"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

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Kilter

Today I am grateful for time, conversation, and a meal together with our immediate family. I am also grateful for the sense of balance my life has more than it ever used to.

Here we are on the final day of 2014. Another year to reflect on. Was it a good year or a year that felt off KILTER for you? Off kilter-out of harmony, lacking balance, awry, confused, muddled, out of step, out of whack. Why would anyone want to be off kilter? Why do most of us struggle with balance, at least some of the time?

Focus or lack thereof. That is what either keeps us on track or derails us. When I focus on the good in my life, on what I am able to do, I proceed into my day and life unfolds relatively smoothly. When I focus too much energy on fears, worries, what I want but don't have; that is when the slippery slope of off kilter reigns.

The mindfulness that comes with regular gratitude practice brings me the right kind of focus. My good friend Dorothy gave me a gratitude journal two years ago for Christmas. I have written at least two things I am grateful for and several prayer requests for others in this journal every day since January 1, 2013. The journal also had daily quotes in it, a number of which I wrote about on this blog. The journal is now full and I start a new, empty one tomorrow. Thanks Dorothy for the gift that kept giving for two years.

The quote from December 31 in this journal, author unknown, reads:

Count your gains instead of your losses,
Count your joys instead of your woes,
Count your friends instead of your foes,
Count your courage instead of your fears,
Count your health instead of your wealth,
Count on God instead of yourself.

A wonderful recipe to bring balance to life and avoid getting off kilter. And the last line reminds me that just about all I have control over are my own attitude and actions. I need help from a higher source of power to better guide those attitudes and actions. Gratitude practice puts me in touch with reliable power sources.

What will I choose to count today?

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Kindness

Today I am grateful for sweat and endorphins, courtesy of my old and free Nordic Track machine. I am also grateful for a better understanding of the simplicity and value of showing kindness.

KINDNESS shown to self and others makes all the difference. One of my regular mantras is "be kind and gentle with myself and others today."  If it strikes you as odd that I mention myself first, let me explain. I am my own worst enemy. I am far tougher on myself than anyone else is on me. For me, that is a manifestation of my disease of alcoholism, but I am certain many of us feel this way for many different reasons.

If I am my own worst enemy and I am stuck in that self-hatred, I am likely to be caught up in my own head and not notice others and opportunties to be kind to them. So if I start with myself, the kind and gentle approach opens my mind and heart and allows me to be of better service to those around me.

When I say "to be of better service" I am referring to the little things, the small kindnesses. Holding a door for a stranger coming out of a store with their hands full. Letting a car go ahead of me so they don't have to keep waiting. Smiling and saying hello. Most importantly though, and sometimes most challenging, is showing that kindness to those closest to me. Keeping my mouth shut when harsh words are on the tip of my tongue. Being quiet unless my opinion is asked. Respecting the wishes or space of someone else and not pushing my own agenda.

Being present and mindful, in a grateful frame of mind, also allows more kindness to flow. I am more likely to get a cup of coffee for my husband or make breakfast for my son. They are people who really matter in my life and they deserve the small kindnesses I can offer.

Today, I will look for where I can show kindness to others, remembering that reaching out to others starts with me being kind to me.

Monday, December 29, 2014

Journey

Today I am grateful for safe travels and time with my husband Darcy's family. I am also grateful for working heat in our house.

JOURNEY is the second "j" word I am choosing to blog about. On our recent journey to see family, I was a back seat passenger and that is not typical. I appreciated the relaxing time to read, rest, let my eyes wander around the scenery out the window. I appreciated Darcy doing the driving. We were in close quarters, including our dog Oliver joining us in the back seat.

We journeyed to Sioux Falls, South Dakota, an important destination on my life's journey. Darcy and I were married there and lived there for the first two years of our marriage. Prior to that it had been a shopping destination a handful of times with friends or a city we saw from I-90 as we headed west to the Black Hills. Now when we journey back there to see family, I see pleasant memories of that chapter in my life's journey too.

I have been fortunate to take many actual journeys via plane and automobile to many parts of this country. I have been blessed to start and complete twelve journeys of 26.2 miles in twelve different cities and locations. On foot makes one's perspective on a journey much different.

And then there are journeys that aren't about miles. Journeys of recovery and self-acceptance. Journeys through cancer treatment and surgeries. Journeys on the road of gratitude practice. These journeys have taken me to destinations of greater spiritual understanding and growth, and they are journeys that have made all the difference. They continue to make all the difference.

One of my favorite quotes about journeys is this one from Chinese philosopher Lao-tzu:

"A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step." 

As I read about the quote, it said that a more accurate translation is this one: "The journey of a thousand miles begins beneath one's feet." 

That is a subtle but meanngful difference. I appreciate the one step at a time, one day at a time, one blog post at a time idea. But I also appreciate the emphasis on action, on my responsibility to get moving on my own journey of life.

Where will my feet and heart take me on my journey today? Where will yours take you?
Begin. Proceed. We will find out in each moment.

Thursday, December 25, 2014

Jovial

Today I am grateful for family emails and for my own family and our holiday traditions and time together.

JOVIAL seemed like a fitting word for Christmas. Of course Santa comes to mind. But there seems to be plenty of good cheer in plenty of places this time of the year.

Cheerful and friendly, sociable and outgoing, good-natured, amiable, jolly. If you are celebrating Christmas, maybe you are also considering a jovial Jesus. I don't know that I have ever heard that word used to describe Jesus, but consider the stories told of this Messiah, and the words listed above do seem to fit.

There's the flip side though. People feeling anything but jovial because of holiday stress, tough times, health concerns, grief. I don't know about you, but when I feel low a jovial person is almost too hard to be around. I can't make someone else happy and I can't take away someone else's pain, but I can be helpful and compassionate.

Being present and mindful, including a grateful mindset, helps me tune in to how I am feeling, and also how others may be feeling. I can be more considerate when I am more aware.

I wouldn't have described myself as jovial for most of my life, but I think it fits me at least some of the time. More importantly, my spirit is jovial more often and that makes a difference.

I will be taking a blog break again. See you next week. I close with holiday greetings, and a wish that we carry a jovial spirit with us throughout the year.


Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Intentional

Today I am grateful for those who take time to read my blog. I am also grateful for the healing power of sharing with others our joys and our struggles.

INTENTIONAL is a loaded word. It can have many negative connotations. Someone intentionally hurt someone else. Just read the news and you will see harmful intentions left and right. They "did it on purpose" or "deliberately."

It is too easy individually and collectively to shake our heads at all the negative we can point to and get weighed down by it all. Let us not forget the many wonderful things done for us and by us each day; things done on purpose and deliberately to share love, joy, caring, concern, laughter. I also try not to forget a Higher Power who is instrumental in all of these good intentions. I am not immune to difficulties and struggles, I just feel better equipped to face them and work through them. For that, I am deeply grateful.

Intentional can also be defined as "conscious, meant, purposeful, studied." That makes my regular practice of gratitude a very intentional process. I started this blog in March of 2012. Little did I know how much it would teach me, how much I would grow as a writer and in gratefulness and mindfulness.

One of my intentions was to reach others with what I believe to be a valuable message and practice. I have a new reader at Rethink Street and I appreciate her recent mention of my blog. We have never met and she lives in another country, but we have connected on the shared topic of gratitude. Our individual intentions have added to a collective that is bigger than each of us.What a cool thing to be part of!

I remain intentional in my gratitude practice. Some days are easier than others, but because of habit and intention, no day is too difficult to find some gratitude.

What are my positive intentions today? What are yours? Onward!

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Inch

Today I am grateful for reasonable and rational thoughts and actions. I am also grateful for more rest and sleeping in a bit.

INCH is the word I want to blog about today. I am thinking of the inch or two of snow predicted for us today. I enjoy walking in falling snow and also shoveling it. There is a peace in the quiet of falling snow and a wonder in the beauty of it. I also have deep gratitude to be able-bodied and healthy enough to shovel snow.

I am thinking about the saying "Yard by yard, life is hard. Inch by inch, life's a cinch." It is on the medicine cabinet in one of the bathrooms at my mom's house, along with several other sayings. This one really resonates with me. Just for today. Stay in today. Take life one day at a time. Do the next right thing. Let go of yesterday's regrets and tomorrow's fears.

Inch by inch, I can make it through difficult times and good times. Inch by inch, I can make a difference in my own day and the day of those around me. Present. Mindful.

Inch by inch, I keep practicing gratitude and reaping the many benefits that come.

Consider slowing down and noticing what "inch by inch" can feel like today.

