"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

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Family Practice

Today I am grateful for our historic downtown, for sunshine, for boots to wear.

One more residual Thanksgiving post to write. This one includes an idea you may want to incorporate with your family on a more regular basis than my family has. We resurrected a gratitude practice we had attempted as a family for a few months a couple years ago. I called it the "Valentine Vessel of Gratitude" and I blogged about it here and here in the summer of 2012.

On Thanksgiving Day the four of us-my husband, stepdaughter, son, and I-each put a few things we are grateful for on slips of paper and put them in our little bowl that we had used prior. I needed to rinse it off because it had gathered dust. We used it a few times back on our first attempt, but usually at my encouragement. It was nice when we were able to use it and share what we had written, but it never really caught on.  I was a little disappointed in that, but I knew I couldn't try too hard to get the others to write things down regularly. As it did for me, it has to come to them in it's own way and in it's own time.

But it was nice to bring it back for Thanksgiving anyway. No one fought doing it. No one struggled to come up with things to say. No one balked at sharing what had been collectively written before we began eating. Family came up in more ways than one. Sam, our almost-teen, focused mostly on things directly impacting him-like football pads and wrestling mats. Just like I would anticipate an adolescent doing. I may suggest using it again at Christmas, but mostly I will just keep living my own gratitude practice and walking the walk.

If you think this idea might work for your family, I encourage you to give it a try. There are many variations on the idea as well. Be creative. One meal a day (or week) each person at the table could share a couple of good things about their day or week, or you could do the same before putting young children to bed. You may prefer to use phrases like "What did you like about today?" or "What went well today?" Create your own family tradition and reap the benefits that can come with it.

I wonder what my family and others think of me at times. I really like to talk about, and obviously write about, gratitude. I am amazed by the difference gratitude practice has made in my life. I like encouraging others to give it a whirl, but I also know that I can't make anyone try it. I can only do my thing and share my story.

And I can be content in the fact that I am a better mother, stepmother, spouse, sister, daughter, friend, recovering alcoholic, counselor, runner, writer, and person because of my gratitude practice. That can't help but rub off on the people around me.

If you are already actively practicing gratitude, keep it up! If you would like to give it a try, start simple and start today. It works if we work at it.

Saturday, November 29, 2014

Frosty Faces

Today I am grateful for my recovery friends, that we can honestly share, the genuine support we offer one another. I am also grateful for naps, even brief ones. 

We were able to return to another Thanksgiving tradition this year since we stayed home. Our community holds "Gobble Gait" each year on Thanksgiving morning. It's an 8K and 2K run or walk. There are a couple thousand people who join in, which is great for a community our size. It is a fundraiser and food collection for our local food shelf and family service. It's a good run for a good cause. Not to mention a good way to start a day focused on considering blessings and consuming plenty of food. 

This is a picture of my husband Darcy and I after the run. If you look closely, you can see some of the frost that had accumulated on our faces and hats. The temperature was hovering right around zero. Thankfully, there was no wind. And the sun was shining.

Running is do deeply meaningful and important in my life. To be running the streets of my community on Thanksgiving morning, even in the bitter cold, gave me pause to ponder many blessings:

*I am here with working limbs and lungs.
*I can see the road ahead of me, hear the people around me.
*I can feel my feet hit the pavement as I carefully watch for slick spots.
*I can talk with my husband as he runs beside me.
*I can warm up and get into the groove.
*I can conquer familiar hills and clear my head.
*I can pick up my pace and finish strong.
*I can breathe the fresh air.

Able-bodied and alive. Appreciating today, even with the typical pressures of life. Things like gratitude practice and running help me decompress, help me put my energy to the right focus.

Friday, November 28, 2014

What about Black Friday?

Today I am grateful for a nice Thanksgiving, a meal and laughter shared, Skype, and phone calls to connect.

Today is Black Friday. That seems to be an understatement, as we have been inundated with advertising about it for weeks. Many people are out shopping or already were out shopping and are home resting. Some waited in line for hours and others gave up hours of sleep. Was it worth it?

I have never been a big shopper. I have to be in the mood. Good deals and good fits are my goals. The increasing trend of Black Friday mania and madness has concerned and frustrated me in recent years. I get judgmental and worry about the materialism it seems to promote and how it makes some people rude and inconsiderate. All for an item, a thing.

