Plenty

Every now and then, I like to take pictures at the grocery store as a way of reminding myself of the abundance so many of us enjoy.

Plenty

Today is Thanksgiving, a day officially devoted an attitude we should cultivate every day. As I explained last year, I always feel a bit tongue-tied at Thanksgiving, when one is officially expected to count one’s blessings. In my mind, I’ve been blessed with gifts too numerous to count: a loving husband, meaningful work, healthy pets, a roof over my head. Those are the obvious blessings, but less obvious are the simple pleasures that grace one’s life in unexpected ways.

Sometimes while I’m grocery shopping, for instance, I’m stunned by the simple wonder of so many choices–so many pumpkins, so many gourds, so many apples–that surround us daily. Isn’t every pumpkin, every gourd, every apple itself an infinite blessing? And yet we live in a world where we are surrounded by fruit and fruitfulness like leaves pouring down in the fall, the very picture of plenty. How is it, then, that we need an annual holiday to remind us of such riches?

Here’s wishing you and yours a happy Thanksgiving, filled to overflowing with a cornucopia of contentment.

Suburban turkeys

I suppose J and I could find our Thanksgiving meal simply by walking around the neighborhood in search of suburban turkeys, but we have a tradition of eating pasta for Thanksgiving. So tonight I went to the grocery store to do the weekly shopping.

Turkey trot

The store wasn’t frantic–I purposefully chose a time when I felt there wouldn’t be mobs of holiday shoppers–but the aisles were crowded with people taking their time as they loaded their carts. You could tell everyone was preparing meals they don’t regularly cook, as everyone was poring over labels and consulting with companions about their selections. One woman was on a cell phone making sure she got just the right kind of pumpkin puree; elsewhere, I overheard a pair of college-aged women (roommates?) wondering how they’d cook various side-dishes given their relative lack of cookware.

Fleeing

One item on my list was cold-cuts for the dogs’ Thanksgiving platter. In the past, J and I have prepared a plate of dog treats and sliced meats to give to the dogs as their Christmas present, and this year we decided to extend the tradition to Thanksgiving, too. So while other shoppers pored over a case of frozen turkeys trying to find just the right size and shape of bird, I spent a long time poring over packages of bologna, sliced turkey, and ham trying to find the smallest, cheapest package of each. Only after I’d made my selections did I look up and realize another shopper was watching me with a concerned look, worried I was a poor soul who could afford to eat only bologna sandwiches for Thanksgiving.

Yes, we really do have wild turkeys that live in suburban Newton, as evidenced here and here.

Shiny

J and I are really low-key when it comes to the holidays. Our shared attitude toward Thanksgiving is very similar to our shared attitude toward Valentine’s Day: if you’re grateful (or in love) 365 days of the year, it’s not hugely important to feel extra grateful (or extra in-love) on an officially sanctioned holiday. If you’re grateful (or in love) 365 days of the year, Thanksgiving (or Valentine’s Day) really is like every other day.

Raindrops on spider web

Yesterday morning, for instance, I took Reggie on our usual morning dog-walk. Along the way, I saw (and photographed) two different spider webs outlined in water-droplets: remnants from this week’s drizzly weather. Spider webs are even more difficult to photograph than raindrops are: spider-webs are often invisible, and even when you can see a spider-web, it’s often difficult to get a point-and-shoot camera to focus on something so delicate and insubstantial. Point-and-shoot cameras like to focus on things that are big and obvious, so something as gossamer-fine as a spider web is a tough capture.

It feels silly to admit it, but when Reggie and I got home from yesterday’s otherwise ordinary dog-walk, I felt absurdly grateful to have seen and photographed spider-webs: not one but two instances of serendipity in a single morning! Counting “spider webs” among one’s Thanksgiving blessings seems insanely sappy, but that’s how I felt yesterday morning. At that moment, “Thanksgiving” wasn’t a matter of counting big blessings, it was a matter of realizing the silly little things I appreciate each day: small blessings other folks might overlook.

Flower with raindrops

On any given day, for example, I feel absurdly grateful to be healthy enough to walk the dog and tend to my work. When I come home from a long, tiring day teaching, I feel grateful to have a job that demands so much (every last bit sometimes) of my energy. Every time I go to the grocery store, I feel an overwhelming sense of gratitude to be able to fill my trunk with food, and I feel a similar sort of gratitude whenever I balance my checkbook or pay my bills. Beyond the basic blessings of having my health, a job, and enough money to provide food and shelter for myself, I find myself filling my journal day after day with scribbled sentences noting how satisfied I feel simply to sit at my kitchen table after another boring breakfast while Reggie lies sleeping on the floor. “I’m grateful for the sound of my dog breathing” sounds absurdly silly if you mention it as being one of this year’s blessings, but I can’t count the number of times I’ve said something similar in my journal, on plenty of days other than Thanksgiving.

Berries

I think we Americans need a holiday like Thanksgiving because most days, we live in a culture of complaint. When you turn on the TV, you’ll see talking heads shouting to see which political party can complain the loudest; when you turn on the radio, you’ll hear callers who have spent precious hours of their life waiting to voice their dissatisfaction with local sports, politics, or whatever. Around the office water cooler, workers whine about the boss, the workload, or the clients. At the local bar, you’ll hear folks complaining over cocktails about their partner, their mother-in-law, or their kids. Surfing the Internet, you’ll find a good portion of both the blog- and Twitter-sphere devoted to online rants and workday frustration. Venting is an important part of one’s emotional well-being, we tell ourselves, and complaining is one of the central ways we bond with other people. But why exactly should this be so? Why do we spend 364 days of our lives talking amongst ourselves about what’s wrong and only a single day-long holiday counting what’s right?