Monday, December 22, 2014

Hugs

Today I am grateful for safe travels and family time. I am also grateful for hugs, those given and those received.

I didn't grow up in a hugging family. It was not my comfort level. I think I was in college before I starting some hugging. It was a step beyond my usual, but I had been pretty closed off and inhibited for a pretty long time, so it was freeing. Gradually, my family became more of a hugging family. I am always giving and receiving hugs on visits.

I also have friends I always hug whenever I see them. My recovery friends are good ones for giving and receiving hugs too.

It'a a small gesture, a brief connection. But it is more. It is reaching out. It is saying I care and I am comfortable with you. It's saying you are close to my heart, even if I don't say it outloud enough.

My son Sam has grown up with a hugging mom, and my stepchildren with a hugging stepmom. I think it matters. I think it makes a difference.

The hugs I share with Sam have evolved over the years, and as he hits the teen years they are almost comical at times. He lets me hug him. And he will even give me a little hug back. At home of course. Nothing public at this point. He is now taller than I am. I tell him he will always be my baby though, and I will always want those hugs. It is something special, hugging your own growing child. How grateful I am for that.

Hugs. To give. To receive. To reach out. Give some today.

Friday, December 19, 2014

Holthaus

Today I am grateful for a run yesterday with Oliver. I am also grateful for my family, immediate and extended.

That makes HOLTHAUS a good word for today. I don't often use proper nouns on my A-Z journey, but I can be flexible. It's my blog. Holthaus is my maiden name. It is of German origin. I have always liked my maiden name, other than those times growing up when I was tired of everyone and wondered briefly if perhaps I had been adopted.

In fact, I planned on keeping my maiden name if I ever got married. But then I met Mr. Valentine. I fell in love with him and his name. I am forever proud to be a Holthaus though.

I will see many family members this weekend at a holiday gathering. Some carry the name Holthaus, some have other names, but we are all family. There is strength in a name that has survived generations, and there are more in the next generation to keep carrying it forward.

Our names are part of our identity. Like when and where we are born, we initially have little choice as to our given names. We can always change them if we wish, but I wouldn't change a thing about mine. Lisa Holthaus Valentine. There's a lot of life lived in those three names. For that, I am truly grateful.

I will be taking a blog break for a couple days. Have a nice weekend!

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Gophers

Today I am grateful for our local breast cancer support group and the friends I have there. I am also grateful for my laptop computer's convenience and portability.

GOPHERS is a "g" word that may not cross a person's mind all that often. If you happen to live in Minnesota, however, you will hear it frequently and see it on shirts, sweatshirts, and car bumpers. The Golden Gophers of the University of Minnesota. Minnesota: The Gopher State. Apparently back in the mid-1800's there was considerable debate about whether or not Minnesota should be called the "Gopher State" for the many striped gophers prevalent on the prairie, or the "Beaver State."  Long before social media, political cartoons helped give the nod to the gophers.

Minnesota history aside, this Iowa girl wants to talk about the gophers of my childhood. I confess to not being a regular follower of Minnesota Gopher athletics. At one time in my life, however, I would spend some weeks in spring and summer following gophers. Actually we were trapping them. They were numerous and could be destructive to farmland. So the local county extension offices would offer rewards for the paws of captured gophers. I recall ten cents per pair, and then it moved up to a quarter. It was worth our time back then.

The process began by looking for fresh gopher mounds-piles of dirt they create when they make their burrows. The trick was finding the opening, clearing it enough to fit a trap in it, then covering things back up and putting a post nearby to both hold the trap and mark the mound. The next morning we would check our traps and see if we had caught anything. If we had, I would usually let someone else take it from there. It was one of the many ways I learned about life on the farm. I recall the challenge of the trapping and some excitement if we caught a gopher. In some sense, we were doing our part to help out.

From grief to gophers, and now wishing you a good day full of gratefulness.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Grief

Today I am grateful for energy to be productive and for my health.

GRIEF is something we all face in minor and major ways as we live our lives. No two people experience it the same way in the same time frame. We can share grief, but it is also an individual journey for each person's heart, soul, and mind.

Grief is an appropriate word for me today. It is the sixth anniversary, December 17, 2008, of my third surgery during my cancer treatment-bilateral mastectomies. I will never forget waking up from surgery and looking at my new flat terrain and what that felt like in that moment. The grief was raw and real in the days, weeks, and months following surgery. But there was also relief, healing, and much gratitude for my returning health.

I think of my sister Danita and the absolutely grueling grief process she is in the midst of as her husband Roger further declines with Lewy body dementia. I think of them both every day. Grief is not meant to be categorized, but I believe circumstances like my sister's, losing someone in this manner, must be some of the toughest, most heart-wrenching grief to face.

We may grieve lost dreams, our youth, friends we have lost contact with. We may grieve decisions we regret making or choices we regret not taking. Face the grief. Feel it.

If I have grief over a loss, it must mean I had a blessing first.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Feelings

Today I am grateful for my favorite sweatshirt and for the range of feelings I experience. Each teaches me something about myself.

As the easy listening, sometimes nauseating mellow 70's song says: "FEELINGS, nothing more than feelings." And nothing less either. Feelings are gifts. The joyful, the frustrating, the agonizing.

Gifts? Without the full range of emotions, without a willingness and a stability to feel all of them, we are less than we could be. Without the tough ones, we cannot fully appreciate the inspiring ones. Without the joyful ones, we would never make it through the times of despair.

As an elementary school counselor, I would show up in classrooms with a little gift bag. We would talk about feelings as gifts. The good ones tell us what is going well, the bad ones are telling us something is wrong and we should talk to somebody. It may sound simple, but I think it is a message adults need to hear as much as young people do.

The other visual I used with students was mentioning a Pringle's chip can. I asked them what would happen if we kept stuffing feelings we didn't want to talk about into the can. It would explode. It would burst. Things would come out sideways. That is what happens to us if we aren't tuned into our feelings, our heartfelt emotions.

I feel more with my heart and soul than I do with my head. But how much time do I spend thinking about feelings rather than acting on them in healthy ways?

We live in a culture and society that has many ways to numb feelings, that has gotten really good at looking okay on the outside while falling apart on the inside. Let's do ourselves and others a favor. Honestly identify and discover our range of feelings. Discard the toxic ones. (It takes work, but lightens the load.) And nourish the positive and uplifting ones. (Work also required, but the dividends are great.)

Monday, December 15, 2014

Frazzled

Today I am grateful for phone conversations with my sister Danita and my friend Deb. I am also grateful for eggnog.

For my first "f" word I have chosen FRAZZLED. It is defined as "to cause to feel completely exhausted, wear out; to fray." I can honestly say I have experienced being frazzled a few times in my life. And that's an understatement. I can also honestly say that I am not currently feeling frazzled.

I can create my own frazzled state or life circumstances can create them. I do better when it is life circumstances that frazzle me. It's like I rise to the occasion, buck up, and proceed. When I create the fraying and confusion in my own head, it is much harder to find my way out. I am my own worst enemy at those times.

I have learned that if I just do the next right thing, my life tends to unfold, versus the unraveling that happens when I try to manage and control. In order to do the next right thing, I need to be here and now. Gratitude practice helps keep me present, and has a calming effect all its own. Consider it an anti-fraying strategy.

This time of year can put people in a frazzled state. Ironic isn't it? Peace on earth, good will to men, but too many are running around like crazy people trying to do too much and not enjoying any of it. Expectations low. Boundaries high. Heart open. Less frazzled.

Keeping priorities in the forefront and saying no to some things that don't make the priority list can be helpful too. Where can and should I put my energy? Where is the joy in today?

I can't control all of my life circumstances, but I do have some control over my state of mind and a less frazzled state is my goal for today. How about you? Pause. Embrace the moment. Feel the small joys.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Eventually

Today I am grateful for a nice pace to my day yesterday-from a morning run, to some gift-wrapping, to family time shopping, a pleasant meal out, and an entertaining Christmas play at my school.

EVENTUALLY is the word that struck me on our run yesterday morning. Eventually the fog that has been with us on and off for several days lifts by mid-morning before it settles back in. Yesterday we even saw sun and blue sky, but only briefly.

It seems inevitable that our dog Oliver would eventually injure himself. He sprained a leg yesterday morning jumping off Sam's bed. When we considered how many hundreds of times he has jumped off beds, recliners, couches, and raced up and down stairs, it is surprising that his eventual injury took over six years. He was slowed down, and it was concerning to see him limping. But today he is much better. Eventually, he will be back to running with us.

