"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

Saturday, January 31, 2015

Yawn

Today I am grateful that yesterday I got to do something I hadn't yet. I am also grateful for the simple pleasure of a meal someone else made, shared in the company of pleasant people.

What I got to do yesterday that I hadn't done yet was see the inside of the chapel at the Benedictine monastery near the school I work at. What a beautiful and calming space. What a spiritually inspiring design. I hope to spend some more time there.

It was a busy week, leaving me exhausted. That brings to mind a fitting second "y" word-YAWN. We all know that yawning is an indication of being tired or bored. But interestingly enough, we don't know all that much about why we yawn. I did a little reading on it and was surprised by how mysterious some aspects of yawning are. One more recent idea is that yawning helps cool the brain. Or is yawning more about social interaction and is that why a yawn from one person will often trigger a yawn in another?

Animals yawn too. I don't think I had ever really thought about that until we got our dog Oliver. He will stretch and yawn with a natural ease when he needs to. I bet he's not thinking that he's had a busy day and should rest some more.

I just yawned between these last two lines. A natural yawn that just came. I got a good night's sleep last night, but I could definitely do better when it comes to the amount of sleep I get. I can operate pretty effectively on seven hours a night, but eight would be better for me. And some nights it is more like 6 hours because I will wake up early, my brain becomes engaged in the day ahead, and it tells my body to get up and start doing stuff.

I sometimes run into yawning issues in the early afternoon if I have had too many sweets and if I slow down and sit for a time. I sometimes have to fight off the drowsiness. What I find to be good at preventing this drowsiness, which makes me less productive, is to keep myself hydrated and to not eat too much mid-day. On a day when I am able to though, I will enjoy the treat of an afternoon nap.

I will say that I rarely yawn from boredom. I am always pretty engaged in what I am doing, or I am sleeping. I don't sit around wondering what to do next. I don't often get tired of listening to others whether it be in a casual or work setting. I am an observer of life. Gratefulness and mindfulness keep a steady stream of observations in front of me. When one finds life fascinating and full of blessings, boredom is not an issue.

Friday, January 30, 2015

Yet

Today I am grateful for a ripe pear and comfortable jeans. I am also grateful for my family and friends in so many different ways.

The A-Z trip through the alphabet that I have been taking is drawing to a close, but it's not done YET. I am approaching a thousand posts, but I'm not there yet. One post at a time, one day at a time.There are plenty of places I hope to travel to but haven't yet. One dream at a time. One trip at a time.

I have people I am worried about and praying for. I have job stress like many of us do. I have frustrations with finding time to do all the things I would like to do along with all of the things I must do. Yet, I am calm and content in this moment. Faith, gratitude, and mindfulness, all practiced with deliberate actions, make that peace possible.

I have been writing about gratitude for twenty years, yet I never run out of reasons to be grateful. I never cease to be amazed at the little things that truly make a day a good day. That cup of coffee. That good morning kiss with my husband. That first step out into the fresh January air.

There's plenty I haven't done yet. Yet, I live a rich and full life. How about you?

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Xyst

Today I am grateful for a good presentation to parents last evening on the topic of "Gratitude and Positive Psychology." I am grateful for the parents who attended and for their input and comments.

XYST is an ancient word of Greek and Latin origin. In ancient Greek and Roman architecture, it was a covered portico. In ancient Roman villas, it was a garden walk planted with trees.

This brings to mind for me a particular road with trees on both sides that is located near my family's property in Iowa. The trees were planted over 30 years ago. Many times over the years, we have walked up that road while home visiting. Maybe there were other siblings home and we walked together. Maybe my husband and I went for a walk or a run. Maybe I was going solo.

Many times over the years. And slowly those trees grow. The changing seasons come and go each year. The trees are growing straight and tall. In the summer, the rows on each side almost join in the middle, creating that idea of a xyst.

And I pause in amazement. At the speed of the years going by. At the growth of the trees. At my own personal growth. The trees were planted and grow in the right soil. Gratefulness creates the right soil and conditions for me to grow.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Xiphoid

Today I am grateful for the interest and joy I find in learning new things. I am also grateful for acceptance of my physical body.

XIPHOID, as in xiphoid process, elicits a variety of thoughts and feelings in me. It is a small, cartilaginous protrusion at the end of human sternums and the sternums of most vertebrates. It joins the sternum and rib cage and also serves as an anchor for the diaphragm. I recall it as a marker used to find the right location for chest compressions in CPR. There's another thing to be grateful for-CPR.

Think of the hundreds of various body parts that make up our complex, intricate, and fascinating skeletal, muscular, and organ systems. It is incredible how it all works together. Even the often forgotten xiphoid process has important roles and deserves our gratitude.

What am I forgetting in my own life that deserves my gratitude today?  I will try to pause from time to time during my day today to consider that question. It promises to be a busy day. All the more reason to pause.

When I think about my own xiphoid process, I also think about it's location on the changed terrain of my chest since my breast cancer diagnosis and surgeries. I repeat what I started the post with today. I am so grateful for acceptance of my body, as is. So grateful for my overall health and energy.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Words

Today I am grateful for my fingertips working on the keyboard. I am also grateful for the plethora of words at our disposal.

Writers use WORDS. Singers use words. Everyone uses words. When you stop and think about how languages came to be and how they are translated and passed on, it is really quite amazing. How do I know and understand these words I just typed? There are over 400,000 words in the English language. That will give me plenty to talk about for years to come.

