"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, May 30, 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 flat.) But alcohol could have flatlined me. It could have killed me. A slow suicide was already underway. It did flatline me by this definition: to be in a state of no progress or advancement. I was stuck and not growing during my drinking years and early sobriety. Some days I can still get stuck, but my general direction is forward on the right path. For that I am truly grateful.

To round out the many facets of flat (pun intended), there are the hills and flat stretches I have run over the years. I appreciate the respite of the flats, but I also appreciate the challenge of the hills. And the hills bring more changes in view, just like gratitude practice does.

There's nothing flat about sincere gratefulness.

I will be taking a blog break until early next week. Have a good day and consider what life's flat stretches can teach you.

Thursday, May 29, 2014

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 alone, it's getting dark out, and if there are signs to guide you, you can't see them. That's what the first few days after my diagnosis felt like. Life had veered off the road I chose and now I needed to slow down, keep two hands on the steering wheel and two eyes on the road and proceed with caution.

I was blessed with wonderful support from family and friends, medical professionals I trusted, and a strong faith that was in place before my diagnosis and has only gotten stronger since. Today I am blessed to be living life fully. I try to be grateful for the gift of each day. It shouldn't take a cancer diagnosis to drive that point home, but too often we have to be shook up to wake up. Today, I will try to be awake and grateful.

To close, here is a link to my blog post one year ago today. It includes two poems about perspective.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

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 at the university I was then attending. I stayed involved in softball, I maintained good grades, and held a part-time job. My mistake was thinking all I needed to do was quit drinking. That is just the start. Alcoholism is a disease that reaches across all aspects of a person's being-physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual.

Being physically sober may help in some ways, but if the other three areas are ignored, not given due diligence, that is known as "a dry drunk" or "white-knuckling it." And it isn't fun or pretty. Consider this: alcohol was my escape and gave me a few hours here and there where I could turn my brain off long enough to stop beating myself up. Take away the alcohol and I had no escape. I was wound tight and full of sharp edges.

Months before I drank again I had started thinking about it. I convinced myself I was doing better and that I was strong enough now to just drink normally. (What a joke! I never drank "normally.")  464 days into my dry experiment I had a beer from my parent's basement refrigerator. Just one beer. Sitting alone at the kitchen table. To prove I could just drink one and be fine.

Trouble is, I wasn't fine. I was sick and had gotten sicker since I had quit drinking in May of 1985. Within a few weeks my drinking was as bad as it had ever been. I drank for three more years and somehow survived it. When I finally started learning about the disease of alcoholism I found out that it is a progressive disease. Untreated alcoholism gets worse, with or without alcohol. My 464 dry drunk days had shown me that. It was a valuable lesson on my path to recovery, very valuable.

It is a lesson I look back on as crucial in my life and recovery. I am thankful for such lessons, even if I only realized the lesson in hindsight. Many of life's most important lessons are like that, aren't they?

What life lessons are you grateful for today?

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

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 am so glad they did. Although I didn't remain sober for good at that time, their concern got a ball rolling that eventually led me to a place where I more fully understood that I needed ongoing help. Thank you so much Deb and Zoe!

They also knew that I probably wouldn't remember them talking to me that drunken night, so the next morning after I woke up on my dorm room floor, they shared their concerns again and encouraged me to get help. They had witnessed enough of my drinking and the emotional mess it made me. For the first time, I went to see a substance abuse professional. He told me I definitely had a problem and suggested treatment. But he never actually called me an alcoholic in our conversation.

By the time I was back on campus talking with Deb and Zoe, I needed to know: "Am I an alcoholic?" I called this man back and asked him, he said "Yes, you are an alcoholic." I didn't like hearing that. It sounded so serious, like a weakness, so final.  I certainly didn't understand the disease of alcoholism at that point and had much to learn. I told this counselor that I thought I could stop on my own. I proceeded to try that. It didn't work, but it was an important experiment in my drinking career.

More on that tomorrow. For today, I am thankful for Zoe and Deb and others who shared their concerns. It all helped me find the help I needed then and continue to need now. It has made all the difference.

Monday, May 26, 2014

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 were about commitment, patience, love, trust, working together, forgiveness, kindness. They are the basics of any healthy relationship. Basics do require work, but it is work well worth it.

It was good for me to hear the vows Saturday and remind myself that each day of my marriage to Darcy is also a new beginning. We have a strong marriage and we have things that we each bring to the partnership that are so good. We also each bring aspects of our humanness that can make for challenging moments too. Working through them with patience, love, and trust takes us to a new level, a new beginning in our relationship.

Best wishes Tiffany and Cody. Thank you Darcy for your commitment to us.

Enjoy the new beginnings that each day brings.

Saturday, May 24, 2014

Nerves In Bloom

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, elation, insights, wonder? It's incredible.

