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Holiday gratitude: Where does it find *you*?

Forget Thanksgiving; it's Christmas specifically, and December and the beginning of the new year generally, where I find myself needing to focus most on my gratitude. How hard is it not to get caught up in all the wrong bits of the holiday spirit? Plenty, what with a list of cartoon-commercial gifts a mile long and twice as objectionable, sugar proferred by friends, family and strangers at every turn, always too little money compared to your needs and wants, the pressure to have a "simple" and "homemade" holiday which turns into a snafu of overcommitment, and the family togetherness-or-lack-thereof, both of which provide tearfulness and emotional extremes in equal measures.

I need to carve out pockets and tar-pits of gratitude in a time like this. I'm finding it easy, if I let it be, even though I'm finding it hard sometimes to draw in a deep breath the way I'm coaching my kids, my athletes.  Where can I find it? Here:

  • ~On the bus, on the bike~. The man in a wheelchair this morning seemed to be looking out of the corners of his eyes instead of straight ahead, but he could tell Monroe was in a funk. "Sick," I said, so he offered him a tiny Mounds bar. Monroe's eyes lit up, he smiled, he reached for the thing, he said "it's good," by way of thanks.

    And Wednesday, the sun broke through just as we reluctantly, half-sobbingly, helmet-ed and raincoat-ed up, we rode past other families offering us a smile, a wave, a hello; a grandfather and his grandson working in the yard, Truman asked if we could come back sometime, and play; a pregnant mama, surely due soon, carrying her recycling bin down the steps as we looked for surprise rainbows. Open your eyes, see, I told myself.
  • ~On Foster Boulevard, in the fifties~. It was raining hard, I was looking for the Decorette Shop, seeing signs like: 'gloves for hides,' and wondering if that was literal, could I bring in a hide? Once inside the shop near 54th, I uncovered a rich landscape of things for baking: cakes and cookies of every shape and season. I bought crystal sanding sugar, I bought cutters for reindeer, acorns, maple leafs, a train and a car, Christmas tree baubles, an unusual star. It was less than $12 for my cookie-baking riches.
  • ~A Christmas tree on the corner~. I love to take the tree home by bike or wagon; it may be over-the-top but it's a family tradition that's really about the spectacle, great not only for Christmas-card photos but for the feeling you get as people in cars and buses smile and honk and point at you. This year, we wanted to go to Cafe Au Play for their great trees for a great cause, but the logistics had me wrinkling my brow. My best option, with a husband 10,000 miles away, was to hook a trailer behind my Xtracycle -- would that even work?

    At the coffee shop, I stated my plans to the gathering of lovely women who spend their mornings at the community table. The man among them looked up shyly. "He has trees," said the matriarch. $25, Noble Firs, a block away, and selling them would mean he could pay his rent. I hooked the tree on my snapdeck and let the older boys cavort the three blocks home on foot. (He's at 39th and Francis, if you're in the neighborhood and looking, too.)
  • ~On the wrestling mat~. Early in November, we entered a strange new world peopled by half-familiar people, the wrestling children of Northwest Oregon. We joined the Warriors Mat Club -- at Cleveland High School, for kids K-8 -- and it's coached by some of our high school classmates, great friends of my boys' faraway daddy. I love the wrestling girls, with their taut half-filled wrestling singlets, their pink DS's; I love the wrestling parents, with their barely internalized trash talk (it's ok, I want to, too) and their everpresent smartphones; I love the other wrestlers on our team, in whose world it is o.k. to tumble over one another with shrieks and be always, always touching people the way Truman needs to so badly.

    It's exhausting, it takes all of my Saturdays and most of my weekday evenings, I have to borrow cars and beg help all around, and it's fantastic. Everett is a natural and he loves it with a fierce singlemindedness. I have a lot to learn; I barely even get the rules; but I'm an eager study. At our first tournament last Saturday, I sat in the Oregon City High School cafeteria nursing an enormous headache and a long gash on Monroe's forehead, gained from running away from me right into the cage around a fire alarm handle. Another coach came up, one I dimly recognized as a Big Deal in youth wrestling Portland. "I've been watching you all day," he said to Everett. "Great job." I held back the tears, just.
  • ~Bacon, and bacon grease, and other piggy things~. The trend is past, right? I don't care. The vitamin D in pork fat is about the most reliable dietary source of this vital, mood-boosting nutrient for those of us who live in the parallels-above-45 degrees. In the winter, there's nothing like it to change my mental tone. My favorite bacon is from Sweet Briar Farms; my favorite pork fat is hazelnut-fed, from Tails and Trotters. Stop by the New Deal Distillery this Saturday, 11 to 5, for some out-of-this-world ham.

Where have you found your gratitude these days and weeks? If you're still looking for it, here's hope it finds you.


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Lovely post. Very timely for me.

Aw Sarah, I love it.

I made a Family Advent Calendar for my boys with one simple family activity for each day as we inch closer to the holidays and I'm loving their enthusiasm for it. Simple things like making paper snowflakes, playing a game together, or making peanut butter/birdseed pinecones for the birds. It's activities like these that remind me that the smallest of efforts, just a few minutes of undivided attention are what they really need, enjoy, and remember fondly.

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