Showing posts from July, 2014

Blog Break

Today I am grateful for opportunities that don't go by unnoticed. I am also grateful for this blog and the energy it helps me direct but also create. After today, I will be taking a blog break until early August. This is the longest break I will have taken since I started this blog in late March of 2012. The routine and the daily channel for my writing energy have brought me insights and gifts beyond measure since then, but it is good to step away for a few days, good to take a break from screens and typed words. I won't be taking a break from gratitude practice though. It is part of my daily life and I don't plan to ever change that. My gratitude journal goes with me when I travel. My mind, heart, and soul go with my body wherever it goes too. Thanks to gratitude practice, all these-body, mind, heart, and soul-plan to enjoy and embrace the next days for what they offer. Opportunity to live in the present and find the little joys that are prevalent when I am paying atte

Birthing Some Gratitude

Today I am grateful for the cooling breeze that pushed out the oppressive humidity as the day wore on yesterday. I am also grateful for a working washing machine and dryer to give us fresh, clean clothes. The website emails a "Word of the Day" each day and a few days ago it was: "Gratitude to gratitude always gives birth."   (attributed to Sophocles) Positive breeds positive. Negative breeds negative. It is why gratitude practice works and why other "strengths-based" approaches studied by researchers in the fields of positive psychology and resilience are shown to be effective. They get people well. They keep people well. (Read more at The Positive Psychology Center at the University of Pennsylvania  here  or the Greater Good Science Center at UC-Berkeley  here .) I agree with the research and I am grateful it is growing, but I had proof before the research became more prevalent. My own experience was all the proof I needed. W

Avoiding Psychological Pollution

Today I am grateful for the wisdom so graciously shared by others in recovery. I am also grateful for air conditioning. It may not be central air, but it's better than nothing. Yesterday I was writing about exercising demons. Today I am writing about avoiding psychological pollution. One of the facilitators at the breast cancer support meeting I attended last week read from a reading to open the meeting. That reading contained the reference to avoiding psychological pollution. Thanks for the blog inspiration Claire and for being a faithful reader of this blog. I appreciate the support. (And an early "Happy Birthday" youngster!) Real pollution. Psychological pollution. They have similarities. One smells, the other stinks up our psyche. One can slow us down, the other can slow down our progress. One kills living things, the other kills our inspiration and motivation. Some pollution is done to us, though our own actions may contribute. Living in the wrong area or type

Exercising Demons

Today I am grateful for speed work in my workout this morning-it pushes my limits. I am also grateful for my husband Darcy and how we grow together in this life. A like-minded friend and I were sharing some thoughts on the importance of exercise in each of our lives the other day. He used the words "exercising demons" and I know just what he was talking about. Mental demons. Fears. Resentments. Denial. Perfectionism. Self-pity. Irrational thoughts. Wrong motives. Ego-feeding propositions. Exercising them out. Not taking them for exercise to make them stronger, rather taking ourselves out to exercise to make us more resistant and resilient to the demons that would like to drag us down. Exercising to exorcise demons. It works. It has worked in my life since I was a teen. Running off a hangover. Throwing or hitting a softball and releasing mental and spiritual toxicity in the process. Today, exercise keeps me calm and centered. It helps not only with physical balance, but me


Today I am grateful for the good training run that Darcy and I had yesterday and for the understanding that sobriety is best tackled in 24-hour segments. I want to thank my sister Mary Jo for a little book she gave me titled Words of Wisdom for Women  by Rachel Snyder. It goes through the alphabet and has several words for each letter, with a one-page entry on each word. I was paging through it and the word focus grabbed me. Our training run is a good example of the need for focus. We have been training for marathons for 10 years now, so we know what focus entails. The right carb-loading meal the night before, put out clothes and other supplies the night before too to save time, give our bodies a day of rest and also get to bed early to get the run started early to beat the heat. The right mindset is also an important part of focus for me too, and I think Darcy would agree. I have always loved running, and I rarely dread a run. I never dread a run really, sometimes I just dread g

Home Safe and Sound

Today I am grateful for safe travels and a good experience for our son Sam and the others who were with him on our church youth group's mission trip. I am especially grateful to the three leaders who went with our group, gave of their time and energy to help make this a worthwhile few days, and kept an eye out for our children's safety and well-being. Sam is 12 and this was his first mission trip. I think he was a little nervous, but that is to be expected. He is pretty even-keeled and I am very thankful for that. I both looked forward to him having this trip and worried for him, like any parent I guess. But I also know it is good for all of us-Sam, my husband, and I-to have time to ourselves. It is important for Sam, at his age, to get comfortable away from home and stretch himself, and I am glad he did. He helped paint and take care of children. He slept on the floor. He met new people from different states and Canada. He is tired and telling us about his experience in

