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Posts Tagged ‘thanksgiving’

In November, Louisa wrote a guest post for Ditch The Umbrella about her Thanksgiving experiences, promising a post-holiday update. Luckily for us, she’s blogged about another fascinating emotional calendar subject: seasonal dissonance. Here goes!

I wrote a post about a month ago about Thanksgiving—an emotional hotspot for me. I’m way overdue for an update, since Christmas is only two weeks away! Happily, Thanksgiving went off without a hitch this year, as it often does. My emotional mind was less charged up, which made for a much more enjoyable dinner for me, and especially my family. We went to my uncle’s house in western Massachusetts and feasted on turkey, squash, stuffing, and cranberry sauce: the whole nine yards. (Squash is my personal favorite.) I felt happy to be with my family and celebrate with them, and although the memory of that Thanksgiving fourteen years ago was still present, I also see how its effect on my emotions diminishes a little bit every year.

But of course, most people’s focus has moved to Christmas. It’s coming soon. I’m excited, and also quite proud of myself for already having most of my shopping done. With Christmas comes the cold weather, though, and this year it seems to be particularly frigid. In the past week, the high temperature has only been about 40° F, and that was last Saturday. The wind has made it especially bad, letting everyone know that winter is here to stay. Of course, if this were February, temperatures in the 40s would seem almost warm (at least in New England). But we have been cursed (or blessed, as most people would say) with some extremely warm days in November. According to weather.com, the high temperature in Concord on Nov. 13 was 65°. It felt more like mid-spring than late fall. That day was followed by 64° on the 17th, 56° on the 22nd, and 62° on the 23rd.

Regardless of how you feel about this type of weather in November, December seems particularly Arctic in comparison. I don’t like warm November days—such weather gives me a strong sense of seasonal dissonance, which happens when your mind is in one season and your body is in another. The calendar says Thanksgiving, but the weather says Memorial Day! This contradiction throws off my sense of stability, it makes me feel out of place, and it makes it far harder for me to get used to the December cold. For my sanity, I’m hoping that it won’t happen again, but the next time we have a really warm winter day—or even a really cold one in June—stop and see how your body and your mind react to the unfamiliar weather.

Weather: Frigid and gray.

Moods:

Anna – 7.5 out of 10 on the “so miserable I can’t get out of bed” to “jumping for joy” scale. She’s energized.

Hannah – 7 out of 10. On the one hand, it’s cold and gray. On the other hand, she is excited to be at the Athenaeum!

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Good thing I didn’t actually decide to liveblog my Thanksgiving. It would have gone something like:

“Moseying across the street to buy coffee.”

“Time for a walk!”

“Reading.”

“Turkey and conversation!”

“Zzzzzz.”

That about sums up my Thanksgiving. The most eventful part of the day was when my father ordered “The Flintlock”—a supposedly-historic drink from the Colonial period. But what arrived at our table looked more tropical than classic. Who would expect that a drink called “The Flintlock” would be pink, or so tasty?

In any case, this is the first time that I’ve taken note of how my views toward the holiday have changed, and it’s made me appreciate how even powerful associations can be reframed. For me, the switch came after my family found ways to make the day less stressful for everyone. And, as one might expect, my acknowledgment of change only came after several years of pleasant Thanksgivings.

I suppose now is the time to start reframing other holidays I find stressful, but I actually think those are few and far between. And as of tomorrow night, I’ll have another celebratory holiday to enjoy. Chanukah falls early this year (find out why here), so the next eight days are full of outings, gatherings, and candle lightings!

To share some Chanukah cheer (and because The Office informs us that all Cornellians love a cappella), here’s a video to start off the celebrations:

Weather: Pleasant enough for the last day of November!

Moods:

Anna – 7 out of 10 on the “so miserable I can’t get out of bed” to “jumping for joy” scale. I’m well rested.

Hannah – 7 out of 10. She worked from home today. In her pajamas.

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I keep thinking that Hannah and I should be liveblogging our emotional calendars this Thanksgiving. But that seems excessive. And I’m pretty sure that won’t allow us to be truly mindful, as Hannah suggests. So instead, here’s to a happy, joyful, and reflective Thanksgiving from DTU!

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This is an exercise in mindfulness.

Bring your awareness to your mouth. Take pleasure in the sensation of rubbing your tongue against your teeth and the roof of your mouth. Swallow. This should feel good.

Now, take a clean glass. Spit into it. Now, drink your own spit.

Repulsive, isn’t it?

This exercise comes from Ellen Langer’s seminal book Mindfulness, one of the first to bring the concept of mindfulness into Western medical lexicon. I love it because no matter how many times I try, I can’t help but be totally grossed out. I know that rationally, there is no reason to dislike saliva. But I cannot break my constructed hatred of spit. It’s disgusting.

