30 Thankful Thoughts This Thanksgiving

Happy Thanksgiving 2016!

I decided, while in the midst of feeling homesick a couple of weeks ago, to start making a list of things I’m thankful for; I thought it would help me to get out of the slight rut I had encountered during a typically sentimental time of year in the U.S., with the holiday season approaching, namely, Thanksgiving. Along with staying in San Cristobal for 11 days, reflecting upon and acknowledging my gratitude certainly contributed to me moving past what I was going through!

This is my first time being outside of the U.S. for Thanksgiving, and it feels a little strange. Tomorrow will be just another day for Guatemalans and for all other countries around the world. While our family and friends are celebrating by spending their much anticipated time off of work with loved ones and eating, we’ll get up and go to Spanish school from 8:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m. and then make time to connect with both sides of our family before figuring out what we’re going to do to celebrate ourselves. We saw a flyer posted at the B&B we stayed at for our first couple of nights in Xela advertising Thanksgiving turkeys for sale; I emailed the contact, and unfortunately, they are too big (14 to 16 pounds!) and too expensive for our budget (Q575, which is just over $75 USD!), though we would have leftovers for the next week! Although we have access to a kitchen in our current apartment, most of the ingredients we would need to prepare typical Thanksgiving side dishes are not available here, or they would be very difficult to find. Rather than getting ourselves down about “missing out”, we are embracing that this year will be different, potentially the only year in our lives together that will be quite like this, and we’re okay with it. Of course, we will miss our time with family and our traditions together on this holiday, but we are thankful that we’ll continue to have many more Thanksgivings just like past ones together in the future, and this experience allows us to appreciate it in a different way, now knowing what it’s like without it just happening as it always does every year. Not that I ever took this time for granted (okay, maybe as a teenager at least once), but I think it will have an enhanced, deeper meaning for me personally moving forward.

Usually, Aaron and I would be getting off of work tonight, the eve of Thanksgiving, rushing home to begin preparing our contributions to our family’s feast in Fresno, which includes many popular Thanksgiving dishes, but also features a Greek flare. We typically make my Yiayia Voula’s (my grandma’s) fasolikia, which is a tomato-based green bean dish that takes precision and patience to prepare, and some baked sweet potato option with a more health-conscious twist than the sugary, marshmallow-topped yams most consume on this holiday. We usually get up on Thursday morning (Thanksgiving Day) and make the drive down to Fresno to spend quality time with my side of our family (Aaron’s side of the family lives on the East Coast and we usually spend Christmas with his parents and siblings in Marcellus). We are always spoiled with my mom’s or Thia’s (aunt’s) nicest china set, festive decor, and lovingly prepared food (they usually contribute the most items and time — honey-baked ham, turkey — which they save a leg of for me to eat like a cavewoman, gravy, stuffing, salads, cooked vegetables, and more). My Uncle Dan makes his special, fluffy mashed potatoes and my sister bakes my great Aunt Vi’s pastitsio, which looks sort of like lasagna, but it’s totally different, featuring cinnamon and a béchamel sauce that takes much precision and time to make! When we celebrate Thanksgiving at my Thia and Uncle Dan’s house, I always look forward to hours of lounging together on their comfy couch in the living room, conversing and perhaps watching tv shows or movies late into the night until we can barely keep our eyes open any longer and must retire to our beds. It’s always the best feeling knowing we still have another day or two together to hang out while we’re still in town, before heading back up to Sacramento for a day to catch up on chores and errands and relax before our next workweek commences. Thanksgiving, last year, became even more important to me because my sister, Kristin, moved to Porter Ranch in Southern California last summer and married her husband, Alex, last October; so this holiday is now one of the only ones we get to spend together and one of the few times we get to see each other in-person each year.

