gratitude gal turns six

“But if your strife strikes at your sleep, remember spring swaps snow for leaves.”

-Mumford and Sons

This spring marks six years of writing here at the ole blog. Six. A lot has happened in that time. Instead of a one-year-old, my tall first grader is turning seven.

She just cut her hair.

She looks older.

So today, in the spirit of haircuts, springtime, and fresh starts, welcome to the renewed space here at WordPress. Thanks to Blogger for six years of good stuff.

Along with a new layout, I’m sending a gratitude dare out into the cold and snow-covered universe. I dare us all to find time in the next week to sit down and make a little gratitude list. We’re talking 20 minutes tops, folks. Find a hot beverage, a comfy seat; find a little quiet. This time at the start of March–Ash Wednesday–is the time where we might need to wake up those gratitude muscles.

Mine are feeling weak. But I’m here. And you’re here. And as I write a few down my list, I randomly think about that one kid at school who drives me crazy–but whose little routine at the end of each day has me smiling.

The class lines up with backpacks loaded, and I fist-bump them all on the way out the door. For some reason this little guy insists that I fist bump his head. For him, a normal fist bump just won’t do. It’s a quirky part of my days, but one little thing that makes me smile as I add it to my list. I’m not experiencing it now, and yet I am.

Gratitude is magic like that.

Let’s not forget about gratitude.

Let’s not forget.

“The void is filled with love.”

– Parker J. Palmer

Stepping Up to Gratitude

At the start of this month, I went to see the movie A Star is Born by myself.  As the credits rolled, I sat sobbing.


In a scene that I’m still thinking about, the famous country singer (played by Bradley Cooper) invites the unknown songwriter (played by Lady Gaga) to come out on stage and sing.  As he gestures from the limelight, her eyes, her body, her everything says, “No.”  And in my red velvet movie chair, I grip the armrest and hold my breath.


Finally, she steps–I exhale–and I can feel the other five people in the movie theater cheer as she steps up to the mic.

I think this part of the movie is so stirring because like this character, a part of me would rather not share my creativity.  And yet another part smiles when I do.

The trouble is that these stepping up moments require gusto and courage.  And it seems those muscles are hard to make strong, no matter how many times we flex.

But every new day asks that we step into the gift of courage.  We need not manufacture it.

So, when a friend asked me at book club in October, “Hey, are you doing Gratitude Gal this year?” I’m thankful that I just got started.

Often, I believe, these step-up-to-the-mic moments aren’t big.  Often they are quite little, and it’s only in looking back that we see them.

It’s the little choices we make.  The times we care that we get to sing our song, instead of worrying so much about how it will sound to all those ears around us.  

The times we slow down enough to notice, to breathe a deep breath, and say a little prayer of thanks.  These thanks give us a sense of what microphones are worth stepping up to, of which ones might fit our hands, and which ones are for someone else.

As for me, the note I want to play again and again, is gratitude.  Thanks so much for reading along.  It means very much to me.


Evi (Gratitude Gal, 2018)

The Golden Right Now


“Remember that we are always in the presence of the sacred. . .the sacred nature of life apparent to those who are open to it.  We are a part of the infinite, which is in this moment expressing itself through us and in every facet of daily life.” – John McQuiston, Always We Begin Again


The weather’s colder.  The leaves crispy as I wrap my jacket around myself a little tighter. We’re making that shift to inside people yet again.  I look at that enclosed house with terror.  Where will the kids’ energy fit this winter? 

As I shuffle in, putting my coat up on a hook, “Let’s have a game night,” you say.

And we do.

After tacos, we sit around our golden-wood table, the middle leaf removed and leaning against the wall.  Now little arms can reach all the game pieces.  Even though we often eat together here, this feels closer. 

Every other night of the week after supper, at least one of us has our noses pointed at a screen or at a pile of laundry or at little cars and Lego Blocks.

But here we are, for once, pointed at each other.

You’re in your comfy sweats, our daughter (6) squirms to my left—her clothes mis-matched—our son (4) bounces in his wooden chair, his tiny knees tucked in, so he can straighten up, tall as sis.

