Ending this Friday with ✨big gratitude✨ A little story: this week has thrown its share of disappointment. I questioned and I doubted. 🌈 My 10-yo came home and told me that she wrote an essay about me as her role model, with sweet details of our moments together. 💕 With both the ups and the downs, I am grateful. This is exactly the work and life I’ve always wanted.
This post is sponsored by Munchkin. Ideas and musings all from me. Thanks for supporting our sponsors.
A good party deserves great gestures of gratitude! And the rockstar of the show, Miss Amy Christie of This Heart of Mine has outdone herself. Jen, Melissa, Ali, and I and the good people at Munchkin have loved showering on the goodies this week. Jen kicked it off with gorgeous welcome ribbon chandelier DIY, and Melissa brought the ultimate buffet with gourmet PB & J bar, and we tossed around some multi-use table decor using colorful baby gear.
And now we have these sweet printable (free!) thank you notes from Amy! She's created them in three different palettes so they're good for any occasion.
She also has a photo of her little pipsqueak that you have to check out. So so sweet!
Munchkin rids the world of the mundane by developing clever, innovative solutions that make family life safe, easier, and more fun. You can find their products at Munchkin.com, Target, Babies’R’Us, Walmart, and Amazon. It’s the little things!
I visualize holidays, birthdays, parties, big announcements.
But, what if celebrating were a part of our every day experiences. And I mean every day. Little victories and still moments. Have you been taken a back by a great expanse of sky? Or smiled to yourself over the sweet simplicity of a bowl of oatmeal?
Some may call it the mundane, and anything but extraordinary. But these sights and experiences that cause us to pause and appreciate the wonderful normal that we've been given, they deserve celebration. And we can build our capacity to notice and to appreciate by sharing these images and insights with one another.
I first ran this series in 2013, closing it a little more than a year ago. Nearly 500 images have been shared with the tag #celebratethenormal since it began. And though I may have not featured images from this series since last year, many, many photos have been taken that are fabulously ordinary and nearly amazing. For me, it's a prayerful experience to look through the images and appreciate the good gifts of this life and the many ways God has blessed us.
It has also trained my mind's eye to find those moments around me.
And it's time for me to return and to remind myself. I have a whole list of reasons why I need this, maybe you have a list, too. Let's help each other. Let's practice everyday gratitude. Let's share these beautiful moments with each other - because you recognizing the beauty of the spaghetti on your child's cheek will help me to remember to appreciate it on mine. We're in this together.
Beginning next Thursday and running every other Thursday, we'll #CelebratetheNormal here on Pars Caeli, the blog. And every day, I'll be working to find and to relish the beautiful ordinary around me.
Tag your photos on Twitter or Instagram with #celebratethenormal. I'll be showing off some wonderful entries next week.
Let us learn from you. Happy snapping!
Happy American Thanksgiving!! And apologies to my vegetarian/vegan/meatless friends who may find the picture below a little gross.
The turkey has been stuffed, roasted, basted, carved, gravy'd, and eaten. In fact we've gone all the way through the courses to both pies - pumpkin and pecan, and I am feeling overloaded. Overstuffed. Overeaten.
And a bit like my cup runneth over.
Thanksgiving does that to me. It makes me gush a bit.
So bear with me. I started this wee blog nearly two years ago as a way to create and share and frankly force myself to get a lot of the projects that I've wanting to do ..done. And it has done that.
It has also brought into my life new connections and friends from across the globe and right in my own home town. People who somehow know me more or at least differently than some of my own family because they've taken the time to read my words, to look through my photographs, to follow my ideas. And that, my friends, is a pretty amazing gift.
And so this Thanksgiving toast (raise your wine glass or your milk glass with me) goes out to all of you good people who found Pars Caeli, found me, over these last two years and have supported me with your comments, your retweets, your likes, and even just your reads. You've encouraged me and pushed me in new directions just by the click of your mouse.
Time is our most precious gift, and I'm so grateful you've spent your time over on these pages. And even if you stop by just now and again and even if you've never let your presence be known, I'm grateful for you and your gift of attention.
