I’m Going to let Thanksgiving be the Kickoff for a New Year Filled With Gratitude!

I’m going to let Thanksgiving be the kickoff for a new year filled with gratitude! I can’t imagine a better way to prepare for a new year than looking forward with gratitude. I suppose it’s more common to look back in nostalgia, but that only leaves me longing for something that is no longer. Somehow that seems like a waste of emotional energy that can better be used to recognize, feel, and express thankfulness for what’s happening all around me.

Approaching each moment with a posture of gratitude keeps me focussed on the amazing strength and courage the universe provides to meet each challenge. That recognition then becomes a spiral of feeling more confident, powerful, calm, peaceful, and humble which in turn provides me with more joy and, of course, gratitude. If that spiraled out of control, would it be such a bad thing? I think not.

Science is even getting behind this idea. Studies by psychologists Dr. Robert A Emmons of the University of California, Davis, Dr. Michael E. McCullough of the University of Miami, and Dr. Martin E. Seligman of the University of Pennsylvania have shown that the positive effects of practicing gratitude include: Feeling more optimistic and better about life, exercising more, and making fewer doctor visits.

Taking a quick look at daily news stories, online rants, and statistics on child abuse and domestic violence, it is easy to see that we are in need of healing in our family units. The pain we suffer at home often spills over into our workplace. Before we realize it, our entire worldview can quickly become jaded, pessimistic, and dismal.

Even the healing process requires that we walk back through sadness, grief, loss, and rage in order to let it go. How can we possibly feel grateful in the midst of open wounds?
Gratitude Journals

Here’s the deal. You don’t have to feel grateful to start the process. You just have to PRACTICE gratitude. I’m not saying this because I read it somewhere. I’m saying this because I’ve felt the power of this practice by filling journal after journal with lists that I struggled to generate while caught in a cycle of grief.

I started with the intention of writing 5 things I was grateful for every day. Some days I could only come up with 3. Often, 3 of those things were the same as the day before. I know this because I recently reviewed a series of these journals before throwing them away. I felt both sad at how I had felt and joyous about how I feel now.

What I learned in the process is that even the tiniest amount of gratitude changed my focus in a positive way. The other thing I learned was that when I could find a way to be thankful for something really painful, I had found an emotional place from which to begin to heal that pain.

Healing requires having the courage and fortitude to sit and fully embrace the fear, anger, sadness, loss and other difficult emotions that hold us hostage until they dissipate for good. Coming to these moments with gratitude helps makes this process more tolerable.

For instance, I am grateful that I believe I am competent to achieve a goal even when I must push past feeling unprepared, afraid, or inadequate. This belief for which I’m grateful comes from the years of events like: Having to hang onto the saddle when my parents sent me galloping down the road on a full-size horse by myself. I was 18 months old. Being sent to round up the cows when I was 5 and hardly bigger than the dog I took with me. The cows acted as if I wasn’t even there, but I knew if I didn’t get them started toward the barn, the danger of the punishment I would receive was greater than any danger those cows represented. Being the delegated baker of cakes for my family to give away when I had just entered elementary school. By then, I knew how to use a mixer and the oven so I was in the kitchen alone. This was not all bad. I enjoyed baking. Getting up every night to take care of my crying baby sister because the adults in the house didn’t seem to hear her. At least by then I was 13.

While I am grateful for the skills and feeling of competence, I have had to grieve the lack of a childhood and wonder what it would feel like to ever feel carefree. (I also have a lingering sense of danger because typing this would be considered talking out of school and the consequence of such a breach still feels frightening.)

Because I began sharing this with a statement of gratitude, the feeling of loss and danger quickly dissipate and I’m left with a feeling of accomplishment and joy that I left high school after 3 years to begin college, raised two amazing sons, was able to pay for their college education, started two businesses, successfully operated one of them for 24 years while building the other one, earned a pilot’s license, built and maintained computer networks, and am slowly finding the courage to reveal where I began.

