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Showing posts from May, 2014

The Many Facets of Flat

Today I am grateful for a chance to run into the sunrise this morning. I am also grateful for a family wedding that will bring many of us together this weekend.

Cancer treatment and surgeries were on my mind yesterday as I marked another anniversary post-diagnosis. From there, things went flat. As in a flat chest thanks to bilateral mastectomies in December of 2008. I had months to prepare for the mastectomies, but nothing can truly prepare you. I simply had to go through it and recover. That wasn't always simple or easy, but it was possible. I am here, healed, accepting my flatness. I chose not to have reconstruction and can tell you now that it was clearly the best option for me.

Flat may describe my chest terrain, but it does not fit with my outlook on life. I am motivated and inspired more often than not, but only because I have learned to tap into power sources beyond myself.

Speaking of flat, alcohol wasn't flat, it had fizz. (I never let it sit there long enough to get …

Six Years Out

Today I am grateful for my health and to be able-bodied and mobile. I am also grateful for the perspective that difficult life experiences can help bring to my consciousness.

In May of 1985, one disease had me. In May of 2008, a second disease entered my life. I hadn't asked to become an alcoholic and I certainly didn't ask to become a breast cancer patient. But there it was. One of my biggest fears becoming reality. Six years ago today I heard "You have cancer."

Two of my seven sisters had faced similar diagnoses in 2004 and 2006. We are among the fortunate, all three plugging along in life all these years later. There are no guarantees, for anyone, but I guarantee you that since May of 2008 I have had a different perspective on what "the promise of a new day" means.

It's like driving down the interstate and looking for the exit you want, but instead you have to veer off and take a different exit you really didn't plan to take. You feel lost and al…

464 Days

Today I am grateful for exercise and endorphins. I am also grateful for the smell of a good meal being prepared.

In early May of 1985, I made my first serious attempt to quit drinking. I had tried to quit before, after a particularly rough night or time or after I cut through my own denial enough to realize what shape I was in. Those attempts lasted usually only days or weeks, sometimes only hours. This time, thanks in part to the concerns expressed by my friends, as I spoke about in yesterday's post, the length I quit ended up being over a year. 464 days. But who is counting, right?

The fog cleared a bit and I felt good about being sober. At least I wasn't accumulating more hangovers, blackouts, unhealthy choices, and risky behaviors to add to my guilt and shame. Only years later did I realize trying to quit on my own was itself unhealthy and risky.

I confided in a few close friends during this time, but didn't talk to my family about it. I went to see a peer counselor a…

May of 1985

Today I am grateful for little reminders of recovery wisdom as I move through my days. I am also grateful for cool breezes on warm days.

In recent Mays I have been thinking more about May of 2008. That is when I was diagnosed with breast cancer. But May of 1985 is also significant in my life's experience. It was in early May of that year, while finishing up my sophomore year of college, that I had friends share their concern for my drinking. It wasn't the first time concern had been expressed to me. And I certainly had my own concerns. It was the first time, however, that I actually did something with that concern.

The semester had ended and having a party was appropriate. Getting very drunk before nightfall wasn't. I know my friends Deb and Zoe tried to talk to me that night. I blogged about Deb, who I refer to as "Lifesaver #2" in this post. I very much appreciate what Deb and Zoe both did for me at that time. It took strength and courage to confront me and I a…

Old Friends and New Beginnings

Today I am grateful for safe travels this weekend, the hospitality of my friend Faith and her family, and the happy celebration of my friend Deb's daughter's wedding.

Faith and Deb are old friends, as in we've known each other for over three decades. Old friends are wonderful friends to have. The history shared and the insights drawn from experience can be gotten no other way than over time. We met in our teens and are now approaching 50. That's plenty of history and ample insights. I am grateful our friendships have lasted and that we continue to make time for one another.

