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Friday, November 15, 2013

Giving Thanks, the Fifteenth

Today, I am thankful for my car.  But it's more than just a car, pieces of metal and plastic and wires and who knows what else.  It's a time machine that helps me travel to wonderful places and visit with friends and family and bring back so many memories.  It's a home for a couple days on long road trips to Florida, me at the wheel, Riley in her crate in the back seat, listening to music and watching the world from the front window.  Whether I've driven to Florida, or Georgia, or Rochester, or Fort Wayne, or West Virginia, it's taken me on adventures that I will remember for a long time.  

My car has helped me move from one home to another - you wouldn't believe how much stuff you can get in the back of this little Rav when you need to!  It's been a constant in my life when other things have changed.  It's gotten me to work and back and meetings and back and sat in parking garages, and still started right up for me.  I try to take care of it and it has taken care of me.  

In a mobile world, I am thankful to have my own little car to get me around, city or highway, small town or big city.  Without it, my world would be less interesting, and much smaller.  

Giving Thanks, the Fourteenth

When I was a kid in school, I tried to do the best I could, not for me, but to please those around me - my parents, my teachers.  Like many young children, I liked school, and even played school with friends. I never did get to that point as a slightly older child where I disliked school.  Yes, some days I didn't really want to go, but in my house that wasn't really an option.  But I always liked school, it was a cool place to go everyday.

As I got older and went to high school and college, it became more about being a place with my friends. The 'education' part of it was there, sure, but I was in it for the friends. I did well enough in school, but it wasn't until college that my interest in various subjects started to really take hold - I was not one of those kids who knew early on what they wanted to be when they grew up.

Today, after many years of formal education, I still find myself interested in different topics.  And that's the way it's supposed to be.  Life long learning isn't just a phrase, it's a way of life.  I am thankful for the formal education I received but I am thankful for the ability to learn on my own as well.  Education doesn't stop with a diploma or a cap and gown or even once you've got a job. There's always more to learn in life.  I sometimes wonder what avenue I'll wander down next, what will set off a spark of interest.  It may be just around the next bend.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Giving Thanks, the Thirteenth

If you've ever tried getting around in areas you're not familiar with, maps have perhaps been your friend.  Back in the day, you had a paper map - one that never quite folded back the way it was supposed to - that showed main roads, some towns, and not much else.  If you wanted to know where a certain store or restaurant was when you were traveling, you had to ask someone along the way and hope they knew, or find a local phone book to look it up.

Today, going to unfamiliar areas is easy.  You can google the address, find out what's close by, get directions (with multiple routes) to get there, all with the strike of a few keys.  You can get information as close in as you want, or get a bigger picture by panning out.

I've driven by myself halfway across the country, and up into Canada, by myself, with nobody to read a map and tell me which way to turn.  And I've traveled to unfamiliar areas of the Chicago area without fear of getting hopelessly lost.  I am thankful for the access we have today to online map programs.  They help us navigate, help us find our way, help us connect.

Giving Thanks, the Twelfth

Having a good friend doesn't mean having to see that person every day, or even talk to her.  Friendships can remain strong, even though you're when you're far apart.  In this digital age, friendship can be with people you've never met in person.

I have been fortunate to have 'met' a bunch of good people on a message board and chat room dedicated to a TV show.  We 'talked' sometimes every day; we 'talked' more at times than we talked to real life friends.  There was the introduction (or perhaps I should say interrogation!): where are you (basic location more to know what time zone and temperature zone you're in), how old are you (we tried to keep things clean when the kids were around), what was the episode that drew you into the show and its fandom? And from there, our chats about the characters, the actors, the stories lead to questions about how work was today, about what was on the stove that you said brb to go check, about what plans you had for the weekend besides being online.