Close up like this, I see our little girl’s front tooth missing, her tongue wiggling the other one.  I can soak in our son’s freckles and wonder when his facial expressions got so darn animated. 

And you. I see you. 

You’re not new to me, but in this moment, you are.  As I’m reminded that love can get too grown-up sometimes, as we shift from all-night talks about hopes and dreams to quick car convos about who’s-got-what-activity-this-week and what groceries might go on the list.

In your grin at these tiny humans, in your banter and puffed-out chest each time you gleefully send one of them packing back to home base, I see the guy I fell in love with all those years ago.

Louisa May Alcott has a quote I love, “I am not afraid of storms for I am learning how to sail my ship.”

I see the guy I fell in love with, but there’s so much more to you now.  Layers left by the storms we’ve weathered, or maybe layers that have fallen away . . . losing your mom, losing that baby who would have pulled one more chair around this game night table, and some days just plain losing each other as we swam in our own pools of grief, spilling over on each other.

Some days we’re still swimming, but as we sit here at game night, I know we’ve been learning to sail our ship.  This version of you—this daddy version—comforts me in ways that are richer, deeper, more sure-footed than I ever could have imagined when I walked down that red church aisle and said, “I do.”

Robert Frost (and later Pony Boy in The Outsiders) must have known about our game night, must have known about the small-town life we would build, when he said simply and beautifully, “Nothing gold can stay.”

So even when you steal glances below the table between turns, your iPhone full of fantasy football scores drawing you like a magnet, I smile, knowing it’s all part of our golden right now

So, when our son stands up in final defeat, our daughter gloating all the while, I love it when he says, “Hey dad, I’m gonna’ play with you next time.  Next time we’ll win.”

He knows the secret that to be on your team is to win.  He knows, and I know too.

***

Happy Thanksgiving from Gratitude Gal. 

. . . So God Made a Farmer

Today I am thankful to my friend, Doug, for sharing his words of gratitude.  It has been a challenging year for so many farmers.  Thanks again Doug–you and your family are part of why I love our small-town, farming community. 

***

Most of you have heard the Dodge ad featuring Mr. Paul Harvey’s voice from a Super Bowl a few years back.  I can remember the exact spot where I was sitting when I heard it first. My friend Evi was sitting next to me, and I think we both thought of our dads.  I still have “seasonal allergies” when I hear it played.

This harvest for our farm is now officially the longest that I have been involved with.  Generally, when we start harvesting in September, harvest would conclude before now. We have finished in December before, but those harvest seasons started in October. Christmas music in a combine does not bring a sense of joyful holiday wishes and thoughts; it’s more of a stark realization that time is running out, and we need to get this “stuff” over with.

I farm with my parents, my wife, and our two sons. Being a family business has a great deal of rewards and challenges.  Any business arguments will carry over to the home and vice versa.  Communicating is the number one job skill for us, and unfortunately the one we fail at the most frequently.  I am sure we are not the only family alone in that failure.

Any profession has its ups and downs, successes and failures, and from my vantage point, we focus on the failures more than success.  I don’t think that’s unique to farming, but like any in-home business, those reminders of a bad day can be right out the front door or follow you inside. A shirt covered in bovine amniotic fluid from a bad night calving, jeans that wreak of smoke from a hay trailer that caught on fire and shut down highway 41 for two hours, or cuts and bruises on your arms from a combine water pump that had anger issues, are reminders of days that went more off the rails than on. Sometimes the isolation of this job has its time for quiet reflection, and other times that isolation manifests the failures into more weight than one can carry . . .

That’s where my gratitude has kicked in lately.  Often, things that seem beyond my control can be brought back by reminding myself, “I got into this mess and I can get myself out.”  If I can’t, call someone and ask for help: physical, emotional, mental, or spiritual.  I am grateful to work with dad and the rest of my family every day.

These are things that I’m grateful for this harvest: my wife and kids that feed calves almost every night, grandmas who run combines with their grandsons, long text conversations that make me laugh, Mountain Dew, diesel engines that start in ten degree weather, being voluntold to do this writing, and warm suppers.

