“Us” vs. “You and I”: Coming together around the dinner table

I’ve read a lot of articles lately (most recently this one on NPR: http://www.npr.org/blogs/thesalt/2013/02/26/172897660/family-dinner-treasured-tradition-or-bygone-ideal)┬áthat explore the benefits and challenges of family dinners. Working parents feel pressured to whip up a fantastic, healthy dinner for their brood, while ensuring their kids are still excelling academically and in about five different extracurricular areas. That certainly sounds exhausting, and it’s understandable that family dinners are falling by the wayside.

What I’m grateful for today are the family dinners I did enjoy as a kid. My family made a point to have dinner together every night when I was growing up. Of course, once or twice a week I would have basketball practice, or my parents would have a date night and we would eat in shifts. Overwhelmingly, however, our dinners were spent together, and I’m pretty grateful for that. Research is starting to show that the one-on-one time parents spend with their children reading, playing games or walking the dog can be just as beneficial for the parent-child relationship as eating dinner together. I don’t dispute that; what I do dispute is how getting rid of family dinners affects the entire family’s relationships, not just the relationships between parents and children.

My brother and I were like most siblings growing up, meaning we did nothing but fight. My parents refereed us as best they could, but it was not an easy job. There were only two instances in which he and I would get along: at the dinner table and on road trips. In each case, there was something about coming together as a family, as a single unit, that encouraged a friendship between us.

The point of this blog is not to judge other families’ traditions and practices. There is no doubt in my mind that families can be happy and healthy without eating every meal together. But to put it in simple terms, I’m grateful my family did make that time to sit down together, and I’m grateful my husband and I make a point to sit down together for dinner every night, regardless of hectic work schedules. It reminds me that we are more than just him and me, that we are an ‘us.’

What about your family? What family rituals or traditions are you grateful to be a part of?

The bibliophile’s solution

Today at work one of my co-workers was talking about needing a new book to read. My ears perked up.

“Do you have a Kindle?” I asked. “Because if you have a Kindle, I can loan you the one I just finished.”

She scrunched up her nose and gave me the line I used up until two months ago: “I prefer real books.”

Truth be told, so do I. When we were kids and my dad was in grad school, my parents had essentially no money for presents or treats for my brother and I. Yet somehow, once every month or so my mom would scrape up enough nickels and dimes to take us to the used bookstore and let us each pick out a couple of books. That bookstore held more adventures than Disneyland in my mind.

I started reading at the age of four and was immediately hooked. In fact, rather than taking away “screen time” as a punishment, my parents would limit the amount of time I was allowed to read. They’ve since told me that was a difficult decision, as they didn’t want to discourage me from learning. They needn’t have worried–today I go through books as fast as I go through bottles of wine, which is saying something.

So I too was in the quickly shrinking group of bibliophiles who couldn’t bring themselves to leave the smell (that wonderful smell!) and texture of books behind for an e-reader. And then one day I looked around our little apartment and realized we had simply run out of space for new books. There was the giant bookcase my parents had given me as a graduation present, books doubled up on each shelf. Then there was the bookcase/window seat my husband had built me as a present for our first Christmas, also doubled up on books. Then there were the windowsills, our mountain views buried behind stacks and stacks of books. Spare drawers around our apartment were filled with books. Either we needed a bigger house, or I needed to find a compact solution.

books

Hmm… which one should I read today?

So I got a Kindle. And no, just to be clear, Amazon is not giving me a single dime for writing this post. I’m quite certain Amazon has no idea this blog exists. I still have mixed feelings about my move away from building up my library of “real” books to building up my library of e-books. I make a point to visit my local bookstore at least once a month and buy a book for a friend, just so I’m not letting a big online store take away from my local hangout.

Guilt aside, I’m grateful for my e-reader. Without it, the great views we have of the mountains would be completely blocked with poetry collections and the complete works of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. Even more than gratitude for that little piece of technology, I feel gratitude for living a literary life, one filled with friends painted in the medium of typeface. It doesn’t matter if I get to feel the turn of the pages between my fingers or with the tap of a screen–those characters and adventures will still be with me.

Cooking up some love

It takes a real man to be comfortable in the kitchen, and I am most definitely married to a real man. Before I started dating my future husband, I could make three things well: chocolate chip cookies, Annie’s mac and cheese, and a grilled cheese sandwich. As an aside, I was about ten pounds heavier than I am now with weekly menus like that. To say my culinary skills were lacking would be an understatement.

