True Gifts

gifts“The only true gift is a portion of thyself.”

-Ralph Waldo Emerson

I don’t know about you, but the holidays are such a peaceful, relaxing time for me. I find that I simplify my schedule, breathe deeply and appreciate all the amazing moments that happen this time of year.

OK, I just laughed so hard at that first paragraph that I spat water on my keyboard and fell out of my chair.

I know that for most of us, this time of year means more items on our to-do lists, additional deadlines and a frenetic pace that leaves us exhausted by the time January 1st rolls around.

Now I get that almost none of us can give up a certain amount of material gift-giving.  But I think we sometimes forget how much those intangible gifts really mean to the people around us.  So without trying to add to your obligations, here are a few true gifts I think we can all manage:

Continue reading → True Gifts

10 Things I Took Away from NaBloPoMo

keyboardSo my month of daily posting is over. For those of you who don’t know, I was participating in The National Blog Posting Month Challenge, otherwise known as NaBloPoMo. The challenge is to write and post a blog entry every day during the month of November. I made it 25 out of 30 days. Not bad for a first attempt.  It’s been a good month generally and it was definitely a learning experience.  Some were new lessons, some were reminders of things I already knew but could use some reinforcement. Here’s what I took away from the month: Continue reading → 10 Things I Took Away from NaBloPoMo

25 Specific Things I’m Grateful For (Part 2)

NaBloPoMo_November_small(For the first 12 and an intro to this post, go here)

13. Acupuncture. About three years after a year of physical therapy, pain medications, chiropractor appointments and conversations with surgeons, one session with my acupuncturist allowed me to lift my leg off the ground more than three inches for the first time in almost a year. My back only goes funky 1-2 times a year now because of her. I can’t tell you why it works,it just does.

14. Being a Continue reading → 25 Specific Things I’m Grateful For (Part 2)

25 Specific Things I’m Grateful For (Part 1)

NaBloPoMo_November_smallWhen I was in college, I lived in an intentional spiritual community of 6 people, three men and three women. We committed to a number of things over the course of our year, including eating dinner together barring any occasional commitments, Sunday through Thursday. One of our traditions was to go around the table those nights with everyone mentioning at least one thing they were thankful for. Being a fairly well-adjusted bunch, we shared moments of gratitude for friends, good grades on tests, letters from home, that sort of thing. Occasionally, someone had a rough day and would be grateful they made it through the day without falling apart or killing anyone.

Then there was my housemate Amy, a lovely soul, truly. Sometimes she’d just be so filled with gratitude for her day, she’s speak for several minutes about the flowers or the squirrels or the way the sun shone through a window, completely reliving her bliss from the day. Most of the time we couldn’t help but get caught up in her joy. Although sometimes, we did just want her to finish up so we could get around to the meal.

What I learned from Amy though, is that the more specific your gratitude, the more profoundly you actually feel grateful. So I could tell you I’m grateful for fall. OK, I guess. But if I tell you I’m grateful for fall because of the way a specific section of my drive up I-97 looks when all the trees change and how it makes me remember fall as a child growing up in the woods of Maine, well, now that’s  visceral gratitude right there.

Being grateful and feeling gratitude are not the same thing. Feeling gratitude is always more powerful.

In some of my retreat work, I have people list 50-100 things they are grateful for over the course of the day. It’s interesting to see how as the day progresses, they really have to get more and more specific. They often realize they are grateful for more things than they realized on the outset. It’s an experience of feeling the true power of gratitude for many of them.

Over the next couple of days, I encourage you to do the same thing. Make a list, get very specific and pay attention to the mundane, everyday things that make you grateful, even for just a fleeting moment. By writing them down, you get to hold onto them for a little longer.

So here is the beginning of my abbreviated list:

I am grateful for:

1. Growing sweet potatoes this summer. Because, today in the rain, I went outside to dig some up for Thanksgiving. I looked ridiculous and at the same time felt like I was a total hardcore gardener.

2. My red-headed child who is clever and witty and loves to laugh. It’s amazing how you can feel when you are around joy incarnate.

3. My older daughter who is brilliant and thoughtful and empathetic, especially around children with disabilities. Her kindness and patience and unconditional acceptance makes me proud and filled with love for such an amazing presence in my life.

4. Going from a beginner guitar player to an intermediate-beginner guitar player (yes I made that term up). When you can play 10-12 chords without too much trouble, it’s amazing how many songs you can actually get through.

5. Finally getting the hang of knitting. Yes, I now understand the obsession and I see color and yarn and texture in a whole new light. I look forward to my active meditation time and appreciate the relaxed state it often affords me.

6. A spouse affected just so slightly with OCD. There are several projects around the house that happened this year because he could not just walk away – I appreciate the fact that he makes things happen that I would never make the time for because they are overwhelming to me in their scope and size.

7. The snores of a funny little sleeping dog plastered against my body who thinks I’m the moon and the stars. Everyone should have one living creature feel this much love about them.

8. One old 16 year-hound dog. She mostly sleeps, but every once in a while, she gets a twinkle in her eye and bounds off around the house. We almost lost her last year and that jolted me into remembering to appreciate her every day.

9. The wildlife in my neighborhood – foxes, deer, bald eagles, great blue herons, hawks – they all remind me of the wildness of the Universe.

10. The roof on my house not because it keeps the rain out, but specifically because it doesn’t. There are several places in my kitchen and dining room where my roof leaks. And with every major rain storm, I am acutely aware that I do have a roof when many don’t.

