Community, Food, Gratitude, Musings

I love Thanksgiving. Yes, it can be stressful. Yes, I think the Black Friday hoo-ha is awful. Yes, that whole spiel about pilgrims and Indians seems kinda icky and colonialist when you actually learn some more U.S. history. But I still love it. I love the cozy feeling of cooking and eating and relaxing with loved ones — ideally, for me, Thanksgiving hits pause for a few days during all the craziness of this time of the year. I also love pie and Thanksgiving is the ultimate pie holiday.

Pumpkin Pie Slice

(Click for source.)

This year, I have a great deal to be thankful for. I’ve been fretting about money a lot lately (health insurance and student loan payments are both really expensive), but this morning I sat down and wrote about all the things I do have, instead of the things I don’t. It feels so cheesy and forced to try and work yourself into a state of gratitude, and sometimes that applies to Thanksgiving as well. But I’ve learned that cultivating gratitude takes work, and even when it feels cheesy, it’s worth it.

One of the reasons I started this blog is because my mom was diagnosed with cancer earlier this year, and that has a way of turning all your priorities upside down. She just finished her treatment this week. After a long, hard year, she’s on the road to being well. In fact, she will be just fine. Better than fine. Words cannot begin to convey how thankful I am to have her in my life. I can’t wait to celebrate with her and the rest of my family. Really, I say this without sanctimoniousness, but what is a tight budget compared to that? I have a home, a job that gives me time off for the holiday, a wonderful husband, and a loving family. I am thankful.

I hope you all have safe, warm, happy Thanksgivings.

Spontaneity and Middlemarch

Gratitude, Life, Musings

So far, this month has been the anti-goals month. Or rather, it’s been a more spontaneous month.

I did spend an hour drawing this week. The drawing turned out … okay, but I enjoyed myself. Did I hit my goal of three to four sketches? No, I did not. But I did start reading Middlemarch by George Eliot, a sweeping, substantial Victorian novel often praised as one of the great masterpieces of English fiction. I spontaneously decided to undertake this epic reading project thanks to The Toast, which is hosting a virtual Middlemarch book club. And, you guys, I am SO excited to read this book and talk about it online because I never did finish it during my undergrad Brit Lit survey (the shame).

So, I forgive myself for reading this book instead of sketching more. Just like how I forgive myself for not writing in my journal some mornings because staying in bed and cuddling with my husband for those precious 20 minutes before we absolutely have to get up seems worth it. I’m still learning to balance things. And I’m also learning not to fight my natural whims. I set a good goal, but it wasn’t “filling the well” the way I thought it would, and so I’ve let myself take down time and start other projects. And it’s okay,  because this month I really do feel grateful to have time to relax before the holiday whirlwind, to have time to tackle this book, and to have time to spend baking and chatting with my new friend. I need these antidotes to work stress and the last few (completely insane) weeks of my husband’s graduate program. So, I suppose I’ll try to make time to draw again this week — but maybe I’ll just read instead.

Today I’m grateful for: this amazing marbled pumpkin gingersnap tart recipe from my Smitten Kitchen cookbook. I know what I’m making for Thanksgiving.

Gratitude and “Having It All”

Gratitude, Musings

Coffee & Cupcake

Lately, the writing well has been dry. I’m not sure why. I’ve been in an antisocial mood, alternately longing to curl up in bed alone with a book or to travel somewhere new where I don’t know anything and no one knows me. I go through these moods sometimes and it’s tough because relief only ever comes in a daydream. Meanwhile I go to work and act sociable, and then I go to the gym, and then I eat dinner with my husband, and then maybe I’ll try to check a few things off my to do list, and then I do it all over again. Gratitude is not at the top of my mind.

But today I read an essay by Delia Ephron, published in the New York Time op ed section this past weekend, and a little light bulb went off. My frustration with trend pieces about women “having it all” has reached a peak lately, mostly because these articles are annoying and narrowly focused, but also because they make me nervous and I hate that. I do not need any more anxiety in my life. Which is why this essay sparked something in me. After discussing the statistical impossibility of having it all in the first place, Ephron writes, “To me, having it all — if one wants to define it at all — is the magical time when what you want and what you have match up.”

“Well now,” I thought to myself, “Isn’t that gratitude?” I’m still exploring all the nuances of gratitude, but I think this is one of them. After all, gratitude means that you don’t want things to be any different than they are, and in that shining moment you feel lucky or even blessed to be so content. Ephron describes a few of these times:

It might be a fleeting moment — drinking a cup of coffee on a Sunday morning when the light is especially bright. It might also be a few undisturbed hours with a novel I’m in love with, a three-hour lunch with my best friend, reading “Goodnight Moon” to a child, watching a Nadal-Federer match. Having it all definitely involves an ability to seize the moment, especially when it comes to sports.

