"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, February 28, 2015

Early Mornings

Today I am grateful for smooth-writing pens. I am also grateful for my dad and the difference he made in my life.

I always think of my dad on this day, February 28, his birthday.
We miss you and we love you.

Early mornings are typically my favorite time of the day. The house is quiet. I am refreshed from sleeping. I have always been a morning person. I don't see that changing. I enjoy the time with our dog Oliver, that first sip of coffee, a morning workout, and more.

When there is a lot to be done, whether work-related, family, writing or other, I will sometimes wake up earlier than my usual early. My brain engages and starts ticking off all the things I need to do, and the sleeping is pretty much done. There have been many mornings like that this school year, and most days this week were like that. I like my early mornings, but too many of them exhaust me.

I am a little exhausted and tapped out this morning, but one thing gratitude practice allows me is enough energy to face a new day with hope and appreciate it for what it is-the present, the only thing we really have.

What is your favorite time of the day? Why are you grateful for it?

Friday, February 27, 2015

Some Sun and Some Grapes

Today I am grateful for my job, my co-workers, the students and parents I get to work with. I am also grateful for the week's end during a very busy week.

Yesterday I wrote about "the expansive exploration of spirituality."
The quote below from Galileo is fitting:

"The Sun, with all those planets revolving around it and dependent on it, can still ripen 
a bunch of grapes as if it had nothing else in the universe to do."  
(Galileo Galilei)

That is the essence of expansive spirituality. The amazing energy of the sun and a little bunch of grapes ripening. A God or Higher Power who can do all things but still takes time to remind me of my priorities.

Exploring my gratefulness is also an ongoing spiritual expansion. It does indeed unlock the great fullnes of life. 

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Spiritual

Today I am grateful for the spiritual growth I have had and continue to have. I am also grateful for smiles-my own and those of others.

Spiritual health is an area that used to confuse and frustrate me. At times I didn't care and I equated spirituality with religion, which I was tired of. At other times I wanted answers to tough questions. I wanted to understand what it took to find spirituality. Like many other things in my life, about the time I stopped trying so hard is about the time I started knowing my soul, the base of my spirituality.

Today I don't consider myself a religious person. The rituals and the regimen seem too narrow to me. I like an expansive exploration of spirituality. It is good to start from a place of humility. I take less for granted--things like my physical health, my recovery from addiction, the gratitude practice that encompasses all of it.

But some of the practices of my religious upbringing are a valuable part of my spirituality today. One of those is praying on my knees. Many days that is how I start my day. It is a place of humility as I mention above.

I am excited about the potential that is found in exploring and expanding my spirituality today. A Higher Power and many others help me, sometimes with concerted effort, sometimes by chance.

Earlier this week, this quote was the "Word of the Day" on www.gratefulness.org

"O Great Spirit, I awake to another sun, grateful for gifts bestowed, granted one by one."
(Twylah Nitsch, Seneca medicine woman)

To pause at the start of a new day is to put myself on a healthy spiritual plane. That allows the rest of my being--physical, mental, and emotional--to also be put on a healthier plane. It's a good place to start. 

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Emotional

Today I am grateful for the peace that can be found in silence. I am also grateful for a closet full of clothes.

Thoughts and prayers for my brother-in-law Clay as he recovers from extensive surgery.

Emotional health has to do with feelings, the whole range of feelings. Life will give us plenty of ups and downs, triumphs and struggles. Emotional health means I acknowledge that range and honor the variety. Painful emotions are just that-painful. But if we never knew pain, how could we appreciate joy?

Some will go to great lengths to avoid pain or protect others from pain, and in actuality create more pain for everyone around them. Emotional pain is a powerful motivator. It can tell us it is time to leave an unhealthy relationship. It can tell us it us time to get sober and make healthier choices. It can tell us acceptance is the answer.

Some will search endlessly for joy and happiness and miss the joy and happiness right in front of them, here and now. We shouldn't have to chase joy. It finds us.

Those are some of my random thoughts on emotional health. I am grateful I can better identify my feelings, spend less time in the painful ones, and more quickly recognize the little joys in each day.

Gratitude practice helps me generate more positive emotions, helping create more physical and spiritual energy and giving my mind a productive focus and direction.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Mental

Today I am grateful for people who care about me and people I care about. I am also grateful for healthier thought processes.

Mental wellness has to do with my thought processes and my thoughts. Are my thoughts negative and defeating or are they positive and forward-moving? Can I think clearly or do I get hung up on a few thoughts and keep replaying them? Are my thoughts calming me or agitating me? These are all useful questions.

