This Thanksgiving, CNN readers reveal what they're thankful for

By Melissa Mahtani, Fernando Alfonso III, Brandon Griggs and Maureen Chowdhury, CNN

Updated 11:46 a.m. ET, June 30, 2022
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1:30 p.m. ET, June 2, 2022

Foster puppy helps Chicago woman discover how "much love I have to give"

All it took was a bundle of sloppy kisses and quivering energy to convince Jolyn Koehl that something was missing in her life.

Between feeling lonely and stressed during the pandemic, Koehl said there were moments of extreme gratitude and connection, she told CNN.

"Everything I loved about the city was unavailable; restaurants, concerts, happy hours. But it forced me to slow down and consider how I might want my life to change after the pandemic," she said.

Koehl, a vice president at Zeno Group, a strategic communications firm, decided to foster a 3-month-old puppy named Zemo from Paws Chicago due to working from home, an abundance of free time, and the need for a "temporary companion that would" get her off the couch, she told CNN.

"He hates garbage trucks and barks when I leave the apartment. My schedule revolves around when he needs to walk and pee and eat and the people were right," Koehl said. "It's a lot of work. But after a month of waking up to his patient, eager eyes as I open my bedroom door, watching him hurdle towards me after he's done playing with his park friends, and listening to him snore and sigh as we spend another evening on the couch, I understand why people do it."

Zemo recently went to his forever home, leaving behind "nose smudges on the window, a half-eaten jar of peanut butter, a squeaky ball under my dresser and a place in my heart forever," Koehl said.

In terms of whether she'll be adopting a dog, Koehl said "it is only a matter of time now; just need to find my own big backyard first."

1:31 p.m. ET, June 2, 2022

Miami man rediscovers his passion for swimming and finds love in the process

From CNN's Maureen Chowdhury

(Mike LaMonica)
(Mike LaMonica)

Mike LaMonica, from Miami Florida, was a competitive swimmer at the University of Connecticut, but he took a 30-year break from dedicated and competitive swimming after college.

In 2015 he began swimming again as part of his rehabilitation after a hernia operation. When the pandemic began, he "rededicated" himself to his passion of swimming, making a point to go every day.

Little did he know that when pools first reopened in South Beach, he would also meet the love of his life, Kelly.

"It was one of the first pools to reopen and I was there every day," LaMonica told CNN.

"At first I did not know she was the manager, but also at first, I did know she was the one for me," he added.

LaMonica and Kelly were married in September of this year.

(Courtesy Insidemymind Photography)
(Courtesy Insidemymind Photography)

On top of meeting his wife, LaMonica also broke two United States swimming records in the 100 Meter Butterfly and 200 yard Butterfly at the Coral Springs Masters Short Course Meters Meet last December.

"Swimming was definitely a refuge during the pandemic and it continues to be," LaMonica said.

"I doubled down on what was important to me. This epidemic has been a tragedy and a tough time. But it had a beautiful silver lining for me," LaMonica said.

He added, "The pandemic is what you make it, and I think I made a lot out of it. I am blessed to come out of it with so much."

1:35 p.m. ET, June 2, 2022

The pandemic made this man realize life is short. So he made one of his dreams come true.

(Courtesy James Campbell)
(Courtesy James Campbell)

James Campbell grew up in Indianapolis, home to the "Indy 500" – one of the most famous racetracks in the world.

As a child, he always wanted to be a race car driver but life and a career got in the way.

Campbell said the pandemic drove home that life is short and when he thought about all the things he would want to achieve in his life, one thing stood out: "drive a race car."

He was living in Minnesota at the time and had a friend instructing at Brainerd International Raceway so he decided to make his dream come true.

And when he did, the experience didn't disappoint.

"I felt like a dream had come true," he said. "The fact that I could have done that sooner was something that bothered me some. I also had a feeling of relief and extreme joy."

That experience ignited something in him and it won't be his last. Campbell intends to go back next year.

"I’m so happy I went, it’s a passion turned into reality," he said.
1:38 p.m. ET, June 2, 2022

She was in critical care for 3 months. Then came a gift that saved her life

From CNN's Faith Karimi

Roxanne Watson lives in Nanuet, New York
Roxanne Watson lives in Nanuet, New York (Courtesy Roxanne Watson)

Roxanne Watson is most grateful for one thing: her heart, and the man who gave it to her.

