Showing posts from November, 2012

Express Yourself

Today I am grateful for the healthy ways I have to express myself. I am also grateful for my son Sam and the chance to express my love to him daily. You may have guessed by now that today's word is express . I am choosing to focus on this simple definition: to represent in words. That covers it. Saying "I love you" to Sam is a natural thing for me to do, but growing up I didn't  hear those words much. I was cared for and provided for, but my parents were from families and from a generation that didn't say the words much. It was already hard to get enough attention and emotional support being one of thirteen children. This lack of expression did some harm to me and my view of self and world. I don't blame my parents. I don't blame circumstances for the choices I made. But it does help me understand a few things about myself. As I grew into adulthood, I pledged that if I ever had a child, he/she would regularly hear my love expressed. At some point in th

From the Depths of My Soul

Today I am grateful for emails with other people in recovery. They are a lifeline for me. I am also grateful for laughter. D is for depth today. I was struck by the range of definitions for this word. *a deep place in a body of water *a profound or intense state *a reprehensibly low condition *the worst part *the quality of being deep *the degree of intensity, the quality of being profound or full *the quality or state of being complete or thorough A deep place in a body of water. I avoid the depths of pools because I can't swim well. A profound or intense state. The depth of my gratitude when I cross the finish line of a marathon. A reprehensibly low condition. The depth of despair was waking up from a blackout, with a bad hangover, trying to fill the gaps in my memory. The worst part. The depth of cancer treatment came 3-5 days after each chemo round. The quality of being deep. I love the depth of conversation I can have with many people near and dear to me.

The Era of the Cassette

Today I am grateful for the music I grew up with and for sharing the contents of "The Valentine Vessel of Gratitude" with my family last night. C is for cassette. I am going to stick with just one definition for this word today. That definition is a plastic cartridge containing magnetic tape with the tape of one reel passing to the other. And in that passing of one reel to another, some of my favorite music played over and over. My earliest memory of music recordings on something other than albums was the 8-track tape. There are many who would have no idea what an 8-track tape was if they saw one, but I have fond memories of bulky 8-tracks and their players taking up space in vehicles my older siblings drove. By the early 1970's, cassettes became common and were around for the better part of three decades before being replaced by CD's.  I had dozens and dozens of cassette tapes, and have kept some for posterity's sake. Were you ever a member of the Columbia H

Striving to be More Benign

Today I am grateful for the kind and gentle role models I have had in my life. I am also grateful for progress in the area of "If you can't say something good, don't say anything at all." My trip into the land of the B in my dictionary landed on the word benign. Even before my two sisters and I were diagnosed with breast cancer, I knew full well that a benign biopsy or tumor was good news indeed. I also remember feeling guilty after their diagnoses and before mine, each time I had a normal mammogram and got the all-clear. That guilt of getting the good news they didn't get to hear. And then I got the bad news too-the opposite of benign-malignant. I know how it feels to be on both sides now. There is a hard-earned perspective in that. This previous definition of benign is probably the one that most of us think of first when we hear the word. But benign can be taken further. Other definitions include:                     -of a gentle disposition, gracious    

The Gift of Words A-Z: Affinity

Today I am grateful for hats and gloves to protect against the wind chill and I am grateful for Oliver being back home with us. I have mentioned a number of times that an A-Z gratitude list is an easy way to think about gratitude when you are on the go. You can do such a list on your commute, a walk, sitting with a cup of morning coffee. You can write it, say it outloud, say it to yourself, say it to someone else. If you haven't tried an A-Z gratitude list, I would encourage you to do so. I have done this A-Z list enough times that I sometimes get in a rut, saying the same things for certain letters. That's not all bad, because the things I repeat are worth repeating. But in an effort to mix it up a bit, I am taking a different approach for the next 26 days or so. I have my very own Merriam Webster's Collegiate Dictionary in actual book form. Call me old-fashioned, but I still like to pick up a book, especially a hearty, thick book like this dictionary. I am going to pe

