Category Archives: Gratitude

From Me to You

Is it possible to be a great fan of someone’s work and not have any idea who they are? (A resounding YES echoes in my head). Sue, my yoga teacher, reads an uplifting passage right before class ends – one of the many reasons I love her to the moon and back. During Wednesday’s class she read a poem that touched me deep within my soul. I couldn’t wait until class was over before asking, ‘Who wrote that poem?’
‘Mary Oliver,’ she said. I’d never heard of her before, I responded, but Sue often reads her poetry – I’d just never made the connection that these words, so passionately written, were all by the same person.
I was a huge fan, never knowing it.

I must share the words read to me on Wednesday. It is very fitting to leave them here for you to savor, for as I listened my thoughts were immediately drawn to my good fortune and the many beautiful souls I’ve met over the past few years. This of course, includes all of you. Enjoy, and have a good weekend.

Of Love

I have been in love more times than one,
thank the Lord. Sometimes it was lasting
whether active or not. Sometimes
it was all but ephemeral, maybe only
an afternoon, but not less real for that.
They stay in my mind, these beautiful people,
or anyway beautiful people to me, of which
there are so many. You, and you, and you,
whom I had the fortune to meet, or maybe
missed. Love, love, love, it was the
core of my life, from which, of course, comes
the word for the heart. And, oh, have I mentioned
that some of them were men and some were women
and some — now carry my revelation with you —
were trees. Or places. Or music flying above
the names of their makers. Or clouds, or the sun
which was the first, and the best, the most
loyal for certain, who looked so faithfully into
my eyes every morning. So I imagine
such love of the world — its fervency, its shining, its
innocence and hunger to give of itself — I imagine
this is how it began.

Mary Oliver

Pick Me Up

Its been a while since I’ve posted any photos of gratitude, so here is something that I hope will inspire you to find your own moment of gratefulness this week.  We are in for another frigid week with below zero temperatures here in Indiana.  Winter blues has set in for much of this part of the country.   This is when I pick up my camera and carry it with me wherever I go, taking photos of things that bring me peace, make me happy and remind me that  even among the cold and dreary weather, beauty is everywhere – sometimes I just have to be patient and wait for it to appear.

 

Taken from my back yard yesterday afternoon:

 

 

deerinyard

 

 

I came across this poem this weekend and wanted to share it with you.  Beautiful words, always worth remembering.  

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source

Have a good week, everyone.

Beauty Underneath

Do women still lie about their age?  When I was small I was taught to never, EVER ask a woman’s age.  ”That is rude and inconsiderate,’ my mother used to say.  A woman telling you her true age was about as likely as a woman telling you that she was wearing her natural hair color.  It just wasn’t done.  Some things fortunately do change though, and from my experience women are more comfortable sharing their age these days and don’t bat an eyelash about going from blonde to brunette.

Some things though haven’t changed.  Every so often I receive an email from someone asking about how I deal with loose skin from losing over 100 pounds.  Recently one woman wrote saying that she was embarrassed about her body after losing weight and that she felt unattractive and unworthy of love. How I wish that women would embrace their bodies regardless of what age they are or what battles they’ve gone through.  In such a ‘beautiful’ society it’s not acceptable to talk about the real world that we live in.  Why?  I believe its because the truth is sometimes scary and people don’t want to be burdened with it so they continue to strive for the unattainable: photoshopped models and the leggy, gorgeous exercise instructor at the gym.  But the truth is, our bodies are not designed to look voluptuous and taut throughout eternity.  That is simply not its job.  The body is designed as a vessel to serve us as we pass through this life; its bound to get a bit worn, a bit bruised and beaten.

 

 

One of the best photos ever taken of me (in my opinion) happened to be at the art show I participated in earlier this month.  From this photo you would never know that underneath I have excess skin from my weight loss or that I carry a pretty prominent scar on my belly from my hysterectomy.  Nor do you see the scar on my breast from a lumpectomy or the multitude of scars on my shoulders and back that removed cancerous cells which saved my life.  Yet my smile, my look of contentment – my happiness is genuine.  I am, for the most part, comfortable with my body.

