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The art of journaling

Gail Warfield of Glenwood shares her journals with her children. When they were growing up, she tried to record something every day about each child. (Contributed) 1 / 4
Each of Gail Warfield's notebooks holds five years of daily life. They are written in such a way that she can easily compare the same date over a five-year period. (Contributed) 2 / 4
Gail Warfield's journals from 1990 to 2015, plus travel and camping journals. (Contributed) 3 / 4
Journals can serve many purposes, such as providing a record of birding, hunting, gardening, fitness and prayer. This stack of journals are among those kept by reporter Karen Tolkkinen over more than 30 years to record her thoughts and experiences. (Lowell Anderson / Echo Press)4 / 4

Kay Horntvedt's journal entry for Friday, Feb. 1, begins like this: "Thank you, Lord, for this day and the early morning quiet. No wind today. The winter white frozen lake laced in with bare dark seeking branches, red squirrels in slumber. All is peaceful. I love you Lord and I lift my voice to worship you with all my soul."

For close to 20 years, Horntvedt has kept a prayer journal.

"It's almost like a dialogue between myself and God," said the Alexandria resident. "Sometimes I write a letter; sometimes I have a dialogue where he's talking to me and I'm talking to him."

Mention "journaling," and you may conjure up images of florid "Dear Diary"-style entries. But journals take on all kinds of purposes. People use journals for recording their travels, or the books they read, or the funny things their children say. There are those who detail their gardening activities, or the weather, or the birds they see. Some keep journals only during a difficult period of their lives, such as a divorce. Others write every day.

About a year ago, Echo Press sports reporter Jared Rubado began recording movies he has watched and rated them from 0-100. Three movies have achieved a perfect 100 in his journal: "Star Wars: Empire Strikes Back," "The Departed" and "Pulp Fiction." Those aren't his favorites, but he feels they are the most flawless.

"I just love movies and organized thoughts," he said.

Nowadays, journaling is touted as a way to improve physical and mental health. Google "journaling," and the entire first page of results focuses on how journaling can reduce the symptoms of asthma and arthritis, improve cognitive function and relieve stress.

One of the key ways journaling can help is to improve focus. Pick an area where you want to grow, whether patience or gratitude or a new skill, and write about your experience with that. Record things you're grateful for, and you'll find yourself looking for them throughout the day.

Musings don't have to be on paper, either. Some people turn to social media to record not just their thoughts, but photos and videos.

Marcia Lips of Alexandria, also an Echo Press staff member, turned to blogging after her marriage failed. Sharing her struggles and joys proved healing and cathartic, she said. It also gave friends and family members a chance to chime in.

"It also provided encouragement and support from others, which produced hope that this was not the end and things would get better," she said.

Penny Haavig of Glenwood said she keeps a prayer journal so she can look back and see how God responded.

For instance, her 21-year-old horse had developed a problematic fungus in her left eye and medications were not working. Haavig said she journaled prayers for her to be healed.

"The local veteran came to look," she said. He said, "I can't believe it, this eye is healing."

And as for those stereotypical "Dear Diary" journals, Anne Paulson had one.

It was pink and puffy, with a lock, and full of her fourth-grade thoughts about boys and friends.

"It was so dramatic and over the top," the Alexandria bookseller said.

It bothered her so much, in fact, that later, while living as a young married woman in New Mexico, she asked her husband to fire up the Weber grill and she burned it.

"It was more silly than even I could tolerate," she said.

Now she keeps a variety of journals, to separate creative writing from personal reflections. Writing in the morning helps her start out her day with a clear head. She can read back through the pages to the time when her children were babies.

She is so grateful she has them, she said, because they reminded her of how she stuck to her principles — nursing each of her children until age 2 — despite criticism.

"It was such an exhausting and emotional time and I loved it," she said. "I loved having babies and toddlers."

Years ago, she and her husband bought three cabins near Nisswa. One was full of junk, and as they cleaned it, they discovered two journals from World War II. They were written by a young woman during her courtship, young married life and motherhood.

Paulson and her husband read through them.

"I felt kind of bad about it at first but it was so touching," she said.

They included details of 1940s life, including dances, movies and train travel. And they were able to track down the woman's son and give them to him. He and his siblings were delighted, as their mother had died of cancer in her 40s.

The journals were unremarkable in appearance, she said, and might easily have been thrown away.

Journals can provide a lasting legacy for family.

Echo Press staff member Linda Jenson said her mom has been journaling for almost 30 years. Every night she would write about the day's events and include the date, day and temperature. When her children still lived at home, she would try to include at least one thing about each child.

"One of my favorite memories is sitting with her and asking, 'What happened one year ago today?'" Jenson recalled. "When I house sit for my parents, I love to look back on her old journals. I'll just grab one and open it up to a random page and read. So fun to reminisce. We sure kept my parents on their toes!"