"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, August 30, 2013

Everybody Has a Story

Today I am grateful for our son Sam and what he teaches me as I try to do my best to love him, support him, and parent him. I am also grateful for a clean and convenient water source just a few feet away from me. How many people in the world don't have that luxury?

Yesterday morning on my commute, another construction vehicle slowed traffic as we crossed the bridge, just as it had a couple days ago. That allowed my eyes and mind to roam a little, and I again noticed the bridge workers. I counted close to thirty who were already at work and doing a variety of things at about 6:30 a.m. It got me thinking about how everyone has a story.

I wondered about each of those workers and what their stories are. How had they come to be part of this bridge construction crew? Do they have families? Are they locals or imports? Do they like their jobs? The questions could go on and on.

Then, at school, I pondered how every student has a story, every co-worker. We each have a life story, but we each also have a daily story. When I slow down to notice the blessings around me, I also notice the people around me. When I notice the people around me, I tend to listen better and to be kinder and gentler in my thoughts and actions. Another bonus of gratitude practice.

Everyone has a life story. If I keep that in mind and respect that, I have the opportunity to judge less and learn more. Everyone has a daily story. If I remember that, I am more likely to show patience and acceptance. How do I know if they have had a great morning or a rough start to their day? How do they know what my day has been like so far?  If we treat each other with kindness and respect, we are adding a good paragraph to the story. I would rather do that than add a frustrating little footnote to someone's day.

Everyone has a story. I am thankful for mine and what I continue to learn. I am thankful for others, because they share their stories and we grow and experience life more fully because of it.

I will be taking a blog break until Monday. Enjoy the weekend!

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Attitude or Circumstance?

Today I am grateful for my husband Darcy and the many ways he understands and supports me. I am also grateful for some well-timed meditation and reflection time yesterday.

Today's quote in my gratitude journal is:

"Thankfulness is much more dependent on attitude than circumstance. When you feel the lack of what you don't have, thank God for what you do have." (Jim Stephens)

I would answer the question posed in my blog title with a resounding "attitude!" Our perception of ourselves and the world around us is, I believe, very much shaped by our attitude about it all. My perspective is not chosen for me. I get to choose it. Certainly, circumstances impact my attitude, but they don't drive it. If I am driven only by circumstances, I feel like a victim and I stay stuck in the problem. If I am more driven by an attitude of gratitude, I tend to get unstuck and have energy to focus on solution work.

I admit that I have tried long and hard to control things that I can't, but recovery from alcoholism has taught me and experience shows me that there are two things I CAN control-my attitude and actions.That's where I put my energy and efforts.

It reminds me also of this quote by Viktor Frankl, Holocaust survivor and psychiatrist:

"We who lived in concentration camps can remember the men who walked through the huts comforting others, giving away their last piece of bread. They may have been few in number, but they offer sufficient proof that everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms—to choose one's attitude in any given set of circumstances." (from his book Man's Search for Meaning)

Frankl's words never cease to amaze me. I do indeed have the freedom to choose my attitude today.

What will it be? What will yours be?
 


Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Roaming Freely

Today I am grateful for a little touch of coolness in the air this morning. It's the first we've had in days. I am also grateful for friends, old and new.

My friend Jenny, who I have blogged about in posts such as this one, also blogs. She calls her blog "Manifesting the Magnificent." That fits nicely with the power of gratitude practice. Magnificent things surround us if we just pay attention. Actively practicing gratitude in and of itself manifests the wonders of life.

In a recent post titled "How do I turn on roaming" Jenny wrote about how roaming, in a broader sense, leads to inspiration, wonder, vision. You can read the post here. She encouraged readers to do some roaming of their own, so I did. I went through my day yesterday with roaming on my mind. I observed. I participated.

Some of my discoveries included:
*A construction vehicle slowed traffic on my commute. Because of that, my eyes could roam a bit more as I drove across a new bridge that is nearing completion. I saw workers getting tools out. I saw their faces. I thought about the hot work day they had ahead of them. I appreciated their efforts as I drove just feet away from them.
*Some students at my school were roaming looking for rooms or locations. It was nice to offer directions and assurance.
*Roaming around a large structure like a school building I have worked in for 13 years gave me reason to pause at the changes in the building itself over those years, and on a hot day, the changes in temperature as I went from one floor to the next.
*I worked on my yearly calendar and pondered how quickly one can roam through a school year on paper. In that sense, time does fly.
*I roamed through some memories as I ran. I appreciated a memory that works.
*As I washed and rinsed some dishes, I witnessed the water roaming around and running off. It doesn't need directions, it just goes with gravity. Water flowing is freeing and it helped me to focus on that, even if just for a few seconds.