Counting Blessings, Making Blessings Count

Today I am grateful for the headway I have made on various work projects this week. I am also grateful for our local ice cream shop. My gratitude journal had this quote in it yesterday: "We should certainly count our blessings, but we should also make our blessings count." (Neal A. Maxwell) Today that is telling me to not only appreciate all the gifts in my life, but to also take good care of them. I can care for things by using them properly, cleaning them when needed, handling them gently. I can care for relationships by showing my love and support, by being a good listener, by spending time with someone, by being more considerate and less selfish, by being quiet when angry or frustrated, and by letting them be themselves. It is also telling me to put my blessings to good use. I have motivation and inspiration to write, so I write and share. I have a firm belief in the benefits of the practice of gratitude, so I practice and I pass it on. I have wonderful family and

Palpable Relief

Today  I am grateful for our bikes, the morning quiet, and the breast cancer support group I attend. Yesterday I wrote about unforgettable days and moments. July 17, 2008 was one of my unforgettable days.I went in that morning for a lumpectomy and sentinel node biopsy; the first surgery to address the cancer in my right breast. It had been six weeks since my diagnosis and I was ready to move forward. Six weeks of tests, appointments, fear, and agonizing waiting. I feared the cancer was growing. I feared the news from surgery would be concerning. I feared a bad reaction to anesthesia. I feared the unknown and my life was full of it at that time. Some pre-surgery unforgettable moments: the intense, but short-lived pain of getting a shot in my right nipple, saying goodbye to my husband as they wheeled me into the OR, a vague memory of being on the operating room table looking up at a big light and hearing movement around me, then I was out. Post-surgery there were unforgettable mome


Today I am grateful for flavored coffee and a walk along the Mississippi River with my husband. Unforgettable moments and days. We all have them. Some we hold dear in our memory because they are joyous events. The day I got married: the evening and the beautiful flower garden, the realization that I had finally (I was 33) found someone, the family and friends who were there. The day our son was born: that incredible need to push late in labor, the relief of hearing his healthy cry, holding him for the very first time. The day I finished my first marathon: the starting line of 40,000 runners, seeing each mile marker, turning the corner at mile 26 and seeing the finish line. And then there are the unforgettable moments and days that part of our minds and hearts would prefer to forget. The day my dad died: being called out of a class, hearing my brother say the words, shock, disbelief. The day I heard the words "You have cancer": more shock and disbelief, gripping fear, the

Cruel Summer

Today I am grateful for my job and how it allows me to practice flexibility and creative solutions. I am also grateful for comfortable sleeping weather. For those of you from my era, the musical group Bananarama may ring a bell. They had a hit song in 1984 with "Cruel Summer."  You can listen to it  here . I heard it on the radio the other day. The song, or at least the title, was prophetic for me in my own summer of 1984. I had one year of college behind me and was home for the summer. I was coaching softball, playing some ball myself, and partying quite a bit. It was my last summer of drinking before my first real attempt to quit drinking that began in May of 1985. My disease had progressed and drinking was a priority for me. To drink meant to get drunk. I remember stealing quarters from my mom's coin can (it was a Pringles chip can),  and sneaking a beer or two from what my parents sometimes had in our basement refrigerator, leftover from some visitors, or on han

On Biking, Breezes, and a Beautiful Day

Today I am grateful for quiet wisdom shared and the calming effect of a flowing river. My thoughts and wishes for a good and safe day go out to my son Sam and the others on his youth group mission trip. I am thankful for their safe travels yesterday and I appreciate the adult leaders who are with the group this week. Yesterday was a gorgeous day to be outside. As the morning wore on, the heavy humidity that had been sticking around the last few days departed. A cool, northerly breeze took its place. Talk about refreshing!I am not a fan of humidity, so when this turn of events happens, I fully relish in it. I took a run in the morning, and my husband and I went for a leisurely bike ride in the afternoon. We biked with a pleasant breeze to keep the bugs off, got a great view of the Mississippi River, saw a colorful kite high in the sky, heard the birds singing, greeted fellow humans also out enjoying the beautiful day. It gave me perspective. It helped keep worries and concerns in

Keep Cultivating

Today I am grateful for a solo run this morning and the time to myself. I am also grateful for citronella candles which allow us to continue to enjoy our patio at the height of summer bug season. My sister reminded me yesterday of the importance of continuing to cultivate gratitude, even when things are a challenge, especially when things are a challenge.  Her exact words were ". . . life is a hard ride sometimes, but always gratitude is important to cultivate." Thanks Danita for the words of wisdom! She is living a hard ride right now as her husband continues to suffer from the progression of Lewy Body Dementia. The past couple weeks have brought other sad and difficult news: an alum of our school seriously injured in a fall, a current student seriously injured in a skateboarding accident, classmates of mine losing their fathers within days of one another, reading about the debilitating nature of ongoing treatment for metastatic cancer from the viewpoint of a Stage IV pa

Short or Long Essay?

