#GivingTuesday: Karma Yoga

Is it just me, or do other people find it odd that we have three “holidays” of consumerism, #BlackFriday, #SmallBusinessSaturday, and #CyberMonday, bookended by holidays named for the act of “giving,” Thanks-giving and “Giving Tuesday“? (I had no idea #givingtuesday had its own official link)

Don’t get me wrong. I love deals. My husband and I are planning a trip back to Ireland and the UK this winter, for the December holidays, and have been eyeing deals Friday and Monday at REI and Uniqlo for warm and affordable wear while we’re there.  I also highly support small businesses – we celebrated Small Business Saturday with time spent at Indian Road Cafe, for one, and even bought apples from Inwood’s Farmer’s Market.

And, of course, I support giving.

Giving and Karma Yoga:

During yoga teacher training, I learned about several different kinds of yoga, from Bikram, to Hatha, Kundalini, Raja, Iyengar, Vinyasa, Ashtanga, etc., etc. The list goes on and on (and yogis are developing new structures and “types” of yoga all the time!)

One kind of yoga, and one of which almost everyone is familiar in some way, is karma yoga.

According to the Vedanta Society of Southern California, karma yoga is

the yoga of action or work; specifically, karma yoga is the path of dedicated work: renouncing the results of our actions as a spiritual offering rather than hoarding the results for ourselves.

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When we say, “what goes around, comes around,” or “karma’s a bitch,” or, of course, “instant karma’s gonna get you,” we generally think of karma as the thing that comes back, especially when someone does something shady. But, karma isn’t the boomerang.

Karma is simply the “action.”

Read that above quotation, again (not the Lennon one). Karma yoga is action performed “renouncing the results of our actions.” On that note, I suppose, true karmic yoga goes hand in hand with something like “Giving Tuesday.”

Okay, so the connection is obvious…

We don’t need a lecture, or even an entire blog post, to show how karma, as “action,” as good action, relates to something like “Giving Tuesday.”

But I wanted to share an article I read recently, that a friend sent me, and how I feel it connects to this idea of “renouncing the results.”

In NYC, we pass by a lot of displaced people, or, “the homeless.” Many of them may be relatively well-put-together, with what seems like an obligatory “God Bless” cardboard sign, or with detailed explanations of their life’s journey, or a family pet they still hold close. Still others clearly have been on the streets for some time – or are nearly on the streets – and suffer from ill health, addiction to drugs or alcohol, struggling perhaps to form coherent words and sentences, or even walk or hold their heads up.

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signs collected as part of the Sukkah City project in Union Square (2010). Photograph captured from Rael San Fratello

According to the Coalition for the Homeless, the number of people sleeping in homeless shelters is up 74% from ten years ago, and most of these people are the victims of a lack of affordable housing. Many struggle with mental illness. The Treatment Advocacy Center states that lack of affordable mental healthcare is forcing many patients to be turned out onto the streets.

Clearly, this is a problem… but what does it have to do with “Giving Tuesday”?

The classic “should I give money to a panhandler” debate is fraught, and over-exhausted. But, in the light of karmic action, and a holiday of giving, I wanted to share some thoughts.

Atlantic Monthly wrote in 2011 that while directly giving money is certainly a relief to those who need it, donating to charities that help those who need is the better long term solution. But, their viewpoint is still a bit problematic. They write that there is a two-edged sword to giving “beggars” money (I admit I cringe at their use of that term):

There’s not enough change in our purses. We choose to donate money based on the level of perceived need. Beggars known [sic] this, so there is an incentive on their part to exaggerate their need, by either lying about their circumstances or letting their appearance visibly deteriorate rather than seek help.

If we drop change in a beggar’s hand without donating to a charity, we’re acting to relieve our guilt rather than underlying crisis of poverty. The same calculus applies to the beggar who relies on panhandling for a booze hit. In short, both sides fail each other by being lured into fleeting sense of relief rather than a lasting solution to the structural problem of homelessness.

I’ll admit, I’ve always thought that giving to charities or shelters that aide people who are displaced or suffering on the streets was always the most long-term efficient way to help them. But… it doesn’t immediately help them. Even the Atlantic, in the same article, admits that with time lags and fees it takes a long time for money to make its way to helping individual people.