PS. We're cutting down a tree in the freezing snow tomorrow. Wish me luck.
In my childhood bedroom, I often strung construction paper Christmas tree garlands and hung homemade Valentine hearts from the ceiling. Even as a youngin, I loved to decorate for these special occasions and create my own "decor." As a little girl I could rattle off my three favorite holidays, in order: Christmas, Valentine's Day, and New Year's Eve (probably not the normal conversation starter but it worked for me).
No doubt Christmas topped them all for the p-r-e-s-e-n-t-s and good music. Valentine's Day was filled with pink and chocolate. And New Year's Eve was so exciting and hopeful and late-night.
But Thanksgiving? Well, Thanksgiving never even made a blip on the radar screen.
Fast forward a few decades later, and here I am mom, wife, and hostess for the annual Thanksgiving dinner.
And guess what? My favorite holiday, hands down: Thanksgiving.
So today I'm giving it up for Thanksgiving with my top 4 for the holiday:
1. Having a four-day weekend that many people honor for leisure. I know this is up for debate with increased shopping schedules, tough economic/working situations, and a lot of football. But speaking just for myself, the hectic work life powers down for four full days, and I sink into the beauty of family and home and pure relaxation. No extra projects creep into the fun of Thanksgiving...and time off really is time off.
2. Having everyone in one spot. The older I get, the more sacred this becomes for me. Don't get me wrong, this is also the element that causes me the most stress; however, I always overthink it. Truthfully, I hit the pillow every Thanksgiving night so grateful to have my parents, my in-laws, my aunt, my children, and my love all in one space - happy, healthy, and very full from a savory meal we were able to provide.
3. Having teamwork. Wednesday evening and most of Thursday is spent in food preparation (and a whole bunch of parade watching). My husband and I plan the meal together and dance around one another in the kitchen all day, prepping each dish and attending to the big bird. It's a total team effort that fills our house with the smells that are family, holidays, and gratitude. And we have hours and hours just to marinate in the experience together.
4. Having time to be grateful. At Christmas, I can get distracted away from Christ's birth with toy overload and travel prep. At Thanksgiving, I take the time to pull away just a bit from the must-do list and gaze at all I've been given. I watch the scene of my children laughing and playing make believe with their grandparents. I peek in on my daughter sharing her latest secrets with her grandma. I take a deep breath by the fully extended dining table, covered with recipes we've tweaked and enjoyed as a family for years and years. I feel the sentiment in this year's toast to good health and family, and whisper a petition for yet another next year. It's a day of very active prayer, very present moments where I feel and express the gratitude that I am graced to experience the other 364 days.
And I'm so very thankful for Thanksgiving.
One week from today, Americans will gather in the homes of friends and relatives to enjoy each other's recipes and companionship. Our traditions may vary from home to home, but the sentiment of gratitude threads through all of the football watching, strained family moments, and even food preparation/clean up.
On this week's Pennies for Love, Joy urges us to slow down before the day and write a note. Pen a message to the one you love: your husband, wife, boyfriend, girlfriend, best friend. And let them know just how much they mean to you every day of the year.
It begins with a simple "I am grateful for..."
Joy is sharing an example of this practice at work in her life and some simple suggestions to get you started on your note of thanks.
We will be hosting Thanksgiving in our home, as we've done for 10 of the last 11 years. Filling my home wih the ones I love most and the smells of Thanksgiving is one of my favorite experiences of the year. On the day, I love the hustle of timing our courses correctly and the bustle of entertaining children and adults with projects and stories.
But before all of this crowd pleasing occupies my time and heart, I'm going to sit down and write one simple note of thanksgiving to the man I love.
Thanks, Joy! And happy Thanksgiving.
Happy, happy Wednesday, friends!! It's time for another wonderful Fresh Holiday Tradition. This time we hear from the extraordinaire, Alexandra, with a clever way to incorporate your children and their handwriting into thank you notes for the season!
