This time of year, "thankfulness" and "gratitude" are terms folks throw around so much that they almost become greeting card platitudes.
Maybe people mean it, maybe they don't.
Doctors have linked the concept of gratitude to inner peace, even physical well-being. It's at least true that there are people quietly living with real thankfulness, though they might not use that word. It's just life lived, something that warms them from the inside and maybe helps them sleep through the night.
These are the stories of five people like that in Baltimore. They've all overcome challenges and tasted personal triumph.
These men and women, show Thanksgiving is sweet, personal and real, maybe even a way of life.
Angel Carpenter, 92Q radio personality
Angel Carpenter didn't know little girls weren't supposed to to go to sleep at night with no parents in the house. Or see junkies shooting up. Or to be having sex as young as 9.
That's just how it was growing up in Lafayette Courts, an eastside public housing development. Carpenter's father was gone, her mother addicted to drugs and largely preoccupied with finding them, her older brothers fending for themselves.
"It was kind of just me," she says. "On my own."
Though her mother was an addict — a fact she corroborates — she gave Carpenter one thing to hold on to: Only the strong survive. Carpenter took it to heart, steeling herself to get to school most days, pass her classes and step around the junkies in the Lafayette Court hallways.
Her friends' families let her stay over sometimes and made sure she occasionally got a good meal. She sold candy at school to have some money in her pocket. Teachers saw her potential and also tried to help.
Despite her given name, Carpenter was no angel. She got suspended. She stole. But she steered clear of real trouble and, as she puts it, did what she needed to do: "I got things done."
"There were no opportunities there just sitting waiting for you to grab ahold of," she says. "But I always knew I wasn't going to stay here in the Lafayette projects forever. I wanted to get out and be that example. So people would say, 'Hey, look at Angel. She did it. I could do it, too.' "
Carpenter says that by the time she hit her teens, her mother had straightened out her life. Part of what helped her do it was seeing how well her daughter had managed on her own.
Carpenter got into Howard University, graduating with honors in 2006. She started in radio right out of school, worked her way up, and now, at 27, she's known in Baltimore as AngelBaby, an on-air personality at Baltimore's 92Q.
She just founded an organization called Urban Artemis to help empower young women in Baltimore.
"It's for the same young girls who are a victim of their circumstances," she says. "To show them how not to be."
City Councilman Nick J. Mosby
Nick Mosby remembers the night Kurt Schmoke was elected mayor. It was 1987, and Mosby was years away from being eligible to vote, but he can picture the candidate's red, green and black campaign materials and how it seemed like a party at home as his mother watched the results, realizing her city had, for the first time, elected a black mayor.
Mosby's mother, Eunice Orange, a career clerk at the Social Security Administration, didn't have the money or the time to get involved in politics but felt its power to create change. She'd bring her son into the voting booth with her, letting him pull the lever; and if it was a race she wasn't familiar with, he could pick the name.
Just a third-grader during Schmoke's victory, Mosby started telling everyone he met that he wanted to be a public servant with an office in that grand white building on Holliday Street.
"I'd tell kids, 'That's going to be my office,' " says Mosby. 'And they'd say, 'What's that?' I'd tell them, 'City Hall.' "
Mosby's mother never laughed at any of this.
'If I told her I would be the head of the UN or if I told her I was going to own every NFL team, she believed me," Mosby says. "There was nothing my mother didn't believe I could do."
The first time Mosby ran for office — City Council in 2007 — his mother was his first and largest campaign contributor, writing him a check for for $800, money she'd saved for months. When he lost, she was still proud. He'd come in fourth out of 12.
He was at her bedside when she died in 2010. It was a sudden thing, an infection that had taken a turn. She held his hand, and he grabbed onto her forearm as she slipped away.
That next year, he considered running again. It would be an uphill battle, against a seemingly entrenched incumbent. He'd probably lose. But he thought about what his mom might tell him.
"She'd say, 'Baby, you could win.' "
Lynn Edwards, owner of Charm City Dogs
A dog was always in Lynn Edwards' life. At least one.
She was all but raised at the upstate New York shelter where her mother worked. When she was old enough, Edwards would also bring home dogs and cats. And even though she later worked full time in mental health, her down time was always spent volunteering at rescue shelters, pet-sitting, taking a few hours in a vet's office.