It’s all the encouragement I need to drink a cup of coffee in bed this weekend (or go buy a piece of cake from my favorite bakery) and know that I really do have it all, at least for a little while.

[Image via Flickr user StephenLukeEdD]

Wellness Challenge: Final Thoughts

Food, Wellness

This month’s challenges have yielded interesting results. The most surprising? I actually want to go the gym now. I don’t know how it happened. Maybe my body finally got sick of sitting around all day. Maybe I just had to get used to the routine. Maybe I’m hooked on the endorphins. Maybe it’s all three. At any rate, I’m digging the way I feel after a tough workout.

Changing up my meals has been harder. Switching my breakfast (pb on toast with some coffee) and lunch (whatever is in the fridge, usually dinner leftovers) routine has taken some creative shopping and some prep work. Some days are still hit or miss, but I’m working on it. Fortunately, I already like eating vegetables, so that part isn’t hard.

Million-dollar question: has all of this made me more grateful? I think I have to say “yes, but …” Yes, but it’s not enough on its own. Yes, but I haven’t transformed into a perky workout goddess. Yes, but I still feel really crappy and ungrateful sometimes.

Taking good care of myself doesn’t automatically make me more grateful, or more zen, or whatever. But it does make me more predisposed to feel calm, centered, and grateful. These days I feel better about my body. I feel grateful for my health. I feel calmer and more grounded during stressful events and minor crisis (and I’ve had a lot of those this month, I’m afraid).

So, while I intend to stick to my new routines, it’s August now. Time to move onto something different. That post will come next week because (lucky me) I’m going on vacation again for a few days. I’ll hopefully have my toes in the sand, looking out over the ocean with cold drink in hand by tomorrow afternoon.

Vegan Accomplishments (Plus, What Next?)

Food, Uncategorized, Wellness

Project part-time veganism is starting to gel — yesterday I put only vegan ingredients in my Chipotle burrito bowl (I gazed a little wistfully at the cheese, it’s true, but it was still a tasty lunch). Now, I’m eating a tofu spinach scramble as I write this. Tofu! I feel proud of myself. I also feel like a limp noodle because lifting weights after a week off is hard. But I think these things have helped me settle in again after the severe disappointment of coming back from vacation.

Only six days left in the wellness challenge. But I’ve already accomplished the real goal: set up healthy routines. I intend to keep on exercising and eating better, even after this month is over. I feel good. I’m grateful for that, and I’m excited for the next thing.

What is next? I’m still brainstorming, but I’ve been having lots of conversations lately about community and friendship. I’m beginning to realize that having a community of folks to rely on, bounce ideas of off, commiserate and celebrate with is just vital. On so many levels. And it requires attention and care to build that. But how do I tackle that? How do you maintain your friendships? How should I set goals?

Today I’m thankful for: the new water bottle that I finally broke down and bought. So worth it to have one that doesn’t leak.

Reflections: How You See Things Matters


I’ve been at this gratitude project for a little over a week. Every day, I’ve spent at least part of my day thinking, “I need something to write down. What am I grateful for?” The rest of the day my inner monologue is mostly unchanged. But at least I’ve spent ten minutes, maybe more, thinking about things I am thankful for every day. That’s something, right?

But I immediately worried that I’m giving thanks for really trivial things. Especially during a week like this one, when the news is a constant stream of terror and grief. Here I am giving thanks for my cup of coffee, when I should be thankful that I’m alive and whole. And then, of course, there are the personal tragedies and worries that dog my heels every day. These things are almost too big to grasp, except through grief. Just as big good things are hard to grasp except through joy.

We all feel the big stuff when it happens. But I’m concerned with small things.The daily battle to get by. Honestly, a lot of things that get under my skin are as trivial as the things I give thanks for. So, why not try to focus on the good, however small it seems?

This week I’ve been rereading David Foster Wallace’s commencement address to the graduates of Kenyon College in 2005 because it affirms this idea that how you see things and where you choose to focus your mind matters:

I have come gradually to understand that the liberal arts cliché about teaching you how to think is actually shorthand for a much deeper, more serious idea: learning how to think really means learning how to exercise some control over how and what you think. It means being conscious and aware enough to choose what you pay attention to and to choose how you construct meaning from experience. Because if you cannot exercise this kind of choice in adult life, you will be totally hosed. Think of the old cliché about “the mind being an excellent servant but a terrible master”.

Wallace eloquently points out that if we unconsciously go through life without challenging the natural, easy assumption that we are the center of the universe, we will feel miserable and annoyed, enslaved to our own inner monologue. And that being well-adjusted means working hard to get outside the default setting, to construct meaning that sets us free instead of bogging us down.

So, I suppose that’s the real crux of my project. Not to express some kind of ultimate truth, but just to change how I see things. Will I see the world as barren and hostile? Or will I choose to see it as abundant and beautiful?