Tag Archives: gratitude writing

Aging Is On My Mind

My First Mentor, Joy Castro & Me, 2008

My First Mentor, Joy Castro & Me, 2008

Can it be possible that starting something new with dedication and passion bought me six additional years, perhaps a decade? I’m aware that writing, the ideas that bubble up, the challenge to shape the ideas into words, the deadlines, the hope for potential readers and response, all fuel my energy and engagement.

According to the opinion piece, Practicing for a Better Old Age, by Gerald Marzorati, in the May 1st issue of The New York Times Sunday Review, my keen interest in advanced training in the writing craft might have created the opportunity to slow my aging and nurture a longer growing season.

“Most of us get good early on at something that took time and devotion,” Mazorati writes. For him it was reading. For me, it was a toss up between reading and listening— a career in journalism or social work. Often, after school, I listened to Mom’s concerns about my brain-damaged little brother and her struggle as wife and Mom to maintain a normal household. I was proud to be her confidant. Two social group work mentors during adolescence affirmed my people skills and inspired my aspirations as a clinical social worker and psychotherapist. For years, I embraced my listening choice and took workshops to evolve and master my skillset. At sixty-six, I peeked.

In truth, I had come to a point where I needed to attend to my own story rather than the stories of others. As a late teen, I left behind the path of writing as a career but continued to write for myself. At the point of closing my therapy practice, I enrolled at the Solstice Creative Writing Program of Pine Manor College. At seventy-five, the return to school with much younger women and men was invigorating and daunting. The low residency program was hands on, involving the assignment of a mentor who would guide, read and give feedback to each and every manuscript of twenty-five pages of nonfiction writing every month.

Did it increase my longevity, my potential for a longer and healthier aging process? Both my writing and reading skills improved. I gained a community and a renewed sense of myself as a creative writer. I continue to feel energized and engaged; I am in the world and growing. People often take me for years younger.

The article offers no hard evidence of slow aging. Marzorati points to the effect of “the beauty of a disciplined effort at improvement…You seize time and make it yours.”

I have seized time and made it mine. At least for the time being, I have replaced the narrative of diminishment and loss with one of progress and bettering.

In 2008, I told my mentor, Joy Castro, “One day, I would like to master the art of the short essay.” I am grateful to have arrived at the opportunity to write this blog of shorts with the hope of more to come. Every day brings the promise of engagement in growth and bettering.







Another Birthday

One of Three Spirea, 2016

One of Three Spirea, 2016

The best part of a birthday in April is waking to warm air, a cardinal’s song, the steady green growth of hostas uncoiling, lily leaves fanning, Japanese ferns unfurling. Brown earth comes alive with possibility—plantings and weeds alike, nature does not discriminate. Everything grows.

I believe April inhabits my bones, the anticipation of light. All through winter, my body mimics the habit of bears. I hibernate— not in reality, for I go about my life, attend to the details, but I lack verve in waking. On dark, grey mornings, I drag. A week before daylight savings, the sun in the just-right ascension, a switch goes on. Bright mornings, I am up with energy.

This day, I am in full spring mode, grateful to be alive, strong in body and mind, able to write. Writing is a privilege; it challenges, enhances, feeds my growth. I began to write in adolescence, when emotions poured and fueled my pen. Writing became my balm, a way to sort and sift my adolescent angst. The sheer effort of outpouring— poems, letters never sent—transformed and contained my feelings.

I have always been grateful for my instinct to write. Mom went to business school and typed invoices for Dad. A large, black keyed Underwood typewriter sat on her desk; it was inviting. Around age eleven, I began to play at the typewriter much like I played piano— pushing the keys, enjoying the feel of something tangible emerging from my effort. Over time, I learned to type with two fingers just as I do now on my IMac.

Two years ago, on my 82nd birthday, I made the decision to begin a gratitude diary. The impetus was emotional—the fact of aging, coming out of a tough winter, the myths and realities of potential vulnerabilities, wanting to evolve into a more creative and grounded lifestyle. My first entry, I wrote the story of my birthday trip to Weston Nursery in Hopkington, the starting place of the Boston Marathon, to replace two winter-damaged daphne plants with three spirea.

“ It was a windy, cold, body-chilling day. The spirea plants were at the back of the property requiring a long walk in the rain. The woman waiting on me was reluctant in body and spirit— tired, worn down, as she described 8 years of work and the requirement to be present weekends and workdays all three growing seasons. She expressed little gratitude and I did not try to change her mind but listened with sympathy.

“I have five spirea in an embankment at home,” she said.

“Are they hearty? Do you like them?”

For an instance, there was the face of gratitude, a softness in the tightness of her jaw, the fatigue in her eyes at ease. “Yes, they flame out in spring and are fresh and green all summer and rust in fall.”

Her gratitude assured my choice. On this day in my garden, they flame anew.

