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Friday, November 26, 2010


I love Josh Groban. He has such a magnificent, rich voice. And his songs seem to have more depth than the usual pop-song drivel. When I heard the song 'Thankful' from his new Christmas album, the lyrics really hit home. 

"Some days, we forget to look around us.  
Some days, we can't see the joy that surrounds us.  
So caught up inside ourselves, we take when we should give.
So for tonight we pray for what we know can be,  
And on this day we hope for what we still can't see.
It's up to us to be the change
And even though we all can still do more,
There's so much to be thankful for."

This song, which I first heard on-line on Thanksgiving evening, reminded me that the spirit of Thanksgiving should not be limited to just one day. Rather, that spirit should pervade and guide our lives, our thoughts and our actions every day. 

NBC News reported on a scientific study that showed that people who have 'an attitude of gratitude' are happier than those who do not. Gratitude, or thankfulness, does indeed make for a happier person. I know this from personal experience. 

It's very easy to dwell on what we don't have -- a fancy car, a vacation home, physical beauty -- and to overlook what we do have -- a reliable car that gets us where we need to go, a home that keeps us warm and dry, inner peace.

As I write this, it's 20 degrees outside. I hate cold weather; it makes me miserable and cranky. Yet here I am, snug and warm inside my house, in a fleece robe, drinking hot vanilla cinnamon tea. The sun is shining; my daughter is asleep; my dogs are snoozing. My world is still quiet. I have had a couple of hours to myself.

I guess it's a sign of getting older, and perhaps wiser, but I am so much more aware of the things in my life for which I am, and should be, thankful. Whoever it was who first said "Count your blessings" was a wise person indeed.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

On Writing

I have been doing quite a lot of writing lately. I've enjoyed writing since I realized I had some talent in that area during middle school, and I worked on my middle school's student newspaper. After a hiatus from writing except as required for school, I worked as the director of communications for a large California humane society for 8 years; in addition to serving as editor, I did much of the writing and photography for that publication. I even got a couple of awards from the Dog Writers' Association of America. I also wrote a column for the local newspaper (unpaid) while in grad school.

I worked in NASA public affairs as a public affairs officer and manager for many years. But that writing was constrained by far too many 'guidelines' and limits to actually serve as a creative outlet. The best part of that job was being able to write for a now-defunct NASA publication, without the usual limits and restrictions. The publication ended its run after just a couple of years for budget reasons. That was a real loss, as many believed that this magazine was the best tool NASA had for reaching out to a general, non-technical audience.

A couple of years ago, I was asked to co-author a book with a therapist who specializes in attachment issues. The subject: My experiences raising an adopted daughter. I have written more than 150 pages so far. I started this blog about a year ago. I have only a dozen 'followers,' but the number is growing slowly and I have readers from more than a dozen countries.

Now, I am feeling called to do more and more writing. I would love to have my writing published somewhere, or at least to have a wider readership. Someone asked me several months ago what I did, and my reply -- "I'm a writer" -- startled me. I thought to myself, "Where did that come from?" I had never up to that point thought of myself as a writer. Yes, I wrote as part of my job, but was I really a writer? I have had articles published in a variety of niche publications, in addition to the newspaper column. But I have never been paid to write.

I enjoy writing when I am inspired to write. I'm not looking for a writing job with deadlines and requirements for articles of a certain number of words. I enjoy writing about whatever appeals to me at the time, using as few or as many words as I think appropriate.

Writing is such a wonderful emotional outlet, and I love manipulating words and sentences until they feel 'just right.' I don't have a lot of creativity, and I don't think I could ever write fiction or poetry. But I absolutely love writing about things that are important to me, things that move me, and experiences I have had.

I don't for a minute believe that what I write about is world-changing, and I don't have the pomposity to think that my writing is on a par with John Steinbeck, Jack London, Tony Hillerman (my favorite author) or other real writers.

Still, people tell me they find my writing uplifting and inspiring. They enjoy reading this blog, and I hope our book, if it ever gets published, will be helpful to others struggling to deal with the emotional baggage of an adopted child.

So until I get 'discovered' as a writer, I will continue putting my words into this blog and hope that maybe someday, when I say "I am a writer," that statement will actually be true. Until then, I hope that my musings will inspire, or at least entertain, my handful of readers.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Giving Thanks

It's that time of year again. The nights are cold, the leaves have turned a beautiful gold, the sky is a crisp blue, and the sun sets early. Stores have already rolled out their Christmas campaigns. One Albuquerque radio station started playing nothing but Christmas music on Nov. 1. I love Christmas music and I own probably 40 Christmas CDs, with everything from saxophone music to acoustic guitar, New Mexican, brass, the Mormon Tabernacle Choir and many other styles. But I refuse to listen to Christmas music for the next seven or eight weeks.