The Coolest Little Free thing on the Internet

Screenshot from tinygratitude.com.
Is your e-mail in-box the bane of your existence?  Mine used to be.  I would joke to colleagues that it was like a zit I had to pop every day or it would get out of control.  

So, after that delightfully gross comparison (yes, I work with middle grades kiddos), I want to share a cool little thing I found on the Internet that just might brighten your in-box.  

It’s free.  

To try it out, sign up at tinygratitude.com to get an e-mail that prompts us to think of just one word of gratitude each day.  You respond, it makes a word cloud, and boom–a little more gratitude in your in-box.

I like the simplicity, and I find it delightful.

If you want to give it a try, it only takes about 10 seconds to sign-up here.

Happy Thanksgiving week friends.  

10 Reasons to Watch It’s a Wonderful Life for Thanksgiving

Photo from historyadventuring.com.

“We know love by this. . . to lay down our lives for one another.” – 1 John 3:16


I put up my Christmas tree.  I know, I know, I’m part of the problem.  I should wait until after Thanksgiving.  But as I sit here in the glow of my twinkle lights, I’m smiling.  

Not only did the kids and I put up the tree, but I also watched It’s a Wonderful Life (It’s on Amazon Prime).  My aunts on the Steffens side always had this playing during the holidays when I was growing up.  I’m convinced it’s a Thanksgiving movie.  

Top 10 Reasons to watch this 1938 film for Thanksgiving this year:

1.  When that one guy bails in the pool.  During the dance scene, the gym floor opens up.  The man in charge (I think the Principal) starts to panic as chaos ensues.  The moment where he throws his hands up and bombs in himself is a good life lesson, and it’s priceless.

2.  People say so much while not saying anything.  How often are George and Mary saying everything with just their faces?  A favorite author of mine, Madeline L’Engle, had two signs hanging in her office: “Listen to the Silence.  Stay open to the voice of the Spirit.” And “Slow me Down, Lord.”  Sometimes fewer words are needed.

3.  Keep it simple.  The opening credits to this film are pieces of paper with someone grabbing one piece after another, sliding them out of the camera shot.  Don’t make it complicated.  Simple can be beautiful.

4.  Look at my life with fresh eyes.  When George runs through Bedford Falls near the end, suddenly normal is beautiful and worth yelling about.  “Merry Christmas you wonderful old Building and Loan!”  

5.  For the fully-grown Oak trees.  There’s not just one, but ten.  The visual of this says something about the value of sticking with people, of sticking somewhere over the long haul.  How might we feel more gratitude if we’re living Oak Tree lives?

6.  For the old times music.  Who doesn’t want to get the song, “Buffalo Gals Won’t You Come Out Tonight,” stuck in their head?  You’re welcome.

7.  To reflect on life.  The big question is asked twice, “What do you want, George?” And “What do you want, Mary?”  

8.  To see Zuzu.  She’s cute.  You can’t help but smile with her and that flower and, “Not a smidge of temperature.”  I just love it.

9.  To giggle at Clarence.  Seconds after a tense situation, he’s always laughing with his angel friends at the bigger picture.  What if we all just move on and laugh?

10.  To be reminded.  Our true value is not in what we make or what we earn, but it is in our relationships.  “No man (or woman) is a failure who has friends.”

***

Cheers to that and Happy Thanksgiving Week!  Thanks so much to anyone who’s reading along.  Today’s Gratitude Dare is to express gratitude to a relative, so if/when you see family this week, take the time to say thanks.  

Gratitude Held in Your Hands

“Everything is a gift.  The degree to which we are awake to this truth is a measure of our gratefulness, and gratefulness is a measure of our aliveness.” – David Stendl-Rast

Junior high me was gangly.  She had just swapped glasses for contacts, and she wore a scoliosis back brace.  Her notebooks were littered with scribbles, so-and-so + so-and-so, TLA (true love aways), stick figures, hearts, stars, and practice signatures of my first name with the last name of the boy I liked.

I would like to say that my notebooks have grown up, but as I sit in meetings or trainings even today, my pen always finds a way to doodle, sometimes even my married name. . . Evi Jane Wusk.