I agree with Jenny; roaming is freeing. It frees me from my overloaded brain and it refreshes me.
Thanks for the inspiration my friend!

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Treacherous Swamp

Today I am grateful for my job and the new people I will meet, get to know, and work with this school year. I am also grateful for doctors with a sense of humor.

Sunday's post quoted from p. 100 of Anne Lamott's book Help, Thanks, Wow: The Three Essential Prayers.  Further down on that same page, Lamott writes:

"More than anything, prayer helps me get my sense of humor back. It brings me back to my heart, from the treacherous swamp of my mind."

This is what I call a zinger, and Lamott is so good at delivering them throughout her books. Prayer as a way out of ourselves. Prayer as a ticket back to some level of sanity. My mind can become a treacherous swamp when I go down the paths of worry, anger, fear, regrets, impatience. I get stuck in taking myself and life way too seriously. At times like that, my mind seems to be disconnected from my heart and soul, which means I have also crowded out faith.

But I can pause and pray. I can get on my knees if I choose because it humbles me and puts me in a better place for prayer. I can pray for others who are facing current challenges. I can pray to make the most of today, just today.

It's like finding solid footing in that treacherous swamp so I can finally make my way back out.

Monday, August 26, 2013

Riches or Poverty?

Today I am grateful for the opportunity to speak to others about gratitude last night at our church, and I am grateful for those who were there to listen.

This is today's quote in my gratitude journal:

"Gratitude is riches, complaining is poverty. Instead of complaining about what's wrong, be grateful for what's right." (Zachary Fisher)

Thank you Zachary Fisher for nailing it! It seems to be my nature to dwell on what isn't going right, what I am worried about, what I wish I could control but can't, what I would prefer not to have to deal with. When I do that I get exhausted and I am not paying attention to the daily gifts that surround me.Gratitude practice works if I work at it.

I am deeply blessed. My life is rich. And it has nothing to do with money and stuff. It has everything to do with seeing what's right.

Here are a few things that are right in my life:
*my marriage to Darcy
*being a mom to Sam and a stepmom to Arthur and Emily
*my job
*our dog Oliver
*five working senses
*this blog
*being a runner
*my extended family
*friends old and new
*recovery from alcoholism

Riches or poverty? We all have a choice. Which one will you make today?

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Read. Repeat. Pray. Repeat.

Today I am grateful for acceptance and a healthy perspective. Both help me approach challenges with calm. Both are amplified by gratitude practice.

So what about today's blog post title? Read. Repeat. Pray. Repeat. That's what I do with Anne Lamott's books. I read them once, love them, laugh, marvel at the insights I can so relate to, put them down feeling full and blessed. What strikes me the first time I read one of her books will be different the next time I read it. I like books like that.

Months after reading one of Lamott's books, I will pick it back up again, when I need a boost. I just read Help, Thanks, Wow: The Three Essential Prayers for the second time. I have blogged about Anne Lamott, my favorite author, numerous times. You can read some of those posts here and here.

In this trip through Help, Thanks, Wow, these words on p. 100 struck me:

"If you're like me, you ask your higher power for help and then cause further need for help by procrastinating or refusing to cooperate with simple instructions that follow sincere petition. And yet, even so, grace, progress, blessings continue to be given to you, because God gives. It's God's job"

Because I am human and have faulty thinking and ego issues, I often refuse to cooperate with simple instructions. It may not lead to disaster, but it certainly messes with my level of serenity. But I have learned that my Higher Power never tires of me asking for help and support. And as Lamott says, grace, progress, and blessings continue to be given to me, to all of us, simply because we are part of God's creation.

If giving is God's job, what's mine? I believe my job is to be of service to others, to make the most of each day, to have a level of humility that allows me to see where help is needed, to recognize my blessings and give thanks for them. Another daily job is to pray, then pray some more. To me, prayer is connecting to my Higher Power, prayer is asking for help for others who need it. Many times, prayer is all I can offer. But it is something. And it is worth repeating.

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Need a Lift?

Today I am grateful for doctors who patiently answer my questions and for good ice cream.

I am also grateful for the lifts I get from others in so many different ways each and every day.

Sometimes we literally need a lift. Circumstances leave us without transportation and we catch a ride with a friend, a family member, or a co-worker. Sometimes we literally need a lift because we are recovering from surgery, a stroke, or a broken limb. We can't get up or stand up on our own.

I saw a couple of recovery friends yesterday who need lifts of the literal kind. It got me thinking about  "need a lift" and the many ways you can look at it.

I often need lifts of the emotional and spiritual variety. And I am very thankful that I have many available to me. Yesterday they included a phone conversation with my friend Jill, time with other recovering people, laughter, reminiscing and going through old toys with my son Sam, and a head and neck rub from my husband Darcy. I am grateful for all of those.

