"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

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Walk and Talk

Today I am grateful for a break from work. I am also grateful for the chance to spend some time with my friend Liz.

Like Jenny who I mentioned in my previous two posts, Liz is someone I worked with and who I hadn't seen in a while. Liz and I worked closely together advising a student peer empowerment group at our school for years and when she taught middle school students that I also served as counselor. Liz took a leave this year and has since decided to retire. I already missed her this year and got used to not having her around at school to vent to and to bounce ideas or concerns off of.

But now that it is official, I will truly miss her presence and her genuine value as a teacher and a co-worker in our school. She is both an excellent teacher and a wonderful, caring, practical person. So it was especially nice to spend some time with her yesterday. We went for a nice walk, had a delicious breakfast, and passed the time in healthy conversation. Liz is someone I trust and respect, both professionally and personally. We also run out of time before we run out of things to talk about. We both enjoy our exercise, so a "walk and talk" was a perfect plan for us.

"Walk and Talk" was also the name of an activity that we did with the student group we worked with. More accurately, the trainers doing the peer empowerment training led the activity. Students paired up and literally went for a walk and a chance to share conversation just between the two of them. It's a good listening activity, and a good way to help build connections in a group of students who will be working together.

My husband Darcy and I regularly go for walks and talks too. We might talk about work issues or family concerns. We might talk about upcoming events we need to plan for. We might just enjoy our dog Oliver and the current weather. It is always time well-spent.

Consider a walk and talk with someone today. Maybe just you and your Higher Power.

Monday, March 30, 2015

Half Moon and a Church Pew

Today I am grateful for church services and yoga poses, both of which can help quiet and calm me.

I went to Palm Sunday services at our church yesterday with my family. As a child, I must admit that I dreaded Palm Sunday services because they were long. I have learned to enjoy the sitting, the listening, the setting I am in instead of wishing the time would pass faster. I guess some wisdom does come with age.

I mentioned yesterday that my friend Jenny practices and teaches yoga. She has taught me some exercises and there are a couple I use most days. One is a breathing exercise, the other is a stretching pose called Half Moon. This is the Bikram yoga Half Moon.

Between the breathing and the stretching, it is a good way to start my day. Together they open me up, clear out what clutter might remain from the previous day, and they allow me to be more receptive to the day ahead. Like any other habit, some days I feel them fully, some days I am more going through the motions.

When going through the motions requires some balance and movement, even if my mindset could be better, I am still getting the benefit of the movement. The same holds true of my gratitude journal. Some days the pen feels like an extension of the gratitude flowing from my soul. Other days it is just a pen on paper doing an obligatory ritual.

The good news is that I have far more days when the effort, exercise, and writing feel genuine. Far fewer when I am just "acting as if."

Thanks for the yoga lesson years ago Jenny. I picked up some useful material.

Today is indeed a new day. What will I do with it? What will you do with it?

Sunday, March 29, 2015

Long Time No See

Today I am grateful for the recliners in our living room and for a long overdue visit with my friend Jenny.

Jenny and I got together last night and as always had plenty to talk about. We were surprised to determine that it had been over a year and a half since we had seen each other. We've had phone conversations, shared texts back and forth, made plans to get together that ended up falling through . . . and we each have busy lives with our families and other commitments. Next thing you know, it's a year and a half later.

I always enjoy time with Jenny. She has the kind of energy I like to be around. Inevitably we always run out of time together before we run out of conversation. We were born six weeks apart in 1965. She's a city girl. I'm a farm girl. We met in 2000 when we ended up working at the same school.

We were each diagnosed with breast cancer within weeks of one another in 2008. That is when we went from friendly co-workers to a much deeper level of friendship. Sharing that experience, each facing the decisions and challenges in our own unique ways, but being able to literally and figuratively walk together through some difficult days, was a real blessing for both of us.

She practices and teaches yoga. I run marathons. We are both writers. That common ground of exercise and writing really brings us together. What will two writers do with an experience like cancer? They will write about it. We wrote a book together that remains in manuscript form.

But the beauty of that book is the collaboration and the inspiration we gave one another. It is also where the essayist that I am now comfortable being was just starting to find her own voice. Jenny helped bring out that voice. It has given me more direction in my writing goals and is part of the reason I had the confidence to start this blog. Thank you Jenny! What a blessing writing that book really was. Maybe some day it will even get published.

Here is an earlier post that talks more about Jenny and I, our cancer travels, and our writing.

Long time no see Jenny. So good to see you! Let's hope it is only weeks or months until next time.

Saturday, March 28, 2015

A Quick Trip to Mindful Presence

Today I am grateful for a non-work project to give focus to and I am grateful for time with recovery friends.

I am also grateful for the couple of times I got to hold our grandson Leo this week.

