One of my favorite part of Thanksgiving break is spending the holiday with not only my parents and brother, but my extended family. My family tradition is spending the meal with my mom's side of the family, the Howards. This is a special group, and one of the many reasons why is because my mom is one of seven kids. Now, between my grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins, there are 23 of us. Especially as the holiday season gets closer, I spend a lot of time reflecting, and thinking about how grateful I am for all of them.

An important part of the Howard family is all my cousins. There are eight of us, starting with me, then my 16-year-old brother, three eleven-year-olds, a nine-year-old, a four-year-old, and a three-year-old. Although we are not so close in age, I feel close to all of them. One of my favorite parts of family parties is playing games with my cousins. Together we often play pretend, sometimes being baby and mama bears, other times we are princesses defending our kingdom from monsters. Other times, it's running and stomping to songs like "Africa" by Toto, a game that the whole family will join. I strongly believe that spending all this time with young kids has been what inspired me to become an elementary teacher, because I know how much fun kids are at this age and I love to be there supporting them. Watching these kids grow up and being a part of their lives has been a privilege, and I can't wait to see what they will become.

The Howards also helped me find my love for music from a young age. We are a family that loves to sing, even harmonizing the Happy Birthday song. Some of my best memories have been singing Christmas songs with my family during our Christmas party, with my uncle and dad playing the guitar and me playing the piano. During family parties, my Mom Mom's iPod always seems to be playing music, often inspiring a sing-along or a dance party. You can't miss us during the Eucharist at church, because my family is belting out the words to our favorite hymns. I can't imagine a Howard gathering going by without music.

My family has always been some of my greatest supporters. Whether it was a recital, my High School graduation, or an orchestra concert, I can't think of an event I've been in that didn't have at least one Howard in attendance. And just like their singing, their cheers are loud and enthusiastic. Their constant encouragement gave me the confidence and push that I needed to continue following my passions and excelling in school.

No matter what we do, I always have fun with my family. I often find myself laughing when we're together, especially as my aunts and uncles are all very witty. One of my favorite things to do with them is playing late night card games, most often a game called Phase Ten. Between silly team names, inside jokes, and a large multitude of skips, we laugh until our stomach hurts and we start crying.

I am proud to call myself a Howard. Our family is a silly, loving group and I am so grateful to have them. I couldn't imagine my life without our group singing, fun family parties, and having a group of people that loves everyone fiercely. I am excited to spend my Thanksgiving with them this year, and hopefully, many years to come.