Miles, Styles, and Smiles

Today I am grateful for safe travels over the last three days and for the chance to get to know Arthur's fiance Alyssa and her family better. We had a nice Thanksgiving and a good weekend that included miles, styles, and smiles. The miles refer to the 10K Darcy and I ran on Thanksgiving for the Banquet, a food ministry in Sioux Falls and for the hour we ran on Friday morning in the bitter wind chill to check out new trail stretches near downtown Sioux Falls. But miles also refer to the many miles we covered to and from Sioux Falls and into Iowa for some wedding preparation stuff and to meet more of Alyssa's family. On our way back to Minnesota we drove through Spencer and Okoboji, Iowa too, just for old times' sake for me. I lived in Spencer for 6 years and taught there. The Okoboji area will always be dear to me . . . I met wonderful people there, and my recovery from alcoholism blossomed there. To top it off, it is where Darcy and I met. It was fun to drive through an

Happy Thanksgiving!

Today I am grateful for my own family that will gather in Iowa tomorrow for Thanksgiving, and grateful for Darcy's family, whom we will gather with in South Dakota. And I am thinking of all those in each of our families that live far and wide. I am also grateful that a friend and fellow BC patient got good news after some appointments and tests. If you have read anything here on "Habitual Gratitude" you know I believe that every day is a day for giving thanks. But it is nice that we honor the idea of gratitude with a special holiday. Thanksgiving became an official holiday during the presidency of Abraham Lincoln, in 1863, at the height of the Civil War. Lincoln asked war-torn, grief-stricken, and weary Americans to pull together, persevere, and be grateful for the gifts of the previous year. That request still rings true, even if the times aren't as bleak as 1863. I work at a Catholic school and we had a Thanksgiving mass yesterday. Our school's president a

Moments of Clarity

Today I am grateful for recovery friends-old and new. I am also grateful for the reminder that I can't feel sorry for myself and be grateful at the same time. I do much better if I choose the gratitude. I had a small "moment of clarity" on Saturday. I appreciate when those moments happen and what I take away from them. One such moment that is etched in my mind happened nearly 20 years ago. I was having a particularly rough day, mostly work-related, when I got home, stepped into my apartment and had the Serenity Prayer pop into my head on its own. I still recall the feeling and the impact-I felt like I was finally getting somewhere in my faith quest, like I was finally getting out of myself enough to seek help. That was a moment of clarity I will never forget. The one on Saturday was less significant, but still worth noting. I have two jewelry boxes. One bigger one I use more, one smaller one that was full to overflowing but rarely used. . . broken things I didn't

Personality #2

Today I am grateful for a nice Thanksgiving dinner with my family yesterday, and a nice walk together after. I am also grateful that although I still crave alcohol from time to time, the craving quickly passes. And I will add that I  am grateful for my husband Darcy's forgiveness and sense of humor. He has learned to use both when my Personality #2 comes out. Okay, I admit it. I am difficult to be around at times. Particularly when I am tired. That is when Personality #2 tends to come out the most. My need for control and my desire to always be right seem to get amplified by exhaustion and overdoing. I know I am probably not unique in this issue, so maybe you are reading something in this post that you can relate to. My family gets the brunt of Personality #2. Isn't that the way it goes? We are toughest on the ones we love the most. I am a work in progress and have much progress yet to make, but I am learning to keep my mouth shut more than I used to. And I am learning

Of Trees, Decorations, Sentiment, and History

Today I am grateful for the beauty of the early morning sky. I am also grateful for our collection of holiday decorations and the look and feel of our house when the Christmas tree and other decorations are up. We usually put up our tree on Thanksgiving weekend, but we'll be out of town this year, so we decorated yesterday. We actually have two new trees this year, both artificial, one small, one tall but skinnier than our previous tree. We enjoy the time together transforming the house, and it was fun this year to have a different configuration in our living room because of the new trees. We also decorate our fireplace mantle and add other decorations to our family room. I dislike the commercialization of Christmas and the push that makes it all seem about buying the right gifts, with buying being the key word. But I love sitting in our house in the early mornings or in the evenings, when the tree lights are on, and just enjoying the atmosphere. There is something so soothing

