"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, February 28, 2014

Taking the Edge Off

Today I am grateful for my five senses and that they are in good working order. I am grateful for the longer daylight too, making it a little more bearable to get through this bitter cold stretch.

Today's topic is taking the edge off. How do I take the edge off frustration, exhaustion, a craving? How do I take the edge off anger, impatience, or disappointment? I guess when I think of "taking the edge off," I tend to think of it as a sharp edge that could cause pain or problems if not blunted a little, or a lot.

One most effective way for me to blunt a sharp edge is through exercise. It always helps and it always works. Another way is through writing. Spilling out emotions that would continue to roil and boil if left inside my head and heart. The good news is I don't have as many of those type of emotions as I used to.

Speaking of used to, I used to consider alcohol a favorite and effective way to take the edge off. Sure, it worked temporarily. But as time went on, I got edgier and edgier, both when drinking and when wishing I could be drinking. I am so grateful I got off of that merry-go-round. And I am grateful to those who continue to help me stay off that merry-go-round.

Lately I am learning to take the edge off of a sugar craving by having a glass of water or some fruit, or treating myself in moderation only.

Gratitude practice rounds off sharp edges well. It reminds me that I am very blessed in so many ways, that today is a gift to be cherished. Self-pity and perpetual dissatisfaction were sharpeners and now they don't work when I put gratitude practice into use.

I am grateful for healthy ways to deal with difficult emotions and situations. How do you "take the edge off" in healthy ways? 

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Four-Legged Stool

Today I am grateful for early morning quiet and for laughter among colleagues. Laughter can be a good diffuser of stress. I am also grateful for my co-worker Judy and the gift of five puppies she brought to school to share yesterday. The kids and adults alike loved them!

At my school this week we are celebrating Wellness Week. Planning and carrying out the week's activities are the jobs of a group I co-advise. Our theme this year is "Aloha Wellness!" With the harsh winter we have been having, it's been nice to be reminded of the warmth and color (other than white) that will one day return to Minnesota.

I think recognizing overall wellness is very important. It is like a four-legged stool, with physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual aspects serving as the legs. Health in all of those areas makes for a strong and sturdy stool that can stand in a balanced fashion, even in rough times.

Most of us do well in some of these four areas, and even if one leg is weaker, a three-legged stool is still steady. But if only three legs are strong, and something unexpected comes along to weaken another leg, a two-legged stool becomes wobbly and topples.

Most of us, me included, have room for improvement in these four areas. Some that are stronger already and some that need to be fortified. The key is to know this about yourself and to keep the four legs in good working order.

I believe that health in one area-physical, mental, emotional, or spiritual-promotes health in the other areas. I believe they are all interrelated. Running is obviously physical, but it clears my head, helps me work off strong emotions, and gives me time to ponder what I am grateful for, one step at a time. I consider gratitude to be part of what strengthens all four legs, but for me it is most grounded in the spiritual component. Prayer is obviously spiritual, but it helps quiet my racing mind, gives me compassion for others, and lowers my heart rate when I pause to think of others through prayer.

I have been thinking about this lately, not only with Wellness Week at school, but also with our 5-day cleanse and our efforts to eat better. "You are what you eat" is a true phrase. I am not a terrible eater, but this is one area that I have ample room for improvement. Proper fuel in the physical realm helps fuel health in the other realms. Fresh fruits and vegetables give my body the proper fuel to exercise, give me pause to thank the others who helped bring this food in front of me, are less likely to make my mind race or drag than refined sugar does, and tend to keep my emotions on a more even keel.

Today I will think about my best practices in all four areas of wellness. I mentioned a few above. What are your best practices? Is your four-legged stool standing strong, or does a leg or two need to be shored up? What are you waiting for?

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Pizza-of the Mindful Kind

Today I am grateful for safe travels for my husband Darcy and that he is back home. I am also grateful for pizza.

I have been working hard and avoiding temptations regarding my eating. But you have to splurge from time to time. It is actually a good idea, otherwise it might become difficult to stay on the good eating path and get easier to throw in the towel and slide back into old ways. The trick is to not let one splurge lead to another, and to space the splurges out. So my son and I splurged on some pizza last night. It didn't disappoint. I didn't eat as much of it as I would have a couple weeks ago. I was satisfied and also proud of myself.

I love pizza. I always have. I don't think we had it very often in my younger days, but I recall making homemade pizza and thinking it was a real treat. Since my teen years, pizza has been one of my favorites. I like lots of different kinds, and I like the ones loaded with ingredients. I will eat most any kind and fondly (sadly?) recall many Saturday nights in my single days when I treated myself to a Tombstone pizza followed by ice cream. (Pizza and ice cream remain my top two comfort foods.)

