Adventures in Thanks-Living

Living the gift of life one breath at a time

Archive for the tag “thankfulness”

Today…I am Thankful

2014-06-26 20.13.04

“It feels like the world is coming to an end,” my daughter said. “Planes being shot down, going missing, and all the people being killed in Gaza and Israel.”

Yes, it’s easy to look at the madness of humankind and feel like everything is spinning out of control. It’s simpler to play the blame game, pick sides, and declare triumphantly which side is right and which side is wrong. Ignoring the problems is another option that often seems more palatable than emotional and sensory overlaod combined with caring fatigue.

We crave clear delineations and clean lines drawn in the sands of our existence; muddy waters and gray skies are problematic. But life’s not like that. What’s a body to do?

Practice gratitude.

Keep on the sunny side of life. Look at your glass not only as half full but as overflowing with potential and possibility. Find at least one good thing in each day for which to be thankful. Better yet, keep a list and watch it grow.

Here’s my Thursday Thankfulness List:  Today I am thankful for a beautiful, temperate summer day. I am thankful for an amazing group of colleagues with whom to work and serve. I am thankful for my family near and far. I am thankful for the tomatoes and peppers ripening on the vine. I am thankful for the love and company of our pets.

Get the idea? Just start a list and watch it grow. Be thankful in the midst of pain, suffering, and woe. It’s a beautiful act of defiance, and who knows, maybe waves of gratitude can even drown conflict and greed. It’s worth a try, right?

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The Year of Living Generously

Happy New Year

Day by day, as they spent much time together in the temple, they broke bread at home and ate their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having the goodwill of all the people.    Acts 2:46-47

It’s a new year, a new day filled with promise and possibility. What will you do with the minutes, hours, and days ahead? How will you shape and craft the time entrusted to you? How will you use your gifts and talents to make this world a better place?

I’m not talking about resolutions. Those are well and good if you make them, but our culture and human tendencies work against their care and keeping. I’m not even talking about goals. Setting goals is vital to achievement and essential to moving forward in ways that are productive and measurable.

What I hope to do–and I invite you to join me–is to commit to live intentionally and deeply into a fresh way of being for this new year. This year I want to build a life that is deliberately joyful and generous. I’m talking about a deep culture shift that begins on an individual level and ripples outward into community.

Living generously begins one person at a time, BUT…living generously has the power to change the world and to heal and cultivate relationships, one life at a time, one small group at a time, and one community at a time. It starts with you. It starts with me. It starts now.

The Year of Living Generously has two parts. First, I’ll be posting three to four times a week to offer ideas, share experiences, and plan and dream with you. I invite you to comment and share your ideas and experiences, too. Secondly, I invite you to participate in a Lenten discipline called With Glad and Generous Hearts. This 40-day faith-based study is designed with both individuals and groups in mind. It features daily reflections and questions for individual use, as well as a weekly group study. More information about how to participate will be available mid-January.

I hope you’ll consider joining me for the journey and will share this information with your friends and in your communities. Together we can craft a year of living generous lives, marked by prodigal love, and seasoned with gladness and joy.

For today I leave you with this thought:

Divine time is infinite and fluid. Human time is finite and marked by artificial constraints of our own creation. The key to a glad and generous life is to acknowledge our human reality while embracing and living into Divine (or Kairos) time. In doing so we have the potential to maximize our days and hours by living fully each precious moment.

Happy New Year! Blessings on the journey.

Thankful for Failure

You build on failure. You use it as a stepping stone. Close the door on the past. You don’t try to forget the mistakes, but you don’t dwell on it. You don’t let it have any of your energy, or any of your time, or any of your space. — Johnny Cash

I once heard someone say that a mistake is really only a mistake if you fail to learn from it. That means mistakes and failures can be some of our best teachers, our most important investments in time and energy. The lessons we learn from what doesn’t work well can be life-changing and affirming in the long run.

How we handle failure and what we make of our mistakes makes all the difference. That’s why I like Johnny Cash’s observation about failure. Lay that failure down and walk on it; use it as a bridge to a better tomorrow and a brighter future. Take from the experience what you can use to build a stronger foundation, to try a new approach, and to blaze a new trail.

