Thanksgiving, Home and Alone

This year, the cooking man and I are sitting down at a Thanksgiving table for just us and another couple. Laughter, good food, it makes for a Thanksgiving some people aren’t having.  And a few years ago, I was alone–no family, no friends around on turkey day.

Now, I’m one of those people who can have fun by myself in a phone booth in North Dakota, provided they still have phone booths there. You may not be. In that case, please take a peek at my Alone-at-Thanksgiving post from a few years ago. There are pointers for being alone, ignoring the holiday entirely, or celebrating your own way.

You can also read this article by eHow–it’s not anything new, but they use the word treacly, one of my favorites for this time of year. I think PyschCentral’s list is a little more interesting. And don’t forget bowling–duckpin or regular. Lanes will be open and you can learn a new skill, particularly if you think it’s geeky. It’s fun.

There is the other side to Thanksgiving, the big, messy family side. I have a post for you in that situation, too. Just in case.

One more thing–there is a certain time of day you feel moody. For some people it’s early morning. Others hate when the sun dims at twilight. Know which day part is your saddest time and plan–be at a movie, at the mall, taking a bubble bath, getting a massage. Don’t allow yourself to have a pity party. OK, if you do have a pity party, stand in front of the mirror and talk out loud about the sadness of your life to yourself. I’ll bet you can’t keep it up long.

Finally, if all else fails, the day you are alone on Thanksgiving may be the best time of all to start a gratitude journal. Yeah, I heard that. So ready my snarky post, and think it over.

If you do decide to go shopping, now that stores open on Thanksgiving Day, please shop at local stores and contribute to your community. That helps everyone.

Quinn McDonald is a writer who has spent happy Thanksgivings alone. She is also a certified creativity coach.

Gratitude Journal, Step by Step

When I first wrote about gratitude journals, it was about my own experience, from grumpy doubter to believer. When Kim Painter from USA Today called me to interview me about gratitude journals, I figured they have gone mainstream. And they have. Painter’s article on gratitude and gratitude journals (I got a nice mention) has some interesting proof that saying “thank you,” and finding things to be grateful for, reduces blood pressure, makes you feel better and actually can improve your mood.

Use a journal that's comfortable for you.

Use a journal that

Now that we are close to Thanksgiving, a time when people who are alone or overwhelmed may not feel so thankful, I thought it might be useful to spell out how to keep a gratitude journal. Of course, you can keep it any way that works, but working with a lot of coaching clients, I’ve found a few tips that really work well.

1. Keep it smalll and keep it with you. A small spiral-bound notebook is inexpensive and easy to carry with you. That makes it more likely you will have it with you when you need it. I like a 4-inch by 6-inch size.

2. Leave the first page blank. That way, you won’t feel so pressured to make it perfect. It doesn’t need to be perfect. It just needs to be there for you.

3. Write it down when it happens. In the beginning, when you feel more exhausted, angry or hurt than grateful, write down the slightest thing you feel grateful for. Write it down as soon as it happens. Noting your gratitude will help sharpen your senses to things that make you grateful, and make more events available to you.

4. Write every day. Look for anything that makes you feel better or grateful. Some days you may have to search really hard, and that’s OK. Comfortable shoes, someone holding a door open for you, a smile from a stranger can be a big event in a life gone awry. Look for them so you will experience them.

5. Look back over what you are grateful for. Many people find that they start out small, then realize there is more and more. If that happens, it’s, well, something to be grateful for.

6. Be the stranger to smile at someone. Wouldn’t it be nice to wind up in someone gratitude journal?

If you have good results, let me know. It can be a boost to others. We’re in some tough times right now, not through any fault of our own. It takes a little more effort to be cheerful and grateful, but it’s worth it.

–Quinn McDonald is a life- and creativity coach, who helps people deal with change and opportunity in life. She can be reached at QuinnCreative.com under “Contact”

(c) image and text. All rights reserved. 2008

Dealing With the Big Family Thanksgiving

You will be having a houseful of people for Thanksgiving. You think you will all get along, be nice, and have a happy time that you will preserve forever in a scrapbook filled with pumpkin-colored paper. What a nice thought. And for some people, that may happen. But for people I know–not so much.

Many people’s family’s run more along the lines of the characters in  Rachel Getting Married. If you haven’t seen it, it’s a good glimpse at real-life family events, in this case a wedding. Everyone acts out, wants attention, brings up old hurts, needs, and faults. Just like real life.

Looks like Thanksgiving, but it's the Boston Massacre

Looks like Thanksgiving, but it's the Boston Massacre

So, while the cooking tips for a big family event are being handled at KentCooks, I’m looking at the soft underbelly of hurt emotions and resentment. Here are some tips to make it through:

1. People say the first thing that comes to mind. You know better. So think before you speak, and let the thoughtless comments you are asked go as if you didn’t hear them. Your Uncle Harvey with the hearing aid has perfect hearing, he just uses it as an excuse to ignore people. You can do this, too.

2. Be literal. Do not assume that being asked “Are you seeing anyone?” is a mean nudge from your step-mother to make her a grandmother, or the question, “How is your job?” is the reminder that you haven’t held a job for more than nine months in the last six years. See them as ways to fill dead air space, which is probably what it is. Answer the question simply and directly, just as it was asked. Even if you doubt the intention.

3. Avoid fixing old hurts. With all the cooking, kids, pets, travel stress, there is little time to be introspective and contemplative. Old hurts require both for healing. To get to the hurt, you will have to bring up some background for context, and you will look like you are digging up past history to “win.” Even with good intentions, repairing old wounds is a complex task, best handled one-on-one and alone between February and May–not at Thanksgiving.

