"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, August 29, 2014

Begin Anew Every Day

Today I am grateful for some new clothes in my work wardrobe and for their variety and comfort. I am also grateful for rain.

Yesterday I wrote about the fresh approach that can be taken with gratitude practice on a daily basis. The quote below follows nicely:

Have patience with all things, but chiefly have patience with yourself. Do not lose courage in considering your own imperfections but instantly set about remedying them-every day 
begin the task anew. (St. Francis de Sales)

I spent years being too tough on myself. I still can be, but it's far better than it used to be. I spent years in the default mode of self-pity. I can still fall into that pit, but it's far less often and for shorter stays. I owe much of this progress on "my journey of self-acceptance" to the daily work I do to apply recovery from alcoholism and gratitude/mindfulness. Some days are better than others. That will always be the case. This is life and we are fallible humans. Today it is a good life, not one of avoiding mirrors, literally and figuratively, like it used to be for me.

Considering our own imperfections is really where much growth and self-knowledge starts. The line "every day begin the task anew" holds such promise and hope for me. Anew is one of those words that says "you are doing well, just keep plugging along." I don't get bored at all, and I don't tend to frustrate as easily, when I begin each day anew. Yesterday is done. Unpack it. Tomorrow isn't here yet. Leave tomorrow's load for tomorrow. Simply focus on today.

This is when a scoffer may say it can't be that easy, it doesn't work. To the scoffer I suggest that it is simple, but not easy; that it can only work if it becomes a habit in our lives. 

I also appreciate that these words came from St. Francis de Sales. I wrote a post about a prayer from St. Francis de Sales in April of 2012. You can read it here. It has become a regular prayer for me.

I grew up attending DeSales School, as did all of my siblings. Little did I know his words would have such profound meaning to me decades later. Thank you St. Francis de Sales!

I will taking a blog break for a couple days. See you in September! 

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Gratitude Capacity

Today I am grateful for lessons in ego and humility. I am also grateful for a bike ride on a nice evening.

This was a recent quote in my gratitude journal:

"Some people have a wonderful capacity to appreciate again and again."  
(Abraham Maslow)

I think with practice I have learned that I can appreciate the same things again and again, and therefore not take them for granted. The key is starting over each day, viewing it as the gift and opportunity that it is.

That first cup of coffee, the cool morning air, a good song on the radio-they can each bring a fresh dose of gratitude if I am tuned in. A good morning kiss from my husband, the way our dog Oliver makes me smile, and my favorite fruit-bananas-are each worth a pause and a thanks.

Otherwise, they just become an expected part of the day and they get passed by instead of paused upon.

Gratitude practice is not trite fluff. It is genuine when it comes from mindfulness and appreciation of life's little things. It remains a fresh part of my day when I start with an open heart and mind.

Gratitude capacity is endless. Self-pity can also be endless if I put my energy there. Today I choose gratitude.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

When To Say When

Today I am grateful for the words that form in my mind and heart. I am also grateful for family time.

I try to live life one day at a time, not lamenting the mistakes and disappointments of yesterday, not dreading the fears and concerns of tomorrow. I believe I have made progress in this area, though I am a slow learner. I do spend more time present and mindful than I used to. Gratitude practice helps. Pausing helps, even if for a few seconds.

Progress in being present. I can feel good about that. But . . . staying in today can backfire when I try to pack too much into one day. I need to know when to say when. Pause. Replenish. Stop. Listen.

In my own words: "If your to-do list is longer than your gratitude list, consider a rewrite." 

I am a hard worker, task-oriented, always with more to do than the time in a day allows. One of my most important lessons has become knowing "when to say when."  When it is time to take a break. When it is time to cut myself some slack and give myself credit for my "done" list instead of fretting over what is left to do. When it is simply time to be done for the day and just sit in grateful mindfulness.

I am also learning to prioritize. If there is never enough time in the day for all I want to do, I need to start with a short list of priorities for this day and see what I get done. Many of the things I think I "need" to get done really can wait. Lighten up Lisa!

Gratitude practice also helps me prioritize. It shows me what is most important in my life on a daily basis: recovery, faith, family, friends, health, running, writing, a meaningful job.

