American Thanksgiving: 22 Things We Are Thankful For

November 21, 2012 in Asia, Thailand, Travelogue

We celebrate Thanksgiving a lot

Twice a year, at least, as a bi-national family, but we work to cultivate gratefulness in every day life too. As I finish up this post Hannah is whipping up pumpkin pies to feed to our guests, some American backpackers and a Canadian family we’ve been hanging with for about a month. The boys are tidying up and getting ready for an afternoon of fun with little friends. We’ve had a Skype call with one set of grandparents. Thanksgiving is well underway.

Cultivating gratefulness always been important to us.

When the kids were little we used to write one thing we were thankful for on a leaf each day in November and create a “Thankful Tree.”

This year we’re going to trace our hands on paper with our dinner guests and do the same.

The longer we travel, the more our gratitude deepens, for the big things and the simplest of pleasures.

To celebrate Thanksgiving this year, I’d like to share 22 things that we are thankful for, every day, no matter where in the world we’re calling home.

1. For First Days

We’ve had a lot of fantastic first days… but this is one is noteworthy… this is us on the very first day of our open-ended world tour, in line to board our Delta flight from Boston, to London, UK. There were butterflies in our stomachs and the great unknown stretched out ahead. Ez was 5, Elisha was 7, Gabe was 9 and Hannah was 11. The “extra” is our sweet friend Megan, who cycled 3 months with us. In this picture she was 15, just about a year older than Gabriel is now.

Boston Logan Airport, on the day we left for our bike tour of Europe-N. Africa

2. For Packages From Home

We’ve spent a lot of days on the road, 1,704, to be exact. Some of those have been snuggled in with friends and family, but far more of them have been alone in far flung places. Receiving packages from home is a very sweet thing. We’re so thankful for all of the people who think of us and shower us with tangible love when we have a place to pick up packages. This was the very first one we got from home, about 3 months into our cycle trip… it was from the Campbell family and the box made the whole week a celebration!

Thankful for mail

Outside the post office in Vienna, Austria

3. For Obstacles

I’m not often thankful for obstacles when they take the form of a tree down across the bike path which requires a complete disassembly of my rig and portaging of bike, panniers, trailer, gear and child, over under and around the log. However, we have learned that obstacles are often opportunities in disguise… like when we lost all of our money overnight when we were camped in Italy and the markets crashed… that was the opportunity we needed to remake our entire careers and figure out how to travel forever instead of just a year. We hated it at the time. We cried. It was terrifying for a whole lot of months after that. But we’d never trade that experience for what we have as a result. I’m so thankful for the obstacles that have tested our mettle and shown us who we really are.

Bike path, Czech Republic

4. For a Washing Machine

Perhaps this is a little thing to you, but to me, a washing machine is worth jumping up and down and getting giddy over. I’ve had one for a whole six months at our house in Thailand, no drier, but we have a rack. I had one for six months last winter on Cape Cod too. I’ve hand washed in bathtubs and hostel showers, rivers and lakes, and plastic tubs on all continents. I’m so thankful for a washing machine when I can find one!

Thankful for washing machines

Czech Republic

Thankful for washing machines

Mexico City, Mexico

Thankful for washing machines

Oaxaca, Mexico

Thankful for washing machines

Tikal, Guatemala

5. For the View From the Top

The view from the top of the highest sea cliff on the Adriatic coast of Italy was spectacular, but it was a horrible climb to get there. While we camped the week on it’s crest the markets bombed and all of our money disappeared. It then felt like a very low valley, not a very high cliff. We’re learning to appreciate all of the various “mountain tops” in life from the perspective of some very deep valleys we’ve climbed out of over the past few years. Literally, and figuratively. If you’re at the top: enjoy the view. If you’re not: keep climbing, it’s worth it.

Pescara Italy

Highest sea cliff on the Adriatic coast of Italy

6. For Freedom

There are so many types of freedom that we take for granted and so many that we’re learning, as we go, to be more thankful for. The freedom we enjoy as Americans to speak our minds politically, to worship, or not, as we choose, to educate our own children in our own way, to assemble peacefully, move about the planet for business and pleasure. We’re some of the freest people on earth and that is not something we take lightly.

Thankful for freedom


7. For Returning

To go adventuring is a fabulous gift, the ability to return to a place is a particular joy. There are so many places that I’ve delighted in watching my children explore, just as I did when I was little. This is one:  Paamul, a very special beach on the coast of Mexico where the ghost of my small self resides. As much as we love to “go,” I think that the joy of “returning” is even greater. I’m so thankful for that.

Thankful for returning

Paamul, Mexico

8. For Multi-Generational Adventures

We are blessed with families who not only support us and “get” us, they also join us! I’m so very thankful for the memories we’ve made with the grandparents in Tunisia and Guatemala. How many families are blessed with three generations healthy enough to ride camels together, climb on volcanoes together and leap from cliffs into deep cold lakes together? Not many, I’d wager. I’m unendingly thankful to the grandparents for their time, effort, and commitment to their kids and grandkids in crossing continents and language barriers to make memories that will last for generations with us.