Each time I hold him it is a quick trip to mindful presence. He gets my full attention and everything else stops for a few minutes. His sounds, stretches, breaths, smells, and facial expressions all keep me mesmerized. If you have held an infant lately, surely this all sounds familiar. If it's been a while since you held a newborn, hold one the next chance you get and it will all come back to you.

What are other ways I can take a quick trip to mindful presence? Paying attention to my own breathing. In. Out. In. Out.

And pausing. Just pausing. I have always struggled with quiet meditation and felt like something of a failure because I couldn't slow my mind down for 15 minutes of silence and mind-clearing. I have learned what works for me are pauses. They can be mere seconds or a few minutes. But they bring me back to right here, right now and I am able to refocus my energy.

What works best for you when you need to take a quick trip to mindful presence?

Friday, March 27, 2015

Changing Perceptions for Three Years

Today I am grateful for these first three years as a blogger and I am grateful to those of you who take the time to read and reflect on my words.

Three years ago today I posted my very first "Habitual Gratitude" blog post. How time flies when you are having fun and improving your outlook on life. I began keeping a gratitude journal in 1995. I have been writing my own thoughts on gratitude for a long time. It became a much different ball game when I started writing about gratitude with other readers in mind though. I had no idea what I would learn and gain, what I continue to learn and gain.

The process of habitually noting how gratefulness looks in simple, daily ways has deepened my own sense of what mindful appreciation is all about. What I didn't anticipate is how it would further bring out the writer in me. Practice doesn't make perfect, but practice does make better. In blogging and in observing and internalizing gratitude.

Here is that very first post from March 27, 2012. Another thank you to my sister Danita for her email use of the words "habitual gratitude" that helped me find a name for this blog and provided me the little push I needed to launch myself and my words into the blogosphere.

And this post 34 days later tells "How Habitual Gratitude Was Born."

This quote from Jean Houston showed up on gratefulness.org recently:

"Change the story and you change perception, change perception and you change the world." 

The words at the top of my blog are "Building a better perception of self and surrounding world through regular practice of gratitude." 

I can truly tell you that my perception of self and surrounding world, and my acceptance of both as well, has continued to improve as I continue to practice gratitude. It works. It really does.

If my posts help you consider gratitude more, great! I encourage you to come up with your own ways to note what you appreciate each day as well. What are you waiting for? Start today.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

A New House and Some Conversation

Today I am grateful for a bike ride last evening. It was chilly but invigorating. I am also grateful for my extended family.

One brief visit to my family can yield plenty of fodder for some gratefulness. I was able to get to my niece Katie and her family's new house on this visit. They moved in late last year. I was joined by my sister Zita and we got to enjoy the company of our sister-in-law Charlene, our nephew's wife Kristi, and Katie's family-husband Danny and children Saela and Liam. Just part of one branch of our large family tree.

I appreciate any chance to see family and to spend time with people I don't get to see often. I am blessed with the large family I have, and blessed that we all care about one another and no one has been sent into permanent exile. But I also have a sadness at times because I can't give the kind of time and attention to my large family that I would like to. I do what I can. They do what they can. We are all busy and we all have our own lives and families. That is the drawback of having nearly 100 people in one's extended family.

I wish I could know all my nieces and nephews better. I wish they could know me better. It is a loss going both ways. And it is what makes time together something I cherish. Katie is the niece who, along with her husband Danny, inspired several of us to consider running a marathon. That was the start of something that has become a huge source of gratitude and health in our lives. Darcy and I have run 12 marathons and have plans for #13 this fall. Read more about that in one of my early posts titled From Runner to Marathoner.

It was nice to see their new home and the personal touches and character throughout. It was nice to enjoy a delicious meal around one table. It was nice to have conversation about life, with the ups and downs we all face. We are each defined by our life experiences. Some we choose and some are chosen for us. I appreciate when there is honest sharing and sincere listening. That is a worthwhile conversation and that is what we had together that day. Thanks to all of you who were there!

Today I can try to make each conversation I have worthwhile by being present and mindful. It's a good start to making connections and connections are what life is all about.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Spreading Manure

Today I am grateful for each chance I have to hold our grandson Leo. I am also grateful for the life lessons I have learned over the years and decades.

Part of the farm life I spoke of yesterday is the job of cleaning out feedlots. Spring is a good time for that task. My brother was doing just that on our recent visit. Loading up manure in the manure spreader and then putting it on some of the fields as fertilizer. Load after load.

In fact, on my last trip through an A-Z gratitude list, manure was one of my "m" words. Here is that post from earlier this year. But since manure is created every day, I guess I can add a few more thoughts about it.

There are plenty of analogies and metaphors about life when discussing manure. If manure is never cleared out, it becomes a rotting, heaping pile of major stink. It works better to reduce the pile and spread it out so air can get to it. Spread it out and let nature take its course and turn it to nutrients for the soil.

That is what I must do with my fears, worries, bouts of self-pity. Reduce the pile. Spread it out so air and faith can get in and heal. Help convert the troubles into some grace and gratitude.