I am grateful.






Mystery of the Lone Trillium

spring trillion, 2016

spring trillion, 2016

The unusual attracts me. Early spring, a decade ago, near the ugly-green propane tank where the soil is hard-packed and filled with rocks, a whorling shoot, small and tight, arrived in my garden.

Every fair spring day, I walk the circular flagstone path. The ritual is soothing and deliberate, a slow casting of my eyes to note every planting’s progress in this season of warming and growth. The shoot uncoiled, grew six inches in height and fanned out with three leaves, and a three petal, single flower. The plant’s flowing, mottled leaves, and maroon flower was magical and new.

Grateful for its arrival, I wondered about its name and how it had set root in my garden. I made descriptive notes in my garden book— not knowing that for the next decade, it would return each spring to send her shoot into light and invoke my wonder. She would stay three to four weeks, flutter with rain, until her flower and petals lost energy and died off. Her net-vein leaves remained for weeks until they, too, fell away.

Among naturalists, botanists and horticulturists, the trillium plant is highly noted and studied. During the third spring, a friend, a Ph.D. in Botany, said, It’s a trillium, a member of the lily family. A Trillium! The name was familiar. During the years we had a retreat house in Maine, Bert, a loquacious Maine waitress often regaled me with stories of her childhood and how she picked white trillium in the woods near my house. Although I followed her directions, I never found her white flowering patch.

I searched the literature to try to name and locate the origin of my six inch maroon-mottled trillium. It was not easy. Taller ones with different leaf structures abound in the Pacific Northwest and Michigan. Nearest I could come is Trillium sessile L. or Toadshade.

In researching the botany literature to understand how this plant found its way to my garden, I learned that trillium seed are spread and planted with the help of ants and mice. Trillium seeds can take months or years to germinate and can whither away at relocation.

The plant thrives best in soil with leaf mold, which provides a spongy growing environment. My soil is hard packed and gritty but apparently, somehow sufficient for just the one plant. Could it be because my property is located on a flood-plain and that there are pockets of moisture underneath? Thus far, it has not vined out except for last spring, when a twin emerged.

My trillium’s survival is still a mystery. The “experts” emphasize moist, woodland-compost-based locations and yet my woodland plant—spring after spring—presents her gift of perfect beauty in what appears to be a barren patch. This lone trillium visitor is a gift.  Perhaps, if I add compost, she will generate more sisters. For the present, I am grateful for just the one and in my mother’s words, It’s sometimes best to leave well enough alone.

Not So Foolish Worry


Post Storm Daffodil Bouquet

Post Storm Daffodil Bouquet

The third day of April, 2016, looks like, feels like, a January day. A winter storm blew in during the night— not the light and fluffy flakes of my recent Foolish-Worry post— but a wind driven, watery, stick-to-the pavement snow cover.

My effort at gratitude is fleeting. I worry for the baby tulips and flowering primrose shivering under the flower-pots I put down yesterday. I worry for the lily plants with nubile leaves and of course, the daffodils in full bloom matted down with ice. What will become of them?

By noon, the sun radiant, the lily leaves emerged, unharmed. The daffodils were barely visible, their necks bent, their blooms buried in snow. With gratitude, I watched a well-fed robin, fresh from a snow shower, pivot the plantings.

Mid-afternoon, I dressed for wind, wearing my purple fleece and snug-over-the ear cap. Pruners in hand, I clipped daffodil stems. I was gloveless and surprised at how cold the stems felt in my palm. Many of the blossoms, though frosted, were intact. Grateful, I gathered a bouquet of two-dozen to bring inside. Given that high winds and more snow were in the forecast for the next day, I savored them all the more.

The Alberta Express came through at night, bringing near freeze. At dawn, I checked the front garden from the second floor picture window. The picture was bleak. My garden was shrouded in snow.

It snowed all day long. April 4th might just have well been January 4th except for the yellow flashes of forsythia floating above snow puffs and the bud shapes outlined along tree branches. Yes, we have had similar storms in April. At my former residence, years ago, a magnolia in full bloom was severed by the wind. It recovered, thanks to good pruning. Twenty years ago, that storm seemed like an anomaly. My garden is teaching me otherwise. The warm winter, the frigid spring, the rapid temperature changes. This spring of 2016, so unusual and unpredictable, requires a different mind-set.

This was a week beginning with bare toes and flip-flops, which progressed to winter boots and snow gear. Bottom line, I get it. A little over a month ago, on February 22nd, the headline of The New York Times Science section read—“Seas Are Rising at Fastest Rate in Last Twenty Centuries.”

The article was casual in tone, but alarmingly specific in content. The Times wrote, “The finding are yet another indication that the stable climate in which human civilization has flourished for thousands of years, with a predictable ocean permitting the growth of great coastal cities, is coming to an end.”