When people took an interest in her homemade dog treats, Edwards thought she had a way to make her passion a career. In the late 1990s, she launched Baltimore Dog Bakery with a co-worker, keeping their day jobs but baking late at night and on the weekends, and finding time to hustle treats to gourmet markets and pet boutiques.
Orders rolled in. They perfected the recipes. They moved from Edwards' basement to a bigger spot and than an even bigger one. But with no experience and no business plan, they weren't making a dime.
First her parter bowed out. Edwards eventually realized she had to, too.
More than a decade passed. The woman who bought Edwards' share of the bakery turned things around. And Edwards kept working, dreams shelved, until her husband suggested they buy a local pet-boarding business.
"I was never going to ask him to risk everything to buy a business," she says, "But he said, 'Why don't we just do it?' "
Edwards has run Charm City Dogs for less than a year. It's noisy and messy and crazy — hard, dirty work. She couldn't be happier. At 49, she found her calling.
"Doing what you really, really want to do is very frightening," she says. "We don't know it's going to be stable and all of that. We just know that we're doing it. And I know that because this is what I always wanted to do. ... That's what it takes to do it right."
Filmmaker Sheldon Candis
Sunday nights meant dinner at Bennigan's and then a movie at the Inner Harbor for Sheldon Candis and his parents. Sometimes his dad would even pull him out of school for a movie — even ones he was too young to see, like "Purple Rain" and "The Fly."
"I wanted to be a part of that," Candis says. "I was so fascinated by those films."
No surprise, then, that years later his parents were driving him across the country to attend film school at the University of Southern California. Yet when Candis graduated, his desire to make movies still burning, he could only file them: He got an entry-level job in the basement archive of a cable TV channel.
Then it was clinging to scaffolding to hang Christmas lights at a mall, pushing a 75-pound fan up a hill for a Jennifer Lopez video and sweeping up what he's pretty sure was human feces outside a Grammy Award-winning rapper's trailer. He did score one directing gig — artfully moving cameras between a host and the Home Shopping Network goods she was hawking.
Eight years out of film school, Candis' parents wanted him home for the holidays. He couldn't face them.
"You're broke. It's not happening. And what happens is you stop going home for Thanksgiving. You stop going home for Christmas," he says. "You don't have the money to get there. And you haven't achieved what you told everyone you were going to achieve. Your family offers to pool up money to buy you a ticket, but you just don't want to go home because you feel like you failed."
He started to sour on movies, wondering whether he was destined to be the guy who could only watch them, never make them.
But his favorite movie wasn't "Rocky" for nothing.
The screenplay Candis and his writing partner had worked on during all of those discouraging jobs finally gelled, and he sold people on it. "LUV," loosely based on Candis' life in Baltimore, debuted this year at Sundance Film Festival. Starring Charles S. Dutton, Common, Dennis Haysbert and Danny Glover, it's expected to be released in theaters next year.
"We're all going after the endgame, but it's about you being about to navigate the journey and survive the journey that makes you a successful person," he says. "It is a very, very tough journey."
Mary Beth Marsden, host, WBAL Radio and former WMAR anchor
A mother knows when something isn't quite right. When her youngest child's words weren't coming and she was acting out, Mary Beth Marsden knew. But it didn't make it any easier at the doctor's office, hearing the diagnosis and that one word that Marsden could barely stomach.
"My first reaction was, I want to say devastated, but that's too simple," she says. "The word echoed in my head. I was numb. It was a very controlled emotional breakdown."
Grief followed. And a fair bit of denial. Guilt and anger, too. Then a realigning of a mother's hopes.
"It was a letting-go of expectations that we really never knew we had," she says. "It turns out you have them in the back of your mind, and you have to let them go and rethink what the future means."
Marsden read books, talked to other parents and found programs that worked for her little girl.
Her daughter, she says, is doing great now — thriving, actually — enrolled in elementary school and taking the typical classes with the help of an aide.
Marsden will tell you she's improved, too. She's a better person with more purpose.
"I've become a much less judgmental person, I've become a more soulful person. I have let go of thinking that I can control my world and the world around me," she says. "My eyes are opened in a different way."
She has launched a website for parents, Real Look Autism, where people can watch videos of different autism therapies to see what might work for their child. A "Chicken Soup for the Soul" book she's co-editing for parents of children with austim and Asperger's syndrome is due to come out in April.