Friday, October 31, 2008

Halloween by Kat Magendie

In the cove here between Killian’s Knob and Walter Bald, there will not be, nor has there been, any trick or treaters. For to get to my little log house, they’d have to walk a ‘fir piece’ and then trek up my steep road, then up my steep driveway, then up my stairs, to my porch, and then knock on my door. By time they arrived, trick or treat would be over, and besides, all I’d have for them is some rocks a la Charlie Brown and the Great Pumpkin.

And speaking of Charlie Brown, I still watch that show—that is my Halloween celebration tradition. Since the move here, I don’t dress up. I don’t trick or treat. I don’t receive trick or treaters. I don’t watch any of the Halloween movie specials about vampires. And, I most especially do not buy Halloween candy, as I and my spousal unit in residence would be the only ones eating it (and yet, as I type this, I yearn for those miniature candy bars—the snickers, the milky ways, the health bars! Oh My!)

I found a photo the other day of my son dressed as—guess what?, come on, take a guess—yes!, a Hobo. He didn’t particularly want to be a hobo (what kid does when there are millions of manufactured suits out there of their favorite cartoon icons?), but I didn’t have the money to buy anything fancy. I was so proud of my ingenuity (um, okay, well, the old usual smudged face, patches on shirt and pant leg, and frayed pant cuffs, etc), but little kids only know that someone down the street bragged about their Star Wars, Spiderman, or Incredible Hulk costumes. He still had fun, once he ran out into the inky night full of ghosts and goblins and Icons.

So, tonight when it's time for the little ones to stalk the night elsewhere, I’ll be sitting in my tower on the mountain thinking about chocolate, and memories, and laughing, and “Trick or Treat; smell my feet; give me something good to eat!” I’ll be thinking about my favorite personal costume of all time—my mother dressed me up as a gypsy, complete with lipstick, one of her colorful skirts, and scarf. Oh I felt beautiful and grown up! One can find gratitude in anything if one opens up a memory, an idea, a moment, a tradition, and peers inside. Right this moment, I am smiling at that young girl, dancing through the night in her gypsy costume, feeling beautiful for the first time, ever.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Celebrate by Barbara Quinn

I’m most grateful for happy occasions. Life is filled with ups and downs, and it’s important to take the time to enjoy the ups when they arrive. The good times help us to get through the bad ones. Yes, they are often bittersweet. I miss people who used to be there. I don’t always feel my best. But, sometimes just attending a fun event can make me feel better, make me see that there is something up ahead that will be a joy.

I went to my first “bris” yesterday and what a pleasure it was to be present at this ritual circumcision. It’s not so much what happens though that was fascinating. Rather, for me, it’s the support and camaraderie present at these occasions that makes them special. Dozens of people gather round the new parents and new babe and share in the joy of a new life, a new beginning. What a wonder new life is. How nice to acknowledge that together.

Birthdays, graduations, christenings, weddings all are opportunities for us to gather together and share the company of others. We’re social beings and studies have shown the importance to health of having a support system.

Those we choose to spend good times with are often the same ones who are there during the difficult times. Think about the people you like to share good news with. They are probably the ones you’d like to have around when the going gets rough. Take the time to maintain those friendships. Time really does fly and life does have a way of rudely interrupting the best of plans. So why not celebrate! I intend to keep on partying for as long as I can. Cheers!

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Spilling Contents. by Patresa Hartman

I tell my students this, but I'm not sure if they believe my sincerity: I love what they write. I believe writing peels off a sticky lid and allows the author to spill her contents. Spelling and grammar, punctuation and sentence structure -- these are cosmetics. The value of writing, as I experience it, is a thinking process, a method of discovery, spelunking into the gooey center of consciousness. I don't always like what my students say, but I like that I am privy to it.

So many of my students come to me terrified of (or angry about) having to write. They have been told year after year of their weak mechanics, each paper bleeding red for all their ideas incorrectly composed. It is true that their papers are not lovely in form; but it is a shame what we do to thwart expression. There is a concept we discuss in my Communication Skills class: the Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis. This hypothesis suggests that our language influences our thoughts and attitudes. And so what happens when we clamp off our language like faulty spickets? Do we also clamp off our thoughts? And to clamp off the very action of thought, do we thwart our own evolution? So big, this case for writing is. Enormous.

At the Tuesday night writing lab I helm and in the regular classes I teach, I read papers with shoddy grammar and confusing structure. I squint through lumpy paragraphs and run-on sentences and decode cryptic vocabulary. But when I look past these cosmetics, I see a consistent pattern in student writing: Somewhere in the third quarters of their essays, they discover they have something to say.

The realization of something worth saying is incomparable motivation to keep talking.

I think the trouble is that many students are trained not to notice. If they recognize the emergence of voice and intent at all, it is too late; they have waited too long to complete the task and do not have time to revise or expand. Just as they finally warm up to start, they stop. They turn in their work with aborted ideas, only an inkling of the beautiful things they know and understand, sitting dormant under a flimsy layer of crud.

I am grateful for the opportunities I get to talk with students about their writing. It is my favorite part of my job, the one that makes me feel like I matter. I like to see the change in posture that occurs when I hold up a mirror to show them their own wisdom. "See here? What you said here is brilliant." The voice in their second paper is always more self-assured than the voice in their first paper, and I always wish we had more time. Just as we finally warm up, the semester ends and we stop.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Happy Parent by Angie Ledbetter

As I was writing at my personal blog just the other day, I've had the extreme pleasure of being a really really proud parent lately. With the stress and strain of the normal relationship which usually exists between teenagers and their parental units, this elation doesn't come along very often, so I am reveling in it!
  • Oldest daughter, nicknamed Last-Minute Lucy, has foregone fun weekend events such as parties in order to write and edit a class paper and study for an exam. I remember how hard that was to do in college. I really do. And I'm grateful for the good head she has on her shoulders.

  • Middle son has received the Student of the Month award, and was nominated by two teachers. What a good accomplishment. He has struggled to maintain his focus on school work and grades instead of friends, sports, girlfriend and work. So I'm extra pleased of and for him. Same son also just completed his Eagle Boy Scout project (beautification and rehabbing of an awesome little inner city school's flower bed system) last weekend and squeezed under the age-imposed deadline a few days ago for securing final approval paperwork and such. Even though this all took place on THE day of his 18th birthday, I'm still overjoyed. Wow...the payoff of many years of coaxing, begging, bribing and such finally paid off. Besides his parents and family being proud of him, he is proud of himself. And that was the whole intent.

  • Youngest son is doing great in school. His first semester report card of junior year reflects straight A's. I could never have done this, especially not in a private school and taking mostly honors or advanced classes. He's maintained his grades while working, being on two bowling teams and participating in the band, which is quite time consuming.

