My Odd Thankful List

I challenge myself every year to think outside the thankfulness box of plenty, food, and clothes, although I am very grateful for them. But, I ask, “What are the things I am most tempted to gripe about, or to rebel against, or even just to resist?” Then I write them down and I look at them upside down and inside out. It is funny how that exercise helps me adjust my attitudes. Sometimes I blog about the list, and you may remember some of these from other years. I don’t learn too fast, apparently. I know I have wasted too much time on some of these, and it is good to examine them again. I think my perspective changes, thanks to the first one on the list.

  1. The inevitable march of time
  2. My husband’s work schedule
  3. Living in such a public place
  4. Homeschooling pressures/obligations
  5. So many meals to cook
  6. Interruptions

So, I am getting older. I have lived through enough to merit having grey hair. I really don’t care. And I can laugh when my little girl whispers in church, “Are you pregnant… or are you just plump?” I know my style and it doesn’t matter so much anymore if it’s nobody else’s style. I can do Thanksgiving the day before Thanksgiving because my husband has to work on Thanksgiving Day. This will not ruin our holiday because I have discovered that I have the power to choose to be thankful.

This brings me to the long shifts and mandatory work days on other people’s holidays and weekends. I admit, when it first dawned on me that nurses work these shifts, like, all the time, I cried. Now with a few years of dealing and perspective, I see it a little more realistically. A work week goes by very quickly in 3 twelve hour shifts. It is a dream come true to work together developing our property and having the opportunity to go on short trips and campouts and hikes on those strings of days off. How can I fuss that they aren’t on the weekends and the holidays? (I do it still sometimes. Ask Gabe. I am not Polly Anna.)

We live 20 feet off the road and have kind of gotten used to other people minding our business, such as someone calling the police when our girls were sliding on the frozen pond while their father was working right there in the pasture, after he had checked to be sure the ice was safe. Sometimes I get really tired of being in the public eye, right here between two intersections. We let our children build fires and make shelters in the woods and sleep outside when they want to. They own hatchets and knives and sometimes they build barns instead of doing school books. Occasionally the whole troop is outside chasing goats and screaming. People get very concerned about this sort of thing. But at least we are never far away from help. All we need to do is stand out beside the road for half a minute and someone will drive past and we can flag them down. Not that this has ever happened, but it could. We are also 1/4 mile from the north/south interstate and 6 miles from the east/west interstate. I mean, that is linked in!

(Here is our front porch with some withered gourds, our lane with some excited little girls in the first snow, our picket fence with some dead flowers, and The Road with no cars at the moment.)


I will not elaborate on the ways that homeschooling stretches me, because right now it feels like we have hit our stride and I do not want to tip the delicate balance. I am thankful for the chance to learn stuff about Teddy Roosevelt in my son’s library research report and to plug away every day with my older son’s algebra lessons. I got a 78% in my last exam because I got terribly confused with some terms we were supposed to have memorized. That simply is not good enough, so we dig more neural pathways every day! Homeschooling also keeps my heart turned toward my children. How could it not? We hang out together every day. It is, most assuredly, not all fun and games! But it keeps me begging for mercy and wisdom and that is a good place to be so I am grateful.

The food… honestly, sometimes I just get so tired of all the necessary food! Practice has helped me get better at it though. I don’t panic about visitors at mealtime if I have any sort of advance warning at all. I can adjust quantities and stretch a pound of ground beef, no sweat. I can now get up and cook a turkey and all the trimmings for a feast. I have even managed a kitchen for a wedding meal. So all this food is teaching me stuff. I know my bread recipe by heart. I can make soup out of fridge leftovers that tastes actually really good. And here is the thing. There is always plenty. I may have to hide the treats sometimes to keep them safe from the ravenous horde of children who ought first to eat their vegetables. But the treats are there and all I had to do was put some ingredients in a bowl and bake them. I can do this. I am grateful.

