Sundays are for Poetry

26/30

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Could Have
by Wisława Szymborska

It could have happened.
It had to happen.
It happened earlier.  Later.
Nearer.  Farther off.
It happened, but not to you.

You were saved because you were the first.
You were saved because you were the last.
Alone.  With others.
On the right.  The left.
Because it was raining.  Because of the shade.
Because the day was sunny.

You were in luck -- there was a forest.
You were in luck -- there were no trees.
You were in luck --  a rake, a hook, a beam, a brake,
a jamb, a turn, a quarter inch, an instant.
You were in luck -- just then a straw went floating by.

As a result, although, despite.
What would have happened if a hand, a foot,
within an inch, a hairsbreadth from
an unfortunate coincidence.

So you're here?  Still dizzy from another dodge, close shave, reprieve?
One hole in the net and you slipped through?
I couldn't be more shocked or speechless.
Listen,
how your heart pounds inside me.


Look Up (and then Look Down)

25/30

Every year after we eat Thanksgiving dinner, we head out to our patio and take family photos.  I think the process started when my kids were small, and I was hoping for a good Christmas card shot.  Whatever the origin, it's a tradition that remains today -- and everyone humors me and willingly heads out back for photos.

Through the years, we've had our Thanksgiving photo shoot in all kinds of weather -- wind, snow, biting cold, melting slush, you name it.  But there is one thing we've never had in our Thanksgiving photos . . .

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 -- it's fall color as a backdrop.

Yes -- look up!  While most of the trees are bare now, as you can see . . . some are still hanging on.  And colorfully, at that!  (It has been a strange season in terms of fall leaf color and drop.)

As if that weren't strange enough, let's look down now.

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Yeah.  Those are daffodil bulbs.  It was warm enough yesterday that I could (finally) finish getting my spring bulbs in the ground.  That is . . . the air was warm enough AND the ground was warm enough to dig comfortably and easily.

At the end of November.

After Thanksgiving. 

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I ended up lugging my bags of daffodil, crocus, and grape hyacinth bulbs all around the yard yesterday -- planting with abandon. I also put in a flat of sedum.  And started worrying about the weeds -- which are still going strong out there.

Usually, this is my time to rest and not be actively gardening.  But I'm thinking my garden-time might be expanding.

I surely never thought my nails would look like this . . . 

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after an afternoon in the garden . . . in NOVEMBER.

 


Not Cooking Today

24/30 

(I'll just go ahead and admit it:  My first thought this morning when I woke up was gratitude -- that I didn't have to cook anything today.)

We had a lovely, low-key day yesterday.  Here's a quick peek at our Thanksgiving . . . 

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The weather was perfect -- cold and clear.  Erin and I and the J-pups "justitied our pie" with a long morning walk.

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Cooking went smoothly -- especially with the Turkey Patrol on duty and standing guard.

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The food was great. . . 

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and the banter lively (if you look closely, you can see Tom's hand reaching in to swipe one of the sugared cranberries on Erin's pie).

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Although we missed having Brian and Lauren with us (and, of course, we missed my mom), it was a good day to be together to share our meal and have some fun together.

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Jenny remained ever hopeful as she hung around the table . . . 

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Jenny keeps her eyes right on the prize, alright. All. The. Time.  JoJo's hopeful approach is to just circle the table, and my dad's little dog Charlie just hangs out underneath.  Waiting.  (I'm happy to report that the payoff was worth it for all three dogs.  Plenty of turkey all around.)

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After dinner we played Texas Hold'em.  (And I'll just say this:  Keith was the big winner, Tom is one smooth operator, and Erin bets recklessly.)  Fun for all of us.

I hope your day was lovely, too.

==========

Just for fun . . . 

Brian and Lauren spent their first Thanksgiving on their own in Boulder.  They didn't want to tackle a traditional Thanksgiving meal, but decided to just make some of their own favorite foods.  Lauren made pierogies for the first time -- and Brian made Reuben sandwiches . . . on home-baked marbled rye bread.  Now, Brian has never made bread before -- but I'd say he was more than up to the task!  I think it looks terrific.  (Here's one of the photos he sent me.)

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And if I ever decide to go non-traditional for Thanksgiving, I think this looks like a perfect menu!

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YUM!


Practicing Gratitude: Giving

22/30

Today, as I make my pies and chop ingredients for the stuffing and pull out my festive tablecloth, I'm also continuing to think about how I practice gratitude.  

For the last two days, I've been blogging about "gratitude tasks" -- how performing simple things like writing gratitude lists and thank you notes can help you feel better and improve your general outlook.  

Today, let's go further with another "task" that also turns out to be good for you . . . philanthropy.

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Because philanthropy . . . is a topic near and dear to my heart.

