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Harvesting Gratitude: A Tale of Two Thanksgivings

As the autumn leaves gracefully descend to the ground, painting the world in vibrant hues of orange,

yellow, and red, I feel an internal shift—a warming of my spirit, an anticipation that speaks in whispers of

joy and echoes of laughter. It's not just the fall; it's the onset of my favorite season within a season, the

time for Thanksgiving.

Thanksgiving, for me, is not merely a day marked on the calendar; it's a symphony of everything I hold

dear, a time to remember, to share, to embrace, and to look forward. Living in California for twelve

wonderful years allowed me the unique pleasure of celebrating two Thanksgivings each year—one

Canadian, one American, and both deeply cherished.

It began as a curiosity, a novelty—a way to share part of my Canadian heritage with my new Californian

friends while embracing the rich tapestry of American Thanksgiving tradition. Yet, it blossomed into

something far more profound, a personal tradition steeped in the beauty of unity, reflection, and boundless gratitude.

After selling my business, a victorious yet terrifyingly transformative chapter of my life, I found solace in

the gentle waves of Huntington Beach, California. My memoir, "Hell in High Heels: How I Conquered My Demons," delves deeply into these periods of tumult and triumph. Yet, in this narrative, I want to

focus on the joy that suffused my life, especially during these autumnal months.

Each Thanksgiving—Canadian in October and American in November—became a beacon of joyous

anticipation. I, who had voyaged through the rough seas of life, from enduring a childhood punctuated by challenges to navigating the male-dominated business world, found immense joy in the simple, yet

profound act of hosting Thanksgiving dinners.

The preparation was a ritual, a kind of meditation. I would find myself in my kitchen, the heart of my

home, surrounded by the earthy aromas of fresh herbs, spices and my famous layered salad. There was an old, scratched wooden table, which I'd stubbornly brought all the way from Canada—a piece of my past in my present. It would be laden with ingredients, recipes passed down through generations, and new ones inspired by my Californian sojourn.

Creating a traditional meal was not just about the food; it was a homage to both my past and my

present—a fusion of where I came from and where I had established my life. The buttery smell of pies in

the oven, the rich aroma of turkey roasting, and the tangy scent of cranberries simmering on the stove

were not just fragrances; they were an aromatic tapestry of my journey.

But beyond the food, beyond the culinary ballet I engaged in, what I loved most was the gathering—the

coming together of souls around my table. It wasn't just about inviting family or close friends; it was

about extending the warmth of this season to acquaintances, neighbors, or anyone who, like me at various challenging moments in my life, found themselves alone.

I recall one American Thanksgiving; my boat was filled to the brim. Old friends, new neighbors, and even a couple Canadians, sat around my table. The room was aglow with the setting sun, laughter bubbled up like a melody, and stories from the past year were shared like sacred scripts.

What resonated deeply with me was the reflection—the act of looking back with gratitude,

acknowledging our trials, our triumphs, and then, with hope shimmering like the autumn horizon, looking forward. In my memoir, I shared my journey too, the storms I weathered in business, my personal battles with addiction, and the peace I was finding in this chapter of my life. The table was not just a place to eat; it was a sanctuary where we bared our hardships and celebrated our resilience.

As the evening wound down, and a serene silence settled over the room, laden with the weight of shared stories and the lightness of communal hope, I realized why these Thanksgivings were the anchor of my year. They encapsulated everything I believed in—resilience, hope, the power of sharing, and most importantly, the strength found in community.

Now, back in Edmonton, Alberta, with the Californian sun a cherished memory, I continue this tradition.

My table is still open, my oven still warm, and my heart still eager to embrace both the reflection of the

past and the possibilities of the future. The dual Thanksgivings are a homage to my journey, a testament

to the fact that no matter where we come from, no matter the trials penned in our stories, we can always

find a reason to be thankful, a cause to celebrate, and a hand to hold as we navigate the beautiful,

unpredictable journey called life.

As the leaves continue to fall, and another Thanksgiving beckons, I'm reminded of a quote by Melody Beattie: "Gratitude unlocks the fullness of life." For me, every Thanksgiving—Canadian, American, or simply any day I'm surrounded by reflections of my journey—unlocks the fullness of my life, a life I choose to live with unbounded gratitude and enduring hope.

This tradition of hosting, of opening my home and heart, didn't just materialize out of the blue. It was a tradition born from a deep, intrinsic yearning—a need to recreate a sense of family, unity, and

unconditional love, elements that were sporadically present in my own upbringing. Growing up in a small Canadian town, my childhood was not the idyllic montage one sees in feel-good movies. Instead, it was a tapestry of challenging moments, from surviving polio to being sent away to a convent at the vulnerable age of fourteen.