Take from the experience only that which will prevent you from making the same mistake again. Most of all, don’t let fear of failure keep you from trying again, from moving on, and from taking calculated risks in the future. Believe that you are created for a purpose and never, ever give living into that reality.

Be thankful for failure. It may be that today’s mistake or disappointment will you into tomorrow’s opportunity and success.

Here’s a wonderful short video about famous “failures” from bluefishtv.com. Enjoy!

Photo by rockinred1969. Thanks!

Grab a Good Book…and then share it!

“The greatest gift is the passion for reading. It is cheap, it consoles, it distracts, it excites, it gives you knowledge of the world and experience of a wide kind. It is a moral illumination.” –Elizabeth Hardwick

I am thankful for the gift of good books. Nothing gives me as much pleasure as sitting down to read a book (except maybe for a good cup of tea or coffee and some music to accompany said book). Perhaps you read this poem by Emily Dickinson when you were in high school or college:

There is no frigate like a book
To take us lands away,
Nor any any courses like a page
Of prancing poetry.
This traverse may the poorest take
Without oppress of toll.
How frugal is the chariot
That bears the human soul.
 

How easy it is for us to take this gift for granted! Whether one prefers an e-reader or the feel of an actual book in hand, the ability to read is a treasure that should not be ignored. In fact, one of the greatest gifts a person can give to a child is to pass along and foster the love of reading. I read to my girls nightly when they were young, and now both of them read and have a love for words.

Speaking of reading, I’m going to close and go read one of the good books waiting on my nightstand. How about you? What are you reading right now?

Act of Thanksliving–

Don’t hoard your books! Consider these options for keeping your library light and others in good reading material:

1) Swap a book with a friend to double your reading pleasure,

2) Pass along a good book to a friend with absolutely no expectation of return,

3) Once you have read a book, donate it to your local library for their book sale,

4) Sign up for Paperbackswap.com and trade books with others for only the cost of postage,

5) Leave a book with a note in it about what you enjoyed in a public place for someone else to enjoy and pass along,

6) Give extra books to your local women’s or homeless shelters, or

7) give books to your local schools that are appropriate for English curricula or other courses.

The most important thing is to share your bounty and involve others in the gift of reading. An important part of thanksliving is sharing and learning to let go of possessions. Open hands and open hearts yield mighty and delightfully unexpected returns.

Photo by Horia Varlan used under Creative Commons License. Thanks!

“How Can I Help?”

He even poses for pictures without a fuss!

“How can I help?” Today I am thankful for these four simple words that mean so very much, and I’m even more thankful for the one who speaks them to me.  You see, these four words comprise a question my wonderful spouse asks at least once a day, and I have come to treasure them as a reflection of his love and care for me and our family.

He’ll walk in the kitchen door and see me preparing dinner, set down whatever he’s carrying, and immediately ask “How can I help?” No task is too great or menial. I’m a terrible chopper; my lefthandedness and clumsy fine motor skills never have been helpful when it comes to chopping vegetables. Mr. Husband can chop as well or better than any food channel chef. He’ll set the table if asked or make a salad. In fact, he’ll frequently make an entire meal; we are true partners in the kitchen just as in other aspects of our marriage.

Mr. Husband doesn’t limit this question to meal prep and clean-up either. He is incredibly handy and able to fix almost anything. Broken faucet? No problem. Leaky shower? No big deal. Need an oil change? Done! His acts of service know no limit, and I’m convinced he can make just about anything work again.

If I’ve had a bad day or am worried or dealing with excess stress he’ll simply ask “How can I help?” Help might be a back rub, a listening ear, or a cup of tea. He’s also really good at inciting some awesome belly laughs. He’s also patient, kind, and calm.

So today I am grateful for my spouse, and for his servant heart, gentle spirit, and true partnership. Thank you, Mr. Husband, for your love, your friendship, and your partnership. You’re the best!

How often do you ask “How can I help?” Who has been of great help to you? Who can you thank today?

Photo by Linda Fleagle. Thanks!

