Counting My Blessings


"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.  Gratitude makes sense of our past, brings peace for today, and creates a vision for tomorrow."
      --- Melody Beattie


I wish all of you peace and gratitude and a sense of thanksgiving today . . . and always.

Thursdays Are For Gratitude

(I'm grateful every day . . . but in November, I blog about it, too.)

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On Tuesdays, my dad and I go out for lunch together.  This week, as we sat eating our sandwiches, our conversation turned to hobbies -- and about how so many people just don't "get" them. I'm sure you know what I mean . . . those folks who say things like 'I could never find the time' . . . or 'I don't have the patience.'  Or - worst of all - those people who belittle your choice of hobby: 'she plays in the dirt' or 'you probably made that'.  We both agreed that it's just silly and sad, and neither of us understand how people can NOT have hobbies.  For both my dad and I, our hobbies provide entertainment and outlets for creativity and friendships and -- even some really useful objects.

All of our talk about hobbies got me thinking more about my own this week -- how much they add to my days and settle me and just . . . well . . . please me!

So today, I'm grateful for my hobbies, and in particular, for the hobbies that allow me to make things.

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  • I'm grateful for the teachers who showed me how to use my hands to make beautiful things in the first place:  my great grandmother (who taught me how to embroider), my mom (who taught be how to knit), and Miss Helzer (who taught me the right way to sew).
  • I'm grateful for the ever-expanding availability of lovely materials to work with.  Earlier in my life, I was limited by the fabric and fiber choices available to me locally (often . . . just Red Heart yarn at the grocery store, y'know?).  Now?  There are yarn shops and fabric stores and fiber festivals and "big box" craft stores -- not to mention all the online resources.  It is a treasure trove of options out there.
  • I'm grateful for all the online resources to help me be a better knitter/stitcher/sewist.  Ravelry (for keeping track of my projects and patterns, for an endless parade of new designs, and for real-life photos of finished projects), Pinterest (for never-ending ideas and inspiration - and a way to sort and save them), blogs (for friendship and technique and inspiration), YouTube videos (for technique and instructional how-tos).  Really . . . an embarrassment of riches.

How about you?  What are you grateful for today?

Thursdays Are For Gratitude

(I'm grateful every day . . . but in November, I blog about it, too.)

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Most years, here in my corner of the world, we have lovely, lingering falls that last well into December.  We get our leaves raked up and into the streets by Thanksgiving, and the city comes around a few times in November to pick them up.  We use the nicest November days to put up our Christmas lights and prepare the outsides of our houses for the upcoming holiday season.  We have plenty of time to finish all the garden chores and plant spring bulbs and gather in the last of the still-thriving parsley.  There is plenty of time to locate your ice scraper and get it into your car.

But this year?  Not so much.

And I made a pact with myself . . . that if winter really IS here already . . . that I'm going to roll with it and Not Complain About It. Even though the snowplows did a real number with all those leaf piles in the streets, waiting for pick up.  And, in fact, half of the trees still HAVE their leaves, which are now falling and mingling with the snow.  And . . . you probably guessed it.  My bulbs didn't make it into the ground before the cold snap.  (That is not really complaining, by the way.  Those are just facts.)

Instead, I'm finding gratitude.

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  • After a day of snow, I'm grateful for the return of sunlight - even just for a minute - and especially when I stumble onto magic sunlight patterns in my bathroom.
  • I'm especially grateful that I have a car designed to handle well in the snow and ice of a Michigan winter.
  • And I'm so grateful to have a warm house to return to after being out in the snow -- with enough heat and light and down comforters and love to get me through the longest winter.

What are you grateful for today?


Thankful Hearts

Happy Thanksgiving!


"Give us thankful hearts . . . in this season of Thy Thanksgiving.  May we be thankful for health and strength, for sun and rain and peace.  Let us seize the day and the opportunity and strive for that greatness of spirit that measures life not by its disappointments but by its possibilities, and let us ever remember that true gratitude and appreciation shows itself neither in independence nor satisfaction but passes the gift joyfully on in larger and better form."
                                                    --- W. E. B. DuBois

Thank you for sharing this space with me.  
Enjoy your day, and may your heart be filled with thanks.

The Color of Gratitude

Last week I pulled a new card from my Sacred Invitations card deck. . . 