Today I will practice knowing when to say when.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Year #27 Gets Underway

Today I am grateful for the friends I have in recovery and how they help me and teach me. I am also grateful for my career and the jobs I have held.

This week officially begins my 27th school year as an educator. The first nine years I was a high school social studies teacher and did some coaching. For one year, I was both teaching and counseling. For the next two, I was an elementary counselor in two K-6 buildings. I am beginning my 15th year at my current employer, primarily as middle school counselor. In all the schools I have worked in, I have also helped deliver prevention and intervention programs for students and have had titles such as Drug-Free Schools Coordinator, At-Risk Coordinator, and Student Assistance Coordinator.

Although my duties are mostly as a counselor, I still consider myself an educator. It is part of what I do no matter what role I am specifically in at a given time. Whether teaching a certain subject or helping others learn about themselves, how to relate to others, setting and working toward goals, or gaining awareness of our own and our culture's strengths and weaknesses, it is all about learning and teaching. Lifelong learning is far more than a catch phrase.

I marvel at the fact that 26 years have already passed in my chosen profession. I am so grateful the opportunity to pursue a Master's degree in Guidance and Counseling presented itself at the right time in my life. I wasn't the most confident and comfortable as a teacher, and I was also prone to overworking. Pursuing the Master's, meeting my husband in the middle of it, getting married, moving. It all worked out and brought me to the counseling field. It is a better fit for me. I couldn't see myself teaching for 30 years. I can see myself continuing as a counselor.

Many students and educators in many schools around the country have the excitement and fear mix that marks the start of a new school year. I like the energy, the return to routine, the variety that comes with each day. I look forward to year #27.

Monday, August 25, 2014

The Ease of Running

Today I am grateful for ceiling and tower fans. I am also grateful for the role of running in my life.

Saturday morning my husband Darcy and I did a training run of 16-17 miles as we prepare for our fall marathon, our 12th marathon overall. It was very humid with the dew point right up there in the low 70's with the temperature. But it was a good run nonetheless. I have had more good runs than tough runs over my years of running. I would have to say some of my toughest runs were when I was trying to run off a hangover. The miles were fewer but the mental torture was greater.

I have been running for most of my life . . . starting my own sort of training when I was about 12. It has been a lifesaver, an endorphin booster, a head clearer, a confidence booster, a nature enhancer and much more over the years. Darcy and I ran together in our early marriage, but have really been serious about it over the last 10 years, since our first marathon, the Chicago Marathon, in 2004.

I look forward to long runs. I revel in the afterglow. I love that Darcy and I share this hobby, passion, and commitment. It keeps our marriage stronger in more ways than one. Running has come easy to me. It is a natural thing for me to do and has felt that way all these years. I am not that fast or out to break records. I am out to continue to enjoy the benefits and enhanced quality of life that running helps bring.

Some would consider me a little insane, a bubble off of plumb. My reply would be that if you want to see insane, that is what you would see if I couldn't run. I am so grateful for the physical capabilities I have and that both Darcy and I have avoided nagging injuries. Even cancer treatments couldn't keep me from running, though chemotherapy slowed me down and surgeries required some time off.

There is something naturally therapeutic about putting one foot in front of the other, about being outside in the coming daylight, about sweat and sore muscles.

I was born to run. I plan to keep honoring that for as long as I can. I am deeply grateful for each run I get to take, each day I get to live.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

People Watching

Today I am grateful for a cooling breeze amid a very humid few days. I am also grateful for the chance to get out for some people watching and enjoying the downtowns of our Twin Cities.

We took a new stretch of our light rail train. We saw the new Vikings football stadium under construction. We walked around downtown Minneapolis. We enjoyed the pregame and early innings of a Twins game at Target Field. I hadn't been downtown in months. I am still a small town farm girl at heart. Seeing the city and skyscrapers still impresses me and gives me a sense of the wider world. My son Sam has gotten to experience these views in more than one city in his young life. I hope it widens his view and promotes an open mind.

And we saw lots of people. More variety than I usually see in my own community, at my job, and other places I typically spend time. Variety takes many forms. For me, it is an exercise not in judgment but in gratitude. To be able put all my senses to use in a crowd of people in a city setting is a blessing. To be able to put my senses to use in any setting is a blessing. One I too often take for granted.

