Not long ago, I began a gratitude journal. It is in addition to my regular daily journal. It doesn’t take long every evening to list what I am grateful for that day. Sometimes I make short comments beside particular entries, but mostly the entries are just lists. It’s a really nice way to end the day, remembering the positive things. Since it’s close to the last thing I do every day, I can smile myself to sleep. Sometimes I’m just too tired to write in my daily journal, but, so far, I haven’t missed a day of writing in my gratitude journal. There has always been something to be grateful for.

November is the month of Thanksgiving and a time to reflect on what we’re thankful for, so it’s a good month to begin a gratitude journal. It doesn’t have to be fancy; mine is just a composition book with a few stickers throughout with gratitude quotes on them and “Gratitude Journal” printed on the front. That’s it. Easy and really satisfying. I date each entry, so if I go back through the journal it gives me a sense of the time frame in which the gratitudes occurred.

The following is a poem by Mary Oliver from her book, Thirst that expresses how gratitude can cause your soul to soar.

The Messenger

My work is loving the world.
Here the sunflowers, there the hummingbird –
equal seekers of sweetness.
Here the quickening yeast; there the blue plums.
Here the clam deep in the speckled sand.

Are my boots old? Is my coat torn?
Am I no longer young and still not half-perfect? Let me
keep my mind on what matters,
which is my work,

which is mostly standing still and learning to be astonished.
The phoebe, the delphinium.
The sheep in the pasture, and the pasture.
Which is mostly rejoicing, since all ingredients are here,

Which is gratitude, to be given a mind and a heart
and these body-clothes,
a mouth with which to give shouts of joy
to the moth and the wren, to the sleepy dug-up clam,
telling them all, over and over, how it is
that we live forever.

© 2006 Mary Oliver; Beacon Press, Boston, MA.

Writing Prompt:

Begin a Gratitude Journal. Start anytime, anywhere in whatever you have to write in. Write in it every day, or whenever you have something to be grateful for. I promise, it will raise your spirits and make you smile. Be sure to date your entries, so you can go back and say, “Oh, yeah, I remember that day. It was a good one.”

It’s October with only ¼ of the year left in 2019. I’m in the habit of saying, “Time flies when you’re having fun. . .or even if you’re not having fun.” But this month is my birth month, and I’m going to be 70. It seems like a long time ago that I came into this world. So much has happened in my lifetime: computers, cell phones, digital everything, climate change, electric cars and all sorts of gadgets for the home that make life so much easier. How about that robot vacuum cleaner that does all the work for you? Or food processors and microwave popcorn poppers, not to mention microwaves themselves? So, in the whole scope of things, time stretches back a long way, and I marvel that here is where I ended up.
And I can’t complain. Other than a few physical annoyances, I am healthy and happy. I do what I want with my time. I make the choices for how my life looks. If it starts going downhill, I have only myself to blame. But my uphill belongs to me, too, and I’ve done well, I believe, to make a life I’m comfortable with. To me, this monthly write is a lifeline, a way I can reflect on what’s going on and what I hope to discover that’s left in my life.

Here is a poem by Mary Oliver that I think you will enjoy:

What Can I Say?

What can I say that I have not said before?
So I’ll say it again.
The leaf has a song in it.
Stone is the face of patience.
Inside the river there is an unfinishable story
and you are somewhere in it
and it will never end until all ends.
Take your busy heart to the art museum and the
chamber of commerce
but take it also to the forest.
The song you heard singing in the leaf when you
were a child
is singing still.
I am of years lived, so far, seventy-four,
and the leaf is singing still.

~ “What Can I Say” from Swan by Mary Oliver; © 2010 Mary Oliver, Beacon Press, Boston, MA ~

What keeps you going. living, being? What matters enough to you that you look forward to your days just for the joy of them?

Write about your last birthday and how you felt about getting a year older.

Make a list of what has emerged into the public domain since you were born. Choose one and write about it.

Make a gratitude list of everything you can think of that matters to you. I hope it will make you smile.

