ON THIS NATIONAL day of Thanksgiving, I realize that gratitude may feel elusive.
Perhaps you are mourning the loss of a loved one, grief shadowing your thoughts. Perhaps a loved one is seriously ill, near death. Maybe you are struggling with new or ongoing health issues. If this describes your situation, I’m sorry. Holidays like today, focused on family, can be hard, really hard.
We’ve all had those years when we’d rather skip the holiday for all the pain it brings.
But within and over and under and through and beside and between, gratitude can still find a way into our hearts. In photos. In memories. In a phone call or a text or a video chat. In time together, whether in-person or virtually. In a prayer offered. In a prayer received.
This Thanksgiving, I give thanks for you. For your support of my creative work. For the connections we’ve made, the friendships formed. For being part of my world. I value you. I count you among my reasons to give thanks, especially today.
A blessed and happy Thanksgiving to you and yours, dearest readers of Minnesota Prairie Roots!
WITH THANKSGIVING ONLY DAYS AWAY, my thoughts shift to gratitude. I must admit, though, that feeling grateful in the midst of this ongoing global pandemic takes effort. Yet, it’s important, even necessary, that I reflect on my blessings.
Now, I could simply list the usual broad categories most of us would choose as reasons to feel grateful—family, food, faith, health… But hovering a magnifying glass over those words for a close-up look really focuses gratitude.
With that introduction, I am feeling thankful for…
My immediate FAMILY circle, including my husband, three grown adult children, two sons-in-law and two grandchildren. I feel grateful for their love and for the last time we were all together in May. Although I yearn to see my out-of-state family more, I’m happy for that spring visit.
The grandchildren, especially, bring joy. Most recently, before temps plummeted into the 20s here in Minnesota, Isabelle, Isaac and I swirled sticks in a mud puddle in our backyard. What a simplistically memorable moment. Later, inside the house, we crafted snow people from paper and birthday cards for their Aunt Miranda. More moments of connecting and bonding and loving.
Time spent at an extended family member’s guest lake cabin this past summer with the eldest daughter and her family rate particularly high on my gratitude list.
HEALTH, mine and that of those I love most, gives me pause for thankfulness. But this year I’m stretching that to include the scientists and researchers who created COVID vaccines and to those in healthcare who strive to keep us healthy and also care for us, whether doctors, nurses, public health officials or others. And to businesses who recognize the importance of COVID mitigation/safety measures (and to the people who follow them).
Along the topic of health, I feel relieved and thankful to now be on MEDICARE. That gives Randy and me affordable healthcare coverage and thus accessibility to healthcare. Paying about $500/month in premiums compared to nearly $1,900/month (with $4,200/each deductibles) lifts a great financial burden.
These days my thoughts often turn tomy dear mom, 120 miles away in a long-term care center, health failing. I feel overwhelmed by emotion, my heart aching in the missing of her. I last saw her in early July (and not since due to too much COVID in my home county, and now all of Minnesota). Too long.
But I think back to THAT SUMMER VISIT with such gratitude. Per the social worker’s suggestion, I brought along a stash of old family photos. As I held the black-and-white images close to Mom so she could see them through eyes clouded by age, joy blossomed. “That’s my dad,” she said. “That’s me.” And then the moment that brought me to tears. “That’s my husband.” It was a photo of my dad, in his 20s, when he met and married Mom. She recognized him. He’s been gone now nearly 18 years.
If I never see my mom again this side of heaven, I carry that cherished visit with me. The brief period of time when she connected, remembered, celebrated the love of her parents and her husband. Even as she likely forgot within minutes of my departure that I’d visited and shown her those vintage photos. But I realize, still realize, that this is not about me, but about her.
NATURE gives me another reason to feel blessed. During these pandemic years, especially, I’ve embraced the natural world with a deepened sense of the peace it brings. River Bend Nature Center in Faribault remains a cherished place to walk through the woods and prairie. To feel the calming effects of the outdoors, of solitude and quiet, and escape from reality. Likewise I feel the same when following a back country gravel road.