Congratulations to the newlyweds Tiffany and Cody as they begin their married life together. New beginnings are full of hope and excitement and they should be. I appreciated the pastor who led the service on Saturday. Her words and the way the vows were spoken reminded me of the importance of the vows I made to my husband Darcy nearly 16 years ago. I couldn't tell you the exact words, but they w…

Nerves In Bloom

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Today I am grateful for our front patio and the relaxing and observing I can do there. I am also grateful for my sense of sight.

Thanks to eyes that work, I can see this when I look out our living room window:



Spring is in bloom in Minnesota. It takes some patience, but it is sure worth it. My optic nerve makes the view possible and my olfactory nerve heightens the pleasure with fresh scents no perfume or spray can replicate. That these trees have the nerve to come back after the harshest, coldest winter in decades is a testimony to their nerves.

This nerve talk gets me thinking about the many, many other nerves in our wondrous human bodies. Millions and trillions of cells and neurons. Amazing! Absolutely amazing. Those nerves carry messages, signals, transmissions, sensations. And yes, some of those transmissions can be difficult or painful. But what about the myriad of messages sent every day, every hour, every second that keep our bodies moving and minds working? What about the joy…

Did I Write That?

Today I am grateful for the sensational smell of flowers and trees in bloom. I am also grateful for my husband Darcy and our strong marriage.

Another part of Dani Shapiro's Still Writing that resonated with me was how she sometimes feels removed, almost distant from her own writing when she is done with it. "Who wrote that?" I have known a similar feeling when I go back to read poems or essays. "That came from me?" Granted, it's easier for a poet to forget a few lines in a poem and less likely that a novelist forgets their plot line. But there's also a sense that when a piece of writing is done, it is done. Move on and get immersed in the next story, column, essay, post.

When I go back and read a poem or essay of mine and have this detached reaction, it tells me I did what I could, what I needed to do. I wrote what was meant to be written. That detached feeling may also be telling me I have made progress in moving beyond the emotions that came out as I …

Dani Shapiro's book "Still Writing"

Today I am grateful for the soothing sounds of our house in the early morning. I am also grateful for good books to read.

I just finished reading Dani Shapiro's most recent book Still Writing: The Perils and Pleasures of a Creative Life. It was the second of Shapiro's books I have read, the first being Devotion.  I really enjoyed Devotion, a memoir about her spiritual journey. I further enjoyed Still Writing. Dani Shapiro reminds me of one of my other favorite writers-Anne Lamott. Sense of humor. Unexpected zinger phrases. Genuine. I would love to chat over coffee with these two women. In the meantime, I will glean what I can from their work.

Shapiro wrote a lot about the solitary life of a writer and how we are driven to write by our creative ambition. How we need to write. It is what writers do. That resonates with me. Writing first saved me from my own toxic thoughts and emotions and now continues to take me to new levels of awareness about myself and the world around me.

S…

Post #700: Still Writing

Today I am grateful for humidity (but you won't hear me say that again this season) and I am grateful to be a writer and have this blog as a regular place to deposit my thoughts and words.

I have been depositing thoughts and words about gratitude here for over two years and today marks my 700th post. I am nothing if not persistent. I am also humbled. Quite humbled by what this blogging experience has taught me about writing, about the value of gratitude practice, and about myself.

In ways, I compose this 700th post in similar fashion to my first post. That first one, this one, and all the others in between speak to the effectiveness of applying a grateful approach to each day. I believed in the practice of gratitude long before I started this blog. But this blog has intensified the power of the practice, has helped me reach a deeper level of acceptance and calm with life as it unfolds. I handle life better on a daily basis today than I did two years ago.

The realization has sunk i…

Calming Waters

Today I am grateful for a better understanding of the disease of alcoholism. I am also grateful for rest for a weary body and mind.

The other day I wrote about running water and how I take it for granted. I also take my hearing and other senses for granted at times. I am reminded of how wonderful that sense of hearing is when I think about and listen to the calming sound water makes when on the move. I have especially been enjoying the sounds of the fountain on our front patio. Thanks Darcy for the little oasis you have again created for us in that space.

That fountain, the second one on our back patio, the rivers of our town, the racing waters of our local waterfall, the feel of warm water in the shower are all sources of calming water for me.

