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.

It’s Not Your Grandpa’s Duck Tape.


Duck Tape Display

I was wandering through the big box office supply store when I found this interesting display. I had no idea there was this kind of variety of Duck Tape!  I could use some of these sheets to customize my plain ol’ composition books.

But wait, that would boost the price of my cheap-o composition books to $2.99 plus tax.  I might as well buy the fancy
ones.

 

Out of curiosity, I went online to check out the varieties of Duck Tape.


I found hundreds of styles, from leopard skin, zebra, flames, to candy cane and many primary colors.  I also found a Hello Kitty pattern and lots of collegiate logo tape as well as the sheets shown above.  This is definitely not your Grandpa’s Duck Tape!

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?