Showing posts from December, 2014


Today I am grateful for time, conversation, and a meal together with our immediate family. I am also grateful for the sense of balance my life has more than it ever used to.

Here we are on the final day of 2014. Another year to reflect on. Was it a good year or a year that felt off KILTER for you? Off kilter-out of harmony, lacking balance, awry, confused, muddled, out of step, out of whack. Why would anyone want to be off kilter? Why do most of us struggle with balance, at least some of the time?

Focus or lack thereof. That is what either keeps us on track or derails us. When I focus on the good in my life, on what I am able to do, I proceed into my day and life unfolds relatively smoothly. When I focus too much energy on fears, worries, what I want but don't have; that is when the slippery slope of off kilter reigns.

The mindfulness that comes with regular gratitude practice brings me the right kind of focus. My good friend Dorothy gave me a gratitude journal two years ago for …


Today I am grateful for sweat and endorphins, courtesy of my old and free Nordic Track machine. I am also grateful for a better understanding of the simplicity and value of showing kindness.

KINDNESS shown to self and others makes all the difference. One of my regular mantras is "be kind and gentle with myself and others today."  If it strikes you as odd that I mention myself first, let me explain. I am my own worst enemy. I am far tougher on myself than anyone else is on me. For me, that is a manifestation of my disease of alcoholism, but I am certain many of us feel this way for many different reasons.

If I am my own worst enemy and I am stuck in that self-hatred, I am likely to be caught up in my own head and not notice others and opportunties to be kind to them. So if I start with myself, the kind and gentle approach opens my mind and heart and allows me to be of better service to those around me.

When I say "to be of better service" I am referring to the little…


Today I am grateful for safe travels and time with my husband Darcy's family. I am also grateful for working heat in our house.

JOURNEY is the second "j" word I am choosing to blog about. On our recent journey to see family, I was a back seat passenger and that is not typical. I appreciated the relaxing time to read, rest, let my eyes wander around the scenery out the window. I appreciated Darcy doing the driving. We were in close quarters, including our dog Oliver joining us in the back seat.

We journeyed to Sioux Falls, South Dakota, an important destination on my life's journey. Darcy and I were married there and lived there for the first two years of our marriage. Prior to that it had been a shopping destination a handful of times with friends or a city we saw from I-90 as we headed west to the Black Hills. Now when we journey back there to see family, I see pleasant memories of that chapter in my life's journey too.

I have been fortunate to take many actual j…


Today I am grateful for family emails and for my own family and our holiday traditions and time together.

JOVIAL seemed like a fitting word for Christmas. Of course Santa comes to mind. But there seems to be plenty of good cheer in plenty of places this time of the year.

Cheerful and friendly, sociable and outgoing, good-natured, amiable, jolly. If you are celebrating Christmas, maybe you are also considering a jovial Jesus. I don't know that I have ever heard that word used to describe Jesus, but consider the stories told of this Messiah, and the words listed above do seem to fit.

There's the flip side though. People feeling anything but jovial because of holiday stress, tough times, health concerns, grief. I don't know about you, but when I feel low a jovial person is almost too hard to be around. I can't make someone else happy and I can't take away someone else's pain, but I can be helpful and compassionate.

Being present and mindful, including a grateful mi…


Today I am grateful for those who take time to read my blog. I am also grateful for the healing power of sharing with others our joys and our struggles.

INTENTIONAL is a loaded word. It can have many negative connotations. Someone intentionally hurt someone else. Just read the news and you will see harmful intentions left and right. They "did it on purpose" or "deliberately."

It is too easy individually and collectively to shake our heads at all the negative we can point to and get weighed down by it all. Let us not forget the many wonderful things done for us and by us each day; things done on purpose and deliberately to share love, joy, caring, concern, laughter. I also try not to forget a Higher Power who is instrumental in all of these good intentions. I am not immune to difficulties and struggles, I just feel better equipped to face them and work through them. For that, I am deeply grateful.

Intentional can also be defined as "conscious, meant, purposeful,…


Today I am grateful for reasonable and rational thoughts and actions. I am also grateful for more rest and sleeping in a bit.