But I tried to broaden my perspective out this year. For some families or groups of friends, this day is about time together, new traditions, laughter, and treats. It isn't about the stuff. It's about the people you are with to get the stuff.

For others, the only way they can afford to get a special gift for a child or other loved one is if they grab up one of these deals. Is that a bad motive? I don't think so.

My husband, son, and I ventured out last evening to a couple places here in town. It's the first time we've done that on Thanksgiving Day. Part of me balked at it, but we did it mainly to get out and move around some after our big meal. The bonus was that we shared several laughs as we made our stops and walked around. Those laughs were well worth it. It wasn't about the stuff. It was about the time together.

That broader perspective helped me judge less and experience more. But I still have plenty of concern about our society and culture and the emphasis on items, on the next best thing. Gratitude practice allows me to appreciate the things I have, but especially the people I have in my life. The next best thing, when I am paying attention, can be our dog's stretch or the morning quiet. It needn't cost a dime.

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Doubled By Wonder-Happy Giving Thanks

Today I am grateful for a day to celebrate gratitude with family and food. I am also grateful that, for me, every day is a day to focus on gratefulness.

Habitual gratitude practice works if I work it.

Consider this quote:

"Gratitude is happiness doubled by wonder." (G.K. Chesterton) 

Happiness doubled by wonder. Positive perception of self and surrounding world doubled by wonder. Peace and calm, even in the midst of chaos. Quiet that is inviting instead of unsettling.

There are so many benefits to the gratitude practice that I do. Sharing it with others in this blog, in recovery discussions, in my monthly newspaper column, also all serve to increase both my happiness and the amazement I feel when I consider how wonderful the gift of life is, how meaningful even a mundane day can be.

I will have more gratitude, and therefore contentment, when I focus on what is going well. As Dr. Christine Carter mentions in this video on the Greater Good Science Center website, efforts (and it does take effort) at gratitude practice help our brains develop a filter that is more adept at finding blessings rather than curses. How cool is that?

It took some time, but I think I can say with some confidence that I have retrained my brain. From a default of self-pity to a default of gratefulness. It has made all the difference.

Gving thanks for so many blessings today and every day. Think about putting that gratitude in action today. An apology given or accepted with "that" family member. A group gratitude list created before sitting down to eat, or while eating. Opportunities abound. Happy giving thanks and HappyThanksgiving to all!

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Late Bloomer

Today I am grateful for time off from work and for the little joys of my favorite holiday of Thanksgiving.

I mentioned yesterday that I am a late bloomer in many respects. I got married at 33, had my son at 36. But I am also a late bloomer in terms of growing into myself, being comfortable in my skin. It took time. Lots of time. Lots of work.

When one is a shy, introverted child lacking attention in a large family, and when one starts to drink alcohol at a young age, one tends to have a skewed perception of self and world. When I quit drinking at age 24, I was already years behind in terms of my emotional and spiritual development. I got a slow start in recovery too, but today I know the importance of daily work for a daily disease.

I am also something of a late bloomer as a writer. Although I have been a writer all my life, it hasn't been until the last few years that I have really blossomed into a blogging, column-writing essayist who shares in the public realm.

The same is true of my running. I have been a runner all my life, but ran my first marathon at age 39. Now I have run 12. Better late than never.

In my professional career, it took me time to find my niche too. I think I did good work as a classroom teacher, but I think being a school counselor is a better fit for me and allows me to best use the tools and talents I have.

A late bloomer. In recovery from alcoholism. In my journey of self-acceptance. In my writing. In my profession. At times I ponder what my life may have been like if I would have gotten on track sooner, if I hadn't been mired in the muck well into my twenties and thirties. But my story is my story. It is the only way I could have gotten to the here and now that I love and appreciate.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Rings on My Fingers

Today I am grateful for long-time and new friends in recovery. I am also grateful for my husband Darcy.

Besides taking things like air to breathe and my five working senses for granted, there are numerous items I take for granted. Those include the computer I am currently using, the coffee pot that made my first cups of the day already, and the recliner I am sitting in. Also included are the rings I put on my fingers each morning.

I grew up an athletic tomboy, not a girlie-girl. I hated wearing dresses. I kept (and still do keep) my hair short to keep it simple. I rarely wear make-up. I didn't get my ears pierced until I was well into my twenties. And I didn't ever wear rings on my fingers. That is, until I was 32 and got engaged. I'm a late bloomer in many respects and wearing rings is one of them.