I plan to become more mindful of how often and what kind of pizza I eat, but it will be helpful to be more mindful as I am eating it as well. Mindful eating. I talk about mindfulness in this blog, referring to being present, paying attention in the here and now. It's something I could apply more to my eating habits. The 5-day cleanse and our renewed efforts to eat well and maintain a healthier weight make this a good time to become a more mindful eater. My niece Katie talks about and encourages this, as does my cousin Sue Zbornik in her book "Find Your Happetite."  Find out more at http://www.findyourhappetite.com/. When I first read Sue's book a couple years ago, it inspired me to be a more mindful eater. That was a good start. Now I am ready to apply it on a more regular basis and make it a habit. Thanks Sue and Katie!

Mindful eating starts with eating, just eating and nothing else. It means slow down and consciously take each bite. It means consider how this food got to your table, step by step. Consider the good earth that helped provide the abundance. It means eat good food to fuel your body, not to ease pain or bring false, temporary comfort.

That's a lot to chew on for now. Have a good day! 

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Finding the Joylets

Today I am grateful for people's hearty good humor to get us through a harsh winter. I am also grateful for my sisters and brothers, all seven and five of them respectively. I appreciate that we all keep in touch, although to varying degrees.

Nothing against my brothers, but I tend to stay in better touch with my sisters. My sister Aileen is a writer too. We share our work and words. (She's not the only writing sister either. You guys know who you are.) Check out Aileen's blog "Poetic License: Poetry and Commentary on Current Events" here. She is masterful at using words and also sometimes creating new ones. In a recent email exchange, the word "joylet" came to be. She defines it as little bits of joy, baby joys; generally unexpected. Examples-finding a forgotten yummy hard candy in my purse, a baby smiling at me in the grocery store. I love the word and the definition. It is the essence of what gratitude practice is about. Finding the joylets. Thanks Aileen!

When I am paying attention, examples of joylets abound. The jingle of our dog Oliver's collar. The first smell of the first cup of coffee of the day. The sound of my son's laughter. A genuine smile from someone I pass in the hall at school. The light changing at dawn and dusk. The smell of bacon. A song I love coming on the radio in the car. A stronger sun in February than January.

You get the idea. Proceed with caution however: noticing joylets can make a person joyful. If you want to improve your perception of self and surrounding world, find the joylets in each day. If you want to be mired in muck and low-grade misery, close your eyes to the joylets.

You get to pick. Which will it be? Open to joy or closed to joy?

Monday, February 24, 2014

Communities and More Communities

Today I am grateful for my son Sam's involvement in our church youth group and for the experience he and the others in the group gained from creating and delivering their own sermon three times in the last two weeks. I am also grateful for my husband Darcy.

The theme of the sermons the youth did was "community." They spoke about a wide variety of communities and the impact that being a part of these different communities has had on their own lives. They also had multiple definitions, but I like the idea of shared attitudes and goals, of fellowship, or sharing space of one kind or another.

It got me thinking about the many communities I am a part of. Some I chose to be part of. Some were not in my plan, but they came to be anyway. (That reminds me of a joke: Want to hear God laugh? Tell Him/Her your plans.) Others are by virtue of where I live and work. Here are a few communities I am a part of:

*family (immediate and extended)
*people in recovery from alcoholism and addiction
*co-workers, in the broad sense
*other school counselors (in the office I work in and beyond)
*writers
*bloggers
*runners
*parents
*church
*cancer patients
*breast cancer support group members
*our local community
*our neighborhood
*friends
*school alums

All of these communities have shaped me in one way or another. Even the ones I wouldn't have chosen myself. Sometimes especially those. They have evolved over my life. A few may take front and center for a time, to be replaced by others at the forefront the next day or the next year.

I am grateful for the communities I am a part of and the many wonderful people I know across this variety of communities. What communities are you most grateful for today?

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Only The Disciplined Are Free

Today I am grateful for the success of the 5-day cleanse Darcy and I just completed. I am grateful we jumped right in and did it after talking about it with family last weekend. Thanks again to my niece Katie for the plan and the other wisdom and support she shared.

I enjoyed my trip through the alphabet, and now I have several ideas I have been jotting down these last weeks that I can turn to. Today's topic idea stems from more recent developments, but is one that I have been trying to wrap my head around for years. "Only the disciplined are free."

My friend Dorothy has helped me understand these words. She said them to me in an email several years ago . . . just when I needed to hear it, just when I was ready to grab onto it. I guess that is one of those zingers I referred to a couple days ago. Thanks Dorothy!

"Only the disciplined are free." It sounds contradictory. Discipline sounds regimented, strict. How can that be freeing? Because if I don't have discipline I become enslaved to any number of things. And being enslaved is much farther from free than being disciplined is.

I would like to consider myself to be a disciplined individual. I have been sober, one day at a time, for over 24 years. I quit smoking about 18 years ago. My husband and I have trained for and completed 11 marathons in the last 10 years. I have written and published over 600 blog posts on this blog in less than two years. All of those things take discipline, right? 

