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Showing posts from March, 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 respec…

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 th…

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 friendshi…

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 min…

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 …

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 …

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 …

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 abo…

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 …

An Easier Mindfulness

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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.

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 ti…

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 p…

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
gratitude
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 es…

Grandpa and Grandma

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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 o…

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 con…

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 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.…

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 an…

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 …

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 tablethe blue sky against the still-naked treesour dog Oliver's loving facea "morning" greeting from my son Samappreciating being able to go up and down stairsmelting snow and running watershared laughterthe aroma of dinner cookingplaying baseball catch with Sama refreshing drink of waterthe smell of spring dirta 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 look…

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 …

MBC

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 strik…

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. …

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 ch…

Weights

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…

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 spen…

Practice

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 def…

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 …