First, I want to enjoy the beauty of Fall and the blessings of Thanksgiving, a holiday that increasingly gets lost in the pre-Christmas hysteria. I confess to having bought some ingredients for my traditional fudge and Christmas cookies, but only because the items were on sale. And I won't be baking until the Thanksgiving holiday is finished.

This year, which has brought many significant changes in my life, I have so much for which to be thankful. My daughter is home and doing well after living in a residential center in Utah for nearly a year. In June, we moved to our fabulous house in New Mexico, with awesome views of the Sandia Mountains.

I have joined several Meetup groups and I have gone hiking several times, as well as visiting the site of an old Puebloan compound, with other interesting activities scheduled for the rest of this year. I have ramped up my interest in photography, in a place that offers limitless opportunities to take pictures. One morning I got up and drove a scant 5 miles to an area that is home to hundreds of cottonwood trees shimmering gold in the brilliant sunshine against a crystal blue sky. I was greeted by the friendly waves of a group of Native Americans as I drove through their pueblo. I am surrounded by the harsh natural beauty of the high desert. I live less than an hour's drive from the unique and beautiful city of Santa Fe. I attended the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta, which featured more than 500 hot air balloons. I have volunteered at a couple of events with the Wanagi Wolf Fund and Rescue, getting to meet and interact with its amazing resident wolves and wolf dogs.

The current economic downturn has had little effect on me. My investments have increased by more than 4% this year, I received a buyout from my job with the federal government, and I have health insurance, which millions of Americans don't have. And unlike so many others, I have no debt. Not having a monthly mortgage payment is a wonderful feeling.

I am healthy, and although I no longer run, I have walked nearly 1,200 miles this year. I discovered a great rural road on which to ride my bike. My hips still hurt much of the time, but not so much that I have had to give up walking, hiking and bicycling. Since summer 2009, I have lost 15 pounds and my blood glucose levels have returned to normal. My blood pressure and resting pulse are excellent, and I am not afflicted with any of the problems that beset so many people of my age.

I continue to enjoy writing this blog (although it would be nice to have more people read it!) and working on my book, which allows me to pursue one of my favorite activities, non-fiction writing.

Last year, I didn't bother with a special Thanksgiving meal, as I was alone on the holiday. This year, my daughter and I will share a traditional turkey dinner, although she far prefers the stuffing and potatoes to the turkey. But the important thing will be spending the holiday together in our new home.

Although living with a teenager can be a challenge, with all the drama and mood swings that age brings, we have a good relationship and she recently commented to a friend that she can talk to me about anything. I am grateful that we have such a good relationship. And I am blessed to have such a wonderful daughter. She has come so far since her traumatic childhood in Russia.

A cyberfriend has suggested thinking of one thing every day for which we are grateful from now until Thanksgiving. That's a great idea, and one I hope to implement. I have so very many things for which to be grateful this year, and I am more aware than usual of my blessings.

I want to share my good fortune with those not as fortunate. I have started buying canned goods to donate to the annual food drive, and my daughter and I both have coats we plan to give to the winter coat drive. Albuquerque winters are bitterly cold, and I much prefer giving our unwanted coats to people who can really use them, to leaving them hanging in a closet. One of my coats belonged to my mother. I have it for sentimental reasons, but I believe that she would prefer that it go to someone who really needs it. She was that kind of woman. Sharing our good fortune is the least we can do when we have been so richly blessed.

I have feelings of peace and happiness I don't ever remember having. I love New Mexico and my new life here. Life is good. When I sit down to Thanksgiving dinner this year, I will be more mindful than ever of the many blessings in my life.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Lessons From My Dogs

Others have written about what we humans can learn from dogs. But I thought it would make an interesting topic for this blog, too.

What can our dogs teach us? I was watching my dogs thoroughly enjoy themselves as they explored the back yard, rolled in the grass and enjoyed the sunshine. So I started thinking about the lessons I have learned from my dogs over the years.

Rejoice whenever you see a loved one again.

Take time to stop and explore the wonderful world around you.

Greet everyone with a wagging tail (or in our case, a smile).

Get up every morning excited to start a new day.

Be loyal and faithful.

Forgive readily and don't carry a grudge.

Find pleasure in the simple things, such as a walk, a snooze in the sun or a roll in the grass.

Never pass up the opportunity to run and play.

Be silly once in a while.

When someone you care about is sad or upset, stay close to them.

Don't bite if a growl will suffice.

If someone is bothering you, walk away.

Never pass up an opportunity to show people you love them.

Don't forget to play with your toys.

Don't worry about tomorrow.

Is it any wonder that dogs have been human companions for some 15,000 years? They cannot speak with words, their lives are short in comparison with ours, they can't invent things or create beautiful literature and art. But oh, the lessons they can teach us.

Enjoy your life.