Tag Archives: Gratitude

June 17 – The Subversive Needle

by Sara Etgen-Baker

Once upon a time (and not so long ago), I spent my summer vacations with my Aunt Betty. She was a non-traditional, career-minded, single woman in the ’50s who each morning ventured off to work at the nearby Western Union office.

“Don’t go outside until I get home,” she emphatically said, leaving me alone to while away the hours as best I could. She didn’t own a television so I occupied myself reading her books and magazines, playing her 33 1/3 rpm records, and listening to such greats as Glen Miller, Rosemary Clooney, Frank Sinatra, Ella Fitzgerald, and Perry Como.

“You’re wearing out my records,” she told me one day. You need something else to do.”

Off we went to the local five and dime store where she purchased a set of seven bleached feed sack towels, skeins of colored embroidery thread, embroidery needles, and a package of hot iron transfers. We returned to her tiny crackerbox house, where we cut out the transfers and positioned them on the feed sack towels. Using her steam iron we pressed the transfer for 30 seconds until it magically appeared on the fabric.

“Wah-lah!” she exclaimed. “Now you can embroider while I’m at work.”

And so I did, lost in choosing the color of thread, embroidering the design, and making the pattern come alive. During my time with her, I created seven towels–one for each day of the week that represented the agreed upon prescribed daily duties for women of the time. Monday: Wash Day; Tuesday: Ironing Day; Wednesday: Sewing and Mending Day; Thursday: Go to Market Day; Friday: Clean House Day; Saturday: Baking Day; Sunday: Day of Rest (or church attendance).

I loved embroidering from the start, for it not only allowed me to occupy my mind and fill the time, but it also allowed me to express my creativity. I still have many of the pieces I completed that summer and the summers afterward.  When I look at them and think back to those summers spent at my aunt’s house, I realize that embroidering also taught me how to be a feminist.

What?” you say. “How could embroidering, a seemingly negative symbol of traditional femininity, sweetness, passivity, and obedience, provide the skills and qualities necessary for a feminist?”

Femininity and sweetness are part of a woman’s strength, but passivity and obedience are the very opposite qualities necessary to make a sustained effort in any type of needlework. What’s required is a host of physical and mental skills; fine aesthetic judgment in color, texture, and composition; disobedience of convention; creative expression; assertive individuality (in design and application); as well as patience and determination.

I doubt my aunt knew just how subversive the embroidery needle, hoop, and threads could be. With them, she inadvertently created in me a mindset that would serve me as I grew into womanhood and became an ardent feminist. I am grateful for her and for all I learned while using a simple embroidery hoop, a needle, and skeins of colorful threads.

A teacher’s unexpected whisper, “You’ve got writing talent,” ignited Sara’s writing desire. Sara ignored that whisper and pursued a different career but eventually, she re-discovered her inner writer and began writing. Her manuscripts have been published in anthologies and magazines including Chicken Soup for the Soul, Guideposts, Times They Were A Changing, and Wisdom Has a Voice.

April 29 – Inner Landscapes

by Ariela Zucker

“Life is like a landscape. You live in the midst of it but can describe it only from the vantage point of distance.” Charles Lindbergh

On the road to my daughter’s home, this morning, I drive by the river. I look at its shimmering blue, now that it got freed from the winter ice hold. I never lived by a river, I never woke up to look at its slow up and down movement, how the changes of the seasons are reflected in the water’s color and flow. I never lived next to the ocean in proximity that enabled me to listen to the waves break on the shore and watch the white foam unfurl on the sand, then backwash. But I did live in the desert and was captured by its palate of colors and desolate beauty, and for a short time, I lived at the foothills of the Rocky mountains and savored the infinite sea of green.

I easily connect to symbols and metaphors that originate in the world of natural scenes and concrete landscapes. A mountain, a stream, the ocean, the vast unending desert, they go right into me and stir up the words. The external landscapes evoke an intense resonance inside me. Often, they revive images long forgotten, and with that, they bring in their wake a sense of ambivalence that never leaves me and going back and force between two homelands just makes it stronger.

The air in one feels so soft around me, the sounds, the smells, and the colors familiar and with the people who knew me from the day I was born I share a common history, going back thousands of years. But most of all it is the language; that wraps around me caressing, accepting, signaling “here you are never foreign.”

