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

Friday, January 31, 2014

Sweeping

Today I am grateful for the simplicity of leftovers to make a nice meal and for my physical capabilities.

Those physical capabilities allow me to partake in the second "s" word I would like to blog about: sweeping. I am one of those people who enjoys cleaning activities if I can see my progress. I like to notice my efforts paying off.

That is why I have always liked sweeping. I grew up in a large farmhouse with one carpeted room. Lots of wood and linoleum to keep clean, and lots of us in the family to carry in dirt and such. My memory tells me we swept some floors daily or more; like the kitchen. Bedrooms didn't get swept as often. When I swept, I always picked up something. If it was the basement I was sweeping, you could really see how much it helped. It was a satisfying chore. (I'm sure there were times I argued and tried to get out of it, but it certainly ranked above other chores I had to do.)

So I have never balked too much at having to sweep. Now, I live in a mostly carpeted home, but I still get my sweeping fix with kitchen linoleum and entryway tile. I especially like sweeping the garage every few weeks. It really freshens the place up. I am already looking forward to that nice spring day when I can sweep winter out of the garage. (And what a winter we are having!)

I don't want to take for granted the physical nature of sweeping and that I can handle it. I am grateful for working arms and legs.

And speaking of handle, I am grateful for the broom handle I used after my mastectomies. I used it to do exercises to get back the range of motion and strength in my arms, shoulders, and chest. A broom handle was a fitting companion for my surgery recovery.

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Register

Today I am grateful for my marriage to my husband Darcy and for a computer that works.

There are many meanings for today's word: register. But the former Civics and Government teacher in me is thinking about registering to vote. I am grateful to live in a democracy where I have the right to vote. I thank those who fought first for our freedom and then for the right to vote for more and more people.

There are still many around the world who aren't given the opportunity to have a say by voting. Sadly, many in this country don't take advantage of the opportunity. I have been a registered voter in three states and I vote even in the off-year elections, the ones that get the lowest turnout. I vote in local elections. I think it is important to participate and I also think it is my duty. There is much to be critical of in our current political system, but the "if you didn't vote, don't complain" saying still rings true. It has to start with action on the part of each individual. I will try to be a good citizen today.Enough about that from this former Social Studies teacher.

When I practice gratitude, the gifts that I am surrounded by register more readily in my mind and heart. I would rather register blessings than curses. I can't avoid the curses entirely, but gratitude practice certainly keeps them in perspective better and doesn't allow them to take on a life of their own. Gratitude can and does take on a life all it's own. That is a good thing. Positive breeds positive.

Register some gratitude today.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Recycle

Today I am grateful for my sense of touch and the nice feel of my favorite sweatshirt or blanket against my skin. I am also grateful for my job.

Recycle is my first "r" word. I think of many aspects of the word; reusing, extracting useful material, adapting. I appreciate the recycling programs that are now prevalent and do make some strides in helping our environment and making better use of the resources we have. But I am also concerned about all the packaging-and the energy, resources, and chemicals required to create it all-that we are surrounded by these days. I try to be a good consumer when it comes to purchases I make and recycling I can do. There's plenty more I could be doing though, so I will keep working on it.

I appreciate my metal water bottle that I fill several times a day. The water tastes good in it and I save some plastic in the process.

I appreciate our local waste management agency and the weekly recycling service they conveniently provide. We have a receptacle we can fill for curbside pick-up every Thursday in our neighborhood.

Thoughts can be recycled too. Some of mine need to be disposed of once and for all, like the self-pity and self-hatred that were once tracks on repeat mode in my mind. But positive thoughts like what I have to be grateful for, the people who love me, the goals I get to work for each day are thoughts that can and should be recycled.

Daily gratitude practice is healthy recycling. It creates a better environment in my mind, heart, and soul.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Quaff

Today I am grateful for a good matinee to enjoy yesterday afternoon in "August: Osage County." I am also grateful for daily recovery from alcoholism and the people who support me in it.

The second "q" word I chose was quaff. I found it as I leafed through the "Q" in my trusty hard-cover dictionary. I was not familiar with quaff at all. It means to drink deeply, such as quaffing a beverage. But I like the broader consideration I can give to quaff, to drinking deeply of gratitude, of life.

This morning, I wouldn't want to quaff the air as I step outside with our dog Oliver. It is too cold to quaff air. It would be painful.

