Rethinking Thanksgiving Traditions

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In a few days we’ll be trading leaf-bare Maples for Palm Trees.

And we will be leaving the jackets in the car at Albany Park & Fly; they won’t be needed.

Instead of rolling in leaf piles, the kids will be swimming in the pool. Splashing. Laughing.

On morning walks we won’t be shivering, or stomping through frost-covered grass and dried out goldenrod, surrounded by silence, and perhaps a few crow calls. And no need to check for ticks after we come inside. Instead we may be walking along the Bayshore. Sun beating down on us. Other walkers, and runners, dogs, and cars streaming past. We will look out over the bay, to the city skyline. Then turn to look the other way, and we’ll admire the beautiful homes, flowers and landscapes, one after another lining the street.

So different, in every way, from home in Vermont.

my niece with an anole!

my niece with an anole!

When the sun comes up, the little lizards, anoles, will be out. The kids will be on the lookout. Chase them down and in the case of my son Brett, who still has one for a pet from last year, perhaps if he’s fast enough, he can catch one.

Then there is the annual ladies day in Hyde Park, spent primarily at Anthropologie, maybe then to Williams-Sonoma for a last-minute gadget for the big feast, and then out to lunch and coffee with my mom and sister-in-law Brooke. This takes place while the kids, my husband and brother Greg take Brett, Jake and Anna on an adventure. This year, Tom has booked a Dad/ kid guided fishing trip.

jake fish

my nephew Jake fishing last year…

While my mom and I catch up all the time, Brooke and I don’t get to talk at length as much during the year, and this girls-day is one of our valued times to reconnect. To really talk. About everything. This is a day I now think about often throughout the year while at home, and anticipate, as that once a year treat.

Celebrating Thanksgiving in Florida  is a rather new tradition, as of the past few years.

Although I traveled often for work over the years, whenever I had visited Florida, I just remembered highways, shopping centers, tourist traps and convention centers.  But when my brother and his family moved to the Tampa area for work a few years ago, and I visited for the first time, I was pleasantly surprised.

The trees were all really cool. Sprawling. Huge. I had expected all the homes to be cookie-cutter planned developments but they are the opposite.  Each home in the neighborhood seemed unique in it’s own way. And it was warm! I love Vermont but after the fall leaves turn brown, and since we don’t even get much snow anymore, the late Fall through Winter time-frame, I can take or leave….

trading in the down coat for short sleeves and shorts...

trading in the down coat for short sleeves and shorts…

I grew up in Rhode Island, and remember Thanksgiving as being relatively traditional. At least in the sense that it was cold outside, and when I looked out the window, what I felt and saw: the cold, after-the-harvest look of the fields and trees, was probably similar enough to what the Pilgrims felt in nearby Massachusetts.

My parents moved to California in the mid-90s, while my brother Ken was in Minnesota, Greg moved around often, and I stayed on the East Coast. Thanksgiving became our time to get together; and as California became the new destination, we had to rethink our definition of what a traditional Thanksgiving might look like. It felt odd at first to be experiencing mild weather at this time of year. And instead of spending most of the time outside, we would see the sites: The CA Academy or Science, the Aquarium, The Zoo, Alcatraz, the Airplane museum. And endure endless traffic.

But many years have since passed. We all have families and complications with school vacations, conflicting schedules, and in-law families competing for time. Add that to the cost, inconvenience and the amount of time needed to travel for an entire family, going to California just isn’t all that convenient.

It is no longer a given that we all get together at Thanksgiving.

Location and attendance lately had become kind of a free-for-all, until my brother Greg offered to take whoever was willing to show up. Sometimes it’s all of the families. Sometimes just a few.  Florida happens to be one of the only places we can fly direct, and be there in a few hours, so Tom and I have decided as long as they’ll take us, we’ll show up!

There are other new traditions we have developed over the last few Florida Thanksgivings. Particularly about food. And how could I write an essay without the mention of health?

When I think back to past Thanksgivings in California, we didn’t get much activity. We took dog walks each day, but they weren’t what you’d call heart-pumping activity. And we visited the Redwoods in Muir Woods numerous times. Although there is a trail, because of the different ability levels we had with kids and parents in tow, the hiking wasn’t exactly strenuous. We do all have one thing in common in my family-we love our red wine.  And we love snacking.  We would hang out in my parents open kitchen-dining room-family room. The game would be on. The cheese and crackers and tortilla chips and wine would come out…a little earlier than we are typically used to. My parents frequented wine country, and always had some new vineyard find they wanted us to try. On one of the days, the guys took a long bike ride along San Francisco bay, but we ladies? Nothing.

The result: Endless snacking.

And activity? Not so much.

We always felt like blobs at the end of the week.

More recently, in Florida, much of this routine remains the same. As soon as Greg picks us up from the airport, we typically hit a Starbucks, and then stop at the local wine shop to select what we need for the week. At home, the Boursin cheese and brie and salami and crackers emerge on a tray; while we do our best to eat it all, there appears to be a never-ending supply to keep munching on. And we do keep munching…

a little poolside reading w/Anna

a little poolside reading w/Anna

But there’s one difference.  Instead of sitting around, we are all so much more aware of ensuring we stay active. And while we indulge in a big way, we bond over keeping fit as well.