Watson, 67, was diagnosed with congestive heart failure and was on the transplant list for four years. She was hospitalized in critical care for nearly three months.

"On the 60th day of critical care I had an 'Aha' moment," she said. "I told myself, 'If you live, you will do this work so no one will have to suffer so much to get a donor."

A month later, Watson got a young man's heart in a transplant that saved her life.

Her donor, firefighter Michael Bovill, 23, had died in a motorcycle accident.

That was in July 2010. Since then, Watson has made it her mission to register people to be organ donors. She says she's spread her message at schools, libraries and shopping malls, and has registered about 12,000 people so far.

As a volunteer firefighter and an active duty member of the US Coast Guard, Bovill lived in New Jersey and spent his short time on Earth trying to save lives. Watson wants to spend the rest of her days repaying that favor.

"It's been 11 years since my transplant, but this never gets old," she said. "He (Bovill) saved five of us with his organs. And now it's my full-time job to honor him and use his story to encourage others to save lives."

Watson has met Bovill's parents and stays in touch with them. She now tells people she's 34. That's how old he would have been this year.

1:39 p.m. ET, June 2, 2022

What I wish I knew before becoming a parent: 4 lessons my kids taught me

From Jaclyn Greenberg, for CNN

Jaclyn Greenberg was prepared for the responsibilities of becoming a parent. But she didn't expect how much she'd learn from her three children.
Jaclyn Greenberg was prepared for the responsibilities of becoming a parent. But she didn't expect how much she'd learn from her three children. (Courtesy Jaclyn Greenberg)

My family of five, which includes my three children – ages 11, 9 and 7 – were at a local state park. They wanted to check out the gift shop at the end of our visit.

"Mom, this isn't the accessible entrance," my 7-year-old son said. "You need to ask someone where to go."

My 9-year-old son is disabled and uses a wheelchair. The accessible entrance was locked, so we went to the main entrance, which had stairs.

It matters to my kids that we are all able to get somewhere, not just those of us who can use the stairs. They also know how to ask for help. Advocating has become second nature to them.

This isn't anything I consciously taught them how to do. They learned through observing my husband and me, and they are proud to speak up for the needs of our family. It's an important life skill I didn't know they learned until they demonstrated it in front of me.

Before I became a parent, I knew I would be supporting my children and teaching them how to care for themselves and how to navigate the world. What I didn't expect was how much I would learn from them. Here are some of my favorite lessons.

Read the full story here.

3:35 p.m. ET, November 24, 2021

CNN's space writer says she's grateful for the "tiny Ingenuity helicopter on Mars"

From CNN's  Ashley Strickland

ASU/JPL-Caltech/NASA
ASU/JPL-Caltech/NASA

This year, we've watched the story of a little chopper unfold on another planet. And much like the joy brought by the successful landing of the Perseverance rover on Mars in February, the journey of its Ingenuity helicopter sidekick is just what we needed in 2021.

From millions of miles away, we've looked to the red planet as a distraction from our woes as we live through the second year of a pandemic. Meanwhile, two robots are achieving what was once thought to be impossible on Mars.

It's easy to project our hopes on them, envision them as two robot pals playing out some buddy cop scenario. Their discoveries bring us wonder. Their successes are worth celebrating. And they send back stunning postcards from a rust-colored world.

Ingenuity was built and is powered by the same human trait from which it takes its name. Thousands of dedicated, hardworking and creative people worked for years to make it a reality. When I ask scientists if they ever imagined a helicopter flying on Mars, most of them say no – but they are glad, and in awe, that it exists and is actively flying through the Martian atmosphere.

The journey hasn't been easy for the helicopter. Imagine building an experiment, technology to be demonstrated on another planet, and not running into some problems. Time and time again, the chopper and its team have overcome these issues to keep exploring.

Let us be grateful for people like MiMi Aung and Ingenuity's chief engineer, Bob Balaram, and the rest of the Ingenuity team at NASA for pushing so hard to make what was once an idea sitting on a shelf a successful reality.

Ingenuity may only be 4 pounds, but it has successfully carried all of our hopes. It has allowed us to dream of successors capable of even more, and Ingenuity's continued achievements spark the same joy as the landing of Perseverance.

Read the full article here.