ART continues to hold importance for me. I’m thankful for all creatives. I consider myself among them. That I can create via images and words brings me unlimited satisfaction and joy. I’m thankful for those who value my work.
LOVE centers gratitude. I feel grateful for the love of God, the love of my husband and children and grandchildren. The love and support of friends. To love and to give love tops reasons to feel grateful this Thanksgiving. I love, especially, to observe how my grown children love and support one another. My heart overflows with gratitude this Thanksgiving, even during a pandemic.
TELL ME: What are you feeling especially thankful for right now? Please be specific.
This Thanksgiving, more than ever, those seem important words to consider and then follow.
I’m thankful to my friend Beth Ann, who back in January, before 2020 evolved into the year of COVID-19, gifted me with a daily gratitude journal. It helped me then, and helps me now, to focus on reasons to feel thankful.
A quick look back to the beginning of the year shows a much different gratitude mindset as I wrote of thankfulness for photos of the grandkids, a handwritten letter, a comment from a blog reader that my images of rural Minnesota calm her, time with friends and more.
On March 7, I wrote, “Grateful for another opportunity to spend time with Mom.” I didn’t know it then, but this would mark the last time I stepped inside her care center room, hugged her, kissed her cheek. My heart hurts now every time I think of Mom. It’s an ache that never leaves, that rises sometimes unexpectedly to the surface in raw emotions. But then I reshift my thinking and consider how grateful I am that Mom is still with us, in the care of kind, caring and compassionate individuals who truly value her.
Shortly after that last in-person early March visit, everything changed. There would be no more visits inside the care center. Life as we once knew it changed due to COVID-19. My gratitude journal reflects that as my writing focused more on thankfulness for beautiful days outdoors, for mask mandates, for a stop at a winery, for country drives. And, more recently, for loved ones recovered from COVID-19, for a day that passes without news of another person I know infected with the virus.
In this year 2020, gratitude takes effort. But it’s still there. And this Thanksgiving, more than any, I feel grateful for my health, for my loved ones, for all the blessings that define my days.
Dear readers, I wish you a blessed and joyful Thanksgiving overflowing with gratitude.
The question has been repeated to me many times in past days. My response? It was wonderful. Wonderful to have all three of my adult children here for the first Thanksgiving in probably 10 years. My mama’s heart overflowed with joy.
Simply being together made me happy. We talked and laughed as we gathered around a table enjoying an abundant and delicious meal. I especially appreciate that my girls prepare and bring foods, thus easing the workload of hosting.
The scene in historic downtown Faribault on Thanksgiving weekend. A pre-Thanksgiving storm dropped about eight inches of snow here.
After dinner, everyone (except me and almost 11-month-old Isaac) bundled into winter gear and headed up the street to slide down the hill at Wapacuta Park. It’s the same place my kids went sledding while growing up. I’m happy to see the winter tradition continue now with the next generation. If you’re going to live in Minnesota, you may as well get outside and enjoy the snow. (Remind me in a month or two that I wrote this.) Family reported back that my 3 ½-year-old granddaughter, Isabelle, loved sliding—her first time out.
I set out an assortment of colorful chalk.
With that tradition continuing, I also attempted to start a new one, with minimal success. I pulled a vintage chalkboard from a closet and asked everyone to add things for which they were thankful. Not everyone did. I initiated the list and took a bit of ribbing for writing texting. I explained that, because texting is the primary way we communicate when apart, I am grateful for this technology.
The gratitude list…
I loved my granddaughter’s additions, vocalized to my eldest daughter, who chalked them onto the board. My dolly, Grandma and Grandpa, Mommy, Ms. C…
But it was my second daughter who later came up with the singular word that made me laugh aloud. CHEESE. What can I say? She lives in Wisconsin.
I created this Thanksgiving centerpiece using a vintage tray, vintage candles, pinecones from friends, shells from Detroit Lake and letters from my 1970s Scrabble game. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.
THANKSGIVING. That singular word sparks strong visuals of family gathered around a table laden with a platter of sliced turkey, bowls heaping with potatoes and stuffing, steaming brown gravy, a small bowl of cranberries, salad, and, for dessert, pumpkin pie. I’ve missed a few foods. But I’ve covered the essentials.