Whew! I’m also grateful to Brené Brown whose work reminds me that gratitude will help me get past my current feeling of vulnerability. To that end, I am grateful this post is done and for the chance to begin a new year with gratitude as its focus.

If you feel you can’t possibly begin to practice gratitude, let me leave you with this quote from Theodore Roosevelt:
“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”

Disclosure of Material Connection: I have not received any compensation for writing this post. I have no material connection to the brands, products, or services that I have mentioned. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Small Crowd? Small Bird! How about Cornish Game Hen for Thanksgiving?

Small Crowd? Small Bird! How about Cornish game hen for Thanksgiving? If the gathering at your Thanksgiving table this year will be small, then maybe it’s a good time to downsize the meal to fit.
Cornish Hen
Perhaps I’m thinking this because I’m short, drove a MiniCooper for 10 years, or because I love small things. It’s really probably more closely related to the fact that I recently saw the documentary, “Just Eat It”. This movie explores food waste on the farm, in the retail food chain and in our own refrigerators. That, coupled with the fact that only Ben and I will be home this year, has me leaning toward paring down my shopping list beginning with the bird. Of course, I’ve let time get away from me so paring things down makes even more sense with less than a week to the event and no real plan in place.

The great thing about cooking with fresh ingredients is that when you’re short on planning, shopping, or prep time, you can let the food speak for itself without a lot of embellishment. Yesterday, my hairdresser told me she uses orange marmalade diluted with orange juice to baste Cornish game hens that she has seasoned with salt & pepper and larded with butter. She bakes for 15 minutes at 375% and then starts basting every 7 or 8 minutes with the orange marmalade until the bird is fully cooked (an additional 35-45 minutes). That sounds easy enough.

Instead of stuffing, I can make a rice pilaf with red bell pepper, orange zest, peas, raisins, and nuts. I already have a butternut squash and a head of cabbage. I’ll peel, boil, and mash the butternut squash with a little salt, butter, and cream and boil the cabbage in some chicken broth. Ta da! That’s plenty of food for the two of us.
Butternut Squash

Oh wait. Since it’s a holiday, maybe I should add dessert. What’s quick, easy, and small? My first thought is banana pudding. I can use instant vanilla pudding made with half & half (the generic store brand is gluten-free) layered with Mi-Del animal cookies plus perfectly ripe bananas. I’ve done this before. It takes about 5 minutes and it’s delicious. We like to call it Bananimal pudding.

Panna cotta is also an option. I love it served in my grandmother’s sherbet glasses topped with fresh raspberries. The only part that takes much time is the chilling. Since my refrigerator is happy to take care of this without any assistance from me, it fits my definition of quick.

Another possibility is to throw together a microwave spoon bread filled with berries or chocolate, or both. All I need is in an almond flour base, an egg, sweetener, a little baking soda, then some spices and berries. The result is another dessert that’s ready in less than 15 minutes.

By implementing my pared down plan, I’m also saving myself some headaches at the grocery store. If I needed traditional ingredients, I might face empty displays since I’ve waited until the last minute.

While it would be great to have the whole family together, I’m not lacking things for which to be thankful. I think I’ll add this scaled down Thanksgiving meal plan to the list.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I have not received any compensation for writing this post. I have no material connection to the brands, products, or services that I have mentioned. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

A Simple Holiday Hack – Ditch the Expectations!

A Simple Holiday Hack – Ditch the Expectations! Long before you cook the food and set the table, the holiday pressure begins. Will your pie crust turn out flaky; will your flaky aunt Jill embarrass you; will your grandmother act insulted (again) when you don’t eat her rolls? It’s enough to make anyone want to crawl under the covers and skip the whole thing.
Holiday Table Setting

Holidays are so fraught with confusing and conflicting emotion that many of us divorce ourselves from our feelings and numbly stumble through as best we can. Some of us show up out of obligation slightly angry, out of sorts, and ready to snap when someone smiles at us too cheerily. Others of us feel exhausted from stuffing our feelings under three pieces of pecan pie. None of us want this. We want our invisible expectation of love, joy, and wonderment…and we are certain we will not get it.