When it comes to my thoughts, I used to be my own worst enemy, and then some. I got really good at beating myself up. I finally learned a key lesson-whether you think you are worse than others or better than others, those are both functions of ego. (And even though I hated myself on some levels, I also had self-righteousness that told me I was right and someone else wasn't.)

It has taken training, effort, and time to shift my thoughts from less healthy and irrational ones to more healthy and rational ones. The work continues, but I feel confident saying that my default mode has changed from pessimistic to optimistic in terms of my thinking patterns.

One of the things I did years ago, a few years into sobriety, and on the advice of a recovery friend, was write down several positive affirmations on a piece of paper. Just writing them down was a start. I carried them around in my pocket for months. I read them several times a day. I committed them to memory and said them in the shower in the morning. I rewrote them on a new piece of paper when the other one got too tattered. That is what it took.

I still remember some of the affirmations on that list:
"I am lovable and capable."
"I am personable and likeable."
"I do love myself."
"I am loved by others."
"I am worthy of that love."

I couldn't simply think my way into better thoughts. I had to take actions like the writing and repeating.

Today I know that healthy thoughts lead to motivating energy, which makes me more likely to feel better, move more, and appreciate more. I'm not there all day,every day, but I am there far more than I ever used to be. For that I am so grateful.

Monday, February 23, 2015

Physical

Today I am grateful for my physical body-scars and imperfections, working limbs and joints. I am grateful this earthly vehicle allows me mobility and an active lifestyle.

It promises to be a full week and I will need plenty of energy to move through each hour, each day as the week goes on. Much of the busy pace has to do with work. The student group I advise is sponsoring Wellness Week 2015 this week. The group has done this for several years now, bringing focus to and raising awareness about overall wellness. Focal points range from eating healthy, to stress reduction, to depression awareness and suicide prevention, to exercise.

Teens and people of all ages can benefit from consideration of how our physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual health are interrelated. I likened wellness to a 4-legged stool in this post a year ago. It is something I have come to know and appreciate more in recent years, and for me it is all tied together with gratefulness.

So today let's consider physical wellness. When we talk about health it is often what people first think about. Over the course of my life, I think I have done more good for my physical health than harm, but there has certainly been some of both. Smoking cigarettes and drinking alcohol to excess were obvious harms. As an intense teen, I also would sometimes hit myself in frustration and anger, enough to leave bruises or sore spots. I usually did this in response to a failure of some kind during athletic contests (a missed shot or a strikeout perhaps) and also when I was full of drunken self-hatred.

Today I could be better about getting enough sleep and not eating too many sweets, but I am so grateful the drinking, smoking, and hitting are only distant memories.

What I am consistently good about is moving my body, getting adequate exercise. Exercise creates energy for me. It clears my thoughts, boosts positive emotions (endorphins are free and very effective) and gives me ample sources of gratitude.

I have run 12 marathons. It has been well over six years since my breast cancer diagnosis and I am NED (no evidence of disease). I can get out of bed in the morning. I can take the laundry to the basement. I am blessed in so many ways.

Today I will pay attention to my physical body and what it provides and makes possible.
I will remember those who have physical pain and limitations and wish them comfort today.

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Catching Myself Composing

Today I am grateful for our living room recliners and sharing time with my husband Darcy there. I am also grateful for the time we spent on our front porch yesterday afternoon-sunshine and 23 degrees was inviting enough for us.

On my gratitude walk yesterday, I started composing the blog post you read yesterday, thinking about what I could write and how I could say it. I was getting ahead of myself and had to bring myself back to the present moment a couple times. The point and purpose of gratitude practice is mindful presence. I have to continually hone this skill. Even in the midst of honing it.

At least if I am going to get off track and wander outside the present moment, it is better to be thinking about gratitude in some capacity rather than the other thoughts that can rob me of any peace and serenity. I used to be good at creating a pretty negative stream of consciousness that reeked of self-pity and self-hatred. I wasn't good at catching myself composing at those times, and the downward spiral continued.

A positve stream of consciousness brimming with potential for the day ahead and fueled by gratefulness is a better composition. Easier to rein that in if I get ahead of myself than to rein in a runaway train loaded with negative perceptions and thoughts.

I am a work in progress. My gratitude practice is a work in progress, Onward!

Saturday, February 21, 2015

A Gratitude Walk

Today I am grateful for a slower-paced weekend and for the rejuvenation I find in early morning quiet.

