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

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Happy Thanksgiving!

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

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

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

Follow the impulse. Give thanks. Inward and outward.

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

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

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

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

Happy Thanksgiving! I will be back blogging next week.


Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Lesson #3: Nature and Humanity are Spectacular

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

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

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

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

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

Spectacular views. Spectacular company to share it with.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Lesson #2: Mobility Matters

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, November 25, 2013

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Four Lanes

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

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

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

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


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

 
 


Saturday, November 23, 2013

A Writing 3 x 3

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, November 22, 2013

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Five Years of BC Support Group

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Prepared for Friction

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Home Away From Home

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

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

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

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

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

Thanks Marlene! Thanks Mom!

Monday, November 18, 2013

Scenic Sioux Falls

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

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

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

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

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

What are you grateful for today? 

Friday, November 15, 2013

Swirl Head

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Small Gesture, Big Difference

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Wrestlemania

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Topic of Discussion

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, November 11, 2013

The Words of Desmond Tutu

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Partnership

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, November 9, 2013

A Pair of Scars

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

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

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

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

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

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

What have your scars taught you? Onward we go!

Friday, November 8, 2013

The Next Generation

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

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

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

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

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

Have a good and grateful day!



Thursday, November 7, 2013

Painful Reminders

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

First and Last

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Pain + Joy = Life's Beauty

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, November 4, 2013

Pause. Repeat. Back to Basics.

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Keep Those Letters Coming

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, November 2, 2013

Going Bananas

Today I am grateful for grocery stores and their convenience. I am also grateful for access to fresh fruits and produce, especially bananas.

I have been remiss in giving a gratitude shout-out to my favorite fruit-the basic banana. I have always liked bananas and they are part of my daily diet. Rare is the day that goes by without a banana or two for me.

Sure, bananas might have more calories and sugar than some other fruit, but they have many benefits.They are good for my running muscles before, during, and after a run. There is a reason why bananas, along with orange slices, are the most common fruits found available during and after marathons. They are a good source of potassium and fiber. They are easy to digest and they have some substance so you feel like you are getting some ready energy. And I love the convenience. You don't need to wash them or cut them up. Peel and eat. Throw peel in garbage. Done.

I appreciate that bananas are affordable too. Some fresh produce is expensive, but a few bananas won't break the bank. Some produce items are concerning in terms of chemicals and pesticides used on them. Bananas can have some residues, but they aren't considered one of the worst offenders.

Bananas aren't a local product where I live, so I appreciate the workers and the transportation avenues that bring them to us. Thank you to the simple and healthy banana.

Friday, November 1, 2013

Thumbs Up

Today I am grateful for a safe Halloween in our neighborhood and for regular emails to others in recovery. They help me focus on the right thinking as I begin my day.

I am also grateful for my thumbs. My friend and co-worker Liz and I were talking about her recovery from hand surgery yesterday. We got on the topic of our amazing, opposable thumbs and how much we take them for granted. I paid some attention to that point as the day went on . . . putting on gloves, zipping a zipper, washing and drying dishes, tying shoes, opening doors, driving, writing. Okay, pretty much everything I do with my hands utilizes those crucial thumbs.

When is the last time I was grateful for my thumbs? I don't think that one has crossed my mind for a long time. Those poor digits sure get taken for granted don't they? Liz has been especially noticing their importance as she deals with surgery recovery that gives her limited use of one thumb. Thanks for the inspiration and the reminder Liz!

If I take something as minor but yet important as my thumbs for granted, what else am I taking for granted? Plenty.

Today, I won't beat myself up for my ignorance. Instead, I will look for ways that my thumbs come in handy. I will consider what and who else I may take for granted, and try to be more aware and appreciative of their presence in my life.