Grateful for a Summer at Home


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Photo by Kary Schumpert.
In the last week, I read a travel memoir, skimmed through an atlas, made a list of cities I would like to visit for weekend trips, and scoured a travel website for tips on my dream journey of a lifetime. However, I have not been outside of my current locale, Albuquerque, in more than three months and I won’t be going anywhere this summer, either. I have a serious case of wanderlust. I was feeling discontented and disappointed that travel is not going to be much of an option for me in the next few months due to budget constraints.

I knew I needed to sit with my disappointment, instead of denying it. After giving myself a little time to deal with this homebound reality, I discovered that mostly I was feeling hemmed in by the seeming lack of adventure in my near future. I was feeling sad, because I had expectations that were different than my reality. I realized that was my problem. When my expectations and my reality align, I am blissfully content and joyful. I was out of alignment. My wanderlust ideals were colliding with my local existence.

Believe me, I am a homebody. I love to stay home and curl up with a good book, my favorite music playing in the background. I love cooking dinner at home and savoring a glass of wine. I love puttering around the house, or enjoying a morning on the patio drinking coffee and watching the sky turn black to pink to blue. I love going to a nearby park with my borrowed telescope and viewing the stars and planets. What usually feels like a cozy option, though, was feeling more like a punishment or a slight curse.  As soon as I voiced my discontent to myself, while making breakfast one lazy weekend morning, I got a little perspective. I realized that I needed to look at my feelings of being chained at home through the lens of gratitude. I made a list of things that I was grateful for, with this idea in mind.

I am grateful that I will have lots of time at home in Albuquerque this summer.

I am grateful that I will get to make a serious attempt at a patio garden this summer.

I am grateful that I won’t be fighting highway traffic or having to share a beautiful vista with countless others.

I am grateful that I have summer employment to fill in the gap of my school-year job.

I am grateful that I live in a beautiful place with lots of hiking trails and biking routes and access nearby.

I am grateful for a summer to concentrate on some spiritual, physical, and mental fitness goals.

I am grateful for health, employment, and contentment with how things are in my life.

I am grateful that I will have extra time to finish a large writing project.

I am grateful that I will have time to complete an online class that I have been postponing.

I am grateful that I have a whole shelf of books that I have been meaning to read over the last couple of years.

I am grateful that I have a few friends who will also be in town this summer.

I am grateful that I will have a chance to put together a budget and plan for a dream trip to possibly take in a couple of years.

I am grateful that I invested in a few books about sightseeing in Albuquerque and New Mexico.

I am grateful that I have a pantry full of ingredients and a shelf full of cookbooks to try new recipes and dishes and share with friends.

I am grateful that I have made a list of some out-of-town-but-still-close places to see and visit this summer.

I am grateful that several museums, that I haven’t visited yet, offer upcoming free and/or discounted entry fees this summer.

I am grateful that I have a good camera to take pictures and find some new angles from which to enjoy my favorite local haunts and landmarks.

I am grateful for a small and cozy home in a gorgeous city.

I am grateful that I am taking initiative to invite friends from nearby towns, who might also be on the same kinds of budget constraints, to come and stay with me.

It only took a few minutes to change my perspective. I usually think that travel does that. However, I realized that the view of home, all of a sudden, looks very lovely indeed. What other parts of life, where there might be discontent, also need a new view through the beautiful lens of gratitude?

 

 

 

Snippets of Life and Gratitude in Pictures


Sometimes, the pictures can do it better than words. This is just a little bit of life from the last five months or so. The little moments add up to lots of gratitude. This collage doesn’t represent everything, and that’s exactly the point. Peace and love and light come in fits and starts.

 

 

The Resolution of Gratitude and Thank You Notes


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Photo by Kary Schumpert.

 

“Gratitude unlocks the fullness of life. It turns what we have into enough, and more. It turns denial into acceptance, chaos to order, confusion to clarity. It can turn a meal into a feast, a house into a home, a stranger into a friend.”–Melody Beattie

When we were little, my mother always made sure we wrote thank you notes to friends and relatives for the gifts we received for birthdays and Christmases. In later years, my grandmother and great-aunt had saved some of those letters and shared them with us. We laughed together, remarking on the childhood cursive and funny phrasing, but I noticed that my grandmother put them away as if they were precious jewels.My great-aunt was a minimalist, before that word was commonly tossed around, and kept very little. When she died a couple of years ago, the things she had saved were albums full of family photographs and our childhood letters, especially those thank you notes.

