"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

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Kilter

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 Christmas. I have written at least two things I am grateful for and several prayer requests for others in this journal every day since January 1, 2013. The journal also had daily quotes in it, a number of which I wrote about on this blog. The journal is now full and I start a new, empty one tomorrow. Thanks Dorothy for the gift that kept giving for two years.

The quote from December 31 in this journal, author unknown, reads:

Count your gains instead of your losses,
Count your joys instead of your woes,
Count your friends instead of your foes,
Count your courage instead of your fears,
Count your health instead of your wealth,
Count on God instead of yourself.

A wonderful recipe to bring balance to life and avoid getting off kilter. And the last line reminds me that just about all I have control over are my own attitude and actions. I need help from a higher source of power to better guide those attitudes and actions. Gratitude practice puts me in touch with reliable power sources.

What will I choose to count today?

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Kindness

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 things, the small kindnesses. Holding a door for a stranger coming out of a store with their hands full. Letting a car go ahead of me so they don't have to keep waiting. Smiling and saying hello. Most importantly though, and sometimes most challenging, is showing that kindness to those closest to me. Keeping my mouth shut when harsh words are on the tip of my tongue. Being quiet unless my opinion is asked. Respecting the wishes or space of someone else and not pushing my own agenda.

Being present and mindful, in a grateful frame of mind, also allows more kindness to flow. I am more likely to get a cup of coffee for my husband or make breakfast for my son. They are people who really matter in my life and they deserve the small kindnesses I can offer.

Today, I will look for where I can show kindness to others, remembering that reaching out to others starts with me being kind to me.

Monday, December 29, 2014

Journey

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 journeys via plane and automobile to many parts of this country. I have been blessed to start and complete twelve journeys of 26.2 miles in twelve different cities and locations. On foot makes one's perspective on a journey much different.

And then there are journeys that aren't about miles. Journeys of recovery and self-acceptance. Journeys through cancer treatment and surgeries. Journeys on the road of gratitude practice. These journeys have taken me to destinations of greater spiritual understanding and growth, and they are journeys that have made all the difference. They continue to make all the difference.

One of my favorite quotes about journeys is this one from Chinese philosopher Lao-tzu:

"A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step." 

As I read about the quote, it said that a more accurate translation is this one: "The journey of a thousand miles begins beneath one's feet." 

That is a subtle but meanngful difference. I appreciate the one step at a time, one day at a time, one blog post at a time idea. But I also appreciate the emphasis on action, on my responsibility to get moving on my own journey of life.

Where will my feet and heart take me on my journey today? Where will yours take you?
Begin. Proceed. We will find out in each moment.

Thursday, December 25, 2014

Jovial

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 mindset, helps me tune in to how I am feeling, and also how others may be feeling. I can be more considerate when I am more aware.

I wouldn't have described myself as jovial for most of my life, but I think it fits me at least some of the time. More importantly, my spirit is jovial more often and that makes a difference.

I will be taking a blog break again. See you next week. I close with holiday greetings, and a wish that we carry a jovial spirit with us throughout the year.


Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Intentional

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, studied." That makes my regular practice of gratitude a very intentional process. I started this blog in March of 2012. Little did I know how much it would teach me, how much I would grow as a writer and in gratefulness and mindfulness.

One of my intentions was to reach others with what I believe to be a valuable message and practice. I have a new reader at Rethink Street and I appreciate her recent mention of my blog. We have never met and she lives in another country, but we have connected on the shared topic of gratitude. Our individual intentions have added to a collective that is bigger than each of us.What a cool thing to be part of!

I remain intentional in my gratitude practice. Some days are easier than others, but because of habit and intention, no day is too difficult to find some gratitude.

What are my positive intentions today? What are yours? Onward!

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Inch

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. Present. Mindful.

Inch by inch, I keep practicing gratitude and reaping the many benefits that come.

Consider slowing down and noticing what "inch by inch" can feel like today.

Monday, December 22, 2014

Hugs

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 years, and as he hits the teen years they are almost comical at times. He lets me hug him. And he will even give me a little hug back. At home of course. Nothing public at this point. He is now taller than I am. I tell him he will always be my baby though, and I will always want those hugs. It is something special, hugging your own growing child. How grateful I am for that.

Hugs. To give. To receive. To reach out. Give some today.

Friday, December 19, 2014

Holthaus

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 choice as to our given names. We can always change them if we wish, but I wouldn't change a thing about mine. Lisa Holthaus Valentine. There's a lot of life lived in those three names. For that, I am truly grateful.

I will be taking a blog break for a couple days. Have a nice weekend!

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Gophers

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 spring and summer following gophers. Actually we were trapping them. They were numerous and could be destructive to farmland. So the local county extension offices would offer rewards for the paws of captured gophers. I recall ten cents per pair, and then it moved up to a quarter. It was worth our time back then.

