Writing Toward Home

Writing , Ideas, and Encouragement

The Power of Words

Wordplay Wednesday : The Power of Words

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We have all heard the childhood singsong adage “ Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.” Perhaps we have even said it aloud when we were confronted with hurtful words. BUT…we all know that this quote is not true at all.

Words have power. They matter. As a writer and word nerd I have always embraced  words as my medium of choice. It is thrilling to play around with words:  tinkering with, rearranging, and auditioning them until I find just the right one to express an idea or thought.  It is fun to see how they can be woven together to produce laughter, delight, surprise, or tears.

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Words can heal and words can hurt. They can change us in perceptible or subtle ways.  Sometimes, we are aware of the effect words have on us. Someone may say something that arouses an immediate visceral response. We know that those particular words have affected us for good or ill.

Often though, the effect is more subliminal. We read or hear words, phrases, or ideas over and over and soon they have taken up residence in our hearts and minds without us being aware. This is the pervasive danger that words can bring. If we hear or read something often enough, whether it is true or not; whether it is beneficial or not, it begins to become a part of us, without our permission. George Orwell , in his novel 1984 , said “ If thoughts corrupt language, language can also corrupt thought.”

I have recently had this experience of words and ideas that I do not usually entertain taking up residence in my mind and soul. It was disconcerting to find myself spending a great amount of mental energy trying to deal with these unwelcome, but obtrusive words.  As Jody Picoult says  “ Words are like eggs dropped from great height; you can no more call them back than ignore the mess they leave when they fall.”  I  was not the one who had  dropped the words but the exposure had left debris that muddled my thinking.

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Then I recalled a powerful and encouraging quote I have highlighted in my Bible. In Philippians 4:8, it says “ …whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and if anything is worthy of praise, let your mind dwell on these things.” (NASB)

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Ah, yes. That was the answer. Replace the muck-making words with those that bring to mind joy, beauty, and loveliness. I needed to harness the power of words for bringing order back to my thinking. Engaging in supportive, wise conversations and reading uplifting stories and well-chosen works on creativity and  art have restored the equilibrium to my brain.

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This is a great lesson to me as a writer. I need to be aware and vigilant that the words I wield can be a positive force for good or a destructive one. I want my words to create delight, thoughtfulness, and hope. Therefore I need to choose them with great care and deliberation.  Words have power.  Words matter.

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Sneaky Spring

Wordplay Wednesday     Sneaky Spring

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I have always loved watching the change of seasons, especially from winter to spring. When I still worked full-time I was often too busy to observe the alterations in my surroundings until they were completed. I’d look around and the trees were full of large green leaves seemingly overnight.

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Now that I am retired, I spend a lot more time outdoors and I am quite intentional about noticing the transformations taking place. Every morning I walk my dog along a greenway near my house. It accompanies a creek that flows through a park, a residential area, and behind a neighborhood shopping center. There are numerous varieties of shrubs, flowers, trees, and plants along the greenway, which make for an interesting and ever-changing landscape.

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This year I have been super focused on paying attention to the changes as winter wound down in an untimely manner in late January. The warm temperatures had the trees budding early and the daffodils popping up way ahead of schedule. Since we take the same route each morning, it was easier to see the gradual changes from tiny buds, to blossoms, to full blooms on the flowering cherries, forsythia and Bradford pears. Meanwhile,  the browned grass gave way to green sprouts and dandelions.

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Still, nature uses her sleight-of-hand to continue to surprise me. While I was marveling over the profusion of yellow flowers on the jasmine and the emergence of the wild violets, the trees that held white and pink blossom just last week trotted out their bright green leaves while my attention was diverted.

“How did that happen?” I said aloud to the trees. “I  thought I was really observant this year.”

 

I sensed a voice whispering in the wind. “ That is my secret, my dear. No matter how close you watch, the miracles still happen as if by magic. Presto! But thank you for your kind attentions. Enjoy the show.”

 

I do and I will. Happy (Almost) Spring!

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Happy Blog-A-Versary!

Happy Blog-A-Versary!

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One year ago I launched my blog, Writing Toward Home. (Actually it was on February 29 and I called my first post “Launch Day Leap Day!” ) Leap Day was the perfect time to take the leap into the blogosphere after thinking about it for over a year.

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Initially I wanted my blog to be about encouraging everyone to write because I believe it is a fabulous practice for reflection, inspiration, healing and enjoyment. As I continued posting I realized that I had other topics and ideas I wanted to explore so the posts have strayed from their original purpose. I decided to begin writing about whatever topics or ideas I found interesting and I hoped they would resonate with others.

