Gratitude Feed

So Many Stories

Cookie bowl

Yesterday afternoon, after a "no good horrible very bad day," (Thank you, Judith Viorst, for that wonderfully accurate group of words!), I curled up, just wanting to go home. Managing a group of middle school a sub, no less...on one of the last remaining days of the school calendar year is not for the faint of heart. Neither of us much wanted to be where we happened to be.

Mrs. M. poked her head in, quietly asking me if it would bother me if she cleaned, and I immediately relaxed. No matter that she had a schedule of things to get done, after working a full day already, she put my comfort ahead of her "to do" list.

As she worked, we chatted back and forth about how our days had gone, and I asked her about her summer plans.

A huge smile broke out, and eyes twinkling, she told me, "School. I'm going back to school."

Delighted I pressed for details, and without hesitation, she filled me in.

"I'm going to learn computers and how to manage an office. I want to help my husband. And, most of all, I want to learn to write English. I can speak it, read it, but I am not so good with with the writing."

By now, we both smiled, me in sheer delight that this lovely woman, some 40 years of age, I think, was willing to put herself out into a great unknown area. She smiled, I'm guessing, because someone took the time to hear her story.

You see, Mrs. M. works during the school day in the school cafeteria, and immediately after to her duties as janitor. She never seems to stop moving. I know she's a fantastic cook, her fresh guacamole and other "special" dishes, made everyone's day.

My dad always reminded us to "see" and acknowledge those faceless workers we tend to ignore - the cooks, the janitors, the delivery men, the folks who pick up the trash. We tend to take them, and what they do, for granted.

It always pays off, human kindness, taking me into some one else's world and outside of mine (which in this case pretty much involved self pity), and you can bet that there's going to be a great story.

I asked if she would miss the school and the cooking, and she answered immediately with a soft yes.

Pausing for a moment, she continued, "You see, I think this is my gift, to be of service.  To nurture and take of others with my cooking."

Wow, what a lesson and wake up call for me. Yes, I'd pretty much been through the ringer with the day's events, but where I curled up and tried to shut out the world, she kept right on moving. The kids whiz by the cafeteria staff, most of them not even making eye contact. Not so much out of rudeness, but simply eager to eat and then play outside.

Despite this, with love, kindness, and talent, seldom being thanked for her efforts, she would miss it all.

I told her that I admired her, her willingness to learn, to serve, and that I'd keep her in my prayers. I told her that I meant that, and my words were a promise to her.

She asked me to pray for her son, a former student, because he was heading to Iraq, and she was worried. Of course, I answered "yes."

If I hadn't asked those few questions, I'd never have been rewarded with the beautiful hopes and dreams behind this woman, who simply wanted to serve.

All of us have stories behind our faces, stories we all want to tell. We want to be seen and heard.

Being a collector of stories, well, it doesn't get much better.


Note: the above photo shows my mother's "cookie bowl" with stories all its own. I shot it last week as part of an online class assignment, and it seemed to be a perfect fit. My only regret from yesterday's encounter with Mrs. M., is that I should have asked to take her photo.



It seems to be the kind of day that makes me yawn, makes me want to snuggle under the covers and read before I ease into the day.

In so many ways, it's a Bella Grace day, at least the day's beginning. I savor this publication, the heft and texture of its pages a treat for anyone who adores paper. I get lost in the photography, studying it, gleaning ideas, simply enjoying.

Part of me wants to gulp it down in one go, but I'd lose so much. So, I settled in to enjoy the first piece, "Hello There, Friend," by Beth Lehman & Lindsay Crandall, two online friends.

A year ago, February, the two women decided to collaborate, writing each other a series of letters, always including a photograph. What I love, is that the letters focus on everyday moments, hopes, fears, and dreams. Both hoped to become more mindful, more present in their own lives.

I'll be rereading this piece, but I wanted to share a few lines by Lindsay:

"The ordinary is like meditation; it's like prayer. We say the same things and do the same things over and over again. Yet, each time we utter the prayer, each time we do the mundane task, it pulls us in a bit deeper if we let it...They are the beautiful, ordinary stuff of life."

Later, she writes: "I grab onto the quiet when I can, like a piece of driftwood floating by."

And, later yet, "Do the work that feeds your soul."

As I read the back and forth letters from these two women, I loved that each acknowledged the very real struggle it is to be mindful, acknowledging the mundane activities that fill our lives. They kept it real.

