Category Archives: Gratefulness

Five balls…day #12

My sister and I were talking on the phone recently (via bluetooth, of course) while each of us were alone in our cars stuck in traffic in two different cities; trust me…her traffic in Boston is much worse than mine.  In typical big-sis fashion (and to illustrate a point with something on her mind), I waxed eloquent on a story first shared by an educational mentor of mine nearly 40 years ago.  Mrs. Kathleen Bailey (I miss you still), on my very first day as a “baby teacher” offered this powerful analogy on a balanced life…

Imagine your life is a game whereby you juggle five balls constantly.  The balls are work, family, health, friends, and faith/spirituality.  You work relentlessly to keep all five balls in the air.  One day, you come to understand work is a rubber ball; if you drop work, it inevitably bounces back.  The other four balls are made of glass.  If you drop one of these, it is scuffed, damaged, or even completely shattered.  You have the beginning of a balanced life when you authentically accept the lesson of the five balls.

What’s a story or analogy from your experiences you gratefully acknowledge as a compass for balancing all the parts of your life?  

I am so thankful to have spent 34 years in a career I genuinely loved.  Even though there were days I absolutely didn’t like and definitely never-ever wanted to repeat, the lesson of the five balls was my saving grace.  Here’s hoping we all keep juggling while kindly helping each other…and by the way, all the balls I juggle now are beautifully stained glass.  🙂

Poppa Van and poppies…

In Flanders fields the poppies grow
Between the crosses, row on row,
  That mark our place; and in the sky
  The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
  Loved and were loved, and now we lie
      In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
  The torch; be yours to hold it high.
  If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
      In Flanders fields.

The first time I heard the words to this powerful poem, my father-in-law, John Van Amburgh, was quietly quoting them from memory.  He shared with me how he first heard the poem while serving overseas in the Army during WWII.  The poem, written by Canadian physician, Lieutenant-Colonel Dr. John McCrae in 1915, describes the haunting loss of a friend and fellow soldier who died in the Second Battle of Ypres during WWI, the war to end all wars.  Dr. McCrae’s poem is one of the most quoted from the first world war, and its reference to the red poppies growing over the countless graves of fallen soldiers resulted in the Remembrance Poppy becoming a recognized memorial symbol for all soldiers lost in conflict.  Poppies were considered the battlefield flower because they were the first to grow back after war destroyed the landscape.

So on this 11th hour of this 11th day of the 11th month of this year, I take a moment to gratefully salute Poppa Van and all who bravely gave time, talent, and service to our country.  With profound gratitude we honor those living who served and those who currently serve, as well as their families who courageously “press on” during the long absences of their loved ones in service.  We all know someone…so…Who will you take a moment to reach out to and gratefully thank? 🙂 

Treasured blessings

When I’m worried and I can’t sleep
I count my blessings instead of sheep
And I fall asleep counting my blessings…

These lyrics from Irvin Berlin run through my head as I open another of her journals to read once again.  My maternal grandmother, Beulah (Granny B), would sing them to me as I drifted into sleep under my favorite quilted stars in her home.  I spent a great deal of time with Granny and Grandpa Brock through my formative years as they both were very present in our activities and in our lives.

Three years ago, I stumbled across her stack of written jewels while cleaning out my parent’s home.  Granny B recorded the general goings-on of her days in notebooks and small journals throughout most of her life.  Sometimes pouring her heart out or sometimes simply sharing what she did or ate on any given day, her recollections painted a vivid picture in a very matter-of-fact manner. While I’m not certain mom ever read them, they certainly gave my sister and me clearer insight into the relationships, relevance, and longings of a highly talented, but deeply-struggling artistic soul.  And like her recipe cards and some letters, I’m so grateful to possess these brief written snapshots of her life, and in her own handwriting to boot!

So on Day #10:  What’s a treasured blessing from the past you possess and what does it signify for you?

Here’s hoping we all take a little time during this season of thanks and giving to dig a little deeper into those grateful treasures we possess.  🙂

Midway…day nine

Dad and I have been fighting a battle all afternoon, specifically one on the big screen.  When he noticed the promo for the new movie, Midway, he insisted on going—TODAY.  Being a well-read history buff, he had to make certain “they got it right,” so off we went into the wild blue yonder (I know; wrong branch of the service for this story).  We settled in our seats with his popcornandcoke.  It’s all one word in our house because, well, it just is when he’s watching a movie on the big screen. I gingerly reminded him why he COULD NOT share his vast wealth of information with everyone around us during the pivotal moments of the movie.  Thankfully, we were surrounded by others his age who were doing the same so I decided to let that go (yes, the teacher force remains strong in me).