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My posts have been a combination of writing encouragement, wordplay exercises and explorations, writing prompts, imaginative writing and personal essays. I have written about palindromes, pangrams, poetry, word lists, keeping a Lexicon, along with stories about chickens, dragons and princesses as well as some of my favorite memories and family stories.

Initially I posted two or three times a week and soon realized that was too often for me and my readers. I needed more time for my other writing projects: a novel featuring magical realism, a Middle Grade fantasy as well as some short stories and essays I have been submitting to various publications.

I have settled on Wordplay Wednesday as my day to publish on the blog. (I have always loved alliteration. It must be the teacher in me!) Recently life, family obligations and illness have interfered with regular Wednesday posts, but going forward I hope to be more consistent.

In the next year I will explore whatever is of interest to me as well as some excerpts from my Works-in-Progress. I am planning to return to my Princess Crowley and Freeman the Dragon tale as well as writing about books, art and of course, the writing life.

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Many thanks for reading my musings. I appreciate your support and encouragement.

Onward!

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Wordplay Wednesday: The Joys of Reading

 Wordplay Wednesday : The Joys of Reading

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It is no secret that I am an unabashed, unapologetic bookworm.  I l love books and bookstores and my breath catches in anticipation when I enter , especially a newly discovered one. It is a treasure hunt for both mind and soul. I wonder, what prize will I unearth this time? 

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 I cannot go too long without going to a bookstore.  It makes a great artist’s date, therapy session or reward.  (Confession: Each Thursday before I tackle the dreaded weekly food shopping, I stop at the bookstore and wander around as my compensation for having to do the same at the grocery store).

  I do love books, but really I love to read  all kinds of formats-  newspapers,  magazines, blogs, e-zines, ebooks, cereal boxes…It is an obsession, a calling, part of my personality and DNA. I always have something to read with me. (  Another confession: My criteria for a purse is that it must  be large enough to hold my current read, plus pens and a notebook for writing or drawing).

What makes reading so wonderful? Let me count the ways.

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It allows me to get to know fascinating people I would otherwise never get a chance to even meet. It permits me to travel back and forth in time and place to locations that I may not reach.  It inspires dreams, encourages wonder, allows me to participate in a myriad of lives and experiences that one lifetime could never encompass. Through books I have survived alone on Mars,  been a private detective in post- WW I England, made friends with a creative and gentle spider,  been a human “computer” at Langley,  homesteaded in early 20th century Alaska,  attended a school for wizards and much more. I have been delighted, elated, enlightened, educated, infuriated, and moved to tears while reading. I believe it has made me a more well-rounded person and it inspired me to be a writer.

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 I keep track of the books I read  each year and I attempt to read widely across the genres. So far this year  my reading has included  mystery, art inspiration, fantasy, historical fiction, magical realism, biography, history and theology.

This past week I read two magnificent books, both quite different from one another. The first was The Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey.  This magical realism tale is based on a Russian fairy tale called Snegerochka  or The Snow Maiden.  It is the story of a childless couple who move to Alaska to homestead. One day they make a snow girl in their yard who then appears to come to life. The descriptions of  both the beauty and harshness of Alaska are lush and lovely.  The writing, story pacing and mystery are all superbly rendered. It is a fabulous story that I wanted to both read quickly and savor. To me that is always the sign of a great book. 

On page 204 in the story, the woman, Mabel is pondering the wonders of nature, science and beauty. I loved this paragraph. “ You did not have to understand miracles to believe in them and in fact Mabel had come to suspect the opposite. To believe, perhaps you had to cease looking for explanations and instead hold the little thing in your hands as long as you were able before it slipped like water between your fingers.”

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The other book I read was Some Writer! The Story of E.B. White, by Melissa Sweet.  Its intended audience is middle-grade readers, but I thoroughly enjoyed learning more about the author of Charlotte’s Web, Stuart Little and The Trumpet of the Swan. The book is generously  illustrated with photos, quotes,  manuscript pages and Melissa Sweet’s own whimsical collages and artwork which I pored over in delight and wonder.

  I was fascinated to read about White’s childhood, early writing career and inspiration for his famous stories. I savored White’s quotes. Here are several that charmed my writer’s heart.

“I discovered…that writing of the small things of the day, the trivial matters, of the heart…was the only kind of creative work which I could accomplish with any sincerity or grace.”

“In almost everyone’s life there is one event that changes the whole course of his existence.”

“It has been ambitious and plucky of me to attempt to describe what is indescribable….[But] a writer, like an acrobat, must occasionally try a stunt that is too much for him.”

I recommend Some Writer to anyone who has loved White’s stories as well as anyone who wishes to write. It is a short, but informative and encouraging  story for all ages.  That is another hallmark of a great book.