Great moments in parenting far outweigh the grungy day-to-day drudgery of having to fuss at, discipline, talk to, reason with and otherwise communicate with your kids. I'm sure enjoying spreading my feathers and screeching with gratitude!

Is there someone whose accomplishments make you feel proud?

Monday, October 27, 2008

Alien Earth by Kathryn Magendie

I am thinking of all those Science Fiction movies where the Blob or some Alien life form hurtles to our planet and then begins to destroy it; when instead, maybe these teeny little aliens came and were no more than the building blocks of life that led to Us and every living thing. These teeny aliens created instead of destroyed. Maybe we are the aliens! wow!

If one believes God had a hand in it, well then, maybe a happy God played marbles with the debris and as objects clanged one against the other, the Earth, and more, was formed, and out of that seeming Chaos was the Grand Design that is beautiful and awesome and should be protected and cherished. I keep the Open Mind, that Earth and the Heavens were formed by God the Great Scientist or by Science-Chaos Only—makes no matter to me for these purposes, for I am here, typing this to You. I exist. I am a ball of energy – a scientific wonder, connected to You. Who made me isn’t as important as, Will I Survive? Who made the earth isn’t as important as, Will Earth Survive Intact? But, then again, who made this, or what made this, or how it was made could be very important to survival, for all I know—since we could be going round and round and round back to our beginnings and then around again, never quite Getting It. If all of this is by Design, then what has the Design in mind for Earth and its inhabitants? Or, if Earth was formed out of some chaotic chance, then what has Chaos of the Universe in store for us? For surely we must pay attention. Surely we must feel a sense of Gratitude for our existence, and, a responsibility to sustain what is in our own control. What is out of our control simply is that.

Think of this: we all come from the same thing. We are the same thing. We all were formed from the same Stuff of Life, and this is forgotten as we celebrate our differences. Well, some differences are good; differences are what make the world interesting. The differences come not exactly organically, but through our thoughts and how and where we were raised, or what species we are. It is how we decide to react to those “differences” that will decide our future, perhaps? All I know is I am grateful to whomever or whatever or however our Earth became into being and allowed for such wondrous beauty and ideals and the kaleidoscope that makes up Earth.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

The Salvation Army by Barbara Quinn

Today I’m grateful for The Salvation Army. Most people are familiar with their kettles manned by bell-ringing Santa Clauses. (The song Silver Bells was inspired by the bell ringers outside of department stores.) It’s not Christmas for me unless I drop a few bucks into those kettles. The Salvation Army also takes donations of goods year round. Their truck came to my house yesterday and picked up three televisions, some lawn chairs, and sixteen bags of clothes and household goods. I gave them lots of old clothes, but a fair amount of the things in those bags were new. When I receive gifts I can’t use, or freebies at events, I save them to pass on to The Salvation Army. I never turn down anything that’s free. There were t-shirts and journals I’ve won, and mugs that were giveaways, hostess gifts of platters and plates, and the little toiletries from hotels that I take when I travel. It’s good to know that someone somewhere will get use of these things. When I have a dozen or more bags full, I call for the truck which comes from the Bronx. They make an appointment and show up on time. It’s a lot nicer than waiting for a repairman! And yes, you do get a tax deduction. They will mail you a letter for your records.

When I was first married I bought furniture and household goods at the Salvation Army Thrift Store. They are picky about what they take to sell, and I always knew that the things I found there would be good. I'm not a member or an adherent to their principles, but I’m grateful that I’m now in a position to give some things and cash to them. Times are tough for many. It’s good that places like the Salvation Army continue their mission to help the needy and provide disaster relief. The Salvation Army needs your help and donations, so before you re-gift something, keep them in mind. There’s someone out there who will be most grateful that you did.

PS The Beatles song Strawberry Fields was inspired by a Salvation Army children's home called Strawberry Field.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

3 Dimensions. by Patresa Hartman

I teach at a community college. The way I teach (or try to teach) is certainly infused with the way I be (or try to be), yet still I am the flattest version of myself in the classroom. My 3-D soul splats onto a paper-defined role called INSTRUCTOR and it never feels fully honest.

I do not know what happens in my sleep to make it so, but some days I wake up hyper-attuned to the space I occupy and the reflection I cast. I walk with a keen sense that who I am is foreign to how I seem. Few things make this clearer than standing in front of a group of 20 and then another group of 20 and then another group of 20 and then one more. The dynamics of me change with the dynamics of them.

I am at my best when the job description of INSTRUCTOR is large and amorphous -- when my job title becomes second to my human-ness. I am most grateful for my students who move with me, who grant me wide space to be: forgetful and disorganized, silly and a bad storyteller, disjointed and perplexed. I am their teacher, and I must do my job; I am also soul in flesh, and I must be imperfect.

I have some pretty terrific students this semester and am grateful for their willingness to recognize and embrace all 3 of my dimensions (which I mean in the most unpornographic way). Everything works better when we all agree to be flawed. We laugh together and problem solve more collaboratively. A micro-community establishes, and we are mutually supportive of our overlapping learning curves. With all channels open, we grow.

It doesn't always happen so. It is not universal, this understanding that a teacher exists outside the classroom and does not breathe for the sole purpose of providing a student "credit." The vibe of the room changes when we staple each other to pre-determined roles, narrowly defined. It feels tense and stifling, sometimes even hostile. It is easy to disrespect someone when you don't think they actually exist.

Those are challenging semesters and challenging classes. I fight the urge to hide and constantly question my competence. I slip into resentment and frustration, feeling forced to play a part that doesn't suit me. "Do they not understand that I am a person and not a robot?" I take things too personally. It is exhausting.

But the universe is kind and generous. Just as my confidence shakes, time nudges me forward. A new group of students enter, and they open the door wide -- an invitation to bumble and be ridiculous. There is nothing like the permission to be foolish that makes me feel more true.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Escape Gratitude by Angie Ledbetter

Today I'm far away from home and I feel as if I've grown wings, or more accurately, unfurled the shriveled dried up ones I've had pinned beneath my shoulder blades for too long.

With the kids solidly on their own two feet, or at least with their own means of transportation and a decent amount of reliable good sense, Mom has flown the coop.

I am grateful for this escape from home and all-the-stuff-I-have-to-do-each-day. To enjoy time away from the world and clocks with a friend is one of life's greatest pleasures. And I intend to savor every moment of my vacation without guilt and worry. In that way, I can pay proper homage to the gift of this time. I sincerely hope you are able to shake out your feathers and do the same sometime in the near future.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Pass the PoBoy Please by Kat Magendie

If I had never lived in South Louisiana, I would never have known what I was missing when it comes to Food. Now, there is good food to find in Western North Carolina, but the problem is this: when you have had South Louisiana food for many years, other food often pales in comparison. Restaurants in other cities often think that “Cajun” or “Creole” means to put lots of pepper or Tabasco sauce on the food, or to “Blacken” it. Instead, it’s all about the combination of spices, and The Love.