INCH is the word I want to blog about today. I am thinking of the inch or two of snow predicted for us today. I enjoy walking in falling snow and also shoveling it. There is a peace in the quiet of falling snow and a wonder in the beauty of it. I also have deep gratitude to be able-bodied and healthy enough to shovel snow.

I am thinking about the saying "Yard by yard, life is hard. Inch by inch, life's a cinch." It is on the medicine cabinet in one of the bathrooms at my mom's house, along with several other sayings. This one really resonates with me. Just for today. Stay in today. Take life one day at a time. Do the next right thing. Let go of yesterday's regrets and tomorrow's fears.

Inch by inch, I can make it through difficult times and good times. Inch by inch, I can make a difference in my own day and the day of those around me. P…


Today I am grateful for safe travels and family time. I am also grateful for hugs, those given and those received.

I didn't grow up in a hugging family. It was not my comfort level. I think I was in college before I starting some hugging. It was a step beyond my usual, but I had been pretty closed off and inhibited for a pretty long time, so it was freeing. Gradually, my family became more of a hugging family. I am always giving and receiving hugs on visits.

I also have friends I always hug whenever I see them. My recovery friends are good ones for giving and receiving hugs too.

It'a a small gesture, a brief connection. But it is more. It is reaching out. It is saying I care and I am comfortable with you. It's saying you are close to my heart, even if I don't say it outloud enough.

My son Sam has grown up with a hugging mom, and my stepchildren with a hugging stepmom. I think it matters. I think it makes a difference.

The hugs I share with Sam have evolved over the yea…


Today I am grateful for a run yesterday with Oliver. I am also grateful for my family, immediate and extended.

That makes HOLTHAUS a good word for today. I don't often use proper nouns on my A-Z journey, but I can be flexible. It's my blog. Holthaus is my maiden name. It is of German origin. I have always liked my maiden name, other than those times growing up when I was tired of everyone and wondered briefly if perhaps I had been adopted.

In fact, I planned on keeping my maiden name if I ever got married. But then I met Mr. Valentine. I fell in love with him and his name. I am forever proud to be a Holthaus though.

I will see many family members this weekend at a holiday gathering. Some carry the name Holthaus, some have other names, but we are all family. There is strength in a name that has survived generations, and there are more in the next generation to keep carrying it forward.

Our names are part of our identity. Like when and where we are born, we initially have little …


Today I am grateful for our local breast cancer support group and the friends I have there. I am also grateful for my laptop computer's convenience and portability.

GOPHERS is a "g" word that may not cross a person's mind all that often. If you happen to live in Minnesota, however, you will hear it frequently and see it on shirts, sweatshirts, and car bumpers. The Golden Gophers of the University of Minnesota. Minnesota: The Gopher State. Apparently back in the mid-1800's there was considerable debate about whether or not Minnesota should be called the "Gopher State" for the many striped gophers prevalent on the prairie, or the "Beaver State."  Long before social media, political cartoons helped give the nod to the gophers.

Minnesota history aside, this Iowa girl wants to talk about the gophers of my childhood. I confess to not being a regular follower of Minnesota Gopher athletics. At one time in my life, however, I would spend some weeks in s…


Today I am grateful for energy to be productive and for my health.

GRIEF is something we all face in minor and major ways as we live our lives. No two people experience it the same way in the same time frame. We can share grief, but it is also an individual journey for each person's heart, soul, and mind.

Grief is an appropriate word for me today. It is the sixth anniversary, December 17, 2008, of my third surgery during my cancer treatment-bilateral mastectomies. I will never forget waking up from surgery and looking at my new flat terrain and what that felt like in that moment. The grief was raw and real in the days, weeks, and months following surgery. But there was also relief, healing, and much gratitude for my returning health.

I think of my sister Danita and the absolutely grueling grief process she is in the midst of as her husband Roger further declines with Lewy body dementia. I think of them both every day. Grief is not meant to be categorized, but I believe circumstances…


Today I am grateful for my favorite sweatshirt and for the range of feelings I experience. Each teaches me something about myself.

As the easy listening, sometimes nauseating mellow 70's song says: "FEELINGS, nothing more than feelings." And nothing less either. Feelings are gifts. The joyful, the frustrating, the agonizing.

