Help me figure this one out.

A few nights ago I was at my local chapter of Women Who Wine. For those of you unfamiliar with the group, it’s essentially a gathering of philanthropically-minded women who get together once a month to raise awareness of a charity and, naturally, drink wine.

At the end of the evening, after we’ve heard from the charity representative, we go around one by one, introduce ourselves, and answer that night’s question. The prompt that night was, “How do you stay grounded and stop you first world problems from bringing you down?”

In other words, the question was, “How do you stay grateful and keep everything in perspective?” My kind of question.

The responses floored me. Here was a group of doctors, lawyers, professors, and business executives, and each and every one of them said they kept their own problems in perspective by serving others. The doctors fought for their cancer patients. The lawyers did pro bono cases to help a victim of domestic abuse gain custody of her children. The professors mentored promising, but first-generation college students. Even the business executives talked about their roles serving food in the soup kitchen.

These women were not expressing their gratitude for the comforts they had that others did not have. They were expressing their gratitude that they were simply able to offer their skills and talents to help others. Each and every one of them spoke about how lucky they were, not because they had a lot of things, but because they could share those things.

The distinction holds an amazing secret about what makes us grateful. I’m still trying to put my finger on it, but for now, let me just say I am grateful to be part of such an inspiring community.

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Stepping across the line

So yesterday’s gratitude challenge was to set sail from our comfort zones and in doing so, find a new source of gratitude. Let’s be frank: I hate leaving my comfort zone. When I do so, I suddenly become prone to nervous blushing, hand-wringing and playing distractedly with my hair.

When I sat down today in a room full of homeless people, I am embarrassed to say I experienced all of the above. The worst part of it is that I am a bleeding heart, help-everyone-I-can type of person. Yet I pretend to help from afar, rather than actually interact with those in need of my help. This is probably why I’m a fundraiser. I want to do my part, but I don’t want to get my hands dirty.

But today, I dove in. I spoke with these amazingly resilient people about their housing needs, the lack of mental health care available to them, and how we can make sure everyone has access to the food bank. Was I out of my comfort zone? Absolutely. Did I leave with a newfound sense of gratitude? You bet.

It wasn’t the superior breed of gratitude that I think is far too common. Not the “I’m grateful because I have more than they do” type. It was genuine thankfulness for getting to have real conversations with incredibly interesting people who have experienced challenges I will most likely never face myself, and therefore never learn from without their help. I felt not only gratitude, but privilege.

So many of us stay in our comfort zones. We walk the dog in our own neighborhood; we socialize with coworkers; we even read the books our book club decides on. But what happens when we step out of our little bubble? We realize everything we’re grateful for is only the tip of the iceberg. It’s just a hint of what else we can find out there.

Good luck with this week’s gratitude challenge, and I hope you feel as empowered as I did today!

48 hours of being grateful for gratitude

Oh-no-I-haven’t-written-in-two-days-and-I’m-so-sorry-and– Wait a minute. No I’m not.

How many of us have written this exact start to a post, only to realize that little break did a lot to refresh their writing and content? So today I’ll apologize for needing that break, for not being superhuman, because I really, really wish I were superhuman. What I won’t apologize for was taking that break, even though it did mean I missed engaging with my blogging community.

So what did I do in those two MIA days? I celebrated a coworker’s wedding, went out with friends, worked (a lot), and spent time with my parents and husband. These are all things to be grateful for, no question. Yet what I felt most grateful for during those 48 hours was the chance to approach life from a different perspective.

I’ve been in the gratitude mindset for over a month now, and believe me, it is an amazing mindset to be in. However, it’s pulled me away from my creativity mindset, my career mindset, and even my family mindset. Over the past two days I allowed myself to just be grateful. Gratitude was no longer an angle for a post, it just was

Tomorrow I’ll be back at my gratitude treasure hunt, but today, today I’ll just be grateful that I can feel gratitude.

Making up for lost time

My family received long-awaited news this afternoon: after months of prodding, my aging grandparents have finally decided to move to Montana. My grandfather is suffering from Alzheimer’s and my grandmother is nearly blind–not a good combination. So my initial reaction upon hearing the news was relief and a sense of victory. What can I say? I can turn anything into a competition, even the town in which my grandparents live.