Keeping it real needs to happen more often; I struggle to stay mindful, even for a few minutes sometimes, let alone the day. I forget to be grateful, to be content, despite my ongoing work to do so.

Heading downstairs, I thought, ok, try again. Try again and again until it starts to work.

7:30 found me pulling out the ingredients for blueberry muffins, enjoying the textures and smells. Pulling out the "cookie bowl," one passed down by my mother, I began the process, making myself go slow, thinking about all the times my mom had used the bowl.

But, even trying to stay mindful, my mind wandered...the chipmunks outside the kitchen window are just too darn cute!

And, then, somehow, I focused on the mint growing, the mint that had escaped the pot last summer and rooted itself on the edges of the walkway.

Growing up, our yard was a delight...wild berries growing on the edges of the woods tasted like summer, and always, always, the smell of mint. Much to my dad's puzzlement, I headed for the mint every time I came home. Sometimes, finding it became difficult, since along the way, dad determined it to be a weed, and one to be cut back every chance he got. I always found some, though not always in the same spot. I think it became a game between the two of us.

Once, I popped the muffins into the oven, I grabbed some scissors and headed outside...two kinds of mint, some lemon balm, a tiny orange wildflower, and one of the first hydrangeas still opening up.

Back inside to arrange my treasures, crushing leaves as I went, taking time to inhale scents of lemon and mint. Heaven!

Then, spreading butter across the still warm muffins. Oh, yum.

And, now, it's time for the mundane - time to vacuum, clean bathrooms, and so on.

No matter. There's tomorrow morning and a new piece to be read.

Life is good, don't you think?

We just need to be open to its gifts, to ways to feed our souls, and to the many ways we can pray.

Tiny simple ways, tiny simple gifts packing an awful lot of power.





I Want to Say


Now that I’m home
I just want to say I was there
And that I loved waking up, seeing the water
Listening to the gulls screeching
Their good mornings

I want you to know now that I’ve left
That I liked this tiny barrier island town
Tucked along Virginia’s Eastern Shore
I loved the ponies munching the soft rain heavy grass
Completely unfazed by clicking cameras
I loved spying the glorious thistles
Nestled in the grass and hearing that voice say,
“What have you found there?”

Let me say that all the gray days
Just didn’t matter as we
Explored tiny forgotten towns along Route 13
Dusty antique stores with treasures longing to be found
Rusty vintage cars resting in fields of golden yellow buttercups
And dreaming of past glory

I loved the smell of coffee percolating in my mother’s
Battered ancient aluminum pot
And the leisurely breakfasts as the two of us
Watched egrets wading through muck, hunting for their own morning meal
Followed the course of the time worn working vessels
Headed out to sea

Let me just say
I delighted in the taste of crisp crab cakes
Fresh strawberries with crème fraiche and
Glasses of our favorite wines,
Each drop holding its own memories

Now that I’m home
I want to tell you
That we sat captivated
Watching the ominous gray front marching
Across the cloud laden sky
Listening to thunder rumbling in the distance
Then making us jump with one resounding crack
And the sheer whiteness of the lightening
Stretching its fingers along the horizon
Making us blink in delight and surprise

Know that I loved it all
Tumbling gray surf
Salt stung skin
Rain drops pelting against windows
Shell fragments dropped into our pockets
Time to just be alone with him
Cherishing the gift of the two of us


Note: Modeled after Natalie Goldberg's "I Just Want to Say."


What's Not Wrong?

Tulip with quote

"What's not wrong?" Laura asked.

She went out to point out that we humans seem to be hard wired to focus on what's wrong in our lives. Ask anyone how their day is going, and most folks will list all the woes and tribulations of the day; we seem bent on drama. It's as if sharing what's okay, or good, just doesn't evoke enough response in folks.

I think she's right; just look at the news each day. Not much "feel good" stuff going on in the headlines, or dare I mention it, the current political campaigns.

So, Laura asked us to sit for 5 or 10 minutes and simply list what's not wrong, whether they're tiny and seemingly insignificant, or they're huge. Then, we were to choose at least 1 item on our list and photograph it.

I'm finishing up Laura's on line photography course on gratitude, and "What's Not Wrong?" is the most recent lesson.

Gratitude and contentment are a huge focus for both Phi and I right now; both words have been popping up everywhere for us, whether it's the financial course offered by Michelle Singletary, Laura's course, or more.

Being content doesn't mean we don't desire anything; I could produce a list pages long for you! Instead, being content comes from making the simple decision to be happy with what I have. It means to take a deep breathe and enjoy the life I have.