My good friend and YOG buddy, Angie Ledbetter, is on her way to our mountains. When she gets here, I will not be taking her from restaurant to restaurant, because how can I compare? Indeed, when she asked me, “What can I bring from here?” I said, “A hot shrimp poboy!” Of course she can’t take a hot shrimp poboy on the plane, but that’s the first thing that slathered across my brain rendering me slobbering with desire. South Louisianians just know how to cook—they adore food; and it’s not just the food, it’s the preparation of it—from grocery or farmer’s market, to home, to the skillet, all of it is created with Special Love. I know, for my spousal unit in residence is from New Orleans. Even so, he can’t re-create a poboy and hot salty French fries from GEORGE’s on Perkins Road—it’s right under the interstate, a tiny little building that one who didn’t know of it may just pass it on by; a true ‘hole in the wall.”

The years I spent in Baton Rouge, I took the food for granted a bit. It was always there, like Spanish moss in cypress trees, and always loyal LSU fans shouting, “EL ESS YOU EL ESS YOU EL ESS YOU!” on Saturday nights in the fall. Yet, even in my “taking it for granted” days, I still knew I was in the midst of something special, something time-worn, something Louisianians are damn proud of—and should be. I’m grateful for my time there, for every hot shrimp poboy, every etoufee, every spicy Creole or Cajun meal, every perfectly seasoned dish (oh! Crabmeat au gratin—slobbering again). Next time I visit my old adopted city, I will stop in GEORGE’s and calories be-damned; I’ll eat every luscious bite of my shrimp poboy, crispy hot fries, with an ice-cold beer. Thank you Louisiana!

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Oh, Baby! by Barbara Quinn

Americo Bret Quinn - 4 days old

My grandson arrived a few days ago. What a joy it is to welcome him to the world and to our family. He may be only a few days old, but he already is himself, a happy, curious, fellow who is remarkably calm considering how much kicking he was doing in the womb. Is there anything sweeter than soft little baby sounds? Those coos balance out the lusty screams. His skin is softer and smoother than velvet.

Americo Bret Quinn (named for my daughter-in-law’s grandfather, Americo,and my son, Bret) is our first grandchild. He was born in White Plains Hospital, which is the same hospital where I gave birth to Bret. That’s also the hospital my father spent most of his last days. I have bittersweet feelings when I roam those halls. How nice it is to have some more happy memories there.

Little Co came at a perfect time. The day my mother-in-law was buried, we received a phone call that Co had decided it was time to bust out of his comfy surroundings. There’s nothing like a new baby to ease the pain of losing a loved one. Only a little over a month ago we lost our nephew, and then my mother-in-law. What a rollercoaster of a ride these past weeks have been. Co is truly a wonderful gift and I have a feeling he’ll be this way throughout his life, showing up whenever and wherever he is needed with a ready smile and a calm hand.

At the hospital we stood around him noting the familiar characteristics: my son’s and husband’s cleft chin and forehead are there, and his fingers are clearly his Mom’s long slender ones. Co also reminds me of my grandfather, who was blindingly white-skinned and freckled, with pale blue eyes and whose large head was passed along to my brother but thankfully not to me. Co’s nose looks to be small and rounded like my Mom’s. That smile of his is going to be blinding, like my daughter-in-law’s. I don’t see myself in his blending of features. But I know I’m there, in his blood and soul.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Variegated Pallete. by Patresa Hartman

I am grateful for many things today: pizza delivery, red wine, my sisters, my parents, my dog, my 10:10 reading class. I am grateful for vitamins and clean water, for indoor plumbing and the joy catnip brings my cats. I am also grateful for color.

I love color. I love turquoise and red. I love greens and yellows, browns and pinks. I love to pair purple with the unexpected orange or brown. We bought our first house three years ago, and my soul, finally free of renters' white wall restrictions, exploded into wall colors. Sensual jade covered the walls of my thinking room, grape leaf green in the bedroom, lavender in the guest room, brown and sage in the office, pottery red in the kitchen.

Red is my favorite accent. I will wear brick red boots with any shade of sweater.

I love paint samples and swatches. I love the square color cards and the rectangular color cards in graduating hues filed away on shelf displays at Home Depot. They are abundant, and I did not know the tiniest differences in their tones could pull me in for an hour or more. I study them, try to imagine myself swimming in them. I let them sneak past the limits of my skin and pay attention to the ones that tug on my brain. I am drawn to the bold ones. They are the cookiest corners of myself, and I want to give them air. I want to watch them oxidize when exposed.

Our new room is complete: The wall is down; the floors are laid and lain and lay; the furniture is reassembled. The new color is a dark, midnight navy. I am looking at the wall now, and it is rich and deep. The lamp casts an irregular circle the size of a pie plate on the wall -- its center, dirty yellow and fading out into cobalt rings.

Where did all this color come from? Such a brilliant pallete. I cannot imagine a world of only white and black. Give me all the colors of tree bark and berries, of dirt and sky and leaves of every variety. I love the subtle degrees of flesh and hair, of iris and freckle. Ingenius the way we contrast and blend, creating line and shadow. How do we not see how beautiful we are?

Monday, October 20, 2008

Grateful for Good Eats

Not only are the flavors and varieties of great fresh food available here in Louisiana, they're plentiful and affordable all year round.

I've had my times of menus featuring rolls of bologna and government subsidized food allotments, and many lean years which included cooking mostly beans and clipping coupons, so I fully appreciate the gift and blessing of living in one of the truly great culinary capitols of the world. We are a cultural melting pot here, and have great farmer's markets available. Dotting almost every corner of the city are mouth-watering restaurants serving up a banquet of choices -- Creole, Cajun, Spanish, Mexican, Italian, Lebanese, Greek, Thai, Chinese and Japanese, to name a few. We also have access to fresh produce and locally grown fruits.

Today (and every day) I'm full full full of gratitude for the dishes I prepare for myself and others, and that my family has the means to enjoy going out to eat sometimes. I will never forget the years I dreamt of having such opportunities, and the reasonable assurance that the lean years are now behind me...literally and figuratively. *smile*

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Advice from "Big Sis" by Kat Magendie

The farthest thing from a young woman’s mind is that time far off into the future when she will be considered “Middle Aged And Menopausal.” Who has time to think about that when your toddler is crying and your eight-year-old just threw up all the pizza, cake, and, I’m not kidding—sushi (sushi?)—he had at a birthday party where the parents spent more to please Bobby or Suzy than what you spend on two-weeks of groceries? Or your boss has asked you to work late and on the weekend—again. Or you’ve over-extended your obligations to (fill in obligation blank here)—again.