These experiences, while daunting, shaped me. They honed my resilience, fortified my spirit, and instilled in me an unquenchable desire to build a life not defined by my past, but inspired by the potential of my future. This future, as I came to realize, was not solely built on professional success or personal achievements. It was intimately tied to my ability to create a space of belonging, not just for myself, but for others who may have tread paths as complex as mine.

When I co-owned the insurance brokerage and home warranty businesses, I was often pigeonholed as the 'tough woman in a man's world.' Yes, I was tough; I had to be. The business world didn't always look kindly upon a determined woman charting her course through sheer will and indefatigable perseverance. But what many didn't realize was that my toughness was a facade, a necessary armor. Beneath it was a heart that craved connection, that thrived on the joy of others, that desired nothing more than to give and receive love.

This duality of my persona found its most authentic expression in my Thanksgiving celebrations. Whether I was in the sun-kissed terrain of California or the snow-kissed landscapes of Alberta, these festivities were my solace, my joy, and my redemption.

This was my second Canadian Thanksgiving after I decided to give up alcohol, a decision that emerged

from the most turbulent storm of my life. My memoir, "Hell in High Heels," recounts the gritty details of

this period, the battle with an addiction that surreptitiously crept up on me. It was a time when the clink of ice in a glass held more promise of relief than the warmth of human connection.

As I prepared for the evening, laying out the silverware and getting the turkey ready for roasting, there

was a nervous flutter in my stomach. For years, my glass of wine had been a constant companion in these preparatory rituals. It was as if the alcohol somehow made the lights seem warmer, the laughter louder, and my heart lighter. But this year, things were different. There was a palpable absence, an unoccupied space on the counter where the wine bottle used to sit—a testament to my resolve to rewrite my story.

Guests started arriving, filling my home with the familiar, comforting cacophony of greetings, laughter,

and the rustling of jackets being taken off. Among them were my family, friends, and even a few

newcomers who had heard about my little Thanksgiving tradition from others in the community. Each

arrival brought a wave of support, enveloping me in a kind of warmth that I had never allowed myself to

acknowledge fully, always dulled, as it had been, by the numbing embrace of alcohol.

The evening progressed, the air rich with the aroma of roasted turkey, sweet cranberries, buttery potatoes, and savory gravy—a sensorial tapestry that, for once, I was fully present to experience. We all gathered around the table, the candlelight casting a soft glow on the faces I hold dear, and I realized something profound. In that moment of collective gratitude, when we clasped hands and shared the tales of our past year, the highs and the lows, the victories and the losses, I didn't miss my glass of wine. The laughter was warm enough, the connection deep enough, the moment rich enough.

I shared my journey with them, my voice unsteady at first, speaking of the demons I had battled, the

darkness of addiction, and the light of recovery. There were nods of understanding, teary eyes, and smiles of encouragement. And then, others opened up with their own stories of struggle, whether it was with health, work, or family. It was as if my confession, my vulnerability, had opened a floodgate, allowing for a depth of conversation and kinship we had never delved into before.

That night, we shared more than a meal; we shared parts of ourselves that were raw, real, and revelatory.

We found solace in each other's journeys, drawing strength from our collective resilience. And I, in the heart of that circle, found the final, missing piece of my recovery puzzle—true, uninhibited connection.

It's encounters and revelations like these that Thanksgiving brings into my life. Times that remind me I

don't need a drink to feel warmth, to experience joy, or to drown out pain. Life, with all its complexities,

is enough. The people who surround me, with their imperfect, beautiful stories, are enough.

My journey from the depths of addiction to the heights of entrepreneurial success, and into the calm

waters of recovery, has been anything but easy. But it's moments like these—surrounded by the laughter of friends, the supportive silence of family, and the comforting rhythm of tradition—that I am reminded of the sweetness of life untainted by the haze of alcohol.

Today, my Thanksgivings serve as milestones, marking another year of triumph over my struggles,

another year of being fully present, and another year of forging connections that are genuine and

unmarred by any substance. They remind me of my strength, my resolve, and the sheer beauty of a life

lived authentically.

As the leaves turn golden and the air heralds the onset of another fall, I look forward to this season of

gratitude. Not because it's an escape, but because it's a mirror, reflecting back to me the distance I've traversed, the bridges I've built, and the future I'm stepping into—a future of clarity, hope, and endless

possibilities. And for this, more than anything else, I am profoundly thankful.

- Janet Folk (Author / Entrepreneur)


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