I recently came across an article from The Huffington Post about a woman who has launched a project called Under The Red Dress.  Beth Whaanga is a cancer survivor that bravely and gracefully speaks out about the physical toll that cancer takes on a human being.  The link above will take you to her story.  The following link will take you 7 images of Beth.  The first one shows her in a beautiful dress, hair done and wearing makeup, however as you scroll through the photos you see another side of Beth – a woman whose body has been through cancers, surgeries, rapid weight loss, reconstruction.  The images are not meant to shock but to educate.  You can see these images here.

While the Under The Red Dress project is to bring awareness to cancer survivors I felt compelled to share Beth’s story here on my blog for anyone who believes that she is is somehow ‘less than’, whether it be loose skin from weight loss or heavy scarring from major surgeries.  No body is perfect.  We all have flaws.

I hope the above photos, though they may look extreme, shed some light on what’s hidden beneath and that we continue to break the stereotypes that manipulate women into believing that we have to be perfect in order to be an accepted part of society.  I commend Beth Whaanga and fully support her project.

 

Hear her roar – she’s forty-four

Age is a funny thing.  Kids can’t wait to tell you how old they are, and they’ll even cheat a bit by rounding up to the next number. Teenagers can’t wait to be older.  I think one of the greatest compliments I ever received as a 16 year old was being told, ‘really?  You look at least 19!’

But somewhere in the mid twenties, things start to change.  Suddenly we aren’t so keen on telling people how old we are anymore.

 When I was a small child I had a doll named Johnny.  He and I were inseparable.  I carried him with me everywhere and when he wasn’t with me I cried.  I loved him to the moon and back.  Last year while helping my mother unpack her belongings in a new apartment she’d recently moved into I opened up a box marked winter clothes.  There inside was Johnny.  ”I found him up in the attic and thought you’d like to have him,” she said.  “You were given lots of pretty dolls when you were a little girl but they just sat on the shelf while you played with Johnny.”  I picked him up and looked at his worn, plastic face.  His stuffing, once tightly fitted in crisp yellow flannel pajamas was now lumpy and sparse.  His body was now worn and tired; two fingers appeared to have been slightly chewed – signs of a child trying to break herself from the habit of sucking her thumb.    

I thought about what my mother said about the other dolls in my room, all waiting to be played with while instead, I clung to Johnny.  Most of them had long flowing hair, perfectly smooth skin and frilly pressed dresses.  My baldheaded doll-baby may not have been the prettiest thing to carry around but I can assure you that he was the envy of all the other toys in my room – we went places, he and I: vacations, car rides, grocery store outings, restaurants, you name it.  He’d been dragged though the snow, sat in the dirt, left out in the rain and if I remember correctly, vomited on a couple of times but truthfully, as I held him that day at my Mom’s apartment he still looked pretty good for being over four decades old.

Today is my birthday and I have no reservations whatsoever about telling you how old I am (forty-four).   As I reflect on what this new age represents, I guess I’m kind of feeling like my childhood doll: some places are looking a bit worn (wrinkles around the eyes), the stuffing is now a bit sparse in some key locations (slightly droopy breasts) and a few chewed up areas (some pretty impressive scars).  Recently I was scouting for a quote to pair with one of my paintings and came across one that I really connected with; I put it in a little notebook that I keep handy so I will always remember it:

I don’t want another girl’s body.  I want my body – happy, healthy and strong.  

How true this statement is for me.  Sure, there’s still that tiny part of me that wishes I had beautiful, long hair or lean and perfectly toned arms but at the end of the day I’m just grateful for the things my body does for me.  It’s likely that all this wisdom has something to do with the aging process and feeling more comfortable in my own skin; it’s positively true that I’ve learned to appreciate my body through the practice of yoga. I’m just feeling pretty darned lucky to be here I guess; that’s a feeling I never intend on taking for granted.