As the story unfolded on the big screen, it became clear why dad was so vehement about this movie.  Unbeknownst to me prior to today, one of dad’s maternal uncles flew a Douglas “Devastator” torpedo bomber during this pivotal moment of Allied victory in the Pacific theater.  His aircraft carrier, the USS Enterprise, was out on maneuvers during the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, so these guys were itching to reciprocate, managing to fell three Japanese carriers and a battleship during the event.  Naval code-breaking (a truly fascinating part of this victory) along with radar gave the U.S fleet a definite advantage since Japan’s Imperial Navy relied solely on human lookout before attack.  Here’s your history lesson today; you’re welcome.

So why battles?  What does this have to do with my gratefulness journey?  On this Veteran’s Day weekend, I remain humbled and beyond grateful for the countless Americans who stepped forward to defend our freedom and preserve the founding principles of our Nation.  From Valley Forge to Vietnam, from Kuwait to Kandahar, from Berlin to Baghdad, and well beyond across our planet, these patriots stood watch over America’s peace, and when necessary, carried the costs of our Nation’s wars, many giving the ultimate sacrifice in service.  Courageous men and women have cleared the seas, charged the hills, and covered the skies.  We must continue to uphold each Veteran’s legacy by teaching our younger generations about the role in securing the cost of liberty.  And as my daddy always notes, “If we do not study history, we are doomed to repeat it; in teaching others, we teach ourselves.” 

So this isn’t so much a question today but a challenge to find a way to continue the story.  Beyond the emphasis of Veteran’s Day, may we always take the unexpected opportunities to remember, reflect, and revisit the service and sacrifices of our Nation’s Veterans…and here’s hoping you stop every time and take a moment to gratefully acknowledge a Veteran’s service when one crosses your path.

A nose knows…day eight

Imagine waking up without your sense of smell.  Perhaps you have a bad cold or some other temporary reason – or – perhaps your keen sense of smell is just gone.  You can’t smell the morning coffee brewing, the biscuits baking in the oven, or the seasonal spices brewing on the stove.  The calming effect of certain smells like lavender or bergamot are obsolete.  A fresh batch of homemade cookies right out of the oven doesn’t smell like anything, when normally, your mouth starts salivating for a taste before they’ve cooled.

Our sense of smell is strongly linked with our emotional response system, thus affecting mood and so much more in our brains and bodies.  Smell is also linked to our taste buds since it contributes to each flavor’s response and impact on our sensory system.  When smell is lacking, so is taste.

I busted out the seasonal spices with some cut-up fruits to simmer together late this afternoon.  It’s really remarkable how something so simple can create a warm, rich aroma for a cozy, grounded feeling on a blustery day.

If you could smell just one scent always, what would you choose?  

How often do we take our sense of smell and taste for granted?  For today, I’m simply grateful for both working together to enrich life’s journey.  🙂

Root of the problem…day seven

Today, I’m grateful to be given a crown…two of them in fact!  Oh no, not the kind lovingly placed upon my head mind you, but the ones sitting straight inside my mouth. This caps off (HA!) another part of my medical pathway this year and I’m sure my bank account will take quite a while to recover.  There’s a joke in our family about the fact my dental woes occurred shortly after St. M and I married.  Daddy always tells him, “Well, you should’ve checked her teeth first before marrying her, you know!”

Modern dentistry is truly a miracle of science never ceasing to amaze me and I’m certainly grateful for local anesthetic medications used during the process.  While I’m not particularly squeamish because of years of dental issues, doing a two-fer on the same day is a new experience.  Having a dentist who meticulously explains her process is helpful…and so is breathing.  In fact, I consider breathing the root of any problem I might have during a dental procedure.

Consider this:  Inhale. Exhale.  Most of us are grateful to breathe up to 30,000 times a day on our own because our breathing is instinctual.  During a dental procedure, I sometimes have to work for sustained, calm breath since there are multiple instruments, overactive salivary glands, and a deadened tongue going ballistic inside my mouth all at once.  If my nose is stuffy, this experience exacerbates the situation.  I forget to quietly relax into the inhale…exhale with that drill literally buzzing in my head.