Thankful for Medical Care & Freedom to Vote

I’ll keep this entry short and sweet because in less than three hours I’ll be in the process of being prepped for surgery. I am thankful for a good primary care physician who determined I should have an ultrasound on my thyroid and follow-up with a surgeon. I’m thankful for the skill and care with which my surgeon handled the biopsy and recommendations to remove my right thyroid lobe and the suspicious nodule. As a cancer survivor, I believe in being proactive and taking preventative measures if necessary.

Hopefully, all will be well, the nodule will turn out to be a mere annoyance, and the surgery won’t transform me from a mezzo to an alto. Seriously, I am truly grateful to have access to good healthcare and good insurance.

I am also so thankful to Wanda and Bonnie, the surgical schedulers who were able to move my procedure back so that I can vote first thing before coming in to the hospital. I would have been devastated had I not been able to vote because I’ve never missed a presidential election since coming of age. If you’re in the United States, I hope you plan to vote today, too!

I have to stay overnight for observation, but I hope to be back tapping away on my keyboard on Wednesday night. I’m sure I’ll have a lot more to be thankful for when I get back home!

Prayers and good, healing thoughts are appreciated. And please, please give thanks for your health, for healthcare providers, and for insurance if you are fortunate enough to have it. Peace and blessing!

Photo by Lucid Nightmare. Thanks!

Bridge Over Life’s Troubled Waters

You never know when life will throw a curve ball in the midst of a smooth inning. One minute things are looking just ducky, and the next minute you are dealing with a crisis for which you are patently unprepared. It might be diagnosis of a major illness, an accident, the death of a loved one or friend, the loss of a job, a natural disaster, or any combination of nightmarish components. In short, it only takes one instant for life as usual to shatter like glass at your feet.

I’ve been there; perhaps so have you. My curve ball was a breast cancer diagnosis on the heels of a traumatic divorce that left me a single parent in a vulnerable financial state. At the time, I could barely fathom how to pull myself out of the muck of my predicament. Thankfully, other people could see more clearly, and family and good friends came to my aid. While no one can carry another person’s load, my friends, parishioners, and family journeyed with me–forming a bridge of solidarity between despair and hope. It was their faith, their hands, and their prayers that carried me across. I am so thankful for each one of them. I am where I am today because of the many relationships that formed a net of security and safety against the onslaught of suffering and fear.

Now it is my turn to be there for others whenever possible, however possible. We live in a world marked by suffering. Right now, well over a million people have had their daily existence altered by Hurricane Sandy in the northeastern United States. Some people have lost everything; their lives will never be the same. Sure, some day life may be better, but right now that horizon is nowhere in sight. They need that bridge that you and I can be–in prayer, through dollars given to relief efforts, and in messages of care and support. You and I, all of us, can send waves of prayer and healing intentions out to those in need in addition to tangible forms of aid. We can seekto stop rash judgments, blame, and negative energy that works against hope and  healing. We can make a difference.

Tonight the congregation I serve is hosting a screening of The Line, a new documentary film by Linda Midgett, presented by Sojourners. This 40 minute film tells the story of four people who have fallen below the poverty line–plunging from lives of hope and promise to days and nights of fear and anxiety. As their stories make quite clear, there are very few of us who don’t walk this line and who aren’t immune from falling below it. All it takes is one major illness, one job loss, a divorce, an accident, or a natural disaster to change life forever. The thing that separates this film from others I’ve seen is that it does offer hope., and it lays claim to a better future for all people by inviting everyone to the table to engage in dialogue about how to fix broken systems and outdated policies. It is a gem of a film. If you haven’t seen it, you owe it to yourself to spend 40 minutes of your precious time watching it and thinking about it.

As for me, The Line and the aftermath of Superstorm Sandy remind me of how grateful I am to have had a bridge to walk, crawl, and be drug across in my own needful hours. I am so thankful for the many hands that would not let go of me, for those who insisted that I get back up and start walking on the other side to a place of greater strength and stronger faith. You all are living proof of the strength we bear when we journey together. So, today I give thanks for you–family, friends, and colleagues. I give thanks for health. I give thanks for a roof over my head, food to eat, clothes to wear, a car to drive, and work that is meaningful and delightful. I give thanks to the Creator of the Universe who loves me and is there for me no matter what. There is so much for which to be grateful. I could count blessings all day long and still not run out of reasons and people for which to be thankful.

