"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

Friday, December 30, 2016

Running Mindfully: Just Strides and Flakes

Today I am grateful for a visit with my friend Betsy and for the well-written sitcoms "Mom" and "Life in Pieces" and the laughs they bring.

Yesterday I went for a run in the cold with a cold. I have been fighting with the cold for four days and the cold is winning. But I still felt like going for a run outside. I was getting a little stir crazy.

As I started my run, I caught my mind going all over the place and I had to rein it in.

I tried focusing on just the run. Stride by stride. Slower when I hit an icy patch. Hood up when the wind came up. Stride by stride. Just running.

Then some light snow started to fall. I focused on a flake as it floated in front of me and then another flake. And another. Just a snowflake at a time.

It helped. My mind emptied out some of the useless rhetoric it had been busy replaying over and over. It brought some relief to this overthinking overdoer.

I'll take what I can get. A mindful run. A step at a time. A clearer head. Fewer thoughts, more focus.
The unnecessary fell away like the snowflakes. The clarity returned.

A full mind or mindful? It's a daily question for me.

Thursday, December 29, 2016

Perkins Through the Years

Today I am grateful for conversation, a shared meal, and some walking with my friend Liz and her granddaughter Victoria. I am also grateful for an afternoon nap as I fend off a nasty cold.

And I am grateful for Perkins Restaurants. I had two good meals at two different Perkins yesterday. A quick Google search tells me that Perkins was founded in 1958 and there are now over 400 locations across the United States and Canada.

My first experience with Perkins came in college in 1983-85. We were in the smaller community of Forest City, Iowa and nothing was open 24-hours a day. But about 25 miles down the road was Clear Lake, Iowa and a Perkins Restaurant that stayed open all the time. We made a few late night/early morning Perkins runs in our two years at Waldorf College. Those were some fun memories. Thanks for driving Deb! Patty melt and fries was my standard order.

Over the years, I continued to enjoy a Perkins stop many times. As we moved to our current community, we quickly noticed the large flag that is a Perkins trademark. Now we were living down the street from a Perkins. For years, it wasn't uncommon for us to take the kids there on Tuesday nights. That is when kids eat free. Easy for us. Good selection of kid's meals for them. Everyone wins.

We continue to visit our local Perkins from time to time and appreciate their varied menu.  The decor has changed more than once over the years, and the menu is ever-evolving, but we are grateful to Perkins for their good food and good prices.

Perkins run anyone?

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Captive Audience

Today I am grateful for dark chocolate, soft kleenex, and mechanics and technicians who know a lot more about vehicles than I ever will.

Sitting in the backseat of a car isn't something I do often. But I had the opportunity this weekend thanks to Darcy's willingness to drive. We drove in some adverse conditions due to winter weather. That also presented some good opportunities.  It was still dark Saturday morning as we headed to Green Bay from our overnight stay in Wausau. There was a fresh snowfall.

The daylight was approaching slowly, but even without it, we could see how the snow clung to the numerous pine trees and created a very picturesque scene. It was stunning actually. Nothing a picture could fully capture.

I rarely sit and do nothing. Pausing more regularly is something I am working on.  I was a captive audience that morning however. It was too dark to write or read. I just sat and looked out the window as we moved across the countryside. It was relaxing. A worthy pause.

I was a captive audience sitting in a moving car. It is the same any time I step outside. I am a captive audience to whatever Mother Nature has in store for us that day. I truly appreciate that and try to make time each day to be outdoors, even this time of the year, even if briefly.

Humans as captive audience on our planet. Let's pause and look around today. 

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Game Day

Today I am grateful for safe travels to and from Green Bay this weekend and for all the driving Darcy did. I am also grateful to have experienced game day at Lambeau Field with my stepson Arthur. He is, shall we say, a very avid Packers fan.

Thank you Arthur for sharing your Packers attire and enthusiasm with us. We had a great place to tailgate and equally impressive weather for late December. It was sunny and in the thirties. There really is something special about Green Bay and the Packers. There were lots of friendly people and Arthur wasn't the only one who went to the game minus a shirt under those bibs. 



I paused to take this second picture as Darcy and many other fans headed up the stairs and in to the Atrium to make our way to our seats. Lambeau Field holds 85,000, and the attendance on Christmas Eve was over 77,000.  

It was an enjoyable trip and my two favorite teams were playing. The only time I don't tend to cheer for the Packers is when they are playing the Vikings. But I defected on Saturday. Actually, I was fairly quiet as far as fans go, but when at Lambeau it is hard to be anything but a Packers fan.

Go Pack Go!

Friday, December 23, 2016

At 15, and at 1500

Today I am grateful for time with our grandson Leo and our son Sam's help with him yesterday.  I am grateful for new opportunities and experiences, and also for the consistency and comfort of familiarity.

When I hit the publish button on this post, it will be post #1500 that has gone from draft, to preview, to publish on Habitual Gratitude.

I wouldn't have guessed at post #15 that I would ever reach this milestone of 1500 posts. A post at a time, a word at a time, anything is possible.

I wouldn't have guessed at age 15 that I would be an alcoholic with long-term sobriety at 51. A day at a time, anything is possible. But at age 15, I did come across a prophetic line that I wrote on a piece of paper and put on the mirror in the bedroom I shared with my sister. That line?  "The chains of alcohol are too weak to be felt until they are strong to be broken." In my case, they definitely were.

At 15 days of sobriety, how could I know that a new way of looking at life was starting and it continues, many days later. A day at a time, anything is possible.

Thank you to all of you who read my posts regularly, or just stop by from time to time. Thank you to those who take the time to comment and share your own words. You all inspire and motivate me to continue. Even after 1500 posts, the ideas keep coming. So will the posts.

I will be taking a blog break the next few days though. Happy Holidays to all! Be safe. Be grateful.
Be present.

Thursday, December 22, 2016

Our Limitations, Our Talents

Today I am grateful for a fresh cup of coffee and for my friends at our local breast cancer support group.

We met last evening and enjoyed holiday treats and conversation, appreciating the fact that we were there together, alive, moving on with life after a breast cancer diagnosis;whether that diagnosis was years ago or more recent.

I have one more fortune cookie prompt to drive my writing this morning:

"Don't let your limitations overshadow your talents."

I believe this is a universal human struggle. Everyone I know beyond a simple acquaintance has this playing out in their lives in big or small ways. We hold ourselves back, intentionally or not, for a wide variety of reasons.

My reasons primarily revolve around fear. Fear of failure. Fear of doing something wrong. Fear of too much time being needed; time that I don't have. Fear of being judged or looking foolish. Fear paralyzes and paralysis limits.

Plenty of progress has come for me in my efforts to recover from alcoholism (and the negative thinking that accompanies it) and make my perception of self and surrounding world healthier with regular gratitude practice. I can stand up and say one of my talents is writing and not shrink into self-doubt immediately. That is progress. 

We can help one another by encouraging and complimenting. By offering support in the form of listening or simply being present. By not letting our own limitations cause us to get in someone else's way.

That is my goal today: stay out of the way. Let things unfold as they were meant to.

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

And a Few More

Today I am grateful for silence, enjoyed and embraced. I am also grateful for the changing light outdoors when there is snow on the ground.

With lists of various kinds at work and at home, it's a good idea to make sure one of them is a gratitude list, so here are a few more to add to what I started yesterday:

*printers that are working and accessible
*cake with light, airy frosting
*prayers-those prayed individually and collectively
*my husband Darcy's sense of humor (especially when it comes to my "occasional" moodiness)
*comfortable shoes and those who made them
*pants that fit (even this time of the year)
*the comfort level I have with many of my colleagues
*problems that have easy solutions, just requiring some literal or figurative legwork
*a variety of earrings to wear-many made by my sister Danita, I think of her when I wear them
*a conversation to remind me of the importance of sobriety and recovery
*those who clean our school halls, rooms, and offices
*those who provide music at our school masses
*the value of support groups, both for those coming for the first time and those who come for years

Have a good day! If you keep adding to your to-do list, please keep adding to your gratitude list too.

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Just a Few Things

Today I am grateful for laughter, conversation, and good food shared with co-workers. I am also grateful for the feeling of belonging that I have among recovery friends.

