Just before Thanksgiving Alex and I made another trip to Michigan – this time with my BFF Ashley in tow, to show her where we grew up, spend time with our friends and family, and eat at all our favorite restaurants (of course). Driving around our old neighborhoods brought back a lot of memories (some good, some bad) and made me stop and think about how much my hometown shaped who I am.
One afternoon at my parents’ house, my mom brought out a few boxes of old photographs. We sat on the couch laughing at changing hairstyles and silly faces, reminiscing about family members we’ve lost over the years, smiling as we remembered family vacations and holidays together. It was beautiful to share those moments with my husband and best friend, showing them a little more about who I am, where I came from.
Even though my family ties are much different now, I look at those photos and hold the memories dear. I’m thankful for those memories and grateful for the people I share them with, even if they aren’t an active part of my life any longer.
Below is one of my favorite family vacation photos (minus my mom, who was frequently our photographer). It was during a small hike in the Smoky Mountains, we stopped to wade in a creek.
I remember celebrating Thanksgiving when I was a kid, so excited because it meant we could finally put up our Christmas tree (dad’s rule). Not that we didn’t celebrate Thanksgiving (we did, my family loves to eat), but I just thought of it as a kick-off to my favorite time of year. As many cookies as I could eat, presents, time with family, Christmas songs on the radio all day, every day…
It wasn’t until I moved away from my family that I realized how much I treasured our Thanksgiving Day traditions. I try to sprinkle them in now, as we start to develop our own family traditions. Here’s what I’m looking forward to next week:
Getting out just a few Christmas decorations (I’ve decided that tree-trimming deserves its own special day)
Looking over my to-do list above, I’m grateful I have a job that doesn’t require me to work on Thanksgiving (or the day after, for that matter). Because I spent many holidays away from my family due to a work schedule, I am more careful about how I support companies that have open hours on holidays. I get the fun of Black Friday shopping, but when you think about a mom who had to go to bed early on Thanksgiving so she could be awake at 4am to get to work the next day… 50% off a TV doesn’t really seem to matter. At least to me, I guess. Remember to laugh, love, and be thankful next week – even if your crazy uncle gets on your nerves.
It occurred to me a few weeks back that I’ve never actually volunteered. For anything.
I could probably rattle off one hundred reasons why, but that’s not important. What’s important is I decided to reflect on my good fortune in life and dedicate just a couple hours of my time to a cause that helps others who are in need. Lucky for me, the company I work for organizes volunteer opportunities at the Maryland Food Bank – and that seemed like the perfect way to get involved.
The Maryland Food Bank is a distribution center that provides food to nearly 1,000 organizations that help feed families in need. It’s amazing what they are able to accomplish through donations and the right partnerships. Each year, they provide about 29 million meals – or 79,000 every day – and their mission is to continue until hunger ends. Pretty impressive, right?
I didn’t feel like a better person walking out of the Food Bank after 2 hours of packing boxes. That’s not how it works. Mine was a tiny contribution to an immense problem. But I know I could easily do more for the community I’ve chosen to live in and, eventually, raise my family in.
There are so many volunteer organizations to choose from. Do I want to help kids? Animals? Victims of domestic abuse? Fight for a cure? What about people who’ve lost everything and are now homeless? Or maybe veterans? Do I want to stay local in my county? Or maybe I want to help in the inner city? After thinking about it for a while, I know my passion will be helping children – it’s so important to empower kids with a sense of self-worth and teach them that education is the key to living the best possible life.
It’s literally the least I could do, to devote my time and maybe a little money to an organization that helps children in need. I’ve been researching different opportunities and think I’ve found a few that I believe in and would be proud to be a part of. What started as a simple project to give back has turned into a desire to really, truly help others and build the community around me. I hope to continue to document this journey to inspire others to get involved (and honestly, to keep myself accountable for the goals I have).
Have you volunteered for a specific cause? What was your experience like?
It’s a bit too early for New Year’s Resolutions, but a big focus for me in 2015 will be being better at keeping in touch with friends and family. More texts, more phone calls, more trips… and more letter writing. As technology has given us instant access to every person we’ve ever met, we’ve in turn forgotten the art of handwriting letters. Who wouldn’t swoon if they received a beautiful, handwritten love letter?
In spirit of this month’s theme, I thought it would be a great project to write thank-you notes and notes of gratitude to get started in the letter writing business. We have another trip to Michigan coming up, so why not send a handwritten thank-you to our hosts once we get back? With Veteran’s Day on Wednesday, I plan on writing a letter of thanks for one or two of our service men/women, as part of Operation Gratitude.
I remember writing our thank-you postcards after our wedding. It was important for us to write each one by hand and specifically thank each guest for their contribution to our special day. Here are my tips for writing the perfect thank you:
Get the greeting right. Always triple-check your spelling of names, use nicknames when appropriate (my sister will always be “wee-butt” to me), include everyone from the household who contributed to your gift/good fortune.
Begin withthank you. Focus on the purpose of the letter or note, why the recipient(s) are receiving your note. Thank you for the lovely glass bowl… or I can’t thank you enough for attending my birthday party…
Include details. Describe how you’re going to enjoy your gift – or better yet, include a picture of it in use! If you received cash or a gift card, tell them what you plan on spending it on (if appropriate, of course!). If they showed up for an event, thank them for being a part of an important day for you. A small sentence of gratitude can pack a big punch.
Make plans. If you will see this person in the near future, include that you are looking forward to spending time them again soon. If it’s a long-distance friend or family member, tell them you miss them and are thinking of them.