Now I am up to 5 rings. All but one were gifts to me from my husband Darcy. The other one was an antique store find. And there's the one that got away. The ring I lost shortly after Darcy gave it to me . . . it was a little loose, I wasn't used to wearing it, then it was gone.

The rings are important to me and they are significant symbols. But it is what they symbolize that is the most important-our love and our commitment to one another. They are one of the last things I put on when I get ready in the morning and one of the first to come off when I get back home. Many days that is just part of the routine and I don't think of their significance.

Today I will think of Darcy and our healthy marriage as I put those rings on. And I will feel deeply blessed.

Monday, November 24, 2014

Weathering the Weather

Today I am grateful for the wisdom of recovery shared by others. I am also grateful for the warmer air and a run in shirtsleeves.

We have had to weather some changing weather in recent weeks. Much of the country had unseasonably cold temperatures for November. Lots of us have already had to do some shoveling of snow. But my thoughts and prayers go out to the people of the Buffalo, New York area. They were truly left with no choice other than to wait the storm out. Now that the snow has ended and streets and roads have slowly reopened, they have warming temperatures and wind to worry about. Hopefully several feet of snow last week won't lead to several feet of floodwaters this week.

Sadly, thirteen deaths have been attributed to the storm so far. Lest we forget, Mother Nature reigns supreme. And it keeps my little complaint in perspective . . . over 50 degrees yesterday and single digit wind chills today. I am grateful for a heated house, a working car, plenty of outerwear to keep me warm when I venture out.

I took this picture along the Mississippi River yesterday morning. A layer of fog blanketed the river and muffled the traffic noise. It had an odd peacefulness to it.

Whatever the weather brings today, I will aim for safety and acceptance. Wishing you the same. Have a good day!

Sunday, November 23, 2014

In a New Light

Today I am grateful for warmer weather, family time, and good pizza. I am also grateful for the perspective I am given when I consider others and daily gifts before I consider my frustrations and wants.

Yesterday we put up our Christmas tree and other decorations. We enjoy doing that together and usually do it about a month out from Christmas. I have plenty to say about what is disturbing and concerning about the ever-increasing marketing and advertising surrounding Black Friday and the holiday shopping season, but I will save that for another day. Today I choose to write about one of my favorite holiday traditions.

Tradition is a good thing and it doesn't require any shopping. The only cost need be our time. And what better place to give our time than to family? Bringing out the totes of lights and decorations, enjoying the cooperative nature of my husband and son as they assemble the tree and add the lights, family holiday heirlooms that bring memories of loved ones and our younger days. We added a new twist this year with helping my stepdaughter Emily decorate her apartment for the season too.

One of my favorite things each year when we decorate is enjoying the new light that envelops the rooms of our home. The colorful lights of our big tree. The blue lights of a smaller white tree. The candles that send off a calming glow. I love this new light each holiday season. I love getting up, turning the tree lights on, and sitting quietly in the warmth and peace.

In a new light. Just for today.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

A Pattern of Blessing

Today I am grateful for sleeping in and for eggnog. I am also grateful for friends who trust me and count on me. It goes both ways.

A quote from my gratitude journal has been hanging out in my head in recent weeks.

"Taken separately, the experiences of life can work harm and not good. Taken together, they make a pattern of blessing and strength the like of which the world does not know." (V. Raymond Brown)

Woven throughout my life are both challenges and triumphs, joys and sorrows. It takes all kinds of life experiences to create a meaningful life. It takes tough situations to teach us what we can only learn through the struggle. It takes joyful times to open our hearts and souls to the wonders of life.

I consider my life to be deep in meaning, rich in blessings. I know the joy of love, marriage, motherhood, recovery, serenity, friendship. I have experienced the pure energy of a marathon completed and the amazement of a writing that flowed right out of my soul.

Yet, I have known dark self-hatred and paralyzing self-pity. I have known the grief of loss and the fear of deadly diseases.

All these diverse experiences have been woven together to create the life I know and love today, to create a pattern uniquely beautiful. Only with the help of faith in a Higher Power and regular practice of gratitude am I able to see the beauty.

Gratefulness doesn't make me immune to the struggles and challenges, it helps me through them. It helps me weave a stronger thread of meaning throughout the moments and hours of my life.

What do you see in your pattern of blessings?

Friday, November 21, 2014

A New Pair

Today I am grateful to be able to get new prosthetics locally and I am also grateful that recovery has taught me to take life one day at a time, one hour at a time.