But on a hot August day after mowing the lawn, you might find me quaffing some ice cold water. I yearn for a warm August day after so many days this month in the deep freeze. I know, I know. Come August, I will complain because it is too hot. Oh well, I am still grateful to live in a locale with the beauty and perplexity of the changing seasons.

I used to quaff alcohol. Large quantities in a short period of time some nights. I was going for the effect produced by alcohol. Also known as escape. I am grateful I survived those nights. Some do not. I could have been a statistic, long gone. Instead, I am alive and well today.

Alive and well. Quaff that.

Monday, January 27, 2014

Quiet

Today I am grateful for the story my husband Darcy shared last night in a talk he gave at church. I learned more about him and his childhood as I listened.

I was listening to him at "Light the Way," an event our church puts on two Sunday evenings a month. It includes Christian rock music (thanks to the musicians too!) and someone sharing a little about their own faith journey. I got to be quiet and listen, quiet in my head and also in my heart.

So let's make quiet  today's word. It is a word I am enjoying learning about and practicing more. It used to be fairly elusive to me. I couldn't enjoy the quiet because my mind continued to race. I couldn't quiet my mind because fears, worries, and self-pity kept it spinning.

I am learning to quiet my mind through prayer and meditation. I am learning to let go of fears and worries by staying present and mindful. Gratitude practice helps me quiet my mind. I will never do it perfectly, but I am making progress and enjoying more moments of quiet contentment than ever before.

The early morning quiet is one of my favorite times of the day. The house is quiet. The freshness and hope of a new day awaits. The trick is to reign in my mind before it takes off at full speed. Sitting down to create a blog post surrounding the topic of gratitude is a productive way for me to cultivate a quiet mind with which to head into my day. Some days the mind stays quieter than others, but I am understanding it more than I used to. For that I am truly grateful.

Another challenge when it comes to quiet for me is keeping quiet when what may come out of my mouth would be counterproductive at the least. That can be the toughest quiet for me to maintain when I am spun up and my ego is disportionately large and I think what I have to say needs to be said. That is exactly the time when what I feel is so urgent is probably what I should keep to myself. I am learning in this area too, with the help of others and my faith.

Quiet is a beautiful sound. Seek some today.

Friday, January 24, 2014

Personality

Today I am grateful for the gift of being a parent, and the lessons I am learning as I do my best to be a good parent. I am grateful for the love, joy, and pride I feel for my son Sam.

I chose personality today because I want to talk about Sam's personality. Today is his 12th birthday.

This definition of personality seems most fitting: the complex of characteristics that distinguishes an individual or a nation or group; the totality of an individual's behavioral and emotional characteristics.

Last night, we were watching video of the day Sam was born and footage from the first months of his life. He was absolutely adorable. If I called him that now, he would not find it amusing. He was a happy and curious baby and his smile touched me deeply. It still does. He remains happy and curious. It just looks a lot different at 12 years than it did at 12 days or 12 months.

I am proud of Sam and the unique individual he is becoming. He has his own quirks, his own sense of humor, his own style and tastes. Dare I say he seems pretty well-adjusted? My hopes and dreams for him match my fears and worries for these next years.

He is a mere 525,600 minutes away from being a teenager. Yikes! He is likely more ready for that than his parents are. Puberty has ensued and the moodiness has begun. When I hug him these days, we are eye to eye.

Happy Birthday my son! I love you.

I will be taking another blog break for a couple of days. Have a good weekend!

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Pilgrimage

Today I am grateful for normal blood work and my co-worker Judy who did a great job with a parent presentation last night. Thanks Judy!

Let's start the "p" words off with a little journey into the meaning of pilgrimage. The dictionary defines it as a journey to a sacred place for a religious purpose; any long journey.

The poet in me defined it this way on New Year's Day 2014:

Pilgrimage
It has been said
That each day is
A new beginning
But it is also
The next step
On this pilgrimage
Known as life

This journey to
The sacred places
Within each of us-
Hearts
Souls
Minds

Each day
Each moment
Allows us
Opportunities
To travel within
And find
Ourselves

Not a single
Destination
Rather an
Ongoing excursion
To find more . . .

More hope
Humility
Acceptance
Faith
Gratitude
Growth

More of our
True selves

My pilgrimages aren't of the religious variety. They are more of the spiritual variety. And gratitude practice helps me find the way to the sacred places within and all around.

Where are you headed on your own pilgrimages? Will gratitude help you find the way?

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Oncologist

Today I am grateful for my job and for the good roads on which I can drive to and from work.

