Gratitudes for 2020

On the eve of Thanksgiving 2020, I am grateful. 

I am grateful for my husband, my family, my team members, my friends. I am grateful for my health, for the roof over my head, for the food on my plate. I am grateful to still have a brand to nurture, to still have a job. 

I am also grateful for some very “2020 specific” people and things, which have made this “unprecedented” (may I never hear this word again) year not only a teaching year, but an interesting, and sometimes yes, even enjoyable, year. Here is my “special 2020 gratitude list.” 

  1. Thank you Black Lives Matter activists. For teaching me about systematic racism, white privilege, white supremacy, and what I can do differently. 
  2. Thank you Garrett Graff. For the books you have written (The Only Plane in the Sky remains my top book of 2020), but even more for the various articles you have written on the state of our country in 2020 which have helped me understand. Two stand out: this one from March in The Atlantic and the one from earlier this month in Wired Magazine that helped me better understand my adopted country.
  3. Thank you to my friends who have different political opinions than mine. While I do not agree with you, you expand my thinking and contribute to my understanding of what is important to people. 
  4. Thank you Hitha Palepu. I am grateful for your content, ranging from 5 Smart Reads to your book recommendations. I am grateful for the playlists you share. I am grateful that you love my skin care brand. 
  5. Thank you Victoria Hislop. I have consumed your books anytime I have needed to go back to Greece in my head (which has been quite often lately…). 
  6. Thank you The Weeknd. You are my 2020 soundtrack. Thanks to you, I got out of bed when I didn’t want to, I ran faster when I wanted to quit, and I danced when I needed to. 
  7. Thank you to my three passports. I have sometimes taken you for granted, even forgotten I had you. But not this year. Not this year. 
  8. Thank you Universe. You sent me two adorable sister kittens in mid-April. They have been my favorite pandemic-coping strategy. You knew what I needed even before I did. 

A Different Kind of Thanksgiving

Months ago, my husband and I made plans to travel to Morro Bay for Thanksgiving, to spend it with my mother-in-law, and brother-in-law and his family. We had planned a big Easter gathering there, and well, that was obviously cancelled. So we would make up for Easter by spending Thanksgiving together, six people, socially-distanced, eating in the garden. 

Yesterday, we cancelled that plan. Indeed, it seems Thanksgiving as we know it is altogether cancelled this year. And as James Hamblin says in The Atlantic it should be: 

“This year is an opportunity to bond over the moral certainty of the moment. At its core, Thanksgiving is a nebulous day of atoning for the sins of colonialism by eating food and saying thank you. Now families and friends and communities can work together to achieve something meaningful and good: ending the pandemic. All you’re asked to do is eat food at home.”

Yes, I know this is the right decision. And yes, I wallowed in sadness for a moment yesterday. Why? Because I have to spend Thanksgiving in DC (a place I love), with “just” my husband (a man I love). Woe is me. 

Today, on my morning run, I made the decision to shift my perspective and think of this as a magical opportunity to do Thanksgiving a completely different way. So here’s what I am planning for the holiday weekend. 

Spending time helping others. Food and Friends, an organization I so admire, has amazing volunteering opportunities year-round, including meal delivery service on Thanksgiving Day. If anything can help me remember how lucky I am in my life and how much I have to be grateful for, this will do it. 

Sharing a romantic Thanksgiving meal “en tete a tete.” I will make the house sparkle and will set a beautiful table. I will dress up and wear heels and lipstick. I will light candles. And we will enjoy a takeout Thanksgiving dinner. A first, yes, but it’s not any takeout… 

Spending time outdoors. I have always wanted to hike Old Rag, and have officially run out of excuses to further delay this. Maybe we’ll even pack a picnic. 

And I’ll still do many of the things I love to do during Thanksgiving weekend. Put out holiday decorations. Address holiday cards. Wrap gifts. Watch Christmas movies. And most importantly, I will remember how lucky I am, I will say my gratitudes, and I will call my mother-in-law. 

Choose Gratitude

Last week, gratitude was high on my, and everyone’s, list. I loved the social media posts highlighting gratitude and love (what a lovely break from political arguments!), I loved sending out gratitude notes to family, friends, colleagues, and I loved receiving similar notes in return. I want to hang on to this feeling well past Thanksgiving. Really, I want gratitude to be #1 on my list every day of the year. Lucky for me, I have Debra Neill Baker in my life, to be an inspiration and remind me of the importance of a daily practice of gratitude.

Here are her tips to ensure a grateful state of mind, beyond Thanksgiving:

1. Write in a journal, write down what you are grateful for. The act of writing it down moves us more into gratitude, training us to capture what is good in our world.
2. Embrace the not-so-good too. Learning to be grateful for the lessons and learning that comes with it. Making our learning greater than our less-than desirable experiences.
3. Express gratitude rather than keeping it to yourself. Not expressing your gratitude can be perceived as ingratitude.
4. Enjoy the small things. This season is perfect for rediscovering your inner child… be childlike, curious, open, and loving!
5. Engage. Be active, be of service. Doing for others always comes back two-fold!
6. Pray, reflect… daily. Spend time with yourself in silence visualizing the life and world you want, overcoming challenges.
7. Replace complaints, criticism, gossip with gratitude. Be mindful and watch yourself and your words, knowing that words are powerful and carry energy.

Thank you Debra for these gratitude strategies, today and every day.


On the day before Thanksgiving, it is only to be expected that I write about gratitude. After all, that is the theme this week. A recent article from the New York Times by Arthur C. Brooks on why choosing to be grateful will make you happier helps me frame my specific thinking.

