Just ME: Simple Thanks

As the holiday season begins, I say, let’s make it a smile. For me, the holidays are a time for bringing people together, to appreciate family and friends. It’s a time to pause and be thankful, to celebrate simple pleasures and create more memories.

We’ll be spending Thanksgiving at the beach in California this year, as we have for many years. Growing up in a family of seven kids, our Thanksgivings were joyful, noisy events. This year will be no different—in addition to my siblings and their families, we’ll be hosting a bunch of our son’s college-aged friends who can’t make it home for the break. The goal is to make everyone feel like part of the family.

My motto during the holidays is the more the merrier, but I make sure to set the expectations upfront so the occasion doesn’t get overwhelming. I’ve told everyone to plan on camping—bring a sleeping bag and be prepared to sleep on a couch (or the lawn). I make it potluck and have everyone bring his or her favorite dish, that way everyone gets to feel a part of it and shine. And if Thanksgiving isn’t Thanksgiving for you without sweet potatoes with marshmallows on top, or Aunt Mildred’s green bean casserole, then by all means bring it!

Everyone shares the workload. The kids set up a long table on the back porch, and a friend takes care of decorating it with muslin, candles, pumpkins and sunflowers. I can’t wait to bring out the 24 green and blue plastic dinner trays I found at a church bazaar this year, with separate compartments for the turkey, mashed potatoes, etc. That’s a smile for me!

Holidays and large family gatherings can be a stressful time, so I try to set a relaxed dynamic to reduce the possibility of tension or drama. I think our job as women is to set these gatherings up for success; to bring joy and playfulness to the occasion. I tell people dinner is at 3ish—the “ish” is important! It’s better to be spontaneous and flexible than too rigid. I love bringing people together, but I also step away if I have to. If it gets to be too much having a houseful of people for the weekend, go for a bike ride or take a bath. It’s important to take care of yourself.

A big part of our Thanksgiving is about pausing to give thanks. Before the meal, we go around the table and each person says what they’re thankful that year. This year, our older son Scout is driving down from college in his first big purchase: a mini school bus that he’s dubbed “Happy Trails.” We’ve already decided that the day after Thanksgiving we’re going to pile in Scout’s bus and hand out turkey sandwiches to the homeless (on Wonder bread—there’s nothing like a leftover turkey sandwich on Wonder bread!) Maybe part of your tradition on the Friday after Thanksgiving is not just shopping the sales, but doing something to give back in your community.

It doesn’t have to be traditional to be your tradition. Whether it’s baking pies with your mom, serving dinner in a soup kitchen, or going for a Thanksgiving morning walk on the beach, it’s the simple pleasures that you and your kids will remember.

I’m reminded of that this year, as it’s the first time our younger son, Bubb, won’t be home for Thanksgiving. Instead he’ll be on a remote island in Indonesia as part of his gap year. The day he left, he gave me a folder covered with Post-It notes: 90 notes for the 90 days he’ll be gone. I flip one over each morning to start the day with a smile. Like the one that said “When you pick me up, I want flank steak, mashed potatoes, Jarritos pineapple soda and mom’s brownies for dinner, “ or “I’ll always remember driving to preschool with you Mom, singing our guts out to Shania Twain with the windows rolled down.”

It’s the simple things that create memories. I’d love to hear about some of your favorite Thanksgiving traditions. Share them here, and here’s to a holiday that’s a smile.


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