Thank You Notes as a Spiritual Practice


What kind of writer are you?  Do you prefer pen and paper, writing longhand or is typing easier for you?  Are you an extroverted writer that shares with everyone or an introverted writer who keeps it private?  I’m a pen and paper writer.  It doesn’t really seem like writing without the tactile experience of the ink flowing onto the paper.  I’ve also been a very private writer, hardly ever sharing with others.

Writing in a journal has been my primary form of spiritual practice for years.  It’s personal and intimate, but something that I don’t share.  Blogging has caused me to consider how my writing is received by others, real readers.  Does my writing really express what I mean? Only real readers can say.

 The Art of the Handwritten Note

I used to write a lot of handwritten letters, but over the years I got out of practice with advent of email. I was reminded of this when I discovered The Art of the Handwritten Note: A Guide to Reclaiming Civilized Communication by Margaret Shepherd.  This quick read inspired me to revive my practice of writing personal notes in my own handwriting.  I am normally not a very goal oriented person, but I set a goal for myself to write two or three notes each day.  This challenged me to be more observant, and look for opportunities to express my appreciation to coworkers, friends and even strangers.

Many books and articles on gratitude recommend writing down five or ten things per day that you are grateful for.  I even read one article that suggested making a list of one hundred different things that you are grateful for.  This stretches your concepts beyond the usual default things on the list, like spouse, kids, yummy food and sunshine.

It is one thing to write your gratitude list late at night alone in your room or in the privacy of your journal. No one will ever see it (unless you have a snoop in the house) so you don’t have to sweat the penmanship, grammar or spelling.  It can even be in a personal shorthand.

It is quite another thing to write out a thank you note that you are going mail to someone.  You want the recipient be able to read your handwriting, understand your grammar and spelling. You want them to feel appreciated.  You want to make their day.  
Thank you notes are the simplest notes to write.  As a recently diagnosed Celiac patient, I started writing thank you notes to considerate and helpful wait-staff at restaurants with gluten-free selections on their menus.  It’s like saying grace after the meal.

Synchronistically, while starting on this grateful journey, I ran across Almost Home, a cute story of a homeless sixth grader about Sugar Mae Cole and her adopted dog.  The author, Joan Bauer, won a Newbery Honor Medal for an earlier novel, Hope Was Here.  This is a story with epistolary elements that spice it up and give this serious subject quite a bit of humor.  I have a thing for epistolary literature (blog post to follow). The story is sprinkled with poems, homework assignments, emails and thank you notes.  She also describes a thank you note game, that inspired this post.

I’m not going to spoil your fun and let the cat out of the bag by describing the game.  I’ll let you dig for this nugget of gold on your own.  The description of the game encouraged me to redouble my efforts to find reasons to send thank you notes.  Sugar Mae even finds ways to send thank you notes with a twist by finding unique ways to thank people for negative experiences.

That’s where I received my epiphany on the thank you note as a spiritual practice.  It is a quite a challenge to find the silver lining in a difficult situation or a negative interaction. Expressing it gracefully with the sincere intention to turn the situation around and brighten someone’s day isn’t easy.  It requires mindfulness, intention and prayer.  Writing the note, and sending it, is where the spiritual rubber of gratitude practice meets the rough road of daily life.

If you want to get started on your own journey of gratitude, Amazon.com has quite a selection of delightful note cards that will help you get inspired.  At the time of this writing, Peter Pauper has a 4-for-3 promotion on select note cards and thank you cards.

The Metropolitan Museum of Art also has a nice selection of note cards with reproductions of fine artwork.

Please share your feedback and experiences with gratitude practice and writing thank you notes.  Thank you!

The G.I. Train Wreck


No, it’s not a real train wreck, but it sure felt like it.  In January last year, just a week into my resolutions to run more, read more and write more, I hit a major speed bump and everything got derailed.  Including this blog.

The short version, without all the gory details, is that I had a major flare up of a mysterious intestinal disease.

Eeewww!


It took forever to get a diagnosis, and even longer to recover. My running regimen was completely derailed.  It was hard to run anywhere besides to the bathroom. I was tested for everything by my Gastroenterologist (GI). Nothing showed up.  My primary care Dr. mentioned the possibility of Celiac.  I’d never heard of it.  I asked the GI to test for the antibodies, he said it was negative.

By this time it was five months. I would have bought stock in Imodium AD if it had provided any relief!  As a last resort the GI Dr. scoped my entire digestive tract.  The biopsies showed definite damage due to CD.  Suddenly my blood tests made sense and he declared them positive for CD. LOL.  Make up your mind!

As a final proof positive,  he had me swallow a capsule sized video camera to get pictures of my guts.  It was all transmitted by wifi to a receiver on my belt.  I was officially diagnosed on June 4th, 2012.  I officially began my gluten free journey.  That is a whole ‘nother story!

 

The treatment for Celiac Disease (CD) is a very strict gluten free diet.  No wheat, rye or barley in any form whatsoever.  That is another whole ‘nother story.