I am also grateful Sam sees the variety of our fellow humans. I think it promotes the dignity of all of us. We all have a place and a space in this world, and a need to belong and have meaning. That is where it all starts. Maybe there will be less fear and judgment if there is more acceptance and open mindedness.

Gratitude practice is about awareness and not taking things for granted. Watching others move about their days seems to help me become more aware and take less for granted. For that I am truly grateful.


Saturday, August 23, 2014

Around the Kitchen

Today I am grateful for our kitchen. It may not be exactly the kitchen I want, but it is more than sufficient. I am also grateful for what I was taught and learned from experience growing up about how to cook ,bake, and do other tasks around the kitchen.

Yesterday, after a very busy and exhausting week at work, I was grateful to be home on a Friday afternoon making our typical pasta meal we like to have before a long training run. Making the meal was a nice change of pace and a chance for me to focus on home and family after giving plenty of energy to others. I enjoy my job and working with others often gives me more energy than it takes, but being home with family is what replenishes me best.

I was doing my usual approach of preparation which includes several things going on at once-water for pasta, sauce warming, chicken pan-frying, vegetables steaming. I had the realization that I am actually pretty adept at timing it all so that it is done at the same time. None of these are complicated tasks, and I don't do anything too special, but I realize that I have confidence in my kitchen that others may not have in theirs.

You pick up a few things over the years. This cookie sheet bakes faster than the other one. This recipe actually takes 45 minutes to bake, not 30 like it says. Hot water, really hot water, is the best for rinsing dishes. They dry faster that way. And a shout out to my dishwashing sisters. We marveled at how hot Mom could have the water when she did dishes, but we are still doing it too so we must have figured out it works.

Not to mention that Mom didn't grow up with hot water at her convenience, so she really appreciated it and still does. Many others don't have the conveniences of a modern kitchen today. I could complain because mine needs an updating. Instead, today I choose to be grateful for my kitchen, my family, our meals together.


Friday, August 22, 2014

Great! Full

Today I am grateful for my hair stylist Lori and the good job she does with my haircuts as well as the pleasant conversations we have. I am also grateful for the humor and wisdom of Mark Scharenbroich.

Mark was a speaker at my school's workshops yesterday and Lori cut my hair last evening. I got good doses of gratitude from both of them. Lori shared some recent gratitude clarity she had. I heard Mark many years ago when I was teaching in Iowa, but it was a treat to hear him again. I look forward to reading his book Nice Bike. Learn more about Mark at www.NiceBike.com

One of Mark's stories was particularly resonant with me. It is Mark's story and he tells it much better than I ever could, but I can give you the punch line so to speak.

As he addressed a room full of educators, Mark talked about the teachers who had left significant impacts on him. One teacher would always say "Great!" when someone asked how he was doing or how his day was going. Mark wasn't sold on the idea as a teen, but after a certain conversation with this teacher, he picked up the same habit when someone asked him how he is doing.

To this day, he continues to say "Great!"  But here's the part I really love. Mark told us that after he says "Great" out loud, he says "Full" in his own head. Great-full. Grateful.

Bingo. Even when you may not be feeling great or having the best of days, you can always find gratitude if your heart is open. I believe that and I live it.

I try to maintain a positive attitude and I think those who know me would describe me as usually pretty upbeat. We all have our challenges, difficult times, frustrations. Saying "Great!" when you don't exactly feel great or practicing gratitude when you don't exactly feel grateful are not negating the challenges, difficulties, and struggles. To me, they are creating the energy that will allow me to work through the tougher stuff. And then I will feel great-full, a deeper level of gratitude than before.

Gratitude makes all the difference in my life and in each day. Thanks again Lori and Mark!

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Building Homes

Today I am grateful for the home we currently live in and how comfortable we feel here. I am also grateful for all the various roofs I have had over my head throughout my life: homes, dorm rooms, apartments.

We are experiencing a housing boom in our community. It seems like a good indication that the economy continues to strengthen. My husband and I enjoy riding our bikes or running through some of the new developments. It is fun to see the progress, the color schemes, the curb appeal. Sure, part of me wishes I could have more house than I have, that our house could have features I would appreciate-like a bigger kitchen and a master bath. But more house also means more to clean and care for, and I don't necessarily want that. I am most appreciative of the rooms our home has. I have never been homeless and our modest home still puts up in the top tier of living arrangements worldwide.

