancer patient. I already felt strongly about this before my cancer diagnosis, but since my diagnosis and my own experience with the surgery option I chose, I have even more to say. You can read two guest blog posts I did. First, one titled "The Sum Of All My Parts" at Nancy's Point here.  Secondly, one titled "What Lies Beneath" on Pink Ribbon Blues here

Let's help our young girls hear the message that our most important parts are our hearts, souls, and minds. Let's help stop, or at least slow down, the train wreck of consumerism, sexualizing at younger and younger ages, and overemphasis on looks, body shape, and attire. This all leaves too many feeling "less than" and striving for an unrealistic ideal. The ideal, as I see it, means making healthy choices and honoring our bodies as the gifts they are.

It took me a long time to be comfortable in my own skin. I hope young girls can reach that self-acceptance sooner rather than later.

Thanks for more food for thought Peggy Orenstein.

Monday, June 3, 2013

Laughter as Diffuser

Today I am grateful for sunshine yesterday, which has been in short supply lately. I am also grateful for laughter. It diffuses tension, uptightness, and my penchant for taking myself too seriously.

I too often do too much for too long without taking a break. I am especially prone to that at home--where the to-do list is never done, including my writing plans. I have learned to pause, but I still tend to be of the mind that I can't relax until I get such-and-such out of the way. There's plenty of room for improvement for me. Little steps. Progress, not perfection.

I got a good reminder of something else that helps when I am overdoing it--laughter. When someone else's laughter evokes pain or frustration in me, I know I am spiritually sick, that I am in need of some redirecting. Luckily, yesterday I hadn't progressed to that point. I was close though. And then the laughter of my son and husband broke through. Something on TV had them both laughing heartily. It stopped me short and made me smile. Whatever I had just had "my undies in a bundle" about shrank back down to manageable size. I can't even remember what it was now, but shortly after their laughter, something got me to laugh outloud (something I don't do often enough). I could almost feel some of the tension exiting.

No big deal. Just a little overthinking, followed by a little laughter. But it was another important reminder of how the little things do matter. I am thankful for such lessons.

Sunday, June 2, 2013

Live and Learn

Today I am grateful for two exciting wins for Sam's baseball team yesterday, and I am grateful that our computer is back up and running. Live and learn.

Live and learn. That's the point isn't it?  Live life fully. Learn along the way, including the tough lessons that come from mistakes or unexpected twists and turns.

Live and learn. Gratitude paves the way for both. In recent days these two quotes were in my gratitude journal:

"Gratitude is like a warm blanket, it wards off the icy chill of discontent."  (C. Beaulieu)

"How happy a person is depends upon the depth of his gratitude."  (John Miller)

I appreciate both quotes, and I see the truth in them. I live the truth in them. At Sam's first game yesterday morning, it was sunny, a bit cool, but pretty comfortable. By his afternoon game, there was a rain delay, a cold wind, and falling temperatures. Welcome to June in Minnesota, right? But we went with it. We didn't bring enough layers, but we did what we could. It wasn't the most pleasant, but it wasn't totally unpleasant, in part because I didn't feed it with complaining and negativity. And I sure appreciated the warm car when the game was over.

The second quote echoes the sentiment in the Brother David Steindl-Rast quote you will see at the top of my blog main page. The deeper the gratitude, the happier the soul. I have learned that through the practice of regular gratitude for 18 years. Now, I just try to live it the best I can each day.

If you are trying to practice more gratitude in your life, here are some ideas:
*keep a gratitude journal (each day I put 2 things I am grateful for in writing)
*do an A-Z gratitude list while commuting or exercising
(1 or 2 things for each letter of the alphabet)
*write gratitude letters in your own hand and send them via snail mail if you can
*take a gratitude walk or run, tuning in to all the things you see that can bring gratitude
*start a gratitude vessel in your home (family members write things they are grateful for on a little slip of paper and put it in the jar or whatever you want to use)

You may have some of your own ideas. I would love to hear them. That's where I picked up many of the above. The key is simply to take action. Action leads to results.


Saturday, June 1, 2013

Really Getting That Perspective Now

Today I am grateful for nice weather to start the day and I am grateful for acceptance.

I need a truckload of acceptance on any given day, and need a few truckloads today. I am frustrated about our computer issues and the time it will take to rectify them, as well as expenses that will be involved. But I am more frustrated by the fact that our own lack of actions and knowledge helped create the issues, or allow it to take root. We didn't do enough to protect our computer. We were ignorant, but we're learning.

So there's frustration and there's acceptance. What else can we do? It is what it is and we need to move forward.

Then I think of more tornado fatalities, injured victims, and property destruction in the Oklahoma City area. I think of those dying from Stage IV cancer. And I get perspective back.

Onward. Just for today.