Some thoughts that come to mind, thoughts that only make sense because I have words to describe them, are:

*I am often surprised by what I might latch onto in the flow of writing, or what may come from a stream of inspiration. That is when writing really fires me up-when it just seems to come forth and pick up steam.
*There are always more words to learn. My vocabulary isn't too shabby, but it's certainly got plenty of room for future expansion.
*Words can wound if not chosen carefully, but they can also heal if they are compassionately delivered.
*They can dampen enthusiasm or stoke it. Not just the words themselves, but how they are said if verbalized.
*Words can cause plenty of confusion or they can bring crystal clear clarity. In a day's time, we all probably experience some of both.
*There's a song by the Bee Gees titled "Words."  Listen to it on YouTube here. It was a big hit for the group and was released 47 years ago in January of 1968. I like many Bee Gees songs, but this is one of my favorites.

"It's only words, and words are all I have . . ."  Have a good day, unless you have made other plans.

Monday, January 26, 2015

Writer

Today I am grateful for friends I can confide in. I am grateful for what wonderful ways writing has helped me.

I am a WRITER. I have been a writer since before I was a teen. It is only more recently that I have become a published and paid writer, with a monthly column called "Gratitude Flow" in our local newspaper for two years now. I get paid $30 a column. Prior to that, I had three op-ed pieces on the "Opinion Exchange" in the Minneapolis Star Tribune over a couple of years, and they each paid $100 apiece. (They stopped paying the $100 now, so my 4th piece was unpaid, but I am still so grateful it went in. The payment was just a bonus really.) I am not raking it in, but I am indeed paid and published.

I am also proud of the guest blog posts I have written for "Pink Ribbon Blues" and "Nancy's Point." Of course, the blogosphere makes it possible for anyone with access to the Internet to self-publish, but to have someone else feel my writing is worthy of their blog space means a lot.

Regardless of whether or not I have ever been published or paid, I would still be a writer. I started as a poet and have well over 1500 of them in various notebooks, binders, and cloth-covered journals. I write about gratitude in several ways and I am currently on gratitude journal #11 after beginning with #1 twenty years ago next month. I have kept a journal/diary of my life since I was in high school. I have been writing in a journal to my son since before I became pregnant with him.

I have developed more into an essay writer in recent years. One of the "cancer as catalyst" things that happened to me is that I found a voice that had more to say than a poem could capture. I still write poems and always will. But the once-emerging essayist is fully emerged and fully inspired to keep writing in essays. I have over 900 short essays right here on this blog.

I am committed to writing and also eternally grateful to it. It saved my life in painful times, helping me purge toxic emotions. It gives me focus and purpose today. Onward!

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Vertebrae

Today I am grateful for early morning quiet today, a lovely run in the sunshine yesterday, and a nice birthday for Sam.

As I pondered my first "v" word-visceral-a second word came to mind-VERTEBRAE. They are two words that not only share a first letter. They share an important role in the lives of humans. They help us feel deeply, to move and be moved.

I am a physical being, a runner, active, trying not to take my health and physical capabilities for granted. But I must admit I hadn't thought directly about my vertebrae in a long time. A more formal definition of vertebrae goes like this: each of the series of small bones forming the backbone, having several projections for articulation and muscle attachment, and a hole through which the spinal cord passes. There's a reason why we use phrases like "they were the backbone of the team, the family, our business." Our backbone is vitally important and contains vital components of our central nervous system.

Without my actual backbone, this series of vertebra, I would miss so much. The joy of running, putting one foot in front of the other. The sensation of a hug given to or received from someone I care about. Laying down in a warm bed, exhausted after a long day. Getting up out of that same bed, rested and ready to begin a new day. Walking along a trail on an early spring day, enjoying the smell of new grass emerging.  The list is endless. The opportunities for gratefulness are endless.

My figurative backbone keeps me strong and fit in the spiritual, mental, and emotional realms. A series of small actions like prayer on my knees, writing in my gratitude journal, reaching out to others in recovery, pausing in the midst of a busy day, and giving myself quiet time on my commute are all vertebra on the other backbone of my life.

I will protect both sets of vertebrae by honoring the precious and fragile nature of life, by giving thanks for all that is possible because of the amazing human body, mind, heart, soul, and spirit.

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Visceral

Today I am grateful for our son Sam on this, his 13th birthday, and for the positive experience wrestling has been for him over the last two years. I am also grateful for normal bloodwork from my recent check-up.

I often use the word bittersweet to describe how I feel on my child's birthday. I am so grateful for his healthy growth and development, for the young man he is growing into. Bittersweet has to do with how quickly the years go by, how rapidly he went from an infant nuzzling with me to this . . . a teenager, taller than both his dad and I, complete with the push for independence and a growly disposition at times.

Bittersweet. But VISCERAL too.

Visceral: relating to deep inward feelings rather than to the intellect; instinctive, deep-down, deep-rooted. Also defined as "coming from strong emotions and not from logic or reason."  That pretty much nails parenthood doesn't it? Visceral for mothers because of the deep-rooted connection that started with conception, was realized through the miracle of birth, and continues every day thereafter. Visceral for fathers because of the instinctive need to protect and provide.

Visceral is more about heart and soul, less about the head. I love my son with all my heart and soul. I wish him the best in his next year, and throughout these pivotal teen years.

And I am deeply grateful to have him in my life; to have the experiences, joys, and challenges of being a mom.

Happy Birthday Sam!

Friday, January 23, 2015

Umpire

Today I am grateful for laughter and humor amidst tense times. I am also grateful for my ability to type, even if I am self-taught and slow.

The word UMPIRE for me conjures up images of softball diamonds, an ump behind the plate and another on the edge of the infield. Softball was the sport I was involved in for the longest time as both a player and a coach. I did a little umpiring myself, but only informally and in a pinch. I preferred to leave that job up to someone else.

But I certainly appreciated the job the umpires did. Though we may have complained at times about inconsistencies in an ump's strike zone and calls we believed they had blown, we usually went about the business of playing or coaching the game and let them go about their business of umpiring. It was rare when we felt umpires may have been pivotal in a game's outcome. In my opinion, the game's outcome was more determined by player mistakes and successes, by missed or seized scoring opportunities, by the way the ball bounced. In other words, the game's outcome was up to the game, not the guy behind the plate.

