Tag Archives: gratitude

A Time For Gratitude

Reblogged from Starting With Some Gratitude:

With Thanksgiving approaching, I thought I’d share one of my favorite blog posts from the past about gratitude and family.

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This holiday is always special to me and my family because we’ve tracked our ancestry back to two of the pilgrims that crossed over on the Mayflower. John Howland and Elizabeth Tilley. John Howland came from England as an indentured servant to John Carver, one of the Leiden Separatists (AKA: pilgrim). John Carver was Plymouth colony’s first Governor and the first person to sign the Mayflower Compact, which he wrote.

Me, standing in front of the Mayflower II - an exact replica of the original 1600's ship

But John Carver and his family did not survive the first winter in the new world. In fact, most of the original passengers on the Mayflower did not survive that first winter. My 17th Great Grandfather, John Howland, who was in his 20′s at the time, now found himself a land owner and became a prominent member of the community. He would later become quite a reputable fur trader, working with Native Americans along the coast of Maine, and ending his days as a farmer in Massachusetts.

Elizabeth was only a teenager when she made the voyage across the Atlantic with her parents. Her parents did not survive the first winter either.

Eventually, John and Elizabeth married in the new world, and over their life together, gave birth to 10 children! What is so remarkable about their story is that they all survived! The Howland line is the most common bloodline for pilgrim descendants to belong to because it was so rare that these people lived as long as they did. Elizabeth was in her 90′s when she passed!

Me standing in front of the Jabez Howland house in Plymouth, MA - one of only two houses still standing where a pilgrim (John and Elizabeth) actually lived.

I am fortunate in many ways. I’m fortunate that I know where my people come from. I know their story, or at least as much as I can know. And I know we are survivors. I’m also fortunate to have visited the land and place where they walked. The first time in 2010 with Joe, who was patient and understanding with me while I took photos of everything and felt like I was walking in a really good dream. The second time in 2013 when I took my parents to tour Plymouth and watched my mom have the same journey I did three years ago.

Mom and Pop outside Plimoth Plantation

So Thanksgiving is a meaningful holiday for me. It’s a reminder of who we are and what we’ve been through. What we can endure, with hard work and family, in order to achieve our dreams. It’s a reminder to change for the better by learning from others and seeking understanding more than being right.

This month, I’d like to focus on thanksgiving. I’ve kept a journal since I was 13, but for the last few years I’ve turned it into more of a gratitude journal. At the end of each entry, I write five specific things I’m grateful for.

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Here’s what I’m most grateful for today…

  1. My family. I’ve had a year with an immense high (my marriage) and an extreme low (the passing of my brother in law), and through both events my family rallied together and supported one another with love, patience, and grace.
  2. My spouse – because he lets me ignore him to focus on writing this month and supports my dream of being a published author.
  3. Tacos. Joe made them and they were delicious.
  4. Writing friends. For the many critique groups, write-ins, and classes I’ve been able to attend this month.
  5. Coffee. And blankets. (it’s cold outside)

What are you thankful for today?

and

for more Thanksgiving stories to impress your family at the dinner table,
check out my other Thanksgiving posts!

The First Thanksgiving: It Happened in 1863

The One That Fell Off the Boat

The Baby That Was Born on the Mayflower

The Baby That Was Born on the Mayflower

I didn’t get a blog up on Friday because I spent the weekend at home visiting the newest edition of the family!

Welcome Sarai Lorraine!

Sarai

It’s baby city in my families as both my sister and Joe’s just had little ones. We have a healthy baby girl and boy to celebrate Thanksgiving with this year. Both moms had some difficulty with labor, and it sure makes me grateful for modern medicine, knowing they (and babies) were in good hands.

I’m blogging about Thanksgiving this month and in honor of our little ones, I thought I’d share this story…

The only baby born on the Mayflower belonged to Stephen and Elizabeth Hopkins. They named their son Oceanus in honor of the voyage.

Imagine being pregnant and packed below ship with 101 other people for months on end!

When the Mayflower originally sailed from England, it was to be accompanied by another ship, the Speedwell. Rumor has it that one of the voyage benefactors wasn’t too keen on the trip and purchased sails much too large for the Speedwell’s frame. When the crew raised the sails, they caught the wind so strongly that the beams cracked, turning the Speedwell into the Sinkwell.

Aboard the Mayflower II

Aboard the Mayflower II

Both ships had to turn back and families were forced to make the difficult decision of either staying in England and departing at a future date, or crowding onto the Mayflower, setting sail for the New World. Some families even split up, leaving the women and children behind and sending their men to procure land and prepare homes.