Listen: how you treat yourself and how you ask to be treated by those around you will forever affect the person you will become. Who are you?—I mean, the real you, the Woman You, the one you must face in the mirror from now until, well, until you can no longer look into a mirror? For one day in your future you will look into that mirror and see the woman you have become from the experiences you have now. As your big sister, I want to tell you to care for yourself. To think in terms of gratitude, and health, and well-being—one decision at a time—in what you eat, drink, and how you perceive the world and react to it (or how you expect it to react to you).

Consider the benefits you will receive right away, yes, but also think about two years from now, five, ten, twenty—your body and mind will become healthier and stronger so that you will have more energy for your busy life, and further, when you reach My Age, you will have fared better with such a healthy base. You will be well-prepared for the Next Stage, even if that next stage is to be as good a grandmother as you are a mother. Your future you will thank you. Trust your big sister—she knows.

Finally, when is the last time you patted yourself on the back for a life well-done? Have you been perfect? I bet not. Has every day been a gloriously sunshine-filled day of joy and happiness? Probably not. Have you lost your temper, been in a foul mood, screamed at your kids/husband/co-worker/the person in line at the grocery who has fifteen items instead of ten in the ten-item line? Maybe. But if you did not do these things on occasion, I’d wonder what you were trying to prove. We’re all human, and we all need to give ourselves a little break now and then to consider just how hard it is to Be Humanly Human. You have permission to love yourself, to have gratitude for your days, to love yourself enough to care what happens to you now and then later and for the rest of your life.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Hospice Gratitude by Barbara Quinn

I am most grateful for hospice workers. These selfless souls don’t get enough credit and they certainly are underpaid for the work that they do. A couple of years ago I was lucky to have my father spend his last days at Calvary Hospital in the Bronx, NY. Calvary is a hospital that only takes terminal cancer patients who have less than six months to live. The workers there are dedicated, caring, and make the end of days as comfortable as possible for those who are in residence. It’s an amazingly upbeat place with activities, music, and even a bar cart that circulates in the evening to the patients rooms so that anyone, patient or visitor, who wants to can indulge can. And there’s a similar snack cart filled with goodies of all sorts. This is not your usual hospital experience or food.

My father, in his last days, developed bile duct cancer, one of the stranger diseases that the human body is capable of falling prey to, and that’s how we wound up at Calvary. There is no easy way out of this world, but at least in a place like Calvary you have a team helping you. And we needed that team. One of the nurses was most kind in explaining exactly what to expect to me. Death is not the most cooperative of visitors. I am still grateful for her taking the time to walk me through what might occur, and grateful that she honored my father’s wishes to not be connected to tubes or wires. He was alert and cracking jokes till almost the end. What a comfort it was that he was able to be pain free and be with his family at the end. When he was no longer able to speak, he still squeezed my hand. Always a wise man, his ending was in his control, and was his final gift to his family.

Recently, my mother-in-law passed away. She suffered for many years with Alzheimer’s. Again, it was a hospice worker who kept me company and offered advice while I sat with her on her last day. That presence helped me greatly. These people simply do not get enough credit. So I send out a big warm thank you to all who work in the dying fields. Your work is important, difficult, under-appreciated, and oh so necessary. Thank you for being there!

Friday, October 17, 2008

Sassy China. by Patresa Hartman

I've been riding an Appaloosa named China. The white splotch on her thick left shoulder is shaped like the sickle and star on the Soviet flag. China is not completely into me, yet, but today she let me pick the dirt out of her frogs and shoes with a pointed metal digging tool, so I think our relationship is improving. China also let me brush the soft of her belly where the saddle was cinched too tightly for many years. "Bad horsemanship," is what my teacher, Dennis, says about the visible welts across the downward dip of her underside. He did not like the way China's previous owners handled her. He is a gentle man with calloused hands. Every direction he gives to China he calls "asking," and I like that. "Ask her to stop...Ask her to scoot back...Ask her to trot." She always complies when Dennis asks.

When I ask she rolls her eyes. She snorts and lips her bit, jerks her head toward my feet. China is sassy.

Her primary complaint with me, I think, is that every time I show up, she has to pull her nose out of the feed bucket. I am also confused about my heels and the position of my butt in her saddle while we trot. I am an awkward driver who does not fully understand the pedals. Dennis says I'm squeezing too tight, that I need to relax. He tells me to look where I want China to look, and to breathe the way I want China to breathe, and that if I relax and let it happen, we'll meld.

Dennis wears Wranglers and a cowboy hat and has gray hair and blue eyes. When he learned to ride, they didn't have saddles, so they learned bareback. He has fallen off and been thrown off; I guess that earns you respect from the horses. They follow him around even when he hasn't asked them to.

I don't want to fall off or be thrown, so I hope that China will respect me just because I'm nice and I use the softest brush in the bucket after our rides. I don't bring her apples or carrots. Dennis says the best reward for a horse is to be given a break.

I like the horse barn. I like its smell, its dirt, its gemetrical stalls. I like the creaking sounds of the saddle when I hoist it across her back, the filth on my hands after I've brushed the dust from China's coat. I like the even, heavy plod of shod feet on the dirt floor, the air that crisscrosses west and north from the wide open doors of the riding rink.

I like that although I annoy her, China continues to show up and give me sass. I am grateful for her willingness to teach me how to relax and sit upright in my saddle even when the terrain gets rough.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Ballot Boxes by Angie Ledbetter

No matter which presidential candidate you plan to vote for in November, isn't it awesome (and I don't use that word lightly) that we have the privilege to cast our vote without undue influence, hardship or risk? This same sense of awe and thankfulness pervades my being whenever I step behind the voting booth curtain of my precinct and make my choices in leadership and legislative acts up for a vote.

As another election nears, I'm filled with gratitude for living in a country where every eligible adult is free and encouraged to let his/her voice be heard. Countries struggling under harsh despots and dictators, madmen and abusers of human rights enjoy no such luxury; yet the citizens of these places would give almost anything to have a direct say-so in who leads them. Isn't it sad that so many of us feel apathetic about the whole issue here?

To honor the nation which holds the electoral process in highest esteem, let us all consider the stakes, and make the wisest choices possible in local and national issues and leadership. I appreciate the opportunity and will never take it for granted.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

The Writer’s Life by Kathryn Magendie

The world is in my head. My body is in the worldPaul Auster

There is the contradictory way that is both calculated and chaotic in which writers inhabit your world; how we watch you with the egocentric writer’s eye.

Enter into a writer’s line of sight, whether obliquely or directly, and you become embedded in a rapid-fire-synaptic whirly-world sub-consciously conscious brain, thus falling victim to subsequent literary scribblings. Your every move, flinch, tic; your every wish, dream, desire, your every unique phrase, laugh, cry—all of it fodder for the jumble of humans, animals, voices, actions, characters that make up the world of a writer’s novels, stories, essays, and poetry.

