On Giving Thanks

Confession: Our family does not go to church.

That’s not to say that we’ve never gone to church, it’s just that we aren’t regular church-goers. Heck, we aren’t even annual church-goers. To be completely honest, we’ve been to church together as a family once. It was Christmas Eve and my sister thought we should  “try it out” for something different to do. It was as though she were suggesting we prepare a roast beef for dinner as opposed to our usual glazed ham.

“Why not?” And since none of us had a good enough answer, we went.

Our church experience that evening was neither good nor bad, but with the lights and the stage, the cushioned chairs and the Christian rock band, it was nothing like the church we remembered.

We haven’t been back since.

DSC06957

I mean, I don’t think our visit to St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York City counts. Does it?

Fairly early in our marriage, I realized that my husband and I didn’t exactly share the same religious beliefs. I would say that I’m two-thirds spiritual and one-third Christian. My husband? I would call him agnostic, which is why I was a little surprised when not that long ago, I suggested we start saying grace at dinnertime, and he wholeheartedly agreed.

What I was proposing wasn’t necessarily religious. I’d been listening to this podcast with food writer Michael Pollan about conscious eating, and in it, he suggested that we take time to really think about where the food on our plates came from: Think about the farmer who grew that lettuce, the animal who provided the meat in your hamburger, the chicken who laid those eggs.

If I wanted our family to begin a practice of saying grace, this sounded like a good place to start, and it is how we initially introduced the idea to our kids. Still, the end goal wasn’t to raise children who were just more conscious of their plates, rather to raise children who were more conscious of their world.

I’ll admit, right from the start, my husband was better at remembering to say grace than I was. By the time I had prepared the meal, served it, and sat down, I was often on my second or third forkful when my husband would “a-hem” and begin, “I’m thankful for…”

Our girls quickly learned to give thanks for everything on the table. From slaughtered salmon to sacrificed broccoli, there was not a grain of rice nor a garnish of parsley that wasn’t included in the litany.

Still, if we wanted to encourage our children to move beyond just talking about their food (and we did), they were going to need some better modeling.

Giving thanks is an act of appreciation that needs to be practiced, but, according to Happiness Coach Andrea Reiser, “gratitude goes beyond good manners—it’s a mindset and a lifestyle.”

It was this mindset, this lifestyle, I wanted to foster.

affection-appreciation-art-424517

Studies have shown that cultivating gratitude results in living a happier, more satisfied life. It can also increase self-esteem, optimism, hope, and empathy.

I’d witnessed this empathy recently when I chaperoned a field trip with my daughter’s fifth-grade class. They were headed to the Reno municipal court to learn about the legal system, but first, we’d taken the children to a nearby park to eat their bagged lunches. It was here that they encountered several of the area’s homeless sitting by the river and napping in the sunshine. Unbeknownst to their teacher, some of the boys in the class had decided to give their lunches to them.

“Had they asked me first, I would have told them no.” Their teacher said. “That’s probably why they didn’t ask me,” he chuckled.

On our way to the courthouse, I ended up walking behind these same boys. As they passed by the people to whom they’d donated their food, the men called out their thanks. “God bless you. God bless you.”

The boys waved, and walked a ways in silence before one of them remarked, “That made me feel really good and warm inside.”

“Yeah, it made me feel good… but also, kind of sad.”

“I know what you mean. I’m glad we gave them our food, but I’m sad that they don’t have anywhere to live.”

I wondered if those boys would think differently about their dinners that night, or about their warm beds when they went to sleep. I imagined they would.

Fundamentally, gratitude is about being aware of who or what makes positive aspects of our lives possible, and acknowledging that.” Children especially have a hard time recognizing these things. I hoped that through the act of saying grace, my children might hone their awareness.

Because in some way or another, we’re all blessed, and it serves us well when we recognize that.

We’d been giving our thanks to pigs and chickens and cows for months, when finally, one night, right before we ate, my oldest daughter said, “I’m thankful for people like my mom who care about education, and I’m thankful for the nice people who write books for other people to read.”

This, I thought. This is what I had hoped would come from a ritual of saying grace.

IMG_7098.PNG

According to Brené Brown, “What separates privilege from entitlement is gratitude.” My children are certainly privileged—more than some, and less than others– but I don’t ever want them to grow up feeling entitled. Saying grace is one of the many ways we can combat that, but there are so many other benefits to living a conscious life.

We still don’t go to church, and we occasionally forget to say grace before we eat, but a few times each week, we remember to pause and reflect upon our blessings, and for that, I am thankful.

What are you grateful for today?

FOR MORE LIKE THIS, FOLLOW ME ON READINGWHILEEATING OR LIKE MY PAGE ON FACEBOOK

 

 

OMG! It’s My Blogiversary!

Each year, I do something different on the first day of school as an Icebreaker, and since my students are meeting me for the first time too, I always begin by introducing myself in the same manner that I have planned for them.

August of 2015, I asked my students to complete a 5, 4, 3, 2, 1.  I began by sharing with them the last five books I had read, four things I had done that summer (complete with pictures), three of my goals, two states I wanted to visit, and a favorite quote. My students could come up with any categories they wanted for their 5, 4, 3, 2, 1 so long as they met the objective of having their peers (and me) get to know them better.

My three goals were that I wanted to learn more about the practice of meditation, save money for an upcoming vacation to Hawaii, and start a blog. Before the school year was over, I was well on my way.

May 11, 2016, I posted my very first blog on ReadingWhileEating.com. Thirty-five posts later and here we are.

DSC03913.jpg

When I started the blog, I told myself that I would give it a year and then evaluate where I was with it. Was I enjoying it? Did I want to continue? Or would it be something that I simply crossed off the bucket list? As I celebrate my first blogiversary, I can honestly say that it has been an amazing ride, and happily, one that is not over yet.

In the bio for my blog, I ask readers to “join me in discovering whether or not there’s room for more on the plate.” This year, I have learned that there is. People sometimes comment, “you’re so lucky you can do that…I just don’t have the time.” But we make time for the things that are important to us, and this blog has become just that.

The other night, as my husband and I were getting ready to go to sleep, he turned towards me in the dark and told me that he admires the way I create goals and really go for them. I’ve been training for a 10K, so I assumed that was what he was referring to, but it really could be any number of things—or maybe all of them. I am determined, and when I set my sights on something, I don’t like to fail. If I do, it had better be after giving it my all.

That’s not to say that my blog is wildly successful. I don’t have the thousands of followers that some other blogs have, but that’s okay. Maybe one day I will. As I continue this journey, hopefully I will grow my readership. Although what’s more important: I know that I will continue to grow.

If you are here, then you may already be one of my readers. This is where I get to say, “Thank You.” Thank you for taking the time to read what I have put out there. Thank you for the support you have given me. And thank you for the positivity that you have sent my way.

As my blog enters a new year, I hope that you’ll continue to follow me on ReadingWhileEating. Maybe you’ll even find the time to share it with a friend or two.

Now… Let’s go celebrate!

DSC03903.jpg