Tuesday, December 31, 2013

One Little Word for 2014: Pray

When this word first crossed through my mind, I thought, oh, I can't pick *that* word. That will be making far too big a deal of my faith; I mean, I'll actually have to write about it, on the blog. (Because you, know, God forbid I actually pick a word for the year and NOT blog about it!). But of course, once I had that actual conscious thought, I knew it WAS the word, whether I acknowledged it or not. And I've lived long enough on this planet to know that nothing good comes from stuffing it down and not living what and who you are. So that's my word for this coming year: Pray.

Prayer is such a fraught thing. When someone tells you they're praying for you, it can hold a myriad of agendas and baggage. I've been there and felt that. It can also be the biggest gift possible. When someone loves you (and loves you in a healthy, open and unconditional way) and says they're praying for you, it takes the weight of the world off your shoulders. I've been there too, and felt such weight being lifted; it's amazing.

A few weeks after mulling over the word, I was at Grandma's and leafing through some of her journals and lists and such. She has been such a keeper of information over the years. Aside from the logging of what she gave and got for Christmas or birthdays, and the binders full of ancestry information, she has jotted little thoughts and notes about her daily doings. They can be rather amusing to read now, out of context; I'll point to one or another and ask her if she remembers what this or that note was about, and if she does we talk about it for a bit. It can lead to some pretty interesting conversations.

On this visit, I happened upon this poem by Helen Steiner Rice, a Grandma favorite. And while Rice might not have written my personal must-have books of poetry, I have a sentimental heart for her writing and what it's meant to Grandma. In my very "me" way, I saw this poem as a sign of validation for my word (of course!), and had to snap a picture of it. Grandma is quite used to me taking out my phone and pointing-and-clicking it at various things in her apartment, and she usually gives a funny shrug and a smile.

You can tell by the picture that my grandmother had great penmanship, in her day. I would date this writing at maybe five years ago, given that there's some shake, but not nearly what she has now. It's unmistakably her handwriting, and there's preciousness to that for me as well.

For all my condescending little smiles about Rice's poems over the years (much fewer as I've gotten older and wiser) (and kinder, too), these words cut right to exactly why Pray is my word this year:

A New Year Prayer
You are ushering in another year
Untouched and freshly new,
So here I am to ask you God,
If you'll renew me too.
But, Father, I am well aware
I can't make it on my own,
So take my hand and hold it tight,
For I can't walk alone.

I've had years where prayer was a regular occurrence, and years when that has not been the case. The years themselves haven't been dramatically impacted by my prayer, or the lack thereof--I would never try to make a case for "and then I prayed and it all got better!" Sometimes it seems almost unmagically the opposite; real challenges arise when you lay yourself bare and see revealed your damn humanity and all the ugliness that implies. (Or maybe that's just me?)

The years themselves, and the events that have unfolded within them, have run the usual gamut of good, bad and indifferent. I would venture, though, that the difference has been subtle but palpable, between the times I've been in close communication with God and not--to me. Well, mostly to me. If you know me very well, you might be able to tell. (Maybe.)

That's where the C.S Lewis quote comes in: I pray to be that quote, to have that kind of need, and be changed by praying.

In a way, I feel like Pray could (should?) be my word, every year. But I also still feel that way about Pause (2010), Focus (2011), Grace (2012) and Light (this year). I love the way these words stay with me, and layer on top of each other. I've even said, laughing, that I must be a little slow, because I feel like I just get the word into my consciousness, and then wham, it's a new year with a new word. I need an overlap year, where I can hold onto the word from the past and move forward into the new word... it's all rather beautiful and complicated in my own mind... I'm sure you get it, too?

But the thing that makes me so happy about this word, and why I could see holding on to it for awhile, is that this word makes a lot of other words (and things) fall into place. At least, that's how I imagine it *could* go... If I put the proper attention to living this word, I have optimism that other priorities will align. Of course, now that I've said it out loud, the "other shoe dropping" part of my nature is poised, waiting for something to mess it up and distract me, obfuscate my vision from that which I know is important. You know, my usual ADHD. Awesome.