But I also have ongoing gratitude for the higher power in my life, whom I often refer to as God. (I don't think titles matter as much as having the faith, so I hope that whatever name you give your higher power fits for you.) Time and again, when I stay in the gratitude and out of the self-pity, I am shown the grace and humility to proceed with the day-whether it be a typical day or a more challenging one.

Thanks to all who lift me up and for the opportunities I have to give a lift to others.

Need a lift? Try an A-Z gratitude list, take a gratitude walk, write a gratitude letter. Simply put, pay attention.

Friday, August 23, 2013

Standing Still

Today I am grateful for cool morning air and walking Oliver in the coming daylight. I am also grateful for a better awareness of mobility and movement.

Standing still is not something I do much. I need to work on that. Last night I went to pick up Sam from football practice. I watched the last part of practice, standing still, enjoying a beautiful evening, looking at the vista of blue sky and our community's various landmarks. I was both physically and emotionally tired, drained. The school year is gearing up and I had workshops this week. I am adjusting to getting up earlier again. Sam and I had gone to his school to get things taken care of. Darcy and I had gone for a nice bike ride.

By 7:00 last evening, it was nice to just stand there, completely still, and take it all in. Take life in. I am so grateful I am learning how to do that more regularly. Even a few minutes of mindfulness can be rejuvenating, can bring me back closer to balance.

Standing there also brought back a marathon memory. At the end of our first marathon, Chicago in 2004, I was so exhausted by the time I moved through the finish line area that I literally could not move. I didn't have the energy to sit down. I just stood there for a few minutes. Exhausted but absolutely reveling in what I had just experienced. I will never forget that moment.

But I prefer standing still to being at a standstill. A standstill means all motion and progress have ceased. Standing still may mean motion has stopped, but not progress. Progress is in the awareness, the presence, the acknowledgement of the gifts freely given to me, to all of us, daily.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Bib Overalls and Farm Toys

Today I am grateful for a good cup of coffee and for the women in my breast cancer support group.

I am also grateful for bib overalls and farm toys. Yesterday, a co-worker and I had a brief chat about bib overalls. I shared that my dad always wore striped bib overalls when he was farming (which was most of the time). She shared that she liked the extra pockets available in overalls. That reminded me of one of my dad's favorite games with his grandkids. If they were sitting on his lap and he had his bibs on, he would joke with them that there was a mouse in the front pocket. I recall more laughter than fear from the grandkids. The overalls and the mouse make me smile as I remember my dad.

Sadly, my son Sam never got to meet my dad, never got to sit on his lap, never got to talk about farm stuff with him. They would have enjoyed their time together, I have no doubt. So I have tried to share stories and memories about my dad with Sam, and from an early age he took a strong interest in farming and farm toys. He had farm videos, an extensive collection of farm toys, and was (and still is) always excited when we go to the farm.

He now has little cousins who are into tractors and other farm toys. I suggested to Sam that he go through his toys and consider what he would give away to his cousins. Most of his farm stuff is packed away now, though he used to spend hours and hours playing and creating various farm scenes on the floor of his bedroom. So last night he was going through a couple of totes. He's like his mother-a sentimental saver. He has a nice-sized box started for his cousins, but there's plenty he wants to keep as well. Maybe someday his child will play with his collection.

I could tell he was enjoying going through his things. I am grateful he has those fond memories.I am grateful he has always been interested in the farm life, as both Darcy and I grew up on farms.

Overalls and toys. Pleasant memories shared.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Early Morning Quietude

Today I am grateful for my job and for early morning quietude.

Early morning quietude. I am a morning person. I always have been. I haven't always had early morning quietude however. Growing up, I shared a room with 3 of my sisters for years. Throughout college I always had roommates or housemates.

One of the things I appreciated about living alone before I got married was the quietude, early morning and otherwise. I would get up early and do schoolwork and then go to work. (The life of a teacher.) My apartment was quiet. I didn't have to worry about waking anyone up. I cleaned when I wanted. I ate what I wanted when I wanted. I put stuff where I wanted it, and it was there when I came back to use it. I had craved that time and space to myself my whole life, and I enjoyed it.

I miss it sometimes today. Don't get me wrong. I love being married and having a family. But I still crave time and space to myself. This is where early morning quietude comes in. I am almost always the first one up at our house. I have the living area to myself and I get that little dose of "me time" that I need. Oliver is hanging out with me, but he's never a bother. He blends right into the quiet this time of the day.

Early morning stillness and calm helps me get my day off to a good start. Just like gratitude practice does.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Automatic Doors

Today I am grateful for safe travels this weekend and for the fresh start that Emily gets as she begins life after high school.