Langer’s point is that every day, we take thousands of actions that are not rational. Some of them, like not drinking our own spit, are fairly innocent. Others are more troubling: the ones that impact the way we act around disabled people, for example, or the elderly. (One of Langer’s  most laudable impacts has been in teaching nurses and families to recognize the difference between physical disability and mental disability.)

Mindfulness can also be helpful in improving the way we treat ourselves, especially at times when we are feeling particularly out of control. Anna is lucky in that she has totally overcome all of her Thanksgiving anxieties. But for the rest of us, this time of year is overloaded with emotional, cultural, and environmental stressors. There are childhood memories. Family expectations. Cultural pressures. The smell of snow on the wind.

It’s easy to get overwhelmed on Thanksgiving. It’s also easy to act on all of those anxieties without knowing why. To get angry at the turkey. To break down over the cranberry sauce. To lash out at an innocent great aunt or overly energetic toddler. All of which means, less time to enjoy a delicious dinner in the company of the people we love most.

Which is what Thanksgiving, at its best, can be about.

This holiday season, I’m going to try to be a little more mindful about where my emotions are coming from. And I’m going to hope that increased awareness will improve my ability to act, instead of just reacting.

But I’m still not drinking spit from a glass.

Wishing everyone a happy thanksgiving, with love from DTU.

Weather: 36 degrees, a bit overcast, and beautiful

Moods:

Hannah: 7 out of 10. Excited to go running this afternoon.

Anna: 7.5, and thrilled to have a few days to relax.

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Well, Thanksgiving is almost here, and with it, the stress of one of the most highly charged family meals of the year.

I used to hate Thanksgiving. In fact, my freshman year of college I chose to stay in upstate New York and celebrate with a friend instead of making the 8-hour bus ride home. The dining halls all closed down, which we anticipated. What we hadn’t considered was that the buses would also stop running, nearly all the restaurants would close, and we would be stranded on an empty campus without proper sustenance. So, instead of turkey and cranberry sauce and stuffing, she and I raided the vending machine, watched Zoolander, and gave thanks for the man who delivered our emergency General Tso’s chicken. It actually turned out to be a pretty fun day.

Less fun, though, are the family negotiations that seem inevitable around the holidays. Who’s going where. Who’s hosting whom. Which relatives are escaping to remote islands (or secretly wishing they were) instead of joining the rest of the extended family for football and conversation.

These days, Thanksgiving is less stressful for me. Part of it is that I’m older and I can make my own plans. Part of it is that I’ve reframed the holiday and now think of it as a big family meal as opposed to a super-charged family fest. Gathering in small groups helps, as does eating out, which is a tradition that my father started several years ago. Last year, we went to a Greek restaurant anticipating ouzo, saganaki, and moussaka, only to find they were serving turkey! This year, we’ve embraced traditional American fare and have a reservation for four at a quaint New England inn.

Whether you hate, love, or are generally indifferent to Thanksgiving, take a deep breath and enjoy the food. Remember—if things get too stressful, you can always escape for a nap and blame it on the turkey.

Weather: Cloudy skies all day, but warmer than usual for late November.

Mood:

Anna – 7 out of 10 on the “so miserable I can’t get out of bed” to “jumping for joy” scale. She ate great cheese this weekend.

Hannah – 6 out of 10. She hates November.

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The other day Anna and I were talking about how our “food calendar” changes over time. I had noticed a sudden desire for baked foods and carbohydrates. In the summer, Anna recalled, all we wanted to eat was salad. “Remember how in July I didn’t even want to eat chocolate?” she asked.

That stopped us both short.

But it’s true that, as winter approaches, my food associations change. I am the kind of person who can be almost religious about my eating habits. I recently went to eat WooDaddy Waffles at Moynihan’s Irish Pub in Worcester and it took some real mental gymnastics to accept the idea of a Falafel Waffle or a waffle pizza. (Good thing I did – they were delicious.) It’s not that I’m not adventurous. But I take real comfort in foods that are perfectly suited to the time of day or the time of year. Apple pies in October. Strawberries in July.

And one of the best things about the approach of winter is that the end of the fall is perfectly aligned with the most delicious kind of baked goods. I don’t know if it’s some sort of innate preparation for hibernation, or whether it’s a cultural association with Thanksgiving dinners and the dearth of fresh vegetables. But it’s true that, if I happen to being slipping into a late-fall depression, all it takes is a mug of hot apple cider and a slice of pumpkin bread to get me on my feet again. Or a cranberry muffin. Slice of pumpkin pie. Hazelnut-chocolate torte. Apple strudel.

(Yes, donations are welcome.)

Anyway, this week I indulged my cravings by baking a whole bunch of new things, the best of which was this ridiculously delicious yeasted pumpkin bread. The recipe made enough to last me a couple of weeks. I’m hoping there will be some left to boost up my spirit when the first snow arrives.

Weather: 52 degrees and cloudy

Mood:

Hannah: 5, I’m feeling a bit under the weather.

Anna: 7, she has some fun, engaging projects at work today.

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