"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

Sunday, January 31, 2016

Layla, Linda, and Loverboy

Today I am grateful for warmer weather and an outdoor run with Darcy. I am also grateful for being able to laugh at myself more than I used to.

Layla by Derek and the Dominos is on my "Top 5 Favorite Songs of All Time" for sure. Don't ask me why. I think I have always liked the song because it takes the listener through the full range of human emotions. Listen to it here. The first three minutes are intense and include vocals, but the next three minutes are the ones that always moved me the most. Looking back, I think it is because the despair in that part of the song matched the despair and confusion in my own mind and heart at times in my youth. It still stops me short and brings me to the brink of tears (which is as close as I usually get).

Layla has an interesting history too. It was written by Eric Clapton and Jim Gordon, inspired by a Persian poem about unrequited love, but also about Clapton's own unrequited love for Pattie Boyd. Boyd, a model and actress, was then married to George Harrison, but later divorced him and married Clapton. They later divorced. Incidentally, Harrison's song Something was also inspired by Boyd.

Loverboy needs to be discussed in this post. They earned the acknowledgement because they gave my generation quintessential rock songs like Turn Me Loose, The Kid is Hot Tonite, Lovin' Every Minute of It, When It's Over, and Lucky Ones. Then there is the bleak Teenage Overdose, another of my favorite "drinking songs." "One foot in hell" for sure.

Linda Ronstadt deserves a mention here too. The Words and Music of Linda Ronstadt is a post I wrote a couple of years ago. Suffering from Parkinson's disease, sadly Ronstadt is no longer able to sing, but what a legacy of songs we can still enjoy.

As I wrote in my previous post, Ronstadt said these words in an interview at the time:

"I can walk and I can talk. It's a good day."

I can listen to and be touched by the music of many wonderful singers and songwriters. It's a good day. 

Saturday, January 30, 2016

Killing Me Softly

Today I am grateful for sleeping in and early morning quiet.

Killing Me Softly with His Song by Roberta Flack is a beautiful song sung by a beautiful voice. It has always resonated with me because it gets to the heart of where a good song can take us emotionally. It was a number one hit for her in 1973, helping Flack make history. She is the only solo act to win back to back Grammy Awards for Record of the Year. She won in 1973 for her song The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face and again in 1974 for Killing Me Softly.  

Both of these songs were sung by others, but I find Flack's versions to be the best. The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face is a heart and soul love song. Even at a young age, before I knew that kind of romantic love myself, the song still moved me.

Kind and Generous by Natalie Merchant is another favorite "K" song of mine. I wrote about it in
What's Your Ringtone? from my earlier blogging days on November 16, 2012.  It is a fitting song for someone like me; a firm believer in the practice of gratitude. I sometimes think of a certain person and their kindness when I listen to the song, but more often I am thinking about a kind and generous Great Spirit, God, Higher Power who has given me so much.

And being a child of the 1970's and a rock and roll fan too, I have to take this opportunity to mention KISS. We weren't bombarded with images back then like we are now, so I knew of their makeup and crazy live shows, but I mainly just wanted to listen to their music, from the fitting Rock and Roll All Nite to the lighter Beth.

What do you want to listen to today?

Friday, January 29, 2016

Journey and Journeys Cut Short

Today I am grateful for this life journey I am on and the people sharing it with me. I am also grateful for my work colleagues.

A first look at the letter "J" starts with a highlight--the band Journey. From the late 1970's into the mid-1980's, I came of age and so did this rock group. Some of my favorite songs from the group are Wheel in the Sky, Be Good to Yourself, Only the Young, Don't Stop, I'll Be Alright Without You, Ask the Lonely, After the Fall, The Party's Over (Hopelessly in Love) and Separate Ways (Worlds Apart). 

This last song seemed very fitting when it came out our senior year of high school. My friends and I would be heading in different directions after graduation. For me, Separate Ways has always defined that time in our lives and captured the mixed emotions we were experiencing.

A sadder side of the letter "J" comes when remembering those in the music world whose journeys were cut short. Janis Joplin and Jimi Hendrix died about three weeks apart in the fall of 1970. Both were just 27 years old and died drug-related deaths. The following summer, Jim Morrison of the Doors died, also at age 27, and also likely a drug-related death, though that remains in question. Just think what these three could have gone on to do if their journeys hadn't been cut short?

Another "J" artist I think of is Jim Croce. His career was off to a good start when he died in a plane crash in 1973. He was only 30 years old.

Janis Joplin's Piece of My Heart, The Doors' People Are Strange, Jimi Hendrix's version of The Star Spangled Banner, and Jim Croce's I Got a Name are all songs I am glad are part of the legacies of these artists who died young.

Appreciate that those of us writing and reading today get to continue this amazing and emotional journey of life one day at a time.