The process began by looking for fresh gopher mounds-piles of dirt they create when they make their burrows. The trick was finding the opening, clearing it enough to fit a trap in it, then covering things back up and putting a post nearby to both hold the trap and mark the mound. The next morning we would check our traps and see if we had caught anything. If we had, I would usually let someone else take it from there. It was one of the many ways I learned about life on the farm. I recall the challenge of the trapping and some excitement if we caught a gopher. In some sense, we were doing our part to help out.

From grief to gophers, and now wishing you a good day full of gratefulness.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Grief

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 like my sister's, losing someone in this manner, must be some of the toughest, most heart-wrenching grief to face.

We may grieve lost dreams, our youth, friends we have lost contact with. We may grieve decisions we regret making or choices we regret not taking. Face the grief. Feel it.

If I have grief over a loss, it must mean I had a blessing first.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Feelings

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 students was mentioning a Pringle's chip can. I asked them what would happen if we kept stuffing feelings we didn't want to talk about into the can. It would explode. It would burst. Things would come out sideways. That is what happens to us if we aren't tuned into our feelings, our heartfelt emotions.

I feel more with my heart and soul than I do with my head. But how much time do I spend thinking about feelings rather than acting on them in healthy ways?

We live in a culture and society that has many ways to numb feelings, that has gotten really good at looking okay on the outside while falling apart on the inside. Let's do ourselves and others a favor. Honestly identify and discover our range of feelings. Discard the toxic ones. (It takes work, but lightens the load.) And nourish the positive and uplifting ones. (Work also required, but the dividends are great.)

Monday, December 15, 2014

Frazzled

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. It is 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 keep me present, and has a calming effect all its own. Consider it an anti-fraying strategy.

This time of year can put people in a frazzled state. Ironic isn't it? Peace on earth, good will to men, but too many are running around like crazy people trying to do too much and not enjoying any of it. Expectations low. Boundaries high. Heart open. Less frazzled.

Keeping priorities in the forefront and saying no to some things that don't make the priority list can be helpful too. Where can and should I put my energy? Where is the joy in today?

I can't control all of my life circumstances, but I do have some control over my state of mind and a less frazzled state is my goal for today. How about you? Pause. Embrace the moment. Feel the small joys.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Eventually

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 to be let go of. One of my goals with the recovery work I do, and the meditation and prayer I try to practice, is to help that "eventually" come sooner rather than later. I am at least making some progress and sometimes I don't even pick something up that isn't mine to pick up. Less letting go required that way.

And the sobering thought as I pondered the word eventually, is that eventually we all die. It's something we don't always want to consider, and I try not to live in fear of it, but I think it is okay to ponder our mortality from time to time. It brings an appreciation of the life we do have, even with all of it's trials and tribulations. Maybe it also helps us be more thankful and less frustrated with our life circumstances at the moment and with the people who are sharing in it with us.

I am thinking of those who are looking more closely at death because of illnesses that have them or a loved one on the inevitable path to the end. My thoughts and prayers are with them all.

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Experience

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 pondered what the experience was like for my Grandma in her kitchen with her family all those years ago. I ponder what my Grandma's life experience was like. My mom's mom passed away when I was barely five. I have only a couple of vague memories of her. But when I use her recipes, we in some way, share an experience. I am grateful for my family and the previous generations that made it possible for us to be here today.

Experience goes hand in hand with the discipline I wrote about yesterday. Experience teaches me that if I stay consistent and disciplined, I get to keep reaping rewards. That certainly holds true for running, recovery, and gratitude practice. They have each enhanced my life experience in ways I couldn't have predicted.

Experience as teacher. Experience as pause. If I truly want to experience a moment, an emotion, I need to pause, slow down and be there in that moment.

Experience as hope for the future. I have been shown that with faith and patience, and trying to get out of my own way, I can be led to places I could not have found myself. To share those experiences with others is an ongoing gift.



Friday, December 12, 2014

Disciplined

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 have never found it too difficult to summon the motivation to start out on a run. There may be days when it is a little tougher, but I know I will feel better across the realms of health if I get a run in. I am so grateful for the typical ease of my running commitment.

As I finish up my 10th gratitude journal and near my 900th blog post, the discipline of gratitude practice continues to evolve in my life. As Robert Louis Stevenson said in this recent quote from that 10th journal:

"Keep your eyes open to your mercies. The man who forgets to 
be thankful has fallen asleep in life."  

My life is full and rich in blessings. To fall asleep to those wonders and riches would be a pity. Discipline allows me to stay awake. 

What disciplines serve you well in your life? Where do you need more discipline? 


Thursday, December 11, 2014

Delicious

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 front of me. Mindful eating is part of mindful living.

