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Living Grand

Thanksgiving has always been a really big deal to me. A holiday that focuses on family and food - no religious restrictions on driving or using electricity, or planning around the requisite six hours in shul (synagogue) - this is my kind of holiday. The whole thing - shopping, cooking, planning, setting the table, inviting family (the ones who were born to me, the ones I chose, and the lucky few who are both) and spending time enjoying each other's company, telling stories, and sharing what we're thankful for (by then, it's often the wine we're most grateful for) - I just can't go without Thanksgiving.

Since we moved to Israel, I have two Thanksgivings every year - the one on the ACTUAL day when my mom makes the turkey and stuffing and my sister and I and our families (and random strays my mom picks up) dine together at their place in Jerusalem, and the second, one day later, when I roast the bird (ordered several weeks in advance from the butcher who knows "those crazy Americans and their giant chickens every November") and everybody in my local posse brings fixings and we stuff the kids with pie and throw them in front of Just Dance so we can lounge over dessert on the deck.

Years ago, when my husband and I were traveling, we spent one Thanksgiving in a bus station in Mexico City eating turkey flavored ramen noodles while I cried. Determined not to repeat that mistake, I did my homework this time. Since we're in Goa, and I'm the only American around for miles and miles (there are Spaniards, French, Israelis, Italians - but no Americans) I wasn't overly optimistic about a proper Thanksgiving feast. I asked on the local South Goa Community Facebook groups. I combed Google. I attempted at our local chicken dealer (there's only one butcher here, as most of the locals are vegetarian) and asked if I could order a turkey, but not knowing how to say "turkey" in Hindi, I not only failed miserably but also provided oodles of laughter for the staff after a turkey impression. The laugh got me a discount on chicken breast, but still no turkey.

Turns out that the only recognition of Thanksgiving was happening two hours north, in the capital of Panaji, known to the locals as Panjim. We looked into it, and it turns out it was at the Grand Hyatt. As everybody knows, it basically costs a zillion dollars to walk into a place like that, so I almost summarily dismissed the option. I mean, our sleeping budget is 100 NIS/day (about $22) and our meal budget is $3/person/meal. The Grand Hyatt does NOT fit into that plan.

Not only that, but interestingly, the taxi driver union here in Goa is STRONG. I mean like Teamsters strong. They were able to stop tourist buses from running, outlaw both Uber and the Indian equivalent, Ola, and build and manage their own app. The only way to get anywhere in Goa is local bus (which we have done, but I have no pictures, since I could not move my arms from my sides to take one - picture Japanese trains at rush hour) or the taxi drivers union's app. So, on top of the bazillion dollars to eat dinner, we were looking at four hours round-trip in a giant taxi that could fit my family of six. Things were looking dim, and I was on the hunt for turkey-flavored ramen and sulking.

Here's the thing: I'm no princess: I can deal with no hot water. No towels. No sheets. Dirty clothes. Oppressive heat. Twelve-hour bus rides. Cockroaches in the bathroom. No meat and no wine for months at a time.

But Thanksgiving is important to me. It's not important to anybody else in my family, but it's important to me.

Herein lies my gratitude.

After nearly 20 years of marriage and the help of an exceptionally qualified therapist, I have learned these things:

1. I have needs.

2. They are valid.

3. I can express them in a non-martyr, non-angry, non-accusatory way, and get my needs met.

We are exceptionally budget-conscious, especially on this trip. One of the significant pieces of the Big Adventure is exposing the kids to our logic, our decisions and our budget, and empowering them to make decisions collectively about money. It's gotten to the point where they can bargain independently (but respectfully) and make sound financial decisions. Each child has his or her own budget for purchases, and we decide as a family about big expenses. It's not a democracy (I retain veto power when it comes to safety or ridiculousness) but it's close. The kids' opinions matter and count.

I explained to my family that even though this was going to cost more than paragliding, more than surf lessons, more than elephant rides, this was important to me. Ten years ago, or even five, I probably would have given it up without a fight and remained sullen and resentful, feeling unworthy of such an ordeal.

Not anymore.

This is the first BIG THING I am grateful for this year: the ability to recognize my needs, voice them, have my voice heard, and my needs fulfilled. Yes, I'm a mom to four kids, but I have needs sometimes, too, and it's critical that the kids internalize that while, for the most part, my role is to build them and teach them and support them, I expect similar behavior and respect from them.