But there's discipline and then there's discipline. White-knuckle discipline can keep a person sober, but it doesn't allow for much fun or freedom. All of one's energy is used to fight urges and temptations. I tried that. It didn't work. It did help me realize I needed support beyond myself. When I started seeking that help and applied it with the right kind of discipline (doing the next right thing basically), then the freedom started showing itself. At first in fits and starts. Now, more regularly. Many of the most important lessons I have learned and tools I have acquired have started with my efforts to recover from alcoholism. From there, they are applicable to any and all areas of my life.

This 5-day cleanse we just finished really got me thinking about my discipline, and lack thereof, when it comes to eating. It was an eye-opener to feel my body deal with detoxifying, very little refined sugar, varying levels or energy, and a few cravings (but far less than I anticipated).

Both Darcy and I are motivated to keep applying better discipline to our eating habits. Not only am I already free of a few extra pounds, I am also feeling freer in my confidence that I can adhere to better choices.

Where are you successfully applying discipline in your life? Be grateful for it. Where do you struggle to apply discipline? Be grateful for the challenge it offers and consider how to move forward in addressing it.

Saturday, February 22, 2014

Zany

Today I am grateful for words; their variety, their many meanings, their knack to fit just right at just the right time, their ability to inspire the writer in me. I am also grateful for humor among recovery friends.

To wrap-up my weeks-long journey through the alphabet, I am picking zany. I have always considered zany to be just an adjective: amusingly unconventional, fantastically or absurdly ludicrous, showing or marked by a lack of good sense or judgment. But it can also be a noun: the clown or the buffoon, the one who plays the fool to amuse others. I had never considered the word zany much before the last couple of days. It always amazes me how so many words have so much more to them than meets the eye, so much more than our limited experience and use of them.

In my mind, zany described a person who was a little crazy, but almost in a good way. Someone who was willing to take risks and look a bit foolish, but someone who was free and comfortable in their own skin. That was never me. I guess I latched on to that definition of zany because I wanted to be a little zanier. I was far too inhibited and far too afraid of judgment to show a healthy zaniness from time to time.

I'm still not much for that zany stuff, but I do have zany ideas from time to time. And here's a zany idea I saw on my tea bag yesterday afternoon: "The beauty of life is to experience yourself."

In my late teens and early twenties, that was the last thing I wanted. I was trying to escape myself. Alcohol was an effective escape mode. It took me a long time to actually want to know myself better and to find myself likeable. But today that once-zany idea is now a big part of my life's journey. For that, I am deeply grateful.

Friday, February 21, 2014

Zinger

Today I am grateful for the beauty of snow on the trees and eyes to see it with. I am also grateful for time spent with my step-daughter Emily.

Zinger is a good word to focus on today. It means sudden shock, revelation, or turn of events; something causing or meant to cause interest, surprise or shock. I prefer the revelation and interest sort of zingers. Life doesn't often bring sudden and shocking zingers. That's okay with me.

I am experiencing some cleanse zingers this week. They include how I am better recognizing my own energy level through the type and amount of nourishment I am providing my physical body. Another one is the ongoing revelation of the necessity and purity of water, just plain water, and plenty of it!

Recovery from alcoholism provides a regular feed of zingers when I am doing daily work for my daily disease. Zingers like "I am my biggest problem," "accept more, expect less," and "worry and fear are wasted energy."

Gratitude zingers abound as well. The more I practice gratitude, the more I realize the little wonders that we are surrounded by and that are part of us. My recovery work led to a significant zinger when I was around five years sober and had been practicing gratitude for a time. That significant zinger is: I cannot be grateful and feel sorry for myself at the same time. Which will I choose today?

It's a zinger that bears repeating, and repeating. It was in my 7th blog post, from April of 2012.Read it here.

Have a good day! Spread some gratitude.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Zenith

Today I am grateful for the breast cancer support group I attend and the friends I have made there. I am also grateful for my neighbor Amy-a fellow BC patient. We sometimes cross paths on our morning walks and I am struck by both of us being healthy and able-bodied over five years post-diagnosis. I saw Amy on my walk this morning. I don't ever want to take my health for granted and in order to not do that I need to appreciate it daily.

I am starting the "z" words with zenith-a highest point or state, culmination, the strongest or most successful period of time. My thoughts are pretty random this morning, so here goes.

I am ready for the zenith of this five-day cleanse Darcy and I are doing. It is going well and I am learning more about my body and the way I nourish it. But I am ready for the culmination, the final meal on the plan. From that zenith however, I hope to continue on a healthier regimen.

Marathons and zeniths go hand in hand. Two of the highest points in my marathons were 1) Coming around the corner near Mile 26 and seeing the finish line at my first marathon, the Chicago Marathon in 2004 and 2) Darcy and I finishing a marathon side-by-side for the first time, in 2009 in Kansas City, 10 months to the day after my bilateral mastectomies.

Another zenith was the birth of our son Sam. I enjoyed the months of pregnancy that led up to the zenith of his birth too. Amazing, all of it. In part of my heart, he will always be that tiny infant I held for the first time.

Can there be a zenith regarding gratitude practice? My thought today is no. There is always more to learn, more growing to do. But the journey to that highest point is worth it. I hope I never reach the zenith in this respect. The possibilities are endless. For that I am truly grateful.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Yolk

Today I am grateful for water to drink. How many people in this world lack safe drinking water? I am also grateful for eggs to eat.