For the Hopkins family, the journey was a tumultuous one. The Mayflower had a boxy shape to it which offered some resistance to the bouncing waves, but didn’t counteract them altogether. The pilgrims were considered the worst lot on the boat. Captain Miles Standish, a fiery redhead with a temper to match, was a military man who hadn’t much use for farmers and families aboard his ship. Many of the pilgrims became seasick and the soldiers on board mocked their lack of sea legs.

What the crew's quarters probably looked like.

What the crew’s quarters probably looked like.

Below deck, the pilgrims crowded with their families as well as livestock into small bunks with nothing more than curtains for privacy. The noise was one matter, and the smells were an entirely different one.

Such was the environment that Elizabeth Hopkins gave birth in. And Oceanus was born.

These babies and their mothers remind me what we’re capable of. They overcome unbearable pain, the sense of being out of control, and yet so incredibly focused all at the same time. And they introduce us to the very essence of hope – a new child. What a perfect reminder to be grateful. Grateful for every day we have with our family. For every adventure we embark on – whether we know what that new world will bring or not. For every lesson learned along the way.

Here’s my gratitude list from this weekend:

  1. Holding baby Sarai.
  2. Hugging my sister and brother-in-law.
  3. Sleeping next to Sonja (Sarai’s 4 year old big sister) who kicked me in the ribs, butt, and thigh repeatedly on the hour every hour for two nights in a row. Once the soreness fades, I’ll remember how we got to snuggle in the early morning and she told me how excited she was to go home with mommy and daddy and her new sister.
  4. Concealer, to hide my lack of sleep. Coffee for the drive home.
  5. Being an aunt to some truly loveable kids, all five of them.

What’s on your gratitude list this week?

Starting With Some Gratitude

The house seems extra quiet this week since Joe took down all the Halloween decorations already. No ghosts or ghoulies to keep me company anymore. We’re still on our scary movie kick though. We spent Halloween watching The Lost Boys and The Exorcist! Classics. We still have a few in our pile to watch yet (Psycho (the remake), The Ring, Village of the Damned, The Prophecy…)

Even though Halloween is over, it’s the beginning of another favorite holiday for me. Thanksgiving.

This holiday is always special to me and my family because we’ve tracked our ancestry back to two of the pilgrims that crossed over on the Mayflower. John Howland and Elizabeth Tilley. John Howland came from England as an indentured servant to John Carver, one of the Leiden Separatists (AKA: pilgrim). John Carver was Plymouth colony’s first Governor and the first person to sign the Mayflower Compact, which he wrote.

Me, standing in front of the Mayflower II - an exact replica of the original 1600's ship

Me, standing in front of the Mayflower II – an exact replica of the original 1600’s ship

But John Carver and his family did not survive the first winter in the new world. In fact, most of the original passengers on the Mayflower did not survive that first winter. My 17th Great Grandfather, John Howland, who was in his 20’s at the time, now found himself a land owner and became a prominent member of the community. He would later become quite a reputable fur trader, working with Native Americans along the coast of Maine, and ending his days as a farmer in Massachusetts.

Elizabeth was only a teenager when she made the voyage across the Atlantic with her parents. Her parents did not survive the first winter either.

Eventually, John and Elizabeth married in the new world, and over their life together, gave birth to 10 children! What is so remarkable about their story is that they all survived! The Howland line is the most common bloodline for pilgrim descendants to belong to because it was so rare that these people lived as long as they did. Elizabeth was in her 90’s when she passed!

Me standing in front of the Jabez Howland house in Plymouth, MA - one of only two houses still standing where a pilgrim (John and Elizabeth) actually lived.

Me standing in front of the Jabez Howland house in Plymouth, MA – one of only two houses still standing where a pilgrim (John and Elizabeth) actually lived.

I am fortunate in many ways. I’m fortunate that I know where my people come from. I know their story, or at least as much as I can know. And I know we are survivors. I’m also fortunate to have visited the land and place where they walked. The first time in 2010 with Joe, who was patient and understanding with me while I took photos of everything and felt like I was walking in a really good dream. The second time, just this year, when I took my parents to tour Plymouth and watched my mom have the same journey I did three years ago.

Mom and Pop outside Plimoth Plantation

Mom and Pop outside Plimoth Plantation

So Thanksgiving is a meaningful holiday for me. It’s a reminder of who we are and what we’ve been through. What we can endure, with hard work and family, in order to achieve our dreams. It’s a reminder to change for the better by learning from others and seeking understanding more than being right.