And, I really don’t like it when people speaking (or writing) from a place of privilege, of any kind, claim to know the intentions and mindsets of those who appear to be beneath them.

What should we do? How can I give a dollar or change to someone on the street, when I know they might use it to buy drugs or alcohol, and not food?

Recently, I was sent this article, from The Guardian, written by former drug user and founder of the charity User Voice, Mark Johnson. His point? That if an addict uses your dollar to buy drugs… it’s none of your business.

That’s a hard pill to swallow. He writes,

…frankly, it’s none of your business where an addict is on his journey. If your money funds the final hit, accept that the person would rather be dead. If your act of kindness makes him wake up the next morning and decide to change his life, that’s nice but not your business either.

Your business is to know that money desperately needed by someone went directly into his hand.

It hurts to hear that it’s none of my business if someone takes the dollar I give and funds their addiction – be it drugs or alcohol. But I also don’t understand what it is to live the painful lives of those who are willing to be degraded and dehumanized on the street in order to get something they feel they need. And I do know that the affordable housing problem is very, very, very real, in NYC.

Johnson, in his article, does recommend exercising caution with “legal street beggars,” whom he calls “charity chuggers.” I’m assuming he’s telling us to do our best to discriminate who is on the street because they need to be, or are forced to be, and who isn’t. But this brings me back to Atlantic Monthly’s presumption that they know what “beggars” are thinking when they decide to milk the system.

You  might guess who else shares his opinion.

Pope Francis.

The Pope was interviewed by a Milan magazine before Lent this year, where he had some fantastic things to say about “giving without worry.”

But what if someone uses the money for, say, a glass of wine? (A perfectly Milanese question.) His answer: If “a glass of wine is the only happiness he has in life, that’s O.K. Instead, ask yourself, what do youdo on the sly? What ‘happiness’ do you seek in secret?” Another way to look at it, he said, is to recognize how you are the “luckier” one, with a home, a spouse and children, and then ask why your responsibility to help should be pushed onto someone else.

Sounds a lot like Johnson’s case about worrying your money will be used for drugs, doesn’t it?

And… giving without worry is certainly another way of “renouncing the results of our actions”?

Regardless of anyone’s stance, I hope that giving to charities that help people in need, people that don’t share the same privileges many of us do, is a practice of yours.

But, when I can, I will give.

This #GivingTuesday, I encourage you to consider giving that change or that dollar in your pocket to someone in need – when you have it to spare. Or, engage them in conversation and find out if there is something they need that you can help them get. But work with compassion, “renouncing the results of our actions.”

For charities that support the homeless, consider donating to one of the following:

Safe Horizon – helping victims of crime and abuse, including youth homelessness

City Harvest – working to fight hunger through food rescue and distribution

The Doe Fund – connecting displaced people with jobs

 

 

Blooming in NYC: Inwood

As promised in my last post, I want to continue the “bloom where you’re planted” theme in my writing by sharing the various things I find in my city when I seek out all it has to offer. If you’re not from NYC, maybe you’ll get some tips on what to visit when you’re here (or at least let you know what else exists here, aside from Times Square and other various tourist hellscapes…) If you’re from NYC or the nearby area, maybe you’ve seen what I’m describing and can chime in, or haven’t visited it yet and might want to check it out!

After spending my “Black Friday” outdoors in nature, far from the maddening crowd, my husband and I decided to travel even further uptown Saturday morning – originally planning to visit Fort Tryon Park, after breakfast at Rue La Rue Cafe. Sadly, Rue la Rue is closed (hopefully temporarily), but we opted for something that ended up being a fantastic adventure: Inwood!

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Muscota Marsh in Inwood Hill Park. Henry Hudson Bridge crosses Spuyten Duyvil Creek.

For those that don’t know, Inwood is the upper most neighborhood uptown, on the island of Manhattan (Oddly enough, the Bronx-situated neighborhood of Marble Hill is still considered part of the Manhattan borough). Inwood is, essentially, everything north of Fort Tryon Park.

What’s so “In” about Inwood?