Fresh starts. One of the many benefits of gratitude practice is that it keeps my life fresh. By trying to stay present in the here and now, by trying to be thankful and appreciative of gifts unearned, my attitude and outlook on life stays fresh and energized.

Today, I am also grateful for automatic doors. Sure, I am grateful for them when my hands are full or when I have a loaded cart to push to the car. But this weekend the gratitude I was feeling regarding automatic doors was a little less obvious. It actually had more to do with the lessons automatic doors can teach us, the insights about life they can remind us of.

The first insight that came to mind is that automatic doors only open if there's movement, action. If I take some steps in the right direction, a door opens. If I stay too far back or stay paralyzed by fear or indecision, nothing much happens. Do I have a situation in my life right now that I need to move on, so some doors open? Do you?

The second insight is one of those I always need to be reminded of. Just like I take automatic doors for granted at the grocery store, Target, and other such places, I take much for granted in my life. Gratitude practice helps me not forget that much of what I have is simply a gift and that I should simply acknowledge it as such, so I can simply go on living in a positive frame of mind that allows me to be kinder and gentler to those I come into contact with and also with myself.

Simple things like the air that I breathe, the working five senses I have, electricity, people who love me, recovery, health care, good running shoes. And when I say simple I am not implying unimportant. It is the opposite really. Without such simple things in life, there is no life.

Saturday, August 17, 2013

One Day at a Time, One Step at a Time

Today I am grateful for the opportunities that await my stepdaughter Emily as she heads to DMACC to begin her post-secondary education. I am also grateful for messages of hope from others in addiction/alcoholism recovery.

One day at a time. That is how I hope Emily takes these first days, weeks, and months of her new home, classes, roommates, etc. It is also how I try to live life in recovery. Regretting yesterday's mistakes or worrying about tomorrow's potential problems only serve to waste energy and freeze out any joy today may offer. Only when I stay present, here and now, mindful, do I fully appreciate the fullness of life. Gratefulness. The great fullness of life.

One step at a time. That is how I hope Emily matures and grows into adulthood. Too much too soon and we miss the lessons, the experience. It is also how Darcy and I did a long training run yesterday.One step at a time for about 18 miles. Looking at 18 miles all at once would be discouraging. Looking at 18 miles as one step at a time, one mile at a time, keeps me moving and gets me to my goal.

Best wishes Emily. Take life a day at a time. Move into adulthood one step at a time.

Have a good weekend! I plan to be back blogging on Tuesday.

Friday, August 16, 2013

Clouds

Today I am grateful for my husband Darcy's patience with me and a phone conversation with my friend Sheila. I am also grateful for clouds and what they remind us of and teach us.

While we were traveling recently, I was enjoying sitting in the passenger seat as we made our way through part of my home state of Iowa. I was particularly taken by the high, fluffy clouds against the clear blue sky. They beckoned and mesmerized. They were relaxing. They were those kind of clouds.

But there can also be storm clouds, dark and menacing. We know the difference because the color and the light change. Storm clouds aren't relaxing, they are concerning.

Both types of clouds bear watching, but for different reasons.

I have been noticing the clouds in the sky more since that time in the car a few weeks ago. Noticing their majesty, their height, their ever-evolving nature. We have had nice weather and friendly clouds for what seems like weeks.

Life teaches us that the skies won't always be clear, that the clouds won't always be friendly.

Yet, it also teaches us that the dark, menacing clouds always clear out with time.

Appreciating the fair-weather clouds. Having strength and patience while the menacing clouds linger and then pass.

Gratitude helps me recognize the lessons in all types of clouds, both the literal and the figurative ones.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

A Toothache Revisited

Today I am grateful for the relatively comfortable root canal procedure I had yesterday. I am grateful for my dentist, the assistant, and modern technology.

I am grateful, but it doesn't mean I enjoyed it all that much. I'm just glad it's done. There was a lot of drilling, filing, and digging around in the affected tooth. At least that's what I think was going on judging by the instruments and such that were going in and out of my mouth. I was good and numb and felt no pain, other than a sore jaw at times. For that, I am truly grateful.

This tooth started bothering me last November. I blogged about it in a post titled "Perspective via a Toothache." You can read that post here. It really has only been a minor nuisance since then, but it was only a matter of time before it would need to be dealt with. It's easier to get a root canal done before it gets to that point of  "you can't wait any longer." It was sensitive at times, a little tender in my jaw at times. That's it.

Do you have any sensitive areas in your life, any tender spots, that you should address sooner rather than later? Avoidance and denial aren't even good band-aids. They seem to accelerate the decline and heighten the pain. I guess there's gratitude to be found in being able to address a situation while it's still salvageable.