Gluten plays hide-n- seek in so many places that walking through the grocery store is like walking into a minefield.

Celiac Disease is an auto-immune disorder where the body reacts to gluten in the small intestine by attacking itself.  It severely damages the small intestines ability to absorb nutrients.

This manifests in a myriad of mysterious ways.  I’ve had this all my life.  I just didn’t know it. Most of my earlier symptoms were fatigue, depression, forgetfulness and other things that come & go.

Finally, after a whole year of pretty discouraging symptoms, I began to feel better last week.  I finally have the energy and inspiration to get back to blogging, but I wanted to give an explanation of my absence to my faithful nine (9) followers!  LOL.

Elephants Don’t Bite. The Compound Effect by Darren Hardy


“Have you ever been bitten by an elephant? How about a mosquito? It’s the little things in life that will bite you.” -Darren Hardy, The Compound Effect

I love this quote.  Yep, It’s the little things that bite me.  The negative or lazy things.  But Darren Hardy points out that little, positive choices add up to a big difference over time.  It may take a while for the cumulative, compound, effect becomes evident, but it will happen.

I started reading this on the advice of Vemma President BK Boreyko. He recommends making the conscious choice to do something positive to maintain a healthy body and positive mind every day.

It fits in with the  Vemma philosophy of making a positive difference with people helping people.  If you make a positive difference every day, we can make the world a better place, starting from improving ourselves.  (People Helping People is also central to the Credit Union philosophy.)


I’m re-reading Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity (GTD).  Actually, I’m listening to the CDs in my car.  I have a copy on my desk, but I’ve been too busy to pick it up.  I first went through GTD a few months ago.  After an initial burst of enthusiasm, I started slacking off after a month or so.  After missing a couple of important deadlines I realized that I needed a boost. (Or kick in the seat of the pants!)

So I went back to the El Segundo Public Library to pick up the audio again.  The ESPL is the only one out of the five libraries I use that has the audio version.  So if you want to check it out and listen in your car, stop by the next time you are near LAX.

Listening to GTD a second time has been really worth it. I’m just wrapping up the last disk now where David Allen gets into the deeper stuff about transforming companies with GTD.

Implementing GTD is just one of the many possible positive choices you could make to activate the  The Compound Effect.

What positive changes do you have in mind for the coming year?  What small, positive changes will make your resolutions stick this time?

Should You Kill Your Mouse?


Magnet for Foolishness got me started thinking about frustrations with technology.  The gizmo that I most want to abolish is the mouse.  Not the squeaky kind, but the computer kind. The second thing that drives me absolutely batty is software without keyboard shortcuts.

About fifteen years ago I discovered web page design on AOL. After about a month of intense work I came down with a bad case of carpal tunnel syndrome.  I tracked the pain down to excessive use of the my computer mouse. I bought a couple of wrist braces and started looking into ergonomic fixes.  I got a trackball and a Microsoft Natural Keyboard.

The next thing I did was to force myself to use keyboard shortcuts for as much as I could. It slowed me down in the beginning. As I got used to using shortcuts and memorized the majority of Excel Keyboard Shortcuts, I noticed my speed pick up dramatically.

This is the source of my frustration.  When there are missing shortcuts in an application and I have no choice but to reach for the mouse I want to tear my (non-existent) hair out like Mr. Pocket in Great Expectations.

For example the main software package used at work has a print queue function.  There are shortcuts to navigate to the print queue, open the drop-down menu, hit G a couple times to get to my report, but nothing to execute the job.  The job name is highlighted, but <Enter> or <SpaceBar> won’t work to start the report.  I have to reach over and find my trackball, roll it around to click on the report that is already highlighted, then I can keyboard through all of the report options.  There’s just that one little hangup in the middle where I’m forced to use the mouse (trackball).

Now this isn’t giving me carpal tunnel, ’cause I dealt with that by buying the trackball.  But still, something that should take nanoseconds now takes two or three to find the mouse and click.

I asked our tech support to submit a request for universal keyboard shortcuts.  Then I found out the software is moving to a “browser-based” platform.  Tech support thinks that keyboard shortcuts are going the way of the dinosaurs (like me).

Business Case for Keyboard Shortcuts:
1) Keyboard shortcuts pave the way for increased employee efficiency.  Users who know and consistently use keyboard shortcuts are much faster than mouse users.  Every-time a user has to take their hands off the keyboard to scroll and click with a mouse they lose several seconds. Those seconds add up throughout the day.  Just like macros speed up routine keystrokes in Excel, keyboard shortcuts speed up manual data entry.

2) Mice present a serious productivity problem in the workplace. Mouse usage is a CFO’s nightmare, not to mention a Human Resource migraine.  Mouse use is a primary cause of increased workers comp claims with all the attendant expense, lawsuits and downtime for Carpal Tunnel.  A little bit of prevention on the front end (keyboard shortcuts) save a lot of pain and moolah on the back end.  We might even save enough to buy an extra software module or two. Something for software developers to think about.

