Serenity Now

George’s dad on Seinfeld would utter “serenity now” when things around him brought on stress. Borrowing those words as my title feels appropriate this morning after having watched the sunrise on the beach at Kiawah Island. Not that I was being stressed, but rather that I was finding serenity now.

Sunrise is at 6:59 am on the Island and having arisen at 6:30, I had just enough time to throw on some clothes and get out to the beach in time to watch the sun begin to brighten the eastern skyline. Not sure of what I would see, I headed to the beach with a sense of excitement mixed with the fatigue I was feeling from an overactive yesterday, a restless night of sleep, and the early hour.

The first thing one notices when staying at the ocean, is the rhythmic sound of the waves washing up on the shore. With each step closer to the beach, the sound of the waves washing ashore increased a sense of inner quiet within me. As I hiked over the dune and the beach came into view, my fatigue and any stress I had been feeling, vanished. The sun, not yet visible, was casting its dusky light over the scene and there, not 10 yards away, stood four deer poised at the tide’s edge staring back at me. I stood mesmerized watching them as they resumed their stroll down the empty beach, devoid of the hundreds of vacationers that would crowd the beach later in the day. For now, the beach belonged to those four deer and by default, me.

There are places on earth that invoke a sense of peace, maybe it’s a majestic mountain view or an empty beach with its vast ocean backdrop. Where ever that place exists, watching a sunrise bathe that view with all its serene beauty cannot help but bring a sense of peace. This morning, as I watched the sunrise over my beach, I found that sense of peace. Any stress I brought along with me on this vacation, melted in that slowly unfolding light of dawn. The sun’s rays, casting light up through the horizon, created beautiful bands of orange as they began to awaken the morning sky. And then, right on cue, the golden orange ball of the sun began to rise from edge of the ocean.

I wish that I could have had you there on the beach with me this morning to both witness and feel the peacefulness of that scene. I can only hope that my writing and photos will give you some sense of the experience.

Serenity Now

Arrived

We left Madison three days ago after a year and month of COVID isolation. The temp that morning was 20 degrees and a high of 38 degrees was forecast for the day. Our first night was spent in Cincinnati, OH and our second in Asheville, NC. Late this afternoon we reached our destination on Kiawah Island, SC. The temperature, 75 degrees. I am, as I write this, sitting on the screen porch of our VRBO with a local brew in my hand, watching an alligator sunning in the canal below. Warning, before you put two and two together and conclude our house is unoccupied and easy pickings, besides our ever watchful neighbors, did I mention the eight foot python we recently purchased.

Relaxation Station

It was quite the drive to get here but so scenic and so refreshing after a year of vacationing in my back yard, putting a mere 500 miles on my vehicle in the course of the entire year. I swear I could hear my jeep purring as I turned towards the interstate and began to put the miles behind us. There is a lot to be said for a road trip. A road trip gives you the chance to bond with your fellow traveler or plot where to leave them, just kidding Deb. A road trip gives you the opportunity to experience Americana and to just take in sights on a whim. It is the adventure Jack Kerouac alludes to when he writes, “Nothing behind me, everything ahead of me, as is ever so on the road.” Never discount the road trip.

Breakfast in Cincinnati, the pancakes rivaled the ambiance.

For the next week, I will attempt a round of golf on a course light years beyond my ability to play it. I will walk the beach and maybe manage to catch a few sunrises over the Atlantic. I will put as many miles as my legs can handle on my bike. And I will generally put the world of stress and COVID behind me. I will regenerate. For those of you who know me well, know that I have traveled often, sometimes with detailed plans and sometimes by the seat of my pants. This trip feels different. I would be a liar if I said the isolation of this past year hadn’t left me damaged. This trip is the beginning of my repair.

We have arrived. All that is left now is to be: stress free, plan limited, senses alert, and open to the healing that time away can bring.

Three days and 1100 miles later ………….. Let the smiles rival the miles.

An Adventure

It was my granddaughter’s birthday recently. She was turning four and according to her, once you are four you can do almost anything. It took me but a minute to know the gift I needed to give her. I would give her an invitation to an adventure.

