November is a month that is geared towards gratitude. Two of my favorite holidays happen during this month- Veterans Day and Thanksgiving. Thanksgiving is obvious, and it is well shared about. Veterans Day, on the other hand, seems to be a day that is given very little attention.
In the morning on holidays like Veteran’s Day there will be a multitude of sharings on social media, thanking our military members for their service. This is wonderful and at the same time it often seems like an afterthought. A quick nod for the day you got to take off of work perhaps.
But Veteran’s Day is a day of true appreciation. After several years of working with military members and their families, I have a much deeper understanding of how important this day is. The sacrifices that our military members make whether they are sent off to a war zone or work a desk job on a local base are deeper than most of us know.
Veterans Day celebrates our military members and coincides with Armistice Day- “a day to be dedicated to the cause of world peace” – President Woodrow Wilson.
To me, this is a day to celebrate the freedoms that we enjoy every day. Freedom of Speech, Religion, Assembly, to Bear Arms, to own property, to live or travel anywhere, to work at any job, to marry and raise a family, to education, to participate in politics, to equal justice, to wear what you want, to make your own choices in your life, to complain about plain red cups, to post naked pictures of yourself on the internet. You get to make those choices on your own.
I am grateful that I do not have to cover my face and body when I leave the house.
I am grateful that I could live in New York, Hawaii and North Carolina. I am grateful that I can move if I want.
I am grateful that I can be friends with whoever I want.
I am grateful that I listen to the music I want.
I am grateful that I could marry who I wanted.
I am grateful for both fast food and farmer’s markets.
I am grateful for being able to vote.
I am grateful for clean, running water.
I am grateful for our police force, our military, our EMTs, our ability to cure so many diseases, and science.
I am grateful that I can believe whatever I want.
This is a short list. When I picture myself living in a third world country or a country where women’s rights are non-existent, the list of gratitudes becomes extensive.
In July, my husband and I began renting a house in North Carolina. After being in a townhouse in Hawaii for 13 years, we decided to get a place with a yard. Out here we were able to find a lovely house complete with a firepit and a stream running through some woods out back, and a bunch of trees in the front yard. I am surrounded by flora and fauna that I am not familiar with. There are the regular old Pine and Oak and Hickory that I recognize. What I have come to learn, is that in a rental property you don’t know what has been planted over the years and sometimes you get a surprise. And we have had a couple of really beautiful surprise displays over the last couple of months.
We had an incredible display of mushrooms when my in-laws came to visit:
There was this incredible looking mushroom in our driveway:
This vine covered in white flowers was growing and blooming everywhere for about a week and a half. The air around us smelled so beautiful.
This random berry patch grew out of the swamp next door:
Groupings of these fabulous red plants started blooming in random spots around the house:
Then, after cold weather came for a little while and I thought we wouldn’t have any more surprises, this bush out front of our house went from boring green plant to this:
Gorgeous white flowers all over! The blanket of fallen petals happened over a few days’ time. I continue to be stunned by the beauty in the nature around us right now.
I feel so blessed to have been able to find such an amazing location to ease my way back to the mainland. Mushrooms, flowers, squirrels, foxes, deer, and some really large birds have appeared so far. I can’t wait to wake up every day and see what the property has to offer.
Three weeks ago I was walking in Walmart in the gardening section. And there, tucked quietly on the side, in a row, near the patio furniture, were Christmas trees. This was before Halloween. I feel like the school year just started.
Now, this is not a rant on how we are celebrating Christmas earlier and earlier. Frankly, I don’t care about that in particular. I’m sure there are people who quite brilliantly leave their Christmas tree up year round because it takes less energy. That I don’t mind. What I do mind is that the “holidays” based on getting stuff are squeezing out the holiday for appreciating the stuff.
Halloween has always been about dressing up and getting candy. What’s cooler than dressing up and becoming something or someone completely different from yourself for one evening? And getting Snickers bars to boot? That’s amazing.
