In the same newspaper section I also read several stories of Black Friday traditions. Formerly I would have scoffed at the notion of any worthwhile tradition centered on consumerism, but what I learned from reading these stories of generations of family members staying up all night, comparing ads, waiting in long lines, and planning coffee and breakfast breaks along their shopping routes is that yes, family time full of laughter and capable of forming wonderful memories can be made on a day full of consumer insanity. And who am I to judge? It may not be my thing at all, but if mothers and daughters or whole clans can bond on such a day in such a way, it's good. Family is golden, and the memories are the real, lasting bargain.
For my own silly non-Black-Friday-honoring self, there are many blessings I try to count all the year: my family, our health, our security, our faith. But there are some things for which I am incredibly grateful that have been on my mind a good deal lately as this wonderful, down-to-earth holiday we call Thanksgiving approaches:
My Dad's Health and His Book and Mama's RecipeMy dad had a very hard year. He suffered serious injuries during a fall in March, was ill on and off for months, and then developed a terrible, scary infection in his head that badly frightened his loved ones.
All of those challenges delayed the fifth book in his Kelven's Riddle fantasy series. Honestly, my dad has had to accommodate several upsets in his creative processes over the years because of the demands of unpredictable, messy life. He wrote about some of those challenges in this inspiring post about perspective and gratitude: Buck Up, Boy; It Isn't Normandy.
But despite a bad year Daniel Hylton, my dad, has put out the fifth and final book of the Kelven's Riddle story in time for Christmas. I have read and relished them all, but don't take my word for it. You can read a review by a fantasy reader here: Farewell Kelven's Riddle.
I had a bad dream once that I had to finish Dad's books for him. I could not imagine telling this story of valor, love, the cost of freedom and unlikely but enduring friendships as well as he. I am glad that dream was not a reality. This year I am very thankful that my dad is healthy and that, at long last, I can have all his books upon my shelf.
(I must say that I am also grateful that for my whole life he has mentored me in my writing endeavors. Thanks, Dad.)
And I am very grateful for heirloom recipes like this magical one I received from my mom when I was newly married and fumbling through the Big Feast prep. I was blessed to eat it all those Thanksgivings growing up. Now I make it myself year after year, and it always gets rave reviews whenever I serve it: Mama Darlin's Sweet Potato Casserole. Thanks, Mom!!
The Mom's GroupFor years I have thought and thought again about writing of these lovely people; I have chickened - or turkeyed - out every time. The pressure to attempt to sum up what this surrogate family means to my own little clan...I never felt I could do it justice. But I'll try at long last - only because it's Thanksgiving.
When we moved to Arizona my husband and I had no friends or family here. No friends when our first child, Berto, was born. No friends to help us move into our first house. No friends to call on the phone while putting myself in time-out from my kids. No one.
I soon discovered that a mother needs friends to maintain sanity as my sense of loneliness increased each month after my son's birth. My husband offered to introduce me to his co-workers' wives, but they didn't have children. I needed compatriots that would understand my struggles with nursing, nutrition, potty-training, discipline and sleep lust. When my Ana came I knew I couldn't take the isolation from my own kind anymore. I prayed for friends. Yes, prayed - and then I called up my church and asked if I could start a group of some kind. They quickly put something in the church bulletin. Soon I was calling moms and asking when they would like to meet. Much to my chagrin they all wanted to meet during the day midweek, so I set up a play date at the church nursery twice a month on Wednesdays, but I regretfully told one of the moms that I wouldn't be able to make it; our family had only one vehicle.
That fellow mother, my dear friend Cathleen, said that I had to be there; she drove south past the church to pick me up every other Wednesday, took us all the way back up to the church, then drove my family home after our play date only to drive all the way north past the church again to her own home.
What a blessing that was for me and how Cathleen and I laughed years later remembering stuffing three car seats in the back of her sedan! Because of Cathleen's generosity my children and I got out twice a month to spend time in community.
The group is and has been for some time a family. Some of our friends have scattered across the US and the world, but once a member of this group, always a member. Our kids have grown together since babyhood, started school together, celebrated birthdays, Halloween, Thanksgiving and Christmastime together. After the birth of children, we parents have rotated turns bringing meals to the blessed but tired families. Heck, my friends brought me the fixings for our holiday meal - delicious red mashed potatoes and chorizo-squash stuffing - when my youngest daughter, Ella, was born a week before Thanksgiving! We've rushed to each other's sides during illness, sheltered each other's little ones in emergencies and exchanged babysitting. Our kids cannot remember a time without these fellow young uns from the group, their cousins not by blood but by bonds years in the making. And even the men, years after the moms and kids, finally realized they had friends with whom they could go out on "man dates" to the local brewery.
I, for one, do not know what I would do without our Mom's Group. It's very easy for me to say I love them like family.
SportsOh, I fought sports! I am a devotee of the home and family time and quiet life. I do not like or believe in endless structured activities. I grew up in the country where our sport was running through the cornfield with our dogs, swimming the creek, and walking in the woods. I didn't think my kids needed sports. My athletic man and I argued about it.
I have been proven wrong, because now I see their worth. My man, a city boy himself all his life, played sports, and he knew their value in the concrete jungle.
Instead of begging for television on Saturdays, my two eldest are out running their hearts out on a different kind of field, learning how to support and get along/work well with others. They have learned to trust and use the power in their own bodies - an integral thing for all of us. Meanwhile, my youngest two are supporting their siblings in between trips to the adjacent playground on game days, and hey! It counts as good old green time even if it's not in the country. Matthew is the kids' soccer coach, back into his beloved sports while using them to teach respect, teamwork, and more than athletic skills - life skills.
One of the greatest blessings to arise from all the practices and games has been the camaraderie that has developed between Berto and Ana. When little tykes they were close buddies, but as they grew older, he became harder on her; it seemed to grow worse until recently. Now they have great things in common: a competitive spirit and love of the games(s). Now little sis is Berto's teammate and compatriot in the world of athletics. He has her back, and she has his.
As for me? I am on the sidelines each Saturday, pacing, yelling, cheering, gasping. I hate to say it - I really hate to say it - but I am a bonafide soccer mom. And I'm terribly afraid there's no turning back now.
Alright, it's a little thing, but I am grateful for these boots. I bought them here in Arizona at an establishment called Saba's for my sister Annie's wedding in San Saba, Texas. I spent far too much on them - or so I thought at the time. Since then I have grown to like them very much and possibly love them. Yes, they're a bit loud, quite daring for everyday wear, but I have never shied away from making a statement. I have worn them on a plane, to my kids' school, to go shopping and at church to boot. They are incredibly comfortable and fulfilling. Fulfilling? Yes, but I don't know how exactly. And the smell of them? Real leather paradise!