On Friday I got a new pair of breast prosthetics. I was overdue for an update. This is just my third pair since my bilateral mastectomies nearly 6 years ago. I don't wear them all the time, so I am able to extend their life.I kept the appointment short. Same size. Pick out a couple new mastectomy bras. Thanks and I'll be on my way.

Thanks and I'll be on my way. It gave me pause to consider a few things. How grateful I am to be here, healthy and living life, when tens of thousands of other women and men have died of cancer in the years since my diagnosis, treatment, and surgeries. Life is precious. Life is fragile. Each day is a gift, make the most of it.

How affirmed I am in my choice to not have reconstruction. It was the best choice for me and I don't regret it. I like to have the options I do. Prosthetics when I need them and flat and free when I want. My hope for every woman facing this difficult decision is that they have the information they need, and the time to do their own decision-making, so that the decision is the one they feel most comfortable with. And believe me, "most comfortable with" is a very relative terms in these circumstances.

How breast reconstruction is not a "boob job." How insensitive it can be when someone tells a breast cancer patient "well, at least you can get a free boob job."  Really? "Today's special: along with your very frightening cancer diagnosis, we can offer you breasts that will never sag."  These are personal journeys with very personal decisions and plenty of steps, pain (physical and emotional), appointments, time, healing. Please don't make light of it all.

I am thankful for where I am at today, thinking back to six years ago when I was just weeks away from my mastectomies. I try to keep it all in perspective.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

"Carbonated Holiness"

Today I am grateful for one breath at a time. I am also grateful for the conversations Darcy and I have.

Yesterday's "Word of the Day" at www.gratefulness.org was this short zinger
from Anne Lamott:

"Laughter is carbonated holiness." 

I love Anne Lamott, her sense of humor, and her faith-filled wisdom. To read more about my favorite author, try here and here. But sometimes I find laughter hard to come by, or painful to listen to. It is a good barometer for me. When I feel that way, I need to lighten up, not take life and myself too seriously. I need to accept more and expect less.

The use of the word "carbonated" brings to mind "fizz" and "flat" as well. Will there be fizz and liveliness in my day today or a flat and disengaged demeanor? That is up to me. Starting my day with prayer, meditation, and some gratitude practice sets me up for more fizz than flat.

I appreciate Lamott's use of the word "holiness" too. Like spirituality, holiness can have a broader meaning and reach. This quote helps me think about the holiness of those individuals who are laughing, sharing joy, releasing stress in a healthy way. It also helps me think about the wide reach of God or Higher Power. I believe that this higher force, whatever you wish to call it, resides in each of us as well as around us in nature, our pets, the air we breathe.

When I look at it that way, I feel a connectedness and a compassion for others. I feel a deepening gratitude to be a small part of a larger wonder.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Speaking of Gratitude

Today I am grateful for a good cup of coffee and for help from my colleagues Paul, Stephanie, and Sarah.

I have been writing about gratitude for many years, and blogging about it for well over two years. I have been practicing it in my own life going on twenty years. But speaking about gratitude to others in a group setting has been a newer experience for me. I have appreciated each opportunity in this area.

Yesterday the opportunity included speaking to 6th, 7th, and 8th graders about things like positive psychology, resilience, "circles of support," and the proven overall health benefits of things like gratitude practice and meditation. I think it went well and I hope each student walked away with something to ponder or put into use.

It gave me the chance to hone my words and discussion to a different age level than I had previously spoken to. I appreciated that. Every effort to prepare such presentations teaches me more and further affirms the value of gratitude practice and the growing science behind it.

My colleague Paul helped by leading guided meditation with three different groups. His presence and experience in this area helped make it a worthwhile experience for all the students. Stephanie and Sarah helped by facilitating a session where students put gratitude practice into action by writing thank yous and choosing some other options. None of us were sure how this time would go, but their willingness to embrace this activity with the students helped make it a success as well. A big thanks to all three of you!

And the students came through with their cooperation and their genuine efforts to do what we asked them to do.

Speaking of gratitude...it has made all the difference in my life.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

"In the morning, I wake up . . . "

Today I am grateful for working heat in my car. I am also grateful for the new day ahead, and for the opportunities that await me, one hour at a time.

