Counting My Blessings

A Week of Gratitude: Friday

It's Thanksgiving week here in the US . . . a week traditionally spent cooking, gathering with friends and family, and reflecting on our many blessings. I've decided to take a little break from my usual blog "structure" (such as it is) to focus on gratitude this week.

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"Gratitude is a gracious acknowledgment of all that sustains us, a bow to our blessings, great and small, an appreciation of the moments of good fortune that sustain our life every day. We have so much to be grateful for."
        --- Jack Kornfield

I've had a daily meditation practice for a long time. Longer than I've been blogging, for sure. Way longer. Sometimes I just sit in silence with my coffee in the morning and meditate. Sometimes I walk and meditate. Sometimes I knit and meditate. Sometimes I pull weeds and meditate. Sometimes I sit down on a cushion and light candles. Sometimes I use mala beads. Sometimes I use an app. Sometimes I listen to music. Sometimes I balance my chakras. Sometimes I follow the moon. There are so many ways to meditate!

I got started with meditation years and years ago because my rheumatologist suggested I give it a try. So I did. Meditation wasn't such a "thing" back then . . . as it is now. You had to look pretty hard to find good information about developing a meditation practice in the early 90s! One of my very earliest meditation "teachers" was Jack Kornfield, who I discovered in books from the library and articles from my rheumatologist. (Because the internet was more just a new idea back then, and there were certainly no apps yet.) One of the first types of meditation I tried . . . was Jack Kornfield's gratitude meditation. It's still my favorite, and I do it regularly. 

I thought I'd share it with you today. Maybe you'd like to try it yourself.

Jack Kornfield's Meditation on Gratitude and Joy
(which can also be found on his website or in any number of books and apps)

Let yourself sit quietly and at ease. Allow your body to be relaxed and open, your breath natural, your heart easy. Begin the practice of gratitude by feeling how year after year you have cared for your own life. Now let yourself begin to acknowledge all that has supported you in this care:

With gratitude I remember the people, animals, plants, insects, creatures of the sky and sea, air and water, fire and earth, all whose joyful exertion blesses my life every day.

With gratitude I remember the care and labor of a thousand generations of elders and ancestors who came before me.

I offer my gratitude for the blessing of this earth I have been given.

I offer my gratitude for the measure of health I have been given.

I offer my gratitude for the family and friends I have been given.

I offer my gratitude for the community I have been given.

I offer my gratitude for the teachings and lessons I have been given.

I offer my gratitude for the life I have been given.

Just as we are grateful for our blessings, so we can be grateful for the blessings of others.

Now shift your practice to the cultivation of joy. Continue to breathe gently. Bring to mind someone you care about, someone it is easy to rejoice for. Picture them and feel the natural joy you have for their well-being, happiness, and success. With each breath, offer them your grateful, heartfelt wishes:

May you be joyful.

May your happiness increase.

May you not be separated from great happiness.

May your good fortune and the causes for your joy and happiness increase.

Sense the sympathetic joy and caring in each phrase. When you feel some degree of natural gratitude for the happiness of this loved one, extend this practice to another person you care about. Recite the same simple phrases that express your heart’s intention.

Then gradually open the meditation to other loved ones and benefactors. After the joy for them grows strong, turn back to include yourself. Let the feelings of joy more fully fill your body and mind. Continue repeating the intentions of joy over and over, through whatever resistances and difficulties arise, until you feel stabilized in joy. Next begin to systematically include the categories of neutral people, then difficult people and even enemies until you extend sympathetic joy to all beings everywhere, young and old, near and far.

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My best wishes to all of you . . . for a weekend filled with peace and solace, time to rest -- and . . . gratitude. Thank you, as always, for being here!

 

 


A Week of Gratitude: Thursday

It's Thanksgiving week here in the US . . . a week traditionally spent cooking, gathering with friends and family, and reflecting on our many blessings. I've decided to take a little break from my usual blog "structure" (such as it is) to focus on gratitude this week.

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Today I share with you a poem by Joy Harjo, the current Poet Laureate of the United States. If you're not familiar with Joy Harjo, please do learn more about her (you can click here for a start) and immerse yourself in her words, in her experience.

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For Calling the Spirit Back from Wandering the Earth in its Human Feet
Joy Harjo

Put down that bag of potato chips, that white bread, that bottle of pop.

