When I was a grad student, I made this “EPIC Check List of Wonderness” on neon-pink 8.5 x 11 card stock. On one rectangle, I could see everything I needed to do to finish my degree. It hung above my desk and each checkmark (completed largely in part to the academic-team-spirit of my colleague, Kelly Kingsley) brought seemed to build the excitement and my drive to finish. One. Step. Closer.
The trouble with this kind of goal-orientation is that it can be hard to turn off. When I graduate. . . When I get married. . . When I have kids. . . When I get that job. . . And on and on and on. I wonder how many of us are living out in front of our own lives.
Just today, I had a moment in the middle of class where I looked around–having felt the creative energy that sometimes swirls through the classroom as students get good idea after good idea–and I smiled thinking, this, this is it. This is my life. Not some destination I’m working toward, not some check-list to finish as fast as I can, but this, a moment to live my own life.
It’s in that spirit that I raise a toast to Gratitude Party 2020!
Gratitude Dare #1: Invite a friend to 30 days of pep-in-your-step gratitude. All they need to do is subscribe and CLICK RIGHT HERE.
If we are going to ask for our daily bread, we’ve got to take the time to receive it and eat it. God provides, but we’ve got to slow down long enough to taste and see.
I’ve got three drink vessels lined up on my windowsill to the left of my favorite 60’s green floral rocking armchair. The vessels spell out my Saturday. Coffee. Water. Margarita.
Once, when talking about my ideas for a book, a delightful soul (who shall remain anonymous) smiled and said that I should name it, “Somewhere Between a Margarita and a Midlife Crisis.” That title seems just about right for 2020.
But I digress. . .
I haven’t written for awhile here. I’ve been percolating. Putting up words in notebooks. Wondering on paper, not landing. Soaking up new information, not sure where to place it all.
Growing up, my dad used to say, “Slow down, Ev,” as I would zoom off in my first-car-gold Chevy Beretta, buckling my seat belt on the way up our country driveway.
I wrecked that car.
I still need to slow down–but I’m moving slower these quarantine months. When we boil down a big pot of garden tomatoes, or balsamic vinegar, the reduction is strong–more itself–undiluted.
I’m feel boiled down, more Evi than I’ve been before.
Loving a first sip of this margarita. Loving the new Taylor Swift album that I’m playing for the millionth time–sensing that strangely, while 2020 waves swirl around me, I’m anchored.
Reducing back to myself.
Back to the Good Stuff.
A small-town librarian.
A teacher of writing.
A lover of notebooks and Mexican food and licorice.
Thankful for a friend who asked if I’d lead yoga in the park–something I’ve never done. She thinks I can.
So I’ll try.
And embrace the idea that yoga is less about getting your body into the perfect pose, and more about how it feels to be in your body, more about slowing down thoughts, to yoke ourselves to some Deep Goodness and remember.
My mom says that writing saves my life; yoga has saved my body.
A body that I’ve–in ways big and small–wanted to escape sometimes.
To have doctors use words like “malformed” while looking at X-Rays of you.
I teach word parts to high school students, Doc. “Mal” = bad. Wrong. Off.
These hips that started hurting years ago after a run with friends before a California wedding reception.
So I’ve seen chiropractors. . .
and physical therapists. . .
and everyone except an orthopedist.
Because kids with scoliosis hate orthopedists. Even positive kids who write blogs about gratitude.
But this Covid time, this slower time, finally got me to into an orthopedist’s office–breathing fast like a 12-year-old getting fitted for a back brace–to talk to a doctor who is going to help. And while I’m getting a second opinion and moving slow, I’m finding out what’s wrong, even when the answers aren’t what I want.
And for that, I’m petulant-thankful.
Like so many things in 2020, I would just like to escape this. But sometimes the hard is the first step toward what’s next. And while this part of this post might seem cryptic, the truth is I’m not sure what’s next. . . surgery maybe. We’ll see.
Because I’m moving forward.
Three vessels on my windowsill. . .
Still here writing.
Still thankful. . . in 2020.
Gratitude Dare. . . make a list of 20 things that make you thankful with your favorite drink vessel sitting to the side.