An adventure is an activity we do with a friend. On adventures we make discoveries, we go places we have not been before, we bond with our friend, and we make memories. Adventures can be as simple as a walk on a new trail, or better yet, taking a turn we had not planned on, not knowing where it will lead. An adventure might be climbing a mountain or just seeing the city from the observation deck of a skyscraper. The important thing is that though you plan the trip, you do not plan the adventure, they just kind of unfold. And therein lies the joy.

I have had many adventures with my daughters over the years. They were often of the simple version, a trip to the zoo or a climb on the bluffs of Devil’s Lake, but appreciated none the less. As they grew older, my daughters would always be looking forward to our next adventure. They began to take on a style of their own. The adventure to them was a planned destination but no agenda once we arrived. The accommodations often left much to be desired, but they would be quick to add that where we would sleep was not important, it was what awaited us the next morning that would define the adventure. As they grew, so too did the adventures. We skied snow covered slopes out West, we climbed Half Dome in Yosemite Valley, hiked the Geyser Trail at dawn in Yellowstone, and actually paraglided off the peaks above Medellin Columbia, in South America. As I write this, I know they are surely busy plotting the next adventure.

For Adela, her adventures are just beginning, but I know this, she will certainly follow in her mother’s footsteps. She already has an adventurous spirit and with a little nurturing from her Opa, she will turn that spirit loose. I can only hope to keep up and continue to be her adventure partner.

So what about your adventures? Do you have them? Do you leave open spaces in your trip plans for that surprise that lies just beyond the path? The surprises in life are what make the journey worthwhile. Never discount the driving vacation and when you pass the sign that says view point ahead, take the time to take it in. The rest of the trip will wait, but that view may never offer itself again.

Go have an adventure. As for Adela and I, we are getting ready for our first and already thinking about the one after that.

Story of a Fighter

Every now and then I just write in this blog for the enjoyment of telling a story. This is the story of a chicken named Jerome.

Jerome came to be as part of an experiment in my high school sophomore biology class. The experiment involved injecting growth hormones into several fertilized chicken eggs. One egg, Jerome’s, hatched out early that spring. What emerged was more or less this super chicken. Within a very short time, Jerome began to strut, crow, and gain weight. He soon surpassed any of the non-injected eggs hatchlings and was becoming a handful for the biology lab. Eventually fearing that he would break out of the lab and terrorize the rest of my high school, the biology teacher suggested that someone needed to take him home or he would have to be dealt with. Being the farm kid in the class and part of the team that had created this problem, I was soon tasked with finding Jerome his new home.

Within a week or so of getting him placed in our hen house on the farm, he was quite literally ruling the roost. His flock of hens cowered in the corner every time he began his strut. It became apparent that he would need his own coop and so he was relegated to an old chicken coop with an outside penned area for him to strut his stuff. This is when he determined that he could fly and soon flew the coop. We found him the next day, firmly re-entrenched in the hen house, ruling his ladies from the roost. This was now time for desperate measures. Jerome’s wings would be clipped.

Our first attempt proved fruitless and he again flew the coop and returned to the hen house. After two more clippings he was finally grounded, or at least flightless. So how was it that we found him the next morning back in the hen house? We would need to become spies. Within minutes of him believing we had left, he made his escape, not by flying but rather by literally using his beak and claws to scale the chicken wire of his coop. It was at this point that my dad threw up his hands and said “we tried, he won.” Jerome was a free bird, truly a range free chicken well before his time.

Jerome soon became infamous. He not only ruled the hen house by night, but he ruled the entire farm by day. Exaggeration at this point would be, well, pointless. Jerome so scared the locals, that the mailman, if he had to drop off a package, would honk the horn for us to come get the mail. There was no way he was going to leave the safety of his vehicle while Jerome strutted back and forth on the hood, stopping occasionally to beat on the windshield with his stubby wings. We would race out, wrangle Jerome off the vehicle and then and only then would the driver step out. At one point, while having a new TV antennae installed on our second story farmhouse, the installer very nearly fell off the roof when to his sheer horror Jerome stood inches away from him beating his wing threateningly on the roof line ridge. It was discovered later, that Jerome had found the installer’s ladder and leveraged himself up to the rooftop. The farm and surrounding buildings were his turf and he would beat back any attempt at a siege by his imagined attackers. If you couldn’t stand up to him, you were at his mercy.