I am grateful for the scientists who persist and are transparent in their findings. Denial is becoming less and less possible. As a gardener, I bear witness first hand. Yes, the daffodils survived as did most of the plants; but for how long? We can no longer avoid the presence of climate change or the need to do what we can to deter or remediate it.



The Discipline of a Gratitude Practice

The-Beach-At-Sainte-Adresse Claude Oscar Monet

Claude Oscar Monet

I find that gratitude is not a given. It needs to be courted and noticed to be experienced. Especially in this finger-pulsing, talky tech age, when speed and the Internet dominate our lifestyles, we need to consider alternative ways of being connected to our minds and hearts.

Consider an average day. If you are a doer like me, you fill your day with work, relationships, personal and home chores. How often do you give pause, take a deep breath and think or say aloud—I am grateful for….

More likely, you take a coffee break, check e-mail messages, text, call a friend or take a walk to get the Fitbit steps up. We pursue the tech rhythm—fast, quick, efficient, or so we believe. But what of the alternative— a conscious effort to step back, to pause and take a breath and reflect upon an event or experience which might elicit appreciation and bring lift to the spirit. For some, three deep breaths can engender thankfulness for what is given.

As a child, I was introduced to piano lessons at the tutelage of Miss Burke, a rigorous and proud New England Conservatory graduate who lived and taught in a studio apartment in Portland’s Longfellow Square. A dutiful student, I practiced an hour daily, arrived at her studio once a week, nervous to please and show competence. Miss Burke was strict about what made for good performance. All these years later, I am grateful for the lessons of discipline and its ability to harness and define a space and time for practice.

During my 82nd year, I initiated a daily writing practice in a gratitude journal. The first few months, I felt like a novice, reminiscent of my beginner self at seven years, approaching the notes of gratitude just as I did piano music, substituting the pen for the keyboard, practicing the felt sense of gratitude.

Nowadays, my sense of gratitude flows more easily, imbedded as a result of a year of writing. Of course, I sometimes need to pause, to prompt my mind, to scan my day, to consider the question— perhaps, with a list as I did last night after a too-full day. The challenge to recall and name each event helped me to focus and reflect on the event’s meaning and its effect.

When gratitude arrives spontaneously, in the moment, a sense of warmth and excitement ripples my gut. I literally say to myself—I am grateful to have you arrive—my signal to pause, to stop the action, to take note of the whole experience— such as how a friend’s intuitive comment resonates, causing me to feel less alone or how I attune to the seashore’s calling at  the scenic edge of Monet’s painting, The Beach at Saint Adresse.

The sense of gratitude is deeply personal and can be deeply felt. It must be noted, experienced and appreciated to become a daily practice. To know it is to hold it.



Rebel Rudbeckia


IMG_Y. Rudbeckia1096

Two days before Thanksgiving, a lone black-eyed rudbeckia, surrounded by dead stalks and fallen leaves, blooms in my front garden. I bend into it and smile. November, west of Boston, I check the frost warnings with hope that my pint-sized yellow friend will beat the odds. I am uneasy in my selfish wish for nurturing temperatures given the wider implications of global warming.

Do I feel guilty for the enjoyment? Yes and no. This time last year, I wrote, “a warm day, in the 60’s, a fantastic day for gardening, my body seemed fluid, bent and moved with ease as I cut back most of the perennials.” No ambivalence in that note.

The late bloomer inserted itself between two large stones at the tip of the small pond. The full sun location, next to the front steps, is prime. All the surrounding garden plants, in lock step, died off while this rebel’s blossom invited me to check daily as to whether or not it would birth open.

Late fall in the Northeast; it is unusual to find a late spring perennial growing as if the season were just beginning. How could I not be taken with its sweet youth and wonder at the possibility of how long it would withstand the frequent dawn frostings?

I kid you not; I root for this rebel, take pleasure in its steadfastness. Yet, to experience pleasure makes me uneasy given that I am rooting for more temperate days for its growth and yes, my own selfish nurturance. The connection to this black-eyed sprout helps to sustain me during the autumn of my life when many dear friends are suffering from falls and terrible diagnosis. I am grateful for my sturdiness and ability to share what warmth I can, to try to ease their challenges.

Thanksgiving arrives in two days. 60-degree weather is predicted. I have no control over the air currents or their trajectory just as I have no control over who thrives. What I know is that I will join friends and family to give thanks around my daughter’s table for my bountiful connection to family, friends and to this earth.

Through daily gratitude writing, I have learned to notice and engage with the immediate relationships in my life, be they human, animal, plant or mineral. To attend is to be mindful and caring of another. The very act fuels the possibility of meaningful connection. I am grateful to share the story of my sprouting rudbeckia with the hope that whatever moves you as the solstice descends will be shared in meaningful ways.