Yolk is the last of the "y" words I am choosing to blog about. I would like to focus on the yolk of the egg. I am a big fan of eggs. I always have been. I would like to eat an egg or two for breakfast this morning, but I can't. Darcy and I are doing a 5-day cleanse to detoxify, jumpstart our metabolism, and perhaps take off a few pounds. Eggs are not on the menu for a few days, or dairy, or sugar, or lots of other things. But we are doing okay as we start day 2. My body is wondering what is going on, but it is also thanking me for caring enough to give this a try. Thanks to my niece Katie for the information and the support. It is all appreciated!

I grew up gathering and enjoying farm-fresh eggs, though I didn't know the difference until I had eggs that weren't farm-fresh. (Not a big difference in my opinion, but still noticeable.) Most recipes that called for eggs took the whole egg, but some called for just the whites. I never got as good at separating the yolk from the whites as my mom was, but I knew the trick anyway.

Never a fan of runny yolks, I prefer my fried eggs to be fried enough to avoid that mess. Fried eggs also made a good late-night snack for me in my drinking days. Don't ask me why. I don't know. But there were many times I would get home late, really late, and fry up a couple of eggs. If my parents and siblings heard me, they never came out to join me. Thankfully, I didn't lose my appetite for eggs during that time.

If I seem a little random today, I think the toxins are working their way out and my brain is a bit befuddled because it hasn't had much sugar to speak of, at least the refined kind that I love so much. At least I know that when this cleanse is over I can return to eating eggs.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Yearn

Today I am grateful for safe travels to and from Iowa to spend some time with my mom for her upcoming 83rd birthday. I am also grateful for all of the family members we got to visit with and the time we got to spend out on the farm.

We did come home a day early because of a predicted several inches of snow. It was disappointing, but a good call because the several inches came, both here and there. I had to chuckle about this though: My nieces and nephew were supposed to have a make-up day of school yesterday, but then they got a snow day. I guess you know it's a bad winter when you have to make-up the make-up days.

On to my second "y" word: yearn. I was drawn to this part of the definition: an earnest or strong desire. In light of the brutal cold and substantial amount of snow we have had, I truly am yearning for spring. It will be here sooner or later, and I will fully appreciate it. In fact, I plan to fully appreciate temperatures above freezing this week.

I also yearn to publish a book. I used to yearn to be a writer, but now I consider myself one. I am published and paid, though on a small scale. But I have learned that being published and paid aren't what make me a writer. Writing on a regular basis, honoring my desire to put words on paper and screen; that is what makes me a writer. Today I can say with conviction that I have been a writer my whole life.

This blog has really helped me come into my own as a writer. I am so grateful for that and so grateful I chose to take this leap into the blogosphere almost two years ago now. I have a regular outlet for my writing yearnings. I am more content with my writing than I ever have been. I have my blog and a monthly column for our local newspaper for a more public audience. I have journals and emails for a more personal audience.

But I still yearn for a book to hold in my hand with my name on it as the author, or one of the authors. Even with all the publishing formats available today, I still desire a real book to hold in my real hands.

And I yearn to continue this habitual practice of gratitude. It has taught and shown me so much over nearly two decades. I look forward to further deepening and strengthening of my heart, soul, body, and mind. That is what gratitude practice does.

Saturday, February 15, 2014

Yield

Today I am grateful for a nice Valentine's Day and a head massage from Darcy. (They always put me to sleep.) I am also grateful for chocolate.

The "y" word I want to focus on today is yield. As a farmer's daughter, I often first think of yield as in crop yields; how much is produced. A good yield takes a good effort and also a big investment. My father and some of my brothers have devoted much time and work over the years to producing good yields.

But I also think of yield as in give way, give up, surrender, accept. I was just thinking about this yesterday. In my single days, I planned to keep my maiden name if I ever found a man to marry. But when I met Mr. Valentine, I yielded that plan in favor of a great name like Mrs. Valentine. I haven't regretted it at all.

Throughout my day, I work on yielding to life on life's terms. I try to accept others and myself. I try to just do the next right thing and wait for things to unfold. It is always a work in progress, but when I yield my will to a Higher's Power's plan, things seem to go better and I gain energy instead of further degrees of exhaustion.

Back to the first kind of yield I talked about. Something that always produces high yields when I work at it is gratitude practice. Consistent effort yields consistent amounts of acceptance, appreciation, and grace and keeps weeds and other pests like self-pity and impatience at bay.

What positive efforts in your life bring you positive yields?

I will be taking a blog break for a couple of days. Enjoy your day, one moment, one hour at a time.

Friday, February 14, 2014

Xenial

Today I am grateful for the love I have in my life on this Valentine's Day, from the love I share with others to love of self. I am also grateful for acceptance.