 

 

 

 

Life beyond the words: I Don’t Love You Anymore

In 2000 as few of you know, I was facing one of the worst periods of my life.  In less than two years I lost both my father and grandfather.  Thrown into that mix I was blindsided by the words, I don’t want to be married to you anymore followed by I’m seeing someone else all in the convenience of a moving vehicle headed towards a vacation spot I thought we’d  been looking forward to for months.  When I asked what could possibly coax an individual to choose that particular time to drop such an earth-shattering bomb he simply replied, I thought this vacation would shed some light as to whether or not there was still something left to care about.  

I swear in my mind’s eye I can still see my heart – extracted and bloody from shock, tossed along with thirteen years of love and trust right out the window of our mini-van.

I look back on that first night, wishing I had the strength to follow through with a quick and painless way of ending my existence; it was over because this man was my entire life.  Little did I know something wonderfully unique and new was burgeoning, all because this man was no longer my entire life.  

What nearly killed me saved me.

The abrupt end of that path forced me to focus on a new one.  It was scary as hell –  filled with debt, forced out of my home, and being alone for the first time at the age of thirty.

Once the brunt of the storm had passed however, I realized that I could survive on my own. I didn’t need to rely on anyone to make me happy.  I didn’t have to be afraid of being Me any longer, and so I became my own best friend.  All of these things were forced upon me by the man I thought I knew.  For a long time I felt betrayed and rejected but as I grew into the woman I was meant to be, I became grateful to him.  Grateful that he had (for the lack of a better word here) the courage to do what I couldn’t do for myself.

It’s so easy to see the clear skies above once the clouds have passed, isn’t it?  I’m sitting in a home that I love, blessed by friends near and far, surrounded by a loving husband who totally gets me and spending my days painting.  I can honestly tell you though, it didn’t take me 13 years to settle on the word Grateful for that particular experience.  I knew it the day I gained complete control over my own bank account; the day I started supporting myself; the moment I signed the lease for my very first apartment.  Those milestones were some of the best moments of my life and each one came to fruition from that disastrous day in early August.

Craig and I will be celebrating our fifth wedding anniversary this week.  Every year he jokes that he should send my ex-husband a Thank You card.  We both chuckle a bit at this thought, though secretly I know if anyone needs to send a Thank You card it is I, for if it weren’t for the words ‘It’s Over’ I may have never found the courage for a new beginning.

My wonderful yoga teacher, Sue, read this quote to me during class one day last week.  I’d like to share it with you.  It is from one of my favorite poets and is so fitting for this post.

Birdwings 
Your grief for what you’ve lost lifts a mirror
up to where you’re bravely working.
Expecting the worst, you look, and instead,
here’s the joyful face you’ve been wanting to see.
Your hand opens and closes and opens and closes.
If it were always a fist or always stretched open,
you would be paralyzed.
Your deepest presence is in every small contracting and expanding,
the two as beautifully balanced and coordinated
as birdwings.
~Rumi

Gratitude Photos of the Week

I thought I’d check in one last time this week, as I likely won’t be posting again until after Craig’s surgery is over (look for me around Wednesday of next week).

Things are status quo over here.  Craig is still making do with protein shakes and low-sodium, clear based soups.  He’s starting to have more bad days than good, though.  Whatever is happening inside his abdomen is now keeping him home 24/7.  Amazingly, his attitude is still good.  I don’t know how he maintains such a positive spirit after 5 weeks but that’s my husband. 

I am keeping on track with my eating – as in for now, not eating massive amounts of the things I used to reach for in times of stress and strain.  I don’t know how I can crave sugary comfort foods with this giant knot in my stomach that seems to be growing heavier with each passing day; I think it’s old reflexes coming back to haunt me.  The important thing is, I’m not giving into it. 

I haven’t posted Gratitude photos in a couple of weeks, so today you get two:

 

The first of my poppies are blooming.  I have tried, unsuccessfully mind you, to grow these beauties for years because the rabbits always plucked the buds just before they opened.  Someone at my local plant store gave me the suggestion of spreading blood meal in my flowerbed to keep out rabbits because they don’t like the smell.  It is apparently working because here they are – and I am very grateful.  These are my absolute favorite flowers and whenever I see them I just want to grab my paintbrush and lay them to canvas. 