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Wordplay Wednesday: Two-Word Tenets

Wordplay Wednesday: Two-Word Tenets : Precepts Simplified

Two weeks ago, I wrote about my plan to abandon resolution-making and instead adopt precepts, which are “words to live by.” I have deliberately chosen  this more gentle and gradual approach to changing certain aspects of my life, because I realize, perhaps rather belatedly,  this is the only way true and lasting transformation takes place.

 I am using the precepts from 365 Days of Wonder by R.J. Palacio as my guide and muse for this endeavor.  Each morning I read the quote or saying for that date and then use it as the jumping off point in my Morning Pages journal.  My responses can be a bit of a stream of consciousness ramble, but eventually I find some direction in the tangle of thoughts and words. 

My next step is to clarify and distill the precept(s) down to a two-word tenet that I can use to direct my actions in many areas of my life.  I like the idea of making  my goals  short and memorable and therefore livable.  As I said in the previous post at the beginning of the year, I am trying to develop ways of being rather than doing. These precepts/tenets therefore become a way of living that does not need to be completely overhauled at the beginning of a calendar year. It takes away the stress and pressure of having to start so many new habits at once, which for me seems to never result in lasting change.

  I have been pleased to realize that the topics of the precepts and my journal responses have already circled back  to repeated themes in the first 17 days. The best way to learn and retain anything is through  many repetitions which leads to what scientists  call  “overlearning.”   Overlearning leads to a behavior being more likely to be maintained over a long period of time. This is what I need to pursue : meaningful, long-lasting change  rather than a temporary burst of frenzied activity.

Here are the tenets I have adopted so far:

Embrace Wonder

Choose Kindness

Love Fully

Live purposefully

Be Yourself

Continue Learning

Keep Trying

These  may appear to be too general, but within each tenet there exists a multitude of  behaviors that can be nurtured. For instance under “ Choose Kindness”, I can decide each day how I can show compassion toward others and toward myself. In kindness to others I need to be aware of those around me who may require encouragement or a smile or perhaps more tangible assistance. In kindness to myself I can choose to eat better/ move more or engage in an activity that feeds my soul or mind.

With “ Keep Trying” I can remind myself that this  path of change is a journey, not a  50-yard dash and that when I inevitably  encounter difficulties, I just need to keep going.

I am looking forward to seeing where the ideas of precepts and tenets lead the course of the year and beyond.

Do you have a tenet that you live by?

Wordplay Wednesday: Calling all Word Nerds!

Wordplay Wednesday : Calling all Word Nerds!

 

Monday, January 9 was National Word Nerd Day. I love having my own special day, don’t you? I am an unabashed, unapologetic Word Nerd. I love words of all kinds, phrases, quotes, poems, word puzzles, word games and of course stories and books!

I am an habitual word collector and I have lists of words I love everywhere: on index cards, scraps of paper, receipts, bookmarks, notebooks and so on. I am an insatiable reader and when I read I keep a pen and some kind of paper close by to record words or phrases I want to savor, remember and use in my writing.

I also love learning new words. Just this week a fabulous artist and fellow Word Nerd shared a new term which is so perfect: “OKOMO” which refers to a person who is beautiful inside and out. My friend who shared the word is exactly that and I aspire to be a OKOMO, too.

 

Some words are just so much fun to say or have such wonderful meanings that they deserve special attention. The following are some of my favorites from recent reading. Try reading the words aloud and you will see what I mean. If any are unfamiliar, look them up.

 

accoutrements   opalescent   impertinent vociferous numinous

festooned   unfathomable   exultation   jubilant beseeched

insurmountable   conciliatory giddy   luminous stupendous

ethereal frivolity nostalgia traipsing unquenchable cantankerous

 

Eventually, my gathered words are archived into my Lexicon, which is my word book where I formally collect words. I use a sewn, bound notebook for this purpose. I have a section each for nouns, verbs and adjectives, plus in the back I make word lists: color words ( periwinkle, azure, chambray, cerulean, lapis, cobalt, indigo), names of trees, breeds of chickens and so on. Intentionally collecting the words and periodically reading through my Lexicon is a way of growing my vocabulary and improving the quality of my writing. Plus it’s fun!

 

I encourage you to collect words that are new to you or that you love and use them whenever you can in your conversations or writing.

 

Do you have some favorite words? I would love for you to share! Word Nerds UNITE!