I took a gratitude walk this morning and here were a few things I put on my gratitude list:

*The "warmer" temperature. It's all relative and 21 degrees felt warm to me.
*The companionship and quirkiness of our dog Oliver.
*The street lights.
*A trail to walk on.
*The shimmers and glitters of the light snow that fell overnight.
*Having mobility and limbs that all work.
*Enjoying the quiet of a weekend morning and less traffic.
*Not having to push my pace like I often do on a weekday morning.
*Being able to keep my mind present, versus a weekday when my mind
    is often ahead of itself and thinking of work.
*Breathing in fresh air.
*Our house as start and end point for my walk.

Keeping it simple this morning. I hope you have a chance to take a gratitude
walk today too.

Friday, February 20, 2015

Happy 84th!

Today I am grateful for safe travels for my husband Darcy this week and I am grateful for my mom.

Today is Mom's birthday. She is 84. It is mind-boggling to consider the ways that things have changed since 1931, the vast history that has unfolded. I wonder what it feels like to her.

I am grateful to Mom for many reasons, starting with the obvious. She brought me life. She and I have a common passion for recording our lives in writing. I write more about thoughts and feelings. She writes more about happenings, weather, events. But we both write. We both enjoy nature and the changing seasons and walking. Between her and Dad, they instilled many good values in us: respect, sharing, giving, a strong work ethic, a sense of humility, a focus on faith.

I called my mom last evening and we had a nice chat. In recent years we have had family gatherings to celebrate Mom's birthday, but this year we are skipping that. After a health setback in January, she isn't up for it. She will likely get several shorter visits from smaller contingents and a number of phone calls. In the back of my mind, and I think my other siblings' minds too, is that question of "How many more birthdays will Mom have?"

None of us is guaranteed another birthday. But it seems to become more of a question as people become elderly and slow down.

A Thursday evening phone call also brings to mind a call that I didn't make in October of 1998. October 22 to be exact. I was a newlywed with a new job, a new home, a new state of residence. Life was busy. I talked to my parents every couple weeks or so. Often, they would each get on one of the two phones in the house and we would talk between the three of us. I was overdue to make a call to them on that Thursday night, but I was tired and decided to wait until over the weekend to call them.

That was a fateful decision. My dad died of a heart attack the next morning. I felt so bad and wished so much that I had made that call, had that last conversation with my dad. After his death, I vowed to call Mom weekly and I did for the next 10 years. Sometimes now it isn't weekly, but I try to stay connected.

I am grateful for my mom and the connections we can make in person and on the phone. Happy Birthday Mom!

Thursday, February 19, 2015

That First Entry Twenty Years Ago

Today I am grateful for exercise's calming effect on my body and mind. I am also grateful for my husband Darcy.

I was looking at my first gratitude journal the other day, a gift from my good friend Terrie for my birthday in July of 1994. It wasn't until February of 1995 that I started using the journal as she had suggested-as a gratitude journal, as an effort to pull myself out of the pit of self-pity I felt so comfortable residing in.

On February 12, 1995 I wrote my very first entry and it went like this:

"Today I've been grateful for people who understand alcoholism. 
I'm grateful for choices." 

I remain grateful for both today. And I appreciate that one of the people who understands alcoholism better is me. I didn't understand this disease when I first got sober. Others taught me and showed me by sharing their own experiences and the hope of recovery. And understanding my disease does not mean I have it "figured out." It means I have some idea what a powerful and devastating force I am up against, and what I can do to counter that force and live a productive and relatively sane life in sobriety. Daily work for a daily disease.

I am also grateful for choices. They are endless. Today I choose to be grateful. I choose to seek faith. I choose to reach out to others. I choose to exercise my body and soul.

Terrie, I hope you know what that first journal and your suggestion started.
Thank you my friend!

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Going Deeper

Today I am grateful for my hearing and my other senses. They are all in working order. I am also grateful for push-ups and sit-ups.

In ways it is good to be in the same place I was, as I blogged about on Monday. If I were at the same place in all areas of my life, however, I would be stagnant, complacent. I would not be growing and learning and I prefer to keep growing and learning as a person, as a unique individual, as my life unfolds.

That means going deeper. Deeper into my writing. Deeper into my relationships. Deeper into my faith. And it means work. Hard work. But as I say in my blog profile:

"A recovering alcoholic since 1989 and a breast cancer survivor since 2008, I work daily at recovery from both of these life challenges. But I also work daily at living life to the fullest. Gratitude is a significant part of that work. It is the best work I do, because the dividends are consistently positive. I am prone to self-pity and fear, so faith and gratitude are good antidotes. I firmly believe in the active practice of gratitude. It has worked for me for twenty years." 