The summer after high school graduation, I wrote mountains of notes for the gifts propelling me into adulthood. That seems to be the last time that I was consistent about writing thank you letters. I am ashamed to say that I did not keep up with the tradition of writing thank you notes, despite receiving wonderful and thoughtful gifts for many occasions over the years. In fact, I am just now writing thank you notes for the gifts I received at Christmas. It’s for the first time in a long time.

In mid-January, some people’s New Year’s Resolutions have already crashed and burned. I have always loved the tradition of coming up with resolutions and trying to find meaningful ones that will stick. In the last few years, I have tried a different tack, by getting very specific about one or two goals, or going with a larger theme that reflects all aspects of my life. This year, I have decided to focus on gratitude. I want gratitude to become my praxis, my practice. This is less about self-improvement and more about a spiritual shift after some hard-won lessons. This is something I want to become a lifelong practice, not just a quickly-expressed-but-easily-forgotten resolution.

I have read about people keeping gratitude journals, or making lists of things that they are grateful for. I love both of those ideas. So now I plan to jot down things I am grateful for in my all-purpose journal that also serves as a repository for writing ideas, dreams, goals, meditations, and all other things. I think it will be fun to find bits of gratitude sprinkled among the pages. When appropriate, I will also take pictures of things that spark my gratitude, like sunrises, a good meal, and glimpses of a full moon. Taking time to write down my gratitude and to take pictures of my gratitude, I hope, will help me to be more grateful, to more fully realize my gratitude.

I also want to examine gratitude, and not just be grateful for the good things and the beautiful things. I want to find gratitude in all. I want to find gratitude in the dark moments, in the sad times, in the things that might otherwise be difficult to find gratitude.

As well, I realize that these are all internal moments. I also want to share my gratitude for the people whom I love. I have decided to pick up that beautiful, and ancient, art of letter writing and go beyond the traditional thank you note. I plan to write thank you letters to the people I love and really say thank you and express what they mean to me. It might be on a birthday, or when I think of a friend, or when I know someone is having a hard time.

“As we express our gratitude, we must never forget that the highest appreciation is not to utter words, but to live by them.”–John F. Kennedy

The quote from Kennedy makes me realize that gratitude is so much more than saying thank you. It is taking the meaning deep into our hearts, and living it fully. It means saying thank you for the big and small, aloud and in the quiet ways we live. In reality, it means writing the thank you notes for gifts, but also sharing our gifts of talent and time with others. It means being present. It means being open. It means living fully.

“It is through gratitude for the present moment that the spiritual dimension of life opens up.”–Eckhart Tolle

Here’s to a new year and a new practice. Here’s to gratitude. What does gratitude mean to you? How do you express gratitude? What is the practice that you hope will bring more meaning and joy into your life?

 

Little Bits of Gratitude in Pictures


I am grateful for much, and these pictures only begin to scratch at the surface, but they do represent those little bits. Happy Thanksgiving!

Gratitude For the Little Things


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The word gratitude gets tossed around a lot in November when Thanksgiving nears. It also seems to be gaining ground in popular culture with gratitude journals and gratitude lists. While things that get popular tend to bug me, and I am a pretty mainstream kind of girl, this is a pleasing trend. Something as powerful as gratitude should get attention year-round and not just as a result of a holiday or a pop-culture phenomenon.

Sometimes, we do need the reminder, the prompt. On the days where gratitude does not come spilling out of my being, or when I get carried away in mundane routines, it helps to return to the source of gratitude, the heart. Sometimes, to return to the heart it helps to make a list of the people, the emotions, the things that fill the heart with gratitude. For me, the list can be long and varied. But, almost always it’s for the little things. Some items on the list have deep meaning, some items on the list are more superficial. Here is a list, in no particular order, of things that fill me with gratitude today.