Thursday, January 28, 2016

A Couple of "I" Songs from a Couple of "J" Artists

Today I am grateful for my husband Darcy and our marriage. I am also grateful for fingers that work on computer keyboards.

Imagine by John Lennon (released in 1971) and I Can See Clearly Now by Johnny Nash (released in 1972) are two songs that I have never tired of listening to over the decades.

Imagine was full of messages the world needed in the early 1970's. We need the same messages today. Living for today. Living life in peace. Sharing the world. "You may say I'm a dreamer, but I'm not the only one. I hope someday you'll join us and the world will be as one." More love and tolerance, beginning in our own homes and going out to the wider community and world, can make all the difference.

I Can See Clearly Now,
if I had to pick just one, would probably win out as the most meaningful song in my life. I wrote about it briefly in New Glasses (Point #4), a post from January 18, 2013. Something in this song-the lyrics, the promise-gave me hope when I most lacked it. Some of the lyrics include:

I can see clearly now, the rain is gone,
I can see all obstacles in my way
Gone are the dark clouds that had me blind
It's gonna be a bright, bright, sun-shiny day
Look all around, there's nothin' but blue skies
Look straight ahead, nothin' but blue skies

Those words used to indicate what I could only imagine-a healthy perspective. Today, I can live with a healthy perspective if I do a few simple things. One of those is to start my day in a grateful frame of mind, then work to keep it there.

Action is required. Imagining is a start, but only a start. I can't see clearly if I don't open my eyes.

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

A "Hallelujah" to bring them "Home"

Today I am grateful for a phone call from my oncologist's nurse confirming good blood work results and for other reminders to not take this precious and fragile life for granted.

I am thinking especially of my good friend Jenny and her family today. Her sister Susan died on Sunday, another casualty of cancer.

The beauty and power of music and our favorite songs is that they elicit emotional connections for us. Sometimes those connections are joyous. Sometimes they are full of sorrow. Sometimes both. A good song touches us on a visceral level and beyond. On a given day a song may make us smile. On a different day, the same song can move us to tears.

When we visited my sister Danita in December following the death of her husband Roger from Lewy Body Dementia, she shared this song with us: Hallelujah by Allison Crowe. She shared that they played it for Roger in his last living hours. I have listened to it many times since, thinking of Danita and the grief she is facing in these first months since his death.  Never Again is a post I wrote for Roger.

Home by Phillip Phillips was played at the funeral for Chris, the brother of my good friend Sheila. He died suddenly at age 47 three years ago. A Sad Day, But a Good Day is a post I wrote about his untimely death and attending his funeral.

A "Hallelujah" to bring our loved ones "Home."  It is a grief-stricken journey, but what a joyous thing life is.

Thinking of Chris, Roger, and Susan, and how to live today as the gift it is.

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Go Now . . . Your Own Way

Today I am grateful to be able to laugh at myself and circumstances. I am also grateful to be able-bodied and to enjoy shoveling some snow off of our driveway.

Go Now by the Moody Blues and Go Your Own Way by Fleetwood Mac are two favorite songs by two of my favorite artists. I could list many more songs by both groups . . . but then G would get sidetracked. So how about a quick mention of the '80's group The Go-Go's and my favorite song Vacation?  On a side note, kudos to The Go-Go's for being the first all-female group to write their own songs, play their own instruments, as well as sing their songs. They had solid success at it.

Go Now is the first track on "The Best of the Moody Blues" CD that I listened to many, many times on my commutes over the years. Go Now was like a directive for me. Go now into this day, a moment at a time. Go now and do the next right thing. Go now and listen to more Moody Blues like I'm Just A Singer (In a Rock and Roll Band), Question, and The Story in Your Eyes.

Fleetwood Mac's Go Your Own Way was one of the tracks on their hugely successful album "Rumours"  from 1977. It is in the top 10 of best selling albums of all time. We had the 33 vinyl version and I listened to it often thanks to our console stereo. Remember those?

Like Go Now, Go Your Own Way became more of a guide for me. I know both songs are about relationships breaking up, but to me they were about finding my way in this world. That was really important in my early years and into my teens. It remains important today, it just doesn't have the urgency it did then. And that's a good thing.

I go now into this day, on my own way in life, but not alone and not lonely. For that, I am deeply grateful. 

Monday, January 25, 2016

Forgotten "Friends"

Today I am grateful for an enjoyable birthday for Sam, time with our grandson Leo, and for the simple deliciousness of "jubilee jumble" cookies.

Somewhere in my musical explorations of recent days, I was listening to an Amy Grant song and came across Michael W. Smith's Friends. You can listen to it here. I hadn't heard the song in years and had pretty much forgotten about it. It took me back to my college softball days and teammates who introduced me to both Amy Grant and Michael W. Smith. I would describe their music as Christian rock. I went on to listen to plenty of Amy Grant especially.

Like many songs, forgotten and unheard over time, the words and the music playing again took me back to that time. These memories were pleasant ones. Good times during our softball season travels and nights in hotel rooms with lots of laughter.