So when, for our second date, my husband-to-be made the most delicious manicotti I had ever tasted, I fell in love. The next day, I called my mom and told her, casually, that I thought I had met the man I would marry. She started dreaming of grandkids while I started dreaming of elaborate meals cooked for me every night for the rest of my life.

Here’s a little feast he surprised me with one summer evening early in our relationship:

Summer surprise

It’s funny how dreams rarely parallel reality. After 4+ years together, I do the bulk of the cooking in our house, but I’m okay–nay, grateful–for that because I finally know how to cook and cook well. What’s more, I enjoy it. Once or twice a week I’ll take the time to cook something a little fancier. A few nights ago, it was homemade manicotti, just like he had cooked for me all those years ago. I poured myself a nice glass of California red and started sauteeing the onions and garlic. I turned up Adele and sang along in my off-key voice.

When my husband got home from work, the apartment smelled like a Florentine restaurant. He began quizzing me on what I had added to make the filling so creamy and complimented my handiwork. Cooking has become something we share, rather than a way for him to spoil me. And as much as I like to be spoiled, I prefer sharing.

What activities has your partner helped you grow in? What new skill have they taught you?

In with the in-laws

Last Friday, I went out with two of my girlfriends to a local wine bar. We imbibed a few cocktails and took turns sharing humiliating stories about ex-boyfriends. It was your standard girls’ night out, but with one caveat: these women were my sisters-in-law, not just my girlfriends.

I grew up with one sibling, a younger brother, and had always thought it would be nice to have another girl in the family. Well now, thanks to my husband’s traditionally gigantic Catholic family, I have four sisters, three of whom I would definitely be friends with even if I hadn’t married their brother. We workout together, shop together, make dinners together and get everyone gathered for Apples to Apples tournaments. I finally have sisters, and I love it.

The following night after the girls’ night out, my husband’s parents treated the two of us to a dinner with them. That’s right, I’m using “treated” in a completely non-sarcastic, non-ironic sense of the word. It really was a treat to sit down with the two of them and hear about the construction project my father-in-law is managing and the trip to Israel my mother-in-law took a few years ago.

I know that many people have difficult relationships with their in-laws, so I’m extremely grateful for the enjoyable one I have with mine. I’m grateful not just because it makes my life easier (we all live in the same time, so it could be rather hellish if things were tense between us), but because it gives me insight into my husband as well. He is not one to offer up his feelings or past experience without plenty of prodding. When I listen to his siblings or parents tell stories about him growing up, a few more pieces fall into place.

Gratitude for family who are friends. That’s what I’m feeling today.

Let’s explore diabetes with owls

For those of you who are David Sedaris fans, I hope the title of this post got a bit of a chuckle out of you. For everyone else, I apologize for what probably seems like an incredibly bizarre sense of humor. But on to the diabetes part.

On occasion, I am really, truly grateful for the challenges in my life and for the ways they have shaped me. I’m not going to sit here and claim that I overcame utter poverty, a childhood as an orphan, or really any other debilitating event. I have, however, successfully lived with Type 1 diabetes for 16 years. At age 11, after months of feeling sick and rapidly losing weight, I was admitted to the local hospital to receive some medication and a lot of education. Since then, I’ve lived an incredibly full life of travel, parties, outdoor pursuits and so many other things diabetics historically were not supposed to enjoy on the same level as non-diabetics (I think we’ll call them Muggles, just for fun).

But those are the things I’m grateful for having in spite of having diabetes, not because I have diabetes. This disease has also given me so many amazing friendships I would not otherwise have. Every summer, I would go to a camp for kids with diabetes. It was the one and only time in those difficult teen years that I did actually let myself be myself. Though popular in school, I chose to hang out with the dorkier, goofy group at camp because they were so damn fun and carefree. I’ve lost touch with many of them over the years, but there are some great memories that come surging back every time an Avril Lavigne song comes on the radio. Which is not often, I’ll grant you that.

Then there are days like today when diabetes gives me a chance to give back. I was put in touch via the grapevine with a young family whose nine-year old daughter was struggling with her diabetes. When I drove out to their house today and met the family face-to-face, I realized it wasn’t the daughter who was having trouble as much as it was the parents. Not that I could blame them–it would be terrifying to let your child live a normal life when she also had to remember to test her blood sugar, bolus for any carbs she ate, watch out for lows. I spent well over an hour just chatting with the family, letting the parents pepper me with questions and doing my best to answer them. Do you wake up when your blood sugar goes low? What are some good recipes that won’t make her sugar spike? How can we keep her from drinking alcohol when she’s a teenager?

