Saturday, August 27, 2011

Gratitude is an Attitude

I guess that is a pretty cheesy title, but it is what has really been on my heart lately. Seems like everywhere I turn-Face book, my pastor's sermons, songs on the radio-my attention has been placed on gratitude, being grateful, and thankful for each blessing. Think someone is trying to tell me something???

A few weeks ago as I was scanning status updates on Face book, I read this quote: "If you aren't grateful, you aren't paying attention." Wow, I thought, that's great! So I immediately stole it for my status and said a few quick thank yous, then went about my day-smiling, happy, and full of gratitude, but ended it ill, grouchy, irritated, and bemoaning every inconvenience that had the audacity to cross my path. (I know, I'm not proud, but honest.) Sunday rolls around and my pastor announces he will be preaching a series of sermons from Philippians-the book of joy-he declares. Uh-oh. After listening to his wonderful and heart-felt sermon, I had officially slid my way down the pew in shame, for I had walked into the sanctuary that morning in silent rage. I had spent the morning, cajoling, begging, then yelling at everyone to get ready, hurry up, did you brush you teeth, then asking again, did you brush your teeth? Yes, you ARE going to wear that dress. I don't care if you like it or not. On the ride to church, more yelling, threatening, stay on your side, leave your sister alone. Through Sunday school class, I was making a to do list and getting really stressed over the mountain of school work, laundry, and housework that was already overwhelming me. Not my "one shining moment" I know. Yes, for sure, I need a shot of gratitude! ASAP!

I have so much to be grateful for. The Lord has greatly blessed me in so many ways that I cannot begin to list them all. I SO want to be a calm, peaceful, graceful presence in the lives of those who surround me. Several people who have this trait cross my mind and I want to be like them. I have the desire, but then I turn into Category 5 Hurricane Becky and everyone near me seeks shelter. I let the day-to-day stress, headaches, and problems block that desire to be more grateful and lose the ability to shake off my troubles. Usually, it takes a tragedy or some horrific event to make me snap out of it, and realize how lucky I am. So that's my question-can we be grateful without misfortune?

For example, when am I most thankful for rest? When I am so dog-tired that I collapse. When am I grateful for a clean house? After I have totally cleaned and recovered it from being shut down by the health department. All of us are so happy for a good rain after going through a drought. We appreciate our loved ones more and vow to spend more time together when someone we know loses a family member. I guess it is just human nature, and perhaps these are God's ways of reminding us to be thankful in each moment, not just once per year, over turkey and dressing. I love this quote and think of it around Thanksgiving time- "Hem your blessings with thankfulness so they don't unravel." Maybe I should post this quote throughout my house, classroom, and in my car, and not save it for a Thursday in November.

After really pondering this, I realized that gratitude, pain, loss, and suffering are all intertwined. We are thankful when a loved one passes on after battling a painful illness. There's a promise of heaven, but a sense of loss as we live out our time on earth without them. Losing the 5 pounds after struggling to diet and exercise. Working for hours to weed a garden, but then looking at the beauty of it and realizing the hard work was worth it. The tough love you must give children as you teach them right from wrong, but seeing them grow into responsible, happy adults. The child who strikes out 100 times, but finally hits the ball on the 101st at bat. It's worth the effort it took to get there. In other words, "Praise the bridge that carried you over." ~George Colman.

One of my favorite picture books is called Fortunately. The book follows a pattern of fortunate, then unfortunate events, such as "Fortunately Ned got a letter that said please come to a surprise party. (Next page) Unfortunately the party was in Florida and he was in New York." Life is just like that. Ups and downs. Hits and misses. Clouds and rainbows. Would we really appreciate one without the other? Oprah says,
"The single greatest thing you can do to change your life today would be to start being grateful for what you have right now. And the more grateful you are, the more you get." Notice she said what you have, not what you don't have. Keeping in mind that the things we have that really matter, are not things, but the people that move in and out of our lives, and the joy that they bring with them. Many years ago, on an episode of Oprah, she asked her viewers to keep a gratitude journal, listing things they are grateful for, and looking for new things each day. I did that for a few weeks, but stopped, for whatever reason. Maybe I need to try again. I am a die-hard list maker, so this is something that comes naturally to me. Taking the time to write down each day's blessings  and reading over the lists might help me to focus on the rainbow, not the storm that came before it.

Hoping you find joy in each day,

As we get ready for the last holiday of the summer, here's a quick and tasty recipe for a family gathering.