Here we go, off into another year! Wish me luck. Or, better yet, pray for me. ;)

Monday, December 30, 2013

Small stones: January mindful writing challenge

As has been evident on the blog these past few months, I struggle to make it all fit. With work, home and life, the effort of noting the everyday gratitudes and inspirations and writing them down has proven one task too many. Cooking happens, but it's pretty ad hoc, and is more often than not along the lines of assembly rather than creation. When creation happens, the act alone takes my focus, and remembering to record it in any fashion seems like a faint memory. Golly, that sounds so pathetic as I write it! It's not, really. I think it's just called life.

As was the case in April with the blogging challenge, and again in November, if I am faced with a commitment, something I said I'd do every day, I somehow rally the Puritan work ethic and soldier on. Go freaking figure.

Well, here I am with a challenge again. This one too had its promptings from Lisa (who pointed me in the direction of the April challenge), and when I saw that the theme is 31 Days of Waking Up, well, I knew I had to sign up!

The idea is to observe one thing every day and write about it. They're called "small stones," meant to be unintimidating, I suppose. Though for me, fewer words tends to mean editing, really paring down the blather. Yikes.

But, quotes like:
“Use your life to wake you up.” ~ Pema Chodron
Instructions for living a life.
Pay attention.
Be astonished.
Tell about it. ~ Mary Oliver

...further sealed the deal. I must participate, mustn't I?

Stay tuned. Play along (I would love the company!). My goal is for January to be a month of observance: small stones, daily.

Friday, December 27, 2013

Friday night grateful moment, paused for a re-do

Have no fear, I'll be back! Just considering options and pondering possibilities in the new year.


Friday, December 20, 2013

Friday night grateful moment

A Facebook friend posted this photo today, and it fits my day, my week, my year. But especially my day. See that snow? Seth and I drove for 8 hours through a variety of weathers, all of it below freezing and often with precipitation. But we're at our destination safely, and ready to enjoy a weekend with family.

The idea presented in the words above is one I resonate with. Gratitude in ordinary and beautiful moments are my very favorite. It's so easy to be grateful when something big and grand and lovely comes your way, it's a better idea (and harder too) to practice gratitude when work and life and commitments and responsibilities knock at your door night and day, and all you (well, I) want is a big, grand and lovely thing. Ah well. That's life. 

I reflected as I drove along today (between jokes and songs and chats with Seth) that I've been doing these weekly gratitude lists for five years. That number kinda crept up on me. I'm thinking of changing it up in the new year... don't know how yet, but thinking about it got me a little excited at the possibilities. I'll keep you posted, of course.

For now, I'm grateful, as always, for the many blessings that are a part of my daily comings and goings. God is good. 

I hope you have a restful weekend going into the holidays. I know I will--there will be Rummikube or Scrabble with Grandma, breakfast with good friends, laughter and fun with the aunties and Seth, and snow! I am happy to be in one place for a couple of days, and if it snows more, so be it. 


Friday, December 13, 2013

Friday night grateful list

I may nod off in the midst of writing, as tiredness has descended and I hear my pillow calling... If I trail off, just know that I'll be back, later... awake.

It's been a long week, but a good week. Bit by bit, getting things done. And, after all, it's the holidays. Can't say I've been zooming headlong into the holiday spirit, but I *did* get the tree up, and the minimum of household bling to celebrate the holidays.

It's been weirdly, bitterly cold for a number of days, but finally warmed up to "normal" today. Felt positively balmy. I'm grateful our furnace held up, that we have the stove to supplement the warmth, and most grateful that we're not at 4 degrees F anymore. That was too cold for me!

I'm very grateful tonight for my men; for their love and support, for our talks and laughter, and for our funny little quirky family moments. We make me smile.

I got a new doctor recently, and having a good chat with him during the intake made me very grateful for good medical care. 

The winter fruits have all arrived, and I'm grateful for them. I may not enjoy black grapes and pomegranates and mandarin oranges as much the summer fruits, but I still do enjoy them very much, and I'm glad that I don't have to rely on cold storage apples, bananas and navel oranges--though if those are your bag, more power to you.