Turn off that cellphone, computer, and remote control.

Open the door, then close it behind you.

Take a breath offered by friendly winds. They travel the earth
gathering essences of plants to clean.

Give it back with gratitude.

If you sing it will give your spirit lift to fly to the stars' ears and
back.

Acknowledge this earth who has cared for you since you were
a dream planting itself precisely within your parents' desire.

Let your moccasin feet take you to the encampment of the
guardians who have known you before time, who will be
there after time. They sit before the fire that has been there
without time.

Let the earth stabilize your postcolonial insecure jitters.

Be respectful of the small insects, birds and animal people
who accompany you.
Ask their forgiveness for the harm we humans have brought
down upon them.

Don't worry.
The heart knows the way though there may be high-rises,
interstates, checkpoints, armed soldiers, massacres, wars, and
those who will despise you because they despise themselves.

The journey might take you a few hours, a day, a year, a few
years, a hundred, a thousand, or even more.

Watch your mind. Without training it might run away and
leave your heart for the immense human feast set by the
thieves of time.

Do not hold regrets.

When you find your way to the circle, to the fire kept burning
by the keepers of your soul, you will be welcomed.

You must clean yourself with cedar, sage, or other healing plant.

Cut the ties you have to failure and shame.

Let go the pain you are holding in your mind, your shoulders,
your heart all the way to your feet. Let go the pain of your
ancestors to make way for those who are heading in our
direction.

Ask for forgiveness.

Call upon the help of those who love you. These helpers take
many forms: animal, element, bird, angel, saint, stone, or
ancestor.

Call your spirit back. It may be caught in corners and
creases of shame, judgement, and human abuse.

You must call in a way that your spirit will want to return.
Speak to it as you would to a beloved child.

Welcome your spirit back from its wandering. It may return
in pieces, in tatters. Gather them together. They will be 
happy to be found after being lost for so long.

Your spirit will need to sleep awhile after it is bathed and
given clean clothes.

Now you can have a party. Invite everyone you know who 
loves and supports you. Keep room for those who have no
place else to go.

Make a giveaway, and remember, keep the speeches short.

Then, you must do this: help the next person find their way
through the dark.

==

Today's poem was published in Conflict Resolution for Holy Beings: Poems, Joy Harjo, 2015, W.W. Norton & Company.

 

 


A Week of Gratitude: Wednesday

It's Thanksgiving week here in the US . . . a week traditionally spent cooking, gathering with friends and family, and reflecting on our many blessings. I've decided to take a little break from my usual blog "structure" (such as it is) to focus on gratitude this week.

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When I was growing up, "church" wasn't a terribly important thing for my family. My sister and I went to Sunday School on the regular, and my mom took us to church in what I'd call sporadic fits and starts. (My dad rarely went with us.) I sang in the choir for awhile in middle school, and went to a few youth group activities now and again. I went through confirmation in 8th grade. But . . . let's just say I didn't find what many others find in organized religion.

We did, though, say grace before every evening meal throughout my childhood. It went like this: GodisgreatGodisgoodLetusthankhimForourfoodAmen. Just those words, all slurred together. Every night. Eventually, as my sister and I got older, we just . . . stopped. 

Fast forward several years: Children of my own. Tom and I took them to church and Sunday School throughout their childhoods. We found a church that we liked, and so we dabbled in oganized religion for a while (until our minister retired, and we discovered it was him that made our experience special, not the church). 

Anyway. We did, as the kids grew up, say grace before every evening meal -- a very familiar prayer: GodisgreatGodisgoodLetusthankhimForourfoodAmen. Eventually, as the kids grew older and made the whole thing more like a game of who could get the words out faster, we just . . . stopped.

Saying those "grace words" - or not saying them - had no real bearing on the gratitude we felt for our meals. Not when I was a child; not when I was a parent of young kids; not now. But those words did create a pause-before-eating; a chance to separate our eating a meal from the rest of our lives. I would argue that "saying grace" before a meal doesn't actually need to include any words (rote memorization or spontaneous prayer) at all. For me, "grace" . . . is a pause. Just a quiet moment of gratitude for the meal before the eating begins. A pause . . . to acknowledge that our food didn't just appear out of thin air! Someone grew it, ground it, bought it, cooked it. And for that, we are grateful.