White Castle Sliders:
1/2 cup dried onion flakes
2 lbs ground chuck
1/2 tsp seasoned salt
6 slices cheddar cheese
24 small party rolls
24 dill pickle slices

Evenly spread onion flakes on bottom of 9x13 baking dish. Gently press ground beef on top of onion flakes, pressing evenly to make one giant patty. Sprinkle with seasoned salt. Bake in 400 degree oven for 20 minutes. Using a paper towel, pat the excess grease from top of patty. Top with cheese and return to oven for 2 minutes. Let set for 5 minutes, cut into 24 patties, then serve on rolls.

Friday, August 5, 2011

Farewell to Summer....Sigh.....

The coffee cup lied-summer isn't that long anymore!
As I sit at the computer with my coffee on the last free day of summer break, it seems like a short time ago I was writing the post "School's Out for Summer". I say it every year, but this break has passed faster than any other, and I can't believe it's over. According to my "Things to do before school starts" list, it should be mid-June. School supplies, clothes and new tennis shoes have been purchased. The girls and I have had our back-to-school haircuts, and orientations are over. But today, the fact that vacation is over has hit me like a big yellow school bus. In my first year of teaching, (18 years ago) school started on August 22. Now we begin weeks earlier. There are campaigns to save our summers and petitions to sign, but I think we need to count our blessings that we have any break at all and rejoice in what makes this time so special.

I realize that I am very fortunate to have summer break with my kids. Time to have fun, relax, get projects completed, and enjoy some much needed mental downtime. So instead of complaining that it's over, I will reflect on what has been an awesome break, and be thankful I have a job that allows me the luxury of June and July.

I don't know about you, but the things I enjoy about summer are very simple. As you have probably figured out, I lead a simple life, nothing glamorous or extravagant, but blissful all the same. I love it that this is the first summer my daughters have mastered the art of sleeping late. Although this will come back to bite me in a few days, I have enjoyed quiet mornings with my beloved coffee sitting in the screen porch and in the back yard swing. I have been able to watch Good Morning America instead of Disney Channel, and have had time to finesse the art of "piddling" in my house without interruption. Morning solitude has become my new bff.

Having time to read for pleasure is something I revel in during summer vacation. This summer I have discovered a new favorite author, Elin Hilderbrand, discovered several great chapter books to read to my class this year, and reread a few favorites just because I love them and had the time to do so. Having time to read is a luxury that I have a difficult time completing once school starts. After a long day, when I collapse to read at night, I fall asleep after a few paragraphs. But in the summer months, I can read all night. (Remember, my children are sleeping late now.)

The beautiful and talented Faith Hill swears that the secret to younger looking skin is not wearing makeup. She states that unless she is on stage or at an event she does not put on makeup. I'm not a super star but this is a rule I practice during summer time. Although not a pretty site, I love not having to do hair and makeup unless I am going to be seen in public. To prevent scaring small children I do apply some and attempt to do something with the hair when I leave my house. But most of the time, it's ponytail and a fresh face. I love it. But in a few days, I will be back to hairdryers, mascara, and tons of gel to make myself presentable to my students who are painfully honest if you have a bad hair day or your makeup isn't just right.

To avoid sounding lazy, we have had a lot of activity this summer. Lots of fast-pitch softball, pool parties, go cart rides, bike riding, marshmallow roasting, and gardening to name a few. Again, simple activities that we savor because they only occur during summer vacation. I hope Hannah and Micah have made a lot of summer memories that they will treasure when they are older. Here's a few scenes from the Ballard summer of 2011.

Some of my favorite summer memories are simple ones as well. I remember spending the night with Grandma and Papa John. He'd fix my sister and me vanilla ice-cream topped with Hershey's syrup from the can. I can taste it now. We'd also spend one night with Grandma and Papa in Summer Shade where once they took us to Guntown Mountain. (To this day I hate chairlifts.) I remember swimming in Marrowbone Creek behind our house with Beth, Sandy, Tesia, Jeff, and Derek. Riding bikes through Marrowbone and playing in the makeshift clubhouse Beth and I constructed in the chicken house. Each summer we took a day trip in the big truck with daddy and broke and shelled beans at night. Summer vacation lasted forever and we were always glad to go back to school where there was no air-conditioning but friends you had missed.
What are your summer memories? Have a favorite song or recipe that makes you think of summer?
With the end of summer comes a new school year. Although we will trade the laid back days for busy schedules, the girls and I are excited for a new school year to begin, and a little anxious as well. Hannah is going to Middle School, Micah has a brand new first year teacher, and I have new standards to get used to. Life is about change and learning to deal with it, and what I love about the start of school is starting over. Everyone gets a fresh start. I hope everyone has a great experience going back to school. Just for fun I found this video. Maybe Renata, Valerie, and myself can dance through the halls of CCES like these girls do. Hoping your memories of summer are sweet and happy first day of school!