Eventually, after I hurry enough, get frustrated enough, waste enough energy, I will let go of what needs to be let go of. One of my goals with the recovery work I do, and the meditation and prayer I try to practice, is to help that "eventually" come sooner rather than later. I am at least making some progress and sometimes I don't even pick something up that isn't mine to pick up. Less letting go required that way.

And the sobering thought as I pondered the word eventually, is that eventually we all die. It's something we don't always want to consider, and I try not to live in fear of it, but I think it is okay to ponder our mortality from time to time. It brings an appreciation of the life we do have, even with all of it's trials and tribulations. Maybe it also helps us be more thankful and less frustrated with our life circumstances at the moment and with the people who are sharing in it with us.

I am thinking of those who are looking more closely at death because of illnesses that have them or a loved one on the inevitable path to the end. My thoughts and prayers are with them all.

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Experience

Today I am grateful for a tooth extraction that wasn't too painful, for my Grandma's recipes, for family time. I am grateful for time with some of my women in recovery friends.

EXPERIENCE is today's word on my A-Z journey. I experienced that tooth extraction early yesterday morning. I have had plenty of dental work done, and this was minimal compared to some other procedures. There was infection, so good riddance. I am grateful it went well and grateful I am not feeling much pain at all. I ponder how many people around the world need dental work and don't have access to it. I ponder how painful a toothache can be to experience. I am grateful for accessible and affordable dental care.

I decided to make my Grandma's Christmas cut-out cookie recipe yesterday. My son Sam helped me make some of the cookies, and then he, my stepdaughter Emily, and my husband Darcy all helped decorate the cookies. It was a family holiday experience. We do the cut-outs every year.

I pondered what the experience was like for my Grandma in her kitchen with her family all those years ago. I ponder what my Grandma's life experience was like. My mom's mom passed away when I was barely five. I have only a couple of vague memories of her. But when I use her recipes, we in some way, share an experience. I am grateful for my family and the previous generations that made it possible for us to be here today.

Experience goes hand in hand with the discipline I wrote about yesterday. Experience teaches me that if I stay consistent and disciplined, I get to keep reaping rewards. That certainly holds true for running, recovery, and gratitude practice. They have each enhanced my life experience in ways I couldn't have predicted.

Experience as teacher. Experience as pause. If I truly want to experience a moment, an emotion, I need to pause, slow down and be there in that moment.

Experience as hope for the future. I have been shown that with faith and patience, and trying to get out of my own way, I can be led to places I could not have found myself. To share those experiences with others is an ongoing gift.



Friday, December 12, 2014

Disciplined

Today I am grateful for stability in many forms. I am also grateful for the role of discipline in my life.

No doubt about it. I am a DISCIPLINED individual. It has served me well in many areas of my life. Habit. Regular practice. Commitment. Consistency. Dedication.These are all part of having discipline.

It isn't always fun or easy being disciplined, and some days I "act as if." Some days my discipline can be exhausting. But years of experience have taught me and proven to me that if I keep taking right actions, my thoughts follow. And that is what I most need to discipline-my thoughts. They are both my savior and my downfall. Discipline makes the difference between a smooth trip of a day and a train wreck of a day.

My discipline begins with recovery from alcoholism and daily prayer and meditation. Recovery discipline for me also requires regular connections with others in recovery. They are "God with skin on" for me.

Then there's running discipline. I have never found it too difficult to summon the motivation to start out on a run. There may be days when it is a little tougher, but I know I will feel better across the realms of health if I get a run in. I am so grateful for the typical ease of my running commitment.

As I finish up my 10th gratitude journal and near my 900th blog post, the discipline of gratitude practice continues to evolve in my life. As Robert Louis Stevenson said in this recent quote from that 10th journal:

"Keep your eyes open to your mercies. The man who forgets to 
be thankful has fallen asleep in life."  

My life is full and rich in blessings. To fall asleep to those wonders and riches would be a pity. Discipline allows me to stay awake. 

What disciplines serve you well in your life? Where do you need more discipline? 


Thursday, December 11, 2014

Delicious

Today I am grateful for my husband Darcy and his sense of humor. I am also grateful for my five working senses.

DELICIOUS describes some of my favorite things. A sip of coffee at just the right temperature. A bite of dark chocolate. A taste of smooth almond milk. A perfectly ripe pear. A garden tomato. Ice cream. Pizza.The smell of cookies baking. Many holiday treats. The list is long.

I am doubly blessed. My senses-especially taste and smell-are in good working order and allow me to experience delicious in many ways. I am blessed to have access to this multitude of delicious items, and to have money to afford to buy them.

Considering the word delicious also reminds me to slow down. How often am I rushing through my day and not taking the time to eat slowly, give thanks to those who helped bring this food before me, and savor it? Too often. It is another way I take my many blessings for granted.

Pause in gratitude for all that is. Pause in anticipation of enjoying the delicious food in front of me. Mindful eating is part of mindful living.

Let's all try some mindful eating today.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Clarifiers

Today I am grateful for my five working senses and the little gifts they can take in when I am tuned in to them. I am also grateful for simplicity, when I remember to apply it.

My senses and simplicity are both CLARIFIERS for me. They help me clear confusion, zero in on priorities, return to the present moment, give me direction for the next steps.

I have people in my life who are clarifiers for me as well. They can hear me out patiently and then give me a nugget or two to help me see the tree that I couldn't see because I was focused on the whole forest. I am grateful for the people in my life who help me clarify.

I think of mental clarity first, but clarity of heart and soul are also very important. They are all connected. Recovery work is a clarifier of my emotions-both constructive and destructive emotions. I am learning to be more a builder than a wrecker of myself. That allows me to be of greater service to those I come in contact with each day.

Gratitude practice is a great clarifier as well. This morning it tells me to take care of myself. And that means a short post and onward into my day.

Who and what are the clarifiers in your life?

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Chasm

Today I am grateful for holiday cookies and my Grandma's recipes. I am also grateful for my job and the energy I get to be part of there.

Today's word is CHASM. It is defined as a deep fissure in the earth, rock, or another surface, or as a profound difference between people, viewpoints, or feelings. I have never physically had to cross chasms. Mine have been more of the mental, emotional, and spiritual variety.

This poem speaks to one of those chasms. How I felt about my physical body and the imperfections it carried. I lacked a comfort level of being in my own skin for many years. Then it slowly got better and better as life experiences like marriage, motherhood, and marathons came along. But ironically, it took a double amputation and recovering from it to really launch me to a new level of acceptance of this earthly vehicle I reside in. That in turn expanded my overall view of myself and the world around me.

I wrote this poem about nine months after having bilateral mastectomies. Cancer took much from me, but it also served as a catalyst in more ways than one. Considering our own mortality has a way of doing that.

Crossing the Chasm

There was a chasm                                         But greater heights
In my life                                                          Better perceptions
I had been                                                       More goals
Trying to cross                                                Were on the
For a long time                                                Other side
                                                                       Of this chasm
It was deep
And wide                                                        Recovery
In it were                                                        Marriage
Some of my                                                    Motherhood
Remaining                                                      Running
Hang-ups                                                       Hadn’t quite
And hold-ups                                                 Launched me
They were                                                      Across it
Substantial
                                                                       Getting cancer
On the other side                                            Became the
Was my brighter self                                       Unexpected
More content                                                  But necessary
More fully realized                                           Catalyst
                                   
I had already                                                   The chasm
Crossed many                                                 Was crossed
Chasms                                                           The view
Climbed higher                                                On this side
Gotten a better view                                        Is spectacular
Than I thought
I would                                                           LV  9/13-9/19/09
In my life

What chasms are you trying to cross? What chasms are you avoiding? We never have to cross alone. 

Monday, December 8, 2014

Books

Today I am grateful for phone conversations with some of my sisters and for holiday baking. I am also grateful for the role of books and reading in my life.

BOOKS have been important to me throughout my life. I still like the hard copy of books, and have yet to invest in a Kindle or Nook, though they have appealing aspects. I like to hold the actual book in my hand.

Growing up, I remember a couple of my first favorite books were Little Black Puppy and Eloise and the Old Blue Truck. I still have the copies, though tattered a bit and one is without a cover. I read them to Sam when he was little. As I got a little older, Where the Red Fern Grows and The Outsiders were a couple of my favorites.

I went through a historical romance phase for a time, but for many years now have been mostly a fan of nonfiction. I would like to have more time to read, but my life today doesn't always offer much extra time. I also run into the problem of falling asleep shortly after I start reading. It can take me some time to work through a book this time of the year. I get more reading done in the summer.