I didn’t see it then, but it turned out that getting fired from Apple was the best thing that could have ever happened to me. The heaviness of being successful was replaced by the lightness of being a beginner again, less sure about everything. It freed me to enter one of the most creative periods of my life.
Steve Jobs, cofounder of Apple
I hesitate to even use this title. How can I–how dare I–even talk about gratitude now? It is certainly from a place of safety that I write, able to teach from home and be safe with my own kids and husband who works from home. First of all, I am thankful for those who are straight-up heroes–out there, risking health and safety to keep the rest of us safe.
It is too soon to even think of gratitude, right? Our bodies are grieving, and being sad/angry/mad/whatever–sometimes in waves of mere hours–is tiring. Some days we need to rest. Some days we need to move. Some days we need to apologize to those quarantined with us. And all days we need each other. And time with “each other,” events with “each other,” are the very things we’re all grieving.
What a weird time.
But gratitude’s rebellious power comes when we dare to mine for thanks in spaces that make us feel anything but grateful. I saw an Instagram post that has me thinking:
What has the Corona Virus taken away from you today? (Grief)
What has the Corona Virus not taken away from you today? (Awareness)
What has the Corona Virus given you today? (Blessing)
That last one says blessing. . . and it makes me think gratitude. After the waves of grief, Martha Beck notes that our human brains and hearts will–sometimes after a LONG time of grieving–begin to ask, “What meaning can I make with this? What beauty is still happening in spite of, and maybe even because of all this?”
The Renaissance happened after a plague.
And yes, we’re still in the crazy midst of it all, but it gives me hope to be reminded that creativity has historically grown in the spaces opened up by grief. That doesn’t erase the grief or numb the pain, but it gives us a place to set our sights, a hope to hold. And when we dare to look for how Gratitude is looking for us–instead of just worrying ourselves into a tizzy–we will be surprised again and again by the Goodness that dares to sparkle through even the crummiest of days.
Recently, I tried to do our kids’ PE warm-up in our back yard. I say try because half way through I was doubled-over breathing heavily with my hand up, indicating to my eight-year-old daughter that I needed a break before the next double run down and back.
“It’s kind of funny how you can’t even do this as well as a kindergartener and a second grader,” she said matter-of-factly, not even out of breath. “I guess it makes sense though, since we practice every day, and you basically sit and walk and read books.”
Ahem. In my own defense, I did finish the “warm up,” albeit more slowly than my younger “classmates.” But she has a point. What we practice gets easier. How much are we working out our gratitude muscles in this all-too-weird season?
This P.E. warm-up story makes me smile–and a little sore days later–knowing that while this time is scary and unexpected and ever-changing, it is also a space for gratitude, something to practice again and again, even in times and spaces that make us feel anything but grateful.
I was outside with my three-year-old daughter just at dusk. The sun was setting, and everything blushed gold for just a bit. “Look at the grass. It’s covered with polka dots,” she said looking around, in among the glow.
As I remember this, flipping through an old notebook, I am back inside that moment, breathing slow, watching the wonder of my daughter and her joy in noticing our beautiful world.
Some days–more often than I’d like to admit–I rush right by the glitter, on the way to something important, something to cross off my list. But there are–every single day–polka dots, ones that I can’t plan for, nor can I replicate, but ones I don’t want to rush by and miss.
That’s what gratitude party is all about.
Today was a polka dot day, and I am filled with thanks as we come to the end of this gratitude party. Thanks so much to everybody who helped along the way: Jake, Pam, Michelle, Jodi, Brooklyn, Curt, Janelle, Kate, Lynne, Diane, Mom, and Ralph. And probably somebody else I’m forgetting–thanks to you as well! The coolest part is that the party’s just beginning. Each day, a new day for thanks.
As kids, my sister and I would tuck our lanky little girl legs under the silage feed line edges to play in the cow pasture. It was a place beyond our normal yard, a place for adventure. We walked along the crick and pretended the rocks were our tables. We were detectives in search of glass bottles and old metal cans. We pretended like mad, and the being outside and the being together–it was all so simple. It was enough.
The cattle probably thought we were crazy, but we loved it.