My second "o" word is oncologist, and I am very appreciative of mine. An oncologist is a medical doctor who specializes in the diagnosis and treatment of cancer. People don't want an oncologist like we might want a hair stylist or a personal trainer. But if we need to have an oncologist, we sure want a good one, just like we want a good dentist or surgeon. I have a good one, and for that I am truly grateful.

I just saw my oncologist yesterday for my latest 6-month check. I have felt comfortable with her since the first time I met her, in early June of 2008, just days after my breast cancer diagnosis. A bulk of her patients are BC patients, so that keeps her in tune with the latest developments. She is recognized in our large metro area as one of the best of the best. I didn't pick her for those reasons, I picked her because she was recommended to me by my surgeon. Obviously, he had good reasons for suggesting her.

She is straightforward and calm. I find her matter-of-fact approach, combined with her warm demeanor, to be a good fit for me. That may have been more crucial in those first appointments, but it remains important today. Even though I am one of many patients she must see on any given day, she always takes time to sit and chat a bit before she does her brief exam, and she always takes the time to listen to my questions. I always have questions.

I respect my oncologist and I feel the respect she has for me as a patient and as a person. I like her, but I am also happy to report that I don't need to see her for a year. That is a post-cancer milestone I am thankful for. But not as much as I am thankful for this day, for every day.

Every time I walk in and then back out of the cancer center, I have a deep sense of gratitude. I am reminded of the two deadly diseases that have touched my life, but that I am fortunate to be given the gift of this day. I will go try to make something of it. I encourage you to do the same.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Optic

Today I am grateful for safe travels over the weekend and the time we got to spend with Arthur and Alyssa and then Emily.

We (Darcy, Sam, and I) are also very grateful for the kind person or persons who cleared our driveway and sidewalk of several inches of snow we got while we were gone. We were pleasantly surprised and most appreciative when we arrived home yesterday. We already had a game plan to get to the shoveling right away, but how nice that we didn't have to. Thank you very much whoever you are!

Today's word is optic: of or relating to the eye or vision. Having working vision is one of those things that I too often take for granted. The way our vision works is really amazing. I try to protect my vision with eye exams, wearing my glasses regularly, wearing sunglasses when I should, keeping a balanced diet, and having eye protection when needed.

My working optic system allowed me to appreciate many things over the weekend:

-seeing family face-to-face (We hadn't seen Arthur and Alyssa since July and we hadn't seen Emily for a few weeks.)
-seeing snow fall (We drove in some on Friday, we walked in some on Saturday, and we drove in some again on Monday. By the way, thanks for doing the bulk of the driving Darcy.)
-seeing some new and some familiar territory as I went for solitary runs over the weekend (One in Illinois, one in Iowa.)
-seeing the changing terrain as we covered 1,000 miles and parts of four different states (Add Minnesota and Wisconsin to Iowa and Illinois.)

Today I will try to be more aware of what I see, how I see, and what a gift being able to see truly is.

Friday, January 17, 2014

Notice

Today I am grateful for soft kleenex and soothing cough drops. (You may have guessed-I have a cold. I will be grateful when it has run its course.)

Notice is today's word and it fits with a couple other recent posts-minute and mindfulness. They are each about staying in the present moment. About taking time to pay attention to current blessings. "Take notice" is really just another way of saying "pay attention", which is just another way of saying "be mindful".  But if you are like me, you need many reminders. It doesn't hurt to have a repertoire of phrases to pull out. That increases the likelihood that I will at least think of one.

Recently I:

*appreciated the flavor and the smoothness of a spoonful of pistachio pudding I ate.
*noticed the crisp morning air as I breathed it in.
*shared a hearty laugh with a colleague and it felt good.
*took a minute to reach out to someone newly diagnosed with breast cancer.
*was thankful for a cozy and warm bed to help me nurse my cold.

It only takes a minute to notice our blessings. Take notice today and see what happens.

I will be taking a blog break for a few days and will be back early next week. Have a good day!

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Nap

Today I am grateful for the Hastings Breast Cancer Support Group meeting I was able to attend last evening and I am also grateful for the nap I got in yesterday afternoon.

That helps make my first "n" word selection nap. I am coming down with a cold, and I also started my work week with a long day at work on Monday that included an evening event. By the time I got home yesterday afternoon, I was exhausted. Sometimes a nap just sounds good, yesterday it seemed downright necessary. I was able to get that nap in and it sure felt good. When I woke up I had some energy to continue with the rest of my day. And maybe I can keep on top of this cold.