There is something timeless, seemingly effortless about the flow of water. There is something soothing in the movement and in the sounds made. The water has a purpose and seems to know it. That is my goal for each day. Know my purpose. Gratitud…

Clean Sheets

Today I am grateful for clean sheets, a washer and dryer to clean them in, and beds to put them on. I am also grateful for what others teach me about ongoing recovery from alcoholism.

This morning I am also grateful for the opportunity I had last evening to speak to a group of young people about alcohol, tobacco, and other drugs. Really, it was about making healthy choices, having healthy outlets, and what to do when concerned for a friend or family member. I hope I gave them some useful information. I know I gained more gratitude for being here, for having survived my own period of alcohol abuse.

Back to those clean sheets. It is usually on our weekend to-do list to wash the sheets and make the beds. It usually falls to me, but I don't mind. It is a task I have been doing since I was old enough to help as a kid. We make our beds every morning, but there's something refreshing about clean sheets, tight corners, and the smell of freshness. After a full day, it is nice to get in…

Life's Little Frustrations

Today I am grateful for time with my good friends Jill and Dorothy; time to catch up, time to just sit and talk. I am also grateful for the lessons available through life's little frustrations.

Some days things seem to roll along quite smoothly. Other days can seem riddled with glitches. Most days for most of us include some of each. What I have learned from practicing prayer, meditation, habitual gratitude, and trying to stay present in this moment is that I handle life's little frustrations much better when I am practicing mindfulness than when I am not.

Yesterday's little frustrations included a couple that had to do with coupons, just your basic coupons. If I would  have had one with me I could have combined one errand into two. I try so hard (too hard at times) to be efficient and hate to miss an opportunity. As it turned out, I got the coupon I wanted and still did that other errand, only to be frustrated that the coupon item had just sold out. The cashier literally …

Running Water

Today I am grateful for hugs from my son Sam. I am also grateful for the conveniences of life that I get to enjoy; like clean, running water.

We recently had the faucet in our shower replaced. The other one had corroded and eventually broke. When I stopped to count, we have five various faucets in our house that we use regularly, numerous pipes bringing water to and fro, outdoor spigots in the front and back of our house, and more.

Like electricity, running water is something I really appreciate but really take for granted on most days.

Growing up, we had one bathroom and just a tub until I was nearly a teen. I'm one of the youngest in the family, so that means a lot of years with a lot of people in a house and not a lot of bathrooms to go around. We managed. We survived. We have stories to tell.

Today we are spoiled. How convenient. How easy to turn on a faucet and get water. I get impatient when it takes a bit for the water to get to the temperature I want. Really?

What about th…

In the Hallway

Today I am grateful for the people and practices that help me "lighten my load" each day. I am also grateful for doors and windows of both the figurative and literal kind.

A co-worker shared this quote in an email recently:

"Until God opens the next door, praise Him in the hallway."  

I couldn't find who to attribute this original quote to, but there are obviously many people who like it.It was new to me when I saw it in the email. Thanks for sharing it Megan!

It reminded me of that pausing and paying attention that I often mention but also find hard to do, especially when I most need to. I am task-oriented from the minute I roll out of bed (though my husband Darcy jokingly says I catapult out of bed). I am grateful for my health, mobility, and energy level that all help me have productive days.

But productivity isn't always about getting things done, it is also about reflecting on things now done (accomplishments) and things yet to do (goals and dreams). Re…

Vaccine, Antitoxin, and Antiseptic

Today I am grateful for my favorite sweatshirt and for stain remover to help me get Sam's baseball pants clean after each game.

There are stain removers and there are the removers of germs, bacteria, and other dangers. Vaccines. Antitoxins. Antiseptics. I am grateful for all of these and how they have made the world a healthier, safer place.

The quote for today in my gratitude journal is:

"Gratitude is a vaccine, an antitoxin, and an antiseptic." (John Henry Jowett)

Jowett was an English Congregational pastor in the late 1800's and early 1900's. Such an effective pastor that churches in England and the U.S. practically fought over him. Think of the time he lived in and the vaccines, antitoxins, and antiseptics that weren't even discovered or available yet.