11. Reading books with my girls at bedtime. My nearly twelve-year-old will tell you she is too big for this tradition, but she still comes to bed early three times a week to listen to whatever book her younger sister and I are working through. I cherish every page.

12. Friends – Friends who laugh with me, cry with me, and get me out of my head when I’m over-thinking – friends who start inside jokes so funny my sides hurt – friends who know and give me what I need even when I can’t figure it out myself.

Tomorrow, I’ll share thirteen more. I’d love to hear something specific you are grateful for.

This is day 27 in the 30 day National Blog Posting Month Challenge.


For the past three or four years I’ve been asked to talk to 9th graders in a program designed to help them clarify their values and beliefs as they move forward into the beginning stages of adulthood. I always look forward to meeting the kids and find the evening inspiring, particularly because it gives me the opportunity to purposefully re-examine my own values and verbalize the things I believe most in this world.

Most years, I’ve been part of a panel that answers questions related to a particular topic with follow-up questions from the kids. This year the class was structured around a different and quite interesting angle. Instead of talking to the whole class, I sat with two of the students and we were instructed to conduct an interview.

But there was a twist – I wasn’t the one being interviewed.  My job was to interview these two young ladies. I was provided with a list of thought-provoking questions to ask them about and take notes on their answers.  I was allowed to offer my own thoughts on the questions but only after each of them had answered completely. It was so different from the years where I had been asked to talk for 15 minutes and have the kids ask me questions at the end.

This year, my job wasn’t to talk to them. It was to listen and engage and affirm and then, if the moment was right, talk with them. And that is so much better. These kids, 14 or 15 years-old, are so interesting. They have definite ideas about what’s important to them. They have figured out their values and what they believe in and they want to share their ideas about how they are going to interact with the world in a way that is meaningful and impactful.  Honestly, I could have asked questions and listened to their responses all night long.

Throughout the process, they also got to know a little bit about me and what I value, but truthfully, that was the least important part of the conversation. I think the really interesting thing about the whole process was that the young women I talked to seemed, at times, genuinely surprised by their own depth and understanding of themselves. More than once, they started with “This might seem weird…” but felt better when the other acknowledged feeling the same way or when I affirmed that their ideas were valid and interesting and thoughtful.

All in all, it was a great night that left me feeling inspired and connected. Listening to other people’s stories is maybe my favorite part of what I do not only professionally but simply as a human being trying to make meaning out of her short time here. I appreciated the time I spent with these teens and left recharged and changed. Not bad for a Sunday night.


This blog post is day 3 of the National Blog Posting Month challenge. 

Small Acts of Gratitude

Sometimes when I write, the words come easy and fast. In fact, sometimes my fingers can barely keep up with my thoughts, and I type very fast.  Those are days where the house is quiet, my thoughts are organized and I can focus solely on my writing. It isn’t often that I have those days but they do happen

Today, I’ve been sitting here for the last hour trying to write a blog on gratitude.  Here’s what’s been happening:

  • Write a sentence.
  • Daughter #1 comes in- wants to make some brownies by herself. I say okay.
  • Daughter leaves to make the brownies.
  • Reread sentence. Erase it and start over.
  • Daughter #2 asks for help getting Play-doh out.
  • Clean off the table, and carry approximately 1000 cans of half dried out Play-doh and 5,ooo accessories into the dining room.
  • Write a few more sentences, pause for careful consideration of words.
  • Daughter #1 comes in looking for olive oil.
  • Help daughter find Canola oil for brownies instead.
  • Reread paragraph, erase and start over.
  • Daughter #2 needs help chiseling old dried out clay from squeezy thing that makes Play-doh look like spaghetti. Spend ten minutes extracting approximately 1 gram of fossilized Play-doh.
  • Add a few more words tentatively to first paragraph.
  • Help daughter #1 take egg shell out of measuring cup, verify brownie mix has been stirred enough, and scrape the bowl into pan before daughter #1 eats approximately 1 cup of brownie mix while “licking the bowl.”
  • Erase paragraph and start in a new direction.
  • Encourage daughter #2 not to wear Play-doh spaghetti as a hat…

Truthfully, this is how many of my days go. Sometimes I feel like I live a rather small existence in a small world.  It’s filled with wonder and love and gratitude but sometimes the idea of doing anything greater with my day can seem a bit overwhelming.  This year I have been lucky enough to spend a small amount of my time involved with groups who have showed me that it doesn’t take much, just a little effort, to really change the world. In particular, I am grateful for Epic Change and the work of Stacey Monk and her crew, who have given me the awesome gift of being able to change the lives of others with some very small acts.  This blog post today is one way.  Daughter #1, along with her church choir, have raised money to help build a secondary school in Tanzania so children there can experience something we often take for granted. I’ve been able to teach my daughters how to think of others, to see that seemingly tiny acts can have a huge impact, that children in other parts of the world are more like them than different and that giving of yourself can be a heck of a lot of fun.

This year as part of their efforts, Epic Change has launched where you can upload a photo of what you are grateful for and make a donation out of gratitude for all that you have.  It is a quick and easy way to be thankful for all that you have and change lives in the process.  That’s a pretty sweet deal.

So, if you find that your days are like mine- full, and hectic and wonderful all at the same time, take a few minutes and visit and to post what you are grateful for and read all about how Epic Change changes lives every day. Consider making a small donation- it’s amazing what a great miracle can come out of a tiny act of gratitude.

Happy Thanksgiving to all of you – I know I don’t say it enough, but I am grateful for all of you.