Here in Southwest Missouri, where I live, it’s been an unusual summer, unpredictable: lots of rain, cooler temperatures than usual, the flowers still beautiful and grass green. I began to reflect on other things that I can’t predict besides weather. I don’t know what each day will bring. I can plan and try to stay with my normal routines and even schedule other activities to fit in among the usual things I do, but something can happen in an instant that changes everything. Flexibility is key. Now that we’re entering into another season, it’s a good time to think about what comes next…and hope it all works out.

My fall is beginning to fill up. September is looking busy, and I’m fine with that. I want to keep active, see friends, share my time with something worthwhile, and enjoy my life. But I’m also thinking about spirituality. I’m thinking of changing some of my life’s habits to allow for more “being” time. I’m not sure what that will mean right now, but I’m going to think about the things I do now and see where I can make some changes. I’m going to make a life-changing list.

I’m one who believes that spirituality is already a part of life right where we are, but I also believe that making some changes can enhance the spiritual journey and make a better life in the process. Some people talk about “waking up,” but I believe that we’re already awake, we just need to recognize it. I think we can recognize it in moments of stillness, so making time for stillness is a part of what I want to do. Meditation is one way to be still, so it will be on my list. I meditate now sporadically, but I want to make it a daily habit.

What are your thoughts and beliefs around spirituality?

Free write about spirituality. Do you ever think about it? What does it mean to you?

Make a life-changing list. What would you like to change to increase your recognition of the spirituality that already exists in your life?

How do you fit stillness into your life, if you do? Do you think it’s important? How can you increase your opportunities to be still?

Some call August the dog days of summer. The term came from Greek and Roman astrology as the period following the rise of the star system Sirius, which was thought to cause heat, drought, lethargy, mad dogs and back luck.
I wrote a poem titled “August” that is in my book Just Show Up, that describes this hot, humid month:

August

The morning breezes floating through open windows
billow sheer, ruffled curtains into rooms
catching the remnants of daybreak’s coolness.

The sheets, pinned to stiff wire lines
rise like tents, then float down, softening,
collecting fragrant air in their folds.

Noon lumbers in, sultry and surly,
quashing the morning currents under its heel.
Day stands still, suffering in silence.

The fine black afternoon dust lies heavy,
muffling the sound of tractors in the fields.
Quiet rest is the only cure.

The porch swing and hammock sway in the shade,
while a shimmering lake of straw-colored lawn
blurs the line between land and the white sky.

The labored breaths of moisture-laden air
argue with brassy shafts of overheated sunlight
soaking up the wisps of the remaining oxygen.

Night comes reluctantly, avoiding the heat,
dragging its feet until the setting sun
pulls darkness over its head.

A coolness settles first into hollows,
languishes over creeks and ponds, then
drifts through open windows on a breeze.

This was written from my memories of summers on the farm in the Midwest with no air conditioning, where shade and any hint of a breeze were welcomed. Do you have memories of August that make you sweat? Last month we wrote about vacations. This month think about your everyday lives through the summer months and what you do or did with your days.

I remember days of bike riding, roller skating on the sidewalks, chasing lightning bugs, and roaming all over my very small home town where we never questioned that we were safe and secure. Write about what you remember about summer during your years growing up. What were the best of times and, possibly, the worst of times? How did you stay cool, or could you?

Today, children must be watched and guarded and not allowed to roam freely, sometimes even in their own neighborhoods. What do you think has changed and why? Can we do anything about this turn of events? How or why not?

My neighborhood has a “greet in the street” event where neighbors come out and meet each other on an evening in the summer. It’s designed to enhance the neighborhood watch program but also to help us get to know each other better. What can you do during the rest of this summer to make your corner of the world a friendlier, safer place?

Summer is really here now, and I guess it’s time. Everything is still in bloom and beautiful where I am, because of adequate rain and sunshine, but hot and dry may soon appear. What do you do in the summer? My gardening friends are constantly working in their yards, people are going on vacations, to the beach or lake or mountains. It’s a great time to be doing something.