I am keeping it simple this morning. Here are just a few things on my gratitude list from
the last couple of days:

*music that makes me feel nostalgic
*the wonder ingredient known as almond bark
*the energy in a school and among both students and adults
*knowing the solstice is just around the corner
*egg nog--alcohol-free, just like me
*cheerful people waiting in a long line at the post office
*people who understand alcoholism
*my friend Sara's Monday night text messages of support
*crock pots
*the acceptance I have for my mastectomy scars
*my old Wheaties jump rope

In these busy days with plenty to do, consider pausing to start a gratitude list and add to it as you move through your day. You might be surprised what shows up on it.

Have a good day! Don't forget to pause.

Monday, December 19, 2016

The Pros and Pitfalls of Technology

Today I am grateful for reminders to slow down and enjoy the holiday season rather than be consumed by it. I am also grateful for easy recipes and all the writing avenues I have.

One of the opportunities that makes me a paid and published writer is the monthly column I write for our local newspaper. I get paid $30 per column and have been writing it for about four years. I am both proud and humbled when someone mentions to me that they enjoy reading my column. I truly appreciate the opportunity to keep fresh the idea of practicing gratitude.

The column is called "Gratitude Flow" and here is December's effort:

“The Pros and Pitfalls of Technology”
As part of the over-50 crowd, my comfort level with the various forms of technology at our disposal is mixed at best. Computers, cell phones, email, social media, blogs, flat-screen televisions, and more are regular parts of my life; some just personally, some as part of my job. We live in the “Information Age” driven by the “Digital Revolution.” It is amazing and mind-boggling and I appreciate it in numerous ways.
Sending a text to a friend or family member is a quick and easy way to connect or figure out details like where to meet for coffee. My writing pursuits are time-efficient and reach more readers on blogs. It’s nice to know my running mileage from a recent run with the convenient app on my phone. (I just discovered the other day that my “Health” app includes a mindfulness component. I will be using that more.) Google searches help me find answers to many questions almost instantly. I may be a digital immigrant, but I have embraced this new territory quite a bit.
On the other hand, all of this technology and easily accessible information makes it hard to keep pace with today’s world. Neuropsychologist Dr. Rick Hanson, author of Buddha’s Brain and Hardwiring Happiness, refers to it as “being fire-hosed” by information; a fitting analogy for the overload of material at our fingertips. It can be overwhelming, exhausting, and drown out what really matters.
            If we are honest, much of the information we are inundated with isn’t that important, though the providers would like us to think otherwise. It comes down to our individual choices. Like all areas of life, balance is crucial. The time spent with and emphasis given to our high-tech gadgets is a key to our overall wellness. Is it too much? Not enough? Just right? These questions will be answered differently by each of us.
            Framing technology use in the context of gratitude helps me maintain balance. Facebook and blogging allow me to more easily connect or reconnect with family and friends, reading the gratitude lists and writings of others and sharing my own. I appreciate seeing pictures and getting updates on life events. Text messages and emails are both consistent inlets and outlets for my gratitude pursuits. A few words or lines back and forth and I have a good boost.
Yet, it can easily become a time trap, or what I refer to as “getting sucked into the vortex.”  Start reading emails or recent comments on social media and it is easy to lose track of time. It can also chip away at a grateful mindset. Seeing snippets of people’s lives and vacation pictures can make it seem like our own lives are lacking. Seeing the next best thing in terms of clothes, a recipe, or a must-see movie begins to erode our peace. We start to wonder if we should be doing and pursuing more, losing sight of our own priorities. To safeguard against this trap, I never stay too long on social media and I refrain from comparing my insides to other people’s outsides.
Besides being a potential time trap, technology use also steals our attention. How much are we missing when we are plugged in versus unplugged? If someone is always looking at a screen of one kind or another, what else are they missing around them?
Have you ever wondered what good we could do if we put even some of the time and energy that we give to our gadgets in to other pursuits?  Like cleaning a closet and donating items or going out and doing community service for others in need. Or putting our thought energy into finding solutions that will help contribute to the greater good. Gratitude tends to get us out of ourselves. Screen time tends to isolate us.
Technology is a tool, not an end-all. I try to set my own healthy boundaries. I encourage you to do the same. For my family and I, taking intentional breaks from technology includes tech-free sleep areas. As parents, we have a responsibility to set boundaries for our children and help them find a healthy balance. Our future, and theirs, depends on it. Where we put our time and energy determines the pace of our days and the type of impact we leave on the world around us. Simply ask yourself this question: Is my technology use impeding or aiding my gratitude flow?

Sunday, December 18, 2016

Santa's Helpers

Today I am grateful for opportunities to be of service and for the event our church supports known as "Santa's Secret Shop."

For several years now, our church has hosted this event with the help and involvement of other churches and agencies in our community. It is an opportunity for families who can't afford to shop for Christmas gifts to come and shop for free. Gifts are donated and the children shop for presents for their parents and siblings.

There are gift wrapping stations and a parent's lounge where parents can relax while their kids shop.
It is a really nice event that touches many lives in many different ways. I don't know yesterday's numbers, but last year about 250 children participated.

On the one hand, I am saddened by the level of need in our local area. On the other hand, I appreciate that one of our community's strengths is having programs to support those who seek it.

Darcy, Sam and I helped set up some on Friday afternoon. Then we went early yesterday to shovel after the fresh snowfall, making it easier for all to park and come and go from our church. We returned a third time to help clean up.

It is important to Darcy and I to include Sam in these efforts, and though he may be a bit reluctant, he always steps up. It is an eye-opener and gives us true perspective. To be of service is a great opportunity and a great responsibility.  We are grateful to do our part, and grateful to be able to.

Saturday, December 17, 2016

One of My Days

Today I am grateful for opportunities to be of service, and to join my husband and son in those efforts.

Today's date of December 17 marks the 8th anniversary of my bilateral mastectomies. December 17, 2008 is a date I have remembered each year since. Maybe with time it will fade, and it already has, but it's one of my days. Days important in my life's story.

Days like my birthday. My sobriety date. My wedding day. The day Sam was born. The day my dad died. The day I received news of my breast cancer diagnosis: May 29, 2008.

Of course, I don't remember my day of birth. But the rest of the days are etched in my mind and carry a myriad of memories and emotions, some full of joy, others full of despair.  December 17, 2008 ran the gamut of emotions. I lost two body parts. I gained the relief of being cancer-free and done with surgeries. I had a physical loss coupled with an emotional closure to a scary chapter of my life.

I honor this anniversary. I honor this day and the others that have stood out on the timeline of my life.
I honor the fact that I am here, able-bodied and alive, to live the day ahead.

Friday, December 16, 2016

Our sacrifices connect, our benefits multiply

Today I am grateful for my five senses and that they are all in working order. I am grateful for my glasses which help me see better with my aging eyes.

I continue to consider how the sacrifices of others can and should show up on my gratitude lists. See Tuesday's post. I appreciate the opportunities I have to sacrifice my own time and effort to be of help to others. It is a win-win.

The sacrifice doesn't really feel like a sacrifice, especially if approached as a possibility to add to the positive stream of good in the world. If we are helping others, we are getting out of ourselves, even if briefly. If we are on the receiving end of the support, we are left feeling worthy. Someone cared enough to do what they did.

All of this connects us, creating a grateful weaving of human hearts and souls touching one another in simple and profound ways.

These connections in turn lead to each of us more readily recognizing benefits and sacrifices and internalizing them. Then something incredible happens--we have more energy and more grace to keep giving of ourselves and a more open heart to receive humbly from others.

Thursday, December 15, 2016

Answers, Assurances, and Advances

Today I am grateful for doctors who are patient with their patients and for new slippers that are comfortable and cozy.

Yesterday I accompanied Darcy to his appointments with a pulmonologist and a thoracic surgeon.
We left with some answers and some appreciation for medical professionals and the technological advances that help them do their jobs.

Darcy's tumor is a hamartoma, a benign growth that can occur in various places around the body. The location of his, in the bronchus, is actually quite rare. Many hamartoma are never discovered and never cause any problems. Because his is basically blocking a small airway, it was leading to recurring pneumonia. It needs to come out and that's what yesterday's appointments centered on--what is the best approach to removing it?

We met with the pulmonologist first, who had spoken to the other pulmonologist who had done the first bronchoscopy. She conferred with the thoracic surgeon, who then met with us. This multi-disciplinary approach is becoming more common. I know Darcy and I both appreciated it. We got information we could understand. We got our questions answered. We got reassurance.

