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Giving Thanks

My Thanksgiving plate: smoked turkey, green beans, macaroni and cheese, mashed sweet potatoes, dressing, mixed greens (collard, mustard, turnip), potato salad, and cranberry sauce. I made all the sides, except for the greens beans (made by our friends). My husband smoked the turkey and a pork butt. Everything was delicious!

Last week we celebrated Thanksgiving in the U.S. and I’m carrying the gratitude with me into this week. It’s true there is something to be thankful for every single day, even every moment, no matter how small. The Thanksgiving holiday reminds me to slow down and count my blessings. Thanksgiving kicks off my favorite holiday season.

Last year we drove to Chicago and spent the time with our family. That was so special because our time together is precious especially after my mom passed away. I think we all sense our time on this earth is limited and so we’re more intentional about making the time for each other. I like to say that I’ve been fueled up (with love) after those visits.

My nieces, siblings, and kids. Thanksgiving 2021

My daughter, Elise, and I Thanksgiving Day 2022

This year, we celebrated the holiday with friends. So many people have moved to Texas from other places so it’s not uncommon to not have family near. I was excited about cooking for friends. And it dawned on me this would actually be the first Thanksgiving in our new home. Being in a new home is and of itself something to be thankful for. We moved into our freshly built home about a year and 8 months ago so I’m not sure how long I can call it new. Whatever the case, since the pandemic we haven’t really had people over.

I made things easier on myself by keeping the menu simple. My husband, Bryan, decided to smoke the meats (turkey breast, turkey legs, and pork butt), which means I was responsible for cooking the sides.

The PREP

We began prepping the weekend before Thanksgiving by taking the meats out of the freezer to defrost in the fridge. On Tuesday, Bryan seasoned the pork and brined the turkey parts. I chopped up all my vegetables for each dish and put them in baggies that I labeled. I also made a big pot of liquid gold aka turkey broth. I also roasted about 10 sweet potatoes for my mashed sweet potatoes and sweet potato pies. In my grocery shopping, I purchased some time saving items like preboiled eggs, herb croutons for the dressing, and cornbread mix. And something I’ve never done for previous Thanksgivings most likely because I didn’t have the space was use my CROCK POT. I had her set up on the island.

This Ninja cooked up my greens and smoked turkey like a charm.

It was certainly a blessing to serve a bounty of food and be surrounded with loved ones and friends. Growing up in poverty, I’m reminded of how far my family has come to make a better life for ourselves and our children. What we didn’t have in financial means, we were rich in faith, hope, and love. The part of Thanksgiving that I will take with me everyday is to often show appreciation to the people who love and show up for me, to extend extra care and grace to others, to be encouraging, to demonstrate compassion to myself (first) and others, to help where I can, and to reflect more on what I do have rather than what I don’t.

What are you thankful for?

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Life is a beautiful mess…

Near the end of January, my dear friend sent a text asking how I was doing. We first met in the 7th grade and our friendship was sealed in high school. She moved to Texas some years after I did, so now we live just 2 hours apart. I caught her up quickly on my cancer treatments because she didn’t realize that I had already started and completed radiation treatment. Naturally, I was honest and indicated that I had been feeling moody and not wanting to be around people, more so than the usual. I attributed it to the hormone therapy I had started a few weeks prior. Her reply was an unexpected, pleasant surprise to the tune of taking me on a spa retreat. We scheduled it and it was AH-MAZE-ING! She picked me up on a Friday night in February and I returned that Sunday. Yup…a whole weekend of spa wonder, relaxation, exquisite farm to table food, and most importantly time spent with my dear friend catching up on everything.

First and foremost, I admire my dear friend as she is very successful in her field. She’s always been very generous. I attribute this to her parent’s example of generosity and unconditional love, which made a tremendous impact on me in high school. If I’m honest, I will admit to being envious of my dear friend at certain points in my life. As I’ve matured, I no longer feel that need to compare. I’m simply so proud of her. We each have our own paths, but we have an undeniable bond. Friendships ebb and flow with life’s milestones and we’ve experienced that in our frienship as well. She works hard, travels frequently, and takes great care of her family. We don’t talk all the time, but when we do, it’s like continuing where we left off. I know she has other friends. I have other friends, but nothing compares to this.

That weekend was beyond wonderful. It was what I needed – time away from my day to day busy life…time away from my husband and kids. After breast cancer treatment, I wanted to be lighter, not worry as much, and not take things so seriously, but something has been off and old ways of coping were creeping back in. That weekend, I was fed well and pampered. My dear friend and I caught up where we left off with ease, revisiting our history, talking about our relationship, catching up on our families, sharing our current struggles, and expressing our appreciation for our friendship. 

Have you ever experienced something so beautiful and thought that everyone should experience it? That’s how I feel about this. Sure, its great to be whisked away to a spa and be pampered, but that’s not the norm. That was evident to me as I was sharing the spa experience with my coworkers and telling them they have to visit at least one time. One coworker responded non-convincingly that it MIGHT happen one day WAY in the FUTURE. I thought about that and acknowledged that not everyone can afford to do something like this. Hell, I couldn’t afford to do it at the time that we did. Therefore, I contemplated what about that weekend made it so special. This blog is about self-care and our weekend at Travaasa Spa will go down in my book as one of the pinnacles in my self-care journey. The massages, facial, pedicure, manicure were amazing. The massage therapists were knowlegeable and caring, offering me tips on managing possible side effects of breast cancer treatment. Every meal was fresh and delicious. The equine experience with our guide and very own horse, Pete, was therapeutic and unforgettable. The service was impeccable. Despite all of that, hands down, the most meaningful exchange was the time spent with my dear friend. It was the fact that she carved out time in her busy life to spend a WHOLE weekend with me. That was the greatest gift.

That weekend reminded me how important friendship is, especially with regard to self-care. Spend time with your friends. Make time for your friends. Get to know people so that you can make friends. WARNING: It does require the willingness to be vulnerable at times, but that’s how you get people to know the real you. The benefits outweigh the risks. The return on investment is high. I consider my husband to be my best friend, but there is nothing like friendship outside of marriage. I only have two people who I consider dear, close friends and they’ve known me before I met my husband. We’ve maintained our relationships since we were adolescents and have been there for each other through life ups and downs. That is something special. That is something to be cherished. I’ve also developed other friendships over the years.  We make time for each other by having lunch once a month (with one group of friends) and having breakfast on the weekends after Zumba fitness class (with another group of friends). Solitude has its place, especially for an introvert like me. However, friendships provide support, comradery, fun, and love, among many other things. 

Courtesy of the staff from the spa, “Life is a beautiful mess, made better with friendship.” Get out there and spend some time with your friends.