And not that we can go back to that simpler time, but when was the last time we all looked around and soaked in the simple stuff, said thanks and realized–it’s enough?
It’s all wildly enough.
Today is my last post for the 2019 gratitude party. Tomorrow I’ll announce the winner of the Diane Harpster Art Calendar and wish you all a Happy Thanksgiving. So maybe the way to end is the way we began–saying thanks. Thanks for the time together with words. In a way this blog is like my grown up cow pasture, a place to adventure around and be myself with friends who like to use their imaginations too.
Thanks for hanging out till the end and reading along. It means so very much to me.
Do something that childhood you used to love. Dare to spend time “wasting” it, saying thanks.
Parker Palmer has a quote I love: “Good teaching cannot be reduced to technique; good teaching comes from the identity and integrity of the teacher.” When I read this, I think of one of my favorite teachers, Dr. Lynne Herr. Lynne learns for the sake of others–sometimes internationally–and is brave in a way that dares us all to be. Thanks Lynne for being bravely you, and for sharing your wise words here today. – Evi
In Ann Patchett’s sweeping novel The Dutch House, character Danny Conroy narrates a memoir of navigating a life marked by deep scars of abandonment and disappointment. Nursing the hurt caused by his mother’s abrupt leaving marked Danny’s life. Until he decided as an adult that it wouldn’t.
So I made the decision to change. It might seem like change was impossible given my nature and my age, but I understood exactly what there was to lose…The point wasn’t whether or not I liked it, the point was that it had to be done.
One of the most remarkable elements of being human is our ability to change. Each of us can wake up one morning and decide to change most anything. While you may have gone to bed angry, unhealthy or resentful, you can choose to wake up as a different person. You can wake up one morning and be a person who…
looks forward to going to work.
leads your rowdy class in a breathing exercise to calm them down instead of yelling at them to be quiet.
In her book, Everything is Figureoutable, Marie Forley says, “in order to solve any problem or achieve any dream, we must first make a change at the level of belief, because when you change a belief you change everything.”
You. Change. Everything.
Just like that. You can choose to let go of long-held, limiting beliefs about yourself and others. You can stop nursing hurts, even when they are justified. You can stop eating too many donuts and sit with the feelings you’ve used them to numb. Will change happen overnight? I speak from experience when I say most likely, no. But maybe it’s time to have an honest talk with a friend or family member; to make an appointment with someone who can help you navigate letting go of hurts and habits you’ve held so long that their thorny tendrils have slithered into the crevices of your heart and taken root, squeezing out space for the good stuff.
Like Danny Conroy, all of us need to decide what we have to lose if we are unwilling to change. What work needs to be done in our own lives, even if we don’t like it? After Danny made the deliberate choice to change, he found, “The rage I had carried for my mother exhaled and died. There was no place for it any more.”
What fills your heart that no longer has a place? What long-held beliefs can you let go?
Some believe it is only great power that can hold evil in check, but that is not what I have found. It is the small everyday deeds of ordinary folk that keep the darkness at bay. Small acts of kindness and love.
J. R. R. Tolkien (Gandalf)
Once, I lost my daughter at a wedding dance. One minute she was there, the next my eyes were scanning back and forth like the light on a photocopy machine trying to see a little tuft of blonde hair about three feet above the ground. I began walking with purpose, not running to cause a panic, but darting between couples and tables, dodging purses on the floor and chairs pulled out.
My mind flitted through possibilities, most of them not helpful.
Finally, I spotted her and took a breath that went all the way to my toes. She was with a helpful woman who had found her crying in the corner. With all of the tall people, she’d gotten lost in the shuffle, panicked, and retreated to the edges of the place.
The dance hall was actually a closed rectangle with only one door, so unless someone took her out, she was most likely in the room. This fact didn’t calm me when I didn’t know where she was.
As I hugged her and dried her tears, she leaned in and took her own deep breath.
I am so thankful for that woman who helped. What an act of kindness and love, to help a child–and a mom–who needed it.
Being lost is an awful feeling. . . that mix of fear and being alone and not knowing. Sometimes as a teacher–especially in those first years–it’s hard not to feel alone, like you’re some toddler, crying in the corner, unable to see above the din in this strange and loud space.
