An exercise in thankfulness

This week it’s Thanksgiving in the USA, where I lived until I was 22. It’s a day every year where people come together to eat ridiculous amounts of food and then fall asleep in front of the TV. It’s sort of like an extra Christmas without the presents or the religion. I won’t go into the full history of it here, but if you want to know more, then this article in the Telegraph is pretty informative.

For some, Thanksgiving is just about having a good time and they don’t think much about what it really means. However, for many, we like to take a moment and think about what we are grateful for in our lives. And a cursory Google search on the term “being thankful” brought up numerous articles explaining how gratitude can actually make you healthier.

But it’s not always that easy, is it? Children need looking after, houses need cleaning, work needs doing, family members need help, you get health problems, you have a bad day, people are jerks … all of the things that happen in a normal life can pile on top of each other and weigh you down until you forget to look up and remember what’s good.

I’ve been feeling a bit weighed down lately myself – so much so that I’ve started having heart palpitations and even panic attacks. My doctor’s only suggestion was to “give up coffee”. Oh right, like that’s going to make me less stressed!

But I have decided that as it’s Thanksgiving, I’m going to make an effort. I don’t bother with the turkey and all the fixings now that I live in the UK (I get enough turkey at Christmas, thanks), but I do think taking time out to be grateful is time well spent. So here is my exercise in thankfulness. I’m going to tell you some of the things that are pissing me off, and then find something related for which I’m thankful. Some are serious – some less so – but hopefully some of you will get where I’m coming from.

I’m not happy about…

…the fact that my older son is still not getting on well at school. He screams at the teachers and runs aways down the halls. Yesterday the teacher actually called home to tell me what he’d been up to. His behaviour at home has gone downhill as well. This is despite a recent visit to a paediatrician who basically thought he was fine. I’m at a loss as to how to help him right now.

But I’m grateful for…

…my son. We are having these issues but he is still my child and we love each other. There’s nothing better when I hear him say “I love you” in his little voice. We can play and giggle and have a laugh. I am not the perfect parent and I need to learn how to work with him to improve his behaviour, but we will always be a team.

I’m not happy about…

…having lost a friend recently. He passed away and I’d not made the effort to see him for a while. And so I felt grief but also guilt. I messaged him just before I found out what had happened, but it was already too late.

But I’m grateful for…

…the fun times we had together. I’ve spent some time looking at old photos and remembering, and enjoyed a pint of Guinness (his favourite) in his honour. Remembering the good is the only way to move forward. I’m also grateful for the lesson I learned about keeping in touch with people. Next time I think of a friend, I will message them straight away, while I still have the chance.

I’m not happy about…

…being sore and weak while recovering from the hernia surgery I had recently. I haven’t been able to pick up my kids or even leave the house for the last week and a half.

But I’m grateful for…

…the prospect that this will improve my long-term health. Plus, the leaflet they sent me home with says I must not do the washing or hoovering for 6 weeks! It’s right there in black and white. I’ve shown it to my husband.

I won’t be doing this for 6 long weeks!

I’m not happy about…

…my lack of interior design skills. My house is so cluttered, with my main decorating accents being brightly-coloured plastic toys. I look with envy at beautiful lifestyle blogs and their owners’ skilled arrangement of attractive scatter cushions. I have scatter cushions that my neighbour gave me after she bought some nicer ones. It was my house or the bin for them. Appropriate – since at my house they are often covered in cat hair and biscuit crumbs.

But I’m grateful for…

…the fact we’re nearly finished building an extension to our house. It’s been hard having builders around and everything in upheaval for the last 5 months, but soon we will have more living and storage space. Hopefully I will then be able to cut the clutter. I doubt I’ll get any better about scatter cushions though.

I’m not happy about…

…being rubbish at Instagram. This is a blogger gripe. I know good bloggers are expected to take fabulous photos and share them on Instagram. But I just don’t really “get” photography. To me, it’s what the picture makes you think about, rather than the aesthetics. And I hate the shallow “great feed” comments you get.

But I’m grateful for…

…the people who follow me anyway! Why anyone beyond my close friends are happy to look at a poorly-lit photograph of my dinner is beyond me. But they do. I even got 30-odd likes on a shot of my messy living room full of packages of laminate flooring and plaster dust. So I’ve decided to keep it real on Instagram. I’m going to post pics of my real life and just be happy with the followers who want to see it.

I’m not happy about…

…what I like to call the Christmas conundrum. I’ve been working hard to get fit and be happy with the way I look for a school reunion I have coming this summer (don’t we all want to be fabulous when we see the people we grew up with after a long time?). The surgery has set me back a bit, and now we’re getting into Christmas. How can I eat ALL the mince pies without compromising my fitness goals?

I need to try all the different brands. Let’s call it blog research.