Another good piece of advice when in the vicinity of manure is to watch your step. If you aren't paying attention, you may end up with a smelly addition to your wardrobe. If you are wearing boots, no problem. If you aren't, well . . . you may have a nose-holding mess.

Where do I need to watch my step today? Where should I tread gently? Where can I step confidently?

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

The Farm Life

Today I am grateful for recovery and sobriety and supportive friends. I am also grateful for smiles and laughter.

Add growing up on a farm to my gratitude list. The farm life is indelibly etched in the fabric of my life and my husband Darcy's life. He grew up on a farm too. My family still has farmers and farms in it. A farm upbringing is one of the reasons why I am a hard worker and a lover of nature. They tend to come with the territory.

Our son Sam took a liking to visiting the farm from an early age and loved playing with his collection of farm toys. (He still appreciates those toys and has a display in his room.) Some kids may outgrow that farm infatuation, but Sam has not.

He likes nothing more than spending time there helping out his Uncle Artie and sometimes his Uncle Lee too. Thank you to my brothers for their time and patience passing along the farming ways to Sam. He likes to learn more about not only how equipment operates but how the farm itself operates. He talks about going into an ag-related career and how he wants to have his own hobby farm.

The farm life runs deep in my family and among my siblings. Some of us are more removed from it than others, and I can't speak for my seven sisters and five brothers, but I can say that I will always be an Iowa farm girl at heart and that's a good thing in my opinion.

Both Darcy and I come from generations of farmers. Though fewer in number, members of the upcoming generation will likely carry on at least some of the farming tradition in my family. Darcy's family no longer has direct ties to the land. I am grateful that my family does though. And I so enjoy walking that land, looking out over the rolling hills through the various seasons. The farm life is a tough life in many ways, but it is also rewarding in many ways.

That is life in general too I guess. Tough in ways. Rewarding in many others. It is easier to see and feel the rewards when I remember to pause in gratitude.

Monday, March 23, 2015

Hard Work Pays Off

Today I am grateful for the beauty of snow on the trees and some much needed precipitation. I am also grateful to appreciate what hard work can do.

"Hard work always pays off" is a quote I have believed in all my life. I used it with students and athletes when I was a teacher and coach. I continue to use it as a counselor. I have used it to keep myself going. It's possible I have even taken it too far at times, defining my day, my self, my life by what I get done, by how hard I work on that given day.

Excessive work can be unhealthy, but a few places I apply healthy and consistent hard work are in my recovery from alcoholism, my gratitude practice, and my marathon training. In these areas, hard work does indeed always pay off.

I see truth in this quote as well when I consider the effort my husband put into his second sermon at our church. He gave the sermon yesterday and it went really well. That is because he started on it weeks ago and because he put a lot of time and hard work into it. Writing and giving sermons are definitely outside of Darcy's comfort zone. At least they were. I commend him for pushing himself beyond that.

Because of the time spent preparing, the research, rewrites and revisions, the practice he put in, he ended up sounding confident and at ease as he delivered his sermon. Darcy has been in training to become a deacon and will be ordained in June. It has been a lengthy and challenging process, but he has answered this calling with dedicated perseverance. He has learned and grown in so many ways during this time. I really respect his efforts.

The beauty of the hard work I have put in with years of regular gratitude practice is that today, at least on most days, it doesn't feel like hard work. It feels like part of my healthy routine, just like going for a run or eating fruits and vegetables.

How does hard work pay off in healthy ways in your life?

Sunday, March 22, 2015

An Easier Mindfulness

Today I am grateful for safe travels and for the time I spent away from work and my own home in recent days. I am also grateful for my husband Darcy.

Don't get me wrong. I love my own home and my family here, and I appreciate the job I have in many ways. But both my home and my job tend to come with to-do lists that never really end. If I am here in my house, I am always finding something to clean, put away, take care of. I can relax, but often only after I have gotten a number of things done, or sometimes early in the morning when I give myself time to meditate and take things slowly.

And then there's my job. My desk starts fairly clean each morning and can look quite cluttered and flustered by the day's end. I often feel the same way. There are emails, calls, students to see, lesson plans to finish, parent meetings, department work to attend to, and so on. I like the variety of my job and the fact that no two days are the same, but sometimes there could be less variety.

So when my son Sam and I traveled to Iowa for a couple days and spent time on our family's farm, it was an easier mindfulness that I found. I have to literally leave my job and house behind to leave behind some of the expectations I put on myself about each. This sunrise greeted me from the front porch of my mom's house the other morning. The birds also greeted me, and a different kind of quiet. I don't live in a big city, but it is big enough that there are always sounds of traffic and daily living that impede on nature's sounds. On the farm, nature reigns.

I slept, read, spent time with family, watched basketball, walked, ran, helped clean. It was all relaxing because it was a slower pace and my expectations were out of the mix, unlike in my own home. This easier mindfulness was appreciated. I will consider ways to bring it with me more, including here at my own house.

