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It’s that time of year again. The time when Americans carve turkeys — and I, the third-culture kid making up her own traditions, take you on a tour through my gratitude journal.

It’s been a year of travel, exploration, and discovery. Ben and I got to live in warm, colorful, fascinating (and, yes, often heartbreakingly poor, sometimes exasperating) Senegal. We visited places as far apart as Montana and Cape Town, as often as every six weeks. I gave myself over to making things, from blog posts to paintings, and my art — and I with it — developed by leaps and bounds.

Here is my song of praise for this bountiful year.

Last December, I celebrated winter’s austere beauty — the way only someone about to abscond to the tropics can.

Today I’m grateful for the bare tree branches slicing the blue sky in the cold.
For the still-red maple and the waxing moon behind it.
For the feeling of the dishwasher smoothly sliding.
For blue skies and crisp fall atmosphere. For Brussels sprouts.
For holding hands and for snow on the ground.
For the sparkling snow, for the fact that snow sparkles. For its blueness in the evening.
For the frosticles on the trees. For the fresh wintriness.
For the snow-covered trees, especially the ones that looked like dogs. For the dogs, especially the bear-like one, and for Ben’s reaction at it.
For screaming while sledding. For the feeling of having been outdoors.
For the sparkle on the snow, and the blue shadows criss-crossing it. For the crispness of shadows, for leaning over to examine where they turn to white.
For dipping my frozen hair into hot water to thaw.
For the whole vista — pink mountains on one side, white with yellow sky over to the other, the moon above, white snow joining all.

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Dog-trees; Ben’s reaction; pink mountains on one side.

Then Ben and I ran off for a four-day hike in the Florida Everglades.

Today I’m grateful for the “don’t approximate or aliment the alligators” signs.¹ For the “panther crossing” signs.
For the sunrise over the lake, and for the new New Years’ tradition of looking at sunrises.
For the ranger’s stories of crocs, and for deciding to do the hike anyway. For the wade through the swamp.
For not being washed away to sea at night.
For the wonderful atmosphere in the swamp when cloudy.
For the conference of vultures by the visitor center.
For spotting alligators, finally.

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New Year’s tradition; alligator, finally.

In January, we moved to Senegal.

Today I’m grateful for the bewildering array of sights: for the lady with wavey patterns on her dress and a shining silver bowl on her head with a pestle sticking out of it.
For the little boy and girl wearing blue and orange saying bonjour to me, and the children with bucket-drums.
For the horse-drawn cart with a million children crowded on it.
For the lemon-yellow-robed person and the woman with black speckles on her dress.
For the pastel colors of the buildings and for the mosaic sidewalks
For the view of the car next to the horse-drawn cart in the sunlight.
For the mother holding the hand of the wrapped-up girl. For the horse in the bougainvilleas.

During our first trip to South Africa (in March), I was apparently most grateful for the animals.

For the gannets. For the gannets’ crash landing.² For the other, more graceful birds and the delicate sense of their movement.
For the seal which clapped at us!
For the silence of the desert. For the thrill of exploration and of climbing.
For the view with the cobweb, and for raindrops on flowers.
For so many flowers, and for the contrast between the different mountains — the soft-edged green ones and the jagged ones (and two types of jagged, one more vertical and one horizontal).
For the baboon family.
For the klipspringers, just as I thought that the trip would be complete without them.
For stuck-together chocolate cookies four at a time.
For the penguins. For them being so much better than the gannets.

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Gannets; desert silence; better than gannets.

As we spent more time in Senegal, my impressions started getting more detailed.

Today I’m grateful for all the scenes I saw out of the taxi — for the characteristic faces, the lady with the round cheeks and earring, the baby with a giant hat. For wanting to draw it all.
For the plants in improvised containers, including tires.
For the picturesque corner, the orange bougainvillea against the orange building and the sky looking oh so blue.
For the incredible multicolored bougainvillea patch which made me trip over the curb; the adorable cat with pointy ears, very feline, a little wild-looking; the lady with very patterned orange-green-red speckled dress.
For the person with something like a whole rack of clothes on his head.
For the moment when I was looking at a beautiful garden and then heard a really loud and insistent goat behind me.

