For weeks I have noodled around the idea of posting a simple list of the people, places, abilities, things, conditions, blessings to bring meaning to this year’s Thanksgiving day. An introvert with a history of over thinking added complexity to the simple list. Capturing one hundred reasons to be thankful posed a bountiful problem: Do I capture family as one listing or name everyone? The same thought rumbled around for friends, for neighbors, and friends who play multiple roles. Should individual writers be called out or tumble them together. And what about music? Does the list become trivial with additions like homemade caramels and fresh popcorn? What about specific brand call outs?
My expectations for this Thanksgiving were not very high. It is a holiday that traditionally is celebrated by all of us in the U.S. The slow slog toward a nation divided topped by the trauma of impeachment hearings had me dragging my feet while approaching the common table. Friends do their daily grateful lists, but that habit didn’t stick any better than water exercise or keeping a drawer of perfectly rolled underwear ala Marie Kondo.
The nerdy spreadsheet used to record one hundred reasons to be thankful could be filled with the names of people, pets, foods, books, music and such to flesh out section and become quite a document. My self-editor is constrained by assuming you would want to be amused or impressed if those columns were offered. Many of us have a richness of reasons to be thankful—love, family, friends, a place to call home, jobs, talents, faith, a beloved nation. And responsibility to extend another’s list. Needs extend 365 days a year.
As a kid I coveted my brother’s denim bag filled with marbles. The cool surfaces of the aggies, cat eyes, tigers and shooters. The odd tactile sensation of a steely or clay. I wasn’t supposed to touch the bag, but when he was at baseball I poured those tiny balls on the carpet and sorted the wealth into groups.
Like my brother the bag of wonders is gone. Toys were divided by gender in those days so I doubt if anyone thought a girl might cart pounds of glass, metal and clay into her future. The remnants of his childhood that I still carry are a Boy Scout canteen, a varsity track hooded sweatshirt, and books.
My husband recently had a nasty biking accident. Comments about shaking his marbles loose or losing his marbles brought back memories of that blue denim bag with its grimy string. As each specialist completed their exam and shared results the bag refilled, the bits of information building a report that suggested he would need time to heal, but would be okay.
When this crisis is closed I’m going to sew myself a bag, leave it outside to fade and get dirty while I search antique stores for marbles to commemorate all that has been good in our lives. Some day when we’re downsizing, and our kids think I’m being weird, I’m going to carry that bag to a new place. Now and then I’ll look at each marble chosen in honor of the memories of the family of my birth and the family my husband and I made.
Canadian wildfires more than a thousand miles away filled Wisconsin’s northern skies with haze. Following another warm summer day slightly diminished by the loss of blue heavens and the company of pesky mosquitos, helping a neighbor harvest their lavender field made a small part of the world all okay. At eight in the evening, thanks to Canadian smoke particulates, the July sun appeared a gentle gold surrounded by a flaming ring. With humidity and heat lifting, the air felt just right to stay outside
She knelt next to the plants, cutting the flowered sprigs with a curved knife. I gathered handfuls, wound the end with a rubber band, then handed each to her husband to trim and load for moving. Their collies laid between the rows, noses resting on paws. A hawk screeched above as it circled the field. We talked about nothing much scattered with deeply important stuff.
We have other jobs that claimed the day, but like all plants lavender has a time to be harvested. They had already completed hours in the field and hung hundreds of bouquets in the barn to partially dry. In a few days the lavender would fill a roadside cart for customers. Sharing the work, an hour went by quickly. Mosquitos called an end to our time.
Some kind of magic happens when friends share the work of their days. Weeding each other’s gardens, making a meal, washing dishes together, sanding another’s wood project, painting a room, harvesting lavender. Formality slips away. The need to create conversation slips into comfortable talk. We move in each other’s space naturally, slipping into the dance steps of our real lives without practice. That’s where memories are made.
Last weekend, the writers’ group I’m a part of experimented with a do-it-yourself writers’ retreat. We all thought it was a success and even discovered an unexpected benefit.
No surprise. This is one of the main reasons you go on a writers’ retreat. There’s nothing else you’re supposed to be doing. No job, errands, household chores, or running kids around. Just write, think, or daydream—whatever feeds the muse.
I wrote two essays and a new query letter in this room with a view
Each of us accomplished more than we normally would. Several of us drafted essays. Others focused on planning—reviewing what they already had written and seeing the possibilities for new work. Some concentrated on researching possible publications and sending queries. Everyone felt the time away helped their writing and creative process.
Getting away from your usual surroundings, even for a few days, is very freeing. When you leave the To Do lists behind, you mind clears and there’s room for big ideas. Inspiration bubbles to the surface more readily.
Writers could probably get a lot accomplished and maybe even be inspired if they rented a cabin or house-sat for a vacationing friend. But by staying at a bonafide writers’ retreat, you get more. Hundreds of other writers or artists sat where you sat and considered their creative work important enough to invest in.
The retreat center itself is dedicated to fostering your work. At the Anderson House, the setting includes floor to ceiling bookcases filled with literature instead of the ripped up mystery stories like you’d find at a rental cabin. Each bedroom has a journal full of entries by previous writers and artists who are wishing you well. You feel you’re part of a larger tradition.
If the retreat center thinks I’m an artist, I must be!