Where do you find easier mindfulness?

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Some Potential and a Blog Break

Today I am grateful for ears that help me hear the wonders of the world, big and small. I am also grateful for the feel of my fingers on a keyboard as I compose words.

My goal yesterday of taking the day one interaction at a time got off to a good start. Then the day got away from me and I was less mindful as I went from interaction to interaction. That happens. Life happens. But if I can extend the mindfulness further into my day than usual, or return to it after a lapse, I am making progress.

I did get to wind my day down yesterday with some mindful interaction though when our grandson Leo came for his first visit to our house. To just sit and hold him and look into his precious little face and hear his little baby noises was a great way to regroup after a very busy day.

I came across this quote recently:

"We have no idea what tomorrow will bring, but today is overflowing with potential." 
(Allan Lokos)

Yesterday was full of potential for me to take interactions one at a time and stay present. That potential was only partially realized, but at least it was a goal, a focus. That makes all of the difference.

Most days we don't reach our full potential, but if it is overflowing, we don't need to. I can be too much in the "all or nothing" thinking and potential doesn't work that way. Potential gives and keeps giving if we keep working. It doesn't go away when we take a break or walk away, it waits for us to come back and resume our efforts. 

Today's potential can take me many places. It takes me to better places when I am practicing gratefulness and mindfulness.

I will be taking a blog break for a few days. I encourage you to go back and read some of my earlier posts. There are plenty of them. Have a good day! 

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

One at a Time

Today I am grateful for the direction this blog gives me to start my day each day. I am grateful for Oliver, our dog, this morning too.

This was today's "Word of the Day" at www.gratefulness.org:

People say, "What is the sense of our small effort?" 
They cannot see that we must lay one brick at a time, 
take one step at a time.
(Dorothy Day)

One day at a time has been a guiding principle for me for many years in my recovery from alcoholism. But the bonus is that it helps in all areas of life. One day at a time, just this day, known as today, is all I need to be present for. It's all I should be present for. Yesterday is done. Tomorrow isn't here. I can't be present in them. It would be futile, a waste of energy. So I might as well focus on today.

As a runner, one step at a time has deep meaning for me. How do I run 26.2 miles? One step at a time. How do I train for a marathon? One step, one day at a time. I love the rhythmic footfalls of a run. I can pound out the stress and worries one step at a time. I can count my blessings one step at a time. I can think of others in need one step at a time. 

As I head into my day today, I am going to focus on one interaction at a time. I have a busy day ahead, but mindfulness can be applied in each moment. Whether I am speaking with someone, listening to someone, alone or part of a group, starting a task or completing a task, one interaction at a time is the way to approach it. I think I stay more productive that way, as I won't be wasting energy "spinning" and I think the interactions will be more meaningful for all involved because attention is being paid. 

The challenge is to keep returning to the moment. It is so easy to get ahead of ourselves. One brick at a time. There is joy in that simple work. 

Monday, March 16, 2015

Just Face It

Today I am grateful for a good run yesterday, to be able to be of help to a friend who is moving, and to have had a phone conversation with my good friend Sheila over the weekend. 

Like me, my sister Aileen is also a writer and a blogger. Check out her blog, "Poetic License: Poetry and Commentary on Current Events," here. This is a poem she posted a few days ago.

I Can See Gratitude...
I can see
from here
but can't 
get there,
the road
closed for now,
blocked by a landslide 
of worry and fear.
Perhaps it is
enough to keep
looking in the
right direction
ready to 
move ahead.

I love this poem. I love my sister's writing. It has a clarified edge that good writers give their words. 
Thank you Aileen!

Sometimes that is all I can do, all I need to do-just face it. Look in the right direction. Face toward the gratitude and away from the self-pity and fear. I feel the old familiar pull of those burdensome emotions from time to time. I try to turn away before the allure of unhealthy escape and flimsy excuses grabs me. They always grabbed tight and pulled me down in my teens and early twenties, in my drinking days. Alcohol was an analgesic, but a lowsy one. It worked temporarily and then hurt worse. 

I had to just face it that I was an alcoholic. That was tough. Just facing gratitude is much easier. And it doesn't sting me like the alcohol and the alcoholic thinking did. It soothes and energizes me. 

The landslide of worry and fear can be very real if I let it heap up from lack of acceptance and meager faith. Sometimes looking in the right direction is enough because it brings me faith and courage to start moving again. If not today, then maybe tomorrow. 

Today is all we get. Just face it. With hope and gratitude. 

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Grandpa and Grandma

Today I am grateful for sleep, a good cup of coffee, and the new role of grandparents for my husband and I.

Grandpa and Grandma. We are getting used to those titles and we are enjoying it. I wasn't going to share pictures but I just couldn't resist. Here is Leo with each of us when he was just a couple hours old. What a peanut! I forgot how tiny newborns are. Precious and fragile. Just like life.