Allow me to step up on my soapbox briefly. Today it seems part of a growing and concerning trend to "blame" others for losses, defeats, disappointments. I hear more complaints about an umpire or referee's call, about an unfair advantage the other team had, too many "yeah buts" and "if only." Yet, when winning takes place, there's no lack of people wanting to take credit. We can't have it both ways. "Sometimes you win, sometimes you lose" is far more than a trite statement. It is a fact of life. A fact that teaches us more if we accept it than if we deny it.

We are imperfect humans. Players will make mistakes. Even good hitters only get a hit one out of three times.  A great play by one team shouldn't become just a "a lucky call." We are imperfect humans. People will say and do things that they later regret. Blame others or circumstances for a personal choice and chances are I won't change behavior. Own up to that faulty personal choice and I am much more likely to change behavior for the positive.

Stepping down off my soapbox now and saying thanks for the mistakes and the losses that have taught me so much over the years.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Undertone

Today I am grateful for exercise and endorphins. I am also grateful for my oncologist.

After a meander back to the letter "Q" it's time to get back on track with a "U" word. An UNDERTONE is an underlying quality or feeling, undercurrent, atmosphere. It is a fitting word for today after I spent time yesterday at the cancer center where I am a patient.

Being over 6 1/2 years out from my diagnosis and just reaching six years on Tamoxifen, it had been a year since I had seen my oncologist. It was a milestone a year ago to be told I didn't need to come back for a year. That year sure went fast, and it was a healthy one. I am so grateful for the days and the health.

I have been with this oncologist since the scary beginning of my time as cancer patient. She is leaving the clinic I am at and I will miss her. I am grateful I was able to see her yesterday and to give her a handwritten thank you. I was surprised to get a hug as my appointment wrapped up. Dr. _________, a sincere thanks to you for your kindness and your professional care.

But back to that undertone. As I drive the few minutes from my workplace to the cancer center, I feel that undercurrent. I also drive nearby the hospital where I had the MRI that initially spotted the cancer in my right breast and the radiology center where I had an MR-guided biopsy that confirmed the suspicious area was indeed cancer. An undertone of fear, of unpleasant memories of waiting and wondering.

Then I walk into the cancer center. Workers, patients, and caretakers are coming and going. It is sometimes easy to spot who is the patient and who is the caregiver, but not always. The atmosphere is thick with a variety of human emotions. I can only accurately pinpoint my own-fear, relief, gratitude, reflecting. There is an undertone of sickness and death, but there is also a competing undertone of hope and life.

Today, I am going to focus on the hope and life.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Quagmire

Today I am grateful for working heat again and for a visit from a retired colleague.

One more "Q" word wants to be written about in this alphabet run-through. That word is QUAGMIRE. Quagmire is defined best for me as a situation that is hard to deal with or get out of: a situation that is full of problems. Entrapped captures it too.

I was entrapped by self-pity for years, especially during my active alcoholism and in the early years of my sobriety. I was mired in the muck and quagmire of negative thinking and couldn't get out. Such thinking created many problems for me, and gave me plenty of reasons to stay stuck and keep drinking. It shaped an unhealthy perception through which I viewed myself and the world around me. The quagmire of my mind was a dangerous place. It isn't so dangerous anymore.

I used to get myself in the quagmire and not ask for help. Today, I ask for help. Sometimes even before I get stuck. Help from my Higher Power and from supportive people. Help from actions like gratitude practice.

Life will send some tough situations our way at times, but I don't choose to feed them with self-pity and take a long trip into the quagmire anymore. Gratefulness keeps me moving in a forward direction, less likely to get stuck.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Questions

Today I am grateful to be here and now. I am also grateful for equipment parts that do the job they are supposed to do.

I typically have QUESTIONS every day. Questions for my husband or son. Rhetorical questions for our dog Oliver. Questions about the bigger meaning of recovery and life that I only share with myself or those who won't think I am crazy.

Then there are the "What if??" questions that come along in so many ways. We had a big "what if?" in our home Sunday night and yesterday. So big that it makes questions like "What is the meaning of life?" pale in comparison. It is more a question of "What is life?"

Life is precious. Life is fragile. In the scheme of the universe, life is fleeting. All those points came home to us loud and clear in a unique set of circumstances. I was the first to wake up yesterday morning. Nothing unusual about that. What was unusual was how cold it felt in the house. A quick check of thermostats on each level showed temperatures of 58, 59, and 60 degrees. Our heat was not working. We have hot water heat, so that meant that our boiler wasn't working. I didn't smell gas or anything, but I also felt unnerved.
What to do?

It took a few hours for a heating technician to arrive. He was perplexed as well as he pursued potential issues. A sensor that is a safety device on boilers like ours was out and needed to be replaced. What had happened?  He slowly connected the dots, with the help of another technician over the phone. The sensor worked just like it was supposed to, shutting down our boiler to prevent the dangerous build up of gases like carbon monoxide in our house.

Sunday afternoon and evening we had a fire in our fireplace for hours, clothes in the dryer, the heat kicking on and off, four humans and a dog coming and going around the house. A set of circumstances that all came together in a way they hadn't before.There were too many things pulling air and exhaust out of the house. The sensor detected a backdraft of that exhaust of harmful gases and shut down the boiler. If that sensor hadn't been there, or if it hadn't functioned properly, we could have succumbed to CO poisoning.

Would the CO detectors we have around the house have worked? What if? What if?

Some questions are tough to ask, but I am most grateful to be here asking them. Other questions are easier and more inviting. What will I do with my day today? Try to make the most of it, moment by moment.

Monday, January 19, 2015

Quotes

Today I am grateful for warm clothes, a hot cup of coffee, and the rising sun.

