"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

Monday, June 30, 2014

Now and Here

Today I am grateful for the never-ending supply of words in our vocabulary and the fun it is trying to put different ones to use. I am also grateful for conversations that help bring clarity.

This was the quote in my gratitude journal yesterday:

"No longer forward nor behind 
I look in hope or fear; 
But, grateful, take the good I find,
The best of now and here."  
(John Greenleaf Whittier)

Whittier was a poet and abolitionist who lived from 1807-1892. His words above fit nicely with Fear's Antidote here, a post I just wrote a few days ago. Hope and fear live in the past and future. Gratitude lives in the now and here.

Now and here. Today we tend to use here and now. I like now and here. Just changing the order up makes me pause and pay attention. That is precisely the point. Now and here I am grateful for awakening to a new day and appreciating the opportunity to look for the good.

Sunday, June 29, 2014

10,000 Steps

Today I am grateful for a clean house, food in the refrigerator, and a roof over our heads. I am also grateful for the 10,000 steps I took yesterday.

Some days I wear a pedometer to track my steps. I will put it on the morning and wear it throughout the day. I might wear it on a day I am taking a run, but I typically wear it on a day I am not running and give myself a goal of 10,000 steps.

Here are some of the ways I reached that goal of 10,000 steps yesterday:

*I walked Oliver (our dog) several times
*I made many trips up and down the stairs while cleaning and vacuuming
*I made several more trips on those same stairs while doing laundry
*when I ran errands, I parked farther from my destinations
*I did some shopping and walked the aisles of the store
*my husband, son, and I took a short walk to a local restaurant for dinner

I am a little obsessive about my step count when I wear my pedometer, but I call it a healthy obsession. I will gladly take some extra steps to add to my count. It all also adds to my gratitude list. Being able-bodied and alive, walking with ease and pain-free, having a house to clean, appliances that work, clothes to wash, a dog we love, family I love and have near, money to shop with, a car to run errands and carry purchases in. The list goes on.

And in those 10,000 steps, one of my favorite reminders. Life is lived one day at a time. Steps are taken one at a time.

Saturday, June 28, 2014

So Simple, So Profound

Today I am grateful for the many blessings I have already noticed since awakening. I am grateful for my friends Dorothy, Jill, and Betsy and how they help keep me grounded.

Blessings. They abound in our days. I woke up, opened my eyes, got out of bed, started a new day. All blessings. All simple, daily things I take for granted. All profound. Take any one of those off the previous list and things are very different.

When I notice my blessings I am more poised and calm. When I am poised and calm, I am of better service to those around me and a better contributor to the world in general. I am blessed to be a wife, mother, stepmother, friend, recovering alcoholic, cancer survivor, writer, runner, counselor. Recognizing each as a significant blessing helps me be more humble and I believe more effective at each. That's my goal anyway.

Feeling blessed allows us to pass along blessings. To those we live with, but also to fellow humans we don't know but we encounter at the store or on the walking path. The more blessings recognized, the more kindness and compassion shared with others. So simple, so profound.

One of my life's most profound but simple blessings is living one day at a time, staying mindful in this day.It takes practice and it takes work, but when I am able to stay present in the moment, the blessings seem to keep flowing.

Blessings. They abound in our days. Look for them in your life today and pass them along.

Friday, June 27, 2014

Fear's Antidote

Today I am grateful for tower fans and electricity to operate them. I also appreciate gratitude as antidote-not only to self-pity, but also to fear.

One of the greatest rewards of gratitude practice for me is that it keeps my old pal self-pity at bay. I used to find it comfortable in that morass, mired in the muck of negative, defeating thoughts. Gratitude practice has been my way out. It has brought me light and open windows and hope.

I realized more recently, with the help of recovery friends, how effective gratitude is as an antidote to fear as well. My fears, big and small, all stem from two areas: fear of losing someone or something I already have in my life or fear of not getting something I want. A loved one leaving, having health issues, or dying. Cancer returning and my health and fitness being lost. Never getting a book published. How to pay for Sam's college education. Having sobriety and recovery slip away. Those are some of my fears. Some are rational and normal. Others take on an irrational tone when I ponder them for too long.

Enter habitual gratitude practice. When I live in gratitude, when I pause and am aware of my daily gifts, I am shown that I have enough. I am told that I have what I need. It calms me down. Gratitude gives me faith. It keeps me present in this moment and in this day. All of these things combine to placate the fear and help me move forward.

This bears repeating, for my sake, even if you already got it. When I am grateful, I have less fear. The gratitude allows my focus to be on what I have, not what I wish I had. The gratitude allows me to enjoy the people and things in front of me rather than getting spun up in my head with fear that I will lose them.