So tomorrow, as we gather in whatever form we're mustering this year, I encourage you to . . .  pause . . . before digging in. Fill it with words if that's your thing. Or don't feel guilty about silence if words aren't your thing.

"Gratefulness -- 'great fullness,' as Brother David Steindle-Rast reminds us, 'is the full response of the human heart to the gratuitousness of all that is.' Truly every single thing we have has been given to us, not necessarily because we deserved it, but gratuitously, for no known reason. And whatever source we believe is the giver - some concept of God or simply the breathtaking randomness of the universe - when we give thanks, we take our place in the great wheel of life, recognizing our connection to one another and to all of creation. Offering a blessing, reminds Brother Steindle-Rast, 'plugs us into the aliveness of the whole world.'"
       -- M.J. Ryan, in the introduction to A Grateful Heart: Daily Blessings for the Evening Meal from Buddha to the Beatles

Plug into the "aliveness of the whole world," my friends.
There is much to be grateful for -- and many ways to offer a blessing.


A Week of Gratitude: Tuesday

It's Thanksgiving week here in the US . . . a week traditionally spent cooking, gathering with friends and family, and reflecting on our many blessings. I've decided to take a little break from my usual blog "structure" (such as it is) to focus on gratitude this week.

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When I was a growing up, my mom had many "Mom-isms" that she used to repeat to my sister and I. You know ... those words-of-wisdom that you roll your eyes at when you're a kid and swear you'll never say if you have kids someday. But, well. They tend to stick. Because they were usually true and right and worth noting.

Anyway. One of my mom's frequently-used phrases (that I particularly chafed at) was . . . You'll catch more flies with honey.

I really didn't like this one. Because first of all . . . ewwww. Not a picture I like to hold in my mind, really. But mostly because when I was a kid, I rarely saw (or could quite imagine) a payoff from being "nice" to people I didn't want to be "nice" to, mostly because they weren't being "nice" to me in the first place. But I was a good girl and I (mostly) listened to my mom and I did try to be "nice" to people I didn't want to be "nice" to (mostly).

And, of course, like so many things my mom used to repeat . . . she was right. You DO catch more flies with honey! And . . . being "nice" - which is really being KIND - is a simple way to spread reciprocal joy and gratitude!

"Let no one ever come to you without leaving better and happier. Be the living expression of God's kindness: kindness in your face, kindness in your eyes, kindness in your smile."
        --- Mother Teresa

(Yep. Mother Teresa again.) (Because she isn't a saint for nothing.)

When I'm out and about in the world (which, granted, isn't as often as it used to be these days), I try to keep my mom's words - and Mother Teresa's sentiments, too, when it comes right down to it - in mind (and in my heart). I do try to be kind to all people I encounter - friends or strangers, happy or grumpy, calm or frazzled. I don't mean that I'm Miss Jolly Sunshine everywhere I go or anything, here . . . but . . . 

I smile. (Even when I'm wearing a mask.) 
I meet eyes.
I might chit-chat.
I say thank you. And please.
I even give random compliments.

If I have an opportunity to make someone else feel good - to put a smile on their face - why be stingy about it? Why hold back? It's easy to smile. To say thank you. Or even to pass along a random genuine compliment. 

There are no strings attached when it comes to kindness.
And . . . it forges a human connection that fosters gratitude.

And we all need more of that right now!

(So, thanks, Mom. I was listening even when you thought I wasn't.)

==

And now, a poem. . . 

==

A Gift
Kathryn Starbuck

Who is that creature   
and who does he want?   
Me, I trust. I do not   
attempt to call out his   
name for fear he will   
tread on me. What do   
you believe, he asks.   
 
That we all want to be   
alone, I reply, except when   
we do not; that the world   
was open to my sorrow   
and ate most of it; that   
today is a gift and I am   
ready to receive you.
 
=
 
Today's poem was published in the journal Poetry, March 2009. Click here for more information about the poet (who has a wonderful personal story about becoming a poet in her 60s, by the way).

 


A Week of Gratitude: Monday

It's Thanksgiving week here in the US . . . a week traditionally spent cooking, gathering with friends and family, and reflecting on our many blessings. I've decided to take a little break from my usual blog "structure" (such as it is) to focus on gratitude this week.