Speaking of painting, I am extremely grateful for that right now.  It has helped keep my mind occupied and focused, these last couple of weeks especially.  While Craig is napping during the day or if I can’t sleep at night I slip into my studio and just…paint.  These ‘doodle-birds’ have been occupying my time  because I can easily stop at any time and just pick up where I left off without any problem.  Here’s my latest, which I have pretty much dedicated to fellow blogger Didi since she suggested an American Kestrel ages ago:

Several people have asked if I would be making prints of these.  Even though I hadn’t intended on it, I decided to do a limited run and see if the interest is there.  I’d like to get a few more finished first, and hopefully will have some time to work on them while Craig is recovering. 

Have a good weekend.  I hope to be back here sometime next week with good news. 

~Ellen

Gratefulness in Photos. Husband Update

Last night was a crazy night.  It all started around dusk.  I was looking out of my bedroom window down to the creek we have running in our back yard.  There they were – a mama duck and 11 ducklings that were each about the size of a golf ball swimming closely behind, peeping away.  Craig was feeling quite uncomfortable after dinner so I was relaying the information to him as he lay in bed.  Suddenly, the two farm ducks that ‘rule the roost’ around these parts came waddling across the yard as quickly as they could.  One jumped in the water and began violently trying to mate with the mama duck.  He balanced himself on top of her while she tried to keep her head above water.  With the weight of him, the current carried them quickly back down the creek and they were gone from my eyesight.  The babies were frantic, peeping as loud as they could, not knowing where to go or what to do.  I kept waiting for the female to swim back upstream and claim her young but after 5 minutes or so I grabbed my coat and hat and marched outside toward the neighbor’s back yard. 

The farm duck had the female on the bank, still trying to mate with her.   A few ducklings found their way back to her and were trying to squeeze close to her body but the male kept stepping all over them as continued to try and mate with her.  She clearly wanted nothing to do with him.  I became so angry that I chased the farm duck all the way up the embankment and to the road.  I waited for them to cross over and into the pond on the other side.  When I started walking back towards the female and her young, they were all there huddled against her while she, clearly exhausted, just sat and watched me pass on by.  I was relieved that all were back together safe and sound – and at the same time very disturbed by how violent animals can get when they mate. 

When I came back to the house it was nearly pitch black outside.  It was time to let both dogs out. When I opened the back door that leads into their large, gated-off ‘do your business here’ pen, Emmie noticed a white tail and began chasing it until it squeezed past the fence bars and out of reach.  If she’d caught it, Emmie would have killed it before she knew what she was doing.  I’ve never seen a more immediate instinct on a dog. 

As she and Brulee started sniffing around I noticed some movement along the dead ornamental grass that lines the foundation of our house.  I looked really hard and couldn’t believe what I saw:  at least 10 baby bunnies trying to clamor their way back into a hole underneath the grass.  They were so small, 4 of them could have sat in one hand. 

Suddenly I panicked and looked over at both dogs but they were completely oblivious to the bunnies, did their business and trotted back into the house.  I ran inside to get my camera so I could capture my Gratitude Photo for the week: 

 

 

Can you make out the three faces looking right at me?   I’ve walked by that nest countless times.  Brulee loves to pee in the dead grass and I’m sure has walked right over the nest countless times, yet neither dog ever picked up that it was there. 

 

On to other news…

Craig had another attack last night – approximately 6 hours after he ate dinner.  There is nothing worse than begin woken up in the middle of the night to someone in severe pain. I asked him if he wanted to go back to the ER.  He was so distressed and holding his side, I couldn’t really get an answer from him. If he pushed really hard on the spot that hurt, it took his pain level down significantly.  I watched as he did this for a while and as the pain subsided he and I both noticed a ridge or lump under the skin where the pain was.  Immediately we both thought ‘hernia’.  We were up the rest of the night, ready to go the hospital if he grew any worse.  It didn’t however, so we waited until this morning to call the doctor.  With an appointment at noon we went in and sure enough, the bulge was gone.  ‘It could be a hernia,’ said the doctor, ‘or, it could be your bowel.’  Sigh. 