Any procedure carries risk and I will be nervous for Darcy when he goes in for an advanced bronchoscopy procedure to remove the tumor in January, but it amazes me what they can do with medical technology. It is a non-invasive, same-day procedure. Not every facility is set up for these and a limited number of doctors are trained in doing them. It was reassuring to hear that the pulmonologist doing Darcy's procedure has twenty years of experience and is fresh off additional training.

We appreciate that we live in an area where such medical care is available. Many are not so fortunate.

With answers and assurances yesterday, we await the procedure; confident that the advanced bronchoscopy will be successful.

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Change is the Watchword

Today I am grateful for the milk and cereal I enjoyed for breakfast and the dairy farmer and cow that started the process that led to the convenience of me picking up a gallon of milk at the store.

Just to keep me on my toes, or my writing fingertips as the case may be, here is another fortune cookie prompt:
"Change is the watchword of progression."

Change or become stagnant. Move forward or get stuck. Take some risks or just keep wishing. It can be said in many different ways, but it comes down to growth and change go hand in hand. 

There are other words we may hear more than watchword; such as buzzword, slogan, catchphrase, or motto. But watchword seems especially fitting when applied to gratitude practice. Watch. Pay attention. What needs changing? What needs maintaining? Both are sources of gratitude reminding us of our humanness.

Progression. My first thought is that progression isn't always a good thing. Progression deeper in to an addiction can be deadly. Progression in an abusive relationship can be stifling at the least and fatal at the worst.

Often though, progression is a positive. Progression toward a worthy goal is the stuff life is made of.
Little steps. Big shifts. Both matter.

I am also thinking of the line "if it ain't broke, don't fix it." Change isn't always necessary. Don't change what is working, unless it is to make it even better. Consider changing what isn't working well. Sometimes that simply means taking a small step to do it differently, or to approach it with a different attitude.

These are all good thoughts for me to ponder today. I look back with deep appreciation for the positive ways I have changed since putting down my last drink, since meeting my husband, since becoming a parent.  I remain a work in progress, but my direction is solid.

How are you feeling about the watchword of change in your life today? 

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Benefits or Sacrifices

Today I am grateful for the joy I hear and see in the words and faces of others in recovery. I am also grateful for others who share their gratitude practice and wisdom with the rest of us.

My friend Steve Foran is one such person. He posts regular videos about the topic of gratitude on his website Gratitude at WorkHere is one from about a month ago. I encourage you to pause and watch it. It is less than 3 minutes long. It has to do with what grateful people are four times more likely to do and they aren't even aware of it.

It was insightful to me to realize just how much more I give a "benefits to me" approach to my gratitude lists than I do "sacrifices of others." Some of the over 1600 gratitudes that Steve was looking at on the Daily Gratitudes portion of his website were mine.

It made me stop and think. I have tried to apply his idea in the weeks since, making a concerted effort to include the sacrifices or efforts of others in my gratitude list, not just straight-up what has benefited Lisa lately.

Obviously they go hand-in-hand, but even the subtle shift in mindset helps me broaden my level of appreciation and become more likely to thank others for their part in my good fortune, even if I am not thanking them face to face.

Pausing to appreciate the people who grew and harvested the fruit I am enjoying today makes the fruit a little sweeter. Taking a moment to consider those who keep our streets and roads maintained helps me slow down in more ways than one.

Then I consider how I enjoy being helpful to others. My sacrifices of time and effort can help me be of better service to others. If I am doing it for a pat on the back or recognition, those are misguided motives.

Gratitude practice helps me get out of my self and my ego-driven ways. It helps me feel part of the bigger picture of humanity and it fuels me to give back. When I give of myself in those circumstances, my motives are pure.  I am simply giving back because I am appreciating what I have been given.

So I continue to move through the hours and days, trying to be more aware of those around me, near and far, and how they contribute in positive ways to my life.

Thanks Steve for being one of those positive contributors!

Monday, December 12, 2016

Slow with the Flow

Today I am grateful for the beauty of a fresh snowfall and eyes with which to see it. I am also grateful for the snowplow drivers who clear our streets and highways.

After a more frenetic pace and mindset on Saturday, I approached Sunday more calm. I think keeping "one" as a guiding word is helpful. Regular pauses slow me down in good ways. It seems I will go along smoothly for a time, then I start to get spun up with overthinking and overdoing. I catch myself sooner than I used to, but it is still a work in progress. I am still a work in progress.

So I will keep writing about it, practicing mindfulness, pausing for reminders like this one:


Small ice and slush flows moving past me as I stood at an overlook along the Mississippi River. Just stood. Just watched. As they moved by slowly, at the pace and in the time they were meant to. I internalized the concept of moving deliberately.

Go with the flow. Slow with the flow. Sounds like a reasonable approach to the day. Have a good one! 

Sunday, December 11, 2016

One

Today I am grateful for the feel of new sheets in a warm bed, waking up next to my husband. I am also grateful for the word and the experience of "one."

"One" has been on my mind in the last days. I even checked to see if I had ever titled any of my other 1480-plus Habitual Gratitude blog posts "One." I had not, though it appears in several titles and in a majority of my posts, in one way or another.

Some of my ponderings:

-reading one word of my poems at a time and how each syllable matters
-rolling one Oreo ball or chocolate star cookie at a time
-placing one star on one cookie, then the next
-one pretzel dipped in almond bark, shook off, placed on waxed paper
-one snowflake making a unique journey among millions of other snowflakes
-one shovel of snow, followed by another, and another, and a driveway is cleared
-one drink of coffee to savor
-one banana as part of my breakfast almost every day
-one step at a time on a run with Darcy on a cold morning

One matters. This one moment. This day. My life. Your life. Everyone's life.

One. To experience it requires a pause, a mindfulness I sometimes forget to have. I enjoy holiday baking, running, and shoveling snow. (Call me crazy, but I do.)  Yet, I had to catch myself getting ahead of myself in each of these activities this weekend. Too much on my to-do list. Too many racing thoughts, mostly about what to do next, and writing ideas.

I spoiled some of the moments. But I caught myself savoring and relishing others. That is the best I can hope for on most days. "One" reminds me to slow down, pause. Be here. Simply here.

Friday, December 9, 2016

A Voice at Open Mic Night

Today I am grateful for the song "Amazing Grace" and a poetry reading opportunity last evening.

A special thanks to those who supported me in that poetry reading, including my husband Darcy and son Sam who were in attendance, and my friends Kelly and Betsy who listened to me practice and encouraged me to proceed.

It is great to live in a community with places like BreakAway Arts. I became part of the first-ever poetry open mic night last evening. There was no microphone involved. The group was small enough to sit around a large table and listen and share. Thank you to all who listened. Thank you to the other poets who shared, including two writing group acquaintances.

This was a stretch for me. I have rarely read my poetry out loud; only one other time in a public setting. It pushed me beyond my comfort zone, but was also exhilarating. I enjoyed picking out a few poems, practicing pace and emphasis, and even revising. As I read them out loud, I made some changes here and there and felt they were stronger.

Four of us shared, and there were about 10-12 people listening. I shared one I had memorized and then read three more.  Since I still have it memorized, here is one:

Throwing Up
I caught the bug
Of ego inflation
It brought 
A soul sickness
And a spiritual
Nausea

I felt like 
Throwing up

So I did

I threw up
My hands
And surrendered
My will

LV (originally written in October, 2012)

A special thank you again to Darcy and Sam who were there to experience this with me. It was empowering. It was fun. The affirmation I received means a great deal to me. My voice continues to emerge. And there's next month's open mic night to look forward to.

Thursday, December 8, 2016

How do you spell relief? B-E-N-I-G-N

Today I am grateful for the palpable relief that comes with good news. I am also grateful for the support my husband Darcy and I give each other.

Darcy's medical procedure the other day was a bronchoscopy. The procedure discovered a small tumor in the left lower lobe of his lung. It was biopsied and then we waited. It didn't have scary cancer characteristics, so we were hopeful.  Still, I know Darcy and I both went to worst case scenarios in our minds at times.

When he got the word yesterday that the tumor is benign, our relief was audible and our gratitude deep. He still needs surgery and that means more appointments, risks, and recovery. But it is a whole different ballgame than going down the road a cancer patient needs to go down.

The procedure, the news of a tumor and subsequent biopsy, the waiting for results; all brought some flashbacks to the mind of this cancer patient and her spouse. The range of emotions for both Darcy and I in recent days has been wide.

Today, our gratitude is wide and our comfort level is back to a more even keel.