Thankful for grandparents

San Pedro, Guatemala

9. For Inspiration

We meet a lot of fantastic people as we travel, it’s one of the things we’re most thankful for. This guy, Robert Thomason, was one of the most fascinating folks we’ve ever run across: over 80 years old and on a solo cycle tour of East Germany, and far from his first adventure. He told us stories of raising his kids in Harlem during the height of the civil rights movement and of the passion that fuels his life long struggle for equality. Quite a man.

Thankful for Inspiration

Wittenberg, Germany

10. For Home

We sold our house, but our home goes with us. We’re so thankful for the many places we’ve called “home” and the few that pull at our hearts in a way that lets us know that we truly are home, in the deepest sense of the word. Home, for us, is generally defined by the people that are there… our nuclear family first, grandparents, chosen family and friends. Here’s a picture of our beloved lago in Guatemala, one of the places we hope to continue to call home in some capacity for years to come.

Thankful for home

Lago de Atitlan, Guatemala

11. For Culturally Broadening Experiences

When something goes horribly awry, we are known to say, “Well THAT was a culturally broadening experience!” But sometimes, things that go beautifully right are just as broadening. The whole reason we travel is to grow and learn, to be stretched in ways that sometimes are amazing, and other times are amazingly uncomfortable. We’re thankful for both, and for the opportunities we’ve had to grow and learn and seek to understand across cultural boundaries.

Thankful for culture

Douz, Tunisia

Thankful for culture

Chiang Mai, Thailand

Thankful for culture

Phuket, Thailand

Thankful for Culture

Santiago, Guatemala

12. For The Man

I love this picture. It was Christmas Eve, we were freezing. Tony was cooking something soupy to go over rice, on two little multi-fuel stoves for the eight of us (Grammy and Gramps were in attendance). Cooking outside is man’s work in our family. Cooking inside is women’s work. It falls out about 50-50 on our journeys.

This picture tells you everything you need to know about my husband: adaptable to any climate, focused on the end result but enjoying the moment, endlessly a care taker of others (mostly me), outside the freaking box in every sense of the word, willing to get uncomfortable, adventurer extraordinaire.

What it doesn’t tell you, that I’d like you to know, for perspective… is that this guy lived in a tiny section of the mid-west for his entire life. I bought him his first plane ticket at 21. His first international trip was to Canada to visit my family. He went to traditional schools, did it all “right” was a genius in his chosen profession, rose to the top at anything he put his hand to, and was successful in every exterior “normal” measure. But then he married me… and the gypsy wind that blows me… and he caught the bug from my family… and he walked away from it all. He walked away from all of “the right things” toward his dreams and he’s never looked back (so far as I know!)

I’m so thankful for this man, for his lion-hearted bravery, and for the love that he continues to shelter me with, in spite of myself.

Thankful for Tony

Douz, Tunisia

13. For The Things My Mother Taught Me

I can’t say this enough. Every day, travel or not. The things my mother taught me carry me forward and continue to make me a better person. I have the best mama a girl could ever ask for. I love this picture with my Mama, on Christmas Day, 2008, freezing our ears off on the Sahara.

Thankful for Mom

Douz, Tunisia

14. For Perspective

It’s easy to complain, isn’t it? About life’s little inconveniences and sometimes the bigger ones. One thing I’m thankful for, having been raised in my family where doing things the “hard way” was an Olympic sport and travel has been part of my life from day one, is the perspective that comes with that. The understanding that we can do hard things, live through more than we think we can, get by with less than we have, and be cheerful in the meantime. It’s easy to gripe about midwestern gas prices… until you fill up in Iceland, or from a black market station like this one along the Libyan border. But the perspective has another side: knowing ones self. Travel has taught me things about me that I didn’t even know were there. Life is often best seen in the rear view mirror, but there’s something to be said for standing still in a profoundly uncomfortable moment and just having a look around the inside of your own head.

Thankful for perspective

Along the Libyan border, Tunisia

Thankful for Perspective

Highlands of Guatemala… somewhere.

15. For What We Have

I have so much. It’s overwhelming. I bought bread from this lady, the one who made this tent out of camel hair, birthed her babies in it, lives in it as she packs around on the back of a camel and will likely die in it, with sand in her hair. It occurred to me as she handed up the bread and I handed down a few dinar and we smiled at each other that we are as alike as two peas in a pod, and at the same time live in worlds as different as if I’d arrived on a space craft. Travel is a privilege and a gift. I’m thankful every day for that, and for having, not just “enough” but more than enough.

