Musings on Life, Love and Leftovers

Archive for the tag “thanksgiving”

Thinking Thankful

About fifteen years ago I began keeping a gratitude journal. My notebook is nothing fancy; just aa simple, spiral-bound book filled with blank pages. On those lines, I jot down at least three things each morning that delighted me the day before. Spending a few minutes thinking about what I’m grateful for is a great way to begin each day.

The daily demands of being a wife, mother, grandmother, friend and consumer (just to name a few) provide lots of opportunities for disappointment, challenge and frustration. By taking a moment to reflect on what’s went right the day before, I give myself another opportunity — one that adjusts my view to see the glass as half-full instead of half- empty.

shutterstock_435712027Through sleep-rimmed eyes, before my feet hit the floor, I reach for my journal, stationed on my nightstand and start writing. Some entries are simple one-word notes like “sunshine,” “reading,” or “bargains.” Others are short prayers of thanks for my family’s good health, the addition of a grandchild, niece or nephew. I’m reluctant to admit that there seems to be a disproportionate number of entries involving food – lunches with friends, family dinners, new recipes that worked, a nut roll baked just for me by my niece, Maria.

Longer passages are a bit more reflective, perhaps chronicling a tough time, lamenting a difficult decision or struggling with the pain of losing someone close to my heart. The journal is also a place for me to boast about the successes of my children, record my feelings about a recently published article or pat myself on the back for achieving small goal – cleaning out a closet.

These pages are my paper sanctuary – a place to preserve the positive. They are a way to slow down my mind and reflect on the good news in my life. It’s what I call Thinking Thankful. Focusing on the good stuff that happened the day before lessens my usual spinning about things that normally make headlines in my mind — the computer crashing, the mess in the family room, a window screen chewed by Bandit, our dog or a rejection slip from an ill-informed editor.

Even though I start with three, there is no limit to the number of entries that find their way into my gratitude journal. Some days I take the time to write more, but knowing that I only have to come up with three makes it easy to fit this appreciation review into my morning routine.

Some items that show up with regularity are ways to simplify life. Great ideas from friends like the ideal construction of a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. My recipe was two slices of bread, one slice slathered in peanut butter, the other in jelly. It wasn’t until lunching with my friend, Rik, that I learned the faultiness of my formula. As he ate his lunch, I noticed that his sandwich didn’t have that “grape-jelly seepage” mine are famous for. Rik covers both slices of bread with a thin layer of peanut butter and then jellies in between. Perfect PB&J every time.

My journal let documents the goodness that I might otherwise take for granted. It’s is a record of how quickly life changes. That’s why ever so often, I read what I’ve written weeks, months even years before.

In 2004, I noted how hatha yoga brought flexibility to my hips. A few entries recorded my time spent helping my son, Jake, fill out college applications and the joy of Sunday morning visits with my mom. Today I still keep up my gentle yoga practice. Jake, an ASU graduate, is engaged to the beautiful Rachel. But those magic times when seeing my mother’s angelic smile was a mere five-mute drive ended that September. The page turned.

Because of my early morning writing practice, I’m actively paying attention to the good stuff that life sneaks in when I’m not looking. I stop to think about what went right during the last 24 hours. Little things like my husband, Nick, starting a load of laundry; my sister Sue, having my hard-to-find coffee creamer in her fridge on a recent visit; a friend dotting my desk with ladybugs stones the size of dimes, just because she knows I like ladybugs.

None of these things are life changing. They’re not life-altering events like winning the lotto, paying off your mortgage or finding the perfect job. Fortunately, though, they are life enhancing. Taken together they comprise the best parts of living. These are moments I might miss. I might take them for granted if I wasn’t writing them down.

Today’s technology lets us accomplish more in less time. That should be a good thing, but instead, we’re moving at the speed of life, going faster and doing more. Sandwiched between laundry, homework and grocery shopping, there’s little space left to ponder and contemplate. Time for these important reflections doesn’t just happen. It has to be scheduled. By taking a couple of minutes each day to write about what you’re thankful for you’ll enjoy the journey more. It doesn’t matter what your destination.


Sitting at the Big Table

As November 26th gets closer, lots of us are spending time in preparation and anticipation. We’re busy comparing prices for frozen turkeys, finding grandma’s recipe for cranberry sauce and ordering chiffon pumpkin pies. We’ve assigned a favorite aunt the task of bringing the green bean casserole and asked our neighbor if he has folding chairs we can borrow. All of this organization is necessary to carry out our vision of the perfect holiday dinner; one that merits a symphony of satisfied after-dinner sighs that continue long after the wishbone has been pulled. But to me, these details are secondary. While many of you are dusting off your crystal and sharpening the carving knife, my energies are spent on how to fit 19 and a highchair at a table that comfortably accommodates 10.

Everyone who’s coming to Thanksgiving dinner at my house sits at one table, no matter how long, awkward and cumbersome that table turns out to be. Some therapists might consider this fixation of mine a character flaw — one that traces its beginnings back to my childhood. An unnecessary expenditure of energy that I should have resolved over the years. “Just set up an extra table for the kids,” they would advise “and don’t worry about it.” But I do worry and I worry a lot.


I’m the youngest of four children. The baby of the family. Over the years, I’ve been placed at the children’s table a time or two, or twenty. And to this day, I’m still a bit sensitive about where I sit during holiday meals. So much so, that when Thanksgiving or Christmas dinner is held at my house, I make every effort to link as many tables as it takes for everyone to sit together. The banquet often spans the length of my dining room and encroaches well into our kitchen/TV room.

