Tag Archives: Gratitude

Finding Gratitude in the Dark Spots

“When you stop moving, you die.”

It looked like we were ballroom dancing, our arms meeting to form a circle. It was his job to push me out, it was my job to hold my own. He was stronger. He won. My shoulder lost.

November started with a lot of pain. As a Waldorf games teacher, I was sent to a training to learn how to teach Greek wrestling, javelin, discus and long jump to fifth graders. As with any good teaching, we learned by doing. However, I only made it partially through Greek wrestling before I sprained my shoulder. A small little muscle underneath my blade wasn’t as strong as my will. It tore in my stubborn resistance and released a flood of emotions. I cried. I was embarrassed. I sat out and watched with jealousy as the other teachers got to throw the javelin and leap through the air.

Still, even through all the pain, I was determined there had to be some silver lining to my temporary disability. The impetus, perhaps, to finally coax my determined toddler to sleep through the night without my constant soothing. A deeper empathy for how my students feel when they get hurt and can’t participate. An appreciation for being able bodied. Something. There had to be something good, to make sense of that much discomfort, that much challenge in doing the simplest tasks. Apparently you need your shoulders for just about everything. Even laughing.

Thanks to three weeks of physical therapy, my shoulder now only hurts in attempting to do things like push-ups or down dogs. The doctor was right. I was still young enough to heal quickly. But, she also changed my perspective with one simple sentence.

When I asked about keeping my shoulder immobilized, she told me, “When you stop moving, you die.” Of course, there was nothing imminently deadly about my injury, but her point hit home. It’s so easy for injuries to become our excuses to no longer move, which in turn feeds more dire health consequences. I get it. The healthiest old people  are those who haven’t stopped moving.

So, on this weekend full of gratitude, I’m choosing to be thankful for what’s hard. Hurting my shoulder was hard. Encouraging my daughter to sleep without as much comforting was really hard. A lot of this month sucked. But all these challenges made me determined to never stop moving. It was my weakness, my lack of upper body strength, that failed to protect a tiny little muscle that was the key to so much pain. I’ve avoided lifting weights pretty much my entire life, but now thanks to my shoulder and that doctor, I’ve learned an invaluable lesson. Move, even when it’s not comfortable.
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Getting Meta: The Stories we tell Ourselves

A collection of notebooks I found around the house... I'm sure there are more.

Time to whip these suckers back out and get intentional about my present and future again.

I have always been a storyteller. When I was a kid, this got me into a bit of trouble as I molded my reality to fit the story I wanted to tell. I wasn’t a liar, per se, but I manipulated details to create my world into one where I wanted to live.

Without stopping to notice, I am still the same person. I tell stories all the time. And just as when I was a kid, they are neither true nor false, but rather subjective to the lens I choose.

Today I was feeling down for the first time in awhile. Maybe it was the weather. Maybe it was those pesky hormones still sticking around after baby. Really it does not matter. What does matter is what I realized.

I had a choice. I could either tell myself a negative story or a positive one. Both were true enough, depending on which details I chose to focus. What a thought. I could live in whichever story I wanted, so why choose the gloomy one?

Time to get out those notebooks again and be more intentional about the stories I'm creating now and five years down the road.

I love old pick-me-ups in forgotten journals… It is like the old me knew I would someday need a picture of a fish saying, “Boo!”

Even so, I let myself bask in the gloom for a bit. Sometimes I enjoy a good mope. Contrasts are good. Recognition of feelings is good. After all, we can’t always opt to live on a bright, fluffy cloud. {Where is the growth and variety in that?}

Still, we can choose where we want to spend more of our time. Overall, I prefer the rosier lens. Maybe not the one filled with rainbows and unicorns, but the one where even the less enjoyable details serve some bigger, higher purpose.

Have you stopped to think about the stories you tell yourself? What kind of reality are you crafting in this very moment?

With those questions in mind, I am off to create a new story for myself, one where I get back in the driver’s seat and count my blessings for what they are worth. {A lot…}

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36 Weeks: Now is About Now

Today is exactly four weeks from our due date. According to the hospital, this means we can expect our sweet baby in anywhere from 2 to 6 weeks. Apparently due dates are not very accurate. All this means is whoa, this is really happening!

Yesterday was my last day of work before maternity leave. As I stood and watched two of my coworkers have a dance off to “What Does the Fox Say” in front of the entire school, it hit me that my life is about to change and I am going to miss my work more than I realized. There are things about my job I absolutely love, like the spontaneity and joy manifested by my coworkers, adult and child alike.

