Reasons to Be Thankful

This week, we asked several local people to finish this sentence: “I’m thankful for …”

The responses revealed what they hold dear and part of what makes Northeast Florida tick.

The act of giving thanks in both small and grandiose forms is thousands of years old. Every child is taught that good manners require you to say “thank you” — although many seem to forget it. And yet it takes a holiday for many of us to stop, take stock and feel thankful for the gifts in our lives.

For the last few years since I moved back to Jacksonville and have been able to enjoy Thanksgiving with my extended family, we have created a tangible expression of our gratitude. We each get a piece of construction paper, a stack of newspapers and magazines and a bunch of crayons and markers to build a page symbolizing what makes us thankful. We can cut out words or pictures and paste them on our pages, or we can draw or write.

I’m not sure who first suggested this activity to keep everyone busy while the final touches are made on the meal, but it has become a tradition, and one that my daughter eagerly awaits each year.

Here are some of the things I’ll be cutting and pasting onto my page this year. Perhaps they coincide with some of your reasons to be thankful.

Water: The ocean, rivers, creeks — and everything in between. The water is something I took for granted growing up here, but years spent in the Midwest made me realize how connected I felt to the coast. It also provides another thing I’m thankful for: seafood.

Weather: More than a dozen winters in Minnesota, Michigan and Indiana make me grateful for sunny blue skies in December. Nothing says “Happy Holidays” like a palm tree and a flamingo. And once again, we can be thankful that the worst of the hurricane season skipped by our little indent in the coast.

Locally owned businesses: The economy has taken its toll, but it’s also spawned some creative local storefronts, from the Old School Barber Shop that’s already grown to three locations (Avondale, Julington Creek and Ponte Vedra) to Natural Life’s new Avenues spot to the gourmet cooking store All Spiced Up in San Marco. It’s places like these that make Northeast Florida not just another stop on I-95. American Express is promoting its third annual Small Business Saturday Nov. 24, a day dedicated to supporting small businesses nationwide, by providing a $25 statement credit on that day ( Riverside Arts Market is suggesting spending some time and money there on Shop Small Saturday to support local businesses. A local version of that is Jax Cash Mob (, which organizes flash mobs to descend on local stores, each person spending $10 to $20. The next meeting is 11 a.m. Nov. 23 at Maple Street Biscuit Company in San Marco, where they’ll announce the local business to support that day.

Food: Speaking of biscuits (mmmmm, biscuits), Maple Street is just one of dozens of local restaurants defining the flavor — and tastes — of Northeast Florida. Take a break from the familiar chains and try something truly local. A few new suggestions: Pho A Noodle Bar (117 W. Adams St., Downtown), Black Sheep Restaurant (1534 Oak St., 5 Points) or Christopher’s Take Out & Catering (2021 St. Augustine Rd. E., Ste. 8, Southside). Or try one of many local eateries that call me back again and again, such as Brick Restaurant, Biscottis, Soup’s On, TacoLu, Pele’s Wood Fire, Salt Life Food Shack, Burrito Gallery, Restaurant Orsay — the list goes on and on (see page 44). And, of course, more than a dozen food trucks are pulling up to locations near you (

Beer: You’ll need something to wash down all that delicious food. Northeast Florida has bellied up to the craft beer bar in a big way: Bold City Brewery, Brewer’s Pizza (home of Pinglehead Brewing Company), Engine 15 Brewing Co., Green Room Brewing, Intuition Ale Works, Seven Bridges, River City Brewing Company, A1A Ale Works and Ragtime Tavern. And it keeps growing — Aardwolf Brewery is on its way to San Marco.

Exercise: All that food and drink can pack on the pounds; it sure did on me. Now, I’m thankful for losing more than 50 pounds and keeping it off through the help of Weight Watchers (shout out to WW leader Anita Durst!) and inspiring friends who push me to walk and run and keep moving. Jacksonville’s running community is immense, and there’s always a weekend event to keep me motivated.

Culture: Myriad music, theater, art and events are the heartbeat of our area. There really is something for everyone, and a lot of it is low-cost or free.

Neighborhoods: San Marco, Riverside, Springfield, Avondale, 5 Points, the Beaches, St. Augustine, Amelia Island — these are the areas that give us character. The mix of retail and residential in walkable areas is something that should be emulated in other areas. And Downtown Jacksonville, with all of its issues, now seems primed to take the next step. If historic structures like the Bostwick building can be saved and renovated, and the old Haydon Burns Library can finally find new life as the next Latitude project, more will follow.

Folio Weekly: Working here is more than a job — it’s a responsibility to the many readers who pick us up each week. I get to work with a smart, creative, wacky group of people to create a fun, challenging and inspiring magazine.

My family: They’re the reason I’m here.