Home to incredible restaurants and bars, such as The Park ViewLa Marina, Darling Coffee, Tryon Public House, Guadalupe’s, a 233-year-old Farmhouse-turned-museum, and more, Inwood is also home to quite possibly the most untouched natural landscape that Manhattan has to offer.

According to the NYC parks website,

Evidence of its prehistoric roots exists as dramatic caves, valleys, and ridges left as the result of shifting glaciers. Evidence of its uninhabited state afterward remains as its forest and salt marsh (the last natural one in Manhattan), and evidence of its use by Native Americans in the 17th century continues to be discovered. Much has occurred on the land that now composes Inwood Hill Park since the arrival of European colonists in the 17th and 18th centuries, but luckily, most of the park was largely untouched by the wars and development that took place.

Inwood’s parks are the real deal. This is “old New York” at its oldest, and I’m excited to share a bit more about my interactions with Inwood Hill Park, as well as the morning I spent there this weekend.

Story Time!

Back in March of 2014, before we moved to NYC, we took a trip up here partly to scope out potential neighborhoods for our imminent move that fall, but partly for me to do research on a play I was directed in Oklahoma City, for a Native American Play Festival.

The play is titled Manahatta, written by Oklahoma-born, NYC-resident Choctaw playwright Mary Kathryn Nagle (it was being simultaneously workshopped at The Public Theater in NYC, and is now being performed at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival as part of its 2018 season). It tells parallel stories of the Lenni-Lenape people who originally lived in Manhattan (“Manahatta” is a Lenape word, meaning “island of many hills”) and were tricked into “selling” the land to the Dutch, and of a 20th century Native Delaware woman trying to reconcile her life in New York City, working on Wall Street, with the native roots of her ancestry, displaced to Oklahoma where her immediate family still lives. It was well received!

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OKC Theatre Company’s Manahatta starred Maya Torralba, Zack Morris, and Rachel Morgan. Artwork by Rachel Morgan.

I spent a lot of time in Inwood that March, discovering not only the “Indian Caves” where the Lenape people would camp while they spent their summers fishing in the nearby bodies of water (and are still in use today as shelter for the displaced), but the “Shorakkopoch Rock,” where, according to some legends, the actual transaction between the Dutch and the Native tribes took place.

The “Indian Caves” of Inwood Hill Park

Inwood - Shorakkopoch RockShorakkopoch Rock, where some say the infamous “sale” of Manahatta/Manhattan took place.

My husband and I host a walk from Inwood to Battery Park every fourth of July, in part to honor the history of the island, its original inhabitants, and its sordid relationship with the past and founding of our country. We have always begun our walk at this rock, even if it might not be the actual site of this legendary transaction.

Fast Forward to This Weekend…

In my last post, I had mentioned the “North Woods” of Central Park as a place that can very often be a true escape from the sights and the sounds of the city… but nowhere on the island of Manhattan is there a greater escape than Inwood Hill Park, where you’re not only escaping sights and sounds of the city, but much of the past millenium. The park is where you’ll even find Manhattan’s last surviving salt-water marsh (apparently there were once quite a few on the island), revitalized thanks to Columbia University, which has a boat house just next door.

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Muscota Marsh today.

Our day on Saturday began here, near this very salt water marsh, having a weekend brunch at the Indian Road Cafe, which we had first discovered this past summer during the Drums Along the Hudson, a Native American and Multicultural Festival.

Indian Road Cafe describes itself as “a restaurant in constant motion,” changing menus seasonally, and providing local artists and musicians the chance to display (or perform) some of their work on a weekly basis. Their menu also features local goods – they try to source as close to home as possible,

using a large group of Hudson Valley farms and producers. We also have relationships with purveyors on the Arthur Avenue (some call it the real Little Italy) in the Bronx, and source a great deal of fresh pasta, cheese, and meats a short ride away on the 12 bus. (from their website)

Saturday brunch included bottomless mimosas (I’ve said before that moderation is key, so only attend bottomless brunches in moderation), fresh fruit – as locally sourced as possible – and eggs from nearby Feather Ridge Farms. Oh, and some delicious French Toast. All in all, it was a wonderful meal in a wonderful place.