After a couple of years, I started to get opportunities to meet some of these friends in person.  It started with a girl from one of the Chicago suburbs (and my asking her online if her mom knew we were going to meet - she was only 16 and I just wanted to cover my bases). I met another when she arrived by train in Chicago and stayed with me for two days.  Even though we had created a 'yearbook' with pictures, I wore a tee shirt from the TV show that brought us together when I went to pick her up.  I met others later and with each meeting it was like seeing an old friend. There are still people I have met online and 'talked' to for years who I haven't met in person, but they are no less my friends than those I have met.

I am thankful for these friends, who started as a name on a screen, with conversations typed far away, who became important people in my life.

Monday, November 11, 2013

Giving Thanks, the Eleventh

The eleventh hour on the eleventh day of the eleventh month 1918 was when hostilities ceased in the First World War, the 'war to end all wars.'  It was called Armistice Day.  Today, we call it Veterans Day and after a brief trial as one of those floating holidays (ones that moved to another date), we honor that eleventh day of the eleventh month.

Since the Great War, as it was called, we have been involved in several conflicts.  As we are losing the 'Greatest Generation' who fought in the Second World War, we are gaining many veterans from the War on Terror.  Whether they served during war or in peacetime, those who have served our country are a special group.   Their sacrifice should not, and will not, be forgotten.

Today I am grateful for those who are willing to step up and serve, the young men and women who put on the uniform and defended our country, who protected our country and who leave their own comfort zone and family to do so.  Thank you.

Giving Thanks, the Tenth

 If you were lucky enough to have family around when you were growing up, you know that family recipes are precious things.  It's that bread grandma used to make, and the special side dish your aunt made that made the holidays, and all those other weekend days with family, mean so much.  And it's a way to remember - the scents and tastes of food bring back memories and can be a strong connection to tradition.

I'm thankful to have family recipes, many on those little index cards (and in a little metal box made for them), but some scribbled on pieces of paper, tattered and stained from cooking.  You can find so many different recipes on the internet that some people feel why worry about saving those cards, those scraps of paper.  But it's not the same.  Sometimes you really need to follow the recipe exactly (or as close as you can get when the recipe gets a bit iffy) to get that taste right.

If you have family around, get those recipes.  More important, cook or bake with your family - see how they do it because some recipes don't include all the little tricks they'd do.  Keep the recipes and keep the memories.  I'm grateful that I have some that are very special and making them and eating the results remind me of all the good times and the good people who have been in my life.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Giving Thanks, the Nineth

Yesterday morning I woke up and felt rather chilly.  Throwing clothes on to take Riley out, I noticed the temperature in the house was 66!  Brrrr!  When we returned from our morning potty run, I flipped the heat on for the first time this season - living on the third floor does have certain advantages like staying warmer than most when those first really cool/cold days come calling.  I just put it on to take the chill out and turned it off later since I had heard it was supposed to get warmer during the day, which it did.

I love the autumn season, the cool crisp air and changing colors, but I don't necessarily like waking up cold.  Having the heat on, taking that first chill out of the house and making it comfortable once again is something we can take for granted.  With the flick of a switch we turn it on and get warm air.  Not everyone is that lucky.  A community activist here in Chicago decided to sleep outside with the homeless to draw attention to their plight.  While I have heat and blankets and pillows to snuggle on cold days some only have a cardboard box and tattered clothing.

I am thankful for a warm and safe place to live, for the comforts of my home and the security of having a home to come back to after a day away.  It just makes me aware all the more that even in today's 21st century America there are those who don't have that.  Let's not take our simple blessings for granted.

Giving Thanks, 5..6..7..8

Since I've been behind, I'm doing a musically themed thanks for four days.... 5 6 7 8 (cue music from Chicago!).  One of the things that we are able to do in today's world is appreciate music and art and literature and theater. Since we don't have to spend all our day gathering food or trying to survive (well, most of us, God willing anyway), we have time to appreciate the arts, time to engage in stimulating conversation about the topics of the day, time to engage in the community and interact with each other.  The arts help us understand ourselves and make possible our understanding of each other.