A vaccine is an injection to protect against a certain disease. An antitoxin is a substance formed in the body that counteracts a specific toxin. An antiseptic is a substance applied to living tissue or skin…

Celebrating Generosity

Today I am grateful for the early morning light this time of the year. I am also grateful for the many ways that others and life show me generosity each day.

The idea of "celebrating generosity" for today's post stems from a meeting I was at yesterday at my school. The term was used by a couple of different people as they spoke about recent fundraising success and what it means for us currently and for our near future. Celebrating the generosity of others means newer facilities, more opportunities and services for our students. I applaud those who have supported recent initiatives. I commend those with financial means who are generous and charitable. It is most appreciated.

From my perspective of habitual gratitude, "celebrating generosity" got me thinking about a few other things as well. Celebrating the generosity of:

*God (Higher Power, Universe) for the gift of life and for all of creation
*Mother Nature in all her magnificent ways
*the hearts of those who …

Oliver's Parents

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Today I am grateful for rain gear and a sense of humor for the rain gear we forgot at home as we sat getting wet at Sam's baseball game. I am grateful for my gratitude journal-the way it feels in my hands and as I write in it.

I am also grateful for our cockapoo Oliver. In recent days we have celebrated his birthday and Mother's Day. He got "frosty paw" treats for his birthday. He really enjoys those, rawhide, and pupperoni. It's fun to watch him get excited for these treats. It's just pretty much fun to watch him regardless of what he is doing.
He has his own personality and quirks, just like we do.

Since his birthday is right around Mother's Day, I often think of Oliver's parents and the gift they gave us. I wonder if, on some level, he misses his parents and siblings. But we quickly became his family. Darcy and I even refer to ourselves as "Mom" and "Dad" to Oliver. We really are like parents. We make sure he is well-cared for a…

Life's Puddles

Today I am grateful for a relaxing Mother's Day and for lessons taught by little things like rain puddles.

Yesterday we went for a bike ride. It was one of my wishes for the day. We had gotten some rain overnight and there were a few puddles on the trail. I try to avoid them because I don't want dirt up the back of my shirt. I don't want a mess or more work to do.

As we rode along, I noticed how many times Sam intentionally went right through the puddles. He went out of his way to hit them while I was going out of my way to miss them. I let him have his fun. Kids go through puddles. Kids laugh a lot more than adults do too. (One article I read said kids laugh on average 300 times a day, while for adults it is only about 20 times.)

I won't go into all of that discussion. Sure, we have more responsibilities. We need to be serious at times. I am just going to take a simple lesson from my son's simple act of riding his bike through puddles. Some puddles are meant to b…

To Be A Mom

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Today I am grateful for my mom and the many other moms who have shown me and taught me about motherhood. I am grateful for my stepchildren Arthur and Emily and my son Sam who give me the opportunity to nurture and support, and to learn and grow right along with them.
To be a mom is a gift, an adventure, a leap of faith, one tough job rolled into one highly rewarding one. It takes all that I have in me at times and gives back so much more at other times that my heart overflows.To be a mom requires patience, acceptance, love, tolerance, a sense of humor. It requires help, and I thank my husband Darcy for his.
Yesterday Darcy noticed this robin's nest in the picture below when he was out doing yard work. 


I took a quick picture and Sam took a quick look. We wanted to get back out of the way because the mother robin was close by and wanting to return to her job. That's what we do. Protect our young. Do for them what they can't do for themselves at first. And then we teach the…

Adding To The List

Today I am grateful for my husband Darcy; beside me in bed and beside me on our run this morning.

I am keeping it short and simple today. A blogger's prerogative. A gratitude writer's option.

Simply adding to the like list started yesterday:

-I like having time to catch up with my stepdaughter Emily.
-I like time for Darcy and I to talk about our day.
-I like ice cream. Actually, I really like ice cream.
-I like that the weekend lies ahead.
-I like the way the sun looked going down last evening.
-I like the way Sam's baseball league kicks off the season.
-I like the recliners in our living room.
-I like peas.
-I like peanut butter.
-I like being a mom.