That image is the traditional view of this day. Yet, it is not necessarily accurate. Not for everyone. Too many families, because of distance or other reasons, can’t be together on this holiday that focuses so much on family. I’ve been in that spot many times.
Randy shuffles meals and bags around as we prepare to deliver them during a previous Thanksgiving. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.
But I’ve learned through the years that I can feel sad about the absence of loved ones or I can choose to be thankful and celebrate the day in ways that remind me of gratitude. In recent years Randy and I celebrated by delivering meals for Faribault’s Community Thanksgiving Dinner. We experienced such joy in bringing turkey and the trimmings to those unable to otherwise enjoy a Thanksgiving meal. Their genuine gratitude blessed us. It truly is more blessed to give than to receive.
A message on a bulletin board at Fourth Avenue United Methodist Church, Faribault. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.
This year, though, we will celebrate Thanksgiving at our house with family surrounding a food-laden table. All three of our adult children will be home, for the first time in years. I cannot wait. A son-in-law (one can’t be here) and two grandchildren, ages 3 ½ and almost 11 months, will add to the fun. I am a happy mama. I don’t ever take the presence of my family for granted because I’ve experienced many holidays minus the “kids.” I admit to feeling a bit melancholy through the years when I’ve heard friends talk about their Thanksgiving plans that often include multiple family gatherings. A lot of those friends grew up here and their kids live either in town or nearby as do a large contingent of extended family. But that is not me.
So this Thanksgiving I am especially grateful for the presence of those I love. I wish for you also a full table and a gathering of family or friends to bless your day.
I recently picked up this honeycomb paper turkey at a thrift store for a dime.
HAPPY THANKSGIVING, dear readers!
I hope today finds you gathered with family or friends around a table laden with all the traditional foods of this holiday. Turkey, mashed potatoes and gravy, cranberries, a side vegetable (maybe green bean casserole), pumpkin pie… No grape salad, though. Unless you are DeLores from Belview, Minnesota.
Another recent thrift store purchase: this sweet little handmade wooden turkey.
We are eating a traditional meal at our house, although the husband is grilling the turkey on our Weber charcoal grill and not in the oven. My oldest daughter, her husband and our granddaughter are joining us and I am grateful for their presence. Several years have passed since any of our three adult children have been back home for Thanksgiving. But we made the best of those years, volunteering to deliver turkey dinners as part of Faribault’s Community Thanksgiving Dinner. While I’ll miss that opportunity this year, I am beyond happy to have our daughter and her family here.
I realize Thanksgiving can be difficult for those of you without family to celebrate. Or for those of you who have recently lost loved ones. I am sorry. But I do hope you can find some joy in your day and many reasons to be thankful.
Stems of wheat on a candle symbolize the harvest and gratitude for that harvest.
While life holds many sorrows, many challenges, many struggles—none of us are without them—it also holds much that is good, joyful, lovely. I really believe that.
Today may you experience that which is good. May you feel joy. And may you see that which is lovely.
I created this Thanksgiving centerpiece using a vintage tray, vintage candles, pinecones from friends, shells from Detroit Lake and letters from my 1970s Scrabble game.
FOR WHAT ARE YOU thankful?
The standard answers are often family, health, house…
But what if you think deeper than that to the specifics. I decided to do that. Here’s a partial, quick list of that for which I am thankful in the first 11 months of 2018:
A new baby on the way with our second grandchild (a boy) due in less than two months.
Skilled medical professionals who cared for me, encouraged me and helped me recover after surgery on a broken wrist.
A husband who exuded absolute calm even when I semi screamed at him to drive faster to the hospital emergency room.
A son and his girlfriend who baked and mailed chocolate chunk cookies from Boston as I recovered from wrist surgery and again in celebration of my birthday.
Minimal damage on and to our property following severe storms and tornadoes that swept across Minnesota on September 20. I am especially grateful for significant advance warning.
An extended family that still gathers in my hometown each July for an annual reunion that includes aunts, uncles, cousins and their families.
