Big ROI in living a grateful life

Big ROI in living a grateful life

Gazette Column
Did the Thanksgiving holiday help you to physically feel better? If not, you may have been doing it wrong. Researchers have found that people who practice gratitude or thankfulness report a variety of very tangible benefits, including: • Stronger immune systems. • Lower blood pressure. • Fewer aches and pains. • Better sleep. • Increased interest in exercise and healthy eating. • Acting with more generosity and compassion. • Greater resiliency, including recovery from traumatic events. • Feeling less lonely and isolated. • Greater economic stability. • Reduced anxiety and depression. • More joy, optimism and happiness. These findings are courtesy of the Greater Good Science Center at the University of California, Berkeley, which partnered with the University of California, Davis to launch a $5.6 million, three-year study project: Expanding…
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Learn to live despite risk, fear

Learn to live despite risk, fear

Gazette Column
Although only a handful of people know it, there was a time when I couldn’t get behind the wheel of a car without having a panic attack. It started late one night when I was traveling through fog on Hwy 151. I had just passed the Springville exit, heading toward Marion, when a deer materialized in front of me. I swerved, missed the animal, and lost control. The car took a nose dive into the median, pivoting while in the air. When it ended, the car rested across both lanes on the opposite side of the highway. The accident replayed in my dreams for weeks afterward. I woke up panting, heart racing. Suddenly I, a woman who has always loved to drive, was white knuckling the steering wheel with sweaty…
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Family, loss and near drownings

Family, loss and near drownings

Featured, Gazette Column
When I was about 8 or 9 years old, I nearly drowned in the Illinois River. Our family — Mom, Dad, me and various assortments of my siblings and their children — often visited the river. Those days were filled with laughter as we gathered around dad’s rarely exposed, pale legs. Untold hours were spent dunking ourselves in the cool river water to hide from biting flies and mosquitoes. And mom pacing a worried trench in the bank. That day I wanted to follow my older brothers and father across the water to the other bank. Most of the river was shallow where we played, more like a babbling brook as it tumbled over and between the rounded rocks of its bed. Only about a two-foot stretch existed where the…
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More than words at open mic night

More than words at open mic night

Gazette Column
It is not easy to battle inner demons, even when they block something important. What should make the process easier, however, is knowing that each time we choose to rise above our fears, we elevate those observing. This week, for instance, I was reminded of the necessity — and reward — of standing in the spotlight, heart exposed. Life is best lived out loud. The lesson came from a group of teens — participants in the Iowa Youth Writing Project, Iowa Young Writers’ Studio and Between the Lines. A few weeks ago an Iowa City reader forwarded an event announcement. The note was a single paragraph with scant context. Teens from summer writing camps would perform original pieces during an open mic night at the High Ground Cafe. I’d like…
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Childhood in the rearview mirror

Childhood in the rearview mirror

Gazette Column
Back when blogs were still referred to as weblogs, I publicly detailed angst and dismay about all the things I swore would never happen on my parental watch. Suitably dubbed “The Crayon Is On the Wall,” the blog featured the often embarrassing lessons of humility taught by our three children. We lived through the one year hot dog-only diet our oldest demanded — and, with a little help from Flintstone vitamins, so did she. Our bank account was worse off, but still better than the fish, when Mr. Bubbles was unexpectedly introduced to the saltwater tank. Despite one of our angels dropping trou in the middle of the produce section and removing a softball sized wad of toilet paper from her backside (forgotten during a “magic potty” flushing scare), we…
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Variety by choice, not mandate

Variety by choice, not mandate

Gazette Column
Column readers, some in dismay, have been reaching out over the past few weeks while channeling Ronald Reagan. “There you go again” is how so many of the conversations have started, even if the rest of the conversation differs. “I really enjoyed your Saturday column,” one woman said. “You’ve been spending so much time on events and harder news lately that I was afraid you’d been told not to write those types of softer and more thoughtful pieces.” Another caller wanted more information on the Sunday column. “Your writing is thick — and I mean that in a very good way,” he said. “I really like it when you dive into a topic, really learn the pieces of it and spread it out for the reader. You have a knack…
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Losing the wisdom of strangers

Losing the wisdom of strangers

Gazette Column
Since grade school, I’ve kept a notebook to document the pearls of humor and wisdom dispensed by strangers. The first entry was courtesy of my fifth grade teacher, Mr. Ronald Jones, who was quick-witted and known for liberal application of corporal punishment. Although I had long been a member of the “good kid” club, the thought of spending a full school year locked down in his classroom terrified me. There were just so many things that could happen — and not all of them my fault — that would end in an introduction to the business end of his paddle. Through a strictly followed plan of no eye contact and wallflowerdom, I made it until February, my birthday month. It was tradition for the birthday person to receive “licks” with…
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All about that race (no trouble)

All about that race (no trouble)

Gazette Column
Decades ago, when our family came to Iowa, I found the Hawkeye State uncomfortable. Not only did our oldest daughter and I have twangy southern accents that had people asking us to repeat slowly drawled words and phrases — “High-Ah-Wah-Tha, Eye-Oh-Wah” was, in retrospect, one of the more accent-challenged place names for our first home — but it was strange to suddenly be surrounded mostly by people who outwardly looked a great deal like me. Growing up, I don’t remember any calls for diversity. But that’s probably because my hometown was an imperfect mix of cultures and skin tones. The situation was, of course, not to everyone’s liking. There were residents there, just as there are here, who chose to judge others on appearance. Fortunately, my family, led by my…
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Drop the labels and hop in

Drop the labels and hop in

Gazette Column
You think you know me. Even if you’ve never read a single word I’ve ever written, there’s no doubt you’ve already glanced at the photo on this page and perceived what would follow. My guess is that you are skimming, searching for those key words or phrases that will make it easier for you to attach any number of labels to me. Liberal. Conservative. Flyover country, breadbasket white. Blonde. Materialistic. Granola. After all, choosing a few labels — or, for my fellow bibliophiles, “people-genres” — provides the illusion of order. The known, however predictable and stale, is often preferred to the unknown. It’s a lot safer, we believe, to pull into an already known franchise restaurant than risk our hunger on a local, mom-and-pop diner in a strange geography. Given…
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