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

A 2 x 2 of the Exercise Variety

Today I am grateful for our local writing group and our guest last evening, poet Margaret Haase.

I appreciated getting to writing group and seeing familiar faces, after being unable to make it for many months. I appreciated Margaret Haase's words of wisdom about the craft of poetry and writing in general, as well as her poems that she read to us.

How about a 2 x 2 today?  This one of the exercise variety. It is how I started my morning.

1.  Sweat
     a. I know I have worked hard and got my heart rate up, for my health.
     b. It cleanses stress and worry out of my body.

2. My vintage Nordic Track machine.
    a. The fact that it still works. Today was the first use in months.
    b. The fact that it was free at the curb and I have gotten years of use out of it.

What will your 2 x 2 gratitude multiplication be about today?

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

A 3 x 3 of the Medical Variety

Today I am grateful for medical technology and for family and friends.

One of the gratitude practices I sometimes use is what I call "doing a 3 x 3."  It is simply naming three things I am grateful for and then giving three reasons why for each. It is indeed an easy way to multiply gratitude. I encourage you to try it. Write it down or just say it. Use any number combination you choose.

Here is one I started yesterday as I nervously waited for Darcy to come out of a medical procedure:

1. Good signage at the medical facility we were at
-guiding us to where he needed to start and the next steps
-to help me walk off some worry and know where to return
-to more easily find our car when it was time to go home

2. Kind people
-nurses who kept me informed and with Darcy when I could be
-a woman to share conversation with instead of sitting in my own fear
-the doctor who was straightforward but considerate with his words

3. Medical technology
-a scope allowing a look at a concern and yielding ample information
-a TV screen in the waiting area keeping me updated on Darcy's status
-that same scope giving us a real picture of the real reason for Darcy's recurring pneumonia

Go ahead. Multiply some of your own gratitude today. 

Monday, December 5, 2016

Prayers as Brain Activity

Today I am grateful for my husband Darcy and our marriage. I am also grateful for some phone conversations with friends and family this weekend.

My goal is to begin each day with some quiet time. I say some prayers I have committed to memory. Prayers that hold much meaning to me and that help me get centered for the day ahead. I also will pray for others.

The list is long. Those who have had or are currently dealing with cancer. Those in active addiction and those working hard to recover. Anyone who needs special prayers; maybe they have suffered a significant loss, maybe they are facing surgery or health problems, maybe they are struggling with a decision.

I will often do these prayers on my knees. It is a more humble and open way for me to ask for help and seek compassion. But I also often do them as I am exercising. Moving meditation. Usually at least a couple times a week, I will pray for everyone in my large family.

I name them individually. Some of them I rarely see and can't say that I know that well, but they are family and that means we have a special connection. Our family now numbers over 100, so there is always someone in need of special prayers of intention.

Admittedly, some days I am in a more prayerful mindset than other days. Just like some days my gratitude flows easily and other days it has to hurdle some obstacles in the stream of life. Even on those tougher flow days, taking the actions makes all the difference. I am able to proceed as a productive contributor to my own day and the day of those around me.

These prayers help me get out of myself. My own head can be a dangerous place when all it is thinking about is me. These prayers put me in a grateful mindset. I have people praying for me and people I can pray for. Just like I believe gratitude shared creates positive energy between people, I also believe prayers prayed create positive energy between those praying and those being prayed for.

This is a true gift of daily recovery and regular gratitude practice. I don't get mired in the muck of self-pity so deeply that I isolate and spin my wheels and become of no use to the world.

I consider prayers to be healthy brain activity.

Sunday, December 4, 2016

Be prepared . . . in the days ahead

Today I am grateful for the beautiful snowfall and to be able to walk in it and enjoy the peace.

Today's post is inspired by another fortune cookie quote. I broke the cookie open and read the line, the went for a walk in the snow. Moving meditation to see what thoughts would come.

Here is the fortune:

"Be prepared to accept a wondrous opportunity in the days ahead!" 

Here are some of my random thoughts about it:

*"Be prepared to accept . . . " is a philosophy I try to apply every day. Accept life on life's terms. Accept results that are out of my hands. Accept that others have their own choices and beliefs.

* ". . . a wondrous opportunity" could be as simple as being at the right place at the right time to be able to offer assistance to someone in need, even if it is just carrying something for them or holding a door open. Any opportunity to be helpful and considerate is a wondrous thing.

* ". . . in the days ahead!" To best prepare for the days ahead, live in today. If I do that, I have better direction and more energy when each new day arrives.  

And I was struck by the exclamation point. I didn't add that. It was part of the fortune. Am I approaching today with fear-filled, energy-zapping questions? Or am I approaching it as a chance to see and experience the awe this day can bring if I simply pay attention? 

I choose the latter!

Friday, December 2, 2016

Lotion

Today I am grateful for lotion, shampoo, toothpaste and toothbrushes. I am also grateful for clean water to help me use and benefit from these products.

As I put on some lotion last night, this morning's blog post took shape. I use lotion daily, and this time of the year it can be several times a day. For something I use and appreciate every day, I knew it hadn't shown up in this blog much, if at all.

A search revealed exactly one post, from three years ago, that even mentions lotion. Here is that post, titled "Painful Reminders" if you care to read it. Nearly 1500 posts, and I mention lotion, a product I use daily, only once until today. Gratitude practice only requires paying attention. Apparently, I haven't been paying much attention when it comes to lotion.

Each day, I apply lotion to my face and hands. The face lotion is a special one and a little more expensive. It's one of the personal care products I splurge on. It seems to help keep me looking a "youthful" 51.  (Along with drinking lots of water, and good, clean living.)

The lotion I use on my hands is more run-of-the-mill. I have tried many kinds and use it several times a day this time of year with the cold weather and dry air. I am grateful for the relief it brings, and I also appreciate the various scents. I have lotion in my purse and in my office, so I have a variety of scents to savor.

Lotion. Simple. Common. Appreciated.

I will appreciate and savor the lotion I use today and look for other simple, common gratitudes.

Thursday, December 1, 2016

Gray and Rainy Days vs. Endorphins

Today I am grateful for attire and shoes that allow me to run in pretty much any weather conditions and I am also grateful for the music of Neil Diamond.

We have been having gray and wet weather the last few days. Couple that with the shorter daylight and it can be depleting to the body, mind, heart, and soul. It could be worse--it could be colder, snowy, icy. It might be more treacherous running in that.

It can still be hard to muster the desire to go for a run after work when it is drizzling, chilly, and the daylight is already fading. That is the decision I faced a couple days this week. Run or not run?

I was a little frustrated by the fact that my commute on these days was mostly dry until I got close to home. Come on! But I changed, laced up, and headed out. Monday's run was sluggish but I still felt better for doing it. As always.

Yesterday's run was one of those that keeps me running. It was raining a little, but I had the right gear on, and it was a few degrees above freezing, so I wasn't worried about ice. I hit a stretch of trail and could see the trees reflected in the water on the trail. Bare trees settling in for a long winter's nap are still beautiful.

The stress of the work day and worries about loved ones subsided with each stride. My head cleared and my heart lightened. Writing ideas began to populate my mind.

Physical exercise with mental, spiritual, and emotional benefits, courtesy of endorphins. Endorphins are free and very effective.

Gray/rainy days vs. endorphins . . . and the winner is . . . endorphins! And me.

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Real Generosity

Today I am grateful for Sam's involvement in wrestling and for the strong program we have here. I am also grateful to coffee growers.

The other day I wrote about generous attention and giving it to the present. This quote furthers
that idea:
"Real generosity toward the future lies in giving all to the present." 
(Albert Camus)

I hadn't really thought about it that way before. By giving our attention to now, we are better preparing for and creating the kind of future we want.

Mindfulness keeps our priorities straight, our passions strong, our relationships healthy.

Mindful presence, for me made more possible through regular gratitude practice, makes it more likely for me to have the energy and focus to not only do what needs to be done, but also keep pursuing my long-term goals and dreams.

I will seek a generous dose of ongoing presence today. 

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Feeding the Right Fire

Today I am grateful for the soft glow of Christmas tree lights and for our dog Oliver and the predictable ways he has.

Though I regularly practice and write about gratitude, there are days and moments when I am tired and discouraged and I wonder if it all matters. "It" being lots of things like my writing pursuits, gratitude practice, daily work on recovery from alcoholism. It's part of being human and for me it is usually short-lived. I believe it is important to acknowledge these lows and call them out. That seems to help them subside rather than deepen.