Gifts? Without the full range of emotions, without a willingness and a stability to feel all of them, we are less than we could be. Without the tough ones, we cannot fully appreciate the inspiring ones. Without the joyful ones, we would never make it through the times of despair.

As an elementary school counselor, I would show up in classrooms with a little gift bag. We would talk about feelings as gifts. The good ones tell us what is going well, the bad ones are telling us something is wrong and we should talk to somebody. It may sound simple, but I think it is a message adults need to hear as much as young people do.

The other visual I used with st…


Today I am grateful for phone conversations with my sister Danita and my friend Deb. I am also grateful for eggnog.

For my first "f" word I have chosen FRAZZLED. Itis defined as "to cause to feel completely exhausted, wear out; to fray." I can honestly say I have experienced being frazzled a few times in my life. And that's an understatement. I can also honestly say that I am not currently feeling frazzled.

I can create my own frazzled state or life circumstances can create them. I do better when it is life circumstances that frazzle me. It's like I rise to the occasion, buck up, and proceed. When I create the fraying and confusion in my own head, it is much harder to find my way out. I am my own worst enemy at those times.

I have learned that if I just do the next right thing, my life tends to unfold, versus the unraveling that happens when I try to manage and control. In order to do the next right thing, I need to be here and now. Gratitude practice helps…


Today I am grateful for a nice pace to my day yesterday-from a morning run, to some gift-wrapping, to family time shopping, a pleasant meal out, and an entertaining Christmas play at my school.

EVENTUALLY is the word that struck me on our run yesterday morning. Eventually the fog that has been with us on and off for several days lifts by mid-morning before it settles back in. Yesterday we even saw sun and blue sky, but only briefly.

It seems inevitable that our dog Oliver would eventually injure himself. He sprained a leg yesterday morning jumping off Sam's bed. When we considered how many hundreds of times he has jumped off beds, recliners, couches, and raced up and down stairs, it is surprising that his eventual injury took over six years. He was slowed down, and it was concerning to see him limping. But today he is much better. Eventually, he will be back to running with us.

Eventually, after I hurry enough, get frustrated enough, waste enough energy, I will let go of what needs…


Today I am grateful for a tooth extraction that wasn't too painful, for my Grandma's recipes, for family time. I am grateful for time with some of my women in recovery friends.

EXPERIENCE is today's word on my A-Z journey. I experienced that tooth extraction early yesterday morning. I have had plenty of dental work done, and this was minimal compared to some other procedures. There was infection, so good riddance. I am grateful it went well and grateful I am not feeling much pain at all. I ponder how many people around the world need dental work and don't have access to it. I ponder how painful a toothache can be to experience. I am grateful for accessible and affordable dental care.

I decided to make my Grandma's Christmas cut-out cookie recipe yesterday. My son Sam helped me make some of the cookies, and then he, my stepdaughter Emily, and my husband Darcy all helped decorate the cookies. It was a family holiday experience. We do the cut-outs every year.

I pondere…


Today I am grateful for stability in many forms. I am also grateful for the role of discipline in my life.

No doubt about it. I am a DISCIPLINED individual. It has served me well in many areas of my life. Habit. Regular practice. Commitment. Consistency. Dedication.These are all part of having discipline.

It isn't always fun or easy being disciplined, and some days I "act as if." Some days my discipline can be exhausting. But years of experience have taught me and proven to me that if I keep taking right actions, my thoughts follow. And that is what I most need to discipline-my thoughts. They are both my savior and my downfall. Discipline makes the difference between a smooth trip of a day and a train wreck of a day.

My discipline begins with recovery from alcoholism and daily prayer and meditation. Recovery discipline for me also requires regular connections with others in recovery. They are "God with skin on" for me.

Then there's running discipline. I hav…


Today I am grateful for my husband Darcy and his sense of humor. I am also grateful for my five working senses.

DELICIOUS describes some of my favorite things. A sip of coffee at just the right temperature. A bite of dark chocolate. A taste of smooth almond milk. A perfectly ripe pear. A garden tomato. Ice cream. Pizza.The smell of cookies baking. Many holiday treats. The list is long.

I am doubly blessed. My senses-especially taste and smell-are in good working order and allow me to experience delicious in many ways. I am blessed to have access to this multitude of delicious items, and to have money to afford to buy them.