I was reading to Sam before he was born and we read to him nightly until he was eight years old. He is a strong reader and I feel like we can take some credit for that. He reads more at school these days, but will read before he goes to sleep some nights.

I think about books that I have turned to in my recovery from alcoholism. There are daily meditation books and books where others share what works for them. Some of these books I have read numerous times, some I continue to study like a textbook. They have all helped guide me to healthier thoughts and actions.

I love books. I continue to pursue my dream of getting a book published. It all starts with words on a page, electronic or otherwise. Thanks to the authors of the many books I have enjoyed. Thanks to you who read my words. Onward!

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Being

Today I am grateful for the role of writing in my life and for the positive role of wrestling in my son Sam's life.

BEING is the "B" word that came to my mind yesterday as I was doing just that-being. Living. Reality. Existing. And it was a good day, a busy day of being. It started with a run with Oliver in the early morning dark and seeing a beautiful moon. I then spent several hours working concessions at my son's wrestling tournament.

I was working with people I had just met, for the most part. We did a good job being an efficicient crew together. When we had rushes, we had a system down to keep the lines moving. We were just being a concessions crew managing a rush. Not earth shattering, but it kept smiles on faces of customers.

Then I got to be a grocery shopper, a pizza consumer, a casserole maker, a writer.

Being present. Being grateful. Just being in all aspects of being-physical, mental, emotional, and spirtitual. I really felt my physical being Friday and Saturday, as I played outside with middle school students on Friday and did the concessions stand work yesterday. But my physical being opens me up to my spiritual being and together they do better work of managing my emotions and thoughts.

Today I will practice being. Fully being. Gratitude takes me far beyond just existing.


Saturday, December 6, 2014

Alcoholism

Today I am grateful for sore muscles and fresh air. I am also a grateful recovering alcoholic today.

I have learned much about the disease of ALCOHOLISM from many people and sources over the years. Early on I considered it the "A" word, a bad word, something I sure as heck didn't want to be. Acceptance took time and can still be a challenge, but understanding that alcoholism is about much more than drinking was a good start.

When I was 19, I went to see a substance abuse counselor after my college friends shared concerns with me. That being after I woke up on the floor of my dorm room after passing out there the night before. The counselor had me take the MAST (Michigan Alcoholism Screening Test) and the first question was "Do you feel you are a normal drinker?"

Nope. Never. When I drank, something happened. I couldn't stop, even with the best of intentions. That is a key to the disease. Lack of control. Inevitably, consequences come-physically, mentally, emotionally, spiritually, legally, relationally. And the list could go on. It took all of that to show me I needed help. The help continues.

Daily I strive to come to some personal acceptance of my disease. Sadly, there is still plenty of misunderstanding about alcoholism and other forms of addiction in our society today. As both an alcoholic and a cancer patient, I found a new voice. The piece below speaks to the similarities between the two, and the differences. It was published in the Minneapolis Star Tribune on August 7, 2011.

Addiction and Cancer Both Need Headlines
What if we saw addiction more like we see cancer?  Both deadly diseases, they are worlds apart in how they are perceived. It would sound heartless to tell a cancer patient to “get over it,” yet alcoholics and addicts are judged harshly for their malady. Cancer cells don’t announce their presence until enough have amassed to be felt, detected by tests, or cause pain. Likewise, addiction often has someone in its steel grips before they realize it.
Addiction and cancer have common ground beyond their lethal potential. Research has made headway regarding causes and treatment of both, but unanswered questions remain and cures are elusive. Personal habits can be contributing factors. Genetic predisposition seems prominent. Many forms of treatment can help put each in remission. But they continue to exact a huge toll in our country on a daily basis. People don’t ask for or deserve either.  I didn’t ask for either, but I am facing both.  I am an alcoholic in recovery since 1989 and a breast cancer survivor since 2008. Very grateful to be alive, I don’t have to face either disease alone. I wish that for everyone.
Amy Winehouse’s death made headlines this summer and generated abundant comments and coverage. (Toxicology reports are pending on Winehouse, but regardless of what killed her, addiction impacted her life.) It is disconcerting that a celebrity death puts the calamity of addiction in the news for a mere few days before it flits quietly away again. We need to keep addiction in the headlines. Not individual tragedies, but the collective devastation. It’s not every day a famed singer dies, but it is every day that lives are lost to alcohol and other drugs. Just your average alcoholic or addict.  Gone. Leaving behind loved ones, lost dreams, and heartache.  Their stories are no less tragic than Winehouse’s, but it is too easy to detach when the victim is someone we don’t personally know, too easy to remove ourselves from the urgency.
Bring it closer to home. We all know people struggling with addiction. It may be someone in the office next door, the house down the street, or the bedroom across the hall. Some are alive, but not well. Others make headlines in the local paper when they crash cars, drown, commit murder/suicide or have obituaries that simply say “died unexpectedly.”  Maybe if we stated openly that addiction killed them, more people would take notice and stigma would fall away. Cancer’s victims get a nice line in their obituary about “losing a long battle.”  Addicts are in a fight for their lives too.
Addiction is non-discriminating, touching all classes and races. Those afflicted need help from outside themselves. We wouldn’t expect a cancer patient to treat themselves. Why do we think addicts can?  The bitter judgment is obvious. Weak-willed. Created their own troubles. Why don’t they just quit?  Instead, let’s ask ourselves if there is someone in our own lives who needs support and if we are the ones who can offer it.
Both illnesses impact an entire family. Yet, families dealing with cancer get support and sympathy while families with addiction get discussed in hushed tones. Secrets are perpetuated by the rampant denial, guilt, and shame in these families. The proverbial elephant in the living room needs to get kicked out, but it takes a concerted effort. If making a meal for a chemo patient and her family is helpful, so is not enabling an addict to continue putting themselves and others in danger.
Each studied for centuries, people accept cancer as a disease but debate addiction as one. Alcoholism has been recognized as a disease since 1956 by the American Medical Association. Addiction as a disease is an ongoing discussion; but it has clear symptoms, is chronic in nature, and terminal if left untreated. All debates aside, addiction is headline-worthy. Cancer makes the news regularly, helping advance awareness, prevention, treatment, research funding, and people’s willingness to talk about it. We can strive for the same with addiction. We can even hope for lives saved and families restored.
           


Friday, December 5, 2014

Average

Today I am grateful for my job and the diversity of skills needed and experiences gained. I am also grateful for the winding down of a busy work week.

The first stop on my A-Z trek is AVERAGE. My initial thought as I pondered this word is that daily gratitude practice allows me to average out a steady supply of gratitude. Some days my level of gratitude is below average. Maybe I am tired. Maybe I have seen and heard too much pain and frustration from those I care about and/or work with.

On other days, my level of gratitude is above average. I am able to stay present and mindful. I feel the joy in the moment and the smallest of blessings. Some days my level of gratitude is just right. I proceed an hour at a time, pausing to regroup when needed, noticing reasons to be grateful throughout my day.

When those days are averaged together, I end up with a fair amount of gratitude in my stockpile. Consider it insurance to protect me from the energy-zapping, soul draining world I sometimes find myself in, or sometimes create in my mind.

Then there's that other average. Just typical. Mediocre. We shy away from that use of average. Who wants to be "just average?"  Let's do ourselves and everyone else a favor. Embrace our averageness and accept it. Then we can spend more time bringing out our unique and exceptional natures. We all have both, we all are both. Average. Exceptional.

I am average at many things. You wouldn't want to hear me sing. I can't dance. I am fairly clueless when it comes to designing things. Math is not a strong suit.

I am above average as a committed runner. I am above average at practicing gratitude. Together, these two have made an exceptional difference in my life.

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Words A-Z: A Third Time Around

Today I am grateful for sweat, endorphins, working limbs, and to be able-bodied and alive. I am also grateful for the abundance and complexity of words.

I am about to embark on my third A-Z gratitude list since I began this blog. Doing an A-Z gratitude list was an idea I first heard from a recovery speaker several years ago. I tried it out, usually just by going through the alphabet when I was driving or exercising. I still do that.

But I also like to write A-Z lists and I encourage others to do the same. This blog gives me a good venue for that. Beginning on November 26, 2012, I began my first "The Gift of Words A-Z."  Start here to read that first blogging A-Z. Then last year, beginning on December 13, 2013, I began "More Gifts of Words from A-Z." Go here to start that second and longer blog journey from A-Z.