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“The Livanis Ladies” at Thanksgiving last year

Our family has never been about getting wrapped up in the Black Friday frenzy, although I have taken advantage of some online deals in recent years, and Kristin and I enjoyed an early morning adventure to Target when it opened at 6:00 a.m. many years ago and scored with a 3-in-1 DVD set of classic 80’s movies (including our favorite, Bachelor Party)! Sadly, Target is now one of most stores that opens on Thanksgiving Day, distracting the public from the sentiments of the holiday (and even more sadly, forcing retail workers away from their time with families because they have to make a living and their employers are making them work — though I realize the general public buys into the advertising of retailers and perpetuates this problem). The one thing I’m actually looking forward to about not being in the U.S. for this holiday is avoiding being bombarded with buy, buy, buy and shop, shop, shop messages that surround us leading up to, and continue after, Black Friday. I wish the focus could stay on reflection, gratitude, love, family, etc., longer than it does publicly (although we each have a personal decision to make about what we’ll let ourselves get wrapped up in or not).

Without further adieu, here are my November Days of Thankful. I did not come up with these on each day of the month specifically, but rather thought of it more as an opportunity to come up with 30 reasons (because there are 30 days in November) why I’m thankful, and I periodically added to my list over the course of this month. Because I want to share this for the Thanksgiving holiday, I’ve come up with the last 7 things I’m thankful for in advance of the days happening.

November Days of Thankful:

1st: I am thankful for the opportunity we have to travel long-term, which is something that most people in the U.S. who have the means to choose not to, and something that most people in the world dream of but simply cannot afford. We are fortunate that we, at some point, agreed on this as a savings goal for ourselves and decided to prioritize this experience over buying a house and starting our family, among other things we needed to do in order to make this happen.
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Just wrapped up our cross-country drive!
2nd: I am thankful for having access to a consistent, reliable warm shower at home. Going without this for periods of time, and not knowing if we will have hot water available when first arriving in new places, and taking many, freezing cold showers (both in the U.S. and abroad), has evoked this gratitude within me. I also soak up the comforting luxury of warm showers when I am fortunate to experience them now.
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The “torture shower” in Mexico City – It looks nice, but it went from freezing cold to scalding hot within seconds, and eventually settled on its cold setting.
3rd: I am thankful to have access to a blowdryer and hair straightener at home to make my hair look polished and how I want it to look to feel prettier, whether straightened or wavy with gel in it to “set” it. Since leaving the U.S. and starting our abroad travels, I can count on one hand the number of places we’ve stayed where I’ve had access to a blowdryer, and the mini hair straightener I brought with me might as well go in the trash because it doesn’t work effectively, and it isn’t practical for me anyway when I air dry my cavewoman hair naturally, which I’ve totally embraced doing and have gotten used to and felt more and more comfortable with over time. I can say without a doubt that a blowdryer is the #1 luxury item I would carry around with me in my backpack if space, weight, and practicality were not factors to consider. When the rare opportunity to use one comes about, I am ever so excited and grateful!
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4th: I am thankful to have such a loving mother, whom I am close to. She literally writes me every day while we are on the road and even with the physical distance, we stay connected in this new way we’ve adapted to (at home, we talk and/or text every day, so this has been an adjustment for sure).

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5th: I am thankful to have my husband by my side on our travel journey. I would not feel comfortable doing this without him.

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The Poconos

6th: I am thankful for access to air conditioning in my car, home, workplace, restaurants, shops, etc., at home. We’ve visited some very hot, humid climates over the past few months that have been challenging for me to push through dealing with, with little to no relief from the heat at times. It’s a blessing to have the physical comfort of air conditioning available at my fingertips at home, and when we have access to it while on the road in warmer climates now, it’s a blessing I relish in (just like the warm showers)!