After Halloween is supposed to come Thanksgiving. Thanksgiving is a holiday about family, about quality time spent together, about playing soccer or football in the backyard after eating a ton of food around a huge table packed with loved ones. The whole idea of Thanksgiving is preparing food for someone else. It’s spending hours together in the kitchen getting different dishes ready. It’s everyone pitching in to make an entree or a dessert. It’s guests helping you clean your dishes when half the party has left. It’s playing Atari with your cousins in the basement and going on a long walk in the woods to counteract the tryptophan from the turkey. This holiday is all about giving and thanking and community and kindness and gratitude.
No wonder it’s been completely overshadowed by the Christmas holiday season. I don’t know what it’s like in other countries, but here in America we like to get stuff. We think our kids deserve hundreds of presents and we think other people should know what expensive thing we want to get under the tree. In every school I’ve worked at over the years, Santa has become a bargaining tool for the children. If you’re good you’ll get stuff, but if you don’t listen, Santa won’t come.
So we go from dressing up and getting stuff in October, to a quick thanks for a second in November to “give me, give me, give me” in December. January we have a momentary break and then we jump into February’s candy and card fest.
I guess I don’t need to go on, you can see where this is going. We have become a country run by the gifts we get for each other. We deserve the new car, the newest iPhone, and my child should have all the things on his Halloween, birthday, Christmas, and Valentine’s Day lists. We have become collectors of shiny stuff.
This year, I challenge you to cover your eyes and ears when the commercials for Christmas come on. Stop believing the advertisements telling you how much you need.
What do you really need? You need Thanksgiving. Over and over and over again. Remove yourself from the craziness. I’m not saying not to give gifts. But you don’t have to get everyone you’ve ever met a gift. You don’t have to make a card for everyone who has ever crossed your path. Your loved ones don’t need more than one present from you.
This holiday season (whatever that means) do your best to schedule time for the people you love. Get out a board game. Go outside for a walk. Read a book together. Create a meal from scratch together. Do anything, but do it with someone. Put your phones and your iPads down and look each other square in the eyes. Whether you pray or not at your holiday of choice, you should still sit next to each other around a table and hold hands for a moment. Maybe just take a deep breath together. The human connection is something we’re losing. Be the one to bring it back to your group.
Stop asking for more and appreciate all the things and people you have.
Do you have any plans with friends and family for the holidays? Share it below!
One of my New Year’s goals for the year of 2014 was to live my life with intention. This means that over the course of the year I have done my best to take full responsibility for all of my actions. To make choices about my behavior throughout the day, rather than just randomly reacting to things all day. To stop feeling like I had no control over the choices made in my day. As an example, at the end of the day I have a choice to make about whether I head to the gym or not. Prior to this year I would tell myself that I had to go. I would go to work, and if at the end of the day, if I didn’t feel like going I would make up excuses. Maybe I had some work to catch up on, maybe I had a stomach ache or a sore throat. Maybe my husband and I should do something instead of me working out. This year, if I don’t feel like working out, I say I don’t feel like working out, what can I do? I can go to the gym anyway and see how I feel or I can go home and do something else. And then I choose one. And when I choose go home, just because I feel like it, there is no guilt attached. That is living with intention. Being truthful to yourself and choosing your behavior.
The holidays are a very difficult time to practice living with intention. What do the commercials and sales for Thanksgiving and Christmas say to us? We are bombarded by glittery signs about SALE, SALE, SALE! The Macy’s down the road from us has a “One-Day Sale!” every day. Zales tells us that our men must spend 5,000 dollars on a three diamond necklace, not just on Christmas, but also one for Valentine’s Day and one for Thanksgiving in the shape of a turkey. Obviously, we will not believe that you love us unless we have multiple carats hanging on our chests. My poor husband is led to believe that women only want diamonds, cars, make-up, bras, or this Hawaii Hula Chair as gifts.
For Thanksgiving the commercial messages tell us that we must make turkey, pies, stuffing, mashed potatoes, cranberry sauce and matching beverages. We must invite all of our family to our homes even if we cannot tolerate these people and then eat as much as we possibly can stuff into our faces. We must decorate our tables with centerpieces created by carefully folded gold napkins and carved squashes. We must then watch the football game after the meal and drink massive amounts of alcohol. We must spend days before the holiday planning and folding and decorating. Then, for some reason now, we must get up after our naps and head to the closest Walmart to stand in line for 12 hours until they open their doors for the Black Friday sales. Hopefully, after the doors have opened you can rush inside and grab the closest television or toolbox offered to you at a deep discount. Maybe you will kill or maim someone along the way. It does not matter. You need this toolbox. The sale is too good to pass up.