Even when the novocaine wore off, the discomfort was minimal. Taking care of a problem in a timely manner does have advantages.

I know I am making random connections today, but these are the thoughts coming to my mind. One final thought as I wrap up this post on my root canal experience is that I am grateful for the roots, the anchors I have in my life. Roots and anchors like my husband, my family, my siblings, my recovery connections, my friends, my Higher Power.



Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Bittersweetness

Today I am grateful for the fountain on our front patio and for smiles-from both people I know and those I don't know and who are just being friendly.

I continue to be grateful for the writing skill of Katie Rosman in her book If You Knew Suzy. (See yesterday's post.)

She beautifully captures the contrast of human emotions that allows us to survive pain and to appreciate joy. She captures it in these words about "bittersweetness."

From pp. 72-73:
"The sweetness of the experience was connected to the bitterness. I couldn't have felt one without the other. It occurred to me that sometimes bittersweetness might be as much as a person can reasonably hope for."

Bittersweet is an intriguing word. It's a real emotion too. It is what I feel every year on my son's birthday. It is what I feel when I consider what I both lost and gained when my breasts were removed.

I so appreciate the healthy growth and development of my son Sam into his own unique person, but the rapid pace of the years passing leaves me sad at times. I still miss cuddling him and breastfeeding him as an infant.

I learned valuable things about myself and came to a new acceptance about my body after my breasts were removed, but there's residual anger in some moments when I think about the "Big C" roaring through my life and the lives of my sisters and friends.

If things were "sweet" all the time, we wouldn't appreciate them. If things were "bitter" all the time, we would give up. In combination, they allow us to proceed from day to day.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Katherine Rosman's Book "If You Knew Suzy"

Today I am grateful for coffee and conversation with friends. I am also grateful for some time to read this summer. I have enjoyed several good books.

One of those books is titled If You Knew Suzy, written by Katherine Rosman (copyright 2010). The book is about Rosman's mother Suzy Rosin who died of lung cancer in 2005. Rosman is a reporter for the Wall Street Journal. Clearly, she and her sister had a close relationship with their mom, but after Rosin's death, reporter Rosman decided to use her investigative skills and find out more about her mom. I would describe the book as part-memoir-recounting her mother's diagnosis, treatment and death-and part reporting on her findings as she connected with people her mother had connected with during her own life.

It is well worth the read. It is a reminder that we all have mulitple layers, multiple ways of connecting with others. Family is only one. We never know how intricately the web of relationships is woven into our lives. We don't always know the difference the people important in our lives have made in other people's lives. The book is complicated, but very touching and genuine. Rosman's style is candid, sometimes humorous, sometimes dead-on emotional. In other words, it was my kind of book.

One quote for today, from p. 63, after her mom had died and she had started researching into other aspects of her life, a man questioned Rosman on her approach. This is what she concluded:

"I had become less cynical and more like the sort of person who believes that if you are open to finding meaning-which is almost always an exercise in faith and almost never an exercise in certainty-you might find meaning."

I agree. Finding meaning in life is taking a leap of faith. I haven't been disappointed. Gratitude is a key way for me to find meaning in my life. Thanks Katie Rosman for a great read! More tomorrow.

Monday, August 12, 2013

It IS the little things

Today I am grateful for the opportunity to serve others in a simple way-helping provide a meal. I am also grateful I have learned that it truly IS the little things in life that bring joy on a regular basis.

Some of those little things I encountered throughout my day yesterday included:

*cleaning salt and pepper shakers grubby with the fingerprints of my loved ones
*cleaning our toaster and the accompanying crumbs and becoming mindful that we have so much more than crumbs
*freshly cleaned water and food bowls for our dog Oliver, because we love him
*the smell of coffee brewing, knowing Darcy likes the way I make it
*Oliver tearing around the house after his bath
*the sanctity of a church service, whether in English or Spanish
*smiles that carry meaning, no words necessary, no language barrier present
*enjoying seeing new countryside I hadn't seen before
*saying no to overbooking myself

It's that last one that probably had the biggest impact on my day, and laid the groundwork for the mindfulness that had me calm and noticing the gifts I was surrounded with. Yesterday morning I had too many things to do and not enough time to do them all. A theme too often familiar in my life. I made a decision to say "no" to one thing on my list and almost instantly I became less frazzled and started paying more attention. I can't do it all. Nor should I. Just show up Lisa. Just show up.

It made for a nice day, nice pace, nice presence. 

Sunday, August 11, 2013

On the Dark Side and $20

Today I am grateful for clarity amidst emotional turmoil. I am also grateful for the wisdom and grace others in recovery share with me.