Fear is all about getting ahead of ourselves. Gratitude practice creates a calming presence. That is the key. I appreciate that my gratitude practice continues to teach me and reach me in new ways.

Is gratitude an effective antidote in your life?

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Where Is The Poet?

Today I am grateful for our dog Oliver's playfulness and the joy he brings us. I am also grateful for a morning bike ride with Darcy.

I churned out two poems yesterday and it felt good. I have spoken before about why I believe I write less poetry these days. My writing gets honest energy almost daily through this blog and also monthly through a column I write for our local newspaper, also on the topic of gratitude. I have found a new voice, thanks to many factors, and that voice speaks more in essays now than poems. I am grateful for this new, more confident and wordier voice. But I still love a poem and how it is birthed, usually after a fairly brief gestation.

Here is one of the poems I wrote yesterday:

Where Is The Poet?

She is in
The opening lines
And closing words
Of blog posts
She is in the flow
Of a local
Newspaper column
She is still here

Where is the poet?
She is in the first steps
And final footfalls
Of a long run
She is in the moment
Of morning coffee
On the front patio
And a hug with her
Growing son
She is still here

Where is the poet?
She is still here
Just less in free verse
And more in
The full verse
Of living life

Here in the full verse of living life. I am grateful for the opportunities this day presents. Onward!

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

These Hands

Today I am grateful for my hands, my fingers, my opposable thumbs. I am grateful for all the many tasks made easy by my working hands.

Consciously focusing on gratitude helps me take less for granted, take more of life as the gift, as the grace it is. I was reading someone else's words of gratitude about their own hands and it quickly got me thinking. I am trying to type this now without using my thumbs and it is obvious how much slower, more deliberate, it makes me. I tried to cut up an apple without using either thumb, then just using one. Wow! A short exercise like this sure helps me see the challenges that people with disabilities or missing body parts must face. I only touched the surface of that realization and I did it by choice.

There is tremendous value in complaining less and appreciating more. Complaining about all the work I need to do quickly becomes an exercise in gratitude when I realize how fortunate I am to have things to do, and hands to do them with.

And having to be more deliberate is certainly not all bad. In fact, deliberating is vastly underrated in our society today. We want everything quickly, we expect it. It is a sign of progress when things are quicker, more convenient. Or is it? With too much at our fingertips, are we forgetting to use the hands those fingers are connected to for good labors? I think so. It is one of the goals of this blog, for me and for readers, to more readily see that the joy is in the work, the daily grind.

Today I will appreciate my working hands. I will look for opportunities to use them for good.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Filed Away

Today I am grateful for the cool morning air that awaits Darcy and I as we head out for a run. I am also grateful for time to clean and clear away the clutter in my office at work.

Just like at home, I tend to  be a saver at work too. I will file papers away for future reference or use. And many times, those files will get pulled out, used, and be helpful. If for no other reason than to remind me what was done last time, or what wording we used in a letter or other correspondence. Of course now our files are less paper and more online, but I think I will always be one who prefers to keep hard copies of what I deem important. I can't quite put all my faith, and all my documents, entirely on a computer or in "the cloud."

We have been in transition at my job over the last several years for a variety of reasons. It has been a different kind of busy and has even felt chaotic at times. I didn't have time to keep things as organized or tidy as I would like. Slowly, the clutter filled file cabinet drawers, existing shelf space, drawers in my desk. The clutter creeped into new spaces and I sort of got used to it. I certainly didn't feel like I had time to clean or purge files because of everything else I needed to do.

This spring, after clearing some clutter at home, I got inspired to do so at work. With a colleague retiring, some flooding in our office area, and being asked to move materials from a storage area because of teachers needing the space with room remodeling taking place, I got the cleaning bug. Some of it was out of necessity, but now I am seeing the value. Not only in more space being cleared up, my desk top being less cluttered, which helps me operate better, but also because of some curriculum work I am doing for the next school year. Sure, some of the things I kept have now become dated and have been thrown. But other things will actually be used after I hauled them here from my elementary counseling days over 14 years ago.

There is some gratitude in all of this. Gratitude for the wealth of experience and knowledge I have gained in my current job and previous ones as well. Gratitude for time to do some cleaning. Gratitude for some new things to look forward to with the upcoming school year.

And a reminder that there is one thing I never plan to file away and forget about--habitual gratitude practice.

Monday, June 23, 2014

Feelin' Stronger Every Day

Today I am grateful for Darcy's safe travels over recent days and for the simplicity of exercises like push-ups and sit-ups that require little space and no equipment.

One of the songs I heard while on my run Saturday was one of my all-time favorites-Chicago's Feelin' Stronger Every Day. Listen to it here on YouTube. It was the first single released on the Chicago VI album in June of 1973. I like many Chicago songs, but this one, written by Peter Cetera and James Pankow, tops the list.