As a mom, I'm always looking for ways to teach and to practice gratitude with my three children. After birthdays and holidays, we write out thank you cards, but as we all know this can quickly become a tiresome chore.
Ta da. Try this! Alexandra asked her son to write the words Thank You, and she converted his handwriting into a stamp (via a handy dandy eraser),
Click on over to get the details! I could see this method being an amazing way to use children's greetings for Christmas on envelopes or gift wrap. Or how about an I love you stamp put on every correspondence to Grandma and Grandpa?!
Too cute! Don't forget to check out our other projects in the series:
It's my favorite day of the blog week! Time to share another Fresh Holiday Tradition with you.
This week I'm super duper pleased to share with you a homespun piece of Thanksgiving decor that you can easily transition into a Christmas garland when the time is right.
My husband and I have hosted our parents for Thanksgiving here at Pars Caeli since we were married in 2002. As a nervous newlywed, I decided to start a tradition with our guests. Mailed to them about a week before Thanksgiving were paper stars on which they were asked to write people/experiences from which they were grateful. Every person received three stars that they were to sign and date.
11 years into this tradition, I have an album of stars from all of our family members - featuring the words we thought our infants might use for their favorite objects to the wisdom of my husband's grandmother on the blessings of family and good health. Reading my father's words for "his soulmate" and my little girl at 4 writing that she was grateful for her friends...well, it gets me a little emotional every year.
We put up our tree the evening before Thanksgiving as food prep is also at its peak.
We hang only white lights and these white stars on the tree for a few days surrounding Thanksgiving, and the beauty and simplicity of the words and light is really gorgeous.
As we add our ornaments for Christmas, we keep the white stars on the tree to remind us of the real gifts we've received.
This year I'm putting some of our favorite gifts on a star garland that will hang for Thanksgiving as well as offer a foundational layer on our Christmas tree.
Have you ever made Baking Soda/Cornstarch clay? If not, you really need to carve out some time to do so. The bright white color is brilliant.
I followed this recipe from Full of Great Ideas:
- 2 cups of baking soda
- 1 cup of cornstarch
- 1.25 cups of cold water
1. Combine and mix the ingredients in a pot.
2. Continue to mix as you turn on medium heat. Stir continuously until the mixture pulls away from the side of the pot and becomes more of a ball. This took about 10 minutes for me.
3. Take out the clay and put it in a bowl. Cover the clay with a wet, cool paper towel and allow it to cool off before working with the material.
4. Once cooled, the clay will feel like stiff mashed potatoes (in my humble opinion). Roll out your desired amount to about 1/4" thickness and begin cutting with the star shape.
5. I added one gift to each star and kept the descriptions simple (eg: humor, home, my teacher). Also since I wanted to make a garland of these, I added two holes on either side of the star for stringing. Simply use a pencil, eraser end, for these. Using stamps purchased from the dollar bins at Michael's, I stamped in our gratitude, playing with the depth for each letter.
6. Set your oven to 220 F. Place all your stars on a cookie sheet. Set the timer for 45 minutes. Inspect. As the clay bakes, it will turn even whiter. When it's thoroughly white on one side, remove from the oven and turn over on the other side to bake for another 45 minutes. Be careful not to turn up the heat to speed up this process as you run the risk of burning and changing the coloration.
7. Let the stars cool. Once cool, string ribbon through the holes and find the perfect location to show off your Thanksgiving gratitude. And right after the Macy's Day Parade, take it over to your Christmas tree!
We're looking forward to another fun project next week! Until then, let us know how your holiday prep is going!!
Check out the other posts in this series…
Hey ladies and gents,
We've come to the close of this year's (yes, there is talk of a return) Celebrate the Normal photo series. Tuesdays have become wonderful community days here on Pars Caeli. I have learned so much (you, too?), mostly in the ways to attune my eyes and senses to the moments around me. When I see your photos that isolate an amazing element of nature or an endearing family experience, I am reminded to double up my efforts to stay aware and to celebrate.
Life is going to throw us curve balls (I swung at one on Friday), but, I think, if we are in the practice, the habit of appreciating the everyday, we can still find the goodness and the levity surrounding troubles coming our way. That is my hope.