And so it went around our farm that summer. But there was one person not willing to bow to his authority. My grandmother lived with us in the farmhouse and each morning, after breakfast had been cleared, she would take the table scraps out to the barnyard where they would be disposed of. This required a long walk across the front lawn and driveway and then out to the barnyard. What ensued each and every time was a battle royale between my grandma and Jerome. Jerome would meet her at the door and block her way by menacing her with the now famous wing beating technique he had mastered. She would eventually give him a kick and he would swing around and re-engage. Eventually, my grandmother would take her cane, tiring of this constant parrying, and use it like a golf club. Jerome would be knocked sideways rolling across the ground only to get back up and rejoin the fight. This sparring would go on all the way out and all the way back. None of us were sure if either one of them had won, but it was obvious that both persevered. In Jerome’s view, this was a battle to the death. Every day offered a new chance to finally settle this turf dispute.

(This is a picture of the actual cane my grandma would use in her defense against Jerome. Note the missing chunk in the handle, evidence of the battle.)

Fortunately for our family, my grandma outlived Jerome by a great many years. Jerome would meet his end in battle, but not on my grandma’s battlefield. Each evening, Jerome would return to the hen house where unbeknownst to us, he was now standing guard over his ladies. One morning, late that fall, we arrived at the hen house to collect the eggs, only to find a weasel lying in the doorframe. It was clear that he had been in a battle for his life that it had not ended well for him. Alarmed at what destruction we might find inside, we were surprised to see all of our hens alive and well. It was only on closer inspection that we saw him. He had retired to the back of the chicken house where he had apparently succumbed to his injuries, but not before saving his wards. Jerome, the terrorizer of so many, had died a hero.

Before you mourn his passing, understand that as I think back on this tough old bird, I can think of no better way for him to go than in the fight of his life. I can only imagine how into the battle he must have been. He had finally found, other than my grandma, someone who offered him a challenge. Jerome was a fighter, and to go out in a blaze of glory has made his story worth telling, and that story has been told and retold within our family so many times over the years. Had he just withered away of old age, where would be his fame? Jerome was a chicken who was never chicken. Jerome was a fighter, persistent is his right to rule and defiant to anyone who thought he was wrong. When the cause is worth the fight, may we all be so willing to stand our ground. Just be prepared if you take on a Jerome.

Reflections on Time

We go through decades in our lives. If you are reading this, you’ve gone through at least one. In that first decade we learn a lot, some would argue most, of what we will need to survive our remaining decades. We learn that hot things can hurt. That counting will help us figure out how far we still need to go, though asking the question “are we there yet” holds a lot of pleasure for the questioner. We figure out that food comes in an incredible variety of forms and delivery systems and that we are often forced to eat some of the foods even though we don’t like them. We hopefully learn to play nice and to vow to practice that in the decades to come every chance we get and with everyone we meet even when they haven’t learned this lesson as well.

In our second decade, we anxiously await our teens and when we finally achieve them, we have no idea what to do with them, especially the hormones. We hopefully learn to drive, though it is becoming questionable whether future generations will ever need to drive the car at all. In the last part of the decade, we get to vote which is all too often filled with disappointment, sometimes even when our candidate wins. Make no mistake here, you still need to vote. No vote means you are only allowed to be disappointed. And as that second decade comes to an end, you are given the keys to adulthood and the admonition “go get a job kid cause you’re on your own”. Ah the sweet smell of freedom and the lure of the wild.

Decade three starts the trip of wonder. We wonder about everything as we wander through our twenties. We try out our wild side, three hours of sleep and a recovery plan seem perfectly natural. We figure out our tolerance for risk, and generally amass the mistakes we will refer to in our later decades as lessons learned. This is the decade where we will explore our sexuality (god I miss that, but maybe not), decide to decide what we might be, and as we approach the end of the decade, come to the realization that this was the decade when we actually grew up.

Thirties, these are the years we re-find and re-define ourselves, not that it is the final time we will do that. We either find our soul mate or decide that we would rather fly solo. We settle down, maybe even buy a house and, if we are up to it, make it a home. It is during our thirties that we will likely start our families. It is the decade where we will claim we left our wild days behind, no matter how wild we still remain.