Life is like this too.  Some days are gratefully quiet and breathing commences peacefully as expected; other days are a struggle to catch a cleansing breath.  So today, I’m simply grateful for new crowns in my mouth and the breathing used to endure the procedure, a most vital part of my continued existence.

Day #7:  What “vital” things are you grateful for today?

Breathing sustains the body, mind, spirit, and soul.  A strong cleansing breath or two can help us reboot and gratefully sustain anything, including a couple of new crowns. 🙂

Fitbit…day six

Let’s talk science just a moment… Did you know our bodies have over seven octillion atoms, create seven miles of new blood vessels for every new pound added, and the femur is stronger than steel?  For every step we take, we use over two hundred muscles and our small intestines can measure over twenty feet.  On top of this, our hearts beat around one hundred thousand times a day…WOW; just WOW!  While we are mostly unaware of what our body and its systems accomplish each second of our lives, it’s quite remarkable really.  We go about our busy schedules expecting our bodies to simply keep up…until they don’t.  Unless there’s a difficult diagnosis, a broken bone, or the whole family contracts the stomach virus, we often don’t think much about the miraculous gift of our bodies.

With a heart episode earlier this year, I finally joined the millions now wearing a Fitbit full time (and yes, I might even cuss a little about it too).  The Fitbit allows me an easy way to consistently monitor my heart rate and other active situations as I go through my day, even though it occasionally creates angst.  A touch of personal background…my physical self has a definitive history of stranger things and complications (but really, who doesn’t?).  From multiple abdominal and reproductive issues to years of cancer treatments, my body has repeatedly challenged me with physical issues. Yet, doing everything right is no guarantee to complete health either, thus I’ve learned to let go (AND let God) of my wanting it to be physically perfect; it is what it is.  Don’t misunderstand; I’m grateful for the affirmation and good medical reports when they occur, but more importantly, I’m learning how much I can still contribute even when going through another health crisis.  The “blessing in disguise” of the difficult situation may be invisible and will eventually surface when we least expect it!  I’ve come to see how gratefulness is an all-out, committed life practice and it’s considered cheating to be only be grateful for the good while shunning the bad.  NONE of us want the bad things to happen, but we must meticulously seek gratitude for the soul lessons inherently placed in our path on this life journey.  We progress when we find ways to use the hardships of bad things and experiences to become more patient, more kind, more present, more fun, more loving.  Not surprisingly, nothing affects every system or each area of our body, mind, or soul more than gratitude. Digging a deep well of JOY, peace, and contentment for any situation allows gratefulness to sustain each of us during the dark times.  A favorite yoga teacher even challenged me to practice gratefulness for my body parts as I maneuver each pose, meditating in my mind a blessing for what each one can do in that moment; no wishing or hoping (or cussing) allowed for anything to be different.  Being the expected calm, Zen-guru, she also gently reminded me, “Never question why the suffering comes for you; listen for what the suffering can teach you. Be willing to see the gift in each experience when it is revealed so you are stronger and better in this life.” 

On Day #6:  Since we all tend to be so very critical of our bodies, what is something about your physical self you are incredibly grateful for today?  How will you honor it?

Here is what I unexpectedly know to be true:  Gratitude and gratefulness, like interest on my credit card, compounds.  The daily practice of consistent and purposeful gratitude creates clearer vision to pay closer attention and seek particular reasons to be grateful in the face of uncertainty. Attitude is mandatory and daily effort is non-negotiable on this gratefulness journey.  So when my head hits the pillow tonight and I awkwardly stretch my weary limbs under the cozy covers, I’ll say a prayer of thanks, awe, and gratefulness for this aging body and its daily miracles…here’s hoping you join me in this grateful ritual as well.

PS:  Thanks, St. M, for gently encouraging my Fitbit journey each day; I do indeed relish those rare times my final daily step count exceeds yours after all. 🙂

Chicken Spaghetti, again?

It is never lost on me how every meal is a gift.  Have you recently sat down to supper though and quietly lamented, “this meal…again?”   Maybe it’s leftover soup or stew.  Maybe it’s the ‘ol standby staple casserole like my famous chicken spaghetti.  My family may blanch but I’ll go ahead and openly confess that while I make an extraordinary chicken spaghetti, it’s really not my favorite item to eat.  Maybe I’m just worn out from years of its existence.  Maybe because the process is an all-out, full-blown, multi-stepped event with various ingredients to gather and pots to clean up, I’m simply exhausted just thinking about it.  And although I put my heart and soul into creating it each time, I’m just not authentically full of cheer for chicken spaghetti (sorry, St. M and sis).