Raindrops on flower

On this morning’s dog-walk, I noticed that both of the spider-webs I’d photographed yesterday were gone, having broken or been washed away under the weight of overnight rain. Now that those webs are no longer there, I’m even more grateful that I saw and photographed them yesterday when I had the chance. An annual Thanksgiving is like a point-and-shoot camera that focuses on blessings that are big and obvious, but most of the things we have to be grateful for are small, easy to overlook, and gossamer-thin. Today’s blessings might not be around tomorrow, so why wait another year to count those serendipities that can’t be numbered?

Click here for twelve random images from yesterday’s morning and afternoon walks around the neighborhood: a dozen ordinary blessings I’m grateful for.

Cranberries!

In case you’ve ever wondered what the berries in your Thanksgiving cranberry sauce looked like before they got sauced, here’s your answer.

Water reel

At last month’s final regular-season New England Revolution soccer match, the folks from Ocean Spray set up an artificial cranberry bog outside the entrance to Gillette Stadium, where soccer fans could see what a New England cranberry harvest really looks like. Cranberry vines grow in marshy areas, and the fastest way to harvest cranberries is to flood the entire area, a process called wet harvesting. Once the vines are covered with water, machines called water reels rake the berries from the vines, and the cranberries–which contain pockets of air–float to the surface of the water, where they are gathered by growers.

Cranberry growers chat with passersby

The artificial bog outside Gillette Stadium had all the accoutrements of an actual cranberry bog: potted cranberry vines along the border of the bog, thousands of floating cranberries, a working water reel, and three men in hip-waders who stood up to their shins in wet cranberries while answering questions and chatting with passersby. In mid-October, it seems there isn’t anything lovelier than a New England cranberry bog, even if that cranberry bog is only a reasonable facsimile of the real thing.

Although I’ve never been much of a fan of cranberry sauce, I regularly drink cranberry juice. When I was growing up, my mom raved about the health benefits of cranberries, especially noting cranberries’ legendary ability to help women avoid bladder infections. The folks from Ocean Spray weren’t handing out any free samples of cranberry sauce or cranberry juice, but they were handing out packets of dried cranberries, which are just as tasty as a tall glass of cranberry juice. I guess that’s one more thing to be thankful for.

Click here for a complete photo set from the cranberry bog at Gillette Stadium last month. Whether or not you’re eating cranberry sauce this Thanksgiving, I hope your holiday is safe, restful, and happy.

Apologizing to "Chuck"

While flipping channels on Tuesday night, I happened upon the very end of “A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving.” (Yes, I shot these pictures straight from the television screen, probably breaking umpteen copyright laws in the process.)

It’s been years since I’ve seen any of the Charlie Brown holiday specials, but I watched them religiously when I was a child, and I confess to having in my car a copy of the soundtrack for “A Charlie Brown Christmas” that I listen to every December. As a “weird kid,” I always related to Charlie Brown with his loser ways and “blockhead” inferiority. Couple those qualities with Linus’s soft-spoken nerdiness, Snoopy’s general goofiness, and Woodstock’s overall cuteness, and it all adds up to Peanuts being my favorite childhood cartoon.

Talking to grandma

Not having seen “A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving” in years, I had forgotten the basic gist of the story. I remembered Snoopy serving an impromptu Thanksgiving “dinner” of toast, popcorn, and pretzels to Charlie Brown’s guests–whenever my ex-husband and I found ourselves without a place to go for Thanksgiving, we’d sometimes joke that we’d cook a similar meal for ourselves. Typically, though, we’d decide to drive the 700-some miles back to either or both of our families in the Midwest for Thanksgiving, thereby saving ourselves the indignity of Thanksgiving popcorn, but that nontraditional menu was about all of the larger “Charlie Brown” story I really remembered.

Popcorn for Thanksgiving isn't so hot

Like all good children’s shows, “A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving” makes its moral perfectly clear, even to blockheads. After Charlie Brown’s friends (in particular, a very vocal Peppermint Patty) start grumbling about the atrociously nontraditional meal Snoopy dishes out, Charlie Brown falls into his usual fit of self-deprecating depression while Marcie chides Patty for inviting herself and her friends to Charlie Brown’s house to begin with. On a roll, Marcie goes on to explain (again, in language even a blockhead can understand) the “real” meaning of Thanksgiving. It isn’t about what you eat, she explains. It’s about being grateful for who you’re with.

Everyone's invited to grandma's for dinner!

This year, J and I won’t be having a big turkey feast for Thanksgiving, but we won’t be moping over popcorn and toast, either. When I was married, my mother-in-law used to fret whenever she thought my then-husband and I weren’t going to have turkey on Turkey Day: in her mind, anything else just wasn’t the same. But the truth be told, I’ve never been a huge fan of turkey. Although I like it sliced in sandwiches, I’d really prefer just about anything else to a big turkey dinner with all the trimmings: it’s one of the ways I really am a “weird kid.” So in the spirit of Marcie’s message, J and I are having pasta, not turkey, for dinner tonight. It isn’t about what you eat, after all. It’s about being grateful for who you’re with.

Here’s hoping all of you have plenty to eat (turkey or otherwise), welcome companionship to share it with, and a grateful heart to receive it. In other words, happy Thanksgiving!

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