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Tammy Swift, Published November 23 2013

Swift: Giving thanks for the little things

Last week, I wrote about gratitude.

I had been recruited by a first-grade teacher to talk to her class about writing, and it turned out to be one of the highlights of my entire fall. The curiosity, intelligence and openness of these 6- and 7-year-olds were inspiring, and I began to understand why some people gravitate toward teaching the very young.

Now, just days before Thanksgiving, I feel compelled to continue my gratitude jag. But I wanted to do it a little differently. Of course, I am grateful for the big stuff: a healthy body, a home, a job, a loving family. But I also wanted to point out some of the little things – those “details” we often overlook – that make our life’s journey a little smoother.

It’s weird that I’m doing this in a year that would seem, from all outward appearances, not entirely successful. I have a failed marriage – or as one reader gently corrected me – a “tried marriage” behind me. My home is rented, my “children” consist of one hamster-sized dog and I spend a great deal of time alone (admittedly by my own choice).

But loss has a way of making you appreciate what you still possess. It makes you less likely to take life for granted and to treasure what you haven’t lost. And so here it is, Tammy’s Gratitude List:

• The “white noise” of a contented home. One of my favorite times as a kid was when everyone was settled into bed. Mom would start the dishwasher, which would slosh away pleasantly – mechanically completing its domestic duties – as we nodded off to sleep. The furnace would kick in, blowing delicious warm air out of the registers. (I used to huddle by those registers, cat-like, when I got dressed in the morning.)

In those moments, all was right in the world. We were warm and safe. These were the sounds of a peaceful family, tucked away to say goodnight to another day. Nowadays, I still wait to start my dishwasher until I go to bed, just to lull myself asleep with that happy sound.

• Olfactory ovations. They say few things trigger memories like our sense of smell. Just like the sharp odor of antiseptic immediately transports me to a hospital (ack!) so can my olfactory receptors spark good things.

If I smell baking bread, I immediately see my mother covering our entire kitchen counter with fresh, perfect, whole-wheat buns. I am instantly transported back to the farm by the smell of fresh-cut grass. And few things can compete with the life-restoring scent of a freshly shampooed baby’s head or a puppy’s warm, clean, happy breath.

• A harvest moon. When I was very young, I always assumed the moon and sun really did just set behind the hills surrounding our farmyard – as if they were our family’s personal treasure. After a night or day of hiding, they re-emerged again to entertain us.

Today, I still feel more drawn to the moon. There is something magical, ethereal and hypnotic about this huge, glowing orb, suspended in a night sky. Although it is just reflecting the light of the flashy and extroverted sun, it seems to be lit from within. And for reasons I can’t fully explain, I’ve always assumed the moon is a she.

• A “mom” hug. Yes, there’s the Scandinavian side hug and the awkward, “I’m only hugging you because you started it” hug. But then there are those people who should be professional huggers. They give you the type of warm, sincere hug that simultaneously says, “I really like you, fellow human,” and “I want you to be happy and well.” Children’s hugs can be equally wonderful.

• Kindness, even in emailed form. Perhaps what I’m most grateful for are you, the readers. You have taken the time to write me incredibly kind and supportive letters since my column returned to The Forum. I had always assumed that the world only wanted a funny and entertaining Tammy. But when I made the terrifying decision to show my vulnerable side, I was met with nothing but empathy, openness and kindness. No words can summarize how healing this has been to my soul. I thank you for that.

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone.

Tammy Swift writes a lifestyle column every Sunday in Variety. Readers can reach her at tswiftsletten@gmail.com