We celebrate the independence of our country from England this month. I have mixed feelings about it because of the people we displaced when we arrived here and since, and the people we enslaved who still struggle with the meaning of freedom for themselves. Our independence certainly wasn’t without high costs in people and resources.

Still, I’m grateful for the freedoms I enjoy and the independence I have to live my life as I want. I am glad that I can write what I feel in this blog and in my book and say what I want without fear of a dire punishment. I can look out my window and see my wild back yard (I am not a gardener, but I’ll take all the fruits and vegetables you’re willing to give me!) and be refreshed by all the green I see, though it isn’t organized in any way. I’d love to hear what you are doing this summer and about your fun vacations.

What is something you remember from the past that stays with you even now when you think of vacations? What about something not so good or fun, but that you survived anyway, and it makes a good story?

How do you feel about summer, all the outdoor activities available, the heat and maybe humidity, and what you do to enjoy it day to day?

Write about your perceived freedoms and what you appreciate about living in a country that offers them. What can you do to make sure those freedoms are extended to all people who live here?

 

Since I gave mothers some blog space in May, I guess I will write about fathers in June. The 16th is Father’s Day, a day to contemplate and/or celebrate fathers. My dad died 10 years ago after a long illness. He worked hard at living those last three years, and, I think, had some good days. I was at his side with my mother when he died. I remember she was baking cookies and had a batch in the oven when I called her in to be with Dad at the end. She sent me into the kitchen to take the cookies out of the oven so they wouldn’t burn. Then I called the hospice nurse, who had been there just that morning, to come back. It was the first time I had been with someone who died while I watched. It was a peaceful end, though chaotic in my head.

I wrote a poem years ago about my dad’s hands, but I couldn’t find it in my files, so I wrote another one in the same spirit as the first one:

My Father’s Hands

My father’s hands worked the land,
holding the steering wheel of the tractor,
guiding it down the long straight rows
where corn or soy beans would soon grow.

It was dirty work,
and his hands often had to repair equipment:
greasy gears, nuts and bolts, and other parts
that broke in the toil of the day.

He would come in at night,
hands covered in the day’s work,
and clean them as carefully and thoroughly
as he could.

Often his hands were cracked and rough,
and the soil would ingrain itself into those spaces,
but he would wash and scrub
before he came to the table for supper.

Somehow, on Sundays, after a week of hard work,
his hands were immaculate,
his nails neatly trimmed and cleaned,
as he tied his tie getting ready for church.

What was your father’s work? What did you know about what he did?

How did your father’s work influence your life’s work?

Write about a memory you have about your father.

May includes a special day to celebrate mothers. It can be a joyous day or one of sadness or anger or a whole range of emotions. Nevertheless, Mother’s Day arrives on May 12th this year, and it gives us a chance to pause and think about Mom. I am a mother, but only in memory, since my son died twelve years ago. Some years since then have been difficult, others full of happy memories of motherhood. I never know how I will feel on Mother’s Day, but there is always something to remember.

When I thought about my mother this year, I recalled a poem I wrote several years ago that expresses one of the transitions that occurred in my thoughts about her:

My Mother’s Face

I see the blurred reflection

of my mother’s face

in the window above my kitchen sink,

 

the way her hair falls forward

across the left side of her forehead

and curls out from behind her right ear.

 

A light from my neighbor’s window

glows through her eyes, masking

a color that is not quite hers.

 

The silhouette of a wind-tossed branch,

back-lit by fading daylight,

softens her mouth and rounds her jaw.

 

The face I see in my bathroom mirror

under the glare of clear-bulbed light,

is mine, not my mother’s,

 

but, in the foggy window

above my kitchen sink

I am her.

 

Write about a time when you realized you might be more like your mother than you thought.

How has your mother influenced how you are living your life? What are some of the rituals and rules you grew up with that you continue today?

What are some things you have changed in your life from what you learned from your mother?