On a recent run, or moving meditation as it is for me as well, I threw out a question in my head, hoping for a little clarity. It came in the form of this line--keep feeding the right fire Lisa.

Feeding the right fire is to keep running and writing, to keep practicing gratitude and recovery, to love those nearest and dearest to me to the best of my ability. Stoking the flames of this fire warms my heart and soul.

When I am busy feeding the right fire, I am not as tempted to add fresh fuel to the heavy and jagged logs of the fire of my past. The fire of active drinking and daily self-deprecation. The fire of "less than and never good enough."  That fire is just waiting for the right spark to start itself again and I won't give it the satisfaction.

I will keep feeding the right fire, even when I am a little or a lot tired and discouraged. The right fire throws off the right light to help me find my way back to more energy and optimism.

Monday, November 28, 2016

Slumber Party

Today I am grateful for my job and the people I get to work with there, adults and students alike. I am also grateful for the worker in the local ice cream shop who dished up some ice cream for Darcy and I to enjoy last evening.

As I focused on giving generous attention to the present yesterday, one person and moment I was able to give generous attention to was our grandson Leo. Actually, it was more than a moment and more like an hour that we napped together. Here he is as he is coming awake:


I slept some too, but also thoroughly enjoyed listening to his breathing, looking at his little fingers and the smooth skin on his hands, feeling his warmth as he rested on my shoulder and side. What a treat!

Then we bundled up and ran around outside for awhile with Grandpa Darcy and then Uncle Sam, chasing balls, playing peek-a-boo, watching Oliver tear around the backyard, and picking up a few sticks.

It was the kind of afternoon I needed. Generous attention to what matters most--family.
Generous attention to the present, not the whiny stuff I could have gotten into as a long holiday weekend winds down.

Onward into this day, with the same plan--generous attention to the present. 

Sunday, November 27, 2016

Generous Attention

Today I am grateful for the musicians and singers who provide me with beautiful music to listen to. I am also grateful for those who decorated the Mall of America for the holidays.

Our visit to the mall yesterday wasn't about shopping. It was about checking out the new addition and taking in the holiday decorations. There were beautiful trees, many strands of lights, giant ornaments.
There were also hundreds of other people, each with their own story and their own reasons for being at the Mall of America on a Saturday afternoon.

We didn't stay long, Sam, Darcy, and I. But I did my best to pay attention to the sights and sounds while I was there. That is what life is all about, what gratitude practice is at the core: paying attention.

I am not always very good at paying attention. I get busy in my head and miss things. I start thinking about a response when I should simply be listening. Some days, it seems I am racing headlong through a never-ending list of things to get done. Those are not good days for me. I get frustrated and exhausted. I lose hope and inspiration.

On the days I start with quiet reflection and carry that with me throughout the day, I pay better attention to what really matters. On the days I pause from time to time and consider the gifts in that present moment, I am energized and rejuvenated. Those are far better days for me and the people around me.

In less than ten words, Simone Weil sums it up:

"Attention is the rarest and purest form of generosity."  

Today I will strive to give generous attention to the present and those residing there with me. 

Saturday, November 26, 2016

The Easy Way

Today I am grateful for time with my friends Jenny and Jill yesterday. I am also grateful for those who share their wisdom in recovery.

I am taking the easy way out today. Sometimes taking the easy way out isn't the best idea. Like continuing to drink because it was a familiar escape, even when I knew it was hurting me and I was getting sicker.

But taking the easy way out on a blog post is okay when I am short on time and low on energy.

Here is a link to my most recent post on my second blog, Late Bloomer and Slow Learner.
It is about one of my life's messengers-Brother David Steindl-Rast.

If you want to get any of my posts on either blog in an easy way, be sure to sign up for emails. It's easy to sign up and then each time I post, you receive an email. On this blog you'll find this option near the top right. On Late Bloomer and Slow Learner, the option is in the lower right as you scroll down the page.

A shameless plug for followers I know. Guilty. But also so grateful to be a writer with a desire to share my work.

Thursday, November 24, 2016

100 Times a Day

Today I am grateful for this present moment and the beautiful song I am listening to with ears that can hear well and a heart that feels the range of emotions the song brings. (It is Allison Crowe's live version of Hallelujah.)

It is Thanksgiving Day in America. Happy Thanksgiving to all! Every day is a day for giving thanks.
If you wish you put more focus on gratefulness in your own life, if you are looking to incorporate gratitude practice into your routine, make today the day you begin.

We blink over 25,000 times a day. Our hearts beat over 100,000 times a day. Consider Albert Einstein's words:

A hundred times a day I remind myself that my inner and outer life depend on the labors 
of other people living and dead and that I must exert myself in order to give in the 
full measure I have received and am still receiving.

I also wrote about this quote earlier in my blogging days. Read it here.

The first thoughts that come to my mind this morning as I read these words are thoughts of my parents. They gave me life and an upbringing that has helped shape me in to who I am today. Thank you Mom and Dad! I will continue to strive to make a difference, like the two of you have.

In fitting fashion, I close with a quote from Brother David Steindl-Rast today:

The greatest gift one can give is thanksgiving. In giving gifts, we give what we can
spare, but in giving thanks we give ourselves.
A big thank you to all of my faithful readers who inspire me to keep giving of myself here. And my deepest gratitude to friends and family who have helped me at the most difficult times in my life. 

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Raving About Giving Thanks

Today I am grateful for all of Sam's current teachers and for good parent-teacher conferences last evening.

Yesterday I ranted. Today I rave. Rave about the immeasurable difference regular gratitude practice has made in my life for over two decades.

It wasn't necessarily a quick sell, but I am a firm believer now.  A brooding and ruminating pessimist as a child, adolescent, and young adult, I was one of those scoffers I mentioned yesterday. Picking up alcohol at a young age didn't help my perceptions of self and surrounding world.

Slowly and surely, keeping a gratitude journal helped me shift my default thinking mode from a negative, energy-zapping stream to a more positive and productive stream. Our brains learn to see more of what we teach it to look for. Reteaching is possible. Default modes can change. My brain and I could be Exhibit A in that discussion. I now have many actions, including this blog, which help me stay on track and provide regular dividends of the best kind.

I don't buy it when I hear "people can't change, this is part of our nature, we were born with it and are stuck with it."  Those become excuses as far as I am concerned. My own experiences and those of many others, especially people working to recover from addictions, prove that people and their way of thinking can indeed change, for the better.

Do I walk around with a smile on my face all the time, with my hands raised to the heavens saying "Thank you God"?  No, I do not. I do smile more than I used to. I do remember to thank the Great Spirit/Higher Power who is the chief benefactor providing so many of the gifts in my life.

I experience the full range of human emotions and I do not live in denial of life's challenges, which are many. Without a doubt, the disciplined gratitude practice I adhere to has helped me better handle both ends of the emotional spectrum as well as the complacency of many typical days.

Other reasons to rave about gratitude practice?  It contributes to my overall wellness. It provides physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual benefits. It helps keep my priorities fresh in mind. It generates energy for me to make a difference and contribute to the positive stream of life.

If I find myself lacking gratitude, I let this thought pass through my consciousness:  My life experiences include two diseases that kill people every day. Alcoholism. Cancer. Kill. People. Every. Day.

I am here, alive, healthy, able-bodied, doing my best to contribute and not contaminate. Ample reasons right there to rave about giving thanks. 

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Ranting About Giving Thanks

Today I am grateful for my husband Darcy for putting up our Christmas tree and holiday lights for us. I am grateful to enjoy these soft lights sitting next to him this morning.

But I also have a bone to pick today. Not with my husband. With this whole idea of focusing on gratitude in November and around Thanksgiving. Allow a brief rant from me. I would be the first to say some gratitude is better than no gratitude. Like exercise and eating right, however, if we want the benefits of gratefulness, we must apply the effort regularly.

If I only focus on gratitude this time of the year I will be in big trouble. There is too much other time for the negativity and self-pity to creep back in and take over. Granted, we come by this naturally. In earlier times as humans, we had to try to stay alive by being on the lookout for harm and dangerous creatures. As neuropsycholgist Dr. Rick Hanson says in his book Buddha's Brain, "Our brains are like velcro for negative experiences and Teflon for positive."