Naps differ over our lifetimes. In our infancy and toddlerhood, naps are part of a healthy routine.By the time we get to be school-aged, naps are harder to come by, but that's okay because we don't want them anymore anyway. Then in our teens, we may seek them out more again, especially after late nights.

There have been times in my adulthood where I thought I couldn't take time to nap, or that it was a luxury I couldn't afford. On some busy days, that still happens. But now I look for opportunities to nap. Yes, they are luxuries. Yes, I deserve them when I am able to fit one in.

Luckily, I can be a power napper. I don't need a couple hours to commit to one. Even 15-20 minutes can leave me refreshed and renewed.

We all deserve a nap when we need one. Even when we don't "need" one, it can still be a treat. Make time. You are worth it.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Mindfulness

Today I am grateful for healing and that I can return to some of my core strengthening exercises. I am also grateful for the wisdom and humanness of the people I share the planet with.

Today's word is mindfulness: staying present, being aware of the current moment. It is something I work at and I can honestly say I am making progress. (I also know and accept that it will always be about ongoing progress and practice. I will never get a degree in mindfulness.) My thought processes used to be one of two places-thinking about/regretting/critiquing what had already happened or pondering/worrying/building fear about what could happen. Not much mindfulness there.

I also used to set my goals too high when it comes to mindfulness. I still can't sit for 20 minutes and do nothing but let my thoughts clear and bounce around aimlessly. I am not good at meditation in that respect. But I can pause for moments and pay attention better to the present than I used to. Pay attention to my breathing. To the sounds I hear. To what I am grateful for at this exact time. All of those allow me to slow down and embrace the here and now. Even if I can do that a handful of times a day, I am doing well and I am giving this overactive brain some rest so it can do better work.

Gratitude practice has been one of the best tools I have used to help me improve in the area of mindfulness. They go hand in hand.

I will mindfully add to my gratitude list today.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Minute

Today I am grateful for my job and the ways it stretches me. I am also grateful for the opportunity to put smiles on the faces of a couple of co-workers.

Minute is the word of the day, and it is fitting because I only have a few minutes to blog this morning. I am referring to the time reference, but when it comes to gratitude practice, I can also consider the minute, the smallest things. Like the oddly-comforting sound the keys on the computer keyboard make as I type, or the soft light thrown by the lamp nearest to me at this moment.

Back to the minutes of time. Things have been pretty jam-packed at work, and I never run out of things I could be doing at home. Thankfully, I have learned to pause, to take a minute here and there during my day to breathe, to regroup, to consciously note something or someone I am grateful for.Just a minute can do the trick. Just a minute can slow the speeding train and the racing mind.

Just a minute for gratitude. If that is all you have today, it is still a good start.

Monday, January 13, 2014

Lists

Today I am grateful for a couple of good phone conversations yesterday and for being able to cut myself some slack on the expectations I have for myself.

Lists and I have a close relationship. I have been a list-maker as long as I can remember. I don't trust my memory, so when I think of something that needs to be done, I write it down, or give myself some kind of tangible reminder. Then I can put it out of my mind for the time being. I am afraid I will forget something, but if I put it on paper, I know I will get back to it.

I tend to make different lists for home and work, and I will often end up with multiple lists in both places. That can get a little confusing and overwhelming, but I also find it a pleasant experience to look at a list and tick off one thing after another that is now done, or to be able to throw away a list.A bit sad, I know.

Do lists help or hinder me? It's hard to tell. It's some of both. But it's a habit I don't see changing any time soon.

My friend Jill gave me a good idea to help keep my lists from taking over my life and my daily attempt to know some peace. Instead of doing "to-do" lists all the time, try a "done" list instead. I did this in writing one day and by mid-morning there were already 30 things on it. It changed my approach to my day that day. Yesterday, I woke up and my head was already off to the races with everything I was hoping to accomplish. I remembered Jill's idea and started keeping a "done" list in my head. I could feel myself calming down, being kinder with myself. I remained productive, but I didn't run myself into the ground.

One thing I am happy to have on my "done" list early most days is completing a blog post and publishing it. Have a good day!

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Large

Today I am grateful for sunshine and an outdoor run with Darcy. I am also grateful for the positive experience our son Sam had with wrestling this year, thanks to his coaches and teammates.

Yesterday's post got me thinking about the word large: as in large-framed person. I am one. Petite would not describe me. I have a newspaper clipping from 31 years ago where a sports reporter refers to me as a large-framed gal. I am not taking issue with the accuracy of the description. I probably came in around 160 pounds at that time in my life, so I wasn't your typical looking distance runner.

