Starting Over, Winter Solstice 2021

Moon picture from earlier this fall.

Growing up with a farmer dad, I thought every farmer had a Vise Grip on his belt loop, held in a brown leather holder, always at the ready.

The Vise Grip was actually invented in Nebraska, and they aren’t really called Vise Grips.  Like Kleenex, it’s a name brand.  They’re really called locking pliers, and I find their history inspiring today on this, the shortest day of the year.

William Peterson was a blacksmith in Dewitt, Nebraska.  In 1921 he filed a patent, one that doesn’t really look like Vise Grips.  It has the turning mechanism at the bottom, but not the lock.  The clamp at the top angled around on a hinge instead of moving out straight.  

In 1924, he filed a patent again, this time with the locking mechanism that makes such a tight seal that Vise Grips are used for so many purposes.  There’s even an elderly woman in a rural Nebraska area who uses them to open her milk container each morning, her knuckles too arthritic to do it alone.

The point is, that in 1921, William Paterson didn’t realize he was making milk openers.  So what if today on this shortest day of the year, we look back and realize that any “failures” in this past year are more examples where we “filed that first patent,” times where we tried something new–even if it didn’t really work?   The first patent is actually a required step on the road to success.  The Model T car was actually the letter T in the alphabet.  Henry Ford started with a Model A and then a Model B and went from there.

We can’t get to T without A first.  So begin.  Begin something. Try again at that something that didn’t go quite right. Who knows, the next iteration might be the one that sings.  After today, the days are getting longer, a great chance to start again.

Today’s Gratitudes:

  • Teacher food day. 🙂
  • Seeing a student writing longer and stronger than he ever has during a final exam
  • Twinkle lights in the library.

Day 7: Thanksgiving Decoration DIY

The kids and I bopped over to Beatrice on Saturday. We didn’t really have a plan for once and took our time going from place to place, enjoying the fall weather between stops. In the Hallmark store (one of my favorite places to go this time of year), I noticed something.

There is rack after rack of Christmas items, and just one small stand for Thanksgiving.

Thanksgiving just doesn’t get the hype. It’s not easy to commercialize a holiday that encourages us to look around and be thankful for what we’ve already got. And I get it–Christmas is exciting. But here’s one simple idea to decorate for Thanksgiving. It’s a craft that not only leaves you with a Thanksgiving-specific decoration but also encourages gratitude practice along the way.

Step 1: Print off leaf cut-outs. This works best on cardstock, but regular printer paper is fine.

Step 2: Grab some watercolor paints. Mix colors together and decorate your leaves in a variety of hues.

Step 3: Cut out leaves and write down the names of special people to remember this Thanksgiving season and things for which you are especially thankful.

Step 4: Either string the leaves together to hang like a garland, or “rake” them together in a pile.

Step 5: Enjoy the colors that are made on purpose and by accident, and notice how having a gratitude item in your home or workspace shifts the focus to thanks.

Day 6 Thanks

  • Beautiful fall weather
  • A McDonalds cheeseburger with the kids
  • Reading cards at Hallmark

Day 7 Thanks

  • Making a Craft
  • Time at the park
  • Family meal at the farm

Day 5: Lens

Photo by Becky McAuliffe.

Life will always bring with it matters of concern. Yet each day carries the potential to bring the experience of heaven; have the courage to expect good from it. Be gentle with this life.

John McQuiston II, Translating St. Benedict

Over a year ago–just before Covid–we went to the ocean with friends. We felt the squish of sand between our toes daily. We had fun. Our spirits were light. Travel, being together, puzzles, live music, and time in a beautiful place woke up our eyes to all things new.

On trips like that, we can’t help but grab our camera. We look through a lens to capture beauty and memories. I wonder if we can’t bring that lens home.

What if we used vacation eyes to look at our world?

At any moment, we can stop, look around, and find gratitude. A common grounding practice is to stop and note five things you see, four things you can touch, three things you can hear, two things you can smell, and one you can taste. What if we take that practice and use it with thanks? So often I have a Facebook view in life: like or dislike. Instead of that simple binary way of seeing the world, what if we look around knowing that even among the hard things in life, so much of this is a gift. What if we look around. . . and say thanks?

What pictures might we “snap” today? What simple, daily memories can we capture for the trip home?

Day 4 Thanks

  • Texting with a friend
  • A shirt that feels comfy
  • Tennis shoes that squish

Day 5 Thanks

  • A good night of sleep
  • A to-do list to-done 🙂
  • Fresh, red salsa
Thursday morning sunrise in Sterling, Nebraska. “Clouds that looked like mountains.” Photo by Charli Wusk.