And, it is a good one; it really, really is.

Honestly, this contentment gig is a work in progress, and sometimes, I am feeling rather cranky as the latest bit of camera equipment appears on an Amazon link, as we pass the newest little restaurant crowded with folks laughing and enjoying themselves, as I read about someone extolling the newest and greatest art supply. A very persistent little voice grumbles, "I want it."

Truth is, I (we) have way too much stuff; the piles that have made their way recently to Goodwill make me cringe, and I mutter, "What is God's name were we thinking?" My stuff spilleth over, and it's not what's making me happy.

My stuff wasted money, makes me cranky finding a place for it, gives me a sore back as I pack it up and haul it away.

I've long ago learned to cull the ongoing ads from Chico's, Michael's, Anthropologie, and more from my email list. What does pop up periodically rarely gets opened. Because if I do open it, I want it.

I don't need it, but boy do I want it!

So, what's not wrong in my life?

I have a roof over my head, and a husband that loves to cook.

He buys me fresh tulips and daffodils because both make me smile.

We love to go exploring new places, and we've learned that we can have an awesome time and spend little.

I have enough art supplies to open up my own little shop; long forgotten tucked away treasures are getting rediscovered and used.

My two grandsons give the world's best hugs.

Our car just ate up $855 last week; so why am I content? I could pay the bill and still have a bit left over.

I could go on and on.

Listing them was good for me; I'm keeping that list.

Because, you see, I know the cranky voices and the "I want its" will be back. I know sometimes it's not going to be fun.

Before I go to bed, I try to remember to write down one good thing about my day...a sunny blue sky, the violet's blooming out front, hamburgers from the grill. When I need to, I spill them out and look at them.

It's work sometimes, this learning to be content. It's a conscious decision to pause when someone asks me about my day, and then to tell them something that's "not wrong."

I guess you could say that Phil and I are in training to look at our life and focus on the blessings, both large and small.

So, tell me, what's not wrong with your life? I'd love to hear!


A Snow Globe World

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"The very fact of snow is such an amazement." - Roger Ebert

I've just said my goodbyes to Twit #1, and silence fills my house. Gone are the shrieks from spotting the first flakes come tumbling down. The piles of snow gear - hats, mittens, pants, boots, and more - have vanished. Things are settling back to normal, and I really do miss my guy.

Ebert nailed it, snow is indeed such an amazement, especially when seen through the eyes of a 7 year old boy. And, the retired teacher in me stills delights in snow days.

I'm blessed, I know. I didn't have animals to feed, other than one contented fat gray feline, I didn't need to be anywhere, most especially work. The furnace continued to heat our home, and the power - thank you, God, - remained on. At night, we indulged in a fire, watching the flames dance, and listening to their snap, crackle, pop.

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He built forts, both inside and out. Couch cushions pulled down with nests of blankets from which to watch tv. Toy helicopters buzzed through my dining room, while he and his dad partnered up to shoot it down, while Sheba (that fat cat mentioned earlier) watched in amazement. Superheroes came to rest here, there, and everywhere, and in the true spirit of snow days, I ignored them all. Snow crusted clothing tumbled through the washer and dryer on a regular basis. He checked in with mommy via cell phone and filled her in on all the doings.

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Snow angels dotted the landscape, and he wielded a large yellow shovel with sheer determination, giggling at the results...snow flying through the air, sometimes landing right back on him. Red cheeked with Rudolph's glowing nose, he denied being cold and begged to stay out longer. And, so we did, both of us shivering but happy, knowing hot chocolate and warm blankets waited inside.

It's been magical, these past 3 days in our snow globe world.

I wouldn't mind doing it all over again!



As Good a Day as Any

Day 1

Today is as good a day as any to spend time with a child or with a grandparent...borrow one of either if needed! Both have so much wisdom to share, if we only take the time to listen. It's as good a day as any to begin to understand, and appreciate, another's view.

Today is as good a day as any to slow down and be mindful of life's tiny little ordinary moments that make up the backgrounds of our lives. It's as good a day as any to unplug and to pretend that we've never heard of "multi-tasking." It's as good a day as any to simply do one thing at a time and give our whole attention to that one thing.


Today is as good a day as any to take a look around us and to check to be sure that we are surrounding ourselves with things and people that give us joy.  It's as good a day as any to scatter reminders - a favorite photo, some fresh flowers, a quote we love on a brightly colored post-it note - reminders that create thankfulness and contentment. It's as good a day as any to spend time with those that bring us joy.