This was the quote in my gratitude journal today:

"I'm grateful for the opportunity to live on this beautiful and astonishing planet Earth. In the morning, I wake up with a sense of gratitude."  (Earl Nightingale)

This morning, I woke up early and tired. I had a work event last evening and have presentations to give to middle school students today. Between thinking about those two, my sleep was far from peaceful.

I begin each day with some gratitude focus and intentional practice. If I don't wake up with a sense of gratitude, I try to cultivate it early. There is more fertile ground for cultivating this morning, even in my tired state, because the presentations I am giving to students have to do with gratitude practice and related positive benefits. I am both curious how it will go and excited to be discussing these ideas with them.

I appreciate the reminder of "this beautiful and astonishing planet Earth" as well. I am but a small part of an amazing whole. But I am. I exist. Like the trees in our yard exist. Like the snow on the grass exists. It is humbling and inspiring all at once to consider nature and how everything flows.

And I close with being "being grateful for the opportunity to live."  If I wake up dreading the day, I am missing opportunities and zapping energy. If I wake up looking forward to the day, I seize opportunities and create energy.

I look forward to this day. I hope you are looking forward to it too. Have a good one!

Monday, November 17, 2014

"Go with the flow" or thrash?

Today I am grateful for lessons in compassion and acceptance. I am also grateful for the wonderful father my husband is to all three of his children.

Some recovery friends and I were discussing the line "go with the flow" the other day. I like that phrase and the way it reminds me to accept, to let life unfold as it should instead of forcing it. The analogy of a river came up. Am I going along with the current or am I swimming upstream? Am I thrashing or floating?

When put that way, why would anyone choose thrashing? Why would anyone exhaust themselves by swimming upstream?  But we do. I do for sure. It is part of my humanness. I don't always accept present circumstances calmly. I don't always trust that things will work out. I don't always possess the requisite amount of patience. I try to control. I think too much. I try too hard. I let my fears and my wrong-sized ego take over. I begin thrashing.

How does one slow the thrashing and allow the floating? Pause. Pray. Step back. Listen. Be quiet. Those are all a start in the right direction anyway. So is considering the present moment and what there is to be grateful for in it. Just the here and now. That's where I can catch the flow and join it.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

A Short List

Today I am grateful for working computers and enough outer layers to stay warm in our
cold early winter days.

I am keeping it simple today with a list of 4 things that gratitude practice helps me with:

1. It helps me stay calm when I get the grumbly teen attitude from my almost-teen son.
To be his mom is one of the greatest treasures in my life.

2. It helps me know when to say when. I can still overdo it and run myself ragged, but I think more in terms of gratitude for what has gotten done, not just that ever-growing "to do" list.

3. It helps me keep my mouth shut when to speak may not be a good idea. I caught myself a couple times with my husband yesterday. He may frustrate me at times, but I love him and our marriage is strong.

4. It helps me keep a better perspective on myself. I am and always will be a work in progress. Gratitude practice helps me appreciate the life experience I have, the mistakes I have learned from, and the self-love that has replaced the self-hatred (at least most of the time).

A short list, long on gratitude.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Sounding Boards

Today I am grateful for time with my friend Jill yesterday and for a good find for a winter jacket at our local consignment store.

I am fortunate to have friends like Jill. Friends who are my sounding board when I need. Friends who allow me the chance to reciprocate and be their sounding board when they need one. It takes mutual trust and respect. It takes time to develop such friendships. And it takes shared laughter and tears.

Yesterday was my turn to be the listener, the sounding board. Many times, Jill has been the listener, or we have each taken turns. It works over the phone, but I especially appreciate when I can sit across from a friend, or walk side by side with them, and just be together, sharing the time and the conversation.

As the friendship grows and the shared experiences become more numerous, the depth of sharing seems to expand as well. It is an honor and a privilege to be on that level with another person.

Like the sounding boards at a speaker's podium, the sounding boards of friendship need to be built, need to be sturdy. That takes time and patience. I am grateful for my friends and what they have helped me through. I am also grateful for the gift of being a friend, of being trusted.

Friends help me feel connected and worthy. Like a real sounding board, they help me hear what matters.

Friday, November 14, 2014

"Thanks for your patience."

Today I am grateful for some time to myself and a different pace to the day. I am also grateful for my husband Darcy and our marriage.