 

 

Wordplay Wednesday

Wordplay Wednesday: Replacing Resolutions with Precepts

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Happy New Year! For many years I anticipated the beginning of the year by engaging in the time-honored tradition of making resolutions and goals for myself in a host of areas. To be frank, in my enthusiasm I tended to go overboard in this endeavor and after a few days of frenzied activity I’d lose momentum and most things fell by the wayside. Since I can be a bit hard on myself, the whole resolution-making process ended up being more harmful than beneficial.

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This year I have decided to replace resolutions and goals with precepts, which are defined as “words to live by.” I stumbled across this idea after reading R.J, Palaciao’s middle-grade novel Wonder. (As an aside, the book is a terrific read for adults as well as children. I highly recommend it.)  In the story, a teacher presents one precept per month to his students which they discuss and later respond to in an essay. As a follow-up book, Palacio published 365 Days of Wonder, which is a collection of daily precepts focusing on the virtues of kindness, strength of character, overcoming adversity and making the world a better place.

 

I decided that rather than compiling a huge, overwhelming list of goals, I would use the book of precepts and approach the year as a growth mindset, using a day-by-day, step-by-step process. The precepts are not a list of things to do, but rather ideas about how to be. I have decided that what I do should reflect who I am and who I want to become.

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As a way of internalizing the precepts I am using them as writing prompts for my Morning Pages. I write the precept at the top of the page and then respond to it. I think about what the precept means in terms of how I view the world, how I treat others and what actions it leads me to take. From my Morning Page reflections on the precepts I am uncovering what actions or course of behavior I need to adopt in the areas of relationships, creativity, intellectual growth, spiritual growth and health.

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For instance, the entry for January 3 was a quote from Henry James: “ Three things in human life are important: the first is to be kind; the second is to be kind and the third is to be kind.” As I pondered and wrote on this precept I thought about what it looks like to be kind to others and also to myself. These ideas will now inform my actions going forward as I adopt behaviors for kindness to my body, my mind, my creative nature and my relationships with family and friends.

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This gentle, intuitive and thoughtful approach to change and growth feels much more natural and doable to me. In the past I felt harried and pushed by trying to keep up with a checklist of too many new things to do. So far I am experiencing a sense of possibility and anticipation as I daily embrace the precepts and really think about how to apply them to my life.

 

My precepts so far are:

Choose Kindness.

Embrace Wonder.

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Both of those short statements offer a multitude of choices for thoughts and actions I can apply daily for the rest of my life. I am excited about what practices and ideas I will adopt as the year unfolds.

 

If the idea of resolutions leaves you overwhelmed, I encourage you to try precepts.

 

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Wordplay Wednesday: What I Know By Heart

Wordplay Wednesday: What I know by heart

This weekend, the calendar, in a rare, serendipitous juxtaposition, ushers in both Christmas and Hanukkah, followed by the beginning of Kwanzaa on Monday.  To me, it is a perfect year for the holidays to overlap so completely. We need unity in our celebrations of what we all believe and hold dear. And we each need to articulate those things to ourselves and to one another.

I am reading an Advent devotional book called Why This Jubilee?,  written by a local church pastor, James C. Howell. It contains daily meditations on the meanings of specific lines from familiar Christmas songs. It is a lovely book and filled with many  memorable phrases that I have jotted down. One in particular made me stop and reflect over the last few days since I read it.

James Howell asks the reader to consider what we “know by heart.”  On the one hand to know something by heart means to have something  committed to memory as  a  well-loved song , poem or quote.  Another way to think of  knowing something by heart is to reflect on those things that our heart tells us  are true no matter what is going on in the world around us. It is this concept that I want to ask you to consider with me.

What do you know “by heart?” What does your heart tell you about the world, faith, people, circumstances, right and wrong?  I think that at this time of year and in this year in particular it is  something we should all consider.

Here is some of  what I know by heart:

No matter the circumstances in the world, God is still in control.  I can trust  in His goodness and sovereignty even when politics, governments and mortal humans disappoint.

All people are made in the image of the Creator and have innate worth, no matter their race, color, nation of origin, faith or  financial position. Everyone deserves to be treated with kindness, compassion and courtesy.

Despite the skewed version of the world given by the news, most people in the world  simply want to pursue a quiet life in which they provide a  safe home, enough food and hope for a better future for their families..  Everyone deserves a chance to  pursue those dreams.

Every person is created on purpose and for a purpose. We are all individually  designed to offer our unique gifts and dreams to the world.  We are given skills, talents and abilities not to hoard, but to share with others in order to enrich all of human experience.

Being kind, considerate and generous are not weaknesses, but are the true measure of a person’s strength.  To quote George Eliot, “ What do we live for if not to make life less difficult for each other?”

What do you know by heart?