It struck a chord with me, even as that self-conscious and inhibited preteen I mentioned yesterday. The words, the music, the lively punch behind both, have always been able to get me fired up. But the song really became meaningful for me when I was just turning 20 and giving my first good effort to quitting drinking. It was like my own little pep talk, but a lot peppier than I could muster on my own.

The opening lines were words I said to myself, from myself: "I do believe in you and I know you believe in me." Later in the song the line "After what you've meant to me I can make it easily" were words meant just for my old buddy alcohol. Ever since then, the song always brings a smile and a fist pump, usually a figurative one, but a fist pump nonetheless.

I wasn't able to sustain my sobriety at that point. It lasted 464 days. Read more about that here in a post from a few weeks ago. But those 464 days made a difference in my journey. The song made a difference in my days. And I learned I would need more than myself to believe in. That was vitally important and remains so today.

Habitual gratitude practice helps me feel stronger every day too because it gives me energy. It doesn't zap it like self-pity, worry, and fear can. If you haven't tried it, I encourage you to start a list of your own, write a letter of thanks to someone, go for a gratitude walk. Take some action. I bet you will feel stronger.

Sunday, June 22, 2014

A Solo Run

Today I am grateful for time with my son Sam, the wisdom other people in recovery share with me, and a couple of rain-free days.

Many Saturday mornings find my husband Darcy and I out on a training run together. I love that we share this commitment to running, staying active, and eating healthy. Those Saturday morning runs are a good time for us to talk, catch up on the week, discuss what lies ahead--literally on our route and figuratively in our lives. Sharing the hobby/lifestyle of running with Darcy is a deep and consistent source of gratitude for me.

But I have also always enjoyed solo runs, and I had the opportunity for one yesterday morning. I am an introspective sort, and solo runs give me time to clear my head, let my thoughts go where they will, listen to music, notice my surroundings differently than when I am running in stride and conversation with Darcy. Time to myself is always appreciated.

Yesterday's run got me thinking about the saving grace that running has always been for me. From a self-conscious and inhibited preteen who discovered she was good at running, to a young adult with hangovers and tortured thoughts who could run back to some sense of sanity, to a cancer patient healing and moving forward on tough post-chemo and post-surgery days. It needn't be a tough time or emotional challenge though for running to be my saving grace. I always feel better after a run, even if I am tired.

I was treated to nice weather and some good music as I listened to a replay of the "American Top 40" that a local radio station does every Saturday. They were doing an extra tribute to Kasey Kasem as well. I heard some songs that get me fired up. More on that tomorrow.

Whether solo or with Darcy or others, I appreciate every run I have had and I look forward to my next one.

Have a good day!

Saturday, June 21, 2014

A Persistent Peony

Today I am grateful for my husband Darcy and the difference he makes in my life in so many ways. I am also grateful for family history. It can be painful, but it also brings simple joys. 

This is a picture of a peony blooming. We have it planted in our backyard. It didn't bloom at all last year, and this year we were concerned because of the extreme winter we had. But this one in the picture was just one of several blooming flowers we were treated to.



Here is the story of this peony plant, as my husband recalls it. His paternal grandmother, Alta, wasn't a big flower person, but she planted three peonies under the picture window of the house she and Darcy's Grandpa Matt lived in when Darcy was a teenager in the early 1980's.  Alta died in 1995. The peonies kept coming up, but Matt didn't take care of them. They were persistent all on their own. When Darcy's grandpa moved to assisted living in the mid-2000's, the house was sold and actually moved to Nebraska.

In May of 2006, on a visit to the farm, Darcy noticed the peonies coming up through the thistles and weeds. He had nothing to dig them up with or carry them in, but decided that he would bring a shovel and a pail on our next visit and if the peony was still alive, we would bring it back here and transplant it. We returned that August and the plant was barely hanging on. We brought it back to our house and planted it.

The next spring, it had one flower bloom. Darcy says that was his grandma saying hi. Since then it has had good years and tough years, just like the rest of us. But it is a nice reminder of Darcy's family and the plucky persistence of living things that want to keep on growing.

Friday, June 20, 2014

Offline

Today I am grateful for a visit from my sister Zita and our mom. Thanks for making the trip up and I enjoyed our time together!

I continue to keep in my thoughts and prayers those who are suffering Mother Nature's dark side this week with flooding, tornadoes, and the other problems that come with heavy rain and strong winds.