Day 3: Starting Again Forever

A friend of mine messaged, telling me how excited she is for this year’s gratitude party. Along with her excitement, she’s hesitant because when she’s done it before, she doesn’t finish the 30 days. I chuckled when I read the second part of her note.

I do this too.

Last year I didn’t do a gratitude party at the blog.  The year before, I posted day one and then never posted again. Many times during these 30-day challenges, I miss a day or make it up or just move on forward. This pattern in me makes me think of a little Benedictine book I love titled, “Always We Begin Again.”  That title sums up how I tend to operate in spite of my very best intentions.

I wonder if the more important thing is finding a way to start again.

Gratitude party isn’t about the 30. It isn’t about perfection. It’s about the small shift in me that comes when I intentionally practice looking for the good. I am training my synapses to notice, doing push-ups for my brain muscles that I want to be awake to this exhilarating thing called life.

Most days, I could use a tune-up. That is what gratitude party is about.

So today, I am starting again. And tomorrow we’ll see. . . but for now, I’m glad we’re here together, searching for gratitude.

Day 2

  • Staying over-night at a dear friend’s house
  • Spicy Chinese food
  • Driving around a neighborhood where I used to live, remembering P90X with a college friend and an earlier time in my life

Day 3 *(Notice how we can do six when we miss a day. . . ahem, when we miss a day.)

  • Hot tea in a tall glass
  • A nice new orange pen
  • My green knitted stocking cap

Gratitude Party 2021

Gather ye Rose-buds while ye may, Old Time is still a-flying: And this same flower that smiles to day, Tomorrow will be dying.

Robert Herrick

I yelled at students today. I was doing a puppet play and high schoolers were talking too loudly in the background. . . so I swung around and told them to be quiet, quite loudly. Okay, I yelled. I only stopped in my tracks based on the startled looks on their faces. I must have looked like some weird football goal post lady with a monkey puppet held up on one hand and a tiger on the other.

One of my finer teaching moments.

Tonight too, I was just feeling crummy. Maybe it’s the weather or some tough sports losses, but I’ve just felt like a grinch all day. So, I asked our kids to tell me a list of things that were important in life. I thought, maybe their wisdom might just cheer me up. Here is their list (2nd and 4th grade):

  1. Food
  2. Water
  3. Shelter
  4. Space
  5. Love
  6. Warmth
  7. Family
  8. Hair . . . and if you don’t have hair, hats.
  9. Naps

This is a fantastic list. It lifted my spirit in a small way; it put a little pep in my step. So, in that spirit, I’m inviting you to the 2021 Gratitude Party. All you have to do is jot down three things you are thankful for each day in November. So, get a little notebook and join in the fun. Here is my day 1:

  1. Kiddos still young enough to want to trick or treat with me this year.
  2. Writing and teaching writing–forever my favorites.
  3. You, here reading along. Thanks for being here.

Cheers to gratitude party 2021!

I am 38.

Yesterday is my favorite birthday I can remember. We wake up, do swimming lessons, and then head to lincoln.

Our first stop is the most important–Nothing Bundt Cakes. We buy a 12-pack variety box of mini cupcakes and one regular sized mini-bundt, Raspberry lemon flavor. We devour the mini-bundt and two of the cupcakes before we even start the car.

Cake for breakfast–pretty good day.

Next we head to Tuesday Morning. You cannot plan what you will find at this lovely store. Instead, you find what is there and at least one thing is just right somehow. I got a glass container with snap-down green sides for yogurt. I am trying to copy my friend Sara and make yogurt from scratch because when she makes it, it is yummy, and I eat it like ice cream. Probably it is yummy because it is made by Sara, but I will try at it nonetheless.

After Tuesday Morning, we head to Joann’s Fabric because Oliver says that they will have all the school supplies we need. The woman who checks us out is so kind. She talks to my kids like they matter, and my kids respond with conversation as I try to download an app to save 20% or something. I cannot get it to download and the kind woman leans in and says, “I can just key it in.” She does and we save money, and the kids both holler out, “Thank you!” as we leave and I am proud.

Next we go to the matinee. For the first half hour I catch a cat nap. Those red reclining seats are worth it. After I wake, I find the storyline of the new Boss Baby movie so compelling. It is about time and how things go so fast. I cry twice. The good kind of crying that I get from movies. It is my favorite.

Crying at the movies–pretty good day.

