This year was a very different Thanksgiving for us. We’re in a new home, in a new (to us!) state, and we tried new things. Like a heritage turkey (mixed reviews), and no sweet potatoes (I missed them!). And bubbly for the drinkers instead of eggnog. And a follow-up brunch at my son & daughter-in-law’s the next morning. Big things, right?
It was a wonderful day. Both of them!
The weather has been gorgeous: crisply autumn, w/ blue skies & honeyed light slanting through the wall of windows. We didn’t need the fire until the evening. The kids were beautifully behaved, and the food was almost as great as the conversation!
So, big things that change, yet don’t: family. My niece, her partner (another niece, to me!), and their roommate joined us. So it was smaller than our usual familial cattle call. Which was kind of nice — I got to actually talk to everyone! But kind of sad, as well: I missed my sisters, and my other nieces & nephews. And their beautiful kiddos.
Other big things that we did differently: since it was a smaller group, we all were able to sit down together. Even though it meant a card table added to the length of our small dining table — who cares, right? With 8 instead of 18, that’s not even an option. So I got to use nice china, sterling, crystal. Show off some linens I rarely use, and the napkins rings we bought in Kenya, before my 2nd son was even born.
And there was a mostly familiar menu: turkey, stuffing (but also dressing), potatoes & gravy, cranberry sauce, green bean casserole, broccoli casserole, & homemade macaroni cheese. The usual (for us!) hummus as an appetizer, w/ tortillas griddled on the stove, and veggies too. Tabbouleh. And pumpkin pie w/ too much whipped cream. And my niece’s totally gorgeous cranberry/orange/walnut cupcakes, topped w/ cream cheese icing & candied cranberries.
Did I mention it was totally sumptuous?!
But it was the little things that made it, as well — those things we tend to take for granted, until we move & see them fresh: the way everyone pitched in to help. The weaving of conversations. The laughter of my older grandson with his baby brother. The three dogs racing around the room playing tag. How the house brimmed w/music & happy voices. Watching my younger grandson take baby bites of his first Thanksgiving dinner.
This is what I’m so very grateful for, this year: my amazing family. Both the ones I was able to spend the holiday with and the ones I miss. I hope your day was equally happy!
Gratitude: at a time when my heart is often cracked yet again by the news, and when much of our country seems to be mad with hatred, it’s hard sometimes to remember how much there is to be grateful for.
Even though I keep a gratitude journal, noting down my many thanks has been less frequent than other times. And my ‘daily’ pages are … well, let’s say that weekly would be an improvement!
In other words? I’ve been grieving, not grateful-ing. But a long-time tradition I believe in is using each day of November to record something I’m grateful for. Making the month of Thanksgiving truly a month of gratitude. I’m a bit late off the mark this year, but here goes with a catch-up list:
Today, this very moment, what I’m grateful for is autumn — my favourite season. Just this week the trees in our town ignited. Seriously — there is incandescent scarlet, saffron, & chartreuse. A deep winey burgundy, and the sombre backdrop of greeny-black evergreens. It’s a lush tapestry of gorgeous.
Weaving in & out of this are birds, like red, blue, grey, black, even orange threads of bright movement. The four blue jay brothers are squawking at me to fill the sunflower feeder, and a nuthatch vies with a red-bellied woodpecker at the suet block. It’s a never-fail antidote to the tragedy of so many human interactions.
And after a night with my astonishingly wonderful elder grandson, I’m once again thanking the universe that my beloved & I took a leap of faith and moved half-way across the country to spend more time w/ our two grandsons. The elder a perpetual movement machine, running on peanut butter, jelly, apples, & tickle marathons. The younger one endless wide-eyed wonder, enthralled by even the fan above him (his own personal mobile!). You flat can’t have ‘quality’ time w/out plenty of quantity.
I’m still surprised at how many faces in this small town are becoming familiar to me. Just today, when I went to vote, I recognised 2 women exiting the polling station. Where I know them from eludes me, but they were faces I knew I SHOULD know! I’ve never lived in a small American town, so much of this new chapter is totally new to me.