Go out with a bang. I’m still working on my signature sign-off (so far, love+light is the frontrunner), but you don’t need one to end on a happy note. A good ole’ with love or many thanks will do the job.
I plan on making my own stationary, but there are plenty of options out there for beautiful paper products. I’m most excited about the new Happy Mail monthly subscription from A Beautiful Mess + Studio Calico. I pre-ordered the first month’s kit and think it’s such a sweet idea – a little motivation to help me maintain my year of staying connected. Do you still send letters or are you all digital? I’m curious if anyone out there is keeping an old tradition alive!
Of course I’m thankful for having an apartment to shelter me, a husband who loves me, friends who support me, a job that challenges me, etc. But it’s easy to overlook the small, every day things that make my life better (or easier). I thought it would be a fun project to document 30 simple things that have made me smile in the past month, things I’m grateful/thankful for. What about you – what are you grateful for this month?
Having no more laundry to do… for at least a week
Learning a new word
Eating a ridiculously good meal
Having everything in its place
Getting a nice foot massage
Drinking red wine on a weeknight
Unpacking and organizing the last box from our last move
Going on a good morning run
Having a girls night
Waking up to sunshine
Working from home
Making time for date night
Handwriting notes and to-do lists
Listening to a music
Practicing the piano
Laughing with my friends
Finishing an amazing book
Enjoying a new book
Preparing a nice meal
Planning an trip
Playing a board game
Cuddling on the couch
Texting with my sisters and mom
Getting a Sophie pic
Watching a fantastic new movie
Reading all my saved Feedly articles
Goofing off on Pinterest
Getting a thank you card in the mail
Wearing a pair of flattering jeans
When writing this list, knowing I could look around and be happy about something
If you haven’t heard Mary Lambert’s new song yet, give it a listen:
Girl knows how to write a good (and catchy!) tune and this one speaks to those of us who might struggle with self-image issues. Blame the media? Sure, I bet things I’ve seen in movies and magazines have given me slight complexes. Blame kids in school? Definitely, they can be cruel – especially when you’re chubby, wear glasses, and have braces. Blame yourself? YES – embrace who you are, don’t let other people define who you are.
Easier said than done, right? I’m still working on my confidence and sharing who I really am with others… and I’ll be 30 next month. But I’m grateful for who I am – grateful for the life experiences and relationships that have shaped me. In the spirit of sharing and expressing gratitude for being me, here is a list of some of my ‘secrets’ – I don’t care if the world knows them 🙂
I have a bossy streak. It was worse when I was younger (my sisters will agree), but I have to fight the urge to control every. single. thing.
Dancing makes me happy. But I’m terribly uncoordinated. I still dance though, haters gonna hate.
I’m extremely emotional. I don’t think that’s a bad quality to have – it makes me compassionate and empathetic. But I will cry if you look at me cross-eyed.
I am a planner. Organizing things gives me this high I cannot describe, how very Type A of me.
I fight being jealous of my pretty friends. But it’s my own fault for have such a gorgeous group of girlfriends – lucky me!
I love Disney World. Most people know I love Disney, but it’s really focused on Disney World and the films of the late 80s through the 90s. I don’t know much trivia, I don’t idolize Walt, but I will cry when I see Cinderella’s Castle or watch the fireworks show (see third bullet).
I’m passive aggressive. To the max. I will talk about the bad service I’m getting from a waitress 0.3 seconds after she’s turned around, loud enough so she can hear me. It’s not the best quality, so I’m trying to fix that bad habit.
I really, really love to sing. But I’m timid about singing, like letting it all out, in front of other people. I have a playlist that I only listen to when I want to belt it out during a nice shower when no one is home.
I am super competitive. More like dangerously competitive. I’ve been known to break game controllers by throwing them against walls (oops). I also get mad at people when they are better than me. Just a game? Don’t even utter those words in my presence… I’m mostly kidding.
I struggle with being overweight. I was always a chubby kid, it’s in my DNA. I wouldn’t say I had a full-fledged eating disorder in high school, but I definitely skipped 75% of my meals when I could get away with it. Right before our wedding, I was over 200 pounds. Yikes. I got focused and dropped the weight – down to a size 10/12 at my lowest (that picture below still blows my mind). I’m up a little again and now fit comfortably into a 14 size jean (still not too shabby), but I’m getting back on track and hope to get down to my goal of 8/10 through eating healthy and exercising more.
If you are paying any attention to TV ads or have been into any store lately, you’d think it was Christmas already. Don’t get me wrong, Christmas is my favorite holiday season and I will celebrate it to the fullest – starting the day after Thanksgiving.
Even though I’m not celebrating a successful harvest, Thanksgiving is a wonderful tradition – it refocuses me on being present in the moment and being grateful for the life I have. It’s easy to be stressed – life is full of little mishaps and big shake-ups that can add negativity… if you let it. Sure you got a flat tire on the way home, but you can be grateful for the fact you don’t have to take the bus every day. Or maybe a close friend passed away, but you can reflect on the time you had together and be grateful for the relationship. Perspective is everything, and it’s something I have to remind myself of every day.
Part of my journey is writing a few days a week here (if I can swing it). It’s not a journal and I am making a conscience effort to keep it positive – not because I want people who stumble upon this space to think I don’t have fights with my friends or get sad… negativity inspires personal growth and I embrace opportunities to make myself a better person. But being grateful every day for the blessings you have can reset your mind to react to situations differently and generally make you a happier person. Who doesn’t want that?
This month I want to explore living gratefully, whether it’s through meditation, volunteering, connecting with friends and family, or celebrating a holiday with good food and great company.
I want to sign off with a TedTalk that has inspired me, and I hope it does the same for you.