People want bigger houses, more garage stalls, impeccably landscaped yards. But the space a house takes up tells us nothing of the real value in what a home is. The real value is in the love shared, the memories built, the milestones reached. An aesthetically pleasing house may or may not hold an emotionally pleased family. A house that is older, could use some fresh paint and flooring and the like, can still be warmer and cozier and a healthier place to reside.

Sometimes I feel we have become too much about the exteriors and not enough about the interiors . . . both in ourselves and in our homes.  Too much about comparing our insides to other people's outsides . . . both in ourselves and in our homes.

Many can build houses. Building healthy homes takes more heart, soul, and time. Gratitude is a necessary and most helpful tool in this building process.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Inner Jogging

Today I am grateful for regular opportunities to practice self-care and actually doing it. I am also grateful for laughter and the many ways it can brighten a day, a mood, a soul.

I came across this quote recently:

"Laughter is inner jogging." (Norman Cousins)

Heartfelt laughter, with people we know and are comfortable with, can be some of the best kind of laughter. It comes from a joyful place and spreads more joy.

Laughter is also a universal language, like smiles. Laughter can bring a diverse group to common ground or diffuse tension among others.

It is also healthy for us to laugh. Laughter increases oxygen flow and releases endorphins. It helps improve our mood and immune system and relieves stress. It has benefits across all areas of wellness-physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual.

I like to do plenty of outer jogging (a.k.a. running), but inner jogging is a good exercise to pursue too.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Around the Fire

Today I am grateful for my job and the ways it stretches me. I am also grateful for carry-out pizza after a full day.

I want to say thanks to my sister Zita and her husband Randy for hosting a family gathering at their place last week. It worked out nicely and many siblings, in-laws, nieces, nephews, and their families were able to attend. I am also grateful that my family gets along. We are a varied bunch on varied paths in life. We don't always see eye to eye, but we do respect one another and seem to always be able to enjoy one another's company when we get together. That is a gift not every family is blessed with.

As it grew later and darker in the evening, some headed home. But some of us headed to the nice chairs around the fire pit in their yard. They have a welcoming area by a small pond. I found the fire very relaxing. Watching a fire mesmerizes me and naturally soothes my senses.

The conversation and laughter were also pleasant and welcome. Nothing too serious, just good conversation and good laughter. I stayed up later than usual, but the family time and the fire were restful in their own ways.

Thanks to the hosts and thanks to all my family members who all keep making the effort to keep in touch and get together. I wish there was more time to talk with everyone, but we do our best. The time together goes quickly and is treasured more as we get older and our own families grow.

Monday, August 18, 2014

Farm Smells

Today I am grateful for safe travels for family members as we traveled back to our hometown and farm(s). I am especially grateful to my brother Artie for the patience he shows and the opportunities he gives to my son Sam to truly experience farm life.

I am also grateful for farm smells. Yes, all of them.

Farm smells. My husband Darcy and I enjoy going to the county and/or state fair just so we can walk through the livestock barns and smell that combination of smells that can take us right back to our childhoods. Darcy grew up on a crop and livestock farm in South Dakota and I grew up on a dairy farm in Iowa. We moved to a different farm when I was 15, but both farms are still in the family.

One of my favorite smells on the farm came a handful of times each summer-freshly cut hay. Sam and I got to enjoy that aroma on this most recent visit. Here is a picture that may spark memories for some of you and heighten your sense of smell if you have been blessed with farm days similar to mine.


I grew up watching and helping with hay baling. Sam has seen some of the processes before, but he enjoyed soaking it up on this visit. And he got his first taste of helping unload square bales into the barn as he helped his uncle and cousin get a couple loads emptied. I remember cold water never tasted so good as it did after helping unload hay on a hot summer day.

Sure, not all farm smells are kind to the nose, but they are all part of the amazing cycles of growth and life we get to witness. Farm smells, even the unpleasant ones, spark pleasant farm memories for me. For that I am truly grateful.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Continual Motivation and Gratitude Catalysts

Today I  am grateful for a primary care physician I trust and feel comfortable with. I am also grateful for time with my sister and that she arrived safely after rental car issues.