This third time around will probably be random and probably be a word or two per letter. I can be flexible and set my own structure. That is what I like about having my own blog.

I am grateful for words. They are the wonder, the key, the gift to unlock our hearts, souls and minds. There is such a wealth to pick from. Depending on how parameters are defined and which source a person is using, there are anywhere from 470,000 to over a million words. Suffice it to say I won't run out of ideas.

Stay tuned. In the meantime, consider doing your own A-Z gratitude list and have a good day!

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Ann Bancroft-Explorer and Pioneer

Today I am grateful for a pleasing run in the fading daylight yesterday, and also for the opportunity to hear polar explorer Ann Bancroft speak.

I appreciate the accomplishments of Ann Bancroft and also her efforts to help young women pursue their dreams through her Ann Bancroft Foundation. In 1986, she became the first known woman to reach the North Pole. In 1993 she reached the South Pole, becoming the first known woman to reach both poles. In 2001, her and Norwegian Liv Arneson became the first women to cross Antarctica. They covered over 1700 miles in 94 days.

She bravely went where very few have ever gone, and even fewer women. She is a role model, and not just for girls. She chose to take on these challenges. Think about how the preparation and the journeys themselves shaped her and helped her become the person she is. We are all like that. Shaped by our challenges. Some of which we choose, some of which we don't.

Read more about Ann Bancroft here. She was an effective and pleasant speaker to a good-sized group of students and adults at my school. She ran out of time well before she ran out of material.

I think about some of the interesting things she shared. Like starting at sea level on their Antarctica trek and reaching the South Pole which is at over 9,000 feet in altitude. Like needing to consume 7,000 calories a day when pulling sleds for up to 14 hours a day. Like making progress one day, sleeping, getting up and realizing the ice flow and winds had pushed them back the 10 miles they had just covered the previous day.

Listening to her, seeing some of the pictures of the beautiful and icy isolation of the polar regions, helped me walk away with a reminder. A reminder about our small part in the larger whole. A reminder about frontiers being both outside of ourselves, as well as in our hearts and souls.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

"No one can make you feel inferior . . . "

Today I am grateful for clear roads to drive on and a clear head with which to proceed into my day.

I am still considering the word intimidating that I wrote about yesterday. It reminds me of a favorite quote of mine, attributed to Eleanor Roosevelt:

"No one can make you feel inferior without your consent." 

That saying is one that has stuck with me since I was a teenager. I knew it to be true when I first heard it, but I didn't know how to stop giving my consent. I didn't measure up, by a long shot, in my own eyes. How would I ever measure up in anyone else's eyes?

Yet, even in my state of self-hatred, maybe I was intimidating to others because of my vocabulary or my athletic skills. I didn't set out to intimidate. If I did, it was probably fed by the other person's own insecurities and feelings of inadequacy. Our culture and mass media today only feed more into those insecurities and inadequacies by telling us how we can have a "perfect" this or that. Too many people spend too much time comparing their insides to other people's outsides and coming up short.

We aren't meant to be perfect. We are meant to be human. We are meant to be our unique selves. The better I can accept my own humanness and that of others, the less likely I will be intimidated by life. The less likely that inferiority will flare up. The more likely I will show compassion and understanding to others.

Focusing on gratefulness helps me feel less insecure, less inadequate. It helps me feel like I am enough just as I am, like my life is blessed, just for today. Self-hatred and wrong-sized ego (either too big or too small) are both pitfalls. Gratitude practice brings doses of humility, which offset such pitfalls.

Gratefulness. The great fullness of life. It's a good starting point for today.

Monday, December 1, 2014

Intimidating

Today I am grateful for good football games and reminders to pause for perspective.

In yesterday's post, I talked about trying a family gratitude practice and asking "What am I grateful for?" That question can bring pressure to some people. It can make them feel indebted to others and therefore add to an already long to-do list. If that is the case for you, I would encourage questions like "What went well today?" or "What did I like about today?" It can get you to the same place-appreciating and focusing on what is going well in life. That is what helps create a healthier perspective.

The gratitude practice I attempt regularly and write about often is more about mindfulness and paying attention. It is more about noticing the gifts around us on a daily basis, gifts given sometimes by others, but often just by virtue of our existence and from a higher source. It is only sometimes about directly thanking someone who has done something for me. At those times, I do try to reciprocate. Gratitude shared is gratitude multiplied.

Some questions can be intimidating. Some actions can seem intimidating. If keeping a daily gratitude journal seems daunting, if you are the kind to be more sporadic and miss days, but then think you have failed because it wasn't daily, I would ask you to consider this: like exercise, any gratitude practice is beneficial. Some is better than none. If you write in a gratitude journal a couple times a week, if you do something to practice gratitude for 5 minutes once a week, it can still have benefits. (And I would guess that it would lead to more than 5 minutes of gratitude focus a week too.)

Practicing gratitude when we don't feel very grateful can also feel intimidating. Like practicing recovery and sobriety can feel intimidating when we would rather be numb. But both can be done. Taking the right actions will at least lead us to the next part of our day. No one is happy and grateful all the time. I try to have a more realistic approach. I may not always feel grateful, but it is always possible to practice gratitude. Sooner or later my feelings come along and turn more positive.

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Family Practice

Today I am grateful for our historic downtown, for sunshine, for boots to wear.

One more residual Thanksgiving post to write. This one includes an idea you may want to incorporate with your family on a more regular basis than my family has. We resurrected a gratitude practice we had attempted as a family for a few months a couple years ago. I called it the "Valentine Vessel of Gratitude" and I blogged about it here and here in the summer of 2012.

On Thanksgiving Day the four of us-my husband, stepdaughter, son, and I-each put a few things we are grateful for on slips of paper and put them in our little bowl that we had used prior. I needed to rinse it off because it had gathered dust. We used it a few times back on our first attempt, but usually at my encouragement. It was nice when we were able to use it and share what we had written, but it never really caught on.  I was a little disappointed in that, but I knew I couldn't try too hard to get the others to write things down regularly. As it did for me, it has to come to them in it's own way and in it's own time.

But it was nice to bring it back for Thanksgiving anyway. No one fought doing it. No one struggled to come up with things to say. No one balked at sharing what had been collectively written before we began eating. Family came up in more ways than one. Sam, our almost-teen, focused mostly on things directly impacting him-like football pads and wrestling mats. Just like I would anticipate an adolescent doing. I may suggest using it again at Christmas, but mostly I will just keep living my own gratitude practice and walking the walk.

If you think this idea might work for your family, I encourage you to give it a try. There are many variations on the idea as well. Be creative. One meal a day (or week) each person at the table could share a couple of good things about their day or week, or you could do the same before putting young children to bed. You may prefer to use phrases like "What did you like about today?" or "What went well today?" Create your own family tradition and reap the benefits that can come with it.

I wonder what my family and others think of me at times. I really like to talk about, and obviously write about, gratitude. I am amazed by the difference gratitude practice has made in my life. I like encouraging others to give it a whirl, but I also know that I can't make anyone try it. I can only do my thing and share my story.

And I can be content in the fact that I am a better mother, stepmother, spouse, sister, daughter, friend, recovering alcoholic, counselor, runner, writer, and person because of my gratitude practice. That can't help but rub off on the people around me.

If you are already actively practicing gratitude, keep it up! If you would like to give it a try, start simple and start today. It works if we work at it.

Saturday, November 29, 2014

Frosty Faces

Today I am grateful for my recovery friends, that we can honestly share, the genuine support we offer one another. I am also grateful for naps, even brief ones. 

We were able to return to another Thanksgiving tradition this year since we stayed home. Our community holds "Gobble Gait" each year on Thanksgiving morning. It's an 8K and 2K run or walk. There are a couple thousand people who join in, which is great for a community our size. It is a fundraiser and food collection for our local food shelf and family service. It's a good run for a good cause. Not to mention a good way to start a day focused on considering blessings and consuming plenty of food. 

This is a picture of my husband Darcy and I after the run. If you look closely, you can see some of the frost that had accumulated on our faces and hats. The temperature was hovering right around zero. Thankfully, there was no wind. And the sun was shining.


Running is do deeply meaningful and important in my life. To be running the streets of my community on Thanksgiving morning, even in the bitter cold, gave me pause to ponder many blessings:

*I am here with working limbs and lungs.
*I can see the road ahead of me, hear the people around me.
*I can feel my feet hit the pavement as I carefully watch for slick spots.
*I can talk with my husband as he runs beside me.
*I can warm up and get into the groove.
*I can conquer familiar hills and clear my head.
*I can pick up my pace and finish strong.
*I can breathe the fresh air.

