Let’s Talk Turkey

In just a few days, many of us will sit down to a festive meal with our families. A lot of turkeys will be served, maybe a few hams, mashed potatoes, green beans, rolls, and possibly an assortment of pies and cakes. Growing up, I remember spending Thanksgiving with my grandparents. My reclusive uncle and aunt would put in an appearance, usually late, and my parents would spend the better part of the day just chatting with them while we played in the den. The day was priceless…phenomenal food, good company, and nowhere to be but there.

After my parents divorced when I was a teenager, I don’t really remember very many specific Thanksgivings and Turkey Days as a young adult were hit or miss for me. Some were spent at my Dad’s house, some at my Mom’s, some at my own house, where my Mom, my Granny, and I would work all day to prepare the meal, and even a few took place at the homes of friends. Back then, Thanksgiving was simply the gateway to Christmas; kind of like a kick-off party for the “real holiday season”. Only in the past few years have I really learned to observe this day for what it is. Of course, only in the past few years have I really learned the importance of gratitude as a daily habit. (Thanks, Minimalism! You did that for me.)

Now, that’s not to say that I’ve spent my whole life being ungrateful. I like to think I’ve done a fairly good job of counting my blessings and taking very little for granted. But in all areas of life, there’s always room for improvement. For us, one of those improvements was in our observation of the 4th Thursday of November. Instead of a day to feast and fantasize about the month ahead, a few years ago we started spending our Thanksgiving just doing simple, quiet, fun things with one another. Why? Because, the most important part of our life, the things we are most thankful for, are just that – the times throughout the year when we spend our day together doing absolutely nothing other than what we want to do at that moment. And so we thought, what better way to show gratitude than to relish in those things that make us most happy.

One year, we made a tiny version of the traditional Thanksgiving meal and ate it while watching football. Another year, we walked the beach and had lunch at Cracker Barrel. And still another year, we ate ham sandwiches and read books on the balcony of our Florida apartment, while watching little alligators sunning in the yard below. In doing this, we not only allowed ourselves time to reflect and enjoy, but we also turned a previously hectic and sometimes stressful holiday into a peaceful celebration that we actually looked forward to each year. Thanksgiving was no longer the opening act for the spectacle we call Christmas. It was a day of gratitude, as it was intended to be.

When we moved to Tennessee, we tried to incorporate my family into our simple celebration and I’ll be honest, it has been a real challenge. Last year, per my Mom’s request, we made a traditional meal and invited everyone to her house. Only my niece and the baby showed up, so we had dinner for 5 and lots of leftovers. Angie watched football, my niece slept in the recliner, my mom reminisced about Thanksgivings past and fussed about how she was “never going to go through all the trouble again” since “no one appreciated it”, and I played in the floor with the baby. I remember thinking that we had somehow missed the point of this day. Here we were, a small family, but a family nonetheless, gathered together but still separate. We were there out of an obligation to celebrate an occasion rather than to celebrate the simple joy of being together. I don’t mean to imply that it was a bad day. It wasn’t. But it just wasn’t the day that it could have been.

This year we are going to try flipping the script. We’re celebrating Thanksgiving at our house. There will be no turkey, no gravy, no cranberry sauce. And no expectations.

Our door is going to be open all day to all members of our family. In fact, the invitation even says, “drop in anytime, stay as long as you like”. We’ll be here all day. There’s no dress code, no requirement to bring a dish. We are serving chicken (probably a pot pie) and a garden salad. The food will be here until it runs out and even then, we can always make a sandwich. Football will be on the TV and a fire in the fireplace. The toy box will be open. The patio has plenty of seating. The well of hot coffee and tea will never go dry.

Simple. Warm. Inviting. Home. That’s Thanksgiving to us.

The holidays are stressful enough as it is so we are hoping to replace that sense of obligation and pressure with the opportunity for others to enjoy a few of life’s simple pleasures –  delicious food, quiet moments, and good company – even if it’s just for the day.

Will this be the start of a new family tradition? Probably not. In all likelihood, it will be remembered as the year we tried to minimize everyone’s Thanksgiving (LOL), but I still have my fingers crossed. As Ghandi so fondly said, “Be the change…” 😊

**As a side note, the turkey pictured above passed away this week. Freckles was 12 years old. She lived a long happy life on Angie’s parent’s farm in Texas. She loved watermelon rinds, pecans, and giving kisses. 

5 Rewards of Being Minimalist

itty bitty houseOur weekly staff meeting was about to start but the chatter had yet to die down. The topic – tiny houses. “I can’t even turn on HGTV anymore on Fridays,” Kathy said. “It’s all tiny houses and I just don’t get it.” I smiled to myself, that smile of knowing oh-so-well just what Kathy didn’t get. Living in a tiny home is an exercise in minimalism and minimalism is a hard concept for a lot of folks to grasp. It is after all, the antithesis of the American Dream. Instead of bigger and more, you have to embrace smaller and less. To confirm my thoughts, Kathy added in an exasperated voice (as if the mere thought of tiny houses might drive her to drink), “Just where would I put all my stuff?”

Tiny house or no tiny house, minimalism is not without its own rewards. We’ve found that being a minimalist has given us:

More freedom. For a long time I bought into the American Dream. I owned a house. I had a good corporate job with benefits and a career ladder. I had cars with car payments and toys with toy payments. And the whole time I felt trapped. I couldn’t play with the toys because I was too busy keeping them up. Today, we rent an apartment. We own one car. Our toys are bicycles, kayaks, and Kindles. We’ve lived in 3 states in 5 years; traveled to 6 countries and 13 states. We’ve had big adventures and small ones, but the best part of having freedom is knowing that we own every day of our lives and we can decide at any time how we want to spend them.

Less stress. Admittedly, last summer’s misadventure was one of the most stressful experiences we’ve had in recent years. That aside, having fewer responsibilities makes for a far less stressful environment. Getting rid of debt got rid of our money stress. Committing to live life on our own terms alleviated the stress of keeping up with the neighbors, as did deciding to buy only what we needed. There are still stressors in our lives but we approach them differently now, knowing that nearly everything in life is temporary and usually pales in comparison to the goals and dreams we have set for ourselves.

Greater resourcefulness. It is super easy these days to run to the store and buy whatever you need. It’s more difficult to figure out how to fill a need with what you already have. Minimalism forces you to think through problems to find creative solutions rather than buy more stuff. I think the few months we spent in the RV, fixing everything from wiring to rotted flooring, helped us reconnect with our “can do” spirit.

Increased clarity. Clearing mental clutter is equally as important as clearing physical clutter. When there’s space in the mind, an amazing thing happens – ideas begin to flow, goals and dreams take shape, and imagination blooms. I see it happening with us every day. Decisions come easier because we have a clear defining line.

Gratitude. It’s hard to be thankful when you’re not satisfied with your life or when you’re pulled in a dozen different directions by stressful obligations. Like clarity, gratitude increases when you cut the clutter. I might not always like what the day brings my way but I’m always grateful for the day itself. Lately, I also find myself being more grateful for things I once took for granted – time with my family, a good night’s sleep, and having plenty to eat.