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Putting Thankfulness into Action

By Kristina Schnack Kotlus, Contributing Writer

When my family celebrates Passover, there’s a beautiful song called “Dayenu” that we sing at the end of the Haggadah (the text recited during the Seder dinner). When I asked my husband to bring me the words so that I could write my Thanksgiving column, he looked at me with a slight amount of concern, and asked me to confirm that I knew Passover was in the spring.

I have a degree in comparative religious studies, and I’ve been cooking for Passover the 10 years of our marriage, but I did recently have 16 hours of brain surgery, so it was a fair question.

It’s just that this song is perfect for right now. In the midst of financial and government uncertainty and busy fall schedules, with cold weather creeping in and heating bills creeping up, I wanted to remember “Dayenu.” Loosely translated, it means “It would have been sufficient.” Sometimes, when you’re being thankful as a family, it helps to count your blessings that way.

Whether or not you thank a deity, the universe, or fate, counting your blessings is a good practice for any time of year, but especially as we approach the holiday literally named for giving thanks. It’s almost Pollyanna in practice, but you start out with “If we hadn’t starved this year, it would’ve been enough, but we had more than enough to eat.” (Maybe even a little too much for some of us.)

Or it could be, “If we would’ve had clothes to wear, it would’ve been sufficient, but we had enough money to pick up a few new outfits.” For me, it’s a good reminder on my bad days that I survived surgery and can walk and talk, even when things hurt.

Wonders never cease when you realize how far from the baseline you are. With a child who is rapidly approaching his “tween” years and seems convinced that everything we say is “not fair,” counting our blessings is a special kind of family fun this year.

Sometimes the best way to handle a disgruntled child is with appreciation.

Whether you reinforce that thankfulness with words or actions, I hope that you’ll take time this season to realize what would be sufficient in your life, and how beyond that you are, or if you’re not beyond that baseline right now, how you have been in the past and will be again in the future. Thankfulness is so important to being happy in general and has helped my family weather a number of storms.

Here are a few ideas for putting your thankfulness into action this November:

Paper Chain

We’re huge fans of the paper chain of thankfulness at our house, because we’re cheap. I know you’re supposed to say “frugal,” but there’s no two ways about hacking up construction paper. It’s the cheap option, and we love it.

Have each family member write on a strip of the paper something he or she is thankful for. Attach the strips to make a chain, using tape or a glue stick to secure the edges. Add new “links” every day this month. We like to do this after dinner. By Thanksgiving Day, you’ll have a lovely chain of fall colors to decorate your home.

If you’d like to class it up and go green, has a dry-erase “cornucopia” set, for about $30. It allows your family to update its list as often as you would all like, and it’s reusable year after year.

A Helping Hand

If your family needs a little less talk and a lot more action, check out ACTS (Action in Community rough Service). Our family was recently able to volunteer there on a Saturday morning.

Even our 5-year-old was able to help count cans and boxes for the nonprofit organization’s “Operation Turkey,” and I hear ACTS frequently needs rice and beans measured into smaller bags.

Older children and teens can be even more help: stocking goods, moving boxes or helping with other “heavy-lifting” tasks. For other volunteer opportunities in Prince William, visit

Fall Cleaning

If adding one more thing to your schedule isn’t in the cards, but you’d still like to be thankful in a more physical and less abstract way, help others and yourself by calling for a family purge. “We’re so blessed we’ve got to give it away” is the mantra. By giving away your unused and unneeded items, you’ll be helping others and gaining some extra space in your home.

Set a timer to make it fun by seeing who in your family finds in five minutes the most number of items to donate. You can schedule a home pickup through, which works with a number of area charities.

Nonprofits with shelters or thrift stores, such as ACTS in Dumfries and SERVE in Manassas, will often accept donations as well. Just call ahead to make sure that they need the types of items you are donating.

A   Place(mat) of Thanks  Finally, for the “awwww” factor, help your younger children trace their handprint to create the iconic “handprint turkey” placemat.  On each “feather,” have them write why they’re thankful for each guest attending your dinner.

Having personalized placemats with statements like “Grandma reads to me” or “Papa plays hockey” will remind all of your guests how much they are appreciated.

If you would like to share photos of your Thanksgiving “family fun” with us, email them to edi[email protected] or tag @Prince William Living in your photos on Facebook. From my family to yours—have a wonderful and thankful holiday.

Kristina Schnack Kotlus is a local mother of three children and the owner of, a resource for parents and families in Prince William CountyVisit her site or Facebook page for an events calendar, reviews and more ideas for fall fun.

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