 

It is April, and signs of spring are beginning to show: buds popping out all over promising flowers and leaves, many by the end of the month; gardeners will be champing at the bit to get outside to clean out the flower beds and get them ready for the planting to come; and the air will feel different, soft and fresh. I am not a gardener, so my mind turns to spring cleaning and flushing out all the unnecessary “stuff” that has accumulated over time. I have already started with drawers and closets, and I’m beginning to feel lighter! I want to rid my mind of some thoughts that keep me stuck, too, and this seems to be a good time to do it.

I’ll want to spend some time outside, too, but not digging in the dirt, just being out and breathing in the spring air. What are you thinking about for this month? What is pulling you outside or out of your shell? Maybe you will want to do your writing outside in the sun or open the windows and let the fresh air sweep out the stale winter air that has weighed you down. This time of year can bring out your best writing; renewal and rebirth can carry you forward into optimism and a lightness of being. So, let me give you some ideas that may get you started.

What is Spring pulling you toward? What activities draw you in and give you hope for what is to come? What are you hoping for? Make lists that will get you started. Then choose something from your list and write away!

What can you do that will open up your mind to lightness and give you confidence that will wash out the negative to make room for some positive thoughts and feelings?

What “stuff” do you need to get rid of that may be blocking you from moving forward? How can you unblock and open up? Free write until you feel yourself loosing up.

Enjoy the process, and be prepared to be surprised at what appears.

March is a month of transitions. March 10th is the beginning of Daylight Saving Time, which is a misnomer, because no daylight is actually saved. It is just taken off the morning and tacked onto the evening. I’m one who thinks we should just set one system and stick with it.

Then, March 20th is the first day of Spring, a season many people look forward to, especially if the winter has been harsh. Often the weather doesn’t cooperate, though, leaving us with more cold and other winter events (like snow and ice!). But, still, hope abounds, and the transition from winter to spring will be in progress this month and may yield some spring-like days.

So, what will you do with your March? Planning ahead may help you sort out what’s happening in the month and keep you from squandering time, although squandering some time is beneficial in any month. It is thinking time and dreaming time and time to enjoy activities that make you happy. March can be a gloomy month, so be sure to plan some sunshine into your days.

Pick one or more of the following prompts and write about transitions.

How do you feel about changing the time? How does in impact you? Maybe a funny little write will make you laugh.

Write about the coming of Spring and what you plan to do to celebrate its beginning.

What are some transitions in your recent life, positive or negative, and how did you maneuver your way through them? Or maybe there has been a major transition sometime in your past, which you’d like think about to answer the question.

Let’s talk about—and write about—Love. There are so many variations of Love: romantic, friendly, ecological (love of the natural world with a desire to protect it), parental, animal (pets, especially), children, and on and on. Then there is the use of love for things such as food, clothing, hair and other physical attributes, colors, seasons, and everything else that doesn’t have its own word for our admiration of it.

But I’d like to concentrate on Love of the highest order, love of and for other people. Some people are easy to love. We just seem to be attracted to them. They make us feel comfortable, cared for, listened to, and, yes, Loved. They are generous with their time and attention. We like to be around them. So, how do we nurture those relationships? By being the kind of person by whom we want to be loved. We, too, can be generous and attentive. We can give plenty of time to developing and maintaining those relationships.

But, what about those who are more difficult to love, with whom we just don’t seem to connect. We can write them off and move on, of course, but what if we are can’t walk away easily, like with family? That’s what our prompts are about in this post, walking that fine line between love and—Love.

Think of someone with whom you must interact regularly, like a family member, but who is difficult to be with. What can you do to make that relationship more loving? Make sure the steps are doable for you, simple and long range.

How might your thoughts and actions be changed to encompass a more loving attitude toward those who are less lovable?

What can you do if the actions you attempt are not accepted by the other person? What can you do then?

And then on the lighter side, write about someone you Love. What about that person makes you love him/her? Be specific. You might even write it out on nice paper and give to that person on Valentine’s Day!