Category Archives: Being grateful

After the second cancer diagnosis, something wonderful

When Clay Felker — founding editor of New York magazine, who also had stints at Esquire and The Village Voice — was diagnosed with his second cancer, doctors said there wasn’t any treatment that would extend his life.

So they suggested that Felker and wife Gail Sheehy seize life: Do something wonderful that you wouldn’t have dared do before.

Now that’s a charge worth pursuing.

Sheehy told me it took them about a year to figure out what to do. They enjoyed a great trip to France — even though he was on a feeding tube. And they found a way for Felker to pursue his passion of developing young talent in magazines, which meant moving from Manhattan to California to work at Berkeley. With lymphoma. (That’s a cancer that  begins in immune system cells called lymphocytes.)

“He actually developed a great deal of courage,” Sheehy said.

She traveled back and forth between her job in Manhattan and their new home. The couple experienced a new time of feeling young and in love all over again. And Felker’s lymphoma went away.

“That’s the kind of miracle of it,” said Sheehy.

Felker was able to work for 10 more years.

If you give someone the chance to feel alive and able to do things, they just may be able to do them.

I’m grateful that can happen.

Felker photo: USA Today. Sheehy photo: LA Times


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Stan the toothpick man

If you won the lottery, how would you spend your time?

Driving to work over my years as a daily newspaper journalist, I passed a lottery billboard offering the possibility of millions. Periodically — even though I don’t buy lottery tickets — I pondered this question of what I would do differently if paychecks didn’t matter.

The answer can be revealing. Perhaps it can help you not end up late in life with regrets.

My answer: If money suddenly didn’t matter, I would love to have the luxury to pick and choose the stories I want to write. Interesting people. Important issues. Articles that teach and help people. And stories that are just plain fun to write and to read.

No, I haven’t won the jackpot. But since launching my freelance writing business, I get a lot more control over what I write about.

I’ve been working on several interesting stories this week, including this one on Stan Munro. The former zany early-morning Rochester TV features reporter is now crafting a career from his hobby creating buildings to scale from toothpicks and glue. Click on the link to see photos, read my story in the Democrat and Chronicle and see the details about his free exhibit in Irondequoit.

I’m grateful to be working on creating my dream job now, even without millions in the bank.

If you like that, check out this video of a creative use of toothpicks in California,

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Gifts in the snow

My driveway tends to be a popular place for cars that need to turn around. It’s two lanes wide and located near the beginning of the street.

Tire tracks left in my driveway.

I’ve heard other people complain about having strangers pull into their driveway to turn around. Something about the extra traffic wearing out the asphalt faster or feeling like your personal space is being intruded upon.

But I say bring it on.

In the snow, strangers sometimes unintentionally leave delightful tire tracks behind. One recent morning I woke up to this view.

Consider it an early Happy Valentine’s Day gift — and a reminder to look closely at what’s around you.


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A joy and a sorrow

The wind is growling past my house, swirling the  snow sideways. The thermometer reads in the 20s.

(That’s the view out my upstairs window just now. Rochester D&C photographers have a gallery of weather photos at

I am grateful to be able to work from home today, safe from the slippery roads and inevitable car accidents. How lucky I am to be sipping a cup of chrysanthemum-silver needle white tea, a hand-blended Christmas gift from a niece and nephew, while working on a project for a freelance writing client.

My gratitude for safety and warmth is mixed with sadness at the loss of a friend. Stuart died last night, in hospice care, after ending treatment for cancer. Many people have sent their love to Stuart and Jan in recent days. I hope that the warmth of community and the happy memories of his hearty singing voice, his love of the arts, his enthusiasm for helping city students learn and his grace during illness may lift all those who knew Stuart.


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Six habits to boost happiness

This stuff makes sense, and it’s backed by scientific research.

Six habits that help people cultivate happiness in their lives:

  1. Pay attention.
  2. Keep friends close.
  3. Drop grudges.
  4. Get moving.
  5. Practice kindness.
  6. (No surprise!) Give thanks.

For more:

Thanks to First Unitarian Church of Rochester for sharing that link from the Greater Good Science Center at the University of California, Berkeley, The center sponsors groundbreaking scientific research into social and emotional well-being and helps people apply this research to their personal and professional lives.

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Laughing-in the new year

I’m feeling luImagecky to have fun relatives who like to gather on New Year’s Eve for hours of game playing. This year a new game, Tellestrations, was a big hit. Each player is given a word/phrase (such as banana split, fashion photographer or jelly beans) and has a short time (maybe 30 seconds) to create a drawing on a hand-held white board notebook to convey the word or phrase. Then each player passes their notebook to the person next to him/her. You look at what your neighbor drew and have to guess what their word was. You write it down and pass the notebook on, so the next person draws what you wrote. By the time the notebooks had passed through all eight people, the original words often had morphed into something quite different. We laughed uproariously at the drawings and the interpretations. (Some of us, including me, stuck to stick figures.)