Our fifth decade is the decade we will look back on and want a mulligan. Not because we messed up, but because it was the decade we played young people’s games and held grown up jobs. We were in our prime and still full of energy, energy we likely needed to deal with our children. We make actual grown up decisions and start building our bucket lists.

Then comes our sixth decade. We come to the realization that like it or not, our wealth determines both our success and status all the while learning that it still can’t really buy happiness. We learn that money can buy us time and maybe offer more choices, but happiness comes from the people around us and our connection to family and friends. We start to spend a little too much time with the “what ifs” and the “if onlys”. We start counting our gray hairs and spending time trying to look once more like we did a decade earlier. If we are lucky, as we approach the end of this decade, we start to appreciate who we are and the person we have become. We may even accept who we are as the better version of who we were.

Decade number seven brings you the respect of age and the realization that your journey through the first six decades have left you tagged as “experienced”. Experience somehow equates to wisdom and wisdom redefines you as a commodity. Your children refer to other people your age as “old” but not you, and all it took to earn that dignity was paying for a college education or two or three and being there through every crisis they faced on their journey through the earlier decades. This is the decade you will likely experiment with retirement as a title. And, if all has worked out, you will travel and start checking off some of the more possible things on your very long bucket list.

And that brings me to tonight at midnight. It is upon that momentous tick of the minute hand that I will enter my next decade. I cannot tell you what it will hold or how it will define me but I enter it knowing certain truths. I am a better version of the me I have sometimes been. I have in fact learned from the mistakes I have made and have applied them to my decisions that followed. I feel good, even valued for the help I have given to those I have met along the way. I have raised, with the help of their mother, two beautiful successful daughters. I have been blessed to be part of the lives of two equally impressive, uniquely inquisitive, challengingly energetic grandchildren of whom I am so incredibly fond. Do I wish I could be forty something again, of course, but then all these things that I am so grateful for would not have happened yet and possibly wouldn’t. I will not trade what I have for a what if. I am possibly and finally content.

By the time you read this I will have crossed the milepost and will be beginning my 70th trip around the sun. Send me no gifts for all I ask is that you take the time to think about the decades YOU have crossed and vow to make the next one just a little better than the last. Promise to do one more good deed than the last time. Help one more person than before and look for the good in the people around you so they may see the good in you.

Groundhog’s Day

One of my favorite movies is Groundhog’s Day. I think it is the idea that if you could have a day over now and then, you could maybe make everything right. Bill Murray’s problem was that it took so many repeats for him to finally get it right. Still, the premise is tempting.

Covid-19 has been like Groundhog’s Day. We started out with the false perception that it would be a little sacrifice for maybe three or four weeks and then everything would return to normal. Now approaching a full year of not normal, every day being another day dancing with the virus, we are nearing the end. Well, at least closer to a return to life without a pandemic.

I have spent my year working on improving many things. For starters, I have been taught how to fish by my grandson, Jackson. I never had the patience it required but ironically, an energetic, inquisitive, on the go six-year old, showed me the way to patience and the art of catching fish. And then there was the walking. Prior to the pandemic and its isolation demands, I would only walk to get somewhere. Now, thanks to my wife, I walk several times a day, aimlessly around our neighborhood circuits. I find it strange that the answer to “where are you going”, is home no matter where I am on the walk. Good thing home is where the heart is.

During this Covid-19 journey, I have put more effort into everything I do. My volunteer work has benefited from renewed vigor and a lot of Zoom. I finally rebuilt my deck after years of putting it off. My garage has been organized and reorganized, and, after years of drawing and redrawing it, my wife now has her Little Library complete with a dedication ceremony and neighborhood library cards for the children.