4. Act ‘as if.’ Act as if everyone is nice. Act as if you are everyone’s friend. Act as if you are having a good

Nom, nom

Nom, nom

time. Act as if you care about other people’s feelings. When you act “as if” you are a nice person who cares about others, you will choose behavior that demonstrates that. And you will become that. What a nice transformation!

5. Stay in the present. Kiss your difficult aunt and tell her that you are glad she is here. Tell your step sister that you are happy to spend some time with her. By staying in the present, you will not be tempted to dig up old hurts and display them for everyone to see and help you fix. The present is a nice place for Thanksgiving. Enjoy it.

6. Listen and nod. People tell stories at Thanksgiving, and they tell them the way they remember them. In your stories, you are the hero. In theirs, they are. Let them. Suppress the urge to “correct” people so their memories match yours. It’s not important. It’s just a story. Listen and nod. Smile. Let it go. Even if you are made to be the villain. “Oh, I’m so sorry you have that unpleasant memory,” is a nice bland answer. If someone asks you if that really happened, you can say, “Well, for June, this is how it happened. Everyone has her own memory of an event.” Resist the urge to tell your side.

7. Beware bad news dumps. Not everyone at your table may be at a happy time in their life. They may spill it in your lap. Or out loud at the table. You do not have to fix everyone’s misery. Acknowledge that it sounds like a tough spot to be in, but you don’t have to offer a solution. Bring it back to the present moment. “I know you are having a tough time, but I’m so glad we could be together today,” takes the responsibility off your shoulders.

8. Bring a book, music, or other activity that will help keep you in a safe space. You may have to take a walk, sit in the bathroom, or run a fake errand to get out of the press of too many people. Having something that keeps you grounded during someone’s argument, or general tumult is important.  Just make sure you do it without drama. No storming from the table, yelling, “I have to get out of here,” or other attention-grabbers.

9. Be prepared. Thanksgiving has some traditional chores–photographs, toasts, prayers and going around the table giving thanks for special events. Prepare a simple prayer appropriate for the group. If the guests are of different religions, offer a prayer of thanks that doesn’t mention a specific deity. Dress up for pictures. Bring a change of clothes if you want, but be prepared for pictures. Have a simple toast prepared, so you don’t find yourself caught off guard. Same thing for having something to be thankful for. Keep it short, under 30 seconds.

10. Take the big view. It’s easy to get wrapped around your own axle and not be able to see Thanksgiving as a holiday that has an end. Keep your eye on the big picture. It’s OK if some things go wrong. The big picture is that you have family and friends to fill your house, and no one expects you to do everything all by yourself. Ask for help, and know that everyone goes home soon.

–Quinn McDonald is a life- and creativity coach who runs workshops that help people manage change. She owns QuinnCreative, and will have her parents in law with her for a week around Thanksgiving. Her son will also be at the table. With a lot of luck, dinner will be outside in the crisp November air.

–Baby image: http://www.parenthood.com/article-topics/article-topics.php?Article_ID=10881

Thanksgiving: Celebrate (By) Yourself

Going to be alone this Thanksgiving? No problem, unless you are dreading it. There is a cultural press to partake in some sort of perfect Norman-Rockwell-fantasy dinner, with food magically prepared and shared by a big, friendly, supportive, charming, happy family. The fact that this fantasy is exactly that–not real–does not ease your pain. In your head, it is what you deserve, and you are feeling bad because you don’t have it.

Reproduction of an original oil painting by J.L.G. Ferris

Reproduction of an original oil painting by J.L.G. Ferris

Last year, I was alone at Thanksgiving. I’d moved to the Southwest ahead of my husband and was housesitting. I didn’t want to mess up someone else’s stove, and part of me didn’t want to admit I hated being alone. But I also didn’t want to be at someone else’s table, feeling like the fifth wheel. I created a fun day for myself, and still remember it fondly. It makes me smile to think that there are many people around me who do not remember last Thanksgiving fondly, or can’t remember exactly what happened at all.

Here are some suggestions to help make Thanksgiving a good day for you:

1. Plan ahead. Decide the kind of day you want to have and work on creating it. No Thanksgiving comes together without planning, and you don’t want to wind up standing in the grocery store aisle half an hour before the store closes.

2. You don’t have to cook an elaborate meal for 10 and eat it all by yourself. Kent McDonald, a personal chef in the Phoenix area, has some suggestions for an easy, special Thanksgiving meal you can make without a lot of fuss. Yes, Kent is my husband and he’s cooking this year.

3. Ignore it in style. Stay out of the kitchen–or the entire house–during the dinner hour. Go to the movies, take a bubble bath and give yourself a pedicure, plan that big art or craft project, take a walk with your camera, go to the library now and check out a book or DVD, and spend the time doing something appealing to you. Time to spend on yourself or your favorite pastime is precious and rare, use it with delight.

4. Plan a project. Paint the kitchen, or your bedroom. Organize your closet, your desk, your attic, your garage. Tackling a big project will make you feel organized and satisfied. Not a bad plan.

5. Make the turkey dinner happen. Let friends know you’ll be alone. Make it sound like you are available rather than desperate. Offer to help cook, clean up, bring a dish, or take the dog for a walk. Make yourself useful and you’ll be eating with a big, noisy, arguing dysfunctional family before you can say ‘turkey.’

The secret to having the Thanksgiving you want is to know that you have about two weeks to make it happen. Don’t let it sneak up on you. Decide what you want, and make it happen, traditional or not. Celebrate yourself and allow yourself to enjoy.

–Image: The First Thanksgiving, reproduction of an oil painting by J.L.G. Ferris, early 20th century. Library of Congress, Washington, D.C. (neg. no. LC-USZC4-4961)

–Quinn McDonald is a life- and creativity coach who has spend a number of Thanksgivings alone and enjoying the day. She teaches business writing and presentation courses as well as journal writing through her studio, QuinnCreative.