Xenial is a word I don't think I have heard of before. It means hospitable, especially to visiting strangers or foreigners; or the relation between a host and guest; friendly. It seems like a nice word. Maybe we should use it more often. Or at least be xenial more often.

I would like to think that I am kind to strangers out in the general public. I greet people, hold doors, wait my turn, that sort of thing. But sometimes I can be deep in thought, or tired, or feeling rather crabby. It may have nothing to do with the other person, but I might appear less than xenial. I guess it is about being aware and noticing. That sounds just like gratitude practice.

I would also like to think I am friendly to everyone I encounter. I greet students in the halls at school. I smile often. I muster a "good morning" or "have a good evening" for a colleague or parent I pass in those same halls, even when I would rather just keep moving, or when my energy is too low and I think I have nothing left to give. But being xenial seems to be energizing. Bingo! There's another way it is similar to gratitude practice.

Sometimes the toughest place to be xenial is in my own home. Home is where we let our guard down and social constraints are lowered. These are good things, and can bring out the best in us. But also the worst. I guess I should think about the word hospitable. I want to be hospitable to strangers, but it is more important to be hospitable with those who make regular appearances in my life. That includes being hospitable with myself . . . in my thoughts, in my actions. Gratitude practice creates a xenial environment in and around me.

Have a nice Valentine's Day!

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Xerox

Today I am grateful for bananas and other fruit that nourish me. I am also grateful for Oliver and our quiet morning time together.

It has been a fun journey through the alphabet, but I confess that I am ready to move on from the constraints of A-Z, self-imposed as they might be. I am getting closer. Xerox starts off the "x" words. It is both a verb and a noun. As a verb it means to copy something with a special machine. As a noun, it refers to a company that makes copy machines.

It got me thinking about the changes I have seen in the area of copy machines since I started in the field of education over 26 years ago. We still had ditto machines at my first teaching job. Those were fun, but messy. With a distinct odor. I remember creating masters for the ditto machine on typewriters. Copy machines of the Xerox nature starting becoming more prevalent, but were still expensive. Schools my size tended to only have one. At one of my jobs, we couldn't all access the copier. We had to fill out a form regarding number of copies and such, attach the originals, and send them off to a central office to be returned a few hours or days later.

Now, I am used to having a copier a short walk away, not to mention the printer I have with my computer at my desk, and the fact that the printer also serves as a copier. If it takes more than a couple minutes to make some copies, it is either a large batch, there's a line, or the copier is being difficult.

We expect convenience and speed with our copy needs. I confess to appreciating the ease, but it boggles my mind how things have changed in less than three decades. What next?

I am grateful for modern conveniences, but also somewhat wary of them. Easier is not always better.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Weakness

Today I am grateful for prayer, in solitude and in group settings. I am also grateful for warmer air today, relatively speaking.

I am winding up my "w" words with weakness. We often think of weakness as a negative, our faults and defects as something we don't want to look at. But it is good to recognize our weaknesses and do what we can to not succumb to them so often. It is also good to forgive others when their faults interfere with our day. And to remember we are all flawed and that is what makes us human.

But there is another type of weakness that is more fun to talk about--those weaknesses that are about an object of special desire or fondness. A real weakness of mine is ice cream.

I have always liked ice cream. I'm from a family of ice cream fans. We didn't get spoiled growing up in our large family, but ice cream was a fairly regular treat. (Maybe because we always had cake and ice cream on birthdays and we had a lot of birthdays.) I recall when Mom would cut a half gallon square of ice cream into pieces and we would each get one. She was a master at making evenly-sized pieces. She knew how to keep the peace.

So my weakness for ice cream goes way back. When I was single and living alone, I would get a half gallon of ice cream and when I felt like having some, I would grab the box and a spoon and have what I wanted. Then I would return the box to the freezer until next time. Today, when I don't feel like sharing, I get my own pint. (Better than my own pint of booze, wouldn't you agree?)

My weakness for ice cream has been a source of joy in my life. A few too many calories as well, but worth it. I am grateful for ice cream and the many times it has soothed my stomach and my mind.

What is a "fun" weakness you have?

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Whistle-stop

Today I am grateful for the people I work with; from colleagues, to students, to parents. I am also grateful for peanut butter and jelly on toast.

Whistle-stop is a unique "w" word. Technically, it is more like two words, but let's consider it one hyphenated word to keep it in line with my one-word trips through the alphabet. It most often refers to brief appearances in many communities by campaigning politicians or to the small communities themselves.

It also happens to be the name of the second marathon I ran-the WhistleStop Marathon in Ashland, WI in 2005. I have fond memories of that marathon, largely because my sisters Zita and Ruth and my friends Beth and Melissa all ran the marathon too. My sister Aileen ran the half-marathon, and my sister Leonice and sister-in-law Annie came along to cheer us on. It meant a lot to have Zita running. She had planned to run the Chicago Marathon the previous year but ended up being diagnosed with breast cancer and being in the midst of treatment. She was able to finish the WhistleStop and that was a cool thing to witness.

