For the first time in 12 years, I didn’t want to write this list.
In the fourth grade, my wise teacher gave us homework for Thanksgiving. We were to write a list of 100 things for which we were thankful. They could be big or small, silly or sweet—the only requirement was that they be sincere. I’ve repeated the assignment on my own every year since, and for the past two years, I’ve shared my annual “Thankfulness List” on my blog (see: 2014; 2013).
Earlier this week, however, when I sat down to complete my “Thankfulness List,” the buoyancy that ordinarily fills my heart as I write each item felt replaced by sadness and longing. In the past week, someone very close to me was diagnosed with cancer, and my sweet grandma passed away. These two events, combined with the onset of winter and a generous dose of self-pity, made it hard for me to feel any sense of gratitude. What I felt instead was loneliness, and even a bit of bitterness too.
Then, the doorbell rang. It was a bouquet of joyful sunflowers from my wonderful friend Rachel, a shining surprise in an otherwise dismal week. It was the spot of sunshine I desperately needed to remind me of just how filled with blessings my life truly is.
Some years, the blessings flow more quickly and freely than we can write them down; other years, they seem rare and are difficult to see. This year’s struggle to write my Thankfulness List taught me that it is these second type of years, the darker years, when it is most important to count.
If life holds secrets to happiness, surely gratitude is one of them. As I look at the cheerful bouquet sunflowers perched merrily on my desk, I know it must be so.
Therefore, without further ado, 100 Things for Which I am Thankful in 2015. Truly, I am blessed.
1. My wonderful Grandma O’Neill. Her life was an example of selfless love, positivity, and determination, and I am beyond blessed to have grown up knowing her. May she rest in peace.
2. My loving Grandpa O’Neill, who passed four months before her.
3. My best friend, partner in crime, and the man who does my dishes, my husband Ben.
4. My dad. I would not be the person I am today without his support and love, and I live every day hoping that I am making him proud.
5. My mom, who never lets me doubt a moment how proud of me she is.
6. My two younger sisters, Elizabeth and Elaine. No one will every know me the way that these two ladies do, and yet they love me anyway.
7. The latest edition to our family, my sweet niece Genevieve, who just turned three months last week. She’s only four weeks in this picture and is under express orders from her Aunt Erin not to get any bigger until I see her next week.
8. My step dad Larry. I know I might have given him a hard time when he started dating my mom (sorry about that, Larry—can we call it high school angst?), but I truly feel like I have another man looking out for me now, and I love him dearly.
9. My Grammy and Poppa. Again, I am so fortunate to have grown up with all four of my grandparents, and I am blessed beyond measure to still have these two as a major part of my life.
10. My sister-in-law Maria, who makes me laugh harder than anyone I’ve ever met and who I one day want to hire to be my personal chef.
12. Ben’s parents. It’s not every woman who’s lucky enough to live 20 minutes from her in-laws and actually like it, but I do.
13. Living in a country where I feel free and safe to express my opinion.
14. My faith. It’s a lot harder to find these days, but I’m trusting there is a seed within that just needs a bit of water.
15. My education.
16. My health.
17. The friends I’ve made through blogging, who despite being states away, feel nearer and dearer to me than I ever imagined.
18. My high school friends—they experienced 14- to 18-year-old Erin and are still friends with me. Case in point: This gem I dug up in an old scrap book, snapped at senior prom. Yes, I really wore white gloves.
19. My Notre Dame friends. It doesn’t matter how long we go without seeing each other; we never miss a beat. In the below photo, I’m in the front row, fourth from the right, rocking a Hawaiian print dress and jean jacket like the ’90s never ended. Four years after the senior prom white glove incident (pictured above), and my fashion sense clearly has not improved.
19. The opportunities I’ve had to live and travel abroad.
20. The opportunity to work for myself. It’s one of the hardest and best things I’ve ever done.
21. Our beautiful home.
22. Smart phones. Although I’m too attached to mine, it does make finding information so much easier, and allows me to keep in closer touch with friends too.