Then I think about the soft snow cascade of white, and the spring eruption of colors. The luscious green of the warm summer days and the blazing reds of fall.

Which of these landscapes is mine, which one reflects on my life? Where is my vantage point of distance? The one that will enable me to see my life with clarity and precision? Or perhaps I am the lucky one. For a few months each year I get to change my distance and with this change alter my vantage point of view. As a writer, I get to describe that point of view in words.

Ariela Zucker was born in Israel. She and her husband left sixteen years ago and now reside in Ellsworth Maine where they run a Mom and Pop motel. This post originally appeared on her blog at Paper Dragon.

November 19 – Enough

by Sara Etgen-Baker

Eddie, Pop, Dave & Mom

I awoke to the familiar sound of dishes rattling in Mother’s kitchen and to the thick scent of coffee wafting through the air. I glanced out my bedroom window; the neighborhood was lit by the first rays of the day shining through a thin layer of gray clouds. The trees, no longer their virescent hues of spring and summer, were scarlet, gold, and copper. Mesmerized, I watched the leaves fall off the trees gently swaying in the November wind. A sigh rose in my throat as I thought about what was lacking that Thanksgiving Day.

I joined Mother in the kitchen, mildly curious about the Thanksgiving brunch she’d planned for us at an undeveloped park outside of town. Instead of cooking the usual Thanksgiving fare, Mother prepared a thermos of hot cocoa for my brothers and me and another thermos of coffee for her and Father.

“This will be fun, sweetie. Wait and see.”

I smiled, covering up my disappointment, and helped Mother pack a box with the utensils she’d need; a cast iron skillet, tin plates, charcoal briquettes, matches, a spatula, and two wooden spoons. Father loaded the box into his truck while my brothers and I clambered into the truck bed. He pumped the gas pedal several times until his cranky jalopy sputtered into action.

On the way to the park, Father pulled into the parking lot of a local grocery store; through the rear windshield, I watched my parents cull through their pockets, the seat cushions, and the glove box gathering all the loose change they could find. “This should be enough,” Mother said in a thrilled voice. She scurried out of the truck and emerged minutes later, smiling with two dozen eggs, a pound of bacon, and a small loaf of bread in her arms.

Once at the park, my brothers and I bolted from the truck, frolicking in the leaves as we ran along a pathway that led to an old abandoned farmhouse. While they explored the farmhouse, I sat on a log; closed my eyes; and took in all the crisp autumn air my lungs could hold slowly expelling it. In the distance, I heard Father whistling and Mother singing as they fried bacon and eggs over a crackling fire, seemingly oblivious to the fact that our grim financial situation prevented us from celebrating Thanksgiving as we always had with turkey, dressing, and all the trimmings.

“Come and Get It!”

“Come and get it,” Mother hollered. We dashed toward them and sat on the ground, warming our hands on the open fire. Mother scooped fried eggs and bacon onto our tin plates. “Let us give thanks, for we have enough,” Father said, his face beaming.

“Enough?!” I looked down at the meager amount of food on our plates, my eyes misting with tears.

What a blessing hearing that word was, for acknowledging enough squelched my expectations; diminished my disappointment; and helped me realize that enough is at the core of gratitude and Thanksgiving.

A teacher’s unexpected whisper, “You’ve got writing talent,” ignited Sara’s writing desire. Sara ignored that whisper and pursued a different career but eventually, she re-discovered her inner writer and began writing. Her manuscripts have been published in anthologies and magazines including Chicken Soup for the Soul, Guideposts, Times They Were A Changing, and Wisdom Has a Voice.

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February 6 – A Mystical Birthday Gift

by Mary Jo Doig

butterfly1

In the early morning hours of my birth day, yesterday, I woke embraced in total darkness and thought of my mother exactly 74 years earlier. I knew her labor was quite prolonged and so I knew now, at 3am, she and I still had seven hours and 21 minutes ahead in the birthing task before us. As in that time nearly three-quarters of a century ago, I was surrounded by this same total darkness within her body. In addition, I would have been moist, too, enclosed in a water environment much like all my swims later in life in the ocean, the bay, and the sound off the shores of Long Island.