Within 30 seconds of meeting Darcy, I knew he had children and that they were a big part of his life. I like that in a man. He has always been a wonderful, stable, and consistent father and now he gets to branch out as a grandparent. He is instinctively protective and loving. His own Grandpa Matt was a key figure in his life.

Coincidentally, my paternal grandfather also had the name Leo. My maternal grandpa died before I was born. I have only vague memories of my grandmothers, as they died before I was 6. I remember my Grandpa Leo the best. We would go visit him in town after church on Sundays and he had a candy dish on the table. He apparently had mellowed out from his younger days and I just remember a tall man with gray hair and dark-rimmed glasses who liked to play cards. But I am grateful for those memories.

We look forward to embracing the new roles and to embracing our little grandson as he grows.

Saturday, March 14, 2015

The Real Hero

Today I am grateful for the safe and sound arrival of our first grandchild-Leo. I am also grateful to be witness to the amazing gift a newborn is.

The real hero in all of this is my stepdaughter Emily, the new mother. Her labor lasted thirty hours and the delivery was not a breeze. She was a real trooper through it all and the relief and joy was written on her face when we got to see her and her baby.

Emily has faced a wider array of emotions during her pregnancy than many expectant moms have to face. There has been fear and uncertainty that are more far-reaching than "is my pregnancy normal?"

She's the real hero because she has done her best to be healthy during her pregnancy and to prepare to be the best mom she can be. She has had a good support crew, but she's the one who literally and figuratively carried the most weight these last months.

I am proud of you Emily and so grateful you and Leo are doing well. What amazing joy to see that little one.

Welcome and congratulations!

Friday, March 13, 2015

Works in Progress

Today I am grateful for the father that my husband Darcy is to all three of his children. I am also grateful for fried eggs and toast.

We are all works in progress. Life is a work in progress. If we are fortunate enough, we realize both of these things before we have spent too many years trying too hard, working too hard, being too hard on ourselves.

We will never reach perfection. We aren't meant to. Sure, there may be moments of perfection, but I am talking about the unattainable and elusive perfection. It's elusive for a reason. We are all flawed humans doing the best we can with what we have on a daily basis. If we remember that about ourselves, we are more likely to remember that about others and be more forgiving all around.

Works in progress. Work. Progress. It takes effort and it takes time and sometimes we just get tired, we just don't have anything else to give. At other times though, the progress is almost palpable, the feeling of exhiliration intense. Those are the motivating, inspiring, energizing times that keep us moving forward.

Looking for gratitude each day is also a work in progress, but allows both the work and the progress in all areas of one's life to be noticed and appreciated. I wasn't always able to say this, but now I can: I am proud of the work in progress I am today. I hope you feel the same way about yourself. As always, apply some gratitude and the view gets better.

Thursday, March 12, 2015

The Compass of Compassion

Today I am grateful for recovery wisdom shared by others and for the convenience and taste of bananas.

I was in a conversation with some of my recovery friends the other day and the topic was compassion. It was discovered that in the dictionary compassion comes right after compass. I thought that was serendipitous. The compass of compassion. Guided and directed by kindness.

Now that I have brought it up, I feel like I need to give some definitions.

Serendipitous-because it is just a fun word and could be a topic for a post all by itself-occurring or discovered by chance in a happy or beneficial way.

Compassion-sympathetic pity and concern for the sufferings or misfortunes of others; synonyms include empathy, care, concern, sensitivity, warmth, tenderness, mercy, tolerance, kindness, humanity,and charity.

Compass-had well over ten definitions, but let me just give this simple one of my own-something that guides and directs, that points us in the right direction.

The compass of compassion. If tolerance, sensitivity, empathy, and kindness guide me in how I choose to treat others and myself today, the odds are that it will be a good day. Onward!

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Windows Open!

Today I am grateful for my working senses and the enjoyment of having windows open on a very pleasant day.

If you live anywhere similar to where I do-where the winters can tend to be too long and too cold-you appreciate that first day in the early spring when it hits the sixties. The car windows are down. The house windows are open. People are out and about with their pets, their bikes, their kids in strollers.

It's a great feeling. It is most appreciated when it isn't something that tends to be the norm most months out of the year. It will be too hot before long too. Don't get me wrong. There are things I love about each season, but I am usually ready for the next one to come along when it does. And the older I get the less I care for the extremes.

My working senses enjoyed the sights, sounds, and smells of that beautiful day yesterday, of the car radio turned up as the breeze went through my car. My working soul and spirit appreciated the deeper feeling of being alive and of the frozen earth coming back to life as well.

I continue to consider the sad early death of Lisa Bonchek Adams and many others from cancer.

I consider new life as our family awaits the arrival of my stepdaughter Emily's baby any day now.

Life is precious. Life is fragile. Open the windows when you can!

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Still Flat, Still Running

Today I am grateful for electricity and a roof over our heads. I am grateful to be able-bodied and alive.