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Now I've long subscribed to the notion that noticing and acknowledging the things we're grateful for . . . makes us more happy in our lives. Like many of you, I keep a gratitude journal, and in it I list a number of things I'm grateful for each day. It's a lovely ritual, and really does make me pay attention to and think about the things that I am particularly grateful for.

Some days, though . . . it's hard.

When life feels dark and tedious and harrowing (y'know . . . like now), it's easy to get caught up in all the things that are wrong or fraught or not-quite-what-we-had-in-mind. Like, well . . . who is grateful for this dumpster fire of a year, right? There have been many mornings over the past months when I open my gratitude journal and just stare at it for a while. Cranky and not feeling particularly grateful at all.

"Yesterday is gone. Tomorrow has not yet come. We have only today. Let us begin."
                -- Mother Teresa

I moped around last week, thinking about how long it's been since I've seen my daughter in person, how my son is less than an hour up the road -- but still out of reach, how much I miss my mom at Thanksgiving. I got caught up in the pointlessness of cooking a Thanksgiving meal this year. And then I thought of Mother Teresa. I mean . . .she was a great one for shining her light on blessings when things appeared amazingly dark and utterly hopeless, wasn't she? Maybe her words - and her example - could inspire me to find the the blessings in my life.

I realized it was time for me to shine a light on my life.
To flip the switch.
To change my perspective.
To begin.

Instead of focusing on not seeing my daughter . . . 
I started thinking about how proud I am of her for working so hard to land - and succeed at - her dream job; how delighted I am that she is happy and independent in her life; how grateful I am for the many ways we have stayed connected at great distance - and even during a pandemic; how pleased I am that she is making many of our family dishes this year for her own Thanksgiving with Keith. Yes. I miss her. But she is a blessing wherever she is!

Instead of focusing on not seeing my son . . . 
I started thinking about how lucky I am that he is only just up the road now; how lovely it is to see him in person once in a while - even behind a mask and at a distance; what a blessing to me that he is settled and happy - even during a pandemic; how pleased I am that we can share a Thanksgiving meal this year even if it's just dropped off at his door with a wave. Yes. I miss him. But he's close enough to wave at through a window, and that is a blessing!

Instead of focusing on how much I miss my mom . . . 
I started remembering all the happy Thanksgiving times we were able to share over the years; all the pies she baked and her love of dark meat and how much we laughed. Yes. She isn't here around my table this year. But her memories live deep inside me, and her spirit is with me every day -- and especially at Thanksgiving. What a blessing to have such wonderful memories woven into my week!

Instead of focusing on the "pointlessness" of cooking a meal on this weird Thanksgiving . . . 
I started thinking about how I CAN cook a meal on this weird Thanksgiving; that I have access to the ingredients and cooking utensils I need; that I am blessed with recipes and know-how and experience; that I can share my meal - and my love - with Tom and Brian and Lauren and my dad. Yes. We won't be gathering together. But that doesn't change our enjoyment of a shared meal. And this meal - even though shared in a completely different way - will tether us to each other and ground us in our traditions anyway.

Really. I have an embarrassment of riches. So many blessings. So much to be grateful for!

It does work . . . changing your perspective. Flipping the switch. Shining a light on your life.
Even when it seems dark!

Begin!

==

(And now . . . a poem. Because why not.)

==

Messenger
Mary Oliver

My work is loving the world.
Here the sunflowers, there the hummingbird ---
  equal seekers of sweetness.
Here the quickening yeast; there the blue plums.
Here the clam deep in the speckled sand.

Are my boots old? Is my coat torn?
Am I no longer young, and still not half-perfect? Let me
  keep my mind on what matters,
which is my work,

which is mostly standing still and learning to be
   astonished.
The phoebe, the delphinium.
The sheep in the pasture, and the pasture.
Which is mostly rejoicing, since all the ingredients are here,

which is gratitude, to be given a mind and a heart
  and these body-clothes,
a mouth with which to give shouts of joy
  to the moth and the wren, to the sleepy dug-up clam,
telling them all, over and over, how it is
  that we live forever.

==

Today's poem was published in Thirst by Mary Oliver, 2006, Beacon Press, Boston.

 


Thanksgiving

"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

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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!

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"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. . . 

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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!

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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!

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