I am also grateful for lessons and reminders that life sends our way whether we are seeking them or not. I took an unexpected blog break for a couple of days because our Internet was down. Someone accidentally cut a fiber optic cable to create the initial issue. I was busy with other things too, like having visitors. When things weren't back up yesterday, I made a phone call to our provider. It was a good lesson in humility. I feel pretty tech un-savvy and it showed. I don't understand all of the factors involved here, or all the various wires and cords that plug in to various places. Couple that with a fear of really screwing something up and I get flustered easily.

A nice, patient woman in tech support talked me through unplugging the power and another cord, waiting 30 seconds, then plugging them back in. It worked. She was even apologetic that she hadn't mentioned earlier that when there is an outage, you want to cut power and reboot. Maybe everyone else knew that. Maybe I knew that in the recesses of my tech un-savvy mind. But I didn't think of it, and neither did my husband. No harm done. Lesson learned. I even wrote down the steps to take so we are prepared in the event of another outage.

I kind of enjoyed being offline and disconnected. It freed up some time and reminded me that I do spend a fair chunk of time online. I try to keep it productive, but sometimes get pulled into things I really don't need to spend time on. When connected, I need to be selective in what I give my energy. That is true of technology, but also life in general. Being disconnected is also of value, both technologically and in life overall. In fact, sometimes "going offline" for a while is the healthiest approach.

I am grateful for these reminders and grateful for an appreciation of both my online and offline pursuits.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Not Junk

Today I am grateful for understanding and laughter among friends. I am also grateful for time to clean files and make more room for new materials in my office at work.

One of my favorite ways to describe ongoing recovery from alcoholism is "my journey of self-acceptance." I don't know another alcoholic or addict who wasn't their own worst enemy, who didn't beat themselves up on a regular basis. But I can only speak for myself. I hated myself. I always felt "less than" and never good enough in my own eyes. I figured that was the way the rest of world saw me too, so self-pity was a natural by-product. Self-pity clouded my perception of self and surrounding world and kept me stuck for a long time. Alcohol offered a respite from my private hell, even if only temporary. But alcohol added to the self-hatred in many more ways.

Stopping drinking is only the start of recovery. The rest is learning to live life and love self. I had to change my way of thinking and I needed help. I still do. Other people on the same journey help me. People who know me and love me as I am help me. And a Higher Power helps me. God. Universe. Creator. You can call this power whatever you want. What truly matters is that I believe in that power and that I realize it is beyond me, greater than me.

Recovery has been a process for me and I have been a slow learner in many respects. That is okay, as long as I am heading in, or at least facing in, the right direction. Recovering people will often talk about their ego getting in the way, how they thought they could control everything, how giving up was a weakness. But I hated myself. How could I have an ego issue? Over time, I learned that spending a lot of time thinking about yourself, whether those are positive or negative thoughts, is a function of ego. Such thoughts, in my case negative and demeaning, crowded out a Higher Power.

When I was about five years sober, I found some clarity on this, with the help of others. I always thought ego meant you felt you were better than others, and I came to learn that in ways I did operate that way. Why don't you do it my way? If you would just hear me out, you would see how much sense I make.

But I primarily struggled with the opposite-feeling unworthy, unlovable, always feeding that self-pity that plagued me. Someone pointed out that whether you think you are better than others or worse than others, those are both ego because "God doesn't make junk." That really struck me and made sense. It's not okay to think you are better than others, but it's also not okay to think you are worthless. It helped me see that my ego had indeed been crowding out a relationship with a power beyond myself. Doors began opening and today I continue to work on building a relationships with God and my fellow humans. For this opportunity, I am truly grateful.

Monday, June 16, 2014

The Meaning of Educated

Today I am grateful for my formal education, but also the ongoing informal education I get each day as I try to live life fully.

As I remembered my dad on Father's Day, I thought about how he was formally and informally educated. He only went to school through the 8th grade and then went to work on the family farm. That was not an unusual scenario at the time. But I always consider my father to have been an educated man. Informal education is just as important as formal. Experience is one of the best teachers. Dad knew a lot about farming, animals, crops, machinery, the weather and much more. He learned it all through on-the-job training.

Dad also kept up on current events. He read newspapers and magazines regularly. He watched and listened to the news. He showed interest in the broader world and passed along that interest to me, the one who taught social studies classes for 10 years. I think most of my siblings followed his example and try to keep up on the news at least some.

His formal education was limited. His informal education never ended. It reminds me not to get too hung up degrees and credits, but rather to consider what I am learning and applying in my life daily. My formal education took me to a Master's of Science in Guidance and Counseling. That formal education helped me into a job that is a good fit for me and I am grateful for both the degree and the job. But it is my informal education day-to-day that teaches me so much about doing the next right thing, about being a good person, about being a contributing member of my family, my community, and the larger world.

Formally or informally, I am open to learning today. Have a good day!

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Reflecting on Another Father's Day

Today I am grateful for the memories I have of my own father and the 33 years he was in my life. I am also grateful that I have a spouse who makes parenting as much a priority as I do.