Daily work helps me go deeper into joy and wonder. Deeper into different levels of energy and creativity. Deeper into gratefulness and mindfulness. The work is worth it.

Sadly, there is also the "going deeper" that is treacherous and drowns people. Deeper into addiction. Deeper into untreated mental illness. Deeper into financial difficulty. Deeper into an unhealthy relationship. Deeper into negative habits. Deeper into denial.

But I am thinking especially of the words of my sister Danita when she recently described her husband Roger as "going deeper into dementia." He's drowning and there's no lifeboat coming. Yet, my sister has several lifelines that are helping her through this dark and deep time in her life. And she can even find joy in days and moments, in interactions with her ill husband and others. That is truly diving deeper and then resurfacing. It seems the only way to survive such waters. I am grateful for the care Roger is receiving and I am grateful for Danita's human and non-human support system.

What does "going deeper" mean to you today?


Tuesday, February 17, 2015

New Glasses and Clean Teeth

Today I am grateful for a nice run in lightly falling snow yesterday, and for an extra day off from work. Add to that new glasses and clean teeth.

I was overdue for an eye appointment when I went a couple weeks ago. It had been almost three years. I also could tell that an updated prescription was likely. I was right. My eyes are healthy overall and the correction change needed isn't huge, but it is helpful. Yesterday I got my new pair of glasses, my second pair of progressive lenses. My distance vision hasn't changed much. It was the closer reading and computer work where I could tell I needed a little boost.

I am grateful for insurance coverage and good providers locally. There are millions of people who don't have access to regular health care, much less a new pair of glasses. I am also grateful for a style change and a bit of a new look.

It was also time for Sam and I to go in for our 6-month dental visit. I was commended on my home care and the cleaning went smoothly. It's always a good feeling to leave the dentist's office with that clean teeth feeling. Unfortunately, as is too often the case with my teeth, I have lost a filling and will need to get it replaced. Oh well. I am again appreciative of good insurance and local providers I trust.

New glasses. Clean teeth. A new day to welcome. Onward!

Monday, February 16, 2015

The Same Place I Was

Today I am grateful for chocolate and recovery and a growing faith.

Speaking of recovery, I ran into a recovery friend I hadn't seen in a few months at the grocery store yesterday. It was nice to see her and get caught up a little. When we parted ways, I said something about "being at the same place I was at."  I was referring to my phone number if she wanted to call or text. But as I walked away I realized it meant more.

I am at the same place I was a few months ago in terms of stability; my home and family, my phone number and address, my recovery, my NED (no evidence of disease) status as a breast cancer patient, my blogging and column-writing, my goal to run another marathon. I am grateful for all of these and the peace of mind that is possible because of them.

But I am not at the same place in other ways. I am learning more about myself as I age. I am learning more about gratefulness and how to live it out daily. I am growing in my faith and in my own recovery. I am improving as a writer. There is such hope and opportunity in today. I see and feel potential in many ways. In that respect, I plan to keep moving forward, not staying in the same place.


Sunday, February 15, 2015

Delays and Denials

Today I am grateful for the sunshine and blue sky that takes the edge off a cold winter day. I am also grateful to be able to help some friends who are moving to our neighborhood.

I still have thoughts of Valentine's Day in my head, and chocolate on my breath. In thinking about how and when Mr. Valentine came into my life over 17 years ago, I recall a breakfast out with a friend a few months before I met Darcy. This friend was a co-worker, supportive, a good listener. I had had a few dates in the prior months and none had panned out much. I'm sure I was feeling a little sorry for myself and looking for some sympathy, but by then I had also come to a better place with how I felt about myself and life. I had come to some acceptance, but patience was more of a challenge.

As we left the restaurant and went to pay, my friend Elli noticed the day's quote on a perpetual calendar and pointed it out to me. It simply said:

"God's delays aren't necessarily God's denials."

It fit well with our conversation, and it was at least hopeful. Though part of me had tired of hearing "if it's meant to be, it will happen" and things along those lines. Especially from my married friends and relatives.

I remained hopeful and within months I met Darcy and here we are 17 years later with a life and a family together. And a growing and deepening sense of gratefulness.