I'm grateful for the warm fabrics of winter. This relates directly to the cold temperatures, but I'm not sure what I'd do without flannel pajamas, flannel sheets, fleece socks, tights, boots and sweaters. Next, you'll probably see me in fleece-lined jeans! Ha. I can only imagine how cuddly (if cuddly = hefty) I'd feel in fleece-lined anything!!

The pups have been super loving lately. Their sweet eyes and affectionate ways are so endearing. I have turned into the dog lady who tells stories about their pets, seriously. I was at a cookie exchange party last weekend, and yep, told dog stories to two friends for probably a half hour. Good grief. I guess it's probably a little obvious that I am grateful for our pups.

I was very grateful that for most of the cold snap it was very clear and sunny out. That makes a huge difference over having the fog and gray descend, definitely. There were many days when the image below was true:

Life is amazing, and I'm so glad to be in it. Someone came in to work a bit grumpy one morning this week and my cheerful retort was, "At least it's another day above ground." Took him a minute to get it, but he did. (And then I felt totally like my dad too--that's something he would have said. Ha. I guess it's true, you end up as your parents in the end... )

I hope your weekend is fabulous and warm!

(And hey, I stayed awake, no nodding off! Pretty awesome.)


Friday, December 6, 2013

Friday night grateful moment

Feels good to be back to my regular routine of Friday night gratefulness. I'm all for daily gratitude, but my weekly ritual is one I've come to cherish, especially after a little break.

It was one of those short-long weeks--not enough time in the day to get it all done, but boy did a couple of the days feel especially loooong. (One I even wanted to hit the reset button on.) But, as all weeks do, time passed and here we are at the most marvelous night of them all. 

I'm so grateful for our fireplace. It's not a traditional fireplace, in that it's a pellet stove, but boy the light is lovely and the warmth is welcome. I really enjoyed sitting by the wood stove at my brother and SIL's house over the Thanksgiving break, but the heat actually drove me into the next room a couple of times--powerful stuff! Our stove is more "subtle" (read = less effective), but I do so appreciate the ambience.

The holiday season has arrived like a freight train. I know, the Christmas stuff was up at Costco in August, and many other stores barely got Halloween gear off the shelves before throwing the red and green and tinsel at us, but I managed to hold off until Thanksgiving... mostly. Having Thanksgiving so late in November means the holiday season feels really compressed. (Zoom.) I'm grateful for the holidays and all goodwill associated with this season.

Dear friend Corinne sent me some bulbs for my birthday and they are blooming already! I love an amaryllis bloom! I am grateful for my heirloom friend.

(Catch a glimpse of the sweet pups photobombing my shot? They are dears.)

I'm grateful, always, for inspiration. Whether it's to try a new recipe (thank you Pinterest--shhhh, Lisa!), or new way of listing goals (thanks, Ma and Shelby) or even color (thank you, Pantone), I enjoy looking around and seeing what's new, fresh and lovely to me. Being reminded that all I really need to do is look up and open my eyes; that's the key.

Snow came to visit this week, happily (for me). I was quite excited to wake on Wednesday morning to an inch or two, and with our current deep freeze temperatures, it has stuck around. We are expecting very cold weather through this weekend, at least, and I would love it if we got a bit more snow, just to keep the stuff we already have company!

Just saw this new Nike ad, and it's pretty inspiring too! Fun times in the winter months--might as well enjoy it, since it's going to be here for a while.

With the super-cold temps come worries about pets and pipes and agriculture and people less fortunate. I am grateful to live in a community that looks out for these things, as evidenced by a local church opening up it's doors for those who might be without shelter right now, providing a warm place to sleep. 

I was happy to partake in a birthday dinner this week--four of us have dinner together at some point around this time of year. It started out for just the Oct-Nov ladies, but the other two are Dec-Jan, so why not expand the merrymaking? Joyous times with good conversation and great food--definitely high on my grateful list this week!

Lastly but not leastly, my guys. I am grateful, always, for our love and our affection. I couldn't be more blessed to be loved and cared for by them both.

I hope that wherever you are as you read this, you're warm and feeling grateful.