One of those others in recovery used the term "the dark side" in a discussion we were having yesterday. It is a place any and all addicts and alcoholics are familiar with. Any and all humans in fact. Addicts and alcoholics don't have a monopoly on the dark side, but we certainly have our share.

The dark side is why I drank. I could escape from my increasing, deepening darkness for a few hours, but ended up creating still more darkness. Creeping self-pity and more isolation took me further and further from the sources of light in my life. Quitting drinking was the start of the light returning. Ongoing recovery and living life on life's terms brings a steady and reliable flow of light.

I don't want to forget the dark side. It gives me perspective that makes me grateful to be where I am today, surrounded by more light, hope, and faith. But I can't afford to dwell in dark thoughts for long. Reminiscing on a short visit is okay, moving back in for the long haul is not. Gratitude helps me see the light in my life, helps me back out of those brief forays we all sometimes take to the dark side.

Yesterday brought a little story of light. We were doing errands and discussing money outflow. My husband Darcy made a random comment about how it would be nice to find $20. A couple hours later, we pulled into a different parking lot to do a different errand. I caught a glimpse of something on the curb. When I got out to investigate, there was a $20 bill. For real. We laughed about his earlier comment and actually finding a $20 a little while later. But it was more than laughter. It was good karma or something. Not because the $20 was a big amount or anything like that, because something bigger than both of us was at work. That's the light.

After finding the money, I saw no one in the vicinity, so I took it. We have a service opportunity today and will use the $20 to help purchase food items that we are helping serve to migrant farm workers this afternoon. That seemed like the right thing to do. The $20 will be gone, the light will remain.

Gratitude practice reins in self-pity. Gratitude practice lights a lantern in the darkness. Gratitude practice allows us each to create our own light source, and to share it with others. Onward. Out of the dark.

Saturday, August 10, 2013

Head, Heart, Hands, Health

Today I am grateful for the very nice weather we enjoyed at our county fair and on a local restaurant patio yesterday. The former offered a cooling breeze after working in the 4-H diner, and the latter afforded a great view of our picturesque community.

Head. Hearts. Hands. Health. Do these sound familiar? If you were ever in 4-H they likely do. They are the four "H"s of 4-H. I appreciate the experiences Sam has had since joining 4-H five years ago.I am proud of his effort on his projects this year. He did a self-determined project on the Battle of Iwo Jima, two photography entries (Lincoln in Springfield and a flag pole on the campus of UNI), and a shooting sports/wildlife management one on pheasants. He earned three blue ribbons and one red. They were his ideas and his creations. Good job Sam!

I also appreciate the working experience Darcy and I had in the 4-H diner, and the fellow
4-H parents and staff we were working with. We learned as we went along and we ended up being a well-functioning team. We were glad to be done with our shift though. It is part of our commitment as 4-H parents to help out at the diner. I can't say I look forward to it, but I can say that I am grateful for the change of pace and the opportunity to be of service.

Now, back to those four "H"s.  Here is the 4-H pledge:

I pledge my head to clearer thinking
my heart to greater loyalty,
my hands to larger service, and
my health to better living,
for my club, my community, my country and my world.

Sounds like a pledge we can all aspire to, 4-H member or not. Clearer thinking. Greater loyalty. Larger service. Better living. What is there to argue with? 

When I focus my thoughts on gratitude, I more clearly see my good fortune. When I focus my heart on what I love in others, the love in my heart grows. When I try to be of service to others, I always learn from it. When I make my overall health a priority, I make better choices.

Thanks for the wisdom 4-H!

Friday, August 9, 2013

Fog, Focus, and Freedom

Today I am grateful for ice cream and the soothing effect it has for me. (You might say that's all in my head. I say "so what, it works for me.")

I am also grateful for the insights that come with regular practice of gratitude and writing.

Fog is still on my mind. When surrounded by fog, I hear sounds I would miss on a clear day. Why is that? One sense is dulled, another is heightened. 

Gratitude can do the same. If things aren't going well in one area of life, I can choose to focus on that and feel sorry for myself, or I can switch my focus to something that is going well, or something I have control over--such as going for a run or writing a blog post. It's a cinch that whatever I choose to focus on will determine my attitude for the near future. Gratitude keeps my focus healthy and more energized.

Yesterday my focus fell on heavy thoughts--regarding my job as well as circumstances people I care about find themselves in.  I tried not to dwell there, but some time spent in heaviness allows us to better grasp the return to light when it comes. Heaviness gives way to freedom when we let go.