This is what our holidays have been reduced to. I refuse to be a part of it. But what then, does that mean for my Thanksgiving celebrations? Do I ignore the holiday all together? Insist on going to work and living as if it were any other Thursday? Of course not. I plan to enjoy the holiday, but intentionally. Here’s how:
1. Think back to your Thanksgivings past.
What were some of the traditions that my family had? I remember that family was always the most important part. We would usually travel to a relatives’ home and spend the day there. Most of my memories of Thanksgiving are of my Aunt Barb’s house.
The adults would stay upstairs and prepare the meal, while the children hung out downstairs and played the Atari all day.
We had the usual suspects for dinner- (at 2pm) turkey, stuffing, cranberry sauce, mashed potatoes and spanakopita. I’m pretty sure my grandmother led some prayers before we ate, and we may have said what we were grateful for, although that may be in the later years.
We stuffed our faces, then we would go outside to play soccer in the backyard, no matter how cold it was. We would go for a long hike in the woods near the house, and I have a recollection of visiting a waterfall on those hikes, that would usually be half frozen.
We would go back and have a hot beverage, eat more pie, and watch football. Then my family would pile into a car and make the long drive home, stock-piled with leftovers from the meal. As soon as we got home, I remembered that we would always open up the leftover containers and have one more bite of whatever it was we brought home.
2. Think about what traditions you loved.
For me, it was being with family. I loved having everyone together. I also loved turkey, Atari, soccer and hiking.
3. What traditions will not fit into your life this year?
Unfortunately, I will not be able to travel with my family this year.
I no longer really eat pie, stuffing, cranberry sauce, or 90% of the foods that have become holiday staples.
I refuse to support turkey farms. Most turkeys you find for the holiday have been raised in horrid conditions. How else could you buy them that cheap?
4. How can you incorporate those traditions you loved, and replace some of those that aren’t going to work?
For me, I am not near my family of origin, but my husband and fur-babies are. My friends, that I consider to be family are here. I will celebrate with my friends and husband this year. I will Skype into any family members home that will allow it.
Gratitude, on Thanksgiving day, and every day. I will make everyone near me tell what they are grateful for. Because I enjoy this small bit of torture on a holiday.
Turkey from Whole Foods would work, but I will probably make some cornish game hen instead. Less work, less leftovers.
Instead of all of the other sides we will probably have brussel sprouts and bacon.
My husband and I may take the dogs to the beach in the morning.
This Thanksgiving plan sounds so much more doable for me. It makes me happy to think about it. I do not have to buy, thaw and bake a turkey. I don’t have to create multiple side dishes that no one is going to eat. I don’t have to be around too many people. I do not have to decorate. I do not have to watch football, and I do not have to buy anyone a ring in the shape of a turkey. This is the beauty of living with intention.
What traditions are you keeping or tossing this holiday? Share in the comments!
I am a big fan of gratitude. Although sometimes it may appear to be a catchy, new-agey theory that having gratitude is good for you, the truth is that when practiced regularly finding the time to be thankful for the little things in life can be life changing. When you get into the habit of focusing on the positive, more positive seems to show up. The explanations for this vary, they go from magic, or a miracle, to the Law of Attraction where you literally manifest what you want in life. I’m more of a sciency, objective type of person. For me it simply makes sense that if we are looking for things to be grateful for, we are more likely to see them and be ready to appreciate them when they come our way. Let’s take this scenario taken from my very real life.
Situation 1- I have not been practicing gratitude, in fact it’s been a long, exhausting, negative day and I am having negative thoughts about everything. I arrive home from work and my husband is at the sink washing the dishes and the negative thoughts just continue on, merrily. “Oh, NOW he wants to wash the dishes. He lets them sit around for weeks, waiting for me to wash them or until they magically wash themselves.” And I probably say thank you in a sarcastic, passive-aggressive, snarky tone and head to the couch to sulk and think about how crappy his dish-washing timing is. This is, by the way, a serious example in my life.