I was looking at my A-Z list yesterday and realized that I had forgotten about "Q."  I hadn't really forgotten, I already had some ideas for "q" words. I just forgot that "Q" comes after "P" and before "R."

So let's reel back to the letter "Q" and talk about QUOTES. Many quotes from many writers are littered throughout the 900-plus blog posts you can read here. There are even some of my own here. How to pick one quote to focus on in a post about quotes?

This is the one that comes to mind: "If it is to be, it is up to me." It is attributed to William H. Johnsen, though I couldn't find much information at all about Mr. Johnsen.

Interestingly, the quote is made up entirely of two-letter words. I am a fan of bigger, more complicated words. They seem more sophisticated and weighty. But this short quote full of short words is sophisticated and weighty in itself.

"If it is to be, it is up to me." I have to take the actions, do the next right thing. I am the only one who controls my attitude and actions. If I am going to change, I have to lead the way for myself. Pretty profound stuff if you ask me. Though I know today that I do better with help from a Higher Power and other supportive people, I must do the legwork.

When I was younger, I filled notebooks with quotes I came across. My love of words and writing started early. One of the most clever quotes I have come across is this one:



She also is quoted as saying:
"I generally avoid temptation unless I can't resist it." 

"Those who are easily shocked should be shocked more often."

"When choosing between two evils, I always like to try the one
I've never tried before." 

I am not some big Mae West fan, but I must say the gal had some gumption. She was ahead of her time in some respects. I like her humor and I appreciate that she wasn't afraid to say what was on her mind.

Do I have the courage to say what's on my mind? Mae West and I have different topics of focus, but I hope I share the courage to speak my mind. And not just my mind, but also my heart and soul.

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Time

Today I am grateful for a phone conversation with my sister Ann and for the health care available to those who need it. We are so fortunate in this country to have the access we do.

Happy Birthday Ann! Each birthday is a reason to reflect and celebrate. It's the gift of another day.

The gift of another day. That is how I try to look at life each morning when I get up. Some days my brain is already on overload before I get out of bed, but that is happening less and less. I believe that is the case because I am practicing mindfulness and presence more and more. Gratitude practice has opened up the world of "right here, right now" to me. Amazing. Amazing grace.

Energy given to the present moment is never wasted. But energy spent spinning in yesterday's regrets or tomorrow's worries is wasted. Gone. I will never get it back. I have too much I want to do with my life, with this succession of moments, to carelessly squander precious energy.

So it is about TIME. This poem I wrote five years ago sums it up.  

Time—On My Side?
Unlimited demand
Limited supply

Priorities
Clashing

Days
Crashing
Together

What is
A mere
Human
To do?

Slow down

Slow
Down

Too far
Behind

Too far
Ahead

Let life
Catch up

Who is
The enemy—
Time?
Or expectations?

Slow down
And the
Answer
Comes into
Focus

(LV       1/22 and 1/24/10)

When I "accept more and expect less" time comes at me in a steady flow, neither drowning me or leaving me parched.

Time. How will you spend yours today? Give gratefulness some time and you will gain a healthier perspective. 

Saturday, January 17, 2015

Tipsy

Today I am grateful for the morning sunshine streaming in to our living room and for my ability to hear.

Apparently I am pondering my two diseases on my way through "T." It was Taxotere and cancer yesterday and today it is TIPSY and alcoholism. Tipsy. Slightly drunk. Unsteady or foolish from drinking. Or as defined by the Urban Dictionary: The state when you are drinking alcohol in which you are past light headedness but before being drunk.

Slightly drunk meant I was just getting started. You might hear a normal drinker say something like "I better stop, I am getting a little tipsy." I never said that and I never understood it. Tipsy was never a stopping point for me. It was a starting point. It didn't last long because I usually drank fast enough to move right on to drunk. I don't understand the idea of social drinking. I don't know an alcoholic, recovering or not, who understands that. It's laughable to us, and also elusive. It's part of our disease.

Unsteady or foolish from drinking. I did fit that definition of tipsy. Many times over. Unsteady in the physical sense, but also the mental, emotional, and spiritual. And quite foolish, downright stupid at times, with my safety, with my own well-being, with my decisions. I am forever grateful that I survived my drinking career. I certainly could have ended up a sad statistic. It is only a matter of grace from a Higher Power that I did not.

Today I am grateful for those who helped me see that my drinking was not typical or normal, that it was progressing and hurting me. I am grateful for the support I have from family and friends in my daily recovery from alcoholism.

Friday, January 16, 2015

Taxotere

Today I am grateful for a comfortable recliner to rest and read in and I am also grateful to have slept in a little this morning.

Time to head into the letter "T." TAXOTERE was one of the two chemotherapy drugs I was given over four treatments in the fall of 2008 for breast cancer. The other drug was Cytoxan. I received them through IV infusions. I took pre-treatment Decadron, a corticosteroid, prior to each round of chemo. Then I got what was a relatively new anti-nausea drug at the time-Aloxi-in my IV before they brought out the big guns.

I have never taken so many different drugs at the same time before or since. I am grateful that the Decadron and Aloxi, though having their own side effects, did a good job lessening the negative effects of the chemo drugs. And I am grateful for the Taxotere and Cytoxan, two chemotherapies well-established in the treatment of breast cancer.

Unlike the better known and more feared Adriamyacin, a.k.a. "The Red Devil," Taxotere and Cytoxan were colorless in their IV bags. They seemed pretty mild for being killers. I distinctly remember my first chemotherapy treatment and watching the Taxotere, which was given before the Cytoxan, move through the IV and enter my body.

I had wondered if I would notice anything different when it first arrived. I didn't. Though at the beginning of the Taxotere infusion for round 2, I felt pain and discomfort as the drug first moved through the IV in my arm, chest, stomach, and mid-section. The IV pump was likely pumping too fast. They made sure it didn't happen again.