The universe in my head, where I am Supreme Being, is more familiar to me than the physical world in which you all swirl about. Yet I watch you keenly; dissect you with my creative-edged scalpel and poke to see what lies inside. Even by the simple act of you falling into my vision for the briefest of moments can I steal your expression.

Virginia Woolf said, “I think the effort to live in two spheres: the novel; and life; is a strain.” I feel the strain to separate the real from the unreal, the strain to stop the inner narration so I can carry on a conversation with you without giving in to my chaos. But while I smile, nod, speak, I surreptitiously inhale your spirit—a literary vampire.

I will have to sift through events, quiet the shouting voices, and find the reality versus the story I will write. Sad to say: my reality is the story I will write.

Pick up a book such as “The Writer’s Life,” (edited by Carol Edgarian and Tom Jenks, Vintage Books, 1997), and inside are writers’ quotes where they, as many writers do, attempt to make sense of this writers’ life. And this I say to you, that without remorse we will calculatingly use you to help us find our way through the chaos to the stories within. It is what we know; it is who we are. I am thankful for my gifts, even when they perplex me, when they isolate me, when they disappoint me. But always they are a part of me, just as with my gratitude for them.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Gratitude by June Shaw

Why shouldn’t I be grateful?

My five grown children are doing great. So are the eight grandkids they’ve given me. My love life is wonderful with the important man in my life. My mom, who moved in with me because of poor vision, recently turned 102. Willard Scott wished her happy birthday and said whenever music starts, she’s first on the floor. Her favorite dances are the Freeze, Macarena, and Chicken Dance.

I keep close ties with friends. My faith sustains me. God remains most important in my life.

After I retired from teaching English to junior high students, a job I enjoyed, I managed to fulfill a lifelong goal—I became an author! I wrote and finally polished a novel, RELATIVE DANGER, until it caught the attention of a publisher who bought it. Featuring a spunky young widow and a man she loves but tries to avoid so she can rediscover herself, my debut was nominated by Deadly Ink for their new David award for Best Mystery of the Year! Publishers Weekly, Kirkus, and others also surprised me by giving it great reviews. My family loves my book. So do adults and teens. Harlequin bought reprint rights of RELATIVE DANGER for its mystery book club members and then sold out. A large-print edition came out recently and I sold audio rights. Books in Motion will create an audio version.

I sold my book’s sequel! KILLER COUSINS will be out in January. I’m working on the third book in the series.

Readers and editors surprised and thrilled me with their enthusiasm about work I’ve loved to create. What makes my achievements especially important are the battles my children and I faced to reach this point. My five children were five to eleven years old when their father died. To provide for them, I put off my goal of writing so that I could finish college. I then taught for twenty years.

Finally I’m fulfilling my lifelong dream. My family is proud. How could I not be grateful!

RELATIVE DANGER is available at many bookstores, my Web site,
www.juneshaw.ccom (where readers can register for prizes and see my mom doing the Macarena for her 100th birthday), and online sites such as Amazon. Keeping the mysteries in the family, KILLER COUSINS make its appearance in January.

Dear Life by Barbara Quinn

I’m grateful to be alive and in good health. As the years have passed I’ve witnessed a lot of sad and just as many happy events. Life in all its wondrous circuitous paths has been full and often insane. That’s good news. For I love the company of other creatures. I am a better person for that contact.

How wonderful it is to go through this journey with friends and family. When I’m alone, I’m never really alone for I know that soon I’ll be with people who care, people who are broad-shouldered enough to allow me to unload. Where would I be without them? I’d still be me, but I’d probably be babbling to myself. Wait. I do that. Just not out loud. I’d be babbling to myself out loud. I’d be the kind of old woman people move away from instead of toward. Oh my.

Treasure the ones you love. Hold them close. Give them space. Do whatever you need to do to allow them to be themselves, and be happy. Life is too short. These may sound like clichés, but oh, they do have more than a kernel of truth at their center. Be grateful for life. I am.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Healing Power O' Dog. by Patresa Hartman

I love my dog.

Her name is Kaya, and I love her purity, her complete lack of complication. I love the smell of her feet and the soft of her ears and her wet wet nose. I love her keen observation and her unwavering enthusiasm for: walks, treats, the garden hose, the vacuum, getting up in the morning, air through the car window, policing the cats, and voicing her concerns to the collie mix that walks the block.

I love her loathing of all things grooming, that she is far more content to be smelly and knotted than peach-scented and blow-dried. I love that she will not submit to other dogs -- that they expect her to, because she is pretty and a girl, but she flatly refuses. I love that she feels no shame in her tastes and tendencies. I gave her an apple slice yesterday and she left it untouched on the kitchen floor. Hours before, I had shoo'd her away from the litter box where she likes to snack. She sees no trouble with this -- this preference for poop over apples -- and she doesn't care who knows it.

We're connected, she and I. Wherever I am, so is she. She looks at me so often with a distinct plea for "Next? What now? I'm waiting." And I feel such responsibility for her. Which is why Thursday afternoon, when I came home sideways and all out of whack, I noticed her own sideways lethargy and felt so sorry.

I am up to my neck, presently. It is inconsequential stuff and stuff, so I don't know why I bother to spin over it (such a waste of my joy); but there it is, regardless. My seams have been splitting, and literally, my class folders are spilling. Ungraded, unplanned, unorganized papers are getting caught in the zipper of my bag. I am forgetting everything. I am waking up early to collect my thoughts and then walking out the door without them. My dog is feeling it, too.

When I came home Thursday after several hours demonstrating the growing ineptitude I'm feeling, I noticed how sad she looked. How put out. How bored and dismissed. She sighed dramatically, and had she words, I believe she would have said, simply, "Park" or "Air" or "Run." I listened.

I changed my clothes and grabbed her leash from the nail on the porch. We climbed into the car, windows open, and drove thirty minutes to Jester Park where there are trees and trails and lakes and creeks. We parked near the sand by the water, and I left the leash in the car.

She ran.

She stopped occasionally to drop and roll in things that smelled bad, or to charge into the lake and lap water that looked contagious, or to pull large burrs out of her velcro hair. She paused momentarily to make sure I was still there, to change her course if I changed my course. But she always ran again.

Kaya smiles when she runs, and it makes me giggle. There is an exploding glee, a reckless, full-speed, balls-to-the-walls about her when she is given the world without limits. She finds great joy in the freedom to be who and what she is -- a dog on the loose in the wild. The beauty of our connection is that it balances us both.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Dawg Tired by Angie Ledbetter

I'm tired and feel like hanging out on the couch all day. It's been a busy week with lots of kid-related volunteer activities. Approaching the mid-century mark in birthdays racked up, I'm glad I still have the ability to do these things, but several days in a row, and I'm beat. Thank God for good daily vitamins.