I’m pretty sure every parent wants the answer to that last question, but unfortunately I don’t have it. I certainly drank plenty in high school and college. As I was gathering my coat and purse to leave, the mother jumped up, ran out the door and came back with two dozen eggs.

“These are from our chicken coop! I don’t really have anything else to say thank you with, but please take these at least.”

I grinned and gave her a hug. If nothing else, diabetes has helped me earn 24 farm fresh eggs, and I’d say that’s something to be grateful for.

And you? How have your own challenges influenced your life? Please share any difficulty that ended up becoming a blessing in disguise.

Just the two of us

Today, I’m grateful for not having something in my life: children.

Okay, wait, hear me out. I love kids. Really, I do. Despite the fact that I have a career, I still babysit on the weekends just because I have so much fun playing ninjas and tag. On top of that, I mentor a middle schooler every week. Someday in the not-too-distant-future, I’d love to have a couple kids of my own. Just not right now.

Right now, I’d rather soak in that special brand of marital bliss that only comes (or so I’ve been told) in the first year of a marriage. The newlywed glow and all that. Last night when my husband got home from work late, the two of us uncorked a bottle of wine, heated up some leftovers and plopped ourselves firmly on the couch to catch up on each other’s days and on the latest episode of New Girl. We didn’t worry about anyone but each other for the next three hours before we turned out the lights. Instead, we talked, laughed, and yes, even flirted a bit. I know romance doesn’t end when you have children, but right now it’s nice to focus solely on the romance and communication in our relationship. I know it will make us that much stronger when we do take the plunge into parenthood.

So my gratitude reminder for today is this: At whatever point you are in your life, it is absolutely worth celebrating. While you may not have it all right here, right now, it’s on its way. So sit back and soak up today. And maybe flirt with your spouse while you’re at it.

What future goal are you happy to not have attained yet? Owning a house? Finishing a degree? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Gratitude is easy. When you’re a dog, that is.

Being grateful every single day can be exhausting. Here I am, on post, what, 7? 8? And today I just hit a wall. What was so interesting about my ungrateful dilemma was the fact that today was actually a very nice day, just not one with any obvious light bulb moment to gush about. So I dug a little deeper and my eyes landed on my dog.

There he was, digging for a stick as though that stick was going to bring him all the happiness in the world. He finally loosed it from the snow, picked it up in his mouth, and showed me that the stick did bring him all the happiness in the world. He ran ahead of me on the trail, then back, then ahead, then back, grinning at me the whole time–no really, Bailey smiles when he’s happy–carrying the stick, showing it off.

Here he is, posing with his trophy for the camera:

Bailey

 

He was so proud of himself that I started laughing. My laughter got him all excited, and pretty soon he was jumping up trying to lick my face. I sat down on a nearby log to keep him from knocking me over, and he put both paws in my lap and howled with excitement. He was so obviously thankful for this chance to play and to be with his human, that he was more than willing to make a complete fool of himself. It made me grateful just to witness his tail-wagging happiness.

From now on, I think I’ll be taking gratitude lessons from my dog.

Traveling to Cambodia from my living room

Technology. Sometimes it makes me want to throw my laptop out the window, but other times it really does amaze. Take last night, for example.

I had just gotten home from a workout when I checked my phone and saw a text from my brother. “Hey sis! I’m free the next couple hours if you want to call.” Pretty standard text, except for the fact that my brother is thousands of miles away in Cambodia, serving in the Peace Corps. I dialed the phone card number, then the lengthy pin number, then finally his cell phone number. He answered on the fourth ring, laughing. “Hey! No, I… (unintelligible sounds of him yelling to someone in Khmer before returning to our phone conversation). Sorry about that. The new housekeeper was criticizing my method of slicing tomatoes, despite the fact that the tomato is for MY BREAKFAST!” He raised his voice for these last two words, even though the girl he was directing the comment to did not speak a single word of English.