And then I realized that their move here would bring more than just peace of mind knowing they were being cared for. It would also result in three generations of my family living in the same town, something that hasn’t happened in precisely two decades.

We moved to Idaho from Arizona when I was seven years old. My dad’s parents spent every summer with us in Idaho, so I’ve remained very close to them. I know all their stories about growing up, and could always count on my Nana to make me a coconut cream pie whenever I had a craving. My mom’s parents rarely came to visit, on the other hand. Not because they didn’t want to, they just weren’t in the same financial situation that allowed my paternal grandparents to travel so much. So we would see them once a year when we made the drive or flight to southern Arizona for spring break. Over the years, and as I grew up, I visited less and less frequently. A long weekend every two years or so. 

But in just a few short weeks, all that will change. I’ll get the opportunity to make up for lost time with them. I can’t wait to sit down with my grandmother and hear how she and her sisters would sneak out to go dancing. I can’t wait to hear my grandfather’s stories about being in WWII. 

I’m grateful for the chance to know my own history a little better, and grateful that I’ll get to make up for lost time.

Let’s act out

This evening I attended an awards ceremony for the local chapter of Business Professional Women (BPW), a women’s group (obviously) that focuses on various political, social and professional efforts in our community. The main part of the event was a “speak off” between the two finalists for the Young Careerist award.

The first got up and gave a very solid speech on how BPW has helped her grow as a person, both professionally and outside of work. Everyone cheered, and, quite honestly, I thought she would be the winner.

And then the second speaker took her turn. She talked about how, as the owner of her own small business, she had made a conscious decision to bring politics into her photography company. Her reasoning was simple: “There are so many politically-minded women and men out there whose employers strongly discourage any sort of activism, one way or another. I’m one of the lucky few who can say, ‘This is my business, my politics.’ I can have a voice.”

And she does. She absolutely does. Much of her photography revolves around those money makers–weddings, family portraits, senior pictures. But she makes a point to use her artistic abilities to lobby for what she believes in: marriage equality, a woman’s right to choose, and the fight for equal pay.

Listening to her speak, I felt myself nodding in agreement, not only with her values, but with her fortitude. She is an incredibly strong young woman. Looking around the room, I saw dozens more just like her. Me, I tend to be on the quiet side of the activism spectrum, though my beliefs are unwavering. I prefer to float along and keep everyone happy and at peace.

But tonight was different. Tonight I was grateful to be influenced by these amazingly unyielding, positively forceful women. To all you strong ladies out there, I’m taking notes.

Running to the pub

This St. Patrick’s Day, my town wore green, dressed up like leprechauns, drank Guinness, and… ran a half marathon. 

I cheered them on. There is no way anyone can convince me to run a race, especially anything over a 5K. So I filled up water cups, clapped, rang cowbells, and hollered encouragement to these thousands of runners who had committed their St. Patrick’s Day morning to running 13.1 miles to raise money for our local homeless shelter.

After my volunteer shift was over, I headed downtown to the finish line. Dozens of my friends were down there, and we all enjoyed a pint together while we waited to hear the winners announced.

Halfway through my Guinness came my gratitude source for today. The race director called up his fiancee, who just so happens to be the volunteer coordinator of the homeless shelter that was the race’s beneficiary. In years past, the race had raised one or two thousand dollars for local non-profits. However, the race was recently listed in Runner’s World magazine, causing interest (and therefore race registrations) to spike. 

“I’ve got a check here for this great local charity,” the race director said, reaching behind him for an oversized foam check. “Looks like you all stepped up this year, because it’s for ten grand.”

His fiancee burst into tears, happy, happy tears for everything that money could do for the homeless families her organization serves in our town. The crowd went wild, and at least half of us had happy tears swimming in our eyes as well.

So I’m grateful for Guinness and whiskey, sure. But I’m even more grateful to be part of a community that will run tens of thousands of combined miles to make sure everyone has a home.

Liebster Award Nomination

liebster-award

Wow! This is so exciting! I don’t have to look too far for a reason for gratitude today: it’s for all my readers who think I’m worthy of such awards, like Boarding Pass.

“Liebster” is German for “dearest”, and the awards are a fun way for bloggers to help each other out by cross-promotion.  Having just finished my first month of blogging, I’m thrilled to participate.