But what if we’re all feeling lost, and we’re actually the lucky ones? What if this is all really just one big dance party? That is not to say that hard stuff doesn’t happen, or that there aren’t times that are real things to worry about, but what if instead of hiding and cowering, we looked for a friendly face and asked for help? What if instead of worrying, we dared to make our way back to the dance floor? And when we can’t muster the courage ourselves, I believe that in some weird and comforting way, God is looking for us, even when we feel the most lost, even when we are way out of our comfort zone. When we are the most lost, we will be found.
So, we can lean into the wall knowing that we’re hemmed in, that someone is looking for us. Soon we will be swept up again, and feel that hug of knowing that we’re found. And who knows? We might just smile as we wipe away our tears, grab hands, find the rhythm together, and dance.
Thank someone who helped you out when you felt lost.
She will not worry. She will brave this new season one day at a time.”
I have a favorite tree. In our small little town, it is practically invisible most days of the year. It doesn’t have twisty branches. It doesn’t provide sweeping shade. In many ways, it is just some random tree. But for one week each year it shows off. Zesty orange leaves fire through ombre green, eclipsing every other tree on the street. It doesn’t last long, but in that burst, this tree is anything but ordinary.
What if each and every day has its own bright splash of color–and the Nintendo challenge of living is to notice? What if leveling-up is as simple as “pulling over” to take it in and say thanks?
I woke up on the cusp of this weekend wanting to remind myself–today and next week, with a little time off coming–to notice the splashes of color, the ones so fleeting that we miss them in all the zooming around, in the shopping kick-start, in the food and the busy. What if we all took a deep breath, slowed down this year, and secretly thought our thanks in the midst of the most ordinary beauty-splash moments?
Would we tear up as Thanks-giving finds a way to give something back to us?
Cheers to trees that show off, to seasons that change, and to the hope that dares to take it all in one day at a time. . . saying thanks.
Stop and take a photo of something in your ordinary life, that for some reason looks anything but ordinary today. #gratitudeparty
Recently I went shoe shopping, a quick stop on a way to a conference event. I couldn’t find shoes that fit for my size eleven boney-long feet, but I did buy a pair of multi-colored polka dot socks. The brand said simply, “Happy Socks.” Who doesn’t need a pair of those?
I paid the cashier, tucked them in my purse, and headed to a little tapas restaurant with the thirty minutes I had before the conference started. I didn’t have tons of time, but I wanted to stop as I’d heard rave reviews about this place. Everyone said the brussels sprouts were amazing.
I peeked through the large oak door smiling. The hostess smiled back. “I’m eating tapas alone,” I said as I shimmied up to the bar. The bar tender smiled. He took my order for the brussels sprouts and turned on his heel. To feel less awkward sitting there all alone, I took out my pen and began to write.
I smiled at the cover of my notebook as I turned the navy blue cover. I was only bold enough to buy it because it was in the three-dollar bargain bin at Staples. The soft cover sported small gold dots and the bold words “Brilliant Ideas.”
When my food arrived, I did the thing that you’re not supposed to do and took a picture of it to post on Instagram. But it was more than just pretty food, the lemony-garlic flavor from the brussels sprouts lived up to the hype This was straight-up yummy.
Even with their yummy taste, the portion was large. So as I wiped the corner of my mouth and tossed my cloth napkin on the bar, I tucked a tiny to-go box in my purse–on top of my notebook and new socks–and said, “thank you!” to both the bartender and hostess.
I almost skipped as I walked along, just in time for the speaker. What a great night this was shaping up to be.
As I entered the event, my sunny mood evaporated. The entry table had women, all in hard core awesome professional wear with heels that seemed to go up up to their knees. Even their ponytails looked intimidating. I froze at the name tag table, in my casual teacher wear. I watched as each woman wrote her name in swoop cursive and dropped her business card into the large glass bowl for a drawing.
I had written in my journal at the restaurant how proud I’d been of myself, to just do something that I wanted to do, to really just go for it and be myself. In the midst of these women, the earlier thought felt childish. I felt far from home as I shuffled by the large bowl without a card to drop in.