Introduction to Human Factors and Ergonomics for Engineers (Human Factors and Ergonomics)

Browser based applications programmers should find a way to build in keyboard shortcuts for every function.  It just takes a little research on Google.com and some JavaScript programming.  Check out Jason Stiles Blog for some Programming tips for Java Developers.

It should be a company standard that all tasks in the software can be run from the keyboard without ever touching a mouse.  All modules should be trained this way.  Trainers should never have to mention the words, “mouse”, or “click”.  I know this may sound extreme to some mouse addicts.  If a little time and effort is spent learning shortcuts you will see a dramatic increase in productivity.

The GTD guru, David Allen recommends learning touch typing and keyboard shortcuts to improve executive efficiency. Keyboard shortcuts take efficiency to a new level.

Let me know what you think: How do you feel about your mouse? Has mouse usage contributed to your carpal tunnel syndrome? Do you use keyboard shortcuts?

Monday’s Illustrated Run


The view from the parking lot at 7:00 AM

Start here.

Looking south along the Strand from the one mile mark with the Palos Verdes Peninsula in the background..

My time at the turnaround: 1.75 Miles in 23 minutes.

Monday, August 29th, 2011.           I drive about a mile and a half down to the Redondo Beach Pier.  I park on Esplanade because there are no meters on Esplanade.  There’s offside street sweeping a couple days a week so I usually find a parking spot. I just have to get back to the car before 8:00 AM.

I walk down the parking lot to the pier and turn south on the bike path. Just to the right you can see the SUV with port-a-potties on a trailer. Beverly Hills 90210 was filming at the Pier for the past couple of weeks.  It looked like a beach concert scene.

The Marvin Braude Bike Trail is marked off every 1/4 mile, like this picture on the right.  The Pier is 1.75 miles from the starting point at Torrance Beach.  I start running here and head south toward Torrance Beach.

This is a point on the trail about one mile from the end, way down by the Palos Verdes Peninsula that you see in the distance. It looks like a long way, but it really isn’t.  It just feels like a long way for an overweight 55 year old guy with Poly-cystic Kidney Disease (PKD).

Twenty three minutes later I get to the end, seen here with my watch documenting my time.  I stretch and breathe.

Then I watch the surfers for a minute while I catch my breath.  Torrance beach is a popular surf spot in the South Bay.  My cell phone isn’t the

My final time at the end of my run 7:49 AM

best camera for distance shots like this.  In addition to surfers, I see pelicans, seagulls, and an occasional pod of dolphins.

I turn around here and head back to the pier.

I made it!

Here’s my watch with my final time, looks like 7:49 AM.

Here’s my victory grimace.  The beach grooming tractors are out and sun is up.  A great day.

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Zero to 5K in Six Weeks! Vemma Rocks!


Zero to 5K in Six Weeks! VEMMA® Rocks!

Today I ran a total of 3.25 miles on the strand from the Redondo Beach Pier to Torrance Beach and back with one 1/4 mile walk break at the turnaround.

I started running again on Friday July 15th after taking five and a half months to recover from a bad gout attack. In only six weeks I’m back on track. I give full credit to Vemma, the liquid vitamin and antioxidant that I started taking back in May this year (2011).  Vemma stands for Vitamins, Essential Minerals, Mangosteen and Aloe.

When I first started running I used the C25K (couch to 5K) program from coolrunning.com.  C25K is a structured interval training program designed to bring a complete newbie up to speed and ready to run a 5K in just nine weeks.

After getting myself off the couch and out on the road the first time, it took me nineteen weeks to get up to 5K (3.1 miles). Along the way I was sidelined for two weeks by a cold, a week or so by shin splints and a few weeks in physical therapy for other aches and pains. I guess I wasn’t your typical newbie.  I was overweight, 54 years old and totally out of shape.

My usual time to run is for about an hour in the morning, between 6:00 to 8:00 AM, three times a week. I allow one day for rest and recovery in between runs.  Last year I would start to feel stiff and sore in the hips and legs about 10:00 AM on run days.  I experienced a lot of aches and pains, but kept going in faith that I would get better.

When I started up again in July I expected to have the same stiffness by 10:00 or 11:00 AM on run days but it never happened.  I progressed quickly as I pushed myself through longer intervals, using the 1/4 mile markers on the bike-path as a guide.  I haven’t done anything new this time around except for taking a daily dose of Vemma.

I’ve been taking two oz. of the standard Vemma formula every morning since May.  I have tried some of their other products as well.  Verve! is the Vemma energy drink, The Verve! Shot is a concentrated, insanely healthy energy shot that provides a real boost to your workout. My best run in the whole six weeks was the morning I tried a Verve! Shot before going for my run.

Vemma THIRST is a powdered hydration formula that includes all the basic Vemma formula plus electrolytes and amino acids to assist recovery after a workout.

What keeps you going during your workout?