My father died suddenly at age 74 in 1998. I never had a chance to say goodbye like someone who sees an ill parent through their final days, but part of me appreciates that I didn't have to see him decline and suffer. In the nearly 16 years since he died, I have thought often of his sense of humor, his work ethic, the way he joked with my mom as only he could. I have thought about the kind of man and father he was. 

Many things were left unsaid and things that should have been discussed weren't when I was growing up, but that was typical of my parents' generation. My dad worked very hard, but he also knew how to have fun and relax. He loved playing cards. He liked watching pro wrestling. He always read the newspaper. He loved ice cream. He loved visiting. He went to countless ball games and events for his children and grandchildren and was nothing but a supportive spectator. If my dad was judgmental, I sure don't recall hearing it much. I try to continue this good-hearted legacy of his, and I let my son know that his Grandpa Art would have loved to see him playing ball or driving tractor like Sam did a couple weeks ago.

I looked back on my first two Father's Day blog posts and I know that I am repeating myself when it comes to my husband Darcy. But it bears repeating. Of the many things I respect about him, his commitment and dedication to being a good father to all three of his children are always high on the list. It has not always been a smooth road for Darcy as a father, but he has never wavered. And I am glad to have him by my side as we raise our son together. Thanks Darcy!

Happy Father's Day Darcy and to all the dads out there. Enjoy your day! 



Saturday, June 14, 2014

A Calmness

Today I am grateful for good books to read, time with recovery friends, and the wisdom they share.

Yesterday's quote in my gratitude journal was "There is a calmness to a life lived in gratitude, a quiet joy."  Thank you Ralph H. Blum for that quote.

Calmness and joy are terms probably defined a little differently by each one of us. I would define calmness as a quiet mind and a sane pace to both my thoughts and actions. Joy is tougher to define because it is ever-evolving. I guess I would define it as being content in the present moment. And since the present moment is never repeated, there are endless sources of joy. Yesterday it may have been the way Oliver (our dog) stretches himself before we go out for our morning walk. The day before it may have been sitting in the warm morning sun on the patio with my husband enjoying a cup of coffee, or hearing my son's laughter.

Calmness and joy are also relative terms. If calmness and chaos are different ends of a continuum of one's state of mind, I reside closer to calmness these days and further from chaos. I still dabble in chaotic thoughts, but I don't live in them like I used to. I agree with the quote. Gratitude keeps me calmer because gratitude soothes my thoughts. Instead of spinning thoughts about poor me and how the world is out to get me, I weave a web of things to be grateful for and I feel supported-by those around me and the larger world.

Joy is no longer elusive to me, but it is also not a constant state. If it were, how would I appreciate it fully? We will all have struggles, challenges, frustrations, and hurts. They are part of life. I have learned to look for the little joys, the daily ones that are always there. I just need to be open and aware. That is where gratitude practice sets me up in the right way. Calmness and joy are the result of gratitude practice for me. Onward!

Friday, June 13, 2014

Mowing the Lawn, Preparing the Meals

Today I am grateful for life's simple duties and pleasures. I am grateful to see that a duty can be a pleasure if I apply some gratitude.

Yesterday morning I mowed our lawn. I have always enjoyed mowing lawn, but our son Sam has taken over some of those duties so I hadn't mowed yet this season. I enjoy mowing more than he does, so when the urge struck me to do the mowing this week, we were both happy. It was a cool and breezy day so the conditions were comfortable. I seem to like tasks where I can clearly see my progress, and mowing grass certainly fits.

Yesterday I also did some grocery shopping, made Sam's breakfast and made the three of us dinner. These are more enjoyable tasks when I am not feeling hurried or harried, or exhausted from a day of being at work. I appreciate the different pace my days can have over the summer.

Mowing the lawn and preparing some meals helped me create this gratitude list:

-having a lawn to mow and a mower that works
-being physically able to do the mowing
-enjoying the fresh air
-having a family to prepare meals for
-having money for groceries
-having a car to make it convenient to get groceries and get them home
-appreciating our kitchen that has what we need to make meals
-enjoying a meal together

Applying some gratitude turns drudgery and duty into simple joys and appreciation. How many times have I mowed the lawn, got groceries, or made a meal and took it all for granted?  Gratitude practice slows me down and puts me in a place where I am less likely to take today's gifts for granted. Then, I appreciate those gifts and this day all the more.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Temptation's Lessons

Today I am grateful for a nap and an understanding that temptations will pass.

Temptation is defined as a strong urge or desire to have or do something. Many temptations, if we succumb, are considered detrimental to us. An alcoholic trying to quit drinking who gives in to an urge. A smoker trying to quit who smells someone else's cigarette and says "to heck with it" and lights up too. Or maybe it is the temptation of spending time with someone that for whatever reason we are better off not spending time with.