I am also grateful for the continual motivation my two diseases give me. Yesterday I wrote about my last drunk. Recovery from alcoholism, in daily chunks, has given me gifts beyond measure. I do the work, but honestly on many days it doesn't feel like work. It is my nourishment in so many ways. It is my direction and guidance. I also have deep appreciation for what some call God, others call Higher Power. (I use either term.) And for the people who support and encourage me in so many ways.

I was practicing gratitude long before my breast cancer diagnosis in May of 2008. That ongoing practice helped me better face and work through the months of fear, unknowns, treatments, and surgeries. I may not mention my BC experience frequently in this blog, but without a doubt it is a source of continual motivation. I get daily reminders when I see my flat chest and take my tamoxifen. Daily reminders of what a blessing it is to be able-bodied and living life fully.

Alcoholism and breast cancer as catalysts. Motivation to stay present, keep active, make healthy choices, appreciate the gift of each day.

Both provide frequent reminders of the precious and fragile nature of life. That realization is a gateway to deeper gratitude.

What provides you continual motivation? What are gratitude catalysts in your life?

I will be taking a blog break and will be back in a few days. Enjoy the day ahead!



Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Don't Ever Forget

Today I am grateful for the friends who have and continue to bless my life's journey. I am also grateful for the awakenings I get to witness in others.

I was so saddened to hear about the death of Robin Williams. Depression and addiction were part of his struggles. He left a legacy with his work in comedy and acting. What will my legacy be? What am I doing today to keep leaving a positive mark on this world?

Today marks the anniversary of my last drunk: August 12, 1989. Alcoholics in recovery are advised "Don't forget your last drunk." I haven't. I won't.

I won't forget it, but I also don't remember a sizable chunk of that day. Blackouts were a very regular occurrence in my drinking by then. At a wedding, surrounded by many family and friends, I played the drunken cousin/sister/friend part quite well. Only I wasn't acting. I was spiraling downward. I had been for years.

I woke up the next morning, hungover, and took off on a trip to California with a friend. I drank some over the next weeks, but August 12 was my last nasty, down and dirty drunk. Thank God!

Thank God others, like my sister Leonice, also had the courage to confront me about my behavior.Thanks to all of you! Help arrived. I survived. One day at a time today I continue to not only survive but thrive. That is deeply humbling. It is a gift. One I do not take for granted, especially on hearing news like the death of Robin Williams.

Monday, August 11, 2014

Outdoor Church Services

Today I am grateful for the simplicity of tasks like doing the laundry. I am also grateful for laughter, especially when it helps defuse a situation and remind us of our humanness.

Solemn but celebratory. All church services, in my experience, are typically some of both. Outdoor services take on a different tone all their own, however. Our church now has one summer outdoor service each year. It was yesterday. Other than one previous outdoor service for our church and a couple weddings, my exposure to outdoor services has been minimal.

Yesterday's service was at a farm; surrounded by corn, birds, fresh flowers, sitting in the shade of a tree. Not to mention the fresh air. Solemn but celebratory.

The setting and the service helped me slow down. There was a lot on my mind with work and family stuff. Some peace and calm returned as I listened, sang, participated. As our preacher mentioned, we were out in the most spectacular cathedral of all.

And then we enjoyed a potluck lunch together. A perfect ending to our time together.

They key for me was simply taking the time to slow down. Whether it be for a church service, to take a break from our work, to step away from a heated conversation, a pause goes a long way in helping keep us grounded. I am grateful for outdoor church services and pauses.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

An Older Couple Walking

Today I am grateful for a good combination of time to myself and time with others yesterday. I am also grateful for running and walking and other forms of physical mobility.

Yesterday when Darcy and I were on our run together, I commented to him that we hadn't seen this older couple walking lately. We see them from time to time and they just make us smile. They always hold hands when we see them walking and they just seem to be enjoying being out and about. I would guess them to be well into their seventies. We wondered if something had happened to them or if one of them had gotten sick or passed away.

Not five minutes later, guess who we saw along the trail? This couple was out for their walk.

