Confession time: I’ve never been great at keeping a journal. Just not my thing, even though I am a writer. But for more than a year and a half I’ve been keeping a gratitude journal.
I started out doing something called the examen which had its roots in The Spiritual Exercises by St. Ignatius. The gist of it is that at the end of the day, you write down the moment you are most grateful for as well as the moment you are least grateful for. The former cultivates gratitude, the latter awareness of possible patterns in life and areas that might need to be addressed.
After six months of doing the examen, I decided to change the way I spent those few moments in reflection. I simply wrote down what I was grateful for that day. Not that I ignored the bad or pretended it didn’t exist, just that I chose to focus on the positive.
What I have noticed from this little daily exercise is that slowly but surely, it is shaping my perspective. I am more optimistic. I am more content. I complain less. I am more in tune with the hundreds of blessings all around me in my day-to-day existence. I am more careful to choose my words because I truly believe they direct the course of my life.
Keeping a gratitude journal need not be difficult. First, choose a journal that you like. (Mine is pictured above with my favorite coffee mug.) My friend Patty bought me this beautiful leather-bound journal with a tree embossed on the cover and a bead and leather strap to secure it. I love the way it looks. It’s so me.
Next, decide how you will go about keeping your gratitude journal. Maybe you like the idea of the examen or simply jotting down something you are thankful for every day, as I do. Or maybe the thought of doing this daily feels like one more thing on your to-do list. Setting aside some time once a week might work better for you, then. Whatever you decide, I would suggest that you don’t beat yourself up over any missed days. It’s not about leaving a perfect record for every day or choosing a specific number of items you will list. The point of this practice is to change your attitude. Perfection has nothing to do with it.
Finally, choose a time of day that best works for you. Typically I will review the previous day the following morning, though not always. If something that morning occurs to me, I write it down. I have no set amount of items to list. Often I do about three, but I have listed anywhere from one to half a dozen. There are no rules, unless you make them.
Try it for yourself. You might be pleasantly surprised by your changed outlook!
I lost a good friend to cancer last week—Andrea Heiberg. Having no sisters of my own, I called her my Danish sister. We met about ten years ago when she found my editing website. She’d been looking for an American editor to help her realize her dream of writing in English—her second language. While the initial book we worked on together was never published, a collection of her short stories was—Next Stop: Sejer Island. It’s a great book, by the way.
Our friendship grew from our working relationship, and we often shared pictures and stories from our lives. We discovered that we’d both been raised on a farm and had a similar appreciation for the little things in life. And while I’ve worked with other foreign writers, there was this connection between us that’s hard to explain. Language was rarely a barrier. We just seemed to get each other.
Andrea was an amazing poet, and it’s sad for me to think no one will ever see most of hers. I’d like to share two of them today because she wrote one of them for me, and the other she entered in a contest I held years ago on my editing website.
This first poem, which won my contest, she wrote as a tribute to American service men on Veteran’s Day.
The Grass is Green
and whatever sky,
I tell you
I saw it
with my own eyes
I met my roadside
I heard no birds
She wrote this poem from one farm girl to another.
The Stable Minute
The dim light,
the sound of 68 cows,
the smell so clinical clean,
the sound of the machine
animals lined up chewing
and Dad working hard to keep us all alive
saying good morning
in her cow language
and me saying the same
teaching her to speak properly.
Andrea, I will miss your friendship, your wonderful sense of humor, and your amazing words. See you later, my dear sister!
Little Red Wagon
Every kid of that generation
Little red wagon
Made of sturdy metal
great for hauling:
You don’t see those
flyers much anymore.
Today’s wagons are plastic,
soft edges, soothing colors.
They don’t make kids or wagons
the way they used to.
“I have always imagined that Paradise will be a kind of library.”
Jorge Luis Borges
So I like having simple meals. The fact that this one is a quick four-ingredient recipe makes it ideal. This is a Friday night staple in our house. Mine is low carb, but yours doesn’t have to be if that’s not your thing. It starts with a tortilla or flatbread, marinara or spaghetti sauce from a jar, shredded cheese, and those sliced pepperonis in the lunchmeat section of the store. Beyond that, toppings are cook’s choice.
–1 low carb tortilla or flatbread (I use Aldi’s store brand Fit and Active original flatbread)
–2 – 3 tablespoons of marinara or spaghetti sauce
–12 slices of pepperoni
–1/3 cup of pizza cheese (I use this wonderful cheese originating in St. Louis called “provel.” Amazing stuff!)
–a little olive oil for the flatbread
Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Apply a thin coating of oil to both sides of the flatbread, place on a baking sheet lined with parchment or aluminum foil, and bake in the oven for 5 – 7 minutes until slightly brown and a little crispy. Spread marinara on flatbread to the edges and layer pepperoni slices on top. Sprinkle cheese over that and slip back into the oven for 8 – 10 minutes until the cheese starts to brown. Enjoy!
Notes: You can use regular flatbread or a tortilla for a base. For a softer crust, skip baking the flatbread alone and go right to putting on the toppings and baking the pizza. I sometimes put mushrooms and onions on the pizza. If sliced thin, they’ll cook or you can briefly microwave them to soften before layering on the pizza. Pre-cooked sausage is also good on these.