Wordplay Wednesday: Inspiration in the Words of Others

Wordplay Wednesday: Inspiration in the Words of Others

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As a word nerd and bookworm I love quotes. I often come across sayings that are just so right, so perfect for my life at a particular moment. When I discover a new one it is that feeling of “Yes! That is exactly how I feel. How clever to put it that way.” ( or sometimes,” I wish I had said that!” )

 

I think it is a great gift to be able, in just a few words, to aptly delineate feelings and emotions that resonate with large numbers of people. It is as if the originator of the quote has tapped into a collective conscience and then summed it up in a memorable phrase.

 

I know this love of quotes is quite common: think of all of the pillows, t-shirts, mugs, posters and pieces of art that are sold with various famous sayings on them. A quick tour of Pinterest reveals numerous boards devoted to quotes. I happen to have one myself. There is something almost universally satisfying about discovering words that speak to you, whether they are funny, sad, motivational or inspiring. It is validation that someone else thinks like you do and that in turn connects us to other hearts and minds.

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I think most people have several quotes or sayings that are particularly meaningful to them. Of course, depending on one’s temperament, experiences and life situation a certain quote will more important. Can you recall some personal favorites?

Do you have t-shirts or other items with a favorite expression? Have you ever posted or shared a saying on social media?

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Today I want you to take some time and think about a special quote that has made an impact on you. I invite you to ponder why that saying is so special and then journal about it.

Write the quote at the top of a piece of paper. If you feel particularly artsy, make use a fancy lettering style or colorful markers. Now, as a free-write, quickly journal about what this quote means to you.

 

Here are some questions to guide you as you begin.

 

What was the original context?

 

What does it reveal about you?

 

Does the quote invite some action on your part?

 

Does it validate a belief?

 

I would love to hear about your favorite quotes . Perhaps you can turn your quote into a mixed media journal page, or a water colored and inked poster to display where it can constantly inspire you. Or just write it boldly in pen on a sticky note and attach it to your bathroom mirror or the corner of your computer screen.

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Here’s one of mine:

Ancora Imparo! ( this translated means “ I am still learning!”) It was said by Michelangelo when he was 87.

 

I first heard this quote when I was in the sixth grade. My teacher, Mrs. Baeszler, was an amazing woman. Despite the fact that she was likely past retirement age when she taught me and three years later my brother, she had a vibrancy, energy and zest for life that was unmatched. She challenged us to read, ask questions, to find a passion and to pursue learning for its own sake. She was the inspiration for me choosing to be a teacher.

 

I embrace this quote for that reason and also because it is central to the kind of life I want to live. I desire to always be growing learning and challenging myself to acquire new skills. To that end I am an avid reader of newspapers, informative blogs, histories, biographies, science and   more. I take art , writing and Bible study classes to improve my skills and knowledge in those areas. I also view/listen to lectures online about topics that capture my interest. I haunt bookstores and course catalogs looking for new sources of information.

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There’s so much to be interested in and to learn about in our world. We are incredibly fortunate to live in a time that offers so many ways to access knowledge. I find it exciting and sometimes a bit overwhelming. But, I am never bored and never will be. I hope to be able to say at 87 and perhaps beyond:

 

ANCORA IMPARO!

 

Now I need to go make a poster!

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Happy Thanksgiving! An Attitude of Gratitude

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This time of year  in our country we turn our eyes toward gratitude and thankfulness. Sometimes it may feel cliché to talk about being thankful, but it is an important and necessary part of being human.  All cultures have ceremonies and seasons of thanksgiving in which they enumerate their blessings.  Being able to reflect on the positive aspects of our lives and circumstances helps keep us balanced emotionally, relationally and cognitively. No matter what life throws at us, we can find specific, maybe small, things to appreciate in our unique situation.

Sometimes it takes some reframing or reflection, but if you have an attitude of awareness,  you can think of many things that you enjoy and can be thankful for in your every day life.

Sarah Breathnach  challenged people to keep a gratitude journal when she appeared on Oprah years ago. She advocated making a daily list of 10 things in the journal. Ann Voskamp in her book 1,000 Gifts, challenges the reader to keep thinking of items, both  small and large, until the list numbers 1,000. You cannot make a list of that size without having your mindset altered.

My challenge is for you to make a list of things for which you are thankful. Perhaps you can turn the list into a poem, prayer or essay. The second challenge is to read your writing aloud today. You can share it with family or friends as you gather around a table or you can speak it out loud to the Creator who made all good things for His people to enjoy or you can go outside and share it with the Universe.

Saying the words aloud creates energy . A voice raised in thanks is a powerful force that can be contagious. May we spread an attitude of gratitude this day and every day.

Happy Thanksgiving!

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