Today I am grateful for sources of humor--other people, pets, my own awareness, the role of chance. I am also grateful for the laughter that often accompanies humor. I want to wish my stepson Arthur and his wife Alyssa a Happy 1st Anniversary today! Enjoy your day! I get ideas for blog posts from a variety of sources. In a conversation the other day, someone used the term "long essay," as in they wouldn't bore us with a long essay. I have been known to be too wordy and I appreciate the writing practice this blog provides. I continue to fine tune my use of words and how many I employ at a time. When it comes to tests, I prefer a short essay over a long essay. Sometimes shorter is better. What about life as an essay? On this matter, the longer the better is how I feel at this point in my journey. I want to keep writing and living for many years. If it is up to me, the long essay of my life has many pages and chapters yet to be written. But only part of it is up to m

Paved Roads and Washing Machines

Today I am grateful for my husband Darcy. I am also grateful for our dog Oliver, a frequent source of smiles for us all. The quote in my gratitude journal today is: "Can you see the holiness in those things you take for granted--a paved road or a washing machine? If you concentrate on finding what is good in every situation, you will discover that your life will suddenly be filled with gratitude, a feeling that nurtures the soul." (Rabbi Harold Kushner)  Right on Rabbi Kushner! Kushner is a well-known rabbi and author, with books such as When Bad Things Happen to Good People  and Living a Life that Matters . I have come across many of his quotes over the years and truly appreciate his wisdom. I did a little research on him, and like many of my favorite writers some of that wisdom is born of pain. His son Aaron died at age 14 of the rare disease progeria, which causes rapid aging. Clearly, Kushner has also lived a life of service to others and that has inspired his

Cloudy With a Chance of Gratitude

Today I am grateful for the relationships I have in my life and how they continue to teach and stretch me. I am also grateful for the beauty of the early morning sun coming through the trees. Forgive me for using the overused "Cloudy with a chance of . . . "  I couldn't resist. I was at work the other day and my office is in the old fallout shelter. It's a nice space with plenty of artificial light, but no natural light (aside from what I try to carry with me). As I left for the day and headed outside, I first appreciated the cooler, drier air. Then I appreciated the high clouds and partial sunshine that usually mean some nice weather. It was then that I thought of cloudy with a chance of gratitude. Clouds have many literal and figurative interpretations. They literally can warn us of dangerous weather or simply that it might be wise to bring along a jacket or an umbrella. They literally can create beauty and patterns with the help of sunlight and changing dayligh

What is in your way?

Today I am grateful for cereal and warm milk. I am also grateful for sweat and running speedwork. I have a feeling this isn't the last time I will be blogging about the words of Mark Nepo, but it does wrap up this round. This short quote stopped me short: "We tend to make the thing in the way the way." It stopped me short with a strong dose of gratitude. I think I have made good progress in removing the things in the way of the way I really want to live life. Self-hatred and self-pity were definitely in my way when I was drinking. Drinking was in the way and clouded the rest of the road I was on. I have also been in my own way plenty over the years. Perfectionism and low self-esteem slow down a person's momentum and shatter hopes and dreams. I still get in my own way, but I tend to move out more quickly. Life will always send some curve balls, but acceptance, patience, and living a day at a time all help keep the focus where it is most productive for me-doing

More from Mark Nepo

Today I am grateful for a pleasant walk and conversation with my friend Liz yesterday morning and a good phone conversation with my stepson Arthur last evening. I blogged about Mark Nepo last week in posts  here  and  here . His approach and the way he says things captured me. Here are a couple more quotes from him: "One key to knowing joy is being easily pleased." "In seeking what is essential, we become essential." Being easily pleased does make it a simpler path to contentment. Being pleased can be as easy as appreciating the little things that bring joy. The fresh morning air. The first sip of coffee. Appreciating being able to see, hear, taste, smell, and touch. Fingers that work on a computer keyboard that works. Sore muscles from miles of walking and running. When I focus on the many gifts I already have, rather than dwelling on that which I wish I had or could get, joy is a more frequent companion. Becoming essential. Isn't that what we all rea

Habitual Practices

Today I am grateful for phone calls, emails, and texts from family and friends yesterday. I am also grateful for what I have learned about the practice of habitual gratitude. I joke that I can't call this blog "Habitual Gratitude" if I don't post habitually. But gratitude practice is no joke to me. It is serious business and beautiful work all at the same time. It is a lifeline and good for my health in all realms-physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual. My longest standing habitual gratitude practice has been to keep a gratitude journal. I have been doing that for over 18 years. Each morning I write down at least two things I am grateful for. But I also often add some thoughts about things I am struggling with myself and prayers for others. It helps me to think outside of myself and remember others. It helps me keep my own stuff in perspective. This blog, since I began it in late March of 2012, has been a very regular effort of mine. I have well over 700 pos