I slipped into one of the middle seats, and read on my phone as I waited. During the session, the speaker began to focus on writing. She asked us to get out some paper. I smiled at the chance to take out my notebook for the second time that night. As I reached in to my purse, I felt the wetness of the edges of the pages, and pulled my hand back quickly, hoping that the strong lemony-garlic smell wouldn’t be noticed by the women sitting close around me. The brussels sprouts had spilled out in my purse, all over the notebook, all over my new socks.
Luckily the woman sitting beside me offered some extra paper as I quickly zipped my purse back shut. As we began to write, I couldn’t shake my disappointment. “Why is it,” I wrote, “that when I dare to think, for just a minute, that I might have one idea for a notebook labeled ‘brilliant ideas’ that a mess always ensues? Why is it that when things just start to go right, they always turn wrong again? Why can’t the socks just be plain ole’ happy socks?”
Something about the happy socks being unhappy, broke my stress and caused me to giggle. I brought my hand up to my mouth, as those around me wrote silently of their brilliant business ideas. I am not a business woman. I will never be a high heel gal. I am a farm girl who likes notebooks and teacher pants. I am a cardigan-wearing, book-loving gal who spills brussels sprouts and sometimes makes a mess of things. My “brilliant ideas” will never be pristine or just right, but they are mine, nonetheless.
Later that night I threw away that notebook. I walked along the big city street, below the big buildings, comfy in my teacher clothes, as I munched on leftover brussels sprouts–straight out of the container oozing in my purse.
I think to be a teacher, or to succeed at anything really, we need to accept that our “brilliant idea” notebook—no matter how pretty it’s cover, how cost-effective it’s price, how slick it’s pages—will get trashed. It will never live up to our perfect hopes, but what if the patina is what adds to it’s preciousness?
Part of the teacher paycheck comes in stories, part of what we get out of this life are tales of ridiculousness, of things going so wrong–so that we can notice when they go right. May we dare to wash up our happy socks and try again tomorrow, in search of yummy brussels sprouts and new beginnings.
Today is one of my favorite days each month, book club! Food, friends, book talk. . . this might just be my gratitude Graceland. I am so thankful for Kate. At nearly every book club, after it feels like we’ve exhausted the discussion, Kate says something wise and insightful, something that makes me better, and spurs action toward serving others. I love having people like that in my life. Today, and especially every book club day, I’m thankful for Kate Bolz. – Evi
Today, I am grateful for the world’s true believers.
I recently decided to run for public office.
For some people running for office is a career move, for others a performance on a political stage, for others a reach for power.
For me, deciding to run for office has been a leap of faith. As a social worker with small town roots, I don’t have the connections that some politicians do.
I do have heart and belief that public service is another way to be of use to my community and to live the values of caring for our neighbors and loving one another that I learned in a church pew.
So putting my name out to the world is a leap of faith that my beliefs will be reflected back to me.
So…deep breath…and say it out loud: I believe – in Democracy, in fairness, in access to health care and in the good ol’ USA. Then ask others if they believe too. Repeat for 16 months.
It’s a hard time to jump in. Has public life ever been quite so ugly?
But the chorus of believers has been music to my ears.
People are encouraging and kind, hopeful and helpful.
People pick up my belief with me when it gets heavy.
People show their belief with contributions and greeting cards.
People proclaim fiercely their belief in policies that protect human rights and the right to make a living farming.
It’s a congregation of sorts, a choir of a kind. It’s more than just believing in me, it is also keeping lights of hope and a better world alive.
Truthfully, it’s an odd system: one that is inextricably tied to campaign contributions. It may not be the fairest system, but it does put power in the hands of true believers.
So today I am grateful for the believers, for the fierce believers who fight, for the believers who say yes, for the believers that write postcards and knock on doors, for the believers that light their candles and hold them up so others can see what’s in their hearts.
To the believers like you, reader, who believe in a better brighter world, show it in your thoughts, words and deeds, and express gratitude for the beauty that comes back to you – I say thank you.
Gratitude challenge: Give away your belief today by giving time or treasure or by lighting someone else’s candle with your own.