I only keep in touch with a handful of my former softball teammates. What has happened to the rest? How are they doing in their lives?  How could that be over 30 years ago already?

And then I think about other old friends I have lost touch with. The kind that were meant to be in my life only for a time. Teaching colleagues. Recovery connections. You made a difference in my life.
Thank you!

Just in case I haven't talked about enough music in this post, here are some other songs with "friend" in the title that I really enjoy hearing:

You're My Best Friend by Queen
Friends in Low Places by Garth Brooks
You've Got a Friend versions by James Taylor and Carole King

Reach out to a friend today. Thank them for touching your life. 

Sunday, January 24, 2016

For My Son on His 14th Birthday

Today I am grateful for my son Sam and for the shared parenting my husband Darcy and I do.

Sam was born 14 years ago this morning, just before 5:00 a.m. Fitting that this early bird gave birth to her only child early in the day as well. How could he be 14 already? It happens quickly. He starts high school in the fall and will be learning to drive before long. The last couple years have seen the chubby cheeks give way to the lean look of a young man. Here he is in this year's wrestling picture:

He looks tough, but he's still my baby and he still lets his mom hug him. He is quiet and gentle for the most part, with his quirks and whims like we all have. They define him and I love them all. I am proud of Sam and how he is growing and developing, levelheaded and with future direction. I appreciate that he has a sense of self and a confidence I never had at his age. We have worked hard to be consistent parents and to teach him important values while laughing with and loving him through it all. 

He has also hit the age that was pivotal in my life. I started drinking a few months after I turned 14. We talk about it some and I want Sam to know about that aspect of my life. I know it is only a matter of time before he faces decisions about drinking and other things I would prefer to shelter him from but know I cannot. I only hope he has listened and that he will make better choices than I did. Parenting is an ongoing leap of faith isn't it?

Happy Birthday Sam! I love you.  

Saturday, January 23, 2016

Sir Elton, Some ELO, and Real Perspective

Today I am grateful for time in my recliner this morning. I am also grateful for the time my new oncologist spent getting to know me yesterday and for his gentle approach. My previous oncologist, who I really liked, left that clinic. This was my first annual visit with the new one. All went well.

There are no shortage of "E" artists in the music arena. Elton John is indeed a superstar on the world's musical stage, in more ways than one. What a prolific and successful career he has had over five decades, including more than fifty Top 40 hits. We all have our favorites. Mine include Goodbye Yellow Brick Road, Tiny Dancer, and Someone Saved My Life Tonight. The last song rang true for me on some of my worst drunken nights. Thank you again to my steadfast friends Sheila and Deb. I write about them in Life Saver #1 and Life Saver #2.

Then there is ELO: The Electric Light Orchestra. One of the very first 45s I got of my own was "Telephone Line" for my 12th birthday. It was even green vinyl. I thought that was really cool. Some of my ELO favorites include: Mt. Blue Sky, Livin' Thing, and Can't Get It Out of My Head. This last song continues to carry meaning for me today. What do I have in my head? My thoughts create my reality and my perceptions. Are they positive and healthy thoughts? Actively practicing gratitude and mindfulness help them be so.

Thinking about drunken nights that could have killed me brings real perspective. Alcohol kills every day. A text conversation with my friend Jenny and a trip back to my cancer center for an appointment yesterday gave me real perspective. Cancer kills every day. Cancer treatment is hard on bodies and psyches. Cancer sucks.

Each and every one of us, alcoholic or not, cancer patient or not, gets the gift of this new day. What do you plan to do with yours?  I plan to live it fully and with deep gratitude.

Friday, January 22, 2016

Day by Day via Godspell and The Hooters

Today I am grateful that Sam does well in school and I am also grateful for the comfort of sweatshirts and jeans.

"Day by Day" from Godspell is a song that dates back to my elementary days. (The musical premiered in 1970.) I don' recall a lot about our music classes with Sister Doris, but there were definitely hymns involved. I do remember a little green song book that had some more modern songs in it, and "Day by Day" was one of them. Listen to it here.

The lyrics include:

Day by day, oh, dear Lord, three things I pray
To see thee more clearly 
Love thee more dearly
Follow thee more nearly, day by day

Whatever name you give it, many of us pray to a power source greater than ourselves. God. Allah. Higher Power. Great Spirit. What worthy goals-to see, love, and follow more clearly, dearly, and nearly. Not only that Great Spirit but one another, ourselves, nature, the world around us. This song always moves me.

There is another song titled "Day by Day" by The Hooters. It came out in 1985. Listen to it here.
I honestly had never watched the video until now. It's kind of fun. I love the "Day by day" refrain throughout the song, and it carried special meaning for me in the mid-1980's. I was just beginning to face my drinking problem, and in 1985 I began an alcohol-free period that ended up lasting 464 days.
The song reminded me of how it's done-day by day. It remains the same today.