A Prayer for All Reasons

Today I am grateful for the weekend and for our home. I am also grateful to have a run to look forward to this morning with my husband. Yesterday it was ringtones, today it is screen backgrounds. The background of my cell phone screen is some of the words to one of my favorite prayers-the Serenity Prayer. It is the most useful prayer I know, as long as I remember to use it. I find that it works in ANY circumstances. Many people know the first stanza of the prayer, but there is more to it. Here is the prayer's long form: The Serenity Prayer God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,  courage to change the things I can,   and the wisdom to know the difference. Living one day at a time,  enjoying one moment at a time,   accepting hardship as the pathway to peace. Taking as He did, this sinful world as it is,  not as I would have it,   trusting that He will make all things right if I surrender to His will. That I may be reasonably happy in this life,

What's Your Ringtone?

Today I am grateful for the voice of Natalie Merchant. I am also grateful for the convenience of a washer and dryer right down in our basement to make doing laundry easy. What's your ringtone on your cell phone? Maybe you have several and know who is calling based on the song that comes on. I keep it basic. One ringtone for all. My first cell phone had Loverboy's "The Kid is Hot Tonite" as my ringtone for years. That was partly because I didn't know how to change it after my step-son put it on there for me, but also partly because I have always liked that song and it's ability to transport me back in time. My next ringtone has also been longstanding, though I couldn't tell you how long. It is the song "Kind and Generous" by Natalie Merchant. (from her 1998 album Ophelia) That song meant a lot to me in 1998 when it came out. That was a big year for me: I got engaged, married, became a step-parent, moved to a different state, left a place I had

Seasonal Gratitude

Today I am grateful to be part of the "Voices of Hope" DVD project and to know that it has made a difference in the lives of breast cancer patients and their loved ones. I am also grateful for the faith I have in God, in my Higher Power. I am still a work in progress when it comes to my faith, but it is growing and I am feeling it. Faith helps me see that I am never alone and that I don't have to have all the answers. I do have a question today though. Why does gratitude become a more common topic only in November?  I get that Thanksgiving, the gratitude holiday, falls in November and that makes this month "gratitude month" to many. And to others it just makes Thanksgiving "gratitude day." And to still others, the gratitude gets lost in the busy pace, the stress of day-to-day stuff, the disappointments and the lack of hope. Gratitude should not be seasonal, should not be the focus of one holiday. Gratitude should be DAILY. The only way we can tru

Taking Actions

Today I am grateful for my earring selection and for sweat that brings endorphins. Today's post is about taking actions. That is what gratitude is about. Like anything worth doing, there is effort involved. How is your gratitude journal coming along? Just fine. Thanks for asking. I write in it every day, early in the morning. When is the last time you did an A-Z gratitude list? Just this morning when I was exercising and the other day when I was walking Oliver. How about a 3 x 3? How about doing one right now?  Sam, my son= his laugh, his imagination, the fact that he still wants me to read him a bedtime story This blog= a channel for my writing passion, an opportunity to learn more about gratitude, a way to meet others I wouldn't have met otherwise Cooler weather= less humidity, layers of clothes to feel warm in, my favorite hooded sweatshirt Written any gratitude letters lately? Just mailed out #12 and #13 in the last couple of weeks. The above are dire

Keeping Perspective

Today I am grateful for the first snowfall of the season and the chance to run in it. But I am glad it melted for now. I am also grateful for our dog Oliver and his reminders to me to slow down and take it easy each day. After sharing Lois Tschetter Hjelmstad's poem yesterday, I wanted to share one of my own today. I wrote "Keeping Perspective" between rounds 3 and 4 of chemotherapy. Most of my hair was gone. The effects of chemo were adding up. I was getting closer to my final surgery-bilateral mastectomy.But all in all, I was doing well and feeling plenty of gratitude. And humility. Cancer is humbling. Accepting help from others is humbling. We were getting weekly meals from co-workers as I went through chemo. They were very much appreciated, and they were very much a lesson in humility. Between the hair loss and the humbling experiences, this poem was flying around in my head. One day when I was at the gas station, it started to come out in lines. I took out a chec