We don't know them. We couldn't tell you what their names are. We greet them each time we see them. They send many reminders. Time together and getting exercise are a good combination. Enjoy each walk or run you have together. No one knows how many more we get.

Darcy and I both often think the same thing when we see them: we hope that's us at their age.

Enjoy time together with loved ones today. It is indeed one of life's greatest treasures.

Saturday, August 9, 2014

Decadence

Today I am grateful for time with friends at the local county fair and for opportunities to be of service to others.

Yesterday it was reverence, today it is decadence. The word came to my mind quite innocently. Darcy and I just completed a 5-day cleanse. We did this cleanse a few months ago to lose weight, detoxify our bodies, and jumpstart our metabolism. We were happy with the results then and are happy with them now. We decided to do the cleanse this week post-vacation and it fit into our marathon training schedule.

The cleanse lays out what you should eat and drink over the 5 days. Refined sugar, bread, and dairy are among the many things not on the menu. I love my sugar and carbs. I try to get them in their healthier versions, but I like my sweet treats too. I have many ways to justify and rationalize my sweets, and I usually just enjoy them. I don't beat myself up about eating them. It is better than getting my sugar from alcohol and I do keep active to burn off some of the calories I eat in sweets.

So yesterday morning when I returned to typical fare I enjoyed almond milk in my coffee, and eggs on buttered toast. It all tasted downright great and seemed like a real treat after five days without. That's when decadence came into my mind. The decadence of milk and butter.

I took a look at the definition of decadence, however, and a more serious tone emerged.

The Oxford Dictionary defines decadence as:
*moral or cultural decline as characterized by excessive indulgence in pleasure or luxury
Some of the synonyms listed for decadence include:
*lack of self-control  *lack of restraint  *self-indulgence

It gave me pause. I have never gone hungry a day in my life, except by choice. I have never wondered if I would be able to find or afford my next meal. That is a true luxury so many in this world do not get on a regular basis.

It reminded me that I can enjoy my indulgences, but that I should do so in moderation. It reminded me to be of service to others, my local and wider communities. In too many ways, we live in a culture of excess, particularly excesses of materialism and convenience.

Gratitude practice helps keep me grounded, helps me recognize the simple indulgences that make life rich and meaningful. Air to breathe. People to love. Nature to enjoy. Water to drink. Food to eat. And it makes it less likely I will seek the decadent, that I will overindulge, because I will be content with what I already have.


Friday, August 8, 2014

Reverence

Today I am grateful for time with my stepson Arthur and for the variety of sounds in human laughter.

I was enjoying some tea the other day, and as some brands have, there was a quote on each tea bag.One said "Live with reverence for yourself and others." 

Reverence is a word I don't use or hear often, but I like it's use in the quote above. It can be defined simply as deep respect for someone or something; to regard or treat with deep respect. That may seem like a simple definition, but it seems pretty elusive for we human beings to have reverence for all things and all others. What a place the world would be if that were the case though. So many conflicts, problems, injustices, wars, and inequalities would have never happened.

Human nature and free will get in the way. So let's bring it back to a manageable size. Instead of talking about the lack of reverence among the human race, I can look at the role of reverence in my life. I can, in this day ahead, show deep respect for those around me by listening to them. I can show deep respect for nature by not littering. I can show deep respect for myself by drinking enough water. I can show deep respect in any and all situations by starting from a place of gratitude and humility.

That's my plan. I'll try to stick to it. Have a good day, full of reverence.

Thursday, August 7, 2014

"Let's Stop Talking"

Today I am grateful for grapefruit and a bike ride. I am also grateful for my colleagues and the ways we know and support one another.

While on our recent trip, Darcy and I ran a 10K. We live at an elevation of just over 700 feet. We ran this 10K at an elevation of nearly 5,000 feet. We knew the altitude would impact our run, but we were pleasantly surprised at the pace we were able to maintain. I am grateful we have continued to keep some extra weight off and that sure helps our pace.

I was also pleasantly surprised by the tidbit of wisdom that we overheard in the first mile. Two younger girls were running with an adult just behind us. They were conversing and the adult asked how the other two were doing and if they wanted to slow down. One girl responded "No, but let's stop talking." Darcy and I smiled when we heard that. We are typically conversation-pace runners, but we were exerting more effort to get enough air to breathe that morning ourselves.