*a mug of hot tea
*sunsets
*sunrises
*chilly days
*receiving a text message from a good friend
*playing board games with my family
*poems that make me cry
*a fireplace, with or without a fire
*a long run at the beginning of the day
*a long road trip
*zipping my tent at night
*pre-schoolers who are excited to see me when I come to teach
*a stranger holding the door for me
*snow caught on winter branches
*realizing a long-held dream
*being on the threshold of meeting a big and scary goal
*the moon, at any time, in any phase
*the crack of a spine of a new composition notebook
*shivering and then enjoying warmth under one of my grandmother’s quilts
*sending a handwritten letter to a friend in the mail
*wearing cowboy boots with my favorite faded jeans
*going to a concert of an artist I love and singing along
*eating watermelon (seeds and all) and strawberries (tops and all) in summer
*digging in a compost bin
*repotting plants into terra cotta pots
*the beauty of daffodils in early spring
*walking alone at midnight
*catching up with a good friend over tea, a run, or shared food
*laughing until I cry
*crying until I laugh
*unintended puns
*writing words that resonate with someone else
*wearing a turtleneck and corduroy jeans (my favorite outfit since I was three)
*a fabulously fake and gaudy bling ring on my finger
*a bookshelf full of good books
*framed pictures of family and friends, and my favorite art, hung on the walls
*learning something new that is difficult enough to make my head hurt
*pausing and taking a deep breath
*a good country song
*hugs
*bandanas
*reading late into the night, bleary-eyed
*a good long soak in the bathtub (and saving for rare occasions to savor the water)
*New Mexico
*the pitter patter of my heart when I have opened myself up to be honest and vulnerable

What fills you with gratitude? What would be on your list today?

Thanks, Birth Control!


More than 99%It’s the second annual “Thanks, Birth Control!” Day and I am celebrating! I am grateful for birth control for many reasons, for my own life and for others. I am grateful that people can plan when they will have children. I am grateful that I can teach all day and then send those cute little kids home to their families. I am grateful that there are so many more methods that are affordable and accessible. Birth control is not a bad word, it’s a wonderful option!

The good folks at Bedsider.org created these wonderful images to share and I am doing as they asked. It was hard to pick one, so I am sharing my four favorites! In addition to the fun social media campaign for today, they have great information for women and men about different methods of birth control, lots of articles, and numerous other resources on this and related topics.

Affordable accessible Big Deal 9MonthsAwesome

30 Days of Thanks


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Thanksgiving has passed. November has come and gone. The leftovers of Thanksgiving have been eaten or are stuffed in baggies and plastic containers for lunches in the coming week. Some people have already moved on to Christmas and others are just counting down the days until 2013 ends. I am reveling in the last day of a long weekend, curled up in sweats, drinking coffee, pondering work and the week ahead, and wondering about being grateful.

A couple of years ago, I noticed some friends make mention of things they were thankful for in their status updates on Facebook, every day during the month of November. I admired the idea and I’ve noticed more friends doing so this year. Day-to-day updates on Facebook are not my thing, but I wanted to participate this year. A close friend shared the website of 30 Days of Thanks and I took inspiration. Why not take a holiday and make it a sentiment that carries us through a month? Why not take an abstract holiday and turn it into a chronicle of the heart? I kept a running mental list, knowing that I would share it at the end of the month. It’s not my first time taking note of the things that fill me with thankfulness; in fact it often seems easy to find the little things that lead me to a state of gratitude. When you start with gratitude, it can spread like a healthy disease.

Here’s a snapshot of what filled with me gratitude in November 2013. Obviously, the list could change from day to day, month to month. Another month, another year and the list might be completely different. When one is limited to 30 things, there are going to be things that don’t make the list. I like the thought of this project continuing, in my journal, on slips of paper, on napkins, on sticky notes, and in my mind and heart. Gratitude is portable and permanent, smoothing in the cracks of discontentment and grouchiness. It helps to come back to these things, these feelings, these talismans.

1. Family – This might be an obvious one for most people, but I don’t always let my family know how grateful I am. These are the people who shape me, ground me, and love me. These are the people who are honest with me. These are the people that put up with me and help me to clean up my messes (both real and metaphorical). I love them and I’m learning to be grateful for that love and concern.