But there begs one more activity to be visited here. Several years ago, I procured a pool table from a very dear friend. With all this in home time in lieu of our travel plans, I have worn the felt thin on that table with several games a day. My wife, a reasonable pool shark, will play the occasional game but for the most part, I am left playing my imaginary opponent. As I am a slightly competitive type, I tend to take these games, even tournaments, quite serious. We ironically have very similar game strategies and styles. Skill wise we are very evenly matched. So lately I have become quite frustrated with my inability to beat him. I will miss an easy kill shot only to have him follow up with a seemingly impossible rail shot or combination. I checked the records recently and I believe that he is beating me at a ratio of two to one. What is his secret to success? What makes him such a confident shot. Why am I getting angry at his obvious luck, wishing he would blow the next shot …… flat out cheering against him? The irony here is that I’m the one taking ALL the shots. This is apparently what the pandemic and isolation has reduced me too. I’ve lost my mind and I’m not even bothering to mount a search party.

Seriously, the pandemic has been a journey. We have been given the chance to truly appreciate the things we have by making us put them on hold. We have become more resilient, more hopeful than expectant, more appreciative of the little things, and definitely more creative. In my case, I have created an imaginary pool player to while away my free time.

The end of all this is in sight. If we are patient and persevering, we will make it to the finish line. We will leave some of our new found ways behind and trade them for our old normal. At the same time, we have adopted new habits and attitudes that we should definitely take forward with us. Good can always come from adversity if we recognize it.

But it’s getting late and my pool playing buddy has the balls racked and is calling me over. I plan on mixing his drink extra strong tonight and with a few good shots, I think I can beat him. Wish me luck.

Unity….But How?

Yesterday I wrote my optimistic blog. I talked about new opportunities and not dragging the past with us but rather living in the now and for the future. I wrote that opportunities exist if we are willing to look for them. But I also spoke to the divisiveness that permeates our everyday news and conversations. Safe to say that many of us have even lost friends to that rift that has been created. So how do we heal that wound? How do we bring a divided nation even just a little bit back together. Much of what I hear blames our political parties and the leaders that seem at odds. Many would blame the media and its at times biased reporting. Still others lay the blame on social media and its innate ability to flame the hateful rhetoric.

The truth of the matter is that though some of the blame lies with those three scape goats, much of it lies with us. We ARE the media for we can tune in the station that voices our opinion while tuning out the rest. WE elected those politicians, not just with our votes but also by the products and services we purchased from those same corporations that funded their campaigns. We ARE social media. Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and all of the rest are merely the pen and paper we use to publish our ideas, and all too often our disinformation, slander, and inadvertently, our hate.

I have thought about these things and have come close to writing this piece on many occasions only to have the words escape me or the moment pass. My solution will likely be thought to be too simple, but aren’t the best solutions usually the simplest? What we need is to first acknowledge to be true those things I stated above. Next, we need to decide that we are not satisfied with who or where we are and finally, having realized that, we act. We act in one unified voice. We state the positive. We check ourselves before we speak, before we write, before we like, before we share. If we want our leaders to hear our voice, we must speak clearly and rationally. We must send the message that we think America can be better. We are the greatest nation on earth, but we CAN do better. We see the inequities within our society but we look to politicians and companies to fix them. They either cannot or will not do this. We must be engaged in and modeling that equality. We cannot stand silent when those that would abuse those rights, do so. We must collectively be kind, fair, and deliberate in the messages we post, in the conversations we have, especially within those groups where we find the safety of anonymity, and also in the actions we model for our children and grandchildren. If we are to be the media, let us make sure that we are not the fake news.

The list of issues we can address as a nation are many. The task of fixing or improving them can be expensive. The effort to accomplish them may seem herculean. But the process is simple at its basic level. We need to speak in one unified and positive voice. We need to be willing to make the necessary sacrifices to achieve our ultimate goals. And we need to act as individuals to start the movement towards acting as a community. All I ask is that we examine ourselves and then, where we find ourselves wanting, commit to making changes. One conversation, one like, one post, one share at a time. The little things added together will make big changes happen. Commit then to unity.

What Just Flew By?

2020 is behind us. The remanents, unfortunately may not be completely gone. But, we have reason to be optimistic. We have a vaccine, for some already here and well deserved, for others, moving closer every day. The election is over. There is divisiveness that is still hanging on but we can, as reasonable people, accept our role in the healing, and be the friends and fellow citizens we all need to be. Though our politicians may struggle with their roles, we don’t need to. We can move on and do the work of showing them that we are ALL Americans and deserving of nonpartisan representation. We are the Country. We are the Democracy. We are the individual drive that leads to collective progress. And finally, we have for the most part, adjusted to our new normal and have been creative in the process. We have figured out how to make our celebrations smaller and at the same time more intimate. We have created ways to move our get togethers outside or, alternatively, inside our computer screens via Zoom. I have actually visited with friends I might not have seen any other way. Necessity IS the mother of invention.