Considering the word delicious also reminds me to slow down. How often am I rushing through my day and not taking the time to eat slowly, give thanks to those who helped bring this food before me, and savor it? Too often. It is another way I take my many blessings for granted.

Pause in gratitude for all that is. Pause in anticipation of enjoying the delicious food in…


Today I am grateful for my five working senses and the little gifts they can take in when I am tuned in to them. I am also grateful for simplicity, when I remember to apply it.

My senses and simplicity are both CLARIFIERS for me. They help me clear confusion, zero in on priorities, return to the present moment, give me direction for the next steps.

I have people in my life who are clarifiers for me as well. They can hear me out patiently and then give me a nugget or two to help me see the tree that I couldn't see because I was focused on the whole forest. I am grateful for the people in my life who help me clarify.

I think of mental clarity first, but clarity of heart and soul are also very important. They are all connected. Recovery work is a clarifier of my emotions-both constructive and destructive emotions. I am learning to be more a builder than a wrecker of myself. That allows me to be of greater service to those I come in contact with each day.

Gratitude practice is a great…


Today I am grateful for holiday cookies and my Grandma's recipes. I am also grateful for my job and the energy I get to be part of there.

Today's word is CHASM. It is defined as a deep fissure in the earth, rock, or another surface, or as a profound difference between people, viewpoints, or feelings. I have never physically had to cross chasms. Mine have been more of the mental, emotional, and spiritual variety.

This poem speaks to one of those chasms. How I felt about my physical body and the imperfections it carried. I lacked a comfort level of being in my own skin for many years. Then it slowly got better and better as life experiences like marriage, motherhood, and marathons came along. But ironically, it took a double amputation and recovering from it to really launch me to a new level of acceptance of this earthly vehicle I reside in. That in turn expanded my overall view of myself and the world around me.

I wrote this poem about nine months after having bilateral mastec…


Today I am grateful for phone conversations with some of my sisters and for holiday baking. I am also grateful for the role of books and reading in my life.

BOOKS have been important to me throughout my life. I still like the hard copy of books, and have yet to invest in a Kindle or Nook, though they have appealing aspects. I like to hold the actual book in my hand.

Growing up, I remember a couple of my first favorite books were Little Black Puppy and Eloise and the Old Blue Truck. I still have the copies, though tattered a bit and one is without a cover. I read them to Sam when he was little. As I got a little older, Where the Red Fern Grows and The Outsiders were a couple of my favorites.

I went through a historical romance phase for a time, but for many years now have been mostly a fan of nonfiction. I would like to have more time to read, but my life today doesn't always offer much extra time. I also run into the problem of falling asleep shortly after I start reading. It can t…


Today I am grateful for the role of writing in my life and for the positive role of wrestling in my son Sam's life.

BEING is the "B" word that came to my mind yesterday as I was doing just that-being. Living. Reality. Existing. And it was a good day, a busy day of being. It started with a run with Oliver in the early morning dark and seeing a beautiful moon. I then spent several hours working concessions at my son's wrestling tournament.

I was working with people I had just met, for the most part. We did a good job being an efficicient crew together. When we had rushes, we had a system down to keep the lines moving. We were just being a concessions crew managing a rush. Not earth shattering, but it kept smiles on faces of customers.

Then I got to be a grocery shopper, a pizza consumer, a casserole maker, a writer.

Being present. Being grateful. Just being in all aspects of being-physical, mental, emotional, and spirtitual. I really felt my physical being Friday and Sa…


Today I am grateful for sore muscles and fresh air. I am also a grateful recovering alcoholic today.

I have learned much about the disease of ALCOHOLISM from many people and sources over the years. Early on I considered it the "A" word, a bad word, something I sure as heck didn't want to be. Acceptance took time and can still be a challenge, but understanding that alcoholism is about much more than drinking was a good start.

When I was 19, I went to see a substance abuse counselor after my college friends shared concerns with me. That being after I woke up on the floor of my dorm room after passing out there the night before. The counselor had me take the MAST (Michigan Alcoholism Screening Test) and the first question was "Do you feel you are a normal drinker?"