After the movies we head home to swim at a neighbor’s house. Their son is feeling sick and we all dote on him and hope that he will feel better soon. My other friend’s husband holds the baby while the baby is being fed a roll. The baby sneezes bits of roll all over his arm and he doesn’t seem to mind too much. It is not his son, but he is taking care of him.

We leave a bit early because of the sick baby. We head home and give a friend some sweet corn in a plastic grocery bag. We’ve been given so much we need to share before it goes bad. Our other neighbors are having a campfire. I tell Ralph and he says, “You mean a firepit.” I smile and say, “It’s always a campfire with me.”

We go over and bring lawn chairs. It is no longer hot, but we sit in sleeveless shirts and shorts without feeling cold. The smoke from the fire heads straight up–no wind. My children both make a s’more. My daughter doesn’t want to eat the burnt edges on hers so I do. My son can’t finish his, so I do.

Eating a s’more and sitting around a campfire–pretty good day.

Cheers to 38 years grateful.

Onward! Gratitude Party 2020

When I was a grad student, I made this “EPIC Check List of Wonderness” on neon-pink 8.5 x 11 card stock. On one rectangle, I could see everything I needed to do to finish my degree. It hung above my desk and each checkmark (completed largely in part to the academic-team-spirit of my colleague, Kelly Kingsley) brought seemed to build the excitement and my drive to finish. One. Step. Closer.

The trouble with this kind of goal-orientation is that it can be hard to turn off. When I graduate. . . When I get married. . . When I have kids. . . When I get that job. . . And on and on and on. I wonder how many of us are living out in front of our own lives.

Just today, I had a moment in the middle of class where I looked around–having felt the creative energy that sometimes swirls through the classroom as students get good idea after good idea–and I smiled thinking, this, this is it. This is my life. Not some destination I’m working toward, not some check-list to finish as fast as I can, but this, a moment to live my own life.

It’s in that spirit that I raise a toast to Gratitude Party 2020!

Gratitude Dare #1: Invite a friend to 30 days of pep-in-your-step gratitude. All they need to do is subscribe and CLICK RIGHT HERE.

Percolating . . .

If we are going to ask for our daily bread, we’ve got to take the time to receive it and eat it. God provides, but we’ve got to slow down long enough to taste and see.

Glennon Doyle

I’ve got three drink vessels lined up on my windowsill to the left of my favorite 60’s green floral rocking armchair. The vessels spell out my Saturday. Coffee. Water. Margarita.

Once, when talking about my ideas for a book, a delightful soul (who shall remain anonymous) smiled and said that I should name it, “Somewhere Between a Margarita and a Midlife Crisis.” That title seems just about right for 2020.

But I digress. . .

I haven’t written for awhile here. I’ve been percolating. Putting up words in notebooks. Wondering on paper, not landing. Soaking up new information, not sure where to place it all.

Growing up, my dad used to say, “Slow down, Ev,” as I would zoom off in my first-car-gold Chevy Beretta, buckling my seat belt on the way up our country driveway.

I wrecked that car.

I still need to slow down–but I’m moving slower these quarantine months. When we boil down a big pot of garden tomatoes, or balsamic vinegar, the reduction is strong–more itself–undiluted.

I’m feel boiled down, more Evi than I’ve been before.

Loving a first sip of this margarita. Loving the new Taylor Swift album that I’m playing for the millionth time–sensing that strangely, while 2020 waves swirl around me, I’m anchored.

Reducing back to myself.

Back to the Good Stuff.

A small-town librarian.

A mom.

A writer.

A teacher of writing.

A lover of notebooks and Mexican food and licorice.

Thankful for a friend who asked if I’d lead yoga in the park–something I’ve never done. She thinks I can.

So I’ll try.

And embrace the idea that yoga is less about getting your body into the perfect pose, and more about how it feels to be in your body, more about slowing down thoughts, to yoke ourselves to some Deep Goodness and remember.

My mom says that writing saves my life; yoga has saved my body.

A body that I’ve–in ways big and small–wanted to escape sometimes.

To have doctors use words like “malformed” while looking at X-Rays of you.

I teach word parts to high school students, Doc. “Mal” = bad. Wrong. Off.

That’s me.

This body.

This self.

These hips that started hurting years ago after a run with friends before a California wedding reception.

So I’ve seen chiropractors. . .

and physical therapists. . .

and everyone except an orthopedist.

Because kids with scoliosis hate orthopedists. Even positive kids who write blogs about gratitude.

