I appreciate the fall leaves—that no longer decorate the yard because winter is coming. I love the holiday concerts where parents are invited to sit in the audience and stare at their children on stage for 45 minutes—that no longer get put on my calendar because my children are adults who have no desire to be in the spotlight. I cherish those conversations with my grandparents at Thanksgiving and Christmas gatherings—that exist only in my memories because my grandparents passed away years ago.
It would be tempting to be melancholy this time of year as my attention is called to so many changes. The gratitude journal I started a year ago was abandoned in June with my final entry being: Switched by a hotel manager to the Hawaii Five-O hotel. My 1970s TV junkie heart was overflowing with gratitude for the hotel reassignment in Honolulu, and my maternal heart was beyond grateful that my kids would be joining me on my Big Five-O Hawaiian adventure in a couple of weeks. But I’m guessing that preparing for the celebration of my 50th birthday in Hawaii took priority over daily recordings of my gratitude, and I simply got out of the habit of being grateful. This fall I felt guilty for abandoning my gratitude journal. So I challenged myself to be mindful that every moment—even the seemingly irritating ones like having to rake piles of leaves, watch kids awkwardly lip sync to songs they don’t want to be singing, and hearing elderly grandparents say the same thing over and over—should be appreciated, because someday I might look back and miss those moments.
Taking on the personal challenge of dwelling in a state of constant gratitude was well timed because this fall has presented me with an unusually high amount of irritation. This summer my husband and I hired people to remodel our kitchen, laundry room, bathrooms, and deck—by Thanksgiving. In September my kitchen and laundry room were gutted, with the contents packed away in storage buckets in my children’s old bedrooms because demolition was “about to begin.” My washer and dryer were unhooked for extended periods, up to a week and a half at a time, because laundry room cabinets were going to be installed “any day now.” We went for weeks without any sinks because the kitchen and bathrooms were awaiting new sinks and countertops and had to be torn out so precise measurements could be made. I lost six pounds this fall as I found that asking permission from my contractors to retrieve something from the fridge, and three meals a day prepared in the microwave, made food less appealing. I discovered that scurvy isn’t unique to 18th century sailors because I’m pretty sure I developed a vitamin C deficiency from my aversion to washing fruit in my bathtub. I developed an addiction to Nature Made Vitamin C tablets and licorice Nibs. The Nibs addiction began when it was the only thing I could easily pull out of my pantry closet, next to the laundry room cabinets that were being torn out by workmen. I took them back to my office and found the Nibs satisfied both my need for elevated blood sugar and my desire to chew off the ends of my fingers because I was so stressed out by the rude contractors in my house and overhearing “Woops” and “Don’t worry about that—it’ll be mostly covered” far too many times.
What got me through having my home turned inside out and the steady stream of construction strangers who entered my home without knocking (and rarely on the days they said they would show up), was riding a wave of intentional appreciation for the moment. Sometimes my gratitude emerged in the form of thinking: I’m thankful you’re so stupid. This thought first started when I had to stop an electrician from drilling a hole into the middle of the floor of the wrong room when he was rewiring our kitchen. I didn’t know at the time why I was thankful for his stupidity, but it helped me to get through having him in my house for two hours by just trusting that I should be thankful.
That electrician’s ineptitude has become a good story to tell as my house is being put back together, and I actually have time for social interactions again. With his Jesse from Breaking Bad-like mannerisms, it’s easy for me to imagine that he will be the inspiration for a character in one of my future novels. I am beginning to reflect on my experiences this fall while adjusting to the feeling that my house belongs to me again—and not to the steady stream of contractors who poured into my house and used my toilet each day. My new cabinets were “done-ish” at 9:30 p.m. the night before Thanksgiving, and I started a mad dash to tear up tarps, wipe up half a Swiffer box full of construction dust from my furniture, reassemble my dining room, and locate glassware and dishes before company arrived the next morning. Instead of completely freaking out at that point and being angry at my inefficient contractors for putting me in that situation, like I should have been, I went into autopilot appreciation mode. I was still feeling gratitude at 3:00 a.m. on Thanksgiving morning as I was digging through storage buckets, trying to find my Ninja food processor, so I could make the cranberry relish I had been craving—probably a result of the scurvy.
I was completely exhausted on Thanksgiving, and felt that I had just run a two month long marathon. But I was energized by an abundance of appreciation for things I’ve taken for granted before they were absent in my life: a dining room table to sit at with people I love; doors that open correctly; my stove and oven; a sink with running water; easy access to healthy food; clean clothes; the wonderful family members and friends in my life who are trustworthy and dependable—and not at all like many of the contractors I’ve been spending my life with the past two months. It took all of those irritants this fall to make me truly experience the depth of my gratitude for all that I have.
I’m choosing to continue this habit of appreciating every moment and every thing I have, instead of waiting for absence to show me just how fortunate I once was.
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