2. Friends – I don’t have many close friends who live near, besides my sister. Most of my closest friends are from college and a few from high school. I struggle to keep these friendships real and to keep them from unraveling. I realize that friendships, like cars, need maintenance and regular check-ups. They need communication and time. I am trying to find ways to keep up these friendships and realize that they change over time and distance. We make time for what’s important and I want to make my friends a priority. Maybe the gratitude will help guide me to that place.

3. Writing – In my secret dream life (yes, a whole alternative dream world that exists), I have always considered myself a writer, even when the evidence in my real life was to the contrary. Over the years, I’ve kept journals in fits and starts, but it wasn’t until I started this blog over three years ago, that I began to take writing seriously, as a hobby, as a goal. Now, I am writing much more and I’m enjoying the heck out of it. The blog is fun, and I like the challenge and the ability to keep it on my terms. In the last year, I’ve gotten braver. I’ve written things and completed them, with much editing in between the start and finish. I have also submitted things for publication. Just a few days ago, I learned that one article I submitted a  year ago will be published next year. This year I have had an essay published in a local anthology and an article published in an online journal. I’m grateful for the try and the bravery (and audacity) to send it out into the world. It’s a dream and I’m grateful that it’s becoming a verb in my life.

4. Quilts and afghans made by my grandmother – These blankets are part of my past, the fruits of Nan’s labors. They’re always folded at the foot of the bed, but in November as the weather turns colder they are like loving armor on a freezing night. This is functional art made by the hands of a woman who loved me and whom I miss. It makes me realize what a beautiful gift these blankets are and how lucky I am to have them to keep me warm and cloaked in love.

5. Fall, Winter and the change of seasons – I always think of Thanksgiving as the beginning of winter, even as we celebrate the harvest and the bounty of a growing season. To me, this is when we go inside and turn inward. I love the change of seasons and the rituals that come with those stops and starts, the gradual ending of the year.

6. Work – Of course, I’m grateful for a job so that I can pay rent, buy food, and meet my basic (and more) needs. I’m thankful, though, that I have a job that allows me to use my talents. I get to teach and greet students with passion and share that devotion for the environment. To get to do what I love is amazing and rare. Since this month has been particularly rough at work, for a multitude of reasons that I won’t go into here, it helps to be reminded of that.

7. Books – The past couple of weekends, I have curled up with a pile of novels and have ignored the outer world for hours at a time. I am grateful to have books, ideas, and stories that let me escape, love, and learn. I am grateful that I grew up in a home of readers. I have never been bored for a minute of my life, because I have had books to read, and for that I am grateful. I am grateful that amusement doesn’t have to come from a screen or something that has to be charged and reset.

8. Breakfast – Breakfast has always been my favorite meal. Of course, I’m grateful that I don’t have to worry about where my next meal will be from, but more than that, I’m grateful that I can treasure and enjoy the food. It’s not just for health and sustenance, but a way to be with the people I love and to share in community. For me, an occasional breakfast out is a way to greet the day, chat with my sister, enjoy being human, support a small local business, and savor good food.

9. Music – Whether it’s a humming to a catchy song on the radio, listening to a Beethoven symphony, singing all the words to a song playing from one of my favorite CDs, going to hear a band play live, or mumbling through an off-key tune in the shower, I’m grateful for music. It lifts my spirits and my energy, and it humbles me to think of the talents that people possess and are willing to share in this big world. Music is truly a miracle and a gift!

10. Sunrises and Sunsets – In college, it seemed easy to make time to see the sunset every day. I remember thinking it was bizarre that this wasn’t a daily ritual for most people. Now, as I buzz from home to school to class, I’m usually stealing glances at the sunset or sunrise from a car window. Whether it’s a fast few seconds or a deliberate hour, I’m thankful for these beautiful moments. It helps to be reminded that while beauty comes every day, it’s not too much to slow down and appreciate it.

11. Thanksgiving – I’m thankful for this holiday, but I know that there is controversy in it. If you go back and look at the treatment of Native Americans in this country, it has been a long and hellacious history. Not to gloss over that, but I love that we have a holiday dedicated to gratitude, where the idea of gathering with loved ones while sharing food is ideal. It’s my favorite holiday for all that it means and what we strive to make it. I am grateful for the quiet day with family sharing good food.