This month, I’d like to focus on thanksgiving. I’ve kept a journal since I was 13, but within the last year or so, I’ve turned it more into a gratitude journal. At the end of each entry, I write five specific things I’m grateful for.

Here is today’s list:

  1. The opportunity to travel to Plymouth this year with my parents.
  2. The chance to tour my ancestors’ home and see artifacts used by them.
  3. The sound of my mother’s voice, telling John and Elizabeth’s story at the dinner table on Thanksgiving day.
  4. My mom’s dairy potatoes.
  5. Knowing my family is full of survivors. If they can cross an ocean with only the stars to guide their way, then I can publish my damn book!

What are you thankful for today? What does Thanksgiving in your house look like?

Writing Heroes: A Letter to Michael Perry

Once in a great while we’re given the chance to meet our heroes.  As a writer who keeps a gratitude journal, I know that everyday we get to meet heroes.  Our parents, our siblings, the woman who helps shuffle students safely across the crosswalk on their way to school, the gentleman who holds the door open for the mother pushing a stroller – these are all heroes we see everyday and most of us take them for granted.

But what about the ones that inspire us?  The ones that remind us of the things we dreamed about as kids!  Recently I attended a book reading and signing by Wisconsin author, Michael Perry.  Having interviewed Perry just a few weeks ago, I know he thinks that living as a writer is no big deal.  In his words, he told me:

I always say I’m a writer with a small “w”, and I figure most critics and people would agree. My family is just as interested in my writing as they are interested in my brother’s corn crop or my sister’s factory job and that’s how it oughta be. My daughters know their dad is self-employed and gone a lot, but they also know that truckers and soldiers are gone a lot more and under much tougher circumstances. I love what I do, I’m grateful to do what I do, and it may be a calling, but it’s not a HIGHER calling.

Little does he know, it’s his humble attitude that inspires me.  At the reading, he was very down to earth and welcoming – the traits his writing voice creates as well.  A woman sitting next to me asked, “Is he really as good and kind as his books make him seem?”  I answered, “I think so.”

Meeting Michael at the Visiting Tom book reading!

A Letter to Mr. Perry:

Dear Mr. Perry,

Thank you for taking a chance on a stranger who read your books, and for agreeing to be interviewed by her.

When I was growing up in a small Wisconsin town, I thought nothing interesting ever happened in Wisconsin and I couldn’t wait to travel elsewhere.  I burrowed away in my room with my mom’s old typewriter that the ‘n’ key didn’t work and wrote stories that were then acted out by puppets.  I built forts out of blankets and pretended I was an orphan, running the streets, stealing food to survive and living dangerously – but that’s probably because I watched Aladdin everyday for months. 

When I got to school and started writing, it was my teachers who acknowledged my skills and encouraged me to write more.  This lasted, I am grateful to say, through my college years.

But when classes were over and the “real world” hit, I stopped writing for awhile.  Years, even.  When I started blogging, a desperate attempt to write something, anything, it was one of the scariest things I ever did.  But, something wonderful happened.  I found a whole community of writers and readers and people who shared my dreams and were going after their own!  Over time, this little old blog became my place of respite.  And with some courage, I threw myself out there to various writers whose books I’ve enjoyed and asked to interview them.

Thank you for saying yes!  It is meaningful to me that you shared your story and your time with me.  Each and every writer (established and new) is an inspiration and a push to go after my own writing dream.  And, Mr. Perry, writer with a small ‘w,’ I intend to return the favor.  Meeting a gracious and giving person such as yourself, inspires me to do the same for others.  For now, I’m only able to offer that camaraderie that comes with plugging away at the writing process as any new writer knows is full of trial and error.  If and when I can accomplish publication, I fully intend to be that person that says “Yes” to new writers, thank you to those that come to see me, and chat with everyone that is willing to stand in line just for an autograph.

Thank you from the small town, Wisconsin girl who thought her mom’s old typewriter was the coolest thing ever.  It was a pleasure meeting you.

Best wishes,

Jess Witkins

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And just for fun:

It’s only one week away – the next edition of The Redhots!

Next friday, Marcia and I interviewing our first author for The Redhots!  His book has been getting lots of 5 star reviews!  Tune in on October 26th to see who it is!

Until then:  We’re kicking off Halloween with a fun photo contest!  You could be a winner of one of 6 prizes!

My “orange” inspired Halloween table! The napkins had a skeleton on them that said “I’m Starving!”