The power of landscape to awe me is another gratitude. Maybe I just took the sprawling skies of Oklahoma for granted, no longer seeing them as beautiful, but the mountains here — the vistas that open up like a kaleidescope of 15 greens, 5 browns, and uncountable shards of orange, wine, russet & pumpking — send me into stunned, breathless silence. They’re that incredible.
How can I NOT be grateful?
If, like me, the evil we do to each other, the refusal to own our own responsibility to change things, and the powerlessness we feel as individuals is overwhelming you, I’m prescribing autumn. Get outside — even if it’s chilly. Maybe especially if it’s chilly! Blow the doldrums over the hazy horizon. Take a cup of tea (I’m drinking Harney’s new London Fog — how appropriate an autumn tea is THAT?!), and just watch the season unfurl in front of you. If you’re very lucky, maybe the birds will even talk to you. And for that, we’re always grateful.
Despite what we thought would be the case, we’ve had several visitors to our new home in Virginia. And that’s GOOD! In part because not only do we love them all, but they’ve all worked hard to be great house guests. Want to know how to ace that rôle? Listen up:
The biggest help is to be sure the folks you’re visiting adore you. That’s been the case with all of our guests: my three sisters — one with beloved partner; my younger son; my niece & her wife, plus friend; and a very dear old friend of mine. Each is a pleasure to visit with, and a necessary element in my very happy life. So that’s #1.
#2: Give your host and/or hostess some notice, so they can anticipate! Not to mention do the sheets in the guest room… 😉 In our case, it means we can also make reservations for Sunday brunch at the coooolest little restaurant in the Blue Ridge Mountains!
#3: Let them know if you have dietary issues. A couple of old friends are coming in a few weeks, and she was thoughtful enough to let me know they all have celiac. So I can show off our amazing local bakers, who do GREAT gluten-free! And I was able to send her the link to a great local restaurant that has a lengthy gluten-free menu, as well. We all win!
#4: If you’re staying for more than a few days-ish, pitch in. My younger son is the king of this — he takes out trash; he empties wastebaskets; he goes to pick up last-minute necessaries when I’m cooking. It’s also nice if you ask about stripping the bed when you leave, but not critical. Still, when my girlfriend did it, neatly folding the dirty linens on the ottoman, I was sooo grateful!
#5 is optional, & dependent on finances, obviously: Take your host/ess out for a meal. My sisters aren’t particularly flush — one is retired, another in FT grad school, and the 3rd unemployed. Yet each found a way to take us out, and it was such a thoughtful gesture!
Finally? HAVE FUN! If you’re at my house these days, chances are we’ve picked up some creeping bug from the grandsons, and are lower energy than we’d like to be for guests. Which means I’m über paranoid that you’re bored! If you’re obviously enjoying what we do most days — drinking tea or coffee, watching birds, reading, just talking — then I’m happy. And while it’s NOT all about me (honest), it’s sooo much more fun for ALL of us if I know what you enjoy, from the food (if you don’t like cornbread, be sure to let us know! We eat a lot of it!) to the bed (close the door if you don’t want the cats on you!) to the weather (we can’t fix that, so just enjoy it — our town is gorgeous!).
In other words, just be your normal kind & thoughtful self. Having fun! How hard is that??
I never take friendship for granted. As a child, a teen, and then an adult, I moved too often to keep most friends I made along the way. There is one man from my senior year I still correspond with, via FB. I’m sure he has no idea how dear he is to me, not only for this important singularity, but also because for some unknown reason he values my friendship, too.
Over the years, I have lost far more friends than I have kept, most from the attrition of too many moves and too little time together. My oldest dear friend and I have worked hard to maintain the precious friendship that blossomed unexpectedly as we worked together years ago: over the more than 10 years we’ve lived across the country from each other, we’ve scheduled visits, telephone calls, FaceBook messages & Google Hangouts. Sent cards & presents. Tried hard to safeguard the fragile cup that holds this infinitely precious elixir.
