Thanksgiving: It’s Not Over Until We Decide It Is

I’m still reminiscing about our outstanding Thanksgiving holiday. I hope yours was wonderful too.

Most of you know that Thanksgiving is by far my favorite holiday of the year. So, with a title inspired by the words of the immortal Bluto Blutarsky, I’m starting a personal campaign to keep Thanksgiving going – to take the best of Thanksgiving and infuse it into my life (and maybe a few others’ lives) throughout the entire year.

Let’s review some of the reasons I love Thanksgiving so much:

  • No Thanksgiving music is played in stores three months before the holiday. 
  • Of all of our holiday trees, the Thanksgiving Tree is my favorite.
  • More attention is paid to cooking on this day than any other day of the year.
  • All of our dishes – smoked turkey, roasted turkey, mashed potatoes, cheese grits, jalapeño cranberry sauce, cornbread stuffing, pumpkin pie, and chocolate pecan pie – turned out great! (Though I did have issues with the cheese grits.)
  • Thanksgiving brings family and friends together better than any other holiday.
  • Napping is encouraged, though shockingly, I did not get a nap on Thanksgiving Day this year!
  • Gifts are not part of the day, taking pressure off of all of us.
  • The meal would not be complete without my favorite dessert – which is pie of any kind. 
  • We are encouraged to be grateful and to share our gratitude – something we all should be doing every day of our lives.

So back to the idea of infusing all that is good about Thanksgiving into as many of our days as possible. There are some Thanksgiving traditions that I want to save for Thanksgiving only. The main tradition that fits into that category is being so full that it hurts, then still finding a way to eat pie for dessert, and then eating a second piece of pie because there are two kinds being served. I can do that once a year, but I need to stop there. 

Who am I kidding? 

But no more than twice, really! 

Three times max. 

I definitely have self-control issues.

But there are other traditions that I need more of in my life. I do a pretty good job of enjoying cooking on a regular basis. And I don’t mean to brag, but I’m already an excellent napper. I’d like more pie in my life, but if I make a whole pie, based on the pre-described self-control issues, I eat a whole pie. So . . . I need solutions for that. 

But some things I really want to change. Having both of my sons home for the weekend was off the charts spectacular. I still get to see Dawson during his breaks from college, and I get to enjoy that for a year or two more. I love that Ryan and Yesi (my son and my daughter-in-law) still manage to come down from Sacramento and spend the Thanksgiving weekend with us. But I need more of that in my life. And as they are working a lot harder than I am these days, I need to go up to Sacramento to see them more. 

We had about twenty guests this year – and I truly wanted to be with each one of them. We don’t have any of the weird uncles or talk-your-ear-off aunts that everyone seeks to avoid. Of course, I could be that person to everybody else. Nah! Who wouldn’t want to hang out with me?! We love these people, and I’m committed to doing a better job of getting the people we love over to our house throughout the year.

And a final Thanksgiving tradition I’d like to incorporate more into my daily life is simply giving thanks. On Thanksgiving, we place a sky-high priority on sharing our gratitude for who and what we have in our lives. It’s such a powerful part of the day, and, as I somewhat regularly express in my posts, feeling and expressing gratitude have an enormously positive impact on our own well-being. 

  • It’s #10 on my 61 Life Lessons post, “Strive to be kind and grateful as many times each day as you can. The positive impacts of both are underrated.”
  • It was all over my Pursuit of Well-Being post, especially the idea of setting aside time each day to reflect on what positive experiences in your day.
  • I have written about Eckhart Tolle’s The Power of Now being a major influence in my life, and a book I turn to in troubled times. He writes, “The power for creating a better future is contained in the present moment: You create a good future by creating a good present.” Focusing on gratitude is an outstanding means of creating a good present.

I am going to work to somehow share these gratitudes out loud every day, just like we do on Thanksgiving Day. Jill and I have tried this in the past, but it did not stick. I want to renew this effort. And while this does not have to happen before a meal, it certainly works very well to do just that. Saying grace before a meal is a perfect time to express gratitude not just for the food, but even more, for the challenges, pressures, wonders, beauty, love, and everything else that reminds us how lucky we are to have experienced one more day alive on our planet.

I love Lauren Winner’s words on this: “Saying grace suggests not only the grazie of thanksgiving but also the calm, gracious elegance of living fully and well. You don’t find grace said when people are rushing around, scarfing food, eating over the sink or in the car, polishing off a meal in ten minutes flat. You find grace offered at tables where people sit still, where they’re trying to pay attention. Indeed, doctors will tell you that there are physiological benefits to saying grace before meals.”

So while I am already looking forward to our next Thanksgiving on November 28, 2024, I am going to work on carrying most of what I love about Thanksgiving (maybe not the pies) into my daily life, with particular focus on the expression of gratitude.