The mention paid me a nice compliment, but also bothered me at age 17. Who isn't self-conscious and feeling less than confident about their bodies at 17? Here are the reporter's words:

"My favorite Monday was South Winn's Lisa Holthaus. The SW track team is only about seven in number, but Holthaus was a diamond in the rough. She won the discus and one look at her, a coach or fan might say she can't run the 800 meters. The large-framed gal not only ran the 800 but won it in 2:27.5, six seconds faster than her nearest competitor. She's one fine performer and a treat to watch."

I'm still not a typical looking distance runner, But that is what I love about running. Anyone who wants to run and is able to, can simply proceed. I have seen all shapes and sizes in marathons and other races and I think to myself "good for you" to anyone who is out there. Sadly, I knew high school distance runners who struggled with eating disorders as they tried to keep a lower racing weight. I guess I had enough confidence in myself as a runner, and some success, that if I was going to run, it was going to be on my terms.

I would love to have had that race captured on video, but it's not. I still have it captured in my head though, and for that I am grateful.

I came across this clipping a few years ago, after Darcy and I had started running marathons. I made a copy of it and put it in our marathon file so I see it more often now. It continues to motivate me, even with 11 marathons already behind me.

I wish I weighed 160 pounds now. The last three decades have added a few pounds. But I run on.Run to eat. Eat to run. And I don't make too harsh of a critique of myself. It is all about the benefits of exercise. They are many, regardless of a person's physique. Just keep moving.

I mentioned the other day that I keep A LOT. This news clipping is one that I am glad I saved and came across years later.

Saturday, January 11, 2014

Knees

Today I am grateful for a phone conversation with my friend Jenny and a chance to catch up. I am also grateful for my knees and what they have done for me over the years.

I don't ever want to take my knees and their health and strength for granted. They have carried me well for 48 years and I want them to last for many more years. I am fortunate that I haven't had any serious knee issues. I try to do strength training and mix up my exercise regimen to keep them strong.My husband and I also utilize the run-walk method on our long training runs and in our marathons. (We walk for 45 seconds to a minute each mile.) That helps our knees and the rest of our bodies as well.

There have been a couple of times when I was slowed by a knee concern. They were minor issues and rest, ice, compression, and elevation did the trick. But those times served as clear reminders of how important it is to take care of my knees. I am also a "large-framed gal" so my knees pull their weight and then some. It serves as motivation to take off a few of the post-marathon, holiday season pounds I put on.

My knees both carry a bunch of scars too. None that I can tell you a specific story about anymore.Lots of scraped knees when riding bikes on gravel roads. Scraped knees in my softball playing days.The scars give my knees character, and a story to tell.

Most importantly, these knees are part of these legs that have logged thousands of miles running, one step at a time. I am grateful for each step, each mile, the mobility I have. Thanks to my knees!

Friday, January 10, 2014

Knowledge

Today I am grateful for my son Sam's experience with the National Geography Bee and for the knowledge I have gained over nearly five decades of living.

Remember the old saying "Knowledge is power"? It is attributed to English philosopher Francis Bacon. He lived in the late 1500's. Knowledge can be loosely defined as familiarity, awareness, and understanding of something or someone. In my opinion, it can be both an empowering asset and a slippery slope.

Yesterday morning Sam competed in the school level of the National Geography Bee along with nine other students from his school. They were on stage in front of hundreds of other middle school students. Sam was nervous, but my husband and I just emphasized that we were proud he made it to this round, and that he should look at it as a good opportunity to gain experience being in front of others.

What struck me as I observed the participants and listened to the questions was how we aquire knowledge in so many different ways. Sure, we study and learn in school. But we pick up so much, particularly in terms of geography, by traveling and reading. I knew an answer about Anchorage, Alaska because I had been there. Sam would have known the answer to the question about Springfield, Illinois if it had been his question, because we were just there last summer, and he did a 4-H photography project of Lincoln based on a picture he took on the trip. The social studies teacher in me enjoyed answering the questions in my head, and I was even pleasantly surprised at how many I remembered. This is the kind of knowledge that can be empowering.

The slippery slope of knowledge plays out when it is abused and overused. When it becomes a way to pump oneself up while diminishing others. Or, in my case, the slippery slope of self-knowledge.In my late teens and early twenties I tried really hard to figure out why I drank too much, what my problem was/is, and why I failed to quit on my own. All of that thinking didn't really help. It kept me alone and stuck.