Temptations can be especially strong when we are at our weakest. An alcoholic in his or her first days or weeks of sobriety may get fixated on a drink, develop a one track mind, and get drunk again. In my drinking days it really wasn't the drink I was fixated on as much as the feeling that came with intoxication. The escape from my self-hatred.

A person trying to lose weight and in the early days and weeks of healthier eating may be sorely tempted by some of his or her old favorites. My strongest food temptations usually involve sugar, with ice cream and chocolate topping the list. I succumbed to the temptation for a pint of Ben and Jerry's ice cream just the other night.

Temptations are relative. Some are more dangerous than others. Keep them in perspective. I didn't beat myself up over that pint of ice cream. I enjoyed it and then went to bed. If I were to succumb to the temptation of an ice cold beer on a hot day, the story would be different.

I find it easier, easier being a relative term as well, to avoid the temptations of my former addictions to alcohol and nicotine than it was for me when I first quit. Part of it is knowing from experience that a temptation passes. "This too shall pass" is a common recovery phrase. Doing something healthy like going for a walk, calling a friend, writing some feelings down, or drinking a glass of water can all help an urge pass.

The temptation I need to avoid these days is this little voice that sometimes tells me I don't have to keep working on my recovery, that I don't really need to keep up my daily gratitude practice. That little voice tries to convince me I have it figured out now. Wrong!

What I have figured out is that daily work for a daily disease works best. That regular gratitude practice provides ongoing benefits. If it ain't broke, don't fix it. Keep on keeping on!

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Open the Windows

Today I am grateful for fresh air and the smell of mowed grass. I am also grateful for a working nose to enjoy both.

We upper Midwesterners like to complain about the weather . . . a lot. It's too cold in the winter. It's too hot and humid in the summer. The moderate seasons with the most pleasant days-spring and fall-are too short or nonexistent. Blahblahblah! It's always something. Today I would like to say thanks to Mother Nature and the other powers that be. We have had some downright pleasant days lately.

The kind of days that you can leave windows open all day and sleep well at night because it cools off nicely.The kind of days where you can drive with the car windows down and be comfortable. All those open windows allow me to smell the freshly cut hay or grass, the flowers that are taking their turn to bloom, and much more.

Open the windows and enjoy today.

I also had a brief interaction at the grocery store yesterday that brought a dose of gratitude my way. I stopped after work to pick up a couple of things. At the checkout, when the woman ahead of me got her total bill she was looking for the exact change. It took her a bit and she apologized to me. I said "No problem. If I was in that big of a hurry, then I need to slow down anyway." She smiled back at me.

What I appreciated is that I wasn't just saying it to be nice, I was saying it to myself and I felt that calm presence that isn't there every day. Some days I might have been in the same situation and been churning with frustration inside because I was in a hurry and had lots to do. Gratitude practice helps me with that calm presence, helps me slow down and realize the joy is found easier when the pace is more sane.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Simple Grace

Today I am grateful for a good meal shared with others and for a nice evening to enjoy a baseball game.

I am thinking about the family, about a mile down the road from us, whose garage and home were heavily damaged by fire yesterday afternoon. I don't know them, but my prayers go out to them. How quickly things can change the course of one's day or life.

The quote in my gratitude journal yesterday was:

"Grace isn't a little prayer you chant before receiving a meal. It's a way to live."
         (Jackie Windspear)

Grace. I have had a hard time understanding what grace really is, but when I stopped trying so hard to figure it out, I realized I already knew. Grace has been defined for me in many ways, but two of my favorites are: 1) a gift unearned and 2) realizing God's (Higher Power's, the Universe's) presence in my life.

Certainly, it's good to say grace before meals, but if that is the only time we say thanks, we are missing the boat. Not just a boat, a veritable ocean liner full of gifts.

Gratitude and grace go hand in hand. There is so much I have done nothing to deserve or no work to provide. Do I have anything to do with having air to breathe? Did I have any part in that beautiful sunrise? But I honor it all by noticing it and giving thanks for it. Both grace and gratitude bring humility and a sense of being a small part of a much bigger whole. Both slow me down and make me more likely to notice others and what they might need or want.

I work daily to make gratitude a way of life, and in so doing, I find grace. I have to get up each day and start over, but that is a promise to me, not drudgery.  For that, I am truly grateful.

Monday, June 9, 2014

Flexible or Rigid?

Today I am grateful for the simple pleasures of reading a book in a comfortable recliner and a solitary bike ride.