You see, my convoluted career path led me to philanthropy.  (Maybe someday I'll tell you about that path . . . from teacher to CPA to foundation director.  But not today.)  For 17 years, I had the great fortune of running a large, private women's foundation in Grand Rapids.  It turned out to be a dream job -- and also one of the greatest learning experiences I've ever had.

Mostly, though, my job turned me into a philanthropist . . . certainly as a professional, but - more importantly - as an individual.

Anyone can be a philanthropist!  Although I think most of us associate folks like Andrew Carnegie, John Paul Getty, or Bill Gates with the term "philanthropist," that's selling the rest of us short.  You are a philanthropist no matter how much or how how little or how often you give a donation to a charitable organization. 

I think that's an important thing to remember.  Financial contributions of any size make a huge difference to charitable organizations!  Not only do all of those little gifts add up to make a big impact -- but they also signal your emotional support,   your belief in a cause, your desire to fight for a better world. . . to an organization that lives and breathes their mission every day.  

Giving . . . makes you a philanthropist.  

Give.  Give.  Give.  Because it matters.  It's the right thing to do.  And it'll make you feel good, too.

(Okay.  Now just let me put a higher platform on my soapbox for a second.)

How do you choose which organization to give TO?

Here's my short answer:  Follow Your Heart!

  • What causes are you especially concerned about?  Water quality?  Domestic violence?  Disease awareness?  Public education?  Health care access?  Constitutional rights?  Hunger?  Arts and culture?  Animal adoption?  Refugee services?  Leadership development?  Homelessness?  Gun violence?  Heck . . . the list goes on and on and on.  Figure out which issues are most important to you.  Narrow your scope.
  • Do a little research.  Are there organizations in your own community that are working on your focus-issues?  Start with their websites or annual reports.  Maybe give them a call and schedule a visit.  Attend an event they sponsor.  Basically -- get close and see what they do in your community.  (Note that I did NOT start with a visit to GuideStar or Charity Navigator; more on that later.)
  • If you're interested in theses issues beyond your community - or if you're interested in more national or global issues - expand your net a bit with your research.  It might be harder to get personal, community-level information from organizations beyond your backyard, but you can still learn about what they do and who they serve through their websites and annual reports.
  • Mostly, though.  Figure out what matters most to you -- and GIVE.

Now. . .

Let's talk a minute about sites like GuideStar and Charity Navigator -- sites designed to provide good, solid information about the inner-workings of charities.  If you are looking to make a significant personal gift (let's say . . . over $10,000) or if you work for a foundation, then - by all means - do your due diligence and take a look at the financial statements and 990s of charities you're considering. 

But.  If you're just making regular, personal charitable donations of $25, $100, or even $1,000 . . . skip that step.  Seriously.  Just give.

And I could go on and on (and on) about the evils of equating operational overhead with poor nonprofit management (because I would need a stage-sized soapbox for that one) -- but, instead, I'm going to leave you with this most excellent TED talk from activist and fundraiser Dan Pallotta.  (I know it's 18 minutes on the day before Thanksgiving, but this is totally worth watching if you really want to change the world.)

In the meantime . . . GIVE!

 


Practicing Gratitude: Acknowledging

21/30

As a child, my mom taught me the value of a well-written thank you note . . . and those early lessons stuck with me for life.  

Although many people look at it as a chore, I actually enjoy writing thank you notes.  I've always loved sending (and receiving) mail.  I love to choose my pen and the just-right piece of stationery.  I get to think about the person I'm writing to and formulate the words I'm going to use.  And I get to express my heartfelt gratitude.

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It's personal.

It's also the right thing to do!  According to Margaret Shepherd in The Art of the Handwritten Note, it takes some effort to express your gratitude properly.  Shepherd tells us, “Your thank-you note should recapture the smile, handshake or hug you would give the giver in person, and offer it in a form that can be read and reread.”  She also describes the five characteristics of a well-written thank you note:  generous, specific, prompt, succinct, and personal.

Apparently, writing thank you notes is good for your brain, too!  Research shows that written acts of gratitude have long-term effects on feelings of wellbeing and reduced depression.  Performing "gratitude tasks" (including acknowledging gifts through handwritten thank you notes) helps our brains to feel "extra thankful."  Dr. Christian Jarrett, in the Science of Us, talked about a brain-scanning study published in NeuroImage, “which brings us a little closer to understanding why these [gratitude] exercises have these effects. The results suggest that even months after a simple, short gratitude writing task, people’s brains are still wired to feel extra thankful. The implication is that gratitude tasks work, at least in part, because they have a self-perpetuating nature: The more you practice gratitude, the more attuned you are to it and the more you can enjoy its psychological benefits.”  (It's that "vicious circle" I talked about yesterday again!)