Being a mom and a stepmom are so important to me. More on that tomorrow.

Trying a "Like List"

Today I am grateful for my job and the opportunities it presents for both professional and personal growth.I am also grateful for planks, sit-ups, and push-ups to wake my muscles up.

A recovery friend gave me something to think about the other day. A few of us were talking about gratitude and how we do a gratitude list. She said that a gratitude list felt too much like a duty to her and she preferred to do a "like list." That made some real sense to me. Taking time at the end of the day, or throughout the day, to note what you have liked about this day is a positive practice.

I tend to look at gratitude in a broader sense. What and who am I thankful for, not necessarily who I owe a thanks to. I do try to send notes, texts, emails, and give face-to-face thanks when they are called for, but for me gratitude is more about awareness than obligation.

Not everyone sees it like that. To some, gratitude can seem like a debt owed. If I am thankful for something or someone, I must be …

Gratitude as Fuel

Today I am grateful for my hair stylist Lori and the good job that she does. I am also grateful for other people who make part of their life's work spreading the word about gratitude as a healthy practice.

One such person is Steve Foran. He is known as "The Gratitude Guy" and is one of my readers. He was one of the first people to comment on my blog. He encouraged me to keep blogging and said every post counts. I appreciated hearing from someone I didn't know that my blog was making a difference. I have been watching his monthly musing videos ever since. They are short, usually between 1 1/2 to 2 minutes long, but they always carry a worthwhile message. He finds gratitude in the ways we often overlook, in the simple, mundane things of life. I love that. That is my kind of gratitude.

Watch his May, 2014 Musing video here. Hear how he uses a melted snow pile to make a point.Here are some of Steve's word from the video:

"Life is a gift, an amazing gift."

&qu…

Two Birthday Boys

Today I am grateful for my stepson Arthur and for our dog Oliver. They have both made a significant difference in my life and I thank each of them. I am also grateful for my five senses and that they are all in working order.

I am thinking of Arthur and Oliver today because it is the anniversary of their births. Arthur in 1991, Oliver in 2008. Arthur is now 23 and finishing up the first year of a rigorous master's program in dietetics and nutrition. I am proud of Arthur and how hard he works. He is driven and motivated. Sometimes I worry about how balanced his days may or may not be, but he is plugging along. I wish Arthur and I had more time to have conversations. I think we can learn a lot from each other (and enjoy the vocabulary prowess we both seem to think we have).

He and his wife Alyssa are closing in on one year of marriage already too. It gives me pause to consider what I was doing at 23. I was just starting in my chosen profession of teaching and continuing to coach, wh…

Mock Crash Gratitude

Today I am grateful for deliciously smooth Dairy Queen ice cream. I am also grateful for my job and the successful mock crash event held yesterday.

I don't often write about my job here, though I am indeed grateful for it in many ways. It is both challenging and gratifying, sometimes frustrating, sometimes rewarding. Yesterday was one of those gratifying and rewarding days, and also exhausting. But a good exhaustion.

If you aren't familiar with a mock crash, it is a staged crash with actors. The scene unfolds and actual law enforcement and emergency vehicles respond as they would in a real accident. My school's prom is later this week, and this is a powerful way to get the message across to not drink and drive, to make healthy decisions for yourself and others. Our mock crash included a fatality hauled away in a hearse, an injury taken away in an ambulance, and a drunk driver put in a police car after several field sobriety tests.The peer empowerment group I co-advise plan…

It Bears Repeating

Today I am grateful for the writing of Dani Shapiro and Madhulika Sikka. I am also grateful for the people who help teach me life's important lessons.

One of the main reasons I try to practice gratitude on a daily basis is that it helps me stay mindful and present. It helps me stay tuned in to the here and now. One of the main reasons I try to stay mindful and focus on living life one day at a time is that it works especially well for people recovering from addictions. Arguably, it works especially well for anyone who chooses to apply it, addict or not.