The colonoscopy has been canceled but an ultrasound has been scheduled for next Tuesday, along with other tests.  Then he will be referred to a doctor that specializes in hernias.  Until then, we wait. 

I am reminded through all of this how Craig must have felt after my hysterectomy last year – completely helpless. It’s so hard to watch him in be in pain.  We’ve not ruled out another trip back to the ER between now and thenTuesday if the pain worsens, but honestly it’s the waiting that has both of us so incredibly anxious.  My anxiety has been giving me away lately – when I get to a certain level, I get hives.  Sure enough I awoke with hives around my mouth this morning and my lips were twice their normal size.  We make a pair, Craig and I. One day we’ll surely look back on this last year in amazement that we got through it all. 

I saw this on someone’s Facebook page earlier: 

…a very appropriate visual for me to come across today.  No one falls apart on my watch – especially me.

Have a good weekend,

Ellen

Photo of Gratitude Week 3

Monday night was all about the unknown.  I was sitting in the ER trying to keep my husband comfortable as we waited to see a doctor for what we thought was appendicitis.  While we waited the only images coming from the TV were those of the Boston bombings.  An already somber room filled with sick and injured people became even more somber. 

When we were finally seen and awaiting tests, the doctors were convinced it probably was appendicitis.    That is, until the test results came back normal.  All normal.

We left the ER almost 5 hours later with Craig still feeling tremendous pain off to the right of his abdomen.  I was left wondering what to prepare for next. 

He’s been ordered to stay home from work the rest of the week and more tests were done today.  There’s only one thing worse than finding out what’s wrong with a loved one: not finding out what’s wrong.  Something is causing this constant pain and spasms but so far we have no answers.  Hopefully this latest round of tests will give us some answers. Lately it seems like it’s been so long since the two of us were healthy at the same time I’ve forgotten what it’s like.

I guess we both have something to look forward to now, don’t we? 

 

On to my gratitude photo of the week.  Yes, I do have one! Here she is:

 

Those of you who follow me on Instagram have already seen this photo.  I was trying to capture an image of an American Robin for my next painting one morning and this sweet little lady House Finch flew down and sat practically in front of me as if she were asking me to take her picture.  I just couldn’t say no. 

For her I am grateful this week – not because of this photo (which was taken early last week, actually) but because she and her mate have decided to make a nest on the Spring Wreath that hangs just to the right of my front door.  This of course means that whenever I open my window for the next few weeks I will be personally serenaded by her fluffy companion as he sings his heart out until those eggs hatch.  How can I not be grateful for that? 

Have a great weekend, everyone.  Appreciate the little things; there will be days when that’s what keeps you going.

xo,

Ellen

Bird Signs and Progress!

Craig and I just finished our taxes this past weekend. Not fun.  Especially when I have to write out a check to the government.  It was nothing I didn’t expect, though.  I knew I’d owe – I just didn’t know how much.  Working as an independent contractor for Patty had minor drawbacks like that. 

I went to Hot Yoga on Friday.  Scratch that  – I dragged myself go to Hot Yoga on Friday.  All these months suffering with back pain has made me focus solely on caring for my back.  In the process, strengthening my legs have not been a priority.  My instructor had us do so many squat-related poses that by the time class was over, my legs felt like spaghetti. Nothing that would hurt my back if I didn’t do them – just my ego.  I used to be able to do all of those poses this time last year.  Now, not so much.   I have no choice now but to go every Friday and strengthen this wobbly body of mine.  Come on, muscle memory; show me what you’ve got!  Whenever I’m feeling like I’ve regressed I need to remind myself that progress comes with every little step, regardless of how small. 

A good example of such progress: my skills as a painter are indeed improving. I see it.  I feel it.  I’m more confident and I look forward to creating and sharing my work with others.  Birds seem to be my obsession lately.  I bought my first bird – a canary named Lady, when I was a sophomore in college.  She lived almost 12 years and was completely blind before she died, but that girl could warble her heart out.  Since then I have had a love affair with them and recently decided to paint a series of some favorites. 

I’ve been having run-ins with a few of the birds I’ve been painting.  Odd but wonderful run-ins.  Remember my sandhill crane?