But I’m grateful for…

…the fact that I can choose to binge on pie or not. Some people can’t afford to buy all the pies, or can’t eat pies for other reasons. I’m thankful for the very existence of pie. And wine. Let’s not forget to mention wine.

But really, why bother?

Being thankful often gets a bad name. Insensitive people try to cheer up a person who is grieving or having a bad time by pointing out that they have things to be thankful for. But it doesn’t work that way. Everyone needs to talk about things that are making them unhappy, and being thankful can’t always fix things. It’s also important to be honest about our own feelings.

But forcing myself to write down some of the things that make me happy – thinking about what’s funny, what’s serious, what’s poignant and what I have learned – has already made me feel calmer and more in control. I’ve taken a break from exercising my body, but taking some time to flex my thankful muscles has helped me lose some of the weight I’ve been carrying on my shoulders.

What things are you stressed out about? What are you most thankful for? Let me know in the comments.

Keep Calm and Carry On Linking Sunday

What is up with Bonfire Night? A guide for foreigners

I recently wrote a post defending Halloween, so it is only fair that I write something about Bonfire Night. I grew up in the USA, and before I moved to the UK, I had never heard of it, and then I found it roundly baffling. Once I got used to the weirdness, I’ve really enjoyed it. It is, however, pretty difficult to explain to my American friends and family.

I remember my first year in England back in 2001, when people started mumbling something about Guy Fawkes and the distant pops of fireworks became a regular occurrence for at least a week. I had a relative visiting from America and we giggled about people saying “Guy Fawkes” in their cute English accents and didn’t really try very hard to understand what it was all about. Something about Christianity and bonfires.

After that, I somehow managed to not really get involved in Bonfire Night for years. I’m not really sure what I was doing, but I was dating someone who wasn’t keen on crowds (a man who was later upgraded to husband and still doesn’t like crowds). I remember him mumbling something once about taking me to London to eat a toffee apple, but it never happened.

So I never actually attended a Bonfire Night celebration until 2009 when we had become regulars at a local pub and it presented another reason for a piss up. I had fun that night. Macho men built massive fires and endangered life and limb lighting fireworks in irresponsible ways. It made me interested in the tradition and what it was all about.

The main occasion for fireworks in the USA is obviously Independence Day (the 4th of July), during which we celebrate getting shot of the British and their stupid red coats. As an American who has set up home back in Britain, I’ve obviously rejected that holiday. I have renounced my independence. But one has to mourn the chance to engage in some nationalistic fervour whilst watching explosions.

So it’s a good thing we have the same thing in Britain! Obviously it’s not about independence – people throughout history have needed independence from Britain, not the other way round. But there is a fair amount of nationalistic fervour.


For any readers who don’t know the story behind Bonfire Night, here is my take on it and the history that led up to it. It is fascinating and super eccentrically British, imho.

  • Henry VIII was pissed off that he couldn’t conceive a male heir with his wife, plus he fancied having some other wives. So he rejected Catholicism, which wouldn’t stand for that sort of thing, and declared himself head of the Church of England. Then he could totes marry whoever he liked.
  • Later, Elizabeth I got pretty hard-arsed about it and decreed people MUST attend Church of England services. She executed Catholic priests and whipped and/or imprisoned people practising Catholicism.
  • Her successor, James I, at first gave Catholics reason to hope for more toleration, but he didn’t deliver on it.
  • This pissed off a breakaway group of young Catholics, who thought it might help matters by bumping off him and most of parliament – and then installing a Catholic head of state. The Gunpowder Plot was born.
  • Guy Fawkes was just one of a group of conspirators, but he was the explosives expert. So he’s the one who got caught planting 36 barrels of gunpowder under the Houses of Parliament on 5 November 1605,  in the hopes of blowing it sky high.
  • Poor old Guy and some of his mates were hanged, drawn and quartered for treason.
  • There then was an actual act of parliament declaring that the 5th of November should be a day of Thanksgiving for, um, the king and parliament not being exploded and stuff.
  • Part of this celebration is the burning of an effigy upon a bonfire. In early days, this might have been the pope himself, but poor old Guy is the main scapegoat nowadays. So schoolchildren might build a “guy” for burning on the bonfire.
  • These celebrations also involve fireworks displays and the eating of toffee apples. Although our local party only seems to have sausages.

I just love that it takes me so long to explain why people like to set off fireworks and burn things on 5 November. That deep sense of history is something that is much more pervasive than it is in the comparatively young USA.

So now that we have kids, we love an excuse to go to a local community event (not a piss up), watch some fireworks and buy some overpriced glowsticks. And I’m so happy that I can watch fireworks safe in the knowledge that I’m doing it for relatively defunct nationalistic reasons.

Single Mum Speaks
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