It's not always wedded bliss, and if you were one to say it is for you and your spouse, I wouldn't be inclined to believe you anyway. But the gifts are many and the joy is plenty. The love is strong and the communication is meaningful. Darcy and our lives together have been and continue to be well worth the wait.


Saturday, February 14, 2015

A Valentine Message from a Valentine

Today I am grateful for the loves in my life: family and friends, running and writing to name a few.

Happy birthday wishes to my brother Artie today! And a thank you to him also for the time he spends showing my son Sam the farm life when we come and visit.

Today's message is my most recent "Gratitude Flow" column that runs in our local paper. Enjoy the read and enjoy and appreciate the loves in your life today and every day.

 “A Valentine Message of Gratitude”
            February rolls around and Valentine’s Day comes to mind. The history of the holiday is a bit muddled, but there is no doubt that today the holiday is “heartily” celebrated all across our country. The origins of the holiday may stem from both pagan and Roman traditions. There were reportedly several St. Valentines. A common story mentions a Father Valentine who secretly married couples after the Roman emperor of the time banned all marriages, wanting soldiers to focus on fighting only. Did grateful couples pass notes and flowers of thanks to Father Valentine in his prison cell before he was executed and later sainted?  It makes for an interesting story.
            Regardless of how it all began, by the 1840’s Valentine’s cards were being mass-produced in the United States. Today there are an estimated 1 billion cards sent, 35 million heart-shaped boxes of candy bought, and 220 million roses delivered on a typical Valentine’s Day. Retailers love Valentine’s Day, with an estimated $15-$20 billion spent each year.
            In my years as a single person, it was sometimes a tough day full of reminders of what I didn’t have, of that love not yet found. With the help of my gratitude practice, I decided to think of Valentine’s Day in broader terms. I thought of the friends and family who were already in my life, who mean so much to me, grateful for their support and the fun times we enjoy together. I thought of the life I already had—a meaningful career, my health, a place and space of my own. Eventually, as fate would have it, I not only met my true love, he happened to have the catchy name of Valentine. I had planned to keep my maiden name—until I met Mr. Valentine. It is a fun name to have, but I have sympathy for my family members who grew up with the name and some teasing that went along with it. I married into it in my thirties.
            Arguably, the holiday has become another example of over-commercialization. But we also probably all agree that acknowledging those we love is an enjoyable and positive idea. Why wait for a holiday though? Shouldn’t we be telling those we care about what they mean to us, how grateful we are for them, day in and day out? Like many other gifts in our lives, we too often take for granted the people nearest and dearest to us. How many of us have sad tales of “I wish I would have said more…done more…appreciated more….”  Don’t wait for a tragic loss or a scary close call. Give thanks to those around you. Pausing in the midst of a busy morning for a good morning kiss, a “Have a good day” hug, or a spoken “I love you” as we head out the door are worth the few seconds it takes.
            Holidays like Valentine’s Day can come with weighty expectations, and the marketing and advertising only add to it. The perfect gift. The perfect date. The perfect card. If expectations are too high, everybody falls short. People end up disappointed when actually they already had what they wanted. It is a microcosm of what happens to us all year. Too many of us buy the lie that happiness will come when we get what we want; when that promotion comes along, when we can move to our dream house, when our children find success and contentment as adults.
            We lose the multitude of little gifts that come over those days that turned in to years—the co-workers who make us laugh, the family memories in the house that got too small, the wonder of watching our children grow up to be unique individuals. I am reminded again of one of my favorite quotes on the topic of gratitude: “In daily life we must see that it is not happiness that makes us grateful, but gratefulness that makes us happy.” Those are the wise words of Benedictine monk Brother David Steindl-Rast.
            There needn’t be flowers, chocolate and cards every day, but there can be a kind word, a simple gesture, a show of support.  We will never know the true origins of Valentine’s Day. We each can, however, honor the history we have with the special people we love. And we can take today to add to that history."

Friday, February 13, 2015

Make Good Use of Your Energy

Today I am grateful for laughter with my husband Darcy and for clean air to breathe.

Yesterday on my way to work I came up behind an SUV and on the back window was the message "Make good use of your energy." I liked that thought. It's a good wellness message. I was thinking about how gratitude practice helps me make better use of my energy, as does a good dose of acceptance and letting go of what is beyond my control. (A.K.A. everything other than my own attitude and actions.)

Then I switched lanes to pass the SUV and on the side of the driver's door was the name of a business having to do with "Electric."  I smiled to myself. What I had thought was a nice wellness message was more meant to be part of a moving advertisement. It doesn't matter. It can serve both purposes.