Bed of Nails

Today I am grateful for a comfy couch to snuggle on in the early morning hours. I am also grateful for the book Fine Black Lines: Reflections on Facing Cancer, Fear and Loneliness by Lois Tschetter Hjelmstad. I was first introduced to Lois's writing via a great blog I follow called Nancy's Point ( ) She wrote a guest blog post there, as did I a few weeks later. Her blog post was one I could relate to, being about why she chose not to have breast reconstruction. Lois is a poet, author, speaker, piano teacher, wife (of over 63 years), mother, grandmother. I ordered the book mentioned above and read one zinger of a poem after another. She's my kind of poet. Here is one of those zingers: Bed of Nails   if you lay a blanket of joy over everything   the spikes keep poking through   perhaps it would be better to flatten the points first   (Excerpted from Fine Black Lines , copyright 1993, 2003 Lois Tschetter Hjelmstad. Us

Stubborn Hills, Stubborn Lisa

Today I am grateful to all of the veterans who have fought and worked to first gain and then preserve our freedom. Too many of us, me included, take that freedom for granted too often. Today I will try to appreciate that freedom as I go through my day. . . doing what I choose and feeling safe. I am also grateful for time with Arthur and Alyssa, a run with Darcy, and the hills on our running routes. I have always run on hills. The two farms I grew up on had hills. The river city I live in has hills.I like the challenge of hills, facing them with a "You aren't getting the better of me" attitude.Hills make good metaphors. Facing a cancer diagnosis, surgeries, and treatment was a series of hills to traverse. Not taking a drink when I really wanted the escape was a big hill to climb on many days. Practicing gratitude habitually can be an obstacle when self-pity slips in. Finding time to write in a busy day with many commitments seemed like a mountain at times, but has beco

200 and Counting

Today I am grateful for time with friends in recovery. They inspire me, sharing the wisdom they have gained from experience. They help me get through the next 24 hours. I am also grateful for safe travels for my stepson Arthur and his fiancee Alyssa, and for the time we got to spend together last evening and will have together today. Earlier this week I surpassed 200 blog posts. As a beginning blogger and long-time writer, I continue to appreciate this avenue for my writing passion. It has broadened and deepened my level of gratitude as I have put more thoughts into words and more ideas into actions. It has also given me a regular outlet as a writer. Even if my blog is the only writing I do on a given day, and it usually isn't, I have given that 15-20 minutes of my time to honor the writer in me. I did plenty of writing before I started blogging, but on too many days I would set out to give time to my writing, and then see the day slip away. Other commitments, other things th

Perspective via a Toothache

Today I am grateful for a laugh shared with my son Sam. I am also grateful for a 7:15 a.m. dentist appointment this morning. Okay, grateful is a stretch on that one. But I am glad to have some idea of what may be going on. Unfortunately, there may be a root canal procedure in my future.  But it could be worse. It could be worse. That doesn't sound all that optimistic, but really it is. I started with some tooth sensitivity over a week ago and had a few days of on-again, off-again toothaches. At times it hurt bad enough to take some pain relievers, which I seldom do.  I couldn't even pinpoint the tooth that may be problematic, as the pain seemed to move around some. (As I found out today, that is an indicator of nerve issues . . . I probably have a nerve that is dying.)  I made the dentist appointment early this week and almost cancelled it yesterday after it seemed better. I am glad I kept the appointment. I know now what is likely going on, and I am the kind of person who