An unexpected fact rose into my thoughts: I’ve always been a rather fearful swimmer and in this moment of astonishing, fragile connection between two worlds seventy-four years apart, I question: was I fearful then? Of course, an instant response said silently, you must have felt terrified by being slowly pushed and squeezed forward into an unknown world ahead. Had some of that fear translated into the fearful child I had become? It could be so. Or not. The answer did not arrive; perhaps it was not even important.

My thoughts returned to the wonder of the moment, an experience unlike any I’d ever experienced. Gratitude to my mom for giving me life rose within and gently filled all the spaces of my heart. I thought of all her labor: my birth, and all the tasks that followed in raising her first child. I was not an easy child to raise; our relationship wasn’t always smooth although, eventually, we did work through many of our conflicts toward the end of her 89 years with us. Yet, when she died, although I’d worked before and in years after to remove it, sadly one relentlessly immovable brick remained in the inner wall I had carried through the years.
Nevertheless, in the still-dark and mystical early morning of my birth day, I knew that my 74th birthday had opened with a profound gift of grace. At the end of the day I knew that grace had filled each moment of the day.

~~~

Today, as I write about those mysterious moments, I find the gratitude that filled and softened my heart yesterday morning remains. Then it occurs to me to search for that final stubborn, persistent brick that weighed me down for decades. Today, though, I discover with joy that I cannot find it; it has disappeared forever, I hope.

I am intensely humbled and at peace with the gracious gifts I received yesterday. My favorite word, shalom, slides into my thoughts, filling them with each of the rich, diverse affirmations it gives: peace, harmony, wholeness, completeness, prosperity, and tranquility. I wish each of you, dear reader, an abundance of these same gifts.

Mary Jo Doig, a Story Circle Network member for fifteen years, is an avid reader, writer, quilter, knitter, gardener, cook, editor, and blogger. She lives in a small, eclectic town in Albemarle County, Virginia where she has an exquisite mountain view from her writing room window.

December 21 – Giving Thanks

by Doris Jean Shaw

So Thanksgiving is over and you think the season for giving thanks is over.
Wrong, it has only begun.

Each morning, I thank the Lord that I can get out of bed. Every night, I thank the Lord that He helped me through the day. I try to remember to thank God for all the blessings He sends my way.

When my grandchildren do something cute I thank God that they are part of my life. As my two celebrate an accomplishment or pass a milestone I give thanks for the guidance that has gotten them this far.

In Hebrew, there is no word that means “to thank”. The closest is one that means “public acknowledgement”.

Give thanks to the Lord. I know you have something in your life to give thanks for but do you remember to do it?

Doris Jean Shaw
Doris Jean Shaw is a Life Coach, retired educator, and author. She loves to write about her travels, along with children’s stories and devotionals.

December 14 – Emergency Turkey

by Kayann Short

Kayann Turkey

The day before Thanksgiving, I finished setting the table in our farm’s community room for the next day’s feast. On the way back to the house, I stopped in the barn to check on the 30-pound turkey in the barn fridge, the only cold place large enough to hold it. Truthfully, we didn’t need a 30-pound turkey, but somehow my order ended up in the “extra large” category. I wasn’t even sure it would fit in our oven, not to mention having to get up an hour earlier to give those extra five pounds time to roast.

I opened the barn fridge door, expecting the top shelf to be full of turkey. The shelf was empty. The second and third shelves (too small for the turkey anyway) were empty. I even looked in all the fridge drawers and door shelves where a 30-lb turkey obviously could not hide. I looked all over the barn, thinking John had left the turkey out accidentally. I even looked back in the fridge again to be sure I wasn’t overlooking something. Still no turkey.

What to do but go ask John if he’d brought the turkey in the house. No. So where’s the turkey? Then I remembered it was Wednesday, the day the food pantry people come for the veggies we donate to community families every week. Every Tuesday, I send an email to the friend who picks up our veggies to tell her what we have. I looked back at that week’s email and saw that I had mentioned the turkey on the top shelf because I needed to let her know the veggies were on the second shelf this week. Re-reading the note, I realized that she must have sent someone else for the pick-up. Even though the turkey part of the message was vague, I knew she would never have interpreted it to mean “take the turkey.” On the other hand, someone less familiar with our arrangement certainly could think a turkey donation accompanied the vegetables.