Don’t bring the old year with you when the NEW year offers new opportunities. Don’t spend your time dwelling on the past when we have the chance to rebirth optimism by looking forward. I choose to welcome 2021. I will be optimistic for all the reasons I just mentioned, but even more so for the fact that when you look for the opportunities you will find them. That when you believe the future holds promise, you can find it. That we have always been a nation that can heal and grow stronger. Quoting a friend, “When you look for the good everything gets better.”

And one last thing. As I started writing this yesterday, I was anxiously awaiting my Green Bay Packers debut in the play-offs. Never knowing how things can unfold, I still found myself being optimistic….. nervous, but optimistic. This morning, as I am finishing this blog, I am reveling in the fact that we, yes we, won yesterday and now we can wait anxiously, but with optimism for next weekend. That is if you are a Packer fan. It IS a new year, and anything is possible. Believe in the possibilities. Be part of the healing. Celebrate our planet’s just completed trip around the sun and look forward to the next. Look, we just passed Mars!

The Christmas Carol

Thanks to the pandemic cancelling the usual Christmas Season get togethers, my wife and I have had a lot of time to watch movies. I will admit that many of them have been Hallmark or Hallmark inspired films. If you follow my blog, you will undoubtely have seen my attempt at writing a Hallmark script. Still no word from Hallmark as to when they might consider making that one. We have also made sure to include the classics in our watch list. To that end, we have already checked off Holiday Inn, (appalled at the racial undertones), White Christmas, The Santa Claus, and last night’s movie, The Christmas Carol.

The Christmas Carol holds special meaning for me. This was the movie I would fall asleep to in my dad’s arms Christmas Eve. Later in life it became the movie during which my children would do the same thing with me. It was a important part of my family’s traditions and became a big part of my daughters’ traditions. Some day I hope to make it a tradition with my grandchildren. For this reason, The Christmas Carol is by far my favorite Christmas movie and in truth one of my all time favorite movies of any genre. There are many versions of this movie and rightfully so because it is such a classic. Through the years, it has been remade countless times, but fortunately the message has remained basically unchanged. Though I have several versions that I favor, due to a fear of having to debate their merit with my readers and thus missing the point of this blog, I will tell you I watched YOUR favorite version last night, whichever one that was.

What is it that makes this movie so classic? I suppose we could credit the author of the book it is derived from, Charles Dickens. That alone would make it classic. But it is the message that sets it apart and makes Christmas time its perfect setting. The movie tells the tale of how the lure of riches had led a person to a complete lack of empathy for his fellow man, leaving him empty and angry. As the Spirits of Christmas past, present, and future revealed the flaws of Ebenezer Scrooge’s choices, it reminds us of the importance of the decisions we make. As Scrooge faces the darkest possible endings to his life’s legacy, he utters these words: “Are these the shadows of things that WILL BE or are they the shadows of what MAY BE?” He clings to a potential redemption hidden between the lines of the answer; if things remain unchanged then these shadows will remain unaltered. There was that hope that if he could change, then perhaps the past could be erased and those shadows coud be altered.

This movie offers a message of hope for us all. It is its redemptive nature that inspires us to become the best version of ourselves. Whether we are satisfied with the life we have fashioned or whether we wish for more, we can always improve as long as we alter those behaviors of the past. No matter my mood going into the viewing of this movie, I always emerge from it renewed and filled with hope that not only can I change, but so can the people around me and the conditions we all live in. There has never been a year where we need this message more than this one. The year 2020 has been determined to leave us divided, distressed and anxious. We face the economic stress and the general fear generated by the pandemic. We face a culture of continued racism, some blatant, some covert, that leaves us divided and less than the great country we should be. We generally question our ability to accomplish a collective effort to make things better, all too often failing to take even the first steps we could and need to as individuals.