Four rounds of the Taxotere and Cytoxan regimen were bearable. There was something of a cumulative effect though, and I felt a little more exhausted, a little less like myself, after each round. I lost most of the hair on my body, but avoided other side effects like nausea, mouth sores, and peripheral neuropathy for the most part. I was exhausted in a way that I can't really describe and you probably wouldn't understand unless you have experienced it yourself. I felt out of sorts. But who wouldn't? Chemo drugs are out to kill roaming cancer cells. There is collateral damage. I was okay with that because I felt having the chemo was the right action in my treatment.

In ways, it seems so long ago and only a distant memory, this Taxotere and Cytoxan. But I am grateful to write about them. Grateful I had the medical care I did at the time. Grateful to be here living life fully today. Simply grateful.

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Savor

Today I am grateful for easy ways for big families to communicate, like texting and emails. I am grateful my mom is feeling better after an early morning trip to the ER yesterday.

SAVOR is a word that you will see referenced in the growing bulk of research on happiness, the benefits of gratitude practice, and other aspects of positive psychology. Savor. Relish. Enjoy. To enjoy something for a long time. People who are able to savor life as they go through their days are happier, healthier, more calm.

So I pause patiently and consider what I can savor: 

-moments like breathing in the air of a winter thaw
-memories like my son as a infant, sleeping on my chest
-tastes of my favorite foods, like pizza
-smells of home and a fire in the fireplace
-love given and received
-morning quiet
-a fresh cup of coffee
-the act of writing in my gratitude journal
-reading recovery wisdom
-the sweat rolling down my face
-my fingers on the computer keyboard
-putting on a warm sweatshirt

And the list goes on. Gratitude practice has taught me to savor, though I still have plenty of room for improvement. It is a habit worth fostering.

What are you savoring in recent moments?

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Scanty

Today I am grateful for my ability to walk, to put one foot in front of the other both literally and figuratively. I am also grateful for those who leave comments on my blog.

The word SCANTY caught my eye in this quote:

"A really thankful heart will extract motive for gratitude from everything, making the most 
even of scanty blessings." (J.R. MacDuff)

Scanty. Very small in size or amount. Meager. Skimpy. Sparse. Stingy.

Scanty is the opposite of words like abundant, bountiful, generous, plentiful.  But why is it that when I can see the scanty blessings, I live in abundance?

Because to notice the small things, the overlooked and taken for granted things, means that I have slowed down enough to actually live my life in the moment. And that is where the joy is. There is nothing scanty about a moment lived mindfully.

The moments and the little "joylets", as my sister Aileen has dubbed them, add up and my life has generous amounts of positive emotions and plentiful energy with which to proceed.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Respectful

Today I am grateful for perspective that only comes with mindfulness practice. I am also grateful for my comfortable workout clothes.

RESPECTFUL is the second "r" word I have chosen to blog about. This is a word we could all take to heart more. Regarding ourselves. Regarding others. Regarding this planet and all that lives on it.

I was having a conversation the other day surrounding "respectful fear."  It was a good reminder to me to look at how fear factors in to my day, my decisions. Fear can be pervasive if I let it run loose. There are rational fears and irrational fears. Respectful fear, to me, is keeping it in perspective. Where do I need to apply more faith? What do I need to let go of? What do I need to stop overthinking about? What fears can catalyze right actions and what fears can paralyze me?  Respectful fear.

These are some other words used to define respectful:
-humble
-deferential
-dutiful
-reverant

I typed that short list and then read through it several times. Together they sound like a good way to approach the day. Respectful of self and others. Respectful of this amazing journey of life. Respectful of the many blessings that grace us each day.

Remaining respectful and grateful today will allow my energy to be conserved for the right efforts.

Monday, January 12, 2015

Revealing

Today I am grateful for a warm and cozy bed and for my husband beside me in it. I am also grateful for my job and how it challenges me.

As I journey through the alphabet, my first stop at "R" is with REVEALING. This post has nothing to do with revealing secrets or revealing photographs. I don't believe I have any secrets that would be all that interesting and I certainly am not one for taking revealing photographs. The revealing I am writing about is "more will be revealed." Learning more about oneself, about those we love, about the mysteries of life.

By the time I reached a comfortable place in my adulthood, I had peeled back many messy layers I had accumulated over years of self-hatred, self-pity, perfectionism and active alcoholism. It took time before my true self was revealed to me. Today I appreciate it for the gift that it is.

For me, the revealing came slowly, with effort, and with a growing peace. But it was that effort and the time it took that helped the layers come off when they were ready to, when I was ready to peel them away.

The gratitude practice I began in earnest nearly twenty years ago has proven to be one of the best ways to reveal my true self. A self I am at peace with most days now. And in revealing the world as I see it today-a place with challenges for sure, but a place full of hope and opportunity.

Peeling layers. Revealing self. Practicing gratitude to let fresh air heal each layer as it comes away.

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Pithy

Today I am grateful for Sam's involvement in and enjoyment of wrestling. I am also grateful for what I learn when I take the time to just sit for a few minutes.

PITHY is a word that showed up in my sister Aileen's poem the other day. Read it here. It is not a word I use often, but I find it to be one that I like to say and use now that I am.

Concise. Compact. Condensed. Brief. Pithy.

So here is a pithy post.

STOP!-so that you will not hurry past the gift this moment offers you.

LOOK!-so you will recognize this gift: the opportunity available now.

GO!- that means: Do something with this precious opportunity!

This wisdom is courtesy of Brother David Steindl-Rast. Read more about it here.  

Onward and keep it simple today.

Saturday, January 10, 2015

Parka

Today I am grateful for clean water to drink and for a warm parka to wear on bitterly cold mornings.