Choreographed dance numbers just happen to top my list.

Students who normally show me little affection hugged me yesterday. I ended my afternoon with sweet applause from twenty-nine little sets of hands. My class submitted hundreds of baby names to my back table. My team of teachers decorated the staff room, made the baby personalized onesies, and presented an elaborate table of treats. Gifts appeared on my desk all day.

Every time I said good-bye and got a sad look from a child, I reminded him or her I would be back, a strangely reassuring statement for myself, too. While I am planning to return to work, I also know the future is unpredictable. The coming months will bring a lot of choices. These last few weeks of teaching have been extra hard. I am hopeful my patience is hiding somewhere underneath the aches and hormones of pregnancy.

After all, teaching has become part of my identity over the last four years. Then again, my identity is about to change, and underneath all the layers is also a desire to write, to teach yoga, to… As these thoughts surface, I have to quiet them. Now is not about June or even September. Now is about now, a funny thought given all the hubbub about living in the present. Shouldn’t now always be about the present? Somehow my impending transformation makes this concept more real than ever before.

For me, the coming weeks mean crawling back into the quiet of my mind and finding those spaces of calm so that I can use them both in labor and those first few weeks of parenting. I have everything I need today, a thought that has brought me peace on many occasions in the last few months. Contentment in the moment, how novel. Now if only I can make it last…

A favorite student question, "What are you going to name the baby?" To which I reply, "Not sure, because we want to see her first." Yesterday they decided to take matters into their own hands and help us out.

A favorite student question, “What are you going to name the baby?” To which I reply, “Not sure, because we want to see her first.” Yesterday they decided to take matters into their own hands and help us out.

My team of teachers is amazing. These onesies will keep me laughing through some exhausted newborn days, I am sure.

My team of teachers is amazing. These onesies will keep me laughing through some exhausted newborn days, I am sure.

All the love we have received from students, coworkers, friends, and family has surpassed anything we have ever experienced. It is amazing how people come together to celebrate new life, my heart is truly touched. Now all there is left to do is be present and wait.

All the love we have received from students, coworkers, friends, and family has surpassed anything we have ever experienced. It is amazing how people come together to celebrate new life, my heart is truly touched. Now all there is left to do is be present.

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Long Live the Thank You Note!

Sifting through the mail this evening, my interest went first to my W2, but then, in between the ads, popped out a stylish little card, unopened, signaling Alex did not recognize the sender. For the life of me, I did not either. Who the heck do we know in Belmont?

As I opened the wax-sealed envelope and spotted the letterpress Gramr gratitude co. logo, I remembered. A few months back, as we sat and waited for our veggie burgers at Sunflower drive-in, we met two recent college grads headed up to Tahoe from the Bay Area. They had made a detour because somehow Sunflower was Zagat rated, a surprise to us, because it’s good, but it’s a total hippie hole in the wall.

We sat and waited and waited for our food, as is the custom, until we fell into natural conversation with these two strangers. They had that undoubtedly cool Bay Area vibe and soon we were exchanging life stories and listening to their plans for a gratitude company. Our afternoon transformed from run-of-the-mill dog park jaunt to feeling like we were on vacation ourselves, getting to know people we would probably never hear from again but had some pretty darn interesting stories.

Flash forward to today and a remarkably detailed little note of gratitude for our encounter appeared in the otherwise boring pile of mail. Such a simple concept. Reach out and send some gratitude into the universe and that gratitude will keep traveling forward. While their website is still in the works, you can follow them on Facebook or instagram and watch for the launch of their high-quality, heartfelt brand of thank you notes.

Truth be told, I have a secret soft spot for handwritten thank yous, so tonight I’m grateful for the inspiration from Matt Richardson over at Gramr gratitude co. He reminded me that writing a good thank you is a craft and of the importance of being brave enough to chase our dreams… whether they be gratitude start-ups or teaching underprivileged children or writing the next great novel.

Gramr

Gramr

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The Girl on the Corner

Years ago, I would watch the same homeless man from my third floor window in Berkeley each evening as he approached people on the street with his book of poetry. Some would stop and look, others would keep walking without so much as acknowledging his hello. His mannerisms fascinated me, his bright purple cap and smile always ready and waiting for the next passerby. I was the voyeur, the girl upstairs with the notepad full of observations.