12. Slow downs on Saturdays and Sundays – I’m grateful for the weekend and two days off to slow down, recover, gain strength, and indulge in energies and efforts that feed my soul, even when they aren’t the things that pay the rent or the bills. I’m grateful for recognizing the other part of me, and making time for that other, as well.

13. Constant efforts at trying to improve the world – I am so grateful for the seemingly endless number of people who get up and try to make the world better. People do it in all sorts of ways. Gathering food for a food drive, starting a charity, participating in local politics, tossing change in for a good cause, trying to shape policy, fighting for democracy and education and the environment, sharing time and talents. There are so many ways that people share and strive and so many things that people do to astound me. They are the unsung heroes, for their grace, for their efforts, for their inspiration. We all have different visions that we see for the world, but I am grateful for all those out there trying, in big and small ways. Thank you.

14. Health – I had illness and wellness in this month and I’m so grateful for good health. I realize there are so many without it. I tend to take for granted my general good health. Having fever and sickness helped to remind me to be humbled and grateful. It also reminded me that I need to take charge of my health and be a better caretaker of my body. I need to show my gratitude for health by making healthy choices and living a healthful life.

15. A change in schedule – I get used to my routines: setting the alarm for a certain time, scooting out the door for work at a certain time, falling into bed at a certain time. I’m grateful for a change in the schedule, even if it’s just an hour and even if it’s because of the end of Daylight Savings. I also like when I can stay up really, really late or get up really, really early and enjoy a different perspective, a slight change in time. I love when I might go in to work late because I’ll work late, or have an early afternoon off at the end of the week. I love when a slight shift gets me out of a rut. That little shove, that little budge makes me grateful for both the constancy and the change.

16. The public library – I don’t think I can say enough about this one. The library is the place I love the most, probably even more than home. I have found ideas here, found new authors here, written stories here. I have hidden in the study carrels when I wanted to hide from the world. I have found inspiration here when I was broke and desperate. I have found the tools I needed here when I didn’t know where to turn. I have overheard conversations, helped someone find a book, and watched as young and old fall in love with the written word. When I don’t know where to go or what to do, I go to the library. I’m grateful for this space to read and dream and share in community with other people. I love that it is the home for classic works and popular ones, old and new. I love that it’s a place for us all. I’m grateful for the libraries, every single one.

17. Voting and elections – After last year’s never-ending Presidential campaign, this year’s election seemed almost inconsequential, but it wasn’t. Locally, we voted for mayor and city council members on mail-in ballots. No matter the year, I am grateful to vote and for all those who participate, even those with whom I disagree. I only have to listen to international headlines to realize what a joy and a wonderful right that is. I’m not saying all is rosy in our republic. We have a lot of work to do, but I’m thankful for the passion that continues to shape our country.

18. Veterans – In a month that includes Election Day and Thanksgiving Day, it seems particularly important to remember veterans, not just in a day, but all year round. I’m grateful that I’ve never had to bear arms, but I know that generations before me did. It’s often trite and corny, but these people are the ones who sacrificed. I can’t imagine the horrors they faced, but for all that is unseen, I am grateful. I do want to figure out a way to make this abstract sentiment a more thoughtful and personal effort. I’ll take my gratitude and figure out a way to make it a real commitment.

19. Doubt and faith – I have an up-and-down spiritual life. Sometimes I yell in frustration in my prayers, sometimes I listen with serenity in my prayers. Sometimes I have no prayers. I envy those with a smooth-sailing faith, but that is not to be my course. I’m grateful for the ebb and flow and the experience of both. Without the doubt, I don’t seem to gain the faith. Without that doubt, I can’t be sure of the faith. Without the faith, it’s hard to remember that doubt is only a visitor.

20. Pre-schoolers and 2nd graders – This month, I was very grateful for the three and four year-olds who were excited just because I walked into their room to visit and teach. I love the trust that they have and how sitting in a circle and singing for five minutes is a big deal. I also had a week of field trips with second graders and fell in love every day that week. They were young enough to be excited, but old enough to take care of themselves in the basic ways. We laughed and learned and I was grateful for all the students who welcomed me into their classrooms, ready to learn and share.