Our next vacation was a biking trip/art+tulip tour in the Netherlands.

Today I’m grateful for being sick with excitement about the Netherlands.
For Van Gogh’s four sunflowers, the staggering magnificence of them.
For a long bike through the forest, and the windswept fields, and the walk to the little swampy lake, and the joy of biking downhill fast
For being able to bike where there are tulips.
For green fields and for biking through forests, especially where the trees were tall.
For hyacinth fields and their smell. For the dunes and walking up to the sea and the calm there.
For the glowing evening daffodils.
For the aardvark in Rembrandt’s cabinet of curiosities.

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Biking where there are tulips; hyacinths; glowing evening daffodils.

Back in Senegal:

For the man yesterday who first looked like he was just really happy at carrying a bundle of blankets but turned out to be carrying a baby.
For the neighbor who likes to wear orange and pink and dress her son in the same colors.
For the little girls who held out their hands to shake.
For colors reflected in shadows.
For the house with small tiles and swirly curlicues in windows.
For the electric guitar and its imitating rooster.
For the view of the market from the balcony: the rainbow of colors like a parade, the woman who seemed to be wearing her red-white patterned dress to match the box she was carrying on her head, the rainbow-dressed woman, the sharp shadow with light highlighting people’s shoulders.
For the baobabs from the taxi and the sensation of loving this country.

The more I painted, the more I loved painting.

For the mad excitement of being in an art store. For the texture tools and new paint colors and just the giddiness of it.
For the challenge of painting on a big canvas.
For pouring and squeezing paint directly onto the canvas (and for forgetting my palette!). For happy painting accidents, for incompletely mixed colors, for painterly exploration.
For the look of the plant/paint close up.
For adding and changing colors, for the adventure of the background and trying out colors based on instincts, for how the painting keeps going once you start.
For the sensation of knowing what things need changing without being able to explain them.
For the joy of using paintbrushes again. For the feel of thick paint.
For the back-and-forth between observation and painting
For the battle with the painting.
For the deep-sky blue with purple and cobalt.
For being seized with a hunger for seeing things after painting, and going out on a walk.
For how painting made everything more beautiful after.
For the joy of working on three paintings at once.

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Deep-sky blue; the painting keeps going; plant/paint.

I’ve always been more of a mountain-lover, but this year I fell for the sea too.

For the pearly foam on the sea, and the purple sky, and for the upside-down view of the sea while we did warm-up exercises.
For the flowers towards the sea.
For the waterfall-like waves.
For the walk to the office through the beach. For the feeling of the sand moving under my feet and the warm water.
For the swirling sparkling on the water. For the feeling of the water surrounding me.
For the ridiculous splashy wave and the twist of the wave in the water.
For the waves splashing at us, the sublimity of it, and Ben’s delight. For how white the waves looked, and for the turquoise too, and the evening light (the white-blue sheen) over the water.
For the boys using water bottles as flotation devices.
For the swooshy waves with the fishing boats on them. For swimming in the rain.

And above the sea, the sky gave me great joy:

For the wonderful clouds today — so many more varieties after I thought they were all done! For the crisp multiple round ones from down here against a saturated sky in the morning, for the whimsical row of ones flowing into the swirly ones, for the swirly ones with wave shapes against the wavey roof, for the crisscross ones, for the tiny wispy wavey ones over the big ones at the end, for the big fluffy happy ones over the saturated sky as I was doing yoga.
For the cloud-to-cloud lighting, for how the whole sky was lit up and for the moment it revealed a bat.
For the fleecy cloud and the moon through it.

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We visited South Africa a second time in August, just in time for its famed flower season.

For the ostriches crossing the street and walking through the flowers.
For the way the flowers shook their heads in the wind.
For coming out to look at the stars, despite the cold, and the sublimity of them.
For the waterfall and rocks and multifarious flowers (e.g. brand new bright yellow ones)
For being blessed with the presence of a springbok.

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Ostriches; windswept flowers; bonus decorated turtle.

Even when I wasn’t traveling, animals were a constant source of gratitude.