You might remember . . . last November, I was writing quite a bit about gratitude here on my blog.  Specifically, I was talking about my efforts to notice, record, and acknowledge gratitude in my life.


Back in November, I did a lot of reading about the benefits of developing a regular gratitude "practice" and the power of writing gratitude lists (which I had done before -- but always on a rather hit-and-miss basis).  I found a lot of quotes, I read some great essays, and I was more committed than ever to gratitude as a daily practice.


Although I'm a lifelong journal-er, I have never had much success in keeping a long-running, written gratitude list.  While I think about the things I'm grateful for every day, I have never been particularly inspired to write them down in an actual list (and I have tried . . . many times). 

But after all my research, I decided to give it a try again.  I jump-started it by creating a more "artful" list in November.  I used a piece of illustration board, and created a spiral of gratitude.  I used my watercolor pencils and a water brush to "paint" it, and once I was finished with my list, I included some quotes and poems about gratitude on the margins.

It was fun and colorful and kept me interested and engaged . . . while focusing every day on gratitude.


But once the holidays were over, and the dark and dreary days of winter set in, I was - once again - less inspired.  I continued to think about gratitude every day.  I created daily lists in my head.  I just couldn't quite figure out a way to be inspired about writing them down!  

Since I had tried keeping special gratitude journals in the past - without much success (I think it was the structure that did me in) - I decided to try other options.  First, I decided to just keep it simple by recording my gratitude list as part of my daily journal writing.  (But I found I missed seeing my gratitude in its altogether-ness.)  

Next, I tried a "gratitude jar" where I added a brief gratitude note each day.  (But that felt cluttered and cumbersome to me.  Besides, the jar always seemed to be in the way on my desk.)  

Finally, I thought back to what I had liked so much about my November list.  I wanted to figure out just what it was that had me looking forward to writing my list each day.  And then I realized . . . it was the creativity and the COLOR!


And then . . . inspiration hit!  Last year, Carole sent me a special journal with coloring doodles built right in to the pages.  I decided to use that color journal to keep track of my daily gratitude lists -- using brightly colored ink. 

So far, it's working!  Now I look forward to grabbing my pens and my journal every day to jot down my lists -- and do a little color-doodling, too.  And to avoid the structure problems that plagued me with gratitude journals in the past, I've decided not to date my lists, and to just let them flow without regard to a certain number of items.  Some days I write long lists, and some days I write short lists.

But one thing is consistent:  my gratitude lists are full of COLOR!


How about you?  Do you keep a gratitude list?  And if you do, what form do you keep it in?


Snow for Days

So.  We're in the midst of one of those winter weeks where it . . . snows for days.


I'm not talking about a blizzard here.  Or even a major storm.  Nothing to shut down the schools or anything.  Just a near-constant, gentle snowfall . . . that adds up after a few days.  

It's just winter in Michigan.  
Typical for February.  
Nothing to get riled up about.  

And I thought about how grateful I am, in the midst of snow for days . . . because:

  1. The snow is beautiful.  Our otherwise dreary winter landscape is much improved with a nice frosting of snow.  Everything looks fresh and bright and a bit magical.
  2. I have all the right apparel for managing snow and cold: a warm jacket, wool hats and scarves and mittens, snow boots.  I am toasty-warm.
  3. In my trusty, all-wheel drive Subaru Outback (fitted with new tires this year -- bonus!), I can navigate winter roads with ease -- and go anywhere I want.

C'mon, winter.  Show me what you got!  (Just be sure to wrap things up by the end of month.  M'kay?)


Head on over to Carole's for more Three on Thursday posts.


Practicing Gratitude: Three Final Things


"I would maintain that thanks are the highest form of thought, and that gratitude is happiness doubled by wonder."
                                        ---Gilbert K. Chesterton


And . . . just like that . . . November draws to a close.  As I wrap up the month and pack away these NaBloPoMo blog posts, let me just offer these final three things I'm grateful for:

  • Thank you all for being here every day. 
  • Thank you for joining the conversation with your comments.
  • Thank you for creating this rich virtual community.  When I first dipped my toe into the blogging world, I had no idea how much you all would come to mean to me.  Thank you, my friends.

Now that NaBloPoMo is finished for another year, I'll be returning to a more regular M-F posting schedule (for the most part).  Which means . . . I'll be back tomorrow!


Stop over at Carole's to read other Three on Thursday posts today.