Yesterday's temperature was in the mid-50's and I ran outside in capris and a t-shirt for the first time in months. It felt great and freeing after a winter of many runs covered in many layers. But I also get reminded of my flatness and feel a little vulnerable.

I will never forget the first post-mastectomy run I took down the trail across the street from our house in the spring of 2009 on that first warm day, with just shorts and a t-shirt on. I felt quite vulnerable at the same time that I experienced the joy of running, the exhiliration of freedom and endorphins.

In the years since, I have become less self-conscious about my chest terrain when I go running. Running, in fact, was one of the key factors in my decision to not have reconstruction after my mastectomies. I wanted to give myself the best chances to keep running and and to do so comfortably. More surgeries and more scars may have meant complications or chronic pain. I wasn't willing to take that risk. It was the right decision for me.

So I am still flat when I choose to be, but more importantly I am still running. Most importantly, I am still here to welcome this new day with a sense of mindfulness and gratitude. Let's make it a good day for each other and ourselves.

Monday, March 9, 2015

Bits of Beauty

Today I am grateful for the first cup of morning coffee and for the promise of spring.

As I moved through my day yesterday, I looked for bits of beauty as suggested by Lisa Bonchek Adams in her frequent tweet that I also shared yesterday:

"Find a bit of beauty in the world today. Share it. If you can't find it, create it. 
Some days this will be hard to do. Persevere." 

Some of the bits of beauty I found included:
  • the sun shining on our dining room table
  • the blue sky against the still-naked trees
  • our dog Oliver's loving face
  • a "morning" greeting from my son Sam
  • appreciating being able to go up and down stairs
  • melting snow and running water
  • shared laughter
  • the aroma of dinner cooking
  • playing baseball catch with Sam
  • a refreshing drink of water
  • the smell of spring dirt
  • a walk with my husband Darcy and stepdaughter Emily
I didn't have to look hard. I just had to look. Pause. Breathe. Be still. Look.
It's that simple and it's that profound. Today I will keep looking but also work
on creating some bits of beauty to add to the world. 

Sunday, March 8, 2015

The Words of Lisa Bonchek Adams

Today I am grateful for a good run and warmer weather yesterday, and an enjoyable movie in "McFarland, USA."

If you read my post yesterday on metastatic breast cancer (MBC), you read about Lisa Bonchek Adams who just died Friday evening. Lisa Adams had a social media presence that included Twitter, Facebook, and her own blog. Her posts ranged from heart-wrenching poems about leaving her family to the difficult details of chemotherapy side effects, clinical trials, and the spread of the cancer that eventually killed her.

I was one of the many thousands she touched with her words and her realism. I believe she helped many, especially those with MBC themselves, and their loved ones. Her posts were sometimes hard to read, but only because she tackled the tough subjects with such a straightforward and direct approach.

She was initially diagnosed with early stage breast cancer in her late thirties. After doing everything she thought she could to improve her odds, including double mastectomies, chemotherapy, and removal of her ovaries, she was NED (no evidence of disease) for nearly 6 years when she found out that her breast cancer had metastasized to her bones. She died at age 45, leaving a husband and three children.

Some may avoid such directness, such consideration of the "what ifs" of life. I chose to read her posts because I learned from them, and because she was an excellent writer. I was also reminded of the deep appreciation I have for my own health today and to not take it for granted.

Cancer remains deadly and baffling. Progress has come, but so many mysteries remain. We need to build on the true awareness and proper funding of research that is needed. Lisa Adams helped advance that true awareness.

She had over 170,000 tweets that she sent out. The two below were ones that she often retweeted.

"Find a bit of beauty in the world today. Share it. If you can't find it, create it. 
Some days this may be hard to do. Persevere."

"Make the most of this day. Whatever that means to you, whatever you can do, 
no matter how small it seems."

Such wisdom and grace in those words. Thank you for them Lisa Bonchek Adams. 

Saturday, March 7, 2015


Today I am grateful for the warmer weather and the hope of spring. I am also grateful for my continuing health, a profound gift I try not to take for granted.

MBC. Metastatic breast cancer. The breast cancer that kills. Cancer that stays in the breast isn't deadly. Cancer that spreads from the breast, or metastasizes, to places like the lungs, liver, brain, and bones, kills 40,000 women and hundreds of men each year. Yet, it remains a mystery, is seriously underfunded when it comes to research dollars, and doesn't have an awareness level it should compared to all the other breast cancer "awareness" that is out there.

MBC. I have a healthy fear of it and that fear will be with me as long as I live. It is not a consuming or paralyzing fear, but it lurks. I think of my sisters Zita and Mary Jo, my friends Jenny, Sheila, and Sara, and many, many others. We have all had breast cancer. We are all here today. We are all very fortunate. But none of us is cured. MBC can strike at anytime and can strike someone who initially had a diagnosis of early stage breast cancer. For that reason, I try to do what I can for my health and I try to pay attention to my body. I am also grateful for tamoxifen, a proven medication that can reduce chances of recurrence.