Today is as good a day as any to try something new, to read an author whose work we've never read. It's as good a day as any to taste something new, to take a new route on our way home from work, or to chat with someone new as we wait in line.  It's as good a day as any to reach out and grab onto life's possibilities.


Today is as good a day as any to pay attention to the dreams in our lives, to think about how we are spending the moments of our days, and to be sure we are honoring our passions. Today is as good a day as any to remember to be patient with ourselves, and that we are works in progress.

Today is as good a day as any to to stop and count our blessings, to look around us and see how many gifts life has given us.  It's a good a day as any to stop and thank those who have been blessings in our lives, and then to turn around and bless others.


Today is as good a day as any to go ahead and make a huge mess - to bring out the paints, get our hands deep into the dirt, or to have flour and sugar everywhere in our kitchen. It's as good a day as any to not worry about how something should look or should come out. It's as good a day as any to just create what we need to and to realize that the messiness of life is beautiful in its own way.

Today is as good a day as any to stop listening to the crazy monkeys in our minds that keep shouting "You're not good enough!" or "You're crazy to even try that!" Today is as good a day as any to hush those voices and tell them that we are more than enough, and that in fact, we are beautiful beings. It's a day to tell the voices to go take a hike already.


Today is as good a day as any to be alone, to take ourselves out on an artist's date, something just for us. It's as good a day as any to fill our souls with what ever it is that we need. It's a day for creativity or take a long walk.  Maybe, just maybe, it's a day to take a nice long nap!


Grateful for Butterfingers

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Reports cards consume me right now...programs not doing what they're supposed to, dropping grades, changing grades, simply not printing grades, and all of it while attending 3 meetings within 3 days, and continuing to teach 70 plus middle schoolers. Conferences begin tomorrow, go through Tuesday, and are pretty much devoid of anything called a break.

WIth all of this leading to some not so happy moods, I really focused on stopping each day to give thanks for what was good in my life, a concious act to remind myself that not everything was awful. The concious posting of each day's gratitude became a public declaration that overall, I found life pretty delightful.

It came to a rather screeching halt a few days ago.

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Reading through one facebook group...and I don't belong to but a handful...a few folks posted that they found these postings banal, boring, and pretty much would like to see them banned. I immediately wanted to fire back my own thoughts. But, something stopped me, because in a sense, they had a point, and also, they're entitled to their feelings. So, I waited, and I've let some things stew and muddle about in my head for a few days, trying to get a better sense of why I felt differently.

I had to acknowledge that I should have done a better job, at least for this group, of not letting my posts become trite...not just a few words plunked down in a hurry. The group is totally awesome in so many ways, and our fearless leader wants us to develop our creativity, to really put it out there. I hadn't done that, so maybe, I shouldn't have posted there. I needed to do it right, at least for this group.

For example, those Butterfingers. I'd posted a rather silly little photo on Instagram of a pile of Butterfingers, all brought in by my sixth graders, because they know I like them. Those Butterfingers are so much more than candy bars. They represent that somehow, I'm getting through to these wonderful kids, even the ones that I need to correct multiple times. There's a relationship being built, and the smiles on both our faces testify to the fact that this is so much more than an exchange of candy bars. So, yeah, I am grateful for Butterfingers.

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Someone had posted that the prompts reminded them of some rather banal prompts from junior high school, and okay, I bet some of those prompts were banal. But, for some kids...and for some adults, need something to get you going, to get you started. After so many years of teaching, I now know enough to tell the kids - if you have something else to write about, go for it. But, this is here to help you if you don't, because something that can start out pretty awful, can indeed, open up into something wonderful. You need to take kids where they're at; ditto for adults. And, if we're past that point of needing the prompt, wonderful, but let's have patience and respect for those who are not. Let's not do anything that might prevent someone from dipping their toes into creativity, because, again, I can tell you, they'll stop if they feel ridiculed.

So, I'm going back to posting my gratitudes; they will be better written, or at least I hope so. They will reflect more thought, which is good for me personally.

My gratitude for today? Two things, really. First, for this group, because you made me stop and think about what I could be doing better. Second, for whatever made me stop and think before I posted, for taking the time to let it sort out in my mind, and for realizing that yes, I can do better!

If you made it this far...thank you for reading! The pics were all taken last Wednesday, a day of glorious skies and sunsets. What a gift from God these skies were!