Keep Swimming

Today I am grateful for another birthday. I am also grateful for my overall health-physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual-and how much gratitude practice has helped get me and keep me healthy. Today is my 49th birthday. My first two birthday blog posts on Habitual Gratitude are titled "Better Older Than Deader" and "More Birthdays Please!" Read both here.  They continue to be fitting sentiments for me. I am very grateful to be here today, able-bodied and alive, living life fully. Let me add "Keep Swimming" to the list of birthday sentiments. Keep swimming. Keep living life every day. Keep doing the next right thing. Keep being grateful. Keep appreciating every thing I am able to do and experience. Keep swimming beats sinking, and one can only tread water for so long. When it comes to actual swimming, I am not a strong swimmer. I would be sunk in a hurry. I was almost sunk by my active alcoholism too. I was definitely drowning. To keep swimming, i

Brooks Ariel Size 11

Today I am grateful for our front patio and fountain. I am also grateful for my Brooks Ariel size 11 running shoes. Here is a picture of my latest pair of these shoes, just before we set out on our first run together yesterday morning. Over the last 10 years, these have been my go-to shoes. If my memory serves me, I discovered these shoes before our first marathon in 2004, with the help of folks at a local running store. It is still where we shop most frequently for running shoes, attire, and other accessories. I was looking for shoes with good stability for larger-framed people. These were recommended and I am so grateful for that. They have carried me through 11 marathons and hundreds and hundreds of miles of training runs. As runners, our shoes are an important investment for both my husband and I, and very important to our bodies as we continue to be distance runners. Shoes are the key. I have probably had a couple dozen pairs of this Brooks model over the years, sometimes s

Freedom From . . . Freedom To . . .

Today I am grateful for freedom. I am also grateful for ice cream, a 4th of July tradition in my family. Freedom. Personal freedom to speak, write, and act with much leeway. Freedom as an American citizen. Freedom from discrimination and fear of violence. None of these freedoms are absolute or perfect, but they apply for the most part. For that, I am deeply grateful. Like air to breathe and food to eat, I often take my freedom for granted. I try to respect the personal freedom of others as I exercise my own. I try to be a good citizen and do my part to contribute, especially to my local community. I could do better in both areas though. Pausing to appreciate freedom on this, our nation's birthday, is a small start. When I want to run an errand, I get in my car, drive down relatively safe streets, go about my business free of threats and prejudice, then come back home. My thoughts and prayers go out to those living in places where even venturing outdoors can carry high risks,

100% Listener

Today I am grateful for my friends Claire and Liz from our local breast cancer support group. I am also grateful for the continued motivation I have to keep blogging. Here are some more words of wisdom from Mark Nepo: "Listening is being completely present to whatever is before us with all of who we are." Like letter writing, I fear that listening is becoming something of a lost art. We are too busy, too surrounded by distractions, too tuned in to too many electronic devices. I can be as guilty as the next person of not being a 100% listener. But I do try and I do work in a profession that allows me ample opportunities to be a better listener with students, parents, colleagues. Though important in my job, listening is more crucial to me in my closest relationships with family and friends. My rapt attention is the greatest gift I can give another person. No amount of money can purchase that. I know how I feel when I think I am not being listened to. I try not to do tha

The Words of Mark Nepo

Today I am grateful for bird songs and my five working senses. I want to thank my sister Danita for mentioning Mark Nepo to me a few months ago. He is a poet, spiritual teacher, and cancer survivor (diagnosed with a rare form of lymphoma in 1987). He has written several books, but is probably best-known for his The Book of Awakening: Having the Life You Want by Being Present to the Life You Have. Just the title of the book is enough. If I stay present, I see and feel my blessings. I have enough instead of always wanting more. He talks about and writes about living life wholeheartedly. His experience as a cancer patient was a defining time in his life. It was in mine too. Often, a real challenge helps bring clarity to a person's direction in life. But that doesn't mean you need to wait for something serious to shake you up. Are you fulfilled with your life as it is? If so, keep doing what you are doing. If not, the words of Mark Nepo may inspire you to work for personal chan

Understanding Companionship

Today I am grateful for oatmeal for breakfast and cooler, less humid weather. The quote in my gratitude journal today is from Amelia Earhart: "The more one does and sees and feels, the more one is able to do, and the more genuine may be one's appreciation of fundamental things like home, and love, and understanding companionship." It's funny how a phrase or quote may strike us one time, but be barely noticed at another. I am on my second year of my gratitude journal. If this quote touched me last year, it was only in passing. This year, I feel compelled to post about it. That is the way life is. Each day, depending on our perspective, different things will impact us. The more I am present and paying attention, however, the more valuable things and experiences I seem to pick up as I move through my day. Certainly, this is one of the best ongoing benefits of gratitude practice for me. Considering the life that Amelia Earhart had, including being the first woman