I got two shots of gratitude from that vehicle yesterday morning. The mindfulness reminder about how I want to best use my energy throughout the day and a reminder of how grateful I am for the ease of electricity. Flip a switch and a light comes on. Plug in the toaster and pretty soon there's toast.

The energy provided by electricity is a major convenience and luxury I take for granted most days. The energy provided by pausing in gratitude is one I am still learning to fully tap into.

Thursday, February 12, 2015

A Pause Here, A Pause There

Today I am grateful for hooded sweatshirts and for several worthwhile pauses in my day yesterday.

Yesterday I made a point of following my own suggestion from yesterday's blog post:
"To be fully alive in more moments today I will consciously pause in gratefulness."

Because I tend to get caught up in the day pretty quickly and forget my own best intentions, I need visual reminders. I had a portion of yesterday's post printed out and I took it with me to work and kept it near my laptop. That allowed me to remind myself to pause, just pause, several times during what was a really busy work day. I had already done it a couple times at home before leaving for work too.

It may have been five or six pauses, and in total it was mere seconds and minutes, but it made a significant difference in my day. The pause gave me a second to slow down and consider what I was grateful for in that simple moment. That brought me back to a better place of balance, helped me regroup, reminded me of what my next priority should be. And it kept the busy times of the day in perspective. This meeting. That email. This student. That parent. They were all important, but none needed to take over my day, my thoughts, my actions.

I came home from that full day in a better frame of mind. I was kinder and gentler with myself and others throughout the day. I was still tired by day's end, but not in a defeated and exhausted way. It works. It really does.

A pause here. A pause there. Repeat as needed.


Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Alive in Those Moments

Today I am grateful for laughter and smiles and how they warm the heart and soul. I am also grateful for clean drinking water.

A recent quote on www.gratefulness.org's "Word of the Day" was from author and playwright Thornton Wilder:

"We can only be said to be fully alive in those moments when our hearts 
are conscious of our treasures."

Fully alive. Living life fully. That is what I aspire to each day. That doesn't mean full steam ahead, 110% of the time. It means being fully present as the day unfolds. At times, that is a slow pace or a pause. At other times it is a more rapid pace of thoughts and/or actions. Fully alive means appreciating the different pacings of the different tasks of the day.

Sadly, I see people who appear to be caught n the "110% all the time" and the misperception that being busy equates with living life fully. They look and sound exhausted and frazzled. I recognize them because that is me a times. Gratitude practice has taught me, slowly and steadily, to go with the day, not try to make the day go with me.

For me, it's only through gratitude practice that my heart becomes conscious of the treasures that abound. To be fully alive in more moments today, I will consciously pause in gratefulness. I encourage you to give it a try too. Have a good day, have some treasured moments. 


Tuesday, February 10, 2015

TLC

Today I am grateful for my ability to hear and the many ways my hearing reminds me of my good fortune-hearing the voices of loved ones, a favorite song, or the morning quiet.

TLC. Tender loving care? Not a bad approach to how we treat those around us. Not a bad idea for how we should treat ourselves either. From someone who has long been toughest on herself, long been her own worst critic and enemy, I will remember to apply TLC today.

But there's another TLC I want to write about. One that I am very grateful exists. TLC. Total Life Care. Here is a description from their website:

TLC Options for Women is a life-affirming, non-profit organization that assists 33 affiliated Pregnancy Resource Centers (PRCs), in Minnesota and western Wisconsin. These Pregnancy Resource Centers (PRCs) help people facing unplanned or difficult pregnancies by offering total and compassionate service, extending God’s love to women and men, and encouraging them to make the loving choice — the choice for LIFE.   

My stepdaughter Emily has utilized the resources at our local TLC Pregnancy Resource Center and they have been most helpful. She is 20, 36 weeks pregnant, scared and excited and a multitude of other emotions. There have been a multitude of emotions among others in her life too, but I am grateful that her dad and I can be supportive in a variety of ways. It has been a journey for all of us, but most of all for Emily. I am proud of her as she traverses some difficult, emotional, and new terrain.

We look forward to welcoming a grandchild and Sam is intrigued at the prospect of being an uncle. A baby is an amazing gift.

Emily has had a healthy pregnancy and we are so grateful for that. She has also been a regular at TLC. From parenting videos, to developing a relationship with a mentor she sees regularly, to earning "mommy bucks" to spend in their baby boutique, and other services. I am impressed by the support they offer and thankful we encouraged her to check TLC out early in her pregnancy. The mentor has been especially valuable, I believe. To have an impartial but knowledgeable and compassionate person to talk to and process decisions with has been very important to Emily.