Outside the restaurant, there was even a “leave a book, take a book” stand. They clearly knew all the right buttons to push to provide us with the best start to a Saturday morning stay-cation experience in NYC.

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Of course, being that far north in Inwood, we couldn’t help but take advantage that afternoon and walk across the Broadway Bridge to the Marble Hill Target… but that’s a boring story that doesn’t need to be told here (except that I lost my great-uncle’s vintage sweater while I was there, alas!)

All in all, another wonderful chance to bloom here in NYC!

Have you been to Inwood Hill Park? Or, what’s your favorite part of Inwood?

If you’re not from these here parts, definitely consider visiting there when you do – and let me know, and I’ll tag along! And let me know where else I should visit that you might know, in your own city or state!

 

Bloom Where You’re Planted

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I can tell you exactly where I was, and what I was doing when someone first told me to “bloom where you’re planted.” I was 23 years old, and sitting on some concrete steps leading down into the Myriad Botanical Gardens of Oklahoma City – I went to college and grad school in Oklahoma, before we moved to NYC.

I was on the phone with a guy I was interested in – the man who would be my first gay relationship after coming out – and he was talking to me as he walked home from a piano lesson in the small town in which he grew up, telling me what he saw and with whom he met, on the way. While he talked, I watched a small bird – most likely a wren – jump around on the steps in front of me. I lamented to him that my life in Oklahoma City couldn’t possibly be as interesting as his was, in his small town.

“I don’t believe that,” he said. “No sense being down about it. You are where you are, so make the most of it. I’m sure there are plenty of wonderful or interesting things happening. Bloom where you’re planted!”

I’d never heard this phrase before – but hearing it was one of the first of many events that would completely change my life and my outlook on the world around me.

What does it mean to bloom where you’re planted?

While the actual origin of the phrase is shrouded in mystery (rather, it’s just not clear where it truly came from), most people seem to understand it to be a figurative phrase. We’re not literally planting people (ever see that horror classic Motel Hell? They planted people. This is not advisable.)

We’re “planted,” metaphorically speaking, where we live – where we’re stationed, where our job is, or even where we are physically or mentally. If we’re to bloom where we’re planted, we have to dig deep with our roots, find what there is to find wherever we are, and use it to bring us into our best selves.

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A lotus blooms at the Bethesda Fountain in Central Park

The lotus is a brilliant representation of this metaphor, because it literally germinates and grows in the mud into one of the most beautiful and highly symbolic flowers in the world! We can bloom wherever we’re planted… even if it’s in the mud!

How I bloom where I’m planted:

My husband and I love to have miniature “stay-cations” in the city on days we have off together. We live in New York City, for crying out loud! There’s always so much to see and do, even without money!

This past weekend was Thanksgiving Day weekend, including Black Friday. Instead of bowing to the gods of consumerism (or taking advantage of amazing deals – however you want to look at it), we decided to take a walk.

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The North Woods, at Central Park

Beginning at our home in Harlem, we walked to Central Park, grabbing coffee from a favorite local coffee shop along the way. The North Woods are one of only a handful of fully forested areas in Central Park. In the summer, when the leaves are fully on the trees, all of the sights of the city are blocked out, and even most of the sound! The rustling of the wind through the crisp autumn leaves was an invigorating break from the rest of the world, fighting over its television sets, Macbooks, and designer clothing (no offense, of course, if that was you). The escape of the park, especially the North Woods, is an adventure each and every time we visit, a bloom of its own on the stalk of our life in the city!

So, we walked over 100 blocks on Black Friday. Not as many as we walk on July 4th, when we walk the length of the island (an odd but oddly fulfilling tradition of ours), but it was a wonderful escape. We found ourselves walking across the West Side and up Riverside Park on the way home, chatting about our life in the city and the direction we’re hoping for it to go. Really digging in to what roots us, and trying to find the ways in which we can blossom to our fullest.

Blooming where you’re planted means finding ways in which you can dig in and grow to your fullest potential, and it means… get out and explore!!!!!!!