Please enjoy this week's artists and thank you, thank you, thank you for the gift of your perspective over these 19 weeks and 373 images.
"To love beauty is to see light." ~ Brittani
Howdy, friends. We are back after a little time away visiting family throughout the midwest. I don't know if I could call it a vacation, but we did celebrate a whole lot of normal and had a ton of playtime so I can't complain. Please forgive my Thursday absence... sometimes finding time to blog amidst hours of outdoor fun and family time is not so easy (as well as finding wifi connections).
I am happy-sad to let you know that next week will be our last Celebrate the Normal post. This summer Tuesday community days have kept me inspired, surprised, curious, and always grateful. You just never know what the universe (or blog world) will send back when you put out an open request. And I've been nothing but overwhelmed by your generosity of beauty.
Round these parts, we're celebrating our last week before school starts which means some sleepovers with mom (it's still cool), more sibling parties, and an extra helping of chocolate chip pancakes.
Sooo, if you're a diehard contributor, someone who's offered a few photos this summer, or someone who's sat on the sidelines, be sure to tag your photos this week. I put these posts together Monday evening so you've got a whole lotta time to get to enjoying.
Thanks for a dynamic summer. It was one for the books (not sure yet which books, but something of note for sure). #celebratethenormal
Let's just say that dance parties on a boat are than much more fab. ~ M.J.
Learning to crochet ~ Elizabeth
Sometimes you just have to spin yourself silly. ~ Meagan
Spirit lead me where my trust is without borders, Let me walk upon the waters, Wherever You call me. Take me deeper than my feet could ever wander. And my faith be made stronger, in the presence of my Savior. ~ Brittani
Playtime after home vent training. Needed this! ~ Melanie
This seems like a good idea. ~ Theresa
Have a bright week!
Happy Tuesday, dear ones. I'm coming to you from our mini-vacation, AKA: trips to both sets of grandparents. We are living the dream this week and doing nothing but celebrating a whole bunch of normal in impromptu wiffle ball games, time at the pool, family meals, and board games together.
So I couldn't leave you hanging in this of all weeks!
Huge thanks to the artists joining us! I get a big grin on my face every time I sneak over to #celebratethenormal during the week to see all the beauty you've captured. What amazing childhood moments you've framed in time!
Brookline in the summertime is one of my favorite things ever. ~ Joy
On top of the world. ~ Lidy
Caught in action ~ jenmygatt
Life is delicious ~ erin_lily
Artist at work. Medium: playdoh ~ Brittani
Refresh ~ M.J.
Loving all of these!! If you haven't yet joined in to Celebrate the Normal all around you, please tag your images (and if you have been a part of this community come on back next week!). I post artwork on Tuesdays every week. And please, check out the awesome blogs and Etsy shops of these generous individuals.
Let's have a bright week, friends.
Joining you tomorrow with our final Endless Summer Project! Ack, it's almost the middle of August!!
Hello friends! How was your four-day weekend? Even if you didn't have the joy of total downtime for 96 hours (but who was counting?), we've been apart, and I'm hoping you've had some time to celebrate.
I have some fun surprises headed your way this week including a summertime series beginning tomorrow and continuing every Wednesday with fabulous blogging mommas that you know...
So, I'm rolling Celebrate the Normal to Tuesdays because I could use a little gratitude to start my week off right.
And it never fails, every week, I am happily overcome with the art that comes my way through this series and the moments that you share with all of us. Some new artists have joined the fun this week, and you won't be disappointed by the things that "make me smile" from their points of view.
For my four-day I took Friday off to have some fun in Chicago with family. Despite the cold, we managed a very good time at Navy Pier and putt putt. Time back home was spent with barbecues and gardening, shopping and snuggling.
Here I am being a goof in front of the Museum of Contemporary Art and their giant, rotating installation art. I felt like I owned it.
And I was reminded, as only a great art museum parking lot can show you, that inspiration is found all around, even on the thick columns of garage structures. Here's this week's thought for you, artists:
So, here's to seeing things differently from how they really are - with Makes Me Smile...