Having completed a masters program in literature, I've seen the timeless stories - much of what Shakespeare wrote was adapted from other stories of the time, and we're still adapting them now.  Whether it's The Taming of the Shrew or 10 Things I Hate About You, the story is the same, just updated to a different time and place.  And it provides us a means of understanding Shakespeare's time isn't so very different in some ways from our own.

Theater is sometimes a companion to literature.  If you've ever tried to read a play it is dry and difficult - without the descriptions and nuances of a novel.  But once staged, the actors bring it to life.  Even a one man play can be very moving - I once saw John Astin performing as Edgar Allan Poe and it was mesmerizing.  A part of theater is also opera, combining story and acting and music - if you've never seen an opera (and it's difficult to get into sometimes), give it a try.  You can sometimes find a local community group performing, or even just a group that does a concert version of the opera, without the full dress and staging.

Music is something that is always around me - I have a habit of seeing life with a soundtrack.  And they say music is important, that it stimulates and challenges the brain.  Art can also be stimulating and challenging - just what is that modern painting supposed to be!   There was a lot of discussion about Picasso's statue in front of the Daley center here in Chicago - I'm not sure anyone knows for sure what it is but it sure is interesting!

The arts are not easy - we have to sometimes get out of our comfort zone to experience them, and they can be costly when we'd rather spend money on entertainment we really 'get.' But the arts are part of what makes us uniquely human, and I am thankful that they are available and in my life.

Monday, November 4, 2013

Giving Thanks, the Fourth

Change is a part of life, yet many times we resist change.  We remember the 'good old days' when things were simpler and wish things didn't have to be so different.  But change will come, whether we like it or not.

Today I am thankful that I can embrace change, that I can allow differences into my life and be okay with it.  Whether it's a something major like moving house, or changing jobs or whether it's something smaller like changing grocery stores or taking a new route to work, change puts us outside our comfort zone for a while.  And that's a good thing; it's how we grow, how we learn.  Change means new or different experiences and with each new experience we find a new part of ourselves.

There are some things that we will carry with us throughout our lives.  For me, I've always been a sports fan and while it's not as central in my life as it used to be, it's something I still follow closely. But I've made major changes in my life that at first I was scared to make.  I didn't know what would happen, what would lie ahead.  Yet I took a leap of faith and made the change that would help me get closer to what I wanted.

It's not always easy to change.  We get comfortable, we don't want to be challenged.  And not all change is necessarily good.  But our society isn't the same as it was 100 years ago (1913), or 50 years ago (1963) or even 20 years ago (1993).   Change happens. And if we don't make at least some changes we will find ourselves run over by a change we are trying to resist.  I'm thankful that I have recognized the need for change, but that I've tried to do so with a discriminating eye and a knowledgeable mind, finding the change that is right for me.

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Giving Thanks, the Third

Humans have long been hunter gatherers, only these days the hunting is done in the grocery stores and the gathering is done taking everything out of the car and into the house. We are blessed to have an abundance of food in our stores and for most of us, on our tables.  We have supersized our meals and snacks (and in many cases ourselves). And yet there are those here in the United States who don't have enough to eat, who don't know where their next meal will come from. And we've heard more of that in recent days as the stimulus that increased the food stamp program comes to an end.

Today, I am thankful for the food on my table - today was leftover butternut squash in a sage brown butter sauce over pasta, and some shrimp with cocktail sauce. I try very hard to not throw food out, to make sure I check the back of the fridge and the back of the pantry to not have 'old' food (though I know the sell by or best by dates aren't written in stone). As I try to eat healthier I am trying, though with limited success, to use less processed food, buy more fresh food - the kind that doesn't last too long.  If you've ever watched House Hunters International, you know that many European homes have very small refrigerators - usually about the size of a kitchen wine cooler.  They go out for what they need each day; they don't store huge quantities of food; and they walk a lot - and don't seem to have the obesity problem the United States does.