The pink ribbon frenzy of recent Octobers has done very little for those with MBC. Arguably, it's done far less for the overall breast cancer movement than it would seem. So we need to keep talking about MBC and being more mindful of what we purchase and where we donate.

Those with MBC face a very grim prognosis. Those who write about their own experience living, and dying, with MBC are a different kind of courageous. One such writer is Lisa Bonchek Adams. She was diagnosed with MBC in October of 2012. Her blog, http://lisabadams.com/blog/, is written powerfully, poignantly, and tells the nitty gritty truth, the truth of a devastating disease.

I originally posted this and within minutes saw the news that Lisa Bonchek Adams died yesterday. I did not know Lisa personally, but my sincere condolences to her family and friends. Her writing touched so many lives. Rest in peace Lisa.

There is also Laurie Becklund, who died just recently of MBC. She died on February 8. Her essay, written over the last months of her life, was published in the L.A. Times on February 20. You can read it here. You can also read it on Pink Ribbon Blues, a blog written by Dr. Gayle Sulik and where I have written some guest posts. Dr. Sulik's book, also called Pink Ribbon Blues was a pivotal read for me back in 2011.

When it comes down to it, cancer or no cancer, each day is a gift. Treat it as such.

Friday, March 6, 2015

And Still More Practice

Today I am grateful for pizza-one of my favorite foods. I am also grateful for the many ideas on how to practice gratitude that I have picked up from others over the years or created myself.

Praying on my knees. Keeping a gratitude journal. This blog. These are my consistent gratitude practices and they are very valuable to me. The dividends they pay in energy and serenity are immeasurable.

But here are some other practices that I sometimes use as well:

*Doing an A-Z gratitude list on my commute or while exercising.
*Doing a 3 x 3 > 9 (3 things I am grateful for and 3 reasons why for each. That is at least a list of 12 and I often end up with more.)
*Taking a gratitude walk or run. While moving just trying to be more aware of my physical capabilites, or the sights and sounds of nature, or clearing my thoughts out as I go, or picking one sense to focus in on, or all of the above.
*Sharing gratitude texts with a friend. She usually starts it by texting what she is grateful for today. I respond with something I am grateful for. A little gratitude accountability.
*I have a small sign on  my desk at work. It says "1-5, #6."  It is to remind me of priorities and my key sources of gratitude: family, friends, recovery/faith, running, writing. It keeps work (#6) in the right perspective.
*Pausing during the day to breathe in and out a couple times and to be grateful for that breath and that present moment.
*A new idea I just heard from my sister Aileen-"Take 5."  Stop. Pause. List 5 things I am grateful for.Repeat as needed. Thanks Aileen!

The key for me is that I don't just think about being grateful, I act on it. That is how it works best for me.

How about you? I would love to hear more ideas on how to practice gratitude.

Thursday, March 5, 2015

Just a Minute

Today I am grateful for my sisters, all seven of them. I am also grateful for my brothers, all five of them.

My family is big and keeps getting bigger, but it started with my mom and dad and my 12 siblings. We all have our challenges and triumphs. but we also have each other. Even if it is across the miles and we don't see each other often, we have an energy field between us and it is a supportive one.

My sister Danita passed along this link to a Harper's Bazaar article here. It is titled "How to be Happier in Just One Minute."  It's a great article and posed the question: "Could your happiness depend on one simple question?"

That simple question is "Right here, right now, am I focusing on what is right or what is wrong?"  Am I counting blessings or hassles? Simple question. Minor effort and some willingness are all that is required to turn your day around.

I have seen this work many, many times in my own life. It worked this morning when I checked my email and saw the article. I was already in my head about stressful work stuff and this pause helped me rein in the negative and remind myself of my priorities and my blessings.

It really does just take a minute, but feel free to take more time, create a longer gratitude list.

Thanks Danita! And thanks to the wise words of Brother David Steindl-Rast that are corroborated by this article:  "In daily life we must see that it is not happiness that makes us grateful, but gratefulness that makes us happy."

Have a good day, unless you've made other plans.  

Wednesday, March 4, 2015


Today I am grateful for easy access to clean water. I am also grateful for the free weights we have that I can use for exercise.

I was thinking about those weights this morning. I try to do a few exercises 2-3 times a week to help maintain core and upper body strength. I use some 8-pound and 10-pound weights for a couple different exercises. I don't push myself too much, but I do enough to strain and exert my muscles so they get stronger and stay in good working order.

It is a reminder of the deep sense of gratitude I feel for my physical capabilites and for my health.

As I did my weight exercises this morning, I was also thinking about the figurative weights we can carry around. Worries. Fears. Long to-do lists. Self-defeating thoughts. The longer we carry these weights, the more they tend to tear us down rather than strengthen us.

