Gratitude, reflection and my cast iron skillet

Ask anyone who knows me well, and they’ll confirm that I can’t sit still.

Literally or otherwise.

In fact, as I write this in between making breakfast, cleaning the kitchen and calling about our broken dryer, my three-year-old is losing his mind because I won’t sit still and watch Curious George with him.

It’s also why CrossFit resonates with me – there’s always something different to keep me mentally and physically on my toes.

My antsyness doesn’t stop with physical movement. My mind is a film reel playing three scenes ahead of where I really am – what’s next? And so far in my life, there’s always been a natural next. Got married? Okay, new jobs, new apartment. A dog. New house. One kid. New job. Two kids. New house. NOW what? I still often feel unsettled. I still feel that I haven’t quite MADE it.

It was brought to my attention recently that while pushing the envelope and setting goals is an admirable mission, I should slow down and be grateful for where I am and how far I’ve come. And I realized how little I do that, sadly. Usually, if I can check off a to-do list, I feel accomplished. I don’t really take time to soak in the success or magnitude of what just happened – because the next thing needs my attention.

But there is extreme value in gratitude. Entire religions, exercise programs and businesses are built on it. Can you imagine the economic crisis we’d be in if we all just decided to be content with the things we have? Maybe the divorce rate would be lower if we invested time in appreciating the gifts our spouses bring to a marriage. I could see less congested interstates, more job satisfaction, higher self esteem, fewer people with chronic anxiety and depression.

So I’m trying to realize how far I’ve come in even the three short years I’ve had kids. From the ups and downs of anxiety to finding a place to belong – outside the role of “mother” – to finding job satisfaction and work-life balance. So much has changed. And I’m grateful for every experience.

I was thinking about gratitude last night while I was making dinner (crawfish étouffée, a family favorite from my Cajun roots). And I was grateful that I didn’t have to pull out a recipe. Grateful my mom and dad taught me how to cook these dishes with the right basic ingredients and intuition. Grateful to be able to share colorful, different food with my kids. Grateful we have food to eat, of course.

Post-bacon-grease seasoning.

Grateful for that cast iron skillet. I tell you what, if one day I had to become a staunch minimalist, the cast iron skillet would be on the short list with my toothbrush and a ponytail holder. It’s steady and predictable. You couldn’t hurt that thing if you tried. And even when I neglect it, leaving it to get crusted and rusty in the well and sticky on the bottom, all it takes is a little elbow grease, and actual grease, to bring it back to life.

I want to be cast-iron resilient.

So many things today are made from cheap materials that ruin after a few dings or a period of neglect. And I think we treat ourselves the same way. Disposable. Instead of coming back to center and looking inward, we slam on the “self care” emergency button: new clothes, a fresh haircut/color, dinner out, etc. And don’t get me wrong – these things all have their place in life (Treat Yo’Self Day, anyone?). But they won’t soothe an unsettled soul or squelch anxiety. It’s the same as buying a new, cheap skillet that will just break again the next time you drop it.

Go back to your cast iron. Restore it. Renew it. Appreciate it. Give it some love. Knock the rust off with a good talk. Scrub the grouchy out with exercise and proper nutrition (don’t eat like an asshole). Re-season your shine with a good yoga session, a meditation app, yoga or time writing or journaling (I’ve started using this guy again).

One of the other benefits of cooking with cast iron is the iron it infuses in your food. Though it may be a small dose, we can use all the strength we can get. And a good skillet – an open, clear, grateful heart – can give that to others, too.

And, when I’m done cleaning out the junk and in a solid practice of gratitude, maybe the right, ambitious next step will have room to settle in, too.

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