I will be thinking about all of those nerves and connections as Darcy and I head out on our long run this morning. I will be taking a blog break tomorrow and I am grateful I will be seeing friends I don't see often.

Enjoy the Memorial Day weekend and pause to especially thank all of those who have served our country and protected us.

Friday, May 23, 2014

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 was writing. There is still much to learn about myself as a writer. Thank you Dani Shapiro for being one of my many teachers.

Shapiro also talked several times about not dismissing the ordinary. Pay attention to the little things. That is my daily goal. Starting my day with a focus on gratitude helps me notice the ordinary. Then, I realize that the ordinary is anything but. The ordinary is the true stuff of life. The ordinary is where wonder and joy reside.

Today I will pay attention to the ordinary.

Thursday, May 22, 2014

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.

She also wrote about how we need to be patient with ourselves, with the creations that are brewing within. The more I write, the more I follow a routine and regimen-like with this blog-the more I understand the ebb and flow of my own writing. Some days the flow is strong. On other days it is more stagnant. But I trust both kind of days now and see them as necessary to my writing.

Similar to Shapiro, I prefer to start essays, columns, and blog posts in long-hand. Putting pen to paper is a connection for me that is hard to describe. It is natural. It is my heart flowing through my pen. I must admit that I do start more blog posts right on my computer these days, as it becomes more convenient, but I will always honor pen and paper. I was a writer first, a typer second.

Reading Still Writing made me feel part of a writing fellowship. More tomorrow.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

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 in that this is a source of energy, grace, wisdom, and humility that will never be tapped out. As long as I use gratefulness to pursue-in Brother David Steindl-Rast's words- "the great fullness of life," I will keep learning about myself and the world I live in. It may be cliche, but this truly is about the journey, not the destination. God willing, I will never arrive at the place where I think I can stop practicing gratitude. Just like I hope I never arrive at the place where I think I can stop doing the daily work needed to address my daily disease of alcoholism.

So I also compose this 700th post in different fashion from the first 100, 200, 300, or 400 posts. I don't pay as much attention to page views, number of comments or followers. I'm still writing, simply said, because I am a writer. What floors me the most about this blogging experience, something I could not have foreseen but sure makes sense in hindsight, is how very good I feel as a writer when I blog daily or almost daily. I am honoring the writing and the writer within. I am not waiting until I have time to write. I am making time to write. The action of writing about gratitude has given more power to the gratitude itself. Humbled. Graced.

Still writing. What a gift writing has been to me. Speaking of Still Writing, that is also the name of Dani Shapiro's latest book. I loved it and will share more tomorrow. Thanks and have a good day!

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

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. Gratitude practice first helps me find my purpose and then gives me energy to pursue it.

Monday, May 19, 2014

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 into bed with that kind of a welcome.

When I was growing up, I recall my mom having a system. We did laundry on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays. Different rooms got their sheets washed on different days. We hung the sheets outside on our clotheslines for as much of the year as we could. You can't beat the smell and feel of sheets dried in the fresh outdoor air. No fabric softener will ever be able to replicate that.

Another pleasant memory I have regarding clean sheets has to do with my son Sam. When he was little, he would "help" me make the beds. He especially liked to crawl under the pile of blankets on the floor and hide from me. It was our fun little game and it always brought smiles and laughter.

A bed with clean sheets and some pleasant memories to go along with them. Life is good. Have a nice day!

Sunday, May 18, 2014

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 said "the last two just left."  Aargh!

Life's little frustrations like hoping to make quick work of the grocery list and seeming to get in every slow moving/traffic jammed aisle the store had.

I used to have many days where things like this would have just been another excuse to add on a little more "poor me."  My perception would have become further skewed and my outlook more negative.

I can still have days like that, but they are fewer and farther between. And they don't last all day even when they do happen. Laughing it off, breathing in a little acceptance, keeping it all in perspective and not taking life or myself too seriously, all help. I found myself being patient and smiling with my fellow shoppers yesterday. I really didn't need to be in a hurry, so I slowed my pace and got things done in a more relaxed fashion. It still surprises me at times that this approach works and works well.

Practicing gratitude helps set me up to take life's little frustrations in stride rather than see them as obstacles.

Saturday, May 17, 2014

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 the large number of people on the planet that don't have access to safe and clean drinking water? I saw estimates ranging from 750 million to over a billion people. And well over a third of the world's population doesn't have access to sanitation facilities. In some locales, people spend an inordinate amount of their day getting water they need. That task often falls to women and children who may be putting themselves in harm's way for that water.

Spoiled indeed. The next time I turn a faucet on, I will be grateful for the gift of clean and convenient water. I will try not to take it for granted or waste it. What other obvious gifts can I pause to appreciate today?

Friday, May 16, 2014

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). Reflecting on lessons learned and direction in life validated.