"Let's stop talking" is good advice, applicable on a run as well as many other times.

*When angry, or feeling myself getting angry, that is almost always a good time for me to stop talking. If I don't, I tend to get harsh and things escalate. That doesn't mean I can't say what I need to say to set boundaries or clarify, just that I should calm down first.

*When emotions are rolling strong, whether they be joyful or sorrowful, that can be a good time to stop talking also. Though we may be uncomfortable in the difficult emotions, feeling them is often the best way through them. Continuing to talk may only mask or deny them. The joyful ones are more comfortable, but arguably also better felt (and enjoyed) when we pause to fully grasp what it is that we have to be grateful for, when we feel that positive emotion to our core, in our heart and soul.

*I have come to more fully appreciate quiet and presence in this moment. We miss many sights, sounds, opportunities, and daily gifts if we are always caught up in chatter (whether with someone else or in our own heads). "Let's stop talking and watch this sunrise." "Let's stop talking and listen to the birds sing." Let's stop talking and just breathe, just breathe."

Today, I will certainly do some talking, but I will also be intentional about silence and what it tells me.

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Daily Life Illuminated

Today I am grateful for time together with family and for clarifying conversations. I am also grateful for the soothing sound of water.

The word illumination deserves another mention after yesterday's post about the lighting ceremony held at Mount Rushmore in the summer months.

Illuminate: to supply or brighten with light, to make clear, to enlighten spiritually or intellectually.

Light and the sources of light are vital to our very life on this planet. Each day gets a new start when the sun comes up, illuminating the world around us. Some days are brighter and clearer than others, but even cloudy days provide enough light for us to proceed, to move forward.

Living where I do, I take artificial sources of light for granted too. We live in great convenience and simply need to switch lights on and off when we need them. How easy and how taken for granted.

As I live each day, as I try to learn and grow as a human being "work in progress," as I continue in my recovery from alcoholism and as a breast cancer survivor, what really matters most in life has become clearer to me. Writing this blog and practicing gratitude in the other ways that I do illuminates the moments and hours of my day with more hope, more positive energy.

Regarding the spiritual and intellectual enlightenment, that is also an ongoing process. For me, the spiritual growth is more telling and beneficial than anything else I could learn or acquire. It is the starting point of breathing in opportunity and breathing out the right actions.

What will illuminate my life today? What will illuminate yours?

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Mount Rushmore Illuminated

Today I am grateful for pen, paper, and a dictionary. I am also grateful to learn how to breathe easier, more calmly.

This next picture from our recent trip doesn't have the clarity and sharpness of the previous two I shared.The photo quality is questionable, and I knew it would be when I took the picture. It was one of those times when I knew my camera couldn't do justice to the scene. And shouldn't try to. We live in a digital age, surrounded by images that can be delivered instantly. But some images can only be fully appreciated in the live version. You had to be there.

This picture is of Mount Rushmore in the Black Hills of South Dakota, illuminated for half an hour each night.


The massive sculpture created by Gutzon Borglum and hundreds of workers is impressive in any light, but seeing it illuminated was a treat. It had been years since my husband and I had seen Mount Rushmore, and it was our son Sam's first visit. A huge outdoor amphitheater now hosts a 9:00 p.m. program on summer evenings. A park ranger speaks then a video tells the story of freedom and the monument's creation, closing with the illumination of the four presidents' faces and the singing of the Star-Spangled Banner. A picture can't entirely capture the pride and energy of hundreds of citizens, mostly strangers but with a common bond, singing together and clapping. 

The lighting ceremony was followed by an invitation to any veterans in the crowd to come down to the stage to be recognized. It took a few minutes for the dozens of veterans to file down, and a few more minutes for the ranger to go around and get names and military branches from each. We all stood in appreciation for their efforts and sacrifices. They each have a story to tell. They each probably had family or friends with them in that crowd that could add to the stories, the sacrifices, the pride. A photo can't do justice to all of that either.

But a photo can spark memories, help bring back details. I am grateful to have this photo. Our time at Mount Rushmore was one of the highlights of our trip. 