Yes, the waters of trouble and suffering may run high and dark, but tides ebb and the sun rises again, and always life is still very, very good. Never, ever take your gifts and blessings for granted. Count them carefully and joyfully. Thank as many people as possible. Look for ways to be a blessing to others. Do something each day to make this world a better place.

What can you do to brighten your own part of the planet? What one thing can you do right now, today, to make someone’s life a little better? Please share your thoughts, intentions, and ideas. Blessings to you!

Photos by c.mcbrien, sojo.net, and theps.net. Thanks!

Chow, Chow, Chow*

*or, the fine art of maximizing excess produce and living frugally but well

Spatchy Cat checks out the Chow-Chow

Unless you live somewhere in or around Appalachia, Pennsylvania, or various Southern states (or have roots in these areas), chances are you think of Chow Chow as a dog breed of Chinese extraction rather than a delicious relish to slather on pinto beans or hot dogs.

Growing up in the foothills of Appalachia, Chow-Chow was a regular condiment on our family’s table. Mammaw Nannie, my paternal grandmother, used to give us a few jars every year, and my father prized it about as highly as he did banana pudding and my mother’s meatloaf. As a child, I was ambivalent about the brightly colored pickled concoction. But it grew on me the older I got, sort of like a taste for coffee grows on a person, and by the time my Mammaw passed on, it had become one of my favorites, too.

Mammaw Nannie shelling beans for canning.

For most of my adult life, I’ve resorted to local or regionally produced varieties, an occasional purchase of a homemade batch sold at craft fairs and festivals, or (gulp) none at all. In fact, I’d gotten to the point that I didn’t really think about it–until my spouse and I started gardening again.

This year we had an over-abundance of green tomatoes, and as the first frost loomed ever closer, I started looking for ways to use the excess produce rather than letting it go to waste. (After all, one can only consume so many fried green tomatoes.) I posted a question to The Compact looking for Chow-Chow recipes and got a few responses and ideas, but nothing seemed to match exactly what I remembered from childhood.

My resourceful cousin Bev was able to figure out the basic process and ingredients from conversation with her mom and our aunt. Between that and a vintage cookbook my mother had given her for a wedding present, we came up with a workable recipe for “Green Tomato Relish.”

My spouse and I harvested the remaining tomatoes, and chopped them along with onions, red and green peppers. We cooked them down with a brew of vinegar, sugar, and spices, and water-processed 10 pints and three 1.5 pint jars. We even saved the excess seasoned vinegar for salad dressing and cooking.

Tomorrow we’ll open the first jar to serve with pintos, turnip greens, and cornbread–a Southern Appalachian feast.  Better yet, we have plenty to share and made the best possible use out of virtually all the tomatoes in our garden. Mammaw Nannie and so many others of her generation knew how to stretch a dollar, feed a family, and make the most of everything–including each and every day of life. Thanks, Mammaw, for continuing to teach me how to live well and be a good steward of God’s many gifts!

What ideas do you have for making the most of your garden produce to live frugally but well?

Mom’s Green Tomato Relish (aka Chow-Chow)

1 gallon ground green tomatoes

6 green peppers

6 red peppers

4 stalks celery

2 T. salt

1 T mustard seed (white)

1 T celery seed

Onions to taste (optional, but I use four or five)

Grind (or mince) tomatoes. Put hot water over them. Drain and rinse in cold water. Boil three pints vinegar and three cups sugar along with the salt, mustard seed, and celery seed for 5-10 minutes. Add drained vegetables and simmer to consistency desired. Pack Chow-Chow into hot, sterilized jars and seal. Note: I processed them in a water bath for 15 minutes.

When I shared this story and recipe with the journaling and scrapbooking group at Trinity Lutheran Church, Sally B. brought me a photocopy of a couple of recipes from an old family cookbook (handwritten). Here they are:

Chow Chow

1 peck tomatoes, green-ground

6 cup ground cabbage

6 onions

6 sweet peppers ground

6 stalks celery

1/2 cup salt

Boil 20 minutes, strain, add vinegar enough to cover it well.

4 lbs sugar

1 tbsp cinnamon

2 tablespoons cloves

a little mustard

boil 15 to 20 minutes, makes 7 1/2 qts.