It was a far different marathon than Chicago. From urban with tens of thousands of participants and spectators, to rural and small. We were bussed to the start area and then ran back into Ashland on a trail created on an old rail line. That seemed like a long bus ride, and as the miles went on during the marathon, it seemed like it was taking a long time to get back to town. I liked the scenery and solitude, but it was mentally challenging too. I was sure glad to see Ashland come back into view. The WhistleStop Marathon was an overall pleasant experience.

The Whistle Stop Cafe was also a central location in the plot of the movie "Fried Green Tomatoes."The movie is from 1991 and included performances by Kathy Bates, Mary Stuart Masterson, Jessica Tandy and Mary Louise Parker. Bates was my favorite in the movie, but I enjoyed the movie overall.It is one I enjoy watching again from time to time.

Back to the original whistle-stop, or quick stops along a route. I guess I could do whistle-stop gratitude throughout my day's journey. Sounds like a plan!

Monday, February 10, 2014

Wonder

Today I am grateful for a nice conversation with my sister Danita and for the custard at Culver's.

Rather than wonder what "w" word I should start with, I am starting with wonder. Wonder really runs the gamut. I stand in wonder and watch the sun rise from my living room window. I stood on the deck of a boat and watched the wonder of blue glaciers in Alaska. I stood in wonder at the end of my first marathon. (I was also standing because I was too exhausted to move, but that was all part of the wonder.)

And then there are the "wonder cookies" I made this weekend. Darcy came across the recipe on Facebook and asked me to make them. The recipe he was reading had a drab name like chocolate oatmeal no-bake cookies, but I grew up knowing them as wonder cookies. I am sure mom appreciated the no-bake aspect, and I know her children appreciated the taste. They never lasted long, no wonder there.

There is the exciting, anticipatory wonder of questions like I wonder where Sam will go to college and if he'll get married. I wonder if and when we will become grandparents. I wonder if we'll be able to spend part of our retirement in a warmer climate. I wonder if I will publish a book someday.

And there are the frightening aspects of wonder. I wonder what my life would be like if I had kept drinking or if I started drinking again. I wonder if the kids will outlive Darcy and I. I wonder if my cancer, or someone else's, will ever come back.

It all brings me back to today, to revel in the wonder of life that regular gratitude practice and daily recovery from alcoholism creates. That's all I get. No sense wondering about tomorrow. It's not here yet.

Sunday, February 9, 2014

Vital

Today I am grateful for the weekend and family time. I am also grateful for my sister Zita and the good relationship that we have. Happy Bithday today Zita! This year, Zita will be ten years out from her breast cancer diagnosis. I am so grateful she is doing well. I am grateful for all seven of my sisters.

Those "v" words just kept grabbing me, so I will finish with one more: vital. One of the definitions of vital makes it a synonym for yesterday's vivacious. I want to focus on one of the other definitions though. Necessary. Essential. Extremely important. Life-sustaining. Indispensable. You get the idea.

What is vital to my overall health? Exercise. Proper energy via nutritious food. Enough sleep. My cancer medication (tamoxifen) and Vitamin D supplement (the medication and vitamins are debatable, but for me they are important), my daily recovery from alcoholism, my writing, gratitude practice, the love of family and friends.

We often start with aspects of physical health when we are talking about health, but I always consider health to include mental, emotional, and spiritual components too. They all go together and they each impact the other. They are all vital to overall wellness. That means they each need attention and time and commitment from me. I am better at following through on that commitment these days because I have been shown how much better I can feel in all areas if I do some work in all areas.

Some days I do better than others.But I try not to get complacent. And I keep in mind, as was shown to me when I was going through cancer treatments and surgeries, if one area of health takes a hit, the stronger the other areas are, the better everything will go. My health is a combination of systems. Gratitude practice helps all of those systems. If I slip in my gratitude practice, I feel off. I try not to let that happen anymore. That which is vital requires diligence.

What things are vital to your overall health? Do you make time for them each day?

Saturday, February 8, 2014

Vivacious

Today I am grateful for a run outdoors yesterday afternoon, first alone, then with Oliver, our dog. We were both happy to be taking in the fresh air and sunshine. I am also grateful for the recovery friends I have and the conversation and laughter we share.

Vivacious is another "v" word that grabbed me. It is briefly defined as lively in temper, conduct, or spirit. It is a word I have never used to describe myself-until now. I saw vivacious people as outgoing and confident. I was neither, though I would use alcohol, a well-known social lubricant, to try to feel more confident and act more outgoing. I was shy, inhibited, closed off. That's how I felt anyway. I really don't know how others perceived me, and it really doesn't matter anymore.

Today I say, with confidence, that I have a vivacious spirit. I remain reserved in my temperament and conduct more often than not, but my spirit is usually pretty lively. I owe that to recovery from alcoholism, love from others, gratitude practice, an ongoing mission to deepen my faith and live life to the fullest.

Gratitude practice does for me what sugar does for little kids. It gets me going. It winds me up. It gets the old heart pumping and the soul singing. But like sugar, the effects wear off quickly. I wouldn't recommend too much sugar consumption. (Though it is definitely a weakness of mine.) However, I do recommend regular gratitude practice.