I deserve it.

We got in the cab. We rode for two hours. We walked into the Grand Hyatt and the kids' mouths fell open. It's not a building; it's a campus. When they say "Grand", they mean it.

We spent the afternoon in the water, running from one pool to another (there were three outside and one inside) with glee, over to the trampoline, to the beach, and back again. There was shade, lounge chairs and pillows. There were towels. The bottled water was free. There were rafts and balls at the pool - all for whomever wanted to use them.

On to BIG THING #2 that I am grateful for: Then we went to the spa and the kids backed away. "It looks so fancy, Mom, we don't belong here."


We belong anywhere. We belong everywhere. What I have learned from my yoga teacher (ahh, my yoga teacher, the French Nico)

is that you approach yoga the way you approach the world. Breathe deeply, shoulders back, head forward.

My husband has an Aunt Miriam (doesn't every Jew have an Aunt Miriam?) who is the embodiment of every good Israeli quality: resourceful, wise, hilarious, cunning and witty. She's no "doda" if you know what I mean: she doesn't knit, doesn't know my kids' birthdays, and pushes me to argue with her intelligently about politics, economics, history, archaeology and current events. She has zero patience for ignorance. She and I lunch at the King David Hotel in Jerusalem once monthly and have for 15 years.

See? I'm insanely fancy. I just used "lunch" as a verb.

Aunt Miriam taught me that you belong everywhere you say you belong.

Everywhere you feel you belong.

Everywhere you want to belong.

Walk in like you own the place and everyone else will assume that your confidence is earned and well-placed. Here was an opportunity to teach my kids this exceptionally valuable lesson: you BELONG here. In this fancy hotel, in this fancy spa, using fancy towels. You can belong anywhere and everywhere, if you choose it. Shoulders back, head forward.

And then we went in for dinner.

Oh, the dinner.

You know how you build something up in your mind, and then when you actually get to The Thing, it's a disappointment?

Not at the Grand Hyatt.

Executive Chef David Ansted (yes, he came out to meet us, since I wrote ahead for reservations and explained that we were making a significant trip and bringing the whole family) whipped up not only roasted turkey with gravy and stuffing that's better than mine (I can cook, but man, not like Chef David) but he also found and stewed cranberry sauce from REAL CRANBERRIES. I mean, we're in India. Ain't no cranberries here. I'm hard-pressed to find raisins for heavens sake.

The food was traditional yet inventive, infusing new flavors into classic Thanksgiving favorites, like mashed potatoes covered in pancetta, pumpkin soup with almonds, cream, and a bit of masala just to blow your mind, moist rounds of beef tenderloin with mustard and braised pineapple, sweet potatoes covered in feta with pomegranate accents, kaffir lime chicken skewers, honey and saffron glazed carrots, sprout salads in tiny glass jars, and chia pudding garnished with strawberries (I have NEVER seen a strawberry in India. Apparently, the Grand Hyatt hoards them all.)

And of course, there was both apple pie and pumpkin pie, but even better was this "bread pudding but made with croissants since it's the Grand Hyatt" dessert. It was incredible.

Normally, on Thanksgiving, the turkey is center stage, but not here. Certainly, it was on a lovely display with the other Thanksgiving foods, but David didn't stop there. Do you prefer your own tradition of tandoori? Yep, it was there. Pescatarian? No problem, he offered fennel and mustard seed whitefish. Vegetarian? Yep, there's gluttony for you, too: South Indian barbequed vegetable skewers, plates and plates of salads, curries, and fruit.

The ambiance was casual enough for my kids to be comfortable and fancy enough to justify my daughter's fairy-like gown. During dinner, there were fireworks (thanks to an over-the-top wedding on the grounds, complete with a HORSE for the groom to ride in on) and all the kids (not just mine but all the kids in the whole place) looked up in excitement. Giddy waiters grabbed their hands and ran them outside to see, sharing their sense of wonderment.

This year, I am so I am grateful that I get to "live grand". Not because I got a fancy dinner next to a spouting gold fountain. Rather, "living grand" is speaking my truth, being heard, getting validated, knowing I'm valuable. Having the ability to recognize my voice and my needs, and act upon them, is grand in a way I never knew was possible.

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