PARKA makes for a good blog topic today for my second "p" word. It is believed to be of Russian origin and the first known use of the word was in 1780. Merriam-Webster defines it as a very warm jacket with a hood. Here's a selfie of me with my own very warm jacket with a hood. I only bring this coat out on the really cold days. It does make a difference.


It has been cold across the country recently, even where it usually isn't that cold. In some places, a temperature around freezing seems extreme. To those of us farther north, 32 degrees sounds like a veritable heat wave right now. We have barely made double digits above zero during the day but have had double digits below zero to go along with even chillier wind chills in the 25 to 35 below zero range at night.

The parka in the picture is about 17 years old. I got it when I was an elementary school counselor in Sioux Falls, SD. At one of the two schools I covered, I got to share in Tuesday playground duty. After one especially cold day in a less than sufficient winter jacket, we went and got this one. I don't know what store we bought it at, but it wasn't expensive. 

It's held up well, but that's not surprising since I save it for the coldest days of the season and on these days only use it when I walk Oliver or we brave the cold for a walk when we get stir crazy from being cooped up. It probably gets worn a few dozen times in a typical winter. Otherwise it takes up space at the back of the closet in our entryway. 

I am grateful for my parka, grateful I can adequately protect myself from frostbite and hypothermia. But I am also grateful when it stays in the back of the closet for several months. 

Friday, January 9, 2015

Plethora

Today I am grateful for my son Sam and what he teaches me about acceptance and patience. I am also grateful for my job and the variety it brings on any given day.

PLETHORA is a word I have always liked. It just rolls off the tongue in a unique way and it's definition-surplus, glut, a large or excessive amount-begs to be discussed in one way or another.

I am going to start with a perfect poem for this post, courtesy of my sister Aileen.
Thanks Aileen!

Plethora of Gratitude

Am grateful for the letter p
which provides punch
pop and pizzazz
to many words.
Pithy at times
persnickety at others,
plausibly
the most popular
productive and pleasing
letter.
Thank you P!  

You can find this and other writings from my talented sister on a blog she shares with a friend. It is called "Poetic License: Poetry and Commentary on Current Events" and can be found here.

Grateful for a letter of the alphabet? Why not? Just reading the poem piques my interest, helps me pause, and points to the vastness of possibilities when it comes to practicing presence and seeing life's little pleasures.

I have a plethora of gratitude, but I wouldn't say it is an excessive amount. Good days are balanced out by tougher ones and that's why a surplus is good. I can draw on that surplus when I can't summon as much gratefulness and mindfulness on my own.

By practicing the awareness that being grateful requires, I begin to see a plethora of blessings that I was missing in my overly busy physical and mental states. Realizing the range this plethora of blessings is-from people, to places, to nature, to things, to positive emotions, to air to breathe and working senses to enjoy it all with-I receive a calmness I can't find any other way. I savor more moments and slow down.

Gratitude practice brings a plethora of healthy sustenance to my life and health.

If you want to give gratitude practice a try, consider doing an A-Z gratitude list; writing, saying, or thinking of one or two things for each letter of the alphabet. A plethora of surprises awaits.

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Opulent

Today I am grateful for handwritten thank you notes to send to people in my life. I am also grateful for the poetry of other poets.

My husband and I are doing a 5-day cleanse to help us get back on track with weight and eating post-marathon and post-holidays. Today is day 5 and we are doing well, feeling good about our efforts, but ready for some of our favorites-like eggs and peanut butter. I am a little ornery too. Coming off sugar can do that.

So I am just ornery enough to take a word like OPULENT and put a different spin on it. Opulent means rich, luxurious, wealthy; having and enjoying really lavish and expensive stuff. I am concerned about how our society and culture seems to put too much value on achieving an opulent lifestyle, like that is the American dream come true. Dream come true? Or bad dream realized via overworking, jealousy, theft, and other nightmarish actions that hurt all involved?

Dig deeper and you will see these words used to define opulent: splendid, magnificent and prosperous. How about using them to refer not to things or stuff, but to people and blessings? Such practice can lead to immeasurable wealth of a different kind. A kind that will have you happier and healthier and enjoying what you already have.

The true opulence of a rich life via gratefulness and mindfulness. It is possible. Start practicing gratitude today if you don't already. That wealth of a different kind will come your way.

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Ornery

Today I am grateful for other bloggers I enjoy following and for my five working senses.

Sometimes though, when my five working senses are on overload, I get ORNERY. What a fun and accurate word to describe me at times, especially when I am tired or have been on hyperdrive for too long.

Words used to define ornery include: bad-tempered, combative, stubborn, grouchy, grumpy, cranky, ill-tempered.

Face it. We all have orneriness in us and it will come out at times. Embrace your ornery side when needed. My goal is to keep it short and quiet. I usually fail at the quiet part, but my ornery spells do seem to be fewer and farther between.

For me, hangovers and orneriness went together. I was not fun to be around on those mornings. During my active alcoholism, even when I wasn't hungover, I was often cantankerous. I know now that those were my negative thoughts and feelings coming out sideways. I may have sounded angry at those around me, but I was really angry with myself and my choices.

Live in ornery mode too long and you aren't only ill-tempered, you are likely ill. If not physically, at least spiritually.

Today I am grateful to be more appreciative and mindful and less grouchy and cranky.

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Nine

Today I am grateful I was taught how to read and write at a young age. I am also grateful for coffee enjoyed in a cup given to me as a gift from a good friend.

NINE is fitting today as this blog post is post number nine hundred. What a gift this blogging journey and habitual practice have been for me. I could not have imagined at the outset, in late March 2012, that I would be here at post #900, and be here at a more humble and calm place.

In keeping with today's theme, here are nine things I have learned from
habitually blogging about gratitude:

1.Honoring your passion is a gift you give yourself. I used to get everything else done and then pick up my writing, other than brief journaling I did daily. That meant that most days I didn't get to write much. I start my day with this blog and I am a more content person for it.