The opportunity to blog regularly for Warner Press, a Christian publishing company in Anderson, Indiana.
Friends who support, pray for and encourage me, as well as make me laugh and wrap me in their love.
My 2 ½-year-old granddaughter. No other words needed.
Several days away at a northwestern Minnesota lakeside condo, thanks to the generosity of friends who couldn’t use their entire timeshare week. This was a first for Randy and me and exactly what we needed.
Sometimes all I really need, though, is to pause for a moment and consider my blessings. Of which there are many.
TELL ME: What are you especially thankful for this Thanksgiving?
Kids create festive placements like this one for the Faribault Community Thanksgiving Dinner.
Go to the back door and walk in, the slip noted. Despite the instructions, I felt uncomfortable simply walking into a stranger’s home without first knocking. So I knocked, eased open the door and entered the galley kitchen. There Bea (not her real name) shoved her walker toward me, smile bright with greeting on this Thanksgiving morning.
Randy and I carried Styrofoam containers—one holding in the heat of a traditional turkey dinner, the other a slice of pumpkin pie.
Bea’s face flashed joy in seeing us. She directed me to place the containers on the seat of her walker. But I set them on the counter instead, advising her I would carry them to the dining room table. First, though, Bea peeked at the pie, which drew her praise.
“Would you like to see the dinner?” I asked. I lifted the lid to reveal shreds of turkey, mashed potatoes and gravy, stuffing, green beans, a dab of cranberries and a dinner roll. Bea’s smile widened wider.
The petite senior pulled silverware from a drawer and I followed her to the table with the dinner and the dessert, depositing both onto her directed spot. And then I bent close, spontaneously wrapping this dear woman in a hug. She held on and cooed and I nearly cried for the joy of the moment, of holding Bea close in a prayer of thanksgiving.
Note: This is the second year Randy and I have delivered meals for the Faribault Community Thanksgiving dinner. We donated about two hours of our time to wait in line, pick up 10 meals and take them to five homes in Faribault. It continues to be a humbling, joyful and meaningful experience.
A few years ago I found this vintage 1976 calendar at a garage sale. Each year prior to Thanksgiving, I hang it in my dining room as a representative reminder of life’s blessings.
WHEN I CONSIDER THANKSGIVING, I visualize the tapestry of my life woven with gratitude and blessings and, yes, even sadness. Sometimes I’d like to yank the black threads and pull away the darkness, leaving only vivid hues of happiness.
But to do so would present an imitation of my life, a cheap knock-off work of art that portrays the idealistic rather than the realistic. I don’t care who you are, where you live, what you do, you are the accumulation of life’s experiences—positive and negative.
Challenges, whether financial, health-related, personal or otherwise, shape us, make us stronger, teach us empathy and compassion and how to handle grief and anger and disappointment and frustration and pain. At the time we battle difficulties, we usually fail to see the good, the reason to give thanks. Often that comes later, as time passes, acceptance comes, situations change and reflection happens.
For example, I was bullied as a pre-teen by junior high classmates so ruthless and mean that I hated school. I cried every day, wished the teasing would end. It should have. But in those days, no one stepped in to stop the abuse. And one teacher in particular was himself a psychological abuser. Because of those two unbearable years, I hold zero tolerance for abuse whether perpetrated by a child, teen or adult. I use my words now as a way to educate, to help others, to advocate, to make a positive difference.
When I consider personal health challenges like severe osteoarthritis and resulting hip replacement, a broken shoulder, and near deafness in my right ear, I see how my empathy for others has grown, how my patience lengthened, how my thankfulness for my husband deepened. Threads of gold shimmer in the tapestry of my life, outshining the underlying less-noticed darkness of difficulties.
My life remains a work of art in progress. There are days when life circumstances seem overwhelming, when the mother in me wants to make everything better. But then I hear an uplifting song, get an encouraging email or text, hold my granddaughter, hug my husband, write something especially meaningful, talk to my son too far away in Boston, gather with friends, reach out to someone hurting. Then threads of silver and gold sparkle gratitude and thanksgiving for this life I live. Not perfect. But beautiful in blessings.