Why such a campaign against a kids’ table? It has a lot to do with the age span between my older siblings and me. Some say I was a surprise addition, born about a dozen years after the then youngest, Paul. My brothers and sister are more than a decade older than I am. It’s no wonder that they’ve treated me like a child instead of a peer. So when the seating at the dining room table became snug, it was easy for mom to demote me to the kids’ table to feast with my nieces and nephews.

Sitting at a card table or a coffee table located closer to the garage than the formal dining room magnified the fact that I wasn’t on the A (adult) list. The “kids” were out of earshot of the grown-ups. I couldn’t hear what they were talking about but I knew it had to be better than discussing Casper the Friendly Ghost cartoons or Romper Room’s magic mirror.

My complaints fell on deaf ears. “You’re going to eat the same things we are,” came the calming retort. It didn’t matter. I was still ticked. This was an unfair division of family. I wasn’t one of the kids even though I was 11 (technically eligible for the child’s discount at the movies). I was Aunt Claire. So what if I was barely five years older than my oldest nephew. I was still an aunt, not a child. I demanded the status that was rightfully mine.

I wanted to sit at the table with the stemware, not the Tupperware. To be closer to the turkey platter and gravy boat than the chocolate milk and bibs. I envisioned myself eating off the nice plates and drinking my apple cider out of a goblet instead of a jelly jar. At least that’s what I claimed.

Truth be told, mostly, I just wanted to be near my big brothers and sister. They were grown and out of the house. Their lives were busy, raising families of their own. On these special days, they were back home and I wanted their attention. I wanted to fit in with the adults. I was too young to know that time passes quickly and once you’ve grown up, you’re an adult for a long, long time. Sitting at the kids’ table might not have been such bad thing.

Fortunately, the emotional scars I’ve endured from the years of sitting at the little table were fleeting. At holiday meals, I now focus on happy moments like “Who ate the marshmallows off the sweet potato casserole?” On occasion, I’ve even fought back the urge to seat my siblings at a rickety folding table near the refrigerator.

We youngsters from the kids’ table now have children and grandchildren of our own. The dilemma of making room for everyone continues to challenge my creativity. I hold fast to my desire for us all to be at one long, connecting surface, even if that means bringing the redwood picnic table in from outside. But there are no complaints. Any day that finds me surrounded by more family than I have chairs to accommodate, is a day that I happily give thanks for.


A New Wrinkle

Life isn’t fair.

It’s taken me awhile to accept this reality. I’ve always had my suspicions though, starting when I was 6 and my brand new Slinky got a kink in it. But now I have verifiable proof. This morning as I washed my face with anti-aging cleanser, I discovered fresh wrinkles framing the sides of my smile like brackets. A New Wrinkle. Nov. 5. 2015 00No surprises there. What I find really unjust is that right below these newborn laugh lines, nature gifted me with a zit. Guess the joke’s on me since I mistakenly believe that once you become old enough to earn wrinkles, your face should be a pimple-free zone. One or the other, I say, but not both. Acne and crow’s feet shouldn’t live in perfect harmony.

Clothing designers are messing with me too. Earlier this month I scoured the stores looking for a bargain party dress. The clearance racks are full of 4s and 6s and 8s. Where are the 10s, the 12s, the 14s? Haven’t the garment manufacturers figured out there are more of us wearing double digits than gals who can enumerate their clothing size barely using the fingers of both hands.

Calories don’t play fair either. Even when I try to eat healthier, I don’t. In my ongoing quest to get skinny, I grabbed a bag of trail mix instead of nibbling on some sugar cookies. The next day I bragged about my improved eating choice to my perfectly fit friend Joni. She laughed. “You’d be better off just eating a handful of M&Ms.” I didn’t want to believe her, but when I got home I checked the nutrition facts on the trail mix bag. Joni was right. Excuse me if I sound like a sorehead, but who wants to live in a world where a cup of raisins has seven times as many calories as a bunch of grapes? Who decided that 4 ounces of tofu is only 88 calories while a 2-ounce Snickers bar weighs in at 271?

And one more gripe: Why do things break in bunches? In the past 10 days, my computer monitor died, the coffee pot gave up the ghost, my car battery decided it didn’t need to perform any longer and the icemaker in our barely two-year-old refrigerator developed a constant drip. The topper was two days ago when my husband, Nick, walked into the kitchen and — with his teeth chattering — asked who turned off the hot water.  Alas, our 10-year-old water heater with a nine-year warranty had delivered its last gallon of hot water the night before.

Normally, I’m a glass-is-half-full-kind-of-girl. I grew up hearing my Mom sing along as Bing Crosby belted out “Blue Skies.” When my toast lands butter-side down, I brush it off, grateful to have something to eat. Recently though, I find myself tallying up life’s many inconveniences instead reveling in its abundant Godsends.

It’s a good thing that Thanksgiving and Christmas are just around the corner, because tucked in alongside the hectic hustle and bustle of the season is an annual reminder to pay attention to life’s important moments. The holidays gently inspire me to stop being the gal standing in line at the complaint department and spend my time breathing in the sweet, refreshing air of gratitude.

I can quickly list my grumbles in a less-than-800-word essay. Thankfully, recounting my life’s blessings would take pages and pages of effort. Where do I start? A wonderful childhood. My loving husband. Our healthy, happy sons and daughters. The anticipation of welcoming a grandchild in the new year. My sisters and brothers who love me in spite of my quirky habits. Long-time friends who — under no genetic obligation – continue to make time for me.

There are many simple yet sustaining delights — cozy fires, a warm cup of tea, coconut cake, the memory of my mom’s voice. My vow is to keep the holiday spirit alive in the coming months and pay better attention to the ever-expanding list of these priceless treasures. No doubt I’ll backslide a time or two — especially around April or July — when the washing machine develops a grinding noise, my Camry gets a flat and a newly sprouted blemish finds companionship near a brand new laugh line.

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