I will continue to try to appreciate the food I have and be thankful for the abundance around us, but do so with proper portion size, fresh food and less junk.  It's easier to appreciate what you have when you don't have excessive amounts.  And I will also try to share, through the Greater Chicago Food Depository, with those who don't have enough, who are thankful each and every day for the food they have because it's such a struggle to get.

Saturday, November 2, 2013

Giving Thanks, the Second

November is a changing month - according to our weatherman, it's the month we lose the most in temperature.  It also seems as if we lose a lot in daylight, too.  The days are getting noticeably shorter and cooler and what leaves are still on the trees are falling soon.  It's a transitional month between autumn and winter, being the last month of meteorological autumn.  But like each transition to another season, it brings it's own special joy.

I have family in Florida and in Texas and in California and they think their weather is better than in Chicago.  It's not as cold, it's not as grey, it's not as snowy (and they remember to point out all the cars stuck on Lake Shore Drive a few years ago). But is their weather really 'better'? I guess it's a matter of perspective.

Each season brings difficulties, but each season brings joy.  To have sunny skies all the time (or most of the time), to expect that most every day is to become complacent.  When it's cold and nasty and the winter is rough and that first nice day of late winter/early spring comes along, there is a joy that others can't experience.  There is a time for everything, a time for every season, that makes a year whole.

Today, as we have a cool, rainy, grey, overcast day, I am thankful for the changing season.  I am thankful for the experiences they bring, both the fun ones and the challenging ones. They help me grow, they help me know our world even when it's not at its best.   To everything there is a season, and a time for every purpose under heaven.  I am thankful for each and every one.

Friday, November 1, 2013

Giving Thanks, the beginning.

Today is the first day of November, a month in which we celebrate Thanksgiving.  We usually trace it back to 1621 Plymouth as a harvest celebration, with pilgrims and Indians and feasting.  In 1789, George Washington declared a national day of "thanksgiving and prayer." Abraham Lincoln set Thanksgiving as the last Thursday of November, but then in 1939 (approved by Congress in 1941), FDR set it as the fourth Thursday of November because the fifth would fall too close to Christmas and businesses wouldn't be able to handle two big holidays, thus dampening the economic recovery after the Great Depression.  Today, Thanksgiving is barely a speed bump between the candy coma of Halloween and the shopping and spending spree of Christmas.  Instead of taking time to really give thanks, we eat too much and watch too much football and run out on our families to get to the stores for those early sales.  

I made a decision a few days ago not to let Thanksgiving pass this year without properly giving thanks.  30 days of thanks is my response to Thanksgiving this year.   

For day 1, I'm drawing on the the events today at LAX.  If you've flown anytime in the last 12 years, you know how difficult air travel can be even on a good day.  We complain about the screenings, and taking our shoes off, and being wanded.  We've heard the reports of some TSA agents being less than honest on the job.  But most of the people getting us through the airport, from the ticket clerks to the baggage checkers to the TSA agents are doing their best to keep us safe.  And today they found themselves at the wrong end of an automatic rifle, and the first TSA agent killed in the line of duty happened.  Thankfully there was a police officer who took down the shooter before even more people, men, women and children traveling on this Friday morning, were hurt. So today I'm thankful for all those people who keep us safe: police, fire, TSA, air marshalls; and I'm thankful for all those people who are there to help when tragedy strikes: paramedics, doctors, nurses, good people helping one another.  

Unfortunately, the LAX incident is just one of many this year.  But whether it's the Naval Yard shooting, the Boston Marathon bombing or the killing of teachers in Nevada and Massachusetts, there are those who are trying to protect us and those who respond with courage and grace when tragedies do occur.  Thankfully my life hasn't been personally impacted by these tragedies, but I'm thankful that there are people out there willing to put themselves on the line to protect us in times of danger and that there are those who try to help whether they are first responders or ordinary people selflessly helping strangers.  Thank you, for all you do.