Fifteen Years Ago Today . . . A Life-Changer

Today I am grateful for the many journals I have filled with my thoughts, feelings, and memories over the years. They preserve the moments-big and small-that make me the person I am today. They help me recall details I would have lost otherwise. One of those details is the day I met my husband Darcy. I knew it was either November 7 or 8, but my journal confirmed that it was indeed a fateful day 15 years ago TODAY. Our meeting significantly changed the course of my life and it has been so much for the better. I can't tell you how grateful I am to have Darcy in my life. November 8, 1997 was a Saturday night and I planned to go with a friend to a singles dance in Okoboji, Iowa. I was 32 and my options for meeting men were limited. As a recovering alcoholic, bars weren't appealing. I wasn't a church-goer then. I took my job way too seriously at the time to consider involvement with anyone there. I had had a few dates in the previous months, but nothing had panned out. I w

The Never-Ending Story

Today I am grateful for our cozy couch to watch election returns on last night. I am also grateful for the large family I have. We have a never-ending story. One of the challenges of a big family is keeping in touch with them all. That is true of my family of origin, with 12 siblings, and now over 80 people with marriage, children, and grandchildren. And it is true of my extended family. My dad had 6 siblings, my mom had 7. There are dozens and dozens of cousins. I have some sadness that there is no way to know all of my family. I am close to some, have rarely even met others. That is a loss going both ways. But it is reality. So when I walked into my Aunt Esther's Chicago apartment on Saturday, it was my first time there. I was fortunate to meet some of my aunt's friends who became part of their family. Sandy met Esther through work and her two daughters considered Esther to be their second grandma. Christina had known Esther, Esther's husband Carl, and Larry and Mary

A Suburban from Farm Country Heads to the City

Today I am grateful to live in a democracy where I can freely cast my vote in elections. I am also grateful for rain this morning. I hope the election is a smooth one and that those impacted by Sandy out east are able to cast their votes. Now there's more to tell about my weekend. After my visit with Sheila, the second part of my weekend was all about family. But let me back up a little. I made the trip to Chicago with six other travelers. Three sets of sisters and a real sister. We took my sister Zita's Suburban and we needed all the space it had to offer, particularly on the way back. Our cousins Lois and Eileen (my dad's sister's daughters) and Joan and Rosie (my dad's brother's daughters) joined Zita and I. And the real sister? That would be my dad's sister, our Aunt Norma Jean. She's a sister of the Franciscan variety. Leaving northeast Iowa and heading to Chicago, this particular group had never traveled together before. I really appreciated

Face to Face, Friend to Friend

Today I am grateful for safe travels over the weekend and for the opportunity to spend time with people I don't see often. (More about our special family outing tomorrow.) One of those people was my friend Sheila. I hadn't seen her in over four years when we finally connected face to face again on Friday. We talk on the phone and text, but there's nothing like the real thing. The last time we saw each other was at our 25-year class reunion, after my first two BC surgeries and before I started chemo. A year ago Sheila was diagnosed with BC. We talked frequently and at length when she was going through treatment. It was a challenging time for her, and an opportunity for me to be her support. I never would have thought we would both end up with breast cancer, but we did. It added to our own life experience and it added to our already deep-rooted friendship. (Check out Life Saver #1  from April of this year at  )

Don't Pollute the Morning

Today I am grateful for a fun and safe Halloween evening for my son and his friends. I am also grateful for the clothes in my closet. I have plenty to pick from. Going back a couple weeks, I talked about coming across Sarah Ban Breathnach's book Simple Abundance   while staying at a B and B for my niece's wedding. The morning I came across the book, the quote for the day was by one of my favorite writers-Ralph Waldo Emerson.  Admittedly, I only read him in small doses, but I find so many of his words to be profoundly meaningful to me. "If you have not slept, or if you have slept, or if you have a headache, or sciatica, or leprosy, or thunder-stroke. I beseech you, by all angels, to hold your peace, and not pollute the morning." Don't pollute the morning. Every day deserves a fresh start. Every day  is a fresh start if you approach it as one. Complaining and negativity create a sour perception of the world. The world will look bleak and unfriendly. Grati