Practicing Gratitude: Giving Back


Although it's beginning to look a lot like Christmas everywhere I go, it's still November . . . and I'm still thinking about gratitude and giving thanks.  The other day, I wrote a post about giving -- focused on being a philanthropist and making financial gifts to charities.  But there's another side of philanthropy: volunteering -- or what many people refer to as "giving back."

We can practice gratitude by volunteering our time and talent . . . offering vital help to people in need, making our communities better places to live, and supporting causes we care about.  When we volunteer, it's pretty obvious that we're helping others -- but volunteering also benefits YOU: the volunteer.

  • Volunteering provides a connection to others and to the community, and helps make a difference in the lives of others.
  • Volunteering brings a sense of well-being.  Like all the gratitude practices, volunteering makes you feel happier by countering stress, increasing self-confidence, and bringing a sense of purpose.
  • Volunteering encourages new learning and skill-building. 
  • Volunteering brings a sense of personal fulfillment and purpose.


When it comes to volunteering, I think the real trick . . . is finding the RIGHT volunteer experience.  Not everyone volunteers for the same reasons.  In fact, there has been quite a bit of research to figure out just what motivates a person to step out and volunteer. Researchers have discovered five primary motivations for volunteering:

  1. Values. Volunteering to satisfy personal values or humanitarian concerns. 

  2. Community concern. Volunteering to help a particular community, such as a neighborhood or ethnic group, to which the you feel attached.

  3. Esteem enhancement. Volunteering to feel better about yourself or escape other pressures.

  4. Understanding. Volunteering to gain a better understanding of other people, cultures or places.

  5. Personal development. Volunteering to challenge yourself, meet new people and make new friends, or to further your career.

It turns out that your motives for volunteering don't really matter all that much, in the end.  What's most important about volunteering . . . is that there is a good match between WHY you feel like volunteering and WHAT you're doing as a volunteer.  The better the match, the more likely you are to enjoy and benefit from your volunteer experience -- and the more likely you are to keep doing it!

I've done a lot of volunteering in my life -- from belonging to service organizations in college to school-related activities with my kids to weeding with the Master Gardener program and serving on community boards.  

None of them, though, really hit my "buttons" for volunteering.  I was doing these things because I felt I should.  I never really figured there could be more.  I actually thought maybe I was just a selfish person . . . who didn't really like to volunteer, but it turns out the things I was doing just didn't line up well with my personal motivations for volunteering!  


I discovered this earlier this year, when I became a tutor for the Kalamazoo Literacy Council.

You may remember that right after the election last year, I decided to find out more about refugee programs in my community.  I was specifically interested in ESL programs for refugees, and I was immediately welcomed into a growing group of nonprofit organizations, service agencies, and individuals hoping to make a difference for newly-arrived refugees in the Kalamazoo area.  But . . . there were plenty of ESL tutors already . . . and what this group desperately needed at that time was child care for refugee children while their parents took English classes.  I knew right away that that was NOT for me.  

I was disappointed . . . but decided to run with my interest in literacy.

I found an adult literacy tutor certification program through the KLC, and completed the training - hoping to be matched with an adult "learner" (as we refer to our students) looking to learn to read. In February, I was paired with a student -- a man about my age -- who is really motivated and working hard to improve his reading and writing skills.  We meet each week to read and write and spell and laugh together over phonics rules.


For the first time in my life, I have found a volunteer activity that must be a perfect match with my personal motivations for volunteering!  I look forward to working with my learner each week; I celebrate his progress; I am totally in his corner!  I feel like I'm making a difference -- and my volunteering has purpose . . . in a way weeding or chaperoning field trips or serving as Choir Boosters Treasurer never did (for me).

If you have never really found a volunteer activity that makes you feel GOOD about what you're doing, maybe you just haven't found the right volunteer activity for YOU.  Take some time to evaluate your own goals, interests, and motivations - because it's different for everyone. 

And . . . follow your heart!


Attention KNITTERS and seekers-of-peace!  It's time to sign up for this year's Peace Project.  You can read all about it here.  I've already purchased my pattern, and I have some yarn picked out.  Although I don't plan to complete the project during the month of December, I will be following along with the Peace Prompts each day.  Because we can all use a little peace in our lives!





Practicing Gratitude: Giving


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.


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


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.


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!


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!)