Nope. Never. When I drank, something happened. I couldn't stop, even with the best of intentions. That is a key to the disease. Lack of control. Inevitably, consequences come-physically, mentally, …


Today I am grateful for my job and the diversity of skills needed and experiences gained. I am also grateful for the winding down of a busy work week.

The first stop on my A-Z trek is AVERAGE. My initial thought as I pondered this word is that daily gratitude practice allows me to average out a steady supply of gratitude. Some days my level of gratitude is below average. Maybe I am tired. Maybe I have seen and heard too much pain and frustration from those I care about and/or work with.

On other days, my level of gratitude is above average. I am able to stay present and mindful. I feel the joy in the moment and the smallest of blessings. Some days my level of gratitude is just right. I proceed an hour at a time, pausing to regroup when needed, noticing reasons to be grateful throughout my day.

When those days are averaged together, I end up with a fair amount of gratitude in my stockpile. Consider it insurance to protect me from the energy-zapping, soul draining world I sometimes find…

Words A-Z: A Third Time Around

Today I am grateful for sweat, endorphins, working limbs, and to be able-bodied and alive. I am also grateful for the abundance and complexity of words.

I am about to embark on my third A-Z gratitude list since I began this blog. Doing an A-Z gratitude list was an idea I first heard from a recovery speaker several years ago. I tried it out, usually just by going through the alphabet when I was driving or exercising. I still do that.

But I also like to write A-Z lists and I encourage others to do the same. This blog gives me a good venue for that. Beginning on November 26, 2012, I began my first "The Gift of Words A-Z."  Start here to read that first blogging A-Z. Then last year, beginning on December 13, 2013, I began "More Gifts of Words from A-Z." Go here to start that second and longer blog journey from A-Z.

This third time around will probably be random and probably be a word or two per letter. I can be flexible and set my own structure. That is what I like abo…

Ann Bancroft-Explorer and Pioneer

Today I am grateful for a pleasing run in the fading daylight yesterday, and also for the opportunity to hear polar explorer Ann Bancroft speak.

I appreciate the accomplishments of Ann Bancroft and also her efforts to help young women pursue their dreams through her Ann Bancroft Foundation. In 1986, she became the first known woman to reach the North Pole. In 1993 she reached the South Pole, becoming the first known woman to reach both poles. In 2001, her and Norwegian Liv Arneson became the first women to cross Antarctica. They covered over 1700 miles in 94 days.

She bravely went where very few have ever gone, and even fewer women. She is a role model, and not just for girls. She chose to take on these challenges. Think about how the preparation and the journeys themselves shaped her and helped her become the person she is. We are all like that. Shaped by our challenges. Some of which we choose, some of which we don't.

Read more about Ann Bancroft here. She was an effective and p…

"No one can make you feel inferior . . . "

Today I am grateful for clear roads to drive on and a clear head with which to proceed into my day.

I am still considering the word intimidating that I wrote about yesterday. It reminds me of a favorite quote of mine, attributed to Eleanor Roosevelt:

"No one can make you feel inferior without your consent." 

That saying is one that has stuck with me since I was a teenager. I knew it to be true when I first heard it, but I didn't know how to stop giving my consent. I didn't measure up, by a long shot, in my own eyes. How would I ever measure up in anyone else's eyes?

Yet, even in my state of self-hatred, maybe I was intimidating to others because of my vocabulary or my athletic skills. I didn't set out to intimidate. If I did, it was probably fed by the other person's own insecurities and feelings of inadequacy. Our culture and mass media today only feed more into those insecurities and inadequacies by telling us how we can have a "perfect" this o…


Today I am grateful for good football games and reminders to pause for perspective.

In yesterday's post, I talked about trying a family gratitude practice and asking "What am I grateful for?" That question can bring pressure to some people. It can make them feel indebted to others and therefore add to an already long to-do list. If that is the case for you, I would encourage questions like "What went well today?" or "What did I like about today?" It can get you to the same place-appreciating and focusing on what is going well in life. That is what helps create a healthier perspective.

The gratitude practice I attempt regularly and write about often is more about mindfulness and paying attention. It is more about noticing the gifts around us on a daily basis, gifts given sometimes by others, but often just by virtue of our existence and from a higher source. It is only sometimes about directly thanking someone who has done something for me. At those ti…