As we sit down to eat and my family is oohing-and-ahhing though, I choose to be grateful for chicken spaghetti in a different way.  Eating this meal, I am able to have fulfilling conversation with the ones I love while filling their bellies with a favorite main course.  Eating this meal, the grocery budget appreciates how additional meals are covered now with a couple of extra casseroles in the freezer (and some leftovers for lunch because the recipe makes a huge vat).  The biggest blessing is really how this meal warms and nourishes our physical bodies and soothes our souls as we partake together.

So on Day #5:  Do you have a “chicken spaghetti” in your life and what ways can you be grateful for it anyway? 

Here’s hoping you choose to focus on those grateful blessings of food big and small, on and around your dinner table each time you pull out your chair…even if it’s a big dollop of chicken spaghetti on your plate. 🙂

Take five…day four

As a retired public educator, the unwritten rule to the start of class was always how the first five minutes could make or break the outcome for all involved.  While we never knew what occurred before a child entered the building or classroom, it was our job as educators to create a safe, nurturing, encouraging, and supportive learning community.  As the final morning bell rang, my voice enthusiastically welcomed one and all to another day of learning with Morning Message.  Whether in my own classroom or as the building principal, those first five minutes of the day created a unique opportunity allowing us to share brief moments together as we began the important work of learning.  From a funny story or joke to quotes, poems, and cheers, it was a special time to engage our attitude and effort (the two things we all control) in a positive, can-do mindset for the day.  Breathing deeply, moving body and mind, and making a commitment to be our personal best were the focus.  And as my educator Mom reminded me before my first day of student teaching, “Children are a living message we send to a future time we may not see; be mindful of the messages you share with them, especially during the first five minutes of each school day.”

Case-in-point…I recently visited with a former student who successfully completed three years with me as his teacher in three different grade levels. (I know; three years with me.  WHEW!)  He talked and laughed with me at length about the lessons he remembered most.  You know what?  Not one of the examples he mentioned involved subject matter, tests, or presentations.  More to the point, he marveled at how we worked together during each of those three years to create a class family, a supportive and safe community for all while learning the required curriculum.  He specifically mentioned Morning Message and how it continued to impact the start of his day, even with his own children.

Reflect on the first five minutes of your day today.  What do you wish they looked like?

Morning Message remains my personal reflection and quiet mindset time.  Passages, verses, prayers, poetry, and more help my mind focus and celebrate the abundance of my gratefulness as the day begins.  It’s a positive launching pad into the day by inviting gratefulness inside right away!  🙂

Journey or destination…day three

No matter the weather, St. M and I love a strong, solid walk each day.  Living in an area with four complete seasons, stunning trails, and more, it’s truly a breath of fresh air we both crave daily.  In fact, he often teases me with “it’s time to walk you now.”  This is one way we stop to gratefully process, release, and regenerate ourselves.

Many of you know St. M spent years running full marathons; 49 of them in fact.  While his overall health doesn’t lend itself well to this type of strenuous daily training now, his mindset of pacing and endurance are drilled into his being.  Years of cultivated habits are deeply ingrained (but, y’all know, though, if you see me running, you should run too because something is chasing both of us!).

You may have heard the phrase, “It’s the journey, not the destination.”  St. M says it this way: “It’s a marathon, not a sprint.”  They mean the same to me…let me explain.

His sporty-sentiment is directly related to gracefulness, gratitude, and thankfulness.  Picture both of us on the same walking course with the finish line being our successful return home.  Our walk time together is important, even if St. M’s natural competitiveness is to always be a step or so ahead.  As he walks, he focuses on the road or path, the next marker on the trail, the next mile, which giant hills to tackle, and such.  He is efficient and purposeful in his walking; he has a plan he must complete.  Me?  I walk with purpose while focusing on the brilliant blue sky, the trees, the flowering plants, the breeze in my face, waving at someone arriving or leaving, bird songs, SQUIRRELS!, and before I know it, we’ve completed our walking journey for the day.  We both are present, thankful, and grateful to be walking even if we’re focused on different incentives.  So…  Which walker do you relate to the most and why? 

Neither is right or wrong.  The real point is to gratefully be present and experience the opportunity.  We may have a destination/sprint in mind, but what a JOY it is to experience the walking journey/marathon along the way…even if St. M has to win by a step most of the time.  🙂