3:36 p.m. ET, November 24, 2021

Yet another reason you should be thankful: It’s good for you

Analysis from CNN's David G. Allan

(Adobe Stock)
(Adobe Stock)

Logically speaking, we should be in a perpetual state of gratitude. Most people who read this column, even if they aren’t fully aware, have a long list of blessings to count (most of the time, anyway). Yes, even in the middle of a pandemic. For all the challenges and deep loss this year has delivered around the world, there is much left over to embrace:

Family. Friends. Love. Health. Freedom from war and natural disaster. Imagination. Community. A roof over our heads. Common decency. Hope. Opportunity. Memories. Financial stability. Favorite places. Days off work. Good weather. The golden age of television. Books. Music. Ice cream. Weekends. A friendly exchange. Something good that happened today. Something bad that didn’t happen today. A good cup of coffee.

You may not have everything you want or even need, but that probably leaves buckets – nay, container ships – full of tangible and conceptual items for which to be grateful. Things can always be better, but they can always be worse. It often depends on how you look at that proverbial glass of water.

To get in better touch with gratefulness, all you have to do is find easy ways to count blessings more often than, say, over an annual turkey dinner. Keep them boiling on the front burner of your mind, and you increase your appreciation of life.

What keeps us from longer and more frequent visits to a grateful (and graceful) mental place is that we think about other things. In fact, we are wired to. Our primitive brains smartly evolved the capacity to quickly sense potential threats, to keep us safe. But in a post-saber-toothed-tiger era, we get easily annoyed, worried and distracted by a lot of extraneous noise.

Instead, we need more focus on the positive, And you don’t have to set the bar high. Allow yourself to be thankful for the small, mundane things that give you joy and meaning, as well as the big ones. And don’t try to gather heaps of blessings to count; a handful each day should do it.

You can read the full article here.

3:36 p.m. ET, November 24, 2021

The past year gave this mom "valuable time" with her kids

(Courtesy Kelly Jarboe)
(Courtesy Kelly Jarboe)

"I’m forever grateful for the additional time I got to spend with my children. I know many people struggled, but for us, it worked," Kelly Jarboe from Louisville, Kentucky, told CNN.

Kelly and her husband successfully navigated a full year of virtual Kindergarten during the Covid-19 pandemic "and thrived," while working from home with their two younger children.

"I spent so much valuable time with my kids, and we discovered a new love of hiking and exploring the outdoors. It changed our lives," she added.

Kelly describes spending hours swinging on their backyard swing set and miles of hiking or playing in creeks and waterfalls along the trails, finding “treasures” which she explains meant acorns and feathers for the kids.

Kelly now works from home along with her husband and says she "couldn’t be happier."

3:36 p.m. ET, November 24, 2021

This foster mom is grateful for her "miracle baby"

(Courtesy Cassie McNulty)
(Courtesy Cassie McNulty)

After seven years of infertility and adopting twins through foster care, Cassie McNulty figured her family was complete.

"We first started trying to get pregnant in 2015. Everyone around us would plan when they wanted to get pregnant and it would easily happen. We assumed it would be simple for us, but month after month of us trying, I was left feeling devastated when my period would come," she says.

Cassie and her husband did all kind of tests before they were prescribed with "unexplained infertility." Instead of pursuing expensive fertility treatments, they decided to shift their focus of wanting biological children to helping children in foster care.

"In 2017 we became licensed foster parents and took in newborn twins. After two years of being in the foster care system, our twins were adopted in 2019. After the adoption was finalized, I gave away all of our baby items," Cassie says, adding, "I no longer wanted to get pregnant and my mind was set on us being a family of four."

Cassie and her husband didn’t use protection because they figured, after so many years of trying, it wouldn't – and couldn't – happen. So in September 2020, in the middle of a challenging pandemic, they were shocked to find out they were pregnant!

"I had my period date all wrong, so in my mind, my period wasn’t late," Cassie explains. "A friend quickly reminded me that we were on the same schedule for our cycles and that I should have had mine by now. She made me run to CVS to get a pregnancy test. I took her advice even though I thought I wouldn’t be pregnant. There were many joyful tears over a positive pregnancy test, but I still didn’t believe it until my first doctor’s appointment where I heard the heartbeat."

Karis, which means “grace,” was born on April 21 of this year and Cassie describes her as their "miracle baby."

"During a scary, challenging, chaotic time, when our world felt divided and hopeless, miraculously getting pregnant provided us, and those who knew our story, a glimmer of hope," she says.

"When it’s hard to see any good that came out of the pandemic, we are reminded of this gracious gift we’ve been given, and we are forever grateful."