Thankful for what I have

Sahara desert, Tunisia

16. For Teachers

We find so many teachers as we travel and I’m so thankful for each of them. Some of them are proper “teachers.” Most of them are just people passionate about some aspect of life that they share with us. My friend Josephina taught me to pat out (almost) perfect Guatemalan corn tortillas. I taught her to make an American apple pie. Imelda came, day after day, and patiently taught me to weave on a back strap loom. I taught her about the power of internet marketing. Duane and Mira both taught our kids music and have continued to teach us much about the power of living your dreams and starting young. We love these people, and they’re just a few of our teachers along the way.

Thankful for teachers

With Josephina, Panajachel, Guatemala

Thankful for teachers

With Imelda, San Marcos, Guatemala

Thankful for teachers

With Mira & Duane, San Marcos, Guatemala

17. For Stories My Dad Tells

My Dad is a story teller. Anyone who has met him knows this. I love his stories, even when he’s telling them for the five hundredth time, I’ll still laugh. Listening to him is how I learned to write, I think. Some of the best memories we have in life involve my Dad telling stories: he told us the Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn stories in vivid detail long before he ever read them aloud. He tells stories about his childhood, when he and my mom were teenagers together. He tells my kids stories of my childhood, and of his journeys before I was born.

I love this picture. It’s my Dad sitting on the back side of a wall of seats, stadium style, facing nothing but the desert, at the Festival du Sahara at Douz, in Tunisia. He and Hannah are sharing a donut and he’s telling her stories of his first trip to Africa, and an oasis, in his early twenties. I’m so thankful for that legacy, the whole book full of stories my Dad has told and retold until they’re legend in our family.

Thankful for Dad

Douz, Tunisia

18. For Shelter

I’m thankful for shelter. It can’t be over-estimated, really. Sometimes it’s just a hammock and a rain fly in the jungles of Belize, or strung up under this posh palapa at Tikal, in Guatemala. Other times it’s been the Four Season in Hawaii… and literally EVERYTHING in between. At the end of the day, I’m thankful for whatever passes for a roof over head.

Thankful for shelter

Tikal, Guatemala

19. For Epic Experiences

I’m so thankful for the epic experiences. We have more than our share because we’ve chosen to give up so much of “normal life” and live differently. I don’t take that for granted. We may not have a lot of “stuff” to show for our time on this planet, but we have some absolutely fantastic memories: riding camels on the Sahara, riding elephants in Thailand, diving in marine preserves in Belize, waking to gibbon song, and so many more that I would bore you listing them. Those epic experiences make the absolutely horrible ones more bearable.

Thankful for the epic

Pai, Thailand

20. For the World as Our Classroom

Our kids have never been to school. Our world schooling started long before our travels and has been carefully plotted, on purpose. It was not an after thought. In fact, the whole purpose for our travels is the wide and deep education of our children. I cannot tell you how thankful I am to be able to educate them according to their own bents and our conscience as we seek to produce folks who will be creative, positive, hard working citizens of the world, not just one or two countries. We learn everywhere we go. I’m so thankful for that.

Thankful for school

Anne of Green Gables House, PEI, Canada

21. Life

I’m so thankful for life, and the gift of getting to live it our way. I’ve stood in so many places that reek of death even decades after the killing has stopped and wondered aloud, with tears streaming down my face why it was “them” and not “me.” Why we get to take family photos on docks in Belize when other families we know personally hide their kids from the world because they are afraid someone will find out that they’re homeschooling them. Why it is that some people are fated to live in squalid tent cities, or behind barbed wire, or ducking bullets in a war zone and I am walking the world, hand in hand with my kids, in complete freedom. I’m thankful for that freedom, every day. I’m thankful for the people who work tirelessly to protect it, doing things I’d never want to do, politically, militarily, and otherwise. And I’m thankful beyond measure for the gift of a western passport, adequate financial means, the outside the box education I was given that lets me think about how to do things differently, the gift of health for this season and kids who are tough little critters and love the challenge of it all as much as we do. Life is a gift. Our life is a particular gift. I’m so thankful.

Thankful for life

Phnom Penh, Cambodia

Thankful for life

Tobacco Caye, Belize

22. Friends & Family

If there is one way in which we are rich, perhaps the richest people on the planet, it is in friends and family. We are blessed with two fantastic families behind us, who support us no matter how hair brained our latest scheme seems. Right behind them are an army of chosen family, people who we love as much as if they were blood and who blow us away with their endless capacity to cheer us on, undergird our efforts and bail us out when we’re hanging with our rear ends in the wind. Behind them are more friends than we can count. It’s shocking, really, the number of people and the diversity of the group of folks we consider dear friends. No matter where we are we make new friends, we have always had an open door to strangers and so many of them have turned out to be life changing in some capacity. If there was no other thing to be thankful for in our five years of adventuring, the people who have been added to our hearts would be an avalanche of reasons why it’s all so very worth it. You know who you are. We’re thankful for each of you. This picture: Thanksgiving dinner two years ago, in our garden in Guatemala, everyone at that table we still know and keep up with, and hope to cross paths with down the road.

Thankful for friends and family

Thanksgiving Day, 2010, San Marcos, Guatemala

 What are you thankful for?