My heavy thoughts were draining me. I was feeling physically and emotionally exhausted. It was then that I remembered how skewed my perception gets-generally to the negative side-when I am tired. I cut myself some slack and let go of the concerns I was having. (Because my worrying wasn't helping anyone else or me. ) There are tough things, difficult times, daunting challenges that will only be exacerbated by worry and fear. Gratitude teaches me to keep it all in perspective and to save my energy for productive efforts like sending a note to someone I am worried about, or cleaning out a drawer instead of overthinking about a situation I can't change.

Worry, fear, and self-pity keep me stuck in the problem. Recognizing the gift of this day brings a freedom, clears the fog, and helps me focus on the present. And the present, I believe, is the best place to be, regardless of how well or how tough things are going.

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Running Into the Sun

Today I am grateful for safe travels and time with my family in Iowa. I am also grateful for fresh garden produce and the variety of sights I saw in the last few days.

I also very much appreciate the car conversation my son Sam and I had on our trip.

Those various sights included an early morning run yesterday. I left Mom's house and headed into town around 6:00 a.m. The sun was starting to come up. About a mile down the road, there's a curve that turns to the east. The sunrise I had been enjoying peripherally was now full on "running into the sun."

It was bright. Almost too bright. But I adjusted and appreciated the sun coming across open fields, corn rows, the road I was running on. It's a treat to see the sun rise in farm country.

It was a sharp contrast from the prior morning. Thick fog hid the sunrise and most of the countryside for several hours after the sun came up. It was a bit surreal and atypical for a morning in August. On the one hand, I felt insulated by the fog. On the other hand, it was isolating. Eventually, the fog lifted and the short view was replaced by a longer view. A low gray was replaced by blue skies.

Like the sun lights the way, so can gratitude. Like fog lifts and makes way for a new view, gratitude can provide a fresh perspective. Small acts of gratitude practice can lead to light and hope. Try some today.

Sunday, August 4, 2013

"Is this heaven? No it's ______."

Today I am grateful for a good training run with Darcy yesterday, and energy that would have allowed me to continue, even after 3 hours and 15 minutes. I am also grateful for old movies and new memories.



We created one such new memory last Saturday when we made a stop at "The Field of Dreams" movie site near Dyersville, Iowa. I am almost ashamed to admit, as an Iowa girl myself, that this was my first visit to the site. It was high time to make the stop. It was Darcy's idea before it was mine.The movie was released in 1989, the year I got sober. I like that connection. It was the beginning of my release from alcoholism too.

I liked walking out on the field and walking around the outfield perimeter. I heard the corn rustle in the breeze just like it did in the movie. That is not just any corn in the picture above, that is corn on the edge of "The Field of Dreams." For real. But I wouldn't want to perpetuate the old complaints about Iowa just being cornfield after cornfield. (And even if it were, would that be terrible?)

I hadn't seen the movie in many years. Darcy and Sam had never seen it. We watched it last night. The famous line from the movie (at least famous for us natives who didn't hear things like this much) was "Is this heaven? No it's Iowa." Watch the movie if you haven't.  It's about having faith, even when logic and reason would argue against it. It's about having patience, because that is what it often takes for directions and answers to come. It is about believing. Just believing.

Being from Iowa, I can vouch for the heavenly aspects of my home state. Including the rolling hills I grew up surrounded by, only some of which had corn on them. Being a person who practices gratitude, I can vouch for heaven showing up on earth in many ways each day.

Yesterday, heaven on earth was that feeling of accomplishment and satisfaction after our long run, with free endorphins thrown in for good measure. It was playing catch with Sam in the backyard on a beautiful afternoon, with Darcy and Oliver looking on.

How would you fill in the blank? "Is this heaven? No it's _______."

Speaking of Iowa, I am going there to visit family and will be taking a blog break for a few days.Keep looking for gratitude, keep practicing, keep believing.

Saturday, August 3, 2013

Soul Finding

Today I am grateful for my heart and soul, good reading, and good friends.

I appreciated an early morning walk yesterday with my friend Jenny, followed by coffee and conversation with my friend Jill. These two women are kindred spirits to me. We share open and honestly and it's refreshing.

When Jenny and I get together, our conversations tend to bounce from topic to topic and never get finished. I like that. I am always left appreciating our time together and feeling more energized. The same goes for Jill.

The topic of soul came up when Jenny and I were talking. What is soul? Without looking up a dictionary definition, I define soul as one's inner spirit, one's deepest self. Soul comes through in thought, word, and deed. My soul was lost to me in my teens and early twenties, buried in active alcoholism. Recovery and the wonderful teachers I have who show me how to recover have helped me find my soul. Writing during my drinking days protected my soul from being lost forever. Today, my writing speaks from my soul, gives voice to what lies within.

There is less soul searching and more soul finding. Recovery and discovery go hand-in-hand as I try to stay mindful and present and take life in 24-hour chunks. I have found that to be the best way to nourish my soul so it can flourish.