Today I am grateful for the others who helped me out of the bog of self-knowledge and continue to help me learn and grow today. Today, I try not to overthink life. I try to live it. Today, my self-knowledge is less about figuring it all out and more about balance and healthy choices.

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Junk

Today I am grateful for the working parts that comprise my body. I am also grateful for the treasures of life that I have been able to keep over the years.

Junk is today's word. It came to mind as I went through a decade's worth of Christmas cards, and then some. Not because I thought any of the cards were junk, because when I unearthed the decade's worth of correspondence, I also unearthed what I would consider junk.

I am a keeper. Very sentimental. I have A LOT of stuff I have kept over the years. Much of it I am grateful I took the time to preserve. Much of it brings positive emotions, but some bring painful or unpleasant emotions. But both emotions, a whole range of them, are part of my life story and I am grateful for the tangible reminders of lessons learned, love loved.

Treasures at one time can turn to junk later. Time passes, making what may have been junk, now treasure. It goes both ways.

And then there's the junk in my head. Negative thoughts, self-pity, fear can clutter it up pretty quickly in there. Gratitude practice helps keep the junk out of my thoughts. That is a real blessing.

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Joy

Today I am grateful for time with my family yesterday and the joyful sound of laughter.

Speaking of joyful, today I pick the word joy. We each can give examples of it, but would probably define it a little bit differently from one another. My unofficial definition of joy is feeling connected and content in my present circumstances.

Joy used to be elusive. It seemed too big and unattainable for a deep thinking pessimist like me. (I may have appeared to some to be positive on the outside, but my brain operated in the default mode of self-pity.) I think my definition was off though too. I thought joy had to be big and obvious. That it was all about the emotion. My newer definition keeps the joy in the here and now, and it is often subtle. I just need to be paying attention.

Gratitude practice helps me find the joy regularly. I had to smile recently when my co-worker Sue passed along a version of the quote below to me, having thought of me as she read it. And then just a couple days later, my sister Zita emailed me the quote after she came across it on Facebook. It brings me joy to know that my sharing of and writing about gratitude has left a mark on others. It certainly has left a mark on me. Marks of joy.

"Gratitude unlocks the fullness of life. It turns what we have into enough and more. It turns denial into acceptance, chaos to order, confusion to clarity. It can turn a meal into a feast, a house into a home, a stranger into a friend. Gratitude makes sense of our past, brings peace for today and creates a vision for tomorrow."

What was passed on to me didn't include the author of the quote. It sounded vaguely familiar. It didn't take long to research and discover that the words are those of Melody Beattie, a writer I am grateful for.

This is a description of the author from her website:

Melody Beattie is one of America’s most beloved self-help authors and a household name in addiction and recovery circles. Her international bestselling book, Codependent No More, introduced the world to the term “codependency” in 1986. Millions of readers have trusted Melody’s words of wisdom and guidance because she knows firsthand what they’re going through. In her lifetime, she has survived abandonment, kidnapping, sexual abuse, drug and alcohol addiction, divorce, and the death of a child. “Beattie understands being overboard, which helps her throw bestselling lifelines to those still adrift,” said Time Magazine.

And I smiled further. Over the holidays I had been doing some cleaning and came across two of Beattie's books that I had used for a time and then put away. I decided to take them out again and use them in 2014. Good material, good reading, good wisdom can always be recycled. (Being a slow learner, I need it recycled.) On top of that, I had received those two books from recovery friends. Friends who have taught me about joy. Friends who have shown me their joy and helped me find more of my own.

The journey to joy need not be a long one. Go find some today. Unlock the fullness of life.

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Illuminate

Today I am grateful for laughter in our house and for a family trip to our local "Y" yesterday.

The "I" word of the day is illuminate: to supply or brighten with light; to enlighten spiritually or intellectually. There are areas of my life that growth and recovery have helped me bring out in the light and heal. As well as areas of potential that are now being realized.

I appreciate the illumination of my writing in recent years. From poet to essayist. From private journaler to public blogger. From unpublished to published. I am amazed at what I am learning because of this illumination.

But I also am thinking about something people in my part of the world take very much for granted:how electricity illuminates our world. Arguably, there is too much light, even a growing discussion of light pollution. Think about various electronics and the light they can emit. Too much light can disrupt sleep, so we try to keep it dark in our house when it needs to be dark.