Able-bodied and alive. Appreciating today, even with the typical pressures of life. Things like gratitude practice and running help me decompress, help me put my energy to the right focus.

Friday, November 28, 2014

What about Black Friday?

Today I am grateful for a nice Thanksgiving, a meal and laughter shared, Skype, and phone calls to connect.

Today is Black Friday. That seems to be an understatement, as we have been inundated with advertising about it for weeks. Many people are out shopping or already were out shopping and are home resting. Some waited in line for hours and others gave up hours of sleep. Was it worth it?

I have never been a big shopper. I have to be in the mood. Good deals and good fits are my goals. The increasing trend of Black Friday mania and madness has concerned and frustrated me in recent years. I get judgmental and worry about the materialism it seems to promote and how it makes some people rude and inconsiderate. All for an item, a thing.

But I tried to broaden my perspective out this year. For some families or groups of friends, this day is about time together, new traditions, laughter, and treats. It isn't about the stuff. It's about the people you are with to get the stuff.

For others, the only way they can afford to get a special gift for a child or other loved one is if they grab up one of these deals. Is that a bad motive? I don't think so.

My husband, son, and I ventured out last evening to a couple places here in town. It's the first time we've done that on Thanksgiving Day. Part of me balked at it, but we did it mainly to get out and move around some after our big meal. The bonus was that we shared several laughs as we made our stops and walked around. Those laughs were well worth it. It wasn't about the stuff. It was about the time together.

That broader perspective helped me judge less and experience more. But I still have plenty of concern about our society and culture and the emphasis on items, on the next best thing. Gratitude practice allows me to appreciate the things I have, but especially the people I have in my life. The next best thing, when I am paying attention, can be our dog's stretch or the morning quiet. It needn't cost a dime.

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Doubled By Wonder-Happy Giving Thanks

Today I am grateful for a day to celebrate gratitude with family and food. I am also grateful that, for me, every day is a day to focus on gratefulness.

Habitual gratitude practice works if I work it.

Consider this quote:

"Gratitude is happiness doubled by wonder." (G.K. Chesterton) 

Happiness doubled by wonder. Positive perception of self and surrounding world doubled by wonder. Peace and calm, even in the midst of chaos. Quiet that is inviting instead of unsettling.

There are so many benefits to the gratitude practice that I do. Sharing it with others in this blog, in recovery discussions, in my monthly newspaper column, also all serve to increase both my happiness and the amazement I feel when I consider how wonderful the gift of life is, how meaningful even a mundane day can be.

I will have more gratitude, and therefore contentment, when I focus on what is going well. As Dr. Christine Carter mentions in this video on the Greater Good Science Center website, efforts (and it does take effort) at gratitude practice help our brains develop a filter that is more adept at finding blessings rather than curses. How cool is that?

It took some time, but I think I can say with some confidence that I have retrained my brain. From a default of self-pity to a default of gratefulness. It has made all the difference.

Gving thanks for so many blessings today and every day. Think about putting that gratitude in action today. An apology given or accepted with "that" family member. A group gratitude list created before sitting down to eat, or while eating. Opportunities abound. Happy giving thanks and HappyThanksgiving to all!

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Late Bloomer

Today I am grateful for time off from work and for the little joys of my favorite holiday of Thanksgiving.

I mentioned yesterday that I am a late bloomer in many respects. I got married at 33, had my son at 36. But I am also a late bloomer in terms of growing into myself, being comfortable in my skin. It took time. Lots of time. Lots of work.

When one is a shy, introverted child lacking attention in a large family, and when one starts to drink alcohol at a young age, one tends to have a skewed perception of self and world. When I quit drinking at age 24, I was already years behind in terms of my emotional and spiritual development. I got a slow start in recovery too, but today I know the importance of daily work for a daily disease.

I am also something of a late bloomer as a writer. Although I have been a writer all my life, it hasn't been until the last few years that I have really blossomed into a blogging, column-writing essayist who shares in the public realm.

The same is true of my running. I have been a runner all my life, but ran my first marathon at age 39. Now I have run 12. Better late than never.

In my professional career, it took me time to find my niche too. I think I did good work as a classroom teacher, but I think being a school counselor is a better fit for me and allows me to best use the tools and talents I have.

A late bloomer. In recovery from alcoholism. In my journey of self-acceptance. In my writing. In my profession. At times I ponder what my life may have been like if I would have gotten on track sooner, if I hadn't been mired in the muck well into my twenties and thirties. But my story is my story. It is the only way I could have gotten to the here and now that I love and appreciate.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Rings on My Fingers

Today I am grateful for long-time and new friends in recovery. I am also grateful for my husband Darcy.

Besides taking things like air to breathe and my five working senses for granted, there are numerous items I take for granted. Those include the computer I am currently using, the coffee pot that made my first cups of the day already, and the recliner I am sitting in. Also included are the rings I put on my fingers each morning.

I grew up an athletic tomboy, not a girlie-girl. I hated wearing dresses. I kept (and still do keep) my hair short to keep it simple. I rarely wear make-up. I didn't get my ears pierced until I was well into my twenties. And I didn't ever wear rings on my fingers. That is, until I was 32 and got engaged. I'm a late bloomer in many respects and wearing rings is one of them.

Now I am up to 5 rings. All but one were gifts to me from my husband Darcy. The other one was an antique store find. And there's the one that got away. The ring I lost shortly after Darcy gave it to me . . . it was a little loose, I wasn't used to wearing it, then it was gone.

The rings are important to me and they are significant symbols. But it is what they symbolize that is the most important-our love and our commitment to one another. They are one of the last things I put on when I get ready in the morning and one of the first to come off when I get back home. Many days that is just part of the routine and I don't think of their significance.

Today I will think of Darcy and our healthy marriage as I put those rings on. And I will feel deeply blessed.

Monday, November 24, 2014

Weathering the Weather

Today I am grateful for the wisdom of recovery shared by others. I am also grateful for the warmer air and a run in shirtsleeves.

We have had to weather some changing weather in recent weeks. Much of the country had unseasonably cold temperatures for November. Lots of us have already had to do some shoveling of snow. But my thoughts and prayers go out to the people of the Buffalo, New York area. They were truly left with no choice other than to wait the storm out. Now that the snow has ended and streets and roads have slowly reopened, they have warming temperatures and wind to worry about. Hopefully several feet of snow last week won't lead to several feet of floodwaters this week.

Sadly, thirteen deaths have been attributed to the storm so far. Lest we forget, Mother Nature reigns supreme. And it keeps my little complaint in perspective . . . over 50 degrees yesterday and single digit wind chills today. I am grateful for a heated house, a working car, plenty of outerwear to keep me warm when I venture out.

I took this picture along the Mississippi River yesterday morning. A layer of fog blanketed the river and muffled the traffic noise. It had an odd peacefulness to it.


Whatever the weather brings today, I will aim for safety and acceptance. Wishing you the same. Have a good day!

Sunday, November 23, 2014

In a New Light

Today I am grateful for warmer weather, family time, and good pizza. I am also grateful for the perspective I am given when I consider others and daily gifts before I consider my frustrations and wants.

Yesterday we put up our Christmas tree and other decorations. We enjoy doing that together and usually do it about a month out from Christmas. I have plenty to say about what is disturbing and concerning about the ever-increasing marketing and advertising surrounding Black Friday and the holiday shopping season, but I will save that for another day. Today I choose to write about one of my favorite holiday traditions.

Tradition is a good thing and it doesn't require any shopping. The only cost need be our time. And what better place to give our time than to family? Bringing out the totes of lights and decorations, enjoying the cooperative nature of my husband and son as they assemble the tree and add the lights, family holiday heirlooms that bring memories of loved ones and our younger days. We added a new twist this year with helping my stepdaughter Emily decorate her apartment for the season too.

One of my favorite things each year when we decorate is enjoying the new light that envelops the rooms of our home. The colorful lights of our big tree. The blue lights of a smaller white tree. The candles that send off a calming glow. I love this new light each holiday season. I love getting up, turning the tree lights on, and sitting quietly in the warmth and peace.

In a new light. Just for today.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

A Pattern of Blessing

Today I am grateful for sleeping in and for eggnog. I am also grateful for friends who trust me and count on me. It goes both ways.

A quote from my gratitude journal has been hanging out in my head in recent weeks.

"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)

Woven throughout my life are both challenges and triumphs, joys and sorrows. It takes all kinds of life experiences to create a meaningful life. It takes tough situations to teach us what we can only learn through the struggle. It takes joyful times to open our hearts and souls to the wonders of life.