For the bird encounters: for the peahen coming up so close to me and blinking and puffing up and me seeing her individual feathers. For the crazy sounds of the peacocks. For the hilarious geese gang. For the adorable little ducklings.
For the lizard doing push-ups.
For viscachas, and for confusing them with gazpacho and kombucha.³
For the black and white goat, and for the goat resting its head on the other goat; for Ben falling asleep on my hand last night.
For the bird by the swing, as gangly as the swing and unafraid.
For the horse with the majestic tuft of hair in its face.
For the absurd cats, the one dappled one stealthily moving towards the raspingly screeching one.
For the little birds on my window, especially when they were sliding down the banister.
For the bird with a cool hairdo and serious expression landing on our window.
For the red bird and Ben pointing it out to me and me bumping my nose against the window and being ridiculous and Ben pretending to be an ostrich.
For the gentle, wise-eyed oxen on the sides of the street.

I visited my parents several times in Poland. Each visit was full of love and flowers.

For the well-composed flowers in mom’s garden: the river of yellow, the purple pink corner against bright green, the hydrangea next to the white-leafed willow.
For Chris jumping on the trampoline while I was lying on it.
For chatting with Alana in the kitchen.⁴
For the different types of lilies, especially the multitudinous yellow ones.
For how much I laughed and smiled while talking to my parents and for feeling so much happier after.
For the glowing meadowy flowers, the poppies and the yellow ones, in front of the house today morning and for being just overwhelmed with their beauty.
For playing cards in the garden — for good luck, birds singing, the half moon, the scent of flowers.
For the melt-in-your-mouth sour cherries.
For mom liking looking at me.
For dad dropping by just to say hi.

In Senegal, we moved to a house by the sea and started a tradition of daily sunset-viewing. In the journal, the sunsets merge into one impossible, perfect evening.

For the sunset: the yellow-green near the edge of the orange, Ben stroking my neck, holding each other’s waists, the very big pink area with small cloudlets.
For the unexpected eruption of intense pink.
For the muted, delicate marvelousness.
For how it just kept going, the round clouds going up vertically, the highlights turning pink.
For the feel of the sea against my feet.
For the pink, pink reflection in the water and for what looking away did to it.
For the birds over us while we swam, the way they flocked and crisscrossed.
For the pink glow on the ominous cloud.
For the liquid sun.
For the well-framed part towards the end.
For the glow and the blue behind the glow.
For that last pink cloud, and the sea turning so silvery.
For the stripes in the sunset, for the glow after we’d given up hope.

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Sometimes I was grateful for not having things.

Today I’m grateful for not having food poisoning.
For not getting typhoid fever.
For the loud wedding below my window not continuing today.
For not having to be aware of it when I killed that cockroach.
For not fainting when running to catch the flight.
For not having malaria.

Ben is a constant presence in my journal.

For facing the sun like a sunflower and for Ben saying “oh, so that’s the direction of facing” and for him having his arms around me.
For almost falling out of my chair while talking to him.
For Ben sleeping on my shoulder. (x10)
For him saying “I’m ahead of the game” when I said “what if we go to sleep,” and then immediately falling asleep, and not remembering any of it the next day.
For Ben’s soft hair and generally textured nature, in particular his beard.
For being unable to keep a straight face while we brushed our teeth.
For Ben making me eggs in the middle of the night.
For Ben’s breathing right now.

For twelve months, everything, including me, kept going in the right direction.

For working despite planning to procrastinate.
For the morning slowly getting better and better — for my stress dissipating with the birdsong and the roar of the sea and beautiful music.
For turning towards bravery rather than away from it.
For so many glimmerings of goodness in a PMS-y day.
For making a self-care list and taking care to do things which made me happy.
For the sensation that I’ve become a braver, fuller, more self-aware person.
For the sensation that this is the best time in my life so far.

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[1] Ben’s willful mistranslation of signs in Spanish.

[2] When landing in water, gannets are the world’s most majestic torpedoes. When landing on, well, land, they have about a dozen limbs and trip over each one.

[3] I wasn’t blessed with the presence of a real viscacha, but seeing them on camera is blessing enough.

[4] Chris is my brother and Alana is his girlfriend. I’m grateful for them both, individually and together.

Written by

Staff writer at Rabbit Hole Magazine. Harvard PhD. Want to video chat about one of my articles? Pick a slot at calendly.com/evebigaj

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