It's called "negativity bias" and it is probably why some scoff at "an attitude of gratitude" and consider being grateful day in and day out as unrealistic and pollyannish. The gratefulness I am talking about and practicing is not the fluffy stuff that scoffers scoff at.

The gratefulness I work to embrace and encourage is the stuff Buddha himself spoke of:  "Let us rise up and be thankful, for if we didn't learn a lot today, at least we learned a little, and if we didn't learn a little at least we didn't get sick, and it we got sick, at least we didn't die; so let us all be thankful."

It is the gratitude found in the present moment, when we pause to consider the gifts we are surrounded by. As simple as the air we breathe. As profound as the love we feel for our spouse. As simple as a cup of coffee. As profound as love of self once thought unattainable.

I love the holiday of Thanksgiving. It has always been one of my favorites. I liked the traditions, my mom's turkey and dressing for example, growing up. Anymore though, Thanksgiving practically gets lost in the merchandising wars between Halloween and Christmas. Gratitude can't and shouldn't be bought, but all the focus on "stuff" and Black Friday and the perfect gifts is sucking the very life out of Thanksgiving.

Every day is a day for giving thanks. Every day is a day for a grateful mindset.

The perfect gift is to be perfectly present in this moment. With our own thoughts or with the person or persons we are sharing the moment with. Just for now. Just for today.  Every day.  Can I be perfectly present all the time? Heck no. Can I aspire to be more present than absent in the now? Heck yes. Does it make a difference? Absolutely! Beyond any measure. More on that tomorrow.

Monday, November 21, 2016

Blazing New Trails

Today I am grateful for the brothers-and sisters-in law who add much to our family. (Good to connect with you yesterday Bob!) I am also grateful for all of those who made the newest stretch of running/biking trail in our area possible. 

The new portion is part of a growing trail system in and around our community and we really appreciate seeing the expansion. We also savor the views of our beautiful river country that these various miles afford us. 

This is one of two bridges on the 4-mile stretch of new trail Darcy and I traversed for the first time on Saturday. We did the whole stretch and turned around and went back so we got a good view of all the work that went in to bringing this to fruition.


This project took over a year and a half and more than 8 million dollars to complete. Rock had to be blasted, bridges engineered and built, trees cleared, and much, much more. Now, a beautiful stretch of trail is available to thousands of people.

What about the projects in our own lives? What about the personal trails we blaze, or hope to blaze? 
They may require years or simply hours or minutes. They will require our effort and our faith in the process and ourselves. They sure do make amazing new views possible though. 

Every day I focus on gratitude is a day to blaze new trails of peace and mindfulness.

Sunday, November 20, 2016

Ice Cream: The New Beer

Today I am grateful for morning quiet after a couple windy days. I am also grateful for the ease of electricity and those who make it possible.

There has never been a picture of a beer on this blog before and don't expect to see one again any time soon. I was feeling both a little punchy and a little light-hearted as I took this picture. My ice cream. My husband Darcy's beer. 


I took the picture Friday evening. It's not unusual for me to get a little twinge of "wish I could have a cold one" on a Friday evening. I spent many, many Friday evenings in my drinking days doing plenty of imbibing. I had always racked up plenty of reasons throughout the week to justify some escape via alcohol.

Sometimes I still get a little ticked off when I hear people talking about their glass of wine or a drink after a busy week. Normal drinkers have this luxury. I don't. And by the way, I will never understand normal drinkers. A couple beers and then you're done? What? No point in that. Darcy, one of the "normies," will have a couple beers on weekend evenings and it doesn't bother me. Except when I have that certain "poor me" feeling. 

It is fleeting and passes quickly. It goes with the territory of being a recovering alcoholic. Don't worry, I don't plan to drink over it. The reminder of my powerful disease is needed. I have my own effective way of taking the edge off with my current preferred version of a cold one: a pint of ice cream. 

Not the healthiest choice, I know. But let's keep it in perspective shall we? I can drive just fine after a pint of ice cream; though I usually just go to bed. No blackouts or hangovers. No guilt for me either.
I don't drink anymore. I don't smoke anymore. Don't take my ice cream away.   

I am laughing a little as I write this. Laughter is good. And if there is anything I have learned in recovery it is to not take myself or life too damn seriously!

Friday, November 18, 2016

Independent Joy

Today I am grateful for the garbage haulers who come each week to pick up our trash and recycling.
I am also grateful to those who work to get the food to the grocery stores that I can then conveniently buy there.

After writing about things like hills and valleys on my other blog and overcoming suffering on this blog this week, this quote from my favorite Benedictine monk sort of tied it all together:

"Joy is the happiness that doesn't depend on what happens."
Br. David Steindl-Rast     

There will be ups and downs in life, triumphs and struggles, highs and lows. But even in the midst of the toughest times, joy is possible. And even in the midst of the best of times, joy can be forgotten.

So that leaves the present moment as the key to finding joy. Regardless of outcome, joy can be landed on in any given moment if we pay attention and look here and now.

This joy has nothing to do with material goods or circumstances, it has everything to do with how we look at those material goods and our circumstances. Pausing to enjoy a sunrise or listen to a child's laughter, savoring the food that is nourishing us, feeling the cool breeze on our faces; these are ways to find that independent joy.

So simple. So profound. And so independent of checkbooks and dwellings, or lack thereof. 

Thursday, November 17, 2016

That's a Late Bloomer!

Today I am grateful for my fellow BC sisters at our local breast cancer support group and for the laughter shared amidst serious business.

The picture below is a clematis along the fence line in our backyard. The picture was taken yesterday--November 16. Now, that's what I call a late bloomer! It has been a very odd fall here weather-wise.

The kind of odd that I have fully appreciated and that had me running in shorts and short sleeves pretty recently. The kind where I can have the windows down in my car on my commute home and enjoy the fresh air without freezing. The kind that doesn't come along every year. (If it did, I would be worried about what that means for our global climate.)



These blooms are not the full blooms of spring and summer, and the greenery on the rest of the plant is mostly gone. But it is a blossoming flower in November, late in the season. It's tenacious and has some nice color.

I'm a late bloomer too. Tenacious. Healthy glow on my cheeks most days. Not as vibrant as I used to be in some ways, but more vibrant in others. One of those ways is through my writing. My daily writing via this blog has been a great way to channel my energy and gratitude practice, and also a great way to hone the craft of writing.

Many of you already know I have started a second blog titled Late Bloomer and Slow Learner.
It is in the early stages, just months old and less than 40 posts, but it is a furthering of my writing passion and an extension of the idea that I am indeed a late bloomer and a slow learner. Check it out.

It is deeply humbling to be here, able-bodied, healthy in mind, body, and spirit. There is much to be done and I will do my part today. Bloom on! 

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Overcoming Suffering

Today I am grateful for a sunset run with Darcy yesterday and for writing ideas that keep coming.

I have always respected Helen Keller's outlook on life. She overcame obstacles and didn't get mired in the muck of self-pity. Both blind and deaf, she saw and heard life at different levels better than many of us with all senses intact could. Simply considering how she took in the world around her helps me slow down and really notice what I am seeing and hearing. 

Here is one of her many quotes that I appreciate:

"Although the world is full of suffering, it is also full of the overcoming of it."

If the mosaic I wrote about yesterday only had stones of trials and tribulations, or just stones of triumphs and treasures, the picture created would be dull, lacking the vivid colors of life fully lived. And like it or not, life fully lived will include suffering. We can't avoid it or run from it. That only leads to deeper suffering.  

But we also don't have to go looking for suffering. Some of our suffering is by choice. It can be hard for us to hear this, but it is true. The self-pity I spun in for years was a familiar choice and became my default. It led to much suffering and plenty of alcohol. My alcoholic mind was looking for suffering so it could justify the drinking.

Gratitude practice gives me strength when life presents challenges. It also helps me seek more joy, less suffering in my own thought processes.

This quote also reminds me of the deep appreciation for those who have helped me at times of suffering. Today, I will look for ways to alleviate suffering for others. Even in small ways, it helps. 

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Mosaic

Today I am grateful for coffee and clementines.  I am also grateful for energy to get up and head into a new day, even when I may feel tired or a little disheartened.

I heard the word mosaic the other day and it stuck in my thoughts. Beautiful mosaics are created a stone or tile at a time. The entire pattern may already be a vision in the mind of the artist, or it may take shape and come together in unexpected ways.