Thank you TLC! And give yourself and those around you some TLC today too.

Monday, February 9, 2015

Robots at Work

Today I am grateful for the connections I have with other people in recovery and how they teach me. I am also grateful for the enjoyment of watching the first middle school theater production at the school I work at. Nice work to all those involved!

I want to wish my sister Zita a "Happy Birthday!" today. I am grateful to have you as a sister. We go way back don't we?

Now back to those plant tours at John Deere. We saw several robots in action and several others that didn't happen to be in action at that time but are regularly used. I found them to be both fascinating and a little concerning. A few things struck me about the robots as I watched them and continued to ponder their role over the next couple of days. They are incredible machines. Some big. Some small. They were being used for various jobs including cleaning engine parts and painting chassis.

Some of the advancements in robotics are refining surgeries on humans. They are also providing incredible opportunities for paraplegics and those who have lost limbs. This, in my opinion, is the most promising and meaningful way to use robotics to help humans. Regaining mobility or being able to walk or write on one's own after a serious accident or illness is huge.

Being more precise, consistent, and productive than humans, you can understand why companies would want to use them. One can replace the work that used to be done by several humans. And you don't have to worry about workplace drama with robots. Yet, it is disconcerting to me that humans create robots that work better than we do. Where will this take us in the future?

As far as I know, we humans still have a corner on the ability to feel emotions. When I practice gratitude, when I look for the good in life, when I focus on the daily gifts I am given, those emotions remain more positive and energized.

Sunday, February 8, 2015

John Deere

Today I am grateful for safe travels, a good run in my hometown yesterday morning, and an enjoyable family day on Friday.

We traveled to Waterloo, Iowa to take our son Sam on tours of two different John Deere plants there. Both facilities are expansive. One was over a million square feet, the other was over 2 million. We got to ride on a modified golf car at one and a cart pulled by a John Deere tractor at the other. Safety glasses were required, and we got headsets to hear the tour guide amidst the noise of a working plant with lots of heavy equipment.

Sam is interested in all things farming and is considering something agriculture-related as a career. My husband Darcy got the idea for these tours and looked into it weeks ago. You have to be at least 13 to go on the tours, so it became a fitting birthday present for Sam.

It was nice to have the family time together too, and to take a break from school and work for a new experience for all of us.  I am grateful that we did it and the boys agree. It also meant we got to watch my nephew Brennan play basketball that evening. That's a rare opportunity and we are glad it worked out to see him and his family.

We appreciated the videos, the knowledge of the tour guides, all that we got to see, and of course the gift shops at each facility. Even though some of the information was over our heads, it was very interesting to first tour the Engine Works plant and then the Tractor Cab Assembly Operations plant.

The mechanization and robotics were fascinating to me. More on that tomorrow.

"Nothing runs like a Deere" and nothing works quite as well as gratefulness to help build a positive perception of self and surrounding world.

Thursday, February 5, 2015

Wearing Jeans

Today I am grateful for the stopwatch on my cell phone and for the
comfortable nature of jeans.

I have been thinking more about jeans in recent weeks because my son has just started wearing them more recently. For years, he was not a fan of jeans. He preferred the athletic pants of various styles. I would have preferred he mix some jeans into his wardrobe rotation, but I didn't fight it. I knew sooner or later he would want to wear jeans. So when he turned 13 and we suggested shopping for some jeans, he didn't balk. He now has two pairs he's been wearing and I think about it each time I wash his jeans, hang them to dry, then fold them.

All in good time. All in good time. Patience rather than pushing. I could use that lesson in many areas of life.

I am also grateful for my pairs of jeans, the couple that stand out as my current favorites, and the comfort and ease they seem to carry with them.

What are you grateful for today, jeans or other?
I will be taking a blog break for a couple days. Have a nice weekend.

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

A Fresh Coating

Today I am grateful for a safe commute home in the snow yesterday afternoon and also for the beauty of that fresh coat of snow.

I have always liked snow. The quiet beauty. The brightness. The way it cleans things up after the last snowfall has become brown and dirty in many spots. I like walking in falling snow. It's a spiritual experience for me if I take the time to be present in that moment.