Since the pantry was closed for the day, I tried to contact my friend but couldn’t reach her. Now the need for logistics took hold. It wasn’t that we minded the turkey having gone to the pantry, but we still needed a turkey—and it was 4 PM the day before Thanksgiving. Would we really be able to find an organic turkey at this late hour?

John jumped in the truck while I called a local store to reserve a turkey—hopefully. Yes, they had an organic turkey—21 pounds, which was plenty—and they’d hold it for him. When John got home, he said everyone in the meat department had a good laugh about our “donation.”

I was glad, in fact, not to cook that big turkey. We had plenty at our Thanksgiving meal, with most of it—potatoes, leeks, squash, onions, carrots, beets, herbs—grown on our own farm. Seated by the wood stove as the snow fell gently outside, we thought about all the Thanksgiving dinners including something from Stonebridge, from vegetables on the table to the wine we’ve grown and vinted—to the turkey in the barn fridge. We laughed at the gift of a good story with which to remember this very Thanksgiving, a reminder of gratitude for all we have and can share. For this and so much more, we are thankful.

Kayann Author Photo

Kayann Short is an SCN Star Blogger and the author of A Bushel’s Worth: An Ecobiography (Torrey House Press), an award-winning memoir of reunion with her family’s farming past and call to action for farmland preservation today. See kayannshort.com for more on her writing workshops and retreats at Stonebridge Farm and follow her at pearlmoonplenty.wordpress.com.

book cover

August 6 – Retreat

by Linda Hoye

Canning Soup

Once a year my husband goes on a salmon fishing trip with a few of his friends. It’s as much of a pleasure for me as it is for him. While he looks forward to fishing and fellowship, and anticipates the salmon, halibut, and crab he’ll bring home, I look forward to time at home replenishing my soul with silence, simplicity, and solitude.

In recent weeks I’ve been planning how I wanted to spend these precious days. I decided that this year I would have a writing retreat and get back to a piece of work I started on last year. I’ve been rereading my outline, making notes, thinking about the premise of the story, and planning where I wanted to take it. I felt inspired and eager to spend a few days with no commitment but to write.

I’m the type of person who likes to make a plan and follow through with it. No one could accuse me of being carefree and spontaneous on a regular basis. So, it was with mixed feelings when I decided to buy fifty pounds of tomatoes, twenty-five pounds of peaches, and twenty-five pounds of pickling cucumbers yesterday–the day before Gerry was leaving, the day before my personal writing retreat was scheduled to begin.

As Gerry hefted the large boxes of produce onto my kitchen counter so I could survey the bounty and snap a photograph I understood that I would spend the next few days, not working on my novel, but in the kitchen canning fruit and vegetables. I realized that I would fall into bed at the end of the days bone weary, with sore feet and a sore back, and that I would sleep well. I knew that I would spend my time creating canned goods instead of chapters.

In reality my plans changed as soon as I saw the flyer showing the produce on sale at the green grocer.  Perhaps it was because the course change was my own doing; or maybe it was because I might be as passionate about canning as I am about writing; whatever the reason I was out of bed before dawn this morning bidding farewell to my husband and chopping tomatoes, eager for my counter-tops to begin filling up with jars full of canned soup. The change of plans didn’t bother me in the least.

As I write this I’m tired and my feet are sore. Maya, my Yorkie, looks at me from her bed across the room with a look that seems to ask why we didn’t get to spend much time outside today. Ah, but there are eighteen quarts and thirteen pints of tomato soup on my kitchen counter, I’m thinking ahead to tomorrow’s canning plans. And I am writing.

It seems I will be able to have both–a writing retreat and a canning retreat—after all. Bliss.

meLinda Hoye is a writer, editor, adoptee, and somewhat-fanatical grandma who recently retired from a twenty-five-year corporate career. She lives in British Columbia, Canada with her husband and their doted-upon Yorkshire Terrier and finds contentment in her kitchen, at her writing desk, behind her camera, and in her garden. She is the author of Two Hearts: An Adoptee’s Journey Through Grief to Gratitude and blogs at A Slice of Life.