Something caught my eye yesterday on my way to work. It was a construction sign that said "Thanks for your patience." I honestly don't think I've ever seen that on a construction sign before. It was at one end of the new bridge that spans the Mississippi in our community. The new bridge that took nearly three years to complete. The new bridge that then, within months of fully opening, needed more work because there was flaking concrete. It was an aesthetic fix, not a structural one. But it drug out for several weeks this fall and took longer than anticipated.

It was nice, as one of the regular commuters using that bridge, to be acknowledged with a thanks. It really didn't create too many problems for me and I never missed something really important because I was stuck in traffic. There were days the slow downs and back-ups required some extra time, but in that time I could roll the windows down, turn the music up a little, and pause in my busy day. The more I do it, the more helpful I find pausing to be. The construction created opportunities to pause.

As I pondered "Thanks for your patience," something else also came to my mind. I appreciate the patience that my Higher Power has shown me throughout life. Patience as I kept doing the same things over and over and expecting different results. Patience (and protection) as I slowly came to my senses regarding my drinking problem. Patience as I became a more faith-filled and spiritual person. Thank you God!

No doubt that today will provide more opportunities to pause, to practice patience. And in those pauses, the gratitude flows.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Snow, By Chance

Today I am grateful for my son Sam and what he teaches me. I am also grateful for the role of chance in the little things of life.

Yesterday afternoon it was later than anticipated when I left work and then made a couple stops to run errands. I was hoping to get home to go for a run, but I was getting short on time and I had to pick up Sam from wrestling practice. When I got home I waffled a little, but decided to get ready and head out with our dog Oliver for a short run.

It had just started snowing lightly and I had just stepped outside our house when I saw a good friend of mine who just happened to be out for her walk then too. I was a little surprised, as this friend is not a big fan of the cold. (It was in the 20's.) We talked briefly and she commented on how pretty the snowfall was and that she would have missed it if she had decided not to walk.

Amen to that. Don't miss life.Take action. Do something healthy for yourself. Take time to be out in nature. The rewards always come. First, I was rewarded with that brief connection with my recovery friend, someone who helps keep me on track. Then, I was rewarded with the beauty and quietude of the snowfall. I was rewarded with the endorphins the run brought. By the time I was done running, I had to be more cautious because the snow was making things a little slippery. A reminder to slow down and take care of myself was yet another reward.

A chance connection. A chance brief snowfall. A reason to pause in gratitude.

And a final lesson from the randomness of the snowflakes that were falling. Just "go with it." Just stay present in the moment and be open to possibilities. Just stay grateful.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Pause. Commute.

Today I am grateful for my job and the people I work with. I am also grateful for a new snow shovel.

We had a lovely fall in the weather department, but winter is back early. Two days of snowy and slow commutes to work gave me plenty of time to consider a few things.

*When the weather requires slowing down, it helps me slow down my head a bit too. I focus on the priority of two eyes on the road, two hands on the wheel. Other "stuff" gets a break.

*Thank you to most of my fellow Minnesota winter drivers. We quickly get back into practice and give each other space and courtesy. (I say most because the others are the ones who scare me--in a hurry, overly confident in their vehicle, their own driving, or the conditions.)

*"I will get there when I get there" is true for my job on a rough driving morning. People understand that circumstances warranted more time. "I will get there when I get there" can also hold true in my personal efforts to grow and learn. Some days the highway of life is clear and dry. On other days, it is slippery and unpredictable. There is plenty to learn on each type of road.

Pause. Commute. Learn. Grow. Pause again. Be grateful to reach the destinations of today.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

A Beating Heart

Today I am grateful for my heart in both the literal and figurative senses. I am also grateful for safe commutes on a snowy day yesterday.

On this Veteran's Day, I am also grateful for all of those who have served our country, past and present.

I was reminded of my physically beating heart last evening as I exercised. With the weather taking a turn, I was indoors doing some high intensity exercises, jumping some rope, and basically getting the old heart rate up there. When I got done, I put my hand over my heart, and minus my breasts, I can feel it beating pretty well. It was really clipping along at first and then it slowed over the next minutes. What a blessing, to have a beating heart that works efficiently and effectively.

And I was reminded of my "heart" in terms of my passions, my loves, my direction in life. The people I love and who love me. The dreams I have. The passions I pursue in my running and writing. The faith and recovery that nurture both my heart and soul.

All this heart beats stronger with gratitude practice. Onward!

Monday, November 10, 2014

Honest Sharing

Today I am grateful for the creature comforts our home offers and for a weekend to regroup before starting another demanding week.