2. Expectations and humility go together. Early on, my expectations had me hoping for more page views, more followers, more comments. That didn't materialize in the way I thought it would, and I learned humility. I also learned that whether or not this blog helps or reaches anyone else, it is sure helping me. Today, I have a number of regular readers (THANK YOU!), some I know personally and some I don't. I continue to be guided by this thought: "Keep doing what you are doing." It's that simple.

3. When I asked my husband if he felt my blogging had helped me he said "yes." When I asked him "How?" his response was "You are calmer." Gratitude practice is mindfulness practice. Being mindful and present allows the calmness to also be present. Not all the time, but more than before. What a gift!

4. Gratitude is always possible. On good days, the list just flows. On tough days, I can still find several reasons to be grateful. I am here, breathing air and living life. That's a heck of a start to any list.

5. As calmness grows, so does a sense of worthiness. From someone who hated herself well into adulthood, I never felt worthy. I usually felt less than, not enough. When I focused my thoughts and actions on this self-pity, it just perpetuated itself. One of THE most valuable lessons I have learned about gratitude practice is that I can't feel sorry for myself and grateful at the same time. When I focus on the many gifts in my life, human and other, I begin to feel more worthy and less of a sham as a worthwhile person.

6. I haven't come close to running out of topics to blog about. Part of the joy in being a writer is having ideas come to you when they will. I always have a notebook in my purse and available at home. Ideas come through all avenues: a song on the radio, something someone else says or does, a pause, out on a run, in the early morning quiet.  It starts with an open mind and heart.

7. I am glad to see the growing body of scientific evidence that shows the effectiveness and benefits of gratitude practice. I am living proof. My experiment has given very clear results and they are statistically significant. I am healthier, happier, more calm, more energized, less fearful. And that is just a start. It began with my first gratitude journal nearly 20 years ago, but this blog really ramped up the benefits. Savor life and happiness follows.

8. As Brother David Steindl-Rast speaks and writes about-gratefulness leads to the great fullness of life.And as Melody Beattie says "Gratitude unlocks the fullness of life. It turns what we have into enough, and more." Indeed it does!

9. I can't give away something I don't have. I have gratitude and appreciation for so much-from small joys and seemingly inconsequential things, to the often taken for granted, to the bigger gifts. I have much to give and this blog is a great way for me to share. Gratitude shared is gratitude multiplied.

Thank you for reading my words and considering what gratefulness means to you.

Monday, January 5, 2015

Neighborhood

Today I am grateful for working heat in our house and for quiet solitude in the early morning.

NEIGHBORHOOD is a word that first brings to mind the neighborhoods I have lived in. I think of the farm I grew up on and our neighbors down the road or through the field. We had some distance between us but could still hear one another's dogs barking. I think about the six years I had my own apartment in Spencer, Iowa where I was teaching. I liked the neighborhood because across the street was open space and a park, and the Little Sioux River flowed nearby. It was my longest place of residence in my adulthood prior to our current home. It's part of my history. We appreciate our current neighborhood because it is a friendly and safe one, and puts us across the street from a nice trail and open space.

The word neighborhood also gets me thinking about my mind as a neighborhood. Is it a safe place? Am I in good company there? It is a legitimate question for those of us in recovery from alcoholism and other addictions. A humorous but accurate phrase you will sometimes hear is "My mind is like a bad neighborhood. I never go in there alone." That reminds me to consider the importance of not isolating and also of seeking a Higher Power who can help make the dark corners of my mind more livable.

When I first read Dr. Susan Love's description of how cancer develops, and she used the term "neighborhoods," I was intrigued.  It was an interesting way to describe what researchers are learning about cancer. Here is a brief description from the Dr. Susan Love's Research Foundation website at www.dslrf.org:

Cells & Their Community
For a cancer to occur a cell has to "mutate" and its behavior has to change. We used to think that was all it took. But we now know that this is not enough by itself to create cancer. The mutated cells are in a neighborhood of other cells—fat cells, immune cells, blood, etc.—known collectively as the stroma. If these cells are all well behaved, they will have a good influence on the mutated cell, which will coexist peacefully with them, and no disease will occur. But if the neighborhood is not so "law abiding" and stimulates or at least tolerates bad behavior, there may be trouble. The combination of the mutated cells and the stimulating, or tolerant, neighborhood will create breast cancer. 

Cancer remains mysterious, but it seems that progress is being made in solving some of the mystery. I am grateful for researchers and experts like Dr. Susan Love and what they are learning. Some day, maybe we will know for sure what constitutes a bad neighborhood and how to avoid it and therefore prevent cancer. In the meantime, I will do what I can to try to have healthy neighborhoods in my body. Exercise. Take Vitamin D. Drink lots of water. Be mindful. Practice gratitude. Take tamoxifen. Stay in recovery. Eat more healthy foods.

My body, heart, and soul share neighborhoods. They are not separate. Their wellness is interdependent, so my actions and practices need to be as well.

What do you think of first when you think of your body's neighborhoods? What can you do today to make a difference in their health?

Sunday, January 4, 2015

Mail

Today I am grateful for a phone conversation with my sister and for the little surprises that sometimes arrive via snail mail or email.

MAIL went from a pretty generic word referring to one type of mail-the kind that arrived on trucks or in the mailman's car and ended up in the mailboxes at the end of our driveways-to a word with multiple meanings and methods of delivery.

I recall in my youth the simple enjoyment and deliberate nature of getting the mail. It wasn't one person's job, but I would sometimes ride one of our bikes down the driveway to pick up the mail. Or someone arriving back from an errand to town would stop and pick it up. Our driveway was probably a good couple hundred yards long, so it took a little effort to bring in the mail. I rarely got anything in the mail, but if I did it was exciting.