I'm grateful for my body's ability and willingness to participate in the things I want to do. I'm thankful the only pill I take is a multivitamin. I'm glad the fundraising and hurricane clean-up work at school went well, and that we had good weather while doing it. I am most thankful for a good night's rest (even with my husband's snoring) when the work was all done.

Being bone tired is a good feeling. I know I've accomplished work toward worthy goals, my body got some much needed exercise and my sleep was deep for a few hours.

And today, if I choose to relax and do none of the chores needing done around the house, I have a free pass to do so without any feelings of guilt. I may even sneak in a nap! With aromatic coffee poured and everyone else in the house asleep, ahhhh, I'm enjoying being surrounded by a bubble of quiet relaxation. What do you do that allows you to relax or sleep well?

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Mountain Music's Call by Kathryn Magendie

As I barrel down Interstates 40, 81, 77, to my hometown in West Virginia for a funeral, I insert one CD after another, an eclectic musical mix of instrument and word blasting from the hearty speakers of my Subaru: Santana, where Carlos’s guitar lures me luridly; Beethoven, who I have a schoolgirl crush on—such genius in his handsome glowering stare as he interprets the silent world through his music; and the Cranberries, Alan Parsons Project, Incubus, Sting, Reamonn, Kristen Hall, Queen, Creed, Dido, and more.

Once I arrive in Charleston, I prepare myself for the visit to the funeral home. I dread the overpowering smell of flowers and the scents used to cover the formaldehyde smell that permeates the walls, furniture, carpeting, and the suits and hair of its employees. Even more, I dread the organ music that drones through the speakers, saying to me, “this is what death sounds like.” Through the heavy mahogany doors, I enter a foyer of silence. I turn my head to the side, listening—where is the cliché announcing, “Time to grieve now. This music surely must feel mournful, right?” Nothing. Silence.

I whisper, “What no dreaded organ?” My West Virginia Kin then shows me the CD they have created of beloved mountain songs. Moments later, I hear banjo, fiddle, acoustic guitar, and the lilting mountain voices singing about love and life and who we mountain people are and will proudly forever be. I hear the way we love, the way we live, the way we die. I hear the music all the way down into my bones, seeping deep into the marrow, settling there as silt to the creek, never stagnant, never stationary. Mountain’s music: the wind as it rushes down from ridge to holler, the owl’s midnight cry, the men scrubbing coal dust from their faces, the old women humming wistfully after their children rush mad-long through summer-heated grass straight into another life. Oh, the magic of music!—it even brings back the dead to the living.

We’re lost to the lowing strains of the fiddle playing along our skin, causing the fine hairs on our arms to stand and wave in time, the music enters our marrow, settling. The hillbilly ghosts listen, tap their vaporous feet. This is who we are, and I am grateful for my ancestors, their music, these mountains, my life, my West Virginia Kin.

(Dedicated to Coy Engle, done gone for a spell now, just a little spell. The image is from Kathy Mattea's COAL )

Friday, October 10, 2008

Down by the Sea by Barbara Quinn

When the weather is not too hot, or too cold, I love taking a long walk along the shore. I travel from my place in Bradley Beach north to Asbury Park and then back again. It’s about three miles roundtrip and no matter how many times I walk that walk I enjoy it. Much of the pleasure has to do not only with what passes before my eyes, but with what passes beneath my feet. I am grateful for the physical wooden structure of the boardwalk.

In particular, I like the old wooden boardwalk of Ocean Grove. It’s wobbly, and needs repair, but the feel of those old boards beneath my feet is a joy. The wood gives a natural spring to your step. It’s so easy on the joints. I do need to be careful of holes and raised boards while walking. But that’s fine with me. That soft feel is worth the effort. In summer the boards swell. Now with the cool fall air there are small gaps between them and they emit a different sound when your feet hit them. In winter the brittle boards snap beneath your feet and have much less give to them. Any time of year, when a bike rolls over the boards, an unmistakable sound rumbles toward you. The boardwalk becomes a giant xylophone with two notes.

Some parts of the boardwalk have new man-made material. It’s a pleasant gray color, plastic, too uniform for my taste. And it feels different when you tread on it. There’s no give. It warps in odd ways. Other places, like Bradley Beach, have installed stone pavers along the shore, in place of the old wood. The stones look pretty but boy are they hard on your feet and legs.

There’s an older gentleman in Ocean Grove whose job it is to mark dangerous boards for future repair. He carries a bucket with red paint, and a brush, and he circles the areas that are sticking up, holes, the nails that jut out too far. He walks along slowly studying the boards. What a nice job. And he seems well-suited and dedicated as he thoughtfully makes his way along.

In some communities they are using ipe, a Brazilian wood that is working out well but causing controversy since it comes from the rainforest and needs to be certified to eliminate protests over its use. Ipe is much nicer than the man-made plastic boards, and lasts about three times as long as yellow pine boards. I’m glad they came up with a wooden solution that will enable the boardwalks to survive for future generations. Go walk the boards. You’ll come back a better person for it. Guaranteed!

Thursday, October 9, 2008

A Good Book. by Patresa Hartman

I am reading a fantastic book, and I am so grateful for it. Have you read What is the What by Dave Eggers? It is a novelization of the true story of a Sudanese Lost Boy, Valentino Achak Deng. It is beautiful and heartbreaking and inspiring.

It is a shameful account of how cruel we can be to one another, the long stretch we have to collective enlightenment, and how hardship does not end for refugees when they reach "safe" soil. It is also miraculous testimony to strength of spirit and generosity.

I am excited about this book. I have tried to share this enthusiasm with my students. I want them to know how powerful a story can be, how exciting it is to get lost in someone else's tale. I want them so much to understand that a book can be life-sized even when it presents in a purse-sized paperback. I want them to know intimately the words do not end on the page.

The story of Deng is remarkable, unimaginable: To walk for years, cross-country, barely dressed, knowing at any point you could be plucked from your traveling pack and eaten by a lion in the bush; To understand intimately that death is real and waiting for everyone; To feel, in a way that most cannot, that you are hunted by multiple predators, some of your own species. When I was ten, I argued for Barbies in the pink bedroom I shared with my sister. I never doubted my safety.

I am grateful for a childhood of Barbies and minor squabbles. I am equally grateful for the stories others tell so that I understand better that my experiences are not universal and that the world consists of far more texture. It is a painful and complicated texture, but it is better to know than not know. There is value in knowing of painful things.

Do you know what I mean by that?