I am also grateful to have people I trust and with whom I can share honestly, even when the sharing includes my mistakes, my pitfalls, my frustrations. Especially when it includes these things. If I didn't have people to talk to about them, the negativity and energy zapping would continue to harm me.

I find some of the most honest sharing to be among recovering people, people trying to stay sober and live a productive and happy life. The disease of addiction tries to tell us we are different, that no one will understand, that we are damaged human beings unworthy of help and joy. But when we share honestly with one another, we realize we are not alone, that we have much in common, that we deserve kindness and compassion. We begin to move forward instead of staying stuck. We begin to heal.

I have also found common ground and honest sharing among other cancer patients, particularly those who have had breast cancer and gone through some similar trials and tribulations as I have. I have plenty of supportive people in my life, but there are some things that only those who have gone down a similar path can really grasp. It is good to have such people in my circle of support.

Honest sharing. Common ground. Circles of support. For each, I am deeply grateful today.

Sunday, November 9, 2014

A Picture and a Moment to Revel

Today I am grateful for a garage to store things in and for a good run with Darcy on a breezy but nice late fall morning.

Speaking of a good run, three weeks have already passed since Darcy and I ran the St. Louis Rock 'n' Roll Marathon on October 19. It was our 12th marathon and overall a pleasant experience. I can revel in the afterglow of a successful marathon finish for days, even weeks. But this year it seemed we returned to a busy week and the demands of our jobs with less time for reveling. I figuratively hit the ground running after literally hitting the ground of St. Louis for 26.2 miles.

So when we ordered a marathon picture this week, I took a moment to revel, to return to the wonderful feeling that the picture below helps me summon:

This picture was taken as I neared the finish. That is the start of a smile on my face. It got bigger before I crossed the finish line. Darcy and I each picked a separate picture to commemorate this marathon. We sometimes get a good action shot of the two of us together, but this time around we were each happier with some of our solo shots. 

I like the action shot, my new outfit, my facial expression, and even the screaming quad muscle in my left leg. (It looks like it is screaming anyway. I wasn't feeling any pain at that point, only exhaustion.) This picture of me is a picture of health. It captures the celebration of life and gratitude that each and every marathon has meant to me, especially the seven I have run on this side of my breast cancer diagnosis.

A flat chest? Yes. A flat affect? No way. Life is far too good! 

From "just a minute" in yesterday's post to "a moment to revel" in today's, that is all it takes to find some gratitude and get energized for the day ahead. 

Saturday, November 8, 2014

Just A Minute

Today I am grateful for rest and running attire that keeps me warm in the cold weather.

Just a minute. That is all it takes to pause and be grateful. Just a minute is all it takes to go through the 5 fingers on one hand and say 5 things I am grateful for today.

Just a minute is all it takes to jot down a couple things I am grateful for in my gratitude journal. If I take another minute, I can remember prayers for others.

Just a minute is all it takes to stop and listen to the silence when I need to take a break from the constant noise and chatter my thinking can create.

Just a minute is all it takes to tell someone thank you.

Just a minute is all it takes to consider the gift today is, to consider the
opportunities that await.

Friday, November 7, 2014

A Less Random 4 X 4

Today I am grateful for laughter and for good food prepared and provided by others.

I am also grateful for my commute to and from work, the variety of work-related skills I get to use, my MacBook Air laptop, and for this moment. These four things make up a less random 4 x 4 for my post today. After yesterday's 3 x 3, I intentionally noted these four and why I am grateful for each of them. A good exercise in active gratitude practice.

1. My commute to and from work
    a. alone time for this introvert
    b. the silence I begin each commute with (for about 10 minutes)
    c. listening to good music as loud as I want
    d. catching some of the daily news headlines

2. The variety of work skills I get to employ
    a. no two days are the same at work and that means flexibility
    b. listening to others as a skill and as a privilege
    c. being able to draw on many years of experience
    d. a sense of humor and a right-sized ego always help

3. My MacBook Air laptop
    a. provided to me by my employer
    b. forcing me to learn new things
    c. light and compact
    d. convenience and connectedness

4. This moment
     a. a reason to pause and be still
     b. life's little joys add up to contentment
     c. a good morning/have a good day hug with my son Sam
     d. enjoying the sound of laughter

It all starts with awareness in the present moment. Pause. Be still. Appreciate.

Thursday, November 6, 2014

A Random 3 x 3

Today I am grateful for coffee, sweat, and our dog Oliver.