Here’s how it works:

1. Thank the Liebster Blog presenter who nominated you and link back to their blog.  Thanks, Boarding Pass

2. Post 11 facts about yourself, answer the 11 questions you were asked and create 11 questions for your nominees.  See below.

3. Nominate 11 blogs of 200 followers or less who you feel deserve to be noticed and leave a comment on their blog letting them know they have been chosen.  See below.

4. Display the Liebster Award logo.  See above.

Here we go!

11 RANDOM FACTS ABOUT MYSELF

1. I named my first cat Queen Priscilla Elizabeth. Then we took it to the vet and found out it was a male.

2. My senior year of college I decided to take 21 upper division credits. I think all the Red Bull I drank nearly killed me.

3. I decided I would move to Montana when I was 12 years old, came here for a wedding, and fell in love with the mountains.

4. Cheesecake. I will do anything for it.

5. I used to say I hated poetry. Well, that’s changed (see last three posts).

6. I also used to say I hated coffee. Again, see previous posts.

7. Pure Barre is my most recent obsession.

8. When I lived in Spain, I used to try to convince Spaniards that I was from Russia, France, anywhere that wasn’t English speaking. One time I convinced a guy I was French, and he began speaking French to me. I only answered, “Oui, oui,” to everything, as that’s the extent of my French language skills.

9. I usually spend an entire year planning a trip, because I love the anticipation so much.

10. My husband and I recently bought a Toyota Tundra, which makes me feel guilty due to its gas-guzzling nature, but I secretly love how giant it is.

11. I treat my dog, Bailey, as though he were my child. He gets stockings from Santa at Christmas, gets put in time-out if he’s naughty, and is regularly puppy sat by my mom.

11 QUESTIONS FROM BOARDING PASS

1. What’s your favorite thing about your hometown or where you currently live?

My favorite thing about my hometown is how unpretentious it is. Social status means zip there.

2. If you had to pick your last meal, what would it include?

It would include cheesecake (see above), chicken parmigiana, Caesar salad, sourdough bread, and a delicious pinot noir. Then I would probably just go into a food coma if I managed to eat all of that.

3. What’s the one item you can’t live without while on vacation?

Tough one! Hiking shoes.

4. Do you have a funny or embarrassing travel story when something didn’t go according to plans?

Oh I’m sure I do. Let me think on this one… When my parents were visiting me in Spain, we went to Sevilla where they speak a very hard to understand dialect. As my parents speak very little Spanish, I took the lead in making all our travel arrangements. However, when we got to the train station, the man could have been speaking Greek for all I could understand him. So I said (in Spanish), “Okay, great thanks, yeah, bye.” My dad looked at me and said, “So we’re all set?” I replied, “Let’s see if we can get tickets online.”

5. What’s your favorite movie?

Love Actually, hands down.

6. Do you prefer the window, aisle or center seat on an airplane?

Window seat, please!

7. What one famous person, living or deceased, would you like to have dinner with?

Seamus Heaney

8. How do you take your coffee?

In the form of an 8oz double shot latte.

9. What’s your favorite site, monument or place you’ve ever visited?

Ireland. All of it.

10. If you could teleport to any place in any era, where and when would it be?

The Elizabethan era in England. I would have loved to watch a Shakespeare play with, well, Shakespeare.

11. What’s the best travel advice you’ve ever gotten or could give someone?

Plan your trip well, but leave room for surprises!

MY 11 QUESTIONS

 1. At age 8, what did you want to be when you grew up?
2. Are you what you wanted to be at age 8?
3. Favorite piece of art in your home–describe, please!
4. Who or what encouraged you to start blogging?
5. What is the best meal you’ve ever cooked?
6. If someone came up to you tomorrow and said, “Here’s a plane ticket to wherever you want to go for the next month.” where would you go?
7. What is the best poem you’ve ever read?
8. When was the last time you stepped outside your comfort zone, and how did you do so?
9. If you had to live without coffee or wine, which would it be?
10. What is your favorite article of clothing you own, and why?
11. How do you relieve stress?
MY PICKS

Coming full circle, Part III

I stared at him, kneeling in the sand, holding a glittering diamond ring… and started laughing. I’m not talking a giggle. I’m talking a deep-bellied, whole-body-shaking, tears-streaming-down-my-face, LAUGH.

