A Dose of Thanksgiving Gratitude to Lift My Holiday Spirit and Savor the Trip

I’m spending Thanksgiving week as a total tourist, firmly planted in a sunny poolside chaise lounge of the Hilton Los Cabos. It’s on the beach between Cabo San Lucas and San Jose del Cabo, with a stretch of white sand fanning out from azure water. Fierce waves crash right at the shore, but the water’s temperature is mild and irresistible. My family and I carry lumps of sand in our bathing suits because every time we catch a wave, we wind up belly-skidding on the beach.

Morgan on the right, me on the left, kids in the water at a resort this week near Cabo San Lucas.

Cabo is great for a lot of things—such as sunrises, sunsets, tequila and tacos—but running isn’t one of them. No path follows the beach for more than a quarter mile, and the main road feels too dangerous due to speeding traffic and narrow shoulders. I’m therefore logging a minimal number of miles and lifting weights at the hotel’s fitness center.

It’s not enough to counteract the bottomless baskets of tortilla chips and bottles of Corona that I’m putting away like a frat boy, so even though we’re skipping the calorie bomb of a traditional Thanksgiving dinner, I’m succumbing to the usual late November bulk-up. Yesterday I told Morgan that this week’s combination of gym workouts, heavy eating, and humidity and ocean water that wreak havoc on my hair is making me feel as stocky, squat and poofy-haired as Mary Lou Retton. He replied, “Yeah, but she was America’s sweetheart”—implying that’s something I never could be, that’s for sure!

That's me, getting ready to do a double back handspring round-off like Mary Lou (not).

I’ve never been a good treadmill runner. The only way I tolerate the boredom is to break up the workout into intervals. Yesterday, I managed to last an hour by doing a treadmill version of my favorite speed workout: warmup for 10 minutes, followed by intervals of 10, 8, 6, 4, 2 minutes in length—each progressively faster, the longest interval at a tempo pace and the shortest at faster than a 5K—followed by a cool down. I set the incline on 1.5 as a base and periodically raised it up to 4 or 5 to simulate hills.

This is hardly the kind of adventurous, culturally authentic, experiential, lower-budget, close-to-locals travel experience I normally advocate and seek. But that’s OK. We came here for an escapist, easy week after a challenging year work-wise, and it’s given Morgan and me a chance to unwind and reflect. The time on the treadmill, along with the time spent poolside, makes me travel far inside my head and contemplate countless things not related to running.

But my thoughts are clouded by concern about the state of our polarized and nearly broken political system, our disregarded environment and all the chaos around the globe. I’m feeling our national funk, worried about my kids’ future, and preoccupied by maternal concern about their direction and development.

That anxiety is something I don’t want to fully escape, because it’s a necessary antidote to apathy, but I do want the power to put it on a shelf and savor this week away. I want the peaceful mindfulness of being fully present in the moment—as when we’re bobbing as a foursome in the waves, or laughing at the ridiculousness of a clown sticking a balloon hat on our heads during dinner on the beach—to extend to more of the day, to suppress the ruminations on the past and projections on the future that make my stomach turn flip-flops.

I laughed so blissfully hard at dinner the other night when this crazy clown crowned my daughter Colly.

How to do that? Mindful meditation is one obvious answer, and I try with limited success to practice it with the help of podcasts from UCLA’s Mindful Awareness Research Center.

Then I read an article yesterday in the New York Times about another mental tool: the practice of gratitude. Empirically grounded research shows that consciously cultivating gratitude creates a ripple effect of positive changes, psychologically and even physically. I tell my kids to do it, so shouldn’t I?

With this in mind, and in preparation for sharing gratitude over our non-traditional Thanksgiving dinner tonight, I made the following Top 10 list of things I’m grateful for in 2011:

10. I’m thankful my calf injury fully healed after a month-plus layoff and I returned to running this fall.

9. I’m thankful my 13-year-old daughter’s knee fully healed from a complicated surgery so that she can pursue her interest in aerial circus arts.

Colly doing her thing.

8: I’m thankful my 10-year-old son and I started going on two special kinds of dates this year: running together, and taking a day trip to the regional BMX park.

Kyle doing his thing.

7. I’m thankful Morgan and I get to ditch the kids once a year when they’re at sleep-away camp and go on a special trip to run together and be a couple, as we did last June on the trails in Ashland.

6. I’m thankful my health and schedule allowed me to have one of my most satisfying racing periods ever back in May and June, with a combination of a best-ever Ohlone 50K and the Triple Crown Trail championship.

5. I’m thankful I was chosen to plan and host San Francisco’s Meet, Plan, Go! event in October because it connected me to a great network of inspirational travelers and writers, and it raised money for a good cause.

4. I’m thankful I grew closer to my parents after spending time helping my dad care for my mom when she broke her hip in August, and I’m very thankful she recovered and that my dad also bounced back from health setbacks.

Me with my folks in Colorado Springs in October.

3. I thankful I got to return once again to my idyllic childhood summer home in Telluride to be with my brother and sister-in-law, and to run/hike a slice of the spectacular San Juan Mountains in Southwestern Colorado by helping a friend go some 30 miles between Telluride and Silverton during the Hardrock 100.

High in the San Juans during Hardrock--a peak experience this year.

2. I’m profoundly thankful that my husband, Morgan, overcame self-doubt and worked his ass off to get his new business off the ground, and I found myself in a new job helping him develop and market it.

And the Number One thing I’m thankful for this year:

1. That my family and I have our wonderful home to return to after traveling, and for all the love and warmth we nurture together in that home, and for the neighbors and friends who live nearby.

As detailed in an earlier post about re-entry, I experienced a lot of ambivalence toward our home, our possessions and our community when we returned in mid-2010 from a ten-month journey. A big part of me ached to continue our nomadic, less materialistic and less scheduled lifestyle. I felt like a stranger in my own house for quite some time and wanted only to hit the road. This year, I worked through those feelings and once again fully love and appreciate that 102-year-old four-bedroom, two-story at 6 Mesa that we bought exactly twelve years ago, when we spent Thanksgiving weekend of 1999 putting in an offer on the house. I finally feel like taking care of it again. Under its roof, the four of us and our dog lead lives together that fill me with gratitude.

An old photo of our house with Morgan's car from his past job, which we replaced with a used convertible--another thing I'm grateful for!

Call for comments:  What are two or three things you’re most grateful for?

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