From Thanksgiving 2007 in Orvieto, Italy

Thanksgiving at my family’s household goes something like this: get up in the morning, start prepping. We shoot for our Thanksgiving meal around 1 p.m. although we are not always successful. My dad has already prepared the chicken stock, and the pecan pies, and the task of the morning is to get the turkey done, as well as a pancetta stuffing and my sweet potato cheesecake. Cousins and aunts and uncles and grandparents filter in at different times, all bringing dishes, some that have become part of our holiday tradition. The Thanksgiving Day Parade is on in the background (and after that, our favorite part, the National Dog Show).  We cook together and drink OJ–or mimosas, or just champagne–and I always enjoy the hustle and bustle of the kitchen.

We get to the table around 1 or 2, and often the weather is good enough to eat outside in our patio. Today the high is projected to be 82F, so I imagine that’s where they’ll eat today. (In Kilkenny, the weather forecast is grim: high of 48 and rainy.)

But today I won’t be there. This will be my third Turkey Day away from my clan. Twice before I was away in Italy, but still celebrated Thanksgiving with other Americans, friends and a real roast turkey.

Today I will be the only American. I am planning the whole meal and cooking most of it for three other people who have become my makeshift Kilkenny family. Rather than a turkey, I think we’ll do a roast chicken, and I’m going to shoot for a cornbread, some mashed potatoes & gravy, green beans, some sort of cranberry relish and tiramisu for dessert. I’ll write another post to let you guys all know how my Thanksgiving panned out (ha, get it? Pan!).

Although I’ll miss my family today (and Betty’s cranberry-citrus relish, and that awesome corn souffle, and my dad’s homemade pecan pies with heaps of whipped cream), I am happy to say that I have so, so much to be grateful for. Here are the main things. (Huge sap alert, btw.)

I am thankful for my incredible family, friends and boyfriend, all of whom supported me on this crazy life leap. It wasn’t an easy decision for me to make, for me to quit my job to travel for the year. It meant–and still means–spending time away from people I love.  But all of them encouraged me to pursue this passion, and to have this experience now rather than waiting. No “shoulda coulda woulda” for this gal–at least, not yet. Thank you, and I love you.

I am thankful for my amazing and generous friends abroad who have put me up AND put up with me! It would have been a very different trip if I had not gotten to spend time with all my wonderful friends in Europe: Alba, who picked me up from the train station late at night and gave me a bed for my triumphant return to Italia, Bonnie and VP for hosting me (and Bon for giving me some more wardrobe options!), Maddalena & Pompeo for continuing to be my Roman family, Stephen & Jenny for allowing me to disrupt their move to Siena, Emily & Logan, who shared the road and the Tuscan countryside with me. Robin & Michel treated me to Alsace, even during their busy work weeks. I truly treasured being able to spend so much time with my dear friend Marijn and her boyfriend Tijmen in their lovely home in Amsterdam, and hanging out with Jobie, too. These were all friendships from before this year, but all of them were strengthened. Thank you, and I love you.

I am thankful for the fellow travelers I’ve met in passing who have brightened my experience. These are people whose names maybe I never even learned, who I shared a hostel room with or a bus ride or a drink. They are the ones with whom I’ve exchanged good conversation and will probably never see again. But I’ll remember them as being part of the fabric of my travels, and for that, I”m thankful.

I am also incalculably thankful for the people who started as strangers, and welcomed me into their homes and their lives without second thought.
I am continually blown away by the ceaseless generosity I have encountered in my life, and especially within the last four months. Whether I was traveling with Boris or with friends or alone, there have been people along the way who have given me a place to sleep, and food, and at every turn remind me how full of kindness and trust the world can be. Our wonderful host in Ankara, who gave up his bed for us and slept on the couch; Mehmet, our new friend and tour guide of that same city; the Halligan family, with whom I farmed and lived for a whole month in Umbria; the gals in Cork who told me I could stay as long as I liked; all the Irish swing dancers who have made me feel like part of their community, especially Michael, who took me surfing and dancing even though I burned the rice, and Rory, who hasn’t minded hanging out for the past couple weeks with a 25-year-old Yank who confuses Neil Diamond and Neil Young (and Anna, for watching American Horror Story with me); Becks & Tom, for the good craic & yoga & movie-watching & dance spotting.

 I hope that there will be more to come with these new friends, and that someday I can repay the hospitality and warmth that they showed me during my time away from home. They have all helped create new mini-homes and micro-families for me in new places, and for that, I am thankful.