Today I greeted the new year with a hot date: my husband and I went to the blood donation center. I’m grateful for a smooth, comfortable experience giving blood. I admit I don’t particularlImagey like going, but I psych myself up twice a year because I know there’s a need. If I ever need a blood transfusion, I want there to be a good blood supply. Heck, I suppose it’s also an easy way to get my iron level and my blood pressure checked.

Happy 2012!

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Simple gifts

My niece, age 3, loves the princess dress-up clothes and the dolls she unwrapped today. She knows Snow White from the others by the color of their dresses and can tell the stories that go with each one.

I was happy that she and her brother, age 1, are also enjoying the large box that I painted white and then we decorated by taping onto it old Christmas cards and coloring it with crayons. The kids hide inside and want to be found. The smaller box inside becomes a doll bed or a TV or a table.

  After all the colorful gifts were unwrapped, my niece found two tiny pieces of folded cardboard and picked them up. “Books!” she said. One book had a story and the alphabet song in it, she said. She quietly started telling the story.

I’m grateful for the delight in simple gifts. Let us remember that children’s needs are quite simple and that small things can bring joy.

Merry Christmas.


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Grateful for water

This morning there was no water. To wash hands. To shower. To wash dishes. To clean the kitchen counter. Suddenly the needs for water were everywhere.

A sticky note was left on our door by the Water Authority: Emergency repairs on the water mains.

Soon, water sputtered and gurgled again from the faucets. I newly appreciate the rhythmic hum and swish of my dishwater, a cup of tea and the chance to wash my hair.

I think of people in many parts of the world for whom water is a long walk away. The ponds, ditches or hand-dug wells they rely on are often contaminated and make them sick.  I am grateful for the work of people such as Salva Dut from South Sudan. He lives in Rochester now but continues to dedicate himself to drilling wells in remote villages in his homeland,

I made a donation just now, in gratitude for water and the efforts to get clean, safe water to people in great need.

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Virtual money provides quick solution

The laundry machine started making such loud banging noises that it seemed like it might explode. I still ran another load or two, trying to pretend I didn’t hear it.

Finally I called a repairman, who came yesterday. He didn’t even turn it on. He reached in and pressed against the drum and apologetically said it was time to say goodbye to the 12-year-old machine. Replacing the multiple parts it needed would cost twice as much as a new one.

My husband and I researched washers online, reading descriptions and reviews and even “Consumer Reports” ratings. We called two local appliance stores, where helpful employees talked us through the pros and cons of the options they had in stock in our price range.

Without even setting foot out of our house, we solved the laundry quandary. We selected a new machine (from a locally owned business), provided our credit card number and scheduled delivery for today. The new machine was installed and in use before lunchtime.

Bonus: We moved both the washer and dryer, thoroughly cleaned the laundry room floor and installed those self-stick vinyl tiles we’d been meaning to put down for months. (Yup, another hot Friday night date!)

The magic numbers on that little plastic card can be a real problem solver.

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City students eager to learn

At 8:15 one recent morning, I walked into an elementary school classroom. One of the  second-grade girls I tutor saw me and her face lit up. I sat with her and another second-grade girl, with worksheets about words with “ay” or “ai” in them. The girls vied for my attention, each wanting to show me each answer they figured out.

“Brain rhymes with train!”

“Did you know that ‘ay’ is usually at the end of a word?”

Around the room, two other volunteers and the teacher were working closely with other students.

At 8:50 a.m., I was sitting at a table in a classroom down the hall. My fourth-grade buddy walked in and smiled at me. She happily read aloud to me a story about a pilot and answered questions about it. We talked about what we knew about planes and flying. She told me she had flown to Puerto Rico. We made inferences about the pilot, since that concept was our focus for that session.

At 9:25 a.m., I sat waiting for a group of fifth-graders to walk in. The teacher was rounding up the students, all at the same reading level, for our intervention session. A boy whom I usually work with peeked his head into the classroom and darted back out. “Ms. Chris is here!” I heard him say. That was at least my third smile in just over an hour.

This is not always the image you see or hear about in the Rochester City School District.

But that’s where I was, at a city elementary school. I was one of 42 volunteers in that building this week, providing 111 hours of one-on-one or small-group support. As we do each week.

My inference is that low state test scores don’t sum up the students or their effort.

And I am grateful for the students’ excitement and eagerness to learn.

(If you are willing to volunteer in city schools, I’d be glad to connect you. E-mail

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