When I read stories such as Deng's, my own trials are knocked into perspective. We are made of the same stuff, you, me, and Deng. And so, I know that what is in Deng is in me as well; I have the same capacity for resilience. I am inspired and encouraged by that, and I am grateful for Deng's survival and his willingness to share himself with me, his anonymous reader.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Good News Gratitude by Angie Ledbetter

I felt like a bear just waking from a long dark hibernation, enjoying the renewed sense of life spring always brings. All this is possible, even though I'm not quite as hairy or big as this mammal, it's October and not even close to spring, and I haven't eaten any flowers yet today.

Nonetheless, I am overjoyed at the good news my mom got at her oncologist's office. In her battle with a deadly brain tumor (one year today!), the latest MRI shows she is holding her own.

Is there really anything better than hearing good news about someone you love dearly? If so, I can't think of what that might be right off the top of my head. Today, I celebrate the wonderfulness of joyful tidings.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Lights, Camera, Oh Oh! by Kat Magendie

Sometimes I watch “America’s Funniest Videos” because I want a simple belly laugh. How can one not feel gratitude for all things great and good when one is laughing at their fellow humans, or their pets? One example is where the camera pans inside a small airplane with two men at the controls; and suddenly, from behind them floats this dog—he does a slow turn in the non-gravity of the cockpit, ears a-flopping, this funny doggy look—and every time I see it, I laugh until I cry.

Last night I was watching AFV and really noticed all the stupid (sometimes dangerous) things people do. The ones that make me crazy are when parents film their children and in the background you hear, “No, no little Johnny, don’t do that. Mommy says no. No. Mommy says No. Don’t. Stop that…don’t do it…” and all the while she’s filming and all the while little Johnny has a smirky grin on because he knows his mommy is filming him and he can just keep on doing whatever he’s doing—even if it’s eating a nasty ole bug! Ugh! Or, on his bicycle headed towards a tree—“Oh dear, Johnny has a concussion! Haw haw! Did you get that, Murline?”

I cringe a little at the ones where the kids act up when the parents aren’t around and in the background you hear their friends call out, “That was awesome!” or, "Wow, that must have hurt!” or “Hahahahahahahaha….oh my god, hahahahahahaha!” But, I thought about my days as a kid, along with my four brothers: The “daredevil” stunts we pulled. The days we explored the huge concrete drainage pipes from one side of town to the other—while barefooted, through grime, glass, nastiness, snakes and other vermin. The time my first boyfriend borrowed his mom's car and we went joyriding (fast of course) down a gravel road just so we could slide around in both joy and terror, while shouting, “Auuuuggghhhhh, hahahahahahahaha!” (Sorry Mom!)

Parents everywhere: We can be grateful in some instances that we do not to know everything our kids are doing. Once they are old enough to leave the house without us, they are old enough to test boundaries, feel invincible, do really dumb things (those things we did, gulp, oh geez). Then again, if someone, even an adult, has a camera handy and ten thousand dollars on the brain, all bet’s seem to be off. "We won! We won on AFV! We'll be using the ten thousand for hospital bills for little Johnny's busted up haid...hahahhahahha!"

Monday, October 6, 2008

Soup's On! by Barbara Quinn

The last of the season’s peaches and tomatoes are almost gone at the farm stand replaced by fall’s produce. Last time I visited there were more varieties of apples, pears, and squash than I could count. The pumpkins were happily piled up on hay bales. And potatoes and sweet potatoes filled the bins. I’m partial to honey crisp apples, and Bartlett pears. It’s time to turn on the oven again and fill the house with the scent of apple and pear crisp, and simply baked apples. I’ve been buying pretty striped squash and stuffing them with figs and a little cinnamon and honey. Baked sweet potatoes, and baked sweet potato fries have also been on the table.

And then there are the soups of fall. Butternut squash soup, red lentil soup, ghoulash soup, all have made an appearance on my table these past couple of weeks. There’s something comforting about a steaming bowl of soup, something right about a pot of ingredients simmering on the stove filling the house with warmth and life. None of the soups I make are difficult but they are tasty.

I lose myself in the chopping of carrots, the dicing of onions, the cubing of beef. I love the way the ingredients come together to make something better. Think about it. Soup is the perfect example of teamwork, each ingredient offering its essence, combining with the others, and becoming something new, nourishing, and bursting with flavor. Is there anything better than a bowl of chicken soup when you're feeling yurky?

All is right in my world when there’s a pot of soup simmering and ready to spoon up for lunch or dinner. A world without soup? Oh no..that's a nightmare. It reminds me of the Seinfeld epidsode where the "Soup Nazi" refuses to serve Elaine soup stating, "No soup for you!" Whatever kind you like, take it from me, soup cures what ails you. The world needs more soup.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

For Those About to Rock. by Patresa Hartman

Here are two entities I love, and if we are going to continue together like this for the remainder of a year of Thank You, it is best to understand and accept my unwavering adoration for:

1) Alanis Morissette; and
2) live concerts.

I love Alanis Morissette for her unconditional honesty and for the courage it takes to invite people into your journey, to watch you fall and rise and fall and rise and fall and rise. I love Alanis Morissette fans who know, intimately, her music beyond 1995's Jagged Little Pill. I love those fans who acknowledge her evolution as they acknowledge their own and therefore do not continually refer to her -- narrowly, so narrowly -- as an "angry chick rocker," as if anger were not normal in a whole spread fan bouquet of humanness.

I love the permission I feel to be equally and embarrassingly honest about my own revolutions. These confessions -- for that is what they are; and you, my priest -- are never attractive and always lit harshly by flourescence. I love that when I listen to Alanis Morissette I feel tunnels self-excavate into the core of me, where all of my truthiest truths wait to be called to turn. I love that albums like Supposed Former Infatuation Junkie and Feast on Scraps inspire me to write more courageously, because the darkness in me will validate the darkness in you and create some kind of magic laser show that turns all of it into light and light and light.

And so, in summary, it is best that you know that I love Alanis Morissette, that I find her wise and gracious and real.

Which brings me to adored entity Number Two, which is live concerts. I attended Alanis's Flavors of Entanglement Tour stop in Chicago on Thursday, and it was really friggin' awesome, if you don't mind my saying without eloquence.

Even if it had not been Alanis, there is something about a live concert that fills me, absolutely full up, with Joy. It is Joy. I know it is Joy, because it is pure and focused. I think it is the miracle of thousands of people united in their respect and celebration of one individual who digests the love and transmits it back -- through concentrated energy, which is waves and waves of sound. And we are all -- every single one of us -- swaying to the same frequencies, and we are loving it, and we are clapping and united, and we are singing in unison and dancing and loving our neighbors. We are loving our neighbors.

And I am sure that if we really wanted to get simple and peel back the convoluted layers of mess that weigh us down, that pollute the beauty of who we were meant to be, that all it would really take to spread peace on earth, is a friggin' awesome concert.