I could hear a hint of homesickness in his voice as we swapped stories for the next hour. He told me how excited he was that his host mom had finally started letting him use the kitchen, and how bored he was at work, since all he had to do for the next week was proctor exams. I told him about our ski trip, and about our plans to travel to Italy in the spring. An undercurrent of gratitude ran through everything he said. Gratitude to be speaking his native language, gratitude to have the opportunity to discuss The Lumineers vs. Mumford and Sons, gratitude for his simplistic life in a foreign country, gratitude for the two cell phones and the technology that made this conversation possible.

When we finally said our goodbyes, I had a vivid image of my brother standing in a kitchen in the tropics, slicing the thinnest discs of tomato. And for that, I was grateful.

Journeying through the great known

I love new experiences. Drop me in the middle of some unknown city and within minutes I’ll have made it my mission to find a new friend to show me the sights. That being said, every now and then it’s nice to revel in the known. Which brings me to the theme of today’s post: I am grateful for those places and people who have known you so long they’ve become a part of you.

Every winter, my family vacationed at a particular state park in Idaho. It has beautiful old cabins and miles and miles of nordic ski trails. It became a tradition to head up with family friends for at least one long weekend each year, and I’ve done my best to continue fostering a connection with that place since I’ve moved away from my home state. So my husband and I called up my best friend from growing up, and asked if she and her husband would like to meet us for a ski day at the park. They accepted and our plans were launched.

We got up early, packed a lunch, drove through the winding canyon to the park, and had our skis on by 11am. That harrowing drive always stresses me out, so the fresh air and bright sunshine were a welcome reprieve from the car. Here is the view that greeted us moments into our ski:

River

Starting to see the appeal of this place? As we skied along, two things struck me: 1. that my best friend skiing next to me probably knew my better than my parents, and perhaps better than my husband, and that that was okay, and 2. that this place might know me the best of all. I looked around and memory after memory came back. There was the cabin we’d stayed in one weekend when the snow was so high we could slide from the roof down to a cushiony pile of powder. And there was the spot my brother and I, in a rare fit of camaraderie, built the most epic snow cave this place and ever seen. And here we were on the longest ski trail in the park, the same ski trail I used to whine my way through whenever my parents took us on the long trek. I probably would not have guessed that 15 years later I would be using a vacation day just to make the trek without anyone forcing me to.

After a couple hours of skiing, we stopped for lunch. They had brought a couple bottles of wine, so we plopped down and had a picnic in the snow. We swapped stories of past ski trips and of ridiculous mistakes we had made in junior high. We laughed when one of us would make a misstep and sink thigh-deep into the snow. As we sat there reminiscing, I couldn’t help but take note that the next time we were all here, we would add this trip to the stories we had to tell about this place. And that made me pretty grateful.

And now it’s your turn: What stories do you have from your favorite places? What is it about those places that is so meaningful?

And just for fun, here’s the wine we drank–it’s made by Cliff Bar!

Cliff Bar

Savoring a cuppa with Lady Mary and Matthew

A cup of hot tea warming my hands as I relive Downton Abbey’s finest moment thus far: Matthew’s marriage proposal to Lady Mary. It’s a cloudy, snowy day here in Montana, but I’m grateful for the excuse to stay curled up in my yoga pants, sipping licorice tea as I let myself be carried away by the romance of Downton.

I’m sure we all have those days in which we welcome a pause from the clanging and clutter of the outside world, and just need to lose ourselves in someone else’s story for a few hours. When an excuse presents itself for me to do so (in this case, a snowstorm), I’ll take it gratefully. Despite what we might tell ourselves, it is not possible to go-go-go day in and day out. So I’m grateful for the chance to let go of my need to control and plan every second of my day, and to instead let the weather dictate my actions–or inactions–for a few hours.

On the television screen, snow falls gently on the couple, and Mary hesitates before accepting Matthew’s proposal. I think back to when my husband proposed to me and my ensuing sheer joy. I take stock of our one-bedroom apartment and look back at the grandiose Downton Abbey in the background of the proposal scene. Mary has accepted now, and Matthew is swinging her around as the snowflakes continue to make their way onto the scene. Sheer joy.

Yes, today I’m grateful for tea and a fictional romance set 100 years ago. I’m grateful because it was the perfect way to remind me that our little apartment is at least as happy a place as the million dollar homes we drive by on our way to the ski hill. That, and because who doesn’t want to spend a day in yoga pants?

What de-stressing methods are you most grateful for? Baking? Reading? I’d love to hear what fills you with gratitude on those snowy days.

Cheers!

Cuppa