I would love to hear the ways that you and your family do this, and as always, I appreciate your comments.

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Notes and Cuts:

The picture at the bottom features Jill and I, flanked by Ryan and Yesi on the left, and Dawson and Kylie on the right. (Kylie and Dawson have been dating since high school!) That picture, along with the picture at the top of with my two tall sons, were both taken on Broad Beach in Malibu near sunset. Late November, and we walk on the beach in short sleeves. It’s not hard to be thankful for weather and beauty like that.

And of course the Thanksgiving Tree. I get spousal permission for three months of holiday trees – Halloween in October, Thanksgiving in November, and Christmas in December. The Thanksgiving Tree is the simplest and imitates nature the most, and perhaps that’s why I love it the most.

I cut the paragraph below out – as I thought it took away from the main point. Those of you who love to cook will understand – messing up on a dish you’ve made too many times to count is almost unthinkable – and yet it almost happened.

I read a Facebook thread where people were asked how to ruin Thanksgiving in four words. Pretty funny. Some of my favorites were “Who’d you vote for?”, “My test is positive!”, and one that hit a little too close to home this year, “I’m trying something new!” I didn’t mean to try something new this year. I’ve been cooking the same recipes for many years – it’s all on my cooking website – and I love them all. If I add something new, it’s tested beforehand. But this year, in making the cheese grits, which are way better than most of you think they are, I used a brand of grits I had never used before. That was a mistake! Only after I cooked the grits about four times longer than usual did my cheese grits soup (as bad as it sounds!) turn into a passable cheese grits casserole. Phew! In the end, they were fine, but I’ll never use that brand again. It’s Bob’s Red Mill brand or nothing for me in the future!

Paying it Forward

The best gift any teacher can receive is words of appreciation from their students, from the parents of their students, or from a site administrator. I remember being a principal and walking into the room of one of a truly wonderful teacher. This teacher was loved by his students and by the community. Like most great teachers do quite often, he found himself questioning the effectiveness of his teaching, as one of his lessons had not gone the way he had planned.

First of all – that happens – even to the greatest. Kobe Bryant had off nights. Wayne Gretzky didn’t always get a hat trick. Yo Yo Ma might even miss a note on his cello every once in a while. None of us are perfect. But the point of this story is that this great teacher, as he was telling me about his self-criticism, all of the sudden had an ah-ha moment, his eyes brightened, and he ran back to his desk. He brought back a neatly folded half sheet of paper with a little hand written note I had given him a few years back, praising him for taking risks as a teacher. I was just shocked that that little note was still helpful to him, two or three years after I had written it.

“If you want a look into what I was like in those early years of my education career, and how Nicole is striving to help all teachers out there, take a listen. Here is the podcast.

Telling someone that are doing a great job or that they are appreciated is far more powerful than you can possibly imagine. And my self-critical takeaway was that I did not do that nearly enough.

I taught full-time for five years at San Lorenzo High School, a wonderful school across the Bay from San Francisco. I have written before about my love of teams (Teams Post, February, 2020), and how I feel fortunate to have worked with great teams of students and educators at San Lorenzo (and many other places!). Nicole Lusiani was one of my students from the first-ever AP US History class at San Lorenzo. She graduated in 1990, the year I left San Lorenzo to start my administrative career. She finished her degree and went on to teach history in Room B10 at San Lorenzo, the very room that I taught in for five years. She taught for a long time there, then went on in search of finding ways to support teachers.

That’s what she is doing now. She has started a podcast called Copy Room Conversations. The intent is to provide inspiration and support to teachers. Nicole is honest about her struggles with teaching, her struggles with perfectionism, and how overwhelming it is to always have that never-ending list of what teachers could be doing for their students. Her honesty, humility, humor, passion for all things teaching, and appreciation for all those who have helped her along the way make these podcasts truly powerful.

I was honored to be the subject of Nicole Lusiani’s latest podcast, part of her season devoted to “Paying it Forward.” I loved our time in the interview, remembering moments I had forgotten, and reflecting on memories I cherish. When I listened to the podcast, I was so proud of what she is doing, and very pleased with what she produced.  So if you want a look into what I was like in those early years of my education career, and how Nicole is striving to help all teachers out there, take a listen. Here is the podcast.

And if you want to continue to be inspired by this amazing educator, follow Nicole’s Copy Room Conversations, and I know you’ll enjoy the journey.

And going back to the story that I opened with, take a moment this week to reflect on and thank a teacher or a mentor who made a difference in your life. Public education jobs, teaching, support staff, and leadership, are always challenging, but the last two years have been just insanely challenging. Your thank you will go a long way, you honor the work that Nicole Lusiani is doing, and the gratitude you experience will lift your spirits.


Mike Matthews

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The SLZHS AP US History Class of 1988-89