Okay, interruptions. Interruptions come from a very full and busy life. Which means people are depending on me to find their shoes and put salve on their hurt fingers and pick the burdocks out of their hair. Never mind that I was trying to answer an email in a coherent fashion right then. And then I remembered that I should hang the sheets on the line and while I was outside I noticed that the dog chewed a hole in a bag of trash and scattered it all around. The porch could use a brush off with a broom too. There are shoes and a jacket right smack inside the door and a child needs a reprimand. Let’s see… Oh, yes, that email. But it was only one of a million things to think about. As chaotic as it may seem sometimes, I realize that I have a life! I am truly grateful.


The Weekend

We returned yesterday from a weekend trip to Wisconsin, not your ordinary 3 day jaunt for fun, as you might guess. As I extracted my bones from the vehicle at 7:30 AM, about 16 hours after I first folded them into the backseat of a Honda Pilot, I hardly knew what to do with the grateful rush of feelings that is HOME.

It feels like we have been grieving my grandpa for a few years, so that his passing last week was more of a rejoicing that he finally got his new body. It is such a strange mixture of grief for a loved one gone and relief for the caregivers left behind. Dementia had been stealing him away, the person who no longer knew who he was and often didn’t know who others were either.


This is Grandpa with his tractor, (photo credits to my brother-in-law) a few years before he started wandering away, getting lost, feeling the frustration of having his keys taken. He was always a sharp thinker, careful with his finances and record keeping. Suddenly he found himself going to the wrong bank, getting ready for church on the wrong days, reliving childhood memories, yet sometimes unable to remember his wife. It was heartbreaking, and if anything has made me grateful that we don’t have to live in broken bodies forever, this did.

I swiped a recent picture from a cousin’s Facebook wall. I think this was when my grandma had heart surgery this summer, and Grandpa walked the halls at the hospital and got lost. You can see the confusion in his expression. I loved that all the worry lines were gone after he died. He looked 20 years younger, more like the Grandpa who used to tear around with us, tickle us with his beard stubble, and take out his false teeth to give us a rather awful thrill.


While Grandma was in the hospital, someone overheard Grandpa quoting Psalm68:19, “Blessed be the Lord, who daily loadeth us with benefits, even the God of our salvation.”

It was a random moment, but later they realized that it was the last verse he ever quoted.

For those of you who know my sweet Grandma, would you pray for peace to surround her as she adjusts to the sudden, extreme quiet? In a few weeks it would have been 65 years that they were married.

The weekend consisted of a lot of travel, a lot of wonderful connecting with beloved cousins, a lot of crying together in our mixed-up grief. The Miller clan is a very close-knit one, and my emotions got jerked all over the place. I was glad we could be there, all the same. I don’t enjoy the rituals of dying, and yet we seem to need them. It’s like a bookend to the rejoicing of birth, the mystery of passing onward and upward to another place that we, grasping, only vaguely comprehend. For those who do not grieve without hope, it is also a rejoicing.


P. S. The most dreadful moment came, even though I was on my guard, when I got the giggles. In the solemn quiet when everyone files past the casket for a final viewing, I watched the backs of the people walking down the aisle. Gabe and I saw him at the same moment: a young boy following his father and diligently digging out a wedgie enroute. When the left hand didn’t suffice, he helped rearrange his pants with the right hand too. I shouldn’t have ever stolen that sidewise glance at my husband. I shouldn’t have even let the first escalating giggle within a mile of bubbling out. I shouldn’t have listened to my brother making muted sounds that were almost the sounds of grief, but they weren’t. I scootched way down in my seat and tried to think sad thoughts, but that was the trouble. I had already overloaded with them. If you are not one given to messy, emotional giggle fits, you cannot understand how disagreeable they are in an Amish funeral. There was no excuse. But I did feel better afterward.



I found my photo card with pictures of our jaunt through the White Mountains. It was very cloudy the day we drove the road that loops through the best views, so the views were shortened, but so were the crowds of leaf peepers. This suited us fine. Without further ado, let me show you a glimpse.