Mindful gratitude, day by day and moment by moment, works pretty well too.

Thursday, January 21, 2016

A Sea of C's

Today I am grateful for the convenience of cell phones and for time with friends in the BC sisterhood.

When I started jotting down artists and songs that start with "c", I quickly was inundated with some of my favorite artists. And they were not one-hit wonder bands. They were prolific creators of great sounds and we reaped the benefits. 

Think about some of these: Chicago, The Carpenters, Cheap Trick, Carly Simon, and Carole King. What a combined and varied discography that crew has. 

Then there are the songs to add more waves to the sea of C's. "Carry On Wayward Son" from Kansas was one of my favorites growing up. "Changes" from David Bowie, "Cruel Summer" by Bananarama, and "Crimson and Clover" come to mind. 'Crimson and Clover" is unique in that I liked both Tommy James and the Shondells and Joan Jett and the Blackhearts versions. I don't always feel that way about remakes. Read more about Cruel Summer here. "Celebration" from Kool and the Gang sparks two distinct memories for me.

The first came in the spring of 1984 when the Waldorf College women's softball team, me included, won the regional tournament in Fort Dodge, beating our nemesis Kirkwood. This is back in the day of boomboxes and my teammate Cathy came prepared. After we won the game that sent us to nationals, Cathy cranked up her boombox and out came "Celebration." It was a great season, lots of fun, and we got fourth at nationals, thanks in part to strong pitching from my good friend Deb. Listening to "Celebration" brings back this memory and I appreciate that.

The second time came in the early 1990's when I was teaching Social Studies and doing some coaching at BGM High School in Brooklyn, Iowa. We had a special week for students and staff surrounding the theme of "Celebrate Self." Several staff members created a skit and dance number to "Celebration." I was proud of myself for being one of those staff members in front of our entire student body. It was freeing for me and something I never would have done before coming into recovery.  My colleagues and I had a lot of fun preparing for the show and the students loved it. I even have an old videocassette that captures the performance.

"Celebration" brings pleasant memories and smiles, and reminds me to celebrate this day. 

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

The Brothers Gibb

Today I am grateful for muscles to train and strengthen. I am also grateful for my husband Darcy and our marriage.

The Bee Gees came to my mind right away as I headed into the alphabet. I actually liked the non-Bee Gee Gibb brother a lot when he hit the charts too. Andy Gibb had huge success before his untimely death. But I confess that Barry Gibb was always my favorite and the most easy on the eyes. He is also, sadly, the only surviving member of the trio.

What great voices these brothers contributed to their songs. I loved many of their earlier hits.
To name a few:

*How Can You Mend a Broken Heart
*Run to Me
*I Started a Joke
*To Love Somebody
*Lonely Days
*New York Mining Disaster

I wasn't a big disco fan, but their second era of success was indeed impressive. Some of my later favorites included:

*Nights on Broadway
*Fanny (Be Tender With My Love)

I grew up listening to the Bee Gees. Their songs still move me. Thank you for such great music!
And I do appreciate that I can pull up any of these on YouTube and enjoy them.

Other "B" songs and artists that come to mind include Bread and Bon Jovi, Bridge Over Troubled Water by Simon and Garfunkel, and The Who's "Behind Blue Eyes."

Who and what would you add to today's list?

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

From Aldo Nova to Art Garfunkel

Today I am grateful for time with friends I don't see often and for my five working senses. I am especially grateful for my hearing today as I think about songs I love listening to.

To start my A-Z look at music, I start with a low point. That would be what I consider my ultimate drinking song:  Aldo Nova's "Fantasy."  I didn't realize until more recently that the song references cocaine. (We couldn't Google lyrics back then and we sang what we thought we heard.)

I just know that in my drinking days the song fit my brooding mindset--"Can't you see what this crazy life is doing to me? Life is just a fantasy, can you live this fantasy life?" There were drunken nights that I didn't know if I wanted to keep living my crazy life. I am so very grateful for the angels, in human and other forms, who helped me through such nights.

Another "A" artist and song worth a mention is Art Garfunkel and his solo hit "All I Know." It's a beautiful and painful love song. The best kind. Listen to it here. It is one of many songs I like that include Garfunkel on vocals.

To round out the "A" list, a tribute to Glenn Frey of the Eagles. He passed away yesterday. It is his lead vocals I appreciate on "Already Gone."  Read more about the song's meaning in my life here.  

And you can't let this letter go by without a mention of the great singing quartet ABBA. They had so many good songs, and I bet many of you could sing several lines from many of those songs right now. I blogged about ABBA here.

Take a chance on today with an open heart and open ears.

Monday, January 18, 2016

The Soul of Music

Today I am grateful for calm thoughts this morning and for the influx of joy that comes with endorphins and gratitude practice.