Pepper Hash

24 peppers

16 onions

1 qt vinegar

3 cups sugar

2 ts celery seed

2 ts salt

Grind pepper and onions, scald with salted water 32 times, drain, add vinegar, sugar, and celery seed. Let boil 15 minutes and seal.

Sally also brought me a copy of a traditional Pennsylvania version of Chow-Chow that uses a wider variety of vegetables and makes about 12 pints.

1 pt green string beans

1 pt yellow string beans

1 pt sliced celery

1 pt kidney beans

1 pt yellow corn

1 pt carrots sliced

1 pt lima beans

1 pt Navy beans

1 pt cauliflower

1 pt small pickles

6 chopped red peppers

2 small onions chopped

Note: Anything that isn’t precooked…do it, but not until it’s mushy. Whenever possible I use frozen vegetables @ room temperature, or canned beans because they are already precooked.

Drain and rinse all vegetables. Make a syrup of:

1 1/2 pound sugar

1 tsp. mustard seed

1 tsp. celery seed

1 qt. white vinegar

1 qt. water

1 TBSP pickling spice in a cloth bag…..bring to a boil….remove spice bag….add vegetables to liquid….bring to a boil again and then pack in jars & seal.

Photos by sblezard and davidpbaxter.

Thankful for Slow Saturday

I promised myself a slow day, and I have enjoyed just that. This morning I slept late for the first time in quite a while (9:00 a.m.). I made coffee, enjoyed it, and finished laundry at a leisurely pace. Mr. Husband and I took the dogs for a long walk at the cemetery overlooking town and the surrounding hills and valleys. It was breathtakingly beautiful today. I tended the garden, and picked basil and tomatoes.

I did a little work and finished my sermon. I stayed hydrated and relaxed. We made a wonderful supper together: pasta with fresh homemade pesto (recipe below) or homemade Alfredo sauce, a lovely salad with cucumbers from our garden, and peach sundaes made with fresh local peaches for dessert. We enjoyed a leisurely meal with good conversation. Now I’m winding down and hoping for a good night’s sleep so that I can feel rested for tomorrow.

It was a lovely slow day. Did I accomplish as much as I would have liked to done? No. But that’s o.k. I am content.

How did you spend your Slow Saturday?

Fresh Pesto

Two heaping cups (press down) of fresh, washed, and drained basil leaves

1/2 cup walnuts

1/2 to 2/3 cups Parmesan cheese (freshly grated is best)

8 cloves garlic, peeled and coarsely chopped (use less if you’re not a garlic fan)

1/3 +/- cup extra virgin olive oil (add oil to get a pleasing consistency)

freshly ground pepper to taste

1/4 teaspoon sea salt

Process in a food processor until desired consistency is reached. Mix with hot cooked pasta. Any extra can be put in small containers (press out air bubbles to avoid discoloration) and frozen. Will keep for a few days in the refrigerator. I put a thin layer of olive oil on top of the pesto to prevent discoloration.

Use as a sandwich or wrap spread. Mix with a little mayo or plain Greek yogurt in pasta or chicken salad. Spread on fresh artisan bread, top with a slice of homegrown tomato, sprinkle with a little Parmesan cheese and broil. Yum.

Photos by zoyachubby and diekatrin used under Creative Commons License. Thanks!

In Praise of Home Grown Tomatoes

I am thankful for home grown tomatoes–those orbs of deliciousness that taste so much better than their bland grocery store counterparts. If you grow tomatoes you understand. For weeks you watch them hanging green on the vine, and your mouth begins to water at the thought of tasty sun-warmed fruit on bread with mayonnaise, or in Caprese Salad or in salsa or in sauce or in juice. Maybe the best way to enjoy one is to bite into it like an apple, fresh off the vine.

As the old song goes, “There’s only two things that money can’t buy–true love and home grown tomatoes.”

Not familiar with “Home Grown Tomatoes”? Here’s a link to a YouTube version by Jay Ungar and Molly Mason. Enjoy! Oh, and as you’re eating your next home grown tomato, don’t forget to give thanks.

Photo by Dave Stokes used under Creative Commons License. Thanks!

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