After writing about flexibility in yesterday's post, it remained on my mind and I had the opportunity to talk to some recovery friends about it too. That is always insightful. I appreciate hearing from others who work to recover from alcoholism or other addictions. They teach me so much when they share what works for them.

Flexibility allows me to accept my imperfections. Rigidity continues to expect the elusive perfection.Flexibility creates a calmness and some peace. There is nothing too serene or peaceful about rigidity.The former makes way for an open mind. The latter slams the door closed and creates a narrower view.

Rigidity happens when I buy into my own unreasonable expectations of myself and others, when I try too hard to control what is beyond my control. Rigidity happens when I am trying to force outcomes instead of allowing life to unfold as it should. Rigidity is exhausting. Flexibility allows for some relaxation of my thoughts and my body, which in and of themselves help rejuvenate me.

It reminds me of a saying I have heard:  "Do you want to be right, or do you want to happy?"  A rigid approach to life becomes about being right, about proving something to show our worthiness. A flexible approach to life starts at a place of worthiness and leads to the happiness that can come with accepting life on life's terms.

I am grateful for the lessons in flexibility. What does flexibility teach you?

Sunday, June 8, 2014

Rain Out, Flexibility In

Today I am grateful for laughter and the sunrise and clear skies that greeted us this morning after a rainy day yesterday.

We woke up to the threat of rain yesterday. The threat materialized and our day's schedule changed. We had to put off our run and Sam's baseball tournament got delayed. Good lessons in patience and acceptance. Those two aren't always my favorite things to practice, or the easiest, but they are vitally important to my sanity.

That is where flexibility comes in. Time that would have been spent running early yesterday morning was instead spent on other things that needed to get done. A little project for a friend. Some cleaning around the house. Some stock-up shopping.

The tournament got cancelled. We ran in the rain. The pace of our day was actually pretty reasonable. Things have been so busy at work. I had been out of town two weekends in a row and feeling behind with some things at home. It was nice to lay on the couch last evening and watch some television, something I don't do often.

I am grateful for flexibility and a perspective on life that allows for more of a "roll with it" attitude than I used to have. That perspective has been created and made healthier by habitual gratitude practice.

What does a flexible perspective mean to you? Have a good day, one hour at a time.

Saturday, June 7, 2014

Ebbing and Flowing for 26 Years

Today I am grateful for the early morning quiet and the beauty of a sunrise. I am also grateful for good food and group prayer.

This week I wrapped up the 26th year I've worked in education. I have gotten used to the ebb and flow of school years just like I roll with the changing seasons. I spent the first 10 of these 26 years as a high school social studies teacher in three different schools in Iowa, my home state.

In my 10th year of teaching, I was into my Master's program for Guidance and Counseling and the serious health issues of a colleague led to that year including both teaching and counseling for me. That was also the year I met Darcy. When we married and I moved to Sioux Falls, I found a job in the Catholic schools system there. I served two K-6 elementary buildings for two years. I knew I had made the right decision to go into school counseling. I was never a confident teacher really, though it got better over the 10 years I taught. I am more comfortable and confident in the counseling role. It is more my natural niche.

When we decided to move to Minnesota, I found a job at another Catholic school and have been there for 14 years now. I didn't set out to work in Catholic schools, and my teaching years were all in public schools, but that is just the way it has worked out. Certainly there are differences between public and private schools, but that is for another discussion. There are also many similarities and wherever there are hundreds of students gathered, some of the rewards and challenges will be the same.

School years start fresh in August and end not-so-fresh in May or June. The pace ebbs and flows throughout the year, with grading periods, holiday breaks, special events and state tournaments. No two days tend to be alike in the counseling office. I both appreciate that and find it exhausting at times. But the ebb and flow of the school year is comfortable for me. It has been there for me consistently over 26 years, even when other big changes were happening in my personal life. There's comfort in what our experience shows us and what we come to know. The summer stretches ahead of us now, but I know, from that experience, that it will go quickly and be busy with many things. All the more reason to stay present in this day, this moment.

Today I will appreciate the ebb and flow of life.

Friday, June 6, 2014

"Oh the Places You'll Go"

Today I am grateful for sleep when tired, air to breathe, and a roof over my head. I am grateful for another school year filled with working with many wonderful and interesting people, from students and parents, to co-workers.

Yesterday I talked about the first 8th grade graduation I went to for my nephew. The second one I went to was Wednesday night and it was for the 8th graders at the school I work at. I always go to their graduation and have some roles in helping out with the service. It is a nice evening and a nice wrap up to their middle school days.

The group picked the theme "Oh, the Places You'll Go!" for their program and evening, from the Dr. Seuss book. It's a great book for many age levels at many different milestones in life. What I liked the other evening was the sermon given by the priest referring back to this theme. The key point he made is that the "you'll" is both singular and plural. That we can forge ahead independently in some ways, but that we are interdependent in many. That we can make our own way in life to a degree, but with the help and support of others, we can all travel further and more safely.