In this piece, Brooks suggests a technique that my Mother has always preached: when you are grumpy, fake-smile at yourself in the mirror and you’ll end up smiling for real. I still use this trick, and it works every single time. Brooks agrees “acting happy, regardless of feelings, coaxes one’s brain into processing emotions… this action stimulates brain activity associated with positive emotions.”

Brooks further suggests that gratitude is another technique to become happier: “Choosing to focus on good things makes you feel better than focusing on bad things.” He has three specific techniques to help with gratitude:

  1. Practice “interior gratitude” – “the practice of giving thanks privately.” I try to do this every day when I wake up, with a deadline of by 10 am as sometimes I lack inspiration at 5 am. Today, I am grateful for the beautiful fall crisp weather, the crunch of the fallen leaves under my feet, and the bright blue sky.
  2. Practice “exterior gratitude, which focuses on public expression.” This morning, I am grateful for sharing the morning with my brother (in law) Michael, discussing life, family, politics, and high school football. Thank you Michael for starting your day with me.
  3. “Be grateful for useless things.” Brooks says that while it is easy to be grateful for the “most important and obvious parts of life” (my husband, my family, my health), it is powerful to find gratitude in “insignificant trifles.” I love this idea. And today, my insignificant trifle is the sound of the chirping birds.

I recommit to practicing gratitude, daily. It is good for my heart, my soul, my happiness. Happy Thanksgiving to you!


Only in Louisiana…

On January 1st of this year, I married a man from Louisiana. A southern man. I am still learning about southern traditions, and this Thanksgiving week-end, I experienced a few new ones. I guess I’ll start with the end, namely LSU beating Arkansas. My husband is a long-time LSU fan, as was his father, and his father’s father before that. So I have the privilege of going to Tiger Stadium. I have learned about the Bowls. I have learned about the rules that separate college football from the NFL. And little by little, I have learned to love Saturdays during football season almost as much as I love Sundays. So what, you say? Nothing Louisiana-specific about college football. Perhaps. Please take a look at the picture below.

This is post-game tailgating. An entire pig was cooked in the tailgate area made up of three RVs. Well, it was Arkansas Razorbacks… As the pig comes out of the smoker, the LSU cheerleaders arrive. To cut the head off. Apparently, this was not the first time they did it either.

I am also learning about the southern Thanksgiving traditions.

Turducken (turkey in a duck in a chicken). Fried turkey. And my favorite, Spinach Madeline, a la Edwin. A few of you have asked me for that recipe, which he reluctantly shared.

Spinach Madeline (double this)


2-pack frozen chopped spinach (no leaf)

4 tbs butter

6oz Roll Kraft jalapneno cheese (or substitute – apparently they don’t make this anymore)

2 tbs flour

2 tbs chopped white onion

1 tsp Worcester sauce

½ cup evaporated milk

Red pepper to taste

½ cup vegetable liquid (leftover from boiling the spinach)

½ tsp black pepper

½ tsp salt

¾ tsp garlic salt

¾ tsp celery salt



Cook spinach; drain; save liquid.

Melt butter, add flour. Stir until smooth, not brown.

Add onions; cook until soft, not brown.

Add vegetable liquid slowly.

Add evaporated milk.

Cook until thick.

Add seasoning and cheese.

Still until melted.

Add spinach.

Place in casserole dish; cover in butter and breadcrumbs.

Bake in 250 degree oven for 20 minutes.

(Best if prepared a day before)

On that note, I am going to heat up some leftovers for lunch… and get ready for the Iron bowl. And call my Mom to let her know I am really still Swiss, through and through…

Time to reflect and be grateful

Thanksgiving week is always a very special week for me. While I grew up in Switzerland, this is my favorite holiday – good food, good wine, family, and of course football. It is also a week of reflection – reflection about all the people and things I am grateful for; reflection about the New Year that is almost upon me; reflection about life in general. And reflection requires quiet time and stillness of mind and body. Time not doing, but time thinking. This special week, which technically according to the calendar starts today, for me really started this past Friday.

Indeed, last Friday something happened to me which hasn’t happened since the fall of 2004. I missed a meeting. Not any meeting, a work meeting. And not any work meeting, but a meeting with Mei Xu, of Chesapeake Bay Candle, a woman whom I admire, and whom I had contacted after we were featured in the Washington Post Magazine together. A woman who runs a multi-million dollar company, and who has no time to waste. I didn’t forget about the meeting… I went to the wrong Starbucks. And of course, of all mornings, that was the morning I left my phone on my desk.

Now, if you know me at all, you know that this is totally non-Ada behavior. I was rushing. I had too many things on my mind. I was reading my emails in diagonal instead of paying attention to what I was reading. The last two months have been so busy, I forgot to take the time to think, to reflect, instead of always running around to “do” things. My body was trying to tell me to slow down (I have been sick for almost a week), but I am of the opinion “mind over body.” So I don’t listen to my body. But I do listen to missing a meeting with a CEO. My personal pet peeve… that I inflicted on someone else.

Lesson learned. I spent the week-end reflecting, not “doing” much at all, but listening to everything that was going on in my head, making to-do lists and holiday gifts lists, calendaring, quietly organizing my apartment (as if I weren’t busy enough, I moved 20 days ago – and this was my first week-end at home!), and spending time thinking. The result: I am starting this holiday week feeling “zenified,” grateful, and organized. Nothing better than that (except having Mei Xu forgive me for Friday’s mis-hap of course…).

Happy Thanksgiving week to all.