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Roots and Branches: Giving thanks for so much

Of course this is a column about things for which I am thankful. It is the day before Thanksgiving for goodness sake, and even the most vehement anti-holiday persona can find a reason to be thankful. At least I am hopeful that is the case. I know I have an abundance of things for which I am thankful, and a belief that these must be shared with others.

Some of the things are actual possessions or belongings. I greatly appreciate the fact that I have a home in which to live. It is a place that lifts my spirits with its form and function and ability to frame the splendor of our valley each time I enter the front door. It is a place that shelters me from the winter cold and protects me from the elements for which the Pacific Northwest is famous. It is a place where family and friends gather, warming my heart and soul.

In that same vein, I am thankful for the people, in particular the faith community, who have worked tirelessly to provide a warm, dry place for those who do not have a place to rest their heads each night throughout the winter. In making their spaces a home for others through the Warming Shelter program, they provide healthy food to nurture the body and friendship and compassion to nurture the soul. They lift up the spirits of the homeless when they enter the church doors.

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I am thankful that there is always food on the table and that we can afford to grow or purchase fresh fruits and vegetables, as well as the basic grains, nuts, meat and potatoes that sustain life. In a similar fashion, I am thankful for the students in our schools that year after year join the churches and community in collecting food for the FISH food bank and volunteer in distributing it to those who might be hungry. And let’s not forget the seniors who provide meals on wheels and a spot at the table at Sterling’s Place for those who can still travel.

I am thankful that I have an assortment of coats, pants, shoes and boots that keep my body warm and for the businesses and community members who donate clothing for those not as fortunate.

I am thankful to have a job for which I get paid in cold hard cash as well as benefits. Icing on the cake is that the job is interesting, challenging and fulfilling and the people I work with are passionate about what they do. The pay and benefits take care of the necessities of life as well as a few luxuries.

It is the human element for which I am most thankful. The people that I live with, work with, learn with, love with, even play with are most important. They are what I give thanks for, not just on Thanksgiving Day, but each and every day of my life.

I am thankful for the mentors in my life who have guided my journey, my father Sulo Annala, my mother-in-law Mikie Yasui, my neighbor and friend Joni Walker. The faith leaders who have patiently tutored me in nurturing the soul, Andrew Wendle, Linda Presley, Mark Thomas, and the entire Rawson, Estey and Turner families to mention a few. We are fortunate to have a community that believes in mentoring others, from students in career and business internships to more formal groups like SMART, Lunch Buddies, Big Brother Big Sisters, ASPIRE, Mentors for Success, and WINGS.

I am thankful for the many service groups who carry the torch of service and have lit that fire in future generations. Did you know that we measured over 600,000 service hours provided by youth in our school district in one short year?

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I am thankful for the health and safety of our community which comes from the dedication of doctors, nurses, public health workers, law enforcement, service men and women, firemen, EMTs and prevention practitioners. Did you know that Hood River County is the third healthiest county in Oregon based on a series of benchmarks measured by Robert Wood Johnson Foundation?

I am thankful for the clean water and air we have around us, because of the environmentalists, planners, recyclers, farmers and foresters. Did you know that our county’s air quality is typically one of the highest in the state?

I am thankful that I live in a place where people value working together rather than in opposition to or in competition with one another, especially if it helps others. Did you know that our local dentists, doctors, therapists, counselors, agencies, hospital and clinics work together to provide physical, mental and dental care for the uninsured or underinsured? And that hundreds of volunteers in several organizations care for the sick and the dying?

I am thankful to live in a community where elections take place peacefully, where voters elect candidates based on platform as well as party, and have the compassion to provide for limited medical marijuana use but the intelligence not to buy into the legalization of marijuana.

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I am thankful for the teachers who inspire our children, expecting them to succeed at all levels in spite of facing significant barriers including language and poverty. Did you know that HRVHS has one of the highest graduation rates in Oregon among all its students including those for whom English was a second language?

I am thankful for the businesses that support our community through jobs, benefits, housing, and childcare, all the while providing cash, gifts and service to our nonprofits for people in need across the lifespan. Did you know that the Best Western Hood River Inn donated proceeds from a year’s worth of children’s dinners to the school sports program?

I am thankful for my children who have become my teachers in ways of living in the twenty first century. I am often amazed at their knowledge of the different systems they work within, and how to make them more efficient or effective. Did you know they are all leaders of distinction?

And of course I am thankful for my grandchildren, all eight uniquely different individuals. They keep me entertained with their antics and awesome talent. One three-year-old can sing the words to any song she hears; the other can recite Snow White verbatim. The five-year-old can carry an amazing tune and capture your soul with an impish grin. The ten-year-old can build a castle out of a jumble of Legos or hit a homer over the right field fence. The twelve-year-old can dance the Nutcracker in her sleep and the fourteen-year-old is a beauty with talent to steal a scene in the school musical or a young man’s heart. I am exhilarated by their capacity to learn and adapt. I am inspired by their compassion for others.

Occasionally I’m exhausted from watching over them. But it is that kind of happy exhaustion that comes from being a small part of something much bigger.

Happy Thanksgiving.

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