One of my favorite writing teachers/writers/teachers of writing is Penny Kittle.  As I had my students complete one of her pre-writing exercises for narratives recently, I was struck by the gratefulness I felt when I made my classroom example, and struck by the memories it brought of those old notebooks.

It’s simple.  Draw an outline of your hand, and then fill it with words and doodles of things you’ve held that mattered.  Sometimes Gratitude is so very tangible, something you can hold in your hand.    

Maybe it’s just a silly scribble, a doodle of a junior high girl–but try it, you might be surprised at the memories that come, at the gratitude you’ve held in your hands.

***

Cheers to the weekend.  I’ll be back here writing Monday–Thanksgiving week. 🙂

Taking the Guilt out of Gratitude

“Gratitude is not only an emotion; it is something we do. It is like tending a garden. It takes planting and watering and weeding. It takes time and attention. It takes learning. It takes routine. But, eventually, the ground yields, shoots come forth, and thanksgiving blooms.” – Diana Butler Bass, Grateful

When I read about gratitude, I always feel guilty–like it’s something I should do.  Once I bought an orange gratitude journal from Barnes and Noble and set it by my bedside table, planning to write three things I’m thankful for each night–good plan right? 

It is possible that no item in my home has ever made me feel more ungrateful.

I would come to the end of the day, walk up to our bed rubbing my eyes, and think, “Oh, crap, now I need to feel grateful,” as I begrudgingly picked up my pen.

So, I’m starting to think about gratitude as less of an obligation and instead as something that’s bigger and smaller.

Gratitude Smaller . . . 

  • Instead of a notebook, put a gratitude rock by your bedside, maybe place it on top of your phone.  So when you reach for it in the morning, it’s a gentle reminder to start the day with gratitude.
  • Do you make to-do lists at work?  When you’re in this writing mode, quickly jot three gratitudes at the top before getting to task.  It only takes about a minute (and who doesn’t love to procrastinate?)  

Gratitude Bigger . . .

  • What if gratitude isn’t just personal, what if it becomes central in our families, institutions, organizations, and communities?  When I left my Waverly job, each retiree or person leaving received a hand-made pot from the art teacher that contained notes from students.  While presenting it, the librarian read a heartfelt note about the person’s unique gifts.  Afterward she said, “Now you’ve been potted,” with a smile.  Something about this meeting moved beyond work into something real, something so needed in our communities.  How could this inspire a similar gratitude ceremony in your family, institution, or community?
  • What if you start a class or a meeting with everyone sharing three gratitudes?  At first everyone will groan (plan on it), but reading them aloud might just be magic.  After the first day I did this with my students in November, they asked for it, and they linger at the cork-board where they are posted.  It changes the tenor of our community–and while it feels simple–I sense the group practice means something bigger.

So while gratitude does have a marketing problem–it’s not easy to make sexy or bold or important–it really is free and simple and sometimes it can even feel a little magic.  It’s not an obligation as much as it is a way to play in the world and show care.  

So, it’s not about guilt.  It’s about gratitude.  

***

Today’s gratitude dare is to buy and send inexpensive thank you cards.  So the next time you walk by that display, maybe grab a pack.  You don’t have to sign ’em–just use ’em. 😉

Brave and True

Jim and Kelly at their daughter Maggie’s wedding.


I am thankful to my friend Kelly for sharing her words today.  She and I met in graduate school at UNL.  More recently I’ve loved seeing her as a new a grandma as she shares pictures on Facebook.  Not only is she smart and kind, she’s one of the bravest and truest women I’ve met.  Thank you Kelly.


***

November 28, 2010 is a day that will forever be ingrained in my mind.  I was ironing my clothes for the week, something I always did on a Sunday night.  I heard my husband, Jim, making some rather strange noises, almost like he was having a nightmare, in the family room.  I went to check on him and he kept reassuring me that he was ok.  Within minutes, he was unconscious.  I called 911 and screamed for my daughter Molly. As I was talking to the 911 operator, my husband stopped breathing, so my CPR training kicked in, and I was breathing for him until the EMT’s arrived.  As they were wheeling my husband out to the ambulance, they told me where they were taking him and that it didn’t look good.