21. Peanuts the comic strip – I absolutely love Snoopy, Charlie Brown, Woodstock, Pig Pen, and the gang. I cried when Charles Schulz died, but I’m grateful that his comic strip lives on. I try to find it daily, for a dose of humor, and when I do, I’m thankful. My sister gave me the DVDs of a Charlie Brown Thanksgiving and the other holiday specials. I watched the Thanksgiving special and I remembered how funny and sweet they are. Laughter is important and I’m grateful for it.

22. The ritual of coffee and tea and hot chocolate– It’s embarrassing how much I love tea and coffee and hot chocolate, or, rather, how much I love the ritual of preparing a cup of the hot beverages. I love fiddling with tea balls, tea bags, tea kettles, coffee makers, scoops of coffee with chicory, the rolling boil of water, the whiff of hot chocolate, the fragrant perfume of a hot morning beverage or a late night treat. I love the time that it takes and I love shivering with a hot mug, the steam rising as the day begins. I’m grateful for the time, the ritual, the drink.

23. Rebuilding and recovery – I am grateful to the people in our community who are strong and trying to dig out and make life anew. I am grateful for the people who volunteer to help those in need. I am grateful for those who are rebuilding and those who are questioning where and how to rebuild. I am grateful for those who are helping to heal and helping to soften the blow.

24. Serenity and sobriety – Thank goodness I’ve never had a struggle with alcohol or substance abuse, but I know and love those who have. I’m grateful for those who are working hard, one day at a time, to heal and to find serenity and sobriety. I may not need the sobriety, but I am working on the serenity and I am grateful that my struggle is not so difficult.

25. Home – I am so grateful for a place to live. Of course, for the shelter and warmth it provides, but also for the bubble of safety and peace it provides. I look forward to coming home to a safe space, a welcoming place, a place where I find peace. A place to dream, sleep, read, study, write, pray, knit, love, live, dance. I’m grateful to have that and so much more.

26. Earth worms – I am grateful that earth worms eat my leftovers, my tea bags, my coffee grounds, and help to make compost. I am grateful that I have a box of them in my home and that I can rely on them to eat what’s unused. I love the routine of feeding them and seeing them create part of the soil. I love that I have a simple way to take care of part of my waste, a way that doesn’t require infrastructure or much work. I love that the simple cycles of life are all right here and those lovely little worms connect me to that cycle on a daily basis.

27. The crunch of frost and the thrill of snow – We had a couple of cold days this November and I’m grateful for the drop in temperature.  I’m grateful to wake up to a land covered in snow and the crunch of frozen ground under my boots. I’m grateful for the moisture and the crystals and the beauty of the white flakes landing on the trees.

28. Hot showers – As someone who probably doesn’t bathe as often as others think she should, I am grateful for hot showers. I’m grateful for hot water and knowing that the water I use is clean and safe. I’m trying to time my gratefulness to five minutes or less. . .

29. Fireplaces – One of my favorite things about my apartment is the fireplace. I love the hearth and the possibility that comes with a fireplace. I’m mesmerized by flames and warmth. I’m so, so glad we don’t have a fake-wood-flip-the-switch-fireplace. I haven’t yet used it this year, but I’m looking forward to dark nights in front of the fire, reading by flickering flames, while drinking hot tea. Home and hearth warm up my heart.

30. My mind and my self – This one doesn’t sound very humble or gracious, but I really am grateful for who I am. I couldn’t be anyone else, but I’m also grateful that I don’t want to be anyone else. I feel pretty happy and comfortable with this sack of bones and all that makes up my being. Yes, I have lots of faults and bad habits and selfishness and struggles, but I’m grateful for that as well. I am working to improve and to be better and at the same time, I backslide and regress, but I’m grateful for the try and the life I’ve been given.

What fills you with gratitude? What struggles and pursuits are you grateful for? Who or what do you take for granted? Does that really mean you’re so very grateful? How do we go from “take for granted” to “grateful for the treasure”? What is it that helps us bring Thanksgiving into our every day?