As I think about it now, some of the most important things I have come to know about myself and this precious life I get to live and share with others were things I learned in the hallway. The door of "youthful sense of security" closed with my breast cancer diagnosis in 2008 at age 42. The hallway outside that door was sometimes dark and treacherous, but faith and support from others and my Higher Power kept enough light coming through to get me to the door of "new normal." My days in the hallway of cancer treatment and surgeries took much from me, but gave me gratitude, humility, and perspective I couldn't have found any other way.

When the door of my active drinking days closed in 1989, the hallway was brighter, clearer. But it was also a long, long hallway to the door of recovery. The cool thing about recovery is now I look forward to both doors and hallways because I know as long as I keep working on recovery, recovery will keep working on me.

Cancer and alcoholism were two big sets of doors, two complicated hallways. On a more simple note, each day offers doors and hallways. Some hallways have windows and light, others are dark and choices may seem risky. Either way, I try to have faith and do the next right thing. Things seem to work out. Not always the way I would have thought, but they work out. Life is like that. It works out each day.

Thursday, May 15, 2014

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 to reduce the possibility of infection.

Now, consider it from the stance of gratitude. If I inject myself with regular doses of gratitude and share with others too, I am less likely to contract self-pity, impatience, and various other forms of soul sickness. If I build up the levels of appreciation and gratitude I feel in my heart and soul, the poisons of resentment and self-pity don't have a chance to take hold. If I regularly apply gratitude in my daily life, the dirt and grime of "never good enough" and self-pity are washed away and rather than a harmful infection developing, a positive perception of self and surrounding world develops.

For me, self-pity is indeed disease, poison, and harmful bacteria all at once. It nearly killed me more than once. I guard against it today with regular attempts at appreciating the life I have, the people I love, and the day ahead.

What are your vaccines, antitoxins, and antiseptics?

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

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 love and support me, even when my actions are less than lovable
*each day we are given
*air to breathe
*all there is to learn-about others, about myself, about a myriad of topics
*this body, this human vehicle I reside in that allows me the mobility and energy that I so appreciate
*the dividends paid back to me through regular practice of gratitude

How will you celebrate and pass on generosity today?

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Oliver's Parents

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 and that his basic needs are met. We take him to the vet when he gets an ear infection. We give him love and nurturing. And yes, he's frustrated us at times with his behavior and we've had to punish him a few times when he was naughty (which consists of putting him behind a gate for "time-out.")

Like any child, he has taught us as much or more than we are teaching him. He teaches us about patience, unconditional love, not taking ourselves too seriously, the importance of naps.

We love him dearly and we can't picture our lives without him in it. Speaking of pictures, here he is:

I guess you could say we are proud parents. I am so grateful for Oliver's presence in our lives. Do you have a pet or memories of a pet from your childhood that bring a smile to your face?

Monday, May 12, 2014

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 be enjoyed, others avoided. Some messes are worth cleaning up because they were worth creating. Other messes, not so much fun to create or clean up.

Lighten up. Find things to laugh at. Share the fun. Let others know they can relax around you. These all seem like good goals to me. I think I will go look for some puddles to run through today.

Sunday, May 11, 2014

To Be A Mom

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 them to be responsible, independent, and self-sufficient. We teach them to fly solo and find their own way. And it is so bittersweet. We are so proud and so scared all at once.  

To be a mom is all of this and so much more. Happy Mother's Day! 

Saturday, May 10, 2014

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.

Friday, May 9, 2014

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 in their debt and owe them something and that feels like pressure and more to do. I appreciate that my recovery friend gave me some food for thought and a new technique. On those days when I am not feeling very grateful, because I am tapped out, a little resentful, or whatever, then I can try a "like list." It seems more palatable. Thanks for the wisdom!

Sure, they are close, a gratitude list and a like list, but if that small difference in approach allows you to become more aware of what is going well in your life, I'm all for it.

A "like list" is just recognizing what you are enjoying or have enjoyed about your day:

-I like that cup of coffee I had this morning.
-I like that song I heard on the radio when I was driving.
-I like seeing the green grass that will soon need to be mowed.
-I like that I didn't have to run an extra errand after work yesterday.
-I like the way our dinner tasted, and it was easy to make.
-I like the early morning quiet.
-I like that today is Friday.

Either type of list will have a similar effect, I believe. You will be left feeling better about the lot in life you have been dealt. You won't feel as alone or isolated. And that will change how you look at everything, how you react to everything. Gratitude, however you come by it, is a positive perception builder if there ever was one.

Thursday, May 8, 2014

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."

"It's what you do each day that determines your legacy, so begin each day by counting your blessings."

"Use gratitude as fuel . . . to make this world a better place." 