In the beginning of my tenure as a Berkeley resident, I had a hard time not stopping for people on the street. I knew to be careful, but they were people. Often I planned my routes to work and the grocery store as to avoid certain homeless characters, including my friend with the purple hat. It was too painful to look him in the eyes and tell him I had nothing to give, when really I had quite a bit for a twenty-four year-old.

My compromise was always food. If I had any, I would offer. I will never forget the look of gratitude from the man with the purple hat when I handed him a bundle of ripe bananas from my tote after my weekly visit to Andronico’s Market. I lugged the rest of my groceries straight home and wrote an email to my friends and family to share my story, eager to express myself in writing before I ever had a blog.

However, not all the stories were pleasant, and over the years I collected many that taught me to keep a safe distance. Berkeley is full of mentally-ill homeless people, the remnants of a failed health system and a closed center to help them. I learned where not to look or step in the mornings as to avoid human waste. I watched in disappointment as an elderly man whose bike I had watched with my husband, whose story I had patiently listened to, who even ate dinner one cold night at McDonald’s alongside my husband, scream at us in the street that we were racists for not stopping to give him money.

Of course, there were many others who said terrible things, but that old man was the saddest. We had helped him many times, but he had no memory of it. Others cursed our souls, accused me of anorexia, threatened to stab us in coffee shops. Maybe the worst remark was the strange man who stopped in the middle of a busy walkway and told me he was a serial killer with the kind of laugh that makes you believe him.

Needless to say, I have had my fair share of experiences with homeless people, enough so that our move back to Sacramento has felt quiet in regards to my interaction with them. Until yesterday. I had seen her before, from a distance, a small feminine figure with a furry hoodie pulled over her head, sitting on the median around the corner from my house, begging. This time, I pulled up right next to her at the light, her body in a ball, her knees tucked to her chest, the early morning cold not worth the effort to stand.

I checked my coin tray but then thought better of it. I reached back and rummaged through my lunch to pull out two bags of trail mix, then rolled down my window.

“Do you want food?” I asked.

She nodded as I extended the bags. Her eyes stopped on my hippie offering. My eyes stopped on her black eye, her taped-together boot. In every other way, she looked like a normal high school kid ready to get on the bus for the day, her tight jeans and colorful sweatshirt trendy, her backpack waiting on the concrete.

“I don’t eat that.” Her expression was hard, reminiscent of many of the tough kids who have passed through my classroom.

“Okay,” I replied, our eyes locked. I rolled up the window.

I wanted to tell her she must not really be hungry. I wanted to feel satisfied I did not offer her any money. Instead I drove away haunted by her black eye and taped-together boot. Even if she was not hungry enough to eat nuts and dried berries, something was seriously wrong. She was not begging for fun. Someone hurt her.

Next time I see her, I will call the authorities and hope some group will at least give her an option different from the one she now chooses, on the median around the corner from my house. It is so easy to detach, to decide we should not help because someone is too rough, too ungrateful, too crazy, too whatever. My first instinct was to detach, too. However, knowing the stories of my kids at school, it is easy to imagine how she might have ended up in that spot, angry and alone.

Sometimes, it matters less how people got themselves somewhere and more what choices they have to change. While I understand reticence in offering money to homeless people, I empathize with the reality that I have no idea what got them there, what it feels like to be at rock bottom, to spend the night cold, on the street, afraid. Absent of drugs, abuse or mental illness, I cannot believe anyone chooses this reality over what “the rest of us” have.

As I lay awake contemplating her fate, homeless or otherwise, I realized she touched something in me that only awakens for my most troubled students, my human rights studies, my desire to write. I think it is time to try my hand at writing something a little grittier, a little less about escape. Something true to my heart and all I have seen in the past few years. Something hard instead of easy. Wish me luck.

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Thankfulness Thursday: Four Years Married.

So little time, in the grand scheme of things, but still a world away from where we started. In the spirit of Thankfulness Thursday, I am grateful for four years of marriage to my best friend of more than a decade. I know it might be a used term of endearment, but it is true. Without our deep friendship, none of the rest would matter.

And, as excited as I was to walk down the aisle four years ago today, I am even more excited about what lies ahead. Life may be unpredictable, as the last couple weeks have reminded us, but it is also deserving of faith in the future. Tonight, I put my trust in life, love, and gratitude.