Green. On a perfect spring day. ~ Ricky
Another pretty package ready for shipping tomorrow! ~ Melanie
Pure joy. My job makes me smile. #blessed ~ Brittani
I hope that you all will continue (or start) joining us as we appreciate the crazy, messed up, wonderful, normal life around us. You might be surprised by how much the simple gesture of capturing an image can add joy to your every day.
Next week, we're focusing on the goodness right around you:
Have a bright week, everyone. Hope to see you back tomorrow for the grand beginning of something wonderful!
How's your normal life going, friend? Whether it's been a star-struck amazing or a week of the worsts, we're going to try to celebrate it here.
Pars Caeli has been described as a warm, positive spot on the internet, and I hope that it will always be so for you and those special people in your life (to whom you send this lovely URL). But I never want it to be a spot where we ignore the rain and the clouds just to get to the sunshine.
Fact is for many of us, and many more throughout the world, normal can be a sad or frightening reality.
The deeper I go into this series, the more I realize just how amazing my ordinary is. Peek into my everyday, and it's a bit ho hum with work, shuttling children, cleaning (or skipping) dishes, etc.
But the two new freckles that C developed on her beautiful, clear face... those are extraordinary.
And the indescribable color of the tulips...
That squirrel's expression while he munches on his snack...
Well, you get the idea. The moments when I can Celebrate the Normal, well, they don't take away the worry, the pain, the sadness that is also a part of the normal.
But these moments do offer layers. The hurts we feel are not one dimensional and neither are our joys. They each fit together in some way in the story that is uniquely ours.
So why not celebrate when we can?
"Rejoicing in ordinary things is not sentimental or trite. It actually takes guts." ― Pema Chödrön
At this moment I'm contemplating the name of this color yellow. ~Paige
What do you do at the end of a busy day? Eat mud of course. ~ Marilynn
Grateful. Taking a much needed breath of fresh air. ~Melanie
sunset view... at this moment. ~Brittani
I'm looking for a furry friend to add to our little family. (This one's already taken.) ~ Joy
Huge thanks for all of this week's artists. I love seeing all that you bring to this project!!
Next week we'll feature photos that encapsulate your life. Bring it on!! Let the snapping begin.
GO BUY IT
Sometimes I see better with my eyes closed. I find this to be especially true when looking at myself. In my mind's eye, my image is just as I remember it and still see it in my wedding photos, now ten years old.
When I open my eyes, I get really specific. I zero in on that new blemish under my nose. I focus on the wrinkles in my brow that grow deeper. I remember that figure drawing class where I discovered just how uneven my features are and that my face gets so wide when I smile.
My image is a pleasant one. I know this from years of reassurance, compliments, and love from those I hold most dear. I am blessed to have been given all that I have. And, yet, I can make it all seem so much less than when I look with my eyes open.
The blogging/social media world has challenged me in all new ways. Posting new avatars and profile pictures comes with the territory. "Selfies" pop up and tagged images make their way back to your page.
And since I can - the temptation to Photoshop is always there. I can retouch, smudge, and erase.
I took pictures with my children on Mother's Day. After everyone was settled into bed, I opened the images in my photo editor. I selected an image that I loved of my daughter and me. I magnified the image, and proceeded to brush off the bags under my eyes, click off the pimple on my chin, and smooth/smudge my brow. I then zoomed out of the image, ready to be pleased with the final photograph.
Instead, I hit the control Z to undo. It didn't work. I could not undo these changes in my appearance.
In my altered snapshot, I looked strangely morphed, slick, and odd. Who was this?
Turned off by this image, I clicked to the next photo of me (bags, lines, and all) and the image of me was much more approachable, warm, and human.
I realized that the bags under my eyes actually make my eyes sparkle a bit and bring prominence to my cheekbones. And that I look more like my children in my natural state, and I find them refreshingly beautiful. And, honestly, my smoothed appearance aged me more.