Did you know Riverside Church, located at Riverside Drive and W. 122nd, boasts the tallest U.S. church structure (392 feet), and holds the world’s largest turned bell (20 tons)?

20171124_135402Did you know that Grant’s Tomb, the final resting place of Ulysses S. Grant, located next to Riverside Church, is the largest mausoleum in North America?

How do you bloom where you’re planted? What have you explored lately, or what exciting things have you discovered in your own backyard? I’d love to hear about your own adventures!

A Wilder Thanksgiving: Part 2

The Five Contemplations*:

This food is the gift of the whole universe,
The Earth, the sky, and much hard work.
May we eat in such a way as to be worthy
to receive it.
May we transform our unskillful states of mind
and learn to eat in moderation.
May we take only food that nourishes us
and prevents illness.
We accept this food in order to realize
the path of understanding and love.

*as translated by Thich Nhat Hanh (Be Free Where You Are, 2002)

As I remarked in my last post, celebrating the Thanksgiving holiday is troublesome for me. I certainly grew up surrounded with family, eating the traditional meals with traditional recipes, stuffing myself with pumpkin pie. But knowing how this day is felt by others, and understanding what I know about the effects of food on my body, I’ve been wanting to establish a more “authentic” tradition, for myself and my family. What does one do, to reset a holiday tradition and begin something more mindful for mind, body, and spirit?

One makes resolutions!!!

When my husband and I set out to make a more balanced meal sourced locally from the Farmer’s Market, we did so with the idea in mind that what we’re doing on this day is an indicator for ourselves of what we want to do more often for ourselves.

Today, then, becomes a day not just about “being thankful,” but about pressing the internal “reset button” on our thoughts and lives and putting practices in place that we would like to see ourselves practicing for the year ahead.

Start your New Year’s Resolutions Early.

At our meal this afternoon, as I’ve done every Thanksgiving meal since we moved to NYC, I read “The Five Contemplations” as translated in Thich Nhat Hanh’s book, Be Free Where You Are. I have done this as a reminder for myself to approach each meal, not just today, but everyday, with a mindful eye and heart, and purpose toward bettering myself with nourishing food, and bettering the world by shopping more sustainably.

I visited website after website (again, see my last post) for information on approaching this meal from an Ayurvedic perspective because I wish to incorporate this system of health into my everyday life – I’ve noticed so many benefits, already!

And, lastly, we made sure our meal was as close to 100% locally sourced as possible – down to the New Jersey cranberries, and the flour for bread made from New England wheat!

Honestly… it didn’t turn out half bad!

I’ll admit that I wasn’t listening to the advice from the Ayurveda websites when they warned against overeating – though the pre-feast cider with ginger and lime did help tremendously!

Side note, I realized after preparing the meal that I ended up using all the apples I’d bought at the market, so I couldn’t stew any later for a dessert!

After we ate, we walked the dogs and went for a walk of our own – something of a tradition, too, I suppose – traveling by subway to Columbus Circle, watching the post-Thanksgiving Day Parade cleanup and venturing over to 5th Ave to gawk at the incredible holiday window displays of the high-end shops. My favorite has always been Bergdorf Goodman’s windows, that always have somewhat of an intellectual bent. This year, their windows represent different cultural institutions of NYC. Here’s the window displaying the New York Historical Society:

Bergdorf Goodman: Holiday 2017 Window Reveal

Celebrating the 80th year anniversary of the Disney film, Snow White and the Seven Dwarves, Saks Fifth Avenue created an incredible display that plays out, window by window, the story of the Disney film, complete with animatronics. To top it all off is the holiday light show on their building that plays every few minutes or so. It’s all quite the spectacle, and certainly worth a gander on a walk down 5th Avenue!

So, it seems our Thanksgiving Day ended a little louder than it started! But living in NYC, we just can’t help getting drawn in to all of the bright and bold shows our city seems to put on, on a daily basis. Our journey today took us down to the Winter Village in Bryant Park, where we like to go and poke our heads into random boutique and specialty pop-up stores and enjoy random and often exotic fare.

One such stop that we always make at the Winter Village is Max Brenner’s pop-up shop, where we get cups of hot chocolate… literally hot, melted chocolate. (I was so excited to drink my first cup of the season that I couldn’t take a steady picture!)