We would drive around the bends in the road, thinking surely each one would be pinnacle of color. It was a feast for the eyes and soul, a worship experience.img_4478


Entire mountain flanks, covered in flaming deciduous trees with creases of evergreens in the ravines: this is what we saw for hours. Our cabin was in Maine, just one mile over the NH border, but in a very different landscape. The lane in to our little lake looked promisingly secluded, although you would not believe how many tiny cabins are tucked away in these woods. I only saw one other person out and about in the four days we were here. He was a deaf gardener at one of the fancier places where the shrubs were manicured, and he shouted at me that he liked my shoelaces after I smiled and remarked inanely about the beautiful day.


This was our Air B&B glamping cabin. It was a compromise between posh accommodations and primitive camping, a sparely furnished place with a fridge, heat, and hot water. It was perfect. We went out to Portland one day, where we saw the harbor and the way they used to make their living compared to how they make their living now. I know the tourists are the bread and butter of many of the shops and restaurants in the area, but it makes me sad to see all the manufacturing places abandoned, the railroads grown up in weeds. I would have liked to see this harbor when it was bustling with commerce. We ate our lobster rolls and crab cakes at a small shack on the pier where there was a faint smell of rot and fish, so that seemed nice and authentic.

portland harbor.jpg


We love the way New Englanders have so practically built their barns and garages in attached L’s to their houses. How smart is that when the snow is piled up? And we like how they drag the rocks out of their pastures and build fences. It’s such a sensible solution.

We came home to this crew with renewed contentment to just be us: our family. Gabe had to get back to work that weekend and I had a long Sunday afternoon with a bunch of kiddos who had forgotten a little how to be siblings and listen to their Mom. (Somebody invent an emoji for that. It’s too hard to describe.) I couldn’t think of anything better to do than wear everybody out on the nearby mountain. 🙂 It was cheering to see what the fresh air and romping did for everybody’s spirits. When the littlest girl whined about being cold, her brother shared his jacket and when she whined about being tired, he carried her, which was more than I was prepared to do.

After stuffing our pockets with treasures and building a small fire to warm up, (never underestimate a young boy with a flint and steel in his pack) we were rejuvenated and all the people who had fussed about hiking in the drizzle retracted their fussing and felt mellow and sweet for the rest of the evening. Even me. I was still in “curl up undisturbed with a book” mode, which wasn’t working anyway. Nature is such an amazing panacea for grumpiness of spirit! Wow, look at that! God is good! The world is a lot bigger than I am! I need other people. Solidarity and kindness restored: all is well.

It has been a good fall, quite possibly the busiest season of our lives to date. I doubt we could have gotten much more done if we tried. I hit November with thankfulness, which is appropriate, of course. But ordinarily I dislike November intensely. This year it is still balmy. My petunias still look like this with a few more maple leaves sifted through them:


I am grateful for every spot of color that is left.

And I got to finally go see my sister, who had a baby and only lives four hours away and here he was, a month old before I saw him! It’s an odd feeling of going back in time to see Rachel with four little children and to realize that three of hers are younger than my baby. It brings back the days of endless wiping and sippy cups and the bleary-eyed wearying joy that is babies. We were blessed with bare-foot weather and the children spent the entire time outside, leaving us to sip coffee and cuddle little Zachary.

It was a good time. I look forward to the rest of fall. In an effort to be totally candid here, I have to confess that last week I finally took down a swag of (fake) forsythia that I had twined around a sign in my living room back in May. It says, “Home is where your story begins.” I decided to be daring and twine a bit of fall foliage around it. Hopefully I won’t forget to switch it out with holly. I figure some day my children will mention that their story definitely did not begin with a perfectly appointed house, but if they remember the times their mother dragged them outside of themselves and onto a trail to somewhere else, I will be glad.

How about you?  How are you savoring the season? Double points if it doesn’t include pumpkin lattes.