What you need to know to enter:

1. There are three categories you can enter one time each:

  • Costume – your best ever, be it scary, cute or funny
  • Outdoor decorations – your scariest or most creative
  • Party room decor – you can include your Halloween tablescape, your unique pumpkin carving, and your room decorations

2. Post your pictures, up to 3 only, at our Twitter hashtag: #TheRedHots between October 19th and October 30th. The winners will be announced on Halloween!

3. For extra chances to win, you can choose to do the following:

  • “Like” Marcia’s and my Facebook pages
  • Tweet about the contest three times between the 19th and the 30th linking to our posts
  • Subscribe to our blogs

The prizes:

  • Grand prize will be an autographed print book by our indie author plus a Halloween Goody Bag.
  • 5 bonus prizes of a Kindlegraphed ebook from the author

Excited?  Inspired?  Halloween plans?  Heroes that inspire you?  What’s on your mind?

Books I’m Thankful For

Not too long ago, author August McLaughlin, shared on her blog the Books I’m Crazy Grateful For in honor of Thanksgiving.  I loved her post and thought what a perfect way to pay an homage to the writers who’ve made a difference in her life.  I encourage all of you to share the books you’re grateful too and post the link in the comments, or link back to my post or August’s, after all, I’m always hungry for more great reads!  And Christmas is coming, I may need to add some titles to my wish list.

The Fact of a Doorframe by Adrienne Rich:  If one could call a book one’s bible, then mine would be Adrienne Rich’s The Fact of a Doorframe, a collection of her poetry from 1950 – 2001.  On a trip with a friend’s family to New York, we perused the NYU campus on a tour since he’d applied.  I meandered through the stacks of books in the bookstore and happened upon this anthology.  If you’ve never read a Rich poem, you’re missing out.  She is everything beauty and savage combined, if you ask me.  She’s a herald for civil rights, namely women’s rights, gay and lesbian rights, and Jewish rights.  She put a face and reality to the hardships of being a mother in her non-fiction book Of Woman Born, which I wrote a semester-long paper on.  In fact, over the course of my college career, I believe I wrote no less than 10 papers on either Rich’s life or dissected her literary works.  I also filled a journal with my own poetry that was very clearly imitation in style of Rich’s.  I recall in an interview she said she was not afraid to write about the “monstrous,” I hope one day I may say the same.

The Cider House Rules by John Irving:  Goodreads compares John Irving as America’s Charles Dickens!  That’s big hype, but it’s a credit I may agree with.  I haven’t read enough Irving to speak of all his works, but this novel was one that deeply moved me.  For those of you familiar with the film, The Cider House Rules, is the story of a doctor, Wilbur Larch, who runs an orphanage and also practices abortion if the couple decides it’s best.  The story follows one of the orphans in particular, Homer Wells, who is educated by Larch on the practices of gynecology.  But Homer leaves it all behind to explore the world and winds up working on an apple orchard, a peculiar place where his services just may be needed after all.  I grew up in a Catholic household and attended Catholic school where we were forced to complete catechism-noted final papers every fall on all topics such as abortion, suicide, and euthanasia.  I won first place for a paper I wrote about abortion.  Here’s the thing though, we were not allowed to write any opinion, we could only use the Bible and the Catechism as our reference books.  Reading The Cider House Rules years later in High School gave me the perspective of someone else, and transformed my views to be open-minded about the decisions someone makes regarding their body.  This is not a book that is solely pro-life or pro-choice, but it poses both sides in a way for the reader to (I hope) understand where each comes from.  And for those that have seen the film, it’s a really interesting adaptation with new characters in the book that were combined into one person in the film.  I highly recommend this one!

The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin:  You should be seeing a commonality between Rubin’s title and this blog.  The Happiness Project is a monthly quest to change the way you both live and perceive the world around you, with the intention of finding more happiness.  While I will warn the reader, Rubin’s book is a condensed version of the actual work she did over the course of the year, so sometimes her seemingly simply advice fails to grasp the reality of the life change you may be making, it is still a book that will get you thinking and making positive changes in your life to be more happy.  Biggest change I made after reading this book, well folks, I started this blog.

The Mayflower by Nathaniel Philbrick:  Of course The Mayflower would make my list!  Reading about the historical voyage and first fifty years of the Mayflower passengers was a wonderful view into the past of my ancestors.  I appreciate the research that Philbrick did because he truly tries to tell all sides of the story.  No group is in the utmost right or wrong, and that period of fifty years was a series of alliances, friendships, and wars.  I have great respect for all the individuals who fought so hard to make a new life for themselves.

What are the books you’re most grateful for?

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