7th: I am thankful to have Trish in my life as a dear friend and resource for long-term travel questions and advice from the perspective of a woman and her personal, specific experiences with it. Relating to her and listening to someone who’s been here in my position is a relief, and she’s gotten me through some encounters I’ve had with her sound reasoning and wise words. I am forever grateful and know that our bond is even more cohesive and unique with our shared experience, preparing for and traveling long-term with our spouses in far away places. Trish, thank you, especially recently, for helping me get through my first major bout of homesickness.
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8th: I am thankful to not have to throw my soiled toilet paper in a trash bin at homeSince Tehuantepec in Oaxaca, this has been my daily reality. I had done this before in Greece several years ago, but it was occasional, and I was only there for 2 weeks. I was quickly reminded of this reality for other (probably many) parts of the world. Disgusted at first (because who wants to have swipes of their own, and spouse’s, shit pile up and stink up the bathroom), I eventually have gotten used to it (though I can’t say that I like it). I know, I have control over how often I change the trash bag, but I’m lazy in this way, I suppose, and have waited for others who clean our rooms to take care of it for us. When we encounter a place where we can flush toilet paper down the toilet again, I’m sure it will feel a bit strange to do so, but I’ll be grateful for being able to do so again. (I’ll spare you a photo on this one)! 😉

9th: I am thankful for the fitness classes I find while traveling. For being able to exercise, meet fellow students and instructors local to where I’m visiting, to further learn and develop personally as a student and instructor, for being able to get a taste of my normal routine back at home, for being able to do something just for me and separate from Aaron, and more!
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Post-Zumba class with Wera at Axkan Fitness, where I took my first fitness classes abroad, in Mexico City
10th: I am thankful for cafe culture in San Cristobal and being able to park myself in these comfortable havens for a couple of hours at a time to read, utilize WIFI, enjoy conversation with Aaron (when he’s with me), and just feel relaxed and at ease (when I’m alone or when Aaron is with me and I feel like he isn’t rushing me). A really neat thing about most cafes in Mexico (and Guatemala) is that they often have full espresso drink options, like you would find at coffee shops in the U.S., while also having a full menu of food.
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Cafe con leche (latte) in Mexico City (my first coffee experience and time out on my own in Mexico)!
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Sandwich in Oaxaca City with wheat bread, fresh veggies, and thinly sliced deli meat inside! Shout out to my favorite cafe there, A.M. Siempre Cafe!

11th: I am thankful for the opportunity to experience other cultures, including food, visually observing, and participating in customs when the opportunities present themselves.

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Post-helping our AirBnB host’s, Gracy’s, family prepare for their altar to celebrate Dia de los Muertos in Santa Maria Huatulco.

12th: I am thankful for vegetarian and vegan restaurants that offer healthier food options while traveling (as well as a number of cafes that do also).

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Avocado toast (meatless and made with fresh ingredients) at Lavanda Cafe in San Miguel de Allende

13th: I am thankful for having a lavanderia close by in San Cristobal where I have been able to get my clothes washed multiple times per week as needed.

14th: I am thankful to have this hostel in San Cristobal pretty much to ourselves in the off-season! Especially the empty dorm area that leads to a small open space to the shower and our private room and bathroom. It has been nice and quiet here and we’ve enjoyed interacting with the owner, his cute, mischievous dog (Maya), and two nice Canadian ladies.

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15th: I am thankful to be able to continue my bootcamps virtually while traveling and help my small (but fiercely dedicated!) group of students work towards their personal goals. I also love interacting with them and staying connected while I am physically away.

16th: I am thankful that our longer travel days via public transportation allow us to experience so much in each place; our “slow travel” philosophy and pattern thus far has made the challenging travel journeys worth doing!

17th: I am thankful to have my iPhone 4 to use for photos (even though they don’t come out very clear most of the time, something is better than nothing!), notes, connecting to WIFI for email and apps, to have with me in case of an emergency, etc. It’s funny that I brought it to use primarily for music on our trip, and I almost didn’t bring it with me since we had bought a new phone for our travels (which was quickly stolen in Guanajuato only a few weeks into our time abroad). The slow, outdated, close to 5-year-old device that frustrated us so much just before we officially transferred my number over to the new phone days into our U.S. road trip (we have some video footage to remind ourselves after it hindered us from securing an accommodation in Santa Cruz), but I’ve been so grateful to have it post pick-pocketing incident.