Wedding

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Melancholy Lessons on Love & Life

Today I held a weeping child at recess. He said he lost his best friend, his grandmother, a year ago. I seldom let a child hug me like family. This kid needed it, so I allowed him be loved and cry. He held on tight and I held on tighter. Maybe I needed the hug too. When I let go, I asked him if he wanted to talk to our school counselor. He said, “No, that was all I needed.”

Our classroom family talked about loss today. A different child suffered the kind of loss that stabs for a lifetime. He was not at school, so we talked about how to treat him when he returns. The counselor prepped me on what to say, but I was not prepared for the torrent of grief unleashed by so many other memories of sadness. Little boys, so tough, puddles of tears. So much loss for so few years.

One child raised her hand and offered some advice. She said, “This reminds us to go home and love our families because we don’t know how long they’ll be here.” She said it with conviction and without tears. The others nodded. Our day went on, the tears dried, recess lightened the mood. At the end of the afternoon, we signed a card for our missing student.

As I read the words after school, I was touched. So much empathy and encouragement. Talk of a classroom family, here for him upon his return, ready to listen, “to be his brother.” There is no changing the grief life brings, but there is our ability to be there for one another, to feel gratitude for each day, and for each other. A melancholy post, perhaps, but it makes me grateful for the lessons my children bring and for the overwhelming goodness inside each of them.

Thank goodness for love and family, blood and otherwise.

So much gratitude for love and family, blood and otherwise.

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Why Beta Readers Rock

I met with one of my beta readers yesterday to discuss my book. He helped me see a couple holes I could fill. I knew he was right because he addressed spaces I had seen myself but not known how to fix. By having someone else see them, I could then push myself to do the hard work of figuring it out.

Last night I sat down and tied together these loose ends. Maybe it is not 100% fixed, but it’s better, and that’s the point. I am so grateful to my readers for their honesty. So far, they have spotted typos, cheered me on, and even explained why they could not keep reading.

While the majority finished with a smile, it helps to know exactly why it’s not a story for everyone, something that sounds difficult to bear but was actually quite reassuring. We all know every book has an audience. Getting to ask a reader why they did not finish is a real gift.

And, last but not least, sharing my writing with more people, including acquaintances instead of just close friends/family, is building my confidence. It is no longer such a scary feeling to imagine unfamiliar eyes on my work. Some will like it and some won’t, and that’s not a bad thing. In fact, it’s really liberating!

So, thank you, thank you, thank you to my beta readers. If you’re still reading, take your time, I’m still working. And, if you’ve written a book without a beta audience, I suggest giving it a shot. By no means do you have to listen to everyone, but you may be surprised by what you learn and how it changes your confidence in your work. I definitely feel a lot stronger and braver for it.

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Writing to Write and Write Some More

Yesterday’s post about blogging for a bigger audience left me grateful for my existing readers and reminded me why I write in the first place. I don’t want to be one of those blogs that only writes about one thing. That’s not me, or at least not me right now. I appreciate my freedom to write about blogging, writing, teaching, travel, dogs, health, music, yoga… Life.

At a recent baby shower, the mother of the mom-to-be asked me what my blog was about. I responded, “Life.” Instantly I realized this might not be the most compelling marketing on earth, but it’s true. I write about everything and I don’t want to change this. Reading your comments and King Midget’s post about writing for a mass audience reminded me that I like what I have already, I just get lured into my fantasy of what it means to be paid to write. But, forcing it doesn’t work, I get that.

Over the past year, I have watched some blogs “take off” but also lose their charm/intimacy in no longer being able to respond to all their comments. I don’t want this unless it also means that some other part of my writing life is being fulfilled, (ie: my book is successfully published). I guess all this reflection has just made me realize it’s all trade-offs. Yes, I want to grow as a writer in my reach and experiences, but at the moment spreading myself thin trying to grow my blog won’t guarantee any of this and is not the most efficient use of my time.

Glad you could help me get that pesky need to impress strangers out of my system, (at least for today…).

Happy Sunday!

Speaking of baby showers, I'm becoming a pro. Been to three in the last month. Yesterday's was for one of my childhood best friends. Crazy how life flies by.

Speaking of baby showers, I’m becoming a pro. Been to three in the last month. Yesterday’s was for one of my childhood best friends. Crazy how life flies by, (see, I can’t focus on one subject…).

In other writing news, I'm reading Patrick O'Bryon's Corridor of Darkness-- so far a fantastic read and a great way to readjust my eyes to my own writing as well.