When I was a kid, I heard a lot about old-timers. The old-timers say never plant garden before May 15. The old-timers say lard makes the best pie crust. The old-timers say a bargain isn’t a bargain unless you need it. . . .
I’d see them everywhere, these old-timers. Farm supply stores. The old mercantile with the floors that creaked. County fairs and festivals. A bench in the shade on Main Street. They were our sages. Weathered. Seasoned. These men and women connected us to wisdom from another day. Sound, practical, downright stubborn advice in the face of everything modern.
I remember being in awe of these folks, particularly when they took a moment to notice me. Sometimes a pat on the head. Other times a simple “You must be Gary and Ann’s girl.”
Old-timer sightings are rare these days. Like passenger pigeon rare. Why is that? Underappreciated? Micro-managed from well-meaning family members or the “it’s for your own good” crowd? Less welcome in the market place?
What does that say to our children and grandchildren? I realize kids are busy these days, with schedules rivaling a CEO, but it seems to me we’re losing something valuable. Old skills, practical solutions. Tried and true remedies. Connection to those who have gone before us.
I propose we do something different. Try talking to the voices of experience. Ask a simple question. Start with relatives and neighbors. Folks from church. Plenty of gold to be mined there.
God willing, we’ll be old-timers someday.
Do you have a special old-timer story to share? Leave me a comment.
Related posts: Washin’ the Old Way
Walking past headstones at Wounded Knee,
I am tourist for the day.
Watching names rise from the parched earth,
planted back in the sorrowful season—
No Ears, Yellowbird, Her Many Horses . . .
Death grows well in the little cemetery on the hill,
where prairie grass struggles to breathe,
and trees never do achieve a graceful height.
An Indian stops by with an offering.
The wind sifts and carries the dust of his ancient song to the dead,
through granite and ground, back to bone.
His song resonates, sticks in my Adam’s rib,
catches hold of my breath.
And I stand, head bowed in Sunday reverence,
waiting for the benediction.
A moment later we turn to go—
him to his Chevy,
me to my compact—
Each to his own America.
I’m sending a shout out to my home–sharing my Midwest love. Missouri, specifically. No, it’s not flyover country. While some people see it as the space between the coasts, it is my beloved home, and I’m fiercely proud of it!
I love living in a rural area, and small town life suits me well. Our values are different here, a little more Good Book oriented, but I won’t apologize for that. Most of us are content with the everyday blessings that cross our paths: A warm, fresh breeze scented with something floral. Trees blooming in shades of pink and white. A laugh shared with my spouse. A spicy, hot cup of orange pekoe. Just a few of my blessings du jour.
Days like these I feel invigorated. Glad to be alive. Happy to be here. Fortunate to be living this life on the land I love.
They tore the old chicken house
down the other day.
A place I’d known for always.
The chickens left not long
after Grandpa did.
(Not by choice, he died.)
But the name stuck through
years and seasons.
It has held a variety of things:
Rusting motors, tomato cages,
buckets of nails, vet meds, old boards,
even calves, from time to time,
when space was in short supply.
It’s amazing how empty
the landscape now looks.
Brushed clean of all
Even the tree,
once hidden behind it,
looks a little lost.
I have a confession to make. While the kitchen is generally a place of warmth and comfort, I have a love-dislike relationship with cooking. Mostly I welcome the creative outlet. I like trying new recipes and doing a riff off an old favorite. Other times I resist the urge to run screaming from the room when Hubs asks, “What’s for supper?” I think it’s the “cooking on demand” aspect that’s a turnoff.
For times like these when I must come up with something and I don’t feel like spending hours in the kitchen, I have a few faithful standbys. Today I share one with you: Roasted Chicken Thighs.
Roasted Chicken Thighs
serves 2 – 4
–4 frozen chicken thighs bone in and with skin
–2 – 4 tablespoons of chilled bacon grease (keep it in the fridge ’til it becomes solid)
–seasonings: salt, pepper, onion powder, and garlic powder
Preheat oven to 375. Take the frozen thighs and place them in a baking pan skin side up, not overcrowding them. (A 9 x 13 would work well.) Smear bacon grease over the top and sides of them. Season with salt, pepper, onion and garlic powders to taste. Place thighs in the oven and roast until the skin is golden brown, approximately 80 – 90 minutes.
Notes: I have used thawed chicken thighs and grease drippings from my morning bacon, and it will work (adjust baking time accordingly), but what makes the frozen thighs and chilled bacon grease work so well is that the grease sticks to the meat longer, resulting in a crispy skin with all that bacon-y goodness. When serving, I spoon some of the pan drippings over my meat for even more flavor.
Ovens vary widely, and if yours tends to run hotter than most, you might start checking about an hour into cooking time.
For a side dish, I sometimes add frozen green beans in the pan, roughly halfway through the cooking. I hasten to add I like my green beans cooked thoroughly. No crunch for me! A fresh garden salad works equally well for a side.
Sorry I have no pictures to go with the recipe. At a later date I will repost and do it proper. If you give it a try, leave me a comment.
Like this simple meal? You might also enjoy 4-Ingredient Simple Pizza.