Sunday, December 1, 2013

Final post of the gratitude challenge: Day 30
(and a few thoughts on gratitude)

The word for Day 30: Self.

I am not opposed to the selfie, goodness knows I have flipped the lens around on the phone more than a time or two to capture a good hair day or an acne-free moment! But in approaching the word self, I felt pulled toward something else.

Thinking on those words, how they relate to self, and how they relate to gratitude, made me so grateful for this month, for this challenge, and for what gratitude can accomplish. I've mentioned it before, but the circle of gratitude never fails, it really doesn't.

"Gratitude can transform common days into thanksgivings, turn routine jobs into joy, and change ordinary opportunities into blessings." -William Arthur

I saw a few posts in social media this month that put down the idea of a 30-day challenge, of a month where thankfulness is celebrated. The general theme of the complaints seemed to be that we should be grateful every day, not just one month or one day out of the year. I couldn't agree more. But what surprised me was the lack of general goodwill that seemed to surround the notion of allowing others the space to speak their gratitude in whatever way is meaningful to them. I mean, look away if others speaking their thankfulness is somehow annoying, you know?

This was the first year I've participated in a gratitude challenge. In past years I have seen posts trot by via social media and had slightly negative thoughts about the concept myself--how trite, how forced, how shallow. Somehow, this year, with my lack of real time and energy around blogging, the idea of a photo challenge through Instagram seemed doable. And the act of looking at the chosen word and thinking about it--sometimes in advance, sometimes extremely last-minute--became an exercise in daily gratitude that I appreciated.

The trend toward gratitude as a marketable notion, something to be embraced by the masses, is bound to give even the most grateful of us a bit of a hollow feeling--something along the lines of an art masterpiece being slapped onto every fridge magnet, coffee mug, and over-the-sofa posters: one-size-fits-all gratitude, if you will. It's what happens when an idea becomes universal, or close to it. But I am willing to take that down side for all the positives I witness from the spread of gratitude. And, for the small amount of negative noise around the rituals of Thanksgiving and thankfulness, there was much more voice given to the benefits of gratitude.  .

This TED talk is worth the 14 minutes to consider living a grateful life. Many of his thoughts resonate with what I've found to be true about happiness following gratitude, not spawning it.

I don't have to struggle (most days) to achieve gratitude. I'm not saying that because everything is sunshine and rainbows and unicorns in my life. I recognize my blessings, daily. But more to the point, I recognize that my attitude has a lot more to do with how I'm feeling on any given day than the actual circumstances do. There are times when I feel like I should apologize for having this approach, as if the fact that many people struggle to find happiness is somehow my burden (I should cheer them up?), that I need to chill with the gratitude, just to fit in better. Can't do it.

I've had a few situations lately that have shown me how embedded gratitude is in my life, and I couldn't be happier about that. There's an "other shoe dropping" feeling that clutches at my heart as I write that sentence, knowing that tomorrow the Universe could throw myself or a dear loved one a giant curveball that shakes up my idea of gratitude completely. I guess, in acknowledging this, I'm saying that's OK. It's going to be what it's going to be; the only thing I can pick is how I respond.

I wish you gratitude. Daily. Weekly. Monthly. Yearlong, joyful, solid and unshakeable gratitude. Me, I'll be back on Friday night. ;)

Friday, November 29, 2013

One more week of gratitude: Days 23 through 29

Day 23: Taste
I couldn't possibly have only one photo to represent taste, as varied and seasonal as my tastes are! I looked back through some of my favorite food shots of the year and picked the ones that speak to me right now. As the summer is sadly past, I will begin craving fresh and summery foods in 10... 9... 8... sigh. I am grateful for the love of fresh and healthful food (with a side of cheese, of course!).

Day 24: Comfort

Nov. 24 is our anniversary and I took and posted this picture before I really clued in on the word for the day: Comfort. While usually I would think warmth or carbohydrates, on this particular day, this particular picture spoke comfort to me. I am very grateful for the comfort that husband and I provide to each other, and am so blessed by our eight years together.