Saturday, October 4, 2008

Searching for Balance by Angie Ledbetter

This is what I feel like right now. I'm managing to keep all the things in my life balanced somehow, but one move too quickly in any direction, and they might come crashing down on my head. Or worse, I might fall off the teetering ball that supports me, then the balls I'm juggling will splatter. For the moment, I'm full of gratitude that I'm not swaying too much or vibrating, but maintaining.

To remind myself of the importance of staying steady in all things, I've made up an acronym:
  • Just do what you can and let the rest fall away without worrying over it.
  • Understand I am not in control of certain things and let them go. They'll will work themselves out one way or the other.
  • Get rest whenever possible, including getting off the hamster wheel for some R&R.
  • Give time to the important things/people. It's never wasted.
  • List your blessings daily.
  • Even if you drop a few balls or get off balance, it's okay. Tomorrow is a new day.

Friday, October 3, 2008

Do Not Try This At Home by Kat Magendie

Here is what you do not do. You do not lie in bed at night, and because you are bored with the book you were reading and do not feel up to picking out another one, and since you are tired and want to be in bed, but aren’t feeling exactly sleepy, you reach over and pick up your cell phone and click on the little camera icon, and then you turn the camera eye towards you and start taking photos of what your face looks like while you are in bed..."Hmm, I wonder what my husband sees when he comes to bed...." Do not do that. I am able to tell you not to do this because it is what I did last night. Be grateful I am warning you.

Now, you are exempt from this if you are under twentyish-years-old. You are exempt from this if you have had extensive plastic surgery and botox (and if you have, may god have mercy on your expression). You are also exempt from this if you are a man, because everyone knows that men usually think they look better than they do while women think they look worse than they do; and besides, men would not lie in bed, bored, taking photos of their faces (I said faces) with their camera (or perhaps they would—see The Internet).

So, while lying on my back, my face smoothes out, all except for the Forehead Butt (of which I have already yogged and placed a photo below), but in that smoothing out, there is also some kind of weird morphing of my cheeks…huhn. Now, for god’s sake, do not: I repeat DO NOT turn over and snap a photo of yourself facing the camera whilst letting said face slide onto the cell phone and pool onto the pillows…god.

To also avoid, take my word for it: Turn to the side and everything shifts that way, turn to the other side and everything shifts the other way. Take a picture of the hand, just to give oneself a break and …well, whose hand it that? My mother’s? My granny’s? Not mine!

Taking photos of individual face parts is also not suggested. The bulbous nose, the incredulous eyes, the stubborn chin, the flushed cheeks, the forehead butt like a side-ways turned smirky mouth, the …wait! Hold up! I have lovely ears! Why, my ears are like little soft seashells. Ha! I am grateful for my pretty little ears, which lie flat against my pea-head most delicately. I knew I’d find a gratitude moment in this post if I just kept writing. Find your beauty, wherever you can, and be grateful for it.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Grateful for The Power of Now

There’s a lot of free-floating anxiety around lately. The stock market plummeted 777 points in one day, then rebounded much of that the next. Money is becoming harder to come by for mortgages and other loans. People are moving what’s left of their portfolios to safer investments. It’s hard to navigate gratefully through the rocky shoals of this crisis and the maelstrom surrounding it when your retirement fund looks like it is disappearing faster than the polar ice cap.

But I take comfort in the knowledge that as sure as the market falls it will come back again. It may take years to get to the levels we became accustomed to seeing. Growth in our economy may stagnate further since businesses and banks are closing up shop, and lending requirements are tightening. After a time things will settle down. Retirement accounts may not look quite so comfortable. Things may cost more and be less available. Jobs will return slowly to the market. Our housing will be worth less. Heck, that may not be so bad across the board. Real estate skyrocketed to ridiculous levels that are unaffordable by most. We’ll get through this the way we’ve gotten through other difficult times. Being grateful helps.

I remind myself that I am grateful for the roof over my head, and for the meals on my table, grateful for my friends and relatives who listen to my fears and who share their thoughts, grateful for the women who write with me each day on this blog for they keep me focused on what matters. I'm thankful I can connect with other people and not just the nightly news. I’m most grateful that I can switch off the television and turn to other things. All around me are things of beauty and acts of kindness that give meaning to my life. The golden light of autmum is stunning from my window. It stops me in my tracks several times a day and beckons me to be still for a few moments and breathe. Life is within and without.

Lately I’m also grateful for the lessons of Eckhart Tolle. I don’t read self-help books usually, but his book, The Power of Now, was recommended by a friend. Tolle lays out strategies for finding inner calm and suffusing your life with it. He's great for reducing stress, great for allowing you to become you by shutting out the constant hum of thoughts. Staying present in the now and not slipping into the past or the future, definitely is a good idea at any time, and is even more of a challenge for me right now when birth and death hover on the horizon. Thank you Eckhart Tolle. You’ve managed to help me find restful sleep many nights, managed to help me to shift my focus to what matters. Read this book! You will be amazed at the simple and pure lessons it teaches and I bet that like me, you too will be grateful for his wisdom.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Positivity. by Patresa Hartman

You know what I think is fantastic?


I do not mean the oblivious, falsely enthusiastic, step aerobics and pat-the-bunny, cute like buttons positivity. I mean the kind that comes genuinely from decision -- acknowledgement that there is bad and rotten, but that there is also choice to actively search for what is good (because there is always good). (Always).

My body has developed extra sensitivity toward negative vibes in the last year or two. I am increasingly aware of the effects of nay-saying and complaining, flaw-focusing and arm crossing, blind refusals and failure-expecting, on my physical person.

I feel it in my shoulders.
It tugs downward at the corners of my mouth.
It leadens my step.
The atmosphere grows thick and impenetrable with it.

Conversely, I have become increasingly aware of the buoyancy that comes with surrounding myself with people who seek light and celebrate possibility. I want to sit across tables from daring positivity-excavators, share desk drawers, sip wine with these potential-finders. I want to offer them my brain and my brawn, share air and ideas and punch out holes in darkness. I want to join forces and illuminate.

I feel it in myself -- the joy and openness I feel when I high-five success and breathe patiently through imperfection. It isn't easy. All too often, I find myself crabbing when students do not do what I want them to do, when my husband does not choose as I would choose, when the earth does not rotate in sync with my step. I feel my eyes narrow and forehead crease with perceived slights. Everything goes heavy, and I do not like the sound of my own voice. I do not like that in a moment of disconnect, I slip easily into negativity. I let frustration and pride usurp a space that compassion and grace should unconditionally fill.

It is not about being false or naive. It is about understanding the nature of energy. I must remember the effects of the energy I send, because I understand well the effects of the energy I receive.

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