I am about to commence my fourth A-Z gratitude list on this blog.  The others have been fairly random, working my way through the alphabet with words that came to mind for one reason or another. This time, my A-Z list will have a theme: music.

(If you are interested in looking at the other A-Z lists I have blogged, start here.)

Songs that have been on my life's playlist for a long time. Artists and musicians that have given me a good earful. I love rock and roll and the oldies, so you are forewarned that those two areas will be heavily represented.

When I saw this quote, it seemed like a good way to launch this A-Z journey:

"What is a soul? It's like electricity-we don't really know what it is, 
but it's a force that can light a room."  
(Ray Charles)

That describes what music means to me and does for me. It's a force for positive emotion. It's a force to help me process difficult feelings. It's a force to spark memories as well as cement them. Sometimes it is the words that resonate, sometimes the music, and usually the combination of both. 

I can't always explain why some words or a certain sound or note touch me so deeply, but I think you understand because we all have those kind of songs on our playlists.

Listen to a favorite song today and let it touch your soul. Rock on!

Sunday, January 17, 2016

Wise Brain Bulletin

Today I am grateful for time with recovering friends and for opportunities to exercise indoors.

I have referenced the work of Dr. Rick Hanson before on my blog. Those posts include
Buddha's BrainNegativity Bias, and What Are You Hardwiring?, all from the summer of 2015.
He captures the science of why gratitude practice works for me. I don't need his proof, I have my own. But I appreciate his work and the work of others like Dr. Robert Emmons and those at the Greater Good Science Center (which also includes both Drs. Hanson and Emmons).

As Dr. Hanson states, our brains are like velcro for negative experiences and Teflon for positive. That helped us survive and evolve over time. Too much of it now means we stay stuck, we sell ourselves and our potential short. We can and do learn from pain and negative life experiences, but if we remain there, how is that really living?

Dr. Hanson provides some good resources on his website and at wisebrain.org.  A recent "Wise Brain Bulletin" piqued my interest. It is titled "Flow Machine: Hacking the Human Brain for Healing and Wellbeing" and was written by Michael Taft. You can read it here. It talks about the flow state and how accessing that, through mindfulness and meditation, could help those with addictions.

Though I have much more to learn and much room for improvement, I believe I have tapped into some of these benefits. (More beneficial than tapping into that keg in the drinking days of my youth.)

Critics of some recovery programs say that people are brainwashed by such programs. I say that my brain needed a good washing. It was full of thoughts that fed my self-hatred, self-pity, and perfectionism. My brain is wiser today. But I look forward to continuing the search for more wisdom.

Consider reading some or all of the links provided in this post. Read with an open mind and you may be surprised what you think and feel.

Saturday, January 16, 2016

Dreams or Awakenings?

Today I am grateful for the opportunity to witness another sunrise and for our dog Oliver and his gentle, loving eyes.

The following quote from one of my favorite psychiatrists/psychotherapists of the mid-20th century, reaches me at a visceral level that I more fully appreciate at 50 years of age than I could have at 20, 30, or 40.

"Your vision will become clear only when you can look into your own heart. 
Who looks outside, dreams, who looks inside, awakens."  
(Carl Gustav Jung)

There was a time in my life when going within was not a healthy place. Fear, self-pity and ingratitude resided there. They hid my true heart and soul from me.

Recovery from alcoholism, growing faith, and gratitude practice have helped heal me and clear a path to my heart and soul. Talk about awakenings!

Friday, January 15, 2016

You Can't Win If You Don't Play

Today I am grateful for quality headphones to help me enjoy quality music. I am also grateful for the opportunities this day offers.

There was much in the news this week about the huge multi-state Powerball jackpot. I usually don't pay much attention to it, but the frenzy was hard to miss. I even got involved in the hoopla. A few co-workers and I threw in a little money and bought several tickets. We shared several laughs as we pondered the "what ifs" of a win. I am out $4.00, but we had some fun and that is worth more than the money for sure.

I rarely participate in the lottery. I know, you can't win if you don't play. I would rather apply that idea to my daily life. You can't win at life if you don't participate in it.

By win I don't mean succeed in the financial and career arenas that seem to drive so many, sometimes to the detriment of everything else in their lives. By win I mean find joy in each day, in one's present circumstances. To play and participate simply means engage with those around you, embrace the emotions that comprise a typical day. Throw in mindful presence and you are on your way to winning some positive energy.

My odds of contentment are very good with this approach.  Let's give it a try today.

Thursday, January 14, 2016

Be Careful of Your Thoughts

Today I am grateful for competent and thorough medical professionals. I am also grateful for pizza and a quiet house.

Consider this quote:
"If you realized how powerful your thoughts are, you would never think a negative thought." 
(Peace Pilgrim)

If I had only known the truth of that statement at a much younger age, I might have spared myself some years of torment. Indeed, we are what we think. We. Are. What. We. Think.