I consider my life to be deep in meaning, rich in blessings. I know the joy of love, marriage, motherhood, recovery, serenity, friendship. I have experienced the pure energy of a marathon completed and the amazement of a writing that flowed right out of my soul.

Yet, I have known dark self-hatred and paralyzing self-pity. I have known the grief of loss and the fear of deadly diseases.

All these diverse experiences have been woven together to create the life I know and love today, to create a pattern uniquely beautiful. Only with the help of faith in a Higher Power and regular practice of gratitude am I able to see the beauty.

Gratefulness doesn't make me immune to the struggles and challenges, it helps me through them. It helps me weave a stronger thread of meaning throughout the moments and hours of my life.

What do you see in your pattern of blessings?

Friday, November 21, 2014

A New Pair

Today I am grateful to be able to get new prosthetics locally and I am also grateful that recovery has taught me to take life one day at a time, one hour at a time.

On Friday I got a new pair of breast prosthetics. I was overdue for an update. This is just my third pair since my bilateral mastectomies nearly 6 years ago. I don't wear them all the time, so I am able to extend their life.I kept the appointment short. Same size. Pick out a couple new mastectomy bras. Thanks and I'll be on my way.

Thanks and I'll be on my way. It gave me pause to consider a few things. How grateful I am to be here, healthy and living life, when tens of thousands of other women and men have died of cancer in the years since my diagnosis, treatment, and surgeries. Life is precious. Life is fragile. Each day is a gift, make the most of it.

How affirmed I am in my choice to not have reconstruction. It was the best choice for me and I don't regret it. I like to have the options I do. Prosthetics when I need them and flat and free when I want. My hope for every woman facing this difficult decision is that they have the information they need, and the time to do their own decision-making, so that the decision is the one they feel most comfortable with. And believe me, "most comfortable with" is a very relative terms in these circumstances.

How breast reconstruction is not a "boob job." How insensitive it can be when someone tells a breast cancer patient "well, at least you can get a free boob job."  Really? "Today's special: along with your very frightening cancer diagnosis, we can offer you breasts that will never sag."  These are personal journeys with very personal decisions and plenty of steps, pain (physical and emotional), appointments, time, healing. Please don't make light of it all.

I am thankful for where I am at today, thinking back to six years ago when I was just weeks away from my mastectomies. I try to keep it all in perspective.


Thursday, November 20, 2014

"Carbonated Holiness"

Today I am grateful for one breath at a time. I am also grateful for the conversations Darcy and I have.

Yesterday's "Word of the Day" at www.gratefulness.org was this short zinger
from Anne Lamott:

"Laughter is carbonated holiness." 

I love Anne Lamott, her sense of humor, and her faith-filled wisdom. To read more about my favorite author, try here and here. But sometimes I find laughter hard to come by, or painful to listen to. It is a good barometer for me. When I feel that way, I need to lighten up, not take life and myself too seriously. I need to accept more and expect less.

The use of the word "carbonated" brings to mind "fizz" and "flat" as well. Will there be fizz and liveliness in my day today or a flat and disengaged demeanor? That is up to me. Starting my day with prayer, meditation, and some gratitude practice sets me up for more fizz than flat.

I appreciate Lamott's use of the word "holiness" too. Like spirituality, holiness can have a broader meaning and reach. This quote helps me think about the holiness of those individuals who are laughing, sharing joy, releasing stress in a healthy way. It also helps me think about the wide reach of God or Higher Power. I believe that this higher force, whatever you wish to call it, resides in each of us as well as around us in nature, our pets, the air we breathe.

When I look at it that way, I feel a connectedness and a compassion for others. I feel a deepening gratitude to be a small part of a larger wonder.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Speaking of Gratitude

Today I am grateful for a good cup of coffee and for help from my colleagues Paul, Stephanie, and Sarah.

I have been writing about gratitude for many years, and blogging about it for well over two years. I have been practicing it in my own life going on twenty years. But speaking about gratitude to others in a group setting has been a newer experience for me. I have appreciated each opportunity in this area.

Yesterday the opportunity included speaking to 6th, 7th, and 8th graders about things like positive psychology, resilience, "circles of support," and the proven overall health benefits of things like gratitude practice and meditation. I think it went well and I hope each student walked away with something to ponder or put into use.

It gave me the chance to hone my words and discussion to a different age level than I had previously spoken to. I appreciated that. Every effort to prepare such presentations teaches me more and further affirms the value of gratitude practice and the growing science behind it.

My colleague Paul helped by leading guided meditation with three different groups. His presence and experience in this area helped make it a worthwhile experience for all the students. Stephanie and Sarah helped by facilitating a session where students put gratitude practice into action by writing thank yous and choosing some other options. None of us were sure how this time would go, but their willingness to embrace this activity with the students helped make it a success as well. A big thanks to all three of you!

And the students came through with their cooperation and their genuine efforts to do what we asked them to do.

Speaking of gratitude...it has made all the difference in my life.


Tuesday, November 18, 2014

"In the morning, I wake up . . . "

Today I am grateful for working heat in my car. I am also grateful for the new day ahead, and for the opportunities that await me, one hour at a time.

This was the quote in my gratitude journal today:

"I'm grateful for the opportunity to live on this beautiful and astonishing planet Earth. In the morning, I wake up with a sense of gratitude."  (Earl Nightingale)

This morning, I woke up early and tired. I had a work event last evening and have presentations to give to middle school students today. Between thinking about those two, my sleep was far from peaceful.

I begin each day with some gratitude focus and intentional practice. If I don't wake up with a sense of gratitude, I try to cultivate it early. There is more fertile ground for cultivating this morning, even in my tired state, because the presentations I am giving to students have to do with gratitude practice and related positive benefits. I am both curious how it will go and excited to be discussing these ideas with them.

I appreciate the reminder of "this beautiful and astonishing planet Earth" as well. I am but a small part of an amazing whole. But I am. I exist. Like the trees in our yard exist. Like the snow on the grass exists. It is humbling and inspiring all at once to consider nature and how everything flows.

And I close with being "being grateful for the opportunity to live."  If I wake up dreading the day, I am missing opportunities and zapping energy. If I wake up looking forward to the day, I seize opportunities and create energy.

I look forward to this day. I hope you are looking forward to it too. Have a good one!

Monday, November 17, 2014

"Go with the flow" or thrash?

Today I am grateful for lessons in compassion and acceptance. I am also grateful for the wonderful father my husband is to all three of his children.

Some recovery friends and I were discussing the line "go with the flow" the other day. I like that phrase and the way it reminds me to accept, to let life unfold as it should instead of forcing it. The analogy of a river came up. Am I going along with the current or am I swimming upstream? Am I thrashing or floating?

When put that way, why would anyone choose thrashing? Why would anyone exhaust themselves by swimming upstream?  But we do. I do for sure. It is part of my humanness. I don't always accept present circumstances calmly. I don't always trust that things will work out. I don't always possess the requisite amount of patience. I try to control. I think too much. I try too hard. I let my fears and my wrong-sized ego take over. I begin thrashing.

How does one slow the thrashing and allow the floating? Pause. Pray. Step back. Listen. Be quiet. Those are all a start in the right direction anyway. So is considering the present moment and what there is to be grateful for in it. Just the here and now. That's where I can catch the flow and join it.


Sunday, November 16, 2014

A Short List

Today I am grateful for working computers and enough outer layers to stay warm in our
cold early winter days.

I am keeping it simple today with a list of 4 things that gratitude practice helps me with:

1. It helps me stay calm when I get the grumbly teen attitude from my almost-teen son.
To be his mom is one of the greatest treasures in my life.

2. It helps me know when to say when. I can still overdo it and run myself ragged, but I think more in terms of gratitude for what has gotten done, not just that ever-growing "to do" list.

3. It helps me keep my mouth shut when to speak may not be a good idea. I caught myself a couple times with my husband yesterday. He may frustrate me at times, but I love him and our marriage is strong.

4. It helps me keep a better perspective on myself. I am and always will be a work in progress. Gratitude practice helps me appreciate the life experience I have, the mistakes I have learned from, and the self-love that has replaced the self-hatred (at least most of the time).

A short list, long on gratitude.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Sounding Boards

Today I am grateful for time with my friend Jill yesterday and for a good find for a winter jacket at our local consignment store.

I am fortunate to have friends like Jill. Friends who are my sounding board when I need. Friends who allow me the chance to reciprocate and be their sounding board when they need one. It takes mutual trust and respect. It takes time to develop such friendships. And it takes shared laughter and tears.