But this Covid time, this slower time, finally got me to into an orthopedist’s office–breathing fast like a 12-year-old getting fitted for a back brace–to talk to a doctor who is going to help. And while I’m getting a second opinion and moving slow, I’m finding out what’s wrong, even when the answers aren’t what I want.

And for that, I’m petulant-thankful.

Like so many things in 2020, I would just like to escape this. But sometimes the hard is the first step toward what’s next. And while this part of this post might seem cryptic, the truth is I’m not sure what’s next. . . surgery maybe. We’ll see.

Because I’m moving forward.

Three vessels on my windowsill. . .

Still here writing.

Still thankful. . . in 2020.

Gratitude Dare. . . make a list of 20 things that make you thankful with your favorite drink vessel sitting to the side.

Gratitude in the time of COVID-19

I didn’t see it then, but it turned out that getting fired from Apple was the best thing that could have ever happened to me. The heaviness of being successful was replaced by the lightness of being a beginner again, less sure about everything. It freed me to enter one of the most creative periods of my life.

Steve Jobs, cofounder of Apple

I hesitate to even use this title. How can I–how dare I–even talk about gratitude now? It is certainly from a place of safety that I write, able to teach from home and be safe with my own kids and husband who works from home. First of all, I am thankful for those who are straight-up heroes–out there, risking health and safety to keep the rest of us safe.

It is too soon to even think of gratitude, right? Our bodies are grieving, and being sad/angry/mad/whatever–sometimes in waves of mere hours–is tiring. Some days we need to rest. Some days we need to move. Some days we need to apologize to those quarantined with us. And all days we need each other. And time with “each other,” events with “each other,” are the very things we’re all grieving.

What a weird time.

But gratitude’s rebellious power comes when we dare to mine for thanks in spaces that make us feel anything but grateful. I saw an Instagram post that has me thinking:

  1. What has the Corona Virus taken away from you today? (Grief)
  2. What has the Corona Virus not taken away from you today? (Awareness)
  3. What has the Corona Virus given you today? (Blessing)

That last one says blessing. . . and it makes me think gratitude. After the waves of grief, Martha Beck notes that our human brains and hearts will–sometimes after a LONG time of grieving–begin to ask, “What meaning can I make with this? What beauty is still happening in spite of, and maybe even because of all this?”

The Renaissance happened after a plague.

And yes, we’re still in the crazy midst of it all, but it gives me hope to be reminded that creativity has historically grown in the spaces opened up by grief. That doesn’t erase the grief or numb the pain, but it gives us a place to set our sights, a hope to hold. And when we dare to look for how Gratitude is looking for us–instead of just worrying ourselves into a tizzy–we will be surprised again and again by the Goodness that dares to sparkle through even the crummiest of days.

Recently, I tried to do our kids’ PE warm-up in our back yard. I say try because half way through I was doubled-over breathing heavily with my hand up, indicating to my eight-year-old daughter that I needed a break before the next double run down and back.

“It’s kind of funny how you can’t even do this as well as a kindergartener and a second grader,” she said matter-of-factly, not even out of breath. “I guess it makes sense though, since we practice every day, and you basically sit and walk and read books.”

Ahem. In my own defense, I did finish the “warm up,” albeit more slowly than my younger “classmates.” But she has a point. What we practice gets easier. How much are we working out our gratitude muscles in this all-too-weird season?

This P.E. warm-up story makes me smile–and a little sore days later–knowing that while this time is scary and unexpected and ever-changing, it is also a space for gratitude, something to practice again and again, even in times and spaces that make us feel anything but grateful.

Cheers to Thanksgiving

I was outside with my three-year-old daughter just at dusk.  The sun was setting, and everything blushed gold for just a bit.   “Look at the grass. It’s covered with polka dots,” she said looking around, in among the glow. 

As I remember this, flipping through an old notebook, I am back inside that moment, breathing slow, watching the wonder of my daughter and her joy in noticing our beautiful world. 

Some days–more often than I’d like to admit–I rush right by the glitter, on the way to something important, something to cross off my list. But there are–every single day–polka dots, ones that I can’t plan for, nor can I replicate, but ones I don’t want to rush by and miss. 

That’s what gratitude party is all about.

Today was a polka dot day, and I am filled with thanks as we come to the end of this gratitude party. Thanks so much to everybody who helped along the way: Jake, Pam, Michelle, Jodi, Brooklyn, Curt, Janelle, Kate, Lynne, Diane, Mom, and Ralph. And probably somebody else I’m forgetting–thanks to you as well! The coolest part is that the party’s just beginning. Each day, a new day for thanks.

Happy Thanksgiving.