In other writing news, I’m reading Patrick O’Bryon’s Corridor of Dankness— so far a fantastic read and a great way to readjust my eyes to my own writing as well.

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Thankfulness Thursday: Yoga & Healing

Life is choices. This week I chose yoga and reading over writing.

I finally ordered Anatomy of the Spirit and devoured as much as I could after work. I highly recommend this book. For years I have heard people talk about not wanting to give their energy to this or that… I finally get it. We can learn to control the flow of energy in and out of our bodies. Our health depends on it. This book is a blessing.

So much good stuff in life, so few hours in the day...

So much good stuff in life, so few hours in the day…

I also am grateful for yoga and dusk walks with my husband and dogs. My focus on healing is monopolizing my evenings, but there is a peace and calm that comes with this. I want to write more, but I need balance. Just thirty minutes on the computer a day is liberating. Summer will come soon enough.

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Week 32: The Sweet Spot

Teaching always moves through ups and downs. Sometimes it feels like too much, sometimes it feels just right. This week, it feels like exactly where I need to be at exactly the right school with exactly the right children. I hope this is symptomatic of my personal growth over time, as opposed to the winding down of a school year or the change in weather, but whatever the cause, I’ll take it.

Too often Sundays feel anxious. Instead of a day of relaxation, they usually feel like the day before Monday, the day before my life shifts back into work mode. Lately, they’ve been different. They have felt untethered to the demands of the week. Likewise, where Friday used to feel like my saving grace, lately it has felt instead like an unexpected surprise at the end of the day, like I could keep going, like I still have more to do and do not mind.

I want to know what the difference is, so that I can make this how I always feel about my work. I know it’s not a change in the kids, they’re just as challenging and wonderful as ever. It has something to do with me.

Maybe I do better when the days are longer and the sun is out. Maybe the seven weeks until summer has me more relaxed or the promise of STAR testing being over soon is comforting. Perhaps it is the end of two years with the same kids and the knowledge of my real love for them as our days come to an end. Then again, it could be I have slowed down after work, making more time for nothing instead of cramming every moment with writing. Or, just maybe, I really did pick a profession I enjoy and this is the beginning of years of liking what I do.

Oh goodness, if I could only be so lucky. If to teach and write could be enough, my life would be full in a way I always dreamed but never expected.

Week 32 was test prep and our annual teacher appreciation days. I got sweet notes and gifts and words of encouragement. Smiles where sometimes there has been conflict. Little gestures of gratitude to show I am at the right place at the right time with the right kids. As I stood in front of parents yesterday for Saturday School, I thanked each family for giving me the honor of spending two years with their children. My eyes filled with tears. The right place.

Teacher Appreciation

It’s amazing how appreciation from families makes my job feel right.

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Thankfulness Thursday: To be here.

The past few weeks have been strange. School has consumed me. Writing has taken a back seat, too mentally drained to do anything after work other than walk the dogs, eat, read, sleep. Life feels slow and fast at once, wonderful and exhausting, tragic and beautiful, meaningful but at moments empty, too.

Today I woke up happy. I went to school happy. I kept calm through hissing, cursing, an impossible phone wait time for mandatory reporters. I laughed as the school gate refused to open, all I wanted was to be home, escape the heavy cloud that sometimes tries to settle over my classroom. Ignore the cloud and it evaporates, I remind myself with a smile.

Last night I finished Cheryl Strayed’s Wild, which cemented her place on my author crush list. Tiny Beautiful Things moved me to tears. Wild made me want to sleep under the stars, left me in awe of her courage, honesty, heart. Tonight, there is an emptiness where the book existed in my evenings. Those last words stuck to me, pushing me to imagine my past, present, and future selves all sitting on this couch, connected but strangers.

Ever since I was a little girl, one question has permeated my thoughts.

What’s the point of all this?

Yesterday and today, three words have rung through my being more strongly than anything before.

To be here.

That’s enough. I feel it, I know it, I just need to always remember it. Goes pretty nicely with the three words my husband just taped to our refrigerator.

No more someday.

I am grateful, I am alive. Nothing is perfect but everything is still somehow beautiful. I leave you with a clip I enjoyed tonight (that coincidentally features one of my favorite songs) and a picture that reminds me to be here, because even as I type, I am overwhelmed with love.

I'm surprised the Photo Booth flash doesn't wake him...

Not even the Photo Booth flash or my typing will disturb him… He’s present and a constant source of love.

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