Driving to the hospital with my heart in my throat, I was praying every step of the way, “Please God, let him be ok.”  Sitting in the Emergency waiting room, I was surrounded by family and friends, all praying and waiting.  A neurologist came to speak to me and told me my husband was as sick as any human could be.  My brother, an Emergency doctor, told me to prepare myself and my daughters for three possible outcomes: he makes it out of this ok, he would be permanently brain damaged, or he would die.  I would later learn that Jim had about a 7% chance of survival.  Talk about bringing me to my knees!

I was told that Jim had suffered from a ruptured brain aneurysm and he had bleeding on the brain.  When a body experiences that trauma, it usually sends confusing messages to other parts of the body and they begin to shut down.  The most common outcome is death.  Jim was a runner and was in amazing physical condition.  That saved his life.  His body was strong enough to overcome those messages and keep him breathing and his heart beating.  Thank you, God!

Jim spent six weeks in the ICU at the Nebraska Medical Center.  He was surrounded by amazing nurses and outstanding doctors.  My daughters and I were surrounded by family, friends, church family, co-workers, and even my third grade students.  We never wanted for anything and felt support and love from all of them.  Thank you, God!

After his six-week stint in the ICU, Jim was finally moved to the neurology floor for a week before being transferred to Madonna in Lincoln for two weeks.  We truly thought we had dodged a bullet, as Jim could walk, talk, eat, and function as a normal adult.  He came home, and we thought we had put all of this behind us.

We later found out that the blood from Jim’s brain had traveled down his spine and was causing scar tissue to form. The blood also pooled in his left eye socket, scar tissue was forming there, too.  He had a surgery to remove the scar tissue in his eye, but it was too severe, so he lost vision in his eye.  As the scar tissue continued to pull on his spinal cord, his walking began to worsen.  Jim endured three different back surgeries trying to remove the scar tissue in his spine, but to no avail.  He now walks with the use of an AFO, a cane, and sometimes a walker.  The spine has also affected other areas of Jim’s body and has made it difficult for him to travel and do some of the day-to-day things we all take for granted.

This November will mark the 8-year anniversary of almost losing my amazing husband.  So first and foremost, I am so grateful that I have had the past 8 years with him, and for the 33 ½ years being married to him.  I am grateful he got to see Molly graduate from High School and college.  I am grateful he was around to see Maggie graduate from college. I am grateful that my husband encouraged me to pursue my doctorate and supported me at the age of 49 to switch careers and move to teaching higher education. I am so very grateful Jim was able to walk Maggie and Molly down the aisle on their wedding days. I am grateful he was around to see both of his daughters become gainfully employed educators. I am grateful he was here to celebrate the birth of our first grandchild this past May.  I am grateful that I still have my very best friend to spend my time with.  He is a living, breathing example of God’s miracles on Earth. Thank you, God!

to Notice



I was scooting down the school hallway, copies in hand, shuffling my keys to unlock my classroom when I saw her, she was standing still and looking at posters.

“Good morning,” I said quickly.

“Aren’t these neat,” she said, gesturing so that I would stop and really look.  “They really are saying something.”

I have walked past these posters what feels like one million times and never taken the time to read one.  As I stood there with her, reading one after the other, I felt my shoulders softening, my to-do list somehow feeling more manageable.

Yes, we teachers move fast to get things done, but this woman also had things to get done–and one of the things on her list is to notice, to notice the good stuff around us.

This small interaction changed my pace for the rest of the morning.

I was moving slower, but yet getting more done.

I noticed more, saw more things that were actually pretty cool if I took the little time to notice.

It was as if the noticing–with gratitude–had re-set my whole day to a better metronome beat.

And I’m not saying I’ve got this all figured out, far from it, but it’s something I’m working on.

So today’s challenge is to notice.  Notice that pretty tree on the way home from work.  Notice something about someone you live with that you haven’t taken the time to really see for awhile.  Notice that picture you hung on your own wall.  Why was it there again?  Maybe use your camera, or just use your five senses to notice today. . . and say thanks.