A Grateful Heart

Thanksgiving 2014 is in the books, as they say. It was a quiet day, spent with my husband and parents. Call me crazy, but I somewhat missed having too many people in an already crowded and warm kitchen, precariously stacked dirty dishes, having to place dibs on one of the bathrooms, and the beautiful din of voices drowning out my carefully selected music playlist. But, when family is spread through the Midwest and in the furthest southeast corner and almost the furthest southwest corner, one expects a few quiet, thoughtful and quickly cleaned up Thanksgiving meals.

We enjoyed our time, yesterday. Brad and I cooked most of the meal, with mom providing her always requested stuffing, sweet potatoes, and even one of her jello-whipped-cream desserts (which she provides each year, insisting it’s because one of us kids requested, but none has). We watched football, snacked, I showed them the most current photos of family via Facebook (it’s during those moments I’m thankful for that social media monster), prayed thoughtfully, ate peacefully, then sat in the living room sipping wine and talked about Thanksgivings gone past. After pie and coffee, my parents went home, leaving us to sit by the fireplace, finish the wine, and watch a movie. I felt very serene when I fell into bed.

So, this morning, as I forgo the smoke and mirrors of Black Friday, opting instead to lounge in my plaid pajamas, sip coffee from the Spice Merchant and prepare my Christmas décor plan of attack, I’ve decided to continue the serenity of yesterday and thank those who fill my heart with gratitude.

  • My Parents: I am blessed with such amazingly, good-hearted, hardworking, parents. I’ve said it a million times, but a million doesn’t seem enough. They have given me such a strong foundation on which to grow as a woman.
  • My siblings: My sister and brother are my best friends. My life would be so empty without them. They are my comfort, my heroes, my partners in crime, and all that is good within me is due to growing up with the two of them.
  • My husband: I was sixteen when I announced I was never getting married or having children, but when one meets the person who is meant to share your life, well…things change. He provides me with the essentials to a life well lived. He makes me laugh on a daily basis, something he promised to do on our wedding day. He gives me such strength, more than he possibly knows or understands, as I want to be a better woman because of him.
  • My nieces and nephews: My sisters three kids, who are no longer kids but incredible adults and my brothers little ones who are just beginning the journey. They provide such a light in my life. I’ve had the honor of sharing the early years with my sister’s children and while I had to watch them grow up from afar, they’ve made me so proud. And now, there’s a great-nephew added to the mix. Joy. While Andrea is no longer with us, she remains a constant in my life. As for my brothers little ones, they make my heart soar with their innocence and the mysteries of their futures. They give me hope and excite me with the prospect of their lives.
  • My stepsons: Remember that whole “never having children” proclamation? I’ve had the privilege of sharing in the raising of my husband’s sons and known the immeasurable love of three young boys. I’ve watched them grow into young men and raise families of their own. I don’t think they’ll ever realize how thankful I am to them for providing me with the blissfulness of a mother’s heart, something I thought I would never own. They changed me and all for the better.
  • My mother-in-law: She is emotional, forceful, strong, intelligent, passionate, witty, and inspiring. I know many women who despise or “put up with” their mother-in-laws, but I can honestly say I won the lottery with mine. What a blessing she is to have in my life. Everyone should have a Betty.
  • Being born into a Mexican heritage: And no, not just because of the food. I’m proud of my heritage and while it has brought hardship to my parents and a few of my other family members, it has also brought such richness. My mother’s family, indigenous to Mexico, and my father’s family from Mexico and Santander, Spain, provide history and a sense of belonging. While my parents did not continue all of the traditions, I’m grateful for pinatas, the smell of Mexican sweet bread on a Saturday morning, the singing voices of my aunts and uncles, my mother’s memorized recipes, Mexican Independence celebrations in the streets of Newton, the cadence and warmth of a language I never learned to speak, and family. Lots and lots of family.
  • Which segues into cousins: I have forty-eight first cousins and have no idea how many second, third…at this point, who’s counting. I was fortunate to grow up with many of my cousins. Together, we blew out the candles on homemade birthday cakes, opened Christmas gifts on Christmas Eve, cowered in basements during tornados, walked to school, played hide and seek, went sledding down the small hills along the river on snowy Thanksgivings, attended concerts, took road trips, cheered together during NCAA tournaments, and passed down those same occasions to the next generation. I’m always stunned to learn of people who don’t know their cousins or haven’t seen their cousins in years. My life would be so different without my cousins and it is a life I do not want to ever know.

Family. It is family that completes my life. While there are many things I am grateful, I know that none can match my love of family. Sure, at times they drive me crazy, but that’s what makes family so worthwhile. With family, especially mine, there is unconditional support, unconditional passion, and unconditional love, mixed with a lot of laughter, some acceptable nosiness, a little forgiveness, and just the right amount of foolishness.

George Santayana once said, “The family is one of nature’s masterpieces.” I am truly grateful for the family artistry that is mine.

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Day #21 of Wild and Exciting Little Things: A gift

This weekend we celebrated my husband’s birthday. Every birthday, every holiday, I am reminded of a large, brown envelope I keep in my closet. Tucked between my childhood Raggedy Ann and Felix the Cat, it contains passion in the shapes of hearts, stars and VW logos, and love in the mediums of colored pencils, fine tipped markers, pieces of tin and stencils.

The envelope contains every handmade card my husband created for me while we were dating. From birthdays to Halloween to Christmas, plus a card to welcome me home after a week in Chicago. All created with a sketchbook in lap and the high probability of a cold beer at hand. Most made me laugh, a few made me cry, all made me smile.

There is no gift in this world like a gift made with the hands that hold your hands, pull you close, hold you up, and protect you. My husband’s hands are calloused with years of hard work, but his artwork is gentle and precise, the cards soft with care.

And while his business now takes up any extra time he used to rely to create these incredible keepsakes, I have also kept every store-bought card he has given to me, each familiar with his thin, sharp penmanship. Because while the cards are made by Hallmark or American Greetings, each contains four to five lines of unconditional affection and friendship.

So, on those days he forgets to take out the trash or fails to ask about an important work day, I walk in to my closet and gaze upon that envelope. I don’t need to look inside or view its contents, I’ve memorized each one. That envelope is filled with the true documents of our marriage and life.

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