cinnamon rolls taste like gratitude

by rebecca on November 28, 2011

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Because many sticky fingered readers asked me about my Thanksgiving snowflakes I’m reposting this.

  Cinnamon rolls remind me to be grateful, consequently they are my altared space today.  When my children were young my husband and I lived in the same town as both our parents.  With divorce on both sides we had a lot of houses to visit on Thanksgiving Day.  We’d bundle babies in layers upon layers of snowsuits and head out. 

          We’d unbundle, eat, drink and be merry for a few hours only to rebundle and head off to the next home to unbundle and eat again.  Making the family hop didn’t always leave a period of time dedicated to counting our blessings.  It was this compacted holiday schedule that inspired me to find a way to teach my children to give thanks on Thanksgiving.  Consequently I baked cinnamon rolls.

          On Thanksgiving morning, still in our jammies, my little family now gathers to fold tiny squares of tissue paper into even tinier triangles.  We take snips of tissue paper here and there between bites of our hot-out-of-the-oven rolls and unfold to let the mystery snips reveal a fairy’s treasure.  Onto these fairy whisper snowflakes we write the names of people who have made our year particularly gratifying, then hang them on our family tree. 

          It is easy to think of something I’m grateful for that happened yesterday.  And I’m always grateful for my family.  But coming up with something unique about each particular year of my life is a bigger mental puzzle.  Each of us has learned to look at the big picture as we lick sticky fingers.

          When he was two my son was particularly grateful for the trash truck that pulled up to our student housing apartment.  He didn’t need to articulate this to me.  The gymnastics he performed on the kitchen table told me how thrilled he was to see that dinosaur-looking behemoth extend its fingers into the dumpster, haul it fifteen feet in the air and make that tremendous crashing sound of metal on metal.  To a two year old who requested the TRUCKS book every day before napping, this truck appearing just outside our window every day was nothing short of miraculous.

          In order to let people know their names adorn our decorative snowflakes we offer them some of the cinnamon rolls we’ll be eating while we speak their name and offer thanks for their presence in our lives.  We hand out our tin foil bundles in the days before Thanksgiving so people will know we’re mentioning them as we eat these same little yummies.

          I can assure you the trash truck driver had never before received such enthusiastic gratitude.  He had no idea he was the main event in my son’s life nor that his daily presence brought such joy.  After that he waved toward our kitchen window as he went about moving levers and pushing buttons to make that tremendous crashing noise.

          My mechanic was equally surprised to find me handing him a package of tin foil with instructions to warm it on Thanksgiving morning.  I had just moved my family to Omaha where my husband would spend four years in school.  Money was tight and our cars were not.  My car was wandering all over the lane on the freeway and I knew something had to be done.  I cringed when I took my little blue car to his garage afraid of how the unexpected bill would sink me.           

          But he called two hours later having filled my tires with air.  No charge.  He “no-charged” me not less than four times before there was a legitimate bill for me to pay upon pick-up.  I had no hesitation giving him boat loads of money after that because I knew I could trust him.  It was this trust, when I felt adrift, for which I was so grateful.

          I’ve given cinnamon rolls to bank tellers and best friends, people who’ve welcomed us to a new place without knowing it and people who’ve sat at our dining room table to play cards or drink wine for years and years.  A transformation has always taken place in the wake of handing out our simple package of kneaded dough. 

          Everyone wants to be needed.  Knowing they made a difference to me or to my family brings a spark of ignition.  A new life glows between us.  Sometimes our cinnamon rolls recognize relationships where there has been lots of history.  Sometimes they abolish the invisible wall between strangers.  Always this recognition that these people mattered creates a little altar of human dough between us.

          I find it ironic that the crazy days when I was hopping from house to house to connect with all our family members brought me this little tradition of connecting to the larger world around me.  It helps me remember to be grateful even for the things in life I think I want to hop over.


          Is it ever awkward for you to extract the “thank you’s” at your table? Are there people you’d love to thank but you don’t know how? Are you dizzy from being a family hopper eating too much turkey and mashed potatoes?

What do you think of my new look? I’d like to thank Dan Fennell for his patience and attention to detail.

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{ 16 comments… read them below or add one }

TheKitchenWitch November 26, 2010 at 9:32 am

What a lovely way to honor the “little but important” people in your life! The story of your son getting frenzied when the trash truck approached made me smile!


rebecca November 26, 2010 at 9:49 am


“Little but important”…isn’t it the little things (and people / relationships) that so deepen our lives? We have made friends with every “family” of bakers in every town we’ve lived. Because bread is that foundational to LIFE.


6512 and growing November 26, 2010 at 4:14 pm

What a sweet tradition, literally and figuratively. Love that your son was grateful for the trash truck driver, so perfect and honest.
We do “thankfuls” at our table every night, which is nice, even though the kids, of late, have been saying the same thing every meal “Thankful for Mommy, daddy, sister, brother.” It might be time to mix the tradition up a bit.
Happy Thanksgiving!
(did you eat any venison for Thanksgiving?)