I fully appreciate his idea to use gratitude as fuel. Fuel to make a difference. I also consider it fuel for each of my days. If I start with some gratitude, I seem to tap into a better, more reliable source of energy to take into my day. That gives me more energy to be of service to others and that is one of my daily goals too.

Thanks Steve!

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

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, which I had been doing since I was 19. I was fairly new at being fully self-supporting; with my own car, apartment, and bills to pay. And I was still drinking. I appreciate that Arthur is more in tune to what he puts into his body than I was at 23.

And there's birthday boy #2: Oliver. He really is part of our family and we wouldn't have it any other way. He's a real charmer when it comes to me, so he had me wrapped around his paw early on. I marvel at how much I love that little guy and how much his presence in our home, our lives, and our hearts means to Darcy, Sam, and I. (Arthur puts up with Oliver when he visits. Emily has more of a soft spot for him.)

My blessings are many. The love I give and receive is plentiful. It is a good day.

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

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 planned and carried out this event with the help of our school resource officer. I am proud of their efforts.

There are many thanks to go out. Here's just a few: the students who planned and organized it, my co-advisor, the police officer who led the way on coordinating emergency response, the student actors, the students who helped with make-up, sound, and filming, our maintenance staff, my colleague in theater who helped with sound, those others who also borrowed us equipment or let us use space, all the law enforcement and emergency personnel who helped make this an event with impact, the wonderful speaker who talked to our students after the crash, the support of teachers and school administrators. And the list goes on. A concerted effort that made a concerted difference.

As the crash scene unfolded and the drunk driver began being questioned, I was reminded yet again of "But for the grace of God, there go I." I could have been that drunk driver responsible for someone else's death many times over. I shudder to think about that now. And I pause in deep gratitude that I survived my drinking days and so did the other people sharing the road at the time.

Monday, May 5, 2014

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 it's a cinch.
*Mindfulness over mind-fullness.
*ODAT (shortened version of one day at a time).
*Take it one day, one hour at a time.
*Pay attention.
*Just breathe.

One of the daily meditation books I read focused on this idea last week. In the words of Melody Beattie:

"We can do anything. Just not all at once."

"Thank God for the ability to break life down into days."

As I said, I have been hearing this idea for nearly 25 years. It is only in more recent years that I feel I might be getting better at actually staying in today. Gratitude practice is a big part of this for me. If I am paying attention to my current gifts, I am aware of the present moment. I am also less likely to be full of worry and fear, which are real robbers of mindfulness when they take hold.

One blessing at a time. One day at a time. Both bear repeating. And repeating.

Sunday, May 4, 2014

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 family that began in 1950 when my parents got married is now closing in on 100 members.

Here are a couple of things I am thinking about this morning. Among us, we have had our share of physical and mental health concerns, concerns for our own children and their lives, setbacks of a wide variety. But from my vantage point, it sure seems like we have persisted, that we have weathered the challenges pretty well.

We have also accomplished a wide array of feats; with our jobs, our own families, our hobbies, our service to our communities. We are hard-working folks with a good set of values.

It wasn't always easy growing up in such a large family, and we all lost out on important nurturing. But we also have many pleasant memories of those formative years too. I recall our long kitchen table with a bench on either side, Mom on one end, Dad on the other, and our baby brother in the high chair by mom.  Soon some of the siblings were going out to begin their own lives. I wouldn't say we are the closest of families, but we all get along. No one is an outcast or unwelcome. That is pretty special.  For that, and for all of my siblings, I am truly grateful.

Saturday, May 3, 2014

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.
*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 our time together in Lake City in late March. I look forward to them and marvel at the wisdom, humor, resilience, and compassion of these women I am thankful to call friends.

What is contributing to your gratitude today?

Friday, May 2, 2014

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 are stuck in ingratitude. Even when the hard crust of our day makes us a little hard and crusty. And we all have days like that. Gratitude practice doesn't prevent the hard crust from ever developing, but I believe it keeps the crust from becoming impermeable, it keeps us softer. Plain and simple, gratitude practice works.

Even when Aileen wasn't feeling appreciative, she walked out her door, taking action. She saw with eyes that can see. Not everyone is blessed with sight.

Thank you for helping crack my hard shell too Aileen!

Thursday, May 1, 2014

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 frown on most days. Maybe that is a sunny disposition. Maybe it does rub off on those around me.

Maybe my outer disposition doesn't qualify as sunny, but when I think about it, my inner disposition does. A lot sunnier than it was in the first 25 years of my life. When I stopped hating myself and started getting help for my drinking problem, things got sunnier. When I started practicing gratitude on a regular basis, things got sunnier. My perception of self and surrounding world brightened. It continues to be bright when I stick to positive habits like exercise, gratitude practice, spiritual endeavors.

My face may not always reflect that sunny disposition, but my heart and soul do when I do the work I need to do.