Three things to be grateful for and three reasons why for each.

1. Coffee
     a. the aroma as I open the can
     b. the first sip of the new day
     c. enjoying a cup with my husband Darcy over dinner last night

2. Exercise-induced sweat
    a. the endorphins that come with it
    b. the gratitude it brings for my physical capabilities
    c. the satisfaction of effort and work for my health

3. Our dog Oliver
    a. the way he stretches before we go for a walk
    b. the way he looks into our eyes with his
    c. our quiet morning time together

Three things yield 9 more reasons to be grateful. Gratitude multiplied.
That sounds like a good plan for today. Find reasons to be grateful and multiply
them by sharing.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

A Vital Count

Today I am grateful for my job and the variety of people I get to connect with there. I am also grateful for my favorite running pants and their comfort.

This quote from my gratitude journal yesterday seemed a very fitting way to wrap up my look at a few things I take for granted:

"It is vital that people 'count their blessings' to appreciate what they possess without having to undergo its actual loss." (Abraham Maslow)

Sadly, too often it takes losing something to appreciate its value. We get caught up in life and the day to day busy times. Next thing you know, weeks have gone by and we have been going through the motions of living, but not really living. If one is not present and mindful in this moment, in this hour, can we truly consider that living?

Regular gratitude practice allows the vital counting of blessings. The counting of blessings brings presence and mindfulness. Presence and mindfulness helps me live life fully and embrace the joy currently offered up by the universe.

Who and what are in your vital count of blessings today?

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Things I Take For Granted: #6 Physical Sobriety

Today I am grateful for this blog to give focus to my gratitude practice. I am also grateful for physical and emotional sobriety.

Physical sobriety is something I tend to take for granted. I haven't had a drink of alcohol in over 25 years. Hangovers and blackouts are distant memories. Cotton mouth and headaches too.

Emotional sobriety is a different story for me. I don't take it as much for granted because it is where my daily recovery work focuses. My disease flares up in the mental and emotional realms these days, not so much the physical.

That doesn't mean I never have physical cravings for alcohol. I do. Not often. But this weekend one hit me. Some of my family members are social drinkers. I was around alcohol. One relative was talking about his home brew, another about an upcoming "brew tour." Others were sampling some of the "fall flavors" of beer. A craving hit and I had that moment of "it would sure be nice to have a drink and join in."  It also brings a little jealousy that I can't enjoy alcohol in moderation like so many others can.

When the craving hit, I took myself outside into the cool evening air. I sat down for a couple minutes and let the craving pass. Cravings always pass. I reminded myself that I never drank normally, that my old escape could have killed me. It still could if I am not vigilant.

So a physical craving from time to time is a good reminder to me that my disease is still present, patiently progressing and waiting. All the more reason to continue my gratitude practice and the many other daily efforts I make to maintain mental and emotional sobriety. Without sobriety in those areas, I would certainly lose my physical sobriety.

A grateful approach to life improves my perspective. A healthier perspective improves my chances of maintaining sobriety. And reminds me that I am not in this alone.

Monday, November 3, 2014

Things I Take For Granted: #5 Working Senses

Today I am grateful for safe travels over the weekend and time with family. I am grateful for my five working senses, all of which I appreciated over the weekend.

I love fall and I love to get back to our family farm this time of the year. The sights, sounds, and smells of fall included seeing the harvested fields and those still waiting their turn as well as the different views afforded us now that trees are bare. Smelling the fresh air, the corn in the grain bin, the feed for the sheep and cattle. Hearing the still-standing corn stalks rustling, tractors revving, and the grain dryer running. Hearing the evening quiet. I took advantage of the time to walk and run around our farm and a neighboring pond, enjoying some of that time with family members and some by myself.

I love the feeling of stepping out of a warm and full house into the night air to cool off and take in the stars and moon. And then being able to step back in and enjoy the family time. Feeling the hugs given and received. Touching the precious little feet of an infant. Tasting all of the food brought to share, much of it made with love.

I think of those who are without the ability to see, or hear, or smell, or touch, or taste. I think about what they miss when even one sense is not working. And I realize how deeply blessed I am, how important my senses are to each day's joy and understanding.

All five of my senses brought me gratitude and appreciation over the weekend. When I practice mindfulness, it is my senses that guide me, my senses that help keep me grounded and present. For each of them, I am truly grateful.