Shelley Widhalm

Archive for the ‘Thanksgiving’ Category

The Gratitude Tree (with Some Writing Advice)

In Being Thankful, Gratitude Tree, Thanksgiving, Writing, Writing Advice on November 25, 2018 at 6:00 pm

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The Gratitude Tree is a great exercise to figure out what makes you thankful by placing leaves on the metal branches.

Each year, my family and I write on cutout leaves what we’re thankful for and put them on the Gratitude Tree.

The tradition, in its third year this year, is something we do at my mother’s assisted living facility during the Thanksgiving noon meal of the traditional fare of turkey, the sides and pumpkin pie. The volunteer director of activities greeted the 75 people in the room Nov. 22 and asked them to write down one thing but to choose something that isn’t obvious like family or friends. She gave us a half-hour while we started eating and then walked around the room holding up the Gratitude Tree, a metal centerpiece with wire branches, which we filled with the leaves.

I had to think, because my obvious ones are family, friends, writing and having a job. I also love coffee and had put that last year, along with my dog, Zoey, my apartment and my business, because we weren’t limited to just one leaf, and I took four of the leaves left in a small pile on our table.

Starting the Day with Gratitude

We started eating, and I couldn’t think of what to put that isn’t obvious. I thought about how I start my day—with running and drinking coffee—and how both give me energy as my happy kick starters.

I run to boost my metabolism and get rid of my pain—I have fibromyalgia—and I drink coffee for the caffeine rush and mental stimulation. In other words, I’m thankful I don’t have to take medication and can use exercise as treatment, and I have coffee to look forward to once I’m out the door and started with my day. Both serve as a form of motivation to get going and part of my going is writing.

My mom wrote, “The first sip of coffee in the morning,” saying she likes the taste and how it gets her going, too. My brother, Brian, put Mountain Dew, because that’s how he gets his energy boost. For my brother’s wife, it’s “Music and Movies.”

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My family poses in front of the Gratitude Tree. From left are my sister-in-law, Kim, my brother, Brian, my mother, Mary, and me, Shelley Widhalm of Shell’s Ink Services.

I saw from the activity that I have a deeper level of thankfulness—I, too, work on daily gratitude and repeating my list of things that give me a thankful pause.

Reflecting on what makes us thankful is incredibly important for positive mental health. Writing out that gratitude is helpful and a great reminder when negative thoughts interrupt and dampen the holidays or the start of a day. I like to run toward positivity full of energy, filling my writing cup.

If you like to write, what do you love about writing?

Thankful for Writing

Here are a few reasons I’m thankful for writing. Writing is a way to:

  • Have a hobby or job that results in a physical product.
  • Be creative, even for a few minutes or a few hours.
  • Express yourself and figure out what you really think or feel about something.
  • Make connections with memory or experiences that you might not otherwise make by thinking or talking.
  • Play around with words and language—it’s similar to a puzzle where you have to figure out what and how to write.
  • Improve your use of language and ability to effectively get your message across.
  • Tell stories and disappear into another world.

It’s interesting to see what you create out of the blank page, though intentional about your form, such as something short, like a blog or poem, to something spanning the length of a book. Writing is a process of discovery that also gives you a sense of accomplishment, just like running for a certain mile or time count. It’s a pleasure just like that first sip of coffee.

What parts of writing make you grateful that you love to write?

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Thankfulness Pause

In Being Thankful, Gratitude, Reflections on Writing, Thanksgiving, Writing on November 26, 2017 at 6:00 pm

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Giving thanks is easy when it’s good things, like puppies and perfect grades, scores or assignments.

But it’s a little harder if the result is a skipping heart that over time might break. I was laid off a year ago, and I thought I wouldn’t be grateful about that—who wants to lose their job and face fear of losing more?

I was laid off Nov. 1, 2016, from a reporting position at a daily Colorado newspaper, and I felt a little bitter about Thanksgiving a year later. I thought about how during Thanksgiving 2016, I felt shaky, scared, alone and like little bombs would go off as even more could go wrong. I remember going on a run one November morning just before the holiday and wondering if the sidewalk would crack or a falling branch would hit me—this after the clutch blew on my car just after I got laid off and had a big dental bill.

Liking analogies (I’m a writer!), I thought I’d been kicked off the ship into the big ocean without a compass. Or, I was kicked out of the nest—a fledging without wings. Or, more recently, I was kicked out of the nice comfy house—a housecat that’s gone feral.

But I like being a little wild, I like to fly, and I like to be lost, because what’s happened is I found a long list of thankfulness. I went from a 9-5 pattern of expectations and routine to a constant state of learning, of trying harder than I thought I could, of reinventing, of creating, of finding new ways of writing, of digging into myself, yes, I can do this, I can. I really can! I had to learn how to ghostwrite, be a technical writer, write for different publications in different styles, and edit anything from short stories to sermons to novels from the line to the structural levels. I constantly became uncomfortable. I had to try, try, try.

My heart, it wanted to break. “Give up. It’s too hard,” it beat into my sighs.

But I couldn’t, I wouldn’t. I had to fly. I wanted my wings. I wanted to chase mice and words and have writing as my world.

And then ironically, I forgot about thinking about writing and my layoff on Thanksgiving 2017. I visited my mother for the Thanksgiving noon meal at her assisted living home, and my brother and his wife joined in. We had the traditional holiday fare, and like last year, the volunteer director of activities asked the 75 people in the dining area to find the leaf-shaped paper cutouts on our tables to write what we are thankful for.

My first one was easy, and the same as last year, “Zoey my dog.”

Next, I put, “My apartment in downtown,” something similar to what I wrote last year. The new things on my list included “Coffee!” “My family and friends,” and, here’s the key, “My BUSINESS,” with “business” in caps. That said it all, the layoff and the kick outs were worth the eventual ROI—except I didn’t save a cutout for “Writing.” Ironic, because I love to write and am thankful for it, and I had put it, along with reading, on last year’s list.

Even so, I ended the day realizing that what seems like a negative, something that’s heartbreaking and scary, can turn to the good. It’s how you cut it out and shape it—I have a new perspective that I couldn’t have in my 9-5 sameness—what happens outside doesn’t matter to how I treat my wings.

Because despite the things I cannot control, I can and will fly even if my wings aren’t ready yet. I’ll get there. It takes a paper cutout leaf with a new word, “HOPE.”