Let's all try some mindful eating today.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Clarifiers

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 clarifier as well. This morning it tells me to take care of myself. And that means a short post and onward into my day.

Who and what are the clarifiers in your life?

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Chasm

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 mastectomies. Cancer took much from me, but it also served as a catalyst in more ways than one. Considering our own mortality has a way of doing that.

Crossing the Chasm

There was a chasm                                         But greater heights
In my life                                                          Better perceptions
I had been                                                       More goals
Trying to cross                                                Were on the
For a long time                                                Other side
                                                                       Of this chasm
It was deep
And wide                                                        Recovery
In it were                                                        Marriage
Some of my                                                    Motherhood
Remaining                                                      Running
Hang-ups                                                       Hadn’t quite
And hold-ups                                                 Launched me
They were                                                      Across it
Substantial
                                                                       Getting cancer
On the other side                                            Became the
Was my brighter self                                       Unexpected
More content                                                  But necessary
More fully realized                                           Catalyst
                                   
I had already                                                   The chasm
Crossed many                                                 Was crossed
Chasms                                                           The view
Climbed higher                                                On this side
Gotten a better view                                        Is spectacular
Than I thought
I would                                                           LV  9/13-9/19/09
In my life

What chasms are you trying to cross? What chasms are you avoiding? We never have to cross alone. 

Monday, December 8, 2014

Books

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 take me some time to work through a book this time of the year. I get more reading done in the summer.

I was reading to Sam before he was born and we read to him nightly until he was eight years old. He is a strong reader and I feel like we can take some credit for that. He reads more at school these days, but will read before he goes to sleep some nights.

I think about books that I have turned to in my recovery from alcoholism. There are daily meditation books and books where others share what works for them. Some of these books I have read numerous times, some I continue to study like a textbook. They have all helped guide me to healthier thoughts and actions.

I love books. I continue to pursue my dream of getting a book published. It all starts with words on a page, electronic or otherwise. Thanks to the authors of the many books I have enjoyed. Thanks to you who read my words. Onward!

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Being

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 Saturday, as I played outside with middle school students on Friday and did the concessions stand work yesterday. But my physical being opens me up to my spiritual being and together they do better work of managing my emotions and thoughts.

Today I will practice being. Fully being. Gratitude takes me far beyond just existing.


Saturday, December 6, 2014

Alcoholism

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, emotionally, spiritually, legally, relationally. And the list could go on. It took all of that to show me I needed help. The help continues.

Daily I strive to come to some personal acceptance of my disease. Sadly, there is still plenty of misunderstanding about alcoholism and other forms of addiction in our society today. As both an alcoholic and a cancer patient, I found a new voice. The piece below speaks to the similarities between the two, and the differences. It was published in the Minneapolis Star Tribune on August 7, 2011.

Addiction and Cancer Both Need Headlines
What if we saw addiction more like we see cancer?  Both deadly diseases, they are worlds apart in how they are perceived. It would sound heartless to tell a cancer patient to “get over it,” yet alcoholics and addicts are judged harshly for their malady. Cancer cells don’t announce their presence until enough have amassed to be felt, detected by tests, or cause pain. Likewise, addiction often has someone in its steel grips before they realize it.
Addiction and cancer have common ground beyond their lethal potential. Research has made headway regarding causes and treatment of both, but unanswered questions remain and cures are elusive. Personal habits can be contributing factors. Genetic predisposition seems prominent. Many forms of treatment can help put each in remission. But they continue to exact a huge toll in our country on a daily basis. People don’t ask for or deserve either.  I didn’t ask for either, but I am facing both.  I am an alcoholic in recovery since 1989 and a breast cancer survivor since 2008. Very grateful to be alive, I don’t have to face either disease alone. I wish that for everyone.
Amy Winehouse’s death made headlines this summer and generated abundant comments and coverage. (Toxicology reports are pending on Winehouse, but regardless of what killed her, addiction impacted her life.) It is disconcerting that a celebrity death puts the calamity of addiction in the news for a mere few days before it flits quietly away again. We need to keep addiction in the headlines. Not individual tragedies, but the collective devastation. It’s not every day a famed singer dies, but it is every day that lives are lost to alcohol and other drugs. Just your average alcoholic or addict.  Gone. Leaving behind loved ones, lost dreams, and heartache.  Their stories are no less tragic than Winehouse’s, but it is too easy to detach when the victim is someone we don’t personally know, too easy to remove ourselves from the urgency.
Bring it closer to home. We all know people struggling with addiction. It may be someone in the office next door, the house down the street, or the bedroom across the hall. Some are alive, but not well. Others make headlines in the local paper when they crash cars, drown, commit murder/suicide or have obituaries that simply say “died unexpectedly.”  Maybe if we stated openly that addiction killed them, more people would take notice and stigma would fall away. Cancer’s victims get a nice line in their obituary about “losing a long battle.”  Addicts are in a fight for their lives too.
Addiction is non-discriminating, touching all classes and races. Those afflicted need help from outside themselves. We wouldn’t expect a cancer patient to treat themselves. Why do we think addicts can?  The bitter judgment is obvious. Weak-willed. Created their own troubles. Why don’t they just quit?  Instead, let’s ask ourselves if there is someone in our own lives who needs support and if we are the ones who can offer it.
Both illnesses impact an entire family. Yet, families dealing with cancer get support and sympathy while families with addiction get discussed in hushed tones. Secrets are perpetuated by the rampant denial, guilt, and shame in these families. The proverbial elephant in the living room needs to get kicked out, but it takes a concerted effort. If making a meal for a chemo patient and her family is helpful, so is not enabling an addict to continue putting themselves and others in danger.
Each studied for centuries, people accept cancer as a disease but debate addiction as one. Alcoholism has been recognized as a disease since 1956 by the American Medical Association. Addiction as a disease is an ongoing discussion; but it has clear symptoms, is chronic in nature, and terminal if left untreated. All debates aside, addiction is headline-worthy. Cancer makes the news regularly, helping advance awareness, prevention, treatment, research funding, and people’s willingness to talk about it. We can strive for the same with addiction. We can even hope for lives saved and families restored.
           