I had to sit down on a piece of driftwood to regain control. A yes squeaked out at some point, because soon he was placing the ring on my finger, causing even more laughter. Forcing myself to take deep breaths, I looked around us. We were sitting on the Flaggy Shore in County Clare, Ireland and it had all come full circle.

It had started with a poem, then took me to independence, and now was giving me the gift of complete and total happiness. This journey had been five years, two trips to Ireland, and countless readings of “Postscript” in the making.

My then-fiance, now-husband chose the Flaggy Shore very carefully as his spot to propose. He knew it was a place I had claimed as my own, but he wanted to share it. Not take it from me, but share it. It was also an important part of his own history, as his ancestors had immigrated to America from County Clare. So he knelt on one knee and endured my guffaws on that little stretch of coastline because he knew that marriage was about two histories coming together to create a new, combined history, a better history.

There have been only a handful of times in my life when I felt the universe was pointing me in one direction. As we walked back along the mostly deserted path, I experienced one of these instances. There was a woman ahead of us, walking a little brown and white dog. “Bingo!” I called. The dog stopped, cocked its head at me and trotted over.

“How did you know his name?” the woman asked.

“I met him a few years ago, when I was here for the first time. We walked together.” I felt tears, happy tears swim in my vision as I watched them walk away. Something about seeing that little dog again, my companion on my first journey to happiness, told me I had just embarked on another.

Every day I am grateful for the poem, the dog, the country, the shoreline, and the love that brought me full circle. And happy St. Patrick’s Day to you all!

Rainbow across the Burren

Coming full circle, Part II

Yesterday’s post was the introduction to a poem that has given me so much to be grateful for. Today, we’ll travel over to the Emerald Isle and  meet, for the first time, the physical manifestation of all that gratitude. I hope you enjoy, and come back tomorrow for the final chapter (thus far).

It was raining when I arrived at the Shannon Airport. Water clouded the windows and made the idea of leaving the airport’s shelter anything but appealing. Gathering my bags and zipping up my light jacket, I stepped through the automatic doors and into the misty rain. The puddles in the parking lot soaked my jeans as I hunted for the bus that would take me to Galway. I finally found it and climbed into its warm, dry interior. I was in Ireland and I had no idea where to start my search for the Flaggy Shore.

“And some time, make the time to drive out west,

Into County Clare, along the Flaggy Shore…”

Seamus Heaney’s poem, “Postscript” had lured me away from sunny Spain where I was studying, to the cold, damp Emerald Isle. I had been in Europe a month, attending a Spanish language school and struggling with the difficulties of being a foreign exchange student. Before leaving the U.S., I booked my ticket to Ireland with only a vague idea of what I would do once I got there. It was now the end of September and I was doing my best to make the time, as the poem suggested, to go west to County Clare and find the Flaggy Shore where I was promised I would discover a wild, glittering ocean, swans flocking to quiet lakes, and have an experience that would catch my heart off guard and blow it open. In short, I was looking to be inspired. Instead, I was soaked with rainwater and wondering what I was doing in this place that was foreign to me in every sense of the word.

After reaching my hostel in Galway, I found a map and examined every crevice of the country, searching for a sign of the Flaggy Shore. I came up with nothing. Sighing, I contemplated my options. I could either hope that the Flaggy Shore magically appeared on its own, or I could go looking for it, via a tour bus that would take me along the coast of County Clare. I figured that somewhere along the day tour I would run into the elusive piece of shoreline I had followed to Ireland. I booked my trip that same day and awoke early the next morning to catch the bus.

One of our first stops along the tour was at the Burren, or “rocky place.” In admiring the Burren, I saw a different version of what Heaney wrote about. Rather than the wind and light working off one another, I saw rocks and plants doing the same thing, making the landscape more beautiful by its opposing elements blended so harmoniously. Thankfully, though, I did find one piece of the poem’s picture of the Flaggy Shore: the grey lakes created by the stones. The Burren provided the perfect setting for small ponds to form after heavy Irish rains.

But my reliving of the poem ended there. By the day’s end, I had moved on to resignation. Maybe the Flaggy Shore and the essence of “Postscript” would forever escape me.

I tried to put my energies into focusing on the positive aspects of the trip: I was experiencing a new country, I was drinking Guinness in its homeland, I was meeting interesting people, I was being an independent woman, traveling by myself for the first time in my life. Still, I was feeling disappointed and filled my new journal with what I considered to be superficial travel notes. I viewed the absence of the Flaggy Shore in the leather-bound pages as a failure.