Editing or correcting took away the beauty that I expect to see in the mirror but rarely recognize. Or perhaps I should say, more fittingly, the beauty I rarely appreciate.
For my daughters and son. For my husband who's always given me the nickname, "Beautiful." For me and my inner joy and satisfaction.
I will look for the sparkle and the beauty before I find the fault. I'm still an artist; I still see the shadows, but I wll not let them define the final impression.
And I will use Photoshop... only sparingly. :)
P.S. Join in the Love Yourself Linkup hosted by Anne, every Tuesday. You'll be surprised how much love comes back your way.
Hello, my dears. Oh, this world. The tragic events in Boston remind me that life is fast and sad and amazing, and that we all need to stick together. The life that we get used to, the life we call normal can all disappear in just a moment, sometimes leaving us with a feeling of loss and a wonder for why we hadn't noticed the goodness before.
So, we're sticking together here at Pars Caeli. We're making a community of appreciators, of lovers, of doers and thinkers, of artists and creatives, of mothers and friends, of those who celebrate the normal.
I have been so touched by all the submissions I received in this first week!! Yeah, I'm blessed with talented friends. Woot for me!
Really clear to me as well is that normal is not ordinary. When put inside the frame for viewing, these moments in time become elevated experiences to savor.
Clear to me as well, we have much to celebrate. We see that in the littles around us and the natural beauties in the environment. It's such a gift to be able to perceive a bit of the world through another's eyes... so big thanks for all of our artists this week. Please scroll down and enjoy these endearing images (and go visit some great blogs while you're at it!!).
Are you ready to join in the fun? This week we'll be focusing on viewing the exterior. The prompt is:
Please take your photos and use the hashtag #celebratethenormal. One submission from each artist will be featured next Wednesday. Be sure to get snapping before Monday at midnight! You need not be on Instagram to participate. :) Tweet it out - #celebratethenormal and invite your friends, too.
Lucky by M.J. of Pars Caeli
Palm tree gazing by Louise of Laid Off Mom.
Just Another Wednesday from Instagram superstar and friend, Jen Mygatt. Follow her work on Instagram at @jenmygatt
one of my BFFs
Sunlight.. from Julia of Life on Churchill St.
Wagon ride from Jill of Every Day is an Occasion.
Bath time by Colleen Duggan
Colleen created a great post around the topic with some other great photos that you'll want to see. My favorite line from the piece,
"If I ever become a Saint (Hey, a girl can dream, can't she?), I want to be the Patron Saint of the Beautiful Ordinary."
No worries, Colleen, I'll totally vote for that!
Here's to gratitude right here, right now.
Hey, friends! How are you? Happy Monday after Thanksgiving...and welcome to the month-long countdown to Christmas. :) How did the holiday treat you? We hosted all the grandparents and my aunt, too, and we cheered on my oldest in her second Nutcracker performance. It was all good, and we are all good and tired from the food fest and extreme Christmas decorating.
The hubs and I have been hosting Thanksgiving for the last decade, and every year we send our guests a little homework in the mail. Three paper stars. With them they bring three paper stars filled with three (or sometimes more if they can write really small) things for which they are grateful. My dad and hubs work diligently to build our slightly lopsided artificial tree the Wednesday before Thanksgiving, and on the big day, everyone hangs their stars filled with names of important people, faith, health, and particular graces handwritten on each.
Some years the words are easy to predict... new babes and grandchildren enter the picture, anniversaries remind us of those we hold the most dear, new opportunities fill the shapes before us. Sometimes it's the surprises that get you...
The stars remain as our first decoration on the tree and our traditional ornaments get added to the branches around them.
In a black, leather bound binder I've kept all of the stars through the years, and I love looking through them and remembering the gifts of years past and seeing how many remain throughout the seasons.
The Christmas season is full-on upon us but maybe we can keep the spirit of Thanksgiving alive and well amidst the hustle and preparation of it all.
We'll be reading and re-reading our stars (and those of our loved ones) and trying our best to focus on the gifts we've been given as we work on the gifts we are to give.