Situation 2- I have been practicing gratitude, I have had a trying day, but have been looking for the positive. I come home and my husband is at the sink washing dishes. On this occasion, I can walk in the door, thank him for washing the dishes and go relax on the couch for a few minutes knowing that the dishes are being washed. The only difference in the two days is my attitude when I walked in the door.
So- now we know, gratitude is awesome and worthwhile! And just as we bring in the New Year with our fitness, health, career and life goals, we bring in the Thanksgiving season with reminders of gratitude. “What are you thankful for?” is the catchy phrase that’s being thrown around recently. The newest status trend on Facebook is to list all of the things you are grateful for that start with the corresponding letter of the day (1=A, 2=B, etc). Although the gratitude trend may not last beyond the holiday, I do think 30 days a year of gratitude is better than zero and it’s a great start to what could become a habitual practice.
Some days it’s easier said than done. Have you been there? There you are, having a shitty day- your child barfed on you in the morning so you changed your pants, then you accidentally spilled coffee into your lap in the car, didn’t notice until you got to work that you forgot to brush your teeth, had a long passive aggressive conversation with a co-worker that took up all of your free time including any time you had to run out and grab lunch, then you got stuck in ungodly traffic on the way home. You know, those kind of days. Then you get home and call a friend because you just need to vent to someone and they say something along the lines of, “Just be thankful for what you have.” Well, THANK YOU, very much, you (insert expletive of choice here).
On this kind of day I have a quick exercise that works well to adjust your thinking back to what you have in life, even if you don’t particularly feel like it.
1. Find somewhere to be alone, not in front of the tv, phone, or computer. These are all distracting and are guaranteed to remind you of some more things that you could possibly be angry about.
2. Sit still for a few moments. If you are a practiced meditator, now is a really good time. If you are like me, and have difficulty shutting your brain off (the yoga peeps call this monkey mind), don’t fight it. Just sit still for a few moments. Take a few deep breaths.
3. State your intention (ideally out loud, yes, speak to yourself) to find three things you can be grateful for.
4. Start thinking. If your meditation and deep breaths helped you calm down, you should be able to come up with a few good ones on your own here. However, sometimes we’re really stuck. If that’s the case, look around you. The stories in our heads can keep us from finding the good in our lives, but often physical items around us can trigger a memory.
5. If you’re really stuck here, and you are stewing in negativity, then this exercise is really important for you. You need to get unstuck or go take a nap, because if you’re at this place, you might not want to be around people. Force yourself to focus on an item that you see in your physical space. A tree, a piece of paper, a sock on the floor, a piece of lint on your pants, a dresser in your room, a chair. Anything. And find 3 things about that object to be thankful for. For example- the chair under my bottom at this very moment. This chair is ripped, but it has lasted me for almost 9 years. I am thankful that I have it to sit on. Sometimes I will think of something I need to write at the computer, but my husband has wheeled it away from the desk for some reason and I’ll kneel in front of the computer on the floor and that, my friends, is painful. I am grateful for its ability to hold me up to the desk and keep the pressure off of my knees. It has a lever on the side that I can push on and it allows me to adjust the height. It is tall enough in the back that I can lead my head back against it when I have writer’s block. It is made of a feaux leather material that is cooling, and doesn’t get your bottom all sweaty when it’s hot and humid here. It has armrests. What more could you want in a 9 year old desk chair?
This exercise can be done at any time during the day. Look around for an object and think of all the redeeming qualities it possesses. Feel free to stretch a bit, sometimes the fun of it will knock you out of your bitter mood. Maybe that lint is a lovely shade of yellow. Perhaps it is making a smiley-face or appears in the shape of a unicorn. Maybe the lint reminds you of something. Get creative.
If that doesn’t work, look at this picture of this dog chewing on a kitten’s face:
I hope you enjoy this exercise. What other methods do you use to stay thankful over the holiday season?