The next day I booked a hostel in Kinvara, a small village located in County Clare, a half hour’s drive south of Galway. I figured I might as well see a little more of the country while I was there.

Kinvara from across the bay

Kinvara from across the bay

The bus pulled into its stop in Kinvara and I descended. Not seeing the hostel on the main street, I asked a woman sweeping the sidewalk in front of one of the many pubs if she knew where it was. She told me the only hostel she knew of was about three miles up the road. I glanced at the heavy overnight bag uncomfortably slung across my shoulder, and inwardly groaned at the idea of hauling it more than a block or two. I went to a café and sat drinking coffee, considering my options. I asked the two girls working there if they had any suggestions for me, and they recommended I go to the grocery store across the street and ask if anyone was going towards my destination. I followed their advice, and a man and his young daughter offered to take me all the way to the hostel.

In typical Irish fashion, the man immediately began talking and asking me questions. I told him I was from Montana and he guessed that, being from Montana, I liked to take walks. Translating “walks” to “hikes”, I said, yes, I liked to take walks very much. “Well then you should try to make it over to the Flaggy Shore,” he told me. “It’s only about seven miles from where you’re staying.” My breath caught in my throat and it took every ounce of self-control I had to keep myself from yelling with joy. As calmly as I possibly could, I told him why I had come to Ireland. “Oh Seamus Heaney, yes, I know him,” he replied. “I went to law school at Harvard while he was a professor there.” This time, an excited squeak escaped me. I could not believe it. After giving up any hope of reaching the Flaggy Shore, this man had given me directions straight to it, and had provided me with a story to tell. I thanked him profusely and jumped out of his SUV the second we reached the hostel’s doorstep. I spotted swans flocking to a bay across the field, and smiled.

I dropped my bag off at the hostel, grabbed my camera, and started walking. I walked and walked, until I ran upon a small grocery store. “Excuse me, could you tell me how to get to the Flaggy Shore, please?” I asked the old woman behind the counter. Her response, given in the thickest Irish accent I had heard yet, was nearly unintelligible. From what I understood, I had to go to the main road, then turn right. I did so, but after about another hour of walking, my anxiety over the doubtful directions and the darkening sky coaxed me to stick out my thumb. I had never hitchhiked before and was a bit hesitant at first. Luckily, a nice German woman picked me up and dropped me off about fifty yards from the shore. I shouted my thanks back to her and practically ran to the sign that read, “Flaggy Shore.”

Flaggy Shore

I stood there for a moment, taking everything in. The grin on my face refused to go away as I strolled along the footpath. An elderly man and a dog were walking just behind me, and I started a conversation with the man. Giddy, I rattled off my entire story while he smiled and nodded along. He introduced the dog, Bingo, and told me Bingo loved to take walks with new people. The man walked ahead and Bingo became my fellow traveler along the Flaggy Shore. We stepped off the path and onto the rocks. I sat down to eat my lunch of Irish soda bread and Dublin cheese while Bingo sniffed around. I took in the stark landscape, rocky and gray. The glittering waves crashed against the rust-colored rocks and I scanned the pools for swans. Finally, my image of this stretch of coastline had a physical manifestation. It was subtler than I had imagined, with its colors hiding in the water and in the periodic rays of sunshine. There was no hint of the Irish green that had dominated the landscape up until this point. It was quietly barren, so different from everything else I had seen. This I realized, was why it deserved to be the subject of a great poem. Rather than creating yet another ode to the green Irish hillsides that would certainly be thrown in with all the other praises already sung to such a stereotypical landscape, Heaney had found the extraordinary, understated as it was. Sitting there, I felt the most content and complete I had ever felt in my life.

The following evening, I found myself once again at the Shannon Airport. My plane was not scheduled to leave until the following morning, but, due to a college student’s traveling budget, I had planned on sleeping in the airport. Curled up in a hard, metal seat, I reflected on how I had changed since my last visit, just six days earlier, to this same spot. It was nothing glaringly obvious. No life-altering decisions had been made. But I had changed, undoubtedly so. I burrowed under my blanket and dozed off with the sound of an Irish breeze and glittering waves playing in my mind, lulling me to sleep.