I am grateful to be able-bodied and alive today. That feeds my vivacious spirit.

Are you more vivacious in temper, conduct, or spirit? Be grateful for whatever makes you feel alive.

Friday, February 7, 2014

Vista

Today I am grateful for cozy blankets, a comfortable bed, and my husband next to me in that bed. But I am also grateful for the motivation to get up and head into this day.

Vista caught my eye as I perused the "v" section of the dictionary. It is defined as 1) a distant view and 2) an extensive mental view.

1) Some of my favorite vistas include: the view of my community from the hill I come down each day from the north as I drive home from work, the hilly countryside of the farm I return to when visiting my family, and the sight of a marathon's finish line when it finally comes into view. Other amazing vistas that I have only been treated to once or a handful of times include places like: Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado, Denali National Park and the glaciers of Prince William Sound in Alaska, and the Oregon Coast.

I am grateful to be able to travel to these places near and far, and I am grateful for my eyesight with which to enjoy these views.

2) Gratitude practice creates a healthier and more extensive mental view for me. Self-pity and fear close the horizon, narrow the view. They also zap energy. I lived in self-pity and fear for years. Gratitude widens the view and expands the horizon, offering more hope and more energy. I do my best to live in gratitude today. Just for today.

Two kinds of vistas. One result. A better view of the world.

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Unfold

Today I am grateful for a reliable vehicle and I am grateful for my son Sam and the opportunity to learn and grow as he learns and grows.

Unfold is the second "u" word I am choosing to blog about. Unravel and unfold are different. When things around me unravel, I probably have done something to cause the fraying and separating. When things unfold around me, it is more about accepting life on life's terms, about life unfolding as life is meant to, not how Lisa would have it unfold. Unfolding is gentle, unraveling is tense and messy. That's how my little brain ponders it anyway.

To allow things to unfold also requires patience. Patience is not one of my strong suits. I want to push the envelope, predict outcomes, keep things moving. The fact of the matter is that sometimes the best action is no action. Sometimes the best pace is slow. And trying to determine outcomes is usually pretty futile because I am pretty powerless in the whole scheme of things.

I do have power over my own attitude and actions, and I try to make them good ones. Gratitude helps me with both. Gratitude practice also helps me slow down in my mind, which creates a better environment for the daily unfolding of life.

Today I will pay attention to life unfolding as it was meant to.

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Unravel

Today I am grateful for sleep and a good night of it. I am also grateful for being able to write and type without pain. There are many who can't.

Today's word is unravel. To undo. To separate. I usually think of it as something good coming apart, so I tend to see it as a negative unraveling, an unwanted undoing. But the truth is that there are times when unraveling and doing over are the best routes to take. We all need and deserve do-overs in life.

This was the quote in my gratitude journal one day last week:

"Hem your blessings with thankfuless so they don't unravel." (Author Unknown)

Blessings would be something I wouldn't want to unravel. I have found that they can quickly do so, however, if I forget to be thankful, forget to appreciate each day's gifts, big and small. If I start taking those gifts for granted, the unraveling begins, the ungrateful attitude slips in. I get frustrated more easily. Other people frustrate me more quickly and I start judging everything and everyone too harshly, myself included. Talk about unraveling peace and serenity.

I am not good at sewing real hems, but I persistently keep hemming my blessings by acknowledging them through thoughts, words, and actions. Such a hem holds up well, even on tougher days.

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Tenacious

Today I am grateful for my job and the variety of experiences it offers. I am also grateful for my reading ability.

The second "t" word I have chosen is tenacious. Cohesive. Tough. Strong. And my favorite definition among the several in the Merriam Webster's Collegiate Dictionary was this one:persistent in maintaining or adhering to something valued or habitual. I am tenacious in my gratitude practice. I am tenacious in my recovery. I am tenacious in my running.

Tenacious in my relationships with family and friends too. That is what it takes to maintain healthy relationships-hanging in there through thick and thin, persevering and forgiving. That is what makes it possible to savor the joy those relationships bring. Relationships can't always be easy and times always happy. If they are too hard or too sad, the writing is on the wall. But even healthy relationships have tough stretches and hurt feelings. Riding those times out is what brings the cohesion, and a deeper level of joy.

I sometimes fear that our society and popular culture do a disservice to the work required for healthy and lasting relationships. There are too many messages that set the bar way too high for what a "perfect" relationship is and then too many messages that say if it isn't working out, leave and look for better. Sometimes leaving is the best option, but sometimes the beginnings of a wonderful relationship are thrown to the curb forever.

I close with the tenacious nature of the gratitude practice I continue to pursue. I have been keeping gratitude journals for over 18 years. I have 10 journals full of my messy handwriting and full of my gratitude. I have 600 blog posts in 22 months. I continue, I adhere to this practice, because it is something I value. I tend to value things that change my life for the better. Gratitude practice is on a short list of things that have changed my life the most.