Friday, December 5, 2014

Average

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 myself in, or sometimes create in my mind.

Then there's that other average. Just typical. Mediocre. We shy away from that use of average. Who wants to be "just average?"  Let's do ourselves and everyone else a favor. Embrace our averageness and accept it. Then we can spend more time bringing out our unique and exceptional natures. We all have both, we all are both. Average. Exceptional.

I am average at many things. You wouldn't want to hear me sing. I can't dance. I am fairly clueless when it comes to designing things. Math is not a strong suit.

I am above average as a committed runner. I am above average at practicing gratitude. Together, these two have made an exceptional difference in my life.

Thursday, December 4, 2014

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 about having my own blog.

I am grateful for words. They are the wonder, the key, the gift to unlock our hearts, souls and minds. There is such a wealth to pick from. Depending on how parameters are defined and which source a person is using, there are anywhere from 470,000 to over a million words. Suffice it to say I won't run out of ideas.

Stay tuned. In the meantime, consider doing your own A-Z gratitude list and have a good day!

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

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 pleasant speaker to a good-sized group of students and adults at my school. She ran out of time well before she ran out of material.

I think about some of the interesting things she shared. Like starting at sea level on their Antarctica trek and reaching the South Pole which is at over 9,000 feet in altitude. Like needing to consume 7,000 calories a day when pulling sleds for up to 14 hours a day. Like making progress one day, sleeping, getting up and realizing the ice flow and winds had pushed them back the 10 miles they had just covered the previous day.

Listening to her, seeing some of the pictures of the beautiful and icy isolation of the polar regions, helped me walk away with a reminder. A reminder about our small part in the larger whole. A reminder about frontiers being both outside of ourselves, as well as in our hearts and souls.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

"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 or that. Too many people spend too much time comparing their insides to other people's outsides and coming up short.

We aren't meant to be perfect. We are meant to be human. We are meant to be our unique selves. The better I can accept my own humanness and that of others, the less likely I will be intimidated by life. The less likely that inferiority will flare up. The more likely I will show compassion and understanding to others.

Focusing on gratefulness helps me feel less insecure, less inadequate. It helps me feel like I am enough just as I am, like my life is blessed, just for today. Self-hatred and wrong-sized ego (either too big or too small) are both pitfalls. Gratitude practice brings doses of humility, which offset such pitfalls.

Gratefulness. The great fullness of life. It's a good starting point for today.

Monday, December 1, 2014

Intimidating

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 times, I do try to reciprocate. Gratitude shared is gratitude multiplied.

Some questions can be intimidating. Some actions can seem intimidating. If keeping a daily gratitude journal seems daunting, if you are the kind to be more sporadic and miss days, but then think you have failed because it wasn't daily, I would ask you to consider this: like exercise, any gratitude practice is beneficial. Some is better than none. If you write in a gratitude journal a couple times a week, if you do something to practice gratitude for 5 minutes once a week, it can still have benefits. (And I would guess that it would lead to more than 5 minutes of gratitude focus a week too.)

Practicing gratitude when we don't feel very grateful can also feel intimidating. Like practicing recovery and sobriety can feel intimidating when we would rather be numb. But both can be done. Taking the right actions will at least lead us to the next part of our day. No one is happy and grateful all the time. I try to have a more realistic approach. I may not always feel grateful, but it is always possible to practice gratitude. Sooner or later my feelings come along and turn more positive.