23. Airplanes. They might be a pain and scary sometimes, but ultimately they bring people together, not apart.
24. The National Geographic Instagram handle, which reminds me how big, beautiful, and crazy the world is.
25. Our snow blower.
26. That Ben is always the one to employ said snow blower.
27. Our wonderful neighbor Richard, who picks up all of my packages whenever we leave town and who drives me and our 20+ weekly bags of leaves to the dump during the fall.
28. Our neighborhood deer. Even though they devoured our hostas and make me crazy, they have a certain charm about them too.
29. Ravioli Day.
30. Jogs around our neighborhood, especially with Ben.
31. Cloudless, blue-sky days.
32. Nights when the moon looks like a giant sugar cookie on the horizon (or am I the only that thinks of a cookie when I see it?)
33. Twinkly Christmas lights.
34. The Justin Bieber Christmas album. Guilty pleasure alert!
35. Also, this Christmas album. I’ve been listening on repeat since 2011, and it has yet to grow old.
36. Chewy gummy vitamins. Because when they taste this yummy, I never forget to take them.
37. Fuzzy slippers.
39. NPR’s This American Life podcast, for making me laugh, cry, and think a little more broadly each week.
40. Free samples at the grocery store.
42. Happy hour.
43. The library.
45. My favorite Thanksgiving glazed sweet potatoes and apples (with whiskey pecans on top!).
46. The smell of freshly cut grass.
47. Snail mail.
48. Having two seats to yourself on an airplane.
49. The colors of fall leaves.
50. My new camera, which helps me share more beautiful food with you.
51. Toasted pecans, walnuts, and almonds, for making life more delicious.
52. Singing in the shower.
53. My cookbook collection.
54. Soft background music.
56. Good dark chocolate.
57. Long, lazy lunches.
59. Phone calls from friends, just to catch up.
60. Turning on the car and hearing your favorite song on the radio.
61. Yeast. What would life be without fluffy homemade bread?
62. Or these Gingerbread Cinnamon Rolls?
63. Birthday cards.
64. Ridiculous dancing, particularly at weddings.
65. Still knowing all of the words to every N*SYNC song ever written.
66. Fleece-lined leggings that keep me warm when our house is a chilly 65 degrees. (My ideal temperature is 74.)
67. When there’s no line at the post office.
68. Google docs. Nerd alert, but they really do make life easier!
71. Google maps.
72. This candle for making my house smell like a happy holiday forest.
73. And this candle for making it smell like an Anthropologie store.
74. Warm, wooly socks.
75. Little kids in puffy jackets.
77. Scoring the parking space closest to the entrance.
78. Laughing until your stomach hurts.
79. Oatmeal. An affordable, comforting, healthy breakfast on which I can rely.
80. Helpful customer-service representatives, especially on the phone.
81. Public parks.
82. The ‘90s pop playlist on Pandora. Hello, sing-a-longs!
83. Road trips. Especially when combined with #82.
84. Mornings when you wake up 1 minute before the alarm sounds.
85. Movie nights at home.
86. A broken-in, well-worn pair of boots.
87. My super warm winter coat.
88. Wine nights with girlfriends.
89. Making every green light on the way home.
90. Cherished family recipes, especially Strawberry Super Pie.
91. Three-day weekends.
92. The person who lets you go in front of him in the grocery line because you have fewer items.
93. The euphoric feeling of successfully completing a crossword puzzle.
94. Family game nights.
95. Envelopes you don’t have to lick.
96. The kind stranger who offers you a tissue in a moment of need.
97. Finding an old photo that makes you smile.
98. The bouquet that started this list.
99. The friend who gave it to me.
and last, but by no means least,
- YOU. My blog, this place that I cherish, that allows me to do crazy things like publish 100 blessings, confess that I don’t like pumpkin pie, and share a piece of myself, could not exist as it does without your support. Thank you for every post you’ve read, comment you’ve left, and recipe you’ve tried or shared. Even if this is your first time on my website, I’m grateful to have you. You are why I blog. Thank you.