A good message for 8th graders to be reminded of the help they have had and will continue to need for years to come. A good reminder to us all to be here for one another in big and small ways.

So many people have helped me in countless ways. I will have the chance to thank some of them today. I will try to extend my gratitude to them in the hours ahead.

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Skills and Tools

Today I am grateful for my morning cup of coffee. I am also grateful for the skills and tools I have been blessed with and taught by others.

In the last few days I have attended two 8th grade graduation ceremonies at two different schools. The first was my nephew Brennan's last Friday evening. He and his 15 classmates graduated from the small Catholic grade school most of them attended for 8 years. They will be off to the local public high school in the fall, a similar route to that taken by most of my siblings and many other nieces and nephews.

I took my mom to the ceremony for Brennan, the second child of my youngest brother Lee and a pal of my son Sam. The church we were in is the same church where my parents exchanged their wedding vows in August of 1950. Sixty-four years later, what began that day is now an extended family that numbers close to 100. Wow! I am grateful I got to step into that church again. The last time was my nephew's wedding a couple of years ago. It is good to ponder our history from time to time, to consider where we have come from.

The priest who gave the sermon talked to the young graduates about using the tools and skills they have been given and taught by many: parents, teachers, coaches, classmates, siblings. Do I use the tools and skills I have been given and taught? Do I recognize them for their value?  Do I thank the teachers and messengers in my life? Do I thank the higher source of power that orchestrates it all? I try to. A gratitude focus helps me.

With that in mind, I thank my friend in recovery, Terrie, for showing and teaching me the value of gratitude practice nearly 20 years ago. It is a tool I began using a little reluctantly, and can still fight some days, but I know it works. I know it is a tool to keep honed because it in turns hones the gifts that surround me on a daily basis. It brings them into a sharper focus.

What skills and tools are you most thankful for on this particular day?

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Tractors and Aging

Today I am grateful for my job and the rewards and challenges of it. I am also grateful for the smiles our dog Oliver brings to my face.

The new road of marriage is one of many new roads full of promise. My son Sam headed down a new road this weekend when he drove a tractor for the first time. My brother, his Uncle Artie, first gave him a lesson while sitting next to him on the tractor. He was patient and calm while I nervously observed. I trust my brother's judgment and I know that Sam understands that real farm machinery needs to be taken seriously. But I'm a mom, and until that tractor was back in park, I was on edge. But I was also excited for Sam because I know how much this means to him. I caught some of the lesson on video on my phone.

I went back in the house and a short time later I looked out the window and saw Sam driving the tractor solo. I headed back out to capture the moment in my mind's eye and on video. He drove it a short way and did a nice job. He was proud of himself and happy to have the chance. Thanks Uncle Artie!

Parents take new roads all the time. Their children do too. And they are full of promise, hopes, and dreams. Sam is getting older and I am practicing letting go in so many little ways. It's a leap of faith for sure. It's also healthier for both of us.

A less promising road my family is facing is my mother's aging and decline. We've been on this road for some time now, and decline is evident in her physical and mental capabilities. We have concern for her safety and have tried to put some things in place to protect her. This is tough territory to navigate. Our concerns and emotions, her dignity and feelings. We don't all see it the same way and we don't all have the same ideas about what to do next. In ways, this is a different kind of letting go. But it is the same kind of leap of faith. This road leads to a place that is tough to ponder, but one we all take sooner or later.

Another reminder that all we are given is today. Stay present in it. Live life.

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

New Roads

Today I am grateful for time with my family and the laughter, conversations, walks, and food shared that went with our time together.    
    
I am also grateful for the new roads that come along in life. Some we choose, some we don't. Some we build ourselves, some are already there for us. And sometimes new roads disguise themselves as something else until we realize we are where we are supposed to be.

My niece Morgan and her new husband Trevor chose the road of marriage and started down it on Saturday. They had a beautiful outdoor ceremony with a stunning backdrop. Take a look:


Their vows were sincere, the music touching, the whole ceremony heartfelt. It was an all-around pleasant celebration and evening. I am grateful I was able to be there and that I saw many of my family members I don't get to see often. Congratulations and best wishes Morgan and Trevor!

Other new roads I encountered over the weekend were ones I ran on that I hadn't set foot on before and a road around the pond near my mom's farm that many of us enjoyed walking together more than once over the weekend. 

Gratitude practice helps me see new roads that open up. It also helps me build some of my own new roads by building a better perception. Not all new roads are easy to travel, but they always bring new scenery in the form of challenges and growth of the emotional and spiritual variety. More on that tomorrow.