When I exercise at home, I typically work out solo. But part of the new Florida tradition involves poolside workouts with my brother.  It was a few years ago, where Greg urged me to try a p90x workout with him. I was scared. But his enthusiasm and assurance it wasn’t beyond my ability, helped give me the confidence to try it with him, and that experience prompted me to tackle the full program when I came home. Last year, we did something a little different:  the brother/sister poolside workout. No video this time. It’s too nice outside. Greg takes the lead; but I make suggestions, and we learn from each other, each morning. I was self-conscious at first, a few years ago, having the whole family walking in and out while we are out there in plain sight, looking super-unattractive. But after a while I got used to the commotion of other family members dropping by to watch, or even participate for a few minutes. My mom sometimes stops by for a little stretch or a yoga pose. Macy the Golden Retriever or Sweet Pea the pug may drop by too, and a few times I found myself in plank, or coming up from a push-up to find myself nose-to-nose with one of them.

macysweetpea

workout audience, Macy and the Pea

And it’s not just the two of us. There appears to be more of a silent understanding now. Just because we are not in our regular routine, it doesn’t mean we have to slack off in all areas. By keeping active, we won’t go home feeling awful, and that’s so important. The poolside workout isn’t for everyone: Brooke usually heads out to see her trainer. My mom takes walks and does some light weights. Tom disappears to go fishing early on some mornings and takes walks. We are together, but we know nobody will miss us if we need to run off for 45 minute or an hour on our own, to ensure our individual needs are met to balance out all the crazy eating.

As I think about next week and the Thanksgiving table,  I can picture it now.

Greg is tending to the turkey, smoking in his prized Green Egg.

my brother and the prized Green Egg.

my brother and the prized Green Egg.

Tom and I are making roasted root vegetables; and perhaps we can sneak a few sweet potatoes and turnips from our Vermont CSA into our luggage, to share the harvest…

Brooke is making the sweetest most decadent yam casserole, that she learned to make at home with her mom in Oklahoma.

My mother makes her Minnesota Wild Rice Soup.

And we top it all off with a few apple and pumpkin pies, and perhaps a run for Ben and Jerry’s once the kids are asleep.

We’ll get up the next day, and after another poolside workout, we’ll head for the airport.

We are stuffed, but don’t feel so bad.

It doesn’t matter what it looks like outside. Or how authentic our meal or whether the Pilgrims did it this way…  our latest evolving tradition includes the best of everything: family, time together, indulgence with foods and wines (because it wouldn’t be fun without that…).

But also a respect for each family members different approach to health.

Our new-found tradition to keep inspiring each other every time we get together, and keep cheering each other on is a good one.

Our Thanksgivings for the last few years have been in warm sunny Florida, but regardless of where they may be in the future, this mutual respect for health as a family will ensure we’ll all be there for each other, making new memories and traditions, for many, many more years to come.

And I for one, am thankful.

How have your traditions changed over the years? Traditional or not? Does your family help inspire you to stay active? Or the other way around?  Do you wish you could be more active during the holidays? Would love to hear your thoughts and stories!

8 thoughts on “Rethinking Thanksgiving Traditions

  1. What a wonderful way to spend your Thanksgiving! I do believe that over the years, how we spend our time together has changed as well, but mainly because I was the big runner. When we are together, we ususally get a great hike in (my brother & SIL are avid hikers), bike rides or long walks together. You can be sure, we do something physical every day. With my husband’s family, it is more “outdoorsy” exercise…x-country skiing, snowshoeing or a game of ice hockey on an outdoor pond. It’s all fun stuff, and does make the indulging a little more guilt-less.
    Happy Thanksgiving Robin! Enjoy your time with family.

    • Silvana, your traditions sound amazing! And so great you all do this together! So you really count on snow at Thanksgiving? I know your TG is earlier than ours is. Would love to see where you live someday….sounds so amazing. Thanks so much for your comment. It’s so inspiring to hear how other people can work activity into the mix.

  2. It’s so nice to read about your traditions. The importance of family is such an undercurrent to these holidays and it’s wonderful to learn more about those little, distinctive ways others spend time together. I’m sure, too, that your son will grow up to cherish these times – and to value physical activity. It’s inspiring and interesting to see how you work that into a get-together. I’m sure we will connect before then but have a wonderful Thanksgiving!

    • Thanks so much for your comment! He definitely is learning! I have to tell you, two days ago for the first time I was driving him home from school and mentioned I still needed to do a workout while he was home that afternoon. He said he wanted to do it w/me. This was a first! I have one kids jumping/stretching video and he did the whole thing, not even any goofiness, and said he really enjoyed it. Maybe we are turning a corner here? First goes the sugar in his diet, now he’s into exercise. It’s all sinking in!

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