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Needless to say, my stomach made sure to let me know that, after a more digestible and mindful meal, this wasn’t exactly the best thing to be drinking. But if we’re going to talk about balance, then we can’t forget that moderation is always key, and we can’t cut out the little things we love entirely! All in all, it was a beautiful day, and I’m absolutely grateful for the hands that grew the food and gave it to us, and the ability to prepare the meal with the person I love, and the city in which I live and get to explore every day.

May everyone’s day be full of joy, love, and mindfulness, and may all of these things accompany you into the upcoming holiday season!

Do you have any traditions that you’re fond of, or that you keep to still? Do you make alternative plans on this day for the sake of your ancestry? I would love to hear about it!

A Wilder Thanksgiving: Part I

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What does it mean to have a Wilder Thanksgiving?

I guess I don’t really have the answer to that question… yet.

Have you ever done something over and over again so often that you forget why you were doing it in the first place? Perhaps it loses some of its meaning, or maybe you never really understood the meaning in the first place?

Celebrating Thanksgiving has been a lot like that, for me (and I suspect I’m not alone). We constantly hear people reminding us “what Thanksgiving is all about.” Never mind the plethora of information out there on the origins of Thanksgiving, or the unfortunate truth about Thanksgiving (which of course, creates complications for those who still practice it).

I struggle every year with how to approach this holiday – how to be balanced, grateful, and compassionate. This year… I decided we needed to approach this day Ayurvedically, and locally.

What is Ayurveda?

Ayurveda means the “science of life,” according to Dr. Kulreet Chuadhary, who wrote the much-publicized book, The Prime, and focuses first and foremost on gut health: 

Ancient physicians knew what modern doctors are only beginning to fully understand: that one of the most important factors in overall health – including weight issues, chronic disease, and brain dysfunction – is the health of your digestive system. An old Ayurvedic saying goes something like this: “It’s not just about what you eat. It’s about what you digest.” (74)

When we think of Thanksgiving, too often we think of large meals, over-eating, and often even cut corners with store-bought and processed foods (how many cans of cranberry “stuff” have we all eaten in our lives?). In later posts, I’ll explore exactly what I’ve found beneficial about Ayurveda (and The Prime), but suffice to say I wanted to find a way to strike a balance in our meal.

So the research began.

Ayurveda teaches balance in how the elements (air/wind, earth, fire, water) are incorporated into what we eat and how what we eat and do interacts with our bodies with their own unique composition (called your “dosha,” of which there are three – vata, kapha, and pitta). This is actually common sense to us. Ever been told to eat a hot, broth-y soup, or something spicy, when your head was full of congestion? Totally Ayurveda.

One of the ways to find balance in our food is to incorporate six main tastes, according to Ayurveda:

  • Sweet
  • Salty
  • Sour
  • Pungent
  • Bitter
  • Astringent

As you can imagine, most of the “tastes” associated with a typical Thanksgiving Day meal are salty and sweet. So I pored over website after website after website after website after website, after website in search of recipes until I felt like I knew exactly what kind of meal to make.

And then… it was off to the farmer’s market! Did you know grains grown in the Northeast are available at the NYC farmer’s market?? I didn’t!

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One of the most important things to me, wherever I am, is to eat as locally and sustainably as possible. I wanted our entire meal to incorporate as much local ingredients as possible. Like Dr. Chaudhary wrote, it’s not just about what we eat, but what we digest, and knowing where my food comes from goes a long way to helping me know what I’m digesting – and it gives me peace of mind and heart, two things I could definitely use a lot of!

I’m going to have to continue this post tomorrow, especially when I have the results of our meal… but I first wanted to share our menu!

And remember the grains I mentioned above? We already have bread to look forward to, tomorrow!

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I look forward to your questions and comments – if you’ve had experience crafting a local feast, or an Ayurvedic -themed one, I want to know! I can’t wait to share more tomorrow when I talk about not only how our meal went, but exactly why I wanted to make this meal in the first place!

Stay tuned for more Wilder Thanksgiving, tomorrow!