That’s what it is, friendship. A kind of magic draught that confers an inner sense of worth & comfort. Even if it sneaks up on you sometimes, blindsides you with how much you didn’t realise you needed it right that minute. In, for instance, a made-with-love&care box of biscotti, colouring book postcards carefully tucked in. Just because she can, a newer friend says in a short note (no effusiveness for this girl!).
Perhaps because I don’t take my friends for granted, I’m always surprised I have any! Please rest assured: I’m not playing the poor pitiful me card. I just know that I prose on far too much about esoteric subjects ~ tea, for instance. Who other than my younger son really wants to discuss the difference between a jasmine tea made with black tea leaves and a jasmine made with a far gentler combo of green & white teas? Who wants to hear me wax rhapsodic about an obscure poet, or try to process my dog’s brain tumour? Who cares that my grandson told me his newest great thing?
My friends. The infinitely treasured men and women who have managed to wriggle past my fairly strong external personality — the voice that can part a sea of supermarket shoppers, the highly opinionated newshound, the besotted grandmother, the horrible punster. To whatever it is they see beneath that fairly thick veneer.
There’s the man I met in a book club he started at my former employer’s: he let me in to his deep grief when his beloved partner died. The dear girlfriend I mentioned earlier, who solaced me during a very bad patch of life, but can also make me laugh until I snort tea through my nose. The woman I met in a writing workshop, the friend of another dear friend, who became my own friend, making me laugh when I needed to, bringing me homemade comfort treats because she could. The man who worked with me, who shared his dreams of home & happiness with me. The younger girlfriend who doesn’t take a busy ‘no’ for an answer, and cajoled me into tea at her house, with her adorable 2-year-old.
And of course there are my sisters. But somehow, you expect your sisters to love you. At least in my family we do, a family of 3 generations of sister/friends.
So here’s to friends, who don’t just tolerate our idiosyncracies, but celebrate them! Who talk too loud with us, bake for us, share their kids with us, show us their cat & dog pics, recommend books, send us music… In other words? Here’s to the friends who share their lives with us. I don’t deserve mine, but I’m profoundly grateful they don’t seem to know that.
This is what my plant shelves on the deck looked like earlier this summer. I’m not posting what the shelves look like now, because they’re mostly empty. It’s the time of year when plants come inside. And, since we’re moving across country this winter, I also gave several away to my sister. The orchids found good homes but I’ll miss them…, as did several succulents. Including a jade tree at least 15 years old. Sigh…
But it meant today, a day that began with a sad email from a dear friend, who said she just couldn’t be on my FB anymore because of folks asking her to move on past the election. Like me, she’s still mourning. And she isn’t ready to hear ‘play nice,’ or ‘suck it up & get back to fighting for social justice.’ We’re still angry here (which I think is stage 3…?)
Anyway, it wasn’t a great morning. Until my sister who’s in town from Dallas called, & asked us to join her, and my youngest sister (as well as her son) to get together for… Thai food! And from there the day brightened considerably. Because she came back by the house, I was able to load her up w/ great (at least I think they’re great) plants: the orchids & jade plants, a lantana in orange/pink&yellow, great succulent fixings for a couple of the mixed succulent saucers we love, and others. All going to good homes! The orchids — which are a bit particular — went in their pots. The others I nudged from theirs, & sent over naked (well, in grocery bags!). I’ll need those clay pots at the new house!
It was the best of therapy. After my sister left, I brought in what won’t weather the upcoming cooler nights (mostly the remaining succulents), and worked on the inside plants. Then I tidied up the debris on the deck.
Something there is in me that responds happily to dirt. To get my hands into dirt. To rinse out pots, & scrub them clean for next season. To sweep off the deck in preparation for tomorrow’s morning sun (usually taken on the deck, w/ a big cappuccino!).
And I’m so very grateful for all of it. I am my old ladies’ kiddo: from Grandmother’s African violets to Grandma’s roses to Aunt Bonnie’s broom, rake, & shovel, I’m sprouted from those green hands. Like my mother & mother-in-law before me, the garden is my place to absolutely forget what’s bothering me. The birds come visit happily, & we all bask in the late afternoon sun. It’s a huge gift, and today it dominates my gratitude list.