18th: I am thankful for the AWESOME Zumba® classes with Freddy and Darren at SC Fitness and for their friendly, encouraging hospitality, asking me to come up on stage with them to help lead their class twice! I enjoyed learning from and dancing with them!

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19th: I am thankful for one more day in San Cristobal! This place is easily in the running for my favorite destination we visited in Mexico. I would be happy to return someday.

20th: I am thankful I didn’t have to ride a chicken bus or on the back of a packed truck standing up at any point from San Cristobal to Xela! Our two vans were not the most comfortable, but I would choose them any day over what I saw happening around us on our 9-hour travel journey.

21st: I am thankful for an extra day to figure out logistics, walk around, and dine in Xela before starting Spanish school.
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22nd: I am thankful for the opportunity to fully focus on Spanish language immersion at Sisay Spanish School, and for my teacher, whom I connect well with and seems to have assessed my level accurately.

23rd: I am thankful for my new long-sleeve, button-down, plaid shirt (my only new shirt in the past 3 months!)
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24th: I am thankful for our spacious apartment in Xela close to our Spanish school and the Central Park/Centro Historico, where we get to live for 2+ weeks. It has a blowdryer I get to use and long, hot showers calling my name! This is the most comfortable place we’ve had for accommodations since parts of our U.S. road trip. It really feels like we are settling here and taking a break from being backpackers to live locally and become students again. And how cool to get to go “back to school” with my husband!

25th: I am thankful for my new toothbrush, which is a replica of my former travel toothbrush I’ve been using for the past 2 months or so; it was the last one in the store, so it must have been meant to be mine!

26th: I am thankful for the local market in Xela, where I bought 3 (large) zucchini, 1 (large) carrot, 3 roma tomatoes, and 3 ears of corn for only Q16.50 (equivalent to just over $2 USD) to prepare for dinner!

27th: I am thankful for the internet and traveling in this day and age, which allows me to connect with family and friends, blog, use apps, look up information, translate English to Spanish (and visa versa), and more while on the road far away from home!

28th: I am thankful for the easy access I have as a U.S. citizen to travel pretty much anywhere in the world. For example, it’s difficult for Mexicans to be able to visit the U.S., and Guatemalans need to obtain a visa in order to do so, which is a process. On a related note, I am thankful for the many countries I can visit where travel is affordable, many which are cheaper, comparable to, or slightly higher compared to the USD. For example, it costs about Q7.50 and MX$20 to equate to $1 USD, which makes it cheaper for us to travel to Guatemala and Mexico, but very expensive for Guatemalans or Mexicans to travel to the U.S. or other countries, such as Europe, where $1 EU = $1.05 USD currently.

29th: I am thankful for my husband’s warm body to snuggle up with and blankets to keep me warm at night in the colder climates we’ve experienced recently (such as San Cristobal and Xela).

30th: I am thankful for the tour we received (in Spanish) from one of the ladies at our Spanish school of Centro Historico in Xela, which helped us to become more acquainted with the area we’re staying and going to school in currently.
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BONUS: I am thankful for the opportunity to reflect upon what I’m thankful for this year, as I am doing so from a perspective different than I have in the past.

I noticed, as I was reviewing my first group of entries earlier in the month, that I was focused on what I was grateful for at home because of what I didn’t have while traveling. I’m sure part of the reason for that was because of the homesickness I was feeling at the time. I mindfully switched my focus at some point to focus also, and instead, on things I’m grateful for that happen while traveling. I think both of these focuses are important and authentic of what I’ve reflected upon over the past few weeks, so I’m including them all and am glad to share them as a part of this Thanksgiving post.

Wishing you a meaningful, enjoyable holiday with your loved ones! I encourage you to reflect upon what you’re grateful for this year; I hope my reflections serve as an example that nothing is too small to be thankful for! 🙂

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This photo seems fitting for Thanksgiving. I was ready for my Mole Negra in Oaxaca City! We were so entertained by the fact that our server put bibs on us (and we watched it happen at another table nearby beforehand, too)!

Until next time,
Elena 🙂

 

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