Finally, hand writing thank you notes in today's age of Facebook, emojis, and text messages is just . . . cool!  If you get a handwritten anything in your mailbox, don't you just rip right into it?  (I know I do.)  Sending a heart-felt, handwritten message to someone is the best way to express you gratitude.  According to Florence Isaacs in Just a Note to Say, “When you write, there is no response to distract you from reaching within and exploring exactly what you feel and want to say. There is no mechanical equipment to act as a barrier."  So . . . it's just you . . . and your words!

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This month, as part of my gratitude practice, I decided to be intentional about writing thank you notes.  I'm usually very good at writing notes when I receive a gift -- so this month, I'm trying to really dig a little deeper and write notes to people who've given me things that aren't necessarily . . . things.  So far this month I've written notes to a neighbor who serves on our school board, to my art teacher, to the underpaid-and-overworked Master Gardener coordinator, and (thanks to a bit of digging from my sister) to my sewing teacher from junior high school!  (And I'm not finished yet.)

How about YOU?  Who can you send a thank you note to in this season of Thanksgiving?  
(It's good for you!)

 


Practicing Gratitude: Noticing

20/30

I've been intentionally focusing on gratitude for many years.  

It started when I was in the middle of chemo . . . when I didn't feel terribly good and the days seemed really long and I worried about my future and felt like I had lost my center.

I started keeping a list of all the things in my day that were good; things that connected me to myself -- and the world around me.

It helped.

I kept doing it.

It turns out that one of the easiest "first steps" in developing a gratitude practice is . . . noticing.  Simply noticing and acknowledging the things in our lives that we are grateful for can foster feelings of contentment and joy, respect for what we have, and connection to the world around us.

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I know that intentionally noticing and acknowledging things we're grateful for each day is powerful because it's kind of like . . . a vicious circle.  The more we notice the good things in our lives, the more we are able to notice the good things in our lives.  Y'know?  And that creates an ever-expanding circle of good.

The things we list don't have to be the big things (although that's often where we start) -- like family and housing and health and jobs.  They can also be little things we just . . . notice . . . when we start paying attention.  Bird song.  The scent of hand lotion.  The flow-y way my pen writes.  The fact that I hit a green light just when I needed it most.

I decided to try a new approach to my gratitude list-making this month -- building on that "vicious circle" analogy.

I grabbed a piece of illustration board, and starting with a heart, I drew some outwardly-expanding lines.  Each day, I write down my gratitude list for the day within the lines.  Now, I'm starting to use my watercolor pencils and a waterbrush to bring color to my list.

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Acknowledging my gratitude makes me feel good.  I share my good-feelings with people around me.  And then they feel good.  And they share their good-feelings with the people around them.

Start a list.

Let's spread gratitude's good-feelings all around.

 


Sundays are for Poetry

19/30

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Wild Geese
    by Mary Oliver

You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
for a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body love what it loves.
Tell me about your despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting - 
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.


Look Up

18/30

In the summer, when blooms are everywhere, it's easy to see the beauty around you.  Even as fall creeps in, it's easy.  Because the leaves put on quite a show.

But in the late fall, as winter edges ever closer, that's when it's tough.  The blooms have faded and the leaves are gone.  Everything is bare and grey and shades-of-bleak.

But. . . that's the time to look!  To really take notice!

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Blooms are fleeting.  Here and gone.  

Turns out it's the underlying structure that really counts!  Because that structure remains long after the beauty is gone.

Take a look.

Notice.

 


TGIF

17/30

Here's one last look at Alabama (oops -- there actually might be one more, later in this post).

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I can't stress how cool it was to be driving along country roads in Alabama and just . . . suddenly spy a cotton field.  I know that it's no different, really, than finding corn fields in the Midwest, but it's all relative, and for this northern girl, it was a delight!  On our drive back to Nashville, Vicki and I pulled over on one of these country roads to get a closer look at the cotton and take a few photos.  (I can just imagine the folks in the nearby farmhouse . . . "Dwayne, would you look at that?  Folks have stopped to take pictures of our damn cotton again. Northerners. . . ")

Anyway.  Let's TGIF.

T - Thinking About

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Thanksgiving!  I've gathered all my recipes, and I'm making my lists.  It's time to get organized!

G - Grateful For

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I am so grateful for my grand adventure last week, but after returning home mid-week to a couple of action-packed days, I am grateful for a (relatively) quiet weekend . . . so I can do a bit of digging out and get myself on track for the holidays.  (And I have quite a pile of . . . stuff . . . to work my way through.)

I - Inspired By

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Yeah.  You guessed it.  I am inspired to MAKE ALL THE THINGS again.  I want to stitch and knit and sew and and try new things and touch all the fiber!  That Alabama Chanin workshop was just what I needed in the fiber-inspiration-department.  (I even decided to forgo my regular watercolor class next semester and sign up for rug hooking instead.  So stay tuned.)

F - Fun

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These two show up tomorrow!  They'll be visiting all next week (an extended visit as part of their Farewell Tour before they head to San Jose in January), and it will be great fun to have them around.

TGIF, everyone!