Yesterday was my turn to be the listener, the sounding board. Many times, Jill has been the listener, or we have each taken turns. It works over the phone, but I especially appreciate when I can sit across from a friend, or walk side by side with them, and just be together, sharing the time and the conversation.

As the friendship grows and the shared experiences become more numerous, the depth of sharing seems to expand as well. It is an honor and a privilege to be on that level with another person.

Like the sounding boards at a speaker's podium, the sounding boards of friendship need to be built, need to be sturdy. That takes time and patience. I am grateful for my friends and what they have helped me through. I am also grateful for the gift of being a friend, of being trusted.

Friends help me feel connected and worthy. Like a real sounding board, they help me hear what matters.

Friday, November 14, 2014

"Thanks for your patience."

Today I am grateful for some time to myself and a different pace to the day. I am also grateful for my husband Darcy and our marriage.

Something caught my eye yesterday on my way to work. It was a construction sign that said "Thanks for your patience." I honestly don't think I've ever seen that on a construction sign before. It was at one end of the new bridge that spans the Mississippi in our community. The new bridge that took nearly three years to complete. The new bridge that then, within months of fully opening, needed more work because there was flaking concrete. It was an aesthetic fix, not a structural one. But it drug out for several weeks this fall and took longer than anticipated.

It was nice, as one of the regular commuters using that bridge, to be acknowledged with a thanks. It really didn't create too many problems for me and I never missed something really important because I was stuck in traffic. There were days the slow downs and back-ups required some extra time, but in that time I could roll the windows down, turn the music up a little, and pause in my busy day. The more I do it, the more helpful I find pausing to be. The construction created opportunities to pause.

As I pondered "Thanks for your patience," something else also came to my mind. I appreciate the patience that my Higher Power has shown me throughout life. Patience as I kept doing the same things over and over and expecting different results. Patience (and protection) as I slowly came to my senses regarding my drinking problem. Patience as I became a more faith-filled and spiritual person. Thank you God!

No doubt that today will provide more opportunities to pause, to practice patience. And in those pauses, the gratitude flows.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Snow, By Chance

Today I am grateful for my son Sam and what he teaches me. I am also grateful for the role of chance in the little things of life.

Yesterday afternoon it was later than anticipated when I left work and then made a couple stops to run errands. I was hoping to get home to go for a run, but I was getting short on time and I had to pick up Sam from wrestling practice. When I got home I waffled a little, but decided to get ready and head out with our dog Oliver for a short run.

It had just started snowing lightly and I had just stepped outside our house when I saw a good friend of mine who just happened to be out for her walk then too. I was a little surprised, as this friend is not a big fan of the cold. (It was in the 20's.) We talked briefly and she commented on how pretty the snowfall was and that she would have missed it if she had decided not to walk.

Amen to that. Don't miss life.Take action. Do something healthy for yourself. Take time to be out in nature. The rewards always come. First, I was rewarded with that brief connection with my recovery friend, someone who helps keep me on track. Then, I was rewarded with the beauty and quietude of the snowfall. I was rewarded with the endorphins the run brought. By the time I was done running, I had to be more cautious because the snow was making things a little slippery. A reminder to slow down and take care of myself was yet another reward.

A chance connection. A chance brief snowfall. A reason to pause in gratitude.

And a final lesson from the randomness of the snowflakes that were falling. Just "go with it." Just stay present in the moment and be open to possibilities. Just stay grateful.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Pause. Commute.

Today I am grateful for my job and the people I work with. I am also grateful for a new snow shovel.

We had a lovely fall in the weather department, but winter is back early. Two days of snowy and slow commutes to work gave me plenty of time to consider a few things.

*When the weather requires slowing down, it helps me slow down my head a bit too. I focus on the priority of two eyes on the road, two hands on the wheel. Other "stuff" gets a break.

*Thank you to most of my fellow Minnesota winter drivers. We quickly get back into practice and give each other space and courtesy. (I say most because the others are the ones who scare me--in a hurry, overly confident in their vehicle, their own driving, or the conditions.)

*"I will get there when I get there" is true for my job on a rough driving morning. People understand that circumstances warranted more time. "I will get there when I get there" can also hold true in my personal efforts to grow and learn. Some days the highway of life is clear and dry. On other days, it is slippery and unpredictable. There is plenty to learn on each type of road.

Pause. Commute. Learn. Grow. Pause again. Be grateful to reach the destinations of today.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

A Beating Heart

Today I am grateful for my heart in both the literal and figurative senses. I am also grateful for safe commutes on a snowy day yesterday.

On this Veteran's Day, I am also grateful for all of those who have served our country, past and present.

I was reminded of my physically beating heart last evening as I exercised. With the weather taking a turn, I was indoors doing some high intensity exercises, jumping some rope, and basically getting the old heart rate up there. When I got done, I put my hand over my heart, and minus my breasts, I can feel it beating pretty well. It was really clipping along at first and then it slowed over the next minutes. What a blessing, to have a beating heart that works efficiently and effectively.

And I was reminded of my "heart" in terms of my passions, my loves, my direction in life. The people I love and who love me. The dreams I have. The passions I pursue in my running and writing. The faith and recovery that nurture both my heart and soul.

All this heart beats stronger with gratitude practice. Onward!

Monday, November 10, 2014

Honest Sharing

Today I am grateful for the creature comforts our home offers and for a weekend to regroup before starting another demanding week.

I am also grateful to have people I trust and with whom I can share honestly, even when the sharing includes my mistakes, my pitfalls, my frustrations. Especially when it includes these things. If I didn't have people to talk to about them, the negativity and energy zapping would continue to harm me.

I find some of the most honest sharing to be among recovering people, people trying to stay sober and live a productive and happy life. The disease of addiction tries to tell us we are different, that no one will understand, that we are damaged human beings unworthy of help and joy. But when we share honestly with one another, we realize we are not alone, that we have much in common, that we deserve kindness and compassion. We begin to move forward instead of staying stuck. We begin to heal.

I have also found common ground and honest sharing among other cancer patients, particularly those who have had breast cancer and gone through some similar trials and tribulations as I have. I have plenty of supportive people in my life, but there are some things that only those who have gone down a similar path can really grasp. It is good to have such people in my circle of support.

Honest sharing. Common ground. Circles of support. For each, I am deeply grateful today.

Sunday, November 9, 2014

A Picture and a Moment to Revel

Today I am grateful for a garage to store things in and for a good run with Darcy on a breezy but nice late fall morning.

Speaking of a good run, three weeks have already passed since Darcy and I ran the St. Louis Rock 'n' Roll Marathon on October 19. It was our 12th marathon and overall a pleasant experience. I can revel in the afterglow of a successful marathon finish for days, even weeks. But this year it seemed we returned to a busy week and the demands of our jobs with less time for reveling. I figuratively hit the ground running after literally hitting the ground of St. Louis for 26.2 miles.

So when we ordered a marathon picture this week, I took a moment to revel, to return to the wonderful feeling that the picture below helps me summon:


This picture was taken as I neared the finish. That is the start of a smile on my face. It got bigger before I crossed the finish line. Darcy and I each picked a separate picture to commemorate this marathon. We sometimes get a good action shot of the two of us together, but this time around we were each happier with some of our solo shots. 

I like the action shot, my new outfit, my facial expression, and even the screaming quad muscle in my left leg. (It looks like it is screaming anyway. I wasn't feeling any pain at that point, only exhaustion.) This picture of me is a picture of health. It captures the celebration of life and gratitude that each and every marathon has meant to me, especially the seven I have run on this side of my breast cancer diagnosis.

A flat chest? Yes. A flat affect? No way. Life is far too good! 

From "just a minute" in yesterday's post to "a moment to revel" in today's, that is all it takes to find some gratitude and get energized for the day ahead. 

Saturday, November 8, 2014

Just A Minute

Today I am grateful for rest and running attire that keeps me warm in the cold weather.

Just a minute. That is all it takes to pause and be grateful. Just a minute is all it takes to go through the 5 fingers on one hand and say 5 things I am grateful for today.

Just a minute is all it takes to jot down a couple things I am grateful for in my gratitude journal. If I take another minute, I can remember prayers for others.

Just a minute is all it takes to stop and listen to the silence when I need to take a break from the constant noise and chatter my thinking can create.

Just a minute is all it takes to tell someone thank you.

Just a minute is all it takes to consider the gift today is, to consider the
opportunities that await.