The Christmas Carol reminds me that I can change; that we can change. We can be better for the collective whole, but first we must be part of the change. We must vow to not waste any message of hope. We must act on that hope, individually to start and then collectively to continue. 2020 does not have to be the shadow of things to come but rather a reason to make the changes that will make 2021 the year we heal. Christmas is a season of hope and renewal, a reminder that the past is the past and that the future has not yet been written.

So go get your favorite beverage, maybe pop some popcorn, and then put on a DVD of the movie or find it on streaming, but view The Christmas Carol through my eyes and pledge to be the Spirit of Christmas Future.

Still so much to be thankful for

There will be no Thanksgiving family gathering this year. No real Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. No little feet running around our house emptying the toy box all over the great room. No toasts at the dining room table. And yes, no dropping of the apple crisp on the driveway. That would be a little inside family story for another time. The dinner will be replaced with a zoom family gathering, air hugs and a hope that things will change soon. Soon being a relative word.

In this year of the pandemic things have had to change. Traditions had to be put off for now and our routines have been anything but routine. In that setting, how can there be anything to be thankful for? That’s the challenge. In a year where nothing has been normal, where masks became a necessity and not just part of a Halloween costume, where travel plans have become “should we staycation in the kitchen or the living room?”, where a sneeze comes close to clearing the room, how can we find something for which to express our thankfulness?

I’ve been thinking about this for quite sometime; ever since my wife and I returned from an island trip in March. We returned to the states on March 13th, just as the pandemic, that thing in China, became our pandemic. I remember thinking this would be a short inconvenience and that all our summer plans would be just fine. That was then. Now we wonder if next summer’s plans will be altered. I for one don’t believe they will. Call it optimism, but that’s one of the things I am thankful for, but I will save that thought for now.

I do have things to be thankful for, our family is still intact. There were a few scares this year and my daughter and her fiancée did have to cancel their wedding, for now, but we have made the best of our family quarantine bubble and still managed some visits, limited, but still we got some time together. I am thankful that I have two beautiful, successful daughters who have chosen great men to be their partners. Two incredible grandchildren who never cease to amaze and amuse me. A wonderful wife who has been by my side for forty plus years and who has been my quarantine release and Amazon Prime binge watching date these past eight months. I am thankful for finally having the time to finish projects that have sat, sometimes for years, waiting to be tackled. They smile back at us every time we use or relax upon them.

I am thankful that we have rediscovered close to home destinations as airplane flights gave way to road trips, as exotic trips gave way to local parks, and, as hotel stays gave way to cottage days. I am thankful for so many things that I had started to take for granted. In our isolation, our world got smaller and we realized that there were so many amazing sites and scenes literally in our back yards. And I am thankful for my neighbors. With all the walks necessity made us take, I rediscovered my own neighborhood and the friendly people who lived inside those houses, the reason we chose this neighborhood in the first place.

I am thankful that the election is finally over. The painful political fighting, the divisiveness that any election creates, and all those irritating political ads we were subjected to, done, over and gone. Hopefully we can move on and find common ground and better causes to expend our efforts and resources on. And then there’s the vaccine, in fact the vaccines plural. This is not just a light at the end of the tunnel, it’s an honest hope for an exit from this isolation, soon. But most of all, I am thankful for the optimism. Though we sometime feel we can’t go on much longer, we always find some hope (the vaccine), some new way to do something (virtual learning, meetings and gatherings), some collective ways to pull together for a solution (healthcare workers and teachers). We are an innovative bunch. Setbacks are just forks in the road. We assess our problems, make our choice, and move on. We don’t live in the past but instead learn from the mistakes and vow to correct those that we can and set a new course to avoid the ones we can’t. I am thankful for that kind of optimism and the opportunities that it creates.

Thanksgiving won’t be the same this year, but it’s not gone and certainly not dead. We will find new ways to celebrate, to gather safely, to protect each other. We will find the things to be thankful for as long as we are willing to look for them, to recognize them, and to use them to give us the ultimate thing to be thankful for; HOPE.

Air hug your family, visit, if even just virtually, count your blessings and make a list of the things you are thankful for. You just might surprise yourself with the length of the list.

Happy Thanksgiving in the Year of the Pandemic. Look at it this way, we have at least made history.