And I wish I could say that all negative thoughts have been banished from the kingdom known as Lisa's brain, but that is not the case.

What I can say with absolute conviction however is that ever since I started actively practicing gratitude, the negative thoughts have had much less of the upper hand than they used to. Some days they have no hand at all and can't grab on to the corners of my mind and start multiplying. 

My brain has been trained to look for good, to find blessings, to perceive myself and the world around me more gently and with acceptance.

Just like a body can get out of shape and unhealthy, so can a brain. Let the training continue. Consider an A-Z gratitude list, written down or just gone through in that brain of yours. Get yourself a gratitude journal and start a list of a few things you are grateful for each day or each week. Sit in a room in your home and look around at what you are thankful for in that space. Write a thank you note or gratitude letter to someone and drop it in the mail.

Minimize the negative by multiplying the positive. 

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

TMI of Another Kind

Today I am grateful for laughter among colleagues and for things falling into place on their own at times.

I am revisiting TMI for a third post, after this one and then another one a couple weeks ago. This TMI is not too much information, but rather too many images.

Too many pictures, photos, graphics inundate those of us in the developed world on our various screens. I certainly appreciate seeing pictures of loved ones and friends, or videos of Sam or Leo in action. But everywhere we turn in this culture, we see images, many of which aren't even real.

We become desensitized. We become unrealistic in our expectations of how we should look and act. It does impact our young people. It does impact all of us.

Images only tell us so much. A Facebook post of smiling friends. A radiant couple on a winter trip to warmer climates. A hilarious pet picture. A scenic view.

It has been said that a picture is worth a thousand words. But with many thousands of pictures at our disposal, I think we have lost something. A few words, spoken or written sincerely, are sometimes worth more than a thousand pictures. 

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

How wild?

Today I am grateful for time with my friend Julie and for comfortable shoes to wear.

I have been hanging on to this quote in my draft posts for some time. It is time to let it be.

"It was my life-like all lives, mysterious and irrevocable and sacred. So very close, so very present, so very belonging to me. How wild it was, to let it be."
(Cheryl Strayed)

If you have not read the book "Wild" by Cheryl Strayed, or seen the movie of the same name, starring Reese Witherspoon as Strayed, I would recommend both. I don't know when Strayed composed the quote above. It could very well have been when she was hiking the Pacific Crest Trail alone.  

It doesn't matter when she wrote it. The words matter. They reach me as I sit in my recliner composing this post. As I ponder the mysterious, irrevocable, and sacred nature of my own life of over fifty years. As I cherish this life that is mine and mine alone. 

Letting it be can feel wild, can feel like a loss of control when trying too hard to control.  So indeed, let it be. Wild and carefree. Let it unfold today. In all of its mysterious, irrevocable, and sacred ways.

Monday, January 11, 2016

A Rebuttal from the Greater Good Science Center

Today I am grateful for phone conversations, delicious oatmeal chocolate chip bars, and time to write.

Barbara Ehrenreich's recent NYT essay, mentioned in yesterday's post, did generate many comments and ongoing discussion about the value of gratitude practice. A comprehensive rebuttal was provided by Jason Marsh at the Greater Good Science Center at the University of California, Berkeley. You can read it here.  You can also read much more on the GGSC's website about gratitude and other
aspects of well-being.  Here is a summary paragraph from their "About" page:

Based at the University of California, Berkeley, the GGSC is unique in its commitment to both science and practice: Not only do we sponsor groundbreaking scientific research into social and emotional well-being, we help people apply this research to their personal and professional lives. Since 2001, we have been at the fore of a new scientific movement to explore the roots of happy and compassionate individuals, strong social bonds, and altruistic behavior—the science of a meaningful life. And we have been without peer in our award-winning efforts to translate and disseminate this science to the public.

I appreciate the wealth of useful information at the GGSC and also the thorough response given to Barbara Ehrenreich. Further, I appreciate what my life experience has taught me through the vehicle of mindful gratitude.

As is referenced in this article, gratefulness is not a naive positivity. It does not gloss over or deny negative and difficult emotions. What it does is help us see what is going well, help us continue to look for the good. By doing that, I am better able to navigate through the challenges and difficult times that are an inevitable part of life.

Selfish? You could look at it that way. But the way I see it, what may start as self-support ends up creating a network of support for those around us. Gratitude shared is gratitude multiplied. Positive well-being for one is passed along to others through our interactions.

Thank you to all at the Greater Good Science Center. Keep up the good work!

Sunday, January 10, 2016

From Barbara Ehrenreich, To Barbara Ehrenreich

Today I am grateful for time with Leo, our grandson, and for our son Sam and his emotional health.
I am also grateful for the many authors I enjoy reading.