I first learned about this idea of "one day at a time" from my friends in recovery from alcoholism. I have been hearing it for nearly 25 years and I can say I finally understand it and strive for it. It is a message that definitely bears repeating.

Here are some of the mantras I call to mind to assist me in this endeavor of staying in today:

*Right here, right now.
*Just for today.
*Life is hard by the yard. By the inch i…

To My Siblings-All 12 Of Them

Today I am grateful for the fresh air and sunshine we enjoyed yesterday. I am also grateful for a phone conversation with my sister Danita.

Speaking of siblings, birthday wishes go out today to my eldest sibling; my brother Linus. Happy Birthday!

Speaking of siblings, I have 12. Seven sisters. Five brothers. I am #11 of the 13, the baby sister with my two younger brothers rounding out the baker's dozen. There is a 19-year span between the oldest and the youngest, so we were coming along pretty quickly and two of my siblings are even the same age for a few weeks.

I can't begin to wrap my head around the many pregnancies my mom experienced and what it must have been like for my parents to try to manage their brood. It wasn't unusual in the Catholic farm country we grew up in for families to be as big as ours.

We are mainly based out of northeast Iowa yet, where we grew up. But six of us call other states our home currently. With spouses, children, and grandchildren the famil…

Contributing Factors

Today I am grateful for sunshine. We sure missed it this week. I am also grateful for the many contributing factors that leave me feeling blessed and grateful this morning.

Just a few of those contributing factors include:

*It is our daughter-in-law Alyssa's birthday today. Happy Birthday!
*My step-daughter Emily had safe travels to and from New York City for her school trip
and saw many amazing  things in her first visit to the city I hope to see some day.
*Sunshine!
*A good run with Darcy this morning along the familiar and beautiful trails of our city.
*A  bike ride with Sam to a nearby park for his baseball practice; finally dry enough for them
to get out.
*A short run with our dog Oliver, which we both enjoy sharing.
*A quiet house.
*A good cup of coffee.

**And a big one I have come to appreciate on recent Saturday mornings: a text from my friend Brenda that gets the ball rolling with my group of high school friends corresponding back and forth. She started the texts after ou…

The Last Frickin' Thing (For Aileen)

Today I am grateful for my co-workers and their many contributions to all of us at my school, especially my retiring colleagues Mary Jo and Brad. I am also grateful for the morning's first cup of coffee.

My sister Aileen is one of my favorite writers. She doesn't hold back, pulls no punches. She doesn't mince words, she precision tunes them.Her words have a crisp clarity. She blogs with her friend Mary over at Poetic License: Poetry and Commentary on Current Events. Check out their blog here.

Aileen dedicated a recent post to me. I was flattered. Really I was. If my thoughts and actions surrounding gratitude, shared via my writing, inspires others, it is the best I can hope for. It is why this writer writes; to make a difference.

Here it is:

The Last Frickin' Thing (For Lisa)

The last frickin' thing
I wanted to do tonight
was be grateful.
But then,
out walking,
I spotted a dog
that made me smile
and the hard crust
of my day
cracked a little.

Darn gratitude works even when we…

A Sunny Disposition

Today I am grateful for sweat running down my face and the gift of physical mobility.

In our neck of the woods, we haven't seen the sun for days. It's been rainy and gray. We've seen some snow flakes and the wind was really strong earlier in the week. But I will take this. My heart goes out to tornado victims in several states and to places in Florida that had 20 inches of rain in less than 24 hours. It helps me keep perspective.

Still, the gloomy weather is wearing us down. Working in a school, the pent-up energy and the frustration from sports cancellations are palpable. We need some sunshine, and not just for the vitamin D. Is it possible to have a sunny disposition through all of this? Sure. But most of us can't muster it day after day. Maybe we can take turns to help each other through.

I wouldn't say I have a sunny disposition. Outgoing and vivacious don't seem to fit me. Energetic does though. I am not always smiling either, but I guess I smile more than…