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Today I Am Grateful For…

Ah yes, it seems as if we blinked and here we are in November. Those shiny saddle shoes have dulled and the once-brightly-colored tennis shoes are showing the wear and tear of 3 months of gym classes, recess soccer games, and some kind of zombie apocalypse tag I have yet to figure out. Yes, we’ve made it to that hallowed beacon of light in the world of teaching: Thanksgiving break. It means 5 days away from the stresses of daily life that have once again become so routine. 5 days without worrying about whether an objective is clearly stated or a lesson has adequate closure; 5 days free from remembering to submit attendance, post homework on your website, and to hit the “adjust density” and “hole punch” buttons before you run copies; 5 days to wake up, eat, and use the bathroom without following a prescribed schedule; 5 days free from worrying about which students forgot the proper uniform belt, need to see the nurse for medication, have band rehearsal, have been in the bathroom too long, or need a little “pick-me-up” smile….all before 9 AM. Yes, to say I’m looking forward to Wednesday morning might be the understatement of the year (and yes I know I’ve been saying a lot of those recently)
I have to be honest…though I’ll be the first to admit I need a break from those things (probably almost as much as Miley needs to take a break from the spotlight), I do have to say they are also among the things for which I am most grateful this week. See, it’s been quite a year for me. When I think back to last Thanksgiving, in many ways it seems like a different life. I could eat dairy. I could eat corn. I was planning for an upcoming trip to Rome. It was warm(ish). I was a 5th grade teacher. Since then I visited Rome and saw a pope (who stepped down only weeks later). I saw my health decline yet again and spent WAY too much time as a human pincushion. I, along with my “doctors-turned-friends” at St. Joseph’s and Johns Hopkins discovered not 1, not 2, but 3 new food intolerances. I found my way back to health. I moved to a new apartment and a new classroom…in the same month. I teach middle school. I’m sitting at that same hospital working one of my part-time shifts and the TV is telling me that this Thanksgiving is going to be remarkably cold. And perhaps snowy. Yes, it’s safe to say a lot can change in a year. However, one thing hasn’t changed in this past year, or in any year…and that is Thanksgiving week always makes me acutely aware of just how truly blessed I am.
Now I can certainly go through the litany of blessings that I’m sure we all share: faith, family, friends, food, shelter, steady employment, etc. but I think you can pretty imagine those. Just turn on the Hallmark channel this week and I’m sure you’ll see some examples. I could sit here and write a novel about all the people, experiences, and things for which I am grateful. I could gush about my family members who love me, my friends who amaze and support me, my students who inspire me, etc. and that would all be true…but it could also never do any of them justice. They know who they are and I hope they know how truly grateful I am for their presence in my life.
 No I’d like to take moment to count the blessings that were new to me this year…the ones that sitting here a year ago, I never could have predicted would be things for which I am now eternally grateful.  A co-worker of mine, I now decided she’s the Effervescent English Educator (I think last time I said Ebullient), gave her classes an assignment this week that got me thinking. She had them practice one of the 6 Writing Traits (Voice) by writing letters using the RAFTS (Role-Audience-Form-Topic-Strong Verbs) strategy. See, I’m still an elementary Language Arts teacher deep down underneath my Math and Religion exterior JThe directions were to choose one person or thing for which they were grateful and to write a letter to that person or thing. For example, someone could write a letter to his or her house, expressing all the reasons to be grateful for one’s home. In my 6 years of “Let’s write thank you cards” as a teacher, I never thought to include inanimate objects on the list. However, I must admit for me this year there are a number of things to add to that list.
  1.  Aluminum foil: I may have campaigned against you for years after my 4thgrade science fair project proved you to be a non-biodegradable material…but now you ensure that I can still eat safely off of baking sheets and grills when I’m not in my own home. So thank you…  
  2. Coconuts: I always loved your coconut flavor but was disgusted by the texture; little did I know that you would become so critical to my existence. You are now a source of safe flour, delicious ice cream treats, and of course the milk which allows me to enjoy my favorite seasonal coffee-based beverages.
  3. Dedicated Fryers: I still get to eat French fries!!! Five Guys, Glory Days, and Chick-Fila fryers, from the bottom of my heart, thank you.
  4. Utz potato chips: You plain ones in the red bag are completely safe, and more often than not you’re on sale! My stomach and my bank account are eternally grateful….
  5. My toaster: You’re the only thing that makes my gluten-free, dairy-free, corn-free bread edible.
  6. Vitamin B-12: I took you for granted until you disappeared to trace amounts and I bruised like a peach. I will never take you for granted again. And I do mean never.
  7. Freezers: You’re the only way I can cope with the inconvenience of food sensitivity: cook/bake in advance and freeze.
  8.  “Find Me Gluten Free” App: You introduced me to places I never would have known were gluten-friendly. Not to mention you were the driving force behind my plunge into the smartphone world. And I met your creator this summer….big moment 🙂
  9. Pyrex: See #7. You also allow me to be a ”normal” traveler who can actually leave her house for a few days.
  10. McCormick spices: With a diet that is forcibly bland, I rely on your delicious flavors to liven up my meals! Not to mention, that scent of spices coming from your factory which permeates the early-morning air on Tuesdays never gets old…
  11. Hand Sanitizer: Seriously, if I had to wash my hands every time I wanted to eat something or thought I came in contact with “the enemies”, I’d have no epidermal layer left. Plus you’re a lot more convenient…even if you have a bad rap in the news.
  12. Scope: Need I say more?? (If so, read here:Mr. (or Miss) Right, Meet Mouthwash ) I thank you for myself and on behalf of my future co-pilot, wherever he is…
Of course, this list goes on and on. And on and on.  What I would like to do today is encourage you to  look beyond your typical litany of thanks. Look deeper and see what you might be forgetting from your list. For me that includes places I’ve been, people I’ve met…but today I choose to focus on my list above. 12 things I never anticipated would become staples to my existence. They are everyday items which have been transformed into blessings due the circumstances surrounding them. And each one contributes in its own small way to the greatest blessing of all: and that is health. If there’s one thing I’ve learned this year, not only through my own struggles, but also each weekend as I continue to spend time with patients at St. Joe’s, if you have your health, nothing else matters. And when you don’t have your health, it’s pretty hard for anything else to matter.
So this week as I sit down to the Thanksgiving table and dig into my gravy-free turkey, my dairy-free roasted potatoes, and a plate that no longer includes corn, am I saying there won’t be a tinge of sadness? No. But the reality is that I know this year my blessings far outweighed my trials. I am not the same person I was a year ago, or maybe even a few months ago. And I think that’s a good thing. It seems to me that my sensitivity to other people, to their needs, and to their trials seemed to heighten along with my food sensitivities. Is the relationship between the two cause or correlation…that I don’t know. What I do know is that this year, for the first time, I’m remembering to give thanks for my crazy, confused, “let’s-just-decide-to-attack-harmless-things-like-corn-gluten-and-milk” immune system. Partially because it does do its job the right way sometimes…but mostly because it introduced me to a world I never would have known otherwise. So, immune system, thank you for changing my life. However, I would sincerely appreciate it if you could stay the way you are now…no surprises this year please 🙂
Now, those of you who can, go fill your plate and PLEASE eat a helping of stuffing and mashed potatoes for me!! And take a moment to give thanks for those simple, ordinary parts of your life that never get a proper thank you…

HAPPY THANKSGIVING!!!

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