On being thankful…

This post is a re-tread from 4 years ago and I’m astonished at how much has not changed. While we no longer live in Atlanta, my mother is now 93, not 87 and my son is wrapping up a Masters degree in engineering, not starting college as he was in the original post, the important bits are the same–mainly the intense gratitude I feel for all that I have: my friends and family, my country, my hope for the future, and my thankfulness for today.

It’s Monday afternoon.  I spent some time this weekend marveling over the gorgeous fall colors all over Atlanta—a full month later than they’ve ever shown up before. Today I also note that the cooler fall weather has finally come to Atlanta which doesn’t matter because my husband and I will soon be packing up the car and heading south for Thanksgiving as we do every year.

Inside the house, the fireplace has been burning all day. My day has been full of last-minute freelance projects—received late and needing to be done early on top of cooking, cleaning and editing my latest novel.

And I am so thankful.

I am thankful for the chance to write books for a living. I’m grateful for a cozy little house, and for four non-psycho pets who enhance my life, for friends, for a smooth transition of my only child’s introduction to his first semester at college and for my own relatively successful entrée into the world of the empty nest.

Tomorrow my husband and I will drive six hours to my mother’s house in Florida for Thanksgiving. My older brother and his wife have come from northern California, my son will come from his campus fifty miles south of his grandmother’s house. My other brothers will come, loaded down with ham and pies and photos to share and stories to tell. I am thankful that we will have the whole family together again for another year.

My husband and I will bring the dressing as we do every year, the recipe handed down from my father—gone now these past 25 years—and one I have enjoyed for nearly every Thanksgiving and Christmas of my life. We shopped Trader Joes and Whole Foods and the local markets in my Atlanta neighborhood for ingredients and specialty items that we buy only once a year. We picked up bottles of Beaujolais Nouveau, tins of holiday cookies and candied nuts. This afternoon, as I fried the sausage for the dressing, I thought how lucky I am to be able to buy all this food, to not have to think twice about obtaining the things I felt I needed to make our family’s feast.

I am most thankful that we will all be together for the first time in a year. Through all the health scares, the employment woes, the insecurities, the stresses—both financial and emotional—I can’t forget how lucky we all are to have each other. I know my mother, 89 this year, will sparkle for as long as all her chicks—every one present and accounted for—are gathered in her house. I know this time won’t last forever and that one of these Thanksgivings, we won’t all be together. I know how lucky I am, and how grateful I am for Thanksgiving 2012.

Finally, regardless of how you felt about the outcome of the recent elections, I think you have to be truly thankful to live in a place where the threat of bombs and tanks and guns does not exist. This week, when you spare a thought—among the table settings and turkey drumsticks and football schedules—for those families on both sides of the Gaza/Israel border, I think, like myself, you have to be grateful for our country and for the peace that most of us have always known.

Happy Thanksgiving to all.

The Merits of Losing

There’s this building on Peachtree Road in the neighborhood of Buckhead in Atlanta. It’s a very old apartment building called the Al Hambra. I lived there in the mid-eighties. The Al Hambra was all hardwood floors and Mediterranean-styled rounded doorways. My apartment had a stone balcony that faced Peachtree Road and I could sit out there with my friends, drink beer and watch the Peachtree Road Race every year, or just sit out and drink beer.

My apartment is the bottom one, far left (nearly out of the picture.) I've set two mysteries here in my Maggie Newberry mystery series.

My apartment is the bottom one, far left (nearly out of the picture.) I’ve set two mysteries here in my Maggie Newberry mystery series.

Sometimes, if I couldn’t sleep, I’d wrap up in a comforter and sit out there and watch the night life happen right in front of me and I always felt perfectly safe. The sounds of sirens and horns honking were background noise to my life  for the three years I lived there.

Because the Al Hambra is located in Buckhead near Garden Hills, I could walk to the neighborhood restaurants, mom ‘n pop grocers, pubs and outdoor cafes. The city’s first Fellini’s Pizza opened up next door to the Al Hambra and although in the beginning it was tattered and dark and bare bones, it was also exotic and earthy and quickly became popular. I liked meeting friends there to sit outside, eat pizza (and drink beer) because you could feel the hum of the busiest street in the city as it flew by. Living at the Al Hambra made me feel alive. It  made me feel like something exciting was about to happen.

I loved the Al Hambra. And I loved living there. But more interesting, I think, is the story of how I lost it. And how losing it became a major turning point in my life. In fact it became the final event in a series of four events that happened over a six-week period that changed my  life for good.

The first event that happened was when I lost my job as Creative Director at the ad agency that had the Hardee’s Hamburger account. It was the only account we had and when we lost it, we closed the doors. Like most out-of-work writers, I just turned my hand to freelancing with no real financial hardship.

A week later, the second event happened when I saw the movie “The Year of Living Dangerously.” Seeing that movie was significant because it lit a fire under me that helped push me over the line right when things needed to happen. That movie illustrated to me that I was young and free and there were adventures in the world to be had if I would just tap into the courage needed to find them.

The third thing that happened was that a good friend of mine introduced me to a man who was visiting him from Auckland, New Zealand. We hit it off and as I didn’t have a job to worry about, I made plans to come “down there” and visit him. I bought a round-trip ticket to Auckland for a month’s visit. I began to view my coming visit to the South Pacific as the Big Adventure I was looking for.

My parents weren’t thrilled.

Auckland is a long way away, even for a visit. It was in fact the furthest point on the globe, except for Adelaide, Australia, from where they lived in Jacksonville, Florida. In those days—before computers, before cellphones, before LOTR—most people I talked to didn’t even know where NZ was on the map.

As it happened, my folks were right to be worried. And that’s because two weeks before I was to board the jet to LAX that would take me to Auckland, I got a letter from the management company of the Al Hambra telling me to vacate the premises. They were turning the building into condos. If I—and everyone else—would clear out within thirty days, we’d get our deposits back no questions asked.

This was the fourth and most crucial event. With no job and now no apartment to come back to in ATL, there was no reason not to stretch my visit as long as I wanted to stay. With my stuff safely in storage, my plants donated to friends, a hunky new love-interest with a really cool English accent waiting for me, I was able to turn away from all the security, comfort, and familiarity of my life in Atlanta—in the States for that matter—and prepare to embrace the unknown and experience the thrill of discovering the larger world that was out there.

My parents nearly went nuts.

But it was one of the very best things I’ve ever done.

Rangitoto volcano across from Auckland Harbour. This was the view from my living room window in Parnell.

Rangitoto volcano across from Auckland Harbour. This was the view from my balcony in Parnell.

If I hadn’t lost my apartment at the Al Hambra, I wouldn’t have taken that last step—to find a job down there, which I did, or to spend the next two years living abroad and traveling the world solo—Bahrain, Australia, Singapore, Tahiti, Fiji, London, St-Tropez. The experience changed me fundamentally—as travel always does. The things I saw, the people I met, helped make me the person I am today.

My grand adventure came together in a series of coincidences combined with lucky kismet over a six-week period. But I was ready for it. I was looking for it.

I didn’t make it happen. But I knew to let it happen when it came.

I’ve recently moved away from Atlanta—my home for more than thirty years—but when I used to drive down Peachtree Road—to take my son to some piano competition or football practice, or to meet my husband for lunch (not the same fellow I should add)—and pass by the Al Hambra, I always felt a rush of gratitude when I saw it.

I felt gratitude for the joy I had living there, once upon a time when I was a single girl in Buckhead, unfettered and alive.

But also for the thrill I once had leaving there, too.