The drawback of snow is having to drive in less-than-ideal conditions. By this time of the winter, we have all gotten better at our winter driving skills and also at giving slippery roads the respect they are due. When the roads require slower speeds, it is a good reminder to me to slow down in my daily life, to just breathe, to be there in the moment, watchful and cautious. But also full of wonder to be experiencing that moment.

I also like shoveling snow. I am so grateful to be able-bodied and alive and I try not to take things like shoveling snow for granted. I don't consider it drudgery. I consider it a privilege. Yesterday's snow was very light and fluffy and easy to shovel.

That is a good analogy for our days. Some are easy and light. Some are tough and heavy. Taking this day, just for today, makes it possible to get through. It is the weight of several days-yesterday's regrets or tomorrow's worries-that will stop us in our tracks.

Just for today, I will appreciate the fresh snow and the fresh day ahead.

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Some Different A-Z Lists

Today I am grateful for smooth-writing pens and indoor plumbing.

I enjoyed the latest A-Z words that I blogged about in recent weeks. From "Average" on December 5 all the way to "Zero" yesterday.  When I am in gratefulness mode, my days don't feel just average or boring. They feel energizing and positive, an hour at a time. When I practice gratitude, my A-Z lists or any other way of practicing gratitude, tends to be above zero.

I think of other A-Z lists like one that could include my siblings-from Aileen, Ann and Artie all the way to Zita. I don't have 26 siblings, but I do have 12 and we cover a few letters of the alphabet. Between us we cover a lot . . . of miles, of different career paths, of our own families, of triumphs and struggles, of shared history and our own unique paths. I am grateful for each of my siblings and our decades of life experience.

Another A-Z list takes me back to my days of teaching Iowa history. I used a book titled From Ackley to Zwingle: The Origins of Iowa Place Names. I think I've been to Ackley a time or two, but never Zwingle, though I think one of my college softball teammates hailed from that area. I am proud to be an Iowa native. I will always be an Iowa farm girl at heart.

I think I will do another A-Z gratitude list on my commute this morning. When will you do yours?




Monday, February 2, 2015

Zero

Today I am grateful for the longer daylight as we head into February. I am also grateful for a nap yesterday and a phone conversation with my sister.

This most recent A-Z blogging journey is about to wind down. I guess that makes ZERO a fitting word to end with.

Zero has these and other definitions:
-a quantity of no importance
-a mathematical element that when added to another number yields the same number
-the point of a scale from which positive or negative numerical quantities can be measured

Zero can be considered a starting point. For most of my life, I had run zero marathons. When my husband and I were 39 in 2004, we ran our first in Chicago. We are now up to 12 completed marathons with current discussions of where we may run #13 this fall. Every marathon starts at mile zero. The starting line.

I began my days of recovery at zero. I had my first sober day and then I kept having them, with the ongoing help, support, and wisdom of many others and a Higher Power. From zero to one day at a time to 25 years. I began at zero many times before I actually maintained recovery. Sometimes I went weeks or months without drinking, sometimes only hours. In my lowest times, I felt less than zero, worthless.

From those days of feeling less than zero, I have added self-worth and compassion for others by adding gratefulness to my days. I can safely say today that my gratitude list is never at zero. There is always something on the list and always more to add. That is a good way to add value to life. Look for the gratitude.

Sunday, February 1, 2015

Zucchini

Today I am grateful for the various resources and support services our community offers. I am also grateful for the thought of fresh garden produce to give me hope of warmer days on a snowy and blustery winter morning.

In fact, some fresh ZUCCHINI squash sounds good right now. I have always been a fan of zucchini and other summer squashes, and also acorn and butternut squash and the other fall varieties. When I think of zucchini, I think of zucchini bread, and I also think of a pasta dish that we like to make when we carb-load before a long run. It has zucchini, eggplant, and chickpeas among other ingredients.

Thinking of squash and other produce also conjures up images and memories of the large garden we had when I was growing up. I didn't mind working in the garden, though some jobs were more desirable than others. Weeding was okay, for a while. We had a push plow that could go between the rows. I liked doing that. When it was time to pick the peas or the beans or the strawberries, I was motivated by the treat I knew we would be getting for dinner or supper.

The month of January flew by. The decades since I worked in that garden on our farm seem to have flown by as well. Some days I feel pretty nostalgic and sentimental. Awed by life and where it has taken me both literally and figuratively.

I am reminded of the many gifts over these many years. Gifts that came in unexpected ways and from unexpected sources. And on a busy morning with much on my to-do list for the day ahead, I am reminded of the most important gift of all. The gift of today. Slow down enough to enjoy it. Be present in the present.