Today’s simple holiday hack fixes that. Many of the things we view as awful, horrible, exhausting, hurtful, annoying, tiring, or wrong are magnified because of our expectations. The fastest, simplest way to improve our experience of the holidays is to remove those expectations. Let them go. I promise it will be freeing.

So how does letting go of expectations look? It can look like choosing to be kind to yourself in spite of your family’s fussing.
For instance, let’s say your husband’s family is local and your family is 3 hours away, you’ve been working 10 hour days, the kids have been sick, you just finished remodeling and have boxes to unpack. Your mom expects you to come home because you’ve ALWAYS spent Thanksgiving together. She just can’t imagine it without you. And you know how she loves to remind the family of all your missteps. Instead of caving to your mom’s pressure, you choose to spend a few hours with your husband’s family, some relaxed time with your kids, and still have time to make a dent in the unpacking. You choose this option because it is best for you and your immediate family rather than expecting yourself to sacrifice your well-being in order to be the “perfect” daughter.

It can look like allowing the Thanksgiving table to vary from the vision in your head.
You love the tradition of serving the meal on the same china your grandmother used when you were small, but you can’t afford to buy the tablecloth you want. Let go of the picture in your head in which the china sits on that particular tablecloth. You can save up and serve on that tablecloth another year. This year, cover the table with brown kraft or butcher paper, scatter some of your kid’s crayons around and encourage everyone to write or draw things they’re thankful for. You never know what you’ll learn when your family is faced with a blank canvas.

It can look like allowing your children to do what they need to do without repercussions.
No matter how much you may want to be surrounded by your kids and grandkids on Thanksgiving or Christmas, you know that what’s most important is enjoying time together. If your children are not available on the actual holiday, let it be okay. if you really need an “event”. Have it another time. Plan for it. Make it playful! There’s nothing wrong with Thanksgiving in June or Christmas in January!

It can look like taking the time to create a different sort of memory.
Thanksgiving doesn’t have to be focussed on food. Perhaps you rent a house on the beach, build sand castles, and grill hamburgers. Perhaps you take your family shopping for food to donate to a local food bank or shelter. Maybe you meet your parents at a point halfway between your houses to see an art exhibit or in New York City to see some shows on Broadway and eat at Joe Allen.

It can look like setting limits on the time you spend with your family.
If you come from a dysfunctional family, it is okay to limit the amount of time you will spend with them. If they trigger feelings of danger, fear, or sadness, but you feel you should show up, you can predetermine the amount of time you will stay. During the time you are there, if you gather the courage to sit with the feelings that get triggered without taking on your traditional role, you may discover that those triggers are actually revelations of areas that need healing. You are not required to heal the family. You are not required to heal in front of the family if they do not provide a safe environment. It is a true gift to yourself to allow yourself to heal. You deserve it and you deserve to feel safe, whole, and loved. You CAN feel these things even if your family expects something different for you (which may be that you continue to play the role you’ve been assigned in the dysfunctional system). If your family hampers your healing, it is okay to choose to be away from them on the holidays and any other days. You do not owe anyone the suppression or destruction of the amazing person you were put here to be.

Whatever it is you value most about the holidays – food, family, football, shopping, or gratitude can be reflected in the choices you make when you let go of expectations in favor of being genuine, authentic, and loving.

If this simple change sounds daunting or overwhelming, just think of it as doing someone else’s dishes. Doing your own dishes can feel daunting and overwhelming when you see the stack of dirty pots and pans in your peripheral vision and you’re tired or you’d rather read a book. Doing someone else’s dishes never seems like a big deal because you just get in there and do it without thinking about it.

I encourage you to get in there and enjoy this holiday hack – let the expectations goooooooooooo!