Then email, electronic mail, entered our lives in the last two decades. It is a form of communication I do appreciate and find convenient. I don't mind the writing, and I have people I email regularly, especially others in recovery. We offer one another support and encouragement and it makes a true difference in my life.

It is also a mode that my siblings and I will use to connect and that is a good thing. Many aren't the type to pick up the phone and call, but they are the type to read and send emails. With our large family, it is a helpful way to keep up with our families and to make plans.

There is work email, junk email, newsletters, other people's blog posts. I sometimes get a little overwhelmed by it all. So I pick and choose what needs my attention, and I try not to give other people unnecessary emails.

I still like good old-fashioned snail mail though. I use it to send thank yous or gratitude letters, or a poem I wrote. There is something more personal and special, in my opinion, about getting something you can pick up, handwritten, or at least partially handwritten, from another person. I appreciate every piece of personal mail I get.

Technology and electronic devices are changing the way we communicate. Discussing the advantages and pitfalls of that are for another day, but I am doing my part to keep older forms of communication going as well. I sent a couple thank yous out last week and have a couple more to send.

I am grateful I can write, pay for stamps and envelopes, and have a postal service to deliver my correspondence. I am grateful to have people in my life to send mail to.


Saturday, January 3, 2015

Manure

Today I am grateful for time with recovery friends yesterday and for interest in and passion for the science of positive psychology.

I was considering "m" words to blog about when MANURE came to mind. For no particular reason, it just did. The farm girl in me smiled and I started typing. Interesting topic, this manure. Animal waste. Smelly stuff.

I grew up in close proximity to it from a variety of sources-cows, pigs, chickens. I recall helping clean out gutters in the barn, or the annual cleaning of the chicken house before a new batch of young chickens was moved in. It was just part of what we did and part of life on the farm.You wore boots and you changed clothes when needed. Fresh air was always just a few steps away.

But manure is more than smelly waste. Manure is good fertilizer for fields and gardens. It's an effective recycling program and one that has been used for hundreds and thousands of years. In fact, a wider definition of manure is any refuse used as fertilizer. Table scraps. Fruit peels. My mom got more use out of more things like that and taught her children valuable lessons about caring for God's creation. She continues those practices today.

And then I considered manure on a more figurative level. What difficulties and challenges, what manure of my life, became good fertilizer for later growth and flourishing? Drinking to excess. Perfectionism. Putting myself and others in harm's way because of my drinking. Self-hatred. Smoking. Thoughts of depression and worthlessness. Not liking my body. Plenty of smelly manure, broken dreams, wasted time in all of that.

Today I am forever grateful to the people who helped me put the waste in it's place-as fertilizer for a healthier future. I am grateful to my Higher Power for helping convert the waste to the wonderful gifts of self-acceptance and sobriety. Without the messy, smelly times in life, I wouldn't be here at this fruitful place.

Friday, January 2, 2015

Leave

Today I am grateful for a calm acceptance that sometimes settles around me and within me. I am also grateful for healthy habits like exercise, drinking lots of water, and gratitude practice.

LEAVE is today's word. Leave before saying something to later regret. Leave an old and ineffective way of thinking for a more energizing and effective way. Leave an unhealthy relationship. Leave after a family visit. Leave before the weather gets bad. Leave out unneccessary details.

There are many ways to consider the word "leave." Today I am thinking about the unhealthy things I have chosen to leave behind over the years. Drinking alcohol. Smoking. Self-pity. Certain relationships. Living in fear and worry.

I didn't wake up one day and unload them all. It has been a process, a work in progress. And I have sometimes gone back to pick up something left behind, something unhealthy but enticing, something I wasn't quite ready to leave. It sometimes takes several leavings to create enough pain to motivate change.

Today I will leave yesterday and tomorrow in their place and focus on the present.

Thursday, January 1, 2015

Loaded

Today I am grateful for the accomplishments of 2014 and the possibilities awaiting in 2015. I am also grateful for an enjoyable evening with my sister, her husband, my husband, and the band Foreigner.

LOADED as a blog topic came to me yesterday morning as I was walking our dog in the bitter cold. Maybe it came to me because I was loaded with layers to keep me warm. Maybe it came to me because I was reflecting on how loaded 2014 was with blessings, lessons, health. My thoughts eventually went to 2015 and how loaded it will be with opportunities. Opportunities to keep growing and learning. Opportunities to continue this gratitude practice that reaps such benefits for me.

On a lighter, but still loaded note, loaded also makes me think of things like pizza loaded with toppings, and loaded baked potato flavored chips; two foods that load my taste buds with delight.

On a louder note, the Foreigner concert we went to last night was loaded with one hit song after another, some great music and musicians, and many fellow fans reveling in the experience like we were. Hats off to Foreigner lead singer Kelly Hansen and the rest of the current band. It was a great and entertaining show!

I appreciate these words from Hansen on Foreigner's official website:

As the new lead singer in Foreigner, Hansen explains, “the best part about being in this band is getting the chance to do something I feel I was meant to do. I feel extremely fortunate to be given this wonderful opportunity to play with such a substantial group of people, and it just keeps getting better. I think there are times in life where the right combination of people come together at the right time, through luck, timing or for some other unknown reason to create something magical. What happens onstage with this group of guys is something that is rare and palpable. It’s like the old saying, “if I have to describe it, you wouldn’t understand.”

His words are loaded with phrases that hit me strongly this morning, just like his singing did last evening. Extremely fortunate. Wonderful opportunity. Substantial group of people. Create something magical.  I can't sing very well, but I do practice gratitude consistently and with strength of conviction. I feel extremely fortunate for the wonderful opportunity to spend time with substantial groups of people in various areas of my life. Gratitude practice creates something magical in my life-a healthy and positive perception of myself and surrounding world.

Happy New Year! May 2015 be loaded with small joys and moments of awe.