How can I lessen the load, reduce the burden? Staying in the present moment helps. Seeking faith helps. Reaching out to others with their own burdens and helping them also has a way of reducing my own burdens.

Physical weights help me stay fit. Emotional weights slow me down and take energy I need for more fruitful endeavors.

Today I will live in mindfulness and gratefulness. It is easier to carry the weight of the present than to add the past and future to the load.

What is weighing you down today? How can you lessen the load?

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Practice, Practice

Today I am grateful for the comfort and peace I feel in a warm bed next to my husband. I am also grateful for fingers that function properly on keyboards.

Yesterday I wrote about the practice of praying on my knees. One of the other mindfulness practices that is at the very core of my efforts is the gratitude journaling I have been doing for twenty years.

I have written about this before but it is a theme that bears repeating. It is an action that works best if repeated regularly. For me, that means daily. It doesn't feel like drudgery to me, it feels like a vital part of my routine. Granted, some days I feel less grateful and have to "act as if," but I can still find some things to be grateful for and write them down.

To simply think of things or people I am grateful for isn't enough for me. I need concrete action. When I first started a gratitude journal, several months into it I realized that I was having fewer negative and self-defeating thoughts, that I was spending less time in my own head worrying and fretting. No matter how a person pursues it, looking for gratitude takes us out of ourselves. That is one of the many benefits. When I am out of myself and my narrow mind, I see so much more, I realize so much more, I feel so much more.

I have kept all my gratitude journals. I am currently on #11. I will sometimes pick one up and look at a few entries, but I mainly appreciate the day-by-day effort that fills each journal.

If you prefer to use more modern technology, there are plenty of ways laptops, cell phones, and other devices can be used to record gratitude lists and thoughts. Personally, I prefer pen to paper and the feel of a journal in my hands.

It's not necessary to journal daily either. I do because I am a creature of habit and I need the consistent efforts and actions. Do what works for you, but first we must start. If you haven't yet begun your own gratitude journal, make today or this week when you start. Onward!

Monday, March 2, 2015


Today I am grateful for the wisdom and grace of my recovery friends. I am also grateful for a simple salad recipe.

Yesterday I mentioned working to maintain a mindful state so that it is possible to simply do the next right thing, to simply march on, rather than step back into a past that is done or run too fast forward and miss the joys of today as I get caught up in fear and worry. It is all about where I put my energy.

This mindfulness takes practice. For me, the practices I incorporate into my day stem from what I have learned in the daily work I do in my ongoing recovery from alcoholism and the gratitude practice that grew out of this recovery work.

Humility is key in my recovery. Most addicts and alcoholics have an ego (and a disease) that tells them they can handle things on their own, even in the midst of ample evidence to the contrary. Some die an early death believing this. Some get the chance to learn about ego deflation and seeking help from others.

I learned about ego deflation from my friend Jan many years ago when I was going through a painful time in my life. A romantic relationship I didn't want to end had ended. I was hanging on to too much, I was trying to make things happen regarding other people and their actions. That is nothing but an exercise in futility.

Jan suggested I get on my knees and pray, as a way to humble myself and be more willing to accept help from a higher source and from other people. Being raised Catholic and spending plenty of time kneeling in prayer at church growing up, I balked at the idea. I believe a person can pray anywhere and any way they want to. I still believe that.

But I was in enough pain that I tried what Jan suggested. It was indeed humbling. It did indeed help me keep a more open mind as I healed from the hurt in my life. I continue to pray on my knees most mornings. It starts me in a better place for the day ahead. Thanks for the suggestion Jan. It was a good one.

Is prayer one of your practices?

Sunday, March 1, 2015

March In, March On

Today I am grateful for the bird I heard singing this morning and for some good rest this weekend.

I am also grateful that I got to see my friend Sara and her husband Jason twice in the last two days. Our cancer stories crossed paths in 2008 and today we are both healthy. What a blessing!

It was fitting to usher in March with birdsong as I walked Oliver this morning. February was very busy and full. The light was slowly returning, but now that March is here, there is real hope for warmer days and new life.

I love the changing seasons and always seem to be ready for the next one. I am certainly ready for spring. March will also bring new life to our family as we await the arrival of our first grandchild.

As March comes in I can also see the end of a very busy school year on the horizon. There is still plenty to unfold in this year, but June doesn't look as far away as it did in September. It has been a really good year in many respects and I am ever hopeful for an even better year next year. But it has been exhausting and it has had some stressful aspects, so in that respect it will be a good year to finish out.

March is in and the best we can do is march on. Each day. Each hour. If the discipline of living a life of recovery from alcoholism and the discipline of regular gratitude practice have taught me anything, they have taught me to keep marching foward in the present. To not dwell on the past and its regrets. To not get ahead of myself and live in fear and worry of the future. Simply to march forward and take the next right action.

It works, when I am in a mindful enough state to do it. That takes practice. More on that tomorrow.