Gratitude practice is vital to my soul finding. To be a kind soul to others, I first need to be kind to my own soul. Gratitude makes both more possible. When I am looking for the good in the world around me, I find it. The same holds true for the people around me.

From soul to sole. My sole mission on this life's journey is to honor my soul. From it comes all that I am and all that I am meant to be. From it comes the love and compassion I have to offer others.

Thanks for the soul finding assistance so many have given me in so many different ways over so many different days.

Friday, August 2, 2013

Lincoln's Eyes

Today I am grateful for Oliver (our cockapoo) and his presence in our lives, as well as the way he teaches me to stay present in the moment.

I am also grateful that our travels last week allowed us the opportunity to see some historic and tourist attractions. We spent time in Springfield, Illinois and visited the Lincoln Museum and Presidential Library, the family gravesite, his law office, and we got a look at the Lincoln family home in Springfield, though we ran out of time before we got to tour the interior. I looked forward to this opportunity and I wasn't diappointed. (Other than the fact that I could have spent a few more hours looking around and reading details, compared to the rest of the family. They do speed tours compared to me.)

We spent the most time at the Lincoln Museum. It was very well-done with video presentations and a variety of exhibits. I would highly recommend it. As a person who has always enjoyed history and the social sciences, and even spent ten years teaching it to willing (and unwilling) high school students, I have had a special interest in the Civil War era and a special respect for the significance of Abraham Lincoln's time as our president.

He was president at an incredibly difficult time, and no matter what he did, he was going to have plenty of people opposing his actions. The toll his job took on him is shown clearly in a series of photographs taken from 1861 to 1865. The Union survived, but he didn't.

Lincoln not only knew a huge amount of sorrow as the president during the Civil War, he knew much personal sorrow, losing his mother at age 9, his first love, and two of his sons before his own death. His eyes tell you a lot about the man and the emotions he harbored. There are famous photos of Lincoln from the beginning of his presidency to just days before his death. He aged rapidly in those years. You can see it in his eyes and his entire face. I have included two photos below. The first is from 1860, the second is from 1865, just days before he was assassinated.


 
His eyes strike me as deep and brooding, and full of sadness, but yet with a touch of a smile on his lips that reaches to his eyes. As stories from his life continue to tell us, he had a warm and humorous side. I saw evidence of that on a magnet in the gift shop at the museum. He said "If I had another face, do you think I would wear this one?"
 
Abraham Lincoln's face is famous and easily recognized. His place in history is significant and well-deserved. I am grateful for the opportunity to see Springfield, to learn more about Lincoln than what history books tell us, and for the chance to pay my respects at his final resting place.
 

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Normal Schools, Unique Campuses

Today I am grateful for spiritual awakenings that come when I am paying attention and for the sun rising through the trees this morning. I am also grateful for the opportunities we had last week to be on a couple of university campuses.

We enjoyed checking out the campus of Illinois State. My stepson Arthur will soon be starting graduate school there. I love college campuses, the feel they have, and the unique personality each one seems to project. ISU is a large campus, so it was nice to check some of it out on foot. We walked around some, Darcy and I ran on campus one morning, and we drove through it as well. It was quiet at this time of the year, but I could almost imagine the teeming energy that will abound when over 20,000 students start fall classes. Arthur is definitely excited to be a Redbird. I hope he and Alyssa have a positive experience during their time in Normal. (Fun fact: ISU is the oldest public university in Illinois and was first called Illinois State Normal University. Schools that trained teachers used to be called normal schools. That is where Normal, IL got it's unique name.)

New memories await Arthur and Alyssa.

I am an alumna of another normal school, the University of Northern Iowa in Cedar Falls, formerly known as Iowa State Teachers College. On our return trip last week, we stopped in Cedar Falls and Darcy, Sam, and I spent some time walking around campus. Some of it had changed in the twenty-five years since I attended there. Some of it was the same. Some of the buildings were new. It was fun to point out to Darcy and Sam the building I had many of my social science classes in, the building I had many of my coaching classes in, the building where I had my education classes, the student union, my dorm and dining center, the routes I traveled to classes, the house I lived in near campus that is now gone, like the rest of the houses on that block. We were able to see inside the UNI-Dome and to drive past the softball diamond where I played. The Campanile in the center of campus looked older, but was still standing proud. (You can view the Campanile and hear the bells on this YouTube video.)  Like me, a proud alum.

Old memories revisited for me.The college atmosphere. The marvel of the quick passage of time. The wish that "if only I could have known then what I know now."

Memories, the passage of time, lessons learned; they are all blessings.

Two normal schools. Two unique campuses. Two fun visits.