Today, may you find many reasons to give thanks for your life. Happy Thanksgiving!
I KNEW IF I STAYED HOME Thanksgiving morning in to early afternoon, melancholy would seep in. No matter how hard I tried. This would be my first Thanksgiving without any of my grown children home to celebrate. So I needed to divert my thoughts from missing them.
The setting for Faribault’s Community Thanksgiving Dinner, which began 30 years ago in a restaurant.
I didn’t even think. I knew exactly where I would go, what I would do. And that was to head to the Faribault American Legion and volunteer, with my husband, at the Community Thanksgiving Dinner. That volunteerism, that mingling with other volunteers and guests, was, I will selfishly admit, about helping me as much as helping others. It worked.
Bagged lunches await pick up by guests and by those delivering meals to homes.
When you take the focus off your sadness, happiness shines. I felt myself smiling as we delivered 12 meals to five homes, each recipient grateful for a traditional Thanksgiving dinner and bagged left-overs of a turkey sandwich and apple.
Randy shuffles meals and bags around as we prepare to deliver them.
From a mobile home to a condo to an apartment to single family homes, we brought not only food, but also holiday happiness: To the woman recovering from pneumonia with her husband in the hospital. To the woman whose meal I left on the kitchen counter per her instructions to also take the $5 (given to the Faribault Foundation) lying near the cracked open exterior side door. To the woman who answered the door in her bathrobe. To the woman who waited outside her apartment building for us to arrive. All welcomed us with gracious gratitude.
A child’s artwork on a placemat reminds diners to be thankful.
Those blessings of giving and receiving exude the spirit of Thanksgiving.
Hundreds of pounds of turkey are baked along with hundreds of pounds of potatoes peeled… (This image for illustration purposes only and not taken at the community dinner.)
Back at the Legion, Randy and I paused to eat. Volunteers expected to plate and package 1,200 meals in three hours. From conversations I overheard and my observation that the kitchen ran out of whole turkey (and resorted to pressed/processed turkey), guests exceeded the anticipated number.
All tables are festively decorated and all guests served at their tables. Children contribute their art.
I’ve often wondered who attends the Community Thanksgiving Dinner, meant for anyone no matter their financial means, their age, their anything. Seated at our dinner table were a retired long-time Faribault Woolen Mill employee dining with his 20-something grandson, who had to work later in the day at Target; a retired hospital employee and Vietnam War vet with nowhere to go for dinner; and a couple, like us, without children at home. I also spotted a neighbor, church friends (both dining and volunteering) and others I know from the community.
Kids decorate placemats.
I was particularly impressed by the number of kids helping. I applaud parents who are teaching their children at such a young age the joy of serving others. Watching a girl, perhaps six, carry a plate of turkey, mashed potatoes, gravy, corn, a dinner roll and cranberries to a diner, is one of those moments that impresses hope for the future.
Volunteers dish up meals for take-out and to serve to diners.
Likewise, observing others my age and older scurrying to serve the sit-down meals reaffirms that goodness exists.
Randy and I filled in where needed. I primarily poured milk while he greeted, served and more.
Some three hours after we arrived at the Legion, Randy and I left. As we exited the parking lot, I was already calling our 22-year-old son in Boston, home alone, but planning a Thanksgiving dinner for Saturday with friends. I called the daughter in northeastern Wisconsin, catching her as she returned from the grocery store with her husband before going to the home of friends for dinner. I texted our eldest, in California with her in-laws. She also texted photos of her family, including our granddaughter. It helped to hear their voices, to be able to tell them, “I love you.”
Preparing for diners by plating pumpkin pie.
The reality of life is that we cannot always be with those we love most. On those holidays, we need to stretch beyond ourselves and our feelings. On this Thanksgiving, that made all the difference for me.
FYI: Later in the afternoon, Randy and I joined our nephew and his family, along with our niece-in-law’s family, for a Thanksgiving dinner. We were grateful for their inclusion of us. I laughed and smiled and ate more turkey, so thankful for the blessings of the day and of life.
I took all of these photos with my smartphone rather than my DSLR, limiting my photography so I could focus on volunteering.