Bestselling author Barbara Ehrenreich is one such writer. She has a way of writing to the heart of the matter. Her essay titled "Welcome to Cancerland" was one of those zingers for me. Someone else was capturing a lot of my thoughts and emotions in their own words. Find that essay here. It originally appeared in Harper's Magazine in November of 2001. I came across it after my own diagnosis and treatment for breast cancer and found myself nodding my head in agreement many times as I read it.

She had a recent opinion essay in the New York Times titled "The Selfish Side of Gratitude." Find it
here. This time I found myself shaking my head in disagreement with Ehrenreich a few times.

In the essay, Ehrenreich goes on the offensive regarding gratitude as selfish and being too much about making ourselves feel better. She argues that many gratitude practices are solo efforts and don't involve others. They may start as such, like me writing in my gratitude journal each morning. That is just between me and my Higher Power and the pen and paper. Or my A-Z lists I will do in my head while commuting or exercising. Again, just me and a spiritual connection.

Ehrenreich argues that we need to address social inequality and other injustices, and that maybe gratitude isn't as prosocial as researchers make it sound. This is where I disagree with Ms. Ehrenreich. Gratitude practice allows me to have a better perception of myself and the world around me, which allows me to get out of bed each day and be a contributing member of society. I am more likely to notice and help address injustice and inequality, even in little ways, because I am present in the here and now and I realize what just happened. And I definitely have more energy to be a contributor as well.

Gratitude practice isn't as much about "positive thinking," which this author also targets (and rightly so) in a book titled Bright-Sided: How the Relentless Promotion of Positive Thinking has Undermined America, as it is about creating more positive perceptions. And that leads to energy, tolerance, effort; not only for ourselves but for our larger world.

Ms. Ehrenreich and I agree on this. Positive thinking is pretty fruitless if that is as far as you go. You will be waiting a long time if you think the rewards will come to you. Get out of your own head and get off of your own wish list and contribute to the wish list of a more tolerant, kind, and sustainable planet.

To Barbara Ehrenreich, thank you from one writer to another. You push the citizenry to think more and to think differently about many things. That is the essence of an effective author. 

Saturday, January 9, 2016

Never Seen This One Before

Today I am grateful for snow shovels and recliners.

The "Word for the Day" earlier this week on www.gratefulness.org was:

"This is a wonderful day. I've never seen this one before."
(Maya Angelou)

Maya Angelou is another example of a writer who wrote from a place of pain and was transformed by both the pain and the writing. That is how I see it anyway. I appreciate her work and the legacy she has now left. A true writer's legacy. She was many things-poet, writer, singer, civil rights activist. Like so many others, I am very thankful the pain of her youth didn't silence her forever. What a voice!

Have you found your voice? Do you have something to say or write today? Write on!

I appreciate the newness of this day. It is indeed a wonderful and fresh opportunity to make a difference, to perceive the world and myself through a lens of gratefulness. I have never seen this day before, but I welcome it with open heart and mind.

And with that in mind, I will next bundle up and head out for a run as my way of greeting the day.
Have a good day!  

Friday, January 8, 2016

Various Pints

Today I am grateful for a good MRI report on Sam's knee and also for the beauty of a fresh snowfall on the trees this morning.

So I mindfully ate a pint of ice cream last night and enjoyed it. (Mindful eating can take many forms.)
I know, I was trying to eat healthier. But sometimes nothing soothes like ice cream.

I will justify and joke with Darcy that he can have his beer and I will have my ice cream. (Believe me, I eat more ice cream than he drinks beers.) There's something to that. I hadn't thought about a pint of alcohol for quite awhile, until last evening. I wasn't thinking of it like I missed it and wanted one, but more about the memories and the measurement.

There was a time I downed a pint of alcohol as easily as I did a pint of ice cream. One of my favorites back in the day was a pint of something called sloe gin. (Think red and syrupy.) I would wager that in some of the friendly bets I had with friends and be happy when I "lost."

I'm so very grateful those days are behind me. I am so very grateful recovery is in my present and also in front of me. That's the plan.

Today my choices between various pints involve flavors of ice cream, not types of alcohol.

I am thankful for choices today. What are some of the choices you are thankful for?

Thursday, January 7, 2016

Attuning and Resonating

Today I am grateful for my stylist Lori and salon owner Mary and our conversation last evening, not to mention the fresh haircut Lori provided. Brief connections matter.

Here is another quote from my favorite Benedictine monk:

"A lifetime may not be long enough to attune ourselves fully to the harmony of the universe. But just to become aware that we can resonate with it--that alone can be like waking up from a dream."
(Brother David Steindl-Rast)

It does sound rather idealistic to be fully in harmony with the universe. And daunting. Awareness sounds doable though, and a little resonating can go a long way.

For me, that awareness starts with the action of writing in my gratitude journal each morning. I pause, write down two gratitudes, and set the tone for the day. I also write a small prayer to my Higher Power, asking for assistance in one way or another. Then, I add some prayers for others who are facing a challenge or a special day in some way.