 

A few days after I painted him I was walking the dogs at the park and noticed a flock of cranes swirling over my head. If you’ve ever heard these birds communicate with one another then you know they are impossible to miss (they’re quite loud!)  On two separate occasions later the next week when I went out to get my mail from the mailbox, there again were cranes hovering overhead long enough for me to stop and watch them for as long as I wanted before forming their traditional V pattern and moving on. Each time I saw them I think my heart swelled to twice its normal size. 

My second run-in happened right after I finished painting my red-winged hawk this weekend.

watermarkhawk

I put away my watercolors and grabbed my coat so that Craig and I could go grocery shopping.  While heading down the road a red winged hawk flew right in front of our car and into the woods, carrying a mouse. We both screamed out, ‘Did you see THAT??’ 

Tell me – when does that ever happen!?!?  To me, never!

This week’s oriole will likely be my last bird of the week because I am hosting Easter this weekend at my home.  Those of you who were here with me over Christmas will remember that I vowed never to have another holiday at my Mom’s again because whenever a certain family member is in attendance, I tense up and know that he will become angry, say hurtful things, leaving me sad and melancholy for the remainder of the day.  It took 42 years to step up and say ‘no more’ to my mother but I did, and now I’m actually looking forward to hosting Easter this year.  I’m even looking forward to Christmas already – words I’ve not uttered in over 30 years. 

And that’s progress.  When you’ve got it, grab on and run like hell.   

Today’s post brought to you by the letter M

Missing:

I’ve been scarce, lately.  No post since Monday, and I’ve not been reading any blogs, either.  In fact, I’ve barely been on the computer.  I haven’t exactly gone missing but it kind of feels like it.  So, here’s what’s going on….

MRI:

…as in, Monday I have an MRI scheduled for my lower back.  It’s getting increasingly worse. Acupuncture has not helped; in fact, it seems to make my back feel even more angry.  I’ve been rotating between walking and laying down.  I can’t sit for more than 5 minutes at a time (unless I’m pretty medicated) and standing still is impossible.  So, I’m either walking on the treadmill at a slow but steady pace or I’m on the floor doing yoga stretches.  This has made my time in the studio very challenging.  I can’t paint and walk at the same time so I’m doing very short but furious bursts in between.  Not an easy task.  Still, I did manage to finish this little guy:

I went to the doctor yesterday and there may be a change in my diagnosis of degenerative disc disease.  He used words like bulging and/or ruptured disc. I asked him point-blank whether the excess weight in my younger days could have contributed to my condition.  Of course he couldn’t answer this with complete certainty but he assured me that if I were still carrying around those extra 100+ pounds I could likely be completely immobile right now.  This brings me to something I cannot stress enough: don’t abuse your body.  Respect every aspect of it, because It has to serve you the rest of your life.

Minus the Mister:

Tomorrow, my husband and I were supposed to be heading to Arizona to visit his sister.  I had to make the difficult decision to give up my ticket.  Sitting that long is an impossibility for me.  This was not an easy choice, but it’s the only answer for me if I want to protect my back from further irritation.  Besides, couldn’t you just see me in Arizona and then have my back go out?  I mean yes, there are worse things than being stuck in Arizona but what a nightmare that would be!  After a long discussion, I convinced my husband to go without me.  At least one ticket will be used and honestly, he really needs to get to a warmer climate for a few days.  Working outside in this single digit weather can be unbelievably draining.  So, it looks like I’m going to be a bachelorette for a few days.

Maintenance:

As part of my decision to continue with my Gratitude Jar, it has become easier to find things to be grateful about even when I could feel sorry for myself for having another health crisis less than a year after major surgery.  Since walking eases my pain, it’s been a breeze maintaining my weight.  Chronic pain kind of takes away my appetite, anyway.   I can’t imagine what it would be like if I were completely unable to move.  I swear I’ll never again complain about my ‘dreadmill’.  It has literally saved my sanity.

All right folks, I’m outta here for now.  Be good to yourself this weekend and I’ll see you back here sometime next week. 

xo,

Ellen