Either way, it is art, created with patience and persistence. And a creative mind. One stone or tile by itself may carry little meaning, but as part of a mosaic it becomes vital. The mosaic would be incomplete without it.

Our lives are mosaics, built day by day, experience by experience. We may have goals of what shape our life's mosaic will take, and we can influence it some. Yet, we aren't even providing all the tiles and stones. Many are provided for us. Some bring color, others bring contrast or texture.  And the mortar is pretty much out of our hands, provided by a Great Spirit/God.

It is humbling to think about this mosaic of my life in such terms. A stone at a time, with help. But there is also so much hope in that simplicity.  Pick up the stone of today and decide where it will be placed so as to add beauty and depth to my story. That's all. 

Monday, November 14, 2016

My Hometown

Today I am grateful for safe travels, time with family, beautiful weather and a new day ahead.

Yesterday morning I went for a run, leaving from my mom's place a couple miles from town. Town being my hometown of Ossian, Iowa. I ran into town, down streets, and past homes and businesses. I could tell you who lived in a number of the houses, currently or previously. I could point out what had changed on our main street-which also happens to be U.S. Highway 52-and what had stayed the same.

Ossian, a community of about 800, is ever-evolving. As I ran past Carey's Park, I paused to take this picture. The log cabin to the back right in the photo and the top of the grain elevator in the back left have been around longer than I have. The picnic shelter and veteran's memorial are newer, as is the digital sign welcoming us all. It seemed a fitting photo of Ossian, past and present.


I am grateful for my hometown. It is surprisingly vibrant and tenacious. I am grateful my family's roots are here and that many family members remain in the area. It gives me a reason to visit regularly.

Much has changed. There is a Casey's convenience store across the street from the park now. In my childhood, it was Carey's Store. We would stop there after church sometimes and spend some of our allowance on candy and pop.

Much has stayed the same. Businesses that have been handed from generation to generation. Church parishes that thrive. Clean streets and tidy homes.

Here is a post about Ossian that I wrote in January of 2014. It includes a couple of videos if anyone from the area wants to take a trip down memory lane.

Pause and consider your hometown. What has changed? What has stayed the same? What are you most grateful for when you think about it?  For me, it is familiarity and shared history. 

Friday, November 11, 2016

Uncynical

Today I am grateful for all veterans, past and present, and their service to our country. I am also grateful for our English language and the many wonderful words contained in it.

I fully appreciate the following quote, especially the word uncynical. Uncynical. Not pessimistic. Optimistic.

"Strive to be uncynical, to be a hope-giving force, to be a steward of substance."
Maria Popova 

This week has provided ample fodder for cynicism. The election alone was loaded with it. Add to that a low turnout at an event I helped organize and some work cynicism stemming from the state of parenthood today. A draining pessimism was evident.

Enter the hope-giving force. A new day. Perspective. They both help. And to be the best steward of substance, simply find the substance in this moment and draw energy from it. That is mindful gratitude. Pause and look for the substance and it is easily found. Air to breathe. Sounds to hear. People to love. Food to eat. Worthwhile tasks to complete.

Mindful gratitude makes me uncynical. Or at least less cynical and heading in the right direction.

I will be back blogging early next week. Have a good, uncynical day! 

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

19 for 19

Today I am grateful for coffee, bananas, and life experience to help bring perspective.

Yesterday I had the number 19 on my mind for 19 years since I met Darcy and for the significance of the 19th amendment on a significant election day.

So why not a gratitude list of 19?  Here we go:

1. Darcy and our family
2. The home we have, going beyond the four walls
3. Friends in recovery
4. Faith in God/Great Spirit
5. Freedoms enjoyed as an American citizen
6. Almonds for a healthy and hearty snack
7. The professionalism of my colleagues
8. Refreshing peppermint mints
9. Storage space to keep areas tidy
10. Laughter, deep and true
11. The vacillating human energy in a school
12. Being able to vote
13. Polling place volunteers
14. Carry-out pizza
15. My siblings and mom
16. My extended family
17. Being a parent and stepparent
18. Being a grandparent
19. Running with our grandson Leo

And here we go into this day, new and interesting. 

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

Exercise Our Rights, and Our Civility

Today I am grateful for my husband Darcy, our marriage and our lives together with our family. We met nineteen years ago today and my life has changed in so many positive ways. Thank you Darcy!

Today is Election Day in America. It has been an unprecedented election season and I won't be commenting on it all. I choose to focus on the excitement of living in a democracy and having the opportunity to exercise my right to vote,

I also choose to note the historical nature of this election. There are women alive today, born before 1920 and the passage of the 19th Amendment which gave women the right to vote, who will have the opportunity to vote for a woman for president. If that doesn't strike you as historical, consider it again for a couple minutes.

And I wrap up this post with a poem from my sister Aileen. She has done it again with a writing that is right on the mark. Check out her blog "Poetic License: Poetry and Commentary on Current Events" here.  Following is a poem most fitting for today:

I Voted For . . .

I vote for civility
and kindness
my platform is
decency and respect
I choose to be 
an involved citizen
I elect not
to demonize others
I select media
that is intelligent
and fair
I believe
we are the government
and I vote. 

Thank you Aileen! Kindness. Decency. Respect. Civility. Civic duty. Show it. Share it. Be grateful for it. If we all do the same, there is hope for this great nation moving forward positively.

Monday, November 7, 2016

This Fortune? Comfort Zones

Today I am grateful for my sense of hearing and the many sounds that bring me joy and peace. I am also grateful for the nice weather this weekend and enjoying time outside.

I had one last fortune cookie on hand for this morning's post. It was a fun way to approach a few blog posts, mix things up a bit, and to practice writing "on demand."

This fortune reads:

"Comfort zones are most often expanded through discomfort." 

Amen to that! I need to reach a place of comfort first to feel confident and relaxed enough to fully experience whatever it is that is going on or that I am doing. That alone expands my thoughts and emotions in positive, healthy ways.  

But if I get too comfortable in that zone, I get complacent. Things get stagnant and growth stops. Fun stops. Things become more like drudgery or duty. 

So pushing beyond my comfort zones may not always be what I want to do, but I know it will help and I will learn more about myself, others, and our world. Sometimes I can push myself into that area of discomfort. At other times, circumstances or fate force me into it. Either way, I stand to benefit.
As long as I keep an open mind and heart.

What comfort zone do I need to push beyond today? How about you? 

Sunday, November 6, 2016

You are all beautiful. Don't ever forget that.

Today I am grateful for a nice visit with my friend Betsy last evening and for our community's downtown improvements.

Friday night Darcy and I went to see Culture Club at Treasure Island Casino. Coming of age in the 80's, we both appreciated the group's music. I didn't know what to make of Boy George then, but I know I liked his songs.

After seeing him perform live and sharing some conversation with the audience the other night, I appreciate that, like me, he has gained wisdom and insight over the last 30 years. He commented that the group is an oxymoron; making happy-sad music. The human experience is a range of emotions. It has to be. We wouldn't learn or appreciate anything if it were any other way.

I am grateful for his musical talent and that of the others who joined him on stage-I counted 12 total. Talented musicians and soulful singers. Here is a more recent image of the main group members:


They played all the hits I was hoping to hear, with Karma Chameleon, Do You Really Want to Hurt Me, and I'll Tumble 4 Ya being some of my favorites. The Minnesota crowd appreciated the band's rendition of Prince's "Purple Rain" late in the concert. And I especially appreciated Boy George's words as he left the stage for the last time. He said "You are all beautiful. Don't ever forget that."

Simple words. Profound meaning. We are all beautifully flawed and perfectly unique individuals. Let's see the beauty in ourselves, in others, and in the world around us. Pause. Pay attention. Appreciate. Honor.

"You are all beautiful. Don't ever forget that."  We need these words today more than ever, as we are inundated with unrealistic ideas of what beauty is. Beauty is being and looking like who we were meant to be and loving and tolerating others as they do the same. Onward! In search of true beauty.

Friday, November 4, 2016

And the Third Fortune Says . . .

Today I am grateful for mild November weather and a bike ride yesterday with Darcy. I am also grateful for my eyesight.

I've got another fortune cookie and I just opened it. The fortune reads:

"Be receptive to new ideas from all fronts."

Keep an open mind and a right-sized ego. Those new ideas may come from others, or they may even come from my own mind.

From all fronts. An idea or inspiration may come from a place or person least expected. If I am paying attention, and not judging, I am often surprised by what transpires. 