But I sure appreciate the convenience of flipping on a switch and having the safety and comfort of a well-lit area to proceed with the task at hand.

I appreciate the literal illumination provided by modern technology. But also the figurative illumination of my spiritual and intellectual selves via the practice of habitual gratitude.

Monday, January 6, 2014

Intense

Today I am grateful for good soup on a cold day (thanks Zita!) and for sweat and endorphins.

I am also grateful for those who help the homeless and others in danger in these cold temperatures. I am grateful for emergency personnel available to help those stranded or struggling.

Today's word is intense. Here are several definitions of the word and examples:

1. existing or occurring in a high or extreme degree: intense heat.
2. acute, strong, or vehement, as sensations, feelings, or emotions: intense anger. 
3. of an extreme kind; very great, as in strength, keenness, severity, or the like: an intense gale. 
4. having a characteristic quality in a high degree: The intense sunlight was blinding. 
5. strenuous or earnest, as activity, exertion, diligence, or thought: an intense life.

The first thing I think of today is the intense cold. We are at about 50 below zero with the wind chill.I am grateful to have a heated house, an attached garage, and enough winter attire to keep me warm and protected when I need to go out.

The intense feelings I have today tend to be positive ones. Intense love, gratitude, peace, inspiration.They sure beat the intense self-hatred, self-pity, loneliness and hopelessness I used to feel as an active alcoholic. I am grateful today for recovery and for the role of gratitude practice in my recovery.

I do consider myself to be an intense person, and I love the word diligence in the above definition.The key is to balance the intensity between my priorities, to maintain some sense of direction, and to not overdo life. I am grateful that daily gratitude practice helps me find the right level of healthy intensity in my life.

Intense gratitude practice allows me to build a better perception of self and surrounding world.It is well worth the effort.

Sunday, January 5, 2014

Hometown

Today I am grateful for some family time to celebrate my step-daughter Emily's birthday yesterday and for warm clothes and working heat as we brace for some very cold weather.
 
The last "H" word is hometown. When I was visiting over the holidays, I took this picture of the current water tower in my hometown of Ossian, Iowa. I grew up on a farm a couple miles out of town. The 2010 census says that Ossian has 845 residents. That number hasn't changed drastically in decades.

 
 
 
 
This water tower has already been around for years. The water tower I grew up with was silver with a red top if my memory serves me. It has since been dismantled.
 
For the heck of it, I googled Ossian and found a couple surprises. Below are two YouTube videos with pictures of Ossian. They share some of the same photos, but both also are unique. This one I will call Ossian 1 was set to Pat Metheny music and includes parade photos and homes around town. This one I will call Ossian 2  had aerial views and pictures of the old water tower being dismantled. It was set to Led Zeppelin's "Stairway to Heaven."  What do you make of that? Any locals or former locals may appreciate viewing the videos if they haven't done so already.
 
I especially appreciated seeing the pictures of the old water tower being dismantled. It looked pretty rough by the time it was dismantled.That's what happens when something is no longer in active use.There's a lesson in that. It was a sentimental series of pictures as well. How time flies.
 
I saw an old school bus driver, the ball diamond many of my siblings and I played ball games on, and some still do. I saw the changing main street, but also businesses that have been around for generations.
 
My hometown may be small, but I think it is vibrant and persistent. I appreciated the stroll down memory lane this morning.
 
What do you appreciate about your hometown?

Saturday, January 4, 2014

H.O.R.S.E.

Today I am grateful for the opportunity to celebrate recovery and sobriety with others. I am also grateful for the simple fun of games like H.O.R.S.E.

I know it's a little stretch, but my "H" word today is H.O.R.S.E. Not the animal. The basketball game.If you are unfamiliar with it, you take turns shooting baskets. If someone makes a basket, the next person has to make it. If that person misses it, they get a letter for each miss. The first person to spell out H.O.R.S.E. is the loser. If they make the shot, the next person has to make it and so on. We sometimes played a shorter version-P.I.G.  Or in tight games we may have decided to add an "S" to extend the game to H.O.R.S.E.S.

I recall playing this game often with siblings. There may have just been a couple of us, or four or five of us. We had indoor and outdoor versions. The indoor version was played in our barn in the winters. There was enough space for a hoop and shooting area so we could keep playing year-round. It was a bit more challenging in the barn, because there wasn't a typical backboard. In the warmer months, we played at a hoop/backboard mounted on a pole between our house and the chicken coop.