Stacy (Mama-Om) November 26, 2010 at 6:40 pm


We paint watercolor paper and then cut out leaf shapes… and then while eating our dessert, we write down all the things we are grateful for. Last year we hung them on our tree, but my youngest son broke all the branches on that tree months ago and we haven’t gotten new ones… so we taped them to the post in the middle of our living room.

I had the fleeting thought that it would be nice to give the ones to the people we often list on them… Perhaps we will still do that, or work it in for next year.

Thanks for the inspiration.


rebecca November 27, 2010 at 9:23 am

Mama Om,

Oooh! I love this! I’d love to see how your watercolor leaves turn out. Isn’t it fun to do an “art thing” with your kids? And I’m always surprised by how much our guests get into it too.


rebecca November 27, 2010 at 9:29 am


I love that you do daily “thankfuls”. We did this for years. I’m not really sure why it fell off. But doing that practice allows me to, out of the blue, ask my kids, “What are you grateful for?” Even in the midst of yucky circumstances. They know exactly why I’m asking. I wonder if it would feel too contrived for me to try that again?

We had company in town for several days and there was plenty of time to share the harvest of the hunt with them. Thanks for asking.


Kate November 27, 2010 at 4:25 pm

What an amazing tradition! Connections, both old and new, are so precious. I’m trying to find our family traditions. Having family in many cities means that each year things are different. But continuity and thoughtfulness are what make these holidays so rich to me.


rebecca November 27, 2010 at 6:25 pm


“thoughtfulness and continuity are what make these holidays so rich.” You said it so well. If we can find that inner celebration then, no matter how far we are from home, our tradition is the mindfulness we bring to the holiday.

Sometimes the richest holiday moments with my kids came as we were transitioning from relatives’ homes. I think you named it well.


SuziCate November 28, 2010 at 7:46 pm

This is an absolutely lovely family tradition that warms the hearts of all. I can just imagine how wonderful the trash collector or the mechanic must have felt upon receiving those tokens of thanks. Thank you for sharing this wonderful part of you family with us.


rebecca November 29, 2010 at 2:42 pm


It is true: people have felt surprised by our rolls, and it has opened up a little heart tenderness. I think it’s why breaking the rules of conformity for gift giving is a good thing.


Stacia November 30, 2010 at 11:21 am

Wow, what a great idea. I might just steal it. (And say “thanks,” of course!) I love the idea of passing on something so meaningful yet simple to people who may not even know they’ve had an impact on your life. Kindness breeds kindness indeed.

PS: Can I get that mechanic’s number?? Think he works remotely?


rebecca November 30, 2010 at 4:15 pm


Thanks for stealing and thanking.

Interestingly, in my new town, I’ve run into yet another mechanic who treats me similarly. I think those cinnamon rolls planted some good car karma.


Margaret Reyes Dempsey January 20, 2011 at 7:10 pm

I love this idea! That snowflake tree is gorgeous.

Your blogs are resonating with me. I am drawn to similar things (the rocks and beads and crafty items) but I don’t have the ability to transform them the way you do.

I like to surround myself with natural items that have meaning to me–a collection of beach glass and shells that I found in Scotland that sits in a whisky glass, some pinecones from Andora, Italy that bring to mind a wonderful family vacation.

I, too, have an altar of sorts, and I’m realizing that it needs updating because it no longer reflects who I am.

Thank you for providing such wonderful inspiration and food for thought.


rachel November 30, 2011 at 2:16 am

i’m not even sure where to begin, rebecca. i love this tradition of yours, love love love love it. and i’m feeling some peculiar serendipity (as so often happens when i stop by here) to read your own recounting of your mechanic on the day that i finally picked up my old blue car from my equally trustworthy mechanic as i weather through my own tight financial belt. i should thank him more clearly than i did today, let him know that his honesty means a great deal to me.

also, your new website is beautiful. i love that you are honoring so much of your self in this space, and it has all come together so…i don’t know…rightly 🙂

and lastly (pardon this epic comment), i just want to say that i’m thankful that our paths have crossed in this vast expanse of interwebs. without ever having made eye contact, you have been an invaluable witness for me, a friend and kindred spirit. thank you for all of that and more.


Sue Rodda December 4, 2012 at 4:20 am

Dear Miracle Worker,
Thank You. Simply. From deep in my heart…like your snowflakes and cinnamon rolls are from deep within that kind, seeing, willing-to-be-seen, heart of yours.

It’s never too late to create a happy adulthood!

You’re on the snowflakes of my heart!


rebecca December 4, 2012 at 11:20 pm

“It’s never too late to create a happy adulthood!”
Wise words.


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