Day 25: Family

I am very grateful for the family I was born into, and the many things that each family member has brought into my life. This photo from the '70s brings me joy and a smile every time I see it, and given that it's on my desk at work, I get to see it and smile quite often!

Day 26: Routine

Morning rituals mean a great deal to me, and get me up and going! My cuppa is a big part of that ritual, whether coffee or tea (on rare occasions I have been known to give up coffee for a bit, go figure), and my mugs are also very important in the routine too. I'm grateful for routines and the structure and familiarity they bring to my mornings.

Day 27: Creativity

Whenever I feel a little dry in the creativity department, all I need to do is pick up a food or craft magazine, or open up Pinterest, and my creativity wheels start turning. I'm grateful for creativity ebbs and flows, and for the return of ideas after a dry spell. It makes me appreciate it all the more.

Day 28: Sky

Thanksgiving morning on Bainbridge Island. Beautiful and foggy, almost mystical. I'm grateful for skies that aren't always blue and filled with sunshine, and I'm grateful for Thanksgiving with family.

Day 29: Movement

Well, this one might be a little tongue in cheese, but it's in keeping with the kind of holiday we've had, which is very very relaxing. Ahhh. Mei Mei on my lap, and this was about all the movement I needed today. I am very grateful for the ability to unwind, for the fireplace and the company and the peace and quiet. Bliss.

I hope that wherever you are, your grateful list is long and your hearth is warm. Ours certainly is!

Friday, November 22, 2013

Thirty days of gratitude: Days 18, 19, 20, 21 and 22

Here I am with another weekly wrap-up masquerading as a Friday night grateful moment! What I love about the season right now is that there are grateful moments everywhere, every day. It's what I love about this time of year.

I have been enjoying this photo challenge quite a bit, even though it ends up creeping into the evenings and my creativity gets a little hampered. When I'm savvy enough to look up the daily grateful word in the morning, it can follow me throughout the day, and that's a nice thing. But often I'm up and out the door before I remember, and it's a wild little scramble to get my act together that evening.

But, still, I'm grateful, even in the noise of the day. One morning this week I was caught off guard by a feeling of gratitude while at a traffic light. Probably there was some song playing on the CD player that poked into my sentiment, and I had a little tear at the awesome blessings that we have as a family. Blessed. Loved. Grateful.

Day 18: Change

My one nod to the holidays (so far) has been putting some bulbs out to sprout. And oh how they have sprouted! I love watching the green shoots climb up to the sunshine. Watching how they change is like I imagine God feels, watching a child grow from infancy into adulthood--zoom!

Day 19: Knowledge

When I think of what it is that I really know--as Oprah says, "What I know for sure," it is that love is really all. I think I've heard it said, "No matter what the question, the answer is love." I agree.

Day 20: Scent

This was one of those days when I had nothing. Scent? Grateful for smell? Really? What smell, where? Nothing. Then toward the end of the evening--one of our first really cold nights--I made hot chocolate. The scent wafted up, and I knew what I was grateful for. Hot chocolate is a bit of a ritual around here in the winter, and I love making up mugs for the boys and having mini marshmallows and whipped cream to "enhance" the experience--and the scent!

Later in the week I roasted some garlic and made some croutons with garlic, and I thought of the word again, and was re-grateful for scent. Roasted garlic is really heavenly smelling!

Day 21: Kindness

I am so grateful for kindness in this world, and in my life. There is nothing like kindness to set a day, a person, an act, apart from the ordinary humdrum day, person or act. Kindness makes everything better. Sometimes kindness looks like correction--think of putting a kid on the right path rather than allowing them to continue down the wrong one--but done correctly and with the right heart, kindness really does rule.

Day 22: Home

There are many things I like about our actual physical abode. Right now, on this cold winter night, I love that it is warm--the fire is going and we're all tucked in. In the summer I love the light coming through the windows, and the amazing view. But the best thing about this house isn't something you can touch; it's the love and laughter we have here together, we three.

Wherever you are, I hope you are warm and welcoming the weekend.