I recall arguments, sore losers, snickering when someone got to H.O.R. and also lots of fun. Some of us were more competitive than others. And the moods could change from day to day. But I am thankful for the game of H.O.R.S.E. How it helped hone my basketball shooting skills. How it taught me life skills about getting along with others and following the rules. And how it offered simple fun and friendly competition (usually) for a bunch of energetic kids.

Do you have a childhood game you remember fondly?

Friday, January 3, 2014

Habit

Today I am grateful for the chair in my "meditation corner" and for the healing of my ribs and muscles. I am almost pain-free.

Habit is today's word. Recently, at the school I work at, I saw this quote twice in one day:

"We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit." (Aristotle)

I saw it first in a bathroom stall (always a good spot for an inspirational sign) and I saw it a second time on the white board of a teacher's room where we were giving a presentation.

We are what we repeatedly do. Agreed. Positive, healthy choices lead to a more positive and healthy person. A simple idea to understand, but not always an easy one to implement. Why? Why do we sabotage ourselves? Why do we get complacent and stop doing the things that were helping? Those are good questions. I don't know the answers, other than I can best help myself by sticking with healthy habits, recognizing how they make me feel better, and continuing to do them. Day in, and day out. Once they are a habit, I am less likely to forget to do them, or to notice when I do forget.

Recovery from alcoholism and gratitude practice are two areas where I apply daily habits to help keep me on track. Journaling. Prayers. Meditation. Reaching out to others via emails and other avenues.

I also think of exercise and sports as areas where this quote makes sense to me. I think about my sister Ruth and I wearing away the grass in our yard in two spots--where we each stood to play catch with a softball. We threw hundreds, thousands of times. We got pretty decent at it. We put the time in. Today, exercise is also one of my healthy habits. I feel best when able to move, sweat, push myself, get some endorphins going.

Some habits, like exercise, can use a day off here and there. But for me, daily gratitude practice is best.

What healthy habits do you have that you most benefit from? Thank yourself for sticking to them today.

Thursday, January 2, 2014

Grandeur

Today I am grateful for my job and the people I work with. I am also grateful for the beauty of life that surrounds me when I pay attention.

Speaking of beauty, the "G" word of the day is grandeur. As one definition suggested: use the noun grandeur to describe something that is splendid or magnificent. I chose that definition to focus on, because so many others talked about grand, awesome, great, impressive. Such words can scare us away from the little things. And truly the little things and the brief moments are most often the examples of grandeur in my life.

Beauty and grandeur go hand in hand. Not the beauty plastered on magazine covers and peddled in all sorts of advertising. Deep, genuine beauty.

Moments of grandeur in my life:

-the few seconds when the sun comes over the horizon
-the way Oliver (our dog) stretches himself from head to toe when he gets up
-the sound of my son's laughter
-the wisdom shared by others in recovery
-taking a walk in the brisk cold with my husband
-the quiet of the early morning
-the feel of a warm sweatshirt
-the moment in a marathon when the finish line first comes in to view

What are examples of simple grandeur in your life?

Today I will look for the simply splendid and magnificent. I will pay attention.

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Go

Today I am grateful for the blessings and lessons of 2013 and the hopes and energy I have to head into 2014. I am grateful for this blog and what it is teaching me. Happy New Year to all!

Today's word is a short two letters: GO. It seems fitting. Go into the new year, into the new day, into the new hour with mindfulness and more will be revealed.

I got the idea for today's word from Brother David Steindl-Rast's suggestion for approaching 2014. He sums it up in three words: Stop. Look. Go. As he says:

Stop! -- so that you will not hurry past the gift this moment offers you.
Look! -- so you will recognize this gift: the opportunity available now.
Go! -- that means: Do something with this precious opportunity!

If you want to read the full post (it's brief) or anything else at the website gratefulness.org go here.

This moment, this day is indeed a precious opportunity. Ask those who have lost a loved one this past year. Ask those whose own health or the health of a loved one is limiting their daily choices and mobility.

What will I do with this precious opportunity? I will go in to 2014 with a full and thankful heart. I will keep writing and talking about and practicing gratitude. Looking for a New Year's resolution?Start actively practicing gratitude today. Write in a journal. Say an A-Z gratitude list.Do a 3 x 3 or  4 x 4. Write a letter. Start a gratitude list on your phone. Reach out to others. Serve.

I encourage you to get started. Any gratitude practice counts. It needn't be daily. Go. Go find a better perception of self and surrounding world. Stop. Look. Go.