Happy holidays, my lovely friends. May this one be particularly merry and bright.
PS. In case you want to add some stars to your own festive fun, here's our perfectly imperfect pattern.
Spending the day counting...
Today's post is an addition to the Turn It series and a beautiful bonus from my friend, Paige. Check her out over at Approaching Joy, but not yet...cause you gotta read this first!Isn't the natural world awesome?
I mean if it were my job to make apples, I'm pretty sure I would have been impressed with a Red Delicious and would have stopped there.
But Nature? Not a chance.
Granny Smith, Gala, Jonathan…Nature knows that when it comes to apples (and most everything else) variety, options, something that differs from the rest is a good thing.
I think it's the same with our own blessings and the things which we count under "things to be thankful for" column. It's easy to see the good things and be thankful for them - super supportive friends, a loving family, a home that is comfortable and warm. These things are the obvious blessings of the "Red Delicious" variety.
It's the other things that aren't easy to see as blessings. Stressful Mondays, mortgage payments, traffic jams, crying kids… these all just seem like the low points of life. But when you take a second and step back, you realize that these are simply Granny Smith blessings.
The stressful Mondays mean you are healthy and productive.
The mortgage payments mean you have a roof over your head.
The traffic jams mean your family wasn't involved in the wreck ahead.
The crying kids mean you were blessed with little ones.
So many people don't have these things to be thankful for.
So next time you're sitting in traffic, writing that check, or wiping those tears, remember that this distinctly tart variety of blessing makes you appreciate the sweeter blessings more fully.
Thank you for your words of perspective, Paige!! Those tart blessings are right there for us to discover if we just turn our perspective a bit. So good!!
XO, Paige and MJ
Today's gift of gratitude comes from my lovely friend, Claire, an amazing artisan, creative, and hilarious Irish women. I'm so glad I can bring her story to you.
This is a photo of a mailbox (or post box as we call it here). But it is not just any mailbox. Unlike the other thousands of red mailboxes you will find in every community here, this one is painted gold. It is found in the tiny village of Eglinton in County Derry near me, and it is painted gold for a special reason.
It recognises the achievement of Jason Smyth, who won a gold medal for Ireland in the Paralympic Games at London 2012 and set a new world record in the 100m to become the fastest Paralympian of all time, in an incredible 10.46 seconds! He is visually impaired and you can see his incredible achievement here.
This summer was an amazing time in London and I was lucky enough to be able to attend some of the Olympic events. You can see how excited I was to see the water polo!
The swimming, women's fencing final and Olympic Park were all brilliant to witness, and perhaps the best thing was the great organisation and the changed atmosphere in the city. Instead of the usual silence and avoidance of eye contact I actually had some lovely conversations with people on the Tube, as the pride and interest in the Olympics united locals and visitors alike.
So in these weeks of giving thanks, these sporting achievements and the great experience I had at London 2012 are a great reason for me to be grateful. However, the focus of my gratitude today is on the unbelievable achievements of the Paralympics. The TV ad before the start of the Paralympics proclaimed, 'Meet the Superhumans' and this was so true. Every single athlete had battled not just the sacrifices of the the four years of dedicated training to achieve the highest standard in their sport, but each one also had conquered a personal disability. In doing so, they had won the hearts and admiration of those watching and helped us see their ability first, instead of their disability.
Just over four years ago I had a fairly serious car accident which left me with very reduced mobility for much of that time and pretty much turned my life inside out. Despite my determination not to let my long term pain condition define me, it is sometimes difficult not to concentrate on the things I cannot do, rather than those I can, or on what I have lost rather than the experiences I have gained.
As I watched those Paralympians, each of whom had suffered much more than I ever would, I was humbled by how each one of them was entirely focussed on what they could do. Humbled enough to get off the couch and get into the gym and the pool for the first time in several years. Thankful for the mobility I still have and thankful for the ways in which I can still get active.
So as you watch Jason Smyth sprint to a world record, I hope that you too will be thankful for your ability to get off the couch and live a full and active life. He certainly deserves his golden mailbox!