Sunday, November 17, 2013

Thirty days of gratitude: Day 17

The word for today is technology:

This one is easy for me, in thinking about how much technology impacts my life--every day, all day. My favorite forms of technology probably revolve around connection--Skype and phone/text for family and friends, Facebook and Instagram too.

Today I was grateful for technology in the form of a livestream discussion from Hunter College in NYC. A theologian I read and admire, Timothy Keller, was discussing whether life can have meaning without God, with a humanist chaplain from Harvard University, Greg Epstein. Being able to hear their discussion, as they were having it, from the other side of the country... that's something to be thankful for.

Thirty days of gratitude: Day 16

The word for day 16 is weather:

The weather has been really lovely this fall, for the most part. I've been very grateful for the sunshine and blue skies, even if the day starts out gray. The wind generally seems to sweep out the clouds and bring in a little sun by the end of the day.

I missed a few foggy days a couple of weeks back by being out of town, and while storms do come and go, I see them as just part and parcel of autumn. They certainly haven't been extreme, yet, though that may come. I see snow sneak down the hills toward the valley, and I can't help but wish for a few flakes in my backyard, but no luck there yet.

When I thought of how to illustrate this word, this song immediately came to mind. I really do believe you bring the weather with you. Make it sunshine.

Friday, November 15, 2013

Thirty days of gratitude: Days 11, 12, 13, 14 and 15

This week has gone by in a blur. Yes, I've done my #gratitude30 thing, but only over on Instagram, feeding to Facebook and Twitter. But the blog? Yep, nope, none of that action, obviously.

Day 11: Indulgence

It seems rather humorous as I write this now (with chocolate bread pudding in my tummy), but earlier this week, when I took this picture, I was working hard at being "good" with my nutrition--salads and kale and such, and no sweets. So I decided to veer away from what I normally would post as an indulgence (dessert!), and took a pic of my new flannel pajamas (which are so very warm and cozy). Since that time, however, the parents have come to visit and while salads have stayed on the menu, sweet things have joined as well. The healthful way of being will return on Sunday!

Day 12: Nature

We are surrounded by beauty in our part of the country, but on this day I was feeling an autumn nostalgia for the trip that Corinne and I took last fall to NYC. Nature is such a big part of my world, and living close to nature has become very important to me in recent years. So seeing this patch of green on day 3 of our trip, when I was about up to here with crowds on the subway, felt pretty good. I can only imagine how grateful the people of the city are, to have this place to come and breathe.

Day 13: Rest

This guy knows how to rest. He can sleep all night and then wake up, have breakfast and nap for awhile. One of the many reasons we are such kindred spirits.

Day 14: Friendship

Seth has a longtime friend who came with us on vacation a couple of summers back. (I would not take just any kid away with our family for a week, that's for sure! This young man is special to us.) I am so appreciative of their friendship through the years. I think one of the hashtags I used for Instagram was #brotherfromanothermother.

Day 15: Beauty

I feel blessed to see beauty around me, every day. Some of that is because there really ARE beautiful things around me, but part of it is because I choose it. I choose to see beauty, to acknowledge the mundane (the sky! the fields! the pups! look at that tree! squirrel!). I love beauty.

Have a great weekend; enjoy the blessings around you and I hope your grateful list is long!

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Thirty days of gratitude: Day 10

The word for today? Words.

This one was a little tough at first; I mean, words? Words are everything. Should I pick just one word, or a poem, a quote or something longer? 

But then I decided to stop overthinking it, and at that moment I wandered past the box of haikubes in our bedroom. There you have it--serendipity.

There's no special code to the collection of words above, though they did all present themselves and pretty much asked to be included. Not really pushy, just present and ready to be used.

I love words.

Thirty days of gratitude: Day 9

The word for today is music.

There are so many styles of music that appeal to me, but when I thought about music I'm grateful for, it's the music of my childhood: hymns. There is nothing like a group of people singing a hymn together--congregational singing, that's what I love. If it's a capella, that's all the better.

This hymn has all the words I need to hear, and need to sing. It's reassuring in times of stress and trial, and full of praise too. If you've been lucky enough to hear it sung well, you know the depth that the "with my soul," can add.

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