The more mindfully present I am, the more my head and heart are open to possibility. Open because they aren't cluttered with overthinking or overanalyzing. They each find peace in pauses and feel the emotion of the here and now. What a gift!

Receptive. Able to receive. I can't do this life as a solo act. I need others and a Great Spirit to guide me. I am grateful for all who make a difference in my life. I am deeply blessed.

Thursday, November 3, 2016

Fortune #2: The Art of Relationship

Today I am grateful for a good first cup of morning coffee and for my job and years of experience there that help me keep perspective.

I just tore open my second fortune cookie and here's what I saw:

"The art of relationship is all in appreciation." 

What a nice set of words to ponder this morning. To ponder as I sit by my husband in our recliners. To ponder as I gear up for another day of work with students and colleagues. To ponder as I look in the mirror.

Then the realization strikes. Each day, throughout my day, I am in relationship with everything and everyone I encounter. If I look for the good, I will find it. If I look for things to complain about, I will find them too.

A sense of appreciation and awe will lead me to the good, and lead me to a healthier perspective. This is the heart of gratitude practice. It works if I work at it. 

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Writing Fortunes

Today I am grateful for the many ways writing enhances my life and my level of gratitude. I am also
grateful that this blog has given me much writing practice.

Speaking of writing practice, we got some Chinese take out food the other day and got some fortune cookies. I got the idea to do a little on demand writing with them.  Today, I will grab a cookie, open it, read the fortune, and start writing.

So here goes . . . today's fortune is:

"Do not desire what you do not need."  

I have what I need and much more. My basic needs for food, clothing, and shelter are met with much convenience and many comforts. I have a fulfilling marriage, family and friends, a job that is both rewarding and challenging. I run and write for fun and for health. 

I would like to think I am not all that materialistic, but it is a reminder to keep it simple and to also be a good steward of our earthly resources. There may be gadgets and gizmos to make life even easier for me, but easier isn't always better.  I like the physical and mental effort to complete certain tasks. It keeps me in shape in mind, body, and spirit.

This fortune also reminds me to be careful of my expectations. There are times I want something to go a certain way or get a certain response. Those are expectations and they can get me in trouble.
Accept more. Expect less.

These words simply remind me to focus on what I already have and savor each day, not chase after the next best thing and lose this day in the process.  

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Saints and Seconds

Today I am grateful for morning coffee and songs that honor others and their lives.

"Keep it simple" is a good phrase for me to carry through my day.  I can start with this post.

Today is All Saints' Day in the Catholic church and some other churches. I work at a Catholic school and we will have a mass today. I appreciate that more now than I did growing up. Then, it was just a day I had to go to church. Now, it is a day to remember family and others who have died.

I am especially thinking of my brother-in-law Roger. He died one year ago today, from early onset Lewy Body Dementia. And I am thinking of my dad, and Darcy's grandparents.  Such thoughts remind me to appreciate those living and breathing loved ones I share my life with.  Let go of petty frustrations and remember what and who really matters.

Seconds. That is what our lives are comprised of, and sooner or later we all have our last earthly seconds. Seconds are all it takes to stop and breathe and return to the precious present. Seconds are all it takes to say "I love you" or "I am sorry."  Seconds can be enough to feel the awe of nature or the exquisite joy in a child's laughter.

Saints and seconds. Keep it simple. Honor both today. 

Monday, October 31, 2016

Our Church By Chance, Then Choice

Today I am grateful for my working legs and arms as I walked Oliver this morning. I am also grateful for my husband Darcy and our marriage.

Yesterday we had a special service at our church. It included the celebration and commissioning of the newest shared ministry team members-Beth and Mary, both priests, and Darcy, a deacon. Ordination took place last year and earlier this year, but yesterday our bishop came to our church to make it all official.

I appreciate the efforts of Darcy and the others on the ministry team. They have dedicated many hours over many years to help our small Episcopalian parish keep moving forward. I also appreciate Bishop Brian Prior. He has a kind demeanor and an easy-going approach as he conducts a service and gives a sermon.

It brought me back to our decision to give this church a try 16 years ago. It had very little to do with the denomination. I was pretty much unfamiliar with the Episcopal Church. (It turns out that it is similar to the Catholic church of my upbringing, with some significant differences as well.)

It had more to do with location. It was within walking distance of our new home, so it was the first place we tried. We wanted to find a church that we both liked in this community we had just moved to.

We were welcomed and we stayed. Darcy got involved early on and has stepped that up even more in recent years. Sam was baptized and confirmed there and has been involved in Sunday School and youth group, as well as being an acolyte. Honestly, the guys spend more time there than I do.

I support Darcy in his dedicated service and I am thankful that Sam has been raised in a church that has given him a background in faith, fellowship, and service.  I pretty much just go to services from time to time.

I appreciate our church and the people in it. It was chance that brought us to this church, it is choice that keeps us coming back. 

Sunday, October 30, 2016

My Personal Headphone Policy

Today I am grateful for a clean house, working heat and electricity, windows that open and close, and much more about this place my family and I call home. I am also grateful for the mental benefits of running.

Yesterday on my 12-mile run, I played no music and had no headphones in my ears. That is my typical policy in recent months and years, whether I am running with Darcy or solo. From time to time, I may use my armband radio, but even that is a rare occurrence anymore.

I appreciate the true connection to nature, and the flow of thoughts that can take place as they wish. The quiet and the endorphins clear my head in a most efficient way. I get ideas for blog posts or columns. I process a situation or emotion that has been weighing on me. I often will say some of the prayers I say daily, or do an A-Z gratitude list, or pray for my family members and others, one at a time.

Running stride for stride, taking in my surroundings and my current thoughts, gives me a true sense of presence in the here and now.

I don't mean to sound judgmental, and I include myself in this, but our ability to multi-task really equates to our inability to give our full attention to any one thing. Mind full or mindful? I have more energy, better focus, clearer thinking, and a sane pace when I am mindful. A full mind only serves to create more tension and a longer to-do list, and a lot less serenity.

I would rather see others walking and talking on the phone than not walking at all, but how about a little "stop the insanity" from time to time? Unplug from technology. Tune in totally to right here, right now and the sounds that don't come from buttons you can push. Here and now is our anchor. If we are never fully present, we are adrift.

I would rather be on the stable ground of now than the shifting sands of yesterday's regrets and tomorrow's worries.

Friday, October 28, 2016

Endorphins and Leo

Today I am grateful for music and ears that work so I can hear the music. I am also grateful for the mood-boosting and calming effects of endorphins.

I have had a week of both before school and after school meetings or other things I needed to be at. So it was out the door of our house early each morning and back in the door later in the afternoon than I would care for it to be.  Good things are happening at work, and things are getting done, but still . . .

I need my time to myself and my outlets. Last evening presented just the right combination. I really felt like running. I needed to run.  Within minutes of getting home, I was back out the door and heading down the trail, first with Oliver and then solo. Some days after work it can be hard for me to muster the energy to regroup and get out running. On other days, I have an urge and a need to run that won't be denied. Last evening was the latter.

Then we got to spend some time with our grandson Leo while his mom Emily worked late. He and I ran around the backyard and played some peek-a-boo around the trees. Fresh fall air was good for both of us, and his laughter and simple joy relaxed and rejuvenated me.

Endorphins from the run and from the fun with Leo. A good combination.

Where do you get your free and effective endorphins from?

Thursday, October 27, 2016

Flukes

Today I am grateful for faith, family, and friends. All are so vital in my life.

Some flukes rolled with me through my day yesterday. Several of them happened at work. Things like not being able to get the wrapper off the cheese stick I was trying to make a quick snack of before scurrying off to the next task. I've had dozens and dozens of cheese sticks with no issue. Why today? Why when I was in a hurry? Because God has a sense of humor.

And then there was the student phone I confiscated, per our policy. It was far from a new phone, though I didn't look real closely at first. I was trying to make some deliveries of notes to other students first. During that process, the phone I had confiscated dropped to the floor. I wondered if some of the cracks it had had been caused by the drop.

I ended up having to go check with the student I had just taken it from, because I wanted to make sure I hadn't caused the harm. The student assured me it was already in that shape before I got it.  I kept the phone and assigned the detention, but I thought what a fluke that I had dropped it.

Cheese sticks and phones. Minor issues in the whole scheme of my day. Flukes to remind me that life is full of chances, and in those chances come opportunities to practice acceptance and gratitude.