Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Gratitude: Pumpkin Chiffon Pie

Recently, while reorganizing some stuff in the house, I came across a journal my mom gave me in 1998. It is one of those notebooks I was afraid to start using because it was so beautiful. The cover has a deep green background and a beautiful fairy with a flute who sings to the woodland creatures. 

Looking at the picture always makes me happy, partly because it reminds me of my mom and partly because it portrays a scene of love and festivity. I finally put words into it on January 14, 1998. The first entry was a quote my mom had written in my 21st birthday card:

    “Optimism, like the happiness habit, can be learned. Start today with a little experiment. Smile at everyone you meet. Today, expect something good to happen to you no matter what occurred yesterday. Realize the past no longer holds you captive. It can only continue to hurt you if you hold onto it. Let the past go. A simply abundant world awaits.”  -- Sarah Ban Breathnach from the book Simple Abundance

I began to fill the book with lists of things that I was grateful for. Looking through the list that is now 12 years old, I realized two things: 1.) that none of the things I had written were material possessions, they were all irreplaceable people, places or moments and 2.) that 12 years later, not many of them had changed. I’m still grateful for each and every one of them.

During the past two years, Ryan and I have had to cut back on a lot of things. It’s hard, sometimes, to watch others move in directions you wish you were going – traveling, buying new things, paying off debt, etc… but after pushing through all that envy and frustration, something amazing happened. I started to focus on all the things I already had that I was truly grateful for. It’s ironic, actually, that I found this journal when I did because I’ve been mentally compiling a gratitude list in my mind for the past several weeks. So when I opened the book and saw the same list that was building in my head, I just had to smile. Then I turned to a fresh page and added to the list. 

I think it’s important that Thanksgiving is the day that officially kicks off the winter holiday season. It’s a day that is about much more than stuffing ourselves to an uncomfortable level and traveling near and far to see family and friends. It’s a day to pull out those gratitude lists and remember what we’re truly thankful for. You might be surprised to find that the things that mean the most to you are the ones that don’t cost a thing. And once we’re aware of all that gratitude, we need to keep it close to our hearts – not just during the holidays, but all year long. Here are a few of the items from my list that I started many years ago, but still mean just as much to me now as they did then:

1.)    My family
2.)    Artistic talents
3.)    The sound of my parents’ laughter
4.)    Kisses from a dog and the feeling of a warm canine companion sleeping next to you at night
5.)    Music

For Thanksgiving this year, I took several moments throughout the day to just stop and take it all in – the sound of laughter, the smell of turkey cooking in the oven, the sight of snowflakes slowly tumbling to the ground. It’s amazing how quickly the stress of worry disappears when you take those few seconds to focus on something happy. And as we sat down for dinner, I also realized how working on this blog for the past year has made me more aware of different tastes and smells, given me the courage to try new things, and has taught me how easy it can be to make a homemade treat prepared with love. This year, I brought the third and final version of pumpkin chiffon pie from the box with, of course, a large container of homemade whipped cream. Last year, the whipped cream was a huge hit with the kids and this year was no exception. But Ryan’s mom added a little twist to their plates of the fluffy white topping: Ovaltine sprinkled on top. This was a totally new concept to me, but the kids were big fans and ran to the kitchen in a thunderous stampede to claim their plate of this unique dessert, which worked out well because it meant more pie for the adults!

On the drive home, after the car had warmed up and my teeth had stopped chattering from the nearly negative wind chill, I watched the world pass by outside the window. More and more houses were twinkling with colorful displays of Christmas decorations and the fresh layer of snow reminded me that the December holidays really aren’t that far away. In fact, that morning we had already seen tents lining up in front of the Best Buy in town waiting for the doors to open Friday morning for those post-Thanksgiving door buster deals (considering that the temps were falling into the single digits Thursday night, I couldn’t fathom a deal that was worth missing out on Thanksgiving dinner and risking frostbite for). Every year, the month of December seems to fill with anxiety over finding the perfect gifts for loved ones (and finding a way to pay for them) and compiling a list of resolutions – all those things we want to change about ourselves, but know we’ll end up breaking only a few weeks into the new year. 

But as I watched tiny white lights twinkle against the frozen landscape, I vowed not to fall into that same destructive cycle. I will enjoy the month of December and if ever I start to stress out about gift buying or resolutions, I’ll think of my gratitude journal instead and replace that stress with dog cuddles, the resonating roll of my dad’s infectious laughter and music, specifically George Winston’s December album. Not only is it my favorite holiday album, but it’s the one I turn to when I feel down any time of the year and need to go to my “happy place.” As the first strike of the ivories echoes through the speakers, I’m instantly transported to my parents’ living room at Christmastime where a tall, fat pine tree stands beautifully decorated with ornaments from my childhood and outside, white lights illuminate snow-covered bushes that look very similar to a heaping pile of homemade whipped cream.

I hope you all had a wonderful Thanksgiving weekend and were surrounded by loved ones and delicious plates of traditional treats. Over the next few weeks, as the holiday season ramps up and you find yourself needing a way to wind down, I encourage you to make a gratitude list of your own. Keep it next to your bed or fold it up and stick it into your wallet. Then, any time during the year when you need a moment to escape into grateful bliss, just pull it out and read it over. I bet in 12 years, when you look back on it, you’ll have the same experience I did and realize that it hasn’t changed all that much. And if you ever need an extra serving of happiness, just  add a heaping dollop of homemade whipped cream to whatever it is you’re eating…or just eat it all by itself, that seems to be how the kids are doing it these days.

1 comment:

  1. It is interesting that you should mention, "happy place", as our family watches 'Hook' every year after Thanksgiving dinner. I am not one with words but have kept a journal for lots of years. One year I wrote something pretty much everyday of something that I was grateful for during that day. Some days were harder than others, some days seem to repeat themselves, but it is interesting what brings us happiness, and it's free!
    You are doing great with this blog!