What will be the highlight of my day today? If I am paying attention, there will be numerous ones. Whether monumental or minor, they are worth noticing. 

Monday, August 4, 2014

A Useful Participant and a Happy 16th!

Today I am grateful for my husband Darcy and our marriage. I am also grateful for continuing motivation to maintain a healthy weight.

Darcy and I celebrated our 16th wedding anniversary last week while we were traveling. Sixteen years! The years have piled up quickly. I am so grateful for our marriage and so grateful to Darcy for what he contributes to it and what he brings out in me. For years, I wondered if I would meet my match. It took until I was 32, but we met and our lives converged on a shared path that has made us both more fulfilled, more than what we were before.

I heard the phrase "useful participant" the other day and it struck me as significant. I want to be a useful participant in my marriage, and in this wider experience of life. Useful as a mother and stepmother, as a co-worker, as a fellow recovering person, as a friend, as a family member. Useful. Participant. What more could there be?

When I am grateful and recognize the grace that surrounds us all, I want to participate more in life. Self-pity leads to withdrawal and isolation. Gratitude leads to embracing opportunity. When I am feeling blessed, rather than cursed, my actions tend to be more useful, helpful, and healthy. I have a willingness to make the most of what lies ahead in today.

My goal today is to be a useful participant. What is your goal?

Sunday, August 3, 2014

Reflecting Back

Today I am grateful for a good training run yesterday morning and for my physical capabilities. I am also grateful for our son Sam's involvement in 4-H.

Yesterday I shared a sunrise picture from our recent family trip. That same morning, I took this picture in the same area:


The clear and quiet Marys' Lake reflecting the nearby mountain makes for a stunning picture and just as it gave me pause that morning, it gives me reason to pause and reflect now. Reflect on things like:

*Seeing my brother-in-law Roger, Lewy Body Dementia progressing in his mind and body. Reflecting on the precious and fragile nature of life, of each day.
*Watching my sister Danita proceed with dignity and strength as she cares for Roger and the future that now looks so different.
*Considering the many visits I have made to Colorado over the years and how I have grown and changed, like the area where my sisters live has grown and changed.
*Marveling at nature's beauty and grandeur, wherever I am and whenever I am able to be out in it.
*Being humbled by what has happened to my self-perception over the years of my recovery from alcoholism and my practice of gratitude. The reflection in the mirror is welcomed and loved today. That didn't use to be the case.
*Pondering how quickly our son Sam is growing up and how it seems like it was just last year that he was a beginning 4-H Cloverbud. In fact, it was 6 years ago.
*Realizing that habitual gratitude practice makes me better able to reflect, to pause, to appreciate. When I practice gratitude, mindfulness is more possible.

I look back at the image above and feel deeply blessed to have been there in that moment, and to be here in this one.

Saturday, August 2, 2014

On Sunrises and Daily Choices

Today I am grateful for safe travels over the last week, for time with family, and for the beautiful scenery we were treated to on our road trip.

Covering over 2,000 miles with no vehicle problems, no major detours, and no real travel headaches is something I truly appreciate. Seeing my sisters, brothers-in-law, nephew, nieces and their families is something I also truly appreciate. Our family that began with Mom and Dad sixty-four years ago now numbers close to 100. Opportunities to spend time with family I don't see often, while also traveling with my own immediate family, are welcome and cherished.

I enjoyed the break from our usual routine and time away from stressors that pull at me when I am in closer proximity to them. The break from blogging was also appreciated. I journaled many pages full of thoughts and trip details and my daily gratitude journaling, but I also appreciated the blog break. I jotted down numerous ideas for posts while we traveled. I'll see how many get used.

I have had family in Colorado for over 30 years and have made numerous trips there. I never tire of seeing the mountains though. This is what we woke up to last Monday morning, staying near Estes Park:


Sunrises are a treat wherever I get to take them in. This one was especially spectacular. Welcoming a new day, full of opportunity. That is my goal each day. Sometimes the mountains are treats, providing splendor to view. Sometimes the mountains are obstacles created by my overactive mind.  Each day presents a choice, or a series of choices. Today, I choose to enjoy the sunrise and the view ahead. I choose to stay present and mindful, keeping my overactive mind at bay.  Have a good day!