What are you tenacious about in your life lately?

Monday, February 3, 2014

Tenuous

Today I am grateful for a nice phone conversation with my Aunt Helen. I am also grateful for sweat and endorphins to get me going this morning.

Tenuous is today's word. Some of the other words you will find in the definition for tenuous are slender, flimsy, weak, shaky. I like to use the word fragile. As in handle with care. Life is tenuous. If we don't treat it as such, we might lose it. If we treat it as such, we will still lose it, but hopefully we will have appreciated more along the way.

If I consider life to be tenuous, I give it more respect and care. My own and yours too. It doesn't mean I live cautiously all the time and barely leave my house. It means I try not to be foolish or reckless in my behaviors and choices. Life is fragile enough. Why add to it by drinking and driving, texting and driving, smoking, yelling at someone, not exercising, forgetting to be grateful, not taking the time to say "I love you," eating too many unhealthy foods, and so on?

This is when someone will usually bring up the futility of being careful all the time yourself because you can't guarantee what other people will and won't do. That drunk or texting driver may hit you or a loved one. That ungrateful person may be rude to you in the line at the store. Sure. We can't control other people and their actions. But I prefer to treat my life with care for as long as I have it. It may or may not extend my life in terms of years, but it already is extending my life in terms of daily quality.

When I think of tenuous and fragile, I invariably arrive at precious. Life is indeed precious. Treat it as such.

Sunday, February 2, 2014

Sobriety

Today I am grateful for a nice walk, first with my husband and then my son on a sunny, warmer day here. (Warmer means it made it over 20 degrees.) I am also grateful for peanut butter. It goes so well with so many things.

I return to the trip through the alphabet with a second "s" word: sobriety. Sobriety is defined by Merriam-Webster as the state of not being drunk, the quality of being serious. I prefer to refine that definition. For a recovering alcoholic like me, it is more than not being drunk, it is not consuming any alcohol at all. (Honestly, if I couldn't drink to get drunk, I didn't even want to start.) And though I strongly agree that sobriety is serious business, it doesn't mean it can't be fun and enjoyable. It is fun and enjoyable, and has the added benefit of no hangover.

Do I always feel like it is fun and enjoyable? No. But I do most of the time, and when I need a fix I can turn to the endorphins that exercise and chocolate can provide. Sobriety is also work, but daily work for a daily disease is doable.

I had my last drink of beverage alcohol on September 3, 1989. It was beer, though I couldn't tell you what kind it was. My physical sobriety started the next morning. Physical sobriety comes quickly. It is important and necessary, but I have found that I have needed to work harder to maintain my emotional sobriety.

Emotional sobriety is about making choices in my thoughts, words, and actions that won't bring harm to others or myself. The type of harm we are talking about here is usually emotional pain, frustration, hurt feelings. I get in my own way and then I lash out. Emotional sobriety is about acceptance and keeping my ego right-sized. Then I tend to be more loving and tolerant. I needed help to get started on my physical sobriety. Thanks to those who shared their concerns in the years, months, and weeks before I quit.

I need help to continue with sobriety. The help is there if I but seek it. For that, I am truly grateful.
 
 

Saturday, February 1, 2014

Post #600: Onward!

Today I am grateful for this blog and the outlet it provides for my writing energy and gratitude practice. I am grateful to anyone who has read any of my first 599 posts.

Today marks post #600! I am proud of that, but also humbled by what I have learned about myself and about gratitude over the last 22 months. Wow!

Writers write. Writers write to be read by others. Writers write to answer a call from within. Writers write because we have something to say. But also because we have something to learn. I have learned a lot about humility and ego since I wrote my first dozens of posts.They have been valuable lessons.I have also been shown clearly something I already knew: actions matter most. Thoughts are but a start. Action is needed. In life. In goals. In gratitude practice.

I have spent many hours over many months creating many blog posts. It starts with a thought and ends with hitting "publish." I am a better writer than I was 600 posts ago. I have a better understanding of gratitude than I did last year, last week. If I can relay even a portion of this passion to readers through these posts, that defines success to me.

There are few things that have taught me more than my two decades of gratitude practice. Even the biggies like marriage, motherhood, marathoning, cancer, and career have been better teachers through the lens of gratitude. My recovery from alcoholism and my spiritual journey have found direction via gratitude practice. If you are a regular reader you know that, in my opinion, gratitude is about so much more than giving thanks and good manners. It is a perspective, a life view. Do I plan to continue? You bet! The view is good and getting better. Why would I stop now? Besides, I haven't come close to running out of ideas to blog about. Onward!

If you would like to read my thoughts on the previous century marks I have reached on this blogging trek, read here and also click on the link in that post.

My blog may not be flashy or cutting edge in view, but the gratitude practice I proclaim and the benefits of it are cutting edge in research being done in the field of positive psychology. It works. It helps keep me healthier overall. My work on this blog, like my daily focus on gratitude, is solid and inspired, post by post, day by day. Thanks for stopping by. Have a nice day!