These thoughts and actions get me out of my own head, a place prone to overthinking and unrealistic expectations. I guess you could say I am attuning myself to the good around me, to the opportunities of the day. That beats attuning myself to negative and self-defeating thoughts. 

To be fully awake, fully alive. In tune with the present moment. It's a good start. 

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

A Bite at a Time

Today I am grateful for humor and laughter. I am also grateful for modern medical technology and that Sam got through his knee MRI well.

And I am grateful for the variety of food available to us. I really enjoy eating. "Run to eat, eat to run" is one of my mottos. I tend to do some overeating over the holidays. Eat only when hungry?  Not with all of these goodies around.  So I pay the price with a little added weight and I reach the point of saturation. I become ready again to be a more mindful and wise eater.

That is where I am at now. Or at least where I am trying to be now. Healthier options. Smaller portions. No late-night snacking. A more mindful approach to each bite. A bite at a time allows me to slow down and savor what I am eating.

It also allows me to be grateful for how my food got in front of me. I have many factors and human interventions along the way to thank for pretty much all the food I consume. I don't have a garden or raise chickens or livestock (though I very much appreciate my farm upbringing and today's farmers).
Many others make it possible for me to enjoy the food I have.

A bite at a time. A moment at a time. And a pause to pray for those who will know true hunger today. 

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

Where is Away?

Today I am grateful for the comfort of our home and for my job.

Having done a little traveling over the holidays, I typically enjoy getting away from my own home and my to-do list. But I also enjoy and appreciate returning home. Thinking about being "away," I recalled a writing assignment we got once in a high school English class.

I don't recall which class it was for exactly, but I recall the teacher easily. It was Mrs. Walker, my favorite teacher in high school. I loved her teaching style and the way she gently yet firmly pushed us to push ourselves. 

I already liked writing by that time, but classes with Mrs. Walker just strengthened my desire to write. She helped me appreciate the writing of other people more, but also to have increased confidence in my own writing.

The assignment I am thinking of was to write on this: "Where is away?" I liked any writing task that was open-ended and allowed for personal creativity. This one fit for sure. I have no idea what I wrote about specifically, but today, over 30 years later, I still like the question.

Some of the time, away for me needs to be more literal than figurative. As I mentioned earlier, I like our home but I need to remove myself from it to relax in a different way. A way that doesn't include walking past the next thing I could clean or clear or move.

At other times, away can be more figurative. Away from discouraging thoughts. Away from brain drain. Away from my old nemesis-self- pity. Away from overthinking.

What kind of "away" would be helpful to you today?

On a side note, Mrs. Walker passed away years ago. But I did send her a letter of thanks earlier in my adulthood. I am glad I did. Consider if there is someone you would like to send a gratitude letter to, then write it and send it. It can be that simple.

Monday, January 4, 2016

The News

Today I am grateful for my sense of hearing and the soothing tick-tock of the antique clock in our living room. I am also grateful for clothes to keep me warm in the winter.

Happy Birthday to my stepdaughter Emily! She is 21 today.

As I watched some news recaps of 2015, that disillusionment and discouragement I wrote about the other day ramped up again. Mass shootings, racism, terrorism, the millions being poured into political campaigns that could be put to better use if we had some reform. . . and the list could go on and on. 

What tops the list of good news about 2015? A stronger economy and lower unemployment rates? Lower gas prices?  Those are good news stories, but how about some stories about average people (all of us!) doing extraordinary things?  Take a look at this website "Good News Network."  Another one is called Sunny Skyz. Here is a wonderful letter I found there, written by a 36-year-old woman who recently died of of cancer. Her spunk and spark will clearly live on.

News outlets are competing for our attention and, sad to say, they know what kind of stories get that attention-violence, tragedy, unbelievable twists. We get sucked into it and it begins to feel like that is all there is. Bad news. Sad news. Discouraging times.

Turn the tide. Read and pass on good news. Share positive happenings with others. Don't get pulled into the "water cooler" discussions about how terrible everything is. Look for the positive and it is easily found.

Look for gratitude and it is easily found.

Sunday, January 3, 2016

Oliver Neglected

Today I am grateful for safe travels to and from South Dakota and time with Darcy's family. It is always good to see them and get caught up. I am also grateful for our dog Oliver.

Here is Oliver in a recent photo:

I realized this morning that I had been neglecting Oliver lately. Certainly we always make sure he is fed, has enough water, and gets outside several times a day. We take him for runs when the weather and conditions are cooperative. But I had been neglecting the little moments with Oliver. The belly rubs. The kisses on the nose. The times just sitting in one another's company.

Too busy I guess. Isn't that sad? Too busy for who and what I love? Time to get my priorities straight.

Come here Oliver. Let me thank you for the smiles, joy, and peace you bring into our home.  Let me thank you for how you remind me to stretch after sitting too long, rest often, and to always be happy to see those I love. Thanks Oliver!